|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.53(d)|
About the Author
However, it has been writing that has consistently been her passion. She sold an episode of a TV show, had a screenplay optioned and has so far produced ten novels, including seven historicals and three romantic suspense. Another historical, "Bound to Morocco" is due out this month.
Leslie lives in Cordova, Tennessee with a fabulously supportive engineer husband and her writing buddy, Jakita, a terrier.
Read an Excerpt
The throbbing was relentless. Shera, Lady Edgerton, squinted and reluctantly peeked out from beneath her eyelids. She immediately regretted it. A thousand needles of light stabbed her with brutal fury and she quickly closed her eyes again to ease the misery. She drew in a deep breath, trying to quell the pounding in her head. Mindful of the pain, she very slowly opened her eyes again, fighting the agony of vicious brightness that assailed her. Sunlight pierced the room through a narrow slit in the wall high up in the small space and pooled about her. Nausea threatened but she swallowed hard and stiffened her spine.
Gathering her senses and forcing herself to focus, she looked around. Where was she? A small room made of wood? The walls were bare except for four sets of chains attached to the wood by rings hanging a few inches from the floor. Was this an area used to confine prisoners? But that did not answer why she was here. She was an innocent. Her being here must be a terrible mistake.
She heaved in a deep breath and listened carefully. Naught but a kind of creaking. Raising herself gently, she sat up. Her head spun and she took in a few shallow breaths to ease the dizziness. The space around her gradually took shape. She was indeed in a small room with walls of horizontal planked wood. Beneath her, the floor swayed gently back and forth. And the smell? It was the scent of despair. Someone had been held here before her. Or many someones. And there was also the unmistakable odor of the sea. I am aboard a ship? How is that possible? A slither of terror crawled up her back. Had she been kidnapped? Was her life at risk? Who did this and what did they want? The lack of answers was tormenting.
Shera soothed herself by inhaling and exhaling slowly, then took an inventory of her body. Her back ached and her arms and legs felt heavy. She was most likely bruised, but overall, she was intact. She was still dressed in her beautiful crimson velvet ball gown from the night before, but now it was dirty and the skirt was torn at the hem and along the seams. Her bracelets were missing, as were her rings. But, when she felt for her necklace, she realized it had slipped down into her bodice. She lifted it out and breathed some relief. Set with diamonds and rubies, it was worth a small fortune. She replaced it between her breasts and patted her chest. It could certainly be used as a bribe, but to whom? If she revealed it under the wrong circumstances, it could be taken from her. No, she must be careful to conceal it until the time was right.
She felt her earlobes. The left earring was gone, but the one on the right had become tangled in her hair. It, too, was set with rubies and diamonds and worth much. She extracted it and slipped it into her bodice with the other piece. Just knowing she had some wealth gave her options and more chances, perhaps, to resolve this situation, whatever it was. The possibilities went from the ridiculous to the unthinkable. It could be this was a simple prank, but the clawing in her stomach told her it was no such thing. But, she must control the terror that threatened to confound her thinking. She had been laying on a mattress of sorts, although it was long overdue for restuffing. She refused to even think about the stains or what loathsome tiny creatures might reside within its depths. Looking around again, she realized there were three other such pads lined up in the room. Were others to join her? It certainly appeared as if this cabin was used to secure many more. More what? Captives?
Shera squeezed her eyes shut. This was merely a nightmare. She would open her eyes and be in her own bed in the manor house waiting for a servant to come and help her bathe and dress. Yes, that was it. Upon opening her eyes again, this was indeed still a nightmare, but it was real.
Denial fled and left her alone with the truth. She was alone here. Terror threatened to swallow her whole. Her heart pounded as hard as a hare's. Tremors enveloped her and hot tears coursed down her cheeks. She fought to slow her panting, to regain some semblance of control. She had to think. Try and remember. What was the last thing she could recall? The party. Drinking champagne. Then, try as she might, there was naught else. What had happened? How did she get here?
Perhaps someone would come in the door and realize this had all been a terrible mistake. They would beg her forgiveness and escort her home. But, would they be pleased at her return? No doubt the answer was no. But, certainly they would have an explanation and, if she was feeling generous, she would accept it and forgive. But for now, she had no choice but to wait until something happened or someone appeared. She needed to concentrate on being clear-headed.
Only one word echoed in her brain — why?
It was then she noticed her shoes were missing, but her stockings were undamaged. Clearly, she had been carried here when she was unable to resist. Her memory would not cooperate and she racked her brain to make sense of it all.
If it was money they wanted, she could offer them a small fortune. She had the jewelry, of course, but she also had much wealth and position. She was a noblewoman. If she informed her abductors of her title, perhaps that was all it would take to secure her freedom.
That had to be the reasoning. She had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom. Well, the captors need go no further. She could pay them what they desired. Of course, then she would run to the nearest magistrate and have them arrested. Not that she would let on to that. She would be cooperative and they would free her.
Then again, she had heard stories of women disappearing, never to be heard from again. What happened to them? If that were the case, what was to become of her? A thousand kinds of terrible scenarios chased themselves in her mind. Calm yourself. Panic will not serve you now.
Other than the makeshift beds, there was no furniture in the room, except for what was obviously a chamber pot. Shera's stomach turned over at the thought of using it. She had hoped all this was a bad dream brought on by too much heady champagne, but she knew better. She was now wide awake and this was definitely not her imagination. As her thoughts gained more clarity, panic gripped her again and she fought the demon back so it would not overwhelm her.
Shera took another deep breath, held it, and slowly released it, trying to control the horrible feeling of helplessness. She squeezed her eyes shut, again concentrating on recalling her last memory. Her eighteenth birthday party. The ballroom had been magnificent, with sparkling lights from the crystal candelabras and a glorious array of roses and colorful wildflowers in fancy vases everywhere. Everything had been perfect. Tables ached with savory meats and cheeses and bowls of fresh, ripe berries on polished silver trays. The music trilled through the ballroom and it was magic.
Her stepmother, Rae, had stepped up next to her, smiling. Unusual for the woman, but not unwelcome. Shera's stepsister, Twyla, moved to her other side. "What think you, sister?" Twyla had asked.
"I think you two have gone way beyond. The room is glorious. Thank you."
"It was our pleasure," Rae returned. "After all, one only turns eighteen once in one's life."
The warmth of a heated blush had crept up Shera's cheeks. "I must admit, I had no such expectation. I was certain neither of you even — liked me much."
"Do not be silly. With your father gone, we are the only family we have." Rae patted Shera's hand almost lovingly.
"So you are satisfied that I will keep my word and certainly see that both of you are comfortable forever," Shera said reassuringly.
"Of course." Rae replied. Shera could not help but notice the sidelong glance Rae aimed at Twyla, but Shera chose to dismiss it. Of course, they trust me or they would not have gone to such lengths to host this wonderful party in my honor.
Shera had thought there might be a note of insincerity in her stepmother's tone, but she chose to ignore that, too. In hindsight, she had been overwhelmed by the music and the color and the excitement and the fact the other two women had obviously worked hard to make certain Shera's celebration would be a lavish affair. All of the effort on her behalf was a delightful surprise. The party seemed a happy new beginning and Shera hoped they would all finally be able to cohabitate in peace.
The room was full of friends and neighbors and Shera danced with one handsome suitor after another. Finally, exhausted but blissfully happy, she sank into a chair and rubbed her sore toes. Rae had brought her a glass of champagne and then proposed a toast to the assembled guests. Her stepmother had even referred to Shera as her lovely daughter and Shera had drained her glass with pleasure. And then ... She strained to recall what had transpired after that. But, again there was naught. That is, until she woke up here.
Realization dawned with the force of a blow to the chest. Was there something in the drink? Had Rae drugged her? And then what? Sold her? Had her kidnapped? Why?
Shera's heart pounded painfully against her ribs. Tears borne of pain burned another path down her cheeks. It was all too much to bear.
Shera's father had died a few months ago and when his will had been read, Shera was to be the sole heir of his estate, the money to be held in trust until her twenty-first birthday. She knew there would be some resentment, so she had made it clear she had every intention of sharing the wealth with Rae and Twyla. She felt it was her duty. After all, this was his father's wife and she should have some compensation. She should have suspected her word would be insufficient. But, she had been naïve, denying to herself how strained their relationship was. No doubt they resented sharing any of the inheritance with her.
Now, with her gone, all of the money and lands would be under Rae's control. Then the woman would have to answer to no one in her desire to fill her life with the best of everything. Rae could take over management of the estate and who would question her? Especially if Shera had simply disappeared. Who would know? The servants, perhaps, but who would they tell? And certainly Rae would manage to come up with some excuse for Shera's absence. It would be a deception she could maintain until all the money was gone. And then she could go away with Twyla before anyone could investigate.
Was it possible that Rae was such a monster that she would have sold her own stepdaughter or arranged for her disappearance? Could she have hated Shera so much that she would consign her to God knew what?
Shera feared there was no longer any doubt as to the woman's guilt.
Before Shera could absorb the horror of her stepmother's actions, the bolt to her door scraped and the entrance to her cell screeched open. Shera's spine stiffened as the doorway was filled by a tall man dressed in a strange costume. His pants were full and loose, unlike any man in London would wear. An embroidered coat vest hung below his knees and his head was covered with a scarf that wrapped around his head several times. He grinned and there was a dark hole where one of his middle teeth should be. Shera judged him to be in his thirties, but it was difficult to gauge. He was so different in appearance than any Englishman she knew, with his swarthy skin and long black hair.
The strange man was obviously a servant, with his eyes downcast and shuffling gait. So who was his master?
Shera tried to stand, but the motion of the ship forced her to lose her balance and topple down hard onto the mattress. The man's grin grew wider. Anger coiled in Shera's belly and her fists tightened at her sides. How dare he laugh at her? She inhaled through flared nostrils, but quickly controlled her reaction, knowing ire would not be useful to her now. But when she discovered who was responsible for her condition, she would have a struggle not to release her fury like a thousand storms on the poor fool who would dare to do this to her.
She calmed and attempted a smile in return. Perhaps she could reason with him. Obtain some answers?
"Kind sir, can you tell me where I am?"
The man did not reply, acting as if he did not hear her.
A thought occurred. "Do you speak English?"
Again, the man did not respond. Instead, he moved back to the door and opened it wider. He nodded to someone and instantly a young boy appeared carrying a tray. The boy was dressed in a smaller version of the man's garb and, by the way he balanced the platter, it was obvious he was accustomed to the rolling of the vessel that carried them. He, too, had a dark complexion, but she could not see his eyes, since he, like the older man, kept his look averted.
The lad deposited his bounty and bowed out of the room. The older man nodded again, this time to her, and disappeared out the door, quickly closing and bolting it.
Shera blew out her held breath. Her shoulders dropped and then her gaze was drawn to what the boy had brought. Shera lifted the covering cloth and was fascinated by the array of food in front of her. There was bread cut into chunks, an odd dish of meat with vegetables and another with what smelled like savory lamb. The aroma of exotic spices made her mouth water. Her stomach growled and she realized she was starving.
It took a mere moment of debate to decide whether it was preferable to die from poisoning or starvation. After all, if they had wanted her dead, would they not have done the deed by now? And she needed to eat to keep up her strength. Greedily, she reached for the food. Without utensils, she ate with her fingers and it was uniquely pleasurable. The exotic flavors burst in her mouth, the spices so different and delicious. There was also a cup of warm liquid that smelled like mint and Shera drank it down with pleasure. If she were to die from this meal, then she would go to her grave satisfied.
Refreshed, she sat back and tried to imagine what was to come next and what she intended to do about it.
* * *
John Kincaid paced across the deck. He was in charge of this voyage, but it was only temporary. When the ship returned to Morocco, he had other pursuits to follow and would only make one more return to England at the end of his mission. Then, however, he would merely be a passenger. And he would not be alone.
He paused, stared out across the deep blue of the ocean and tried to concentrate on his plan for the future. Below deck, a victim waited and he could do naught but pretend her captivity was acceptable. This was the first time he had actually participated in plotting the sacrifice of another, which made it all the more abhorrent. Did the end justify the means? He chose not to debate that with himself. He did take only one prisoner, after all. One was all he needed since she would certainly suffice if he handled her well.
But, then he could not lie to himself either. He was complicit here and he accepted his part. He had come up with this idea as soon as he knew another cargo ship with room for captives was heading north. Moulay only sent men he could assure himself were loyal only to him. And John had proven to the sultan that he was dedicated to serving his ruler. If Moulay only knew John's true motives.
John knew this was his chance, so he had appealed to Moulay. John convinced the sultan he only wanted the opportunity to further prove his loyalty. John even hinted he might certainly be able to seek out yet another beautiful and desirable woman or two to add to the harem. And Moulay was always ready to receive more beautiful women. The man was insatiable and rumor had it he had fathered hundreds. And John had every intention of finding at least one who could be convinced to help him.
He had tried so many other means to find a way into the forbidden place to gain information about Catherine. But, the security was such it could not be breached. And, without help from someone inside the walls, there would be no hope of ever finding her. So, what choice did he have? He knew his sister's very life depended on his success.
And, as luck would have it, rather than having to hunt for a woman when they reached London, a man had appeared at the quay with a simple solution. The woman John needed slept in the carriage waiting a few feet away.
John consoled himself with the knowledge that in this case, the reward would prove twofold. The purse was fat and the gratitude of the sultan would hopefully prove useful. No one appreciated such a gift as captured beauty more than Moulay. And, with this woman, John could achieve his goal. He was no worse than the people who had paid to have her gone, was he?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bound to Morocco"
Copyright © 2018 Leslie Hachtel.
Excerpted by permission of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
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