"Brother's whore." He thought he could smell her anger and her fear now. A heady perfume. "You'd have spread your legs for me if I'd been born fifteen minutes sooner. But you wouldn't have stolen my name the way you stole his."
Her chin came up. "I don't even see you. No one does. You're nothing beside him. A shadow, and one that stinks of whiskey and the brothel."
She wanted to run. He frightened her, had always frightened her on a deep, primal level. But she wouldn't risk leaving him with the baby. "When I tell Lucian of this, he'll send you away."
"He has no power here, and we all know it." He came closer, easing his way like a hunter through the woods. "My mother holds the power in this house. I'm her favorite. Timing at birth doesn't change that."
"He will send you away." Tears stung the back of her throat because she knew Julian was right. It was Josephine who reigned in Manet Hall.
"Lucian did me a favor marrying you." His voice was a lazy drawl now, almost conversational. He knew she had nowhere to run. "She's already cut him out of her will. Oh, he'll get the house, she can't change that, but I'll get her money. And it's her money that runs this place."
"Take the money, take the house." She flung out her hands, dismissing them, and him. "Take it all. And go to hell with it."
"He's weak. My sainted brother. Saints always are, under all the piety."
"He's a man, so much more a man than you."
She'd hoped to make him angry, angry enough to strike her and storm out. Instead he laughed, low and quiet, and edged closer.
When she saw the intent in his eyes, she opened her mouth to scream. His hand whipped out, gripped a hank of the dark hair that curled to her waist. And yanking had her scream gurgling into a gasp. His free hand circled her throat, squeezed.
"I always take what's Lucian's. Even his whores."
She beat at him, slapped, bit. And when she could draw in air, screamed. He tore at her wrapper, pawed at her breasts. In the crib, the baby began to wail.
Fueled by the sound of her child's distress, Abby clawed her way free. She spun, stumbled over the torn hem of her nightgown. Her hand closed over the fireplace poker. She swung wildly, ramming it hard against Julian's shoulder.
Howling in pain, he fell back against the hearth, and she flew toward the crib.
She had to get the baby. To get the baby and run.
He caught her sleeve, and she screamed again as the material ripped. Even as she reached down to snatch her daughter from the crib, he dragged her back. He struck her, slicing the back of his hand over her cheek and knocking her back into a table. A candle fell to the floor and guttered out in its own wax.
He was mad. She could see it now in the feral gleam in his eyes, the drunken flush on his cheeks. In that instant fear turned to terror.
"He'll kill you for this. My Lucian will kill you." She tried to gain her feet, but he hit her again, using his fist this time so the pain radiated from her face, through her body. Dazed, she began to crawl toward the crib. There was blood in her mouth, sweet and warm.
My baby. Sweet God, don't let him hurt my baby.
His weight was on her-and the stench of him. She bucked, called for help. The sound of the baby's furious screams merged with hers.
"Don't! Don't! You damn yourself."
But as he yanked up the skirt of her nightgown, she knew no amount of pleading, no amount of struggle, would stop him. He would debase her, soil her, because of who she was. Because she was Lucian's.
"This is what you want." He drove himself into her, and the thrill of power spurted through him like black wine. Her face was white with fear and shock, and raw from the blows of his hands. Helpless, he thought, as he pounded out his raging envy. "This is what all of you want. Cajun whores."
From Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts, Copyright (c) October 2001, Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, used by permission.
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