His eyes raked over her in disgust. "I'm afraid not—no embroidery hoops."

"Perhaps a small quilting frame then?" she added, innocently widening her eyes as she held back her laughter.



"There must be something we could use needle and thread on," Jenny added swiftly when he turned to leave. "We'll go quite mad with nothing to do, day after day. It doesn't matter what we sew. Surely you must have something that needs sewing—"

He swung around, looking startled and pleased and dubious. "You're volunteering to do mending for us?"

Brenna was a picture of innocent shock at his suggestion; Jenny tried to imitate her look. "I hadn't thought of mending exactly…"

"There's enough mending needed here to keep a hundred seamstresses busy for a year," Royce said decisively, deciding in that moment they ought to earn their bed and board—such as it was—and mending was exactly the right form of payment. Turning to Godfrey, he said, "See to it."

Brenna looked wonderfully stricken that her suggestion could have resulted in their practically joining forces with the enemy; Jenny made a serious effort to look balky, but the moment the four men were out of earshot, she threw her arms around her sister and hugged her exuberantly. "We've just overcome two of the three obstacles to our escape," she said. "Our hands will be unbound and we're to have access to disguises, Brenna."

"Disguises?" Brenna began, but before Jenny needed to answer, her eyes widened with comprehension and she enfolded her sister into a second hug, laughing softly. "Men's clothing," she giggled, "and he offered it to us."

Within an hour, their tent contained two miniature mountains of clothing and a third mountain of torn blankets and mantles belonging to the men-at-arms. One pile of clothing belonged exclusively to Royce and Stefan Westmoreland, the other to Royce's knights, two of whom Jenny was relieved to see were men of medium to small proportions.

Jenny and Brenna worked late into the night, their eyes straining in the flickering light. They'd already mended the items they'd chosen to wear for their escape and put them out of sight. Now they were diligently working on the pile of clothes belonging to Royce. "What time do you suppose it is?" Jenny asked as she carefully sewed the wrist of his shirt completely closed. Beside her were many other items of his clothing which had received equally creative alterations, including several pairs of hose which had been skillfully tightened at the knee to make it impossible for a leg to descend beyond that point.

-- Advertisement --

"Ten o'clock, or so," Brenna answered as she bit off her thread. "You were right," she said smiling as she held up one of the earl's shirts which now had a skull and crossbones embroidered on the back in black. "He'll never notice when he puts it on." Jenny laughed, but Brenna was suddenly lost in thought. "I've been thinking about the MacPherson," Brenna said and Jenny paid attention, for when Brenna wasn't overwhelmed by fear, she was actually very clever. "I don't think you'll have to marry the MacPherson, after all."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because Father will undoubtedly notify King James—maybe even the pope—that we were abducted from an abbey, and that may cause such an uproar that King James will send his forces to Merrick. An abbey is inviolable and we were under the protection of it. And so, if King James comes to our aid, we wouldn't need the MacPherson's clans, would we?"

A flame of hope ignited in Jenny's eyes, then wavered. "I don't think we were actually on the grounds of the abbey."

"Father won't know that, so he'll assume we were. So will everyone else, I think."

His brow furrowed in puzzlement, Royce stood outside his tent, his gaze turned on the smaller tent at the edge of the camp where his two female hostages were being kept. Eustace had just relieved Lionel and was standing guard.

The faint glow of candlelight seeping between the canvas and ground told Royce both women were still awake. Now in the relative peace of the moonlit night, he admitted to himself that part of the reason he'd gone to their tent earlier today was curiosity. As soon as he learned Jennifer's face was clean, he'd felt an undeniable curiosity to have a look at it. Now, he discovered he was ridiculously curious about the color of her hair. Judging by her winged brows, her hair was either auburn or brown, while her sister was definitely blond, but Brenna Merrick didn't interest him.

Jennifer did.

She was like a puzzle whose pieces he had to wait to see one at a time, and each piece was more surprising than the last.

She'd obviously heard the usual stories about his alleged atrocities, yet she was not half so afraid of him as most men were. That was the first and most intriguing piece of the puzzle—the entire girl. Her courage and lack of fear.

Then, there were her eyes—enormous, captivating eyes of a deep, rich blue that made him think of velvet. Amazing eyes. Candid and expressive with long russet eyelashes. Her eyes had made him want to see her face, and today when he had, he could scarce believe rumor called her plain.

She wasn't beautiful precisely, and "pretty" didn't quite suit her either, but when she'd looked up at him in the tent today he'd felt stunned. Her cheekbones were high and delicately molded, her skin was as smooth as alabaster, tinted with pale rose, her nose small. In contrast to these delicate features, her small chin had a decidedly stubborn bluntness to it, and yet when she smiled, he could have sworn he saw two tiny dimples.

Altogether it was an intriguing, alluring face, he decided. Definitely alluring. And that was before he allowed himself to remember her soft, generous lips.

Dragging his thoughts from Jennifer Merrick's lips, he lifted his head and looked inquiringly at Eustace. Understanding the unspoken question, Eustace turned slightly so the campfire would illuminate his features, and held up his right hand as if a needle was delicately poised between his two fingers, then he moved his arm, letting it rise and fall in the steady, undulating motion of sewing.

The girls were sewing. Royce found that notion rather difficult to comprehend, given the lateness of the hour. His own experience with wealthy women was that they sewed special items for their families and their homes, but they left mending for servants to do. He supposed, as he tried unsuccessfully to make out Jennifer's shadowed form against the canvas of the tent, that wealthy women might also sew to keep busy when they were bored. But not this late and by candlelight.

How very industrious the Merrick girls were, he thought with a tinge of sarcasm and disbelief. How nice of them to want to aid their captors by keeping their clothes in good repair. How generous.

-- Advertisement --