Ordered to wed, can a man with no use for love find happiness with a woman living a life of penance for a moment of lust?
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Ordered by King Alexander to wed an Englishwoman, Laird Brendan Sutherland heads to England to wed the sister of his best friend's wife. Having no use for love, he intends to beget a few heirs and forget the lass.
After being falsely accused of the Sin of Eve when she was twelve,Lady Faith of Hawkhurst hides her beauty beneath a hideous disguise, becoming a hag in public. She believes she must enter a convent and live a life of penance or suffer perpetual damnation.
Learning her brother intends to ambush an approaching Highland party, Faith intercepts Brendan and his men to ask their aid in reaching the convent. Brendan quickly sees through her disguise and agrees to take her with him. After a court scandal, King Henry orders them to wed. As they return to the Highlands with a killer on their trail, Brendan discovers he can't remain aloof from the woman destined to restore his faith in love.
A scarlet hue streaked her cheeks as he wiped the blood from her palms. “You are a near occasion of sin, and the Church teaches to avoid near occasions of sin. Now do you understand?”
“I understand you could make a sane man daft.”
Her nostrils flared slightly as she compressed her lips and tried to pull free.
He slipped his arm back around her and held her in place. “Tell me how I am a near occasion of sin.”
She stopped struggling and drummed her fingers on her lap.
He rolled his eyes. “Have you not learned, lass, that we are not through with a subject until I say so?”
She shrugged. “You make me feel... things.”
He cocked an arrogant brow. So the lass finally knew she wanted him. “What kind of things?”
Thank Saint Andrew she had bowed her head with that admission. His grin probably wouldn’t improve her temper. “Tell me about what you feel.”
“Why, so you can humiliate me?” she whispered.
He wanted her to know her feelings were acceptable to him, and she could speak to him honestly about such matters. “Faith, have you ever felt lust before?”
She snorted. “I am going to be a nun, for heaven’s sake. I should not have such sinful feelings at all.”
He decided the time wasn’t right to tell her that nuns do not use expressions like for heaven’s sake. “How do you know what you feel is lust?”
“Because ‘tis sinful.” She looked at him, her eyes a murky sea of shame. “I am obsessed with you, and my thoughts are not pure.”
“Tell me about these not pure thoughts.”
She bowed her head again and picked a speck of lint from her kirtle. “I want you to... kiss me, and I fear I shall ask you to. Then you will either laugh at me or kiss me, and I do not know which would be worse.” She slapped a hand against her brow. “Oh Lord, I am guilty of a sin of contemplation whether you kiss me or not. I am damned for certain.”
She sounded so distressed. He couldn’t help the chuckle that slipped out.
Her scowl returned and she shoved at his chest. “Are you happy to know you provoke my wanton nature?”
“Aye. I think I shall kiss you and test your wantonness.”
She splayed her hands against his chest and pushed. “You would not dare. ‘Tis shameful for you to jest so when I am going to Hell because of you. Now will you release me?”
“Well why not?” she demanded with a punch.
“Because we are going to come to an understanding. You are not to flee the protection of my –”
She waved a hand in dismissal. “I release you from whatever obli –”
“Do not interrupt when I am instructing you.” He grabbed her hand, so she couldn’t wave it in his face or jab him again.
“But I am trying to tell you I have decided not to go to Scotland, and you do not have to protect me. ‘Tis unwise to expose myself to a near occasion of sin, so I am making other arrangements.”
He would tell his men to be alert. He wouldn’t put it past the little minx to try sneaking away. “Faith, do you recall the promise I made you?”
“Aye, but –”
He placed a hand over her mouth. “A Sutherland always keeps his word.” He noted the softness of the lips beneath his fingers. “You are going to Scotland with me, and you remain under my protection.”
Her eyes turned stormy green. “Is there anything else you wish to instruct me on?”
“Aye.” And he intended to make sure she thoroughly enjoyed the lesson.
“Well get on with it,” she snapped. “’Tis almost time to dine, and King Henry does not appreciate tardiness.”
“Close your eyes.”
“What for?” She drew back slightly, a guarded expression on her face.
He grinned at her suspicion. “Because you trust me and I asked you to.”
“You did not. You ordered me.” She pushed out her lower lip. “And do not smile. It makes you more handsome. I think you will never go to Heaven. ‘Tis a sin to look as good as you do.”
“Then I shall gladly go to Hell.”
She raised a shocked gaze to his and her lips parted the tiniest bit. Anger and confusion fled as her aquamarine eyes darkened. Time suspended. Her arms slipped around his neck, and she tentatively placed her mouth against his. Her eyelids lowered then fluttered before resting shut.
That was all the prompting he needed. He slanted his mouth over hers, inviting, coaxing, leading her on a journey to explore the ardor she sought so hard to suppress. Her shyness melted away under the heat of his kiss, and she trilled in the back of her throat. Her hands crept up the back of his head.
Oh God, she wasn’t going to... Aye, she was. The lass had found his one weakness. A woman could drive him wild by running her fingers through his hair, and Faith had enchanted fingers.