Her concern over his anger was suddenly overwhelmed by a more immediate calamity—Royce Westmoreland was taking her to his tent, not to her own.
"I won’t go in there!" she cried, jerking backward.
Swearing under his breath, the earl reached out and tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of flour, her buttocks pointing skyward, her long hair falling to his calves. Lewd laughter and cheers rang out all over the clearing as the men witnessed her public humiliation, and Jenny almost gagged on her fury and mortification.
Inside the tent, he dumped her onto the heap of fur rugs on the ground, then stood watching her as Jenny scrambled to a sitting position, and then to her feet, watching him like a small, cornered animal. "If you defile me, I’ll kill you, I swear it," she cried, mentally recoiling from the fury that turned his face to steel and his eyes to glittery silver shards.
"Defile you?" he repeated with scathing contempt. "The last thing you awaken in me right now is lust. You’re going to stay in this tent because it’s already heavily guarded, and I don’t have to waste more of my men’s time watching yours. Furthermore, you’re in the center of the camp, and if you decide to make a run for it, my men will cut you down. Is that clear?"
She glowered at him but remained stonily silent, and her arrogant refusal to submit to his will enraged Royce yet more. His fists clenched at his sides, he fought down his rage and continued, "If you do one more thing to inconvenience me or anyone else in this camp, I will personally make your life a living hell. Do you understand me?"
Looking into that harsh, sinister face, Jenny fully believed he could, and would, do it.
"Answer me!" he ordered murderously.
Realizing that he was already pushed past reason, Jenny swallowed and nodded.
"And—" he began, then broke off abruptly as if he couldn’t trust himself to say more. Turning, he snatched up a flagon of wine from the table and was about to drink from it when his squire, Gawin, entered the tent. In Gawin’s arms were the blankets he’d fetched earlier from the ladies’ tent—blankets which he’d been handing out to the men before he realized they’d been slashed, not mended. The boy’s face was a study of anger and disbelief.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Royce snapped, the flagon arrested halfway to his lips.
Gawin raised his young, indignant face to his master. "The blankets, sire," he said, turning his accusing gaze on Jenny, "she slashed them, ‘stead of mending them. The men would have been cold enough with only these blankets for protection, but now…"
Jenny’s heart began to pound in genuine terror as the earl very slowly, very carefully, lowered the flagon and put it on the table. He spoke and his voice was a raw whisper, rasping with rage. "Come here."
Shaking her head, Jenny retreated a step.
"You’re making it worse on yourself," he warned as she retreated another step. "I said, come here."
Jenny would have sooner jumped off a cliff. The tent flap was up, but there was no way to escape; men had been gathering out there since Royce had carried her into the tent, waiting no doubt to hear her whimper or scream for mercy.
Royce spoke to his squire, but his dagger gaze remained on Jenny. "Gawin, bring needle and thread."
"Aye, milord," Gawin agreed and scurried over to the corner, retrieving both. He put them on the table beside Royce, then stood back and watched in surprise as Royce merely lifted up the scraps that had once been blankets and held them out to the red-haired witch who’d destroyed them.
"You’re going to mend every one of them," he told Jenny in an unnaturally quiet voice.
The tension left her body and she stared at her captor with a mixture of bafflement and relief. After causing him to spend a day and night chasing her, after killing his beautiful horse and destroying his clothes, the only punishment he meant to exact from her was to make her mend the blankets she’d ruined. That was making her life a living hell?
"You’ll not sleep with a blanket until every one of these are repaired, do you understand?" he added, his voice as smooth and hard as polished steel. "Until my men are warm, you’ll be cold."
"I—I understand," Jenny said in a wavering voice. So restrained was his manner—so parental—that it did not occur to her that he meant to do anything further to her. In fact, as she walked forward and reached a shaking hand toward the tattered strips of cloth he held, the thought flashed across her mind that rumor had grossly exaggerated his ruthlessness—a thought that was shattered an instant later: "Ouch!" she cried as his big hand shot out like a striking snake and locked around her outstretched wrist, yanking her forward with a force that knocked the air from her lungs and snapped her head back. "You spoiled little bitch," he bit out. "Someone should have beat that pride out of you when you were still a child. However, since they didn’t, I will—"
His hand lifted and Jenny threw up an arm to cover her head, thinking that he meant to strike her in the face, but the huge hand she’d expected to hit her yanked her arm down. "I’d snap your neck in two if I hit you like that. I have another target in mind—"
Before Jenny could react, he sat down and in one fluid motion yanked her across his lap. "Nay!" she gasped, wriggling in furious, frightened earnest, horribly aware of the men who were gathered outside the tent, trying to hear. "Don’t you dare!" she cried, as she threw all her weight toward the floor. He clamped his leg over both of hers, imprisoning them between his thighs, and lifted his hand. "This," he said, as his hand crashed down against her backside, "is for my horse." Jenny counted through waves of pain, biting her lip until it bled in an effort to strangle her sobbing cries, as his hand rose and fell with relentless pain, again and again and again. "This is for your destructiveness… your stupid escape… the blankets you ruined…"
Intending to thrash her until she sobbed and pleaded with him to stop, Royce continued until his hand ached, but even though she squirmed frantically to avoid his hand, she never made a sound. In fact, if her whole body hadn’t jerked spasmodically each time his hand struck her bottom, he’d have doubted that she was feeling anything at all.
Royce lifted his hand again and then hesitated. Her buttocks tightened, anticipating the strike of his hand, her body tensed, but still she did not cry out. Disgusted with himself and deprived of the satisfaction of making her weep and plead for mercy, he shoved her off his lap and stood up, glaring down at her and breathing fast.