"Wolf!" Brenna cried. "You said it was an owl."
"No, I'm almost certain as I reflect on it, that 'twas a horrible wolf! But the point is, we're safe here—we'll not be murdered or molested as I originally thought, so there's no reason for us to risk trying to escape and find our way home on our own. Soon enough, one way or another, Papa will gain our release."
"Oh, yes!" Brenna chimed in, when Jenny pantomimed for her to agree aloud. "I agree perfectly!"
As Jennifer hoped, Stefan Westmoreland, who'd been standing outside the tent, reported what he'd overheard. Royce listened with considerable surprise, but the logic behind Jennifer's apparent willingness to quietly resign herself to captivity was undeniable. Moreover, Jennifer's apparent willingness to quietly wait out her captivity was sensible, and so were the reasons she'd given her sister for her decision.
And so, albeit with some instinctive misgivings, Royce ordered the guard around his tent reduced from four to one, and that guard was Arik, who was there solely to ensure the captives' safety. No sooner had Royce given the order than he found himself stopping, wherever he might be in the camp, to look at his tent—always expecting to see a tousled mass of red-gold hair trying to creep from beneath it. When two days passed and she remained obediently within the tent, he reversed his other edict and told Jennifer she would be permitted to be with her sister an hour each day. And then he doubted the wisdom of that decision, too.
Jennifer, who knew full well the reason for these changes, vowed to watch for any further opportunity to strengthen the earl's ill-founded trust and thus lull him into further relaxing his guard.
The following night, fate handed her the ultimate chance, and Jenny took full advantage of it: She had just stepped outside with Brenna, intending to tell Arik they wished to stroll about the perimeter of the tent—the area they were now restricted to for exercise —when two things simultaneously occurred to Jenny: The first was that Arik and the Black Wolf's guards were more than twenty-five yards away, momentarily occupied with some sort of fight which had broken out among the men; the second was that, far off on her left, the earl had turned and was watching Jennifer and Brenna closely.
Had Jenny not known he was watching, she might well have attempted to flee into the woods with Brenna, but since she instantly realized he'd apprehend them within minutes if they tried, she did something much better: Careful to appear as if she had no idea they were being watched, Jenny linked her arm with Brenna's, and pointed toward the absent Arik, then she deliberately strolled away from the woods, obediently keeping to the perimeter of the tent as they had been told to do. In doing so, Jenny skillfully made it appear to Royce that, even without guards, she could be trusted not to try to escape.
The ploy worked magnificently. That night, Royce, Stefan, Arik, and the Black Guard gathered to discuss the plan to break camp the next day and begin marching thirty miles northeast to Hardin castle, where the army would rest while awaiting fresh reinforcements from London. During the discussion and the meal that followed it, Royce Westmoreland's behavior to Jenny verged on gallant! And when everyone had left the tent, he turned to her and quietly said, "There will no longer be any restrictions whatever on your visits with your sister."
Jenny, who'd been about to sit down amidst the pile of fur rugs, stopped in mid-motion at the unfamiliar gentleness in his voice and stared at him. Uneasiness coursed through her, inexplicable but tangible as she gazed at his proud, aristocratic face. It was as if he had stopped thinking of her as his enemy and was asking her to do the same, and she knew not how to react.
As she gazed into those fathomless silver eyes, some instinct warned her his offer of a truce could make him more dangerous to her than he had been as her foe, yet her mind rejected that notion, for it made no sense to her. Surely she could only benefit from a surface friendship between them, and, in truth, she'd rather enjoyed their lighthearted banter as she stitched his wound the other night.
She opened her mouth to thank him for his offer, then stopped. It seemed a betrayal to thank her kidnapper for his leniency, to pretend that all was forgiven and that they were—well—friends. Furthermore, although she was relieved that she had apparently made him trust her, she felt ashamed for the trickery and deceit she'd used to accomplish it. Even as a little girl, Jenny had been forthright and open—an attitude which had oft landed her in disfavor with her father and which ultimately led her to challenge her unscrupulous stepbrother to a duel of honor, rather than trying to beat him at his own game of deceit. Openness and honesty had gotten her banished to the abbey. Here, however, she'd been forced to resort to trickery, and although all her efforts were being rewarded, and her cause was worthy, she felt somehow ashamed of what she was doing. Pride and honesty and desperation were waging a war inside of her, and her conscience was being assaulted in the fray.
She tried to think what Mother Ambrose would do in this situation, but she simply could not imagine anyone daring to abduct the dignified abbess in the first place, let alone toss her over the back of a horse like a sack of grain, and all the other things Jenny had endured since coming here.
But one thing was certain, Mother Ambrose dealt justly with everyone, no matter how provoking the circumstance.
The earl was offering Jenny trust—even a sort of friendship—she could see it in the warmth of his eyes; hear it in the gentleness of his deep baritone voice. She could not, dared not turn his trust aside.
The future of her clan depended on her being able to escape—or else being easy to rescue, for they'd surely at least try that before they surrendered. For that, Jenny needed freedom of the camp—as much as possible. Shameful or no, she could not be righteous and scorn his trust. Nor could she refuse his gesture of friendship without jeopardizing his trust at the same time, but at least she could try to return his friendship with a degree of sincerity and honesty.
Having decided that after a prolonged period of silence, Jenny looked at the earl and lifted her chin and with an unintentionally cool nod, she accepted his offer of a truce.
More entertained than annoyed by what he misinterpreted as her "regal" acceptance of his leniency, Royce crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his hip against the table, one brow arched in speculative amusement. "Tell me something, Jennifer," he said as she sat down among the furs and curled her shapely legs beneath her, "when you were in the nunnery, were you not warned to avoid the seven vices?"
"Yes, of course."