Read an Excerpt
The Panther & the Pyramid
By Bonnie Vanak
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
The Duke of Caldwell had chosen a most unusual way to lose his
Graham Tristan stood quietly in Madame Lafontant's wine
colored private receiving room. Sweat trickled down his back,
gathered in the waistband of his fine buff trousers. Summoning
all his courage, he faced the brothel owner and said in a
quiet, commanding tone.
"She must be ... untried. And not a redhead. My brother assures
me your establishment is the most discreet in London."
The saucy, chestnut-haired woman gave him a slow, thorough
assessment. "Of course, Your Grace. I pride myself on
discretion and filling the deepest desires of many of your
peers. Your request was not unusual." She paused and tapped an
elegant nail thoughtfully upon the back of the horsehair
settee. "That is why I sent my note. The type of woman you
want just arrived. Not quite young. She's 22. A honey blond.
Very well-spoken. Quite lovely. Is that acceptable?"
A tiny puff of air escaped his lungs. Graham forced his face
into an expressionless mask. "Is she a virgin?"
"Most assuredly. Of course, for such a jewel I'll have to
"Of course," he murmured, his heart galloping with a mixture
of excitement and dread.
Her corset stays creaked as she rose from the chaise. "Remain
here and I'll prepare everything. Please, make yourself
comfortable. There's brandy on the sideboard."
With a swish of starched taffeta skirts, she whisked out the
door. Graham ran a finger along the soaked white collar of his
immaculate dress shirt. He eyed the sideboard with its
gleaming array of crystal and decanter of amber fluid. He
never drank alcohol before, either.
"There's a first time for everything," he muttered.
In three strides, he was pouring two fingers of brandy into a
snifter. Graham gulped down the liquor, coughing violently. He
wiped his mouth and set down the glass. Good God, he hoped sex
was going to be a hell of a lot more pleasurable than
"Is there such a thing as a monkish duke? Or a dukish monk?"
he asked himself and laughed.
All the debutantes who eyed him as the Season's festive scads
of parties and balls had begun, marriage glinting in their
eyes at the thought of snaring the very eligible, very rich
duke, would be scandalized to know he was as innocent as they
were. A 28-year-old virgin.
But no longer. Knowing full well he'd hang for the crime he
planned to commit, Graham vowed he'd experience pleasure in a
woman's soft arms for the first time. Tonight, no skilled
whores who would surely detect his inexperience. He wanted a
woman as inexperienced as he was, a woman too nervous to
notice his awkward fumblings and hesitation. A virgin who
would not ridicule him if last minute panic flowered and he
decided he couldn't bear to be touched after all ...
Graham fisted his hands, staring at the scarlet silk-paneled
walls. The man who robbed him of his boyhood was long dead.
Graham had killed him in a duel with his scimitar, ruthlessly
slaying him in payment for abusing him when he'd been taken
captive by an Egyptian tribe at age six. But the other, the
redheaded Englishman who wanted the same ... He still roamed
free. The man who promised a desperate 8-year-old if he
wouldn't struggle, and he would do something very despicable,
he would free him from his tormentor and return him to
England. Graham had closed his eyes, and sold his soul to the
devil with red hair and green eyes ...
And screamed in anguish after, as the man rode off in a cloud
of dust, leaving him behind to face his laughing captor and
the nightmare stench of the dirty, gray sheepskins grinding
into his face each night ...
His eyes flew open. "Never again," he whispered fiercely. "I
am not that same child."
Abandoning the sideboard, he paced the fine wool carpet,
trying to contain the agitation welling inside. Graham
stopped, forcing himself to remember.
He would not be the only virgin in bed tonight. Surely his
first lover would be very nervous. Think of her, he admonished
himself. Focus on her.
His brother Kenneth, who had relinquished to him the title
upon Graham's return to England last year, had given him a few
very explicit words of advice. He also loaned him even more
explicit books with illustrations. "The key to arousing a
woman's passion is to make love with your mind, not merely
your body. Woo her with words, not mere touch," he'd
Woo her. Graham scanned the room and spotted a slim china vase
holding a bouquet of fresh roses. He went to it, studying the
blooms. Instead of a full dozen of one color, they were mixed.
White, yellow, red and pink. How curious.
"Take one, please. You may give it to her."
Madame LaFontant's voice startled him. Graham frowned at the
vase then glanced at her standing in the doorway.
"Why the different colors?"
A mysterious smile touched her mouth. But she gave a casual
shrug. "I like color," she said. "Go ahead, choose one to give
to your lover."
He went to choose and hesitated. Kenneth frequently gave red
roses to his wife, Badra. Red must mean love. Graham knew no
woman could ever love him. But the rich, deep crimson called
to him. Maybe, just maybe, he could pretend love to make this
very personal act less impersonal. If he added a white rose,
it would minimize the meaning of the red.
"May I have two?"
Her smile deepened. "But of course."
Graham hesitated and selected a long-stemmed crimson bloom,
then a white one. As he withdrew them from the vase, a thorn
pricked his thumb. Recoiling, he glanced at the scarlet
dabbling his skin.
"Roses have thorns. It's like life, Your Grace. The sweetness
and the beauty come with a price."
He sucked on his thumb and gave a wry smile. "I don't mind
paying the price, as long as I'm not entirely drained."
She laughed at his double entendre and gestured to the door.
Graham held the roses carefully in one hand, his heart
hammering now with anticipation.
He fiercely hoped the nightmares would end tonight. Holding a
woman in his arms, feeling her soft body beneath his naked
one, plunging into her wet warmth ... No more bitter shame or
Tonight, he'd be a man at last.
* * *
Jillian Quigley was one step closer to a dream.
She touched the blonde wig, adjusting a stray curl. In this
disguise, no one could identity her. Madame Lafontant's
establishment was discreet and paid its whores well. None
possessed her most precious commodity.
Her virginity. Tonight, for 100 pounds cash, she would lose
it. Anonymously. In the dark, with an uncaring stranger.
Hugging herself, she walked about the expansive room. An
ironic smile curved her lips. Losing her precious virginity in
a whorehouse, now wouldn't that make Father howl with anger?
His daughter he'd ordered to marry the wealthy Bernard
Augustine, no longer possessing a saleable asset. Dull
Bernard, who constantly cleared his throat and laughed when
she began discussing Marshall's economic theories.
After tonight she'd have money to sneak off to America. All
her life she had one shining dream tucked into her heart. She
closed her eyes, inhaling the dusty scent of chalkboards,
hearing the bass rumble of the professor's voice, feeling the
hard wood seat beneath her. Two years ago, Harvard College
created a women's annex. Radcliffe called to her like a well
beckoning a weary, thirsty traveler. Jillian itched to drink
its knowledge. And unlike her father, the teacher wouldn't
reprimand her for being smart and a woman.
Long ago Jillian had vowed never to marry a man as emotionally
remote as her father. College offered the only hope of
escaping the gray shadows of her silent, oppressive home.
She went to the heavy blue brocade drapes drawn against the
night and prying eyes from the street below. Her appreciative
gaze swept the room, taking in the polished satinwood
wardrobe, the delicate tables with their inlaid marble, the
soft glow from the lead crystal lamps. Madame LaFontant
specialized in pampering her wealthy clients with surroundings
as elegant as their own domiciles and women who provided every
fantasy their wives could not. She glanced at the bed with its
rich, soft Egyptian cotton sheets, and shivered delicately.
She hoped her client would be fast, indifferent and uncaring.
She just wanted to get it over with. And go on.
Jillian caught sight of herself in the gilded mirror above the
gleaming dresser. The lovely peacock blue gown Madame had
loaned made her appear exotic, almost attractive. Jillian
fingered the low décolleté, flushing at how it revealed the
generous, rounded halves of her bosom. Father insisted on her
dressing modestly in dull gray. If he could, he'd keep her in
sackcloth. Father's invisible, dull Jillian, her reputation
sterling, her morals rigid as his own.
Cosmetics altered her appearance; the shadowed eyelids making
her eyes appear more blue than green. Dim lighting aided in
the disguise. Besides, no one would expect to find the earl of
Stranton's daughter in a whorehouse.
Heavy footsteps, accompanied by a lighter tread, sounded on
the wood floor outside. They paused outside her door, voices
murmured then the lighter steps resumed, walking away. Jillian
bit her lip and gathered her courage. Smoothing down the gown,
she steeled her spine and faced the door as it opened.
Please don't let him be fat, ugly or make any disgusting
noises, she silently prayed. Last minute panic gripped her in
an icy fist.
The door opened and her client stepped inside, slowly closing
it behind him. He stood, hands behind his back, quietly
Breath seized in her lungs. Jillian stared, spellbound.
She had prayed for a man not too ugly.
She didn't expect one this handsome.
A shock of black hair brushed his starched white collar,
spilled across his forehead. His face was classically
handsome; yet strong with character in the tempered steel of
his jaw line and the proud nose. His chin was firm and
arrogant, but the mouth hinted the only softness with a full,
sensual lower lip. A mouth made for kisses. Jillian pulled
back, uncomfortable with the thought. Clearly, a nobleman of
He was of medium height, a few inches taller than her. But a
hint of muscle showed beneath the finely tailored buff suit.
His eyes were onyx, blacker than the night and they studied
her as intently as she studied him. Dark, soulful eyes with
Fresh dismay coursed through her. She only wanted to get the
deed over with and banish him to the deepest corner of her
mind. How could she forget this man?
Her mouth went cotton dry. She felt awkward and uncertain.
What now? She wasn't sure what he expected. Let him set the
pace. If he rushed forward, ripped off her clothing ... her
quivering hand stroked the beautiful blue gown. He had a
commanding presence, but no cruelty shone in those dark eyes.
They looked ... watchful. Speculative.
Finally, he spoke. "Hullo. I'm Graham."
His voice melted over her like warm honey. Dark and deep, with
a rough note. So masculine, and solid, like granite. So
different from the men in her life. Strikingly solid,
especially contrasted with Bernard's pudding softness.
Jillian pushed back a lock of fake hair, hoping the assorted
pins would keep it in place. "I'm Christine." She gave him her
He nodded and approached, his heels making muffled noises on
the thick carpet.
"I brought these for you," he said softly.
A slight trembling affected his hand as he gave her the roses.
Jillian melted like warm chocolate. She closed her eyes,
inhaling the roses' sweet fragrance. "Thank you," she said
shyly, opening her eyes to smile at her client.
A thoughtful look entered his eyes as he touched the rose
petal then with the same finger stroked her cheek.
"Exquisite," he murmured.
Graham took a rose from her hand and brushed her cheek with
it. "An English rose, with delicate soft beauty."
Her lips curved into an ironic smile, though her heart
dissolved at his poetic words. "English roses have sharp
thorns." Jillian bit her lip, dismayed at her callous tone.
But he held up his right thumb, showing a small puncture wound
marked with a rusty dot. "I've already found out. Wounded in
the line of duty."
She smiled. "You're quite brave, sir, to risk your thumb to
bring me such a gift."
"Yes, quite right. Do you suppose the Queen will knight me for
my courage?" A twinkle in his eyes belied his serious tone.
Jillian laughed, tension fleeing her. He smiled, showing
gleaming white teeth. His entire face changed, softening the
severe lines and making him appear boyish. It was such a
drastic difference Jillian found herself utterly charmed.
And more than a little enchanted herself.
Graham took the roses from her hand and set them on a nearby
dresser. The smile vanished, replaced by an intent look.
He framed her face with large, warm hands.
He kissed her, so gently she felt as cherished as a bride on
her wedding night. Jillian closed her eyes and pretended.
Her lips moved beneath his, subtlety.
Graham deepened the kiss, drinking in her mouth, sipping and
tasting. He curled one hand about her nape, holding her still.
His tongue probed the closed seam of her lips.
Flicked lightly, tracing.
She opened to him like a flower unfurling its petals.
He slipped inside, deepening the kiss, tightening his hold on
her nape. Like an eager adventurer, he leisurely explored her
mouth, tasting and nipping a bit at her lower lip. Breath fled
her lungs as she melted into him. An odd fullness pooled in
He broke the kiss, tearing his mouth away with ragged breaths.
Jillian stepped back, a little woozy and startled. Her hand
flew to her kiss-swollen mouth.
"Oh," she whispered.
She hadn't expected to be aroused by the act. Satisfaction
gleamed in his gaze.
Knowing what was expected of her now, she reached for the
fastenings on the gown. He slipped behind her and assisted.
His fingers felt fumbling and once he uttered a low curse.
"How the hell do women manage these things?" he muttered.
Jillian gave a sharp, nervous laugh. "They have men do it?"
A warm chuckle blew on her suddenly exposed bare back. She
shivered again as he slid the gown free. Her stays came next.
She loosened the front laces with practiced ease and then
shimmied awkwardly out of her chemise and under drawers.
And stood before him, naked and unsure.
And very cold inside.
* * *
Her body gleamed like alabaster in the dull glow of lamplight.
Graham felt his breath hitch.
So beautiful. The face of an angel, with high curved
cheekbones and a red, inviting, kiss-swollen mouth. Blonde
hair hung down to her shoulders. The lackluster curls provided
the only tarnish to her beauty. Huge luminous eyes met his.
Blue? In this light, hard to tell. He guessed their color was
a deep sapphire. Her breasts were full, tipped with rosy
nipples. Pale and creamy skin beckoned for his touch.
Her hips were rounded and there was a slight curve to her
belly. Her mound, he noted with surprise, was shaved, showing
an inviting peek of the secret hollow between her thighs. The
damp hollow he'd dreamed about, for him to sink into her wet
warmth and feel a pleasure he'd never experienced ...
Blood rushed to his groin, causing his slight erection to
harden to stone. He dimly felt grateful for the reaction. The
first hurdle cleared.
Kissing her had aroused him. He'd been pleased at her look of
dazed wonder. Although he was a virgin, Graham had experience
in kissing. The widow he'd visited once back in Egypt had been
expert and taught him a few very pleasurable things, but when
he'd started to undress to complete the act, he'd frozen.
That was years ago, he told himself, silently watching
Christine blush to the roots of her blond hair. You can do
this now. Indeed, his eager body assured him he could.
Graham sat on the bed's edge and unlaced his shoes, and began
to shed his clothing. When he stood, nude, a shiver wracked
his body. He hoped she wouldn't notice.
The last time he had stripped before another person ... memories
assaulted him. The dirty sheepskins, the stench of old smoke
grinding into his nostrils. The wrenching pain from behind ...
His harsh breaths filled the silence in the room. I can't do
this, he thought frantically. She'll know. She'll know!
Then a sudden, small noise jerked his attention away from his
Graham realized it came from her. A tiny, squeaking sob.
He studied her, realizing she shivered more than he did. As if
a severe chill, or fright, seized her.
His nervousness fled. God, she was more scared than he was.
Stepping forward, he took her into his arms and kissed her
Excerpted from The Panther & the Pyramid
by Bonnie Vanak
Copyright © 2006 by Bonnie Vanak.
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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