Adela actually begged to go along with them. Duncan had already gained his saddle but was forced by his sister's hysterics to wait precious minutes while Gerald disengaged himself from his intended.
After declining Adela's plea to go with them, Gerald had to vow on his mother's grave he'd return to her unscratched, a vow Duncan knew to be false since Gerald's mother was still alive. He certainly didn't comment on the contradiction, for he saw how Gerald's promise had calmed his sister.
"Will you be able to catch up with milady?" James dared to ask his lord.
Duncan turned to look down at the stablemaster. He saw the frightened look in the man's eyes and was warmed by his concern. "I'm at least a week late," Duncan said. "But I will bring your mistress back, James."
Those were the last words Duncan spoke until he was halfway to London. If the horses hadn't needed rest, Gerald thought Duncan wouldn't have stopped at all.
Baron Wexton separated himself from his men. Gerald left him alone for a few minutes and then went over to speak to him. "I would offer you a word of advice, friend."
Duncan turned to look at Gerald. "Remember my reaction when I saw Morcar. Don't let your rage control you, though I vow I'll try to defend your back while we are in court."
Duncan nodded. "I'll be under control as soon as I see Madelyne. She's been in court at least a week now. God only knows what Louddon has done to her. I swear to God, Gerald, if he has touched her, I'll…"
"Louddon has too much at stake to harm her, Duncan. He needs her support, not her anger. Nay, there will be too many people watching him. Louddon will play the loving brother."
"I pray you're right," Duncan answered. "I… worry about her."
Gerald patted him on the shoulder. "Hell, man, you're scared of losing her, just as I was scared of losing Adela."
"What an arrogant pair we make," Duncan announced. "Don't worry about my anger. When I see my wife, I'll be disciplined again."
"Yes, well, there is another issue that needs discussion," Gerald confessed. "Adela told me about the letter you received from the monastery."
"How could she know about the letter?" Duncan asked.
"Your Madelyne told her. It seems she found the letter and read it."
Duncan's shoulders sagged. His worries had just multiplied. He wasn't sure what his wife would do. "Did Adela tell you how Madelyne reacted? Was she angry. God, I hope she was angry."
Gerald shook his head. "Why would you want her angry?"
"I lied to Madelyne, Gerald, and I would hope she's angry over the lie. I don't want her to think that I… used her in ill faith." Duncan shrugged. It was difficult for him to put his feelings into words. "When I first met Madelyne, she tried to convince me Louddon wouldn't come after her. She told me she wasn't worthy of his attention. Madelyne wasn't trying to deceive me, Gerald. God's truth, she really believed what she said. Louddon made her feel that way, of course. She was under his thumb for nearly two years."
"Aye, from the time her mother died until he sent her to her uncle, Louddon was Madelyne's sole guardian. You know as well as I what cruelty Louddon is capable of, Gerald. I've seen Madelyne grow stronger each day, but she is still… vulnerable."
Gerald nodded. "I know you wish you'd been the one to tell her that Laurance wasn't a true man of the cloth, but consider how unprepared she would have been if Louddon had been the one to explain it."
"Aye, he would have caught her unprepared," Duncan admitted. "Do you know that Madelyne asked me to teach her how to defend herself. There wasn't time. Nay, I didn't make time. If anything happens to her…"
Duncan was a man tormented. His innocent wife was back in the devil's hands. The thought chilled his soul.
Gerald didn't know what words to offer to give Duncan solace. "The moon gives us sufficient light to continue on through the night," he suggested.
"Then we will take advantage of the light."
The barons didn't speak again until they'd gained their destination.
Madelyne tried to sleep. She was locked inside the chamber next to her sister Clarissa's room. The walls were parchment-thin. Madelyne tried not to listen to the discussion Louddon was having with Clarissa.
She'd already heard enough. Madelyne was so sickened by her sister and her brother, she'd made herself ill. Her stomach wouldn't keep any food down and her head pounded with pain.
Louddon had been very predictable. He greeted her in front of the king's soldiers, kissed her on the cheek, even embraced her. Aye, he played the role of loving brother, especially in front of Anthony. As soon as they were alone in her chambers, however, Louddon had turned on her. He raged accusations, ending his tirade by knocking Madelyne to the floor with a powerful fist against her cheek. It was the same cheek he'd kissed in greeting.
Her brother regretted his outburst immediately, for he realized Madelyne's face was going to bruise. Since he knew some of his enemies would conclude he was responsible, he kept Madelyne locked in her room and gave everyone the excuse that his sister had been through such an ordeal in the hands of Baron Wexton that she would need a few days to regain her strength.
Yet, while Louddon had been predictable, Clarissa had proven to be a devastating disappointment to Madelyne. When she had time to think about it, Madelyne realized she'd built up a fanciful picture of her older sister. Madelyne wanted to believe Clarissa cared about her. Yet every time she sent messages to both her sisters, neither Clarissa nor Sara ever bothered to answer her. Madelyne had always made excuses for their behavior. Now she realized the truth. Clarissa was every bit as self-serving as Louddon.
Sara hadn't even come to London. Clarissa explained her absence by telling Madelyne that Sara was newly married to Baron Ruchiers and didn't wish to leave his side. Madelyne hadn't even known Sara was betrothed to anyone.
Madelyne gave up trying to rest. Clarissa's voice grated like a shrill rooster's call. The sister was prone to whine, was doing so now as she complained to Louddon about the humiliation Madelyne had caused her.
A snatch of conversation drew her over to the connecting door. Clarissa was talking about Rachael. Her voice was filled with loathing as she so easily defamed Madelyne's mother. Madelyne knew Louddon hated Rachael, yet never thought his two sisters felt the same way.
"You wanted the bitch from the day she walked through the door," Clarissa said.
Madelyne edged the door open. She saw Clarissa sitting on a padded cushion in the window well. Louddon was standing next to his sister. His back faced Madelyne. Clarissa was looking up at her brother. Both held goblets in their hands.
"Rachael was very beautiful," Louddon said. His voice was harsh. "When Father turned against her, I was amazed. Rachael was such an appealing woman. Father forced the marriage, Clarissa. It was assumed that Baron Rhinehold would wed her."
Clarissa snorted. Madelyne watched her take a long drink from her cup. Dark red wine spilled down the front of her gown, but Clarissa seemed oblivious to the mess and poured another cupful from the jug she held in her other hand.
The sister was as pretty as Louddon, with the same white-blond hair and hazel eyes. Her expression, when she was angry, was also just as ugly as her brother's. "Rhinehold was no match for our father back then," Clarissa said. "But Father was played the fool, wasn't he? In the end Rachael mocked him. I wonder, Louddon, if Rhinehold knows Rachael was carrying his child when she wed our father?"
"No," Louddon answered. "Rachael was never allowed to see Rhinehold. When Madelyne was born, Father wouldn't even look at her. Rachael was punished for her folly."
"And you hoped Rachael would turn to you for comfort, didn't you, Louddon?" Clarissa asked. She laughed when Louddon turned to glare at her. "You were in love with her," she goaded. "Rachael thought you were disgusting, though, didn't she? If she didn't have her brat to look after, I think she really might have killed herself. God knows I suggested it to her often enough. Perhaps, brother dear, Rachael didn't fall down those steps. She might have been pushed."
"You were always jealous of Rachael, Clarissa," Louddon snapped. "Just as you're now jealous of her daughter, illegitimate or not"
"I'm not jealous of anyone," Clarissa screamed. "God, I'm looking forward to getting this over and done with. Then I swear I'm going to tell Madelyne about Rhinehold. I might even tell her you killed her mother"
"You will say nothing," Louddon screamed. He slapped the goblet out of Clarissa's hand. "You're a fool, sister. I didn't kill Rachael. She did slip and fall down those steps."
"She was trying to get away from you when she fell." Clarissa sneered.
"Let it be," Louddon yelled. "And no one must ever know Madelyne isn't one of us. The shame would affect you and me."
"Will the little bitch do as you demand? Will Madelyne perform before our king the way you have decided? Or will she turn against you, Louddon?"
"She'll do whatever I tell her to do," Louddon boasted. "She obeys me because she's afraid. What a coward she is. She hasn't changed in temperament since she was a child. Besides, our little Madelyne knows I'll kill Berton if she displeases me."
"'Tis a shame about Morcar's death," Clarissa said. "He would have paid handsomely for Madelyne. Now no one will want her."
"You're wrong, Clarissa. I want her. I won't let anyone marry her."
Madelyne shut the door on Clarissa's obscene laughter. She made it to the chamber pot just in time to throw up the bile from her stomach.
She wept for her mother, Rachael, and the hell Louddon and his father had put her through. She'd been appalled to learn that Rachael had gone to her marriage bed carrying another man's child. And then the full truth dawned on Madelyne. She wept tears of joy next, for she'd just realized she wasn't blood relative to Louddon after all.
She'd heard the name Rhinehold from Duncan, knew they were allies. She wondered if Baron Rhinehold was in court. She wanted to see what he looked like. Had he ever married? Louddon was right; no one must ever know… and yet, Madelyne knew she'd tell Duncan the truth. Why, he'd probably be as pleased as she was.
She was finally able to force her emotions under control. She would need her wits about her. Aye, she must try to protect Father Berton and Duncan. Louddon believed Madelyne would willingly betray one to save the other. There was also the problem of Adela, of course, but Madelyne wasn't concerned about Duncan's sister now
Nay, Gerald would marry Adela soon, and when that happened, the king couldn't very well threaten to give Adela to Louddon.
Madelyne spent most of the night formulating her plan. She prayed Louddon would stay predictable, that Duncan would remain safe, and that God would give her courage for the battle ahead.
She finally closed her eyes to sleep. And then she played the same pretense she used to play when she was a little girl. Whenever she was frightened that Louddon was going to take her back home, she'd pretend Odysseus was standing over her, guarding her. The pretense changed, however. It was not Odysseus but Duncan standing guard now.
Aye, she'd found someone more powerful than Odysseus. She had her wolf to protect her now.
The following afternoon Madelyne accompanied Louddon to meet with their king. When they neared the king's private chambers, Louddon turned to Madelyne and smiled at her. "I am counting on your honesty, Madelyne. You need only tell the king what has happened to your home and to you. I'll do the rest."
"And the truth will damn Duncan, is that what you believe?" Madelyne asked.
Louddon's smile abruptly soured. He did not like the tone his sister used with him. "Dare you find your backbone now, Madelyne? Remember your precious uncle. Even now I have men ready to ride. If I give the word, Berton's throat will be slit."
"How do I know you haven't already killed him?" Madelyne argued. "Aye," she added when Louddon grabbed hold of her arm in a threatening manner. "You can't control your temper, Louddon. You never could. How do I know you haven't already killed my uncle?"
Louddon proved her comment about his temper was accurate. He lashed out, striking her face. The bejeweled ring he wore cut the edge of her lip. Blood immediately began to trickle down Madelyne's chin. "Look what you've made me do," Louddon bellowed. He arched his hand again to inflict another blow, and suddenly found himself slammed up against the wall next to Madelyne.
Anthony had appeared out of the shadows. He now had Louddon by his neck, and was giving Madelyne every indication he was going to strangle her brother.
Madelyne had deliberately provoked her brother into losing his temper. God's truth, she wasn't even thankful for Anthony's interference. "Anthony, unhand my brother," Madelyne commanded. Her voice was harsh but she softened the order by placing her hand on the vassal's shoulder. "Please, Anthony."
The vassal shook off his anger, let go of Louddon, and calmly watched the baron crumble into a coughing fit to the floor.
Madelyne took advantage of her brother's weakened condition. She leaned up and whispered into Anthony's ear. " 'Tis time for me to put my plan into action. No matter what I do or say, do not argue with it. I am protecting Duncan."
Anthony nodded so that Madelyne would know he'd understood her. He longed to ask her if her plan was to goad Louddon into killing her. And why was she thinking to protect Duncan? It was obvious to the vassal that his mistress wasn't the least bit concerned about her own safety.
It took all of Anthony's determination not to show any reaction when Madelyne helped Louddon to his feet. He didn't want Madelyne to touch the bastard.
"Louddon, I don't believe you haven't harmed Uncle Berton," Madelyne said when her brother tried to drag her away from Anthony. "We will solve this problem here and now."
Louddon was astonished by Madelyne's boldness. His sister wasn't acting timid or frightened now. "What do you think to tell the king when he notices the marks on my face, Louddon?"
"You aren't going to see the king," Louddon bellowed. "I've changed my mind. I'm taking you back to your chambers, Madelyne. I'll speak to our leader on your behalf."
Madelyne pulled out of her brother's grasp. "He'll want to see me and hear my explanation," she said. "Today, tomorrow, or next week, Louddon," she added. "You have only extended the wait. And do you know what I'll tell our king?"