"Jennifer," he said sharply, filled with remorse and amazement, "you are not plain. You're—" More attracted to her by the moment, he studied her, wondering about her allure, but it was more than just her face or her body that attracted him; Jennifer Merrick had a glowing gentleness that warmed him, a fiery spirit that challenged him—and a radiance that kept drawing him toward her with increasing power. "You're not plain."
She chuckled without rancor and shook her head. "Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to dazzle your lady fair with your glib flattery, milord, for you haven't a prayer of success!"
"If I cannot beat the lady into submission, nor cajole her with words," Royce answered, preoccupied with her rosy mouth, "I suppose I shall have to rely on my only other skill…"
He let the last word hang meaningfully in the air until Jenny, beguiled, could endure her fascinated curiosity no longer. "What skill do you mean?"
His eyes flicked to hers and he said with a wicked grin, "Modesty forbids me to name it."
"Don't be coy," Jenny chastised, so curious that she scarcely noticed his hand lifting to her shoulder. "What is it you do so very well that a lady would wish to marry you for it?"
"I believe I am quite good at"—his hand curved round her shoulder—"kissing."
"K-kissing!" she sputtered, laughing and simultaneously rearing back, dislodging his hand. " 'Tis beyond belief that you would boast of such things to me!"
" 'Twas not boasting," Royce countered, looking stung. "I've been given to believe I am quite good at it."
Jenny tried desperately to look sternly disapproving and failed miserably; her lips trembled with laughter at the idea of the "Scourge of Scotland" priding himself, not on his skill with lance or sword, but kissing!
"I gather you find that notion laughable?" Royce observed dryly.
She shook her head so emphatically that her hair came tumbling over her shoulder, but her eyes were dancing with merriment. "It—it is merely," she said on a suffocated laugh, "that I cannot quite reconcile such—such an image of you in my mind."
Without warning, his hand lifted and curved round her arm, drawing her firmly toward him. "Why don't you judge me on it then?" he suggested softly.
Jenny tried to rear back. "Don't be silly! I couldn't—I can't!" Suddenly, she could not tear her gaze from his lips. "I'll gladly take your word on it. Gladly!"
"Nay, I feel I must prove it."
"There's no need," she cried desperately. "How could I possibly judge your skill when I've never been kissed in all my life?"
That admission only made her more desirable to Royce, who was accustomed to women whose experience in bed rivaled his own. His lips curved in a smile, but his hand tightened on her arm, drawing her inexorably closer, while his other hand lifted to her shoulder.
"Nay!" Jenny said, trying ineffectually to draw away.
Jenny braced herself for some unknown sort of physical assault; a whimper of terror lodged in her throat, but the next moment she realized there was nothing to fear. His lips were cool on hers and surprisingly smooth as they brushed lightly against her closed mouth. Stunned into quiescence, with her hands braced on either side of his shoulders, holding her rigid body away from his, she remained utterly immobile while her pulse began to race and she tried desperately to savor what it was like to be kissed and still keep her head.
Royce released the pressure of his hands just enough to let her lift her compressed lips from his. "Perhaps I'm not as good as I once thought," he said, keeping his amusement carefully hidden. "I could have sworn your mind was working the whole time."
Unnerved, alarmed, and thoroughly confused, Jenny nevertheless strove desperately not to struggle or do anything to upset the fragile balance of their tentative friendship. "W-what do you mean?" she demanded, acutely aware that his powerful body was now stretched out practically beneath and beside her in the most wanton fashion, his head upon the furs.
"I mean, would you say our kiss was the sort that wellborn ladies 'dream' about?"
"Please let go of me."
"I thought you were going to help me comport myself to the pleasure of wellbred ladies, such as yourself."
"You kiss very well! Exactly how ladies dream of being kissed!" Jenny cried desperately, but he merely regarded her with a dubious expression, refusing to let her go.
"I just don't feel confident," he teased, watching the little sparks of anger igniting in her incredibly blue eyes.
"Then practice on someone else!"
"Unfortunately, Arik does not appeal to me," Royce said, and before she could voice another objection, he swiftly switched tactics. "However," he said pleasantly, "I can see that, although threats of physical retribution have no effect on you, I've finally discovered what does."
"What," she demanded, suspicious, "do you mean?"
"I mean that, in future, when I want to bend you to my will, I'll simply kiss you into compliance. You're terrified of it."
Visions of being kissed—no doubt in front of his men—whenever she balked, rose to alarming prominence in her mind. Hoping that by speaking in a calm, reasonable voice, rather than heatedly protesting his statement, she could dissuade him from making her prove her claim, she said, " 'Tis not fear I feel, but merely lack of interest."
With a mixture of amusement and admiration, Royce noted her ploy, but it only added to his inexplicable determination to taste her response to him.
"Really?" he breathed softly, his heavy-lidded gaze fixed on her lips. As he spoke, his hand curved round her head, pressing inexorably downward, inch by slow inch, until his warm breath was mingling with hers, and then his gaze lifted, locking with hers. Insistent, knowing gray eyes captured frightened, beguiling blue ones, imprisoning them as he brought her lips down against his. A jolt slammed through Jenny's entire nervous system, her eyes closed, and his lips began to move on hers, thoroughly and possessively exploring each tender curve and trembling contour.
Royce felt her lips soften involuntarily, felt her shaking arms give way, her breasts coming to rest against his chest, the wild pounding of her heart. His hand, which had been holding her mouth pressed against his, lightened its pressure at the same time his lips increased theirs. Rolling her onto her back, he leaned over her, deepening his kisses, his hand shifting soothingly over her side and hip. He slid the tip of his tongue along the crease of her lips, seeking entrance, insisting that they part, and when finally they did, his tongue plunged into the sweetness of her mouth and slowly withdrew, then plunged again in blatant imitation of the act he was beginning to crave with dangerous determination. Jenny gasped beneath him, stiffening, and then suddenly all the tension flowed out of her as a shattering explosion of delight poured through her. Totally innocent of the sort of heated passion he was deliberately, skillfully, arousing in her, she was intoxicated by it, seduced into forgetting he was her captor. He was lover now—ardent, persuasive, gentle, wanting. Tenderness overwhelmed her and, with a silent moan of helpless surrender, she curved her hand around his neck, her lips moving on his with awakening ardor.