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K.J. Jackson

The Devil Baron, A Valor of Vinehill Novel 5 (EBOOK)

The Devil Baron, A Valor of Vinehill Novel 5 (EBOOK)

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His vengeance depends upon her seduction. She thinks he’s the key to saving her family. Can she uncover the truth before all is lost…including her heart?

A sheltered lady aching to be free.
Lady Victoria has an overabundance of dangerous, beautiful men in her life to contend with. Four of them. Her three uncles—one that raised her—and her long-lost father. All of them sworn to protect her from anyone that would ever hurt her, including every viable bachelor that has crossed her path in the last three years. Which has left this once darling of the ton now teetering close to spinsterhood.

A bitter baron set on revenge.
Rafe Somner, Lord Winfred, has been planning, meticulously, revenge for the day his father and most of his men were killed. Vengeance upon the four Englishmen that not only killed his father, but once ruined his life, driving his family out of England. Bloodlust that demands the four men will be broken in the most brutal way—by taking their women.

Who will break first?
But when Rafe randomly meets Victoria before knowing exactly who she is— the beloved daughter and niece of his enemies—his plans shift. Kidnapping, seducing, and ruining her is a much better plan. The best part? She won’t even realize she is his captive. 

It’s only primal lust that drives his decision. He’s not enchanted by her. Not enamored. And he’s definitely, absolutely, not falling in love.


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Port of Bilbao, Spain
Fall 1825

The flames flicked up into the salty night air, the orange-red inferno reflecting onto the inky waters of the harbor.

Smoke thick in his throat, choking his air, Rafe clutched his bleeding bicep that had been sliced near to the bone, staring up at the wharf-front warehouse engulfed in fire.

The building currently burning his father to crisp, black bones. If there was to be anything at all left of him.

Good riddance.

Even as that thought invaded his mind, he forced himself to take a step back from the reaction.

For that notion, that reaction, spoke to a hatred of his father. But he didn’t hate his father. He didn’t allow himself that emotion.

Any emotion, really.

All of them were a waste. A waste of time, money, energy. Watching his father warp and twist because of his hatred and greed had been a lesson Rafe had learned well.

It wasn’t worth it.

Emotions had not lived within his chest for most of his life. For better or worse, he had his father to thank for that.

But that was rare introspection he wasn’t about to dwell on, for he never dwelled.

People whose actions were dictated by emotion were the most loathsome. And he, the son of Lord Bockton, was not loathsome.

He was feared in this land, just as his father had been.

And now he would need to avenge this assault on his father’s empire—his empire. Too many of his men were dead. His father murdered.

Vengeance was necessary. That was the way. Blood for blood. He held no illusions on the matter.

Revenge not because he particularly cared about his father’s death, but because it would be expected of him. There were some things one couldn’t ignore, and if he intended to hold onto the empire his father had built and Rafe had expanded with blood, sweat and dirty deals with the devil, he had to do what was expected.

Rafe shuffled a step backward, sinking deeper between the two brick buildings across the street from the carnage he’d just escaped from. His men had long since scattered.

Revenge was coming for those English bastards.

Bloody inhuman Vinehill Scots that ravaged his brethren. The despicable crew of the Firefox that cut down one after another. And damnable Wolfbridge himself had struck a blade deep into his arm.

All cruel heathens that had haunted his family his whole life. Exiled his father from England. Killed more of his men than he could count.

Rafe seethed in a breath against the thoughts quickly spinning out of control. Thoughts that were sparking emotion. Mourn his father? No, the man wasn’t worthy of it. Hate his father? Not worthy of that either.

Hate the Vinehill Scots and the Firefox crew and Wolfbridge? They…they actually might be worth it. That was to be determined.

The roof of the building across the street crashed inward, sparks and flames shooting upward into the black sky as a blast of heat cut across his face.

There would be no retrieving his father’s body.

The man was gone and Rafe’s head finally managed to wrap around that fact. Believe it. The dark, bitter shroud of his father lifting from the land.

A deliverance of sorts. A curse of other sorts.

His father’s soul delivered to hell that night. Just as his would be one day.

But not before he walked through the prescribed motions of what lay ahead.


Wolfbridge Castle, Lincolnshire
November 1828

The crunch of gravel and breathless panting from below lured Victoria farther along the terrace that ran the length of this side of the castle.

Illicit affairs were always afoot at these fetes at Wolfbridge Castle, and she wasn’t above voyeurism, even if her Uncle Reiner would lock her into the highest room of the castle if he knew all she’d witnessed in the dark corners of the estate during the years. Spying on others was her sole entertainment at the parties. For it wasn’t as though she was anywhere near to embarking on an illicit affair of her own.

Both her uncle and her father had seen to that very thing years ago in her first season.

She’d thought her entrance into society was to be the start of the grand adventure of the rest of her life.

It was not.

She was well-regarded. Witty. Pretty to look at. Intelligent enough to follow politics and the latest business of the empire. Could speak four languages and could sing and play the pianoforte reasonably well. Had a dowry that most men would give their right arm for. But she was also saddled with her Uncle Reiner, the Duke of Wolfbridge, who had raised her from birth, and her father, Desmond Phillips, the Earl of Troubant, who had been dead for most of her life but had reappeared, alive and healthy, three years ago. Between the two of them, they’d put the fear of fire and brimstone and torture into any male that dared to even breathe on her too long in passing.

Dances with heated looks. Knuckles slipping casually against thighs under the table. Stolen kisses in alcoves.

None of that was for her.

For as desirable as she was at first glance—perfect for any young, attractive, reasonably well-off, intelligent peer—she had been made untouchable by her father and uncle.

And lonely.

Vicarious living was all that was left to her.

This was one thing she’d managed to perfect in the last three years of hovering about ballrooms—the art of slipping away from a crowd unseen.

The heated breaths from below the terrace increased, soft moans falling one after another, and the distinctive sound of lips dragging along a neck floated upward into the night air.

Her slippers silent on the stone terrace, she ignored the bright gaiety to her right in the ballroom, the French doors lining the terrace closed, keeping the cool night air out and the warmth in.

A few more feet and there…

She slipped her gloved fingers along the fat stone railing of the balustrade and peeked over the edge into the nook of shadows below created by the corner of the terrace meeting the outer wall of the castle.

A woman’s face upturned, her eyes closed as her parted mouth gasped out moans that curled her tongue. Lady Frantole.

And that was not her husband with his mouth attached to her neck. Not that Victoria blamed her. Lady Frantole was only a year older than Victoria and shackled to a portly man twenty years her senior that continually heaved like he was out of breath.

The man attached to the front of her had his gloved left hand wrapped around her neck as his bare right hand was quickly working upward and under her skirts. Light brown hair, impeccably tailored tailcoat, just like every other fob in attendance at the Eve of Winter Ball her uncle held every year.

Victoria searched around their feet as Lady Frantole’s left leg moved upward, wrapping around his thigh. There, just beside the stone wall at the base of the terrace, his right glove sat discarded on the crushed stone ground cover.

Her lips quirked to the side. He was going in with intention.

Lady Frantole jerked in a sudden spasm that shot through her whole body, a guttural moan at her lips that echoed the luxury of slipping into a hot bath.

His fingers had reached their destination.

By the way Lady Frantole was writhing, her face twisting in carnal agony, the fop apparently knew what to do once he got there.

Her mind slipped for just one second, imagining she was in Lady Frantole’s place. Her heart beating madly, a rough hand dragging up her thigh, lips on her—

Noise behind her.

Victoria snapped her face away from hovering over the edge of the railing in an effort to not be seen from below, and half turned toward the sound.

Several men with cheroots in hand stepped out onto the terrace a distance behind her, and she caught their eyes. One glance at her was all it took. She didn’t recognize any of them. It didn’t matter. By their faces, each of them clearly knew who she was.

The Untouchable One wasn’t to be approached and they well knew that fact. Society had dubbed her with the whispered nickname two years before and it had stuck, just as the meaning of it had.

The gentleman closest to her inclined his head politely, then the group of men moved far off to the opposite end of the terrace instead of descending down the wide marble stairs into the expansive south gardens.

The gravel shifted below the stone banister and she ventured forward a smidge to glance over the railing again.

Lady Frantole was agitated, her head no longer tilted upward as she pushed away at the man. “No,” she hissed.

Victoria tensed, ready to call out to the men on the opposite end of the terrace. She was fine watching a woman live a life she could not. She wasn’t fine watching a woman live out a nightmare.

Just as her lips parted to call to the group of men for assistance, the man below instantly stopped his movements, taking an exaggerated step back away from Lady Frantole.

Well. That was new.

This wasn’t the first overly insistent man she’d intervened upon. But it was the first man that she’d ever seen listen to the woman saying no.

Lady Frantole’s hand instantly went out, reaching for the man.

He took another step backward, his arms clasping across his chest as he glanced down at her outstretched hand, disgust curling his lip. He looked to her face, his voice low. Bored. “You wanted this, and this is a part of it. Wherever, whenever I say. It doesn’t matter what you heard from above or how scared you are of getting caught. That was your one chance, Lady Frantole, as I retire after the first ‘no.’”


“No.” He shook his head.

A huff hissed into the night air from Lady Frantole and she spun to her left, stomping away from the man, her slippers digging heavily into the crushed granite walkway as she disappeared into the gardens.

Victoria had to hold in a chuckle.

That was different.

The man lacked any and all discretion—flaunted his lack of it, even. People went into the gardens—deep into the shrubbery to cover a rendezvous. For all the harsh and imposing stone that forged Wolfbridge Castle, it also had sweeping, beautiful gardens, complete with mazes and evergreen hedges that hid nooks and alcoves. And this was exactly what the gardens were for. Hide the debauchery away.

Yet, not only had the man below thought to pleasure Lady Frantole within earshot of the ballroom, he’d then spoken to her with haughty disdain. If Victoria had heard correctly, she’d even heard amusement in his voice as he’d dismissed Lady Frantole.

Who would do that at Wolfbridge?

Uncle Reiner always kept his invitations onto the estate tight.

Her gaze focused in on the man. From her angle, she couldn’t see much of him. Brown hair, lighter than her own dark chestnut strands. What looked to be a strong profile. Handsome. Broad shoulders. If he wasn’t as tall as her Uncle Reiner, he was close. No paunch to be seen.

Who was this man?

He looked up at her. “Like what you saw, silver bell?” His arms unthreaded from his chest as his eyes settled on her face. Not the slightest bit of surprise or umbrage in his look, as though he’d known she was there all along, hovering above, watching. She couldn’t tell the color of his eyes in the shadows. It didn’t matter. His potent stare pierced her straight through, a saber through warm butter.

Instant panic seized her chest. She’d just been caught spying on an overly intimate act like a buffoon.

The instinct to flee back into the ballroom without a word sliced along her bones, but her muscles were frozen by his peculiar magnetic stare that kept her rooted in place.

At a loss, the most ridiculous mumble came out of her mouth. “Sil—silver?”

His stare didn’t leave her face. “Your dress.”

She glanced downward, then her head bobbed for a long moment. Of course, her dress. Silver gauze overlaid white satin, the effect of the fabric dazzling under the ballroom chandeliers. Even out here in the darkness, the light of the torches lining the terrace and the garden pathways sent her dress to glittering.

And apparently, she was shaped like a bell.

“Did you enjoy the display?” His voice wasn’t smooth. The words crisp in a demanding way, his low tone spoke of an accent she couldn’t quite place.

Heaven help her, she was acting like a ninny. Her head stopped gyrating and she managed to slip a steely façade of self-assurance back into place. “I was just observing. That’s what you were seeking, was it not? To gain an audience with whatever you thought to do with Lady Frantole?”

His head angled slightly to the side, his penetrating eyes not shifting off her. “What I wanted was to veer Lady Frantole’s attentions off of me.”


Victoria leaned forward, resting her forearms on the chilled stone of the white balustrade as she looked down at him. “You don’t care for her? She is quite beautiful.”

“She’s that. But it takes more than beauty to turn my head, and I knew upon threat of getting caught, she’d eventually turn her attentions off of me.”

Now that she could see his face fully and had a moment to take it in, she recognized exactly what had drawn Lady Frantole to this man. He looked like he was carved from stone. Cheekbones and jawline that were forged from the hardest steel. A patrician nose with the slightest twist in the middle that must have come from being broken, but it only added interest to his features. His mouth proportioned well to the width to his face, his bottom lip slightly plumper than his top. Eyes that were too keen, like they easily read everything deep in her soul. The angles of his face knew their purpose.

Beautiful danger.

She’d grown up with men like this—her uncles. Dangerous. Powerful. Handsome.

It wasn’t new to her.

But that sense that the ground could shift beneath her feet, upending her entire life if he merely flicked his hand, sat in the air between them. Power like this, dripping with raw carnality, was never directed at her.

It wasn’t allowed.

She was suddenly very glad that he stood fourteen feet below her.

“Who are you?”

“Lord Winfred.”

“If Lady Frantole does not turn your head, what does, Lord Winfred?” At least her voice had returned to a casually disinterested tone, even if her thumping heart had not.

The smallest uptick of the right side of his mouth appeared. She would have missed it had she not been studying him so closely.

“That is better kept a secret.”

She chuckled. “You think to keep it a secret?”

“I wouldn’t want you to use it against me.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “You think I would even try?”

He nodded, his eyes still serious even if the uptick on the side of his mouth lifted higher. “You would.”

She exhaled a breathless laugh, leaning farther forward. If he had been standing at her level, this would be highly inappropriate as her breasts were pushed together, her cleavage plumping. But he wasn’t, and it came oddly easy, this relaxed banter between them.

Her smile quirked. “Your pomposity reaches heights most of the gentlemen inside can’t even imagine to achieve. And between all the dukes and earls and marquesses swarming the ballroom, that is a lofty achievement.”

A sharp chuckle came from deep in his chest. “If you don’t care for their level of achievement, then you might want to consider mingling with people outside of your class on occasion.”

Her face lifted up to the night sky for a long breath. Long wispy clouds skirted in front of the plump full moon. He wasn’t wrong. But it also wasn’t a possibility.

“Honestly?” Her gaze dropped down to him. “I’m not allowed. Just like I’m not allowed to move down to your level during these balls.”

His brow crinkled, his gloved left hand curled into a fist at his side, but oddly, his pinky didn’t fold with his other fingers. Broken?

No. Not moving at all.

There was no pinky. The glove had to be stuffed with something.

A hard glimmer seeped into his eyes, an irate edge catching on his words. “My level? What would you know of my level?”

Her head snapped back at the sudden malice in his voice. She replayed her words in her mind and then chuckled. “No, your level—physically.” Her hand swept out in front of her and to the left. “The gardens—that is the level I mean. My head would be stuck with a juicy apple and on a platter if I were caught in the gardens with some rogue.”

His gaze finally broke from her face and he looked to his right, his eyes scanning the evergreen hedges. He gave a slight nod to himself, then settled his focus back on her. “Are you not a grown woman?”


“Then I would think you could make your own decisions on where your feet roam.”

She cocked her head to the side. The misconceptions about a woman’s freedom were astounding sometimes. “A man would think that.”

“A strong woman would think that as well.”

His barb hit as intended. Her mouth pinched. “My dowry is my curse—I cannot be compromised, especially not by some tuft-hunting rake.”

“It sounds like you just need to find someone at your level.” He inclined his head with a smirk. “That is, someone that is bigger than your dowry.”

“When you come across that someone, please let me know.” She couldn’t resist a grin. “And please let him not be sixty.”

“Who shall I send him to?”

Her brows lifted. “You don’t know who I am?”

“No. Should I?”

“Truly? You don’t know?”

He shook his head, his hawk eyes sinking into her like she was a tasty little morsel of prey.

She scoffed a chuckle. “I was under the impression that we had reached the mark where I was pointed out to any male new to Wolfbridge between the ages of twelve and eighty-six, along with the message to not approach. And most certainly, to not touch upon threat of a slow, torturous death.”

He chuckled. “No, I’m afraid I wasn’t driven through such a gauntlet.”

“You have not met either of my fathers, then.”

“You have two fathers?”

“My first father is my Uncle Reiner, the Duke of Wolfbridge, who raised me from a babe.”

A flicker crossed his eyes. There it was.

He knew who she was. Not on sight, but he now knew exactly who he was talking with and it sent a sliver of loss cutting across her chest.

It had been winsome, if only for a few minutes, to be anonymous. Just a bumbling woman getting caught spying on clandestine lovers.

She shouldn’t have expected less. They were at Wolfbridge, of course. Peculiar that he hadn’t met her Uncle Reiner yet, but it wasn’t unusual. At some of these affairs, her uncle didn’t mingle with many of the guests if there was a crush as thick as it was tonight.

To his credit, Lord Winfred’s face and eyes reset almost instantly. “And your second father?”

“Lord Troubant.” She couldn’t help the pinch in her voice. “He was on the other side of the world for the first eighteen of my years. He now works ardently at shoving all eighteen years’ worth of protectiveness into my life.”

His mouth pulled into a tight line. “And you do not skirt the bounds of your protective bubble? Ever?”

“I have.” She shrugged. “But I have also found, in the past few seasons, that my fathers aren’t exactly misguided when it comes to how protective they are of me. Too many of these lords have been determined to take liberties they were not offered. And too many of them prefer to have a woman on her knees, begging for attention. I have determined that I am not the begging type. No matter how attractive the man in front of me appears to be.”

“No?” The side of his mouth lifted in a devil’s quirk. “Are you saying I’m attractive?”

Did she say that? Blast.

Before she could scramble a reply into her head, he inclined his head to her. “Enjoy your evening, silver bell.”

He abruptly turned, picked up his glove, and strolled toward the gardens, disappearing deep into the darkness of the evergreen hedges.

Yes. He definitely knew who she was.

And he left far before their conversation was over.

Intelligent man.

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