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Authors: Katherine Kingston

RulingPassion

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Ruling Passion

Katherine
Kingston

 

Book 1 in the Passions series.

 

During a daring raid to rescue
prisoners he was hired to free, Lord Jeoffrey Blaisdell discovers Lady Rosalind
Hamilton. To secure her own release as well, she agrees to his price, though
she knows she cannot pay it. When he learns of her deception, Jeoffrey offers
her an alternate price for rescue…

The payment is to be reaped by Lord
Jeoffrey in his bedchambers—swiftly, immediately—and all night long.

 

Ellora’s Cave Publishing

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Ruling Passion

 

ISBN 9781843600190

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Ruling Passion Copyright 2002 Katherine Kingston

 

Cover design by Syneca

Model: Ryan

 

Electronic book publication 2002

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of
Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home
Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

 

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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

 

The publisher and author(s) acknowledge the trademark status and
trademark ownership of all trademarks, service marks and word marks mentioned
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The publisher does not have any control over, and does not assume
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Ruling Passion

Katherine Kingston

 

Chapter One

 

An enormous cockroach scurried across the stone floor of the
cell.

Lady Rosalind Hamilton shivered as she watched it race
toward the shelter of a tiny crevice in the stone wall. She drew around her the
thin blanket that failed to deliver any warmth. At least she could see the
insect right now, but soon she’d only be able to locate her small roommates by
sound. The thin gray light from the single, high, barred window was fading, and
the guards provided no candles. A cloudy night meant thick darkness, a
blackness so complete it pressed on her body and invaded her soul.

In the depths of the blackest nights, she asked herself why
she didn’t just accede to Sir William’s demands and yield herself to him. But
it was also in those soul-searing hours she remembered her father’s head
rolling on the floor several feet from his body. She saw again her older
brother’s sightless eyes and the blood soaking his clothes. Heard her mother’s
screams as William’s men dragged her to another room. Her shrieks of pain sank
gradually to despairing moans. Then, even those stopped, leaving an empty
silence.

Rosalind knew she would likely die here, but better so than
give the monster anything of herself. How could he think he would get anything
from her but hatred?

Even his efforts to “convince” her to do his will were
despicable. He’d tried to bribe her with fine clothes and jewels, exotic foods
and sweets, the best accommodations in his keep. When those failed to move her,
he went the other way and consigned her to the laundry rooms. She cringed
remembering how the other servants, no doubt at Sir William’s instigation, gave
her the foulest items to wash, slopped and splashed her with rank-smelling
water, and once nearly knocked her into one of the caldrons. Her scalded arm
had burned for days.

The monster would not have her.

But she didn’t want to die in this God-forsaken cell. She’d
tried the window, standing on the rickety cot that was the only furnishing. The
bars refused to yield to her tugs and pulls. Even her full weight hanging from
them hadn’t produced so much as a wiggle. Her fingertips were scraped raw from
trying to dig around the mortar holding the bars in place. She’d investigated
every square inch of the cell for weaknesses and found none. The door was solid
wood, six inches thick with a tiny little window and no flaws or cracks.

Rosalind sat on the cot and prayed. It would take a miracle
to free her.

Chapter Two

 

The corridors of the dungeon echoed the scraping of his
men’s rushing feet and the prisoners’ desperate flight to freedom. Lord
Jeoffrey Blaisdell frowned as he strained to decipher another sound he thought
he heard.

“Jeoff, come on. We must get out of here. The time grows
short!” Sir Philip de Mont Charles demanded.

Lord Jeoffrey held a finger to his lips, over the hood that
shrouded his face, and hissed, “Silence.” He glared at the speaker, though
Philip was, in truth, his closest friend. “There is someone else here.”

“The captain of the guard, I should imagine,” Philip
whispered, his voice muffled by the fabric concealing his features. “Coming to
check on the prisoners.”

“No, ‘tis a woman’s voice.”

A moment later they both heard a plaintive cry. “Over here.
Please.”

Jeoffrey looked both ways down the dank, smelly corridor of
the dungeon. The call had come from his left. He turned to look the other way.
“Are the others all off?” he asked Philip.

“Aye,” Philip said. “All but we two.”

The female voice captured their attention again. “For pity’s
sake, help me.”

“Go,” Jeoffrey said. “Get the others away. Leave my horse,
and I shall join you later.”

“Jeoff, nay. You will risk all our work. We have everyone we
came for. Whoever she is, she’s not our task. The captain will be coming to
make his rounds in just a few minutes.”

“‘Tis my problem. Go,” Jeoffrey urged him. “Get the others
away.”

“Your damned sense of chivalry will be the death of us all.”

“Only if you do not stop arguing. Now, go!” He put as much
force as he could behind the word without raising his voice.

Philip hesitated only another second. “Do not be long,” he
said, meeting and holding the other man’s gaze for a moment.

“I shall be with you anon.”

Jeoffrey turned and headed down the corridor. He didn’t
think the smell—a composite of damp earth, rotted food, and human
excrement—could get any worse, but it did the farther along he went.

He stopped and listened. This part of the dungeon couldn’t
be much used. It was far too quiet. Then the woman’s voice called again,
“Please, help.”

The sound came from a door just ahead and to his left. He
peered through the small, high window and saw, dimly, since the cell had no
light of its own, a disheveled young woman sitting primly on a rickety cot. The
key scraped in the lock as he turned it, making him wince. Then the mechanism
gave and he pulled the door open.

Jeoff thrust the torch he carried forward before he entered
the small space. The young woman looked up at him, hope warring with
apprehension in her expression. She had wide, yearning brown eyes, large and
heavily lashed. Their stare went to his heart like a dagger, and he only just
kept himself from flinching. This was a danger he didn’t need. But he couldn’t
leave her now. Aside from the glorious eyes, he couldn’t tell much about what
she might look like beneath the grime and greasy lank hair, but her clothes,
though patched and mended, had once been of good quality. The figure filling
them was slim but rounded enough to set off a stir in his nether regions. He
didn’t need that, either, right now.

“I know you took the others out. Please take me with you,
too.” she begged.

“How much is it worth to you?” he asked, making the words a
harsh demand

She gasped. “I don’t— A thousand crowns.”

He nodded. “Be quiet and come with me.”

She hesitated only a moment before grabbing a small bag on
the cot next to her and moving toward him.

Jeoffrey led the way down the corridor and up the stone
staircase to ground level. He paused when he heard the tromp of heavy boots,
rolled the torch on the floor to extinguish it, and drew back into a shadowy
niche with the girl pushed in behind him. The heady rush of danger and the
feminine hip and breast pressed against his back combined to set his senses
aflame and his lower regions alight. A heavyset guard ambled by, which meant
the alarm would shortly sound. As soon as the man was out of sight, Jeoffrey
pulled the girl with him to a secret door that had been left unlocked for him.

Once they were through, he dragged a huge breath of cool,
clean, fresh air into his lungs before turning to make sure the door was
secured. In the darkness of early evening he nearly stumbled a couple of times,
but finally got to the rock where they had tethered the horses.

His mount calmly chewed grass as he waited. Jeoffrey tossed
the girl up into the saddle and mounted behind her. She reeked almost as badly
as the dungeon that had been her late abode. He vowed she’d get a bath first
thing they arrived at his manor.

Once they were well away, she twisted so she could see his
face. “Thank you,” she said. “I thought I’d rot forever in that cell.”

“I did not do it for thanks,” he said. “You promised a
thousand crowns for the service. I expect to be paid. I presume you have some
family who will be glad of your return.”

She sighed. “I fear not. They were all killed when Sir
William de Railles took my father’s manor.”

“You will have an inheritance from them, though.”

She didn’t answer. After a minute he looked down and
realized she was dozing off, leaning against his chest. He sighed and
concentrated on keeping the horse to the road, which was lit only by the
radiance of the newly risen moon. When the way grew broader and flatter, he
increased the pace until he caught up with Philip, his other men and the former
captives they’d rescued.

A merry party returned to his manor. He handed the young
woman over to a housemaid to be put to bath and bed in that order before he
stripped off hood and cloak and joined the others in a late meal and
celebration. He served up the best brandy in his cellar in honor of the occasion.
Jeoffrey retired in the early hours, well satisfied with the outcome of his
mission.

He considered going to see how his last charge was doing. He
admitted a desire to know what she looked like cleaned up, since his veins
still pulsed with the desire she’d engendered. The slender lines of her figure
had been so inviting. The arm he’d wrapped around her had brushed against a
soft breast. But he’d best not warm himself with thoughts that would go
nowhere. She’d likely buy her way forward and be gone within days.

At first light in the morning several messengers set out,
carrying the news of the rescue to various family members of the captives. The
young lady still slept, and clearly she needed the rest, so he let her be.
Another messenger could be dispatched later for her ransom.

Chapter Three

 

Rosalind roused but chose not to wake fully just yet. The
unaccustomed luxury of a soft bed and clean linens on her scrubbed body felt so
delicious she had to revel in it for a while before she would face the problems
attendant on her unexpected rescue. But once those thoughts entered her head
they wouldn’t be chased away again. She couldn’t help but consider her
situation.

She wasn’t in Sir William’s dungeon anymore. The fact was
both a wonder, coming so unexpectedly as it had, and a quandary, for she’d told
her rescuer she could pay him and she’d lied.

She didn’t like having lied. It was dishonest and
dishonorable, and her father had always stressed to her the importance of
dealing honestly with others. It left a sour feeling in her stomach. At the
time, though, she simply couldn’t face staying another moment in that cell when
an offer of rescue was at hand.

He might have taken her anyway, even if she’d admitted she
couldn’t pay him. She had no way to judge the kind of man Lord Jeoffrey
Blaisdell was. She knew him to be strong and brave and clever, just from the
fact that he’d managed to make his way into and out of De Railles’ dungeon. The
rest remained to be seen.

From her brief glimpse by the uncertain light of the torch,
she’d been able to see little of the face hidden by a hood with small holes cut
out for eyes, nose, and mouth. His form was tall and muscular, and he moved
with lithe grace. The body she’d pressed up against while they hid from the
guard and then shared a horse had been strong, straight, and hard under leather
and linen garments, with an aroma that was enticingly male. And his voice,
rough and dark, had made her shiver, not entirely from fear, when he asked her
about her family.

His looks mattered naught, though. Nor did the strange
effect he had on her. It concerned her more to know what he would do when he
learned she couldn’t pay him the price they’d agreed upon.

The door creaked, interrupting her unhappy thoughts, and a
maid addressed her. “Miss? Ah, so you are awake. I’ve tea and bread for you.
And my lord wishes to see you as soon as you’re ready.”

Rosalind conceded and sat up on the side of the bed.

An hour and a half later, washed, dressed, fed and groomed,
she steeled herself to face Lord Jeoffrey Blaisdell.

The same maid who’d brought her breakfast led the way down a
flight of stairs and along two chilly corridors before she stopped at and
knocked on a closed door.

The deep voice Rosalind remembered from the previous evening
called, “Enter.” Shivers crawled up and down her spine.

As she entered, the man rose from a padded chair behind a
trestle table bearing a pair of quills, an inkwell and a stack of papers. He
was bigger than she’d remembered, almost a full head taller than herself. A
plain green tunic over a white shirt draped from broad shoulders along a strong
chest. His narrow waist was circled by a wide leather belt. Tan hose clung to
long, lean, muscular legs.

His face drew her attention and held it. Prominent
cheekbones and the brightest, most penetrating gray eyes she’d ever seen
dominated lean, finely shaped features. The stern, almost harsh, expression
just emphasized the clean, hard lines of the handsome visage. Wavy blond hair
was drawn back and caught in a leather thong at his nape.

Her breath caught in her throat and her heart pounded
against the constraints of her chest. He was both the most beautiful and the
most heart-stoppingly male creature she’d ever seen in her life. Terror warred
with fascination as she watched him, waiting for the question she dreaded.

He studied her in silence for a while, and she could judge
nothing from his expression. When he spoke there was little emotion to be read
in his tone either, despite the complimentary words, “You’ve cleaned up more
spectacularly than I expected.”

“My lord…” She didn’t know how to react to that. “Thank
you.”

He nodded off-handedly. “I expect there’s a man somewhere
who’d give a great deal for your return.”

She drew a long breath and chewed at her lip before she
answered, “I fear not, my lord.”

“You are not married, or at least betrothed?”

“Nay.”

“Why not? Who is your family, by the way? Your name? I
presume you have been informed that I’m Jeoffrey Blaisdell.”

“Aye, my lord. I am Lady Rosalind Hamilton. My father was
the Earl of Highwaith until Sir William de Railles took Highwaith and
slaughtered my family.”

“But he spared you.”

“He wanted me.”

“For wife?”

“Aye.”

“I’m not surprised. He threw you in his dungeon when you
refused his suit.”

She drew a deep breath to control the fury that roused every
time she remembered. “He massacred my entire family. I’d as soon mate with his
horse.”

A grin crooked one corner of Lord Jeoffrey’s mouth,
revealing a wickedly attractive groove in his cheek. “A damned uncomfortable
coupling I should imagine.”

She blushed but answered calmly, “The dungeon was not
commodious either.”

“But you are now free of it.” The grin faded and his face
took on the harsh cast again. “Which brings us again to the question of
payment. Since you’ve no family and no betrothed to reimburse me for my rescue
efforts, I presume you will draw on your own personal fortune.”

She kept her back straight and her head high. “My lord,
about the payment… I fear I cannot pay quite as much as I offered last night.
Desperation made me forget how much diminished my personal resources are.”

One handsome blond eyebrow crooked. “How much do you believe
you can offer?”

“How much do you normally ask in these cases?”

“It depends on the value of the persons to those who wish
their return.”

“And how much do you suppose I should be worth to myself?”

“Only you can truly answer that, my lady. But I should
regard you as nearly priceless, were you mine.”

“Indeed that is how I view myself. Priceless.”

He saw the trap and avoided it. “Yet I fear business and my
reputation demand we put a price on your rescue,” he said. “I could accept
eight hundred crowns.”

She gasped. “Eight hundred?”

“I realize it greatly undervalues you, my lady, but we must
be realistic.”

“Realistic,” she repeated. “Nay.”

“Nay?” he asked. “Nay, it’s not realistic, or nay, you will
not pay?”

She drew herself up straight. “Both. It’s not realistic. And
I cannot pay it.”

“How much might you offer, then?”

She had to take a deep breath. “I cannot pay you anything in
gold.”

The same blond eyebrows rose. The shiver that went down her
spine this time held an element of fear as well as admiration.

“Last night you claimed you could,” he said.

“I was desperate to be free of that cell,” she admitted.
“But I shall pay you in any way I can.”

A cold light sparkled in the narrowed gray eyes. “Money is
the coin of exchange I deal in. That is what you promised me last night.”

“And I thought you an honorable man last night,” she
countered. “One who would understand a woman’s desperation. One who could value
a human life over any amount of money.”

His expression didn’t change. “I regret, my lady, I do not
have the luxury of such sentimentalities. The money I earn from risking my life
and those of the men who serve me supports my estate, the people who work on it,
myself, and my king.”

Rosalind bit her lip briefly and drew in a long, hard
breath. “I would willingly pay you with my service.”

He looked her up and down. “What kind of service can you
offer, my lady?”

She eyed the papers on his desk. “I can read, write and
cipher. My father and mother relied on my skills in managing the household.”

“But I already have people performing those duties.”

“I can cook,” she offered desperately.

“Not as well as my present cook, I’d warrant.”

“Then what would you have from me?”

He drew a deep breath and let it escape slowly as he
considered. “If you cannot offer the money you promised, there’s only one other
thing I might accept from you. Your personal service. One night and a day only.
I believe it a fair bargain. Freeing you from the dungeon for one day of your
time.” He looked at her. “Are you yet a maiden?”

“I am, my lord.”

“Sir William did not…force you?”

“No, he did not. He yet believed he could gain my agreement.
I doubt not he would have come around to taking me by force ere long.”

“Think you not, then, that a day of your person, given
voluntarily, would compensate for saving your from that fate?”

Rosalind hesitated. The bargain might be a fair one, but it
put her future in jeopardy. If it were known, she’d have great difficulty
making any advantageous marriage. Of course, she was now without friends,
family, lands or dowry. Her odds of any marriage at all were virtually nil. And
if she chose to take the veil, her status as maiden would be of little
consequence.

“Perhaps. Should I refuse, would you return me to Sir
William’s dungeon?”

He stared at her, the light in the gray eyes hard, almost
cutting in its intensity. “Nay, lady. That I wouldn’t. But I would be forced to
ask you to remove yourself from my estate immediately.”

“I see. And should I agree to your proposal, what would be
my position tomorrow?”

“Ah, now that is yet to be seen. But I would offer you my
promise of whatever assistance was in my power in finding an appropriate
refuge.” His lips and eyes narrowed as another thought occurred to him. “But,
of course, we have to deal with the fact of your lie as well.”

“‘Deal with’, my lord?”

“You lied when you promised to pay me for taking you from
the dungeon. I do not countenance lies in my household or from those I do business
with. I can do nothing at all for you until that has been set straight.”

Her heartbeat kicked up again and her chest got tight. A
trickle of perspiration slid down between her breasts, tickling as it went.
“Set straight, my lord?”

“Set straight,” he repeated. “The error atoned for.”

“And what, in your view, would be the proper atonement for
my lies?”

“In this household, the usual penalty for lying about an
important matter is a dozen cuts with the birch.”

Rosalind felt the blood rising in a flush on her face, and
her chest, already tight, nearly closed down completely. Shock made her feel
disoriented and off-balance, but she straightened her back, refusing to give in
to it. “But, my lord, I’m a lady. Surely that makes a difference.”

“Not in my home. Discipline is applied equally to lord,
lady, cook, housekeeper, all the way down to the lowest scullery maid. Justice
and fairness prevail here.”

“Does that include yourself, my lord?”

“I’ve taken my stripes when I’ve failed in my duties,” he
answered.

Rosalind searched for a chair to settle in. Shock and fear
made her light-headed. This wasn’t at all what she’d expected. The seat she
found was hard and straight, providing no comfort but some support.

“You, my lord?” she asked faintly.

“You believe me not?” He drew a breath and bellowed,
“Ferris!”

Moments later an elderly man opened the door and walked in.
“My lord?” he said.

“Ferris, this is Lady Rosalind. Tell the lady what happens
in this household when someone is found to have lied.”

“About a serious matter, my lord?”

“About a serious matter,” he confirmed.

The man turned to Rosalind. “The usual punishment is a dozen
strokes with the rod, my lady.”

“And if the lord of the household was found to have lied?”
Lord Jeoffrey prompted.

The man’s faded blue eyes flicked to his master. “He would
get a dozen strokes.”

“Has it ever happened?”

The man’s brow crinkled as he thought. “I recall not you’ve
ever been accused of lying, my lord. But there was the time a few months back
when you accused Martine of lying and punished her for it, and it turned out
you had been mistaken.”

“Indeed,” Lord Jeoffrey said. “What chanced then?”

“You took two dozen strokes,” the man said. “Took them quite
well, I must say, my lord.”

“Thank you, Ferris,” Lord Jeoffrey said. “That’s all.”

The man nodded, bowed to his master and to Rosalind, and
left.

She just stared at him, more stunned than she’d ever been in
her life, more astonished even than when Sir William demanded she cede herself
to him.

Lord Jeoffrey looked to Rosalind again. “I run a strict and
orderly household, but I strive for fairness. No matter what the rank of those
committing them, wicked deeds are punished.” His bright, sharp gaze seemed to
bore into her.

“And if I decline to accept this?”

“I told you earlier. You’re to leave my premises
immediately. From there on your fate is no longer my concern.”

“Would you at least provide me an escort to the nearest
convent?”

“Nay, lady. I would not.”

“You wouldn’t help me at all?”

“One who would make a promise she knew she couldn’t keep and
then refuse to accept the consequences of the deed is not such a person as I
would deem worthy of my assistance.”

Rosalind settled back, struggling to push aside her emotions
so she could consider her choices rationally. It wasn’t easily done, however.
And in making the attempt she discovered another, unexpected emotion forming:
admiration for Lord Jeoffrey and a desire for his good regard. She couldn’t
help but be drawn to his strength and good looks. Even more though, here was a
man in whom bold courage and daring appeared to be mixed with a fundamentally
fair and honorable nature. Under other circumstances he’d be exactly the sort
of man she would wish to join herself with.

His demands of her were no more than just by his own code.
She had lied to him. Had a servant done so in her own household she’d have
ordered a similar punishment without a second thought. But as the daughter of
the lord, she’d always been exempt from such justice. Her father had adored his
daughters and could hardly bear even to raise his voice to them when they
behaved in unacceptable ways. She’d certainly never been subject to anything as
severe as the penalty he proposed. But she had lied to him, and allowed him to
risk his life thinking she could make it worth his effort. An effort he
indicated he put forth to help support his lands and people. She couldn’t
convince herself she didn’t deserve chastisement.

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