Authors: Jamie Salsibury
Blood Lust a story of love, deception, revenge, murder and William and Katherine’s determination to expose William’s brother Benjamin for the evil, self absorbed man he is. A man who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants, including murder.
William Spencer is one of his brother’s casualties as he realizes that Benjamin will go to any length to keep what he feels is rightfully his, including stealing William’s title and lands.
As unlikely as it seems, Katherine, Benjamin’s betrothed may be his one chance for reprisal. As Katherine learns the ugly truth about her fiancé, she uses her knowledge and along with William’s childhood friend Damien, the three set out to beat Benjamin at his own game and restore William back to the nobleman he once was.
Copyright 2011 by Jamie Salisbury
All rights reserved. Without reserving the rights under copyright, reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or any other means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
I would like to thank everyone who has traveled down the long and winding road with me to bring this project to fruition. You know who you are!
Thanks also to B. L. Quinn and Rocco for their expertise and input.
I would also like to thank Jimmy Thomas of Romance Novel Covers, Inc. for his pre-made covers. It was an awesome life saver!
Their scheme had worked, she had saved Oakley Manor! Not only had she saved her family estate, she was going to become nobility!
Katherine Stoddard stood in the front of the tall windows in the entry. She watched as the duke of Sussex’s gilded carriage departed, waiting until it had disappeared down the tree lined road. Thinking about the hour she had spent with the elegant tall, dark haired man who would soon become her husband. She barely heard her brother’s footsteps as he crossed the black marble floor.
“Well my dear sister, you’ve done it. You’ve saved Oakley Manor, just as you said you would. You saved us both from ruin.” The earl of Surrey was having a good day, no memory lapses or forgetting where he was. Days like this were infrequent, so Katherine cherished all the good ones.
“Only two more weeks and I’ll be married. I do feel a little guilty for deceiving him. I wish there were some other way, but we can’t risk telling him the truth, now can we?” she injected, smiling at her brother, Thomas.
“He’ll chafe a bit when he does discover the debts he’ll incur as your husband, but your dowry is a fine one. That in itself should appease him some. Besides, he’ll have you for a wife and a man couldn’t want for a better one.” Thomas chuckled softly. He was a young man, but to look at him, one would think he was much older. That’s what the accident had done to him.
“I’ll make him happy. He won’t regret marrying me, I promise you.”
Her brother cupped her cheeks between his hands and looked into her face. With her upturned nose and hazel eyes, Katherine was the picture of their late mother. She was shapely and petite, with full breasts and a tiny waist. Her hair was long and the color of ebony.
Thomas sighed, “I know it can’t be helped, I was hoping for a love match, not a marriage of convenience. I wish it could have been so, but life is never easy, and one must do what one must.”
A melancholy moment stole through her. She had also hoped to marry a man she loved, though she didn’t really believe she’d be that lucky. “The duke and I will get on well together. He has wealth and position, I’ll be a duchess and live the life of luxury. What more could a woman ask for?”
Her brother smiled sadly, “Only love my dear, only love. Maybe in time, you will find it with the duke.”
Forcing herself to smile, she replied, “Yes, Thomas, I’m sure you are right.” Thinking of Benjamin Spencer, of his self-righteous ways and pompous manner, she didn’t believe it was true. “It’s drafty in here,” she said taking her brother’s arm. “Why don’t we sit for a bit in front of the fire?”
He nodded as she led him toward a small salon, lavishly furnished, centered around a white marble hearth. As soon as they walked around the corner, the opulence disappeared. The hall no longer glittered with golden sconces and gilt-framed portraits, for they had all been sold. The beautiful carpets that had warmed the floors once, had garnered a price that kept them in coal in the bitterly cold winter. Threadbare, stained versions had been laid down in their place to stave off the cold.
To the occasional visitor to the manor, its warm brick exterior and beautiful gardens and grounds looked as magnificent as it always had. The mansion stood three stories tall and overlooked the meadows that made the house a showplace.
The past three years had changed all of that. The debts their father had acquired before his death had come as a shock to Katherine and Thomas. Even in his foggy state of mind, her brother knew what had happened.
Thomas Stoddard was now dead, as was his wife. He had been killed in a riding accident while traveling with his mistress.
It was Katherine who had exposed, to her dismay, their decimated funds and the mountain of debts their father had left them. All except her dowry, the only unselfish thing he had done in the years he had managed the estates. Since the earl’s fortune had been huge, the dowry was quite sizeable. In fact it was one of the largest in England, certainly enough to keep them living well for years.
The only catch was that Katherine had to marry before the money was released from the air tight provisions of her trust fund. Her husband would acquire a small fortune. He would also acquire a vast array of debts.
Her brother paused in the hallway. “Where are we going?”
“To the salon. Smith will have a fire started. Smith was one of a half-dozen trusted retainers who were all the staff they could afford. “It will be warm in there.”
“I thought the duke was coming to pay a call.”
The lucid day was gone, Katherine’s heart sank. “He already came Thomas.”
“What of the wedding?”
“We’ll be leaving for Sussex Manor at the end of the week. His grace insists we arrive a few days early so that everything may be properly in place before the wedding.” She had said it a hundred times before, but Thomas had of course forgotten. What did it matter, if it pleased him to hear it all over again?”
“You will make a beautiful bride.”
And he’ll be a very surprised duke, Katherine thought. But she would cross that bridge when it came. In the meantime, she would keep up the front that would ensure her marriage to a very wealthy husband. She would ignore the cold to pervade the house, the smell of musty rooms that had been closed up, the stench of cheap tallow candles. Thank God, she would only have to pretend a little longer.
William Spencer paced the floor in front of the slow burning fire coming from the marble hearth. His fingers brushed against the cuffs of his shirt as he moved. He had always been a lean, broad shouldered man. In the past years the leanness of his youth had been honed by hours of backbreaking labor into a hard muscled, solid body.
Turning to the man sitting across from him, “We can’t let him win now Damien. We can’t falter.”
Damien Knight, earl of York, leaned back in his leather chair. “I realize this is not what you wanted to hear, but brooding over the matter will not do you any good. It may take some time, but sooner or later we’ll find another way to reach him. Benjamin will once again fall victim to his vices.”
William walked toward his friend, the one man who had stuck by him through the hell he had suffered the past few years. “I’ve waited long enough, Damien. He may wear a façade of wealth, but we both know it is a lie. His money is all but gone. The time to strike is now.”
“I don’t disagree with you, it’s the reason he is so determined to marry.”
“I want what is rightfully mine and Sussex Manor is the first step in getting it. I want justice for my father. I want my brother to pay for what he’s done.”
“You’ve only got a short time before the wedding. The woman is one of the wealthiest women in England. Once Benjamin acquires her dowry, he’ll be able to pay off all of his debts, including the mortgage you hold on Sussex Manor. You will not be able to foreclose, not unless you find a way to stop the marriage from taking place.”
“That is precisely what I plan to do, Damien.”
“Just how may I ask do you plan to accomplish that feat?” he asked. The two had known each other since boyhood. They would implicitly trust the other with their lives. Which is what he had done by returning to England when he was suppose to be dead.
“You told me the girl would be going to Sussex Manor with her brother and that they would be arriving by the end of the week.”
“That is correct.”
“Well then, I shall simply detain my brother’s betrothed until after the wedding. The grace period on the note is almost up. When my brother cannot make the payment, we’ll be able to foreclose and Sussex Manor and all it’s property will be mine.”
“You actually intend to kidnap the girl?” Damien asked, combing his fingers through his raven black hair.
“I don’t see any other way. I’ll need some help of course. I’ll have to find a place to keep her until the estate is mine.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
William sat in the chair across from his friend. “I am always serious. Any sense of humor I might have had has been beaten out of me.”
Damien looked at him darkly, “She’s only eighteen. She’ll be frightened like a deer.”
“I won’t hurt her. I’ll do everything I can to see that she’s comfortable.” He rubbed his hands together. “I’ll tell her I’m holding her for ransom and that I mean her no harm as long as her betrothed pays. By the time she figures out it’s not the money I’m after, the wedding day will have past and the note on the manor foreclosed. It will belong to me, and my brother shall be in ruins.”
“Under the circumstances,” Damien began, shifting in his chair, “I wouldn’t condone your actions. However, this time you are right. The girl will be saved and hopefully she will never marry him. That in itself justifies what you plan to do.”
William smiled, “I knew I could count on you. You’ve been with me through thick and thin, at my worst times. Now you’re risking your reputation by helping me again. I won’t forget this.”
“And you my dear friend, deserve a chance to regain what fortune you have that your murderous brother so cruelly took away.” He stood, walking over to the sideboard, took the lid off a crystal decanter and poured a brandy. “I have a hunting lodge, not too far from the road she will be traveling. It isn’t much, it’s small, but clean and well taken care of. We’ll stock it up with whatever provisions you might need for you and the lady.”
He stood the decanter over and filled William’s empty snifter. “There’s a boy who lives nearby who can help you. He’s loyal to a fault. You can trust him to carry messages and help out whenever he’s needed. Aside from that you’re on your own.”
“Once again, I am in your debt,” he nodded.
Damien took a sip of brandy, his lips smiling slightly. I’ve met Lady Katherine. She’s quite charming. I trust you will keep the lady’s virtue as safe as you do her person.”
“The last thing I want is another so called lady. Jane was lesson enough for me, one most bitterly learned.” At the mention of her name, his stomach churned. “Give me a romp with a lusty whore any day. The price of bedding a lady is by far too steep to pay.”