In the ten years since Gavin had last seen him, Lord Aldred had aged considerably.
His eyes wandered to the woman seated to Aldred’s right. A gorgeous mass of auburn curls spilled down the back of Lady Elizabeth’s dark blue surcoat. ‘Twas almost a sinful display of great beauty, to have hair unbound in such a manner. She sat as royalty would, with a self-assurance and grace that made her all the more attractive.
She chatted easily with Lord Aldred. The camaraderie between them was obvious. Gavin listened as she rendered several judgments in a row and realized this woman had become the real power at Kentwood. Her quick and thoughtful decisions would make her a formidable opponent in war. He was glad she was a woman, for he would never willingly tangle with the likes of her on the battlefield.
“Have we reached all decisions needed on this day?” Her voice rang out clearly through the hall. He admired her presence and wondered who her sire was.
When no one stepped forward, she again called out, “Does any man or woman wish to speak to Lord Aldred or myself before we adjourn?”
A half-dozen stepped forward, most praising Lady Elizabeth in one way or another. It irritated Gavin by this point at how this lady seemed more revered than the very master of Kentwood. Finally, he moved toward the dais.
As he stepped up, the last remaining man to speak, he looked to Lord Aldred.
“I come to pay homage to—”
“Gavin!” Lord Aldred cried in delight. He stood and then staggered forward.
Gavin rushed toward him and caught the old man as he fell. He placed the nobleman’s still form on the ground. As he did, he felt the woman’s gaze burning into him.
“My lady,” he said, his tone even.
With fire in her green eyes, she almost growled at him, “If you’ve killed him, I’ll see you dead.”
“Awake, Kallen? What a pretty name.”
She saw the thick band of black encompassing the earl’s head, revealing the evil that ran through him. Kallen tried to push him away, realizing her hands were bound.
“Why do you want me? I cannot see the future.”
Nowland smiled. “I didn’t say you could. No, I need you for the auras.”
How could he know of them?
“What mean you? I don’t understand.”
“I sense the power in you. You are the answer to my prayers. Edward rules now, but I shall take his place. You will tell me who will support me and who would betray me. You can shed light on where a man’s loyalties lie.”
Disgust rose in Kallen. “Even if I could do what you ask, I would never help you.”
“I know more how to help you harness your power. You’re mine, Kallen. For all time.”
She blurted out, “Griffith will stop you. You can send as many as you want, and he’ll defeat them all.”
“’Tis interesting, these feelings you reveal for Sommersby. This may be the way to control you. To take prisoner this knight who’s so obviously captured your heart.”
Nowland took and twirled a lock of her hair, twisting it tightly and yanking her toward him. Tears came to her eyes.
He sat on the bed next to her, one hand still twisted in her hair, the other stroking her cheek. “I can see it now. You, being stubborn and uncooperative. Starving you wouldn’t work. But a trip to my darkened dungeon, with its foul smells and sweating walls, and one look at your beloved stretched across the rack? A twist of one, maybe two turns. You’ll do whatever I ask of you then.” He released her hair and stood. “You have given me the leverage I need.”
“You’ll never take him,” she said stubbornly.
Quentin chuckled. “I took you, didn’t I? ‘Tis always when you least expect it. Mayhap I will let the good knight worry a day or two. Then I’ll send word by messenger of a secret meeting. Come alone or his beloved Kallen dies. He’ll do it if he feels as you do. And while his heart is trapped, I’ll trap his body and soul.”
Kallen jumped from the bed and ran to the door. She tried to twist the knob, but the restraints prevented her from escaping. She started beating her bound fists against the massive door.
Behind her, Nowland cackled as an old woman. “What fun! I never knew having a daughter could bring me so much joy.”