She nodded once, and then carefully drew the dagger from its hiding place.
Desire washed over Duncan as he imagined his own hand doing the deed. Her skin looked as soft as a dove’s breast. A few tresses had escaped her veil, turning from honey to amber as she stepped into the sunlight, light that made her eyes shine as clearly as gems. Her lips curved upward into a coy sort of smile, and he realized instinctively, catching her gaze, that she’d be unimaginably enticing in bed. His loins swelled at the thought.
As he watched, she shyly lowered her lids. He wasn’t surprised. Women often grew diffident beneath his frank regard. Then she took a timid step to the open window. Holding the haft of his dagger daintily between her thumb and two fingers, she peered down over the edge and dropped the blade onto the grass below.
His illusions shattered like a cathedral window under a naughty lad’s sling. He stared at her in disbelief. The wily wench had deliberately thrown his knife away.
“If you hurry down,” she told him sweetly, “you may retrieve it before someone else does.”
He continued to stare at her, appalled yet fascinated. Hurry down? He didn’t think so. He had no intention of leaving her to retrieve the dagger. He could have a hundred more daggers made at his command. Nay, he thought with dawning amusement, he’d much rather stay here with this extraordinary woman, parrying wits.
Recovering his aplomb, he said smoothly, “What about the tunic I was forced to destroy?”
She glared at him, but a hint of guilt glimmered in her eyes, and he intended to exploit it.
“I did, after all, retrieve that…what was it? ‘Finest Italian wool’ for you.”
“English wool, Italian dye,” she corrected.
“Ah,” he said with a nod, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps you’ll give me some of that for a new tunic.”
Her jaw dropped. That cloth, of course, was worth a fortune. It was clear from her expression that she considered him naïve or insane or both.
“Well, what do you say?” he asked, all innocence.
Linet could feel an ache starting at her temples. The beggar must be mad to think she’d give him her best…
She took a deep breath. Losing her temper would gain nothing. Instead, she forced a regretful smile to her lips. “Alas, that piece has already been sold. Lady Alyce just purchased it.”
The beggar shrugged. “With such a large order, she won’t miss a few inches off the end.”
That did it. That broke Linet’s control. Her eyes blazed with fury. “How dare you suggest such a thing—taking advantage of a fine lady?”
“Me?” he exclaimed with a bark of laughter. “Who has taken advantage here? What of your prattle about the king? You haven’t sold Edward so much as a thread of wool, have you?”
Her face went hot. She slammed the lid of her basket down.
“What about,” he said, chuckling, “’the blue makes your eyes shine like sapphires,’ or ‘that fabric will not do for you—you deserve a much finer weave’? I’d be amazed indeed if Lady Alyce has so much as a farthing left.”
Linet trembled in embarrassment and ire. Curse the peasant! A nobleman would never speak to her so rudely. She fought to maintain her calm. “Shall I summon the guard, or will you leave of your own accord?”
The beggar grinned in spite of her threat. “I’ll leave,” he promised, his azure eyes warm with amusement, “when you do.”
“You can’t hound me like that!” she whispered fiercely. “Who do you think you are?”
His smile remained an enigma. His gaze dropped sensuously to her mouth. “At this moment? An admirer of beauty.”
Linet resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She’d heard this type of gushing nonsense before, from noblemen who were misled by her innocent appearance. She certainly wasn’t going to put up with it from a peasant. She was no wide-eyed maid to be distracted by flattery, no matter how silky his voice was. “Indeed? And this pursuit