"Yours is the beauty of the two," Stefan replied coldly, "and you're not sampling anything until Royce decides what he wants to do with these two."
Nearly suffocating with fear inside her blanket, Jenny made a tiny cry of mindless, panicked protest in her throat, but no one heard her. She prayed to God to strike her captors dead on their horses, but God didn't seem to hear her, and the horses trotted endlessly, painfully onward. She prayed to be shown some sort of plan to escape, but her mind was too busy, frantically tormenting her with all the gruesome tales of the deadly Black Wolf: He keeps no prisoners unless he means to torture them. He laughs when his victims scream with pain. He drinks their blood…"
Bile surged up in Jenny's throat and she began to pray, not for escape, for she knew in her heart there would be no escape. Instead she prayed that death would come quickly and that she would not disgrace her proud family name. Her father's voice came back to her as he stood in the hall at Merrick, instructing her stepbrothers when they were young: "If it is the Lord's will that you die at the hands of the enemy, then do it bravely. Die fighting like a warrior. Like a Merrick! Die fighting…
The phrases ranted through her mind, hour after hour, around and around, yet when the horses slowed and she heard distant, unmistakable sounds of a large encampment of men, fury began to overcome her fear. She was much too young to die, she thought, and it wasn't fair! And now gentle Brenna was going to die and that would be Jenny's fault, too. She would have to face the good Lord with that deed on her conscience. And all because a bloodthirsty ogre was roaming the land, devouring everything in his path.
Her thundering heart doubled its beat as the horses came to a jarring stop. All around her, metal clanked against metal as men moved about and then she heard the prisoners' voices—men's voices crying pathetically for mercy, "Have pity, Wolf—Pity, Wolf—" The awful chants were rising to a shout as she was unceremoniously yanked from her horse.
"Royce," her captor called out, "stay there—we've brought you something!"
Completely blinded by the cloak which had been thrown over her head, and her arms still bound by the rope, she was tossed over her captor's shoulder. Beside her, she heard Brenna scream her name as they were carried forward.
"Be brave, Brenna," Jenny cried, but her voice was muffled by the cloak, and she knew her terrified sister couldn't hear her.
Jenny was abruptly lowered to the ground and pushed forward. Her legs were numb and she stumbled, falling heavily to her knees. Die like a Merrick. Die bravely. Die fighting, the chant raged through her mind as she tried ineffectually to raise herself. Above her, the Wolf spoke for the first time and she knew the voice was his. The voice was gravelly, fiery—a voice straight from the bowels of hell. "What is this? Something to eat, I hope."
'Tis said he eats the flesh of those he kills… Young Thomas's words came back to her while rage blended with the sound of Brenna's scream and the calls for pity from the prisoners. The rope around her arms was suddenly jerked loose. Driven by the twin demons of fear and fury, Jenny surged clumsily to her feet, her arms flailing at the cloak, looking like an enraged ghost trying to fling off its shroud. And the moment it fell away, Jenny doubled up her fist and swung with all her might at the dark, demonic, shadowy giant before her, striking him on the jaw bone.
"Monster!" Jenny shouted. "Barbarian!" and she swung again, but this time her fist was caught in a painful viselike grip and held high above her head. "Devil!" she cried, squirming, and she landed a mighty kick at his shin. "Spawn of Satan! Despoiler of innoc—!"
"What the—!" Royce Westmoreland roared, and reaching out, he caught his assailant at the waist and jerked her off her feet, holding her at arm's length, high in the air. It was a mistake. Her booted foot struck out again, catching Royce squarely in the groin with an impact that nearly doubled him over.
"You little bitch!" he thundered, as surprise, pain, and fury made him drop her, then grasp her by the veil, catching a handful of hair beneath it, and jerking her head back. "Be still!" he roared.
Even nature seemed to obey him; prisoners stopped their keening cries, the sounds of clanging metal ceased and an awful, unearthly silence fell over the huge clearing. Her pulse racing and her scalp smarting, Jenny squeezed her eyes closed and waited for the blow from his mighty list that would surely kill her.
But it didn't come.
Half in fear and half in morbid curiosity, she slowly opened her eyes and for the first time, she actually saw His Face. The demonic specter that towered before her nearly made her scream with terror: He was huge. Enormous. His hair was black and his black cloak was billowing out behind him, blowing eerily in the wind as if it had a life of its own. Firelight danced across his swarthy, hawklike features, casting shadows that made him look positively satanic; it blazed in his strange eyes, heating them until they glowed like molten silver coals in his bearded haggard face. His shoulders were massive and broad, his chest incredibly wide, his arms bulging with muscle. One look at him and Jenny knew that he was capable of every vile thing he'd been accused of doing.
Die bravely! Die swiftly!
She turned her head and sank her teeth into his thick wrist.
She saw his blazing eyes widen a split second before his hand raised, then crashed against her cheek with a force that snapped her head sideways and sent her sprawling to her knees. Instinctively, Jenny quickly curled herself into a protective ball, and waited, eyes clenched shut, for the deathblow to befall her, while terror screamed through every pore of her quaking body.
The voice of the giant spoke above her, only this time it was more terrible because it was so tautly controlled that it hissed with muted fury: "What in the hell have you done?" Royce raged at his younger brother. "Haven't we problems enough without this! The men are exhausted and hungry, and you bring in two women to further fire their discontent."
Before his brother could speak, Royce turned to issue a sharp command to the other man to leave them, then his gaze slashed to the two prone female figures lying at his feet, one of them in a dead faint, the other curled into a ball, trembling so violently that her body shook as if in the throes of convulsions. For some reason the quaking girl enraged him more than her unconscious counterpart. "Get up!" he snapped at Jenny, nudging her with the toe of his boot. "You were brave enough a minute ago, now get up!"
Jenny uncurled slowly and, bracing her hand against the ground beneath her, she staggered awkwardly to her feet, swaying unsteadily while Royce rounded on his brother again. "I'm waiting for an answer, Stefan!"