Royce recalculated the benefits of taking the old woman with him against the difficulties she’d create by slowing their pace. He had just decided against taking her, when her next words changed his mind. "If you leave me behind," she said piteously, "my nephew will surely kill me for letting you take her. His hatred for you surpasses his love for me—even for poor Jennifer. He’ll never believe you could silence both of us. He’ll think I put the rope there for you."
Mentally cursing all Scotswomen to perdition, Royce hesitated and then jerked his head in a reluctant nod. "Get dressed," he gritted.
The rope biting painfully into her ribs, her arms and legs smarting from wide scrapes on her skin where it slid against the stone wall, Jenny swallowed and glanced downward. In the murky darkness of the moat she could just discern the figures of two men who appeared to be standing eerily on the surface of the water. Firmly stifling that hysterical notion, she squinted her eyes and saw the outline of a flat raft beneath them. A scant few moments later, hands that were huge and rough snatched her out of the air, grasping her at the waist, indifferently brushing her breasts, as Arik untied the rope that held her, then lowered her onto the rocking insecurity of the makeshift raft.
Reaching behind her head, Jenny started to untie the black cloth that gagged her, but Arik jerked her hands down and bound them roughly behind her, then he shoved her none too gently toward the other man standing on the rocking raft, who caught her. Still trembling from her ordeal, Jenny found herself staring at the expressionless face of Stefan Westmoreland, who coldly turned away from her and stared up into the darkness at the window high above.
Awkwardly, Jenny lowered herself to a sitting position on the raft, grateful for what little security it provided in a world that no longer made any sense to her.
A few minutes later the silence of the two men on the raft was broken by a low, startled whisper from Stefan Westmoreland. "What the hell—!" he breathed, staring up in disbelief at the castle wall Jennifer had just descended.
Her head lurched up, following the direction of their gazes, half in hopes of seeing Royce Westmoreland plunging helplessly toward the water. What she saw was the unmistakable figure of a man with a body thrown over his shoulder like a sack of wheat and tied to him at the waist.
Shock sent Jenny halfway to her feet when she realized it was poor Aunt Elinor he carried, but the raft pitched and Arik’s head jerked toward her, his sharp gaze warning her to be still. In breathless tension, Jenny waited, watching the cumbersome outline moving with painful slowness down the ropes. Not until Arik and Stefan Westmoreland were reaching up and grasping their accomplice, helping lower him onto the raft, did Jenny draw a normal breath.
Royce was still disentangling himself from his "prisoner," when the raft began to move with effortless stealth to the far shore. Simultaneously Jenny noticed two things: Unlike herself, Aunt Elinor was not gagged to prevent her from screaming, and the raft was being guided to the opposite shore with ropes that were being hauled in by men stationed in the woods on the opposite bank.
Two bright flashes of lightning rent the sky with jagged blue light and Jenny glanced over her shoulder, praying a guard on the castle wall might turn this way and see the raft illuminated by the angry sky. On second thought, she decided wearily, there was no reason to pray they’d be seen, nor any reason for her to be gagged. One way or another, she’d have been leaving Merrick with Royce Westmoreland. She preferred leaving this way, she decided as her fear began to subside, rather than leaving as his wife.
The storm that had been gathering strength for two days blew in with a vengeance, causing the sky to remain almost black for two full hours past the normal time for dawn. Rain pounded down on their heads and lashed their faces, bending stout saplings almost in two, and still the band moved doggedly onward, keeping to the protection of the woods whenever possible.
With his shoulders hunched forward, Royce let the rain pelt his back, irritated that his posture was also providing a sheltering barrier against the rain for the exhausted woman who was responsible for all of this and who was now sleeping fitfully against his chest.
With the sun completely vanquished by the dark clouds overhead, it seemed as if they’d been riding through a perpetual dawn. Had it not been for the rain, they’d have come upon the place he sought hours ago. Idly, Royce patted Zeus’s shiny neck, well pleased with Thor’s son, who carried his double burden with the effortless ease of his sire. The slight movement of his gloved hand seemed to stir Jennifer from her slumber, and she snuggled closer against the warmth of Royce’s body. Once, not long ago, that same slight movement would have made him want to cuddle her close against his chest, but not today. No longer. When he had need of her body, he would use it, but never again with care and gentleness. He would permit himself to feel lust for the scheming little slut, but nothing more. Never. Her youth, her big blue eyes, her touching lies had fooled him once, but never again.
As if suddenly realizing where she was and what she was doing, Jenny stirred in his arms, then she opened her eyes, looking about her as if trying to understand what had happened. "Where are we?" Her voice was deliriously husky with sleep as she spoke the first words she’d said since he lowered her down the castle wall; it reminded Royce of the way she’d sounded when he awakened her to make love to her again during that endless night of passion they’d spent together at Hardin.
His jaw hardened as he coldly rejected the memory, and he glanced down at her upturned face, noting the bewilderment that was currently replacing her normal hauteur.
When he remained silent, she persisted with a weary sigh, "Where are we going?"
"We’re moving west by southwest," he replied uninformatively.
"Would it be too terribly inconvenient to tell me our destination?"
"Yes," he bit out between his teeth, "it would."
The last numbing traces of sleep vanished, and Jenny straightened as the full realization of his night’s work descended upon her. Rain hit her in the face as she moved from the shelter of his big body, her gaze flying over the cloaked figures hunched over their horses, moving stealthily through the woods beside them. Stefan Westmoreland was riding on their left and Arik on their right. Aunt Elinor was wide awake, sitting erect in her saddle, peering at Jenny with a reassuring smile and an expression on her face which made it obvious she was pleased to be anywhere but the dower house. Last night on the raft she’d managed to whisper to Jenny that she’d tricked the duke into taking her along, but beyond that, Jenny knew nothing. In fact, her gag had not been removed until after she’d fallen asleep.