Tears blurred her eyes but when Royce stood up and swung around to face her, panic collided with her sorrow. Instinct warned her to run and she turned to flee, but she wasn’t quick enough. He caught her by the hair and jerked her back, swinging her around to face him, his fingers digging cruelly into her scalp. "God damn you!" he bit out savagely, his glittering eyes alive with rage. "That horse you just killed had more courage and more loyalty than most men! He had so damned much of both that he let you send him to his death." Sorrow and terror were etched on Jenny’s pale face, but they had no softening effect on her captor, who tightened his painful grip on her hair, forcing her head further back, "He knew there was nothing but thin air beyond that tree, and he warned you, and then he let you send him to his death!"
As if he couldn’t trust himself any longer, he flung her away, caught her wrist and dragged her roughly in his wake to the top of the ridge. It dawned on Jenny that the reason he’d insisted on taking her down there was doubtlessly to prevent her from stealing his other horse. At the time, she’d been so overwrought it hadn’t occurred to her to try, even if the opportunity had presented itself. Now, however, she was recovering her senses, and as he hoisted her onto the back of his horse, another opportunity did arrive. Just as the earl started to swing his leg over the horse’s back, Jenny made a sudden lunge for the bridle reins, managing to snatch one out of his hand. The plan failed, for he hoisted himself effortlessly onto the running horse and then wrapped his arm around Jenny’s waist in a grip that cut off her air. "Try one more trick," he whispered in her ear in a tone of such undiluted fury that she cringed, "do one more thing to annoy me," his arm tightened horribly, "and I’ll make you regret it for as long as you live! Do you understand me?" He underlined the question by tightening his grip sharply.
"Yes!" Jenny gasped, and he slowly released the pressure against her rib cage.
Huddled beneath the fallen tree where Jenny had instructed her to remain, Brenna watched as Stefan Westmoreland rode back into the clearing, leading her horse. From her vantage point, she could see only the legs of the animals, the forest floor, and as he dismounted, the legs of the man himself. She should have run deeper into the woods, Brenna decided frantically, but if she had, she might have gotten lost. Besides, Jenny had told her to remain where she was, and in all matters such as this, Brenna faithfully and impeccably followed Jenny’s instructions.
The man’s legs brought him nearer. He stopped at the fire, nudging the dying embers with the toe of his boot, and Brenna sensed instinctively that his eyes were probing the dark recess of the bushes where she was hidden. He moved suddenly, walking toward her, and her chest rose and fell in frightened spasms as her lungs fought for air. Clamping her hand over her mouth, she tried to silence the coughing fit that was bursting within her while she stared in frozen terror at the tips of his boots only inches from her own.
"All right now," the deep voice boomed in the little clearing, "come out of there, milady. You’ve given us a merry chase, but the chase is over."
Hoping it was a trap and that he didn’t actually know she was there, Brenna pressed further back into her hiding-hole. "Very well," he sighed, "I suppose I’ll have to reach in there and fetch you." He crouched abruptly and an instant later a big hand thrust through the branches, groping around and finally closing on Brenna’s breast.
A squeal of indignant horror stuck in her throat as his hand snapped open, then closed again slowly, as if he was trying to identify what he’d found. When he did identify it, he jerked his hand back in momentary shock, then thrust it forward, grabbed Brenna’s arm, and hauled her out.
"Well, well, well," Stefan said, unsmiling. "It seems I’ve found a woodland fairy."
Brenna hadn’t courage enough to strike him or bite him as Jenny had done to his brother, but she did manage to glower at him as he tossed her up onto her horse and mounted his own, holding her horse’s reins in his hand.
When they emerged from the woods onto the road, Brenna breathed a prayer that Jenny had escaped, then steeled herself to look up the road to the ridge. Her heart plummeted when she saw Jenny coming toward her, mounted in front of the black Wolf on his horse. Stefan guided his horse into step beside his brother’s. "Where’s Thor?" he asked, but the murderous expression on Royce’s face answered the question before his voice did. "Dead."
Royce rode in tight-lipped silence, growing angrier with each passing minute. Besides the deep loss he felt because of Thor, he was also tired, hungry, and thoroughly enraged because one young girl (he rightly held Brenna blameless) with red hair (he knew that now) had managed to dupe a wily, experienced guard, throw half an army into an uproar, and force him to spend an entire day and night recapturing her. But what infuriated him most was her unbending will, her stiff spine, and defiant manner. She was like a spoiled child who’d not admit she was wrong by breaking down and crying.
When they rode into camp, heads turned to watch them and faces relaxed, but none of the men were foolish enough to cheer. That two captives had been permitted to escape in the first place was a cause for embarrassment, not rejoicing, but that those captives were women was unthinkable. It was humiliating.
Royce and Stefan rode toward the pen and Royce dismounted, then unceremoniously hauled Jenny down. She turned to start toward her tent, then stifled a cry of pain and surprise when Royce jerked her back. "I want to know how you got the horses out of the pen without the guard seeing you."
Every man within hearing distance seemed to tense in unison and turn toward Jenny, waiting for her to answer. Until then, they’d behaved as if she was invisible, but now she squirmed under their swift, intense stares.
"I didn’t have to sneak them out," Jenny said with as much dignity and contempt as she could manage. "Your guard was asleep."
A look of pained disbelief flickered in Royce’s angry eyes, but his face was otherwise blank as he nodded curtly at Arik. The blond giant, his war axe in hand, walked forward through the men, heading for the recalcitrant guard. Jenny watched the unfolding tableau, wondering what was going to happen to the poor man. No doubt he’d be punished for being derelict in his duty, she knew, but the punishment wouldn’t be truly terrible. Or would it? She didn’t know because Royce snatched her arm and began pulling her with him.
As Royce marched her through the camp, Jenny could feel the hostile rage blazing at her from every soldier and knight she passed. She had made fools of them all by escaping and by eluding them. They hated her for that now, and their hatred was so virulent it made her skin burn. Even the earl seemed angrier at her than he’d been before, Jenny thought, as she quickened her pace to a near-run, trying to keep up with him before he pulled her arm out of its socket.