Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(71) by Lorraine Heath
It was a lovely residence. Too lovely for what Emma knew occurred here. One of the swells had carried her from the carriage, because her legs had been as substantial as jam. Rockberry had yelled that they’d given her too much. Whatever it was, she feared he was correct. As she sat on a chair in the entrance hallway, her stomach was roiling and she thought at any moment she might be ill.
“Come along, dear,” she heard a soft feminine voice say.
Where had the lady standing before her come from? Another was with her, helping her to her feet and assisting her up the stairs. The blond introduced herself as Helena. The dark-haired woman was Aphrodite.
In a bedchamber upstairs, they began removing her clothes. She tried to resist, to shove them away, but her limbs had no sturdiness to them. Someone was brushing her hair. Why were they doing this?
She tried not to imagine how Elisabeth had felt, how frightened she’d been. Or had she thought she was being prepared to become Rockberry’s bride? Oh, she despised these people. No matter how much wine they gave her, they could not drown out that single bit of knowledge, that hammering conviction. These people had hurt Elisabeth. Now they meant to harm her. She would fight them.
If only she could think clearly. If only she could regain control of her limbs. She wanted only to curl up and go to sleep, but the ladies wouldn’t let her be. Emma thought of James. Would he ever look at her the same if Rockberry touched her?
Would he be consumed with guilt because he’d left her unguarded? He suffered enough because of his father. She didn’t want to add to his burdens.
When the ladies— what were their names again?—had her prepared to their satisfaction, they draped the softest of silk around her. It felt so wonderful, wrapped her in a cloud. She almost forgot what it heralded. Then they began to escort her somewhere. She was vaguely aware of hallways and passages, candle flames flickering. She wanted to remember what everything looked like so she could describe it to James later. Maybe he could find it. But nothing seemed to stick in her mind. Whenever she saw something new, whatever she’d seen before disappeared from memory.
They were no longer walking, simply swaying. She realized she was in a large, cavernous room. Pillows were everywhere. Here more candles provided a soft light. Some might have even considered it romantic. She could hear chanting. Men in red robes, Satan’s followers, stood in a circle around her. Hoods kept their faces in shadows. She had little doubt they were the wicked, the beasts who had taken advantage of Elisabeth—and now had plans to harm her. She was vaguely aware of the silk slithering down her body. She wanted to pull it back up from its place on the floor but it was so far away. And her limbs seemed incapable of following commands, as though they were somehow detached from her thoughts.
“Kneel,” Rockberry ordered.
She focused on his voice, focused on his face. He was one of the men who’d hurt Elisabeth, had destroyed her. She fought back the lethargy. “No.”
He laughed harshly. “Your unwillingness will not prevent what is to come. Kneel.”
“Rot in hell.”
She could see the anger contorting his features, knew things would probably go much worse for her, but she was beyond caring. She’d not willingly follow him into hell. She’d not even follow him into heaven. She refused to become his slave, his concubine. Whatever he offered, she wanted nothing to do with it.
He snapped his fingers and she felt strong hands pushing her down until her knees thudded painfully against the floor.
“Daughter of Eros—”
She saw him holding up the silver filigree collar.
“Bride of Eros—”
The silver touched her neck, just as it had touched Elisabeth’s. Cold against her flesh, causing chills to race through her. It was so pretty but so heavy, a symbol of subservience, an indication of ownership. She didn’t know where she found the strength, but she gathered whatever remnants remained and slammed her balled fist up between his spread legs—
With an agonizing shriek, Rockberry buckled and dropped to his knees before her. She was vaguely aware of her fingernails clawing rivulets in his face, his screams, hands grabbing her—
And then the chaos that Elisabeth had written about truly erupted.
Swindler burst into the room as though he were leading the horsemen of the apocalypse. He’d had a time of it picking the lock at the gate. Their efforts to find Emma had been delayed as they dealt with the drivers and groomsmen of Rockberry’s carriage as well as two others. The front door had not been locked, the people inside obviously feeling safe and secure in their little world. Swindler and his group had dealt with one butler. No other servants were about. These disciples of whatever the bloody hell they were had no doubt determined that the fewer witnesses to their depravity, the better. But finding the correct room in this monstrosity of a residence had taken more time than Swindler would have liked. It had been the echoing chant that finally led them in the right direction, and then the high-pitched shrieks that confirmed they’d found where they needed to be.
They’d fired shots over heads—more to distract and intimidate rather than harm. Six men wearing red cloaks, and two ladies—scrambling for their wraps—had dropped to their bellies like the snakes they were and covered their heads. One man was already writhing on the floor, fighting off the hellion who was intent on causing him serious bodily harm. Swindler, knowing it was Emma, was tempted to leave her to it, let her have her satisfaction, her triumph, but he needed to reassure himself that no harm had come to her. God, but she was glorious in her fury. Grabbing the silk pooled on the floor, wishing he had something better for her, he draped it over her and gently tried to tug her off Rockberry. But she fought him, lost in the madness of whatever potion they’d given her, whatever horrors they’d inflicted on her. Wrapping his arms tightly around her, holding her as still as he could, he pulled her away and onto his lap. When Rockberry made a motion to lunge for her, Claybourne planted his booted foot on the man’s chest and directed his pistol at his head. “I wouldn’t if I were you. You should know by my reputation that I have no problem killing lords. I’ve no objection to adding you to my list.”
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