Even now, her stubborn, unyielding pride refused to permit her to stay collapsed at his feet. Putting her hand to the ground, she rose slowly, unsteadily, until she was standing before him, clutching her breeches to her waist. Her head was bent forward, hiding her face from his view, but as he watched, she shuddered, trying to square her trembling shoulders. She looked so small and vulnerable that he felt a twinge of conscience. "Jennifer—" he bit out.
Her head lifted, and Royce froze in surprise and reluctant admiration for the amazing sight he beheld. Standing there like a wild enraged gypsy, her hair tumbling all about her like golden flames and her huge blue eyes alive with hatred and unshed tears, she slowly raised her hand… a hand which was holding a dagger which she’d obviously managed to snatch from his boot as he spanked her.
And in that unlikely moment, as she held his dagger poised high, ready to strike, Royce Westmoreland thought she was the most magnificent creature he’d ever beheld; a wild, beautiful, enraged angel of retribution, her chest rising and falling with fury as she courageously confronted an enemy who towered over her. He’d hurt her and humiliated her, Royce realized, but he hadn’t broken that indomitable spirit of hers. Suddenly Royce wasn’t certain he wanted her broken. Softly and without emphasis, he held out his hand. "Give me the dagger, Jennifer."
She raised it higher—aimed, Royce realized, straight at his heart.
"I’ll not harm you again," he continued, talking calmly as young Gawin moved stealthily behind her, his face murderous as he prepared to defend his lord’s life. "Nor," Royce added with the emphasis of a command aimed at Gawin, "will my overzealous squire, who is at this moment standing behind you, ready to slit your throat if you try."
In her fury, Jenny had forgotten the squire was in the tent—that the boy had witnessed her humiliation! The knowledge erupted inside her like a volcano.
"Give me the dagger," Royce said, extending his hand to her, confident now that she would give it to him. She did. The dagger slashed through the air with the speed of light, aimed straight at his heart. Only his swift reflexes enabled him to deflect it with his arm, then twist the blade free of her death grip, and even with that, as he jerked her against him and threw his arm around her, imprisoning her against his body, bright red blood was already seeping from the gash she’d managed to carve along his cheek near his ear.
"You bloodthirsty little wench!" he said in a savage underbreath, all his former admiration for her courage instantly demolished as he felt the blood begin to pour from his face. "If you were a man, I’d kill you for this!"
Gawin was staring at his lord’s wound with a fury that outmeasured Royce’s, and when the boy looked at Jenny, there was murder in his eye. "I’ll fetch the guard," he said with a final loathsome look at her.
"Don’t be a fool!" Royce snapped. "Would you have word spread throughout the camp and then the land that I was wounded by a nun? ‘Tis fear of me, of my legend, that defeats our enemies before they ever raise their weapons against me!"
"I beg pardon, milord," Gawin said. "But how will you stop her from telling it once you let her loose?"
"Let me loose?" Jenny said, roused from her fear-induced trance as she stared at the blood she’d drawn. "You intend to let us loose?"
"Eventually, if I don’t murder you first," the Wolf snapped, shoving her away from him with a force that sent her sprawling amidst the heap of rugs in the corner of his tent. He snatched up the flagon of wine, keeping a wary eye on her, and took a long swallow, then he glanced at the large needle on the table beside the thread. "Find a smaller needle," he ordered his squire.
Jenny sat where she was, bewildered by his words and actions. Now that her reason was returning, she could scarce believe he hadn’t murdered her on the spot for trying to kill him. His words ran through her mind, " ‘Tis fear of me, of my legend, that defeats our enemies before they ever raise their weapons against me." Somewhere in the dim recesses of her mind, she’d already arrived at the conclusion that the Wolf was not near so bad as legend had him—were he half as bad as they said, she’d already have been tortured and molested. Instead, he evidently intended to let Brenna and her go.
By the time Gawin returned with a smaller needle, Jenny was feeling almost charitable toward the man she’d tried to kill but minutes before. She could not and would not forgive him for physically abusing her, but she counted matters fairly even between them, now that she’d wounded both his body and his pride as he’d wounded hers. As she sat there watching him drink from the flagon, she decided that the wisest and best course, henceforth, would be to try her best not to provoke him into changing his mind about returning them to the abbey.
"I’ll have to shave your beard, sire," Gawin said, "else I can’t see the wound in order to stitch it."
"Shave it off then," Royce muttered, "you’re not much good with that needle even when you can see what you’re doing. I’ve scars all over me to prove it."
"A pity ’tis your face she cut," Gawin agreed, and Jenny had the feeling she’d ceased to exist for the moment. " ‘Tis scarred enough already," he added as he set out a sharp knife and a cup of water for shaving.
The boy’s body blocked the Wolf from Jenny’s view as he went about his task, and as the minutes slowly ticked by, she found herself leaning slightly to one side, then the other, intensely curious to see what sort of ferocious face had been concealed by his thick, black beard. Or did it hide a weak chin? she wondered, leaning further to the left, trying to see. No doubt it hid a weak chin, she decided, leaning so far to the right that she nearly lost her balance as she tried to peer around the squire.
Royce had not forgotten her presence, nor did he trust her, now that she’d showed herself bold enough to try to end his life. Watching her from the corner of his eye, he saw her leaning from one side to the other, and he mockingly told his squire, "Move aside, Gawin, so she can see my face before she topples like an overturned bottle, trying to see around you."
Jenny, who had leaned far to the right, trying to see, could not recover her balance quickly enough to pretend she hadn’t been doing exactly that. Color washed up her cheeks and she jerked her gaze from Royce Westmoreland’s face, but not before she’d gotten the startling impression that the Wolf was considerably younger than she’d thought. Moreover, he did not have a weak chin. It was a strong, square chin with a curious little dent in the center of it. More than that, she hadn’t been able to tell.