Revenge Wears Rubies

By: Renee Bernard
To my grandmother, who has inspired me in so many ways and demonstrated what true grace and beauty can be. I cannot imagine this world without you, and I’ve decided I simply won’t try. I’ll just celebrate you and love you for the rest of my days.



And to Geoffrey, there are no words, my love. Every time you take my favor into battle, I marvel at the luck of finding a Renaissance man of my very own.





Acknowledgments

I often wonder who reads the acknowledgments and imagine it can be like one of those acceptance speeches where an actor is thanking his first grade teacher and every other human being he ever knew . . . and most people aren’t listening. But it is a rare chance to truly acknowledge the people that have made a difference and contributed to the strange life of this writer, helping me to achieve my goals and maintain some semblance of sanity. So, here goes!



Kate Duffy once told me that the mark of a great editor is one who quietly but confidently assists you in becoming the writer you were meant to be. (You’ll be missed, m’lady.) Kate Seaver, my dear editor, has proven that she is, in every sense, a truly great editor, and I love working with her, as she makes this process so painless.



I want to thank Robin Schone for once again standing by me as a phenomenal mentor and friend. To all my writer friends in the odd world of romance, thank you for making me feel less isolated in the quest and for inexplicably putting up with my quirky sense of humor. To Amanda McIntyre, “thank you” doesn’t cover it, so I’ll just have to come up with something else.



My thanks go to Sean and Toni, Sierra and Stephen for attempting to occupy the Elf while I’m juggling things on the home front. When they say it takes a village, they aren’t kidding! My heartfelt thanks to the entire Shire of Mountains Gate for keeping my clan afloat these last few months and for proving that in any realm of the Knowne World, you are the ultimate definition of family and community.



And finally, I have to thank all the wonderful readers who have sent their personal notes of encouragement to me. It’s a humbling thing to receive your compliments, and I’ve treasured every sentiment and vowed to do my best to never let you down. You inspire me, and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful. (And continue to wickedly use your names as secondary characters now and then just for fun!)





Whoever finds love beneath hurt and grief

disappears into emptiness

with a thousand new disguises.





—RUMI





Prologue




Bengal, 1857



They’d just been voices in the dark to each other in the first few days. The familiarity of English accents and the simple relief at not being alone were stark comforts none of them had ever experienced. In an ancient pitch-black oubliette, unsure of their ultimate fate, they’d observed the rituals of introduction and exchanged names and shaken hands as if they were in the foyer of a music hall in Brighton and not standing ankle deep in muck in a raja’s dungeon in the bowels of his stronghold.

Galen.

Michael.

Josiah.

Ashe.

John.

Darius.

Rowan.

Sterling.

Eight men from various walks of life, but their paths had led them each to India and now to this. . . . And even without knowing the speaker, their personalities had almost immediately declared themselves as a unique alliance was formed.

“No one else in our travel party was taken, I think. But it happened so quickly, I can’t be sure.”

“How long have you been here?”

“I lost track, but not more than a few days. Four or five?”

“This is ridiculous. We’re British citizens! Our kidnapping is not going to go unanswered by the imperial regiments or—”

“The regiments have their hands full of other duties than tracking every British citizen, I suspect.” The interruption resonated with calm authority.

“What the hell is this place?”

“An old cistern, I think. The walls feel carved, as if chiseled out of rock and of course . . .” The sound of a boot being pulled from the wet kiss of the mud around it was unmistakable. “There’s evidence of water.”

“We’ll not last in here.”

“That may be the intent, unless you experienced a different welcoming committee than I did.”

“Gentlemen,” another man spoke, “we’re facing two possible outcomes. One, we’ll be killed immediately as a show of strength, or to please someone’s taste for revenge and rebellion.”

“Or?” one of them pressed as if asking about the odds of a game of whist.

“Or we need to figure out how to survive a long stay, considering our host’s accommodations and hospitality.”

The sound of a rat or some other subterranean inhabitant underlined his words, and the men unconsciously shifted to stand nearer to each other.

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