Alesandra calmed down as soon as she settled on a plan of action. She would cooperate until she was well away from the town house. It would be safer for the family that way. Then she would fight, scream, and bite, to make them sorry they'd dared to touch her.
A knock sounded at the door. The infidel behind her tightened his hold. He ordered her in a whisper to tell whoever it was begging entrance to go away.
She nodded agreement before he removed his hand from her mouth. The second man unbolted the door. Alesandra got a good look at his face. He was a dark-haired man with heavy eyebrows and oily skin. The sinister expression on his face made her shiver with fear. From the look of him, she knew he wouldn't suffer any remorse about hurting anyone.
The man behind her waved a knife in front of her face and told her that if she called out a warning he would kill her.
She wasn't worried about that possibility, for she knew he was bluffing. The general needed a live bride, not a dead one. She thought about telling the horrid man she wasn't afraid about her own safety, then changed her mind. It would be more cunning not to argue. If they believed she was going to cooperate, they might let their guard down just a little.
Alesandra was allowed to open the door a few inches. Jade stood in the hallway, smiling at her.
"Goodness, Alesandra, you're not even dressed. Would you like me to help you?"
Alesandra shook her head. "I don't need any help, Catherine, but I thank you for offering. Why don't you go back downstairs and wait with your husband? I'm sure your Henry would like you to stand by his side while he greets the guests."
Jade's expression didn't change. She kept right on smiling until the door closed again. She heard the sound of the bolt sliding into place as she turned and ran down the hallway.
Colin had just walked into the foyer when Jade reached the landing above. Marian Rose came running in from the salon and threw herself at her older brother. He lifted her up, kissed her on the cheek, and then bent down to take Caine's daughter, Olivia, into his other arm. The four-year-old gave her uncle a wet kiss.
Jade came rushing down the stairs. Caine caught her at the bottom. "Slow down, sweetheart. You're going to break…"
The fear he saw in her eyes stopped him cold. "What's wrong?" he demanded.
"Alesandra called me Catherine."
Colin heard his sister-in-law's worried remark. He put the little girls down and walked forward. He noticed then that the French doors leading to the garden were wide open and scowled in reaction. Didn't his parents understand the need for caution?
"She was just confused," Caine suggested to his wife. "It's her wedding day and she's bound to be a little nervous."
Jade shook her head. She turned to explain to Colin. "Alesandra told me to go downstairs and stand with my husband, Henry. Someone's in that room with her. I'm sure of it. She was trying to warn me."
Colin was already moving toward the steps. "Have Raymond and Stefan stand guard below Alesandra's window outside," he ordered. "Caine, you take the back steps. They'll probably try to take her out that way."
He'd reached the landing before he'd finished his instructions, passed his mother and father as they started down the staircase, and continued on down the corridor.
He was deadly calm about what he was going to do. Rage burned inside him, but he wouldn't let that emotion overwhelm his judgment. Only after Alesandra was safe would he unleash his fury.
He reached her bedroom, quietly tested the door to make certain it was locked, then slammed his shoulder against the wood with all his might. The door splintered off its hinges, the bolt snapped, and what was left of the door flew into the bedroom.
Alesandra tried to shout a warning to Colin but she was silenced by her captor's hand over her mouth again.
The second man charged Colin with his knife in his hand. Colin moved so swiftly, his enemy didn't understand until it was too late that his knife had been snatched away. Colin didn't let go of his hand, however. He twisted it behind his back, then upward, until the shoulder bone had popped out of its socket. The man howled with pain. Colin didn't show him any mercy. He threw him headfirst into the wall next to the doorway.
Fury gave him the strength of four men. He was almost blind with his anger now, for Alesandra looked so damned frightened and the bastard had his hands all over her. The robe she wore had opened enough for him to realize she wasn't wearing anything underneath.
"Get your hands off my bride."
Colin roared that command and started forward. Alesandra's captor knew he was trapped. He waited until Colin was almost upon him, then threw Alesandra forward and tried to run out of the room.
In one quick motion Colin tossed Alesandra onto the bed and out of harm's way, then turned and grabbed her captor by his neck.
He thought about breaking the son-of-a-bitch's neck then and there, but Alesandra was watching him and, damn it all, he didn't want her any more frightened than she already was.
"There's a quicker way out than taking the steps," he announced.
Because his voice had sounded so calm and reasonable, Alesandra wasn't at all prepared for his next action. Colin literally picked up the man by the seat of his britches and threw him headfirst out the window.
It wasn't open. Glass sprayed the walls and floor, and a few of the wooden panes that weren't imbedded in the man's shoulders fell to the ledge.
Colin didn't even look winded. He muttered, "Hell," when he noticed the dust on his trousers, let out a sigh, and then turned back to her.
Alesandra didn't know what to think. Colin had been quite terrifying just a minute before, and now he was acting like nothing out of the ordinary had taken place.
Didn't he realize that he might have killed that man? Or did he realize and simply not care?
Alesandra was determined to find out for herself. She jumped off the bed and went running toward the window. Colin intercepted her before she could step on the broken glass with her bare feet. He dragged her back toward the bed, then roughly pulled her into his arms.
"Dear God, Colin, do you think you killed him?"
The raw fear in her voice made him regret the fact that she had witnessed the fight. She was too young and innocent to understand that some men were really better off in hell. The way she trembled in his arms told him she was afraid of him.
"No, I didn't kill him," he told her, his voice a gruff whisper. "I'm sure Raymond caught him."
Colin was proud of himself. He'd told the outrageous lie without laughing.
She couldn't believe he would think she would believe such nonsense. She could feel him shaking, knew he was still reacting to the upsetting fight, and decided to placate him.
"If you say so," she agreed. She let out a pent-up sigh and relaxed against him. "You forgot to open the window, didn't you?"
"Yes," he lied. "I forgot."
She peeked up to look over his shoulder. "You're certain Raymond caught him?"
He didn't hear the amusement in her voice. "Absolutely certain."
He tightened his hold on her and leaned down to kiss the top of her head.
"Did they hurt you?" he asked, his voice harsh with worry over that possibility.
She found comfort in his concern. "No," she whispered against his chest.
She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and looked around Colin again. "The other one's crawling away."
"Caine's waiting for him," he answered. He leaned down to kiss her again. She turned her face up at the same time. The temptation was too great to resist. His mouth covered hers in a gentle caress, but it wasn't enough for him. He deepened the kiss, pleased he didn't have to force her mouth open for him. His tongue swept inside to mate with hers and a low, primitive growl sounded in the back of his throat.
The kiss consumed her. Because she was so inexperienced, she couldn't control her response to his magical touch. She couldn't get enough of the taste of him either, and, dear God, his scent—so clean, so wonderfully masculine—was extremely arousing.
Her uninhibited response was almost shattering to his own control. Colin knew it was time to stop. He tried to pull back, but Alesandra wouldn't cooperate with his noble plan. She wound her arms around his neck and tugged on his hair to get him to deepen the kiss again.
He let her have her way. She sighed into his mouth seconds before her tongue timidly rubbed against his. Colin felt his discipline slipping away. His mouth slanted over hers again and again with hard demand.
"Is everything… for the love of… save that for after the ceremony, Colin."
Caine's voice cut through the passionate haze surrounding Colin and Alesandra. He slowly pulled back. She took a little longer to recover her wits. Colin had to help her take her hands away from the back of his neck. He tightened the belt on her robe, too. She didn't take over the task, but watched as he adjusted her robe to hide every inch of her neck.
"You should get dressed now," he suggested in a whisper, smiling over the look of bemusement on her face. She still hadn't recovered from his touch, and that fact pleased the hell out of him.
"Didn't you hear me?" he asked when she didn't move.
She knew she had to get hold of herself. She took a step back, away from the cause of her befuddled condition. "Yes, I should get dressed," she agreed with a nod. She immediately contradicted herself by shaking her head. "I can't get dressed. They…"
"I'll be happy to help you," Jade volunteered. Colin's sister-in-law was frowning with worry and sympathy, "It won't take any time at all," she promised.
Alesandra turned and forced a smile. She was surprised to find both Caine and Jade standing only a few feet away. She hadn't heard either one of them come into the room.
Colin's kiss had blocked out the world, she decided, and, Lord, had they seen the way she'd been clinging to him? She blushed just thinking about that possibility.
She was suddenly so rattled she couldn't seem to think. There was something she wanted to say, but she couldn't remember what it was. She threaded her fingers through her hair in an absentminded gesture. The robe parted just a little with her movement. Colin immediately stepped forward to tug it back into place. He was acting like a possessive husband now. She might have thought that was an endearing action if he hadn't started frowning at her.
"You shouldn't be entertaining in your robe," he told her. "Didn't the nuns teach you anything?"
He wasn't jesting. She slapped his hand away from her throat and backed up another space. "Did you catch the man crawling down the steps?" she asked Caine. "Yes."
"Good," she whispered. "They came in with the flowers," she added with a nod. "I should have realized… when they carried the vases upstairs, but I…"
Everyone waited for her to finish her explanation. After a minute or two they realized she wasn't going to say anything more.
"What happened to the other one?" Caine asked.
"Colin threw him out the window."
"Raymond caught him," Colin said.
Caine almost laughed until his brother tilted his head toward Alesandra. He immediately nodded agreement over the ridiculous lie. "That's good to know."
"Could there be more waiting in one of the other rooms?" Alesandra asked.
Colin answered her. "No."
"Your guards have made a thorough check of the house." Caine made that comment in an attempt to ease her fear. "There aren't any others."
Jade drew her husband's attention when she let out a little gasp. He turned to her and saw the tears in her eyes. "What is it, sweetheart?" he asked in a whisper.
Jade pointed to the floor in front of the wardrobe. Caine turned, saw the wedding gown, and let out a low expletive.
Alesandra wasn't paying any attention to anyone but Colin. She'd only just decided that there was something different about him, but she couldn't seem to put her finger on what that might be.
"We're getting married in ten minutes, Alesandra. If you're still wearing that robe, you'll be wed in it. Caine, change jackets with me. I tore mine."
"I don't think it's a good idea to get married today," Alesandra whispered.
"Ten minutes," Colin repeated.
The set of his jaw told her he wasn't going to listen to reason. She still gave it one last try. "No," she announced, her expression mutinous.
He leaned down until he was just inches from her face. "Yes."
She let out a sigh. Then she nodded. Colin was so pleased she had finally decided to cooperate, he gave her a hard kiss. Then he turned and walked toward the doorway.
"They destroyed her wedding dress, Colin."
Jade gave him that news. Alesandra burst into tears. Everyone believed she was upset about the dress, of course, but that wasn't the real reason she was so distraught. She had just noticed what was different about Colin.
"You cut your hair."
The fury in her voice stunned Colin. He turned around, saw the tears streaming down her face, and immediately wanted to comfort her. As soon as he started toward her, she started backing away. He stopped so she would stand still. He didn't want her to accidentally step on a piece of glass. He didn't want her to panic, either, and she appeared ready to do just that.
Alesandra had gone through a hell of an ordeal and that, added to the usual wedding day jitters he assumed most brides experienced, was making her act unreasonable now.
Colin knew he would never get her downstairs and married until he helped her calm down first. He decided that if she wanted to talk about his hair now instead of focusing on the real issue upsetting her, he would let her.
"Yes," he. said, his voice as soothing as he could manage. "I cut my hair. Does that displease you?"
She nodded. "Oh, yes, it does displease me," she said, her voice shaking with her anger. "As a matter of fact, it makes me furious."
She could tell from his expression he didn't understand why she was so angry with him. He obviously didn't remember what he'd told her when she'd asked him why he wore his hair so long.
Freedom. Yes, that's what he'd told her. She remembered every word of his explanation. The shoulder-length hair reminded him that he was a free man.
Alesandra turned her attention to his feet. "Why aren't you wearing shackles, Colin?"
"What are you talking about?" Colin hadn't been able to keep his exasperation out of his voice.