"So you're finally awake."

Duncan knew he'd given her a fright when she jerked against him. Her hands slammed into the junction of his legs. Duncan groaned in reaction. Hell, she'd make him a eunuch if he gave her half the chance.


Madelyne rolled to her side, daring a quick look up at Duncan. She thought she probably should apologize for accidentally bumping him there, but then he'd know she was quite aware of just where her hands had been, wouldn't he?

Oh, heavens, she could feel herself blushing. And Duncan was frowning again this morning. He didn't look disposed to listening to any apology she made anyway, so she put the worry aside.

He looked ferocious. Aye, the new growth of dark brown beard actually made him look more like a wolf than a man, and he was watching her with a curiosity she found unnerving. His hands continued to span her back. She remembered then how he'd warmed her throughout the night. He could have just as easily harmed her. Madelyne realized she was trying to encourage her fear of him, yet was honest enough to admit that the truth was really quite the opposite. Oh, Duncan did frighten her, but not in the same way Louddon did.

Today was the first time in weeks, since she'd returned to her brother's home in fact, that she hadn't awakened with a sick knot of fear lodged in her stomach. She knew the reason too; it was because Louddon wasn't there.

Duncan wasn't like Louddon at all. Nay, a man who wished to inflict cruelty certainly wouldn't have shared his warmth while they slept. And he'd kept his word too. He hadn't taken advantage… dear God, she'd kissed him. She suddenly remembered every bit of it with a clarity that sent her pulse racing.

Thank the Lord she'd learned to hide her feelings. Madelyne was certain her expression wasn't giving her horrible thoughts away. That was a bit of grace, wasn't it? Aye, she thought with a little sigh. Duncan couldn't possibly know what she was thinking.

Duncan watched Madelyne, secretly amused by the way she showed him one emotion after another. Her eyes gave her away; in the past few minutes he'd seen fear, embarrassment, and, he thought, relief as well.

He was a man conditioned to finding the flaws in others. As a warrior, knowing what was in his opponent's mind quickened his own reactions. He had also learned to find out what his enemy most valued. And then he would take it away. It was the way of fighting men, yet those lessons had spilled over into his personal relationships as well. It wasn't possible to separate the two. And though Madelyne was unaware of it, she'd already given him important hints about her character. She was a woman who valued control. Keeping her emotions hidden seemed an important quest. Madelyne had already shown him that not all women were ruled by their emotions. Only once during the destruction of her home did she show any outward reaction. She'd screamed in anguish when she saw the mutilated body of Louddon's vassal. Yet Duncan doubted Madelyne even knew she'd lost control.

Aye, Duncan was learning all of Madelyne's secrets, and what he'd learned thus far perplexed him. God's truth, she pleased him too.

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Duncan moved away from Madelyne, else the urge to take her back into his arms and kiss her again would become too strong to ignore. He was suddenly very eager to get home. He wouldn't feel at ease until he had Madelyne safely protected behind the walls of his fortress.

Duncan stood, stretched his muscles awake, and then walked away from Madelyne, all but dismissing her from his mind. The sun was climbing into the milky clouds above, clouds that would surely block any heat to melt the night's frost covering the ground. There was much to do before the light was sufficient for their journey. Though the new day was already bitter with chill, the wind was mild enough to please Duncan.

Madelyne knew they'd ride soon. She put on her shoes, brushed the dirt from her gown, and wrapped her cloak around her shoulders. She knew she looked a sight and decided she'd have to do something about it.

Madelyne went in search of Ansel The squire was readying Duncan's stallion. Madelyne asked him where her satchel was, though she stood a safe distance from the great beast and had to yell her question, and then thanked the boy profusely when he threw the bag over to her.

She was only going to wash the sleep from her eyes, but the clear water was too tempting. Madelyne used the scented soap she'd packed in her satchel to give herself a quick bath and then changed her gown.

Lord, it was cold. Madelyne was shivering by the time she finished dressing. She wore a pale yellow ankle-length chainse with a rich gold-colored knee-length bliaut over it. A band of royal blue needlework circled the long sleeves of the tunic.

Madelyne repacked her satchel and then knelt down by the stream and began to brush the tangles from her hair. Now that she was rested, and her mind wasn't consumed with fear, she had plenty of time to think about her situation. The uppermost question was to find out why Duncan had taken her with him. He had told her she belonged to him. Madelyne didn't understand what he had meant by that remark, yet was too timid to ask him to explain.

Gilard came to fetch Madelyne. She heard his approach and turned in time to watch his approach.

"It's time to ride," Gilard bellowed. The force of his voice nearly pushed her into the water. Gilard hastily reached out and yanked her to her feet, inadvertently saving her from disgrace.

"I've still to plait my hair, Gilard. Then I'll be ready. And you really needn't shout at me," she added, deliberately keeping her voice soft. "My hearing is actually quite good."

"Your hair? You've still to…" Gilard was too stunned to continue. He gave Madelyne a look that suggested she'd lost her mind. "You're our captive, for God's sake," he finally managed to stammer out.

"I had surmised as much," Madelyne answered. She sounded as serene as the morning breeze. "But does that mean I may or may not finish arranging my hair before we ride?"

"Are you trying to goad me?" Gilard shouted. "Lady Madelyne, you're in a tenuous position at best. Are you too simpleminded to realize it?"

Madelyne shook her head. "Why are you so angry with me? You shout every word. Is it your usual custom, or is it because I'm Louddon's sister?"

Gilard didn't immediately answer. His face turned a blotchy red though. Madelyne knew she was infuriating him. She was sorry for it, yet decided to continue to bait him all the same. Gilard obviously lacked control over his temper, and if she could nudge him enough, perhaps he'd tell her what was going to happen to her. Gilard was much easier to understand than his brother. And so much easier to manipulate, if she was clever enough.

"Why was I taken captive?" she blurted out. The bluntness of her question made her wince. She hadn't been very clever after all, and was therefore quite surprised when Gilard actually answered her.

"Your brother set the terms of this war, Madelyne. You know that well enough."

"I don't know anything well enough," Madelyne protested. "Explain it to me, if you please. I would like to understand."

"Why do you play the innocent with me?" Gilard demanded. "Everyone in England knows what has taken place over the past year."

"Not everyone, Gilard," Madelyne returned. "I only just returned to my brother's home two months ago. And I lived in a most isolated area for many years."

"Aye, that is right," Gilard sneered. "Lived with your defrocked priest, I understand."

Madelyne could feel her composure slipping. She wanted to scream at the arrogant vassal now. Did everyone in England believe that horrible rumor?

"Very well," Gilard announced. He seemed ignorant of Madelyne's fury now. "I will tell you all the truths, and then you'll not be able to pretend any longer. Louddon's soldiers attacked two holdings belonging to Duncan's loyal vassals. In each attack there was needless slaughter of women and children. The vassals weren't given any warning either, your brother pretended friendship until his men were inside the fortresses."

"Why? Why would Louddon do such a thing? What could he hope to gain?"

She tried not to show how appalled she was by Gilard's words. Madelyne knew her brother was capable of such treachery, yet couldn't understand his motive. "Surely Louddon knew that Duncan, as overlord, would retaliate."

"Aye, that was his hope, Madelyne. He's been trying to kill Duncan," he added with an obscene laugh. "Your brother is greedy for power. He has only to fear one other man in England. Duncan. They are equal in power. Louddon is known to have the king's ear, true, but Duncan's soldiers are the fittest warriors in all the world. The king values my brother's loyalty as much as he values Louddon's friendship."

"The king allowed this treachery?" Madelyne asked. "William refuses to act without proof," Gilard answered. His voice sounded his disgust. "He defends neither Louddon nor Duncan. I can promise you this, Lady Madelyne. When our king returns from Normandy, he'll not be able to evade the problem any longer."

"Then Duncan hasn't been able to act on his vassals' behalf?" Madelyne asked. "That is the reason my brother's home was destroyed instead?"

"You're naive if you believe Duncan didn't retaliate. He ousted the bastards from his vassals' holdings immediately."

"In kind, Gilard?" Madelyne whispered her question. "Did Duncan also kill the innocent as well as the guilty?"

"Nay," Gilard answered. "The women and children were left alone. We Wextons aren't butchers, Madelyne, regardless of what your brother has told you. And our men don't hide behind false colors when they attack either."

"Louddon has told me nothing," Madelyne protested again. "You forget that I am only a sister. I'm not worthy enough to be privy to his thoughts." Her shoulders sagged. Lord, there was so much to think over, so much to reason out. "What will happen if the king takes Louddon's side? What will happen to your brother?"

Gilard heard the fear in her voice. Why, she was acting as though she cared about Duncan. That made little sense, considering her position as captive. Lady Madelyne would confuse him if he allowed it. "Duncan is a man of little patience, and when your brother dared to touch a Wexton, he sealed his fate. My brother won't wait for the king to return to England so that he can command a battle to the death with your bastard brother. Nay, Duncan is going to kill Louddon, with or without the king's blessing."

"What do you mean when you say Louddon touched a Wexton?" Madelyne asked. "There was another Wexton brother and Louddon killed him?" she surmised.

"Ah, so you pretend you know nothing about Adela either, is that the way of this game?" Gilard demanded.

A knot of dread settled in Madelyne's stomach, for she'd caught the frightening look in Gilard's eyes. "Please," she whispered, her head bowed against his hatred, "I must know all of this. Who is Adela?"

"Our sister."

Madelyne's head jerked up. "You would war because of a sister?" she asked.

She looked quite astonished. Gilard didn't know what to make of such a reaction. "Our sister went to court, and while she was there, Louddon caught her alone. He raped her, Madelyne, and beat her so brutally it is a miracle she survived. Her body has healed, but her mind is broken."

Madelyne's composure snapped. She turned her back on Gilard so he wouldn't see the tears streaming down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Gilard," she whispered.

"And you believe what I've just told you?" Gilard demanded, his voice harsh. He wanted to make certain Lady Madelyne wouldn't be able to deny the truth any longer.

"A part of this story, aye," Madelyne answered. "Louddon is capable of beating a woman to death. I do not know if he could rape a woman, though, but if you say it is the truth, I will believe you. My brother is an evil man. I'll not give him my defense."

"Then what is it you don't believe?" Gilard asked, back to shouting again.

"You make me think you value your sister," Madelyne confessed. "That is the confusion."

"What in God's name are you talking about?"

"Do you rage against me because Louddon dishonored the Wexton name or because you actually love your sister?"

Gilard was enraged by such an obscene question. He grabbed hold of Madelyne and jerked her around to face him. His hands painfully gripped her shoulders. "Of course I love my sister," he shouted. "An eye for an eye, Madelyne. We have taken away from your brother that which he most values. You! He'll come after you, and when he does, he'll die."

"So I am responsible for my brother's sins?"

"You are a pawn to draw the demon out," Gilard answered.

"There is a flaw in this plan," Madelyne whispered. Her voice sounded with shame. "Louddon won't come after me. I'm not significant enough to him."

"Louddon isn't a fool," Gilard said, infuriated because he suddenly realized Madelyne meant what she said.

Neither Madelyne nor Gilard heard Duncan approach. "Take your hands off her, Gilard. Now!"

Gilard was quick to comply, even took a step back, putting distance between himself and their captive.

Duncan started toward his brother, intending to find out why Madelyne was weeping. He let Gilard see how furious he was.

Madelyne placed herself between the two brothers. She faced Duncan. "He didn't harm me," she said. "Your brother was only explaining how I am to be used. That is all."

Duncan could see the pain in Madelyne's eyes, yet before he could question her, she turned, picked up her satchel, and then added, "'Tis time to ride."

She tried to walk through Gilard to get back to their camp. Duncan watched his brother hurry to get out of Madelyne's way.

The younger brother was looking worried. "She wants me to believe she's not guilty," he muttered.

"Did Madelyne tell you that?" Duncan asked.

"Nay, she didn't," Gilard admitted with a shrug. "She didn't defend herself at all, Duncan, but she acted so damn innocent. Hell, I don't understand. She seemed surprised that we would care about our sister. I think it was a true reaction too. Why, she actually asked me if we valued Adela."

"And when you answered her?" Duncan asked.

"She seemed all the more perplexed. I don't understand her," Gilard muttered. "The sooner this plan is seen through, the better. Lady Madelyne isn't at all what I expected her to be."

"She is a contradiction," Duncan acknowledged. "God's truth, she doesn't understand her own value." He sighed over his observations and then said, "Come, the hour grows old. We'll be home by nightfall if we make haste."

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