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ISBN-10: 0312372116 | ISBN-13: 978-0312372118
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THE PRICE OF PASSION…
Sold. With one word, Lady Elena Ravenscliffe’s destiny changes forever. Forced into Constantinople’s slave market to pay off her late husband’s debts and save her son, Elena reinvents herself as Jinan—a harem girl adored by the rich lords who bid on her favors. But one man instantly sees through her façade.
…IS COMPLETE SURRENDER
Griffin Summerfield, Marquess of Rothburn, let Elena slip through his fingers years ago. When he recognizes her on the auction block, he pays an outrageous sum to possess her even if it is for a short period of time. But when his deadline looms, Griffin will risk all in a desperate bid to make her his—and his alone…
The Surrender Of A Lady is a riveting and spectacular debut by an exciting new author. Tiffany Clare writes a swoon-worthy romance filled with rich details and vivid characters. Any readers wishing for a bold and sweeping historical romance need look no further—Tiffany Clare is a treasure of an author!
-Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author
-Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author
Exotic, bold and captivating. Tiffany Clare’s rich, sensual prose is delightful indulgence!
-Alexandra Hawkins, USA Today bestselling author
-Alexandra Hawkins, USA Today bestselling author
Dazzling, daring and different! The Surrender of a Lady will have you turning the pages until you finish, no matter how late it gets. Tiffany Clare is a brilliant new talent in historical romance.
-Rita-nominated and award-winning author Anna Campbell
-Rita-nominated and award-winning author Anna Campbell
Tiffany Clare’s writing is daring and delicious. Bold characters and brave new ideas.
-Eve Silver, National bestselling author of Sins of the Heart
-Eve Silver, National bestselling author of Sins of the Heart
With its exotic, evocative setting and complex, complicated characters, Clare’s lushly written, lusciously sensual debut will sweep readers away on a spellbinding voyage of scorching passion and unforgettable romance.
Emotion-packed, THE SURRENDER OF A LADY, the first book in an exciting new series, is a heartrending, very sensual historical romance that will touch your heart.
Debut author Clare bursts onto the scene with a unique, unforgettable, sensual love story sweeping from the harems of the east to staid Victorian ballrooms. Watch out for this sizzling new talent to rise to the top.
-RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 Star TOP PICK Review
-RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 Star TOP PICK Review
Tiffany Clare has written an exceptionally exciting and heart-wrenching story of devotion and survival of a young mother, sold into the most despicable of circumstances. Elena’s bravery and determination is unequaled. Her love and devotion for her son, as well as love for her long-lost fiancé, tears her apart. I found this to be fast-paced, full of suspense and totally exciting with each turn of the page. A new and refreshing plot has been woven for the reader.
How had she ended up in a place like this?
When he’d moved back to England after his uncle’s death, the first thing he’d done was look for her. That had to be some five years ago. His sources had said she was still married to that lowly baron with an estate up north. Perhaps Griffin had given up his search too easily.
Griffin turned away from the scene and looked for the man who had escorted them up to this section of the palace. Griffin had made his selection. He’d had to pull himself through a long path of self-destruction to make it to this point. Was this some sick ironic award for moral behavior? It didn’t matter. It was what it was. After all these years, she was finally going to be his.
Read an Excerpt
“What do you mean, you’ll work this out? You’ve gambled me away! I’m your wife, for heaven’s sake!”
“Elena, please. Calm yourself. I’ll think of something.”
Did he really think to placate her after such a proclamation? She was entitled to more than a fit of rage right now. She was livid. “It’s a little late for alternatives.”
With her hand clutched over her chest, Elena felt the frantic beating of her heart beneath her thin nightgown. She was desperate to calm it and her nerves; otherwise she’d never think this through rationally. What he said couldn’t be true. It was outrageous and too despicable to contemplate. A sickening sense of fear had her itching to crawl through the floor.
Two eunuchs flanked her husband. One was pure ebony, with a wide, firm frame common to the palace eunuchs, and had a severe, menacing posture that terrified the wits out of her. The bitter fear made her want to retreat to the other side of the room. Out of his reach. The other was shorter and fatter, with a round, pockmarked face and a red sash about his waist that accentuated his girth. Whenever he spoke to her husband, she caught a glimpse of gold teeth behind his anger-thinned lips. The sight made her quiver in disgust.
Both projected an air of command. They wore traditional caftans, and their forearms bore large gold cuffs, their fists were loose at their sides. One couldn’t mistake their intent. Nor did their poised outward appearance fool her; they would not be stopped from collecting payment. It was just a matter of sorting out what that payment was.
“Tell them to leave, Robert. We will think of something.” They would leave Constantinople to escape what her husband had done. Start afresh, just as they’d done last year. This place was supposed to have been their refuge. A place where their son could grow up without being looked down upon by society because of his father’s recklessness.
Foolish of her to think Robert had changed. He never did the decent thing by his family. How had she been duped into believing he’d mend his bad habits after all these years?
“I’m afraid it’s not so easy as that.”
She knew he played at being calm with those men hovering around. They were almost enough to frighten her into silence. But she knew her husband wouldn’t defend her, he never had. Not from the first moment he’d set his sights on her.
She swallowed back the fear closing in around her and stilled her shaking hands by clasping them together. She needed to remain strong, to remember that Robert was a betraying swine. If she focused on that thought, she might be able to talk her way out of this.
She would not be the bargaining chip for his gambling debts.
Tilting her chin up, she looked down her nose at her husband. “I refuse to go.”
Yet she knew in her heart that payment had been made in the form of one young, nubile wife, not yet six months from the birthing bed. She began to believe these men wouldn’t leave without her, but what did they plan to do with her, a woman still showing the signs of childbearing? Did they fancy such sport as she? She was no pale-skinned odalisque.
There had to be a solution, something to stall them. She just didn’t know what would work.
The back of her knees hit the worn damask settee. She sat with a thump, fingers worrying a small tear on the edge of the seat. If one looked around the room it was more than obvious money was not abundant in this household. The floral printed paper on the walls was peeling in many places, the carpets underfoot pitiable, threadbare. The furniture, scratched and dented over the years, looked as worn out as she felt. Even the china didn’t match. Anyone who came into their home knew immediately the impoverished state they lived in.
It was unlikely the eunuchs could be convinced with promise for payment. But there must be a way to bribe them.
The maidservant had heard the commotion and came in looking askance at her. Elena knew she wasn’t here for her sake, though. Everyone in the household would want to know if their wages would be paid, as her husband kept promising. Now they would all know Robert had gambled away what little money remained. It was no secret that the servants had been collecting bets on the span of her husband’s life. Robert played a dangerous game. He was a foreigner here and easily swindled out of their pittance. This wasn’t calm and proper England but a hostile land with hostile natives.
The smaller man said something in Turkish to her husband. She wasn’t used to the language and only recognized smatterings. None of what they said made sense. Robert ran a hand through his hair, his words careful as he asked them in his most authoritative voice—sorely lacking in a tone of command since the devolution of their old life—to leave his home.
The one who had spoken shook his head and placed his hand on his hip, perilously close to the bloodred handle of his scimitar. An ominous sign.
Elena swallowed what little saliva she had and watched her husband’s Adam’s apple bob. The eunuchs weren’t moving. Robert’s only reaction was to clench his jaw and take a step away from them—clearly done arguing on her behalf. Giving up on her so easily.
It shouldn’t surprise her. Still, she fought tears of sadness for how little she meant to the man who had shared the last five years with her. It didn’t matter any longer that he’d secured their marriage through deception, cornering her in Lady Aberney’s study, approaching her with a wicked gleam in his eye. She was won, so he must have lost fun in the chase after that night.
The silent guard looked to her. Elena stared him in the eye, unwilling to cower before the eunuchs who on further assessment could only be slave traders, not palace guards.
She was safe in her own home. She had to be. She would not leave. She made that resolve clear as she looked at him. But it was lost. The eunuch’s eyes held no expression. No pity, no sympathy for what her husband had done. Those were the empty, soulless eyes of a man who had seen and lived a hard mercenary life in a world with too many cruelties to keep a compassionate heart for those less fortunate—she being the less fortunate.
She was a noblewoman. They couldn’t possibly mean to take her! How could they take her away from her baby?
Forcing her gaze away from the eunuch she glared at her husband. “What of the silver, Robert?” There were candlesticks that could be melted down, some cutlery, too. Was that enough to send these ruffians on their way?
Robert stepped toward her. Looking to the maidservant, he jerked his head in a violent fashion that had the woman leaving the room posthaste. Elena could imagine the maid’s whispered words to the rest of the serving staff. Would they stay on after this? She really didn’t care. She needed to sort all this nonsense out so she could hold her son. She would fix this. She always fixed her husband’s blunders.
He stood before her, looking down but not meeting her gaze. One hand grasped her shoulder; he gave it the smallest squeeze in reassurance. It was lost in the gravity of the situation. “Listen to me, Elena. I’ve had a bad turn of luck—”
She snapped her head to the side as though struck by his words and glowered. He found some courage to look her in the eye when she let out a hiss of air between her teeth.
“You’ve always had a bad turn, Robert! You promised me you wouldn’t fall into old habits!” She pounded her palm against the seat. “You promised me a new life when our son was born.” Her fingers clutched the edge of the settee, grasping for any sort of balance to her lopsided, unfair life.
“I know. And I did keep that promise, Elena. I restricted my outings to a gentleman’s establishment. Ali Admen came in for a round of loo with a mutual friend, so I agreed to sit for a hand. I was doing well and stayed on at the table. A little blunt would have not been remiss.” He shook his head as though recalling the exact moment of his downfall. “Before I knew it, luck wasn’t about me.”
She took a deep breath. She must remain calm. Even though the voice in her mind screamed for her to get out of here. As fast as possible. A dread was building in her blood that she would be taken away from her son. God knew what else they’d do to her. Bile rose in her throat. She closed her eyes, breathed in deep through her nose and out through her mouth. She clenched her hands so tight into the seat she thought she’d tear right through the material.
“You always lose,” she said between gritted teeth. “I will not go with them.”
I will take my son and head back to England the moment you turn your back, you swine.
“Elena . . .”
“I mean it, Robert. They’ll have to drag me out of here.” Her voice caught on those words, and she had to force out the next, “I refuse to go anywhere.”
Eyes flooding with angry tears, she really looked at the man who was supposed to be her husband. How could he do this and without so much as a shrug? Was she so worthless?
“Please, Elena.” Again with his hand swept through his hair, never a good sign when his agitation got the better of him. “I’ll talk to Ali Admen’s man of affairs tomorrow. We’ll work out another arrangement. We cannot afford . . .”
“No! You disgust me, Robert. What made you think you made a morally sound judgment wagering your own wife for a hand of cards? How dare you! I will not leave. This is my home. In case you’ve forgotten, our son needs us. He needs me.” She pressed her clenched fist to her heart, voice breaking on a sob. “You would take away his mother?”
Elena trained her eyes on the larger and quieter of the eunuchs. His expression held nothing useful for her. She stared into those mud-brown eyes and wondered how to mend this before falling into the snare of those deep wells.
The sound of the baby crying had her on her feet and at the door in a trice.
This was her chance. She’d leave Constantinople and never look back.
She glanced sidelong at Robert, hand already around the door latch her heart tripping faster than ever as she looked at her husband for the last time. She had to leave here as quickly as her feet could carry her.
“If you think for one moment I’ll let Jonathan cry through your good-for-nothing negotiations, you’re mistaken. You can take my place in their slave quarters until you fix this! I’ll be with the baby, should you come to your senses and wish to make amends.”
One of the eunuchs grasped the base of her neck, and spun her painfully around. As he pushed her to the closed door, all the air whooshed from her lungs. Her shoulder ached from its impact against the molding. She refused to cry out her pain and bit her lip till she thought it would bleed.
Realization dawned as she tried to dislodge his hand unsuccessfully; he could snap her just like this. Hopefully, she was worth more alive than dead. His hand was unrelenting and with his weight behind it, it proved almost impossible to drag any air into her lungs.
She tried to squirm out of his grasp. She brought her hands up to his chest to push him away but his grip tightened, his body pressing hard and heavily into her, rendering her powerless to move. Deep down, she knew there was never a hope for escape. Why she attempted it, she didn’t know. Foolish bravery, perhaps.
No. She attempted it for her son. Her son. God, what would happen to her son?
A thin knife rasped against her flesh and jabbed into the vein that beat a furious tempo above the eunuch’s thumb. It was the only thing to stop her from pushing at him again. Nothing more than the threat of the sharp tip held her down, the still weight of an ox standing behind that deadly pinprick. Her hands dropped to her side in defeat.
If she were dead, she wouldn’t be able to help her son.
The eunuch loosened his grip. From her peripheral vision she saw his other hand swoop down toward her temple. She ducked the blow too late.
“She’ll fetch a pretty price. She has nice form. Skin’s tight and free of blemish.”
The tall, thin Englishman was the one who spoke, his spectacles resting on the end of his nose as he pinched various parts of her flesh in his inspection. His touch was light but no less invasive than some of the crueler handlings she’d had over the days. It angered her that he talked as though she were a fine piece of horseflesh and not a human being.
This was the same man who’d looked her over three days ago. The first Englishman she’d seen in this pit worse than any hell imaginable. She’d begged his help then, tried pleading that her being here was a grave misunderstanding. Told him that the life of her baby rested on his goodwill.
He hadn’t listened. So Elena said nothing, just bit her lip to still her shaking. She wanted to cry when he prodded at her naked breasts and touched her bare stomach through the tear in her chemise. No sense in crying out. That would earn her another beating. She’d given up begging for help days ago—or was it a week? Time was irrelevant, days leached into night then back into day. No one cared about her here. She was just another slave in their dark, cold gazes.
When she had awoken in this dilapidated warehouse the first thing she noticed was the dingy faded ashen walls. When her head had stopped throbbing she was nauseatingly assaulted with the smell of unwashed human bodies. The stench of excrement and urine so thick in the air it was as though it had sunk into the very foundation of the building. When she breathed through her mouth she tasted that awful, stale reek of dirty human bodies. Better to smell that rotten stench.
Heavy muslin over the large windows stopped the light from reaching its warm rays out to her and blocked fresh air from cleaning out her aching lungs. The slave handlers bound her with thick rope, looping it through a rusted metal collar that tethered to the wall. She’d been treated like an animal since her arrival. Poked, jabbed, humiliated with their scrutiny and quibbling of a price over her.
She should be happy they hadn’t completely forgotten her like some of the other slaves huddled in their own reek and filth. They gave her a grayish sludge they called food once a day. Sometimes there was rice or pilaf, which she’d refused at first. But after a couple days of dire hunger, she’d learned to close her eyes and eat around the cockroaches infesting the food. She pretended the wriggling of their bodies was merely a product of her overactive imagination.
Every man who looked her over had torn more of the meager clothes she wore, all in an effort to see her in the flesh. She tried to cover the exposed parts, but it did her no good. Most of her nightclothes were shredded or gone. All that remained was her undershirt and drawers, soiled from the grime crusted on every surface. They’d even taken her slippers and stockings. Her left heel had blistered something fierce on the first day, when she’d tripped over the chain nailed into the floor.
At first, she’d begged and cried that they spare her some privacy. All to no avail. Having had enough of her antics, the guard had hit her so hard in the stomach she’d fallen over gasping for air. The pain still bothered her, a low persistent ache, but it lessened as the purplish bruises faded to an unsightly green. She had learned her lesson that night. Now she only cried out her misery when the slaves bedded down on the hard earth at night. She didn’t beg to be released after that, realizing they might do worse next time. If they did treat her any worse, she might never escape. Not that she knew how she would escape.
“Yes, but she’s used goods. They don’t like their women in this state in the high court.”
The other man said this and then grasped one of her engorged breasts, squeezing the areola and nipple until milk flowed down her torso. She let out a cry of distress and pain with the release of built-up fluid. Mostly it was a cry against the abject humiliation of being handled in such a fashion. That milk was for her child. Her child that she might never see again.
God, she did not belong here. She could not survive here much longer.
Her whimpers had the slave guard yanking the rope around her neck, forcing her to silence as she was pulled back a step. She wedged her fingers beneath the collar so she could breathe. Her neck probably sported the same bruising displayed on her abdomen. It ached and itched so much from the incessant tugging and sweating through the hot days.
She stood as tall and straight as she could and stared defiantly at the two men. Could they see the hatred in her eyes? The English one looked at her thoughtfully. Assessingly. She didn’t like the flicker in his gaze; it looked too much like desire. It repulsed her to be looked upon so lecherously. What did they think to do with her?
Then their words registered. High court. Did they mean to purchase her for the Sultan? She wouldn’t cooperate with any of them; she was English, not some slave they could do whatever they pleased with. Though if one were to look upon her now for the first time, they’d see nothing but a dirty, half-naked woman taking on the stink of a chamber pot. Her skin was crusted with dirt. She couldn’t even scrape the soil out from under her nails, as much as she tried. Even the beautiful curls of her hair hung limp, greasy and tangled around her like a banshee’s wild mane.
She’d been forced into something less honorable than her worth. Made worse because any attempt to stand up for herself would earn her another beating. She didn’t think they cared whether she lived or died. It made her want to fight, to scream, to hurt these men who treated a human so low. These men kept her away from her child. She despised them.
The Englishman called over the slave trader, whom she now knew was Ali Admen, the devil her husband had wagered all but his soul to. He sat at a great wooden table conducting a transaction with a Turk. When he rose, he strode toward them on light, silent steps. A trained warrior would walk in this manner, as if on the very air. Silly thought that, but her mind had taken some unusual turns these few days. Bound to happen being deprived food, water and any privacy to spare a scrap of her modesty, or her sanity for that matter.
The older man said something in Turkish. She only caught a few words: private and goods. And those two words were enough to frighten her. She shrank back a small step. The slave handler didn’t notice this time, so did not reprimand her with another tug.
She didn’t want to be under their scrutiny any more.
The buyer wanted to look her over. In private. Others had left the main area under force and were taken to the door at the far end of the room—she heard their whimpering, crying, and sometimes their screams. All from no more than a dozen feet away. She didn’t want to know what happened in there.
Why didn’t one of her servants come and find her? Had her husband still not paid them? Surely one of them would be kind enough to spare her this evil, this life she didn’t belong to. Wouldn’t they help her for her child’s sake? Her husband wasn’t coming for her; it would be a servant. Otherwise, Robert would have been here days ago. He was probably lost in his cups watching the horse races, losing more money they didn’t have.
What was left to barter? Another human being? Their son? He wouldn’t dare.
She closed her eyes and made the slave handler drag her to the room. If she could have done it unscathed, she would have dropped to the ground and clawed her hands into the packed earth in pure defiance. But she didn’t. The guard would have no compunctions about strangling her to prove his supremacy, her worthlessness.
Once inside, a cursory glance told her the room was empty. Was this a good or a bad sign? She didn’t know. There were no windows to escape through should they leave her alone, just four stark walls with lit oil lamps set into them. The guard led her to a wooden bench and motioned her to sit with a jab of his finger. She did as ordered. The guard came around to her side and looped the rope through a metal ring at the end of the bench.
Was that to prevent her from defending herself? She wasn’t fool enough to think she could escape this place. She wasn’t strong enough. She saw other slaves held down and beaten for disobedience in their desperate attempts to flee.
There had to be another way to escape, someone she could bribe into releasing her. She was desperate. She’d been away from her baby too long. But she had nothing of value to offer for her freedom.
The Englishman stepped into the room saying something commanding to the guard in Turkish. Then he looked her directly in the eye. “I’ve asked him to leave us in private. Will you behave if you’re left unchained?” He spoke English.
Elena swallowed hard and stared up at the Englishman’s unforgiving stance. She gave a small nod in agreement. She couldn’t run, but she would defend herself with her free hands if he took advantage of her vulnerability.
The guard turned and left. The Englishman came forward with no readable emotion on his face.
Fingers prodding into her neck, he looked over the blisters and scrapes made by the collar. Instinctually, she jerked away, not wanting to be touched. He moved gently. She guessed he didn’t want to hurt her more than necessary. Tilting her this way and that, he inspected her cuts and bruises with care. He had her open her mouth so he could check her teeth, his fingers pushing them to see if they were loose or rotted. Nothing was left untouched except the private area between her legs, a small thing to be thankful for. He palmed her dispassionately, kneading around her aching, heavy breasts, under her arms, over her stomach, looking closely at the bruising there and pressing into it. She couldn’t help but cry out in pain and hunched forward, protecting her belly.
“Bleeding seems to be on the surface,” he said. “That’s good.”
He lifted her bare feet next, almost toppling her from the bench, to examine them toe by toe. Then he stood to inspect her hair, picking through the knots, looking for lice. She held herself inert and closed her eyes against the degradation. She wanted to remain strong. If she fell apart now, what good was she to her son? But her body was sore, stiff and hurt worse than anything she’d ever experienced.
Her tears fell anyhow.
When he finished, he shuffled back a step and tilted his head to the side in question. “How old are you?”
She didn’t answer. Just gave him her most incredulous look through flooded eyes. He had no right to question her, not after she’d begged for his help and made a fool of herself in the process. He had reduced her to an abject slave, throwing herself down at his feet. Begging for the safety of her son, only to be ignored and then punched in the stomach by the guards—who laughed as she cried out for them to stop.
“There are a number of ways we can go about this. So either answer my question, or I’ll have you chained to the wall in the slave quarters, where I will inspect you in the public room.”
She turned so she could look him in the eye; he was level with her face, one fist planted on the bench beside her thigh. “Four and twenty.”
“Old enough”—he pushed off the bench with his fist and walked away from her—“but not too old that this business will grow tiresome and wear your body down.”
He said it so bluntly she almost didn’t believe the words she heard. This business. She had a good estimation what this business entailed. And this business was not a safe place for her son, nor a place she wanted to be. “Why are you doing this to me? Why won’t you help me?”
“I’m not doing anything, dear child. I’ve looked into your claims. You are who you say. A surprise really. It’s not the first time I’ve heard such a tale.”
“Then why am I still chained here like a wild dog?”
“Because you belong to the slave master of this establishment. And now, I wish to purchase you for my employer.”
“I belong to no one.”
Oh God, what had happened to her family? Her baby? Please, please let Jonathan be safe.
His lip lifted in an arrogant smirk. What wasn’t he telling her? The blood pounded in her ears so loudly she almost didn’t hear his next words . . .
“I’m sorry to inform you, madam, but your husband is dead, his properties seized.”
She gasped. Though she had never professed to love Robert, he was her husband. Helpless to stop fresh tears from flowing, she bowed her head into her hands, her tears washing away the dirt crusted there. Dead? How was that possible? He was part of the embassy here; how ludicrous that someone would harm him. No matter his flaws, he was an English gentleman.
But this wasn’t England.
He only mentioned her husband. Could her son still live? Every time she opened her mouth to ask, her voice caught on another sob. She swiped the tears away without success.
He went on. “It seems he didn’t make it through his negotiations. I know naught of all the gruesome details, nor do I care to. What I do know is his properties, including you, now belong to Ali Admen. You’re to be sold to pay off your late husband’s vowels.”
Was such a thing possible? Would this country trade in the enslavement of English women? She sucked in a breath and put a hand to her chest as she tried to calm herself. The air was hot and thin in this room, making it difficult to breathe. She needed to know about her child. “What of my son?” She was almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Let us discuss our business before the welfare of your babe.”
“How can you be so cruel!” She made to stand but the collar caught and jerked her back down to the bench. She clenched her fists in her lap to still the shaking from the rage and fear building throughout her body.
Was her son well? Was he hurt? She needed to know. She needed to be with him. She took a deep breath; it did nothing to calm her tattered nerves.
He ignored her questions. “I’m here to make you an offer. One which will not only better your future, but also save you from a fate far worse than the one you’ve lived this past week. I should hate to think what will happen should you choose to be difficult.”
“How could all this come to pass? How dare you do this!”
“Madam, I dare do nothing. Your husband is the sole person responsible for your current circumstance.”
Feeling more bravado than she ought, she said, “And why should I take your offer?”
“I daresay mine comes at a prettier and much more advantageous price than you’re likely to find in the bowels of this hovel. I can also offer you the safety of your child.” His lip tilted upward the minutest amount in a satisfied sneer.
So that was his bargaining chip. Her cooperation might guarantee her son’s safety. Could he really help her son? Did he even know the whereabouts of her child? She clenched her jaw and her fists as she stared up at her nemesis or her savior—one and the same at this point. Could she trust him? She was at a grave disadvantage. How was she to know if her son was even alive?
“How can I trust you?” Or anyone for that matter. Her own husband, sworn to protect her, had sold her to this fate.
This might be her last chance to see her son while they both lived. If she stayed here much longer, she wouldn’t survive the handling some of the other slaves endured. Not in the long run. It was only a matter of time before they treated her like a mongrel, good to no one but for beating out their frustrations.
“You can’t trust my words. Nor do I expect you to. I’ll make you a generous offer.”
“Feeling charitable to a white slave, are you?”
The heavy weight of despair constricted her—suffocated her. He didn’t even flinch at her words. She didn’t care. It was hard to hold her tongue when death stared her in the eye daily. Eventually, she knew she’d beg for the end staying here.
“I’m employed by a wealthy man, madam. His sole indulgence is his harem. I would ask you to become one of his harem girls . . . in exchange for the safety of your son.”
She stopped breathing altogether and repeated the words in her head. Could she really be hearing this right? A harem girl? A harlot? Is this what her husband had managed to reduce her life to—to become the plaything of some strange man in the hopes of saving their child?
She dropped her head into her hands and cried from the hopelessness of the situation. For the life she once knew, knowing it was no longer for her. She cried for her son, who would grow up with a whore for a mother if she agreed to this madness.
Should she agree to this? How could she not? There was no other option. Her tears came harder and faster with every despairing thought.
The Englishman waited quietly for her to compose herself.
She was to find her way alone. To sell her body for her son’s safety.
No one would even note her absence from society. Now her only escape from this slave trade was in sexual servitude. Rubbing the last of the tears away, she looked up to the only salvation left to her and Jonathan. His arms were braced, his expression blank as he leaned on the far wall, standing calmly as he awaited her decision.
She bowed her head and stared at her lap. “Will your employer be kind to my son?” Her voice was so faint she almost didn’t recognize it as her own.
It was her son’s welfare that mattered now. She would sacrifice her comfort a hundred times over for her child. Without Jonathan, there was nothing left to live for.
“If you obey him, he’ll have no reason to cause harm to either of you. He takes great pride in his harem and business. You’ve no need to fear him. He does not abuse his women, nor do I imagine he would abuse a child. He doesn’t have any so I cannot say for sure.”
Could she ask for more assurance than that? She could take this offer and what may come may come. Or she could rot in this hell on earth and never see her son again. She licked at her dry, cracked lips. “Why me?”
“Ah, there are many reasons for that, madam.”
“Am I to guess your reasoning, then?”
“My employer has a certain fondness for English women with dark skin. Imagine my surprise when I happened upon you speaking the Queen’s English in its dulcet, educated tone in this place. You’ll also fetch a fair price from the other lords who visit his pleasure island. But only after he’s trained you to do your duties as one of his harem girls.”
Her stomach flipped. Elena raised her hand to her head to massage her temple, hoping it would help her find balance in a suddenly spinning room. She was to be a sex slave. Not just the whore for one amoral man but the sex slave for a plethora of men.
She looked up and focused on the Englishman. “If I agree to your offer . . . will you take me out of this place and reunite me with my child?”
He nodded. “Are you agreed?”
She couldn’t swallow past the lump in her throat to ease the tension tightening her body, threatening to hyperventilate her. She nodded her yes. With that nod she threw away any hope of comfort. There was no other choice. She did this to protect her son.
She felt so helpless and despondent that the last bit of spirit in her heart—once so strong and determined to make something of the unfair life she’d been given—withered away. She was the wounded deer looking into the predatory eyes of a wolf, knowing this was it. This was all that was left. Do or die—what choice was there in that? What fairness lay in this world? None.
He pushed himself from the wall, still expressionless. “Then, my dear, I’m off to haggle a decent price for you.”
Elena hung her head in shame. What had she agreed to? God save her if this was the wrong decision for her son.