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|Publisher:||Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.|
Read an Excerpt
By Lynette Vinet
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Lynette Vinet
All rights reserved.
"Ah, that one has the eye for you."
"Whatever are you talking about?" Lianne asked and slipped into the costume for the next scene behind the makeshift stage.
"Him." Paulette Dubois grabbed Lianne by the arm and pushed open the curtain a crack for the young woman to see. The faces of the audience blurred before Lianne for a moment, but his didn't. All through the first half of the performance she had been aware of his eyes upon her, watching her. He drank in every aspect of her beauty like the many glasses of champagne which passed his way. His looks unnerved her, and for a moment she faltered during her solo, able to continue only by gazing above the heads of the audience — beyond one dark head with eyes the color of the ocean on a rainy day.
But Lianne feigned ignorance as Paulette whispered, "The handsome one with dark hair, sitting next to the owners of Flannery Hall, the blond man and his wife."
"Oui, I see him," Lianne said and also observed Mr. and Mrs. Flannery seated next to him. It was easy to spot the young couple since this was their home and they were celebrating their seventh wedding anniversary with an operatic performance. Lianne knew Victor Dubois, Paulette's husband and director of the traveling troupe, considered this engagement the high point of his career. Paul and Allison Flannery were well known as lovers of art and music, and he hoped that they and their guests would praise the French troupe of performers so that commissions from others would come their way. It was Victor's dream to perform throughout Ireland for the wealthy and influential landowners who might not object to cheap costumes and scenery, loving opera for its own sake and overlooking the small company's flaws. "Perhaps you should make an assignation," Paulette said and stifled a laugh.
Lianne turned away and faced Paulette in a fury. "How dare you suggest such a vile thing! I am Lianne Laguens, Comtesse de la Varre. Not a prostitute for you to make an easy living. I refuse to have my honor violated for your gain."
Paulette's face turned from pasty white to burning scarlet. "You dare to speak to me in such a manner, you no account aristocrat! The other women in the company manage to please wealthy gentlemen and they don't feel their honor has been violated."
"Then the others are whores, as are you. If Victor's health was good, I'd gladly tell him about the men you've seduced, and the women who pay you a percentage of their whore's money. How a man as noble as Victor ever married a creature like yourself is beyond me."
Lianne stared her down with eyes which shot green fire, and when Paulette saw she would get no further with Lianne, she turned on her heels. "I know what it is like to please a man. Unlike you who sleep alone," she shot back and went to help the other cast members assemble for the next act.
Moving toward the stage, Lianne felt tears sting her eyes. Paulette's comment hurt her, wounding her more deeply than the woman could ever imagine. She did sleep alone, hiding her painful memories from everyone, including Victor whom she regarded as a father. Without Victor's support the last five years of her life, she would not have survived.
She remembered the day the rabble crowd stormed the gates of Chateau de la Varre. The peasants swarmed across the estate looting, destroying the expensive furnishings and objets d'art. Her husband André grabbed her hand in panic, and together, they scooped up their infant daughter, Denise. They fled their home for the countryside where he felt they would find safety. They traveled all night with a crying, hungry baby and managed to make it to a little farmhouse on the outskirts of Paris. The home belonged to Victor who had been André's father's best friend in his youth, and he offered them refuge as if they were his own children. Since Lianne's parents had died shortly after her marriage, Victor took the place of father in her heart, and when he suggested that they flee France and join his operatic touring company, she persuaded André to agree.
At first things ran smoothly. Lianne helped Victor with the costumes, the makeup, and André was in charge of the bookings. Soon Victor discovered Lianne had a beautiful voice and promptly trained her to become his lead soprano. André's pride in her and their love for Denise made Lianne feel that life was wonderful and held promise.
However, one night after a performance in an unsavory section of Dublin, a man in the audience approached Lianne and propositioned her. When she refused, he attempted to take liberties with her, but her shrill screams summoned André who was still backstage. He rushed toward the man, never seeing the knife which pierced his heart.
For weeks afterward, Lianne survived in a nightmarish existence, but she had her little girl to live for and pulled herself together for her. But within a year her child succumbed to fever. From that day on, Lianne kept to herself, isolating herself from everyone in the company. Many of the cast members thought her icy, distant and an aristocratic snob. The men branded her the "ice queen." Only Victor knew the full extent of her suffering, and she would have confided more in him, except he had recently married Paulette, a scheming conniver who had once sung with the troupe. When she proved not to have much of a voice, Victor decided she could please him in other ways.
Now as the murmurs of the crowd brought her back to the present, she decided to ignore Paulette and hide the pain which still gripped her. Tossing her hair which was the color of autumn leaves, she walked onto the stage, unaware that the handsome man in the front row had been handed a note by a servant. He gave her a searching look, then stood on unsteady feet and left the drawing room.
For the rest of the performance she sang beautifully, but her heart wasn't in it. The past caught up with her and Lianne doubted if she'd ever feel happy again.
After she took her Final bow with the other cast members, she heard a noise and Victor suddenly appeared from the shadows of the stage when the curtains closed. Everyone milled about, eager to join the anniversary festivities to which the Flannerys had invited them, but Victor gently cupped Lianne's chin in his hand.
She marveled at how well Victor understood her, and she rested her head against his chest. "Sometimes I wish to forget but then I'd be unable to recall my André's love or the happy expression on my baby's face. Yet it hurts so dreadfully."
His eyes expressed his sympathy for her, and he hugged her. "What you need is to enjoy yourself. Allow Leon or Maurice to escort you to the party. Have a good time for once, my dear. You must live. Don't bury yourself in your pain forever. André wouldn't have wished you to mourn for so long."
"I can't." She sighed but managed a smile. "I love you, Victor. More than anyone on earth."
Victor led her onto the terrace. He shook his silvery head, a grim expression on his face. "You're too young to care about an old, sick man. There are plenty of young men who would adore just a smile from you, a kiss. Don't throw your affection away on me, chérie. But I advise discretion. The company's reputation is important to me, and I won't have women of loose virtue working for me."
Lianne blinked her astonishment. Why would Victor think she might compromise herself and his company by having affairs? After all, she had loved only one man in her whole life and doubted if she'd fall in love again. If he should be suspicious of anyone, it was Paulette. However, Lianne kept her opinions to herself. She knew how easily Paulette swayed Victor into thinking what she wished.
"I'll never give you reason to doubt me," she found herself saying, wondering what had brought about this sudden change in his attitude toward her. On the one hand he wanted her to fall in love. On the other, he cautioned her to be discreet if she did.
At that moment Paulette came by with a half dozen costumes tucked over her arms. "Victor, I must have some help. Everyone has run off and left me to do all the work. These costumes must be packed in the trunks, and I should like to meet our hosts and enjoy myself for once." Her lower lip puffed out for a moment, and then her sly eyes slid to Lianne. "Could you please take these to the summerhouse? Mr. Flannery allowed us the space there for our trunks. I'd appreciate your help."
Lianne realized that Paulette wasn't about to be refused, and since she didn't have any plans to join the party, she agreed and took the costumes. Paulette only laughed and grabbed Victor's arm like a frivolous coquette without a word of thanks to Lianne. She seemed so unusually pleased that Lianne worried for a moment that something was amiss. She watched Victor and Paulette saunter away into the crowd of merrymakers and noted just how thin and sickly Victor had grown of late.
As she left the garden and meandered along the Shannon, the scent of roses and wildflowers drifted over her. Quiet, starry nights always brought memories of lying in André's arms beside the pond of Chateau de la Varre. She remembered tracing his lips, almost able to feel his kiss upon her fingertips, desire welling in her.
No, she mustn't remember! The pain of losing him seemed to have grown more acute, and she was tired of pain. She wanted to live. Live! With a strangled moan, she ran the short distance to the summerhouse where she observed a candle, which must have been lit by Paulette earlier, in the window. As she opened the door, the flickering light illuminated a long, low table which was set with fruits and delicacies to tempt any appetite. Even a bucket containing chilled champagne with two glasses waited on the highly polished mahogany surface. Lianne thought this strange since no one planned to use the small house except for the storage of costumes.
As she set the costumes down on a wooden trunk, she surveyed the rest of the room. Through the illumination of the candle, the blue and white settee, adorned with fluffy pillows, beckoned to her, and the Persian rugs in the same shade of blue cushioned her feet.
She felt such peace, as if a part of her had returned to the Chateau. Such a long time had passed since she had seen such beautiful furnishings. For a brief moment, she longed to recline among the myriad of pillows but knew she must hurry. Though the cast members were enjoying themselves, Victor would soon be rounding them together for travel to Belfast for the next performance.
With a little sigh, she opened one of the trunks and found her own dress and quickly divested herself of the cumbersome costume of Figaro's bride. When she reached for her own gown she heard the creaking of a chair in the far corner of the room.
Lianne turned. Her long hair swung around and covered her pale chemise in a riot of burnished copper curls. A shadowy outline of a man emerged, and she stood in stunned embarrassment, unable to move, barely able to draw breath.
He stepped into the light. The satin of his brown jacket gleamed as did the gray of his eyes. His hair was so dark that not even the soft candlelight highlighted it. He towered over her, and she was dwarfed by the broadness of his chest. As he drew nearer, she recognized him as the handsome man in the audience whose gaze never strayed from her face during the performance.
He bowed in perfect etiquette, but Lianne sensed he mocked her. The pungent odor of whiskey assailed her when he moved closer. Though he seemed steady, he slurred "Mademoiselle," and she knew he was drunk.
"What are you doing here, monsieur? This room is for the company members only. Monsieur Flannery has allowed us its use for our costumes and belongings."
"How magna ... magnanimous of him. One can always count on Monsieur Paul Flannery to set things right." He took a swig from a bottle of whiskey at his side and motioned for her to sit down.
"I shall stand." Lianne held her dress closer to her, not caring for the glint in his eyes.
"As you wish. Take some fruit, whatever you wish. I had it sent for us." He smiled.
She moved away from him as he drew nearer. He was so close that she even noticed a tiny scar on his chin. "For us? I want no food, monsieur." Lianne felt the inclination to run, to flee before this man touched her because his eyes roamed over her like a hungry lion. "I'd like to dress and hope you will act the gentleman and leave."
The smile he had given her moments earlier turned into an ugly scowl. He set the glass bottle down with a thud on the table next to the settee. "Games! Why must you women play games? I know what you are, mademoiselle, otherwise I'd not be here. Your note offered an invitation as did your secret looks to me during the performance. I demand to sample your offerings."
"I don't understand, please ..." Her voice trailed away as he threw off his jacket and grabbed her in one motion. His lips came down hard and furious in their assault of her mouth, and the liquor on his breath caused her to swoon against him in weakness. He growled low in his throat, mistaking her faintness for surrender, and picked her up in his arms and placed her on the settee.
Lianne's head cleared when she felt his body against hers, felt the evidence of his arousal against her thigh. Clenching her fists, she pushed at him and tossed her head aside to escape his passionate kisses. "No, please!" she cried and tried to pull her body from beneath his, but it was a futile attempt. His strength overpowered her.
His lips moved over her mouth, her cheekbone and sought the curve of her neck. "You're good, very good, mademoiselle. I believe I shall get my money's worth."
She started to protest anew, to insist he had made a mistake; but when his hands moved aside the lace of the chemise which covered her breasts and massaged them, then laved them with his tongue, her fear dissipated and turned into a small flame deep within her. Slowly, so slowly she was barely aware of it, he slid the chemise from her until she lay naked beneath his heated gaze.
Her hair lay on the pillows like golden coins from a pirate's treasure; her lush ivory curves beckoned to him. Though she knew the situation was absurd, this man's touch had stirred her in a way she'd never felt in her whole life. Somehow she sensed he wouldn't hurt her, that the hardness in his eyes was from some horrible suffering, and she understood such pain.
He watched her for what seemed like hours, but it was no more than a few seconds before he undressed. Though the candlelight was dying and shadows predominated, his powerful physique startled her. He seemed to fill the room with his manliness, and when his fingers touched her, she felt he burned a pathway to ecstasy across her wanton flesh. Never in her life with André had she responded so wildly to love-making. This stranger seemed to know her vulnerable spots, giving her the greatest physical pleasure a man could bestow upon a woman. For the first time since before her husband's death, she felt alive. Writhing beneath his hands, his lips, she parted her legs for his entry. The flame which had started earlier with his touch grew until a raging fire consumed her.
He held her buttocks in place and pulled her closer to him. "Hold me tight, chérie. Love me, Love me."
And she did. She clung to him as if he were her lifeline and she might lose him in a sea of desire. But with one final thrust, he sent her spiraling into the dark heavens and then joined her ecstasy.
She lay beneath him, panting and drained. A part of her wondered how this could have happened. He lifted his face from her breasts and looked into her eyes. "Je t'aime, chérie. Toujours en mon coeur."
Surprise flickered across her face that he spoke French.
She wished to say something, but words seemed so inadequate. He rolled onto his side, holding her within his arms. Before long, he slept. She watched him, memorizing the arch of his brows, the aristocratic nose, the shape of the sensual mouth. She had shared love with this man, but didn't know his name, and didn't wish to. For one passionate moment, desire and mutual need had brought them together, but now their individual pain tore them apart.
Excerpted from Emerald Ecstasy by Lynette Vinet. Copyright © 2013 Lynette Vinet. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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