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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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"Completely," Pasha instantly agreed.

"You can't touch me in front of Christopher or even allude to any intimacy. I mean it absolutely, absolutely."

"Of course not." The barouche, he thought, would bring them to the coast faster.

"And you can't stay long." As if she would be protected from her wanton longing with defined boundaries.

"You set the time limit," he replied, assured of his skills as a lover.

"And you must
never
look at me like that in public," she declared, reading the shameless message in his eyes.

"In public I shall treat you like a monk."

She couldn't help but laugh. "Are you capable of such a role?"

"Well, there are monks and there are monks," he murmured, amusement in his gaze.

"I'll need more assurance than that, Monsieur Duras," she briskly noted, simultaneously playful and assertive.

"I'll be brutally distant if necessary." He was careful to respond with respect. "No one will suspect a thing."

She exhaled a small sigh. "I find myself wanting you to come with me very much. Too much," she gently added. "And I shouldn't."

"The neighbors won't suspect a thing, nor the servants or Chris," he promised. "My word on it."

"I wasn't thinking of that."

"Ah… society's rules you mean."

She nodded.

Recognizing her struggle with conformity, he came to her and, drawing her into his arms, held her close, his embrace comforting, passionless, offering her the bulwark of his strength and confidence against her uncertainties. How good it felt after so many lonely years, she thought, his strong body warm against hers, his venturesome soul like a ray of sunshine in her life. Dare she allow herself more time to savor the delights he offered, the blissful sexual gratification, his genial companionship? Could she afford the price his company in Kent might exact?

"We should buy Chris some toys before we leave," Pasha murmured.

"No, please, I'd rather you didn't."

He took note she'd said no to the toys, not him. "How can a few toys hurt?" he coaxed. "Think of Chris. Every child like presents."

He struck a nerve with his simple assertion. Her inability to buy her son the luxuries of life greatly distressed her. "I don't know," she murmured, hesitant to be more beholden than she already was.

"We'll buy just one or two," Pasha gently argued.

"You shouldn't."

Aware of the new ambiguity in her tone, Pasha said, "Does Chris have some favorite storybook?"

"Oh, Pasha." Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. "I've been poor for so long."

"More reason yet, sweetheart," he soothed. "I've plenty of money. Accepting a gift doesn't lessen you, and it would give me great pleasure." The pleasure she'd given him last night was worth a princely sum. Had she not so many scruples, he would have said as much. "Say yes now," he cajoled, "and make me happy."

Telling herself to put this in some kind of perspective—she wasn't selling her soul, she was giving pleasure to her son—she smiled, a tentative, wet-eyed smile. "Chris would adore it. Thank you."

"Perfect. And then we'll buy some clothes for you, too," he softly added, touching her cheek with the back of his hand.

She shook her head. "No, please, I don't need anything."

"Chris first," he whispered, bending to drop a light kiss on her nose. "And then yours," he asserted in his single-minded Pasha Duras mode. "You deserve it."

Pasha's packing was accomplished with lightning speed by a host of servants, and the toy store on the rue du faubourg St.-Honoré was all abustle when they arrived there a scant half hour later. The manager greeted them at the door, his cravat precisely folded, his hair sleek and glistening.

"It's an honor, sir, to have received your message," he said. "Forgive our disorganized state this early in the morning. The rest of our staff will arrive shortly. In the meantime, it would be my pleasure to help you select some gifts for—"

"Lady Grosvenor's son," Pasha supplied.

"Enchanted, madame, to be of assistance. How old is your boy?" He took care to school his features to a courteous blankness. Although if Pasha Duras was taking interest in a young child, he assumed the boy's paternity wasn't in question.

"Christopher is four." She smiled up at Pasha, grateful for his kindness to her son. "He's going to be thrilled."

"Perhaps you could suggest some toys, darling, so M. Aumont can direct us."

"Toy soldiers, I think. He likes them immensely. Just a few, Pasha. Really."

"We've already had this discussion," he murmured near her ear. The carriage ride over had been devoted to her objections and his assurances that he could well afford a few toys for Christopher. "And I
wish
to do this," he quietly added.

"Toy soldiers then, Monsieur Aumont," she said with a winsome smile, knowing the joy such presents would bring.

Pasha bought two entire armies, hushing Trixi's protest by playfully threatening to kiss her before M. Aumont if she persisted in her opposition. He bought a large rocking horse, too, and a mechanical dancing bear. Firmly grasping Trixi's hand, he walked through the store selecting games and musical instruments, balls and hoops, dress-up clothes and stuffed animals until, finished shopping at last, he had enough playthings to fill a second carriage hastily summoned from his stables.

Trixi took increasing issue with his casual largesse as the shopping spree progressed.

The shop manager was ecstatic.

And Pasha found himself curiously delighted to be in a toy shop after so many years.

"There now," he cheerfully said a short time later, helping Trixi into his carriage. "I think Chris should find some of that to his liking." Seating himself, he smiled at her pouty face. "And thank you for your cooperation."

"I
dislike
being dragooned," she bristled. "You put me in a very awkward position."

"Don't fuss over a few francs," he calmly replied.

She scowled. "A few
thousand
, you mean. It's a debt I can never repay."

"Your company is payment enough." He was astonished by her opposition to gifts—a novelty in terms of the women in his life.

"Like a whore, you mean."

"No, not like that," he quickly retorted, capturing her hands. "Look, I didn't mean to offend you." He tightened his grip as she struggled to escape his hold. "Do you want me to take them all back?" A touch of bewilderment showed in his eyes. "I will, if your reputation is at stake, if these toys for your son are some damnable stumbling block. But, darling, understand, please, I respect and adore you and no one saw us save Aumont, who knows better than to gossip."

"You're putting me in the role of courtesan."

"No one would ever mistake you for a courtesan,
chouchou
." His smile was suddenly teasing. "Especially in that demode gray gown with the schoolgirl lace collar. Courtesans prefer more striking attire. And Aumont knows the difference, believe me."

"So he would have considered us friends? No more?"

"Only friends," Pasha lied.

"Truly? That's all?"

He nodded and smiled. "Truly. Friends… a family friend, a relative perhaps. A man and woman can shop for toys without any implied sexual overtones."

"This is all very unfamiliar to me," she said with a sigh. "I've lived too long outside society. Oh, dear." she abruptly exclaimed, his comments on dress suddenly recalled. "I hope my shabbiness didn't embarrass you." Demode gowns would be out of place in Pasha's princely world.

"Rest assured, darling, you're stunning in any gown." He touched a golden tendril curling on her temple. "I was merely pointing out the differences in dress between you and a courtesan."

"You take them shopping I suppose," she said, her curiosity overriding boundaries.

"No." He perjured himself without a qualm. "Although I'd enjoy buying you a gown if you'd agree."

"I'd be too uncomfortable. Toys were awkward enough, a gown would be too personal."

"Maybe we could come to some agreement," he suggested, intent on having his way.

Perceptive, she said, "You have your way, you mean."

His gaze was innocent. "I was thinking more of a compromise."

Making a small moue, she considered his beneficence for a moment. "I don't think so," she finally said, not able to disregard the moral liabilities.

"You'd look very lovely in ribbons and lace." His gaze trailed slowly over her body. "Something frothy and feminine…"

"Please, Pasha…" she breathed, drawing as far away as possible within the narrow confines of the carriage, his heated gaze disturbingly close.

"Perhaps violet silk to match your eyes."

And the tantalizing image of a gown in violet silk teased her senses. How long had it been, she wistfully thought, since she'd had a fashionable new gown? Since she'd had any new gown? Her entire wardrobe consisted of altered garments from her mother's closets. How disastrous would it be to her peace of mind to accept such a gift from him? Would the pleasure of a new dress seriously jeopardize her honor? Although after last night, perhaps issues of virtue were no longer completely pertinent. No one in Paris actually knew her, she rationalized, dazzled by the lure of something pretty and frivolous after years of wearing hand-me-downs. And a lady's frock for a man of Pasha's wealth was a mere bauble. While she debated, the notion of violet silk became increasingly tempting. "Would you think me scandalously greedy and grasping if I decided to accept your offer?" she finally asked, finding it impossible to dismiss the idea of a glamorous new gown from her mind. "I could pay you back in a year or so when my stables have improved."

"You're the least greedy person I've met," Pasha replied with genuine sincerity. Jewels were the preferred female gift in his experience. "And if you wish, you can pay me back when your stables are more lucrative." Sensible of her equivocal feelings, pleased with her conclusion, he tactfully, swiftly shifted the conversation to something less fraught with angst.

He asked her about her journey to Paris the previous month and listened with interest as she spoke of the rough seas in the Channel and the odd mix of travelers in her coach from Calais. Commiserating with her on the state of the roads, he suggested they journey farther north this time to avoid Amiens. He'd sent instructions for his yacht to be brought up from Le Havre, he mentioned, at which point she excitedly asked a score of questions. She'd sailed with her father when she'd been young, Trixi told him.

"Just small sloops out of Dover," she explained. "Nothing so grand as yours." By the time they'd exchanged several sailing stories, Pasha's carriage had come to rest before a small shop on a quiet tree-lined street.

"I'm not sure I can actually go through with this, violet silk or not," Trixi murmured, gazing through the carriage window at the gilded facade. She glanced back at Pasha. "They're probably not open this early, anyway."

Having sent a note to Mme. Ormand as they were packing, he knew better. "I think someone should be available to help us. It's almost nine-thirty. And there's no need to be anxious. We'll simply find a dress for you and be on our way."

"The shop looks terribly elegant," Trixi nervously remarked.

"Mme. Ormand has a stylish flair, I've heard." An understatement from the dressmaker's premier customer.

"I need some reassurance," Trixi murmured, intimidated by the possibility of rebuff or censure.

"She's a dressmaker, not royalty. Relax, darling," Pasha soothed.

Taking a deep breath, Trixi straightened a wrinkle from the skirt of her gown. "This dress
is
out of fashion, isn't it?"

"Not unduly, darling," Pasha mollified. "Mme. Ormand will appreciate its fine quality. Lyons silk, isn't it?"

Her brows rose at such expertise in a man. "How can you tell?"

"I've two sisters. One learns. Now give me your hand and we'll see what fripperies we can find on short notice." At Trixi's continued hesitation, he smiled his encouragement. "There's nothing to be frightened of. I'll protect you."

"I don't
want
your protection."

"Forgive me. I didn't mean to imply anything discreditable. Would you prefer being a family guest from England?"

She smiled. "I'd be more comfortable with that fiction."

"You've already met my father," Pasha conceded, "so it's truthful enough." He held out his hand and after a last indecisive moment, Trixi took it. "You'll be just fine." Gratified she'd been persuaded, he leaned close and lightly kissed her. "Now, let's find you something pretty."

 

Mme. Ormand's greeting was urbane and tactful. One would have never known she and Pasha were on a first-name basis.

"Welcome, monsieur, and—" She hesitated diplomatically, query in her gaze.

"Mme. Duras," Pasha supplied, with a small bow, quickly improvising when given such an ideal opening. "My wife is in need of a new gown, something we can take with us. We're about to leave Paris."

"Certainly. I'm sure we can find something," Mme. Ormand replied, astonished at the young woman's unfashionable gown. Not Pasha's usual style. And Mme.
Duras
? How
very
interesting for a man who valued his independence. Although the young beauty had turned rosy pink when he referred to her as his wife. What a delicious little scenario, when no one in Paris thought Pasha Duras had a romantic bone in his body. The dressmaker's mouth curved into an artful smile. This visit should prove delectable. "Would Mme. Duras care for tea?" she pleasantly inquired.

Pasha glanced at Trixi and at her small nod, he answered, "Yes, please."

The tall, stately woman who dressed the most fashionable ladies in society and the demimonde concealed her surprise at such deference from a man who generally treated women with a casual disregard. Not that he wasn't generous; he had spent a fortune with her. But he'd never appeared in this solicitous role. The young lady must be exceptional in bed. Motioning gracefully with her hand, she said, "Perhaps one of our private rooms would suit your wife."

"Thank you, yes," Pasha agreed. Holding out his arm to Trixi, he murmured low, "You're doing beautifully."

BOOK: A Touch of Sin
12.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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