Read an Excerpt
By Erica Spindler
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
Copyright © 2003
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Hope Pierron sat in the window seat of her third floor bedroom and gazed out at the Mississippi River. She smiled to
herself, anxiousness and excitement coiling in the pit of her gut. She controlled both with icy determination. She had
waited all her life for this day; now that it had come, she would not reveal herself by appearing too eager.
She pressed a hand to the sun-warmed glass, wishing she could break it, leap out and fly to freedom. How many times
during her fourteen years, years spent trapped within the red walls of this house, had she wished the same thing? To be
a bird, to leap from the window and fly to freedom?
After today, she wouldn't need to wish for wings. After today, she would be free of this house. Of the stigma of sin.
Free of her mother and all who she had known.
Today she would be reborn.
Hope closed her eyes, thinking of her future, yet picturing her past and this hated house, instead. The Pierron House
had been a fixture on River Road, a part of the culture of southern Louisiana since the summer of 1917. That had been
just before the demise of Storyville, when her grandmother Camellia, the first Pierron madam, had moved her daughter
and her girls here.
Surprisingly, neither hue nor cry had erupted then, nor when the gentlemen began calling. All these years later, this
house, the activities within, were still accepted, just as the heat and mosquitos of August were accepted - with
resigned dismay and sugar-sweet disdain.
Hope supposed one could expect no less; after all, this was Louisiana, a place where food, drink and other sensory
intoxicants were as much a part of day-to-day living as mass and confession. Louisianians accepted their penance with
as much joie de vivre as they did their pleasure; they understood that in a strange way, The Pierron House
The building itself, a Greek Revival structure with twenty-eight imposing Doric columns and sweeping wraparound
galleries, was an architectural wonder. Ironically, when the afternoon sun struck it just so, the house glowed a
virginal, almost holy white. When the sun set, however, the illusion of holiness ended. The house came alive with the
music of men the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Tony Jackson, the walls rang with the laughter of those who had come to
taste the forbidden fruit and of those who sold it.
Every evening of her life she had been forced to hear that laughter, had been forced to witness the regularity with
which her mother's girls led their gentlemen up the serpentine staircase. Cloaked in a sinfully plush, bloodred carpet,
those stairs led to the six large bedrooms on the second floor, bedrooms outfitted opulently with silks and brocades
and large, soft beds.
Beds designed to make a man feel like a king or, on a particularly good night, a god.
For as long as she could remember, Hope had known what went on in those bedrooms. Just as she had known who and what
she was - the whore's daughter, a trick baby, tainted by sin.
From secret places and small, unnoticed peepholes, Hope had watched with a mixture of fascination and horror the things
that men and women did with each other. And sometimes, while the couple writhed on the bed, she would rock back and
forth, her thighs pressed tightly together, her breath coming in small, uneven gasps.
Those were the times The Darkness held her in its grip, clamoring for unholy release.
Afterward, guilty and ashamed, Hope would punish herself. The way she touched herself, the things she watched, were
wrong. Sinful. She had learned of her sin at mass and in catechism, as she sat alone because none of the other children
would come near her. Yet, outside the church walls and inside these, such behavior was lauded - especially by the men
who laughed by night and averted their eyes by day.
At the creak of the stairs that led to her bedroom, Hope turned away from her window and faced the door. A moment
later, her mother appeared in the doorway.
Lily Pierron was an incredible beauty, same as all the Pierron women had been. Her face and figure seemed not to have
aged with the years; her hair was the same velvety blue-black it had been in Hope's childhood. The other whores
commented on it behind her mother's back; Hope had heard them whispering. They speculated that Lily had made a pact
with the devil. They speculated that all the Pierron women had.
All except Hope. Hope was not nearly as beautiful as her mother - her own hair was a deep brown instead of black, her
eyes a watery rather than brilliant blue, heer features sharp instead of soft.
She was not as beautiful because The Darkness was not as strong in her.
"Hello, Mama," Hope murmured, fixing a sweet, sad smile on her mouth.
The older woman returned her melancholy smile and took a step into the room. "You look so grown-up standing there like
that. For a moment, I hardly recognized you."
Hope's heart began to thud against the wall of her chest. "It's just me, Mama."
Her mother laughed softly and shook her head. "I know. But it seems only yesterday you were a baby."
And only an eternity of yesterdays that she was a prisoner of this place. "To me, too, Mama."
Lily crossed to the bed and the suitcase that lay open on top of it. Hope saw the effort it took her mother to keep
from falling apart, and wondered if her mother noticed that her daughter's eyes were dry, her hands and voice steady.
She wondered what her mother would say if she knew the truth, if she knew that her only daughter planned to never see
"Is this the last one?" her mother asked. "The car will be here any moment."
"Yes. I've already taken the others down."
Lily carefully tucked the final few items into the case, then closed the bag and fastened the clasps. "There." She
lifted her swimming gaze to Hope's. "All ready to ... go." Her throat closed over the last, and the word came out
Hope forced herself to cross to her mother. She caught Lily's hands with her own and brought them to her cheek. "It's
going to be all right, Mama. Memphis isn't that far."
"I know. It's just that -" Her mother drew in a ragged breath. "How am I going to manage without you? You're the best
thing ... the only good thing in my life. I'm going to miss you desperately."
Hope curved her arms around her mother, fighting a smile. She hid her face against her mother's shoulder. "I'm going to
miss you, too. So much. Maybe I shouldn't go. Maybe I should stay and help -"
"No! Never!" Lily cupped Hope's face. "You will not end up like me. I won't allow it, do you hear? This is your chance
to escape. It's what I've always wanted for you. It's why I named you Hope." She tightened her fingers. "You were
always my hope for the future. You mustn't stay."
This time Hope couldn't contain her smile. "I'll make you proud, Mama. You wait and see."
"I know you will." Lily dropped her hands. "Everything's set. St. Mary's Academy is expecting you. You're from
Meridian, Mississippi, the only child of wealthy parents."
"Who travel abroad," Hope filled in. She laced her fingers together, nervous suddenly. "What if someone discovers the
truth? What if one of my classmates is from Meridian? What if -"
"No one will discover the truth. My friend has seen to everything. Not one other girl from Mississippi attends the
academy. Even the headmistress believes you're Hope Penelope Perkins. No one will question your story. Feel better
Excerpted from Forbidden Fruit
by Erica Spindler
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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