Telling himself that he was doing no more than comforting and distracting a frightened child from her woes, Royce brushed the heavy hair from her nape and kissed her, then he trailed his lips lightly up her neck to her ear, nuzzling her there before he brushed his mouth against the creamy skin of her cheek. Without realizing what he was doing, his hand slid upward, over her breast to the warm flesh above her bodice, then it delved down to cup the sweet breast beneath. And that was his mistake—whether from protest or surprise, Jennifer squirmed against him, and the sliding pressure of her buttocks against his loins ignited the very desire he’d been fighting to control for three long days… three endless days of having her hips between his thighs and her breasts tantalizingly exposed to his view, within reach of his hand. Now those three days of suppressed desire erupted, raging through his veins like wildfire, nearly obliterating his reason.
With an effort of will that was almost painful, Royce dragged his hand away and lifted his lips from her cheek. But the moment he did, his hand, which seemed to have developed a will of its own, lifted to her face. Taking her chin between his thumb and forefinger, he turned her face and tipped it up to his, gazing down into the bluest eyes on earth—a child’s eyes filled with confusion and bewilderment, while the gist of her words revolved around and around in his brain, stabbing at a conscience that would no longer keep silent. I put myself in the way of your marauding brother by walking up a hill… and for that crime I deserve my fate… You compromised my reputation. You forced me to lie with you and then you humiliated me in the eyes of two countries. But I deserve to be drawn and quartered—Why? Because I put myself in the way of your marauding brother… All because of that… only that
Without thinking what he was doing, Royce tenderly laid his fingers against her smooth cheek, knowing he was going to kiss her, no longer certain he’d had any right to berate her. All because I put myself in the way of your marauding brother…
A plump quail ran out of the woods, dashing across the road in front of the horse. Beside the road, the bushes parted and a boy’s round, freckled face peered out, his eyes slowly scanning the brush on his right for the quail he’d been illegally stalking through Claymore’s woods. Puzzled, his gaze retraced the same path, moving slowly to the left now… along the road… directly in front of him… then a few feet further. His brown eyes riveted in alarm on the powerful legs of a great black warhorse just to his left. His heart thumping with fear that he’d been caught poaching, Tom Thornton reluctantly followed the legs of the stallion upward, past its wide, satiny chest, praying hard that when he looked at the rider’s face he’d not be staring into the cold eyes of the castle bailiff—but no—this rider wore golden spurs, which signified his knighthood. With relief, Tom also noted the man’s leg was very long and very muscular—not fat like the bailiff’s leg. Tom heaved a sigh of relief, glanced up and almost screamed in terror as his eyes riveted on the shield hanging beside the knight’s leg—a shield emblazoned with the dreaded symbol of a snarling black wolf with white fangs bared.
Tom turned to flee, took a step, then checked the motion, and cautiously turned back. ‘Twas said the Black Wolf’s knights were coming to Claymore, and the Wolf himself was going to reside in the great castle there, he remembered suddenly. And if so, the knight on the horse could possibly be… might actually be…
With hands that shook from a combination of terror and excitement, Tom reached for the bush and hesitated, trying to recall every description he’d heard of the Wolf. Legend had it that he rode a huge stallion as black as sin, and that he was so tall men had to lean back to see his face—the warhorse in the road was definitely black, and the man who rode him had the long, powerful legs of a very tall man. It was also said, Tom remembered excitedly, that on his face, near his mouth, the Wolf bore a scar in the shape of a C—put there by a wolf he killed with his bare hands when he was but a boy of eight and the animal attacked him.
Excited at the thought of the envy he’d enjoy were he to be the first to actually set eyes on the Wolf, Tom parted the leaves and peered out and stared straight at the man’s dark face. There, beneath the stubble, near the corner of his mouth—there was… a scar! In the shape of a C! His heart hammering wildly, he stared at the scar, then he remembered something else and tore his gaze from the Wolf’s face. Glancing eagerly up and down the road, he searched expectantly for the fair-haired giant called Arik—the giant who was said to guard his master day and night, and who carried an axe with a handle thick as a tree trunk.
Failing to catch sight of the giant, Tom quickly turned his gaze back for a longer study of the entire, famous man, and this time he took in the entire picture before him—a picture that made his mouth drop open in shock and disbelief: The Black Wolf, the most fierce warrior in all England—in the world—was sitting atop his mighty warhorse, with a girl cradled in his arms—holding her as tenderly as a babe!
Lost in his own reflections, Royce paid no heed to the slight sounds beside him as the branches of a bush snapped together and something raced off in the direction of the village. He was gazing at the stubborn, rebellious child-woman who was now his wife. She was other things, too, like scheming and dishonest, but at the moment he didn’t want to think about all that. Not when his mind was more pleasurably occupied with the kiss he was about to give her. Her eyes were nearly closed, her long curly lashes lying like russet fans, casting shadows on her creamy cheeks. His gaze dropped to her lips, soft and rosy, lips that beckoned to a man to kiss them. Generous, inviting lips.
Drowsy and relaxed as she lay against his chest, Jenny scarcely felt his hand tighten on her chin.
Her eyes opened at the odd, husky note in his voice, and she found herself gazing into smoldering gray eyes, his finely chiseled lips poised just above her own. It hit her then what she’d let happen, and what was going to happen if she didn’t stop it. She shook her head, trying to dig her elbow into his ribs and push away, but his arm held her fast. "No!" she burst out.
His hypnotic gray eyes held hers imprisoned as his lips formed a single, irrefutable command: "Yes."
A moan of angry protest lodged in her throat, stifled by a hard, possessive kiss that seemed to go on forever and only became more insistent the longer she resisted. His parted lips moved on hers, demanding that they part, and the moment they did, his tongue slipped between them and the kiss gentled. He kissed her long and lingeringly, forcing her to remember how it had been between them at Hardin, and Jenny’s traitorous mind did exactly that. With an inner groan of surrender, she yielded and kissed him back, telling herself one kiss meant very little, but when it was over she was shaking.