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Authors: Susan Johnson

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Historical Romance

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BOOK: A Touch of Sin
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"Really, Pasha, I don't need details or an explanation. None of this is necessary. I hardly know you." If this woman, Marie, didn't happen to be his lover, surely there were dozens more who were. Why would she wish to be added to the list of Pasha's discarded paramours?

His brows rose, his voice took on a sardonic intonation. "You know other men better?"

"Don't bait me, Pasha. You know what I mean. There's no point in continuing this discussion. I wish to leave Paris alone, I don't wish to travel with you. My only objective at the moment is to return to my son."

"Hear me out first."

"Do I have a choice with you blocking my path?"

"Certainly, you have a choice," he cordially returned, but he didn't move. "I want you to understand my relationship with Marie is purely platonic."

Could he read her mind?

"And I'd never leave a woman crying or unhappy."

An understatement of vast proportions.

"I've sent Marie to my solicitor's, where Charles will see to Gustave's release. With sufficient money one can be paroled from a Turkish prison; my funds are at her disposal. Tell me when you've heard enough to reassure yourself. I could go on and explain Gustave and Marie's relationship if you wish. Gustave's family tends to judges and prelates who don't approve of either Marie or Gustave's life. We've all been friends for years."

"This all sounds very sympathetic and helpful," Trixi interjected, "but that woman looked like more than a friend to me. I'm not sure I believe you." Although she questioned her good sense that she was even allowing this debate, that it made any difference whether Marie was a friend or lover.

"Go to my solicitors," Pasha suggested. "Talk to Marie yourself." If he wasn't so intent on having Trixi back—the impulse overrode all others—Pasha might have questioned his unprecedented efforts to mollify a woman.

"There's still the charade at Mme. Ormand's," Trixi reminded him, bristling at the disagreeable memory, at the thought of everyone knowing her status in Pasha's life.

"I was just trying to save you discomfort. And admit it—until Marie appeared, you were enjoying yourself."

While he might be right, she still wasn't in a cordial enough mood to complacently agree. "Should that exonerate you?"

"You seemed so nervous over a damned dressmaker, I felt you might be more at ease." He shrugged. "But I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done it." He smiled faintly. "You have my permission to chastise me all the way to the coast if it will alleviate your anger."

Submission from Pasha Duras held momentary appeal. But, moody still and plagued with doubt, she countered, "I'm supposed to just ignore what happened?"

"Yes, please. It was all a mistake… and I'm sorry," he softly added. He couldn't let her go yet, for no reason that made sense.

She should reply with an emphatic refusal regardless his justification and regret. Anyone with good judgment would.

A small silence fell.

Two children came running into the alley, their voices shrill with laughter.

Shattering the hushed stillness.

As if released by the noise, Pasha advanced toward her and reached for her valise. "Neither one of us knows why we're doing this. I haven't been to England in years."

"And I've never even talked to a man I didn't know before," she admitted, recognizing how inexplicable her actions were.

"Lucky for me, then." Heartened by her admission, he took her valise from her hand and drawing her near, moved back against the wall, making room for the children to pass.

With his strong body warm against hers, she gazed up at him, her mouth lifting in a tentative smile. "Perhaps I'm lucky as well."

"Friends?" His voice was velvety and very close.

"Slightly more, I'd say."

"Sensationally more, my dear, sweet Trixi." He bent to lightly kiss her cheek. "Let me show you the Channel from the
Peregrine's
deck."

She softly sighed. "You make it very easy to say yes."

"That's my plan. You tell me what you want and I'll deliver."

"No wonder you have lovers by the score."

"That's not why," he wickedly murmured. "But I'm on my best behavior with you so you won't bolt again."

She took a deep breath, realizing she was back to her original reservations. All the liabilities of his visit had returned. "I shouldn't be doing this."

"Consider it a holiday," he cheerfully offered.

"From my dull and uneventful life."

"From both our lives," Pasha suggested, their relationship as odd to him as it was to her. Easily bored, he rarely stayed with women for any duration, yet he was contemplating an extended journey to Kent.

Chris
would
love the toys, Trixi thought, her son's happiness the strongest of motives. And to be bluntly honest, moral and ethical considerations aside, she found herself loath to give up Pasha's enchanting company. She was being offered unalloyed pleasure after years of unhappiness and the temptation to accept was overpowering.

"Say yes," he whispered.

Still plagued by a thousand doubts, she hesitated.

"The
Peregrine
is swift," he cajoled. "I'll have you home in three days." His gaze took on a mischievous glint. "And the company's better than on the packet boats."

She laughed. "A superior argument, Monsieur Duras. I'm finding merit in your view."

"Thank you." The promise of assent in her words pleased him. "May I see you home, Lady Grosvenor?" he inquired as a young boy might, all deference and courtesy.

"If it were only myself, I could be easily persuaded, but I have to consider—"

His mouth stifled her misgivings, his lips warm on hers, his kiss lush with promise, heated, tantalizing, offering roseate hope. And sweet, sweet, beyond their memories of sweetness.

 

But when they'd walked back to the carriage and were about to enter it, Trixi declared with unreserved directness, "While I've agreed to have you come with me, I want to see your solicitor first."

Pasha looked startled for only a second. "Gladly."

"You understand, I can't allow myself to be so foolish again," she said, taking his offered hand to mount the step, "or trusting."

"Fair enough."

"And," she declared a moment later, a determined light in her eyes as he seated himself beside her, "we still have to discuss those gowns."

"At your leisure," Pasha said with a small smile; the gowns were already packed away on his carriage.

"After the solicitor."

"That would be fine." She was back. He was content.

Charles Doudeau was young, handsome, and brilliant. His Norman ancestors manifested themselves in his fair coloring and startling size—some long-ago Viking blood still running true. But within minutes his diplomatic and legal expertise outshone his pleasing physical attributes, and in brief minutes more, Trixi came to understand that Pasha and his solicitor were friends as well as business associates.

Marie, considerably more composed since her discussion with Charles, offered her apologies to Trixi.

"Pasha told me of your terrible misfortune. Please, no apologies are necessary," Trixi assured her with a warm smile.

"Pasha was ready to strangle me for chasing you away," Marie remarked, casting a sidelong glance at Pasha.

Charles looked amused.

Given his dark, devilish looks, Pasha had the rare capacity to look angelic. "Not quite that," he pleasantly dissented. "Now, Charles, I presume you've assured Marie of Gustave's release," he declared, not inclined to publicly discuss his feelings for Lady Grosvenor.

"As much as possible, given the information we have. As I mentioned earlier apropos diplomatic relations with Turkey," he went on, "there are no unconditional guarantees, although with Guilleminot on our side, all should go smoothly. I'll have a message sent to the ambassador this afternoon." He handed Pasha a map. "Gustave's exact location is still uncertain, although he was last heard of at Patras. As you know, the various levels of bureaucracy have to be bribed. That could take some time, but not more than a fortnight. Then, barring treason or espionage charges, we should be able to negotiate a price for Gustave's release. Exchanges are commonplace enough." He directed a reassuring smile at Marie. "With luck, Gustave should be back in Paris within the month."

"Do we know how he was captured?" Pasha inquired, surveying the map.

The young solicitor shrugged. "Marie received word through friends in Rome, so we don't know how reliable the information. He was with Deligeorgis's brigade when the Turks ambushed them."

"When?"

"Two or three weeks ago."

Pasha frowned. He'd been to Greece twice since the war for independence began in 1821. A man could die very easily in a Turkish prison in much less time than two weeks. "You can do this now?" The question was in the nature of a command.

"All it takes is money,
mon ami
," Charles affably replied, leaning back in his chair.

"Time is a factor," Pasha cryptically noted, setting the map down.

"Guilleminot owes me several favors. Word should reach him in Constantinople within ten days."

"Use one of our ships."

"Done."

"I may be out of the city for a time, but I'll leave my direction should you need to communicate with me."

Charles's expression was cordial. "I should be able to handle this without you."

"I can't thank you enough, Pasha," Marie said with heartfelt emotion. "I didn't know where to turn, with Gustave's family estranged from him and with my own circumstances so—"

"Thank me when Gustave's back," Pasha graciously interposed. "We'll go out to Argenteuil for a weekend and do nothing."

"Like last summer." The remembrance made her smile.

"This time we'll really teach you how to sail."

"I'm not sure that's possible."

Pasha grinned. "We'll stay till you learn." Coming to his feet, Pasha leaned across Charles's desk to shake his hand. "You'll see that Marie gets home?" At Charles's nod, Pasha turned to offer his hand to Trixi. "We have a considerable distance to cover yet today." His explanation was directed at Charles and Marie. "So we'll bid you adieu. Lady Grosvenor wishes to return home posthaste."

And after the required politesse and good-byes, they left the solicitor's office and, in short order, Paris.

Chapter Four

 

At the first post stop outside the city, Pasha said, "If you wish to reach Kent in three days, we should travel straight through."

"You don't mind?"

"Not at all."

"Then I'd like that," she happily replied. Now that she was actually on her way home, Trixi felt as though she couldn't reach Burleigh House fast enough.

They drove at top speed, changing horses at every post stop in record time, Pasha's grooms and drivers a precision team with harness and tack. Pasha drank to pass the time and while Trixi declined that style of travel, she marveled at his capacity for wine.

"Do you mind?" he said, aware of her studied gaze when he broached his third bottle.

"No, well… I… no, of course not," she finished, a small tension in her voice.

"There's not much else to do," he casually remarked. "And don't be alarmed. I'm never difficult until my eighth bottle."

BOOK: A Touch of Sin
5.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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