Friar Gregory’s eyes widened at her outburst, but he remained outwardly calm. Nodding, he provided, "The duke of Claymore."
"Since we’ve all been properly introduced," Royce told the friar curtly, "say the words and have done with it."
With great dignity, Friar Gregory replied, "Normally there would be formalities to be met. However, from what I’ve heard at this priory and elsewhere, the Church and King James have already sanctioned it. Therefore there is no obstacle here." Jenny’s spirits sank, then soared crazily as he turned to her and said, "However, it appears to me, my child, that it is not your wish to marry this man. Am I correct?"
"Yes!" Jenny cried.
With only a momentary hesitation to gather his courage, the young friar turned slowly to the powerful, implacable man beside her and said, "My Lord Westmoreland—your grace—I cannot possibly perform the marriage without the consent of the—" He broke off in confusion as the duke of Claymore continued to regard him in mocking silence, as if he was calmly waiting for Friar Gregory to recall something—something that would leave him no choice but to do as he’d been bidden.
With a start of dismay, the friar realized what he should have considered from the very first, and he turned back to Jennifer. "Lady Jennifer," he said gently, "I do not mean to distress you with what must be a most humiliating circumstance, however, it is known to all that you were… with … this man for several weeks, and that he—and you—"
"Not of my own will," Jenny cried softly, consumed again with guilt and shame.
"I know that," Friar Gregory soothed gently. "But before I refuse to perform the ceremony, I must ask you if you are certain you did not conceive as a result of that er… time you spent as his hostage? If you are not certain, then you must permit me to perform this marriage for the sake of any possible child. It is a necessity."
Jennifer’s face turned scarlet at this totally humiliating discussion, and her loathing for Royce Westmoreland escalated to unparalleled heights.
"No," she said hoarsely, "there is no chance."
"In that event," Friar Gregory said, courageously addressing the duke, "you must understand that I cannot—"
"I understand perfectly," Royce said in a silky, courteous voice, his grasp on Jenny’s arm tightening painfully. "If you will excuse us, we’ll return in about a quarter of an hour, and you can perform the ceremony then."
Panic exploded in Jenny, and she stared at him, rooted to the floor. "Where are you taking me?"
"To the hut I saw right behind this place," he replied with implacable calm.
"Why?" she cried, her voice rising with fear, trying again to free her arm from his grasp.
"In order to make wedding us a necessity."
Jenny had no doubt whatsoever that Royce Westmoreland could, and would, drag her to a hut, force himself upon her, and then haul her back in here so that the friar would have no choice but to marry them. Hope for reprieve died along with her resistance, and her shoulders drooped in defeat and shame. "I hate you," she said with deadly calm.
"A perfect basis for the perfect marriage," Royce replied sarcastically. Turning to face the friar he ordered curtly, "Do it. We’ve lost too much time here already."
A few minutes later, bound by unholy matrimony for all eternity, with hatred instead of love or affection as the basis for it, Jenny was hauled out of the priory and tossed up onto Royce’s horse. Instead of climbing up onto the spare horse, Royce turned and spoke rapidly to Arik, who nodded. Jenny couldn’t hear what orders Royce had given the giant, but she saw him turn and begin walking purposefully into the priory.
"Why is he going in there?" Jenny cried, remembering that Friar Gregory had said he was alone in the priory today. "He can be no threat to you. He said himself he was only stopping at the priory on a journey."
"Shut up," he snapped, and climbed up behind her.
The next hour was a blur, punctuated only by the pounding of the horse against Jenny’s backside as they galloped headlong down the muddy road. As they neared a fork in the road, Royce suddenly reined the big horse into the woods and then stopped, as if waiting for something. A few minutes passed and then a few more, while Jenny peered down the road, wondering why they were waiting. And then she saw it: galloping toward them at a breakneck pace came Arik, his outstretched hand holding the reins of the spare horse, which was running beside him. And bouncing and jouncing upon the animal’s back as if he’d never ridden before, hanging onto the pommel for his very life was—Friar Gregory.
Jenny gaped at the rather comic spectacle, unable to believe her own eyes until Friar Gregory was so close she could actually see the stricken expression on his face. Rounding on her husband, sputtering in her furious indignation, she burst out, "You—you madman! You’ve stolen a priest this time! You’ve actually done it! You’ve stolen a priest right out of a holy priory!"
Transferring his gaze from the riders to her, Royce regarded her in bland silence, his utter lack of concern only adding to her outrage. "They’ll hang you for this!" Jenny prophesied with furious glee. "The pope himself will make sure of it! They’ll behead you, they’ll draw and quarter you, they’ll hang your head from a pike and feed your entrails to—"
"Please," Royce drawled in exaggerated horror, "you will give me nightmares."
His ability to mock his fate and ignore his crime was more than Jenny could bear. Her voice dropped to a strangled whisper, and she stared over her shoulder at him as if he was some curious, inhuman being beyond her comprehension. "Is there no limit to what you will dare?"
"No," he said. "No limit whatsoever." Jerking on the reins he turned Zeus into the road and spurred him forward just as Arik and Friar Gregory galloped abreast. Tearing her eyes from Royce’s granite features, Jenny clutched at Zeus’s flying mane and glanced sympathetically at poor Friar Gregory, who bounced past, his fear-widened eyes clinging to her in mute appeal and terrified misery.
They kept up the breakneck pace until nightfall, stopping only long enough to rest the horses periodically and give them water. By the time Royce finally signaled Arik to stop, and a suitable camp had been found in a small glade deep within the protection of the forest, Jenny was limp with exhaustion. The rain had stopped earlier that morning, and a watery sun had put in its appearance, and then shone with a vengeance, causing steam to rise from the valleys and adding tenfold to Jenny’s discomfort in her damp, heavy velvet gown.