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Ruined And Redeemed

By:Bree Wolf

Prologue


England, spring 1804 (or a variation thereof)

Three Years Ago


A hand curled around a glass of water, Lady Charlotte Frampton stood by the refreshment table. Doing her best to drown out the cheerfulness of the many attending guests to her father’s rather impromptu ball, she forced the clear liquid down her throat, hoping it would somehow clear her mind and ease her heart.

“You look lovely tonight, my dear,” Lord Northfield whispered from behind her.

His breath brushed over the bare skin on her neck, and she gritted her teeth as a wave of nausea rolled over her. Swallowing, she turned around, eyes hard as she regarded him with all the repulsion that burned in her heart. “I’d appreciate it if you’d refrain from calling me that, my lord.”

Instead of being offended, Lord Northfield chuckled. “How endearing,” he said, then glanced around the large ballroom before leaning closer. “You did not object the other night.”

“I did object,” Charlotte forced out through gritted teeth. “However, how was I to know that you are anything but a gentleman?”

Amused, Baron Northfield laughed. “Be that as it may,” he continued, “Your father will make the announcement within the hour,” his unrelenting eyes held hers for a moment before drifting lower to linger on more intimate places, “and then I shall have every right to call you my dear.” A triumphant sneer drew up his lips as he held her gaze, daring her to fight him, knowing that she could not win.

As his threat echoed in her ears, Charlotte felt her body grow rigid with dread and repulsion and the utter hopelessness of her situation. Her fingers tightened around the glass in her hand until her sinews stood out white and her hand began to ache. And yet, Charlotte welcomed the pain for it was far better than the torturous despair that ate at her soul.

Brushing a golden lock of his meticulously groomed hair behind his ear, Lord Northfield smiled at her, clearly amused with the struggle that coursed through her.

Once, she had thought him handsome with his clear blue eyes and symmetric features. He was tall and striking, and women flocked to him. However, on closer inspection, Charlotte now knew that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a predator who preyed on the weak.

For a reason Charlotte could not fathom, his choice for a target had fallen on her.

And he had taken her down.

The memory of a nightmare flashed before her mind’s eye, and her hand convulsively clenched around the delicate glass in her hand.

A moment later, a soft crack reached her ears, and then the opposing pressure vanished. Cold water ran over her hand as tiny shards of crystal dug into her fingers and palm, others falling to the floor.

Lord Northfield’s eyes narrowed slightly as his gaze shifted to her hand.

Blood welled up between her clenched fingers and dripped to the ground. However, no one seemed to notice. The music continued to play. Couples continued to dance. And the world continued to turn.

Why didn’t anyone notice?

From a distance, a voice echoed to her ears. “Charlotte!”

Hearing his voice, Charlotte’s muscles instantly went slack with relief. Her hand opened, and the remaining shards fell to the floor as she fought the growing dizziness that threatened to knock out her legs from under her.

As she turned her head, she found him rushing toward her, his kind face clouded with concern as his eyes shifted from her face to her bloodied hand.

He was her friend, her protector, her saviour. He always had been, and yet, today, he could not help her.

“Kenneth,” she gasped as he reached for her hand, his watchful eyes examining the small cuts.#p#分页标题#e#

“Are you all right?” he asked, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket. “What happened?” His eyes drifted to Lord Northfield, and she noticed the slight tension that always came to his jaw whenever he wanted to say more than he dared.

“I’m fine,” Charlotte said, allowing his strong arms to hold her upright as white lights began to dance before her eyes. “I’m fine,” she repeated although the meaning of that sentence was lost on her.

“It is nothing,” Lord Northfield interjected, a disapproving frown on his face as he glanced from her to Kenneth. Then he held out his hand to her. “Allow me to escort you to the terrace for some air.”

Staring at her own hand as though he’d just threatened to cut it off, Charlotte took a step back and then shook her head. The mere thought of being alone with that man terrified her to her very core.

At her rejection, Lord Northfield’s jaw clenched and his eyes hardened, revealing the unfeeling heart that beat in his chest. “You will do as I say,” he snapped, advancing on her.

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