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Authors: Patricia Grasso

Tags: #Man-Woman Relationships, #England, #Princes, #Historical Fiction, #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Love Stories

Pleasuring the Prince

BOOK: Pleasuring the Prince
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Pleasuring the Prince
Patricia Grasso

 

 

Desiring the Prince

Fancy looked into Stepan’s dark eyes, anticipation flaring to life and flooding her body. Resisting his magnetic pull, she dropped her gaze to his lips. His hand on her shoulder began a slow caress, a delicious shiver tickling her spine.

She wanted to kiss his invitingly shaped lips.

She wanted to glide her fingertips across the warm flesh covering his hard muscles.

“Do not think,” Stepan murmured. His handsome face inched closer, her nerves rioting in response.

Instinct surfaced, vanquishing her shyness and her resolve. She lifted her face, her lips meeting his, and pressed her body against him.

His arms surrounded her and pulled her tighter. Her arms glided up his chest to entwine around his neck.

Their kiss deepened. He flicked the tip of his tongue across the crease of her lips, coaxing them open, and slipped inside to taste her sweetness.

His lips were warm and firm, his tongue coaxing her surrender. His heat and his strength enveloped her, his gentle touch persuading her trust.

The world faded away and Fancy returned his kiss with equal ardor. They fell back on the sofa, his unyielding muscles covering her soft curves…

Books by Patricia Grasso

TO TAME A DUKE

TO TEMPT AN ANGEL

TO CHARM A PRINCE

TO CATCH A COUNTESS

TO LOVE A PRINCESS

SEDUCING THE PRINCE

PLEASURING THE PRINCE

 

Published by Zebra Books

PATRICIA GRASSO
Pleasuring the Prince

ZEBRA BOOKS
Kensington Publishing Corp.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

Chapter 1

London, 1821

 

“Loves me, loves me not…”

A tall gentleman, dressed in formal evening attire, stood on the summit of Primrose Hill in the predawn gray of a mist-shrouded morning. Carried on the wind, the unmistakable smell of the Thames tainted the early spring air, and a raw clamminess permeated his exposed skin.

The man gazed almost lovingly at the woman, beautiful in death, giving proof to the peacefulness of her passing. He dug into his leather pouch, clutched a handful of rose petals, and sprinkled them one by one the length of her body from head to feet.

“A waste of true beauty,” said a hoarse voice.

The gentleman looked at the short, plump woman standing beside him. “Return to the coach.” Knowing she would obey without argument, he took another handful of rose petals from his pouch.

“Loves me, loves me not…”

 

Royal Opera House

 

I refuse to become my mother.

Fancy Flambeau sat on a stool in a pigeonhole dressing room and prepared for her operatic debut. Pots of theater cosmetics cluttered the tiny table in front of her, and a minuscule mirror hung on the wall over the table.

Noting the mirror’s long diagonal crack, Fancy wondered if bad luck would mar her talent or test her determination. If bad luck walked through the door, she hoped it would not take the form of an aristocrat.

I refuse to become my mother,
Fancy reminded her distorted image in the cracked mirror.

Beyond normal nervousness, her debut did not frighten her. Fancy had more important worries such as aristocratic males who preyed upon singers, dancers, and actresses. Long ago, she had resolved never to love an aristocrat or let herself become love’s victim. Like her mother.

Keeping that resolve had been easy until today. Once she stepped on the stage, every wealthy gentleman in London would set his gaze on her for the first time and target her for his next conquest. Men of the aristocratic ilk considered women like her their quarry, toys to be used and discarded as they pleased.

Fancy had dressed for the role of the adolescent Cherubino in
The Marriage of Figaro
. Her costume consisted of black breeches, a white shirt, and a red jerkin.

After wiping her hands on a linen, Fancy peered in the mirror at her six sisters crowding the dressing room. She turned around and gave them her most confident smile. “By this time tomorrow, I will have become London’s most famous prima donna.”

Ranging in age from nineteen to sixteen with two sets of twins, her sisters laughed at her feigned bravado. The only missing family members were Gabrielle Flambeau, her mother, and Nanny Smudge.

Fancy wished her mother and her nanny had lived to see this day. She sighed, thinking she had many unattainable wishes. More wishes than money.

“We should go to our seats.” Nineteen-year-old Belle opened the door and gasped in surprise when something small and hairy ran past her into the room.

A monkey climbed onto Fancy’s lap. With its hands the animal covered its ears, then its eyes, and finally its mouth.

“A capuchin monkey.” Eighteen-year-old Blaze crouched beside her sister’s stool. She imitated the monkey’s actions and then lifted it into her arms, cradling it against her shoulder like a baby.

“Miss Giggles, there you are.” With an apologetic smile, a stocky man stepped into the dressing room and carried the monkey away.

“Who is that?” asked Raven, the youngest.

“Sebastian Tanner is the prima donna’s husband,” Fancy answered, “and Miss Giggles is her pet.”

“Giggles hates the Tanners,” Blaze said. “I saw it in her eyes.”

“The monkey has good taste,” Fancy said, making them smile.

Her sisters filed out of the dressing room to find their seats in the audience. Only Belle and Raven lingered behind.

Fancy produced a white linen handkerchief, two of its corners embroidered with the initials MC. She passed the handkerchief to Raven.

“Is he in the audience?”

Raven closed her eyes. “I feel his presence nearby.”

“Seeing his oldest bastard on stage should surprise him.” Fancy plucked the handkerchief out of her sister’s hand. “I hope he suffers agonizing pangs of conscience.”

“Why do you nurse a grudge against the man who sired us?” Belle asked. “Bitterness hurts you more than him.”

“His neglect put Mama in an early grave.”

“Mama was responsible for her own fate,” Raven said.

“He never loved us,” Fancy continued, as if her sister had not spoken.

“You cannot know what dwells in another’s heart,” Belle said.

“His money has supported us through the years,” Raven reminded her, “and he sent Nanny Smudge to care for us.”

“Do not make excuses for a father you could not recognize if you passed him on the street.” Fancy sighed, knowing but refusing to admit the rightness of what her sister said. “Losing Mama hurt, and now Nanny Smudge has joined her.”

“Nanny Smudge has gone nowhere.” Raven touched her hand. “You know she protects us still.”

Hearing the orchestra begin the opera’s overture, Fancy reached for her hairbrush. “We’ll meet outside after the show.”

After her sisters had gone, Fancy gazed into the mirror. She brushed her black hair away from her face and wove it into a knot at the nape of her neck.

Stage fright caught her without warning.

Fancy gagged drily over the small pot beside the table. She grabbed a cup off the table, swished water around her mouth, and spit it into the pot.

“Wish me luck, Nanny Smudge,” she murmured.

The aroma of cinnamon scented the air inside the pigeonhole dressing room, giving her confidence. Her nanny’s scent.

Fancy grabbed the costume’s hat and, leaving the dressing room, hurried toward the stage to await her cue. In keeping with her role of Cherubino, she donned the boy’s cap and smiled at Genevieve Stover, the woman playing the role of Barbarina. The two had become friends during rehearsals. Fancy was still surprised the other girl did not begrudge her the coveted role of Cherubino.

“Did you hear about the ballet dancer?” Genevieve whispered.

Fancy shook her head.

“The rose-petal murderer got her.” Genevieve heard her cue and hurried onstage.

Fancy banished the murdered dancer from her mind.
Think adolescent boy,
she told herself.
Charming. Eager. Randy.

Stepping onto the stage, Fancy focused on the music and lyrics. A petite woman with a big voice, Fancy attacked the song and immersed herself in it. Emotionally involved, she forced the audience to follow wherever she led them.

Her powerful voice could break their hearts. Or mend them.

During Cherubino’s plea to the countess, Fancy turned toward the audience, downstage center, perilously close to the edge of the stage. Patrice Tanner, playing the countess, stuck her foot out.

Unable to stop her forward momentum, Fancy tumbled off the stage and flew into the orchestra pit. She heard the audience’s collective gasp but kept singing. Several musicians caught her and lifted her onto the stage.

Fancy narrowed her gaze on the prima donna in an unspoken declaration of war. She threw her arms out in a sweeping gesture and struck the prima donna with a backhanded slap.

The audience loved it and roared with laughter. Fancy glanced sidelong at the audience and gave them an exaggerated wink, making them laugh even more.

Both women exited the stage. Director Bishop waited in the wings, his expression long-suffering.

“The twit struck me,” Patrice Tanner complained. “Get rid of her.”

“Slapping you was an accident,” the director said, “and Fancy is sorry. Aren’t you?”

“I am
not
sorry.”

Patrice Tanner gave her a murderous glare and stalked off. Loitering near them, her husband followed her.

“Prince Stepan Kazanov requests an introduction during intermission.” Director Bishop smiled at her. “The prince wants to gain the advantage over the other young swains.”

A passing stagehand gave Fancy a cup of water. She swished the liquid around in her mouth, turned her head, and spit it out. Several droplets of water splashed the director’s shoes.

Fancy lifted her violet gaze to his. “Sorry.”

“Why don’t you drink it?”

“If I swallow the water,” she answered, “my nerves will regurgitate it. Probably onstage.”

“About the prince?”

“No.”

“I cannot tell His Highness you refuse to meet him,” the director said. “Prince Stepan is the opera’s most generous patron.”

“I am not for sale.”

“Meeting our patrons is part of your job,” he told her. “You do want to keep your job, don’t you?”

“Very well, you may introduce Prince Stepan after the show,” Fancy agreed, reluctance etched across her expression. “Tell him I refuse to become his mistress.”

“Tell him yourself.”

 

“There she is.”

Sitting with his three brothers in an opera box, Prince Stepan Kazanov stretched his long legs out and relaxed in his chair. He fixed his dark gaze on the woman making her operatic debut, following her every movement.

Miss Fancy Flambeau stood a mere two inches over five feet, a slender woman with a full-bodied voice. Which had attracted his attention the afternoon he had stopped at the opera house to speak with the director. Stepan had listened to her singing and known he would claim her for himself.

“That is the object of your interest?” Prince Viktor asked.

“She dresses like a boy,” Prince Mikhail remarked, casting his younger brother an amused glance.

“Is my baby brother hiding a shockingly sinful secret?” Prince Rudolf teased him.

“Miss Flambeau is playing Cherubino.” Irritation raised Prince Stepan’s voice. “Hence, the boy’s attire.”

“Shush.”

The four Russian princes looked toward the opera box on their right. Lady Althorpe sat with the Duke and Duchess of Inverary. The older woman glared at the four brothers.

Sitting closest to the lady, Rudolf gave her his most charming smile. “We apologize for the unnecessary noise, Lady Althorpe.”

Stepan returned his attention to the stage. In the middle of Cherubino’s plea to the countess, Fancy Flambeau tripped over the prima donna’s foot and tumbled off the stage.

The audience gasped and leaned forward in their seats. Fortunately, several musicians caught her and lifted her onto the stage. The singer missed no lyrics. She took revenge by stepping close to the prima donna at the moment of an arm-sweeping gesture and struck the other woman.

Stepan chuckled with amusement. When the opera singer winked at the audience, he roared with laughter, as did everyone else in the theater.

“I cannot believe those two did that on stage,” Prince Viktor said.

“The reigning prima donna resents the rising star,” Prince Mikhail said.

“Miss Flambeau seems strong-willed,” Prince Rudolf said. “Her spirit will keep you in tow, baby brother.”

“Shush.”

Prince Rudolf glanced at Lady Althorpe. “Sorry for the interruption, but my baby brother is misbehaving.”

“Take a paddle to his backside,” the lady drawled.

The three oldest Kazanov princes burst into laughter.

“Shush.”

Stepan ignored his brothers’ gibes. Being the youngest in the family, he had learned to disregard their teasing criticisms. Which, as he saw it, was the only drawback of being the youngest. His older brothers would always accept responsibility for his livelihood, whether he worked in the family businesses or not. Life was one long country house party.

“Your Highness?”

Stepan looked over his shoulder at the opera director. “Yes?”

“Miss Flambeau begs your indulgence,” the man whispered, “but prefers to meet you after the show.”

“Thank you.” Stepan almost rubbed his hands together in glee. How many evenings would making her his mistress take?

Intermission began, the time when society mingled. Usually, Stepan left the Kazanov opera box and circulated among his many friends, speaking with the males and flirting with the females.

Tonight was different, though. Stepan stood to stretch his legs and sat down again, surprising his brothers.

“If you do not visit the Clarke box,” Viktor said, “you will disappoint Lady Cynthia and her mother.”

“Mother and daughter are trying to trap me into marriage,” Stepan said. “The thought of passing my life with Cynthia Clarke gives me the hives.”

“What about the merry widow?” Mikhail asked.

“Lady Veronica would be happier with you,” Stepan said, “and you do need a stepmother for your daughter.”

Prince Mikhail raised his eyebrows. “Veronica Winthrop is decidedly unmotherly.”

“If you direct your attention across the hall,” Rudolf said, leaning close, “you will see Lady Drummond sending longing looks in your direction here.”

“Elizabeth Drummond is married.”

“If she is already married,” Rudolf said, “then you need not worry about her trapping you into marriage.”

Stepan glanced at his oldest brother. “I am meeting Miss Flambeau after the show.”

“She looks awfully young,” Viktor said, drawing his attention.

“Once taken, her innocence can never be returned,” Mikhail reminded him.

“You assume I plan to make her my mistress,” Stepan said. “Who knows? I may propose marriage.”

“Give over, baby brother.” Rudolf eyed him with amusement. “The prince and the opera singer?”

“I would never corrupt an innocent.” Stepan winked at his oldest brother. “Unless, of course, the innocent wanted corruption.”

 

Fancy felt exhilarated. She stood in the wings and waited her turn to cross the stage and take a bow.

The director had sent the male leads out first and then Patrice Tanner. And now her turn had arrived.

Fancy stepped into the audience’s view. Thunderous applause erupted, the deafening sound music to her ears.

In keeping with her role of Cherubino, Fancy swaggered like an adolescent boy and, making a show of her bow, swept the hat off. Her heavy mane of ebony cascaded around her, almost to her waist.

BOOK: Pleasuring the Prince
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