“Dig deep, mates,” he shouted above the grunting and growling. His muscles were straining, his thighs screaming, as he adjusted his grip on the thick rope.

Tug-o-war might be a child’s game, but pit two rivals against one another, and the gloves came off. Good fun or not. The queen herself and Prince Phillip watching or not.

Sweat dripped down his brow, beaded on his upper lip, and on his back. He had to win, and not because his pride demanded it.

He had to win because his duchess was looking. His duchess was cheering him on. And yes, she’d catcalled him a few times about his hot cross buns.

Whatever that meant.

The flag inched their way, and Liam smiled.

“We’ve got them now, lads!”


The rope suddenly gave, and Liam fell on his arse. He let out a whoop. They’d won. They’d won the bloody match.

Bella screamed his name. He looked over at her. She was clapping and jumping up and down. Adrenaline pumped. His heart raced.

She blew a kiss at him, and then swished her plaid skirt a little, (having traded her jeans for it a bit earlier), showing him a great deal of thigh.

Pure desire shot through him.

He got to his feet and strode to her. Mindful of her condition, he swooped her up in his arms instead of throwing her over his shoulder. The crowd roared their approval, shouting things that made her ‘make it rain’ comment look like a child’s nursery rhyme.

“Don’t say a word,” he said, and she mimed zipping her lips.

She didn’t know what he was feeling right now, but he would show her.

He didn’t stop until they were deep into the forest, taking her purse and lobbing it to one side. Then he set her down, stripped her out of her clothes, and pushed her against the nearest wide tree trunk. Her hands went to his shirt, ripping at the buttons, and shoving it off his shoulders.

Perhaps she did know how he felt.

Her mouth covered his nipple and bit down.

He reached between them, finding her slippery wet. She moaned, her head falling back. With one smooth motion, he shoved his tartan to one side and lifted her up, then brought her down on his cock. She cried out his name and wrapped her legs around his hips.

He pumped into her, trying to be gentle, even as everything inside of him demanded that he take her hard and fast. Her nails scored his back, and he remembered hers. Turning them, he braced himself against the tree.

Drops of white silk fell from the sky, caressing his skin and causing him to blink. Blossoms were falling from the trees and being blown their way. They landed all in Bella’s hair and face. She laughed with pure joy.

His lips found hers, fusing them together. He shoved his tongue into her mouth and rocked against her, not stopping until she tensed up.

“I’m coming,” was all she said.

Her hot inner muscles milked his cock, and he was helpless to the orgasm that barreled down on him.

Forget helpless. He welcomed it. He embraced what she did to him. What she aroused in him. She made him feel like a warrior of old who commanded armies, fought the bloody English, and then came home to a proper celebration.

“A chuisle mo chroí,” he groaned. “Mo chroi.” The pulse of my heart. My heart.

“I love you,” she whispered softly. So softly, that he had to have imagined it.

He kissed her again, not wanting to ruin the moment with reality. Taking his time, he tasted her lips, and then let his head fall into the crook on her neck.

“Oh gosh, Liam, I can still hear people,” she said as he finally stopped thrusting inside of her. “Do you think they heard us?”

Relieved, yet slightly bereft that he had imagined her words, because why else would she immediately start thinking of people hearing them, he pulled out of her and adjusted his plaid. “No. They knew to stay away.”

Her brow wrinkled adorably. “They did?” Her eyes widened as understanding dawned. “Because they knew what we were doing.” She turned red.

“Aye, and what happened to the duchess with no self-control?” he asked, contemplating how to best button up his shirt—sans buttons. Finally, he settled for leaving it off completely. He wouldn’t be the only one without one.

“She only has no self-control in private,” she said as she put on her underwear and bra. “She, uh, doesn’t do stuff like this out in the open.”

It bothered her. It truly bothered her that they’d had sex so close to the crowds.

She threw her skirt down and covered her face. Her shoulders began to shake. “I’m being ridiculous.”

“Are you crying?”

“Not really,” she said, but he noticed she didn’t uncover her face.

“Define not really.” He cupped her shoulders, rubbing the tops.

“I can’t.”

Letting go of her, he went in search of her sweater and found it hanging on the side of a small bush. He brought it to her and pulled it down and over her head. “Move your hands, Bella.”

She did as he asked, but kept her face down. “Even you think I’m being silly.”

“You have no idea what I’m thinking.”

Finally, she lifted her tear-stained face to his. “Exactly.” She batted his hands away and finished dressing, while he stared at her, unsure of what to do next.

He hated this feeling, like he’d taken advantage of her. “I thought you were as caught up in the moment as I was.”

She fastened her skirt, right under where her stomach curved outward. He liked to caress her there at night, while she slept. It gave him reassurance that she was real, that this baby they were having was real, and that no one in his family or on his estate would have to worry about wages or keeping up appearances.

She’d given him that, and he’d never properly thanked her for it. Hell, he hadn’t even asked her where she’d like to live. He’d just assumed she stay—mission trip notwithstanding.

Some modern man he turned out to be.

“Do you have other things you have to go to this evening?” she asked.

“Yes.” But he’d wanted her by his side, or at the very least, in a private box in the stands while he led the traditional processional at the close of the games.

“I’m tired.”

He looked at her face then. She didn’t look tired to him, but who was he to tell her that? He wasn’t pregnant. “I’ll escort you to the hotel then, shall I?”

She shook her head. “I need some time by myself.”

His jaw clenched. “So you’re leaving me.”

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