A clash between Henry's men and his was the last thing on earth Royce wanted to happen, particularly now. "Hold!" he thundered, well aware that every one of his knights was committing a treasonous act merely by obstructing the king's men. All ninety of the men in the hall froze at the bellowed command, turning their faces to their respective leaders, awaiting the next command.

Royce's gaze slashed over Graverley, shocking the older man with its blazing contempt. "You above all dislike being made to look absurd, and that's what you're doing. The lady who you think I've murdered and hidden, has been taking a pleasant stroll—without a guard—on the hill behind the castle. Furthermore, far from being a prisoner here, Lady Jennifer enjoys complete freedom and has been accorded every comfort. In fact, when you see her, you'll find she's lavishly garbed in the clothes belonging to the former chatelaine of this castle, and around her throat is a strand of rather priceless pearls—also owned by the former chatelaine here."


Graverley's mouth fell open. "You gave jewels to her? The ruthless Black Wolf—the 'Scourge of Scotland'—has been lavishing his ill-gotten gains on his own prisoner?"

"A coffer full of them," Royce drawled blandly.

The look of amazement on Graverley's face at that revelation was so comical that Royce was torn between the urge to laugh and the more appealing urge to smash his fist into the other man's face. However, at that moment, his chief concern was to prevent an outbreak between the opposing forces in the hall and avert the unthinkable repercussions of such an act. To achieve that goal he was willing to say anything, confess to any folly, until Arik appeared with Jennifer in tow. "Furthermore," he continued, leaning his hip upon the table and affecting an attitude of complete confidence, "if you're expecting Lady Jennifer to fall at your feet and weep with joy that you've come to her 'rescue,' you're in for a disappointment. She will want to stay with me—"

"Why should she?" Graverley demanded, but far from being enraged, he was, for the moment, evidently finding the situation highly diverting. Like Royce Westmoreland, Graverley knew the value of alternatives, and if all this rubbish about Lady Jennifer Merrick's willingness should prove to be true—and if Royce could persuade Henry to hold him blameless—then all this diverting information about Westmoreland's tender treatment of his captive would still provide enough hilarious gossip to keep the English court laughing for years. "I gather from your proprietary air that Lady Jennifer has been cavorting in your bed. Evidently, because she has, you think she'll now be willing to betray her family and her country because of it. It sounds to me," Graverley finished with open amusement, "that you've begun to believe all the court gossip over your supposed prowess in bed. Or was she so good to lie with that you've lost your wits? If so, I'll have to invite her for a tumble with me. You won't mind will you?"

Royce's voice was like icicles. "Inasmuch as I intend to wed her, 'twill give me an excuse to cut your tongue out—something I'll look forward to with considerable relish!" Royce was about to say more, but Graverley's gaze suddenly shifted to a point beyond Royce's shoulder.

"Here's the faithful Arik," he drawled with amused insolence, "but where's your eager bride?"

Royce swiveled around, his gaze riveting on Arik's harsh, craggy face. "Where is she?" he demanded.

"She's escaped."

In the frozen silence that followed that announcement, Godfrey added, "Judging by the looks of the tracks in the woods, there were six men and seven horses; she left with no signs of a struggle. One of the men was waiting in the woods only a few yards from where you sat with her today." Only a few yards from where she kissed him as if she never wanted to leave him, Royce thought furiously. Only a few yards from where she used her lips and body and smile to lull him into leaving her there alone …

-- Advertisement --

Graverley, however, was not caught in the grip of paralyzing disbelief. Swinging around, he began snapping orders, the first aimed at Godfrey. "Show my men where you claim this happened." Turning to one of his own men, he added, "Go with Sir Godfrey and if it looks as if an escape actually happened the way he described it, take twelve men and overtake the Merrick clan. When you catch up with them, do not draw arms—any of you. Extend greetings from Henry of England and escort them to the Scottish border. Is that clear?"

Without waiting for an answer, Graverley turned to Royce, his voice tolling ominously in the cavernous hall: "Royce Westmoreland, by the authority of Henry, King of England, I hereby order you to accompany me to London where you will be called upon to answer for the abduction of the Merrick women. You will also answer for deliberately attempting to obstruct me in carrying out my sovereign's commands today regarding the Merrick women—which can and will be considered a treasonous act. Will you place yourself into our custody or must we take you by force?"

Royce's men, who outnumbered Graverley's, tensed—their loyalties understandably torn between their vows of fealty to Royce, their liege lord, and their vows to their king. Somewhere in the inferno of fury that was his mind, Royce noted their plight, and with a curt jerk of his head, he ordered them to lay down their arms.

Seeing that there was to be no resistance, one of Graverley's men, who had moved into position near Royce, caught both Royce's arms, yanked them behind him, and swiftly bound his wrists with stout leather thongs. The thongs were tight, cutting into Royce's wrists, but Royce scarcely noticed: a white hot fury unlike anything he'd ever experienced had consumed him, turning his mind into a fiery volcano of boiling rage. Parading before his eyes were visions of a bewitching Scottish girl: Jennifer lying in his arms… Jennifer laughing up at him… Jennifer blowing him a kiss…

For his stupidity in trusting her, he would face charges of treason. At best, he would forfeit all his lands and titles; at worst, he'd forfeit his life.

At that moment, he was too infuriated to care.

Chapter Thirteen

Royce stood at the window of the small but well-appointed bedchamber that had been his "cell" since his arrival, two weeks ago, at the Tower of London, Henry's royal residence. His expression was impassive as he stared out across the London rooftops, lost in impatient contemplation, his legs braced wide apart. His hands were behind his back, but they were not bound, nor had they been since that first day when his fury at Jennifer Merrick—and at his own gullibility—had temporarily robbed him of his ability to react. He had permitted it then, partly to prevent his men from endangering their own necks by fighting for him, and partly because, at the time, he was too incensed to care.

-- Advertisement --