Authors: Tiffany Clare
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Victorian, #General
How had she ended up in a place like this?
When he’d moved back to England after his uncle’s death, the first thing he’d done was look for her. That had to be some five years ago. His sources had said she was still married to that lowly baron with an estate up north. Perhaps Griffin had given up his search too easily.
Griffin turned away from the scene and looked for the man who had escorted them up to this section of the palace. Griffin had made his selection. He’d had to pull himself through a long path of self-destruction to make it to this point. Was this some sick ironic award for moral behavior? It didn’t matter. It was what it was. After all these years, she was finally going to be his.
The Surrender of a Lady
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
TABLE OF CONTENTS
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE SURRENDER OF A LADY
Copyright © 2010 by Tiffany Clare.
The Seduction of His Wife
copyright © 2010 by Tiffany Clare.
All rights reserved.
For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / October 2010
St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
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This book is dedicated to Ely, my dearest friend and sister in all things but blood.
Without the love and support of my husband and children, I never would have found the time to write this book. “I love you” doesn’t even cover it.
A heartfelt thank you to my critique partners, Elyssa Papa, Kristina Coi and Maggie Robinson, who have cheered me on since the crazy idea of a sad, heart-torn slave woman with her jangling kuchi bells first appeared in my mind’s eye.
Anna Campbell, you pushed me to the next step and your words of wisdom will always stay with me. There is no pussyfooting around between us! Trisha Catton, Marnee, Seton, Tessa—you all offered me great insight and were part of the shaping of this book; never forget I couldn’t have done it without you.
Helen, I can’t thank you enough for taking a chance on the unknown and for believing in me. Thank you to my editor, Monique, for stating up front that you are my biggest fan, and Holly for answering my million-and-one questions. A very special thank you goes to the art department for the most beautiful cover I have ever laid eyes upon!
“What do you mean, you’ll work this out? You’ve gambled me away! I’m your wife, for heaven’s sake!”
“Elena, please. Calm yourself. I’ll think of something.”
Did he really think to placate her after such a proclamation? She was entitled to more than a fit of rage right now. She was livid. “It’s a little late for alternatives.”
With her hand clutched over her chest, Elena felt the frantic beating of her heart beneath her thin nightgown. She was desperate to calm it and her nerves; otherwise she’d never think this through rationally. What he said couldn’t be true. It was outrageous and too despicable to contemplate. A sickening sense of fear had her itching to crawl through the floor.
Two eunuchs flanked her husband. One was pure ebony, with a wide, firm frame common to the palace eunuchs, and a severe, menacing posture that terrified the wits out of her. The bitter fear made her want to retreat to the other side of the room. Out of his reach. The other was shorter and fatter, with a round, pockmarked face and a red sash about his waist that accentuated his girth. Whenever he spoke to her husband, she caught a glimpse of gold teeth behind his anger-thinned lips. The sight made her quiver in disgust.
Both projected an air of command. They wore traditional caftans, and their forearms bore large gold cuffs, their fists were loose at their sides. One couldn’t mistake their intent. Nor did their poised outward appearance fool her; they would not be stopped from collecting payment. It was just a matter of sorting out
that payment was.
“Tell them to leave, Robert. We will think of something.” They would leave Constantinople to escape what her husband had done. Start afresh, just as they’d done last year. This place was supposed to have been their refuge. A place where their son could grow up without being looked down upon by society because of his father’s recklessness.
Foolish of her to think Robert had changed. He never did the decent thing by his family. How had she been duped into believing he’d mend his bad habits after all these years?
“I’m afraid it’s not so easy as that.”
She knew he played at being calm with those men hovering around. They were almost enough to frighten her into silence. But she knew her husband wouldn’t defend her, he never had. Not from the first moment he’d set his sights on her.
She swallowed back the fear closing in around her and stilled her shaking hands by clasping them together. She needed to remain strong, to remember that Robert was a betraying swine. If she focused on that thought, she might be able to talk her way out of this.
She would not be the bargaining chip for his gambling debts.
Tilting her chin up, she looked down her nose at her husband. “I refuse to go.”
Yet she knew in her heart that payment had been made in the form of one young, nubile wife, not yet six months from the birthing bed. She began to believe these men wouldn’t leave without her, but what did they plan to do with her, a woman still showing the signs of childbearing? Did they fancy such sport as she? She was no pale-skinned odalisque.
There had to be a solution, something to stall them. She just didn’t know what would work.
The back of her knees hit the worn damask settee. She sat with a thump, fingers worrying a small tear on the edge of the seat. If one looked around the room it was more than obvious money was not abundant in this household. The floral printed paper on the walls was peeling in many places, the carpets underfoot pitiable, threadbare. The furniture, scratched and dented over the years, looked as worn out as she felt. Even the china didn’t match. Anyone who came into their home knew immediately the impoverished state they lived in.
It was unlikely the eunuchs could be convinced with promise for payment. But there must be a way to bribe them.
The maidservant had heard the commotion and came in looking askance at her. Elena knew she wasn’t here for her sake, though. Everyone in the household would want to know if their wages would be paid, as her husband kept promising. Now they would all know Robert had gambled away what little money remained. It was no secret that the servants had been collecting bets on the span of her husband’s life. Robert played a dangerous game. He was a foreigner here and easily swindled out of their pittance. This wasn’t calm and proper England but a hostile land with hostile natives.
The smaller man said something in Turkish to her husband. She wasn’t used to the language and only recognized smatterings. None of what they said made sense. Robert ran a hand through his hair, his words careful as he asked them in his most authoritative voice—sorely lacking a tone of command since the devolution of their old life—to leave his home.
The one who had spoken shook his head and placed his hand on his hip, perilously close to the bloodred handle of his scimitar. An ominous sign.
Elena swallowed what little saliva she had and watched her husband’s Adam’s apple bob. The eunuchs weren’t moving. Robert’s only reaction was to clench his jaw and take a step away from them—clearly done arguing on her behalf. Giving up on her so easily.
It shouldn’t surprise her. Still, she fought tears of sadness for how little she meant to the man who had shared the last five years with her. It didn’t matter any longer that he’d secured their marriage through deception, cornering her in Lady Aberney’s study, approaching her with a wicked gleam in his eye. She had been won, so fun in the chase was lost after that night.
The silent guard looked to her. Elena stared him in the eye, unwilling to cower before eunuchs who on further assessment could only be slave traders, not palace guards.
She was safe in her own home. She had to be. She would
leave. She made that resolve clear as she looked at him. But it was lost. The eunuch’s eyes held no expression. No pity, no sympathy for what her husband had done. Those were the empty, soulless eyes of a man who had seen and lived a hard mercenary life in a world with too many cruelties to keep a compassionate heart for those less fortunate—she being the less fortunate.
She was a noblewoman. They couldn’t possibly mean to take her! How could they take her away from her baby?
Forcing her gaze away from the eunuch, she glared at her husband. “What of the silver, Robert?” There were candlesticks that could be melted down, some cutlery, too. Was that enough to send these ruffians on their way?
Robert stepped toward her. Looking to the maidservant, he jerked his head in a violent fashion that had the woman leaving the room posthaste. Elena could imagine the maid’s whispered words to the rest of the serving staff. Would they stay on after this? She really didn’t care. She needed to sort all this nonsense out so she could hold her son. She would fix this. She always fixed her husband’s blunders.
He stood before her, looking down but not meeting her gaze. One hand grasped her shoulder; he gave it the smallest squeeze in reassurance. It was lost in the gravity of the situation. “Listen to me, Elena. I’ve had a bad turn of luck—”
She snapped her head to the side as though struck by his words and glowered. He found some courage to look her in the eye when she let out a hiss of air between her teeth.
“You’ve always had a bad turn, Robert! You promised me you wouldn’t fall into old habits!” She pounded her palm against the seat. “You promised me a new life when our son was born.” Her fingers clutched the edge of the settee, grasping for any sort of balance to her lopsided, unfair life.
“I know. And I did keep that promise, Elena. I restricted my outings to a gentleman’s establishment. Ali Admen came in for a round of loo with a mutual friend, so I agreed to sit for a hand. I was doing well and stayed on at the table. A little blunt would have not been remiss.” He shook his head as though recalling the exact moment of his downfall. “Before I knew it, luck wasn’t about me.”
She took a deep breath. She must remain calm. Even though the voice in her mind screamed for her to get out of here. As fast as possible. A dread was building in her blood that she would be taken away from her son. God knew what else they’d do to her. Bile rose in her throat. She closed her eyes, breathed in deeply through her nose and out through her mouth. She clenched her hands so tightly into the seat she thought she’d tear right through the material.
lose,” she said between gritted teeth. “I will
go with them.”
I will take my son and head back to England the moment you turn your back, you swine.
“Elena . . .”
“I mean it, Robert. They’ll have to drag me out of here.” Her voice caught on those words, and she had to force out the next, “I
to go anywhere.”
Eyes flooding with angry tears, she
looked at the man who was supposed to be her husband. How could he do this and without so much as a shrug? Was she so worthless?
“Please, Elena.” Again his hand swept through his hair, never a good sign when his agitation got the better of him. “I’ll talk to Ali Admen’s man of affairs tomorrow. We’ll work out another arrangement. We cannot afford—”
“No! You disgust me, Robert. What made you think you made a morally sound judgment wagering your own wife for a hand of cards? How dare you! I will not leave. This is my home. In case you’ve forgotten, our son needs us. He needs
” She pressed her clenched fist to her heart, voice breaking on a sob. “You would take away his mother?”
Elena trained her eyes on the larger and quieter of the eunuchs. His expression held nothing useful for her. She stared into those mud-brown eyes and wondered how to mend this before falling into the snare of those deep wells.
The sound of the baby crying had her on her feet and at the door in a trice.
This was her chance. She’d leave Constantinople and never look back.
She glanced sidelong at Robert, hand already around the door latch, her heart tripping faster than ever as she looked at her husband for the last time. She had to leave here as quickly as her feet could carry her.
“If you think for one moment I’ll let Jonathan cry through your good-for-nothing
you’re mistaken. You can take my place in their slave quarters until you fix this! I’ll be with the baby, should you come to your senses and wish to make amends.”
One of the eunuchs grasped the base of her neck, and spun her painfully around. As he pushed her to the closed door, all the air whooshed from her lungs. Her shoulder ached from its impact against the molding. She refused to cry out her pain and bit her lip till she thought it would bleed.
Realization dawned as she tried to dislodge his hand unsuccessfully; he could snap her just like this. Hopefully, she was worth more alive than dead. His hand was unrelenting, and with his weight behind it, it proved almost impossible to drag any air into her lungs.
She tried to squirm out of his grasp. She brought her hands up to his chest to push him away but his grip tightened, his body pressing hard and heavily into her, rendering her powerless to move. Deep down, she knew there was never a hope for escape. Why she attempted it, she didn’t know. Foolish bravery, perhaps.
No. She attempted it for her son.
Her son. God, what would happen to her son?
A thin knife rasped against her flesh and jabbed into the vein that beat a furious tempo above the eunuch’s thumb. It was the only thing to stop her from pushing at him again. Nothing more than the threat of the sharp tip held her down, the still weight of an ox standing behind that deadly pinprick. Her hands dropped to her side in defeat.
If she were dead, she wouldn’t be able to help her son.
The eunuch loosened his grip. From her peripheral vision she saw his other hand swoop down toward her temple. She ducked the blow too late.
“She’ll fetch a pretty price. She has nice form. Skin’s tight and free of blemish.”
The tall, thin Englishman was the one who spoke, his spectacles resting on the end of his nose as he pinched various parts of her flesh in his inspection. His touch was light but no less invasive than some of the crueler handlings she’d had over the days. It angered her that he talked as though she were a fine piece of horseflesh and not a human being.
This was the same man who’d looked her over three days ago. The first Englishman she’d seen in this pit worse than any hell imaginable. She’d begged his help then, tried pleading that her being here was a grave misunderstanding. Told him that the life of her baby rested on his goodwill.
He hadn’t listened. So Elena said nothing, just bit her lip to still her shaking. She wanted to cry when he prodded at her naked breasts and touched her bare stomach through the tear in her chemise. No sense in crying out. That would earn her another beating. She’d given up begging for help days ago—or was it a week? Time was irrelevant; days leached into night then back into day. No one cared about her here. She was just another slave in their dark, cold gazes.
When she had awoken in this dilapidated warehouse the first thing she noticed was the dingy faded ashen walls. When her head had stopped throbbing she was nauseatingly assaulted with the smell of unwashed human bodies. The stench of excrement and urine so thick in the air it was as though it had sunk into the very foundation of the building. When she breathed through her mouth she tasted that awful, stale reek of dirty human bodies. Better to smell that rotten stench.
Heavy muslin over the large windows stopped the light from reaching its warm rays out to her and blocked fresh air from cleaning out her aching lungs. The slave handlers bound her with thick rope, looping it through a rusted metal collar that tethered her to the wall. She’d been treated like an animal since her arrival. Poked, jabbed, humiliated with their scrutiny and quibbling of a price over her.
She should be happy they hadn’t completely forgotten her like some of the other slaves huddled in their own reek and filth. They gave her a grayish sludge they called food once a day. Sometimes there was rice or pilaf, which she’d refused at first. But after a couple days of dire hunger, she’d learned to close her eyes and eat around the cockroaches infesting the food. She pretended the wriggling of their bodies was merely a product of her overactive imagination.