His brows lifted over amused gray eyes. "I didn't scale them. I tunneled under them, shored them up with beams and then set fires in the tunnels. When the beams collapsed, so did the wall."

Jenny's mouth opened in shock, and then she remembered something: "I heard you did that at Castle Glenkenny. It sounds dangerous in the extreme."


"It is."

"Then why did you do it?"

Brushing a stray lock off her cheek, Royce said lightly, "Because I can't fly, which was the only other way to get into this bailey."

"Then 'twould seem," she remarked thoughtfully, "someone else could get in here the same way."

"They could try," he said with a grin, "but 'twould be foolhardy. Just beyond us, a few yards from the walls, I had a series of tunnels constructed, ones that will collapse on invaders should any of them decide to try what I did. When I rebuilt this place," he said, putting his arm around her waist and drawing her against his side, "I tried to redesign it in a way that even I couldn't breach it. Eight years ago, these walls were not of such smooth stone as they are now." He nodded at the turrets that rose high above the walls at regular intervals. "And those towers were all square. Now they're round."

"Why?" Jenny asked, intrigued.

"Because," he said, pausing to brush a warm kiss upon her forehead, "round towers have no nice corners for men to use to climb them. Square ones, like those you had at Merrick, are especially easy to climb, as you well know…" Jenny opened her mouth to issue a deserved reprimand for bringing up such a subject, only to find herself being kissed. "If the enemy can't climb the walls or tunnel beneath them," he murmured against her lips, as he kissed her again, "the only other thing to do is to try to set fire to us. Which is why," he whispered as he drew her against him, "all the buildings in the bailey now have tile roofs, instead of thatch."

Breathless from his kisses, Jenny leaned back in his arms. "You're very thorough, my lord," she teased meaningfully.

An answering smile drifted across his tanned face. "What is mine, I intend to keep."

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His words reminded her of things of her own she had not been able to keep—things that should have belonged to their children.

"What's wrong?" Royce asked, watching her expression turn somber.

Jenny shrugged and lightly said, "I was merely thinking that it's natural you'd want children, and—"

Tipping her face up to his, Royce said quietly, "I want your children." She waited, praying he would say 'I love you,' and when he didn't she tried to tell herself that what he had said was nearly as good as 'I love you.'

"I had a great many things—jewels and things—" she continued wistfully, "things of my mother's that by rights should have belonged to our children. I doubt my father would give them to me now. I wasn't dowerless you know, if you read the betrothal contract."

"Madam," he said dryly, "you're scarcely dowerless now."

Feeling truly belittled by the sudden realization that she'd come to her marriage with only the soiled garments she wore, she turned around in his arms, gazing out across the valley. "I have nothing. I came to you with less than the lowest serf, without so much as a single sheep as dowry."

"No sheep," he agreed dryly. "Your only possession is the most beautiful little estate in all England, called Grand Oak—because of the giant oaks that guard its gates." He saw her startled look and added with a wry smile, "Henry gave it to you as a bride gift. 'Twill be your dower house."

"How… how nice… of him," Jenny said, finding it extremely difficult to speak so of the English king.

Royce shot her a sardonic, sidewise glance. "He took it from me."

"Oh," Jenny said, nonplused. "Why?"

" 'Twas a forfeit levied on me for actions pertaining to a certain young Scottish girl captured from an abbey."

"I'm not so certain we were on the grounds of the abbey."

"According to the abbess, you were."

"Truly?" she asked, but Royce didn't hear her. Suddenly he was staring intently at the valley, his body taut and alert.

"Is something wrong?" Jenny asked, peering worriedly in the direction of his gaze, unable to see a single thing out of the ordinary.

"I think," he said coolly as he stared out at a nearly invisible speck of light far beyond the village, "our pleasant evening is about to be interrupted. We have guests." Six more tiny pinpoints of light bobbed into view, then a dozen more and then twice that many. "At least a hundred, possibly more. Mounted."

"Guest—" Jenny began, but her voice was drowned out as a guard far off to her right suddenly raised his trumpet and blew an earsplitting blast on his clarion. Twenty-five other guards, stationed at intervals along the wall-walk, turned in his direction, and a moment later, after confirming what he saw, they lifted their own clarions and suddenly the peaceful night was split with the ominous blasts of trumpets. Within seconds men-at-arms were pouring into the bailey with weapons at the ready, some of them dressing as they ran. Frantically, Jenny turned to Royce. "What's wrong? Are they enemies?"

"I'd say they're a contingent from Merrick."

Sir Godfrey and Sir Stefan bolted up the steps of the wall-walk, strapping on long swords, and Jenny's whole body began to tremble. Swords. Bloodshed.

Royce turned to issue orders to the captain-at-arms, and when he turned back to Jennifer, she was staring out at the flickering lights, her fist pressed to her mouth.

"Jennifer," he said gently, but the eyes she raised to him were wild with terror, and he realized at once he had to get her away from the scene of what obviously looked to her to be preparations for a full-scale battle.

Hundreds of torches were being lit in the bailey and on the castle wall, and the whole scene was already aglow with eerie yellow daylight as Royce took her arm and led her, down the steps and into the hall.

Closing the door to his bedchamber, he turned to her, and she looked at him in numb anguish. "Should you not be out there—with your men?"

"No. My men have been through this drill a thousand times." Putting his hands on her rigid shoulders, he said to her in a calm, firm voice, "Jennifer, listen to me. My men have orders not to attack without a command from me personally." She shuddered as if the word "attack" had been all she heard, and Royce gave her a slight shake. "Listen to me," he commanded sharply. "I had men posted in the woods near the road. In a few minutes, I'll know exactly how large a group is approaching. I don't think it's an army unless your father is a greater fool than I think he is. Moreover, he hasn't had time to put out a call-to-arms to your hotheaded Scotsmen and raise a fully equipped army. I think it's merely a group from Merrick, including Lord Hastings, Lord Dugal, and your father. Considering the awkward position I put him in when I snatched you from Merrick, it's natural he'd want to bluster in here and put up a pretence of innocent outrage. Moreover, he'll save a little face if he's able to gain entrance to Claymore even if it takes a flag of truce and an Englishman from the court of the Star Chamber to get him in here."

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