Son of the Morning (Chapter 27)

"HOLY CHRIST!" Grace heard the yelp, the sound muted, far away. She tried to think, tried to swallow, but not even her throat seemed to work. She drifted away into darkness for an unknown time, then slowly became aware of noise again, of being gently lifted and carried. Her limbs were heavy, useless. Her head lolled like a child's.

She was placed on a bed, and she felt the softness under her. Her fingers moved, rubbing the cool linen beneath her. She managed to open her eyes a little, and a face swam before her, a strong-boned, frowning face with little braids of hair at his temples. A piercing joy spread through her.Niall. She didn't know what would happen in the next ten minutes but for right now she could see him, touch him, and she was happy for the first time in – how long? Had she been happy when she was there before? She frowned slightly; this seemed very important. No, she decided, she hadn't been happy the time before.

She had felt tom, frantic, captivated, and many other things she couldn't quite name. Now, this moment, she was finally happy again.

"Lass?" He stroked her hair back from her face. "Can ye speak?"

The Scots accent was back, she noticed. That meant he was Niall the Scot now, not Niall the Guardian. Like Harmony, he varied accents with his mood, the effect of having seen too much and knowing too many languages. A small smile quivered on her lips.

"If ye can smile, ye can speak." The words were stem, but she heard a smile under them, and another, more serious note.

"Perhaps," she murmured, not opening her eyes. He grunted with satisfaction. "Ye sound awake enough." "Awake enough for what?" But even before the words were completely spoken she felt his hands moving on her, loosening laces, sliding over her legs, and lifting her gown. Her heart gave an enormous leap but she lay still, enjoying his remarkable expertise with women's clothing. In little more than fifteen seconds she was completely naked.

His own clothing took even less time. Trembling in joy and her own abrupt urgency, she opened her legs and he crawled up to settle between them, pausing along the way to distribute kisses on her stomach and gently suck both her nipples. She gasped, her fingers digging into his back, electrified by the increased sensitivity of her breasts.

"I've been more than a month without ye," he muttered reaching down and guiding himself to her. "I canna be slow, this first time."

"I don't want you to be." She had been more than a month without him, too. She held herself still as the heavy invasion began, startled anew at the initial difficulty that wasn't quite pain, the pressure, the sense of being stretched. She breathed deeply, gripping his shoulders hard until her body adjusted.

He paused, his own breathing as deep as hers. He braced himself above her, his expression drawn, urgent. He pulled back, pushed inside her again, and shuddered as he began to climax. Grace held him, her own urgency not quite at the same peak as his and grateful that, with Niall, the second I time wasn't long after the first.

He sank down heavily on her, sweating, his heart pounding against her breast and his breath catching on occasional small groans at the last small twitches of his orgasm. She slid her hands into his hair, sifting the long black strands through her fingers. "Does this mean you haven't had any ah … relief – since you came back from my time?" She braced herself for his answer, trying to control the ferocious jealousy that began to bum inside her. They had parted without promises or even the expectation of being together again so she couldn't expect him to have been faithful, but she thought she might skin him alive anyway.

"If by relief ye mean have I had a woman," he answered irritably, "then nay, I have not." He lifted his head from her shoulder and glared down at her, as if his deprivation were her fault.

"Good," she said, with intense satisfaction. A reluctant smile eased his frown. "Ye like that, do ye?" "Very much." She arched beneath him, delighting in the rub of his belly against hers, and the way her movement made him harden slightly inside her. She stroked her hands down his back, feeling the powerful muscles flex. His buttocks were cool to the touch, and she cupped her palms over them.

He slid his arms under her and rolled, reversing their positions. Grace sat up, her face glowing with soft sensuality. How freely he gave his body for her pleasure!

He put his hands over both her breasts, tenderly fondling them, rubbing his thumbs around her nipples and making them harden. "I'm verra glad of it, but why did ye come back?"

"Because of you," she said simply. "Because I love you. If you want me, I want to stay." She took one of his hands and moved it down to her belly, flattening it over her womb. "If you wantus." Her voice wobbled then, because there were no promises between them and she had taken such a huge chance in corning back. There hadn't been any talk of love between them, but when she thought of the night they had spent together and his tender care when she had expected much less, she had hope.

He looked at her stomach and his pupils flared wide. His expression went completely blank, as if he had been hit in the head and had no idea what had happened. He tried to speak and nothing emerged. He tried again, his voice so hoarse it was nothing more than a croak. "A bairn?" He shook his head, as if the words made no sense.

"Are you surprised, after that night?" She surprised herself by blushing, hot color rushing to her cheeks as she remembered the raw, frenzied mating.

He began to laugh, gripping her hips to hold her in place. His head arched back and he howled with laughter.

"What's so funny?" Grace demanded, frowning down at him. She was glad she was pregnant, but she didn't think it wasamusing.

"All these years," he gasped, tears of mirth shining in his eyes. "I've held to my oath, hating the responsibility, holding myself apart from the things another man would expect – and now I've no choice! Thank God!"

The words echoed in the room and he stilled, the laughter gone as if it had never been. "Grace," he whispered.

She touched his face, her fingers tracing the beloved lines. "I don't know," she whispered in reply. "You told me yourself, we can't know." Perhaps she had been sent to him, the pain in both their lives healed by the magic that brought them together, the fever and obsession and devotion neither of them could resist.

He pulled her down, cupping her face in both hands as he kissed her, long and slow and very thoroughly. "I won't question fate," he murmured. "Mayhap I question your sanity, leaving behind the life ye did – I read the books ye left. It is a truly wondrous time."

"So is this time, in a different way. You are here, and that's wondrous enough for me. You're the Guardian; you had to come back, you have to remain. So I came back too. It was an easy decision, once – once I had said good-bye."

"To your husband?" His tone was understanding. Niall knew what it was to lose those he loved.

"To him, and my brother. I've no family left there. But the start of a new family is growing inside me, and I want to be with you… if you want me."

"Want ye?" he growled. "Grace – I wanted ye months before ye finally came to me. I burned for ye.

How could I defend myself against a lass who wasn't there? If 'tis the words you want, then aye, I love you. Did ye doubt it? After I found ye wi' the Treasure, instead of killing ye as was my duty, I came near to killing myself loving ye! I'm glad ye came to stay, because I willna let ye go again no matter your wishes."

Startled, she realized that Niall's dereliction of duty was indeed unprecedented; why hadn't she realized that at the time? "You loved me then?"

"Of course," he said calmly. "Now, lass, I think ye should have your way wi' me."

Having her way with him took quite a long time.Alice brought food to them that night, grinning at the way Niall sprawled in his big chair, modestly covered by his plaid, but his eyes heavy-lidded and drowsy with an absolute surfeit of physical satisfaction.

Grace lay on his lap, wearing only his shirt. The garment would have reached her knees, if Niall had left it alone, but he seemed to be incapable of doing so. If he wasn't feeding her or holding a cup of wine to her lips, he was stroking her thighs, sometimes reaching a bit higher.

Her stomach was peaceful now, lulled by the plain, unseasoned food. She had had one bout with nausea, right after Niall had dragged her down to the great hall and they had pledged themselves in marriage to each other in front of all the residents of Creag Dhu, and everyone had insisted on toasting them. The second cup of spicy mulled wine had been too much. And after that, of course everyone had to toast the coming bairn.

The wine she drank now was weak and sweet, but added to the events and exertions of the day, she was exhausted and sleepy. She rested her head on his shoulder, her heart peaceful.

When a section of the wall beside the fireplace began moving, Grace merely blinked at it, thinking the wine must be stronger than she had thought. Then a man strode through the opening and stopped still, his pupils flaring. "I sent you a message," he said in French.

"Aye," Niall said drowsily in Scots. "Ye did. Ye waste your time speaking French, for she does too. And Latin.

And Greek. If ye've something private to say, best do so in Gaelic; she can't speak that yet."

"Why is she here?"

"Why, because I married her." Niall smiled at Grace, his thumb tracing her lower lip. "Sweetings, my brother Robert. He's king of Scots. Robert, this is Grace, my wife and the mother of my bairn."

Robert looked startled, Grace even more so. She scrambled off Niall's lap and stood before the king ofScotland wearing nothing more than her husband's shirt, her legs and feet bare, her hair hanging loose past her hips. She blushed.

Robert the Bruce was a big, powerfully built man, though not as tall as Niall. He was ruggedly attractive, probably approaching fifty in age, and wore the look of a warrior. He eyed Grace with some appreciation, his gaze lingering on her legs. Niall scowled and came to his feet, placing himself in front of her.

"Ye've told her everything?" Robert asked disapprovingly.

"Nay, she already knew." Niall reached back and made certain Grace was still modestly tucked behind him. "Would ye like wine?"

Robert began to laugh. "Ye rogue," he said with exasperated fondness. "Ye kill a clan chieftain, decimate the clan, and ask me would I like wine? The nobles are demanding that I raise an army to ridScotland of the renegades of Creag Dhu."

"Huwe attackedme," Niall said, his voice hardening. "And I freed all those Hays who survived the battle,"

"Aye, I know. I came only to ask – to beg, and me a king! – that ye try not to shed more blood for a time,"

"If 'tis in my power, I'll live a verra peaceful life from this day onward," Niall said. "Will ye wish me happiness?"

"Always." Robert stepped forward and hugged his brother, and the glimpse Grace had of his face made her love him forever, for it was filled with love and an aching relief. He winked at her over Niall's shoulder, and she blushed again.

"Can ye speak, lass?" he asked. "Yes, of course," she said, pleased that her voice was steady. "I'm pleased to meet you-" She stopped, suddenly unsure of what to call him. Sire? Your Highness? Your Majesty?

"Robert," said the king. "With family, I am Robert." He cocked his head. "Your accent is strange, not English, and not French either. Where are ye from?"

"Creag Dhu," Niall said firmly. "This is her home." Robert nodded, accepting that here would be yet another mystery about his brother. "When did ye wed?"

"Today." "Today!" Robert laughed again. "Then there's no wonder ye had the lass half naked on your lap! I'll leave ye to your wedding night, then, and may ye enjoy it well!"

"I will," Niall said firmly. "As soon as ye leave." Robert was still laughing as he stepped back into the hidden passage, though he tried to muffle the noise. Grace watched as the section closed behind him. "Just how many hidden passageways does Creag Dhu have?"

"It's fair riddled with them," Niall replied, lifting her in his arms and carrying her to the bed. He lay down beside her, cradling her close against his side as if he would never let her go. "Ye feel so perfect," he whispered into her hair. As if ye are part of me, as if ye could be nowhere else."

"I don't want to be anywhere else." "Then tomorrow morning, love, I think I should write those papers that brought ye to me. I dinna want to chance anything going wrong." He put his hand on her belly, where his child grew, and held her close as they slept, and dreamed.