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Rogue's Mistress

By:Eugenia Riley
Chapter One

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New Orleans, 1842

Julian Devereux was ready to take his ease.

The bitterly cold New Orleans night offered him scant comfort; the brisk wind blowing from the south battered his large custom coach as it clattered down the cobbled, gas-lit streets of the Vieux Carré. Even sitting deeply ensconced in the plush interior with the blinds drawn, Julian could feel the piercing cold, made worse by moisture drifting in off the Gulf.

Julian lit a cheroot to warm himself and felt a stab of pity for his coachman, Henrí, whom he could hear barking a command to the snorting, protesting team. His thoughts turned to Genevieve and the welcome he would shortly receive in her arms. He grinned. His parents were in France buying furnishings for the Greek Revival mansion they were building at the edge of the American District. For months, he had been free to come and go as he pleased, with no explanation given to anyone.

Such was his due, he reminded himself. He had recently attained his manhood at age twenty and would shortly take charge of the generous trust left him by his grandparents. When his parents returned and moved to their new home, the town house on Royal Street would be his. One day, his family’s cotton commission exchange, which he was managing in his father’s absence, would fall to his ownership, as well. In the meantime, Julian planned to take his Grand Tour of Europe and taste all of this world’s earthly pleasures. In time, he would take a New Orleans belle to wife, and perhaps he’d establish a quadroon mistress in a cottage on the Ramparts.

Such was the Creole way.

With a gloved hand, Julian moved aside the shade as the coachman brought the carriage to a halt before a deceptively ordinary looking town house on Toulouse. A looming archway with an iron gate was centered on the pale yellow stucco façade. Julian was well aware that this particular bagnio had run discreetly for years in its choice locale not far from the stylish St. Louis Hotel; the establishment was tolerated, and ofttimes frequented, by local officials.

“We’re here, M’sieur Devereux,” Henrí said respectfully as he opened the door to the coach. The servant’s handsome, honey-brown features were chafed from the weather; his breath formed white puffs on the frigid air.

“Thank you, Henrí.” Julian alighted with lithe grace and ground out his cheroot beneath his heel. Noting that his coachman was trembling, he added, “You must come along and seek some refreshment in Madame Sophie’s kitchen. I’ll be a while, and there’s no need for you to suffer in the cold.”

“Oui, m’sieur,” Henrí replied gratefully. “But the horses—”

“You may tend them directly.”

With Henrí following, Julian strode confidently across the stone banquette and rang the bell next to the archway. Standing in a beam of yellow light, he cut a fine figure—a tall, broad-shouldered young man dressed in an impeccable silk top hat, leather gloves, polished black boots, and a fitted wool greatcoat.

His ring was promptly answered by a wizened butler, who broke into a grin as he unlocked the iron gate. “Good evening, M’sieur Devereux. It’s good to see you again, sir.”

“Good evening, Alfred. You’ll see that my coachman is provided for in the kitchen?”

“Oui, m’sieur. And Madame Sophie—she’ll be receiving you in the parlor.”

“Trés bien,” Julian replied with a grin.

Leaving the others behind, Julian strode down the stone corridor and entered the cold, windswept courtyard with its wilted banana trees and barren flower beds. The parlor on the eastern corner of the quadrangle beckoned him with its warm, glowing lights. Through the center part of the elegant velvet portieres, he spotted a woman’s lush figure, gowned in red satin. The lilting piano strains of “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms” drifted out to him.

Quickly crossing the courtyard, Julian opened the parlor door and swept into the warmth of the luxurious room, with its floral Savonnerie rags, tufted rosewood furniture, and glittering chandeliers.

“Julian!” Madame Sophie cried, rushing forward to greet her favorite patron.

“Good evening, Sophie,” Julian replied with a grin, leaning over to peck her painted cheek. At more than thirty years of age, Sophie Delgado still managed to exude an exotic beauty. She was more Spanish than French, her features etched with patrician loveliness, her raven hair upswept. She wore a sleek red satin gown and gold and ruby jewelry. A red and black Spanish fan was clutched in one slim hand.

“So what is your pleasure tonight, chéri?” Sophie asked as Julian handed her his hat and gloves and began undoing the buttons on his greatcoat. “Perhaps a brandy to whet your palate?”

Handing her the heavy cloak and smoothing down his elegant black frock coat and matching trousers, Julian glanced around the parlor. A prominent local physician he knew and a strikingly beautiful quadroon were huddled together on the silk brocade settee, laughing and drinking champagne. In one corner, an elderly dame perdue plied the grand piano; at the corner table opposite her, four businessmen played faro.

The one he sought was nowhere in sight.

Frowning, Julian turned back to Sophie. “Where is Genevieve?”

She laughed and tapped his arm playfully with her folded fan. “Ah, we know where your appetites lie tonight, n’est-ce pas, mon ami?”

“Was there any doubt?” he asked wryly. “And I repeat—where is she?”

“You do not think she would dare entertain another after receiving your note?” Sophie teased coyly. “Why, she’s upstairs awaiting you, of course, chéri.”

With a grin and a wink at Madame, Julian was out the door like a shot.

He emerged in the chilly courtyard, then quickly took a curved cypress stairway to the second floor. Upstairs, he turned down the familiar open catwalk with its iron-lace railings, flanked by shuttered windows and mellow gaslights on the building façade. He proceeded directly to Genevieve’s door, where his sharp knock was followed by a quick and sultry “Entrez, chéri.”

Julian entered the room and shut the door behind him. Genevieve stood beyond him brushing her hair; she was a feast for his eyes in her pale blue, diaphanous negligee. Her blond curls cascaded about her lovely shoulders, and her lush curves peeked through the wispy, taunting fabric of her gown.

The room was softly lit with candles, he noted; a cozy fire blazed in the grate. The taffeta counterpane on the fabulous Mallard bed was pulled back invitingly. On the dressing table was laid a silver tray with champagne in a bucket and crystal goblets.

That champagne would not be touched for some time, he thought with satisfaction.

“Chéri,” Genevieve cried, dropping her poised hairbrush and racing across the room into his arms.

“Ah, Genevieve,” Julian said, laughing as he swung her about, then kissed her eagerly. He held her so tightly that her toes dangled just above his boots. He drew in a deep lungful of her intoxicating perfume as he set her down. “It’s been too long, ma chère.”

“Indeed,” she replied, her lovely full lips outthrust in a pout. “Why have you not come to see me, Julian?”

He grinned, smoothing an errant curl on her brow. “You know how busy we are this time of year, clearing up the details of harvest at the Exchange. And there has also been the long round of calling at New Year’s that I was required to make in my parents’ absence. But, no matter, Genevieve—I have the rest of the winter to devote to you. We’ll celebrate Mardi Gras together—you’ll see, chère, it will be grand.”

Genevieve smiled, displaying delightful dimples. She stared up at the handsome young Creole who was her secret love. Julian was so masterfully handsome with his beautifully sculpted face, square jaw, and deep-set blue eyes nestled beneath dark, curved brows. His high cheekbones and straight classical nose lent him an aristocratic air, and his mouth was just full enough to be unspeakably sensual. His hair was thick and wavy and blue-black; a stray curl dangling across his forehead lent him a rakish air. His body was youthfully trim, but also hard-muscled, sleek, and—Genevieve well knew—wickedly designed for a woman’s ultimate satisfaction. In the year that she’d known Julian, she’d found him to be an incomparable lover, as well as the man her heart most yearned for. She had no illusions about what she could mean to him—which was very little, beyond this room of unbridled pleasure. She realized that they walked in different worlds, and that he would never recognize her in his own, or else risk being disowned by his prominent family. Still, she hungrily took whatever time and solace he offered her.

“Would you like a drink, chéri?” she asked, running her fingertips over his jaw.

“I think you know what I want,” he replied, sweeping her up into his arms.

Genevieve laughed as her lover carried her to the bed and gently laid her down. She stared up at him adoringly, watching him throw off his coat and tear at the studs on his ruffled linen shirt. She hungrily drank in the expanse of his magnificent chest with its covering of curly dark hair. Mon Dieu, he was the sexiest man she had ever known! The sight of him alone could spur in her wild urges shocking enough to make even a seasoned demimondaine blush. Licking her lips in anticipation, she murmured, “Hurry, love.”