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Authors: Chevon Gael

The Bartered Virgin

BOOK: The Bartered Virgin
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The Bartered Virgin
Chevon Gael
Carina Press (2011)

Sold to the highest-ranked aristocrat!

That's what Winnifred Percy, New York City heiress, considered her engagement to Sir David Knightsbridge, Earl of Wolshingham. It's 1902 and she wants to be a modern woman, free to travel the world. To do that she needs to show the Earl she is a completely unsuitable bride. Smoking and cursing doesn't have much effect on David so Winn reads him a very naughty French book. That leads to unexpectedly passionate kisses, and David's declaration that he wants to marry her. Drat! Even when she takes him to Coney Island to mingle with ordinary people and eat exotic hot dogs he's intrigued...and intriguing. When desire leads them into scandal, Winn realizes she's ruined his hopes for restoring his family's honor. Can she let him go to find a more suitable bride?

44,800 words

The Bartered Virgin

By Chevon Gael

Sold to the highest-ranked aristocrat!

That’s what Winnifred Percy, New York City heiress, considered her engagement to Sir David Knightsbridge, Earl of Wolshingham. It’s 1902 and she wants to be a modern woman, free to travel the world. To do that she needs to show the Earl she is a completely unsuitable bride.

Smoking and cursing doesn’t have much effect on David so Winn reads him a very
naughty
French book. That leads to unexpectedly passionate kisses, and David’s declaration that he
wants
to marry her. Drat! Even when she takes him to Coney Island to mingle with ordinary people and eat exotic hot dogs he’s intrigued…and intriguing.

When desire leads them into scandal, Winn realizes she’s ruined his hopes for restoring his family’s honor. Can she let him go to find a more suitable bride?

Dear Reader,

A new year always brings with it a sense of expectation and promise (and maybe a vague sense of guilt). Expectation because we don’t know what the year will bring exactly, but promise because we always hope it will be good things. The guilt is due to all of the New Year’s resolutions we make with such good intentions.

This year, Carina Press is making a New Year’s resolution we know we won’t have any reason to feel guilty about: we’re going to bring our readers a year of fantastic editorial and diverse genre content. So far, our plans for 2011 include staff and author appearances at reader-focused conferences such as the RT Booklovers Convention in April, where we’ll be offering up goodies, appearing on panels, giving workshops and hosting a few fun activities for readers. We’re also cooking up several genre-specific release weeks, during which we’ll highlight individual genres. So far we have plans for steampunk week and unusual fantasy week. Readers will have access to free reads, discounts, contests and more as part of our week-long promotions!

But even when we’re not doing special promotions, we’re still offering something special to our readers in the form of the stories authors are delivering to Carina Press that we’re passing on to you. From sweet romance to sexy, and military science fiction to fairy-tale fantasy, from mysteries to romantic suspense, we’re proud to be offering a wide variety of genres and tales of escapism to our customers in this new year. Every week is a new adventure, and we want to bring our readers along on the journey. Be daring, be brave and try something new with Carina Press in 2011!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

For my family, close and extended, whose unconditional faith in me and my writing career kept me going through the blackest of moments.

For The Bear and his unconditional love.
And to Gina and Angela at Carina for their patience and support.

Prologue

New Orleans, 1886


Bon anniversaire,
Madame!”

The toast was followed by the shrill clink of several crystal champagne glasses.

Louise Desjardins accepted congratulations and good wishes from her guests in between sips of expensive French champagne. As the most famous brothel madam in New Orleans and owner of
Le Rougemont,
the most elegant house of pleasure in the French Quarter, Louise expected and received only the best. She reclined on a red velvet divan, dressed in a richly tailored purple-and-black satin Worth gown, its bodice strewn with tiny Austrian crystals that winked in the candlelight. At forty-six, she was still a handsome woman, although her trademark chestnut tresses were now streaked with gray and tiny crow’s-feet crept into the corners of her blue eyes. Her skin was otherwise flawless and her careless smile mirrored her typical cavalier manner. Friends, happy and celebrating, surrounded her. It was as good a time as any to make the announcement. Mindful of her gown, she stood to address the room.


Mes ami,
my friends.” She waved a delicate, beringed hand through the air to gain attention. “I have an announcement to make.” The room fell silent. Louise scanned the crowd. Breathless anticipation radiated from her best girls, those she considered her extended family, as well as longtime associates and very special “guests.”

“My girls are the best in New Orleans, possibly in all of Louisiana.”

“Hear, hear!” A white-haired gentleman with a heavy Southern accent banged his cane on the floor from where he sat on a chaise lounge, bookended by two young beauties wearing only corsets and petticoats. Their ample breasts overflowed the confines of scarlet satin and black lace.

A rumble of laughter floated across the room.

“What I have to say may shock some of you—if my house of pleasure isn’t shocking enough.” She held up her hand to stay any further comments. “But it is because I am so successful that I have decided to retire.” Louise closed her eyes in response to the retaliatory cries of “No!” and gasps of “She must be joking.”

“My friends, I only said
I
was retiring. My house will remain in operation until such time as the politicians and law enforcers decide it must not.”

“Why, my dear lady,” the Southerner interrupted, “I’ll just have a word with the esteemed governor of this fine state. I saw him upstairs earlier this evening.”

Loud guffaws followed the pronouncement.

“Nevertheless,” Louise said, “it is my intention to turn the business end of my house over to my lawyer, Mr. Percy of New York City. Don’t worry, Colonel Beauregard, Estelle will still be available to you whenever you wish.”

With that, a lovely blonde displaying her wares in a low-cut confection of sheer tulle glided over to the aged Colonel and shooed away his adoring audience. Then she lifted her skirt to display her lack of undergarments and planted her bare bottom on his knee. “Colonel, you will still spank my bottom if I behave badly, no?”

“Hell yes, darlin’.”

The girl clapped him on both ruddy cheeks while he laughed until he descended into a coughing spasm.

Louise’s butler appeared beside her. “The
gâteau
, Madame. It is ready.”

“Ah,
trés bien,
Pierre.” Louise clapped her hands again. “Cake, everyone!”

 

Later that evening Louise sat at the rolltop desk in her private quarters. With her hair let down into a loose braid and a pink peignoir draped loosely across her shoulders, she thumbed through a bound volume of handwriting. A knock at the door interrupted her.

“Mr. Percy, Madame.”

Louise closed the book and placed it in a desk drawer. “He may come in, Pierre. And bring us each a bourbon with ice.”

“Yes, Madame.”

“You wanted to see me, Louise?”

“Yes. Sit down, Zachariah, I have something to talk over with you.”

Zachariah Percy looked slightly uncomfortable, as the only other place to sit down was her bed. “I’ll stand, thanks.”

Louise started at his hesitation, looked around her room and then back at Percy in understanding. “Sit here.” She rose to give him the chair.

“Oh, no. I’m fine.”

“Percy, I pay you a lot of money. Now, please, sit down.”

He finally relented as Louise retreated to her bed and sat on the edge.

“I wanted to talk to you alone because you’re the only one I trust. Do you know why?”

“I assume it’s my reputation.”

“Partly. But I respect you. You have a prosperous practice, a sweet wife…and a child, I think.”

Zachariah genuinely smiled for the first time that evening. “Yes, a son. And, of course, our little girl.”

“Yes, your daughter.” She smiled but carefully maintained her professional demeanor. “In all the visits to my house you have declined any pleasures presented to you. There are few men of your stature with such virtue.”

“Virtue has nothing to do with it, Louise. I love my wife and I am content. My services to you have been strictly business, with the
one
exception for which I shall be forever grateful. The investments I made for you have made you a very rich woman. You can now afford to be happy.”

“Yes. But you see here a woman who is forty-six, with no man in her life. Only memories. I will not bore you with the trials of my past but you know who I am, and most importantly, you know
what
I am. A whore.”

“Louise, don’t talk like that.”

“It’s true. I am a whore of my own making. Not like the young girls who come through my door ruined and turned out by their families because of a careless mistake. No, I am a woman who craves the feel of a man’s prick inside her, who loves to cradle a pulsing shaft next to her cheek and who is addicted to the taste of a man’s heat.”

“Is that why you invited me up here, where no man has ever been?”

“No. It is because of this vice that I beg your counsel. In that desk is a book, a diary. I have kept it for many years, since I started my trade, in fact. Open the drawer in front of you.”

He did, but stayed his hand over the book until he received some instruction from Louise. “Go ahead,” she urged. “Open it.”

Percy placed the book on the desk and opened it to a random page. He turned to her, puzzled. “It’s in French.”

“You can translate.”

“Not well. They taught us Latin at Harvard.”

“Nevertheless, I want you to take this book back to New York and put it in the safe deposit box, along with my will.”

“What’s so important about this book?”

Louise sighed. “
Mon dieu!
In that book is a lifetime of secrets. Skills, practices that are forbidden, names of men who have shared my bed over the years. Powerful men in the government, in business and in the clergy. Some of them would kill if they knew I kept a journal of their, um, peculiarities.”

“I find that a little hard to believe. What in particular would endanger your life?”

“Hand me the book.”

Percy placed it in her outstretched hand. She opened it and flipped through several pages. “Ah, here is something. You have a client who has recently entrusted to you his fortune from mining.”

He nodded.

“It would not be good for him should his investors discover that he is partial to wearing women’s stockings and garters under his trousers. And this gentleman, a close aide to the president, likes to be diapered like a baby and fed with a bottle before—”

“Enough,” cried Percy.

“Indeed. Keep this book safe. I do not care what you do with it when I am gone but I do not want it here any longer. I leave at the end of the week for Europe. I have always wanted to travel, you know. To return to the Paris of my birth, where I first learned the trade. Then to India, I think, and maybe marry a rich potentate who knows nothing of my past.”

Percy tucked the book into his valise and rose to leave.

“Whatever you do, Louise, I know you will do it with all the
joie de vivre
that is your trademark. I wish you well. In the meantime, I will take care of things here.”

“Yes, I have instructed my second, Daphne, to contact you. She will take over this house now.” Louise held out her hand and Percy kissed it respectfully. He gathered his hat and valise and bowed to her.

“You are many things, Louise Desjardins, but a whore is not one of them.”

It was the last time Zachariah Percy saw her alive.

BOOK: The Bartered Virgin
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ads

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