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K.J. Jackson

The Steel Rogue, A Valor of Vinehill Novel 3 (EBOOK)

The Steel Rogue, A Valor of Vinehill Novel 3 (EBOOK)

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A scarred lady, living in the outskirts of society. A hardened rogue brought up from the worst of humanity. One seeks revenge. One seeks redemption. Neither is prepared for a love that will defy all odds.

A scarred lady, living in the fringes.
Lady Alton knows she doesn’t fit into polite society. Her scars determined that long ago and marrying a viscount never helped the matter. Now a widow, Torrie is adrift, knowing peace and a family will never be hers. Luckily, she has one hobby, obsessing on the man that helped kill her family nine years ago—Mr. Robert Lipinstein—who is back on English soil. When she discovers he is about to board a ship—still not accountable for his crimes—she follows him to the docks.

A hardened rogue brought up from the worst of humanity.
Roe Lipinstein has one thing on his mind—to get on his ship and catch the Minerva—the smuggling ship that holds the crew that killed half his mates. The ship—and the men aboard—need to sink to a watery grave and he’s now within striking distance. He has no time to save a fool woman from a hoard of sailors at the docks. Of course, what he should do, and what he actually does, have always been very different things.

A reckoning no one was prepared for.
When Roe yanks Torrie from the frothing band of ruffians, he's faced with a reckoning he wasn’t prepared to have. He served seven years in Newgate Prison for killing Torrie’s family. A crime he didn’t commit. Not that she’ll believe him. Ever.

But the attraction between them cannot be denied. And if she manages to crack her heart open to this hardened rouge, a love that will defy all odds could be theirs.


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Stirlingshire, Scotland, in the scattered lands between the Highlands and the Lowlands
March 1816

The stench of smoke wafted past him, singeing his nostrils.

Smoke that wasn’t right.

Smoke that reeked of scorched brandy and silk and peat. Smoke that reeked of an inferno, not of a cooking fire.


Robby set his heels into his horse’s flanks, sending the gelding thundering up the last craggily hill.

If he was too late there’d be hell to pay with Bournestein.

Lifting himself straight up on the stirrups, he peeked over the top edge of the outcropping of stones his horse was navigating.

Bloody Zeus.

His horse jumped over the last cut of rocks and landed on flat ground only to rear at the blast of heat. The beast was going nowhere near the blazes of the buildings going up in smoke and ash.

One, two, three, four, five. Five bloody buildings in flames.

Robby flew off his saddle, running to the man holding a torch at the edge of the glade, the one barking orders at the brutes running about the structures of the farm. All the ruffians held torches. Two were arguing in the midst of the buildings with a man and a woman standing and waving their arms about frantically. The skirts of another woman disappeared beyond the corner of the cottage. The man and woman were both dressed well—not farmers.

He didn’t recognize either of them and Mr. Wilson and his family weren’t to be seen.

The whole bloody farm was being cleared.

“Ye be one of Bournestein’s bastards?”

Robby turned back to the brute in front of him, staring down at the man’s ratty eyes crowding a nose that took up half his face. He’d seen so many rats in his day—scroungers for the most vile, revolting jobs—he could identify one a furlong away.

Fury started pulsating across Robby’s forehead. “What blasted idiocy is this—do you know how many barrels of brandy are in the Godforsaken barn? You torch it and there’ll be no salvaging what’s left.”

The rat smirked. “I ‘eard Bournestein was storing here. But I don’t rightly give a donkey’s ass. That’s not my job.” He spit on the ground next to Robby’s feet, a brown slime that hung onto the blades of grass curled by the heat.

Robby looked over his shoulder at the ruffians running from structure to structure, lighting more corners to flames. The dry thatched roofs caught blaze far too easily. The woman arguing in the middle of the buildings spun and sprinted away from the brute arguing with her companion.

Robby looked to the rat. “What’s your name?”

“Molson.” He said it without pause—no fear of any retribution being attached to his name.

“Molson, it’s going to be your blasted worry when Bournestein finds out his latest shipment went to ashes.”

The rat chuckled, his eyes aglow as they watched the flames lick higher. Not just a rat. A sadistic rat. “I answer to a ‘igher authority than Bournestein, boy. This land been needed to be cleared for two years now. If ye knew what was good for ye, ye might try switching loyalties. ”

He looked at Robby, his ratty eyes squinting for a full second before he thrust his torch into Robby’s palm.

Without thinking, Robby grasped the rough wood of the torch to keep it from burning his jacket, yet sparks still splattered onto his arm, singeing tiny holes into the dark wool.

“Ye need to go help the boys—they can’t light this place fast enough fer my liking. I’m sure yer good at torchin’, what with Bournestein’s way of business.”

Robby froze. Molson knew far too much about Bournestein and his business. Or was it that Robby knew too little about who Bournestein was dealing with these days?

Robby had been up in the Highlands too long, shepherding the smuggled shipments of spirits and silk and whatever else Bournestein could make a profit from into the land. Arranging places to hide the bounty as it moved along the countryside. Mr. Wilson’s farm was just one cog in the great wheel of Bournestein’s smuggling operation—an operation that had apparently grossly expanded in the last year if this random brute knew of Bournestein.

Robby looked to the barn again. Flames licked high on the sides of it. This cog would need to be replaced.

But maybe. Maybe he could go in and rescue a few casks.

Just as he sized up the door to the barn—his distance from it and the fire quickly eating the walls—the roof of the barn collapsed inward in a brutal, deafening roar. It sent quakes through the air, a rush of heat and embers rushing across his face. He took a step back, his eyes squinting against the searing air.

A clank of steel. And another.

Robby searched through the blast of smoke and embers to find the man that had been arguing with one of the brutes. He spotted the two of them just as the man sent his sword into the ruffian’s gut, slicing him through.

The man yanked his sword free, threw it to the ground, and bolted into the flaming cottage.


There were people in there. That was where the two women had disappeared to. That was where Mr. Wilson was. Mrs. Wilson. Their boy.

Robby took a step forward.

An instant clamp on his upper arm dug into his flesh. “I wouldn’t do that, boy.”

Robby jerked his arm free. “There are people in there?”

“Just the halfwits that live here. And those idiots that came to save them.”

Robby looked to the rat. “Save them—what—how many?”

Molson shrugged his shoulders. “Two, three, maybe more. I wasn’t countin’.”


Robby started forward.

The barrel of a pistol jutted into his back, jabbing between his spine and shoulder blade. “Yer not to intervene, boy. Not if ye know what’s good fer ye.”

Robby's eyes scanned the smoke and flames searching for anyone moving—anyone exiting the cottage—anyone other than the brutes still setting torches to the buildings. Mr. Wilson or his wife or his boy. Or that man or woman.

Nothing but ashes floating between the buildings. Snapping of wood and timber. Smoke suffocating the ground.

A crack—the screech of a main timber splitting—pierced the air. The end of the cottage’s roof started to collapse inward.

They were in there. All of them. Innocents.

In there and done for.

And he was standing there, doing nothing.

Like a coward.

He hadn’t taken one step to help them.

A coward.

He’d been called it before. It was the one thing that he despised above all others. He fought that word. Fought it until his bones broke. Fought it until he was knocked unconscious.

But once it had been uttered, he could never escape it.

The door of the cottage slammed open and the well-dressed man burst into the clearing in the middle of the buildings in a distorted vision of wild, flailing arms and legs.

A gust of wind cleared the smoke between Robby and the people.

No—not wild—he was carrying a girl and the girl was dragging another girl behind them. The man dropped the girl he was carrying.

No, not girls. Women. Two of them. Neither was Mrs. Wilson.

One of the women was in flames—her skirts lit up. Robbie stepped forward again.

The hand clamped onto his arm yanked him back, the barrel of the pistol jamming deep into his back. “I told ye not to try anything, boy. I'll not tell ye again—yer blood ain’t no bother to me.”

The flames of the torch he still held crackled next to his head and Robby shifted his arm, trying to ease loose of Molson’s grip while ignoring the round barrel of the gun stuck into his back.

Take another step and he was a dead man, depending on how slippery Molson’s trigger finger was.

Dammit to Hades.

The woman writhing on the ground was in flames. Screaming. She needed help.

All of them needed help.

And Molson’s brutes were bearing down upon them, torches in hand, ready to finish the job.

The woman that had just been carried from the cottage jumped onto the skirts of the other girl and tried to dampen the flames. Both of their screams cut through the crackling air as their flesh charred—the agony of it sending wails of unearthly proportions into the air.

The world slowed before Robby, the ash and glowing embers floating through the air pausing, barely moving.

The face of the woman in flames on the ground turned to him, stilling.

A sweet, innocent face contorted into the most tortured agony.

A face he would never forget. Eyes he would never forget. Eyes that pinned him, skewering him with the torture of burning flesh on her legs.

And he couldn't move a muscle. The pistol in his back. The slightest twitch would mean a bullet through his lung.

The man that had just dragged the women out of the cottage turned and ran back into the house.

He was inside for only a second when the roof fully collapsed, sending a deafening roar echoing across the land.

Robby’s look jerked back over his shoulder to Molson. “Tell me Mr. Wilson and his family weren’t in there.”

“They are. Were.” Molson said the words without the slightest bit of remorse.

“You bastard.”

Molson chuckled, the edge of his lip sneering upward. “Ye be looking in the mirror, boy.”

Robby stared at Molson, the horrifying realization settling in.

He was a coward.

A bastard of inaction.

He’d had hundreds of pistols pointed at him over the years, and it’d never stopped him before.

So he was left with this.

He was a coward.

He stepped away from Molson, dropping the torch as he walked in the direction his horse had skittered away to. He didn’t look to his right, didn’t look at the fire, at the women writhing in agony on the ground. Eyes forward, step after step, he left the purgatory of fire and smoke and ash.

He was a coward.

He'd always wanted to be more. But it wasn't to be.

And he'd best come to terms with that fact.


Truro, Cornwall, England
June 1825

Torrie moved past the three-story building, her kidskin-gloved hand trailing on the rough of the pitted brick. She ducked between the buildings as men shuffled by in front of her. Tall men. Small men. Lanky men. Portly men.

All of them haggard, dirty. All of them busy, on missions. Hauling goods, pulling rope, dragging livestock.

The putrid smell of fish rotting on the edges of the port hung in the air about her. Or was that the odor from the masses of sailors? So many of them crossing back and forth in front of her it made her head spin.

She leaned to the left, her head bobbing up as far as she could to see further down the wharf.

Buggers. She couldn’t have lost him now. Not in the last crowd that had swept between them, a wave of bedraggled humanity.

She’d followed him all the way from the livery stable by the coaching inn and then down the six streets leading to the waterfront. Followed him without issue, ignoring the leering looks of toothless sailors and the hips thrusting toward her with indecent proposals. And now, she’d looked to her right for one tiny second, taking in the scope of the ships in port, and when she’d looked ahead to find him again, his height easy to spot amongst the sailors, he was gone.

Lost in the masses.

No. The bastard wasn't going to lose her that easily.

Ever since she’d found out he’d been let out of Newgate prison, she’d been tracking him. After traveling north to Northumberland soon after his release, he had veered to the coast and had boarded a ship and disappeared for the last two years.

That ship, the Firehawk, had been elusive to track. She’d heard snippets of sightings of it throughout the years, but never any solid news from her investigator.

So when the Firehawk had finally come into port in London, she should have been ready. Instead, the news came to her too late. The man had disembarked and been in London for two days before traveling directly to Scotland.

Two days.

Two blasted days.

She had been in London—been in the same city as him for as many as two days, and she hadn’t a clue.

That had been her best chance. For by the time word of the Firehawk’s arrival had reached her at her Mayfair townhouse, the bastard had already been on his way to Scotland. To Vinehill castle—to her cousin, Lachlan. To her childhood home.

And then he had moved on to Wolfbridge Castle. To the home of her other cousin, Sloane, and her husband, the Duke of Wolfbridge.

The bastard had gotten off that ship and went directly to her family. Her family.

Yet he never approached them. Never dropped either of them a missive. He just appeared in their vicinities.

It wouldn’t do.

She needed to know exactly what he was about. And why.

The man was a threat. He had been since the day of the fire nine years ago.

And now he had just traveled from one end of England to the other to haunt her family—an action far beyond the pale. She needed to know why. Exactly why.

Quickly moving past another building in the direction he had been walking, Torrie ducked into a lane between two warehouses and leaned her head out carefully so as to not draw attention to herself. She was at the docks—and the docks were no place for a lone woman.

But there was nothing for it. Her maid, Hilde, hadn't been dressed and ready when she had seen the bastard leave the coaching inn where he had gotten a room once he’d arrived in Truro.

Her investigator had tracked him to Cornwall, and he had still been in Truro when she had arrived. She had secured a room for her and Hilde at the coaching inn he stayed at—with the request it was directly above his—and had spent three nights mostly awake, her ears trained to the floor. Wondering in the long dark hours about what he was doing below her. And plotting.

Plotting the thousands of ways she could make him pay.

When she had glanced out of the window this morning and seen him striding away from the coaching inn with a man by his side and a satchel slung over his shoulder, she had reacted and run.

He was leaving.

So she had sprinted down the stairs with no thought as to where she was going or why. She just knew she had to follow him and there hadn’t been time to wait for Hilde.

A cart that had been stuck in the mud in front of her moved to the left and down the street and she spied the top of his head again. The dark hair that was too long—that didn’t have the crispness of the cuts that were fashionable with the men in London.

Twenty paces away from her, Mr. Robert Lipinstein turned to look at his companion as he talked, moving effortlessly through the crowd. His tall frame sent his stride long. Wide shoulders that brushed against all the people moving the opposite direction. A rock in a stream, and he never flinched, never faltered in his steps.

For a man that had just spent seven years in Newgate prison and two years at sea, he knew where he was going. And that made him all the more dangerous.

Torrie slipped out of the alley and moved quickly along the building to her left. The rough of the stone facade caught again and again on the sleeve of her jacket as she moved, pulling her arm backward. She sank into the shadow of the next alley and scanned the ships ahead, her look flickering back to the bastard so she wouldn’t lose him in the crowd again.

If he was getting on a ship and disappearing once more—fine. Hopefully it would sink.

But if he planned to stay in England, she needed to know.

The bastard rotting in jail was preferable above all else. Newgate had been perfect for that. But since that was no longer the case, she wanted him off English soil. Far away from her cousins. Far away from her. She hadn’t slept well since the investigator she’d hired to track him had told her he had stepped back onto English soil.

And she’d been dreaming of revenge ever since.

Her look caught sight of a brigantine in the middle of the docks.

The Firehawk.

Apparently it had sailed from London to Truro in the last several weeks. The dock and the gangplanks leading onto the ship were frantic. Barrels rolled and buckets carried onto the ship. Mayhem with sailors running to and fro on the deck. Ropes unfurling. Men climbing the masts. It was looking to set sail.

Bloody tide.

She wasn’t ready. They were taking off with the waters. And she wasn't ready.

She’d thought him disappearing onto the sea again would suffice. But it wouldn’t. He looked too tall, too strong, too virile. There was no justice in that.

She wasn't ready for him to walk away from her again.

She’d witnessed him walk away before. Walk away from her family being crushed by a flaming roof. Walk away from her excruciating screams. Walk away from her legs being charred beyond all recognition. Walk away from the smallest act of kindness he could have extended but didn’t.

She’d been engulfed in the unimaginable pain of the inferno that took her family’s farm—of her flesh burning—her body no longer able to scream, to fight the torture, and she had turned onto her side in the dirt. Turned and seen his face.

Seen the horrification lining his features. Seen his dark grey eyes locked on her through the smoke and embers.

Those dark grey eyes. Dark grey eyes that had flickered, wanting to help. For one instant, he’d looked as though he was to move forward.

To help. Help her. Help her family.

But then, no. He had stayed in place, watching. Not moving.

A gust of wind had cut across him and bright orange flames had danced in front of his eyes. A torch. He had been holding a torch.

He was one of them.

One of the blackguards that had set her whole life to fire. To destruction.

A crash had thundered behind her and scalding bits of fire had singed her hair, her face. And then they had closed, those grey eyes.

He had shaken his head and turned.

Turned and walked away, tossing the torch to the ground. Away. He’d walked out past the veil of smoke and haze that had hung in the air. Walked until he disappeared.

He never once looked back.

But his face—his grey eyes were seared into her memory. Seared for all time.

Her fingers tightening on the corner brick of the building to her left, Torrie gulped a gasp of air and exhaled it in a long breath, expelling the memory of the pain that was still as harsh in her chest as it had been in those moments nine years ago.

No wallowing.

She’d made that promise to herself when she had left Vinehill Castle.

Put everything behind her.

Everything except for this one man that still lived. This one man—this last memory of those moments that had wrecked her so fully she no longer recognized herself.

It—he—was the one thing she allowed herself to remember from that day.

With a quick shake of her head, she stepped out into the throng of bodies again, moving forward.

She didn't know what she was about to do. But she knew one thing.

She wasn’t about to let him get on that ship and walk away again.


“Ignore it, Roe,” Des said, his canny hazel eyes set forward, determined not to look at the growing melee in front of them.

Roe looked from his friend and first mate to the crowd gathering at the entrance to the alleyway that sat opposite the dock leading out to the Firehawk.

Des had a nose about these things and had kept Roe from far too many scrapes over the past two years. Of course he should listen to him.

Yet that didn’t stop his eyes from scanning the crowd, curious as to what could be causing the frothing mouths along the edges of the horde. Or the heckling yelps from those further into the thick crush of men.

“We already lost time going to the Golden Goblet to try and find Weston and now I can see you eyeing this mess.” The note of warning was clear in Des’s voice. “We’re minutes from setting sail.”

Roe kept his eyes on the crowd. “Just checking to make sure none of our crew is entangled in whatever it is.”

“Aye. Except there’s not an idiot in your crew aside from Weston. They know enough not to get mixed into a tangle minutes before we leave—lest they be left behind and miss the bounty.”

They reached the outer edge of the crowd and Roe’s feet slowed.

“Don’t do it, Roe.”

“Don’t worry on it—it’s not like the ship is going to set sail without us.”

“If we don’t hit this tide we may as well give up on catching Bockton’s ship.”

“We aren’t going to miss the tide, Des.” Roe came to a full stop, his height giving him a small advantage in seeing into the crux of what this crowd was about.

He shoved his way inward through the bodies, scanning faces, making sure none of his crew was diddling about.

Des grabbed his forearm from behind, tugging it. “Cap, we need to move. Sails are catching wind.”

Roe moved forward, not letting Des stop him. If Weston was in the crowd, he needed to yank the blasted idiot from the fracas. The last thing Weston could afford was to get himself entrenched in another brawl.

He jammed his way past three more men and Roe could finally see the cause of the commotion.

Bloody hell.

A woman surrounded by seven men, her arms swinging wildly, trying to escape them as they shoved her around in a circle between them and argued about who was going to take the first go at her.

Her bonnet had been ripped off her head, dangling down her back, and her dark hair had been yanked wild and covered her face. Her cerulean blue traveling habit was too fine—gold buttons lining her chest, black lace trim dusting the bottom of the skirt—far too fine for a woman at the docks.

Almost his same height and pushing through the crowd behind him, Des saw it the same moment Roe did. “Don’t do it, Roe. We got to go.”

Roe shook Des’s grip from his arm, muscling his way past the last onlooker.

The woman spun with a screech as she was shoved to a short man across the circle. So slight in comparison to the brutes surrounding her, she looked like the petal of a flower in a whirlwind. She let out a scream as one of the men snatched her shoulders—a scream of anger, of fury—not fear. And with the squeal leaving her lips her hand went flying wildly across her face to clear the hair from her eyes. Pale green eyes with golden flecks.

Great Zeus.

Impossible. Not here. Not at the docks. Not hundreds of miles from London.

Roe sprang into action without a breath, his fist slamming into one of the brutes nearest him as his foot swung out and slammed up into the ballocks of the man across from him.

Two more swings, two more down before the brutes realized they were under attack.

A fist at his temple connected and Roe felt his skin split open, but it didn’t stop his progress forward. Straight to the woman.

With an open palm he grabbed the face of the man holding her and slammed it backward, smashing his head into the brick wall behind him.

The motion sent the brute backward and he spun with the pain, dragging the woman into the wall with him.

Her head knocked hard against the brick and her body instantly slackened. Dropping.

Roe’s arms clamped around her waist before she fell, wrapping her into his chest just as a blade came at him from the left. Not enough time to dodge and the edge of it sliced across his shoulder.

Pain he didn’t let himself feel.

He spun toward the docks.

The crowd of hyenas wanted a show and they weren’t going to easily give up their meat.

Out. Out before they were all killed.

“Bloody ballocks.” Des’s roar of a grumble shot through the air as he swung wide, knocking aside two of the men in the pathway between them and the Firehawk.

It was enough of a line.

Roe charged forward, gripping the woman to his front side even as he could feel hands clawing at his arms, at his neck, trying to get him to stop.

With his shoulder, Des rammed into three more men in front of him and the line was clear.

Roe set his left forearm under her backside and picked the woman up, running forward. Des paused to follow, protecting his back. The best of men, his first mate.

Boots thundering on the rough timbers of the dock, he dodged carts and barrels and goats and almost skidded past the sole gangplank still in place leading onto the Firehawk.

Five long strides and he jumped onto the main deck of the ship.

Des landed behind him, bumping into his back.

“Pull it.” Roe’s command thundered across the ship and the deckhands closest to the gangplank yanked it free from the dock.

He spun to Vally, his second mate, who was running across the deck to them. “We all aboard?”

“As much as we can tell, Cap’n Roe,” Vally said with a smirk on his face. It wasn’t the first time they’d made a dramatic exit from a port.

“And Weston?”

“Sleepin’ it off below,” Vally said. “He stumbled onto the ship just moments ago.”

Roe nodded, then looked to Des and winked at him. “Told you there was nothing to worry about.”

“Nothing to worry about?” Des’s forehead folded into long wrinkles as his eyebrows shot up. “You got a woman aboard the ship, Cap. That bad luck alone is enough to worry about.”

“Then it’s a good thing you worry enough for the rest of us.” Roe inclined his head to him. “And thanks for the line, mate.”

Des exhaled an exaggerated sigh, shaking his head as his eyes rolled to the sky. “Any time, Cap.”

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