"Where is Brenna?" she gasped, her mind snapping into sudden focus. "Did you release her?"
Now, when Jenny least expected an informative answer, she received one. In a tone reeking with sarcasm, Royce Westmoreland replied, "I never had her."
"You bastard!" Jenny hissed furiously, then gasped in alarmed surprise as his arm coiled around her like a striking snake, squeezing the breath from her as he hauled her sharply against his chest. "Don’t ever," he said, enunciating in an awful voice, "use that tone or that word to me again!"
Royce was about to say more when he caught sight of a long stone building nestled against a hillside ahead. Turning to Stefan, he raised his voice to be heard above the slackening rain. "That looks like the place." As he spoke, he dug his spurs into the stallion, sending the animal into a ground-devouring gallop. Beside and behind him the band of fifty men followed suit, and a moment later they were all galloping down the rutted road with Aunt Elinor’s protests about the jouncing she was receiving rising above the hoof beats.
He drew up before what was unmistakably a priory and dismounted, leaving Jenny to sit there and stare at his back in angry curiosity, longing to know her fate and trying to eavesdrop as he said to Stefan:" Arik will stay here with us. Leave us the spare horse."
"What about Lady Elinor? What if she can’t withstand the ride?"
"If she can’t, you’ll have to find a cottage and leave her there."
"Royce," Stefan said with a worried frown, "don’t be more foolish than you have been. Merrick’s people could be right behind you."
"He’ll lose most of today trying to convince Hastings and Dugal he’s innocent of the plot, then he’ll have to guess our direction whenever he loses our tracks. That should cost him plenty of time. If not, our men know what to do. You ride for Claymore and make certain all is in readiness for a possible attack."
With a reluctant nod, Stefan reeled his horse around and rode off. "Plot?" Jenny demanded heatedly, glowering at her uninformative abductor. "What plot?"
"What a cunning little liar you are," Royce snapped, grabbing her by the waist and hauling her from the saddle. "You know what plot. You were a party to it." He caught her by the arm and began dragging her forward toward the door of the priory, heedless of the heavy weight of Jennifer’s sodden mantle. "Although," he added bitingly, his strides long and angry, "I find it hard to imagine that a woman with your hot-blooded nature would actually commit herself to life in a cloister rather than marry a man—any man, including me."
"I do not know what you are talking about!" Jenny cried, wondering wildly what form of new terror a peaceful priory could possibly hold—particularly one which looked quite deserted.
"I am talking about the abbess from Lunduggan who arrived at the castle during our feast last night escorted by a small ‘army’ of her own, and you damned well know it," he snapped, lifting his fist and pounding imperatively on the heavy oaken door. "They were slowed by the rain, which was why your pious Friar Benedict was forced to pretend to an illness that would delay the ceremony."
Her chest heaving with indignation, Jenny turned on him, her eyes shooting sparks of ire. "In the first place, I’ve never heard of Lunduggan or an abbey there. Secondly, what difference would it make if an abbess arrived? Now," she ranted "you tell me something: Am I to understand that you dragged me out of my bed, flung me down a castle wall, hauled me across Scotland in a storm, and brought me here, because you didn’t want to wait a day longer to wed me?"
His insolent gaze roved down her bare, wet bosom, making Jenny mentally cringe at his look of distaste. "You flatter yourself," he said bitingly. "It took nothing less than the threat of death, added to the threat of impoverishment to make me agree to have you in the first place."
Lifting his arm, he pounded with impatient vigor on the oaken panel, which swung open, revealing the polite face of a startled friar. Ignoring the friar for the moment, Royce glared contemptuously at his future bride. "We’re here because two kings decided we were to wed with all haste, my sweet, and that’s what we’re going to do. You aren’t worth starting a war over. We’re also here because the prospect of being beheaded offends my sensibilities. But most of all, we’re here because I find it irresistibly appealing to thwart your father’s plans for me."
"You are mad!" she snapped, her chest heaving. "And you are a devil!"
"And you, my dear," Royce imperturbably replied, "are a bitch." With that, he turned to the horrified friar and unhesitatingly announced, "The lady and I wish to be wed."
A look of comical disbelief spread over the pious man who was garbed in the white robes and black mantle of a Dominican friar. He stepped back more from shock than courtesy, allowing them to enter the hushed priory. "I—I must have misheard you, my lord," he replied.
"No, you did not," Royce said, stalking inside, and hauling Jennifer with him by the elbow. He stopped, pausing to thoroughly inspect the beautiful stained-glass windows high above, then he lowered his gaze to the paralyzed friar and his brows snapped together impatiently. "Well?" he demanded.
Recovering from his earlier shock, the friar, who appeared to be about twenty-five, turned to Jennifer and said calmly, "I am Friar Gregory, my child. Would you care to tell me what this is all about?" Jenny, who responded automatically to the sanctity of her surroundings, dropped her voice to a more suitable hush than Royce’s imperative baritone, and shakily and respectfully said, "Friar Gregory, you must help me. This man has abducted me from my home. I am Lady Jennifer Merrick, and my father is—"
"A treacherous, scheming bastard," Royce snapped, his fingers digging painfully into Jennifer’s arm, warning her to be silent or risk having her bone broken.
"I—I see," Friar Gregory said with admirable composure. Lifting his brows he gazed expectantly at Royce. "Now that we’ve discovered the identity of the lady, and the supposedly tainted circumstances surrounding the birth of her sire, would it be too presumptuous of me to inquire as to your identity, my lord? If so, I believe I can hazard a guess—"
For a split second, a glimmer of amused respect replaced Royce’s anger as he gazed at the undaunted young friar, whom he towered over, but who as yet showed no fear of him. "I am—" he began, but Jenny’s angry voice cut him off. "He is the Black Wolf! The Scourge of Scotland. A beast and a madman!"