"Ah, but sapphires are cold, and your eyes are warm and expressive. Am I doing better?" he chuckled when she voiced no further argument to wet velvet.
"Much," she agreed readily. "Would you care to go on?"
"Fetching for compliments?"
His lips twitched with laughter. "Very well. Your eyelashes remind me of a sooty broom."
Jenny's mirth exploded in a peal of musical laughter. "A broom!" she chuckled merrily, shaking her head at him.
"Exactly. And your skin is white and soft and smooth. It reminds me of…"
"Yes?" she prompted, chuckling.
"An egg. Shall I go on?"
"Oh, please no," she muttered, laughing.
"I didn't do very well, I take it?" he asked, grinning.
"I would have thought," she admonished breathlessly, "that even the English court required a certain level of courtly behavior. Did you never spend any time at court?"
"As little as possible," he said softly, but his attention had shifted to her generous smiling lips, and without warning he gathered her into his arms, his mouth hungry and urgent on hers.
Jenny felt herself sinking into the sweet, sensual whirlpool of his desire, and with an effort she pulled her mouth from his. His eyes, already darkened with passion, gazed deeply into hers.
"You didn't tell me why," she whispered shakily, "I'm forbidden to leave the castle."
Royce's hands shifted slowly up and down her arms as he bent his head to hers again. "It's only for a few days…" he answered, kissing her between each sentence, "until I'm certain there'll be no trouble…" he pulled her tightly to him "… from the outside."
Satisfied, Jenny gave herself up to the incredible pleasure of kissing him and feeling his big body harden with desire.
The sun was already starting its descent as they crossed the bailey toward the great hall. "I wonder what Aunt Elinor has in mind for supper," she said, smiling up at him.
"At the moment," Royce replied with a meaningful look, "I find my appetite whetted for something other than food. However, while we're on the subject, is your aunt as skilled in kitchen matters as she sounded?"
Jenny sent him a hesitant, sidewise look. "To tell you truly, I can't recall any of my family ever singing her praises in that regard. She was always praised for her curatives—wise women from all over Scotland used to go to her for ointments and preparations of all sorts. Aunt Elinor believes that proper food, properly prepared, wards off all sorts of sicknesses, and that certain foods have special curative powers."
Royce wrinkled his nose. "Medicine with meals? 'Twas not at all what I had in mind." He cast her an appraising glance, as if something had suddenly occurred to him: "Are you skilled in kitchen matters?"
"Not a bit," she replied cheerfully. "Scissors are my specialty."
Royce let out a sharp bark of laughter, but the sight of Sir Albert marching toward them across the bailey, his face even sterner than usual, put an end to Jenny's gaiety. The steward's cold eyes, gaunt body, and thin lips gave him a look of arrogant cruelty that made Jenny instantly uneasy. "Your grace," he said to Royce, "the perpetrator of the mud-throwing incident yesterday has been brought here." He gestured to the smithy at the far end of the bailey where two guards were holding a white-faced lad between them, and a crowd of serfs had gathered. "Shall I handle this?"
"No!" Jenny burst out, unable to conquer her dislike of the man.
With a thinly veiled look of dislike the steward turned from Jennifer to Royce. "Your grace?" he asked, ignoring her.
"I've no experience with civil disciplinary measures or procedures," Royce told Jennifer, visibly hedging. They had reached the edge of the rapidly growing crowd, and Jenny turned eyes full of appeal on her husband, her mind still full of all that Friar Gregory had told her. "If you do not wish to handle it, I could do it in your stead," she volunteered anxiously. "I've seen my father sit on Judgment day times out of mind, and I know how it's done."
Royce turned to the steward. "Handle the formalities in the customary way, and my wife will decide on the punishment."
Sir Albert clenched his teeth so hard his cheek bones protruded further beneath his flesh, but he bowed in acceptance. "As you wish, your grace."
The crowd parted to let them through, and Jenny noticed that everyone on Royce's side moved back much farther than necessary to let him pass—well out of his reach.
When they reached the center of the wide circle, Sir Albert lost no time in preparing to mete out justice. With his icy gaze riveted on the stricken lad, whose outstretched arms were being held by two burly guards, Sir Albert said, "You are guilty of maliciously attacking the mistress of Claymore, a crime of the most serious nature under the laws of England—and one for which you should have received your just punishment yesterday. 'Twould have been easier on you than waiting until today to face it again," the steward finished harshly, leaving Jenny with the fleeting thought that he'd just made Royce's reprieve seem like a deliberate torment.
Tears streamed down the boy's face, and at the edge of the circle a woman, who Jenny instantly guessed must be the boy's mother, covered her face with her hands and began to weep. Her husband stood beside her, his face frozen, his eyes glazed with pain for his son.
"Do you deny it, boy?" Sir Albert snapped.
His thin shoulders shaking with silent weeping, the lad dropped his head and shook it.
"N—" he lifted his shoulder to rub away the humiliating wetness from his face on his dirty tunic. "No."
" 'Tis best you don't," the steward said almost kindly, "for to die with a lie on your soul would damn you for all time."
At the word die, the boy's sobbing mother tore loose from her husband's restraining arm and hurtled herself at her son, wrapping her arms around him, cradling his head against her bosom. "Do it then and be done with it!" she cried brokenly, glaring at the sword-wielding guards. "Don't make him be scared," she sobbed, rocking the boy in her arms. "Can't you see he's scared—" she wept brokenly, her voice dropping to a shattered whisper. "Please… I don't want him to be… scared."
"Get the priest," Sir Albert snapped.
"I fail to see," Royce interrupted in an icy voice that made the boy's mother clutch her son tighter and sob harder, "why we need to have a mass said at this unlikely hour."