"And if it is a peaceful group," she cried frantically, "what are you going to do?"
"I’m going to lower the drawbridge and invite them in," he said dryly.
Her fingers bit into the muscles of his upper arms. "Please—don’t hurt them—"
"Jennifer—" he said tightly, but she wrapped her arms around him, pressing herself against him. "Don’t hurt them," she cried hysterically. "You gave me your word! I’ll do anything you ask of me… anything… but don’t hurt them."
Exasperated, Royce moved her away from him and grasped her chin. "Jennifer, the only wound that’s going to be inflicted tonight is to my pride. It galls me beyond measure to have to raise my gate, lower the drawbridge, and let your father strut into my hall."
"You didn’t care about his pride," Jenny argued wildly, "when you breached Merrick’s tower and took me from there. How do you think that made him feel. Is your own pride so great you can’t put it aside, just for a few hours, just this once?"
The single word, spoken with such quiet conviction, finally snapped Jenny from her mindless panic. Drawing a long, steadying breath, she leaned her forehead against his chest and nodded. "I know you won’t harm my family. You gave me your word."
"Yes," he said reassuringly, gathering her into his arms for a swift kiss. Turning to the door, he paused with his hand upon the handle. "Stay in here, unless I send for you," he ordered implacably. "I’ve sent for the friar to bear witness that we’re well and truly married, but I imagine the emissaries from our kings will want to see you to ascertain that you’re safe and unharmed."
"Very well," she agreed and quickly added, "Father will be in a dreadful mood, but William is gentle and seldom loses his temper. I’d like to see him before they leave—to talk to him and send a message to Brenna. Will you let him come up?"
He nodded. "If it. seems wise, I will."
Masculine voices raised in anger thundered in the hall, carrying to the bedchamber, where Jenny paced, waiting, listening, praying. Her father’s voice, blustering and furious, was joined by the angry voices of her brothers, as well as Lord Hastings, and Lord Dugal. Royce’s deep voice, hard and authoritative, rose above the din, and then there was silence… eerie, foreboding silence.
Knowing she could observe what was happening if she left the bedchamber and went out onto the gallery, Jenny walked to the door and then hesitated. Royce had given her his oath not to harm any of her family, and all he had asked of her in return was that she remain in here. It seemed wrong not to honor his wish.
Snatching her hand away from the door, Jenny turned away from it, then she hesitated again. She could, however, honor his wish and still be better able to hear by simply opening the door a bit without leaving the bedchamber. Cautiously, she turned the handle, opening the door a scant two inches…
"Friar Gregory has verified that the couple is wed," Lord Hastings, the English emissary from King Henry’s court was saying. " ‘Twould seem Claymore adhered to the letter of the agreement, if not precisely to the spirit of it, while you, Lord Merrick, by plotting to hide your daughter away from her rightful husband, broke faith with the agreement both in spirit and in fact."
The Scottish emissary mumbled something soothing and conciliatory, but Jennifer’s father’s voice rose in fury. "You English swine! My daughter chose to enter a cloister, she pleaded with me to send her away. She was prepard to make the marriage, but ’twas her holy right to choose God as her lord if she wished. No king can deny her the right to pledge herself to a life of seclusion and devotion to God, and you know it! Bring her down here," he shouted. "She’ll tell you ’twas her own choice!"
His words slashed Jenny’s heart like a jagged sword. Evidently, he really had intended to lock her away for the rest of her life, and without ever telling her what he meant to do; he’d been willing to sacrifice her life for revenge against his enemy. When it came down to it, he had more hatred for a stranger than he had love for her.
"Bring her down here! She’ll tell you I speak the truth!" her father thundered. "I demand she be brought down! The Barbarian objects because he knows his wife loathes him and that she’ll confirm what I say."
Royce’s deep voice was filled with such calm conviction that Jenny felt tenderness blend with the pain of her father’s betrayal inside of her. "Jennifer has told me the truth, and the truth is that she never collaborated in your scheme. If you have any feeling for her at all, you will not force her to come down here and call you a liar to your face."
"He’s the liar!" Malcolm bellowed. "Jennifer will prove it!"
"I regret the need to cause your wife unhappiness," Lord Hastings interrupted, "but both Lord Dugal and I agree the only way to get to the bottom of this is to hear what she herself has to say. No, your grace," he said instantly, "under the circumstances, ‘twould be best if Lord Dugal and I escort the lady down here—to… er… prevent the claim of coercion by either party. Kindly direct Lord Dugal and me to her chamber…"
Jenny closed the door and slumped against it, laying her cheek against the iron banding, feeling as if she was being torn asunder.
The hall was filled with tension and hostility as she walked forward between her two escorts. Men-at-arms from Merrick, Claymore, and those from King Henry and King James lined the walls. Near the fireplace, Jennifer’s father and her brothers stood across from Royce, and all of them were watching her.
"Your grace—" Lord Hastings began, turning to Jennifer, but her father interrupted impatiently. "My dear child," he said, "Tell these idiots that ’twas your
wish to flee to the solace of a cloister, rather than endure life with this… this bastard. Tell them you asked me, begged me to let you do it, that you knew—"
"I knew nothing, "Jenny cried, unable to endure the feigned look of honesty and love on his face. "Nothing!"
Jenny saw Royce start forward, saw the look of quiet reassurance in his gray eyes, but her father wasn’t finished.
"Hold!" he roared, advancing on Jennifer with a mixture of fury and disbelief on his face. "What do you mean, you knew nothing of this? The night I told you you were to wed this beast, you begged me to let you go back to Belkirk abbey." Jenny paled as her forgotten plea, spoken in terror and dismissed as impossible by her father, screamed through her mind… I’ll go back to the abbey, or to my Aunt Elinor, or anywhere you say …