Seduce Me Excerpt
London, mid-May, 1887
One Wednesday night on a sleepy side of London, Esme Worthington yawned a most unladylike yawn, then sniffled her nose before looking back at the text on her lap. It was long past a reasonable time for bed yet here she sat. Sometime after midnight she’d abandoned the hard chairs of her study for the more comfortable sofa in the parlor next door. But the plush floral cushions only assisted by lulling her to sleep rather than encouraging her to continue her research. She readjusted herself and blinked several times, trying to focus on the book before her.
She read the last sentence once again trying to absorb the words. Some of these so-called scholars simply had no notion what they were suggesting. Precisely how was an artifact from ancient Greece supposed to have ended up in the jungles of South America? Preposterous. There was no possible way that Pandora’s box had ended up on a Spanish explorer’s ship.
Her great black tom lifted his sleepy head from where he slept curled warmly over her thighs. His gold eyes were nothing more than slits, then he yawned. “Horace, I do believe I shall retire for the evening. I don’t seem to be getting any work done at all.” She scratched him behind his ears and he rewarded her with a rhythmic purr. Placing the heavy book on the table next to her, she stood. “You guard the books and tomorrow morning I shall pour you some warm milk.”
Esme doused the lamp, then stepped into the hallway. Horace followed her and she scooped him into her arms. “Want to warm my feet tonight, do you?”
She stopped. Something scraped against the wood floor in the very next room. It was far too late for Aunt Thea to be awake. Perhaps it was one of the servants, though they were normally early to bed as well. She padded over to the room and nudged the door open.
Two men dressed head-to-toe in black stopped what they were doing and faced her as the door swung open.
A scream caught in her throat as Horace leaped from her arms and strolled into the study where the villains stood, his tail high in the air. Evidently his feline sense of danger was sorely lacking.
Her heart thundered, but she couldn’t very well leave them to continue their misdeeds now that they’d seen her. “I beg your pardon!” she said, straightening her back and trying to appear taller. “Precisely what do you think you’re doing?” Her study was in tatters. Papers thrown about and books on the floor. What kind of barbarians…she picked up the book resting by her toe and clutched it to her chest.
They were of equal height, but one was clearly more athletic and stronger than the other. The larger one strode over to her and she realized, far too late, that she had nothing to use as a weapon against the brute. Even her slippers were worthless for that sort of deed. She supposed she could whack him on the head with the book she held, but it was her prized copy of Gulliver’s Travels. She certainly couldn’t risk damaging the book. Besides, she didn’t want to wake her aunt or her elderly servants else she’d put them in danger too; so Esme stood her ground.
“I can assure you I have nothing here worth stealing. You are in the wrong neighborhood for that,” she said. “Although you are doing an admirable job of destroying my library.” Then it occurred to her that her precious books might very well be what they were after. “I have no original texts,” she lied. “These are all silly novels, not worth anything.” Another lie.
The man took another step toward her. His eyes were wild and frightening and when he ran them up and down her body, she became all too aware of the clothing she wore. Or rather the lack thereof. Granted it was several hours after midnight and a woman was generally given the right to sit in her own home wearing a night rail and robe. This man’s intense gaze penetrated her and caused the hairs on the nape of her neck to stand erect. She forced herself not to shiver.
Surely they were not here to ravish her. Pulling her robe tighter around her, she eyed her opponent. She would certainly cause all sorts of noise if that were the case. No matter that the other three persons in the house were grayed and wrinkled, they could grab a fire poker or sturdy umbrella and fend off her attackers. And Aunt Thea had those ridiculously heavy candelabras in the dining room. Perhaps it would have been much smarter had Esme grabbed one of those before storming in here unarmed.
“Where’s the key?” the man asked.
“Evidently you don’t need keys.” She pointed to the emptied drawers and shelves. “You simply force things open when you need to see within.”
He closed in on her, his expression one of ravenous greed. He ripped the book from her grasp and whisked it across the room. It landed on its spine, the pages fanning out until they settled open. Esme winced. Panic fluttered in her chest as she considered the damage they’d already done to her desk and books. She didn’t like to contemplate the damage such fiends could perpetrate on her person.
She narrowed her eyes at the man. “You should know that if you intend to ravish me that I will scream the house down,” she said, forcing her voice to be as calm as possible. “And believe me when I say that the people that will come running to assist me will do you much bodily harm.” An absurd notion.
He reached out and fingered the ruffled hem of her sleeve. His lip curled. “Tempting. But we only want the key,” his voice was deep and raspy. “And we’ve seen your staff.” A smirk, then a vicious chuckle escaped his ugly mouth.
Bored with the exchange, her cat took that moment to flip his tail in the air and strut out of the room. Now she was utterly alone with these dangerous men.
She crossed her arms over her chest, mostly to hide her shaking hands. She hoped it made her look formidable. Not an easy task for one so small in stature, but she did her best. “I simply don’t know which key you’re referring to.”
The man on the other side of the room twitched. “Thatcher, we don’t have time,” he said, his voice heavy with a Cockney accent.
“We take her then,” Thatcher said.
“You will do no such thing,” Esme said, taking a step backward.
The man in front of her silently closed the door behind her, then shoved a cloth in her mouth. Furiously she tried to spit it out, then reached up for it, but before she could, he grabbed her wrists and held them tight.
Esme tried scratching him while he manhandled her, but her blasted nails were so short, she caused little damage. She really must stop chewing them. With her feet she kicked and flailed, trying anything to deter them from taking her with them.
Nerves pummeled through her stomach in sickening waves. She was in serious danger. With renewed effort, she kicked her legs about, desperately aiming to hit a target, but failing nonetheless.
This simply was not happening.
Her efforts to wrench herself from her captor’s vice-like grip only succeeded in exhausting her. She fought to keep her breathing under control lest she end up hyperventilating and suffocate herself on the gag. Think, Esme. She could find a way out of this situation.
Surely they had mistaken her for someone else. She didn’t own anything valuable. Certainly not any keys. They didn’t even have a cabinet to lock up the family silver. Of course they no longer had any family silver. These foolish men were in the wrong house kidnapping the wrong woman.
Thatcher yanked the tie to her robe, and the loose folds fell open leaving her exposed to the chill. “Waters, tie her hands together.”
Waters did as he was told while Thatcher climbed out of the library window. The thin satin sash became a harsh cord as he tightened it against her wrists. With the stronger of the two captors distracted, she doubled her efforts at trying to break free from Waters’ clutches. But despite his slender body, his hands gripped her arms, sealing her in place.
“Hand me her feet,” Thatcher said in a harsh whisper.
Waters complied and in an instant she was being passed through the window as if she were nothing more than a sack of potatoes.
“Her bum is stuck on the window,” Waters said.
“Well, lift her up.” Thatcher’s impatience was evident.
Waters gave her a lift. “She has quite the bottom for such a wee thing.”
She glared at him, but he was not looking at her face. More than anything she wished to take the wretched cloth out of her mouth and give them a tongue lashing for speaking so cruelly about her bottom. Perhaps it was a bit on the large side for a woman of her size, but she had always been rather fond of it.
Once they were all out on the ground, Esme noticed the waiting coach. Four black steeds stomped impatiently. Clearly owned by someone quite wealthy, the large carriage was black with gilded filigree and despite the dark night, Esme noted how it shone. A crest emblazoned the door, backed in red and in the center a great black bird, its wings spread as if it were about to fly away.
The street was barren except for the coach, but she was only a few steps from rounding the corner to a much busier lane. Now was her chance to try to get away. She bolted toward the front street, but the clouds shielding the almost full moon made seeing rather challenging. Nevertheless, she’d made it a far distance before one of the men crashed on top of her, knocking the air from her lungs and crushing her with his weight.
The damp grass chilled her immediately, reminding her all too well she was clad only in her aging nightrail.
“You’re not going anywhere you little bitch.” Thatcher pulled her to her feet and tossed her over his shoulder. In one swift movement he had dumped her inside the carriage, on the dirty floor of the rig. Then he jumped in right behind her as they began jostling down the street.
“Get up on the seat,” Thatcher snarled at her. When she didn’t move, he lifted her and shoved her onto the seat. “You can’t ride on the floor like that. We have a long trip ahead of us.”
She kept her legs pulled to her chest, trying to warm her body. But the shivering would not still. Squeezing her eyes shut, she willed this scenario away. This couldn’t possibly be happening. Upon opening her eyes though it was all too real. Both villains were in the small confines with her. She pushed the curtain back as best she could with tied hands. If she couldn’t escape, the least she could do was find out where they were taking her.
The dimly lit streets of London passed by and she tried to keep a running catalogue of all the roads they passed. But soon they’d turned down a road she didn’t recognize and then another until she was thoroughly lost. She let the curtain fall back into place.
Esme was certain that the men could hear her heart pounding, so loudly it beat in her chest. She willed her pulse to slow, taking steadying breaths. Esme closed her eyes. Perhaps if they thought her to be asleep they would let their guard down just long enough for her to escape.
“What will we do with her?” Waters asked.
Thatcher cracked his knuckles. The sickening pop echoed against the small carriage walls. “We’ll take her with us to the dungeon. Then we’ll bring her to The Raven, he’ll get her to talk.”
Copyright © 2007. Robyn DeHart. All Rights Reserved.