Anya quelled a spurt of incredulous anger. “I most certainly will not. My father denied your suit three years ago. As did my brother, when you persisted. You want my dowry, Vasili. You have no regard for me at all.”
A cynical smile curved the corners of his mouth beneath his blond mustache. She’d always disliked men with mustaches.
“I don’t deny it,” he said coolly. “Why should I apologize for being ambitious? We’ll make a good team, you and I. You’re intelligent, for a woman. You know how to run a household, order servants. You’ll make an excellent hostess.” His gaze swept her features and a greedy, lecherous look kindled in his expression which made her skin crawl.
“You know full well you’re beautiful. Admit it, you loved having all the boys panting after you at court, didn’t you? And this ice princess facade? I’ll melt it. Bedding you will be no hardship at all.”
Anya snatched her hand away from his. Her expression must have shown her disdain because he raised an amused brow.
“What’s the matter? I’ll make you like it.”
She sent a panicked glance at the door. Where was Elizaveta?
Vasili was watching her closely. In a sudden move, he stood, pulled her to her feet, and yanked her hard against his chest. Anya cried out and tried to pull away, but he caught her wrists in his fists, like manacles.
“You don’t have any choice in the matter, Princess,” he hissed. “We will be wed. As soon as I can find a priest.”
“Release me at once.”
An ugly, belligerent glint lit his eyes. “You’ll wed me if I ruin you.”
Her blood ran cold. “Don’t touch me!”
“Who’s going to stop me?”
Anya fought a wave of revulsion as his mouth crashed down on hers. His lips were hard and punishing. She shook her head, struggling violently, but he was bigger, stronger. His tongue probed her lips, seeking entrance. She let out a shocked cry and managed to free one wrist, then slapped him on the side of the head. Hard. He stumbled back with a muffled curse.
She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and sent him her most imperious glare. “I will never marry you, Vasili Petrov. You’re a traitor!”
Anya felt a stab of triumph before the magnitude of what she’d just admitted dawned on her. She could have bitten off her tongue.
Dmitri had told her in confidence that Vasili, or someone close to him, was suspected of passing information to the French. He’d hinted that he would be investigating the matter as soon as he returned from Vienna.
Vasili’s eyes narrowed into slits. “So. We can do away with the pretense, can we? That’s good. It makes everything so much easier.”
He smoothed back his ruffled hair. Anya returned his hostile glare with one of her own.
“Your brother spoke to you about me.” It was a statement, not a question. “Of course he did. The two of you were always close. He thought I was helping the French.”
“As a matter of fact, yes. They pay extremely well.” Anya gasped at the casual way he admitted to treason. Good God, the information he’d traded had led to the death of thousands of men. It had led to Dmitri’s death.
“Bastard!” she breathed, incensed. “You traitorous whoreson!”
Vasili chuckled. “Tsk. Such language, Princess.”
Anya fought the urge to slap the smug look off his face.
“Dmitri intercepted a letter of mine,” Vasili continued. “He sent it to you.”
She didn’t have to feign her look of confusion. “No, he didn’t.”
“Don’t lie to me! Where is it?”
“I never received any letter. I swear.”
Vasili’s face settled into a cold, murderous mask. Before Anya knew what he was about, he lifted his hand and dealt her a backhanded blow across the face. Blinding pain was quickly followed by astonishment and out- rage. No one had ever hit her before. She cradled her stinging cheek and glared up at him through watering eyes.
He gave a sickly smile. “It doesn’t matter. Whatever evidence you have, or don’t have, your bother is dead. And a wife can’t give evidence against her husband.”
Anya sucked in a breath at his horrifyingly simple plan. He would marry her to ensure her silence. She would be trapped in marriage to this brutal, sneering thug.
Vasili backed toward the door. “You will stay here until I return. And don’t think to run. There’s nowhere I won’t find you. If I have to come after you, I will be most displeased.” He flicked a glance at her burning cheek and smirked. “Your brother always allowed you too much leeway. But you’ll learn to respect your husband.”
Anya glared up at him and smiled. “Never.”
Vasili sensed Elizaveta’s presence behind him a fraction too late. He swung around, but she brought the Chinese vase down on his head with all her strength; it shattered as it made contact with his skull. His eyes slid closed and his big body collapsed onto the rug with a satisfying thump.
“Excellent timing,” Anya gasped. “Thank you!”
Elizaveta glanced down at Vasili’s prone form with a grimace of distaste. A patch of blood was seeping through the blond hair on the back of his head. Anya battled a wave of nausea.
“Is he dead?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” Elizaveta said briskly. “He deserved it, threatening you like that.” She poked Vasili with the toe of her boot and gave a disappointed sigh. “No, he’s just out cold.”
Anya’s hands were shaking. Vasili had hit upon an uncomfortable truth: without a male protector, she was dangerously vulnerable. If he’d truly tried to molest her, she doubted she’d have had the strength to stop him. What if Elizaveta hadn’t come? It didn’t bear thinking about.
They hurried out into the hallway. Anya locked the door and dropped the key into the flower vase—now conspicuously lacking its twin—which flanked the door.
From The Princess and the Rogue by Kate Bateman. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.
A princess in disguise is forced to live with a rogue in order to protect her from danger in this fun, sexy regency romance from Kate Bateman.
In The Princess and the Rogue, Bow Street agent Sebastien Wolff, Earl of Mowbray, doesn’t believe in love–until a passionate kiss with a beautiful stranger in a brothel forces him to reconsider. When the mysterious woman is linked to an intrigue involving a missing Russian princess, however, Seb realizes her air of innocence was too good to be true.
Princess Anastasia Denisova has been hiding in London as plain ‘Anna Brown’. With a dangerous traitor hot on her trail, her best option is to accept Wolff’s offer of protection–and accommodation–at his gambling hell. But living in such close quarters, and aiding Wolff in his Bow Street cases, fans the flames of their mutual attraction. If Anya’s true identity is revealed, does their romance stand a chance? Could a princess ever marry a rogue?
About Kate Bateman
Kate Bateman, (also writing as K. C. Bateman), is the #1 bestselling author of Regency, Victorian, and Renaissance historical romance. Her Renaissance romp, The Devil To Pay, is a Romance Writer’s of America 2019 RITA® Finalist, and her Regency-set A Counterfeit Heart (Secrets & Spies series) won the 2018 Book Buyer’s Best contest for Best Historical Romance.
Kate wrote her first historical romance in response to a $1 bet with her husband who rashly claimed she’d ‘never finish the thing.’ She gleefully proved him wrong. Her books feature her favorite intelligent heroines, (badasses in bodices!) wickedly inappropriate banter, and heroes you want to both strangle and kiss.
When not traveling to exotic locations ‘for research’, Kate leads a not-so-secret double life as a fine art appraiser and on-screen antiques expert for several TV shows in the UK, each of which has up to 2.5 million viewers. Before writing romance, Kate was director and valuer at her own UK Auction House, Batemans in Stamford, Lincolnshire. She currently splits her time between Illinois and her native England and writes despite three inexhaustible children and that husband. . . who still owes her that dollar.