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Authors: Catherine Coulter

The Offer

BOOK: The Offer
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

The Offer

 

A
Signet
Book / published by arrangement with the author

 

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©
1997
by
Catherine Coulter

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

For information address:

The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

 

The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is http://www.penguinputnam.com

 

ISBN:
978-1-1012-0974-5

 

A
SIGNET
BOOK®

Signet
Books first published by The Signet Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

SIGNET
and the “
S
” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

 

Electronic edition: February 2002

To my sisters of more years than any of us would care to count.
Here's to the second time around.
Aniko, Ildi, Ursula, Leslie, and Zita.

1

“If you don't get away from me I'll scream.”

“Of course you won't, my pet. And that's what you are, you know—a little pet, my little pet. I can caress you and fondle you and you will stretch and moan with delight beneath my hand.”

The portrait gallery was dim and shadowy and cold in the early-afternoon winter light. “Yes,” he said, smiling at her as he walked slowly toward her, one graceful white hand outstretched, the emerald on his index finger glittering, “you will enjoy what I will do to you, Sabrina. I've known from the beginning that you're eager for me. I had to wait until I had wed Elizabeth. You understand. Now, that's done and I'm here. Now we can be together.”

Sabrina watched his fingers curl as if touching her flesh. She backed up until the corner of a huge gilded frame dug into her back.

Suddenly the memory of the portrait gallery faded into blinding white. Trevor was gone. She was alone.

She doubled over with the cough that gripped her so deeply. The pain continued even after the spasms subsided, making her feel as if her ribs were caving inward, grinding and shifting. She was shuddering with the pain. She managed to get hold of herself. She forced herself to straighten. She looked around. The whiteness of the snow was blinding. She had no idea
where she was. She remembered reading that in Dante's inferno the deepest circle in hell was cold, not hot. She was ready to accept it without question. She knew now this was what hell was like—a colorless cold, so cold, so intense, that her breath froze into nothingness in the frigid blank air. She clutched the palm of her gloved hand against her breast for warmth and drew to a stumbling halt against a large gnarled elm tree. She hugged its trunk and let the rough bark dig into her cheek. It hurt. At least she could still feel her face. She felt the bark through her cloak, digging deeper, through her gown, through her chemise. She savored for the moment the illusion of shelter it offered. The wind swirled about her, making her cloak billow at her ankles, making the naked branches overhead whip back and forth, tangling with other branches, rending and tearing, like fingernails pulling at flesh.

She gazed up. The snow wasn't too terribly heavy yet. But the full fury of the storm would soon be upon her, and she knew that unless she found her way out of the forest, she would die. She forced herself to look about again. Was the snow coming down harder?

She pushed herself away from the tree and forced her feet to move forward, in what she prayed was a southerly direction. She had been so certain of herself, even after her mare had gone lame, sure that she would find her way through Eppingham Forest. After all, she'd lived here all her eighteen years and knew the forest well. She wondered now if she would ever find her way before the thickening snow blanketed any landmarks she might recognize.

The thorn of a bramble tore into her beautiful crimson velvet cloak, a present from her grandfather the previous Christmas. She bent to pull the cloak free. The pain in her chest gripped her again, and she doubled over with the cough that had become harsh so
very quickly, and tears fell, cold and slick down her cheeks. She dashed her hand across her eyes, but when her vision cleared, it was Trevor's face she saw again, a pretty face, indeed, its finely chiseled features almost too pretty for a man. She saw his hooded pale green eyes were darker now as he stalked her. His lashes were too long and thick for a man, her sister Elizabeth had told her, but perhaps if she birthed a daughter, she would have her father's beautiful eyes and lashes.

Trevor had followed her to the portrait gallery in the east wing of Monmouth Abbey, where she painted when the weather was fine. That day she'd wanted to copy a portrait of Isolde, the sixteenth-century countess who'd once caught the eye of Henry VIII. Sabrina forgot about her work quickly enough when Trevor had shown himself.

She could clearly hear him say again, “Don't fight me, my little Sabrina. You've led me a merry chase and I'm not a particularly patient man. But you were different. You have teased me, made me want to shatter the illusion of innocence you've cloaked yourself in. But the chase is now over. No more of your clever games. I know why you came to this isolated gallery. Your plan is perfect. Come to me now, tell me how much you want me.”

She was pressed hard against her great-grandfather's picture frame. She could retreat no farther. Reason, she had to try to make him see reason. “You have mistaken me, Trevor. I am your sister-in-law. You are newly married to Elizabeth. She is your wife. I have not tried to attract you. I have not wanted you to chase me. I don't want you and never have. I'm not lying or playing games. Please, leave me alone. I came here only to study a portrait that I wish to paint.”

He smiled at her, saying nothing.

She wasn't blind. There was raw hunger in his eyes, but also something else. Determination. He wouldn't listen to reason, not Trevor. He heard only what he wanted to hear, saw only what he wanted to see. There were always servants about, but she'd neither seen nor heard a single one since Trevor had come. She allowed the contempt she felt for him to come out. “Listen to me, Trevor, Elizabeth is your wife. She trusts you. My grandfather trusts you. I haven't trusted you, but that doesn't matter.”

He laughed, his head tilted to one side. His light green eyes were filled with more hunger than just the moment before. “You look lovely in that dark gray gown. I would have thought it would make you pale, but it doesn't. It must be that beautiful auburn hair of yours. You do have beautiful hair, you know, Sabrina. I've watched you shake your head, making that glorious hair of yours fall around your shoulders when you knew I was looking at you. As sinful as a woman's red lips, your hair.”

He was not a large man, but he was still considerably larger and stronger than she was. What to do? She was very angry now and shook her fist at him. “Listen to me, Trevor, stop it! I have done nothing to attract you. The truth is I don't even like you. That's right. I wish you had never come, but there was no choice, was there? There was no direct male heir, so Grandfather was forced to recognize you, his brother's grandson.

“Leave me alone, Trevor. Go away.” When she tried to walk by him because he hadn't moved an inch, he just stood there smiling at her.

“Oh yes, you're right, Sabrina,” he said, his voice lower, softer, slippery as her satin sash. She shuddered. “But everything will be mine once that damned old relic has shucked off his mortal coil. It shouldn't
be much longer now. Soon all this will be mine. Elizabeth will soon call me her lord, her master, as will you, Sabrina. I like those words from a soft mouth when I reach my pleasure. Ah yes, and a warm woman's breath on my flesh, it heightens the experience.

“You know I would have preferred to wed you, but it was not to be. The old earl forced me on Elizabeth. Elizabeth was older, she must wed first, it was only fair, he said. The old fool didn't want me to have you, truth be told. No, I couldn't have you as my wife, but you are still here, and we can be together.”

As he leaned toward her, she pressed her palms against his chest, shoving as hard as she could. “Get away from me, Trevor, get away. I shall scream. The servants will obey me, not you.”

He laughed, now so close to her face that she could smell on his breath the turtle soup he'd eaten for luncheon. “Yell yourself hoarse, Sabrina. No one is about to hear you, but you already knew that, didn't you? Ah, I feel you trembling, my pet.”

“I'm not your damned pet, you bastard!” His fingertips brushed lightly over her cheek. She rammed her fist as hard as she could into his belly. As she felt the soft flesh give, she jerked away, almost free of him.

His hand grabbed her upper arm, pulling her back. Then his hands were around her neck. Her fingers clutched about his, her nails digging into him, but she could not get free.

His fingers tightened about her neck and his face blurred above her. He suddenly released her and she gulped in air. Then she felt his mouth slam against hers. His tongue probed at her lips to force them apart. She opened her mouth to yell at him and felt his tongue go deep. She gagged and bit down hard.

He jerked back and she released him. “You little bitch!” He was panting with rage and pain as he drew
back and slapped her hard on one cheek and then the other.

The force of the blows sent her reeling back against the portrait. She flailed the air with her arms trying to keep her balance. She was beyond herself then, screaming at him. “You bastard! I'll kill you for this, you filthy bastard!”

2

In the next instant she realized that her insults pleased him. She knew it, could see it as the rage faded from his face, and he laughed. “I've always liked my women to have a bit of spirit, not to just lie stiff and silent beneath me like martyrs, like that damned sister of yours. When I'm ramming really hard into her, I like to watch her go pale, bite her lips and moan.” He saw she didn't understand what he was saying. He laughed with pleasure. He'd wanted to be the one to break her from the first moment he'd set eyes on her.

“Yes, I like a girl with spirit, Sabrina. Fight me, do, if you like that game. A fine, aristocratic young lady you are, so proud, so sure of yourself and what you are and what is owed to you. I wonder when I take you, if your virgin's blood will flow as heavy as Elizabeth's. There was so much of it. I fear my poor little bride believed that I'd killed her. More's the pity that I hadn't.”

It hit her with full force in that moment that he fully intended to rape her. He was pulling her wrists over her head. He moved in. She yelled in his face, “No, Trevor. I'll tell Grandfather what you are, don't you doubt it. When I tell him, he'll have you flogged and thrown out of Monmouth Abbey. He'll disown you.”

“Ah, I wondered if you'd try that, Sabrina. If you
open your sweet mouth to him, then I assure you that I shall assist him to his final resting place. It wouldn't take much to nudge him into the grave, you know.

“Now, my dear, enough of this flightiness. I've waited with great patience for you. I'll wait no more.”

His pale green eyes were narrow with purpose. He grabbed the neck of her gray wool gown and jerked it down. She knew he was staring at her breasts. She wouldn't let his hands touch her bare flesh. She lunged forward, striking at his face with her fists.

Then he managed to grab one of her arms. He twisted it, jerking it upward behind her. She screamed again, the pain clear in her cry. She saw then that he enjoyed causing her pain. He twisted her arm even higher but she kept her scream in her throat.

“Very well,” he said. With his other hand, he grasped the edge of her chemise and tore it down to her waist. His eyes were blazing as he gazed at her breasts. “My God, you're a beauty. I imagined you would have nice breasts, but they're exquisite.” He grabbed one breast and squeezed.

It hurt but still she held her pain inside. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing that he was hurting her beyond what she could bear. She leaned down and bit the back of his hand as hard as she could.

He backhanded her. “I will teach you obedience to your lord, to your master, to me. You bite me again and I'll make you very sorry.”

His hand squeezed her breast again, then quickly he was at her stomach, his fingers digging in to find her through her gown and chemise.

“No!”

He laughed, and toppled her onto the hard wooden floor. She was struggling for breath. His body slammed down on top of her. He reared back and she felt that
male part of him pushing hard against her belly. She jerked her hand free and smashed her fist into his nose.

“You bitch, you miserable little bitch!” He began to slap her, again and again, until she saw nothing except explosions of white pain. He was howling as he hit her, his eyes wild.

Suddenly he stiffened above her and she saw his eyes widen, then become glazed and vague. He slapped her again, cursing her, but this time his voice was soft, drowsy-sounding. He growled deep in his throat. “Damn you, damn you.” He froze above her, stiff as a board. Then he rolled away from her to lie on his back, his legs spread.

She was on her feet in an instant, staring down at him. His breathing was harsh and low. He was looking up at her, his eyes tender, a gentle smile on his mouth. His smile widened when he lightly touched his fingers to himself. There was a wide stain on his breeches.

She took a step back from him. She was shuddering with reaction, with utter rage. Without thought, she kicked him in the ribs. “You filthy animal, filthy, filthy. God, I hate you.”

He tried to grab her ankle but she jumped back in time. He rolled to his back again. He gazed up at her and touched his bloody nose, his features once again beautiful and calm. “You won't kick my ribs again, but I can't say that I blame you. You overexcited me, Sabrina, this time, and I had no chance to pleasure you, to plunge deep into your virgin's body. Ah, but next time.

“Pain and pleasure, little pet, beautifully and irrevocably intertwined. I shall have you, and no one shall stop me, least of all you. Don't even try to lock your door against me, else I shall tip the balance to pain. You know, I think next time I shall have to tie you
down. You've bloodied my nose just like a schoolboy. My ribs ache, ah, and I've spilled my seed on myself. Your fault, of course. I haven't known such excitement in a very long time, certainly not with your bloodless sister, or any of those silly maids. Not an auspicious beginning for us, but a beginning nonetheless.”

Sabrina turned and ran from the portrait gallery, the low heels of her slippers clipping the wooden floor, ringing loud and hard in her ears.

She heard the cat-soft footsteps of a footman and huddled into a small embrasure until he passed her. She ran into her bedchamber and with trembling fingers quickly twisted the key in the lock. Stepping to a long mirror beside a walnut armoire, she touched her fingers to her ravaged face. She gazed dumbly at her puffy eyes, still wet with her tears, and her swollen, stained cheeks, still marked by his blows, still hot and tender to the touch. She stared at herself in silence, raging against her own impotence, her helplessness against him, a man.

She remembered when he had first arrived from Italy but a month and a half before, so winsome in his charm, almost boyishly eager to win approval, particularly from Elizabeth. She thought about the first time she'd noticed his hands, soft and white, like a woman's. Grandfather had growled under his breath that Trevor was naught but a pampered, vain fop.

Grandfather. Sabrina turned away from the mirror and sat, shoulders slumped, upon her bed. If she told him that Trevor had tried to rape her, after only two weeks of marriage to Elizabeth, he would go into a rage. She swallowed a sob. Only her grandfather stood between her and her cousin, and he was too old. Sabrina rose with sudden decision. She would go to Elizabeth. Together they would decide what was to be
done. She quickly dashed cold water on her face. She still looked a fright. Well, Elizabeth would see the proof of his blows; she wouldn't have any doubts as to the sort of man she'd married. She stuffed her torn clothes into the corner of her armoire, and changed quickly into an old brown wool gown.

She found her sister in her bedchamber, seated at her small writing desk, penning letters, Sabrina thought, to the wedding guests.

“Leave us, Mary,” she said to the maid.

Elizabeth raised pale blue eyes to her sister, but said nothing until Mary had finally and reluctantly closed the bedchamber door. She laid down her pen and out of habit smoothed a wisp of pale blond hair back into its knot at the nape of her neck. Both Trevor and Elizabeth had soft blond hair. Where Trevor's eyes were a pale green, Elizabeth's were blue. “There's no need for you to be rude to Mary. She's a sensitive girl. I don't wish to see you behave like that again. Now, what do you want? As you can see, I am quite busy. How am I to thank the Viscountess Ashford for that hideous cachepot? Can you imagine, blue tulips strewn all over the thing? Trevor laughed and laughed.”

“The cachepot is ugly but Mary Louise meant well.” Sabrina slashed her hand through the air. “That's not at all important. Listen to me, Elizabeth, I must speak with you. I know that this will come as a shock to you, but you must help me. It's Trevor, Elizabeth—he just tried to rape me.”

Elizabeth arched a pale blond brow and glanced over at the clock on the mantelpiece. The brow went higher. There was a twisted smile on Elizabeth's mouth. “First you are rude to my Mary. Now you tell me that my husband of two weeks tried to rape you. Is this some kind of game, Sabrina? Are you that
envious of my new status? Such a thing is scarce possible, particularly when it is only three o'clock in the afternoon.”

Sabrina gazed dumbly at her sister, unwilling to believe the iciness in her voice. No, Elizabeth simply didn't understand. She rushed forward and laid an urgent hand on Elizabeth's sleeve. “Look at my face. He struck me repeatedly. It gave him pleasure to hurt me. Look, damn you!”

Elizabeth shrugged. “So, your face is flushed, nothing more that I can see. You are always in the sun so that is no surprise.”

“It's winter, Elizabeth. We haven't seen the sun for days until just this afternoon.” Sabrina couldn't believe this. She went on her knees beside her sister, clutching her hand between hers. The sunlight was fierce on her face. She knew that the redness and swelling were clear to see. “You must listen to me, Elizabeth. It would make no difference to Trevor if it was day or night. I went to the portrait gallery to look at the countess's portrait. I want to paint it. Trevor followed me. You know how isolated the gallery is. No one was near to help me and he knew it. That's why he followed me there. Elizabeth, look at my face. Don't tell me it's simply flushed. No, he slapped me and slapped me. He's vicious and cruel, Elizabeth. He's proved he has no honor. He even threatened to kill Grandfather if I told him what he'd tried to do. You must help me decide what we must do.”

Elizabeth shook off her sister's hand, as if her touch was distasteful to her. She rose slowly from her chair. Sabrina also got to her feet. Elizabeth was some three inches taller than her younger sister. She looked down at her now, and there was intense dislike in her pale blue eyes. “I forbid you, Sabrina,
forbid you,
to speak any more such absurd nonsense. Pray remember that
you are speaking of my husband and our cousin. Does it mean so little to you that he will be the Earl of Monmouth after Grandfather's death?”

Sabrina took an involuntary step backward. “Elizabeth, haven't you heard me? Did you not understand what I said? Damn you, look at my face! You can see his handprints! My skin is still hot from the force of his slaps. None of it is nonsense. I'm sorry for this, but you must believe me. Trevor is vicious. He tried to rape me. I'm not lying. He isn't worthy of you. He told me if I tried to lock my bedchamber door against him, he would hurt me even more. Please, what are we to do?”

BOOK: The Offer
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