ROSE PAYNE’S world is shattered after a secret betrothal to the duke’s son costs her job in his father’s household. Desperate for work, she signs up for a risky overseas venture and sails for the New World, vowing never again to fall for a wealthy gentleman. Returning from a diplomatic tour in London, CHIEF MANTEO is bewitched by the elusive, fiery-haired ship clerk and determined to overcome her distrust. He contrives a daring plan to win her heart – one he prays will protect her from a chilling conspiracy involving murder, blood money, and a betrayal of their fledgling colony so terrifying it can only be revealed in BREAKING TIES.
“You want my help.” ‘Twas an accusation.
His eyes darkened. “I save your life. I give gifts. I offer marriage.” He closed the remaining distance between us, his eyes burning into mine.
I stumbled back.
“You give nothing in return,” he snarled. “You only ask for more.”
“I would had I something to offer,” I whispered. “But I have nothing. I am nothing.”
“Then what use are you to me?” He wheeled away.
I sagged against the door, eyes stinging. I blinked rapidly and pressed a hand to my stomach. Nausea rolled at the thought of informing the others of my failure.
Manteo circled the cabin like a hawk stalking its prey. ‘Twas a fine room with ornately carved shelves lining one wall. Bunks were built into the next wall. A generous desk jutted from the third, overflowing with maps and navigational devices. I recognized the compass and hourglass but could not identify the other instruments. I jerked in surprise when Manteo swooped down upon me.
“I know our location.” His arms shot out and slapped the wall on either side of me, hemming me to the door. “I could swim ashore from here.”
“Then why do ye stay if ye can leave and save yourself?”
“Governor White gave his word to deliver me home.”
“We are going to starve, Manteo. ‘Tis only a matter of days now.”
“Nay. You alone starve. The others eat.”
“I have no appetite.”
“You act as one already dead.”
I straightened my back. “I accept what I cannot change.”
“And I change what I cannot accept.” He shifted his weight to the wall, one arm propped over my head. He drew his fingertips down the side of my face in a feather-light caress.
I closed my eyes against the rush of unbearable sweetness. He made me long for things forbidden. “‘Tis within your power to help us. I am begging you.”
My eyes flew open. “Ye will do this for us.”
“For you.” His voice was silken, his features as hard as granite.
I smiled tremulously. “I thank thee, Manteo. Chief Manteo, that is.” The new title felt strange on my lips. I beheld him with a mixture of awe and pride.
“I have yet to name my price.”
I stared, confused.
He grunted in disgust. “You refuse me as both husband and lover, so you are left with the hiring of my services.”
I worried my lower lip between my teeth. At least he was willing to negotiate. His eyes flashed with lust as he followed my movements.
“I will entreat the Dares for payment.”
“Nay. You are the one in my debt.”
I raised and dropped my hands helplessly.
“You serve this company, no? You can serve my people, too.”
“Ye would hire me as clerk?” Hope leaped in my chest at the possibilities. I would not have to part from him so soon.
“My people have no clerks.” His eyes narrowed. “We have slaves.”
My breath hitched. “Ye wish to punish me, humiliate me?”
“Nay, I only wish to marry you.”
I briefly closed my eyes against the pain. He already knew the reason for my refusal.
“Say no more. I will do it. ‘Twill be punishment enough to see you so often and—“ I clamped my lips.
Exultation flickered briefly across his face. “You would give up your freedom to save your friends?”
“Swear it,” he said grimly.
I swear it.”
His eyes flared with emotion. He bent slowly ’til his breath stirred my lips. My eyelids fluttered closed. Heaven help me, for I had no will left to resist him.
“Now you will eat,” Manteo commanded hoarsely. He stepped back, surveying me from head to feet.
“I have no slaves so thin and weak. Go. Collect your rations.” He turned from me and bent to pore over a map on the table.
I reached for the door handle, disbelieving at the curt dismissal.
“And send for Anthony. I have need of him.”
I glared at his back. Faith, should I press my face to the floor as well? “Aye, master.” I bit the words out and fled.
(To be continued…)
Jo is an award-winning author at Astraea Press who loves to indulge in marathon showings of CSI, NCIS, and Castle. From St. Louis, Missouri, she holds an M.B.A. and has served as a banker, college finance instructor, and high school business teacher. She is a PRO member of Romance Writers of America and From the Heart Romance Writers RWA Chapter. The mother of three children and the wife of a soldier, she serves as a literacy volunteer for elementary school students.