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K.J. Jackson

The Wolf Duke, A Valor of Vinehill Novel 2 (EBOOK)

The Wolf Duke, A Valor of Vinehill Novel 2 (EBOOK)

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A lady set on vengeance. A cold duke with secrets of his own. Wills clash when she falls into his life and sparks fly. Can they learn to trust each other before it’s too late?

A lady set on vengeance.
Fiery death took her brother and with him, her chance for a normal life with a well-suited match. Now Lady Sloane Ruddington is determined to make the man responsible for the fire pay for his sins—Reiner Doran, a cold-hearted duke with nothing more than acquiring land and filling his coffers in his soul.

A cold duke with secrets of his own.
When the Duke of Wolfbridge stumbles upon a woman unconscious on his lands, Reiner has little choice but to hold her captive in his household. He has enemies afoot and she could very well be another spy sent to destroy him. The last thing he should do is trust her. But when the beguiling Scottish beauty awakens with no memory of why she is at Wolfbridge, he has to keep her close—for both of their sakes.

Can a fiery lass melt a frigid heart?
Reiner soon discovers her enthusiasm for life is exactly what is missing in his household—for his niece—and him. As an undeniable fire between them sparks to life, there becomes only one thing that can tear them apart—her memories. Can they learn to trust each other before it is too late?


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

“Torrie, we have to leave—the fire, smoke—the roof is coming down.” Her voice screeching over the cracking of the inferno above their heads, Sloane lunged forward, grabbing her cousin’s wrist as her eyes went frantic to the flames quickly eating the cottage roof.

Torrie didn’t turn back to her, ripping her arm from Sloane’s grasp. “I’m not leaving them.” Desperate, but calm. Calm like she always was. Hell had just exploded around them and Torrie didn’t so much as blink.

The smoke sank, surrounding Sloane, making every breath harder, thicker into her lungs than the last. She clawed her fingers around Torrie’s arm again and wrenched her a step toward the door of the cottage. “The bloody roof is on fire, we have to get out of here now, Tor.”

Torrie reversed course, yanking Sloane forward as she reached out and grabbed her mother’s upper arm, her calmness quickly eroding. “Please, Mama. Please, come. Don’t stay in here. Don’t. Come with me—come with us.”

Through the thickening smoke, flaming embers streaked down in front of Torrie’s mother’s face. Her mother looked to waver, glancing back at her husband and son.


“There isn’t time, Mama. We have to get out now.”

Sparks and flaming straw from the thatched roof rained down upon them, singeing Sloane’s cheeks, the stench of her burning hair scorching her nostrils. She yanked Torrie back a step, screaming above the crackling filling her ears. “There isn’t time, Torrie.”

Wood splintered—angry—cracking above.

Blackness. Smoke becoming Sloane’s world. Deafening her. Suffocating her.

But she was on her feet, not knocked to the ground. And her lock on Torrie was still solid.

An arm wrapped about her waist. Lifted her.

Jacob—her fool brother was keeping the blackguards outside at bay, but now he was inside this hell with them. Inside and picking her up.

Her left hand on Torrie’s arm slipped off. She couldn’t see through the wall of smoke, couldn’t hear for the crash echoing in her ears. But at the last second before Jacob dragged her out of there, she swung out her right hand and—miracle—found Torrie’s arm again.

She wasn’t going to let go. She couldn’t. Not of the one person who’d been her constant companion since she was three. Not of the only other person that she loved just as much as her brothers. For that was what Torrie was—her sister, even if they didn’t share parents.

With Sloane tucked into his iron clamp about her waist, Jacob moved, turning to where she guessed the door was. She could feel Torrie’s weight shift, her body dropping, dragging behind them.

She wasn’t going to let go.

She wasn’t.

Five steps of her brother’s long stride, and he carried her out of the inferno of the fiery wreckage, while she dragged Torrie behind them.

Air. Air that wasn’t smoke. Hazy daylight.

But flames still in front of her.

She twisted in Jacob’s arms and he dropped her with a thud.

Torrie’s face. Screaming. Flames devouring her.

Her skirts.

Sloane couldn’t hear the screams, but every agonized contortion of Torrie’s face sliced through her as her own pain. She had to put the flames out.

Crawling through the dirt, she reached Torrie writhing on the ground and started beating at the flames raging on her cousin’s legs.

Her own flesh scorching, pain sliced into her left arm as the blazes sizzled through her skin. Pain that sent her nerves into spasms, but still she swung at the blazes.

The flames weren’t going to win. They weren’t going to take Torrie.

Not Torrie.

Not the best of them.

Blackness in front of her. Charred cloth. Seared skin. Her arm, Torrie’s legs.

But the flames were out.

They were out.

Her head twisted.

Jacob. Where was Jacob?

She squinted through the flying embers and smoke.


No, no, no.

He couldn’t have gone back in.

“Jacob. Jacob!” She couldn’t hear her own scream. Didn’t know if her lungs made sound. She couldn’t find her feet. Her head down, battling against the pain that threatened to flatten her to the ground, she dragged herself across the scorched earth toward the cottage.

She hadn’t made it a foot before an explosion of spark and ash flashed in front of her, filling the air. The rest of the roof collapsed inward. A flaming hell searing everything to a crisp. To soot. To nothing.

Jacob. Torrie’s mother, brother and father. All of them.

It didn’t matter that she was still gasping for clean air. Didn’t matter that her burnt left arm hung limply along her body. None of that stopped the raging pain searing through her veins.

She looked up at the corner of the cottage—the one corner that still stood and hadn’t crashed inward with the roof. One of the blackguards that had set a flaming torch onto the cottage roof stood three steps from the flaming corner, watching her, a jeering sneer on his face.

The red that hit her eyes blinded her, blinded her to everything except for the bastard. Vicious fury surged through her limbs and she found her feet, picking up the dagger that Jacob had discarded to the ground.

She charged.

He had to pay.

Someone had to pay.


Lincolnshire, England
Late August 1816

Her toes butting up against the weathered grey stone, Sloane craned her neck, looking up at the wall looming before her, thick vines snaking their way upward.

She could do this. She’d done it hundreds of times growing up at Vinehill.

She reached out, her kidskin-gloved fingers wrapping about the hefty vine and tugging it.


Sturdy enough for her weight.

A quick glance to her right and the soft glow of hundreds of torches lit on the grounds of Wolfbridge Castle flickered around the curve of the tall tower that marked the end of this wall. Between it and the three-quarter moon above, she could just discern the line she would need to take upward to be able to pop into the open window on the third level.

When Sloane and her maid, Milly, had weaved their horses through the thick woods on the northwest side of the hexagonal castle two days ago, scrutinizing the ancient ruddy tan stones, she’d known instantly this would be her best chance at getting into Wolfbridge unseen. The six sides of the structure were punctuated at each juncture with tall circular towers jutting into the sky, and they cloistered this side of the castle in darkness.

The castle had held a formidable seat of power once upon a time. Still so, if all the rumors she’d uncovered about the man living here were true.

She swallowed a deep breath and looked upward. The thickness of the vines tangling their way up the side of this wall was perfect. Combined with the house party the duke was throwing moving all attention for his guests to the front and south side gardens, the timing could not be better.

She could get up and into the castle. And then she could ruin the man.

The Duke of Wolfbridge—the Wolf Duke, a lone beast that was a cold and merciless scourge upon this earth—needed to pay for his sins and she was the one that would make him do so.

Shrugging off her short dark spencer jacket and tugging off the glove from her right hand, she bundled them together and set them on the ground, tucking them in between a fat root and the castle stone so they would be hidden were anyone to stroll by. She shoved the cap sleeves of her black dress high onto her shoulders. She couldn’t afford to have the fabric cramping her movements if she was to do this as quickly as she hoped.

Adjusting the fine muslin of her dress between her legs, Sloane frowned. Breeches would have been preferable for climbing—as she would always steal her brothers’ breeches when they were young—but she had no access to male clothing at the coaching inn where she’d left Milly. The dark dress, though not a full ball gown, would suffice if someone happened by her and inquired about her presence at Wolfbridge. She could easily claim she’d just arrived for the house party, a distant relative of the duke’s. It would allow her enough margin of time to get to her horse tied beyond the tree line before the duke could verify she was an unknown.

The strains of the string ensemble playing outside from a balcony above the gardens floated into the warmth of the night air. For how cool the summer had been, steamy air had rushed the land in the last two days. With one last quick glance about her, Sloane set the toes of her boots onto the vines. Her hands searching through the leaves, she found trunk after trunk, quickly scaling up the side of the castle.

First level.

Only two more to go.

As she stretched up high with her right hand, her left hand slipped. Her muscles coiling, her right fingers snatched hard onto the nearest vine, the tips of her boots digging into the toeholds she’d found.

She stopped for one moment, her cheek resting on the cool green leaves as she stared at her left hand, shaking it.

She’d kept her left glove on but now regretted it. The leather was starting to slip with the night dew on the leaves.

Or was it her strength that failed her? As much as she’d tried to deny it, her left arm had never been as strong as it once was since the fire.

Damn her weak limb.

She flipped her head, setting her left cheek onto the leaves. She looked up, finding her line again in the shadows of the moon. She had to do this. Had to make it up there. She’d been planning this for too long for it to slip away because of a slippery glove.

A grimace set onto her lips and she clamped her left fingers hard around the vine they’d just slipped from.

Up. Only up.

Right toes solid. Arm up. Left toes solid. Arm up. Up. Up.

She was almost there. The vines were getting thin, but she was almost there. Two more hand clasps and she could wedge her foot onto the sill of the window.

She reached up with her right hand, stretching to her full length, lifting on the toes of her right foot. Risky, but she had to make it to the next vine.

The tingle started, sudden. Sudden and paralyzing, flooding her left arm.

Her left hand lost all feeling.

She grasped with her right. A clump of leaves.

Only leaves.

Their thin stems plucked—one tiny break after another—from the vine.

She slipped backward before she even knew what was happening.

Into the air.

The warm summer breeze cocooned her, almost comforting her as she fell.





“This had better be of life and death, Colton.” Reiner Doran, Duke of Wolfbridge, trailed his butler, his long strides stuttered by the elderly servant’s short, stooped steps.

Follow him. That was all Colton had told him, and he hadn’t taken no for an answer. That Colton had even approached him in front of his guests conveyed the direness in his butler’s mind on whatever had happened.

His household ran with nary a bump due to years of Colton’s diligence, but his man could have at least waited until Reiner had extracted the next proposed runs of the ship, The Nettled Ness, from Lord Falsted.

Colton slowed, turning back to Reiner. “It is, your grace.” He waved his wrinkled hand in the darkness. “Almost there.”

Reiner looked out to the forest that abutted the clearing that surrounded Wolfbridge castle. Still. Still and thick, the air. Quiet with only the muted strains of the strings from the garden balcony in the night sky. A sound, almost like a horse nickering, floated through the air from the shadow of the trees. He shook his head.

A trick of the wind. What would a horse be doing in that thick of trees?

He looked forward. Colton was five steps ahead of him, walking around the curve of the tower anchoring this span of the castle.

The second he turned around the edge, he saw exactly why Colton had dragged him away from the party.

One of his footmen, Lawrence, stood waiting in the dark shadow of the castle. At his feet, a lump.

Reiner’s steps sped and he passed Colton. He didn’t stop until he reached the lump.

Except it wasn’t a lump. It was a woman.

“We didn’t move her, your grace.” Colton hurried to catch up behind him. “Lawrence found her and retrieved me. I thought it best to retrieve you.”

Reiner nodded, looking down at the woman. Dressed in black, that Lawrence had even noticed her in the deep shadow she was sprawled in was impressive.

“Is she alive?”

“Yes. Just dead to the world, your grace. Lawrence rolled her onto her back, but beyond that we didn’t move her.” Colton pointed up to the wall of the castle, his unfailingly steady voice not in the slightest vexed. “The best we can liken, she fell from the vines if that bump on her head is an indicator.”

“Climbing…the vines? Whatever for?” Reiner looked up at the vines clambering up the stones of the ancient castle. A thick curtain of greenery, yes, but he doubted a person could use the creeper to climb upon. He reached out, his fingers stretching into the clumps of leaves. Finding a vine, he wrapped his hand around. Thick. He shook it. It didn’t move.

It was possible. But why?

His eyes lifted and scanned the stone wall, straying to the right. An open window. An open window to his dressing room. He’d left it open himself not but four hours ago for the heat of the day.

But that was on the third level. No one would be foolish enough to climb that high on vines, of all things.

“A common thief?” Reiner whispered the possibility, even though he didn’t quite believe it.

“It is what we imagine. What would you like to do with her, your grace?” Colton asked.

Reiner’s look dropped to the woman. The top of her body caught what little light there was in the shadows. The blond hair about her temples was pulled back in a braid, but the rest of it was free from pins, spreading wide about her shoulders. The waist of her dark dress was high, just below the tight bodice, and the fabric spread from her torso with silky ease.

Reiner dropped to balance on his heels and picked up the hem of her skirt. Expensive, silk or extremely fine muslin. She was no ordinary thief.

“Why the black?” Reiner muttered more to himself than a question to his men.

“That’s why we figured she was a thief,” Lawrence said. “The black is all the better to hide in the shadows.”

Reiner dropped the hem, grunting to himself. “Or she’s in mourning.”

He picked up her left wrist. The cream kidskin glove she wore stretched up past her elbow. She wore no glove on her right hand.

Still balancing on his heels, he looked up at Lawrence. “What did you find with her?”

“Just this jacket—her other glove was wrapped with it, though it’s much shorter.” Lawrence held up a bundle of items. “And this dagger from a sheath at her calf and her reticule strapped about her waist.”

Reiner motioned for them. Lawrence handed him the items. He set the jacket on the ground, first looking inside the reticule. Coins, nothing else. He set it onto her jacket.

The knife he flipped around in his hand. Not ordinary. He ran the blade across his thumb. Honed sharp. The handle caught a shard of light from the moon, gold flashing. He squinted in the darkness. The smooth onyx handle was inlaid with strands of gold—a vine weaving, climbing toward the hilt.

This woman was no ordinary thief. She was of money, if nothing else. Her clothes, her coin, the smell of citrus and lavender lifting from her hair. Possibly even of a titled family.

But what would she be doing attempting to sneak into his home? On a vine of all things.

A shot of rage ran down his spine.

Lord Falsted.

The man would stoop to send just such a woman after him. After his secrets.

“Bring her to the Rose room.”

“But, your grace, that is far too close to your chambers,” Colton said. “There is still a room in the south wing available.”

“I’ll not have a possibly hazardous unknown locked into a room near the rest of our guests. Not until I know who she is and what she came here for.”

“I can set her in the cellars.”

“That is assuming she is here to do harm, Colton. We don’t know what her business is here. She comes from money, judging by her dress. And if she is an innocent and connected to one of my guests—possibly injured or left for dead here, then I’ll not have her waking in the cold dank of the undercrofts.”

“But, your grace—”

“I can lock the door on the Rose room. We can lock the shutters.” Reiner stood, looking at Colton. “She’ll not escape the room if her intentions here are as we suspect.”

Colton nodded. “As you wish, your grace.” He motioned for Lawrence to pick up the woman.

Reiner turned, walking back the way he came.

He had a party to get back to.

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