Clutching him to her, her face buried against his corded neck, Jenny felt as if her body were on fire, melting and flowing, and a sob of startled pleasure escaped her. Just when she thought she would surely explode from the feelings building inside her, Royce’s knee parted her thighs and he moved into position over her. Jenny opened her eyes and saw him poised above her—the warrior whose name made men tremble, the same man who had touched and kissed her with such violent tenderness. His face was hard and dark with passion and a pulse was throbbing in his temple as he fought to hold himself back.

His hands went beneath her, lifting her hips to receive him; she felt his hot hardness probing, poised at the entrance, and she met her fate as bravely as she’d met it each time at his hands. Closing her eyes, she wrapped her arms tightly around the same man she knew was going to hurt her. The poignancy of the gesture was shattering to Royce. A shudder shook him as she surrendered in his arms and he inched his throbbing shaft into her incredible warmth, uncertain how much pain he was going to cause her and desperate to lessen it. The time he had taken with her had eased his passage, and he felt her silken warmth tightly sheathing him, expanding to encase him. Twisted into knots of desire, his heart beating painfully, he eased himself into her until he finally encountered the fragile barrier.

He withdrew by inches, and shifted forward again, and then withdrew, poised to breach the barrier, desperate to bury himself within her, hating the pain he was going to cause her. Wrapping his arms tightly around her as if he could absorb the pain into himself, he spoke against her lips, his voice hoarse: "Jenny—I’m sorry." And he drove full-length into her, hearing her gasp of pain as her arms tightened spasmodically.

He waited for her pain to subside, and then he began moving inside of her, gently sliding upward and withdrawing, entering deeper each time, withdrawing further, his body fully aroused and desperate, his will straining for control. Delicately he circled his hips against hers, his passion tripled by her soft moan of delight and her hands gliding to his hips, clasping him to her. Switching to deep, rhythmic thrusts, he plunged into her and felt her body begin moving with his. He could not believe the pleasure she was giving him, the way her body felt clasped around his swollen shaft, sheathing him, or the sweet torture of her instinctive movements.

Quick, piercing stabs of desire were rhythmically jarring Jenny’s body and she moved with him, mindlessly seeking something she sensed he was trying to give her, and coming closer to it and closer to it as he quickened his driving, insistent strokes. The pulsing deep inside of her suddenly exploded in a wild burst of piercing pleasure that racked her body with wave after wave of sensation. Her spasms clasped him, clenching and pulling against his engorged manhood. Royce wrapped his arms tightly around her, holding perfectly still, to increase her pleasure, his breath coming in fast, deep pants against her cheek. He waited until they subsided, his heart thundering against his ribs, and then he drove into her, no longer able to control the force of his thrusts, his whole frame jerking convulsively again and again as his warmth spurted into her.

Floating in a sea of mindless pleasure, her body still joined with his, Jenny felt Royce move onto his side and bring her with him, and she drifted slowly back to consciousness. Her eyelids flickered open, the shadows in the bedchamber slowly took form and shape; a log crashed onto the stones, and sparks flickered brightly. The realization of all that had passed between them came flooding back to her and there, held securely in his arms, she knew a feeling of loneliness and terror beyond anything. What she had just done was not martyrdom, not even noble sacrifice—not when she’d found such pagan pleasure in it, such… heaven. Beneath her cheek, she heard the heavy, rhythmic beating of his heart, and she swallowed a lump of painful emotion. She had found something else here, something forbidden and dangerous to her, a feeling that shouldn’t, couldn’t exist.

And despite all her fear and guilt for what she felt, all she wanted at that moment was for him to call her "Jenny" again in that same rough, tender tone. Or to say, in any tone, "I love you."

As if her need to hear his voice communicated itself to him, he spoke, but what he said was not what she wanted to hear, nor was his tone the one her heart yearned for. Quietly, and without emotion, he asked, "Did I hurt you badly?"

She shook her head and, after two attempts, managed to whisper, "No."

"I’m sorry if I did."

"You didn’t."

"It would have hurt, no matter who took you the first time."

Tears leapt to her eyes, clogging her throat, and she rolled onto her opposite side, trying to pull out of his arms, but he held her fast, her back and legs pressed to his chest and thighs. No matter who took you, Jenny thought miserably, was a very far thing from "I love you."

Royce knew it. He knew it as surely as he knew that it was folly to think the words, let alone say them. Not now, not yet… not ever, he corrected himself, as the vision of the woman he was supposed to marry floated across his mind. He felt no guilt at having made love to Jennifer; among other things, he was not yet betrothed—unless Henry had gotten impatient and arranged the matter with Lady Mary Hammel himself.

It occurred to Royce at that moment that, even if he were betrothed, he probably wouldn’t feel any guilt. A vision of Mary Hammel’s face, lovely and fair, framed by a cloud of silvery blond hair, crossed his mind. Mary was passionate and uninhibited in bed, trembling with excitement in his arms, and her reasons were no secret between them, for she had said them herself, smiling into his eyes, her voice husky and low: "You, my lord, are Power and Violence and Might—and to most women, those are the most potent aphrodisiacs of all."

Staring into the firelight, Royce wondered idly whether Henry would have proceeded with the betrothal without waiting for his return at the end of the month. For a strong sovereign who’d seized the throne by conquest, Henry had immediately developed what Royce felt to be a rather distasteful habit of solving political problems, whenever possible, through the expedient measure of arranging marriages between the two hostile entities—beginning with Henry’s own marriage to Elizabeth of York, daughter of the very king from whom Henry had seized the throne of England one year before, in a battle that ended in the other’s death. Moreover, Henry had said more than once that if his daughter were old enough, he’d marry her to James of Scotland and end the interminable strife between the countries that way. Such a solution might satisfy Henry, but Royce wanted no such unfriendly alliance for himself. He wanted a compliant, biddable wife to warm his bed and grace his hall; he’d already had too much strife in his life to voluntarily subject himself to more of it in his own domain.