Today's Reading

Drew closed the blinds. The last thing he wanted was more notoriety. London brought the past careening back, threatening to smash the hard-won equilibrium he'd finally achieved.

He'd been kidnapped as a boy of fifteen and held for ransom by a desperate tenant farmer seeking revenge on Drew's father, the duke, because the farmer lost his leasehold when he couldn't pay his rent, taxes, and the Church's tithes after several years of poor crops.

His kidnapper had kept Drew chained in the small, dark hull of a ship in the London harbor for ten endless days, feeding him only thin gruel.

Drew's kidnapping had gripped London, whipping the newspapermen and the public into a feeding frenzy. Duke's Heir Held for King's Ransom. Will the Duke Pay?

The duke hadn't paid.

Drew had negotiated for his own freedom. Clawed his own way back from Hell.

Long-buried memories hooked his mind, trying to drag him down.

Smell of filth and bilge water. Straw pallet crawling with vermin. Gray metallic taste of thin gruel coating his mouth, leaving a film on his mind.

He clenched and unclenched his fists, fighting for control. He took a deep breath in through his nostrils and exhaled slowly.

I am not my thoughts. I am not my memories.

I'm carved from ice. Impervious. I feel nothing.


He would never allow the same fate to happen to Beatrice.

Never.

The door opened and his brother landed in a heap on the opposite seat. The carriage shuddered back to life. Rafe buttoned his breeches and tucked in his shirt. He wasn't wearing a coat, or a hat, and his blond hair was a tangled mess.

"Is someone chasing you, Rafe?" Drew asked.

"Fitzbart. With a pistol. Not loaded...least I don't think so. Can't be sure."

"Because...?"

"Caught me tupping his mistress."

"Of course he did."

"Don't look at me like that." Rafe gestured defensively. "He'll forget all about it tomorrow. Sod it, I need a drink. Don't suppose you keep any tipple in this hearse?"

Drew steadied his breathing. He wasn't the same man who'd left London five years ago. He was in complete control of his life and his emotions now.

"You don't look well, Rafe." His brother's face was bloated from too much drink and unhealthful living, his blue eyes bloodshot.

"And you look disgustingly fit," replied Rafe. "Still dressing like a country parson, I see. What brings you to London after all these years?"

Drew winced. "I've been meaning to visit, it just never seemed like the right time." The letter had forced his hand.

"Why are you here now?" Rafe asked. "Must be something dire. Finally decided to cut me off?" Spoken with a laugh, though Drew caught the underlying panic.

Drew smoothed the creases out of the letter. "I received this and departed for London immediately." He handed the letter to Rafe. "Been searching for you all afternoon."

Rafe read the brief words. "Christ." He wiped a trembling hand across his brow. "I honestly have no idea what this means. I... Christ. It's bloody hot in this carriage." He plucked at the collar of his shirt, which was stuck to his chest with sweat. "A fellow can't breathe."

Drew leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his knees. "What the devil are you up to?"

"It's just a jest. Someone trying to scare you."

"Then why did you shudder when you read it, as if someone had walked over your grave?"

Rafe shrugged. "Too much drink last night."
...

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