Jenny hesitated an endless moment, knowing she had no alternative, and then she felt herself nod imperceptibly.
"You’ll keep your part of it?"
Jenny realized he was referring to the issue of her willingness, and this time her hesitation was longer. She wanted to hate him for this. She stood there, trying to do it, but some small, insistent voice reminded her sensibly that, at the hands of any other captor, she would undoubtedly have suffered a far worse fate already than the one he proposed. A brutal, unspeakable fate.
Staring up at his ruggedly chiseled face, she searched for some sign he might later relent, but instead of finding an answer, she suddenly became aware of how far back she had to tilt her head to look at him and how small she was in comparison to his height and breadth. Confronted with his size, strength, and indomitable will, she had no choice, and she knew it. And realizing that made her defeat a little less painful, for she was completely outflanked and overpowered by a vastly superior force.
She met his gaze unflinchingly, proud even when she was surrendering. "I’ll keep my part of the bargain."
"I’ll have your word on it," he insisted when another siege of violent coughing drew her attention toward Brenna’s chamber.
Jenny looked at him in surprise. The last time she’d offered her word to him, he’d acted as if her word meant nothing, which wasn’t surprising. Men, including her father, placed no value on the word of a mere woman. Evidently, Lord Westmoreland had changed his mind, and that amazed her. Feeling extremely uneasy and slightly proud at this, her first chance to have her pledge sought and honored, she whispered, "I give you my word."
He nodded, satisfied. "In that case, I’ll go with you and you can tell your sister she’s being taken back to the abbey. After that, you will not be permitted to be alone with her."
"Why ever not?" Jenny gasped.
"Because I doubt your sister has paid enough heed to Hardin’s defenses to tell your father anything. You, however," he added in a voice of amused irony, "were calculating the thickness of its walls and counting my sentries as we rode across the drawbridge."
"No! Not without you!" Brenna cried when she heard she was being taken back to the abbey. "Jenny must come with me," she burst out, her gaze on Lord Westmoreland, "she must!" And for one astonishing moment, Jenny could have sworn Brenna looked more frustrated than frightened or sick.
An hour later, one hundred Westmoreland knights led by Stefan Westmoreland, were mounted and ready to leave the bailey. "Take care," Jennifer said, bending over Brenna, who was cozily ensconced in a cart atop a mound of bedding and pillows.
"I thought he would allow you to accompany me," Brenna coughed bitterly, her accusing glance sliding to the earl.
"Don’t exhaust your strength with talking," Jenny said, reaching behind Brenna and trying to plump the feather pillows beneath her head and shoulders.
Turning, Royce gave the order, and heavy chains and weights were set in motion. Amidst a great clanking of metal and groaning of timbers, the spiked portcullis was raised and the drawbridge slowly fell forward. The knights spurred their mounts, Jennifer stepped back, and the caravan began moving across the drawbridge. Blue pennants emblazoned with the head of a snarling black wolf waved and snapped in the breeze, held by men at the front and the rear of the caravan, and Jenny’s gaze clung to them. The insignia of the Wolf would protect Brenna until they reached the border; after that, if Lord Westmoreland’s men were attacked, Brenna’s name would needs be her protection.
The drawbridge was being raised again, blocking Jenny’s view, and Lord Westmoreland put his hand on her elbow, turning her back toward the hall. Jenny followed, but her mind was on those sinister pennants with their deliberately malevolent image of a wolf with white fangs. Until today, the men had carried standards displaying the king of England’s coat of arms—gold lions and trefoils.
"If you’re worried that I mean to extract immediate payment on your part of the bargain," Royce said dryly, studying her frown, "then you may put your mind at ease. I have duties to occupy me until supper."
Jenny had no desire to think about her bargain, let alone discuss it, and she said quickly, "I—I was wondering why the knights who left just now were carrying your pennant, not your king’s."
"Because they’re my knights, not Henry’s," he replied. "Their allegiance is to me."
Jenny drew up short in the middle of the bailey; Henry VII had reportedly made it illegal for his nobles to keep armies of their own. "But I thought ’twas illegal for English nobles to have their own army of knights."
"In my case, Henry decided to make an exception."
His brows lifted over sardonic gray eyes. "Perhaps because he trusts me?" Royce ventured, feeling no compunction to enlighten her beyond that.
Seated beside Jennifer after supper, Royce lounged back in his chair, his arm stretched across the back of hers, his expression thoughtful as he watched Jennifer deliberately charm and dazzle the four knights who’d remained seated at their table. It wasn’t surprising to him that Eustace, Godfrey, and Lionel were lingering long after the meal was over: For one thing, Jennifer looked ravishing in a gown of sky blue velvet trimmed in cream satin. For another, midway through their meal, Jennifer had suddenly become lively and amiable and gay, and now they were seeing a side of her that even Royce had not seen. She told entertaining stories about her life at the abbey, and about the French abbess who’d insisted, among other things, that Jennifer and Brenna learn to speak without their Scots brogue.
She had deliberately set herself out to charm, and as Royce idly turned the stem of his silver wine goblet in his fingers, it was that effort which both amused and exasperated him.
She had made a glittering affair out of a rather tasteless meal that included roasted mutton, goose, and sparrow, as well as trenchers of greasy stew and pies filled with something that reminded Royce of brown gruel. The food at Hardin, he reflected with disgust, was little better than he’d had on the battlefield.
If Jennifer hadn’t decided to make herself so delightful, his knights would undoubtedly have eaten just enough to fill their stomachs and then gone off without lingering—which was, Royce knew, exactly why she was doing this: she was trying to delay going upstairs with him.
Jennifer said something that made Godfrey, Lionel, and Eustace burst out laughing, and Royce casually glanced to his left where Arik was seated. Arik, Royce noted with amusement, was the only male at the table who’d not fallen under Jennifer’s spell. With his chair tipped back on its hind legs, Arik was watching Jennifer with narrowed, suspicious eyes, his massive arms crossed over his chest in a disapproving posture which clearly indicated he wasn’t fooled by her outward complaisance and didn’t think she should be trusted for a second.