"And I'll give you one if you'll cease roaring at me. These women are—"
"Nuns!" Royce bit out, his gaze suddenly riveting on the heavy crucifix hanging from a black cord around Jenny's neck, then lifting to the soiled wimple and askew veil. For a moment his discovery left him nearly dumbstruck. "God's teeth, you brought nuns here to be used as whores?"
"Nuns!" Stefan gasped, astounded.
"Whores!" croaked Jenny, outraged. Surely he couldn't be so steeped in godlessness that he'd actually give them to his men to be used as whores.
"I could kill you for this folly, Stefan, so help me—"
"You'll feel differently when I tell you who they are," Stefan said, yanking his horrified gaze from Jenny's gray habit and crucifix. "Standing before you, dear brother," he announced with renewed delight, "is the Lady Jennifer, beloved eldest child of Lord Merrick."
Royce stared at his younger brother, the hands at his sides unclenching as he turned to contemptuously survey Jenny's dirty face. "Either you've been fooled, Stefan, or the land rings with false rumors, for 'tis said Merrick's daughter is the rarest beauty in the land."
"Nay, I wasn't fooled. She is truly his, I heard it from her own lips."
Catching Jenny's trembling chin between his thumb and forefinger, Royce stared hard at her smudged face, studying it by the firelight while his brows drew together and his lips twisted into a mirthless smile. "How could anyone possibly call you a beauty?" he said with deliberate, insulting sarcasm. "The jewel of Scotland?"
He saw the flare of anger his words brought to her face as she jerked it out of his grasp, but instead of being touched by her courage, he was angered by it. Everything about the name Merrick infuriated him, making vengeance boil up inside him, and he grasped her pale, smudged face and jerked it back to his. "Answer me!" he demanded in an awful voice.
In her state of near hysteria, it seemed to Brenna that Jenny was somehow accepting blame that was rightfully Brenna's" and, groping at Jenny's gown, using it for leverage, she hauled herself to an unsteady, standing position, then she molded her body to Jenny's entire right side, like twins fused together at birth.
"They don't call Jenny that!" she croaked when it seemed as if Jenny's continued silence would surely bring terrible retribution from the terrifying giant before them. "They—they call me that."
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded furiously.
"She is no one!" Jenny burst out, discarding the eighth commandment in hopes that Brenna might be freed if she were believed to be a nun, rather than a Merrick. "She is merely Sister Brenna of Belkirk Abbey!"
"Is that true?" Royce demanded of Brenna.
"Yes!" Jenny cried.
"No," Brenna whispered meekly.
Clenching his hands into fists at his sides, Royce Westmoreland briefly closed his eyes. It was like a nightmare, he thought. An incredible nightmare. After a forced march, he was out of food, out of shelter, and out of patience. And now this. Now, he couldn't even manage to get a sensible, honest answer out of two terrified women. He was tired, he realized, exhausted from three days and nights without sleep. He turned his haggard face and blazing eyes on Brenna. "If you have any hope of surviving another hour," he informed her, correctly recognizing her as the most easily intimidated of the pair and, therefore, the least likely one to invent a lie, "you'll answer me now and with the truth." His rapier gaze stabbed into Brenna's fear-widened hazel eyes, imprisoning them. "Are you, or are you not, the daughter of Lord Merrick?"
Brenna swallowed and tried to speak but couldn't push a word past her trembling lips. Drooping with defeat, she bowed her head and meekly nodded. Satisfied, Royce shot a murderous glance at the hellcat in gentle nun's garb, then he turned to issue a curt order to his brother: "Tie them up and put them in a tent. Have Arik stand guard to protect them from the men. I want them both alive tomorrow for questioning."
I want them alive tomorrow for questioning… the words reverberated in Jenny's tortured mind as she lay in a tent on the ground beside poor Brenna, her wrists and feet bound with leather thongs, looking up at the cloudless, starlit sky through a hole in the top of the tent. What sort of questioning did the Wolf have in mind, she wondered as exhaustion finally overtook her fear. What means of torture would he use to exact answers from them, and what answers could he possibly want? Tomorrow, Jenny was certain, would mark the end of their lives.
"Jenny?" Brenna whispered shakily. "You don't think he means to kill us tomorrow, do you?"
"No," Jenny lied reassuringly.
The Wolf's camp seemed to stir to life before the last stars faded from the sky, but Jenny had not slept more than an hour all night. Shivering beneath the thin covering of her light mantle, she stared up at the inky blue heavens, alternately apologizing to God for her many follies and begging Him to spare poor Brenna from the inevitable consequences of Jenny's foolish decision to walk up the hill at dusk yesterday.
"Brenna," she whispered when the movements of the men grew louder outside, indicating the camp was coming fully to life, "are you awake?"
"When the Wolf questions us, let me give the answers."
"Yes," she said again, her voice quaking.
"I'm not certain what he'll want to know, but it's bound to be something we shouldn't tell him. Perhaps I'll be able to guess why he asks a question and so know when to mislead him."
Dawn had scarcely streaked the sky with pink before two men came to untie them and to allow them both only a few minutes of privacy in the bushes in the woods on the edge of the wide clearing before they retied Jenny and led Brenna off to meet the Wolf. "Wait," Jenny gasped when she realized their intentions, "take me, please. My sister is… er… unwell."
One of them, a towering giant over seven feet tall who could only be the legendary colossus called Arik, gave her a blood-chilling look and walked off. The other guard continued leading poor Brenna away and, through the open flap of the tent, Jenny saw the lascivious looks the men in the camp were giving her as she walked through their midst, her wrists bound behind her.
The half hour Brenna was gone seemed like an eternity to Jenny, but to her enormous relief, Brenna didn't show any signs of having suffered any physical cruelty when she returned.
"Are you all right?" Jenny asked anxiously when the guard had walked away. "He didn't harm you, did he."