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From different worlds, drawn by desire, passion is
about to change their lives forever...
Indulge in a wickedly seductive taste of CHAMPAGNE AND CHOCOLATE:
Austin Standish is a man of refined tastes.
Intelligent and educated, Austin enjoys all of the best life has to offer. A
gambler, a gunslinger, and a man who has plans to taste the sweetest prize at
The Palace Casino and Saloon - the lovely owner, Chantille L'Amour, the most
sought after jewel on the Barbary Coast.
Running a high-class brothel and casino isn't
exactly the life she was born to but Chantille is determined to overcome the
ruin her family was left in once the Civil War ended. But, she has chosen a
difficult path... one that demands much and leaves her lonely. She's noticed
the handsome man who comes into her world from time to time, and when she
chooses to give in to desire, the passion evoked by Austin's touch may change
her life forever...
“Will you be
needin’ anything else, Miss Chantille?”
turned and looked at her maid. Carrie was hovering close to the door, clearly
eager to get on with other chores if she wasn’t needed here.
Chantille said with a shake of her head. “I just want a few quiet minutes
before business begins for the night.”
her mouth opened to speak, then she shook her head and nodded. A moment later,
the door to the suite of rooms closed with a soft thud.
heavily and walked to the French doors, then leaned against the door frame. The
last faint rays of the glowing afternoon were giving way to the steady
encroachment of evening as she stared out at the glittering, sun-dappled beauty
of San Francisco Bay. For several more moments, she delayed the increasingly
wearisome task of preparing herself for the evening ahead. For a few precious
moments, she allowed her heart to pine for a simpler world in which to live.
The world her parents spoke about with such longing, life as it had been before
the Civil War tore everything to pieces. Born in the midst of that conflict,
Chantille had never enjoyed the peace and happiness her parents had known in
their youth. She’d resented it deeply, and, because of the devastation wrought
by the war, she’d made choices that weighed heavily on her. Those dictates had
done their part to age her spirit well beyond her twenty-five years.
The scents and
sounds of the Barbary Coast wafted up to her, assaulting her senses now where
they had once caressed. She’d arrived in San Francisco several years ago,
bright-eyed and determined to be the mistress of her fate. She’d been tired of
living on the dead dreams that sustained her family, fully aware that the South
would never again possess the lazy, luxurious languor that had enabled it to
fall to its own complacent arrogance. In San Francisco, Chantille’s money and
family meant nothing to the hordes of men who flocked to her place of business.
They cared only about the quantity of drink and companionship to be found at
The Palace. The quality was another wasted effort on her part, though she
steadfastly refused to compromise it.
With a barely
audible groan, Chantille pushed herself from her casual slouch and went to her
bed. She’d laid out her clothes before bathing, a custom she often found
soothing. She slipped the silk dressing gown off her shoulders and reached for
the soft, ribbon-trimmed cotton drawers. The ritual of dressing eased her
nerves, as it always did, and her spirits lifted as she closed the hooks on her
corset and carefully tugged free the hand-woven froth of lace that decorated
her chemise. Layers of crinolines and petticoats came next, and, once she’d
fastened them, she walked to her dressing table and sat before the mirror. She
applied a slight hint of rouge to her high cheekbones, and then repeated the
color in darker tones on her lips. She selected earrings, and a sparkling
diamond necklace that was worth more than most of her customers would see in
their lifetimes. She’d done her hair earlier and turned her head to survey the
results of her work. The pale ash blonde of her hair was set off by the inky
black, velvet ribbons that she’d taken time to weave into the intricate knot.
Strands of fair hair had already escaped the confines of her careful design,
but she knew better than to attempt to contain them further—by night’s end,
many more curling wisps would be falling around her face, giving her a
deceptively angelic appearance that she knew appealed to men.
Her gaze fell to
the ivory swells of her breasts, the ample curves made more prominent by the
corset she wore. Her waist was naturally tiny, and the tightness of the shaping
undergarment made her appear delicate, almost fragile. Another illusion, she thought,
as she laughed inwardly. She walked to the bed to retrieve the glowing silk
gown she’d selected for the evening. It was pale amethyst in color, trimmed
with deep plum lace and ribbon. She settled the heavy dress over her hips,
pulled it closed, tight to her body, then tugged the wide straps downward so
her shoulders were almost bared. As she bent forward to retrieve a handkerchief
from the top drawer of her dressing table, she caught her reflection in the
mirror. Her parents would have been horrified to see her like this, her bosom
all but falling from her dress, her face painted, and her dark brown eyes
filled with knowledge that decent women would run from.
Oddly, the sadness
that would once have accompanied the observation was missing now, and she
realized she’d grown beyond caring what other people thought of her. There was
no profit in opinion, and she’d learned that money was the only real power that
mattered. So, she dismissed the whisper of censure from her past. However, the
appealing image in the looking glass created an entirely different kind of ache
within her. Loneliness, yes, but not the heartbreaking pain she’d known when
she’d first arrived in San Francisco. This evening, she was lonely for the very
companionship the girls who worked for her sold on a nightly basis. Chantille
seldom accepted any of the numerous propositions that came her way in the
course of an evening, but, tonight, she decided, she would attempt to be more
receptive to the invitations she received.
It had been a very
long time since she’d permitted a man’s arms around her. Longer still since she’d
enjoyed more intimate pleasures. Smiling, she turned and headed down to the
main room of the vast saloon she owned and ran.
alighted from his carriage and glanced at the incongruous, regal splendor of The Palace Saloon and Casino. He paid
his driver, then headed into the sprawling building, an old opera house that
had been abandoned for a number of years before Chantille L’Amour bought the
place and set about reinventing it. He’d come to this particular establishment
on numerous occasions since first discovering its existence and had enjoyed
most of the pleasures offered. He’d thus far failed to make one conquest,
however, and he was honest enough to admit it was that very challenge that kept
him coming back. The owner of the saloon was an enigmatic and alluring woman
who’d quickly seen through the charm and easy arrogance with which he had
enticed so many ladies before her. Despite several invitations, she’d never
granted him an audience.
Inside the grand
saloon and casino, the décor was a reflection of surprising sophistication and
good taste. It was wasted on most of the clientele.
several gentlemen who frequented the place, gentlemen who preferred not to be
seen in the company they presently enjoyed. He ignored them and went through to
the casino’s private room. He was known to the doorman and was immediately
granted entrance. He spotted his quarry the minute he walked in; she was
standing near the polished bar, surveying the customers and their talent at the
him, he felt a familiar flutter of excitement, but he dismissed it as
ludicrous. He’d long ago learned the high price one paid for infatuation, and
he refused to be swayed by it ever again. He wanted this alluring woman, but
nothing more than that. A night in her bed, and he’d be content to never again
step inside The Palace.
When the lovely
Miss L’Amour glanced his way and held his eyes with her dark gaze, he had to
ignore the self-mocking laughter that bubbled up inside his head. He inclined
his head in a casual bow of acknowledgment, then went to purchase his usual
thousand dollars’ worth of chips. He seldom lost, but his starting sum always
remained the same; when he deviated from the practice Lady Luck withdrew her
favor more often than not. He entered the casino with a thousand dollars, and
usually left with considerably more than he’d had upon his arrival.
set in the high ceiling threw off enough light to rival the early afternoon
sun, and the noise level, while something that couldn’t be entirely
disregarded, was nowhere near the din that pervaded most saloons on the Coast.
Standish was content for the moment to enjoy himself. He’d concentrate on the
beautiful saloon owner after he’d indulged his more mercenary tendencies.
Less than two
hours later, Standish’s winning streak forced a division of his attention. His
last bet at the roulette wheel had earned him in the vicinity of ten thousand
dollars. The man in charge of the table was looking more than a little bit
worried, and he requested a moment to consult with the owner. Austin smiled and
waited for the pretty woman to join them. He watched her for a few moments as
she listened to whatever was being whispered in her ear. Once again, his
stomach reacted with a disturbing flutter when she glanced at him, her stare
bold and refreshingly direct as she considered her course of action. He
realized, much to his inner horror, that he’d been holding his breath while he
waited; he almost gasped in air when she smiled and began to walk toward him.
she murmured when she had reached the roulette table. “How lovely to see you
He was surprised
by the familiarity, and he arched one eyebrow, the response reflexive. “I wasn’t
aware we’d met, Miss L’Amour.”
softly, and he was further enchanted.
“I don’t believe
we have,” she agreed. “Not officially. But I do know who you are, Mr. Standish.
Otherwise,” she added with a hint of irony, “you wouldn’t be permitted to
gamble in this suite.”
“And am I to be
permitted to continue this game, ma’am?”
“How lucky do you
feel tonight, Mr. Standish?”
He grinned with an
expression he knew was both confident and charming, a device well used over the
years. Miss L’Amour’s tinkling amusement whispered in the space between them.
Then she nodded and went around the table herself.
“Place your bets,
gentlemen,” she said, gesturing at the numbered black and red table surface.
She picked up the gleaming white marble and prepared to send the roulette wheel
When she bent
forward, giving him a deliciously full view of her cleavage, Austin placed a
reckless bet and sat back to watch the outcome.
“Your luck holds,
Mr. Standish,” she said less than a minute later. “It would seem that I now owe
you a substantial sum of money.” She walked from behind the table. “I’ll inform
the cashier of your good fortune. When you wish to cash in, the money will be
in my office.”
With a brief nod
of her head, she left the table, smiling despite the loss of revenue. Standish
was charmed all over again.
He turned to look
at the man next to the roulette wheel. They were waiting for his next bet. He
shook his head.
“Not this time,
Marty,” he said with a laugh. “I think I’ll quit while I’m still winning.”
The other man
nodded, and, the moment Austin left his chair, he was aware of another man
taking his place. He headed for the bar, intent on exchanging more than a few
words with Miss L’Amour.
Standish from her vantage point at the end of the bar. He was a handsome man,
one she’d noticed on several occasions. As he stood, she took quick inventory
of his appearance, chewing her bottom lip unconsciously as she absorbed the man’s
almost palpable presence.
At a height of
over six feet, Austin Standish was a man not easily overlooked. He had sandy
blond hair with a lock that perpetually fell over his forehead. Under the
shaggy blond hair, the most startling green eyes Chantille had ever seen missed
nothing that came within their scrutiny. His face was a fascinating blend of
angles and contours, the individual features not perfect, yet the overall
combination completely arresting and pleasing to the appreciative eye. He was
slender, yet there was an undeniable sense of strength and power in the long
line of his body. Tonight, as on other nights, he’d chosen a suit of black, the
inky shade contrasted sharply by the stark white of his shirt. The frills at
his cuffs and along the front of the shirt could have lessened the impact of
strong masculinity that emanated from him, but, instead, they only added to his
imposing aura. His brocade waistcoat was a shade of palest gray, adorned by a
gold watch chain that disappeared in a pocket at his left. Silver-trimmed boots
finished the polished and cultured image, and Chantille wondered how he’d
remained a free man for so long. She didn’t doubt for an instant that the
company of women was something he never lacked.
when he caught her gaze and began to walk in her direction. Deep inside, she
began to quiver, and the awareness that he could shake her so intensely with no
effort was both disconcerting and annoying. Yet….
Austin smiled when he reached her side. “Would you do me the honor of joining
me for dinner?”
“Thank you, no,”
she replied. “Have you come to collect your winnings, Mr. Standish?”
“If you can’t be
persuaded to grant me your company, then I’ll have to settle for your money.”
“You’re far too
charming to suffer loneliness,” she countered. She walked away from the bar and
led him into her office. She arched one eyebrow in subtle surprise when he
closed the door behind them.
“I assure you, Mr.
Standish,” she said, her tone cool, “money is all you will be collecting in
into the small room until he was directly in front of her and she had to tilt
her head back to hold his gaze. The gleam of amusement in the deep green eyes
that bored into her was irritating, and intriguing.
“Are you certain I
can’t change your mind about dinner?”
she conceded with a smile that wanted to become laughter.
whispered. “Hope at last.”
“Hope has a way of
disappearing just when you’re learning to count on it, Mr. Standish.”
“But the times it
doesn’t are so sweet it makes the disappointments bearable, Miss L’Amour.”
“Right you are,
sir,” she agreed with a thoughtful smile. She made a decision then, a reckless
choice that she didn’t take time to consider. “Perhaps I could persuade you to
dine with me in my suite?”
Austin’s gaze was
pensive, and she wondered, with a tiny leap of panic, if she’d miscalculated
“It’s never a good
idea to offer a man paradise if your plan is to shut the gates before he has a
chance to come inside, Miss L’Amour.”
It was a veiled
warning, but a warning just the same. This man was not one to be toyed with or
played for a fool. He was drawing her a little more deeply into his presence,
in spite of herself.
“And you think I’m
offering you paradise, Mr. Standish?”
certain of it, yes,” he murmured, voice low and compelling.
She smiled and
went past him to the safe that was in her office. She collected his money and
brought it to him.
He took a
double-eagle from the pocket of his waistcoat and held it between his index and
middle fingers. With a quick grin, he slipped it into the valley between her
breasts, caressing silken skin for the briefest instant before drawing his hand
back. Something betrayed her reaction and made his smile deepen.
liberties with great ease,” she whispered, her voice husky and exotic.
“Before the night’s
over, I plan to take a great many more,” he assured her.
“Perhaps I’ll be
the one to take liberties tonight, Mr. Standish.”
“I’d be delighted
to put myself in your hands, Miss L’Amour.”
She smiled. “Would
you wait here for a few moments? I have to speak to my maid.”
Author Bio and Links:
born and bred, and a lifelong dreamer, I began writing at an early age and
can’t recall a time when I wasn’t creating in some artistic form. My life has
had several on-going love affairs that shape much of what I write. In the
past half dozen years, I’ve released books in all lengths and genres, and it’s
something I hope to continue to do for many more years. A visit to my websites
will show the diversity of what is currently available, as well as other
surprises and extras!