We’re getting closer to the release of Book Three in the Rescued from Ruin series—can you feel the excitement? Okay, it would probably help if I gave you a few details. I’m tentatively planning the release for late November 2015, but I may have to push it to early December. But it’s coming! I promise. 🙂 And I’ll keep you all posted on Facebook and through my newsletter.
Meanwhile, let’s start with the story:
Desperately Seeking a Scoundrel (Rescued from Ruin: Book Three)
by Elisa Braden
Desperately seeking a fiancé …
Miss Sarah Battersby is in dire need of a man, preferably one skilled at deception. Upon her father’s death, she will be left with no home and nary a penny. With time running out, she must either accept the proposal of a man she loathes, or stall long enough to secure a teaching position by telling one teensy, trifling lie—that she is promised to someone else. The problem? He does not technically exist. But Sarah refuses to be defeated by insignificant details. The answer lies in finding the right man for the job. And, as luck would have it, she has stumbled on just the candidate … though he could use a little patching up.
Desperately seeking a refuge …
Where Lord Colin Lacey goes, trouble follows—even when he attempts to do right. Tortured and hunted by a brutal criminal, he is rescued from death’s door by the stubborn, oddly fetching Miss Battersby. In return, she asks one small favor: Pretend to be her fiancé. Temporarily, of course. With danger nipping his heels, he knows it is wrong to want her, wrong to agree to her terms. But when has Colin Lacey ever done the sensible thing?
Desperately seeking a love to conquer all …
As lies turn to longing, and longing to something deeper, they realize it will take more than passion to see them through the danger to come. They will need a plan. They will need family. Above all, they will need a love strong enough to steel a lady’s resolve and transform a scoundrel’s heart.
To tide you over until the release, I thought I’d offer up a sneak preview, which you’ll also find at the end of The Truth About Cads and Dukes, if you’ve purchased or re-downloaded it this week or later.
Desperately Seeking a Scoundrel
(Rescued from Ruin: Book Three)
by Elisa Braden
August 25, 1817
Death waited, patient and foul. Blood marked Colin Lacey’s wrists where they were bound above him, wetting his arms down to his shoulders, but the flow had long since slowed to a stop, replaced by numbness. The butcher’s hook held the ropes fast, held him at the butcher’s mercy.
None would be granted.
“Pity you did not exhibit equal reticence at the tables, my lord,” the butcher murmured. “A modicum of restraint might have saved us both much aggravation.” A sigh, then the snick of a knife leaving its sheath served as reviled punctuation.
Bright, cold agony sliced. Silver light flashed behind swollen eyelids as air hissed through teeth and into lungs. The flesh over his ribs gaped and wept in a warm flow.
“One word, my lord. A name. And this shall end.”
His shirt had been torn from his back hours earlier. It now hung in three rags from the waist of his trousers. He fancied if he ever managed to break loose from his bindings, the cloth would prove convenient for soaking up his blood.
Rusty laughter shook inside his chest. He was never leaving this putrid place, thick with late-day heat and the odor of animals that came here to die. No, his bones would join those of cattle and swine. He was not so foolish as to believe a name would save him, either his or anyone else’s.
“Come now. You are the brother of a duke. His heir at present, yes?” The butcher paused as though Colin might answer, then answered himself in his oddly soft, cultured voice. “Yes. The heir to the Duke of Blackmore has little need for credit at my humble gaming houses. After the Home Office took an untoward interest in my businesses, the coincidence was rather more than credulity could bear. To whom did you provide information?”
Long silence earned him another stripe, just below the last. This time, although pain flashed, it was but a white peak amidst a range of equally jagged mountains.
A door creaked. Boots shuffled. “Beggin’ your pardon, Mr. Syder.”
“Benning. I trust this interruption is of a vital nature.”
“Y-yes, sir.” Boots scraped and shambled again, then the low London voice came from only feet away. “Johnstone sent word the Gallows Club was raided. Roughly an hour past.”
If Syder ever grew angry, Colin suspected it would sound like the dark silence that followed Benning’s news. But Syder had not built an empire of thievery, brutality, and vice by being a slave to intemperance.
“Who was it?”
“Two of Kirkwood’s men, along wif seven more we never seen. Took Johnstone, they did.”
More silence, then a sigh from Syder. “My lord, I fear I must leave you in Mr. Benning’s tender care. Might I suggest you loosen your tongue? He is less subtle than I in his ministrations.”
Reflexively, Colin swallowed against his rising gorge. Footsteps, calm and evenly paced, receded until a door squeaked open and closed. Knuckles popped.
“You lasted longer than most, m’lord. Grant ye that.” Benning, whom Colin remembered as a massive, pockmarked brute with hands the size of millstones, shifted near enough that his bulk deadened the noise of livestock outside the door. His breath wafted over Colin’s swollen face. It smelled of ale and onions.
“Kill me,” he whispered, his aching jaw scarcely able to form the words. “For I have nothing to say to you.”
“You’re like to die, sure enough.” Colin sensed the grin in the brute’s voice. “But not just yet.” Heavy bootfalls thudded against the hardened dirt, heading in the direction of the table on the far side of the space. It was where Syder had assembled his tools—knives and other blades mainly, but also hammers and saws. After Benning’s initial beating, Colin’s eyes had swollen shut. In some ways, that had been a mercy. But now, he wished to know what Benning was retrieving, which instrument would be the source of his next dose of agony.
Metal scraped wood as Benning lifted the tool, whatever it was, from the table. Colin’s heart lurched into a frantic rhythm. Why he now panicked, he could not say. It could be no worse than what he had already endured. Could it?
Benning drew close. A damp breeze of ale and onions bathed Colin’s forehead. A millstone fist gripped his forearm, just below the rope.
Dear God. Was he about to lose his hand?
He heard himself wheezing, struggling, hectic and piteous. His mind flew backward from the horrifying reality, crouching at the rear of his skull.
His hand. He would never play again. Never feel a woman’s flesh.
Dear. Holy. God.
His arms jerked. The blade bit. He could not feel it, could only sense the motion and pressure as Benning worked it back and forth. Suddenly, his hands released, his arms falling agonizingly down. His legs left him, and he collapsed. Stunned. Useless. A heap at Benning’s feet.
“Eh,” the brute grunted, nudging Colin’s knee with his boot. “No time fer that, m’lord. I’s paid to cut you loose. Not get nipped by Syder.”
Colin’s blood pounded inside his head, at war with his panting breaths, forming a deafening cacophony. “P-paid?” he managed.
The rope binding his ankles was yanked and severed. “Aye.”
Attempting to move his arms, Colin groaned as needles flared across the numb flesh. The fire slowly spread until he had to grit his teeth to keep from screaming.
The scraps of his shirt were yanked from his waistband, torn into strips, and wrapped tightly around his ribs. A massive thumb stretched his eyelid. A blurry, pockmarked face peered back at him, thick lips downturned. “You’ll ’ave to force ’em open. They’ll come right in a day or two, but by then you’ll be dead iffen you don’t run fast and far. Understand?”
“Yes.” He felt the wormy trembling begin beneath his skin. Sensation returned to his shoulders, making him want to vomit up the pain. He could scarcely move his arms, but at least he still had his hands. For that, he was most thankful. “Who paid you? Was it my brother?”
Benning stood from his crouch and moved to the corner where Colin’s coat had been tossed. He stooped to retrieve it. “Nah. Doubtful he knows anything.” The man’s dialect was thick and round, sounding more like, “Dow’foh ’ee knows anyfing.” Before this year, having rarely associated with men of Benning’s ilk, Colin might have had trouble following his mutterings. Much had changed.
“Then, who? I took you for Syder’s man exclusively.”
Benning circled behind him, gripped him beneath his arms and pulled him to his feet in a rough motion. Colin could not stop his pitiful groan as excruciating pain tore through his shoulders. His legs at first refused to hold him. Shamefully, he slumped against Benning, who steadied him with a heavy forearm around his chest and began forcing his arms into the sleeves of his coat.
“Things change. The nob pays better.”
Panting roughly, head swimming, Colin paused to catch his breath as Benning came around to face him and quickly fastened his buttons like a nursemaid dressing an infant. “Who is the nob, Benning?”
The blurry brute finished his task and moved to the door, cracking it to peer out. “I can get you to your ’orse. No more’n that.”
“Whoever it is, he must have offered a princely sum. Syder will not pursue only me for this.”
Benning returned to Colin’s side, grasped his arm and hauled him forward, dragging his stumbling, bleeding, weakened body toward the door. “It’s touched I am by your concern, m’lord. Fact is I don’t plan to stay put. Best you do likewise.” Benning stuffed a hat onto Colin’s aching head, tugged it low over his swollen brow.
The darkness at the end of dusk disguised their movements as they crept through the stockyard. A few cows shifted and lowed at their passing, but no shouts of alarm sounded. Soon they entered a stable, where Benning apparently had already saddled Matilda. The pretty bay mare snuffled Colin’s outstretched hand.
“Good to see you, love,” Colin whispered, stroking her warm nose. His arms, still weak, quickly fell back to his sides as Benning led her to a mounting block.
“Think you can manage it?” he asked.
Forcing his eyes to open further and swallowing down his lingering nausea, Colin gave his best imitation of his old self. “The day I cannot mount a female is the day I am cold in the grave, Benning.”
The man snorted and waved to the block. “Them’s prophetic words, m’lord. Prophetic words, indeed.”
Copyright 2015 by Elisa Braden
All rights reserved.