How utterly unlikely.
Particularly in the case of Lady Jennifer Merrick, whose hostility he’d already experienced firsthand.
Shoving away from his tent, Royce strolled forward, wending his way past his exhausted, battle-scarred men sleeping on the ground, rolled up in their cloaks. As he neared the women’s tent, the obvious answer to their sudden compulsion to have needles and shears suddenly struck him, and he stifled a curse as he quickened his pace. They were undoubtedly destroying the clothing they’d been given, he realized angrily!
Brenna stifled a scream of terrified surprise when the Wolf yanked the tent flap back and ducked inside, but Jenny merely started and then slowly rose to her feet, a suspiciously polite expression on her features.
"Let’s see what you’ve been doing," Royce snapped, his gaze slashing from Brenna, whose hand rose protectively to her throat, to Jenny. "Show me!"
"Very well," Jenny said with sham innocence. "I was only now beginning to work on this shirt," she prevaricated as she carefully laid aside his shirt with the armholes she’d just sewn closed. Reaching to the pile of clothing she intended to wear, she held up a pair of thick woolen hose for his inspection and pointed to the neatly mended, two-inch rent down the front.
Completely baffled, Royce stared at the nearly invisible, tight seam she’d sewn. Proud, haughty, undisciplined, and headstrong she was, he admitted to himself, but she was also a damned expert seamstress.
"Does it pass your inspection, milord?" she prompted with a tinge of amusement. "May we keep our jobs, sire?"
If she’d been anyone else but his captive and the haughty daughter of his enemy, Royce would have been sorely tempted to lift her in his arms and kiss her soundly for her badly needed help. "You do excellent work," he admitted fairly. He started to leave, then he turned back, his arm holding the tent flap back. "My men would have been cold, their clothing torn and inadequate for the coming harsh weather. They’ll be happy to know that what they have is at least wearable until the winter clothing arrives here."
Jenny had foreseen that he might realize how dangerous she and Brenna could be with a pair of shears, and that he might also arrive to inspect their work, hence she’d had the hose readily available to put him off the track. She had not, however, expected him to pay her an honest compliment, and she felt somehow uneasy and betrayed now that he’d shown he had at least one drop of humanity in his body.
When he left, both girls sank back down upon the rugs. "Oh dear," Brenna said apprehensively, her eyes on the pile of blankets in the corner that they had slashed to ribbons. "Somehow, I haven’t thought of the men here as—people."
Jenny refused to admit she’d been thinking the same way. "They are our enemy," she reminded them both. "Our enemy, and papa’s enemy, and King James’s enemy." Despite that stated belief, Jenny’s hand recoiled from the scissors when she reached out to touch them, but then she made herself pick them up and stoically hacked away at another cloak while she tried to decide the very best plan for their escape tomorrow morning.
Long after Brenna had fallen into an exhausted slumber, Jenny lay awake, considering all the things that could go right—and wrong.
Frost lay sparkling on the grass, lit by the first rays of the rising sun, and Jenny arose silently, careful not to awaken poor Brenna any sooner than was necessary. After systematically reviewing all the alternatives, she’d arrived at the best possible plan, and she felt almost optimistic about their chances to make good an escape.
"Is it time?" Brenna whispered, her voice choked with fright as she rolled onto her back and saw Jenny already wearing the thick woolen hose, man’s shirt, and jerkin that they’d each be wearing beneath their habits when their guard escorted them into the woods where they were allowed a few minutes’ privacy to tend to their personal needs each morning.
"It’s time," Jenny said with an encouraging smile.
Brenna paled, but she arose and with shaking hands, she began to dress. "I wish I weren’t such a coward," Brenna whispered, her hand clutched over her pounding heart as she reached with her free hand for the leather jerkin.
"You’re not a coward," Jenny assured her, keeping her voice low, "you simply worry to great excess—and well in advance—about the possible consequences of anything you do. In fact," she added, as she helpfully tied the strings at the throat of Brenna’s borrowed shirt, "you’re actually braver than I. For if I was as frightened of consequences as you are, I’d never have the courage to dare the slightest thing."
Brenna’s wavery smile was silent appreciation for the compliment, but she said nothing.
"Do you have your cap?"
When Brenna nodded, Jenny picked up the black cap she herself would soon put on to hide her long hair, and she lifted up her gray habit, tucking the cap in the waist of her hose. The sun rose a little higher, turning the sky a watery gray as the girls waited for the moment when the giant would appear to escort them to the woods, their loose convent robes hiding the men’s clothes they wore beneath.
The moment drew near, and Jenny lowered her voice to a hush as she reiterated their plan for the last time, afraid lest Brenna forget what she must do in the fright of the moment. "Remember," she said, "every second will count, but we must not appear to move too quickly or we’ll draw notice. When you remove your habit, hide it well beneath the brush. Our best hope for escape lies in their looking for two nuns, not two boys. If they spot our habits, they’ll catch us before we can leave the camp."
Brenna nodded and swallowed, and Jenny went on. "Once we’re free of our habits, keep your eyes on me and move quietly through the brush. Don’t listen to anything else or look at anything else. When they realize we’re gone, they’ll raise a shout, but it means nothing to us, Brenna. Don’t be frightened of the uproar."
"I won’t," Brenna said, her eyes already huge with fright.
"We’ll stay in the woods and move around the south border of the camp to the pen where the horses are kept. The searchers won’t expect us to head back toward the camp, they’ll be looking for us in the opposite direction—moving into the woods.
"When we near the pen, you stay just inside the woods, and I’ll bring the horses. With luck, whoever watches the mounts will be more interested in the search for us than he is the horses."
Brenna nodded silently and Jenny considered how best to phrase the rest of what she must say. She knew that if they were seen, it would be up to her to try to create a diversion so that Brenna could make good her own escape, but convincing Brenna to go on without her was not going to be easy. In a low, urgent voice, Jenny said finally, "Now then, in case we become separated—"