Excerpt: Addicted to the Duke
Book 1: Imperfect Lords
The Greek Isle of Mykonos, August 1816
Alexander Sylvester Bracken, the Marquess of Tavistock, heir to the Duke of Bedford, on no account considered himself a hero. In all his twenty-three years, he’d never rescued anyone, let alone a young girl. Her sorrowful cry filled the still night air, unsettling creatures both big and small. The sound drifted down the stairs from the rooms above with fear imbued in every note. It was as if she was desperate to be heard over the din from the drunken men in the tavern below.
The girl’s father thought he was here simply to repay a debt of honor. And that was true, but Alex was also here for vengeance.
He knew who would be coming for the girl.
Slowly, so as not to draw attention to himself, he moved his head, easing muscles now corded with tension as he lay on the stained tabletop pretending he was comatose from drink. His tattered clothes were soaked with sweat. At three in the morning the cicadas haunting the night air were adding to the night’s disturbing symphony. The smell from the nearby dock was overpowering. From under semi-closed lashes, he studied the activities within the tavern. To any casual observer, he appeared to be just another seafaring pirate well into his cups.
It wasn’t until dawn began to set the sky on fire that Paval, the tavern owner, began dispatching all the patrons from the bar. Alex was counting on the Greek being too lazy to bother moving the drunken sailor—him—from the back pew.
Paval glanced Alex’s way, took in his drunken snore, and walked past him to lock the door out onto the dock. Alex silently heaved a sigh of relief: so far, so good.
Within seconds of the door closing, Sultan Murad Bayezid, accompanied by two of his fierce Turkish warriors, entered through the back.
Alex swallowed the bile threatening the back of his throat, and let the deep hatred at the sight of Murad dressed in his white flowing robes infuse his soul. His hands itched to bury the dagger he had hidden in his palm, deep into the empty cavity of Murad’s chest. He knew from first-hand experience that the sultan had no heart. He would never, for as long as he lived, ever forget Murad’s cruelty, reflected now in his cold dead eyes. Alex had a score to settle with the sadistic sultan, and the opportunity to do so had been a long time coming.
His nemesis gestured towards the stairs and one of the warriors bounded up them two at a time. He heard the sound of dragging feet overhead, a muffled slap, and a small piteous cry. He swallowed his fury; the thought of what could have already happened to the young girl clouded his mind.
The warrior arrived back downstairs with the girl slung over one shoulder like a sack full of grain. Without ceremony, he dumped her on the floor at the sultan’s feet.
Dressed in what had been a virginal white nightgown, now dirty and torn, she looked up from the floor, and her eyes filled with dread. He watched as she gathered herself together and, with more grace and pride than he’d expected from a girl of only six and ten, she rose up from the floor like an opening flower to stand tall and erect. Terror was clearly visible on her exquisite features, but what really captivated him was her look of courage. The intake of breath in the room was audible.
He watched Murad’s evil smile break across his thin lips, causing his thick moustache to twitch comically in his fever to possess her. Alex’s hatred for the perverted sultan almost choked him.
The sultan approached the girl and viciously wrapped his hand in her flowing fair tresses. Her silky hair hung so long it looked as if she was wearing a protective mantle of angel’s wings down her back. Cruelly, the sultan tilted her head into the light. His accent was more pronounced in his desire. “Paval, you have outdone yourself. She is indeed a rare beauty. But a face can be misleading. Let us see the rest of her.”
Dropping his hand from her hair, he gripped the top of her white nightgown and ripped it from top to bottom, and then he threw back the edges, leaving the torn pieces to flutter to the floor.
She gasped in horror and tried to cover herself, cringing where she stood. She attempted to flick her waist-length hair forward to cover her small breasts, but Murad maliciously pulled it back.
Her eyes swept the room before coming to rest on him slumped in the shadows. Lifting his head for just a second, he hoped that his sympathetic look of support would give her strength. Her beauty made him believe, for just a moment, that there was a God. Only a heavenly force could have made something so innocent and so lovely.
Apparently, Murad had had the same thought.
“Don’t be shy, my beauty. Let us see what exquisiteness Allah hath wrought on you.”
With hands at her side, she stood trembling, her head lowered in shame, while Murad walked slowly around her, touching her shamelessly.
“There is no need to be scared, little one.”
At the word scared her shoulders straightened and she lifted her head against the dishonorable onslaught of the sultan’s intrusive hands.
The image of her with her head held high despite her nakedness, her small pert breasts heaving in her attempt to hide her fear, sheen from the heat on her fine porcelain skin, and the curl of disdain on her lips, would be forever imprinted on his brain. He had never seen anything more magnificent.
But Murad’s next words chilled his heart.
“Men would kill to possess one such as you. I am going to have to guard you well. Paval tells me you’re an innocent, and he wants a great deal of money for you.” Murad reached out and squeezed her nubile breasts. It must have hurt because he caught the grimace that flickered in the depth of her fiery emerald eyes.
The spoiler of innocents moved closer to his prey.
“Perhaps I will take you here on this table to ensure I’m getting what I paid for. You’re welcome to fight. I like a girl with spirit.” Murad was practically drooling now.
Alex’s stomach heaved. The rage brewing in him at the thought of the man raping the girl almost overwhelmed him. He unclenched his fists but waited; the time for action was not quite here.
Suddenly, the sound of a hand slamming hard against flesh resounded round the shadowed room. His admiration grew. She’d slapped Murad’s face. Her voice when it came caressed him like a cool breeze, swirling around him until he was completely off balance.
“That’s the only fight you’ll get from me, you piece of filth. You may be able to take my body, but you’ll never take my soul.” And then she did the unforgivable. She spat on her would be rapist.
Alex’s body coiled ready for action, but it was too late to stop the instant back-hander Murad dealt her. The force sent her sprawling unconscious across the drink-littered tables. With a cry the sultan fell on her, one hand gripping her face, hunting for her mouth to receive his slobbering kisses, the other fumbling within his robes.
Frantically, Alex looked around. Where were his men? Yet, even without them, he had to act. If he didn’t, Murad would take the girl on the table, in front of him.
Without thinking, he stood up and called from the shadows, “So the mighty Murad first has to steal his women and then has to knock them out in order to take his pleasure. It goes to show women have excellent taste.”
At his words Murad swung to face him. A smile began to play across his cruel lips. “What a—pleasant—surprise, Alexander. I did not know you were back on Mykonos.”
“Forgive me. You weren’t top of my calling card list.”
With an evil laugh, Murad gloated, “Quite so, but how quickly you forget. I don’t need to knock my conquests out, as it doesn’t take me long to have them begging for my touch.” His leer grew as he added, “You of all people should understand my power. As I recall, you would have done almost anything for me—once.”
Alex shuddered as repressed memories, disgusting and degrading, flashed before him. Out of the corner of his eye, a movement to his left showed the warriors moving to Murad’s side. With a relaxed smile, he leaned against the back wall; they would not take him from behind.
“How long has it been, Alex? Far too long I think. I have missed your beauty in my palace.” Murad’s tone became cajoling. “I never thought I’d have the pleasure of seeing my altin kole—my golden slave—again.”
He snarled. “Don’t you call me that or I’ll forget my manners. I’m not your slave, not any longer. All I want is the girl.”
Murad stroked his moustache and with a sly smile cooed, “She is a beauty, but are you sure that is all you want?”
Murad gestured towards the tavern keeper. “Paval, bring us a pipe. As I recall, opium was more of an allure for you than even a woman. There is no need for hostilities. Are we not old friends? Come, my Adonis, I have some of the finest opium with me. Let us lose ourselves in dreamland and perhaps, like old times, we can share the girl. I’d even let you have her first. Anything for you, my fair boy.”
Paval approached. At the first waft of the sickly sweet smell from the opium pipe, Alex’s mouth filled with saliva and adrenalin surged through his veins. No, not again. He would not give in to his past addiction. Momentarily, he basked in memories of the ecstasy the narcotic would give him. His hands itched to take the pipe while the voice in his head thundered no; the rapture was merely an illusion.
He looked at the smirk on Murad’s face and almost retched. He’d die before he let himself become Murad’s plaything again. He might not have fully broken his addiction but God damn it, he was here to rescue the girl. He owed her father. A river of sweat poured down between his shoulders. He would have to master his driving need for the drug’s compassionate relief.
“Come and taste her. You’ll know once you’ve smoked from the pipe what sweet release this innocent beauty can offer.” Murad’s sure voice held a note of triumph. He was not to know that Alex hadn’t touched the drug in almost a year.
Pushing nonchalantly off the back wall, he approached, one slow considered step after another, returning Murad’s ruthless smile with one of his own.
“Perhaps you are right, she is indeed very beautiful. I’ll even hold her for you once I’ve finished with her.” Alex licked his lips. “But first maybe let’s have just a small puff for old time’s sake.” He pointed to the naked girl on the table behind Murad. “While we wait for our plaything to awaken.”
He watched Murad’s shoulders relax as he motioned for his warriors to step back and he pushed the pipe towards Alex.
Murad turned his back on him and let his podgy, grimy hand stroke high up the girl’s milky thigh.
Briefly he closed his eyes, allowing the fury of Murad’s assault on the girl to fill him, before ultimately giving into his rage and letting his leashed temper explode. In one swift movement he surged forward and seized Murad by the throat, pulling him away from the girl’s naked flesh. Murad let out a cry of alarm and his guards immediately went on the attack.
He held Murad around the throat, his hidden blade pressed into the now madly pulsing vein in Murad’s neck. “Surrender or forfeit your life.”
“Go to hell, my golden boy. You’ll likely kill me anyway,” Murad spat back.
“Call off your men, tell them to back away from the girl and move up the stairs,” he hissed through clenched teeth. It took all his will power not to sink the blade into Murad’s neck. But he needed to get the girl out first, only then could he think of taking his revenge.
Murad issued instructions in Turkish but his warriors made no move towards the stairs.
His fingers flicked in eager agitation over the knife’s hilt, but his voice remained calm. “I only want the girl. She’s not worth dying over. There are plenty of other girls for you to plunder.”
Murad barked out a harsh order. To his relief the two warriors moved to the bottom of the stairs but his respite was short lived.
“Your move I believe, Alexander.” Murad laughed. “Your sleeping beauty can’t walk out by herself so you’ll have to let me go if you wish to save her. If you kill me, I’ve instructed my men to kill her; you’ll never get to her in time.”
Before he could answer, Jacob, his sergeant-at- arms, appeared in the doorway. With a cocked eyebrow and primed pistol, he took in the scene before him. “Need a bit of a hand do ya, Your Grace?”
He jerked his head at the girl. “Jacob, get her out of here.”
Everything happened at once. In his moment of distraction the back of Murad’s head crashed into his nose, splitting it instantly. Blood poured down his face, and his eyes filled with water as pain seared through him.
Murad screamed orders at his men, but rather than staying to fight, he turned and fled, sprinting toward the exit, before escaping past his men and out into the night.
One of Murad’s warriors came for him then. With lightning reflexes, he leapt towards the table and scooped up his sword, hidden beneath the bench. He slashed at the first warrior, managing to inflict a deep wound to the Turk’s shoulder.
Jacob was busy fending off the other attacker while Paval had the good sense to run, escaping after the fleeing sultan.
Murad would be organizing reinforcements. They would need to move fast since he knew the rest of Murad’s men must be nearby.
He pressed on with the attack, advancing on the warrior with a fury at having let his enemy escape. Swords clashed and the loud clang of steel filled the heated night air. From the first blows he could feel his enemy was not a skilled swordsman, so he could easily deflect his opponent’s obvious moves. He hoped Jacob was faring just as well.
The two men circled each other. The Turk charged yet again, his sword high in the air; blood was pouring from his shoulder and Alex seized the advantage as his blade ran the warrior through with one feint and lunge. The man’s death gurgle was muted by the sound of a shot ringing out across the room. He turned to help Jacob, only to see his pistol smoking, as the smell of cordite hung in the air while the other Turkish warrior slowly collapsed to the floor.
Speed was of the essence. They needed to get to his ship and soon. The last thing he needed was a fleet of Turkish pirates on his tail. Murad would crave revenge just as much as Alex had once craved opium. The sultan would be furious at losing the girl, and the chance to capture him again.
Breathing hard, he shouted to his friend. “Jacob, rally the men, get the ship ready to sail.”
“You’ll be all right on your own?”
“Yes, I’ll get the girl, hurry man,” he replied. He turned for the girl, who still lay naked and unconscious on the table.
He looked at the pipe, still full of opium, lying on the floor before him. Sweat ran down his spine, his mouth dried up and his cravings galloped once more into life. With shaking hands, he bent and picked it up, enjoying its familiar feel and he allowed the powerful pull to consume him.
The girl stirred.
He looked at her. He was here for her, for her father.
Anger surged within him, and as he regained control, he hurled the pipe across the room.
He picked up the pieces of her torn nightdress and covered her before gently sweeping her up in his arms and carrying her out into the hot night.
Proud that this time at least, he’d been able to leave the insatiable attractions of opium behind.