St. Kilda, Scotland
The Asylum of St. Raguel
The powerful punch to Callum Fergussoune’s face didn’t knock him down. It took two men seizing the Marquess of Kilgore by the arms to even allow the third man—the one Callum now knew was called the Enforcer—to deliver the blows. But after three more hits in quick succession, he wasn’t sure if he was still standing by his own will or if he was upright because of the men holding him.
Before his sluggish mind could work through the dilemma, another jab from the bare-knuckled bastard in front of him hit Callum’s nose. Bone crunched and bright specks of light danced in his vision, inviting him to close his eyes and drift. He knew he shouldn’t give in to the desire, but he’d been beaten enough in the days since he’d been kidnapped, drugged, and deposited here at this filthy sham of an asylum that he was now well aware that Constantine’s image awaited him when he floated in the darkness.
All he needed was one moment to see her, even if it was just in his mind. His eyelids fell heavily, blotting out the hell in front of him and surrounding him. Immediately, he was rewarded. Flashes of her laughing, honey-colored eyes filled his head and made his chest ache, but a fist meeting his right eye sent excruciating pain radiating from the socket and across his face. He forced his eyes open once more, the blindingly beautiful picture of her smiling disappearing before it had even fully formed. In its place was a meaty fist that made contact square on his mouth and rocked him back on his heels, rattling his teeth.
The hit had the unintended consequences of jolting him back to full awareness and reminding him that he could not allow himself to drift—however much he wanted to. He had to stay aware and fight back with whatever resistance he still had in him, which at the moment wasn’t a great deal. He needed sleep and food and a day without being beaten. Heaviness pressed down on him and seemed to compress his bones. Taunts and snickers brushed his ear, indicating his captors’ sadistic enjoyment of what had become the morning and nightly ritual since he’d arrived at the Asylum of St. Raguel three nights prior. The room swayed, and nausea roiled in his stomach as the metallic taste of blood filled his mouth and a pulsing began in his now cracked-open lip.
Callum wasn’t a stranger to physical pain. Years of beatings from his cousin Ross and the following years in the boxing ring at the Rogue’s Pugilist Club, where he learned to defend himself and conquer any opponent, had taught him physical pain could be endured with the right thinking. You had to lean into it and hold at your core that it was fleeting. But he’d never been tested to this extent, and he had the vague realization, in his increasingly cloudy thoughts, that there was only so far a man could lean before he fell flat on his face.
“Who are ye?” the Enforcer demanded, his face twisted in rage and anger, veins straining to break free of the man’s forehead.
Same question. Same question. How many bloody times would the man ask that question?
“The Marquess of Kilgore,” Callum slurred.
Damnation. His tongue no longer worked properly. Had he bitten it?
“Ye are either a slow learner or a fool.”
Certainly, he was a fool. Only a fool would have left the woman he loved the very night he had wed her to travel to Scotland at the behest of his cousin, whom he didn’t even like. Only a fool would have let the woman he loved believe he’d wed her for her money because he’d thought there would be time to truly win her heart once more and mend the emotional wounds he’d inadvertently inflicted on her with his half-wit attempt to protect her for the last five years. He was a coward for waiting to tell her the truth, and he was most definitely an idiot, but he’d not reveal that to this man.
Callum forced his throbbing mouth to form what he hoped was a smug smile. The Enforcer wanted to break Callum. Perhaps the man was fearful that if he didn’t manage to crush Callum’s will, his own would look weak to the other inmates here. Callum damn sure was not going to be under this man’s heel this day. “Come closer and I’ll tell you the truth.”
The man’s eyes, shockingly blue against his freckled face, narrowed, but he leaned in, close enough for Callum to rear his head back and then smash their foreheads together. An enormous wave of pain swept through his skull, but it was worth it. A cacophony erupted around him, the two men holding him shouting, and then the Enforcer bellowed as he launched his next attack.
The jabs landed like a torrent of rain on Callum’s face, and soon all he felt was the cold wetness of his blood. The smell of it made him laugh like a loon just as he felt himself falling. They’d let him go. His head smacked against the hard floor of his new home—a tiny square cell.
He turned his head to press a cheek against the freezing floor, and a rat scampered by his face. His body recoiled and disgust curdled in his stomach, but he didn’t actually make the slightest attempt to move. He was too damn tired. Still, he kept his gaze trained on the detested vermin. He hated rats. He couldn’t immediately bring to mind why in his current muddled state, but it slowly seeped into his memory. He hated rats because Ross used to lock him in the oubliette at Castle Stratmore, which had been infested with the bastards.
Above him, the three men talked, their conversation muted by the ringing in Callum’s ears. No matter. Callum was still thinking on Ross. His cousin was a louse, but Callum couldn’t seem to locate the exact reason why when his brain felt like such sludge.
“Louse. Mouse. Ross is a lousy mouse,” Callum said, an odd wheezing chuckle rumbling from his chest.
A sharp kick to Callum’s head brought the stark room of the asylum into blurry focus for one moment, but the blackness descended once more. This time, his father’s image danced before him. Callum frowned. His father was dead. Not here. Dead. But, here he was, pointing to Ross. Think with your head like Ross, not with your fists.
Callum blinked again, and his father and Ross were gone. Yet the memory of how it had felt to try to make his father proud and continually fail was sharp. His gut knotted as it had on the day of the furious final fight with his father so many years ago, the one that had driven them completely apart and sent Callum spiraling over the edge of self-indulgence, foolishness, and self-pity. Meeting Constantine and loving her secretly for five years had saved him, and she didn’t even know it. Might never know it.
His fingers twitched to touch her thick chestnut hair, which was streaked with golden strands that hung in loose waves about her shoulders, the rounded slopes of which had been beautifully revealed by the blue gown she’d worn the day they had wed. The unexpected, miraculous second chance to have her in his life could not be gone.
His throat constricted as a foot shoved into his chest and then a boot pressed into his shoulder, causing pain to slice through him. With great effort, he dragged his gaze up to the three men standing over him.
The Enforcer’s fat cheeks swayed forward on his bones as he leaned over Callum. “Do ye still want to claim ye are the Marquess of Kilgore?” he snarled. He flashed yellowed, chipped teeth as his thin, crusty lips formed more words. “I suppose that piece of trash over there”—the Enforcer pointed to the boy Callum had quite forgotten was in the cell—“is the Duke of Edinburgh.”
“No,” Callum said slowly, drawing the ragged edges of his wits about him. “The Duke of Edinburgh—” he paused to spit out blood “—is a rotund, disgusting pig of a man. You actually remind me of him.”
The Enforcer shot out his fist to hit Callum again, but with one last heave of effort, Callum bucked the booted foot off his shoulder and rolled. The Enforcer’s fist met the ground, and the fellow howled in rage. Escape wasn’t meant to be, though. Hands grabbed Callum’s shoulder, the one that felt as if it had been jerked clean out of its socket, and a wave of sickness rolled over him. He was on his back before he knew it, and the Enforcer punched him until Callum’s head filled with a deafening sound that made his ears ring and his nose throb.
The Enforcer crouched beside him, knees creaking, and said, “Let’s try this again, Mr. Selkirk.” That was the name the doctor—or the man who had claimed he was a doctor—had called Callum when he’d arrived at the asylum. “Ye are not a marquess.”
It was ironic that he had never even wanted the title, the trappings, and the responsibility that went with it because, according to his father, it had meant he could not pursue his true passion—art—and now Callum was fighting this battle to insist he was the marquess. His father had to be laughing from his grave. “I am the Marquess of Kilgore.” The words had not even settled into the silence before the Enforcer’s fist met Callum’s mouth once more. He began to imagine all the ways he would punish the man when he was finally able to.
“Ye are who I say ye are,” the Enforcer roared, his frustration showing. “Everyone in here is who I say they are. I’m the lord here, Mr. Selkirk,” the man snarled.
Callum finally understood. Callum being a lord threatened this man, made him feel lesser than Callum, just as it had Ross. That was the problem he’d been trying to recall! Ross had wanted Callum’s title ever since the day he’d come to live with them as a young boy after his parents had died, but Ross could never have it while Callum lived.
“Tell me ye’re Mr. Selkirk, and this will stop,” the Enforcer cajoled.
Callum couldn’t make himself give the man what he wanted, despite the fact that it would save him enormous pain, just as he had not been able to make himself simply be the son his father had wanted. His stubborn pride would likely be the death of him. “I am the Marquess of Kilgore,” he said, his voice low and throbbing in his own ears, “and no matter what you do, you’ll never get me to say otherwise. It will take more than a man the likes of you to ever break me.”
The Enforcer chuckled. “We’ll see, Mr. Selkirk. I’ve time on my side, and no one has failed to break under my…care.”
Callum ignored the boastful part and focused in on the bit about time. It was a detail, and so far, he’d gotten very few of those. He knew he was in St. Kilda, Scotland, because they’d told him so when he’d arrived. That meant he was one hundred miles from the coast of Scotland—and a lifetime from England and Constantine. Rage seared his veins, and he had to clench his teeth to contain a bellow. When the urge had passed, he asked, “How much time would you say is on your side?” His heart began to pound, anticipation to know what was in store mixing with the dread of what he would discover.
The Enforcer snorted. “Two doctors have examined ye and declared ye insane; therefore, ye are mine for the rest of yer miserable life.”
The rest of his miserable life? Good God. It was unthinkable.
His head reeled with the information that rattled around his brain. He could not stay here for the rest of his life. He had to get back to Constantine. The room seemed to sway out of focus, then come back in even as bile rose in his throat. He hadn’t been examined. He’d been glanced at by one man after being dragged to the door of this asylum. The man had waved a hand, expression bored, and simply had said, “Aye, insane. Bring him in.”
The rage inside him cleared the muddle, burning it away, and the truth came back in the most vivid, vile picture, as if he’d painted the scene of treachery inside his head for painstaking hours. Ross had betrayed him. That had to be it. Only his cousin stood to gain from Callum’s permanent disappearance. How long had Ross plotted this treachery?
Delirious laughter crawled its way up Callum’s throat and shoved itself out his mouth. He began to howl with black mirth. Tears sprang to his eyes, and his belly ached with the raucous sounds coming from him. He couldn’t stop the laughter. Perhaps he was actually insane now?
“Shut yer mouth!” the Enforcer roared, which made Callum only laugh harder as flashes of how he had come to be here at his lying, deceiving cousin’s hands came back to him with complete clarity. Ross showing up unexpectedly at Callum’s home not moments after Callum and Constantine had arrived there after their wedding. Ross claiming there was an emergency that required Callum’s immediate attention in Scotland. Callum’s reluctance to go but desire not to fail his father in death as he’d failed him during his life. Constantine standing in the doorway alone as Callum had departed with Ross.
“I said shut yer damn mouth!”
The bellowed order pierced Callum’s consciousness, but he was helpless to obey as the flashes of what had occurred days before forced him toward some point of madness. Someone kicked him in the thigh, causing searing pain to lance up his leg.
To think he’d been stabbed trying to protect Ross when their carriage had been attacked by robbers—or at least Callum had thought they were robbers at the time. Ross had seemed frozen in shock, and the three men had swarmed over Callum, one stabbing him in the leg and the other taking Callum’s crest ring right before the third man had knocked him unconscious.
He glanced toward his ring finger to ensure his memory was correct and found his ring gone. Fresh rage rolled over him for what had to be Ross’s doing. “I’m the bloody Marquess of Kilgore!” he bellowed, waving his hand around in front of his face as heat consumed him. Fever. It was likely fever. “My cousin took my crest ring, the louse! He wants my title.”
“Crest ring, ye say? The bloody Marquess of Kilgore, is it?” the Enforcer said from above him. “I’ll show ye what happens to men who won’t accept who they now are.” The Enforcer waved a hand toward one of his men. “Hold him.” Hands came to Callum’s shoulders, then a boot smacked hard into his shoulder. He groaned, and spots of silvery light dotted his vision.
“Open his mouth,” the Enforcer said. Before Callum could protest, fingers pried his jaw open so far that pain slid down both sides of his jawbone. The Enforcer shoved some concoction in his mouth that tasted of wine, saffron, and bitterness. It was swallow or choke.
The warm liquid slipped down his throat and seemed to slither into his belly, where it settled in a heated puddle. Almost immediately, his body relaxed, and he was floating.
“That,” the Enforcer said, his face appearing over Callum in a warped version of what the man really looked like, “will keep ye silent for now. Listen well while ye are good and quiet. If ye keep insisting ye’re someone ye’re not and keep being bothersome, I’ll have to give ye more treatments than were initially ordered. And that’s a trouble. Treatment is hard, and ye cannot go outside to help work until ye are cured, which makes the owner of this little asylum verra vexed. When he’s vexed, I’m vexed.”
Callum was having a hard time keeping his eyes open and listening. He no longer felt the pleasant floating sensation. No, now he was sinking, the Enforcer growing farther and farther away. But right before Callum slipped all the way under the dark surface, he heard the Enforcer say, “Wrap his hand to stop the blood.”
~ ~ ~
It was a voice, hesitant and soft. It seemed like that of a young boy, not a man, but it was persistent. How many bloody times was that voice going to call him that? He was not Mr. Selkirk. He was Callum Fergussoune, the Marquess of Kilgore.
“Mr. Selkirk, I’m going to change your bandage. It’s soaked through with blood from your finger.”
Callum frowned and struggled to open his eyes against what felt like a heavy counterpane over his face. Finally, his lids complied, and he squinted at the dim light streaming in from the barred window. God, he was tired. Which was strange since he had just awoken. Pain hit him all at once from every direction. He gasped at the excruciating agony but shoved his hands down by his sides to sit up.
“God Almighty!” he bellowed. His mind had been slowed by whatever they’d given him but was not so slow that it numbed the fire consuming his right hand. He brought it in front of him and pushed away the hand that tried to stop him. He looked up, his gaze meeting that of the dark-haired, shaggy-headed boy crouched before him. Callum recalled the lad from the last three days in this cell as Callum had fallen in and out of wakefulness. They’d yet to properly meet.
When the boy tried to grab at Callum’s injured hand again, Callum said, “Do not.”
The boy’s dark eyes widened in fear, and when he scuttled backward, Callum regretted causing such terror. He knew terror well from the years of Ross chasing him as a child before Callum had become faster than his cousin. Callum opened his mouth to apologize, to reassure the boy he meant him no harm, but the blood-soaked bandage around Callum’s right hand commanded all his attention.
He started to unwind the sticky bandage, and as he did, he could feel the boy watching him. Callum paused and met the boy’s gaze once more, seeing the lad’s unease and feeling his own growing. “Did you see—” He had to clear his throat to continue. “Did you see what I did?”
The boy frowned. “The Enforcer cut off your ring finger because you kept insisting you were the Marquess of Kilgore.”
Callum’s jaw slipped open, and he stared dumbfounded at where his ring finger used to be. Bone-deep pain radiated from the wound. He inhaled a steadying breath and forced himself to continue to unwind the bandage. And then there it was. Or there it wasn’t.
He didn’t know how long he sat there staring. It could have been five minutes. It could have been five hours. His mind was having difficulty comprehending that they had truly cut off his finger.
The boy crept closer and motioned to Callum’s hand. “I can wrap it for you…”
Callum didn’t respond, but the lad moved still closer, picking up the clean bandages and carefully beginning the work of wrapping Callum’s hand. The pain made Callum’s eyes water, but he made no sound. The boy spoke, his gaze down as he worked. “If the Enforcer says you are Mr. Selkirk, then be Mr. Selkirk. I’ve seen a man lose his tongue for his unwillingness to quit claiming he was someone else.”
“Who are you?” Callum asked, his own tongue feeling thick and his words sounding slurred.
“I’m Boy,” the boy answered.
“No.” Callum shook his head, the movement making his brain rattle. “Who are you?”
“Boy,” the boy said again. “Who I was is dead, and Boy wants to stay alive. If Mr. Selkirk wants to stay alive, then you are Mr. Selkirk always.” He finished with the bandage and then sat back on his heels, still crouched.
“How did… How did Boy come to be here?” Callum asked, lowering his voice.
The lad stared at him long and hard before answering. “Boy had a father who thought himself cuckolded by his brother and wife. Boy’s father killed his wife and brother, and Boy saw it. So here Boy is.”
“How long?” Callum asked, his head spinning, but at least his thoughts seemed to be coming together.
The boy pointed to the wall, and Callum’s stomach heaved when he saw the lines of dark, old, dried blood. Lines, from all appearances, that appeared to mark time. Lines that had taken years to make.
Beside the first line, Callum could see a name—Peter—written in blood, but several lines of blood had been smeared over the name. It was as if someone—Boy—had tried to erase who he once was.
“You’re Peter,” Callum said quietly.
The boy flinched, and Callum knew it was so. “No,” Peter said. “I’m Boy. Peter is dead.”
Callum looked at the barred window, freedom just beyond it, and his mind went numb. A tap on the shoulder made him turn his head to Peter once more. “Become Mr. Selkirk,” Peter said, scratching at his head.
Callum’s mind started spinning, thoughts tripping frantically over one another. How did someone so young come to sound and look so solemn?
“It’s the only way to survive,” Peter continued. When Callum didn’t respond, Peter asked, “Don’t you want to survive? You can’t escape if you don’t survive.”
“I want to survive,” Callum said, thinking immediately of Constantine and their wedding night when he’d left her alone, of the plans he’d had for the night to show her with tenderness and passion just how she affected him. And later—sennights, if he was lucky, or months, if he was not—when she once more trusted him as she used to five years ago, he had intended to reveal the contents of his scarred heart and the unending depth of what he felt for her.
He swallowed a pulsing knot in his throat. “I have to survive.”
“Me too,” Peter said, offering a tentative smile. “For my mum. It’s the last thing she said to me before she died. Survive.”
The last thing Callum’s mother had said before she’d died was that he had broken her heart. His mother had been a casualty in his war with his father. “For Constantine,” Callum whispered, his chest tightening at the thought of her. They had not promised anything of love to each other before their wedding day. They’d had a nice, tidy bargain—his seed for her inheritance—and he’d gone along with it, thinking there would be time to prove himself to her after they were wed and she was bound to him.
He took a deep breath. None of his jailers gave a damn if he was really insane or not. This—all of this—had been by Ross’s design. Callum was as sure of that as he was that no matter what it took, he would get revenge.