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Sara Reinke, HEART'S RANSOM

This excerpt is from

a FREE historical romance novel told in serialized format and available exclusively through author Sara Reinke's website: www.sarareinke.com

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Sara Reinke, HEART'S RANSOM

The Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England October, 1748

Kitty Ransom awoke as a heavy hand clamped against her mouth. She started to yelp, but her startled breath was cut short against the large palm, and her eyes flew wide in the darkness. At first, still dazed with sleep, she thought it might be Michael Urry and other young men from the nearby village of Totland; they had snuck out to the bluffs, to her father's estate, Rosneath to have a spot of fun with her, a wicked prank of some sort. After a moment, however, it occurred to her that the hand against her face was rough and calloused, as if from a lifetime of harsh laborsomething scrawny, privileged Michael Urry and his friends had never known. That realization left her seized with sudden fear, a fright that only mounted as the man seized her above the crook of her elbow and hauled her abruptly, roughly out of bed. She danced on her tiptoes for a moment beside him, tangled in her bedclothes and heard scuffling footsteps and heavy breaths from around and behind them. By her quick estimation, the sounds accounted for at least five other men in her room. Thieves, she thought. My God, we are being robbed! She was spun smartly about and shoved face-down onto her bed. She felt the heavy weight of the man immediately behind her and winced as he grabbed her by the wrists, jerking her arms toward the small of her back. 2

Sara Reinke, HEART'S RANSOM

"My jewelry," she said as he began to bind her wrists together, cinching a coarse hank of rope tightly against her skin. "It is all in my highboy, the top drawer, in a wooden box. You can" "We do not want your jewelry," the man said, his voice marred by a heavy, clipped accent. Kitty's heart froze with bright, new horror as she realized what he must surely want, then. He would rape her. Perhaps the men all meant to take turns. This notion made her struggle suddenly, wildly, and she opened her mouth to scream in frightened, futile protest. Just as she hitched in her breath, the man shoved a thick wad of cloth between her lips, muffling her voice. She shook her head, mewling helplessly around the gag as he fettered it tautly in place with another scrap of linen. He closed his hand against her arm again and hauled her upright. He jerked her about to face him. "Stop looking at me," he seethed at her, and he slapped her roughly across the face, startling and hurting her. She could tell from his voice that he was only a young man, no older than she and probably a good half a head shorter, given the approximate origin of his voice. He spoke with murderous intensity, his fingers clamped tightly, painfully against her arm, and she was frightened. "I cannot see you," she tried to say, but around the gag, the words came out garbled. They did not know; they did not realize. No one ever did at first. Kitty could turn her head, direct her eyes towards the sounds of voices with uncanny ability and accuracy. It took strangers a few moments to realize she didn't just rudely stare at them as they spoke. "Please, I am blind!" She mewled as again, the man slapped her, this time with enough force to knock the breath from her, and leave the distinctive taste of blood in her mouth. "Be quiet," he said and she whimpered as he hoisted her unceremoniously over his shoulder. He had obviously not counted on Kitty's considerable height, and he staggered somewhat beneath her, struggling to find his footing. He snapped something at his fellows in a breathless voice, and to Kitty, it sounded like he spoke in another language, perhaps Spanish or Italian.

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Sara Reinke, HEART'S RANSOM

He began to move, the other men flanking about him as they left the room and hurried down the corridor. Where are they taking me? Kitty thought, her head still swimming from the blow. Think, Kitty. Panicking will get you nowhere. You do not have your eyes, but you have your other sensesand your wits. Use them. The man carrying her smelled like the sea; a bittersweet, metallic fragrance that had always seemed pleasant and fond to her when she would smell it in her father's clothing, but now seemed very cold and foreboding. She craned her hands, struggling to prod at the rope binding her wrists. Her father had taught her plenty about knots and she quickly recognized the design as a hastily drawn bowline, the most common sort known to those who made their life's work on the sea. Is this man a sailor, then? she thought. A fisherman? Are they bringing me to the beach? The man's gait was hobbled and clumsy, as if he walked with a limp. It grew particularly pronounced as they descended the stairs toward the main foyer. She might have taken advantage of this, struggled enough to topple his balance and get him to drop her, but even as soon as this thought was in her head, she knew it was useless. She could hear other men behind them, following closely, and more besides in the lead. She was surrounded and there would be no place to run. I could call out for help, she thought. Even with the gag, Lloyd or Frances might hear me. If not them, then Hannah or Annemarie. She abandoned this idea, too, as quickly as it came to her. Her father's retinue of household servants consisted of elderly butler Lloyd Burgher and his wife, housekeeper Frances, both of whom had served the Ransom family since well before Kitty had been born. Hannah and Annemarie Marchant, both housemaids, were only fourteen and fifteen years old respectively. Whatever the men had planned, whatever harm they meant to see done to Kitty, she did not want it brought upon the servants, as well, by alerting them to her plight. She could judge by the direction they followed as they left the house that they meant to deliver her to the beach. There was only one way off of the Isle of 4

Sara Reinke, HEART'S RANSOM

Wightby boatand Kitty knew once they had her aboard and seabound, she would never escape. If she was going to get loose of them, and the entire terrifying predicament, she would have to do it quickly. She strained against her bonds until her fingers brushed clumsily against the ropes again. She began to twist her hands back and forth, working at the bowline knot, slowly easing the ends loose. If she was to have any chanceany hopeat all, she would need her hands free. The path leading down the rocky cliff faces upon which Rosneath Manor had been built to overlook the mouth of the Solent was narrow and winding. Once the man carrying her had started to pick his way along the steep slope, she began to struggle again, harder than ever. It caught him off-guard and forced him off-balance; he uttered a sharp cry as he stumbled, losing his footing, and as he staggered clumsily, he dropped her from his shoulder. Kitty stumbled as her feet hit the rocks, but jerked her hands, unfettering the knot in full and freeing herself. She thrust her hands out just as her knees barked against the rocks and managed to spare herself a fall facefirst. Her captor had made up the head of the line as the would-be kidnappers had filed down the path, and now, as he floundered haplessly, he blocked the way for the rest of them. Kitty turned her face until the breeze off of the Solent brushed against her headlong; thus, establishing her sense of direction, she scrambled to her feet and took off running, scampering for the beach. The path was treacherous, but Kitty had grown up in Rosneath Manor. She had followed the path's winding course nearly every day of her life; she knew it as well and fondly as the floor plan of her father's house. She ran with a frantic haste born of familiarity; as the rocks beneath her battered and scraped open the bottoms of her feet, she did not feel the pain or slow her gait. She could hear the men moving again behind her; she could hear the heavy, clumsy patter of their footfalls as they hurried after her as best they were able. The bitter night air sliced through the thin linen of her nightgown, cutting through to the marrow, but still she ran.

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Sara Reinke, HEART'S RANSOM

She made it to the beach, feeling the hard rocks beneath her yield to wet, coarse sand and cut to her right, racing north for the cliff walls. As she held one hand out before her, she wrenched the gag from her mouth with the other, but did not scream for help. The nearest village, Totland, was several miles away. Even with the rockfaces and water to carry her voice had she cried out loudly, there would have been no hope of rescue found there. She had to hide, someplace where the men would not find her, someplace where she would be safe until the morning. She yelped in surprise as she plowed headlong and at a full, fervent run into another man. He was remarkably tall, taller than she was, and hitting him was akin to smacking against a stone wall. She staggered back, nearly losing her footing and pitching rump-first against the cold, wet sand. She reclaimed her balance and ducked to her left, hoping against hope that she could dart past him and still make it to the cliff walls. She heard a hiss of wind and a long shaft of wood, a quarterstaff, swung in front of her, blocking her passage. It caught her gently but smartly beneath the chin, drawing her feet and breath to an abrupt halt. "Do not run," the man said to her, holding the stave poised against her throat. Kitty ducked beneath the shaft and bolted for the right. Again, she heard a whistle of breeze, and again, the quarterstaff fell against her throat, drawing her to a stumbling, wide-eyed halt. "I said do not run." She ducked again, panicked and ran with all of her might in the direction of the cliffs. She heard a peculiar, fluttering sound and then felt something brush against the top of her head, her hair. She heard the impact of boot heels landing heavily in the sand as the man dropped immediately in front of her to block her path. He had given chase and planted the end of his quarterstaff in the sand, using it as a fulcrum to launch himself into the air, vaulting over her head. "Stop running from me, Catherine," he said and it did not occur to her that he had addressed her by name; she was too terrified for such realizations. 6

Sara Reinke, HEART'S RANSOM

She had been reduced to pure and primal instinctsfight or flightand she ran squarely into him, tucking her head so that she plowed her shoulder into his sternum and forced him back, whoofing for breath. Kitty shoved past him and ran once more, her hands outstretched as she pawed at the open air. She was completely disoriented now, and had no idea if she ran for the rocks or the open edge of the sea. Please, she thought, and she began to weep in frightened desperation. Please just let me reach the cliffs. Please...! She felt the end of the man's quarterstaff hook against her ankle, tripping her. She tumbled face-first against the sand, her chin smacking down painfully, her teeth closing hard enough against her tongue to draw blood. She grunted breathlessly and then cried out in hoarse protest as the man caught her by the arm and hauled her to her feet. "No...!" she pleaded. He hoisted her over his shoulder, carrying her again, and no matter how hard she tried, how fervently she struggled, she could not wrestle free of him. He was taller and stronger than she was, and he bore her easily away from the cliffs, back toward the water's edge. When he set her down in the belly of a skiff, when she heard the wood creak as the men set to work shoving it off the beach and back into the waves, she knew she was in terrible, terrible trouble. Daddy, she thought, one last, frantic plea. Daddy, help me...!

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