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His brother warriors fear the Earl of Westwood has turned traitor, but Emily Harper knows this is impossible for the man she has loved since childhood—as impossible as a marriage between them could ever be—she, the gamekeeper’s daughter and he, a bold and adventurous nobleman.
Driven by hatred and revenge, Westwood is playing a deadly game of deception, bent on destroying the enemy’s dark conspiracy from the inside, and he’s furious when Emily plunges herself into danger for his sake. Forced into close quarters, their long-suppressed desire explodes into all-consuming passion.
Emily knows her love can save him…but Drake is a man who doesn’t want to be saved.
Why do you need to read this book? This is my favorite book from the Inferno Club! The love story of Drake and Emily is not to be missed!
My Ruthless Prince can be purchased from Amazon
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The Bavarian Alps, 1816
When another bullet whizzed past her shoulder, she whirled behind the nearest towering tree.
You’re as mad as he is, coming here! she thought. But what choice had she had? She was the last friend he had left in the world, and if she didn’t help him, nobody would.
All around her, the Alpine forest rang with shots and the angry, shouted orders of the black-clad guards who had come pouring out of Waldfort Castle the moment she had been spotted. Her back to the tree-trunk, chest heaving, Emily Harper waited for her next chance to run.
She had been tracking her quarry for weeks from a wary distance, but when he had arrived here, disappearing into the ominous mountaintop fortress, there was nothing she had been able to do but sneak through the woods and try to glimpse him, try to figure out how to lure him away.
But then one of the sentries had noticed her, and her efforts to rescue Drake had been cut short.
Now! Lunging into motion, she darted down the deer path once again, her brown woolen cloak flowing out behind her, her bow and quiver of arrows bumping at her back with every stride.
Golden shafts of sunlight pierced the forest’s verdant gloom ahead like angels’ lances, showing her the way. Her practiced gaze scanned for each next step over the rough, angled ground. The slope was sharp–she nearly slid–but turned slightly, dropping in an agile skid, then she leaped off the thick gnarled root of a tree that gripped a boulder like a bony hand, and raced on.
They were gaining on her.
The wild drumming of her pulse throbbed in her ears, but her footsteps fell silently over the thick bed of pine needles that softened the forest floor.
She had not stopped to count how many of these foreign mercenaries were chasing her, some on foot, some on horseback.
Some with dogs.
But if there was any doubt that the elite Promethean cabal was real, the presence of their security detail was awfully convincing.
As soon as her presence had been detected, their security forces had come pouring out from behind the walls of the remote Bavarian castle where a secret gathering of some the richest and most powerful men in Europe was underway.
If they were not up to something nefarious, then why did they need all these armed guards keeping people away?
Emily did not personally care what twisted new schemes of tyranny the highborn occult conspirators were dreaming up in their endless hunt for power. She had come for just one reason: to bring Drake home.
He did not belong here, no matter what he said, and even if these hired thugs drove her all the way back down the mountain, she vowed to herself she would merely climb it again. She refused to quit, refused to give up on him. Her beloved lunatic needed her–whether he knew it or not. Whatever it took, she was not leaving here without him. He had not abandoned her in her darkest hour, and now the time had come to return the favor.
Drake was in more trouble than he knew. Never mind his enemies–now even his friends wanted to kill him.
“Dort! Dort ist er!”
Hang it. A scowl flicked over her face as another bullet flew above her head, biting into the bark of the tree ahead.
They had seen her.
With an angry glance over her shoulder, she dodged behind an ancient elm to the side of the path ahead, shrugging her bow off her shoulder. Her hands smoothly nocked an arrow, as if with a will of their own.
As she waited for her moment, her memory was filled with images of the hours-long games of hide-and-seek she and Drake used to play as children on his family’s estate.
They had run like wild savages through the forested park of Westwood Manor back at home: the earl’s rambunctious heir and the woodsman’s untamed daughter.
Such grand rivalries had driven them to compete, trying brashly to out-brave each other in their little shared adventures, their feats of derring-do, swinging from trees, crossing fallen logs like bridges over the fairly deep ravine where the stream ran through the earl’s sprawling acreage. Who could skip a stone better, who could throw a stick farther, like a spear. They set traps for rabbits, but then were too tender-hearted to hand their prizes over to Cook. They had let the coneys go and had whiled away many a summer afternoon catching frogs.
But then, the Seeker had come, that towering, taciturn Scot called Virgil, and Drake had been chosen for the Order of St. Michael the Archangel. His parents had agreed to this secret duty laid upon his bloodlines centuries ago by the Crusader knights in his ancestry. With their blessing, he soon had gone away to that mysterious military-style school in Scotland, bragging to her that one day, he would become the Order’s greatest warrior.
She had kicked him in the shins for his boasting at the time, but then had wept her heart out when the next day came and there had been no one to play with, except for the odd collection of hurt wild animals she had nursed back to health and gradually turned into pets.
In time she got used to being alone, while Drake grew steadily toward his goal. Soon, the rowdy, black-haired boy had become a breathtakingly handsome young man, who was no longer allowed to tell her where he went each time the Order sent him out on one of those long, dangerous missions.
And then, last year, on one of the darkest days of her life, they got word from the Order that he had disappeared.
Emily pressed her back against the wide trunk of the tree, listening to her pursuers advancing.
Maybe I should let them catch me.
They would bring her into the castle, closer to Drake. But she dismissed the thought in the next heartbeat.
Too risky. She was not a lady, and angry enemy males like these were known to make rough use of lowborn women.
She would gladly give her life for Drake, but no Promethean dog would ever take her honor.
As her pursuers advanced, coming closer through the trees, Emily shot her arrow well beyond them into the woods: misdirection.
Immediately, they raced off in reaction to the sound. She nocked another arrow and fired a second for good measure. The guards rushed off to track down the source of the noise. As soon as they left, she slung her bow over her shoulder again and sped off in the other direction.
Ahead, the sunlight glittered on the rushing mountain stream where she had filled her canteen earlier. She bounded from rock to rock to get across it, but when she suddenly heard more men coming, she knew the time had come to hide.
Her gaze homed in on a low miniature cave, a mere hollow between the layers of rock, likely a fox’s den. Eyeing it up, she saw she was slight enough of build to fit in the narrow opening–and she was desperate enough to try it.
Quick as a cat, she ran to the narrow bank of the crystal stream. It was only a strip of muddy earth and a few piled boulders before it angled up into the steep rock face that bracketed the noisy little waterfall on both sides.
Emily climbed. Her heart was pounding, but she was somehow keeping fear at bay. Still, dying in these woods so far from home was a greater possibility than she cared to admit, and the prospect of being caught and used for cruel sport by these foreign mercenaries was not much better.
Pulling herself up to the edge of the little cave, she peered into it. No one was home, thankfully, but the rounded indentation in the dirt confirmed that it had once been some animal’s dwelling place.
Emily vaulted up the rock face and rolled into the den, concealed by darkness. She pulled her cloak around her; its brownish-gray hue blended into the stone.
“He came this way, Capitan!”
She smirked to herself in her hiding place. Of course, they would assume they were following a man, whether or not they had glimpsed her boyish garb. But it was just as well, for it meant they had not gotten a clear look at her face.
“Keep moving!” a strong, English voice replied.
Emily’s eyes widened and caught her breath; she knew that deep, slightly scratchy voice like the sound of her own heartbeat.
“Go that way,” Drake added, repeating the command in French and German to the others. “I’ll check over here.”
He had to know. He had to know it was she. Surely he had sensed her in his soul through the almost mystical bond they had shared since childhood.
Heart pounding, she bit her lip against a crazed smile at his nearness. At last! This was what she had been praying for, one chance to talk to him.
To bring him back to his senses. To coax him home like one of her wounded wild animals. He did not know what he was doing, coming here.
She waited for the other men to leave, joy and relief welling up in her, even though the last time she had seen Drake, the blackguard had put a knife to her throat and used her as a hostage so he could escape.
Of course, he’d never hurt her, she assured herself.
No matter how much the Prometheans might have scarred his body and damaged his mind, even blacking out much of his memory with their abuses during the months they had kept him in that dungeon–no matter how much their evil might have changed him–he was still Drake.
And in her heart, he was still her best friend, even though it was foolish to think so, since he was an earl and she was nobody in particular.
She could hear the others retreating into the woods to continue the hunt for the intruder. Nearby there was no sound above the rapid babbling of the mountain brook. Not even the birds called, frightened away by the gunfire.
She stayed motionless for a long moment . . . until she heard his voice, quiet and grim. “Tell me, please, dear God, tell me it isn’t you in there.”
Emily slowly pulled the edge of her cloak down from her face. At first, from her vantage point, she could only see the lower half of his muscular body.
The long, loose black coat. Well-worn black leather breeches. Black knee-boots.
Hoping he would not be angry, she whisked her cloak back and rolled out of her hiding place, peeking out to make extra sure the others were gone, and then dropping lightly from the fox’s den to the narrow bank below.
She grinned at him and tossed her long hair over her shoulders. “Surprise.”
From the other side of the stream, Drake pinned her in a cold, unsmiling stare.
Her saucy grin faded as she watched his angular face pale with dread, possibly fury at the sight of her.
Shaking his head in disbelief, not uttering a word, the tall, black-haired demigod of a man scanned her from head to toe, making sure she was not hurt.
She did the same to him as she warily approached, relieved to find no new injuries on his tall formidable body. In his eyes, however, she saw the same, fractured intensity blazing in their coal-black depths.
It was then that she knew that as mad as it was of her to come here, she had done the right thing.
He was not even close to being all right.
God, it pained her, that lost look in his soulful eyes after all he had been through. Clearly, he did not understand the consequences of his actions. What did he think he was doing? The Prometheans could not possibly trust him. They would kill him, and if they did not, now the Order would.
His brother warriors now viewed him as a traitor.
She took another step toward him, holding his gaze.
“How are you? Are you all right?” she murmured.
With a cold smile, he did not answer the question.
But Emily did not take offense any more than she had the time that falcon with the broken wing had bitten her finger. Drake needed help, and that was why she was here.
Holding his gaze, she approached, though it made her heart hurt whenever she looked into his eyes and read the pain left behind by what these Prometheans bastards had done to him. His time in their captivity had turned him into a remote, brooding stranger whose very presence seethed with silent hatred and rage–a man who had once been a practical joker.
As a lad, he’d been fond of pulling pranks. In his twenties, he’d been a fun-loving rogue with the unfortunate habit of singing rude tavern songs at the top of his lungs when he was drunk, laughing off the attentions of all those horrid painted women, high and low, who fawned on him and called him “Westie,” short for his title, Earl of Westwood. In his thirties, he was still just as beautiful on the outside. He had always been so beautiful . . . but inside, she knew the torturers had wrecked him. Destroyed his once-contagious charm, his fiery lust for life. Now she seemed to be the only one who could reach him, because of their history together.
He trusted her.
After months of beatings and interrogations, the Order had pulled whatever needed strings they could to get their agent back. Drake had been returned to them in such a damaged state that it had unsettled them all. He’d attacked his former teammates like a wild man, not recognizing them, thinking everyone wanted to kill him. Begging them not to put him in a cage, ranting that he had to get back to James. The old man was in danger, he had said over and over again. Instead of paying attention to any of this, his saddened friends had brought him home so he could mend.
It still filled Emily with rage to think of how thin he’d been when she had first seen him, how he jumped at the slightest noise.
Whatever his captors had done to scramble his wits, he’d had no recognition of his own mother or the country estate where he’d grown up.
The only thing he had remembered . . . was her.
While Lord Rotherstone, one of his closest friends in the Order, had guarded him at Westwood Manor, Emily had thrown herself into the task of healing her beloved childhood companion.
They had been making fine progress after a few weeks. She had slowly, gently, quietly, begun to lead him out of the dark storm he lived in. She had even claimed the victory of seeing him wake up one morning having slept the whole night through.
He seemed to be doing so well after a time, that the last thing she had expected was for Drake to take matters into his own hands, escaping by taking her hostage, all so that he could return to his precious James and those who had abused him.
In the face of all this evidence to the contrary, Emily still could not bring herself to believe that Drake had turned traitor. It was impossible.
No, she had an awful feeling that his real motive for coming back here was to try to get revenge.
Which just went to show how unstable he still was.
The Order had been battling the vile Prometheans for centuries. One man was not about to take down the whole organization alone. Mad or sane, though, she thought, leave it to Drake to try.
Whatever he had up his sleeve, though, clearly, he had not figured her into his plans.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded in a low, taut voice as she ventured another step toward him.
“Aren’t you happy to see me?” she attempted in an airy tone.
He looked at her in exasperation. “Not in the least.”
“You know why I’m here, Drake,” she chided softly, willing patience. “I’ve come to take you home.”
He closed his eyes. Lowered his head. And scratched his eyebrow. Which did not bode well.
Then he flicked his jet-black eyes open again and glared at her. “Get the hell out of here. Now.”
“I appreciate the gesture, Em, but you made the trip for nothing. I’m staying here, and you are going home. Go on. Climb back into that cave and hide until we’ve pulled back to the castle. I’ll cover for you.”
“No! I’m not going anywhere without you! Do you think I came six-hundred miles for nothing?” She glanced into the woods to make sure the others were not returning.
But she warned herself not to lose sight of the fact that she was dealing with a dangerous man who was no longer quite the master of his faculties. If she pushed him too hard, there was no telling what he might do.
She reached out her hand to him. “Come with me, Drake. Escape with me now, before they come back. I’ll take care of you.”
“Oh, Emily,” he whispered with an fleeting, anguished wince.
“I already lost you once. I can’t go through that again.”
“They will kill you,” he whispered. “They will kill us both.”
“Not if we move right now. We can still get away. You know we can, you and I, together. These woods. It’ll be just like old times. Let me take care of you, sweeting. You are confused. I know you don’t want to be here.”
He shook his head, turning away from her in agitation. “Why don’t you ever listen? I can’t believe you’re here. I told you I have to do this!”
“But you don’t. Whatever you think you’re trying to do here, you’re only going to get yourself killed. I can’t allow that, Drake. You’ve bitten off more than you can chew this time, and you need to come home. Whatever James might have told you, this is notwhere you belong.”
“You’re the one who doesn’t belong here!” he shot back in a fierce whisper, taking a large step closer. “How could you put yourself at risk this way?–and you say I’m the one that’s mad?!”
“Drake, denying what you’ve been through is not going to help you get better. You’re not well! You need time to heal. Just be patient. You will get back to your full strength in time, and then maybe–”
“I’m back to my full strength,” he growled.
“Physically, perhaps. But inside, we both know you’re not ready for any sort of mission. Come home with me. You’ve got to let me help you. You know you can trust me. Please, Drake. Let’s escape now before they come back.”
She paused, taking a new strategy. “So, you want to send me back six-hundred miles all by my myself?” she asked, for she could be as ruthless as he when the occasion called. “You know how dangerous it is in these forests. Wolves. Bears. Men.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, well aware of what she was attempting.
He had killed the last man who had threatened her.
“You’d have me travel back through three war-torn countries alone? I’m out of money. I don’t speak the language.”
“It’s a wonder you made it this far alive,” he muttered. “You’ve never even been outside the shire.”
“I followed you,” she said simply, shrugging. “You and James. I thought you almost spotted me a few times.”
He lowered his gaze. “I thought I was imagining it.” Then he shook his head at her. “Why did you do this to me?”
“Not to you. For you. Because you need me.” She took his hand in hers and pulled. “Come on, we’ll talk later. We need to go right now.”
He remained planted, though his fingers lightly encircled hers. “I’m sorry, Emily. No.”
“Drake, you’re not an agent anymore!” she whispered in exasperation. “The Order fears you have betrayed them!”
“Maybe I have. Did you ever think of that?”
“Don’t be absurd. If you turn yourself in, I know it’ll be all right. I’ll vouch for you. We’ll go to them together and explain that you just made a mistake, an err in judgment, thinking you could come here and take them down alone–”
“I did not make a mistake,” he answered darkly.
Just then, the sound of male voices nearing through the woods made Emily suck in her breath.
“Come on, Drake! Please!”
“No! I am not going with you. Now get back in that bloody cave and hide right now–”
“Enough,” she cut him off, resorting to her pistol.
He arched a brow as she drew her gun and aimed it at him.
“Let’s go, now.”
“What, you’re taking me captive?”
“Come on, you idiot!” she pleaded.
He let out a low, cynical laugh. “Pull the trigger, please.” He parted the neckline of his shirt, presenting the top of his chest. “You might as well. I’d rather you do it than anyone else.”
She glowered at him for calling her bluff, but grabbed him by his shirt with her other hand, prepared to physically drag him back to England if she had to. “I’ve had it with you. Come on, now!” she ordered, taking him captive at gunpoint. “Don’t give me any trouble. Walk!”
He was laughing at her.
“You’re coming with me. Blast it, Drake, I am trying to save you here!”
“What makes you think I have any desire to be saved?” He grasped her wrist where her hand clutched his shirt. “Let go of me, Emily.” He looked deep into her eyes and repeated in a meaningful whisper: “Let me go.”
“No,” she breathed, staring into his eyes as she shook her head. “Never.”
“I already told you it’s too late for me. I know what I’m doing, Emily. Now, go. You’ve got to do this for me. Nothing’s worth it if you should die.”
Her eyes welled with tears.
“Don’t cry.” He touched her face wistfully. “Don’t make a sound. Just go back to that cave and stay out of sight. They’re coming. Go on, now. I’ll get them out of here. Wait till we’re gone and then you run like hell down this mountain and go home. You’ve got to trust me. Tell the same to Max.”
Emily refused to move. “It’ll never be home again,” she choked out. “I can’t leave you here to die.”
He looked over his shoulder. “If you don’t run, you’re going to die with me. Is that what you want?”
“Maybe. It’s better than going back alone.”
He looked taken aback at her answer, but she held his stare in defiance. Did the idiot still not know how she felt about him?
“You have no idea of what you’ve yourself gotten into,” he uttered.
“I don’t care, I can’t let them hurt you again!”
“Damn it! I’m going to wring your neck for this,” he muttered, then suddenly grabbed her by her wrist and yanked her to him, taking the pistol out of her hand and tucking it into the back of his waist. A second before the Promethean guards rushed into the clearing by the stream, Drake did something he had never done before.
Something that shocked her to the marrow.
He caught her up in his arms and kissed her, claiming her mouth with unabashed, lusty intent.
She was too shocked at first even to react. After all, his mother had made it very clear to her years ago as an awkward fifteen-year-old that this must never happen, or her father would be sacked.
She had done her best since then not even to let girlish daydreams of kissing him play across her mind.
Not that her efforts had not always been successful.
She was old enough to know now that she wanted him, and to sense that he had often stayed away precisely because he thought about it, too.
But none of her daydreams had ever pictured their first kiss happening like this, with a dozen Promethean guards rushing into the clearing and surrounding them.
Terror mingled with intoxication: Both made her knees weak. She clutched his broad shoulders to keep from falling over, tentatively following his lead.
Drake ignored the men completely and went on kissing her, his tongue in her mouth, his fingers sensuously clutching her hips while the men jeered and shouted in surprise to find them thus.
When he finally ended the brash, rather rude kiss and released her, Emily saw stars.
“False alarm, boys,” he drawled at last, sounding slightly breathless. He licked his lips and hungrily held her stunned gaze–though she noted his exasperation with her still simmering in the midnight depths of his eyes.
She could not look away, quite in shock at him and at the potent mix of fear and want pounding in her blood.
“What’s this?” one of the guards demanded in English.
“This?” Drake cast the man one of his old, devilish grins. “This is my girl.”
“Your girl?” they exclaimed in skeptical surprise.
“Aye. You boys nearly shot my favorite little servant wench. I’d have been very cross if any of you had so much as scratched her pretty bottom.” He slapped her on the arse, and Emily gasped outright.
The men exchanged wry, humorous glances.
“Your servant, Capitan?” a leathery Frenchman questioned, as though not quite buying it.
“Oh, yes. She’s quite devoted to my comforts,” Drake said slowly, with an innuendo that roused their laughter. “Aren’t you, love?”
Emily could not manage an answer at first, blushing and tongue-tied. She knew she had better play along, but was completely out of sorts and rather mortified.
Above all, she was stung by his insulting choice of terms for her–a servant wench, indeed?
The difference in their stations had long been a sore spot for her, as he knew full well, since this was obviously what had made his parents deem her unworthy of their splendid son. His pointed reminder of it now just went to show how furious he was at her for coming here. She quite believed His Lordship had just put her in her place.
“I had a feeling she might follow me. We’ve been doing this for years, haven’t we, sweetling? Ever since she was old enough to know what to do with a man. But alas, she got addicted,” he drawled, staring into her eyes. “Every time I try to set her aside, she just keeps showing up again.”
“Humph,” said Emily, lifting her chin, half amused, half outraged at his braggadocio, and well aware there was a grain of truth in it.
Indignation at his sly goading helped her find her spunk again. Very well, she could play along as brazenly as he if it meant the difference between life and death.
“If I’m the only one addicted, then why do you keeping sending for me–milord?” she countered with an arch look.
“Good question,” he murmured, staring at her in lusty approval. “You are my dirty little secret, aren’t you?”
That’s what your mother’s afraid of. She grasped the lapel of his black coat and moved closer to him. “We both know you need someone lookin’ after you.”
“And we both know what you need, as well,” he replied with an extremely wicked smile. When he ran his hands down her waist to her hips, she could not hold back a gasp; her eyes glazed over slightly.
She cursed herself for the haze of desire he cast over her, for her beloved spy was only putting on a show to deceive the others.Don’t get so excited, she told herself. This was just a ruse.
After all, it had long been established that the wild rogue Inferno Club member Lord Westwood would happily dally with any woman in England.
Except for her.
She huffed and looked away, blushing. Half of her wanted to throttle him for thwarting her perfectly sensible plan to get him out of here, while the other half wanted these onlookers to leave so the two of them could finish the game they had just started, right here on the soft forest floor.
Her pulse raced as he held her against his muscled body. No wonder the men appeared to believe their charade. She could feel Drake’s heart pounding in response to her, as well, and the thickening swell of his nether regions against her navel.
“I was beginning to think he didn’t like women,” one of the soldiers muttered.
“No, he just likes the wrong women,” Emily tossed out with a cheeky sideward glance. “Mind your own business, anyway. I didn’t come here for you.”
“Oho! She told you!”
The men guffawed at her impertinence.
“I wish,” another opined under his breath.
She dismissed them with a queenly toss of her head while Drake watched her with a serene smile. She returned her full attention to him, running her hand up his chest in playful chiding. “As for you, sir, if you didn’t want me to come, you should’ve been more convincing in your goodbye. It was quite half-hearted, as I recall.”
Drake laughed softly and captured her chin, lifting her face to his. “Well, you’re here now, you cheeky little minx, so you might as well come in. I’m sure I can find a few uses for you when I get off duty.”
“What do you mean to do with her, Capitan?” the weathered fellow clipped out in a business-like tone.
“Good God, Jacques, use your imagination,” he retorted with a scoff. “And you call yourself a Frenchman.”
The others laughed.
“That’s not what I meant, as you well know,” Jacques answered impatiently. “What is Falkirk going to say about this?”
Drake shrugged, sliding his arm more snugly around Emily’s waist as he inspected her curves at closer range. “Nothing, likely. Whatever modest amenities I require for my personal comfort are of no interest to the Council.”
“Well, you had better ask him. He’s the one who pays us, not you.”
“True. But I’m the one who hired you sorry bastards. And I can get rid of you just as easily, don’t forget it. Falkirk would not have made me the head of his security if he did not trust my discretion. Besides, she won’t be any trouble, will you, sugarplum?” With an indulgent half smile, he tapped her fondly on the nose. “You promise to be a good girl for me?”
Emily managed an obliging smile, but the look in her eyes was a glare. Now you’re pushing your luck. “Aye, milord.”
“See? She’s very obedient.” He was deliberately goading her.
Just you wait.
“She’ll stay out of the way, so don’t you mind her. She’ll share my room,” Drake added. “That way she’ll be close to hand whenever I have need of her.”
Her pulse raced at the heated promise in his eyes.
But then, one of the younger soldiers made the mistake of an ill-timed jest. “Eh, I have a few tasks in mind the chit could do for me when you’re done with her, Capitan.”
“Ja, why don’t you pass her around when you’re through?” a tall, strapping German rumbled with a grin.
All humor vanishing, Drake slowly turned to the mercenaries, his stare icy. “What did you say?”
The feckless French lad started to repeat himself, but the older, leathery Jacques held up his arm. “Shut up, Gustave.”
Gustave looked confused. “What? Ah, come, she’s just a servant.”
“My servant. My property.” Drake said something to them in French that immediately silenced their jokes and wilted their wolfish grins.
Emily did not understand the words, but Drake’s murderous snarl was that of the pack’s dominant male warning his underlings away from a choice piece of meat. His tone of voice matched the bristling tension in his body, and his hand drifted down to the weapon at his side, as if he was quite prepared to back up the verbal rebuke with any degree of violence necessary.
She had also tensed, rather frightened. She lowered her head.
“Comprenez?” he barked.
The men mumbled in assent, shrinking from the challenge.
“Good.” He returned to English so she could understand, too, and kept his arm around her shoulders, a visible declaration of his protection–and apparent ownership. “Then let’s get back to the castle. Return to your posts and stay alert. Next time, it might not be a false alarm.”
The chastened men mumbled agreement, following the second-in-command, Jacques, out of the grove.
Furtively, Emily sent her fierce protector an anxious glance. He was still in a bristling stance as he watched them walk ahead, indeed, he was watching their every move.
When he relaxed slightly, he looked down at her with an inquiry in his dark eyes. You all right?
She nodded, but then glanced toward the fortress in distress. To the castle, really? Must we?
You only have yourself to thank, his dark smirk replied, but his eyes were grim. “Come on.” He kept his arm draped across her shoulders, emphasizing his proprietary claim on her to the other soldiers who now caught up with them as they came back out onto the dusty mountain road.
Glancing around at all the armed mercenaries cowering from Drake, Emily saw no choice but to go along with this charade. He was clearly all that stood between her and an unspeakable fate.
Perhaps you should have thought of that earlier, she chided herself, her emotions in an angry tumult at this unexpected turn of events. She was furious at him for thwarting her rescue plan, and besides that, her pride still smarted from his rude reminder of her lower status.
Well, she might be a servant, but she was nobody’s ‘wench.’ How depressing, that after a lifetime’s daydreams, her idol had only kissed her at last for the sake of a ruse.
Her frustration climbed with every step they took up the winding road toward the Promethean stronghold. Blast it, this was not supposed to happen! She had not tracked him for hundreds of miles and crossed the Alps to join the madman in whatever game he was playing.
If it was a game.
A chill ran down her spine at the darkest possibility, the one she’d been refusing to consider.
Maybe he hadn’t come here for revenge.
Dread gripped her at the thought, but could it be possible that old James Falkirk really had succeeded in turning him, as his fellow agents feared?
After all the years that Drake had devoted himself to the Order, it seemed completely counter to reason. But the mind was a mysterious thing, and for a time, the wounded Earl of Westwood had forgotten everything, even who he was.
If the Prometheans could do that to him, why couldn’t they persuade him to renounce his old life and join their dark cult?
Maybe the months of torture had broken him so deeply inside that the Drake she knew and loved was truly gone, replaced by someone else, as he had tried to warn her back in England. A mindless slave with all the lethal skills of a top Order agent. Someone willing to do the enemy’s bidding without hesitation.
Emily looked askance at him . . . and wondered.