Far from England, alone for too long, Captain Jonathon Barry is captivated the instant he saw Jaline--she is too magnificent not to notice. There is a grace to her movements, an elegance to her bearing, that sets her apart even before she lifts her exotic black eyes or speaks. Her voice is intoxicating, soft as velvet with a sweet, lilting quality, as she recounts an evil bargain made against her will. She is to be his mistress, and he may do with her as he pleases...***
Jonathon is deeply torn, for Jaline is indeed his by right. She is only a slave, the prize he has won in a Constantinople gambling den. Trembling, bared to him, body and soul--he can see how cruelly she has been treated. It is clear that Jaline is in danger still and he may well be her only hope. Yet even a renegade like Jonathon would risk anything to save so beautiful a woman...and to love her, if she will let him.
A shadow could not hold water and she could never truly love him. That made her the worst choice for a mistress, as if Jonathon Barry needed one at all. He saw a tiny shudder shake her frame and he leaned forward. "Do I frighten you?"
She neither moved nor flinched, nestled behind an eerie façade of composure. The words hung in the air between them and fractured the tentative calm.
Slowly, she lifted her brilliant onyx eyes to meet his, wayward curls masking one side of her face, dirt the other, her expression watchful. "You do, a little," she said, an odd lilt in her voice.
"I trust that will fade with time and experience," he offered. She gave a slight nod and turned to study the alleys of Constantinople as the carriage rattled on through the early morning light. He must be a fool. His life was too complicated as it was, even though the war was almost over. He felt her eyes on him, met her gaze and logic dimmed. Lust made his throat dry. He wanted her and now she was his, a slave, won in a gambling den. It didn't matter. Vivid erotic thoughts clouded his mind. "You'll become accustomed to me."
The corners of her mouth lifted in a wickedly uncertain smile. "I learn quickly."
Jaline clasped her hands in her lap. "This morning I watered horses." She drew a long breath. "Now I'm to share your bed. I understand." She paused and cocked her head. "Are we going to your ship, Mister Barry?"
"The name is Jonathon." With a small frown, she looked away. Jonathon glanced down at her delicate fingers. He wanted to take them in his, feel their warmth, their touch. More importantly, he had questions starting with what happened after she left him. Her friend, Faresh had appeared only a few hours later to plead for his help. He studied her as they passed an inn, its lights flickering over her features. "The Lornea is moored in the Golden Horn."
"What happened to the Amadine?"
"Thanks to the information you provided, she sailed for Odessa."
Her eyes brightened. "Then it was helpful."
"I expect it will be profitable too. Collectors want artifacts of any kind, even if there are half the number of Greek relics."
She gave a nod and brought her fingertips together, studying them. "So you are taking the Lornea back to London?"
He raised a brow. "I don't recall telling you that."
Her full lips pursed into a straight line. "I am good at gathering pieces of information, as you well know."
He inclined his head. This was no hapless kitten, but a careful, clever, exotic creature. He needed to watch what he said. "Once I talk to this Asam you mentioned." Her smile vanished and the mask returned. He narrowed his eyes and searched for the reason. "You will come with me." She nodded, lifted her hands and began to braid her hair, then dropped it from sight. She might have been fiddling, but it was one of the most erotic gestures he had witnessed, possibly because she was completely unaware of the effect. "Why don't you explain why you are limping?" He inclined his head to catch her gaze. "That was not the situation when I left you."
Jaline clasped her hands and set them in her lap. "Yesterday was a long time ago."
"You're different." Before, her eyes had been lit with a hidden fire. Whereas tonight, she was far away, as if he was watching her somewhere in the distance.
"Faresh said you were in trouble." He could almost see her pale.
When he spoke the name, she met his gaze and held it. "He shouldn't have made you feel responsible." Jaline swallowed. "Faresh has been like an uncle to me since I was sold to Toran."
Faresh had been twice her age and several inches taller, his eyes black but the resemblance ended there. His skin had been olive whereas Jaline was fair, the shape of his face narrow while Jaline's was a classic heart, her features near perfect. "He's not an actual relation?"
She exhaled and smiled wistfully. "We looked after each other in the slave quarters. I cooked his evening porridge, he taught me to - survive." She lifted her chin. "That's near to family."
He returned her look and narrowed his, distinctly aware of what she had said, and what she had left out. "Tell me what happened."
She blinked and lowered her eyes. "When I got back to the stables, Toran was waiting. Someone told him we had been talking. He found the coins you paid me and wanted to know where they came from. When I didn't tell him, he assumed you were my lover. That you had paid me for..." she gave a quick jerky shake of her head. "He ordered ten lashes, one for each coin."
Rage bubbled deep. He had known the man was cruel, sensed it as they sat across the table from each other. There had been a lifeless boredom in Toran's speech that held his sneer firmly in place. Greasy with perfumed oils, he had waved his jeweled finger at the money Jonathon had offered, as if it were a dish that offended his nose. "Toran didn't want to do business, you did."
"I'm not his servant. I'm his slave. Toran can do whatever he wants."
"You sold me information about ancient valuables. That doesn't warrant a beating," he said tightly.
She gave a feminine snort and shook her head. If anything, she appeared more vulnerable than moments before, her breath uneven. Time passed before she lifted her gaze to his. "A slave owner's rights are absolute. That is the way it is."
She didn't have to cry for him to hear the unshed tears in her voice, or feel the brush of accusation. He was the master now.