"I should no’ have told James what I wanted to do. That was my mistake," he gritted, beginning to pace. "We’d no’ have needed his help! The sanctity of one of our abbeys had been violated when you were taken from its grounds. Within days, all Catholic Scotland was ready—anxious—to take arms and march with us! But James," he finished angrily, "wants peace. Peace at the cost of Merrick pride—peace at any cost! He promised me revenge. He promised all Scotland that he would make the Barbarian pay for this outrage. Well," Lord Merrick spat furiously, "he’s made him pay, all right! He’s gotten his ‘reparation ‘ from the English."
For a sick moment, Jenny wondered if Royce Westmoreland had been imprisoned or worse, but judging by her father’s furious look, neither of those punishments—which he would see as fitting—had been meted out. "What did James accept in the form of reparation?" she asked when her father seemed unable to continue.
Across from her, William flinched and the other men began to look at their hands.
"Marriage," her father gritted.
For a moment Jenny’s mind went completely blank. "My—my marriage to whom?"
"To the Spawn of Satan. To the murderer of my brother and my son. To the Black Wolf!"
Jenny gripped the arms of her chair so tightly her knuckles whitened. "Whaat!"
Her father jerked his head in a nod, but his voice and expression took on an odd note of triumph as he came to stand directly in front of her. "You are supposed to be the instrument of peace, daughter," he said, "but later, you will be the instrument of victory for the Merricks and for all Scotland!"
Very slowly Jenny shook her head, staring at him in confused shock. The remainder of her color drained from her face as her father continued, "Without realizing it, James has given me the means to destroy the Barbarian, not on the battlefield, by putting an end to his life, as I’d hoped to do, but instead in his own castle, by ruining what is left of his misbegotten life. In fact," he finished with a sly, proud smile, "you’ve already begun."
"What—what do you mean?" Jenny whispered hoarsely.
"All England is laughing at him because of you. The stories of your two escapes, your wounding him with his own dagger, all of it, have been circulating from Scotland to England. His brutality has gained him enemies in his own country, and those enemies are busy spreading those same stories everywhere. You’ve made a laughingstock of Henry’s champion, my dear. You’ve ruined his reputation, but his wealth remains, along with his titles—wealth and titles he accumulated by crushing Scotland beneath his heel. ‘Tis up to you to see he never enjoys those gains—and you can, by denying him an heir. By denying him your favors, by—"
Shock and fear combined to send Jenny surging to her feet. "This is madness! Tell King James I wish for no ‘reparation.’ "
" ‘Tis of no consequence what we want! Rome wants reparation. Scotland wants it. Claymore is on his way here even as we speak. The betrothal contract will be signed and the wedding is to follow immediately. James has left us no alternative."
Jenny shook her head slowly, in silent, desperate denial, while her voice slid to a frightened whisper. "Nay, Papa, you don’t understand. You see—I—he trusted me not to try to escape, and I did. And if I’ve truly made him a laughingstock, he’ll never forgive me for that…"
Anger turned her father’s face a terrible shade of red. "You do not want his forgiveness. We want his defeat in every way—large and small—that we can have it! Every Merrick, every Scot, will depend on you to deliver it. You have the courage to do it, Jennifer. You proved that while you were his captive…"
Jenny no longer heard him. She had humiliated Royce Westmoreland, and now he was coming here; she trembled at the realization of how much he must loathe her and how angry he must be: her mind promptly presented her with frightening visions of the times she had seen him angry; she saw him as he had looked the night she’d been dumped at his feet, his black mantle billowing eerily, the orange flames of the fire giving his face a satanic look. She saw the expression on his face when his horse was dead because of her; the fury that blackened his features when she cut his face. But none of that had been breaking his trust. Or, worse, making a fool of him.
"He must be deprived of an heir as he deprived me of mine!" her father’s voice slashed through her thoughts. "He must! God has granted me this revenge when all other paths were closed to me. I have other heirs, but he will have none. Never. Your marriage will be my revenge."
Reeling with anguish, Jenny cried, "Papa, please, don’t ask me to do this. I’ll do anything else. I’ll go back to the abbey, or to my Aunt Elinor, or anywhere you say."
"Nay! He would only marry another of his choice and beget his heirs on her."
"I won’t do it," Jenny insisted wildly, voicing the first logical arguments that tumbled to mind. "I can’t! It’s wrong. It’s impossible! If—if the Black Wolf wants me—wants an heir," she corrected with a shamed, blushing glance at the other men, "how can I prevent it? His strength is five times mine. Although, after all that’s passed between us, I don’t think he’ll want me in the same castle with him, let alone in his"—she tried desperately to think of a word to substitute, but there was none—"bed," she finished weakly, her gaze shying away from their guests.
"Would you were right, my child, but you’re wrong. There is about you the same quality your mother possessed, the quality that stirs lust in a man when he looks upon you. The Wolf will want you whether he likes you or no." Suddenly he paused for emphasis, a slow smile on his face, "however, ’tis possible he’ll no’ be able to do much about it if I send your Aunt Elinor with you."
"Aunt Elinor," Jenny repeated blankly. "Papa, I know naught of what you mean, but all of this is wrong!" Her hands clutching helplessly at her woolen skirts, she looked with desperate appeal at the men surrounding her, while in her mind she saw another Royce Westmoreland than the one they knew—the man who had teased her in the glade, and talked with her on the parapet; the man who bargained her into his bed and treated her gently, when another captor would have raped her and given her to his men.
"Please," she said, looking around at all of them and then at her father. "Try to understand. ‘Tis not disloyalty, ’tis reason that makes me say this: I know how many of our people have died in battle with the Wolf, but such is the way of all battles. He cannot be blamed for Alexander’s death or—"