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Money can buy anything, can't it? Those brash Americans--their dollars and charms work wonders. Until they learn that money can buy anything...but love.
FROM BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF ROMANCE FICTION, CERISE DELAND
Book 2 in THOSE NOTORIOUS AMERICANS series
Marianne Roland is a widow who has left behind her past including memories of an intemperate husband and the hardships of the American civil war. Now she enjoys the comforts her wealthy Uncle Killian bestows on all his family. As she watches others fall in love, she decides to find an amusing lover for herself but only for one enchanting night.
Andre Claude Marceau, Duc de Remy and Prince d’Aumale, finds Marianne’s joie de vivre enchanting—and her plan for a temporary affair with him impossible.
He offers her one night in his arms, and to his delight, she craves another. But he needs more from her than a few hours of bliss. So when he shows her how to fill her days with passions that complement those they enjoy together at night, Marianne must choose.
Will she insist on a passing fancy? Or will she abandon the terrors of her past to embrace a brighter future beside a man who offers her a grand love affair with life?
Excerpt, DARING WIDOW, Copyright 2017, Cerise DeLand.
Marianne stood in front of Number 10, her destination. A three-story stone structure with grape leaves carved in relief into the frame, the building had two abnormally large doorways. They appeared to be proportioned to receive a sculptor’s works. The one with a large cut glass window seemed to be the entrance. Inside, the concierge in a somber black suit spied her, hurried out and opened the door for her.
The address was the same as on the billboard. The plaque on the door proclaimed it as the “Gallerie de la Cite.”
“The Duc de Remy’s exhibit is here?”
“Oui, Madame. Through the foyer and up the grand staircase.”
“Merci beaucoup.” She sailed through the lobby and up the steps. Four other patrons casually climbed the broad steps.
At the top, she halted her in her tracks. A man and woman passed around her. But she stared at the sculpture before her. It robbed her of breath.
Here upon a black granite plinth stood a man of white Carrara marble, eight or nine feet tall. All muscle and bone, honed by battle and hewn by strife, massively masculine and robust, he was of such proportions that any other human would fall down in honor of him. He stood in the center of the oval entry to the rest of the exhibit, sunlight from a semicircle of windows shining on him, shadowing the arc of a bicep here and emphasizing the indentation of a deltoid there.
Yet he did not stand tall, but was hunched. His back was curled, bowed in new defeat. His hair long and ragged, etched in the pristine marble to invoke its filth, shrouded him to the waist. Ropes circled his torso and hung from his wrists. His noble head hung lax from his corded neck as he stared at the nothingness before him.
The beauty of this body was nothing to the grand agony of his face. She gasped at the sight and could not look away.
She walked around him and bent to face him. He looked at her, but beyond her. He was blind, in torment. She drew back, aghast once more at the brutal honesty of what she saw.
This was a strong man brought low. By loss. By self-destruction.
She ached with him. Once proud, dynamic. A man others had once envied and emulated. A man so capable, so honored and now, abandoned by others and most tragically, by himself.
She stood for how long she did not know. The power of him infusing her. And the power that he’d lost draining her of envy and inspiring pride at Andre’s talent to portray him so precisely.
Across the room, beyond the giant, a young man in an apprentice’s smock tipped his head in question. Not at her. But someone who stood behind her. He tipped his head and, as if on signal, he departed.
Her skin tingled.
The hunger she’d felt for months dissipated. She’d be sated now.
“Bonjour, ma petite,” Andre said in that bass voice she heard in the bleak hours of her lonely nights. “I dared not hope you would come.”
She closed her eyes, wishing to hang on to this moment when he was happy to see her and she was as delighted to see him. In this slice of time, there was none of her inner conflict, no yearning to find him, see him, laugh with him. There was just satisfaction. But it could not last.
Why not tell him the truth? He had asked for honesty and he did not deserve duplicity. He had only told her how he admired her and she had rebuffed him out of…what? Not convention, no. But her own fear to allow such a strong man near her heart or body. Perhaps even her own fear of her outrageous ambitions? She faced him, and oh, the delight to see him again ran through her like cool water after a drought. He was as tall, as magnificent as she remembered him. Perhaps more so, since she had pined for him so badly.
“Bonjour, Andre.” She gave him that, his given name as he had allowed her use of it. During these past months, she’d thought of him that way, the sound of his name slipping through her lips at night as she attempted to draw him. Andre. “I saw a billboard and I could not stay away.”
He stood against the white marble wall, the gold veins of the stone highlighting the gilded mien of his own long waving hair. He had folded his arms and one leg was casually crossed before the other. He wore a loosely cut black wool suit, a bright vermilion vest, a white linen shirt open to his strong throat and a purple kerchief tied at his neck. Every inch of him denoted the artist at his leisure.
“I’m glad I’ve come. This—” she said and lifted a hand toward the statue, “—this is glorious. I heard others speak of him but they did him no justice.”
He gazed at her with hollow eyes.
“No words can,” she went on, wanting to give him more praise and unequal to the task. “Will you tell me about him?”
“Him?” he asked, as if she had insulted him with the question.
She knew why. He wanted her to ask about himself. And she would. She would.
He stared at her. “You know who he is.”
She did. “Who could not? To view him is to know. No pamphlet or placard need declare it.”
A light glimmered in Andre’s blue eyes. “What do you see?”
“A man torn by his own desires and ruined by his own misjudgments.”
His marvelous mouth firmed. Pride lit his face. “And?”
“He will never see himself again.”
“He did not truly see himself before he was blinded.”
“A punishment,” she acknowledged, “to fit his crime.”
Andre shifted, peering at her with narrowed eyes. “There is another he will not see.”
Oh, yes. “He will never see her again.”
“The one who betrayed him.”
She nodded. “The one whose beauty he believed was soul deep.”
Andre pushed away from the wall and approached the statue. “He must pay for his own failure to perceive her true nature.”
“She was not equal to him.”
He whirled to face her. “That’s not what he believed. He thought she was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.”
“The beauty was outside. Her core was hollow.”
“He pays for his miscalculation,” he said.
She dropped her gaze to the floor, anxiety eating her that they spoke of more than the statue or the Biblical story of the blind man and the woman he had loved so unwisely.
“Do you think she pays?” he asked, his deep voice wistful.
She raised her face to consider the statue’s tortured expression. “Delilah?”
“Oh, yes. She forevermore will hate herself for her own failures and unworthiness.”
Andre took her by the wrist. “Come with me.”
Her pulse jumped.
He led her down a hallway and into a room where he shut the heavy wooden door and drew her into a room crowded with bronzes and plasters, scattered about on tables and shelves. Two ivory overstuffed chairs stood in one sunlit corner near a sumptuous black velvet chaise longue.