Velvet is the night, p.1

Velvet Is the Night, page 1

 

Velvet Is the Night
 


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Velvet Is the Night


  SHE BELONGED TO HIM

  Slowly, her head lifted, her eyes fastened on him, absorbing the finely etched features, the well-shaped mouth, the thick pelt of hair tied back with a ribbon. But it was the promise in those glittering green eyes that made her shiver. "It's you," she breathed hoarsely. "It's you."

  He was studying her silently. Where his eyes touched, her skin grew cold. Her hands clenched around the rim of the tub. "Oh God, it's you," she repeated.

  "It's all right," he soothed, and the words surprised him. Slowly, inexorably, he pulled her into his arms.

  His lips found hers. She did not respond, but she- did not resist him either. Adam pulled back and studied her wide-eyed expression. There was feminine wariness in her eyes.

  Something primitive, something savage and totally masculine seemed to have entered his bloodstream. His skin was fever hot; his breathing was difficult. He seemed to have lost his grip on reality. Philippe Duhet was forgotten, as was the elaborate charade that had brought him into Rouen. The only thing that Adam was conscious of was the woman in his arms and the driving compulsion that urged him to prove to her that she belonged to him.

  He swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bed.

  For Ellen Kemp Black

  dearest friend, best of sisters,

  with love

  To Maureen Taggart, librarian, University of Winnipeg.

  Every writer should be so lucky!

  Without your help,

  the research would have been a formidable task.

  PINNACLE BOOKS

  are published by

  Windsor Publishing Corp. 475 Park Avenue South New York, NY 10016

  Copyright © 1992 by Mary George

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

  If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as 'unsold and destroyed' to the Publisher and neither the Author nor the Publisher has received any payment for this 'stripped book'.

  First printing: April, 1992

  CLS 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Printed in the United States of America

  Prologue

  Book I

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Book II

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Ninteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Tweny-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Epilogue

  Prologue

  Versailles, 1773

  The fight was over in a matter of minutes. The palace guards put a stop to it, but only when it became evident that the melée was no boyish prank but a contest which was as deadly as any duel fought on the field of honor.

  Adam was dragged from the other boy, then he darted away before the guards were aware that he was an outsider, a boy on the periphery of court life. In his best suit of clothes, he had been taken by the guards for one of their own, or a page attached to one of the great noblemen who was present at the king's masquerade that evening. The other boys had known better. They were used to seeing Adam come and go as he pleased. No one was his master. Adam Dillon waited on no man unless it suited him, and the other boys hated him for it.

  He'd been expecting trouble, but when it came he'd been taken off-guard. It wasn't the pages who had ganged up on him. The attack, a verbal one, had come from Philippe Duhet, the young heir to the Comte de Blaise. Duhet was older than Adam by a year or two, but in many a fight, Adam had outmatched boys of far superior weight and build. Adam was no coward. He also had the advantage of experience. In Paris, among his own kind, Adam's reputation as a fighter went unchallenged.

  Whore, Duhet had called Adam's mother, and for some few seconds, surprise rooted Adam to the spot. He had no quarrel with young Duhet. Their paths seldom crossed. The only time they had exchanged a few words was when Adam had delivered a note to the boy's father in the fashionable Rue St. Medéric. Yet, on reflection, Adam had to admit to a vague uneasiness whenever he had found Duhet's eyes trailing him of late. He had shrugged it off as a figment of his imagination. As far as he was aware, he had done nothing to earn the boy's hostility. He was coming to see that he was in error. From the snickers and catcalls of the pages, it seemed that he and Duhet must be sworn enemies.

  In the next breath, Duhet had flung the word bastard in his teeth, and Adam had launched himself at the bigger boy. In the fray, he had taken a black eye, but Duhet had not had everything his own way. Adam had bloodied the young aristocrat's nose.

  An icy blast of March air stung his cheeks, and Adam turned up his coat collar and bent his thin shoulders into the wind, his swift steps taking him farther away from the palace environs to the less elegant quarter of Versailles where his mother had taken up lodgings.

  Versailles. The town was too staid for Adam's liking. Paris was his milieu. The capital was dirtier, noisier, more crowded. In Paris, he had friends, boys like himself who knew how to earn a living by their wits, boys who skirted the law and stopped short, barely, of embracing a life of crime. For the most part, they were the sons of "actresses" or kept women who had fallen on hard times. The succession of men who passed through their young lives were shadowy figures and temporary at best. When the word "father" came to Adam's mind, his first thought was of Mother Church.

  Ducking into the doorway of an elegant town house, Adam felt in the pocket of his breeches and withdrew his night's earnings. The gold ducat glinted wickedly in the light of an overhead lantern. He bit down on it and grunted in satisfaction. The ducat was real. He grinned, thinking that it was the easiest money he had ever made in his young life. He had earned it by acting as courier for the elderly Maquis de Narvenne and the young Madame Caron, the wife of one of the town's foremost citizens, Caron the church warden. Versailles, Adam was thinking, had one point in its favor. It was where the aristocrats hung out. An aristocrat bent on pleasure was easily parted from his money.

  One day, when he reached manhood, he thought he might like to be an aristocrat. From what he had observed, they had a soft life. The pages always had plenty to fill their stomachs; their masters wore fine clothes; they rode in gilt carriages; they lived in elegant châteaux; they pursued a life of ease and pleasure. An aristocrat's life might be quite the thing, thought Adam idly.

  With a surreptitious look over his shoulder, he carefully eased the ducat under the top of his silk stocking, knowing full well that the coins in his pockets would be confiscated by his mother the moment he walked in the door. Every sous, every livre was needed to pay off their mounting pile of debts, so his mother avowed. Adam did not doubt it. Everything in Versailles was more expensive. Even so, he knew of his mother's fondness for cheap cognac. A ducat would put food on the table for some weeks to come, if they were careful. He wasn't sure how much brandy it would buy, nor did he care.

  As he entered the courtyard of the Chasse Royale, his eyes unerringly found his mother's room in the unheated garrets of the inn. A candle flickered at the window, the signal that his mother wa
s entertaining company and must not be disturbed.

  At ten years of age, Adam was wiser than his years. He had no illusions about the "company" his mother was entertaining. He hated the succession of men she brought home to their lodgings, but not out of any moral consideration. The arrival of some gentleman always necessitated his quick removal from the scene. Mara Dillon had no wish to advertise the fact that she had a half-grown son, not when she was promoting the fiction that she was younger than her years.

  Cursing under his breath, Adam detoured to the back of the inn, avoiding the noisy throngs in the inn's public rooms. The night was raw. His eye was sore. He longed for his bed. Ducat or no ducat, he resolved to take the pauper's privilege and bed down in one of the outhouses. If he was lucky Cook might give him permission to curl up in front of the kitchen grate. And if his luck held, he might even cadge a bowl of rabbit stew. Like himself, the cook was half- Irish. O'Murphy claimed that his father was one of the Irish Jacobites who had sought sanctuary with his family in France to escape retribution from the Hanoverian kings of England. Adam's line was of more recent vintage, beginning with his mother. Nevertheless, their common heritage gave O'Murphy and Adam a feeling of camaraderie.

  "Black Irish," O'Murphy called him. It was meant as a compliment. More and more of late, Adam was beginning to wonder about the other half of his patrimony, the part that came to him from his unknown father. Bastard, Duhet had called him. He flexed his hand, observing the abrasions to his knuckles. Whistling, smiling, he sauntered into the inn.

  Two days later, the ax fell. Adam was in the inn's kitchens, ostensibly to keep an eye on the succulent whole pig which was roasting on the spit. O'Murphy and his helpers were preparing the other courses for the influx of guests which had descended on the inn, mostly the finicky retainers of aristos who had found more elegant lodgings for themselves.

  The tantalizing odors, the blast of heat from the grate, the rhythmic clatter of pots and pansall conspired to make Adam fall asleep at his post. He was awakened when O'Murphy put a hand on his shoulder.

  Adam always came awake instantly. There was no telling what he might awake to. It wouldn't be the first time that he and his mother had crept out the back door in the middle of the night as their creditors burst in the front.

  Hearing O'Murphy's soft Irish lilt, so like his mother's, Adam untensed his muscles. "Up with you, boy. Your mother's been asking for you. Something's afoot," and O'Murphy gestured to the window. A gilt carriage with liveried coachmen had drawn up in the inn's courtyard.

  A weight seemed to lodge itself in the pit of Adam's stomach. He was almost sure that Philippe Duhet had sent his minions to punish him. Those minions must be with his mother.

  He took the stairs two at a time and burst into the room. Breathless, he pulled up short.

  A gentleman in court finery occupied the only chair in the small room. His folded hands, with a profusion of lace at the wrists, rested upon a gold- tipped walking cane which he held out in front of him. At Adam's precipitous entrance, his dark eyebrows lifted.

  Adam's glance swiftly moved to his mother. She was seated at the end of the bed as if she were a queen holding court, and she was attired in her most flattering gown, a blue brocade with a white lace fichu around her shoulders and tucked in at the low bodice. For once, she was completely sober.

  "Mother?" Adam spoke in English.

  She answered in French, as was her habit when there was company present. "Comte, may I present my son, Adam? Adam, make your bows to the Comte de Blaise."

  Mara Dillon lowered her long lashes and covertly observed her son as he obeyed the faint warning in her voice. If ever there was a time for Adam to demonstrate the elegancies she had tried to inculcate in him over the years, that time was now.

  Adam bowed. The comte inclined his head. Mara let out the breath she had been holding. She had hardly dared to hope that her plan would succeed.

  For years she had sent letters of entreaty to the comte, begging his assistance for a son he refused to acknowledge. She'd received not one word in reply, until she had hit upon the brilliant notion of sending the boy to him in person. The resemblance between father and son was striking.

  Mara Dillon found herself praying to a deity she had ignored for years. The last time she had prayed for deliverance was when her father had thrown her out of the house for bringing disgrace to the family name. At fifteen, she'd been pregnant and unable to name the father of her unborn child. Fortunately, her prayer had been answered. She'd miscarried, and shortly after she'd found a protector, the leading actor-cum-playwright of a troupe of players based in Dublin.

  In the summer of '62, the troupe had gone on tour. In Paris, in the title role of Racine's Iphigënie, Mara had come to the notice of the Comte de Blaise. When the company had moved on to the provinces, Mara had stayed behind as the comte's mistress.

  She'd been too young, then, to appreciate her good fortune. The tributes she'd received from so many admiring gentlemen had gone to her head. She had committed the unforgivable folly of being too free with her favors. Blaise had discovered it and had cast her out without a sous. Much she had cared! She was young, she was beautiful, she was courted and flattered by a host of wealthy aristocrats. Her next protector was waiting in the wings. She'd thought, quite genuinely, that the child she was carrying belonged to Pascale. And by the time her son was born two months early and indelibly stamped with his father's likeness, it was too late to procure an abortion.

  In the last number of years, life had not been kind to Mara Dillon. Youth and beauty had quickly faded. The hosts of blue-blooded gentlemen had quietly melted away. There were no admirers now, only a string of men of dubious background who were willing to pay for an hour or two's pleasure. Mara was becoming desperate. She had one assetAdam and his connection to the Comte de Blaise.

  Green eyes locked on green eyes as the indolent aristocrat and the half-fearful, half-defiant boy assessed each other across the small room. It was the comte who broke the silence.

  "You are my . . . ward, Adam Dillon. Do you understand what this means?" The aristocrat was not angry. Evidently, he did not know that he, Adam Dillon, was the boy who had given his son a bloody nose. Adam unbent a little and said, haltingly, that his one wish was to serve and that if the comte had some office . . .

  The comte waved him to silence. Amusement coloring his voice, he told Adam that he had come to an arrangement with his mother. "You are to become a member of my household. I shall provide you with the privileges befitting one of your station in life. With my influence, who knows, you may go far."

  When Adam finally understood what his fate was to be, he threw himself down at his mother's knees, pleading for her to intercede. He could not know that his mother had sold him outright for a substantial lump sum. Mara Dillon loved her son, after a fashion. If it had been possible, she would have kept the boy with her. But the offer from her former protector had been unequivocal. He wanted all or nothing of his bastard son, and her problems were too pressing to forgo the rewards he offered.

  The comte left to fetch his coachmen, and Mara soothingly tried to convince her young son of all the benefits he would enjoy as the ward of a rich nobleman. To every blandishment, Adam found a ready rejoinder. He didn't want to live in a rich man's house. He had no use for fine clothes or refined manners or a gentleman's education. He was happy to go on as they were. He wanted them to return to Paris. He wouldn't be a trouble to her. From that moment on, he promised to hand over every sous he earned. He felt in his stocking for the precious ducat and pressed it into his mother's hand.

  What Adam failed to convey, because he, himself, did not understand it, was the shadow of foreboding which lay over his heart. In the household of the comte, he was bound to meet up with Philippe Duhet. Adam was not afraid of the older boy. What he feared he could not put into words.

  Mara was close to the end of her tether. She needed a drink badly. She could not understand Adam's misgivings and she was terrified that
the comte would take umbrage at her son's defiance and withdraw his offer.

  More cruel than she meant to be, she seized Adam's arms and administered a rough shake. "Blaise is your father! You are his son! You should be grateful that he has finally condescended to acknowledge you. If you won't think of yourself, think of me. I'm warning you, Adam, don't think to run away. You won't find me. I'm going back to Ireland. Those were his terms. Do you understand? He's given me money to start a new life. If you spoil this for me, I shall never forgive you."

  Stricken, Adam stared into his mother's eyes. There was a sound behind him. The comte was standing in the open doorway, flanked by two burly coachmen, the faintest sneer curling his lips. In fear and trembling, Adam straightened.

  "Do you play the man or shall I order my men to carry you like a screaming infant to the waiting carriage?"

  Adam searched his mother's face for a sign, any sign, that she might be open to persuasion. Her features had hardened into an implacable mask, her eyes flashing, warning him not to make the attempt.

  Adam's life with Mara Dillon had not been an easy one. For the most part neglected, Adam had learned early how to fend for himself. But it was the only life he knew. The familiar exerted a powerful hold on him. Again, he thought of Philippe Duhet, and shivered. He felt as if someone had just walked over his grave.

  His mother rose and moved to the small window, presenting her back to her son. She was trembling, but Adam did not notice.

  Dazed, he allowed himself to be led from the room.

  The Château de Blaise, the ancestral home of the Comtes de Blaise for more than six generations, was situated in the beautiful and fertile Loire Valley and far enough distant from Paris to deter young Adam from any hastily contrived plan of escape. Adam knew Paris like the back of his hand. The château and its rural setting had all the oddity of a foreign country.

  The Duhets, themselves, were like creatures from another world. In those first few months, Adam could not conceive why the comte had taken it into his head to make him his ward, unless it was a rich man's whim. No one wanted him, least of all the comte, as far as Adam was able to deduce. The comte and his comtesse were scarcely ever in residence, and never together at the same time.

 
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