Forever and a Lifetime
Excerpt from the middle of the novel where Nichole is being held by the Lord Jonpaul at Dornach castle for leverage against her brother. She tries to escape by climbing down the castle wall:
The rope cut into Nicole's waist and her arms ached. Frantic eyes looked back down. Not ten feet but a good fifteen, more if she faced the truth. She couldn't; the truth would make her scream for the guards. She might not hurt herself, there was a chance, but no matter. She had no choice. Now! Just do it—
She would, she swore she would, if only there were not those large rocks and small boulders littering the dark ground below. If she hit one of those rocks—
No, don't think of that.
She closed her eyes. Breathing hard and fast, panicked, she let go of her right hand to take the anlace from her mouth where she held it by the handle. Thinking of Charles and freedom and all the reasons she had to risk her bones, she put the knife to the rope.
Muscle spasms in her other arm made her release the rope and she cried as the rope at her waist caught her full weight and her body swung into the wall . . . not hard but enough to hurt. Small beads of perspiration laced her brow and the pain ricocheted through her body...
Probably not nearly as much as when she finally cut the rope and dropped fifteen . . .
No, for God's sake do not think of it. Just do it!
With a hot rush of panic, she put the knife to the rope—
There came a sudden jerk.
For one wild moment, she imagined herself falling, then, "No ... no," she cried as the guard pulled her swiftly up. Caught! A guard had caught her! Wild with more fright, she looked up thirty feet to try to see who this was, but the man stood on the other side of the four-foot-thick wall at top. For one wild moment she flirted with the idea of cutting the rope still, but up and up, she was halfway up now and even if by some miracle she survived the fall, she could not get far now—
She grabbed her anlace tight. If it be but one man she had a chance still. The rope felt as it were to break her in two at the waist as he pulled her up too quickly, too quickly for one man.
A final, hard tug brought her over the top and with a breathless gasp of surprise . . . "Jonpaul!"
"Nichole!" He mimicked her surprise as he reached under her arms and rather effortlessly lifted her over the wall to sit there on the wide ledge between two battlements. Why oh why, Nichole had to wonder, would she prefer to face the perils of a forty-foot drop to the rocky ground than the amusement in those eyes staring down at her?
"Kurtus is right. Fishing is a fruitful pastime." There was no response and he watched for a moment, seeing the shivers tremble through her. "Are you chilled or just frightened?"
Her heart hammered so hard she could not for her life speak. He unclasped his fur-lined cloak, swung it from his shoulders, and placed it around hers. "Frightened I see. For good reason, too. Had you thought of it at all, love," he now warned when this was not necessary, "you would have known that a broken neck would have only been the beginning of your problems."
She hardly heard. The warning was inconsequential after just surviving the terrible fall to her death. Her blood still pounded wildly with the terror of hanging twenty feet over those rocks. "But. . . but how did you know to look?"
She meant it as a rhetorical question, an expression of disbelief, but he said, "My man Peters is ever scrupulous about missing weapons and ropes, though he naturally accused Gavin. Luckily, I can always count on my boy's honesty, and then I had only to wonder who at Dornach might want to steal a rope. I alerted the guards. They had wagers on who could spot you first. My mistake was the assumption they would spot you before your foolish hide ever came close to dropping over this wall . . . and so help me God, girl, if you ever pull a brainless stunt like this again I will personally turn your backside over my knee and beat you sound—"
"Beat me? As if I'd submit!"
Jonpaul was suddenly staring at the sharp point of her anlace at his throat.
Like the strike of a snake, his hand caught hers. She gasped in pain as he held it. Remembering the last time he felt this knife, a bemused look came to his eyes. The memory was not in any way unpleasant. Still, he pried it from her tense fingers, his hand large and warm over hers. Holding her one hand tight, he tossed the anlace over the battlement some goodly fifty paces into the forest.
She went rigid, alarmed by the danger shining in the dark eyes as he stood suddenly close. His nearness was a threat, one she felt fully in the whole of her being as he brought her hand behind her back, a move that forced her close and stopped her instinctive withdrawal.
"You little fool. I would have sworn you might remember the consequence of fighting me from the last time. A man subdues a woman in a timeless way, love, and unless you want to find yourself backside to the ground with my full attention, you will stop pitting yourself against my will."
"Never! Never! Not until your bones are ashes and your deeds but distant memories of horror—"
It was as far as she got. Quicker than she could even begin to regret the perversity of her rebellion, his knife manifested in the air, and for one wild moment she imagined her throat feeling its point. With swift assurance he sliced the rope at her waist, and before she grasped his intentions, he lifted her to the air and, like a time before, threw her over his shoulder. Deaf to wild cries of protest and indignation, he turned to the stairs.
Jonpaul stopped but briefly at the place his guards watched, and shouted over the idiotic litany of her threats, "Fetch the rope and keep two men on the northwest wall. If they ride tonight, it should be from the west."
Nichole cried with rage, helpless and maddened by it, the idea that he would stop to pass instructions when she was vowing to kill him. It was so unfair! She went wild with it as he carried her swiftly down the stairs and through the courtyard .
The doors to the great hall stood open. The men gathered there stopped the conversation as they suddenly heard, "I swear I will kill you! You'll never be able to stop me. I hate you ... I hate you—" and on and on, fading as Jonpaul brought his baggage up the staircase to the third floor, down the hall and through his chamber's door.
With the small, tight fists still pounding on his back, he stopped to shut the doors. The slam silenced and alerted her. She went suddenly still just seconds before he marched to the bed and dropped her unceremoniously on her back. Then he leaned over her and braced his weight on his long arms, positioned on either side of her head. He did not touch her, he did not have to, not with the very devil in his eyes as he feasted on her sudden fear at last, the alarm in her wide blue eyes, and the outline of the curves he knew so well from dreams, but only once in fact.
"Provoke me now, Nichole. I will welcome it."