When Passion Rules, p.1Johanna Lindsey
When Passion Rules
ALSO BY JOHANNA LINDSEY
That Perfect Someone
A Rogue of My Own
No Choice But Seduction
The Devil Who Tamed Her
Captive of My Desires
Marriage Most Scandalous
A Loving Scoundrel
A Man to Call My Own
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Johanna Lindsey
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First Gallery Books hardcover edition June 2011
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Manufactured in the United States of America
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
When passion rules / by Johanna Lindsey.—1st Gallery Books hardcover ed.
1. Mistaken identity—Fiction. 1. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4516-2838-8 (ebook)
When Passion Rules
LEONARD KASTNER HAD BEEN thinking of retiring for good. He should have done more than just think about it. The timing was right. He had made more money than he had ever dreamed possible merely by using his talents. He was at the pinnacle of his career, his successes unblemished, and he’d never refused a job. His clients knew that. Details weren’t important. Half the time they didn’t provide them until he’d accepted a job. But he was finding his occupation more and more distasteful, and he was losing his edge. When you didn’t give a damn, nothing mattered. When you started to question what you were doing, it did.
Long since wealthy beyond his needs, he didn’t need to take risks any longer and certainly didn’t need to take this particular job. But he had been offered more money than he could possibly refuse, more than he’d made in the last three years, and half of it had been paid in advance. And no wonder the fee was so enormous. This was one of those rare jobs the lackey who had hired him wanted his full agreement on before Leonard was told what was required of him.
He’d never been hired to kill a woman. But he was going to end his career with an even more abhorrent crime, the killing of an infant. And not just any infant, but the heir to the crown. A political assassination? Revenge against King Frederick? Leonard hadn’t been told and he didn’t care. Somewhere along the way he’d lost his humanity. This was just another job. He had to keep telling himself that. He was not going to end his career with a failure. If he found the job distasteful, it was only because he liked his king and loved his country. But the king would sire more heirs once he was out of mourning and had remarried. He was still a young man.
Getting into King Frederick’s palace during the day was easy. The gates of the palace, located in the courtyard of the old fortress that overlooked the capital city of Lubinia, were rarely closed. The gates were certainly guarded, but few were ever denied entrance, even when the king was in residence. He wasn’t. He had retired to his winter chalet in the mountains directly after the queen’s funeral four months ago to mourn in peace. She had died only a few days after giving him this heir that someone wanted dead.
Leonard would have been stopped at the gates if he’d given the slightest hint of who he was, but he didn’t. He had a nefarious reputation, but it was under the false name of Rastibon. He had a price on his head in his own country and in several neighboring countries. But no one even knew what Rastibon looked like. He had been careful about that, always being hooded, meeting his contacts in shadowed back alleys, disguising his voice as needed. He had always planned to retire right here in his own country with no one ever suspecting how he had acquired his wealth.
He lived in a prosperous section of the capital city. His landlord and neighbors weren’t overly nosy, and when asked about his work, he merely alluded to an export business in wine to explain his frequent absences from the country. Wine he knew. Wine he could talk about freely. But he made it clear he didn’t have time for idle talk, so he was generally considered an unfriendly sort and was usually left alone, which was the way he preferred it. A man in his profession couldn’t afford to make friends unless they were in the same profession. But even then competition would get in the way.
It wasn’t as easy getting into the wing of the nursery, but Leonard was resourceful. He discovered which women had the care of Frederick’s heir and picked the night nursemaid as his target.
Helga was her name. A plain-looking young widow, she had an infant of her own that she was still nursing, which is why she’d gotten the palace job. It took him only a week to woo her into his bed during her brief visits to her family in the city. But then he was a personable young man in his late twenties, somewhat handsome with his dark brown hair and blue eyes, and he even dredged up some old charm from the days when he hadn’t been a cold-blooded assassin. He was going to have to kill Helga, too, if he wanted to be able to retire in his homeland. If he let her live, she would be able to identify him.
It took Leonard another three
He didn’t kill the woman after all. That had been the logical thing to do. He had used yet another fake name with her, not to hide his intended crime, but to prevent her—or anyone else—from connecting Leonard Kastner and Rastibon. He had no intention of hiding his crime. Whoever had hired him would need to hear of it. But there was no reason to kill the nursemaid, too, when he could simply render her unconscious with a sleeping potion in her wine. He had a moment’s regret even over that.
He’d grown fond of Helga in the month he’d known her. It changed his original plan quite drastically. It meant he wouldn’t be retiring in his own country after all, when she would be able to identify him. But he’d made this hasty decision just today, and the only sleeping powder he’d been able to find quickly was unfamiliar to him, so he didn’t know how long it would last, forcing him to hurry. He made another last-minute decision: to bind her hands behind her back so no one would think she was complicit in his crime. But worse, he couldn’t bring himself to kill the child there in the nursery where the woman would wake up and see it. She adored the king’s child, claimed she loved it now as much as her own.
Leonard had intended to finish the job onsite. Much less risk involved. But after glancing at Helga lying on her bed, soon to wake, he began looking for a sack instead. He couldn’t find one in the main room. The royal infant was being raised in the lap of luxury, fed with golden spoons, her bassinet worth a fortune, lined in satin and the finest lace, circled with gems. A shelf was filled with fancy toys the baby was too young for. Numerous bureaus lined one wall, with so many clothes she would outgrow most of them before she could be dressed in them all.
The nurses had no cots to sleep on in the nursery. They weren’t allowed to sleep while they were on duty, which was why the princess had two nurses. Each had a small room attached to the nursery where they slept when they weren’t on duty and cared for their own babies. In a corner of the nursery, Leonard saw a stack of pillows of every size imaginable, which were probably used when the baby was allowed to play on the floor. Leonard grabbed one of the larger ones from the bottom of the stack, cut it open along the seam, and pulled out the stuffing. Then he cut out three small air holes. It would serve his purposes.
He lost no time stuffing the child into the pillow casing, though he did so carefully so as not to wake her. She was four months old. If the baby woke, she might cry. He had one long hallway and a narrow corridor to traverse to reach the stairway to the side door he’d entered from, and two guards to work his way around. Easy enough to do as long as the baby didn’t cry.
The previous night he’d secured a rope to the fortress’s back wall, which faced away from the city. He’d left his horse near there tonight in a grove of trees. He’d made these preparations because the fortress gates were closed and heavily guarded at night, and he needed another avenue of escape. But the fortress walls posed another challenge. Although Lubinia wasn’t at war, several guards still walked those ramparts at night.
Luckily for him, it was a moonless night. Lamps lit the courtyard, but they were a boon, creating shadows where he could hide as he slipped quickly across the courtyard. He made it to the fortress wall without incident and climbed the narrow stairs to the top. The baby still slept; the guards were presently on the front wall. A few moments more and Leonard would be out of the fortress. He had to tie the improvised sack to his belt because he needed both hands to climb down the rope. The sack swung slightly on his way down, banging once against the wall. A mewling sound came from it, not loud, and no one but he was close enough to hear it.
Finally, he was safe, on his horse. He tucked the sack inside the front of his jacket. No other sound came from it. He rode hard over the Alpine hills, rode until dawn. He finally stopped in an open glade, far from any towns, far from any intrusion or pursuit. The time was at hand. He would do the deed swiftly. Each day since he’d been told what this job entailed, he’d been sharpening the knife he was going to use.
He took the bundle out of his jacket, opened the pillow casing, and let it fall to the ground. He held the sleeping baby with one arm, drew the knife from his boot, and placed the blade against the tiny neck. This innocent didn’t deserve to die; the one who was paying him did. But Leonard had no choice. He was only the instrument. If not him, someone else would be doing this. At least he could make it as painless as possible.
He hesitated a moment too long.
The infant in the crook of his arm had awakened. She was looking directly at him—and smiled.
THE LONG BLADE OF the rapier bent as Alana pressed its tip hard against the chest of the man in front of her. It would have been a death skewer if not for the protective padded jackets they both wore.
“You should have accomplished that move three minutes ago,” Poppie said, removing his mask so she could see the disapproval in his sharp blue eyes. “What’s distracting you today, Alana?”
Choices, she thought, three too many! Of course she was distracted. How could she concentrate on her lesson with so much on her mind? She had a life-changing decision to make. Of the three completely different directions she could take, each held its own special appeal, and she’d run out of time. She was eighteen today. She couldn’t put the decision off any longer.
Her uncle was always so serious about these fencing lessons. Now was not the time to tell him of the dilemma she’d been grappling with. But she did need to discuss it with him and would have done so much sooner if he hadn’t seemed so preoccupied himself these last few months. It wasn’t like him. When she’d asked him if anything was wrong, he’d fobbed her off with a smile and had denied it. That wasn’t like him either.
She’d been able to hide her own preoccupation—until today. But then he’d taught her how to hide her emotions. He’d taught her so many odd things over the years. . . .
Her friends called her uncle eccentric. Imagine, his teaching her to use weapons! But she would always defend his right to be different. He wasn’t an Englishman, after all. Her friends shouldn’t try to compare him to one. She’d even lost a few because of the wide-ranging education Poppie insisted she receive, but she didn’t care. The snob who had moved in next door was a prime example of such narrow-mindedness. Alana had mentioned some of her recent studies and how fascinated she was with mathematics when she first met the girl.
“You sound like my older brother,” the girl had said disdainfully. “What do you and I need to know about the world? We just need to know how to run a household. Do you know how to do that?”
“No, but I can skewer an apple tossed in the air on the tip of my rapier before it hits the ground.”
They never did become friends. It was no loss. Alana had many others who marveled at her diverse education and just chocked it up to her being a foreigner like Poppie, even though she’d lived in England her whole life and considered herself an Englishwoman.
Poppie wasn’t her uncle’s real name but the name Alana had given him when she was a child because she liked pretending he was her father rather than her uncle. She was average in height herself, and he wasn’t much taller than she was. And although he was in his mid-forties, he didn’t have a line on his face yet to prove it, and his dark brown hair was just as dark as it had always been.
Mathew Farmer was his real name, so English-sounding, which was funny, because his foreign accent was so pronounced. He was one of many European aristocrats who had fled the Continent during and
Her parents had died when she was an infant. Tragically, in a war they weren’t even fighting in. They had tried to visit Alana’s maternal grandmother in Prussia because they’d received word that she was dying. They were shot on the way by overzealous French sympathizers who mistook them for enemies of Napoléon’s. Poppie guessed it was because they were obviously aristocrats, and the simpleminded peons considered all aristocrats to be enemies of France’s. He didn’t know the details, and it made him sad to speculate. But he did tell her so much about her parents when she was young that she felt as if she had real, firsthand memories of them.
As far back as she could remember, her father’s brother had always been her guardian, her teacher, her companion, her friend. He was everything she could want in a father, and she loved him as one. What had happened to her parents was horrible, but she had always been grateful that Poppie was the one who ended up raising her.
Because he was wealthy, her life with him was a mix of privilege and the unexpected. She’d had a long stream of tutors, so many she’d lost count. Each taught her something different and each stayed for only a few months. Lady Annette was the only one who had stayed with her longer. An impoverished young widow forced to seek employment, Lady Annette had been hired by Poppie to teach Alana all aspects of being a lady, then he’d continued to employ her as a chaperone, so Annette had been part of the household for nine years now.
Alana’s days became even busier when she turned ten and her martial training began. Poppie himself taught her how to use various weapons. The day he took her into the room that had been cleared of furniture and whose walls were now lined with rapiers, daggers, and firearms, she recalled something he’d told her when she was younger and probably thought she wouldn’t remember: “I used to kill people. I don’t anymore.”
She’d known he’d fought in the wars that Napoléon had instigated all over the Continent, the same wars he’d come to England to escape, but that had been an odd way to refer to it. That day he’d put the rapier in her hand, she’d asked him, “This is the weapon you killed with?”
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