Jenny took another tiny stitch, and then another, and another, trying to stave off her sudden unaccustomed awareness of him as a handsome, virile male. And he was handsome, she realized fairly, astonishingly so. Clean-shaven, he possessed a rugged, thoroughly male sort of beauty that had taken her completely by surprise. His jaw was square, the chin clefted, his cheekbones high and wide. But what was so completely disarming was her latest discovery: The earl of Claymore, whose very name struck terror in the hearts of his enemy—had the thickest eyelashes she’d ever seen in her life! A smile danced in her eyes as she imagined how intrigued everyone would be at home when she imparted that piece of information. "Are you a spinster by choice?" Royce repeated a trifle impatiently.
"I suppose I am, since my father warned me he’d send me to the convent if I spoiled the only eminently suitable offer of marriage I was likely ever to receive."
"Who offered for you?" Royce asked, intrigued.
"Edward Balder, Earl of Lochlordon. Hold still!" she commanded with outrageous temerity when he jumped in surprise. "I’ll not be blamed for making a poor job of this if you mean to leap about beneath the needle."
That sharply worded chastisement from a mere slip of a girl who was, moreover, his prisoner nearly made Royce laugh aloud. "How many damned stitches do you mean to take?" he countered irritably. " ‘Twas only a small gash, anyway."
Offended that he apparently considered her daring attack nothing more than a slight inconvenience, Jenny drew back and glared at him. " ‘Tis a huge, nasty gash and nothing less!"
He opened his mouth to argue with her but his gaze was drawn to her breasts where they strained impudently against the fabric of the shirt she wore. Odd that he hadn’t noticed until just now how amply endowed she was, or how tiny her waist, or how gently rounded her hips. On second thought, not odd at all, Royce reminded himself, since she’d been wearing shapeless nun’s robes until a few hours ago, and until a few minutes ago, he’d been too furious to notice what she was wearing at all. And now that he’d noticed, he wished he hadn’t. Having noticed all that, he remembered full well how delightfully rounded her bottom had been. Desire leapt inside him, and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Finish your task," he said brusquely.
Jenny noted his sudden gruffness, but she put it down to his moodiness—the same moodiness that caused him to seem like an evil monster one moment and almost like a brother in the next. For her part, her body was almost as unpredictable as his moods. A few minutes ago she’d been cold, despite the fire burning in the tent. Now she felt over-warm in her shirt! Still, she rather wanted to restore the almost friendly companionship they’d shared for the last few moments, not because she desired him for a friend, but simply because it made her less afraid of him. Tentatively, she said, "You seemed surprised when I mentioned the earl of Lochlordon."
"I was," Royce said, keeping his expression noncommittal.
He did not want to tell her that Edward Balder was probably responsible for the somewhat unjust rumors circulating all over London about her. Considering that Balder was a vain peacock, it wasn’t entirely surprising that he reacted to being a rejected suitor by blackening the name of the woman who rejected him. "Because he’s an old man," Royce hedged finally.
"He’s also ugly."
"That, too." Try as he might, Royce could not imagine a loving father actually trying to marry his daughter off to that old lecher. For that matter, Royce couldn’t believe her father actually intended to keep her locked away in a convent, either. No doubt the earl of Merrick had merely sent her there for a few weeks to teach her obedience. "How long have you been at Belkirk Abbey?"
His mouth dropped open, then he caught himself and closed it. His face was hurting like hell and his disposition was taking a sudden turn for the worse. "Evidently, your father finds you as unmanageable, headstrong, willful, and unreasonable as I do," he said irritably, wishing for another long draught of wine.
"If I were your daughter, how would you feel?" Jenny demanded indignantly.
"Cursed," he said bluntly, ignoring her wounded look. "In two days, you’ve shown me more resistance than I encountered at the last two castles I took by force."
"I meant," Jenny said, her eyes filled with ire, plunking her hands on her slim hips, "if I were your daughter, and your sworn enemy kidnapped me, how would you want me to behave?"
Momentarily dumbstruck, Royce stared at her as he considered what she said. She had not simpered nor pled for mercy. She had, instead, tried her damnedest to outwit him, to escape from him, and to kill him, in that order. She had not shed so much as one tear, even during the sound thrashing he’d given her. Afterward, when he’d thought she was crying, she’d been planning to stab him. It crossed his mind again that she must be incapable of tears, but for the moment he was absorbed in envisioning how he would feel, were she his daughter—an innocent captured from the safety of an abbey.
"Sheathe your claws, Jennifer," he said curtly. "You’ve made your point."
She accepted her victory with a gracious nod—in fact, with far more grace than Royce had conceded it.
It was the first time Royce had seen her really smile, and the effect on her face was more than startling. The smile came slowly, dawning in her eyes until they positively sparkled, then drifting to her generous lips, softening them at the corners until they parted, allowing a glimpse of perfect white teeth, and a pair of dimples that peeked at him from the corners of her soft mouth.
Royce might have grinned at her, but at that moment he caught the disdainful look on Gawin’s face, and it dawned on him that he was behaving like a besotted gallant to his prisoner—more importantly, to the daughter of his enemy. Most of all, to the woman whose destructiveness meant that many of his men would shiver in the unseasonable cold tonight, without blankets to offer them any warmth. He nodded curtly at the pile of rugs. "Go to sleep. Tomorrow, you can start repairing the damage you did to the blankets."
His brusqueness banished the smile from her face, and she stepped back.
"I meant what I said," he added, angrier with himself than he was with her. "Until you’ve repaired the damage to the blankets, you sleep without them."
Her chin came up in the arrogant pose he’d grown used to from her, and she turned to walk toward the rugs that served as his bed. She moved, Royce noted grimly, with the provocative grace of a courtesan, not a nun.