A Dangerous Encounter
Secret Garden, Damon Manor:
The longer she ventured through the building, Kyra learned it might not be too difficult to find her way through the halls after all. It seemed there were two main hallways on each floor with small corridors that led to each of the rooms. What seemed like a maze at first was relatively easy to navigate. As she stepped down from the central staircase to the main floor, she was particularly proud of herself for finding her way on her own.
Off to her right was a huge dining room lined with three enormous tables. Each one must hold thirty people, if not more. She imagined the room must be bustling come dinnertime. The front room on her left was a large ballroom with a grand chandelier suspended high above the center of the room. There was a large balcony that spanned the back half of the room where musicians might play or small tour groups could perform when the Marquess was entertaining guests. There was a door leading out to the side yard from both rooms, but she couldn't gain access to the garden from either one.
She made her way to the back of the hallway one room at a time. She found an entertainment room and a large sitting room, but none held any doors that led outside to the garden. Then she spied a small door at the back of the building. It looked like it led to a linen closet with a sign that read, PRIVATE. Raising a curious brow at it, she opened the door slowly to peer inside.
The darkened hallway suddenly lit up as the area was assaulted with bright sunlight. It was a small library that housed a few hundred books. The far wall of the room was a wall that was made almost completely of glass. When she entered the room, she realized it wasn't a wall at all. It was a series of doors and one stood wide open. It was beautiful! Thick drapes had been drawn back, exposing the room to a wondrous sight. She could feel a fragrant breeze filtering into the room and it seemed so inviting.
Why was this sight hidden away in such a small, lifeless room? These doors should have been placed at the end of the entrance hallway itself! No matter the reason, she'd found it now. She simply couldn't resist stepping out onto the wide terrace floor to explore such a marvelous sight. It was so serene and peaceful.
Birds of every variety fluttered about, singing their praise to the gardeners. The sound was almost elegant and harmonious.
Without conscious thought she began walking forward until she reached a gate that opened up to a dirt path. With a flick of her wrist, she unlatched it. In minutes she was drowning in the vibrant colors and scents that carried her deeper into a mysterious world. The bushes and flowers were twined so high from the ground that soon she could no longer see the mansion. Somehow in this place, she felt lost from the worries of life. It was impossible to believe that anything could harm her here.
She'd walked a long way when she stopped to have a look around. She twirled just once in place, feeling peculiarly giddy. Then she heard it. A snap of a twig and the brush of the leaves in the distance ahead. She turned her head to try and pinpoint the source of the noise, but she could see nothing amiss.
With timid steps, she continued forward only to freeze like a stone when a bird flew across the path and startled her. She practically laughed at her own foolishness when it flew into a dark bush, chirping at her—probably in laughter, she thought ironically. Her heartbeat slowed to its normal rhythm as she took a cautious step forward to have a closer look at it. Her attention was swayed by another delightful sight then. One lone rose bush climbed high into the air. At the base of it sat a single yellow flower, almost pristine in appearance.
She lowered her head and touched the silky petals of it, wondering if it would smell as amazing as it looked.
"What do you think you are doing!" A harsh voice bellowed from behind her.
Kyra flew to her feet and twisted around to see a man standing there. She saw only the glint of steel gray eyes as she backed away from him warily.
"I asked you a question," he fairly growled. "You do not belong here. Everyone knows these grounds are off limits. Who are you?" His voice demanded an immediate answer, but she could give him none.
Kyra's eyes widened as she scanned two nearby paths searching for an escape. He had seen that look and his voice knowingly mocked her.
"We are alone here, so don't even think about trying to run. You know that I have this place memorized. I could find you anywhere in here!"
Why should she know that? Why was he speaking as if she must know him?
Should she presume he was a gardener? It was obvious he must work for the Marquess, because he was dressed in an outfit similar to what the guards had worn at the entrance.
He was clad in a gray suit trimmed with black and silver. It clearly defined every inch of his body, right down the pants that were tucked neatly into polished black boots. Tied around his neck was a black velvet cape, held in place by a thin chain. The shade of that cape perfectly matched the shade of his hair, but his eyes were a stormier shade of gray than the suit.
Those eyes were watching her now, threatening death upon her if she didn't answer his questions. Panic-stricken, she wanted to run from him as fast as she could, but where could she go? She didn't know which path even led back to the manor. She realized she should have paid more heed to Serena's warning.
"If you do not answer me, I'm not going to be responsible for my anger," he declared.
His assertion sounded ludicrous as she watched him. If this wasn't anger…
"You dare defy me," he asked though clenched teeth. His voice dripped with an emotion so violent that she swore he was about to explode.
Caleb Damon was close to a level of anger he'd never experienced in his life. Not once in his many years as Marquess and before that, son of a Marquess, had anyone dared to incense him as this woman was intentionally trying to do. He could see it in the way she brazenly studied his appearance, while having the audacity to silently pretend she had no idea what he meant. That anyone in his keep would dare to ignore his will and refuse to answer his questions was more than he could tolerate.
She had set off to defy his one single, standing order on the premises, consecrating this sacred ground with her presence. No one, save the gardeners themselves, were allowed to step foot on this part of the land since his wife died two years past. Yet, this woman did so with ease. Everyone living at Damon Manor knew these grounds were forbidden—and they all knew why! From the way she had been watching him, it was obvious why she was out here. He knew precisely what was driving her to push his buttons.
Over the past year he'd been offered solace by many of the young women who lived on his land. Some had let him know in the most creative ways what they wanted and of course this woman wanted the same thing. She wanted to catch his interest. She wanted to bed him, thinking the grieving period for his wife should be over with by now. She thought nailing him would assure he'd wed her, making her one of the most powerful women for all others to envy.
Oh, but he did have a surprise in store for her. If what she wanted was his body, she'd have it. She'd played a very dangerous game coming out here today and she was about to lose. He felt the urge to teach her such a lesson that she might run off to warn all her harlot friends that he was no prize to be won. Perhaps then, they might all leave him be!
He released a long, slow breath and cocked his head as he took a menacing step forward. In turn, she took a terrified step backward. He advanced again and she retreated even further. With one final step, she gasped out loud as she realized he'd driven her into the ultimate trap. She was backed up against the thorny vines, unable to backtrack any further.
"Are you finding this amusing? Because, I assure you, I am not." His words were punctuated when he poked her soundly on the chest.
Was he kidding? She reached up to touch her chest, but her hands arose fully in defense when he breached the few remaining inches that separated them. There they stood, chin to forehead. She had to crane her neck to see his eyes clearly. They lowered at once when she caught the intense gleam in his eyes. They narrowed as he leered down at her. An unexplainable flush crept up into her cheeks as she fleetingly wondered how she'd come to be in this position with him.
Never in her life had she stood so close to a man—at least not a lean, virile one with piercing gray eyes. It brought a sensation to the pit of her stomach that she'd never experienced before. Sucking in a strangled breath, she finally found the courage to shove against his massive chest in an effort to force him back. It didn't work. It was like trying to move a mountain.
A scathing grin cross his face as he took hold of her wrists, effortlessly twisting them behind her back. He secured them easily with one hand as the other reached up to grab hold of the hair at the base of her neck. His grip was rough as he forced her to face him, his arms pulling her intimately closer into his body.
"Was this what you were hoping for? To get my attention," he grated irritably. "Did you think I'd take pity on you because of your weaker sex? Because you are a woman?" She only continued to stare up at him frightfully and that began to push his sanity over the edge. "Don't play games with me! I don't like games!"
It had been a long time since he'd been this close to a woman. Despite his protest to the contrary, he felt his passion beginning to flare as his body pressed against hers. His fingers pulled at the pin that held her heavy auburn hair in place and he watched it tumble down, trailing over the front of her neck to rest above the bodice of her dress. Her reaction was to shiver as she attempted to twist away from him. His grip held firm at the base of her neck, fisting tightly in her hair until she finally stopped struggling. Her mouth opened as though she would have wanted to cry out, but she didn't.
Damn she was a tough one!
"What's the matter? Isn't this what you wanted? Isn't this why you dared to step foot in this garden? Didn't you want to draw my attention, because you have it now!"
Her head shook in protest, but he tightened his grip, demanding the truth. Her eyes held his, beseeching him to try and understand.
"Don't lie to me! This is exactly why you came out here. If this is what you want, then I'll gladly give you what you want…"
His words ended when his mouth descended on hers with vicious punishment. The kiss was brutal as he crushed the tender skin of her lips beneath his.
He finally released her struggling hands only to pull her flush up against him. He pressed her closer, unable help himself. Though he meant only to punish, it had been such a long time...
From the moment the kiss began, Kyra was too startled to fight back. The kiss was meant to hurt and she felt tears springing to her eyes. She had never thought a kiss could be so painful. The feel of this man's passion was frightening. When she realized what he was trying to do she caught hold of her senses and fought him with all the strength she possessed. It was blind fear that helped her to finally pull out of his hold.
In that moment, she wished she had the power to speak as she never had before. There was no telling what he might be capable of if she couldn't scream for help. It was obvious that he was insane, because he made no sense. She reared back and shoved him away. When he stumbled back, she scrambled around him to evade his grasp.
Please, she prayed as she broke away from him and ran with the wind down the first path she saw. Please help me, somebody!
A huge obstacle suddenly darkened the path and she ran headlong into it with the full force of her weight. She expected to have the wind knocked from her lungs, but the man who caught her jumped back, countering the impact as she hit him head on.
The gravity of her situation came rushing back with vivid clarity. With renewed panic, she began to fight this second man who was holding her before she stole a quick glance up at his face. Jacob!
"What in the world is wrong with you," he gasped whens she ceased struggling against him.
Kyra had no time to respond. At that moment, a loud growl sounded behind her as thunderous steps raced down the path less than twenty yards away. She began fighting him anew, but this time she was trying to push past him.
In utter frustration, Jacob managed to grip her to his side as he unsheathed his sword. It rose in the air and he was poised to attack when he recognized his own brother storming toward them. Caleb looked angry enough to pop a button!
He shoved Kyra firmly behind himself when Caleb rushed forward. He stopped his advance at the sight of the weapon between them and Jacob could see the rage in his eyes. He was judging the distance between them, debating what it might take to get his hands on Kyra. What the hell was his problem?
"Get out of my way, Jacob—or by God, I will see you wrought in irons!"
"I don't think so," Jacob fairly laughed at the ridiculous threat, backing up several steps as he spoke.
"You will not interfere with this. I'm warning you!"
Jacob felt Kyra clutching him tightly from behind. Her fear emboldened him as he lay down a threat of his own. At the moment, he was the one holding the sword.
"No, I am warning you. Stand back or I'll send you to your bed for a month, if not more. I will not abide you in this."
Caleb eyed him with something akin to hatred just then, but he took a measured step back. With his attention now off of Kyra, Jacob unwrapped her arms from around his waist and gave her a gentle shove in the direction of the manor.
"Go," he ushered her. She began to back away as slowly as Caleb had, but after a second step, he didn't have to look to know she was running with all haste back to the terrace. Poor girl!
"What are the charges against her," Jacob asked in irritation. "Did she step on your tender feet?" He was adding insult to injury, but he couldn't help himself.
"I will see you removed from this house. I want you gone tonight." Caleb spat and turned away from him in disgust. He was so sick of Jacob's antics. This was the last straw! This topped them all and he would never forgive him for his interference.
"You did not answer me. What are the charges?"
"The charges?" He swung back on his heel. The sword had just slid back within its protective sheath when Caleb walked forward to grab him up by the collar. Without a weapon, Jacob was no match against him. "That bitch dared to enter Elizabeth's garden! I asked her to explain her actions, Jacob. I gave her time to explain and she refused to answer me. I had every right to punish her as I saw fit. So, don't you dare question my authority!"
With that, he angrily shoved Jacob to the ground. He stood over him, daring him to try and rise.
Jacob scarcely blinked in response. Caleb didn't intimidate him in the least.
"So far, I haven't heard any reason for your anger against her."
"Don't play dumb!" Caleb warned. "Everyone living in this household knows this land is off limits. She chose her fate. She chose not to explain her actions."
"For your information," he began as he stood up and dusted himself off. "That girl whom you just scared to death doesn't even officially live here. After today, I wouldn't blame her if she keeps it that way. And secondly, she had absolutely no idea that you keep this garden a bloody memorial. And—" he added crossly, "the reason she wouldn't answer you is because she couldn't."
Caleb snorted derisively and asked, "What do you mean she couldn't? Of course she could. I wouldn't have been so furious if she had told me what you just did."
"That would have been about as simple as you renouncing your title." When Caleb looked up in confusion, Jacob announced, "That was your newest addition to Damon Manor—courtesy of Baron Tyler. Aside from that, she's mute. She can't speak a word."