My Cherie Amour by Shara Azod

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright© 2009 Shara Azod Editor: Terri Morris Cover Artist: Shara Azod All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews. This is a work of fiction. All references to real places, people, or events are coincidental, and if not coincidental, are used fictitiously. All trademarks, service marks, registered trademarks, and registered service marks are the property of their respective owners and are used herein for identification purposes only.

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CHAPTER ONE

Claude Bonnet had been a simple sailor. He never held illusions of grandeur, never wanted more than his simple lot in life. He had been perfectly content with his meager salary as a deck hand on a regular cargo ship that traveled from Savannah to New Orleans on to various ports in the Caribbean. That was before he met Amélie Durand. He had been enamored of the beautiful mulatto from first sight, wanting her desperately. Unlike so many young French men of his day, he didn’t simply want to set her up in a little cottage where he could visit her at will. Claude wanted something far more permanent and secure. He wanted to marry her and her his for all time. It wasn't something that was done often, but it could be done. The problem was, she was the daughter of a wealthy Creole, one who actually acknowledge his by-blow. Claude had very little money and no family connections to speak of. There was no way he could go to her father as a simple sailor. So he signed on to a ship that traveled all over the New World to France importing raw materials, rum, sugar cane and rice. He saved every penny staying on the ship while in port, keeping to himself. He never whored or drank to excess. He was determined to make his mark so that he could claim Amélie.

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It was on his last run to France that he met Luc, who signed on to the ship in Brest. The mysterious blond man was no common sailor. He gave orders to the other men on the ship as if he was born to it. Claude suspected he was. Lucky for him, the others didn’t seem to notice. They simply did whatever it was that Luc told them to do. It was odd, but Claude decided it was none of his business. He’s saved up enough money to purchase a good tract of land and build a house. He was going to start a cane plantation as soon as he returned to New Orleans using share croppers to work the land. By his calculations it would be far more profitable than buying human beings to do the work. Coming from a poor family he had an aversion to owning human beings. While Claude covertly watched Luc, Luc watched him in return. The dark haired man was far more driven than most of the sailors onboard the ship. He kept his head down and his profits in his pocket. Luc had been raised as his grandfather’s heir, something he could never be now thanks to the deviousness of his mother, but he knew how to spot potential when he saw it. The men formed a fast friendship, staying close together throughout the year the ship travelled back to the New World. The bond grew over time, developing into something far deeper. Luc was not a man to deny his passions. When it came to lovers, male or female, he had no true preference. L’Amour was l’amour no matter what shape it took. Claude was far more traditional however. Although Luc knew he felt the same

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growing attraction, Claude would not act on it. His heart was set on a woman back home, he wouldn’t deviate from his course. But fate had a way of working out all things. When the ship finally returned to New Orleans, Claude bought his land and set about building a grand home for his lady love. He wouldn’t allow Luc to assist in the cost, determined to do it all on his own. Luc accompanied Claude when he finally made his way to request an audience with Monsieur Gasper Durand, the father of the young woman who held Claude in complete thrall. Monsieur Durand listened to Claude, seemingly considering the offer, which in Luc’s opinion was a damn good one. His friend had shown his worth by working to build a future for the man’s daughter. Being a bastard himself, Luc knew such an offer didn’t come to those born on the wrong side of the blanket often. The man would be a fool to turn Claude down. Yet, that was exactly what he did. Not only did the Monsieur deny Claude his daughter, but he actually offered his legitimate daughter instead. Not only did he wish Claude to marry the woman, he was willing to settle a huge amount if Claude would do so. Claude was incensed. Luc was forced to jog to keep up with his friend as he stormed from the Monsieur’s offices down to the Quarter.

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“Claude! Why are you so upset? Did you not hear what the man said? He was willing to give you not only his legitimate daughter with one hell of a dowry. I know your heart was set on the other, but if they are sisters…” Luc’s sentence died on his lips when Claude stopped staring at a young woman in the market. He had never seen a woman who looked quite like that. Her skin, her hair, even her eyes were varying shades of copper, seeing to glow in the late afternoon sun. She seemed to ethereal to be real, it almost hurt to look at her. “I am supposed to walk away from this?” Claude whispered more to himself than to Luc. Luc didn’t answer. Anything short of no would’ve been a lie. ***** Claude did marry the sister. Agathe Durand was not a pleasant woman. Though Claude tried to make his marriage work, with each passing day it became more and more impossible. Luc would have rejoiced; Agathe’s sourness drove Claude closer to him, but Claude was so miserable, Luc couldn’t find happiness that Claude had finally come to his bed. It was perhaps a consequence of his birth, but Luc couldn’t stand idly by and watch his lover and friend disappear in a sea of bitterness. He went to Gaspar Durand with every dime of the dowry the older man have given Claude.

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“I am taking him away from him; away from your viper of a daughter.” Luc didn’t mince words, it was not his way. “Find some other fool to listen to harp day in and day out. Tell her he is dead, I don’t care.” “How is this any of your business?” Gaspar demanded. “He took the deal. Agathe is his wife. A real man doesn’t leave his responsibilities.” “A real man wouldn’t sell his daughter. He wanted Amélie, I was the fool that talked him into marrying your fishwife. I thought it would bring him closer to me.” “Didn’t it?” Gaspar was no fool. He had seen the looks between the two, he had witnessed the secret touches when they thought no one was looking. “The price it too high. He still pines for Amélie.” As did Luc, but he would never admit it. “It is hell to be in the same city and not be able to talk to her, to have been so close and not be able to have her.” Luc wasn't sure if he was referring to Claude or himself at this point. “Agathe is too much of a cross to bear. We were all wrong to believe this to work.” Gaspar didn’t want to admit he’d been wrong, but he had. He simply wanted to do something right by Agathe. The woman had no prospects. Claude had seemed a good man. He had believed they could be content if not happy eventually.

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As for Amélie, not many saw her and didn’t want her. He hadn’t known his youngest child had developed affections for the simple sailor. He had to make this wrong right. He had to find a way to make both of his daughters happy. ***** Many in Baton Rouge society considered her to be quite on the shelf and homely to boot, but what Agathe lacked in looks, she more than made up for in cunning and determination. She taught Claude not only how to run their small plantation, Bellemere, but she also taught him how to use their location between the two major cities to turn a tidy profit in trade goods. Bellemere grew prosperous over the years. Agathe spent a great deal of time in Baton Rouge with her head held high. She had married beneath her, but now she was richer than the merciless bitches that had sneered at her behind her back. She loved flaunting her wealth in front of those who, in her mind, had wronged her. Life was perfect – almost. The one thing Agathe had not been able to succeed in doing was giving her husband a son. In the beginning of their marriage, Claude had been attentive. He visited her room nightly, treating her with a gentleness she would not have expected from a simple sailor. But the months ran into years, and still she could not conceive. Claude’s visits began to decrease, slowly, but definitively. After five years of marriage, he ceased to darken her

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bedroom doorway. He still treated her with the utmost respect, though Agathe secretly thought he should be a hell of a lot more grateful. After all, she made him what he was, a wealthy landowner, the crème of Creole society, didn’t she? Regardless, she could not complain. He didn’t complain when she went into town for weeks at a time, buying fashionable townhouses in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. So what if she could not have a child? Perhaps it was for the best. Claude was not exactly descended from aristocracy as she and her family were. He had served his purpose; he was her husband, ensuring her place in society. She would never have tolerated being dismissed as a poor, pitied spinster. He had more than he ever could have hoped for. He should be thanking her on bended knee. Had Claude been aware of his wife’s train of thought, he have would probably been amused. He knew Agathe believed he had married her to secure a place in society, but nothing could have been further from the truth. After years of longing, Monsieur Gasper Durand, his good wife’s father, had finally given him his heart’s true desire, Amélie. As beautiful as Agathe was plain, Amélie was the daughter of Monsieur Durand and a woman who had been his slave before she became his mistress. Amélie was everything Agathe was not. Her copper colored skin glowed with health and vitality, turquoise eyes twinkled with laughter, sultry lips begged to be kissed. She was the

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reason Claude had given up life at sea; it had been thankless, true, but nothing Agathe had to offer could have made him give up the adventure. But for Amélie he would. Claude spared very little thought for his wife while she was at Bellemere, and even less when she was away. Amélie was, for all intents and purposes, the mistress of Bellemere. Agathe thought it she was the power behind Bellemere, that her ideas made the plantation prosperous. In truth, it was Luc and Amélie who came up with the most inventive ideas. Claude had a knack for putting their plans in action. Families who lived there were free, unbeknownst to Agathe. They received large four bedroom cabins and worked as sharecroppers under the protection of Bellemere. It was this that made Bellemere so prosperous. The workers gave their all because they were not abused or misused and hard work was always rewarded. Amélie had a natural gift with numbers, so she handled all of the plantations accounts and finances. Monsieur Durand was a pragmatist; the world was a cruel enough place, but it was damn near impossible for his half-breed children. All six of the sons born of his mistress, Solange, were successful businessmen in France. Their only daughter chose Claude Bonnet on her own free will. Amélie and Luc were everything Claude could ever want, and Monsieur Durand was pleased. Claude and Agathe had been married for seven years before Agathe found out about her husband’s lover. What had started as a few weeks away here and there had gradually

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progressed to just about all of her time spent away from Bellemere. She was in Baton Rouge during the rainy season, New Orleans for the winter and at her father’s largest plantation in Natchez with the majority of the extended family for the entire summer. It just so happened on a jaunt from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, the steamboat was traveling a little too close to shore and ran aground. Agathe considered it providence that they just happened to be a few miles from Bellemere. She imperiously informed the hassled captain she would be spending the night at her plantation and if by chance the steamboat was towed out of its current predicament, he was to wait for her return. She was, after all, the only daughter of the richest man in all of New Orleans. After hiring a sad, old, musty carriage that broke down at least five times on the way, Agathe finally made it to Bellemere after full dark. There were no houseboys to assist her luggage from the dilapidated carriage, there were no lanterns lighted outside, the front door was unlocked and unguarded. After imposing on the elderly Cajun who drove her home to drag her luggage into the foyer, Agathe made her way up the winding staircase to her husband’s suite determined to get answers. There were no servants anywhere in the house, which was totally unacceptable. She was going to have to set the house to rights in the morning, but for now Claude would have to bring her luggage upstairs and go find Luc to have him bring a ladies-maid immediately.

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Agathe sailed through the sitting room that adjoined Claude’s bedroom in high dungeon. This entire situation was too much to be borne. Why she had ever expected a peasant to care properly for all she had given him she would never know. She had just swung the bedroom door open prepared to wake her errant husband when the words died on her tongue. There on the huge four-poster bed was her husband kissing some slave woman with all the passion he had never once showed her, while Luc had his head buried between her shapely thighs. Claude was caressing her rather full breasts as the woman whimpered into his mouth. As much as she wished she could, Agathe could not turn away. She was both repulsed and fascinated by the scene unfolding before her. Her heart sped in her chest, her mouth felt dry, and an uncomfortable moist heat began to pool between her legs. The woman had begun to moan in earnest as Claude moved from her lips to trail kisses all over the woman’s face, down her neck, to suckle the nipple on one breast while his hand moved to pinch the nipple of the other. Agathe watched in fascination at the way her husband’s fingers alternately squeezed and rolled the chocolate protrusion while nipping and suckling the other as if it were some delectable treat. The woman was thrusting her hips into Luc’s face in earnest while her head rolled back and forth on the pillow, waves of silky black hair spilling across the virginal white of the crisp cotton

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sheets. Her gasps and moans increased in pace and tempo until she screamed clutching Claude’s head as she did so. Luc moved up the woman’s body, kissing a trail from her thighs to her stomach as Claude lay on his back, pulling her to a sitting position on top of him. Were they done? But no, Claude lifted the woman up slightly as Luc reached between Claude’s legs to clasp his impossibly hard manhood placing it at the woman’s opening. Claude had never been so eager for her, Agathe thought peevishly while pressing her thighs together tightly. The achy heat was becoming unbearable. Never in her life had Agathe felt the feverish feelings now coursing through her body. She had to press a hand to the V where her legs met, trying to rub the throbbing ache away. Claude was moaning as the woman rocked gently back and forth on his lap. Luc was kneeling behind her rubbing her backside while whispering encouragement, while Claude was telling the woman how beautiful she was and how much – He loved her?! How dare he?! One did not love a slave! Only the most ignorant of women did not know that gentlemen often relieved their baser needs in the slave cabins. The point was to keep it in the damned cabins! Perhaps this could not wait until morning. She should take care of this right this second! Squaring her shoulders, Agathe prepared to march forward when Luc parted the woman’s backside and slipped his root inside her nether regions.

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Agathe could not withhold the gasp that escaped from her gaping mouth. The trio on the bed remained blissfully unaware of her presence. Their moans increased, as did the tempo of their glistening, writhing bodies. Passionate kisses passed indiscriminately between them, hands caressed, kneaded, pulled and plucked. Their groans and sighs mingled in the most beautiful symphony she had ever heard. This was not some sweaty lustful coupling. She could not help but admit that to herself, though she would never utter such a thing out loud. The love between the three of them was palpable with every touch, every kiss. Never had anyone wanted her the way they wanted one another. No one had ever looked at her the way Luc and Claude looked at the woman between them. Agathe wished it was evil and sordid as any decent woman would have thought seeing the three lovers; just hearing of such a thing was beyond the pale. But she knew what she was witnessing was the one thing all of her money could never buy her and that was love. As she backed away slowly unsure where she would go or what she would do, she caught a sound she had heard in many homes but never her own. It was coming from the adjoining room. The same damnable room she had vacated at Claude’s suggestion that she take a larger suite on the other side of the house. At the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable – she could not conceive so there was no reason for her to “do her duty” as there would be no fruits from her labor. But now she knew the real

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reason. He had installed his mistress, his Negro mistress, in her home! In a room no slave had the right to sleep! The noises emitting from the bed began to rise from soft, sensual moans and sighs to become frantic gasps, grunts and whimpers. Agathe was transfixed as Luc and Claude slammed their hips up into the curvaceous woman between them in perfect tandem with urgency, as if seeking something. Agathe’s hand was drawn to her own woman’s place of its own accord as she rubbed at the agitating ache that only seemed to grow worse as the passion between the three lovers intensified. Her own breath was coming in pants in concert with the sounds emanating from the room. The rubbing through the clothes was not enough! Without a thought, she lifted her skirts to stuff her hands down her drawers. At any other time, had she encountered the sticky wetness at her core she would have been horrified but now the dampness was a blessing as she massaged herself in time with the men’s stokes. Agathe could not remember ever feeling so very hot, so deliciously wicked. Her skin felt taut, entirely too tight for her body. Leaning against the door she bit her bottom lip as she twisted her painfully rigid nipple the way she had witnessed Claude do to his lover. Her finger slipped into the place Claude had once placed his manhood as her thumb grazed the tiny nub on top causing her to moan softly.

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What were these feelings? Her heart beat furiously against her chest as she watched the increased tempo from the bedroom with half closed lids. Why had Claude never managed to inspire anything other than pain and embarrassment in her while he obviously inspired this woman to participate in the most degrading of acts? Another finger slid to join the first inside her as Agathe thrust them in earnest, twisting a little to increase the friction. Her other hand squeezed one breast, then the other reveling in the tiny shockwaves it sent down her back. Oh, but it felt so good! Claude suddenly slammed upward with a harsh groan, grapping the woman’s hips as the same time Luc rammed her backside, his buttocks squeezing tight against her. The woman howled, but it was anything but pain. Agathe felt a wave of the most intense pleasure she had ever felt crash over her body as she bore down mercilessly on her fingers. The added sensation of her thumb rubbing in circles over her little nubbin had her seeing stars. Sagging against the door Agathe’s gaze slid back to the bed. The woman was now reclining on thick white pillows while her lovers caressed her fevered body. Oh what Agathe would not give to have hands gently soothing her naked flesh! She had to get Claude back! Gathering herself Agathe quietly slipped from the room and down the hall toward her wing of the house with new purpose. Claude was her husband! She would see to it the little slut in his bed was sold off immediately and that Luc would understand any carousing would be done outside of the big house. She

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would obviously have to spend far more time here at Bellemere and of course, Claude would have to be kept on a tighter leash. Perhaps she had yet to conceive due to lack of passion, but now that she had a general idea of how it was done that would be rectified. Agathe refused to contemplate a single night she would be without at least some of what she witnessed tonight. It was her right after all. And if Claude needed to invite Luc in their marriage bed to be as …vigorous as he had been tonight – well, she would just have to endure it. She refused to admit that the delightful tingle racing down her spine stemmed from sweet anticipation. Once again she felt her skin grow tight and hot. Yes, just as soon as she composed herself she would straighten this little situation out. Of course there would be no water for her to freshen up, but that was neither here nor there. There was just enough light to straighten her graying hair back into a severe bun at the base of her neck. Smoothing her dress as best she could Agathe took deep breaths to clam her pounding heart. Now she understood what she was missing. Most women of her class would have never witnessed the erotic scene she had been privy to. Most would never be so bold as to demand such things from their men. But Agathe could, and she most definitely would. She was not some weak-kneed twit who did not know how to provide order to her own life. She would take every pleasure her husband had to give, even if that meant she had to welcome his cousin also. With her back

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upright erect with determination, Agathe marched with purpose down the hallway straight into her husband’s room. “Claude! You will dismiss this…” Agathe stood frozen in horror. The woman she had written off as some nameless half-breed slave was anything but. Standing in a vibrant green silk robe that she knew cost a fortune, cuddling a baby in her arms while Claude’s limbs surrounded both mother and child. Luc was nowhere to be seen. Both heads turned toward her as soon as she stomped in the room. The one thing Agathe had always held as a physical vanity was her eyes. Pure blue-green in shade, her eyes were the only genetic gift from the heartbreakingly beautiful people of her father’s side of the family. Staring back at her as if she were the intruder was a pair of eyes that mirrored her own One did not grow up in Creole society without knowing of the Plaçage system. Although proper women did not discuss it, nor did they even acknowledge its existence, it was a simple fact of life. This woman was the very image of her father, though whereas he was masculinity personified, this woman was all that was feminine. Where Agathe was sturdy, solid yet hopelessly flat the woman before her was softly rounded in all the places a woman should be. Agathe had not noticed how petite the woman was until now, standing in the sheltering arms of her six foot plus husband as if she belonged there. Her dark honeyed skin was flushed, but from embarrassment or her very recent

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exercises, Agathe could not say. The woman’s eyes, every bit as clear and pure as her own were framed with impossibly thick, long, black lashes, matching the wild masses of soft curls that fell from her head to her hips. She was a dark golden bronze version of the portrait that hung over the main sitting room mantle at the family mansion in Natchez – her very own grandmother. “I will have her out of my house,” Agathe growled at the disgusting specimen that was her husband. The fire that now rushed through her body had nothing to do with desire or need this time. How could he? How could he bring that daughter of a whore into her house?! “Ma amore, give me a moment,” Claude murmured to his lover dropping a kiss on the top of her head, then leaning down to kiss the baby in her arms. Agathe fumed. The man actually had the audacity to caress the creature’s cheek as he placed a soft lingering kiss on her pouty lips. Even as she turned to disappear through the connecting bedroom door his hands loitered as if loath to let her go. Her vision went red as she witnessed the look of tenderness as he watched his whore. With a snarl Agathe raised her hand to slap the look off her face, only to have it seized in an iron grip before connecting. “What are you doing here Agathe?”

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All the blind rage boiling just under her skin a mere second before was quickly turning to ice as Claude turned frosty blue eyes towards her. All traces of affection and love wiped away as if they had never been. A muscle jerked in his square jaw filling Agathe with the ridiculous urge to caress its hard strength. Taking a deep breath she girded her loins for the fight she saw coming. Strange, Claude had never so much as argued with her before. “This is my home!” Agathe hissed through her teeth trying in vain to yank her wrist out of his grasp. “After all I have done for you! After all I have given you, you dare bring some half-breed here?!” Claude dropped the offending woman’s wrist as if it burned. He should have foreseen the possibility of something like this happening, but Agathe never came to Bellemere anymore. He had foolishly believed they would quietly lead their own lives as long as he kept Bellemere and the investments thriving. He seriously doubted she had any idea how wealthy he had made her. Monsieur Durand had been grooming him far longer than she realized. He had wanted to marry Amélie, he would have taken her to France where they could live as husband and wife freely, but the old man had convinced him otherwise. He could live in relative peace and prosperity here, being able to give Amélie an easy life. It had worked beautifully thus far.

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Scrubbing his hands over his face Claude willed himself to calm down. It wasn’t Agathe’s fault she had stumbled across the very intimate scene between Luc, Amélie and himself. Although Luc had not been part of the equation originally, the three had grown extremely close over the years in blessed isolation. That closeness had simply grown to something else. Agathe would never understand it; he really didn’t expect her to. He should have taken more precautions. He could have had someone on some kind of night shift. But because the only visitor Bellemere ever had was Monsieur Durand, there had been no point. Half the workers at the plantation were freed slaves at this point who worked for an honest wage. They simply didn’t run things here the way other plantations did. The household staff all had cottages close to the house that Agathe probably hadn’t noticed yet. She would probably pop a blood vessel when she found out. But the simple truth was Bellemere did not belong to Agathe. She had a substantial amount of wealth, yet she owned no property. Almost all of the assets he had acquired over the years were either in his name, Amélie’s, or one of their children’s. Agathe would never want for anything, but other than the town homes in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, nothing was hers. With a sigh, he considered the now pacing, fuming woman in front of him. She had been caught in the crossfire, he must remember that.

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“And as it is a decent home, or was until you brought your whore here! I cannot imagine what you could have been thinking!” Agathe raged. “If you must lay with dogs, install her and her whelp in a discreet house in New Orleans or Baton Rouge like everyone else! This will…” A sharp slap across the cheek stopped her tirade cold. Clasping her hand to her flaming cheek, Agathe could do no more than gape wide-eyed at the man she had always considered acquiescent, weak. “You will never speak of Amélie, or my children in such a manner!” Claude thundered. Children? Agathe felt her knees give way as she sank to the ground. Of course, he went to find the one thing she could not give him. Pain sliced through Agathe making it difficult to breathe. Tears burned her eyes as she struggled to take it all in, rationalizing in her somewhat warped brain. He had gone to her father’s bastard. Surely that meant something? Surely this entire episode was some kind quest for progeny. “I understand your anger, Agathe, but this house happens to be Amélie’s home, and I will not have you maligning her in her own home. You have your life, let me live mine!” Agathe heard none of it. Her mind raced with possibilities. This was not a man to be placed on the shelf hidden away on the plantation. They would be the rage of society.

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He would have to accompany her to New Orleans of course, leaving the management of the place to Luc. They would have to take an “extended trip” someplace far, France perhaps, in order to come here collect the child, then come back in a year or so, claiming the child legitimately. She would even consider allowing the woman to come back in a year or two for the express purpose of bearing them another child. Yes, yes, it could work. “I will claim the child,” Agathe announced regally. “I will arrange it with Papa to send us off somewhere for a year or so, we will come back blessed with a child.” Agathe rose excitedly clapping her hands together. Claude took a cautious step back, alarmed by the unnatural light in her eyes. She began practically skipping around the room in her excitement. “It will be perfect! Perfect!” She turned to Claude, ignoring the way he flinched away from her touch. “Oh, I forgive you. You wanted a child, and naturally, you would want your child to a part of me in any way you could. Poor, poor Claude. I have not been a good wife to you at all, have I? Well, that will all change now, I daresay! I have left you out here all alone to rot. How neglectful of me. You must pack! You will, of course, accompany me to New Orleans. We will leave from there. Luc can arrange for the child and its nurse to bring her to town in a couple of days, after we have made our appearances…”

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“Agathe!” Agathe looked up from her fantasy dream to her beautiful husband, who had captured both of her hands and was holding them close to his chest. “Yes, Claude?” She smiled up at him with such hope, such insanity. Strange how she almost looked beautiful in her psychotic break. He bitterly regretted what he was about to tell her. Would it push her over the edge? “I will not be going with you to New Orleans,” he told her gently. “And you will not be coming back here.” He simply didn’t understand, she thought. “Claude, I told you-” “No, Agathe,” Claude said firmly, “it is you who does not understand. I love Amélie, she is my life. Bellemere is not your home, it never was. Your father gave Bellemere to me. Actually, to Amélie and me. I am sorry we did not explain the full details of this…marriage of ours sooner, but we thought to spare you.” Agathe felt icy fingers of dread dance down her spine. What did he mean his and that woman’s? Explain the details of their marriage? What was he saying?

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“I don’t understand,” she whispered, terrified that he would explain further. She did not want to hear this; she would not accept this. “Whatever are you talking about? You belong to me…” “I belong to Amélie. She is the reason I agreed to marry you. I had been – negotiating with your father for her for some time before you…before it was decided this situation would be for the best.” “Surely you can’t mean that!” She stepped back, shaking her head. No! No! No! He was bought and paid for to be her husband! She was her father’s heir, his legitimate child not some by-blow from a slave! “It is the child,” she babbled desperately. “I told you we would deal with that. It appears almost white, surely no one would ever know. I will arrange everything. I told you that!” “Children, Agathe! Amélie and I have children. And the baby is a girl, her name is Cherie.” “Children?” A loud ringing sounded in Agathe’s ears, her head was throbbing. This is not happening! She was entitled to this man. He was hers! She was a member of the elite of Creole society! How could prefer some half-breed whore to her, no matter how fertile she was? And her father was involved with this gross injustice? Sinking into a chair Agathe stared blindly into space. What was she supposed to do? She must have said it out loud because Claude answered her thought.

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“You go one with your life as usual. What are you doing here now, anyway?” In daze she explained about the disabled steamboat and her trip to New Orleans. In her head she searched for solutions to this horrible mess the betraying men in her life had made. She could not go to her father. Any mention of his other life with his placée would only get her slapped. No decent woman was supposed to know about that. Maybe she could kidnap the whore and sell her to a whorehouse in Storyville. Unfortunately, her father was the richest man in the region, which meant he had immense power. No one would dare lift a finger against him for fear of horrible retribution. All she had left was her pride. With her shattered heart piercing her chest with every move she rose gracefully to her feet and headed for the door. She had to have time to think. “Send someone to my room to see to my comfort,” she threw imperially over her shoulder. “I simply cannot deal with this right now. I will let you know what I decide later.” Claude shook his head at the defeated woman. He really had not meant to hurt her. Hell, he wasn’t aware she had a heart to hurt. Agathe had always been a proud, cold woman. In the beginning when he had tried to have at least a peaceful, amicable marriage, if nothing else, she had respond with orders, demands and complaints. He had breathed a sigh of relief whenever her “trips” away from the plantation had become more and more frequent until they finally became permanent. Still, this could not be easy for her.

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However, when all was said and done he would not have her here upsetting Amélie. Of all the players involved in this base little play, she was the most innocent. She and the children. “Agathe, I am sorry.” She turned around and stared down her nose at the handsome little nobody she had lifted far above his station in life only to be slapped down like some wayward dog. “As well you should be,” she sneered, unable to keep the spite out of her voice. “You don’t understand,” Claude replied every inch the Creole gentleman she had believed herself to have created. “I am sorry you will have to be gone tomorrow, disabled steamboat or no. You can wait onboard with the other passengers.” “People know I have a plantation here!” She fumed in reply. “Why I would not be surprised to find a few visitors here if they cannot fix the blasted boat by tomorrow! You will have to just keep you’re…” Agathe’s words died on her lips at Claude’s furious visage. He was magnificent in his anger, she must admit. Bitter bile rose in her throat. He was magnificent and bewitched by a whore; none of his manliness had ever been for her. “I expect you to observe the dictates of society,” she amended quickly.

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“You will return at first light,” he informed her. Hell no there would be no busybody society matrons interfering with his family. “I don’t give a damn what you tell people, but they are not welcome here.” Agathe turned once more in an attempt at a regal exit, but Claude was having none of it. “And Agathe,” Claude added softly stopping her in her tracks. The voice was deliciously dangerous in its mildness. “This plantation belongs to me and my family. You really should read some of the documents your father is forever having you sign.” With that Claude turned on his heal and marched through the door his whore had went through earlier. Agathe supposed he had gone to offer that woman comfort while she supposed as she would be left all alone to lick her own wounds. Oh, that bitch would pay! If it took until her dying breath, Agathe would bring both them to their knees.

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CHAPTER TWO

Cherie grew up in a world full of love and acceptance. True, she had a somewhat unusual upbringing, having five older brothers, one mother and two fathers, but any who would frown upon her family’s lifestyle lived too far away to pry. Plantation life was isolated. The nearest neighbor was Rémi Barbin de Vicomte de Alsace, his young son, Étienne, and some kind of distant cousin, who lived hours away, though she did see them from time to time. The vicomte was a widower who chose to stay at on his plantation year round rather than deal with the bevy of match-making mamas that inhabited the cities. He was the only real company they ever had besides Cherie’s grandfather, Gaspar. If he knew of the unusual relationship between her parents he never said anything. He treated Amélie with the utmost respect. Cherie suspected this was because his “distant cousin” was someone far more important to the vicomte than anyone let on. The son, Étienne was of the same age as her eldest brothers and they had become fast friends. As a result, Étienne was such a frequent guest at Bellemere; he was part of the family. Although legally her mother was considered nothing more than a placée, the mistress of a Creole gentleman, at Bellemere, they were a true family. Amélie was the queen of her castle with Claude and Luc dancing attendance to her every need. She was their wife in every sense of the word. Cherie and her brothers did not acknowledge any difference from
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the two men they knew as their fathers, although with the boys, it was easy to figure out. Antoine, the eldest, Jean-Baptiste, the third child, and Louis, the youngest boy all had brownish-gold curls and laughing green eyes; just like Papa Luc. Bertrand, the second born, and Julien, the fourth born, had dark hair and deep blue eyes like Papa Claude. As for herself, Cherie was virtually the mirror image of her mother, so she could not be sure which man was her true father, not that it mattered. Being the only girl, she was spoiled mercilessly by all the male members of her family. As much as they loved to indulge her, she was also cosseted. Cherie understood it was not safe to wander about on her own. Living so close to the river sometimes brought a lost or travel weary person onto their lands. Luc and Claude would keep Amélie and the children out of sight until the person was on their way, and even then, the men sent someone to shadow the person until they were well away. The children were told it was only to ensure their safety, but that didn’t make much sense to them. Papa Claude and Papa Luc wouldn’t let anything happen to them. Why did they always have to hide? It was a lazy summer afternoon when Étienne had arrived to stay a few days. They boys had decided to ride out to a secluded creek. Cherie had been crushed when JeanBaptiste had informed her she could not go with them. “You are growing up, petite,” he had said while patting her on the head. “You will soon be a young woman. It is not proper for you to traipse about with a bunch of boys.”

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She had immediately run to Papa Luc only to be informed her older brother was right. “Sweetheart, I know you want to go swimming with your brothers, but Étienne will be there. It just isn’t proper.” “But Papa, I have swam with him and my brothers before!” she insisted. Luc smiled at her, but it wasn’t his usually sunny smile. Cherie immediately felt chastened, seeing how unhappy he seemed. “I am sorry, Papa,” she amended quickly. “I will stay here. Please don’t be disappointed in me.” Despite her privileged upbringing, Cherie had a sweet disposition. Luc marveled at how kind-hearted and giving the girl was. He had seen many young women with the same advantages who had grown to be vain, selfish women who cared for nothing but themselves. Like her mother, Cherie always put the needs of others before her own. What father would not be proud to have a daughter such as this? It had rocked Luc to the core to see his little girl was developing into a beautiful young woman. At twelve, her coltishness was beginning to give way to curves in her hips and her bosom. Given that she was the product of a highly unusual relationship to say the least, he was going to have to have a long talk with Claude concerning her future.

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“I could never be disappointed in you, sweetheart,” he assured her. “I am only sad to see how fast you are growing up. Soon you will leave here and start a family of your own.” Though Gaspar had assisted in obtaining an annulment for Claude, Amélie had refused to marry him. Luc knew it was because she did not want to him to feel in any way left out. Despite the assurances he had given to both his lovers, he knew that had she married Claude, a part of him would be wounded. It was in Luc’s nature to be dominant, in and out of the bedroom. He knew that it would have chafed if Amélie legally belonged to Claude, though he would never admit it. Amélie had known. As much as Luc wanted to give her his name, to do so would only place his family in jeopardy, and that he could not have. There were too many eyes still seeking him. Too many secrets better left buried. He could not adopt Cherie legally. No matter how badly he wished it, he could not give his only daughter his name. That honor would have to be left to Claude, and soon. As much as his heart rebelled against the very idea, a suitable marriage would have to be arranged for Cherie as soon as possible. She was far too beautiful, far too much of a temptation to remain the quadroon bastard of a wealthy planter. She was free game for any man who felt he wanted her. The family would have to move into the city as soon as the adoption was final to allow Cherie to move into society. Some would shun her, but Gaspar’s power and all of their combined wealth would provide her entree into the proper circles. Money was, as always, a great equalizer.

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***** Cherie hid behind a large bale of hay in the stable’s loft listening to her brothers and Étienne as they returned from their excursion. As much as she had wanted to go the creek with them, she was glad now that she had not. From her position in the loft she could hear everything they were saying; things that would have never been said had she accompanied them. “Your fathers took you to a brothel?” Étienne asked incredulously as Antoine and Bertrand nodded. “You should go too, before we leave for France,” Antoine suggested. Cherie felt a twinge of sadness. She had forgotten her oldest two brothers would be traveling with Étienne to France soon. While Antoine and Étienne would come back in a year after a trip across the continent, Bertrand would make his home in Paris, where he would be attending university to learn to read law. She was close to all her brothers, but she had a special relationship with Bertrand. He was the only one who never treated her like a girl, but as an equal despite the fact he was seven years older. “We learned a lot,” Antoine continued. “Things you would never believe!” “What does some fancy whore have that you can’t get right here?” Jean-Baptiste grumbled.

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“You better be careful,” Julien groused. “If one of those hot headed Cajuns catches you with their lily white daughters, they’ll decorate their lawn with you and worry about whose bastard you are later.” “Like you’ve never snuck off to get some swamp pussy,” Jean-Baptiste retorted. “Not from a Cajun. Their daddies have damn good aim,” came the quick fire reply. “Besides, there are plenty lonely mulatoo and quadroon tails in the swamps. A man is far less likely to get shot or wind up at the altar” “Pussy is pussy,” Julien spoke up. “I don’t care where it comes from, just as long as I can have some.” Cherie noticed that Étienne remained silent. He seemed to glance up at her hiding place from time to time, but she knew he couldn’t see her. She sighed silently as she watched the light of the sun play on the red, brown and gold hues of his hair. Though she could not see them from where she was, she knew his bright blue eyes would be shining with laughter at her brothers antics. This was not the first time she had eavesdropped on them, so she was beyond being shocked by anything they were saying. Besides, she didn’t have a clue what most of things they were talking about even were. “All cats might be the same in the dark,” Bertrand was saying, “but not all men know how to make that cat sing.”

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“Exactly,” Antoine agreed. “A working girl can teach you how make a cat, er, woman bay at the moon.” “Dogs bay at the moon, Antoine, not cats”, Étienne. “You know what I mean!” He replied tersely. “All I am saying is if you want to be a better lover, it’s best to learn from a professional.” “I think I do pretty well for myself,” Jean-Baptiste boasted. “I haven’t had any complaints.” “You have never been with a sophisticated Parisian either,” Bertrand reminded him. “Papa Luc and Papa Claude will probably take you before your tour.” “And what were they doing while you and Antoine were learning?” Julien, who had been unusually quiet until that moment, asked. “Relax,” Antoine told him. “They were in the card room the entire time we were upstairs.” “How do you know that?” Louis demanded, voice cracking with indignation. Louis was fifteen and just beginning to grow into his manhood. His voice tended to crack whenever he was upset, which was why he tended not to speak unless he had to. “Because Grandpéré Gaspar was with us,” Bertrand sighed. “Like we were saying, Étienne, we can ask Papa Luc to take you too, so you are prepared for Europe.”

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Once again, Étienne seemed to cast a glance in her direction. She shrank back a little, careful not make any noise. She knew he could see her, but why did he keep looking in her direction? Cherie held her breath as she waited to hear his reply. “I don’t think so,” Étienne murmured to his friends casting a quick glance toward the stable loft. He couldn’t see Cherie, but he knew she was there. Not being able to come with them to the creek today had been a blow to her, but it was necessary. It was he who pointed out to Antoine and Bertrand that Cherie was far too old play the tomboy. She was fast developing into the beauty he always knew she would be, and he was not so sure he would be able to hide the burgeoning attraction he felt for her. She was a child for God’s sake! From his simplistic answer and unwillingness to divulge any of his exploits the conversation quickly turned to horses while they rubbed down their animals. As the others made their way out of the stable to the house Étienne hung back giving the excuse of inspecting his horse’s shoes. He waited a few minutes, watching the boys to make sure they didn’t turn back for any reason before he looked once more toward the loft. “You can come down now,” he called up to hidden girl. He bit back a smile as he watched the precocious Cherie step into the light biting her lower lip to climb down the ladder.

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“How did you know I was up there?” Cherie demanded, lifting her little pointed chin as if she hadn’t just been caught eavesdropping. “Because I know you, little one,” Étienne informed her tapping her on her pert little nose. “Did you get an earful?” She gave an imperious toss of her head as she put her hands on her still developing hips. “I’ve heard worse,” she tossed at him. “My brother’s are not always circumspect where I am concerned. He couldn’t help but smile at the haughty little attitude. “That’s a big word for such a little girl.” He teased, knowing it would rile her. “I am NOT a little girl. I am practically a woman!” He snorted; practically maybe, but not quite. But she would be soon, and her parents were no doubt thinking of a suitable match for her now. Étienne made a mental note to send a message to his father this afternoon. He had always had warm feeling for her, but he was wise enough to recognize the brotherly affection he had felt was slowly but surely giving way to something altogether different. She would be the perfect bride for him. Not only did her unusual family life make it easier for her to be able to accept his own father’s peccadilloes, but she was intelligent and charming, and would be a great beauty.

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The fact that he was beginning to love her and knew that she at least felt a modicum of affection towards him was icing on the cake. “Je vous prie de pardonner la jeune dame,” Étienne bowed low, trying valiantly to keep a straight face. “You are right, you are practically a woman. A very beautiful one at that.” Cherie’s breath caught at the sudden change of the tone of his voice. Suddenly the timbre seemed to have dropped a few octaves, and he was staring at her with such intensity it sent chills all over her body. Her brothers and fathers had certainly never looked at her the way Étienne was looking at her now. It was every bit as exciting as it was frightening. “Well, I will take my leave of you now,” she hoped her voice didn’t shake as much as she was quivering on the inside. She didn’t understand the feelings she was feeling now, but she knew it would probably be best if she left now. Turning on her heel she ran out of the stable. “Soon belle petite fille,” Étienne whispered as he watched her hurry to the main house. “Soon.”

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CHAPTER THREE

Étienne leaned against the wall watching Cherie laugh and dance without a care in the world. Her fathers hadn’t told her yet, he was sure of it. If they had, she wouldn’t be working so hard to make him jealous. How could he be when he finally had both Monsieur Luc and Monsieur Claude’s permission for her hand? He was elated. Let the young bucks preen and vie for her attention. She was all his. The contracts had been finalized just this afternoon. All was left was for him to ask. He was content to watch Cherie have her fun for now. As much as he wanted to crow his good fortune, he wouldn’t do that without her consent. Besides, it was amusing to see the young men thinking they had a chance. Rich young men of color swarmed Bellemere in an attempt to woo and win the heiress. Although the plantation would go to one of her older brothers, Cherie’s dowry was beyond generous. She was well past the age where most women were married with children. Most of these men thought she would be desperate for an honorable offer. Fools. There had never been any chance of Cherie becoming a place; her name was not once mentioned in the same sentence as one of the infamous quadroon or octoroon balls. There was much speculation as to why she was unattached. Her beauty was unquestioned; anyone who ever met her knew she had a sweet disposition, if a bit

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mischievous. Rumors around the countryside were rampant as to why she was still unmarried; everything from challenged chastity to bouts of insanity. Étienne knew the truth. Before he’d left for his tour of Europe he had formerly stated his intentions to both of Cherie’s fathers, after they had spoken with his father of course. Cherie had always been his. Even if she didn’t know it yet. “Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into, mon ami? My sister is more than a handful I assure you.” Étienne smiled at Antoine’s frown. Of course he couldn’t see his sister’s attraction. Antoine still saw her as a coltish little girl. Antoine didn’t see how full and lush her breasts had become, not the swell of her hips that promised a man a delightful ride and many children, the full lips that begged to be kissed. Looking at her made Étienne harder than stone. He had waited a long time to claim her. She had been constantly on his mind throughout his trip to Europe. He had been back for four years, but he had stayed away as much as possible. Cherie needed to grow up, to enjoy her youth. Every second he had been back was spent building his own import/export business and readying a place for his wife both here in the country and in New Orleans. He’d built a home on the plantation that would one day be his, far enough away from the main house for privacy but big enough for

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lots of children. He’d purchased a sizable townhouse in New Orleans. All that was left to do was to get the woman to the altar. “I have never been so sure of anything in my life.” His body throbbed and hummed as the little imp threw a devious smile in his direction as she sailed off to dance with yet another suitor. All this would end soon enough he had to keep reminding himself. “You are a brave man, ‘Tienne.” Antoine slapped him on the back, his attention already straying to the young women present tonight. Beautiful femmes du color, grasping middle class social climbers all mixed and mingled freely, anxious to catch the eye of one of the Bonnet brothers. “I am off in search of far tamer game.” Cherie may have been all smiles on the outside, but inside she was fuming. Étienne hadn’t asked her to dance or talk to her at all! She hated it when he ignored her. It might be spoiled and selfish, but she expected Étienne to always ask her to dance or flirt outrageously with her. It may be beyond silly or even foolish, but she had come to think of him as hers. Had he dared to ask someone else before asking her, she might have ripped the girl’s hair out. The young man she was currently dancing with only left her in a worse mood. Oh, she smiled and said all the right things, but the man was simply boorish. She had to maneuver his hands away from her bottom more than once. She casts side looks for one of her brothers. She needed to get away.

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“May I cut in?” Cherie wanted to cry in relief. One fierce look at the boor she had been dancing with and the younger man scurried away, leaving her in the arms of the only one she wanted to dance with in the first place. She was careful not to appear too happy he had finally left his post from holding up the wall. He had made her wait after all. “Well I suppose I have no choice but to dance with you, since you ran off my current partner.” She threw the pout she had practiced in the mirror at him to show her displeasure. Not that she was fooling him at all. His lips were quirked in that devilish grin of his, making her heart speed as she struggled to look put out. “We don’t have to dance,” Étienne whispered in her ear. “We can take a walk in the garden. Will you walk with me, Cher?” Cherie shivered as Étienne’s hand made a slow trek down her spine to rest at the small of her back. He had never asked her to walk with him before. In fact, he’d never done more than dance once with her at any gathering. He had always been careful to be respectful and circumspect. What was so different now? “And why would I so that?” Because she had dreamed of such a thing most of her life. Because Étienne was strong and handsome and made her feel as if she had a colony of butterflies in her stomach.

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She had expected more banter, at least some gentle teasing. Instead, he lead her steadily toward the French door that led outside. She had never seen Étienne like this. He didn’t stop until they were deep in her mother’s garden away from the guests. “What is this about, Étienne? I shouldn’t be out here; my parents will be looking for me…” Her protests were cut off as his lips claimed hers, but not in any way Cherie was familiar with. His lips moved over her own, coaxing her mouth open for the invasion of his tongue. She swallowed a gasp at the unexpected invasion, her body tingling all over. She didn’t understand the sensations roaring to life within her, or her need for more. More what? The kiss was unlike her wildest dreams. Étienne held her unlike he ever had before. Her breasts were smashed against his chest, his arms holding her in an embrace she couldn’t break it had she wanted to. But then, she didn’t want to. All too soon, he lifted his lips, resting his forehead against her own. “Ah, Cher you try my control. I didn’t bring you out here for this.” “Did you not?” She didn’t know where the words came from. The way he looked at her now. She had no idea what it meant, but she felt something in her core burn, there were feelings coursing through her she couldn’t place, couldn’t begin to understand.

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“You are natural born temptress, aren’t you, Cher? And here I am trying to propose like a proper gentleman.” Cherie’s heart skipped a beat. She was not so ignorant as to not understand what Étienne was offering. He wanted to marry her! “Mon péres…” “I have spoken to your fathers, Cher. Both of them.” Her eyes widened as Étienne dropped to his knees. “The rest is up to you. Will you do me the great honor of being my wife?” It seemed like he produced the ring out of nowhere. A beautiful diamond as big as a pecan set in gold. Tears sprang to her eyes as he placed it on her shaking finger. T he one thing she had always dreamed. Étienne was asking to marry her! “Étienne?” “Say yes, Cher. Say you will be my wife.” “Yes, yes. A thousand times yes!” Étienne hadn’t meant to kiss her again. It stretched the bounds of his already fragile control. But her lips were too sweet to resist. It started with just a nipple on her lower lip, but one taste was not enough. He needed more. He devoured her, invading her mouth, taking what she freely gave. He knew it couldn’t last, that he needed to step back before it was too late.

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“”We have to stop.” He said it, but he didn’t stop kissing her. His mouth traveled from her mouth to her cheek, all over her face. “If I don’t stop now, I’m afraid I won’t.” “Why? If we are to be married, why do we need to stop now?” “Because you will be my wife first. I just pray we won’t have to wait too long.”

***** Agathe sprawled in a most unladylike position in the pink parlor of her family mansion in New Orleans drinking her dear old Papa’s finest brandy. Tipping her head back she let the liquid burn a blazing path down her throat as she considered her position. A month, her mother had been deal for a full month before her father moved his bitch into her mother’s home. Agathe’s own town home was currently being remodeled after a vicious flood which rendered it simply unlivable, so for the foreseeable future she was stuck in this humiliating position. How the dratted man that was her father expected her to show her face in polite society she would never know. Forcing her to live under the same roof as his placée was inexcusable; many a vicious tongue was already wagging at the scandalous behavior behind hands, of course. Fortunately no one dare say a word openly. Gaspar Durand was now was the Comte de Toulon, no one dared speak ill of anything he did. Not that anyone dared when he was

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simply the richest man in the colony. However, society’s blind eye did not extend to his only legitimate offspring. She had just come from a women’s luncheon where a kindly (ha!) matron reminder her of her precarious situation. Agathe seethed as she remembered the gleeful look on the old bat’s face. “You must be careful of your reputation ma cheré. What you papa is doing, il est scandalous! We must look out for you. It would not do at all to have your pristine name ruined. If he will not move cette femme out of your maman’s home, well…you simply cannot stay there. It is too bad your marriage did not work out, non? You poor thing, to have a marriage annulled….” What the vicious little harpy left unsaid was clear. No decent woman could live at a hotel for an indeterminate amount of time, Bellemere, which should have been hers, was lost due to a damned annulment her own father had orchestrated. It was graciously accept room and board from a “friend”, or be ostracized. Word had gotten out, as she knew it would, about Claude and his putain and there veritable brood of children. Six bastards at last count, five boys and one girl. The happy little couple had even begun traveling to New Orleans now that little bastard girl was 18. He had actually adopted the chit, making her legitimate. Why adopt a useless girl instead of one of the five strapping boys she would never know. Rumors had it the little Cherie was a great beauty. Agathe wanted to spit out the healthy swig of brandy she just gulped as the thought of the only one of her former

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husband’s children she had ever laid eyes on. She had been cursed to be barren, giving all of them an excuse to cast her aside while Claude’s putain was as fertile as newly tilled soil. No doubt the daughter would be as well, while she was damned to life as some unwanted cast off. Claude, who had established himself as a leader in the community, and her very own father le Comte had managed to betroth the little chienne to none other than Étienne Barbin, the only son and heir of Vicomte de Alsace, Rémi Barbin; a prominent of Creole family. Étienne was an only child and the Vicomte was a widower so Agathe had rarely ran across either in her busy social schedule, but what had seen made her green with envy. The bastard child had been gifted with an outrageous dowry and Gaspar had moved heaven and earth to ensure she could move freely in decent white society. Of course the little bastard’s mother or grandmère could not accompany her so Claude and Gaspar could be seen escorting the little baggage to various debutante events. It was far too much to bear. Now all the world knew her shame; her former husband had been living with his placée for years, ignoring the fact he had ever had a lawful wife. She was forced to ignore whispers and snickers everywhere she went. Pushing herself to her feet, Agathe went over the plans she had worked so long on. She would be moving into Madame DuPont’s mansion tomorrow so she had to act quickly. After witnessing her husband “au milieu de la fabrication d'amours” she has felt no

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need to deny herself the pleasures of the flesh. As a woman of good standing she only had two options - buy a slave to for pleasure or sneak off to the less desirable neighborhoods to find satisfaction. Agathe had done both. During her many trips to an exclusive brothel in Storyville she had met and befriended an up and coming quadroon Madame who had been planning for many years to move to a more lucrative area: Spanish-held Florida. It had taken time and a substantial amount of money to convince the woman to take an extra working girl whose virginity she could auction off in the grand opening of the brothel Agathe had helped finance. It was worth every penny if she could strike a blow to Gaspar and Claude for her abject humiliation. When Claude and his placée had started coming to New Orleans, Agathe had gone to her father to encourage him to stop. After all, New Orleans and Barton Rouge were her refuges. If anyone were to find out, she would be a laughing stock, someone to be pitied not envied, and she simply could not abide by that. Gaspar had not only brushed aside her concerns, he had taken Claude’s side! He had gone on and on about the needs of his young granddaughter, how she would have to learn to take her place in society. Agathe could not believe her ears! To move a breed into polite society and pass her off as one of her betters was simply unpardonable! But they had done it, and Agathe’s social stock had dropped steadily ever since.

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She would not stay in La Louisiane very long after the dirty deed was done. She could do nothing to stop Gaspar or Claude from legally adopting their bastard sons, she could not stop her father from marrying his long time mistress though it was technically against the law. She could not save the family name she once loved so very much. She could hurt those who had ruined her life, and that is exactly what she planned to do. ******* Étienne leaned against a pillar in the shadowed corner of the ornate ballroom as he watched his fiancé glide across the dance floor in the arms of an elderly gentleman. Her dance card was full of distinguished names, none of which a day over sixty. Étienne had taken the reigns of management of his father’s plantation while managing his own business, allowing the older man to retire with his lover, Michel, and expanded the family fortune by investing in many business ventures with the Bonnet and Durand clan. Bertrand Bonnet handled the business interests in France, while Étienne and Antoine ran things here in New Orleans. Claude Bonnet spent his time between local politics and Luc and Amélie, while Gaspar had all but retired into the position of an elder statesman of sorts. He was marrying into a family of very serious power brokers, but far more important than the money or influence was the main reason for it all. Cherie. He watched her laughing aqua eyes as she twirled around with smooth poise and grace and could not stop the blood from rushing to his groin. God, she was so beautiful.

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He ached to make her his in every way. He had left Louisiana when she was just twelve and already developing into a rare little beauty. Though he had planned on being away for just a year, he and Antoine had stayed in France with Betrand for two years instead. He had been unprepared for the young woman he had met upon his return. Her coltishness had given way to soft curves as he suspected they would. He had thought he had a few years left yet before her breasts had filled out to the luscious globes that threatened to spill from the simple cotton dress she had worn. Her hips swayed seductively with her every movement. He had spent less than a fortnight before he left once again to establish trade outposts around the Caribbean down the Portuguese settlements in Brazil. The temptation was too much; he knew had he stayed there was no way he would be able to keep his hands of her. She had still been far too young. Though the marriage contracts had been signed, he would not disgrace her or himself by taking her before she was ready. The years he had stood back allowing Cherie to grow physically as well as mentally had been worse than torture. She was a natural flirt, coquettish without even trying. Because of her unusual background, Étienne battled not only young swans who would steak her affection if they could, but unscrupulous men who sought her for their own pleasure with no thought of honorable marriage. Thank God she had a powerful family to protect her. There was six long months left to go before their wedding. Though he could hardly claim to have lived as a monk, it seemed as if had waited an eternity to have her.

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As the final cords of the song drifted through the air, Étienne strode forward to collect his woman. “You looked at bit flushed, sweet,” he whispered in her ear. “Allow me to escort you to the veranda.” Cherie felt her pulse quicken at the words purred in her ear. The teenaged Étienne had always been able to set her heart racing, but this mature manly Étienne made her positively week in the knees. Since the night he had proposed she lived for stolen moments where she could experience the wonderfully wicked kissed and playful caresses he was so stingy with. Still, it would never do to appear too eager. “Without a chaperone?” she asked with all the innocence she could muster. Peeking at him beneath her lashes, she licked her lips slowly, knowing he was watching. The hungry looks he gave her thrilled her to no end. Why must they wait to be married? She wanted to steal away with him now, the rest of the world be damned. “What must you think of me?” Étienne had to smile at his little ingénue. “But we are engaged, non? Surely we are allowed some … allowances.” “But weren’t you the one determined to wait until we’re married?” She couldn’t help but tease. He liked it when she did that. His hands tightened on her flesh, his strong and demanding. What would it feel like to have his hands on her bare skin? “I had been praying for a quick wedding. This wait is killing me.”

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Cherie felt as if she would swoon. During his time away, his formerly gangly frame had filled quite nicely to the hard plains and muscles that were all man. His voice had deepened in a most delicious way, making shivers dance up and down her spine at every suggestive word. She had always loved Étienne, but now coupled with the deep affection she had always felt, came a desire she could not name. A yearning to be closer to him in ways she could not begin to explain even if she dared to voice her feeling aloud. She followed obediently as he led her through the French doors to the winding terrace at the back of the ballroom. He did not stop until they were ensconced in a secluded corner behind a rather large potted palm, away from the other couples who had taken refuge from the crowds inside. Without missing a beat, Étienne swung her in his arms to devour her in a kiss that left her panting and breathless. Just as her body melted into his, ready and willing to give him anything he wanted, he tore his deliciously torturous lips away with a groan. “Ahh, sweet, if you only knew what you do to me,” he moaned. Of course, she could not even begin to guess at the state of perpetual arousal she inspired in him. Even if he wanted to, he could not relieve himself with anything but his own hand. For some time now he hadn’t been able to stand to accept a substitute to the woman standing in front of him now. His anatomy seemed to only work in her presence.

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Cherie could scream in frustration. Étienne inspired strange feelings that had her aching for something more, something she could not begin to identify. With a kiss, a touch, or just a burning look he made yearn in way she had never longed for anything. If only she knew what this indescribable need he awakened in her was, maybe she would feel comfortable asking him for what she knew on some subconscious level she needed. “Étienne, please,” she murmured against his broad chest. She needed something just out of reach so badly she thought she would die. “Shhh, bebé. I know,” he whispered kissing her forehead, her cheek, but avoiding the lips that throbbed for his to cover them once more. His hands caressing her lower back itched to dip lower to pull her center against his throbbing hardness. Now was not the time or the place. Leaning back he took one look at the banked passion in her eyes, the way her lips were slightly apart in invitation and knew coming out here had been a mistake. With each stolen moment, it was getting harder and harder not to take her, to make her his once and for all. “Cher, I will escort you to the retiring room and wait for you at the entrance of the ballroom,” he offered, knowing she wouldn’t question him. He knew the desire she felt racing through her young body, and he knew she had no idea how to describe, much less name all she was feeling. It was better this way; that she desired him but didn’t have the faintest idea how to express it or what it took to satisfy her longings. It took every ounce of

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self control to temper his longings as it was; a sexually aware Cherie would surely kill any notions of chivalry he had managed to hang on to thus far. Cherie followed her fiancé’s lead as he led her through the edges of the crowd, up the wide curving staircase to the ladies’ retiring room. Thankfully, he blocked curious eyes from viewing her state of dishevelment successfully. It was not easy for a quadroon in polite society. The only reason she was tolerated was because Papa Claude had legally adopted her, then he, Papa Luc and Grandpére Gaspar had settled a small fortune on her. Being seen in her current state would ruin her. “Here, child, you look like you could use some refreshment.” Cherie looked up from her seat in front of the mirror to see Papa Claude’s former wife, her aunt Agathe handing her a glass of lemonade. Although she had been warned repeatedly to steer clear of her mother’s half sister, the older woman had never been anything but congenial to her since she entered society, often bring her refreshment when she was rushed into retirement rooms by her ardent fiancé, as she had tonight. Often she would wait to reenter the ballroom with her, effectively ceasing gossip before it had a chance to take root and spread. “Merci, Madame,” Cherie took the drink gratefully, frowning at slightly bitter taste. She didn’t notice Agathe’s chilling smile as she drained the glass. Almost immediately, Cherie felt light headed, suddenly wanting nothing more than to lie down,

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“You poor thing,” Agathe was saying while practically yanking her out of her seat. “You look like you need to lie down.” Her voice seemed to be coming from far away, fading before she finished her sentence. Cherie was aware that she was standing, moving down a darkened hall, then down the stairs, but she couldn’t seem to keep her eyes open enough to see where she was going. Without Agathe’s support, she would have surely fallen on her face. The last thing she saw was a huge man hovering over her, than blessed oblivion. ******* Christine L’Amour stood in the alley behind the lit mansion glancing anxiously around her. If she had not seen the girl with her own eyes, there was no way in hell she would even contemplate what she was about to do. “The captain has assured me we will be underway as soon as we bring our ‘package’ onboard,” Didier, her best friend and lover assured her for what had to be the hundredth time. “It will be well chere, calm down.” “I know Didi,” Christine replied automatically with confidence she did not feel. “I just wish she would hurry up.” Agathe was supposed to have been here with the girl in tow twenty minutes ago. The plan was to slip a tiny amount of laudanum in her refreshment and then in guise of

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assisting her, to spirit her out to the waiting carriage. It was fast and simple, so where the hell was Agathe? As soon as the thought entered Christine’s head, Agathe appeared half dragging a heavily cloaked bundle. Didier hurried to lift the drugged girl effortlessly in his arms to place her in the carriage. Christine scurried up after them with a quick glance to the other woman. “I believe this concludes our dealings?” Christine asked. Agathe’s smile sent shivers down Christine’s spine. Not for the first time she wondered who was this young woman Agathe wanted gone so very badly? “Oh, yes,” came the gleeful reply. “Just make sure you are away from Louisiane tonight.” “Madame Bonnet, I must ask, who is this girl?” Christine asked. If this was indeed a member of some powerful Creole family, her life was forfeit. What the hell had she gotten herself into? “A half-breed born of a whore who thought she could move into my world.” With that Agathe was gone. ******** Cherie slowly became aware of the gentle sway beneath her. Refusing to open her eyes, she tried to recall what had happened to her. She felt like she was home in her bed,

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yet the constant rocking did not stop. Groaning she gingerly opened one eye trying to focus. With a gasp, she bolted upright in the bed. Her head pounded at the sudden movement, her stomach threatened to heave. Where the hell was she? Looking around the bare tiny room, all she could see was a chest at the end of what appeared to be a bunk. There was no window and only one thick oak door. The constant roll of the room answered her question – she was on a ship. The last thing she remembered was taking a sip of the warm punch as she listened to the inane prattle of some foolish little debutante trying to impress her with her family’s genealogy. Agathe, Papa’s former wife had been there. Although Maman, Papa, and Père Gaspar had all warned her to stay clear of the woman, Cherie had thought she was kind to bring her the refreshment, and kinder still to offer to guide her to find a quiet place to sit when she began to feel ill. What a simple fool she had been. Apparently the woman had managed to kidnap her somehow. The question was, who had helped her and why? There were not many willing to cross her father or grandfather. Surely as soon as her kidnappers found out who she was, they would immediately take her back. That - or they would kill her. Ruthlessly pushing away the panic and tears that threatened to rise, Cherie considered her options. Was Agathe somewhere on this ship, or had she returned to the party to appear innocent? From what Cher had heard of Papa’s wife, she was ever cautious

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of appearances, so surely she would have stayed and claimed all innocence as to Cherie’s whereabouts. There was a chance she could negotiate with whomever was holding her, but she had to be sure they would not simply cast her overboard in fear of discovery. She was still trying to work on some kind of plan when the door opened to admit a beautiful Amazon woman with skin of café-au-lait in a prim grey gown that was covered her from her throat to her feet. Her hair appeared to a mixture of black and grey combed back in a severe bun, which was completely at odds with her youthful appearance. Her face was unlined, her carriage upright, the woman didn’t look a day over thirty-five... She was carrying a tray with food and hot chocolate that she placed on Cher’s lap. Behind her stood the biggest man Cherie had ever seen. He had to be pushing seven feet, with bulging muscles that strained his shirt, deep ebony skin and shiny bald head. “You must eat something, chere,” the woman said cheerfully. “And then we will talk.” “You know who I am,” Cherie muttered deflated. If the woman and the man behind her knew who she was, they would not be easy to persuade to take her back. “What?” Christine asked bewildered. “You said my name. Well, nickname,” Cherie replied, “so you know who I am.” Christine looked down at the girl in confusion. “Petite, I said no name.”

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A tiny sliver of hope blossomed in Cher’s chest. Had she heard her wrong? “Did you not call me Cher?” she asked hopefully. “I said it as an endearment, petite,” Christine smiled down at her. “I did not know your name was Cher. I am Christine and that,” she pointed towards the huge man standing at the door, “is Didier. If you do not mind, we can get acquainted while you eat, non?” Christine’s smile was gentle and sincere as she sat on the bed and began to pour two cups of chocolate and uncovering a dish full of delicate pastries. Cher waited until the older woman had settled next to her before she dropped her bombshell. “So you do not know that I am Cherie Bonnet, known as Cher to my family. My father is Claude Bonnet, my grandpére is Gaspar Durand. The woman I suspect who paid you to take me away was Agathe Bonnet, papa’s former wife, n’est pas?” Cher asked softly while nibbling daintily on a pastry. A soft “Shit!” was heard from the vicinity of the door. Christine’s hand stilled in the act of bringing a pastry to her mouth. Cherie dared a glance through her lashes to witness the woman’s face turn ghostly pale. “Oh God, what have I done?” Christine whispered placing the pastry down on the plate with a shaky hand. Damn the traitorous bitch! She should have known never to trust Agathe Bonnet. The woman had found her dearest wish and dangled it before her like some succulent fruit.

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Just like Eve, Christine had bitten. It had been a moment of weakness that she shared her dream of opening a house in the goldmine that was the Spanish Florida territory with the wicked witch. Christine had felt secure because she knew Agathe’s dirty little secrets – how she often needed multiple partners to fulfill her sexual needs. The woman had gone through seven of her most well hung slaves in one night! Christine had foolishly felt secure that Agathe would never want whispers of her late night escapades to get out. She was a pillar of society after all. It looks like Agathe had gotten rid of the only person other than her own personal slaves who knew her secret. “What do we do?” Christine whispered to Didier. It was senseless not to include the girl in the conversation. If Gaspar or Claude found them, Christine and Didier were as good as dead anyway. “We cannot take her back, love,” came the deep reply. “But why?” Cherie demanded. “I will explain everything to Papa. If you really didn’t know…” “We would be killed outright, no matter our ignorance,” Didier’s reply was not said with heat. It was mere an acknowledgment of the enviable. “It is what I would do if it were my daughter.” “Cheer,” Christine grasped the young woman’s hand looking directly in her eyes. Cherie could see her regret, but she could also see her resolve. “I am sorry Agathe did this

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to you. I am more sorry than you know that it was I that was her instrument. But we cannot take you back, and we cannot let you go.” “I would never tell,” Cher insisted, unable to hold the tears that began to roll down her face back any longer. “I swear. You are both being kind to me. When we get to wherever your destination is, you can put me on a ship back to New Orleans. I will tell them it was someone else, anyone else. Please, I am to be married! I must go home!” Christine’s heart broke for the girl. Many free people of color dreamed of marrying into elite Creole society. This girl had achieved simply by her birth what many would kill for. Christine had eschewed the entire plaçage system in which she had grown up in for the love of Didier. Her mother was furious when Christine had informed her she would not attend the balls to find a wealthy protector. Instead, she and Didier had slowly built a nice little house in Storyville, building a certain status for having the most beautiful colored girls of every shade, the most skilled workers with class and style. But in New Orleans, they were merely a drop in the bucket. Christine loved what she did. It was not so different from her mother’s life, just more honest. Placées considered themselves respectable women, but to Christine, a whore was a whore. “I am sorry, petite,” Christine whispered taking the now openly weeping girl in her arms. “We will take care of you, I promise, but we cannot let you go. You will not become one of the girls. You will be as my own beloved daughter. But petite, you must know

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Agathe will be the first suspected and regardless of what she may believe, and your father and grandfather will have no mercy. She will tell them everything. You can never go home.”

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CHAPTER FOUR

New Orleans Agathe had never in her life felt a fear as she felt it at this moment. The only sound in the study was the soft weeping in the corner of her Claude’s whore while her father’s whore comforted her as best she could. Agathe stood not only before Claude and Gaspar, but three of what appeared to be her father’s bastard sons as well as Étienne and Rémi Barbin. Try as she might to call up the righteous anger that she believed justified her actions all she felt was deep, terrible trepidation. “Where is she?” Gaspar’s voice was deceptively soft. Agathe missed the warning in his eyes. “As I said, I witnessed her going to the retiring room after she said she felt a bit ill. It is not my fault no one taught the silly chit . . .” She did not see the blow that knocked her to her knees coming. The entire side of her face instantly caught fire as she gasped, trying to catch her breath. Gaspar seized a handful of her hair dragging her upright once more. Tightening his hold so she felt as if he would rip the hair out by the roots, he leaned close into her face and spoke with the same deceptive voice. “I will ask you again, where is she?”

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This time Agathe saw the cold determination she had missed just a second before. His eyes were devoid of any emotion. Any natural affection he might have felt for her was gone she realized with a start. She had often bristled at the pity and frustration she always saw when he looked at her, but there had always been at least some affection and maybe even love. Icy fear filled her heart. Had she lost the love of her father over a half-breed? As much as she might have wished anger over the injustice to augment her courage, all she could feel was an aching sense of loss. Not so much a loss over what was, but more a bereavement of what might have been. “I paid a Madame to sell her to the highest bidder somewhere far from here.” The next smack caused her to lose consciousness. Agathe awakened on the floor exactly in the spot she had fallen. Opening her eyes to narrow slits she could make out Claude on his knees facing his whore trying to console her as she cried freely now, mourning the loss of her daughter. “We will find her,” Claude was assuring her. “We will bring her back.” “She’s awake now,” came a disgusted voice somewhere above her. Agathe whimpered trying to scoot her body back by her father’s desk, but his voice stopped her in her tracks. “Stand, Agathe.”

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She hauled herself into a standing position cautiously. Her face was still a blistering inferno, but now her entire body ached. Well, there was nothing for it. She was well and truly caught. All thoughts of escaping were long gone. They would never allow her to escape to relative obscurity in some small village in France. The best she could hope for was being held a virtual prisoner in one her father’s homes. At least they couldn’t kill her outright-she hoped. “To whom did you sell my granddaughter, and where is she now?” Agathe considered her options. She could tell them the truth and have the little bitch returned here. She probably couldn’t marry Étienne now, which Agathe could take some amount of cold comfort in. She had saved at least one family from the stain of having a breed thrown into the bloodline. Or she could lie and have them chase circles for a while. Eventually, they would figure out she was lying, but by them the girl might be damaged irreparably. “I paid Madame L’Amour and her lover Didier Valent to take her. I believe they are planning on opening a new house somewhere in the Montréal area,” she replied offering a half-truth. “I will bring her back,” Étienne announced striding to the door. “Surely you cannot think of marrying her now?” Agathe asked incredulously. “I am afraid by the time you find her she will be well and truly ruined.”

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Étienne turned on his heel to face the pathetic excuse for a woman standing oddly proud though her world was crashing around her. The entire right side of her face was beginning to turn alarming shades of blue, green and purple yet her eyes were bright with righteous indignation. He wished he could feel sorry for her but all he felt was disgust with a healthy dose of hate. “I would not give a damn if she was forced to service an entire regiment,” he replied in an even matter-of-fact declaration. “I will find her, she will be my wife.” Agathe once again did not heed the implicate warning of the deceptive calm of the men in the room. She turned furiously to Rémi Barbin, fully expecting him to side with her against his son. “You must reason with you son! Tell him what that would do to you family, to his reputation!” To his credit, Rémi ignored Agathe. “You must let him go, Claude,” Rémi tuned completely from Agathe to address his friend. “He loves her very much, he will bring her home.” “I don’t know.” Claude was her father. It was his responsibility to find his child, but he knew if it were Amélie…nothing could keep him from her. Looking at Étienne he was not too much

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the father to recognize the feeling burning in the young man. He would protect Cherie with his life. “Go ‘Tienne. You have my blessings,” he said squeezing Amélie’s hand. “Please,” Amélie added through her tears, “she is my joy. Please bring her home.” Gaspar listened with a half ear to the conversation going on around him while contemplating Agathe. What she had done was unforgivable. He could understand her hatred and prejudice. Agathe’s mother was a cold woman. He had married Vivienne Quevedo-Bonnet as a favor to her dying father, who had been his friend and mentor. After she had given birth to Agathe he had been barred from her bed. He could have set her aside for that alone, but there was little point. Vivienne enjoyed her position as his wife without having any of the responsibilities that entailed. She had never wanted anything to do with being a wife or mother, and had barely spoken to her own daughter until Agathe had married and became an acceptable companion who would not burden her with emotional needs. She was also a fanatical racist; not just against African slaves or people of color, but against anyone who was not Creole. She often referred to Cajun as swamp scum and Indians as soulless savages. Agathe had regrettably been poisoned her mother. To his shame, Gaspar had made a conscious effort to be as far away from the unpleasantness that was his wife as possible.

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After all, he had Solange. He had inherited her when he married Vivienne. She had been the cook; a pure bred born in Africa brought to the colonies as a child. Through the years they had been blessed with a deep abiding love built on mutual respect and friendship, though the passion had never waned. Gaspar had worked hard to build enough power and money – all for her. It was to be able to have enough influence society would simply look the other way when he made Solange his wife and legitimized his children. Things had been moving fast, perhaps too fast for Agathe. What could he do with her? He had tried to like Agathe, but she had never been interested in anyone other than herself. When she had first seen Claude she had begged, pleaded, threatened and screamed for him to “persuade” Claude to marry her. At the time Claude had been courting Amélie. Though nothing more than a simple sailor, Claude had saved every dime and invested wisely, trying to convince Gaspar he would provide for Amélie. He had been on the verge of granting his permission for Claude to take his youngest child to France or the Caribbean to marry (much top the heartbreak of his beloved Solange) when Agathe decided he must be hers. It had seemed like a perfect solution. Amélie could stay, Claude could have the love of his heart, and Agathe would have a husband. Agathe was so much like her mother that Gaspar believed she would never think twice about her husband as long as she was kept in the manner in which she felt she was entitled. And she hadn’t. Not until the night she had

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walked in on her husband and her half-sister. Something had awakened in Agathe that night. Perhaps the passion she had observed had awoken a dormant part of her, or perhaps it was simply a case of wanting something you had already thrown away just because someone else desired it. Who knew? But she became obsessed with the idea that Claude was hers. Gaspar knew of her late night exploits. He knew how she needed a group of men at the same time to satisfy her. He couldn’t say he understood, though he certainly didn’t judge. He had hoped she would settle down after a while. He had even breathed a sigh of relief when she had purchased several house slaves for the sole purpose of keeping her satisfied. All had seemed to calm down until the introduction of Cherie into society. Gaspar expected anger, threats and tantrums. Never in a million years did he believe Agathe was capable of something like this. He realized now he should have. “The basement has been – redesigned. It will be your home until Cher is found and brought home,” Gaspar told her quietly while everyone else was occupied with seeing Étienne off. “And then?” Agathe whispered wide-eyed. Would they lock her up like an animal then? Gaspar considered her quietly for a few moments. The love he should have felt as a father was not there, perhaps it never really had been. He had always seen this woman as an

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extension of Vivienne and not as his child. Perhaps in a way, this was entirely his fault. Perhaps if he could have loved her at least half as much as he loved Amélie she would have been different. God knows if Cherie was not found or was damaged in some way, he would carry the guilt with him forever. But Agathe was now a lost cause. He could see the slightly crazed look in her eyes. She really believed what she had done was justified, that it was all for the best. “After Cher is brought home, you will retire to St. Dympna’s Asylum.” Agathe was struck dumb. He was sending her to an insane asylum? Of all the possible punishments, never had she imagined anything like this. Gaspar nodded toward his sons who seized her arms and drug her away and for once Agathe made no move to protest. She had badly misjudged her father and overplayed her hand. There would be no forgiveness; she was as good as dead. Luc paced the bedroom suite he shared with Amélie and Claude. None of this would have ever happened had he insisted Amélie marry Claude. It was dangerous enough keeping her outside the plantation, but the situation was untenable for their children. Although Claude had legally adopted Cherie, she was still nothing more than his quadroon bastard. She would not be fully recognized until she married Étienne, which may be impossible by the time they found her. Despite the younger man’s determination, Luc

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knew better than to trust the return of his baby girl on a love sick, inexperienced man who had yet to see a quarter of a century. Since leaving France and eventually settling in Louisiana, Luc had been cautious. There were those who would pay dearly for any information that he was still alive. Some would like nothing more than to drag him back kicking and screaming to France. Some would like nothing more to see him dead. His entire life was a tragic mistake. It was better that the world in general think he was nothing more than a myth. He had gathered a small army of men, all loyal to the death, led by capable captains who would die before revealing the secret he had shared with only them and Claude and Amélie. It had been necessary in order to ensure the safety of those he loved. Generally a group of twenty patrolled the outskirts of the plantation; a group of twenty each blended into the general population at every level of society in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which the remaining forty moved from place to place around the perimeter, outside the major cities but close enough to warn of incoming danger. He had men on the docks and a few in scattered ports around the New World. Unfortunately none had seen anyone slipping a young woman out by boat or by carriage. Luc had sent ten men North by land, ten South by sea. He could not count on Agathe being truthful about the destination of the madame she had sold Cherie to. For that matter, he couldn’t really count on her being truthful about selling her to a madame at all. He made a mental note to check all the major

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plantations outside French held areas. A Frenchman would be suspicious of anyone selling a quadroon into slavery, especially a very lovely young woman being sold by a bitter middle aged matron. The English held plantations, or Americans as they were no called, were not to scrupulous. “You will stop blaming yourself this instant!” Luc whirled to see all five feet of Amélie standing with her hands on those shapely hips he loved so well, tapping her little foot glaring at him. Despite the gravity of the situation he had to smile. “Come here, petite,” he murmured holding his hand out to her. She came without delay, leaning her body onto his bigger frame. “We are all worried about our little girl, Luc. No one is to blame but Agathe. And even she had her reasons,” Amélie sighed into his chest as she burrowed closer, comforted by his strength. “How can you say that, Ami? That woman sold our child! It was all I could do not to wring her neck with my bare hands!” Amélie looked up at her long time lover. To Luc, there large unusual family was everything. She and Claude loved Luc, their children and each other every bit as much, but unlike Luc, both had the love of their parents and a stable up-brining. Luc was born into a world of intrigue, deception and selfish power grabbing. From birth he was a pawn to be

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played in the most dangerous of games. The family he had built here in the New World was everything to Luc. He loved and cherished all of their children regardless of who the actual father was. Cherie was very special to all of them being the only girl and the only child neither Luc nor Claude was sure who had been the actual father. “Ah, but remember the horrible blow our relationship was to her,” Amélie reasoned. “And then the annulment. It was a horrible shock to one such as her to be thrown aside for one such as me.” Luc stared down at the beautiful woman in his arms. He did not doubt she ached as only a mother could for her child, yet here she was defending a horrible woman who was responsible for selling their daughter. He marveled how such an ugly world could produce an inner beauty such as Amélie. He felt humbled by her love for him, knowing deep down he was not worthy of such a pure soul. “Ami, Cherie was innocent in all of this,” he reminded her gently. “I would not waste any sympathy on her.” Amélie reached up to caress his cheek until she felt the tension in his jaw slowly drain away. “I do not excuse Agathe for what she has done, but I do understand her need for revenge in any form she can get it. I doubt I can forgive her until my baby is safely home.

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But it would not be right for me to dismiss her pain anymore than I dismiss my own. Despite what she might feel, she is still my sister.” Before Luc could argue Claude walked into the room looking defeated. Seeing Luc and Amélie embracing brought a tired smile to his face, but he said nothing as he sank tiredly into an arm chair before the empty fireplace. He didn’t turn as each of his lovers surrounded him in silent comfort. “We will find her,” Luc assured him. “I just pray we find her before . . . “ “Don’t say it!” Luc commanded. “Don’t even think it! If we have to move heaven and earth, we will find her.” Claude nodded bleakly, but his heart was too heavy to be convinced. He should have married Amélie long ago, just as Luc had suggested. He hadn’t, because it had not felt right. Luc was the real head of the family, though in public he was nothing more than a distant cousin and business partner. To give Ami his name seemed wrong. Now he understood why Luc had kept mentioning it over the years. Legitimate children could be protected. Illegitimate children could not. Both he and Ami had felt they were protecting Luc’s feelings, while in actuality they were punishing their own offspring, leaving them vulnerable to the whims of fate.

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“I know you and Ami did not want to marry because of me,” Luc was telling him in a much softer tone. “I respect why you did not and I love you both for it. You cannot blame yourself for this. If anything it was my fault. I only suggested marriage because did not want to be on the outside – I should have insisted on it.” “You are both full of it,” Amélie declared, getting to her feet and moving toward the bed. “And I refuse to listen to either of you a moment longer.” Both men turned dumbfounded as she began to disrobe, letting her riotous curls loose from the elegant chignon to fall down her back. “Well?” she asked as she finished, smiling as he lovers rushed to her side. Amélie allowed herself to be lost in arms of the two men she loved more than life. Luc was so strong, demanding response as he devoured her mouth with his own while pulling Claude closer to them both. Stepping back his eyes burned both of his lovers with his intensity. “Get on the bed,” Luc ordered Amélie as he turned to circle behind Claude. He did not have to look to see if she complied. In and out of the bedroom, Luc was obeyed without question. Claude stood completely still as Luc circled him, stopping behind him to divest him of his jacket, waistcoat, then his shirt. He trembled as his lovers large calloused hands caressed his shoulders and chest.

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“Perhaps you both doubt that I will return our child home, hmmm?” Luc purred darkly into Claude’s ear. A small gasp from the bed captured both men’s attention and they both turned their eyes to witness Amélie, one hand lightly stroking between her thighs, while the other pulled on a distended light chocolate nipple. “She is beautiful, non?” Luc whispered to Claude as his fingers trailed a hot path to the fastenings of his trousers. Claude moaned as Luc leisurely freed his aching hardness from their confines and wrapped his strong hands around him, stroking him in time with the movements of Amélie’s lonely hand. He longed to place his tongue where her hand was buried, to lap at the addicting juices that leaked upon her thighs. “She is making you thirsty, is she not?” Luc continued. Claude gave a jerky nod, wanting so badly to join her on the bed but not wanting to lose the feel of Luc’s hand stroking up and down, squeezing with just the right amount of pressure. He leaned back, resting his head on Luc’s broad shoulder while the other man suckled and gentle bit the side of his neck the way that made his heart race. “Go, mon chou,” Luc gently pushed Claude toward the bed. “Give her what she needs.”

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Luc watched as Claude dove between Amélie’s legs with a groan. He undressed unhurriedly, loving the sight of her in rapture watching him as he stood beside the bed slowly stroking his cock. She licked her lips as if imagining the taste of him, causing moisture to seep from his rigid member. As she climaxed, he joined the couple on the bed, pulling Claude away and suckling at his lips to capture a part of her essence. “Take her,” Luc encouraged as he let go. Claude immediately returned to the spell binding woman laying in wait, sheathing himself full tilt in one stroke. Luc waited a moment, enjoying the sight of Claude’s hip and buttocks digging and retreating, loving the way Amélie arched to welcome every stroke before moving behind Claude once more. Taking a healthy amount of lubricating cream on his fingers he gently probed Claude’s backside, causing the other man to moan loudly, stuttering in his movements. Claude instinctively stilled while Luc positioned himself at his rear, unable to stop the short jerky movement forward as Luc entered him. Luc then set the rhythm, orchestrating their concert of love. This, to Luc, was heaven on earth and he would do anything to protect these two people. As their slow parries and thrusts became frantic he called out his love for both his lovers, silently vowing he would find their child and never allowing anyone to threaten their family again.

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CHAPTER FIVE

San Agustín, Florida Six months later

Cherie tried not to move as she crouched down in the closet where she was hiding. What had seemed like a temps d'amusement – a joke, an hour ago, now looked to be a long boring night. She had crept upstairs where Christine’s “girls” brought their gentlemen to see exactly what this sex thing was all about. Christine and Didier did not allow her to mix with “the working girls” much and there were very few young women her age in the small Spanish outpost. Although San Agustín was now the capitol and Governor Velasco had tried everything he could to get more soldiers and business to bring families here; European women did not want to come to such a wild, untamed place. The men for the most part enjoyed the freedom to drink, whore and even start relationships with slaves, Indians and all other kinds of women of color. There was a certain laissez-faire attitude that most seemed to revel in. Knowing all this, Christine and Didier kept a close watch on her at all times. Cherie failed to see the point. They had told her she could never go home yet they would not allow her to become one of their “girls.” What was she supposed to do with the rest of her life?

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Christine had been right about making her fortune here in Florida. In no time at all, they were ensconced in a massive mansion with a steady clientele of officers, businessmen and government officials. Christine had even opened a smaller house near the docks for those who could not effort the prices at the mansion. The girls were perhaps as alluring as the girls who worked here, but they were by far the prettiest, most talented of all the other houses in the area. Christine had stated she did have a reputation to uphold, after all. All her girls were enchanting and clean – which was a rare thing near the docks. Cherie was kept away from the front of the house; it would be impossible to refuse some of the more powerful clients should they decide they wanted her. She helped keep the books, managed the behind the scenes workers and even on rare occasions allowed to accompany Christine and her personal maid on shopping excursions, but she was not allowed to deal with anything remotely sexual. Cherie’s experience with the opposite sex was extremely limited. She had shared a few passionate kisses with her former fiancé Étienne, some even leaving her breathless and desperate for more. Étienne was too much the gentleman saying he wanted to wait until she was his wife. At night she would lay in bed aching in ways she didn’t understand. Lately, she had dreamed of her lost love, touching herself between her legs to try to ease the desperate want. But the more she touched the more she wanted something - but what? The loss of Étienne had been horrifying at first, but she couldn’t marry him now, even if she

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were by some miracle brought back home. She might yet me a virgin, but she had been gone unescorted far too long for a respectable marriage, even were she white it would’ve been impossible. The tears had gradually began to dry. She would always love him, but she could never be his wife. Even rationalizing her plight didn’t ease the strange awareness Étienne had awakened in her. She didn’t understand the constant feeling of being unfulfilled. With each passing night the feeling seemed to grow. She supposed she could have talked to Christine about it but it seemed so private. So here she was, determined to find out what l’amore it was all about. Simone, one of the most popular girls of the house, currently occupied the room. Cher had often been in awe of her receipts and her companion tonight was none other than Capitán Diego Esteban de Aguilar, Duque de Suárez. Not only was the man the riches in the colony, it was rumored he had more money than the King Ferdinand. He was one of the most handsome man Cherie had ever seen in her life. He stood over six and a half feet tall with broad shoulders, a lean muscular physique, jet-black hair, and icy gray eyes. Rumors were he chose to stay in the New World because of his disastrous but brief marriage to Princesa Maria-Teresa, the king’s youngest daughter. The marriage had been annulled and the Duque had left Spain in a hurry, though none knew the true reasons why. Many messengers from his former father-in-law had come to Florida with urgent summons

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for him to come home. It seemed the king had a recently widowed daughter he was anxious to see resettled. It gave credence to the talk the Pincesa had been at fault for the embarrassing annulment. To date, none had ever returned to Spain to give the king a reply. The Duque was not a man to be ordered about, not even by his king. Even Governor Velasco tread lightly around Diego. The man exuded power and control. Cherie would love to see the man in action. If only he and his lady for the evening would stop playing chess and get on with it! Diego was bored. No, bored was too tame a word. He suffered from an acute case of ennui. All he wanted to do was brood with a bottle of rum in the sanctity of his study yet he found himself being led by a couple of friends to Palacio Del Placer, the best whorehouse in all of the Spanish territories. Once here however, not even the most accomplished woman could pique his interest. He hadn’t had a hard-on for months. Rather than to admit this to his comrades, he selected the best the house had to offer, took her upstairs and proceeded to play chess. He figured he would do it for a couple of hours or so pay the girl handsomely to stay out of sight and sneak out. Diego was aware he was being watched the moment he stepped into the room. He didn’t sense malicious intent but a man in his position could never be too sure. There was only one place to hide in the room, the closet. He maneuvered his companion to the chair closest to the door so he could watch the closet door, waiting for some move from whoever

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was watching. He had many enemies though not many were brave enough to attack him outright. There was a chance his beloved ex-father-in-law had finally caught a clue and sent a spy rather than a messenger. The king wanted him to return to Spain to marry yet another one of his “beloved” daughters. What the king failed to understand the experience with the lovely Princesa Maria-Teresa left him with a very distinct distaste for the institution of holy matrimony. Maria-Teresa had been far more suited for a nunnery than to be a wife. For all her sweetness the woman was a colder than ice and as dry as the Sahara. It took coating his cock with massive amounts of cream to even attempt to fuck her. No amount of foreplay or coaxing could make her the tiniest bit wet. The damn woman said her rosary the entire time! Being the only surviving child he was sorely in need of an heir but man could only take so much. One month of wedded bliss was about all he could handle. Some distant cousin would probably inherit the title, he could not stomach the feeling he was raping his own wife. Thank God Spain needed experienced officers to protect their colonies against the encroaching British and keep an eye on the French. Though land was abundant it was damned hard to entice families to settle in the new territories. Most of the men who traveled here came in search of gold or other riches, intent on making their fortunes then returning to Spain. Most never saw their homeland again. Diego had no need for more riches, his lands were abundant, and he held one of the highest, oldest titles of Spanish

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aristocracy. He came to the New World for the challenge and adventure. It had worked for a while. Now everything was stable and predictable, much as it had been in Spain. He felt like he was missing something essential in his life. An hour and half had past and still only the slightest movement from the closet. Enough was enough. “Chica, why don’t you go and fetch some refreshments,” Diego kept his eyes on the chessboard. “But my lord, I can ring for a maid.” Diego looked up to give her his most charming smile. “Sí, we could, but it wouldn’t be handpicked by you mi estimada.” Simone inflated pride and fairly floated out of the room. That bought him at least fifteen minutes. “You come out of the closet now,” Diego said turning his attention back to the chessboard. Merde! Cherie’s heart stopped dead in chest. How had he known she was there? Swallowing harshly, she commanded her feet to move. Christine was going to kill her. The only thing she could do was to beg for mercy. Marshalling her courage, she marched into the room.

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“Monsieur, s’il vous plait forgive me. I meant no harm, truly. I only wanted to…well, um, see how it was done.” A vicious punch in the gut could not have hit harder than sensation of blood rushing to his cock. After six long months of nothing Diego was suddenly harder than steel and desperate to sink himself in to any and every hole she had to offer. Who was this vision before him, and why the hell had he never seen her before? He tried in vain to recall what he might have done to have such a goddess practically dropped in his lap. Did she really say she just wanted to see how it was done? The little vixen had no idea what she had just gotten herself into. She stood nervously shifting from one foot to another waiting to see what he would do. Diego leaned back in his chair to study the dream come to life in front of him. She had a complexion like peaches and cream all coated in warm honey. It made the mouth water just looking at it. And that body. She was not dressed like one of the working girls, and seeing as she was obviously a virgin she was probably some relation to the either Madame or her lover Didier. The dress she wore was modest but did nothing to hide the hills and valleys of her delectable petite body. Her hair was the color of a moonless night with a kiss of copper threaded through which fell in luscious curls to her waist. Ah, to wrap those locks around his fist as he rode home. And those eyes! An insufferably rigid hard-on got harder. She had the clearest, purest blue-green eyes he had ever seen.

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Oh, yes she would be his. “Come here niña.” Oh dear, she had definitely stepped in it. Don Diego was not someone to toy with so she did not hesitate. Diego stood in one lithe movement. If he touched her now she would be flat on her back in a heartbeat. Instead he moved to stand at her back. Leaning down he whispered in her ear, “To see how what is done querida?” The deep, sensual voice made Cher feel like melting on the sound. “I…I.. um, I was curious,” she managed to squeak out. “Curious about what, chica?” He was burying his face in hair. She fell back involuntarily to lean her back into him. He responded by pressing his erection against the small of her back. Oh, God that felt so good! “I…,” her mind went completely blank when he started placing nibbling kisses along her neck. What had he asked her? Diego couldn’t remember wanting a woman as he wanted this one. Yet as much he needed to be inside her he refused to take her here in a brothel. Ridiculous really, seeing as how he had discovered her in one. He just knew deep down this one was special. He needed her in his home, in his bed. Knowing he had very little time before Simone returned Diego forced himself to take a step back and turned her to face him.

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“I think I can help you querida.” “Help me what?” “You want to know how it’s done, sí? I will show you.” “Oh, no señor, I cannot…I mean, I am not one of the girls.” “Yes, querida, I know,” he murmured guiding her towards the door. “But what about Christine. I mean Madame L’Amour. She will be worried if I disappeared…” “Don’t worry, sweet. I will send a message to let her know you are fine.” Tomorrowmaybe. He doubted he would be able to slake the sudden lust that had boiled through his veins in one paltry night. Though they garnered many stares no one dared stop the infamous Capitán de Aguilar as he ushered his prize quickly out the front doors and into his carriage. After terse instructions to his coachman to get him home as quickly as possible, Diego climbed in. Not trusting himself to keep his hands to himself, he chose to sit in the seat facing her. “What is your name querida?” “Cherie.” “Just Cherie?” “Cherie Durand-Bonnet.” Damn! “Durand-Bonnet? As in…”

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Although she had promised Christine she would not tell a soul her real identity, she found she could not lie to this man. Those piercing gray eyes demanded absolute truth. “Gaspar Durand is my grandpére, Claude Bonnet is my papa.” And Luc, but she did not know Luc’s surname. No one did. Although France and Spain were not on the best of terms, powerful men in the territories tended to stick together. Maybe he would help her get home. “And how is it the daughter and granddaughter of two very rich very powerful men came to reside in a brothel?’ Before she knew it Cherie told him the story of how she came to be in Florida. She even told him about Étienne. Since being in Florida, she had given up all hope of ever seeing home again, but this man had the power to make sure she got back home. He listened to every word, his eyes never leaving her face. He looked fierce in the sparse light of the carriage, but she was hopeful. Surely God had smiled on her at long last. Diego had always considered himself an honorable man. An honorable man would have immediately sent word to her family and assisted her in returning home. He had absolutely no intention of doing so. This little slip of a woman made him feel a quickening of his libido he thought was dead. Besides, by her own admission she had been away from home, living in a brothel no less for six months. She could no longer expect her fiancé to still marry her.

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His conscious cringed slightly as he made up his mind. He was keeping her. Perhaps they would travel to New Orleans so her family could see she was alive and well, but she wouldn’t be going without him. A few minutes was all it took, and he was enchanted. The carriage stopped far too soon for Cherie’s tastes. He had been watching her with a strange intensity absently toying with the handle of his cane. Watching his long, manicured fingers sent tiny shivers down her spine. What would it feel like to have those hands caressing her? Licking her lips she forced herself to look up only to find him watching her with a faint smile. Such thoughts were wicked. She must stop. “We’re home, sweet.” Diego’s mansion was impressive, opulent without being pretentious. She didn’t get the opportunity to observe much because he ushered straight up the curving staircase into the master bedroom. A diligent servant rushed to light candles placed strategically placed around the room. All she could make out was the massive bed. Diego watched her bite her lower lip nervously while her nipples hardened with excitement even as her eyes widened. It was good to see she was not unaffected by him. She might be too scared to acknowledge the desire she obviously felt, but he was resolved to rectify that. Nothing but her panting in delight as he awakened her body in ways she had never dreamed would do. Moving close without touching he circled her as if contemplating where to start.

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Cherie shifted nervously. “Mon seigneur, mi señor, I implore you. Now that you know who I am, will you not help me return to ma famille?” Once again Diego stopped behind her, pulling her body flush to his. “Is that what you really want, mi belleza?” Leaning closer, he whispered softly in her hear. “Do you really want me to act the gentleman, hmm? To cart you off to a guest room to suffer a cold, lonely bed?” Cherie quivered at a breeze suddenly at her back. Belated she realized her gown had been completely undone. In a slow, languid movement his hand came to settle on her shoulders, rubbing in firm yet gentle circles. They were definitely a man’s hand, slightly calloused with implied strength. He was sliding her dress off in an almost casual manner, causing the light silk to pool at her feet. When had he undone her buttons and laces? She stood trembling in only her shift, having forgone a corset for her ill-fated little prank. Strong arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her off her feet to place her in the middle of the massive bed. He made no move to join her, instead stepping back to remove his clothing in maddeningly slow pace. Any thought of home or her former fiancé fled at her first glimpse of his chest. Though she lived in a brothel, she had never seen a man without clothing. As the jacket and shirt were discarded Cherie’s breath caught in her throat. Here before her was an upper body designed by God. He was all well defined muscle, sculpted and hard; his chest was

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lightly sprinkled with dark hair leading in a little trail her eyes followed to the top of his tight buckskin breeches were his hands were now unfastening the buttons one at time. Watching the delightful little vixen, Diego felt like howling in victory. Her eyes drank in every part he revealed, her pink tongue repeatedly licking at her bottom lip, her own chest heaving as she took it all in. He could just make out her nipples hardening in the muted light, making his cock jump in anticipation. He had to temper his enthusiasm, reminding himself she was a virgin and the very last thing he wanted to do was to scare her away. With patience he didn’t feel, he peeled his pants down, keeping careful watch of her reaction. He was not a small man in any respects. Her first sight of him fully engorged was bound to be a shock. Cher gasped as the sight of his manhood burst free to point directly at her. Mon Dieu, the man was huge! “You can’t mean to place that inside me! It will not fit!” There was no possible answer he could give and have her believe it. He stood at the base of the bed, allowing her to look her fill while relishing in the way in which her eyes stayed on him. Grinning wickedly, he elected to give her a little show. Clasping his rigid cock in one hand he began stoking slowly up and down, watching her tongue dart out between her lips in time with the movement of his hand. Soon he would watch those luscious lips wrapped around him as he slid in and out of her hot little mouth. Just the thought caused him to leak tiny drops of pre-come.

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Cher gasped as she watched his root seep out pearly drops of fluid. Thinking he had somehow hurt himself she flew across the bed to cradle the appendage in her hands. “Are you all right?” Good God, she was going to kill him! Her face was so close she could feel the subtle heat of her breath against his enflamed skin. His hips thrust forward of their own accord causing his cock to brush against her lips. Diego was not sure what he expected her to do, move back perhaps, wipe the small amount of natural lubricant off with a frown; instead Cherie placed a gentle kiss right on the tip. “Abre la boca, cariño,” he encouraged, slipping just a few inches into her mouth as she dutifully opened wide. Without instruction or further encouragement, Cherie began to tentatively suck on the enflamed length she could fit in her mouth. She moved in jerky back and forth movement at first, then gradually moving in time with the guiding hand he placed behind her head. Cielo dulce the woman was lethal! By small increments he fed her more and more until he was hitting the back of her throat. “Relax your throat, meija. Just swallow…sí meija just like that.” Cherie was awash with feeling she could not describe. She hadn’t meant to put it in her mouth, but seeing it up close she was curious. At first she believed he was in some kind of pain, she had only meant to kiss it, maybe to make it feel better. Once she tasted him,

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Mon Dieu, it was intoxicating. When he slipped it in her mouth and began to move back and forth, it gave her a heady sense of power, making her feel alive and oh so feminine. She loved that she had made him growl deep in his throat, that he wrapped his hand in her hair urging her forward. If she had felt wet and achy before, she was positively dripping with need now. Her quim was wet and swollen, the small ache she had experience far too often exploding into raging need. All too soon he pulled himself away. She leaned forward trying to recapture her prize only to be held back. “No more of that, querida. I will not last.” Stoking her cheek he smiled down and the dazed look in her eyes. “Lay back bebé, let me make you feel good.” Cherie did so without a thought. She would do anything to fill the burning need coursing through her body. He took her lips in a savage kiss, his tongue invading her mouth his hands everywhere at once; he was not giving her time to think, he was simply taking what he wanted like the conquistador he was. She jumped when his fingers found her core, wanting to push him away but needing so desperately ever touch, every caress. “Please,” she begged, arching as he plunged one thick finger into the very heart of her. The friction burned as he stretched her, but not in a bad way. It was a painful pleasure, making her cant her hips for more, a deeper penetration. “Please what bebé?” He murmured kissing and nipping along her ear.

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Please what? How was she supposed to know? She had no idea what she needed, but she knew she needed something more. “I- I think I hurt,” she whimpered spreading her thighs as another finger joined the first. It hurt so good she wanted to cry. Her hips were moving in time with his questing fingers, gasping at the sensation those devilishly delightful digits were creating. Oh, God she needed more. His mouth was traveling down the side of her face to her throat until he reached her painfully swollen nipples where he licked, suckled then bit just enough to make her scream. She could feel her body hurtling toward something momentous but it was just out of reach. She pleaded, demanded but he would not relent in his total onslaught. Just went she thought she would go insane, he whispered, “Now, querida! Come for me now.” Cherie shrieked as her body flew apart. She could feel herself convulsing around the fingers still stroking in and out of her, soaking both of them with evidence of her desire. “What an obedient little pussy,” he praised, finally slipping his fingers out to bring them to his lips. “And so sweet.” She couldn’t speak. What had he just done to her? She was not so naïve as to believe he had taken her virginity – not yet anyway, but she had never imagined anyone being able to make her feel the way this man had. It appeared there was a lot more to this making love

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thing than she thought. She watched in fascination as Diego slid down her body to rest his head in between her thighs. What would he do now? She almost jumped out of her skin when she felt his tongue slide across her. “What are you doing?” She was shocked not so much that he would lick her there, but that it felt wickedly wonderful. “I am tasting my puss,” came the simple reply followed by a slow, long swipe of the tongue. “What?” Diego lifted his head to watch his new lover trying to squirm away. “Be still,” he demanded. She stilled immediately. Oh, she was too perfect to be true. He had suspected she would be susceptible to his particular needs, though he planned on breaking her in slowly. It appeared she would need very little tutoring. He had no doubt outside the bedroom she would be a stubborn little imp, but here in his bed, she was proving to be shockingly perfect. To test his theory he sat up abruptly. “Turn around,” he ordered firmly, but without rancor. She did as she was told without question. Smiling ruefully he landed two sharp smacks on each cheek of her succulent ass, watching a faint red blush spread across her buttocks, then reached between her legs. Cherie offered nothing more than a surprised

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“Oh!” and when he felt her pussy grow wetter it was all he could do not come on the spot. So wonderfully responsive; he might have to keep her in his bed for at least a week, just to explore every inch of her delectable body. “I said I am tasting my puss,” Diego rubbed the reddened area softly as if to smooth away the sting. The way she sighed and pressed back into his hands made his cock jump. “I want you to lie down and spread you legs for me.” She did so immediately. “Good girl,” Diego murmured sinking his face in between her leg. Just the scent of her made his mouth water. He sank his tongue deep into her weeping cunt, scraping her inflated clit lightly. Cherie’s back arched completely off the bed. It was too much! She had thought his fingers felt like a twisted mixture of heaven and hell but this! A burning pressure built in her lower belly much stronger than before. And she had thought his fingers had taken her to heights she had never known, his tongue was going to kill her! “S'il vous plait, Monsieur. Je ne peux pas prendre davantage!” Cher pleaded. Her entire insides felt like lava racing towards an inevitable explosion. “Yes, you can take more and you will,” came the muffled reply. Diego alternated suckling her clit and thrusting his tongue inside her all while lapping her juices like a man dying of thirst. He was aching to be inside her but he had to make sure she was as ready as

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possible. A few seconds later, she went rigid, her hip jerking against his seeking tongue. He wanted until she relaxed fractionally, then in one stride he lifted himself completely over her to drive his cock fully inside her sung little walls. Cherie gasped in an enthralling mixture of pleasure and pain, the burn rushing down to her very toes before settling into aching itch. She felt so full, so complete, but still unfulfilled. Instinctively her legs clasped around his waist as if willing him deeper. She could feel him deep in her womb already, stretching her to her limit. There was more, she knew it. She needed to find out what it was. Diego held himself perfectly still reveling in the way she gripped him close. She felt like velvet heat wrapped tightly around his shaft; it was better than anything he could have imagined. She was so tight it took every ounce of willpower in him not to drive into her like a madman. “How does it feel, bebé?” he whispered as he began to slowly move. This was going to kill him. Her insides gripped him tighter as she began to move with him. Her hips lifted seeking his stroke, her hands clinching him until her nails began to dig into his skin. “This is my pussy, sí? No other man will ever know what a perfect little pussy you have.” Possessiveness came naturally as breathing. She had been born for him, the events leading up to this moment was nothing short of divine fate.

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Cherie couldn’t have answered him even if she tried. With every movement she felt a new burning sensation. Her entire body throbbed and tingled beneath his onslaught. She had long since stopped trying to analyze the thrilling sensations he had awakened in her, all she knew is she never wanted them to end. Lifting her hips to meet his she let her body ride on a wave of unbelievable bliss desperate to see if this too would lead her to that mystical pinnacle she was afraid she could become addicted to. His strokes grew faster, pounding into her with more force. Cherie went along with it, locking her legs around him while clutching him to her. Never had pain felt so very good. “Sí, bebé, just like that,” her murmured in her ear. “Give it all to me.” Diego grabbed her hips as he began to slam into her in earnest. She was so wet, so tight. He loved the way she cried out her pleasure as he rode her harder and harder, unable to hold back. He wasn’t going to last but he needed to take her over the edge with him. Reaching between them he found the pearl of her clit and pressed down. “Come for me bebé. Come now!” Cherie screamed holding on to him for dear life as her world exploded. Vaguely she could feel his seed filling her as he groaned harshly. She was utterly at this man’s mercy, and she couldn’t care less. All that mattered was this one perfect moment.

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Diego shifted to his back pulling Cherie on top of him. He was still buried inside her; nothing on earth could make him leave the warm cocoon he had just made his own. “Did I hurt you, querida?” “It was better than I ever imagined it would be. We can do it again soon, oui?” He grinned at the statement and at the way she snuggled into his chest. Damn, but she knew how to make a man feel like a man. For that alone, he knew he could never let her go.

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CHAPTER SIX

Christine did not get to be a successful Madame without learning how to read people. Her uncanny ability to read the needs, wants, and true desires of all her customers was something she prided herself on. Instinctively she knew the young man striding purposefully toward her now had absolutely no interest in anyone or anything she had for sell here. Taking in his manner of dress and his carriage, he could only be one of the proud overbearing French she thought she had left behind in New Orleans. Merde! That could only mean he was here for Cherie. Given his age and the tension radiating from him, he was probably the fiancé the girl had cried over for the first three month she had been with them. It had been over six months since Capitán de Aguilar had strode into Christine’s private parlor and informed her he had come for Cherie’s belongings and she would not be returning. Truth be told, she had been somewhat relieved. What was there for a gentle bred girl who had lost all of her connections to do in an isolated backwater with little society and no prospects? Cherie was no whore; Christine could have never forced her to become one of the “working girls”. In fact, she hadn’t allow Cherie anywhere near that section of the house. How the good captain had seen her was still a mystery; but the deed was done.

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By all accounts, Diego treated Cherie like more than a mere mistress. She was his hostess whenever he entertained important guests, she never went out unescorted, and Diego had even imported a dressmaker from Cuba to ensure Cherie was attired in the height of fashion. Christine was graciously allowed to visit her former ward, though she had to enter through the back door and she could only darken milord’s doorstep once a week – and that was only because Cherie had insisted. Had Diego had his way there would have been no visits from the town’s most exclusive Madame. Christine did not feel slighted in the least. She could not have felt prouder or more relieved. Cherie might have been a little lady long before she and Didier had unfortunately kidnapped her, but the fact Cherie had come from Christine’s exclusive house of pleasure gave her a certain cachet with her more distinguished clients. Now some of the more prominent men came to see if they too might be as fortunate as the Duque de Suárez. They could never hope to find a lady like Cherie in any brothel in the New World, but they didn’t need to know that. As long as they spent lavishly in the search, and they did indeed, Christine was satisfied. “You are Christine L’Amour, yes?” Ah, well, Christine thought to herself. I have had a good run. There was really no point in pretending she didn’t know who he was or why he was here. She was just glad Didier was not here tonight. Her lover would no doubt try to fight to save her from her fate, whatever it may be. It would not matter that they hadn’t known

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who Cherie was when they had taken her; they had helped a bitter woman kidnap a child of the cream of New Orleans society. “Yes, I am. And you are Étienne Barbin, no doubt here to collect your fiancé, Cherie.” If Étienne was shocked by her surprising candor he did not show it. An imperial raised brow was the only outward sign he even acknowledged Christine was trying to be as up front as possible. “I am here to collect Mademoiselle Cherie Durand-Bonnet,” he stressed. “And yes, she is my fiancé.” Christine studied the young man standing proudly before her. Tall and broad shouldered, he was definitely one of the most handsome young men she had seen and she had seen more than her fair share. His curly dark auburn hair was perfectly shaped, not a strand out of place. His mustache and goatee were neatly trimmed; strong dark brows and insanely long lashes framed bright blue eyes. Yes, he was definitely a catch and apparently very much in love with his fiancé. Well, that would be ex-fiancé now, wouldn’t it? By all accounts, Capitán de Aguilar was enthralled with his new mistress. He often conducted business at home with Cherie never far from his side. Christine was well aware of all the talk around town on how the good captain could not keep his hands off his lovely companion; sometimes he even went so far as to conduct meetings with Cherie on his lap.

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Given the time they had been together and Cherie’s general naiveté, by now she was probably carrying de Aguilar’s child. Christine had absolutely no intention of pointing that out the young man standing before her now. He would find out soon enough. “Please, monsieur, have a seat.” Étienne sat stiffly in the chair the madame indicated with studied patience he didn’t feel. It had been one long, painful year since Cherie had disappeared. He had been on a fool’s errand to Canada to catch up with Christine L’Amour. Thankfully, he had not traveled too far before several of Monsieur Luc’s men had caught up with him. They had found Cherie’s trail far from where they had been led to believe her final destination was. Madame L’Amour and her companion Didier had set up shop in Spanish territory, not in Canada. He had turned south that very night and ridden as if Satan himself was after him. Now that he was here he wanted nothing more than to find his future wife and to go home. “Madame, you must please excuse my rudeness, but it is imperative I collect Cherie without delay. As you might expect her parents are beside themselves and I must admit I, too, am anxious to collect by future bride.” There were not many times when Christine could honestly say she had ever been quite so floored, but this was definitely one of them. Although “society” in the New World was quite a bit looser and more democratic than on the continent, the fact this man was

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tacitly stating Cherie would still be his wife was astounding. While young Creole men could marry a woman of color if either his or her connections were right, it was rare in the extreme. A young man of wealth and position marrying anything less than a vestal virgin was virtually unheard of. Not to mention the fact there had been no threats or recriminations against Christine herself. “Monsieur…” Christine began, trying to find a way to break it to him gently, only to be cut off. “I do not care to hear what she may or may not have done, or been forced to do. I will have Cherie returned to me, Madame, in whatever condition I can have her.” Christine rose from the comfortable settee to drift toward the picture window revealing the view of her private garden. “Cherie is not here, monsieur.” She told him while gazing out at the flowers she had planted with her own to hands. “She is a…guest of Capitán Diego Esteban de Aguilar, Duque de Suárez. You will find her there, if he will allow it.” Étienne felt the breath leave his body. He had expected that Cherie would have lost her virginity by now; he had even accepted she might have been used as a whore. As much as the very idea infuriated him to the point of physical pain, none of this was her fault. He would do whatever he could to help her heal from the experience. The one thing he had not expected, that he never allowed himself to even think, was that she might have found a

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permanent “protector.” The possibility had always been there of course. Cherie was beyond beautiful and it was not unheard of to auction a gently bred virgin to become a mistress instead of one of a brothels regular girls. With her breeding and looks, there was little doubt she would have attracted men of wealth and power. Diego de Aquilar was a man of both; his reputation proceeding him throughout the New World. Moreover, he happened to the former son-in-law of Charles II, King of Spain, who was the cousin of France’s own King Louis XVI. If de Aguilar did not want to let her go, not even Cherie’s grandfather could make him. Louisiane had technically been under Spanish control for the last 19 years or so, though the Spanish that had settled there had adopted the culture and traditions of the French and had become true Creoles-the crème de la crème of the territory’s society. By proxy, the Duque was a part of that society, his name carrying status Étienne could not hope to overcome. “Do you have his direction?” he asked absently. He had to at least see if de Aguilar could be reasoned with. If not, well it would not be his first duel despite his age. The Duque’s reputation was fearsome, but for Cherie, Étienne would battle Satan himself. Christine turned in surprise. Surely he knew who de Aguilar was. Who didn’t? “I do not mean to pry or to give unwanted advice but…” “Then don’t,” he replied softly. “I would, were I you, give me the information I need and swallow my tongue. Once I am gone, you would do well to fall to your knees in

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thankful prayer neither I, nor my fiancé’s family feel it necessary to…reprimand you regarding your tragic mistake. I think my presence alone is enough to make you think again before offering assistance to an unbalanced, jealous woman, non?” He had not raised his voice. In fact his voice had become deceptively gentle while being more frightening than any threat she had ever heard in her life. He had not even looked at her with the slightest bit of malice, yet Christine felt shivers from the implied menace spoken as if he were her lover. The icy fear that ran up her spine was immediately replaced by red hot heat making her moist and needy. Mon Dieu! She had never met a society swan that could excite her the way this young man just had. And she had thought to warn him of the dangers of the Duque! Had she been a betting woman, there was no way she would place money on either side of what was sure to be a magnificent battle for one very lucky girl. ************** Diego clasped and unclasped his fist reflexively as he read a report from one of his most trusted retainers. His Majesty Charles II had finally sent an emissary he felt Diego could not possibly avoid; his former wife. He had thought the woman safely away in a convent somewhere. Now, apparently she was making her way here to convince him to marry her sister. Over his rotted, putrid corpse! To top it off, apparently Cherie’s former fiancé had finally made his way to Florida to retrieve his intended bride.

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His eyes wandered across the expanse of his office to linger at the woman silently embroidering in the corner by the window. There was everything a man could ever possibly need in a woman. Her head was bent at a slight angle, the teeth worrying her bottom lip as she concentrated on the task at hand. Due to the muggy heat she was dressed simply tasteful pastel linen day dress accented with flowing lace, her hair swept up in a pile of riotous curls on the top of her head. Though he had gifted her with jewelry fit for a queen, she wore a simple thin gold chain around her neck and delicate earbobs swung from her ears. She looked so young and innocent; the perfect lady. Cherie had become the lady of this household in every sense of the word. The servants loved her, following her direction without whimper. Oh, they had balked at first, but surprisingly she had handled the situation skillfully, commanding respect with softly spoken commands laced with steel that brooked no argument. Diego hadn’t noticed that perhaps his home was not the cleanest it could have been, or that the food prepared in his kitchen had been a bit bland until she had assembled the entire staff, directing them with the assurance of a little general. Within her first week there the house sparkled, the food was always piping hot and spiced perfectly with the appropriate wines for the appropriate courses. Suddenly his business associates angled for invitations to dine, the men in positions of authority had at first brought their long time mistresses with them, but had quickly learned Cherie Durand-Bonnet was no low born whore. Now those few with wives

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and daughters in the colony were not only brought for dinner parties or the obligatory dance or ball, but encouraged pay afternoon calls. Diego grinned ruefully at the last thought. All too often he had come home to spend “quality time” with Cherie only to find his lover immersed in a titillating conversation about clothing or some such nonsense with society ladies. Instead of slinking off as any rational man would do, he sat down much to the thrill of the ladies present and pretended to listen until Cherie’s guests got the hint and finally decided to take themselves off. “Capitán?” With a sigh, Diego turned to the matter at hand. “Ready one of my ships, Carlos. The fastest of the lot,” he told his agitated assistant with more calm than he actually felt. “I have a sudden need to inspect my newly acquired land in Louisiana.” Cherie’s head snapped up. “You have lands in Louisiane?” He could not help put smile at the hopeful expression on her face. Mixed in with a healthy dose of anger of course. Cherie may love her place in his bed, but she had never stopped demanding to be taken home. It was bound to happen sooner or later. She was quickly learning the power she wielded over him. One small slip of a woman had managed

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what men all over the world could not. She had completely conquered the Duque de Suárez. “Come here, mi cielo.” Cherie felt a shiver at the simple command. He had such a deep, commanding voice that went hand in hand with his fierce looks. Those clear gray eyes could burn intensely, searing her with a glance or turn bitterly cold towards those who displeased him. They were hot now as they watched her rise slowly from her comfortable chair in a quiet corner to slowly glide towards him. She held his stare, a slight smile on her lips. She watched with amusement as his nostrils flared at her subtle teasing. Oh, but the man could make her so very hot by a single look. Though a part of her would always love Étienne, the man now lost to her forever, nothing could ever compare to the feelings Diego Aguilar inspired in her. Étienne might have roused her sexuality into awakening, but Diego sent her into a raging inferno. He had taught her the power of passion, ht art of sensual pleasure. She lost herself in his arms never caring if she was found again. She knew Diego would eventually return her to her family, though not alone. He looked at her the same way both of her fathers looked at her mother. She would never be rid of him. She would never want to. When she was within arm’s length he reached out to pull her to him. She barely had time to lift her head before he was ravished her mouth. With a sigh, Cherie melted into his

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solid frame. He was not gentle-that was not Diego’s way. His tongue pressured her mouth to open while his hands snaked up to entwine in her hair and firmly pulling to tilt her head just the way he wanted it. She whimpered as she pressed herself closer, her skin suddenly unbearable hot and tight. Mon Dieu, but the man could make her forget any and everything with a simple touch. Diego tugged firmly on her hair, forcing her neck to arch as his lips traveled from her own, all over her face to her throat. Placing his other hand on the small of her back, he gently guided her with him as he lowered himself into the large comfortable chair behind his desk, arranging her so that she was straddling him, her rapidly heating core pressing against his painfully throbbing cock. Cherie whimpered as she ground her core against him, revealing in the sweet torturous friction against her molten center. All thoughts of Carlos Hernandez standing by Diego’s desk fled from her head as the man slipped out the room went completely unnoticed. Diego was aware of the departure of his assistant and with it the entrance of someone else who stood silently just inside the door. He knew instinctively who had dared breached his domain without permission. The young man was well dressed, impeccably groomed unlike so many fortune hunters that came to the New World. It had only been a matter of time before Étienne Barbin would find his missing fiancé. Not that Diego blamed him for searching high and wide for her. Cherie was worth far more than her weight in gold. Sweet, sexy, intelligent and exciting were just a few of her finer points. The

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woman currently in his arms was the type of woman who inspired a man to be far more than he ever thought he could be. She inspired him to want to be a better man. In all honestly, that would mean letting her go back to her family. That was something Diego was afraid he could never do. The little French puppy would just have to be made to understand his former fiancé was permanently lost to him. Normally he would never allow another man even a glimpse of the treasure he held in his arms, but he had an overwhelming need to show the younger man in a way words never could that this woman was his completely and irrevocably. Moving his hands to her bodice he ripped the material from the neckline to the waist, causing Cherie to gasp in a mixture of surprise and excitement. She did not wear a torturous corset at his insistence. Diego would not allow anything to impede his constant need for access to her lush body. After removing her arms from the now ruined sleeves, he pulled up the skirts of her day gown while snaking one hand to cup her sumptuous ass closer to his aching cock, he bent forward to capture a diamond hard nipple into his mouth. She threw her head back with a heavy groan trying desperately to get closer. “S'il vous plait, Diego.” Cherie moaned. “J'ai besoin de lui.” “Tell me what you need, meija.” He pressed her now dripping pussy against his painful erection while holding tight, not allowing her to grind against him. Removing his head from her heaving breasts he lifted the skirt of the wrecked gown even higher, he

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rubbed a single thick finger against her pussy lips. What delight his little Cherie had turned out to be. She was an eager and willing student in the art of sensual delights. She never balked or refused to try anything, but it was still a challenge to actually get her say words like “cock” or “pussy”. Diego feared she carved a permanent home in his jaded heart with her intoxicating mixture of innocence and wantonness. What man could want more? “Say it, Cherie,” he demanded against the soft skin of her throat. “Please,” she moaned wiggling her hips against him. “I need you.” He stood placing her on the edge of his desk as he kneeled before her. The French puppy hovering by the door would not be able to see him feast on Cher’s delectable little pink quim, but he would make damn sure he left no doubt as to what he was doing. “Tell me what you need me to do, bebé,” Diego murmured against her thigh. “What do you need me to do?” Cher shuddered as Diego kissed and nibbled her inner thighs. She tried desperately to move her aching core to wherever his mouth was, but he held her hips in firm hands. Mon Dieu, but the man was masterful. He could make her moist and needy with a simple touch. “I need you to kiss me,” she begged. “Kiss me… between my legs.” Diego kissed her right at her hairline where her pelvis began, right above where he knew she wanted him to be. “Here?”

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Cherie growled softly in frustration. She panted in need as he blew softly against her outer lips then leaned closer to her core to inhale the perfume of her desire now pungent in the air, all without touching her where she wanted him most. “I hurt,” she whimpered fighting a desperate battle with her hips to move forward just a few inches. “Tell me where it hurts, bebé, and I’ll kiss it.” There was no hope for it. He would not relent until she said all the naughty little words he had taught her. To be perfectly honest, she not only had no problem using wicked language as long as they were alone and engaged in love play, but it also sent a delicious little thrill whenever she uttered taboo words and phrases and literally drenched her underclothing whenever he used them. “My, my…pussy,” her voice was barely more than a whisper. “What about my pretty little pussy, chica?” He was now swirling his tongue right at the juncture where her thigh met her pelvis, causing her to pant in desperation. “I need you in my pussy!” she exploded, tired of his torture. “You fingers, your tongue, your…your cock!”

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With a growl Diego buried his head right where she desperately needed him. With a grateful sigh, Cherie leaned back on her elbows spreading her legs wider to allow him maximum access. “Oh, yesssss…” she moaned as his wicked tongue laved her appreciative clit while his fingers lunged deep, stroking that special place Diego called her “hot spot.” Whatever the hell it was, it sent sinfully delightful currents of bliss throughout her body. Diego moved his hands to her buttocks, lifting her closer against his questing mouth. Her pants had turned into to pleading moans, her hip frantically moving against him as he fucked her relentlessly with his tongue. Her release came with crashing intensity, causing Cher to grip hanks of his hair in a vicious grip. Diego revealed in the sharp sensation, loving that it was him to make her scream out in joy while her body convulsed; physical proof of her pleasure. Without waiting for the spasms from her explosive orgasm to subside, he plowed his entire rigid into her welcoming body. Cherie screamed out in pleasure, erupting immediately into another round of orgasmic tremors. Diego hissed through his teeth as the sensation of her incredibly tight, wet pussy quaking around his cock. Refusing to give into the aching need to flood her with his seed, he held her immovable against his body until he could move without coming. In the back of his mind he was aware of the primal demand

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he show the young man still standing silently by the door this woman had been claimed in every way. “Tell me, querida, to whom do you belong?” His normally deep voice laced with intense passion never failed to send shivers down her spine. Looking into his eyes she could see he was struggling to stay in control, so afraid he would hurt her. It touched her that he was such a considerate lover, but the knowledge that she had the power to inspire unbridled lust thrilled her. She knew if she failed to answer it would send him closer to the edge. Clinching his jaw tightly, he began to move in slow, drawn out strokes. He retreated until he was almost completely out of her body only to thrust forward forcefully again and again. Cherie met him thrust for thrust, anchoring her feet on the edge of the desk; she arched her back so that she could propel her hips upward in time with each down stroke but he refused to give into her silent request and increase his rhythm. When she still refused to answer, he plunged to the hilt and remained perfectly still. “Querida, who do you belong to?” His voice was threatening, but it was a threat in which she had no fear. Grinning in anticipation she shrugged, “Well, to myself of course.” Diego arched one eyebrow. So she wanted to play did she? He casually reached down to stroke her face stopping to gently cradle her face. She was going to be furious

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when she found out what was behind this little interlude. Not that he ever needed an excuse. It seemed he could not go more than half a day without bring buried deep inside her. But right now he needed her complete submission. He doubted that would stop Étienne Barbin from trying to steal her away, but he had to strike a deep blow to the boy to let him know he was in for one hell of a fight. A fight the boy would not win while Diego still drew breath. “Chica,” he murmured looking deeply into her eyes. “You will tell me what I want to know.” He swiveled his hips without withdrawing or thrusting forward. His smile was pure sin at her mewing protest as she tried to move beneath him. “Tell me.” “You!” she cried in desperation still trying to move. “Me, what?” he demanded. “I belong to you, damn it! My body, my mind, my everything! Please mon amoureux, please. I need you!” Allowing himself another humorless smile he still refused to allow her further completion. “And do you wish to leave me?” “Non!” He rewarded her with one stroke. “Not even for your former fiancé? Would you leave me for him, querida?”

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Cherie was beyond thinking about anything other than Diego and the delicious sensations he inspired in her. She answered without thinking, but she answered truthfully. Looking directly into his eyes she stated in a softly, but in a clear, unwavering voice. “Non, I want no one but you. I need no one but you.” With that simple statement the primeval animal Diego held inside on a tight leash broke free in a way he had never allowed before. He withdrew, ignoring her cry of protest, flipping her face down over the desk. Spreading her leg he growled, “Don’t move!” Reaching into a side drawer he retrieved cream he usually used for chapped hands. With gentleness he did not feel, he spread the cheeks of her buttocks working the cream with one finger into the rosette staring up at him, daring him. Cherie let out a startled yelp, but did not try to move away “Relax querida,” he whispered working his finger into her. “Push against my finger.” Breathing deeply, she did just as she was told permitting him to do as he wished. One finger was soon replaced by two; at first it felt odd and slightly painful, but as he began to scissor his fingers the sight pain was replaced by a deliciously intense pleasure. Suddenly the fingers were gone and in their place she left the thick head of his penis pressing against her forbidden hole. “Push down, bebé dulce.” She did immediately allowing him to slip in inch by torturous inch. “Sí, mi poco amor. You are so tight, so good.”

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He started slowly, giving her time to adjust. It was everything he knew it would be. She lay with her head down, but she had begun to move in time with his movements. Reaching around to caress her engorged clit, he was elated find her so wet she soaked his hand. Encouraged, he sank two fingers inside her aching pussy while using his thumb to rib her clit. He was immediately awarded by the tightening of her anal walls to grip his cock like a live, warm pulsating vice. Cherie panted as she felt her body responding to the strange new feelings he was invoking. He hauled her upper body up with one hand keeping his other entrenched inside her ever wetter pussy. She leaned her head against his shoulder whole entwining her arms around his neck. “Diego, what are you doing to me?” she sobbed, loving every minute. He alternately kissed and nibbled the side of her neck up to her ear where he whispered, “I want to make you feel good, chica.” He pressed her even closer to him, never missing a stroke as he kneaded her breasts and stimulating her pussy and her clit. “And you my bad little girl, are killing me.” Cherie’s only answer was her moans as she pushed back against his marauding cock. Diego increased his tempo until he was pounding in and out of her ass as if his life depended on it. She arched her back and met him stroke for stroke, crying out his name until she screamed as her body shook. “That’s it, querida. Come for me bebé.” The muscles

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inside her ass grabbed onto his cock as if it was trying to suck him dry. With a roar he plunged down releasing everything he had. Cherie collapsed in a boneless heap on the desk trying to catch her breath. Diego had always been a forceful lover, but never had he taken her the way he did today. Her entire body felt like one big bundle of nerves. Even his soft caresses along her back caused mini quakes all over her body. She could never belong to any other man now, not even Étienne. She belonged to Diego completely and of her own free will. Once back in New Orleans she would have to find a way to tell her parents. She knew they had wanted her to marry to ensure her a stable future. The life of a placée was an uncertain one to say the least. One day you might be the apple of your protector’s eye, but all too often, a placée was forgotten her children right along with her, after her protector found a wife. Sometimes, he just tired of her and went on to greener pastures. In either event, that left the woman and her children devastated and without means of support. With Diego, Cherie would take that risk. And as long as she stayed in Louisiane, she did not have to worry about how she would support herself or any future children they might have. She had every confidence both her Papas would ensure she was financially secure. As much as still had feelings for Étienne, she was hopelessly bound to her Spanish lover. She could never go back to the way things used to be.

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“Are you okay, querida?” Diego asked worriedly as he withdrew as gentle as he could and gathered her against his chest. The thought of her noticing the young man by the door was secondary to making sure he had not hurt her or disgusted her. “I feel wonderful,” was the muffled reply as she snuggled deeper into his arms. He could not help but smile in relief. She was an absolute treasure. “Are you sure I didn’t hurt you? You are not sore?” “Of course I’m sore,” she murmured fighting valiantly to stay awake. “But it is quite a satisfying soreness. Now leave me alone and let me rest.” Diego smiled, his hear full as he gently kissed her on the forehead. Without thought he spoke what was in his heart. “I love you, Cherie.” “I love you, Diego.” Looking over her reclining body, Diego’s eyes locked with the Cherie’s former fiancé in unspoken communication. The young man stiffened, narrowing his own eyes in response. No, this one would not give up so easily. Still, Diego had made his point. He had still taken and claimed her. He would not be the gentleman and bow out, allowing this young pup to take her back. She belonged to him, completely.

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Diego sighed as he looked out over the seemingly endless blue sea. If the winds prevailed, they would arrive in New Orleans in a week. It couldn’t be soon enough for him. Étienne Barbin was proving to be a far more worthy opponent then he had first believed and an all around nuisance. The little interlude in his study meant to send the little shit a message had only seemed to goad the pup. Instead of exiting gracefully, the boy had only removed himself as far as the parlor, to wait until Diego had put Cherie to bed. “I would’ve thought you’d gotten the point,” Diego drawled as he strolled into the parlor, pouring himself a healthy drought of brandy without offering the younger man any refreshments. It was unpardonably rude, but the boy was there to steal the one thing that meant a damn to him. He completely dismissed that Cherie had been the boy’s long before he had ever met her. She was his by right of conquest. He wasn’t giving her up. Étienne regarded in the infamous Capitán Diego Esteban de Aguilar, Duque de Suárez with curiosity as he tried to sort through the multitude of emotions coursing through him. He certainly looked the part of his reputation; tall, dark, dangerous and completely uncompromising. When Christine L’Amour had first told him Cherie was with this man before him, Étienne had felt like his heart was being ripped from his chest. The duque was relatively young, unmarried, richer than most men could ever hope to be, and

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he held more power than any territorial governor. The only thing Étienne had to offer that was comparable to any of that was his hand in marriage. He had walked to the duque’s midtown mansion hoping that his willingness to make Cherie his wife regardless of where she had been or who she had been with would be enough for him to woo her back home to him. What he had witnessed in the duque’s study had ripped that small hope to shreds. The thing was, instead of feeling anger or jealousy at the erotic scene he had witness, Étienne felt excluded. He did not boil in anger at seeing Diego’s hands on his fiancé; he felt left out somehow. He did not want to tear them apart, he wanted to join them. Étienne had waited for Cherie for half of his life and he’d never failed to be infuriated at the sight of her smiling at any other man that was not one of her fathers or her brothers. He had lurked at every ball she had attended quietly warning off all of the young bucks, relying on Claude or Luc to warn off the older gentlemen. Never had he felt to urge to share her, or worse to be shared by her. Of course he knew of her parents three-way relationship, just as she knew his father lived with his long-time male lover. That was part of the reason they were so perfect for each other. Étienne had long ago accepted his father for who he was, but he had never been attracted to another male, until now. He had always expected to be in a normal one-one relationship despite the strangeness of both Cherie’s family as well as his own. Diego had been magnificent. His body had excited him every bit as much as Cherie’s. As much as he

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knew Cherie would not walk away from the duque, he was very much afraid he would have a most difficult time walking away from either of them. “I got the point,” Étienne said quietly turning away from Diego to stare out the bay windows. Diego frowned. “Then why are you here?” Étienne shrugged with casualness he didn’t feel. “Would you be able to walk away?” That made Diego pause. If Cherie decided she wanted to return to life she had been torn away from and leave him, could he let her go? The question brought Diego up short. No, he would never let her go. Yet he’d fully expected this boy to do just that. “I understand the way you feel,” Diego began. “But you are young…” “Yes, I am young.” Étienne whirled back to face the man sleeping with his lost love. “But I will not grow out of it. I will not love again, not like this. That is what you were going to say was it not?” Diego was taken about by the vehemence in his voice. Damn, that was exactly what he was going to say. “No,” he lied. “I was thinking more of marriage settlements and the like. Men in my position have never married for something as plebian as love. What you saw today was my claiming of something you believed was yours. I assure, though she might have been at one time, she is not and will never be yours. I will, of course, provide you with the full value of

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her dowry, but I cannot allow her to marry you, or anyone else. She is mine, as I have shown you and she will be mine until my dying breath.” Unfortunately, Cherie had chosen that exact moment to enter the parlor and had been furious. After pushing Diego from the room, she had “visited” with the damn boy for more than an hour. Afterwards she promptly locked herself in the suite of rooms adjoining his own refusing to speak to him, muttering something about “overbearing male stupidity” or some such nonsense. His little darling had a red hot temper. Ah, but the make-up was twice as fiery. Even if he did have regrets about not taking her back to her family immediately after learning who she was (which he didn’t), he felt no such qualms after the she had finally decided to forgive him. They had not left the bedroom for two days. If it weren’t for the fact Diego wanted to be as far away from Florida as possible when his estranged ex-wife arrived they might have stayed even longer. After creating a false trail from Florida, to Cuba, then to Haiti, they finally set sail towards New Orleans. During the entire trip “Dear ‘Tienne” had done nothing but get under his skin. The boy hovered around his woman constantly. The boy was determined to win her back. ‘Tienne, as she called him, didn’t let any opportunity go by to touch her, to assist her in anyway, just to be near her, much to Diego’s chagrin. He just might have to kill the insolent little bastard and be done with it. “We will arrive soon, non?”

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Well speak of the devil. “About a week,” Diego tersely replied. Étienne studied the man beside him. He was obviously upset with him and rightfully so. The man believed that he had found a rare treasure only to find someone else had a prior claim. Were the situation reversed, Étienne would probably be holding on to Cherie with every bit as much tenacity as the duque. He felt no real animosity towards the older man. But he would not ever give up his beloved. “Do you see why I can’t just let her go?” Diego raised a brow at the boy’s sudden change in tactics. They had never openly acknowledged the battle for the heart of Cherie they were engaged in. It was just implicitly understood. “I understand completely, pup,” Diego growled. “That does not mean I will let her go.” “I can offer her more.” Diego whirled to face him. “Can you, pup? Can you make her scream your name the way she screams mine? Can you make her forget everything except your cock taking her to the edge over and over again? Can you give her a child like the one she carries now?” He had not meant to say anything. Cherie herself didn’t even realize it yet, but she was most definitely carrying his child. She had not had her cycle for three months now, a

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fact that gave Diego immense pride and satisfaction. Looking at Étienne now, he could tell the pup had known, too. It pissed him off to see the pup knew his woman so well. “You will not give her your name, Diego. For whatever reason, you will not give her the protection that comes with marriage. You may be able to take her child as your heir, but would she ever forgive you if you took her baby back to Spain with you? And without the full protection marriage can provide her, she will forever be vulnerable in ways you cannot begin to comprehend.” “I comprehend just fine, puppy! I will always provide for her. If I do decide to go back to Spain, I can take her…” “As what?” Étienne demanded. “Your mistress? Spain is not as tolerant or welcoming as France. She would never be happy there and only the most selfish of bastards would ask that of her!” Diego know everything the irritating little shit was saying was true, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. Stepping closer, he grabbed the younger man by his shirt and got right in his face. “You don’t think I know that?!” Diego roared. “You don’t think those very thoughts haven’t kept me up at night? I know the right thing to do would be to marry her or let her go, but I can’t give her up! I cannot go through another marriage and…I cannot let her go! I will NEVER let her go!” How the hell could possibly explain his feelings about marriage to this, this, kid? His brief stint in holy matrimony had been pure

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hell. He couldn’t do that again. He knew Cherie was nothing like Maria-Teresa, but he could not be trapped like that again. Gray eyes clashed with blue as neither man backed away. Their faces were so close their noses were almost touching. The tense silence stretched for a full minute before Étienne responded softly. “I can no sooner walk away than you.” Diego looked at the younger man in amazement. They were well and truly at an impasse. The little shit wasn’t going to let go, he could see it in his eyes. Never had any man stood up to the formidable Duque de Suárez and lived to tell about it, but this pup was not afraid of incurring his wrath. Standing toe to toe, Étienne’s eyes never wavered, his body did not flinch. Diego had the most insane urge to lean forward and peck the little bastard on the cheek-or on the lips. What the hell?! Diego abruptly released the other man and took a step back. It was the stress. He hadn’t been intimate with Cherie for at least a week. She had been ill since leaving Cuba. Morning sickness, though she didn’t have a clue yet. The pup looked so much like a girl, he was probably just horny, and that’s all. A very masculine girl, but he was too pretty by far. He had not seriously been contemplating kissing the little shit. Turning away, Diego took a calming breath and tried to clear his head.

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Étienne on the other hand understood very well what had just happened. He had seen the look Diego had just given him whenever Claude looked at Luc. He was not nearly as shaken up by the sudden rush of blood to his cock at the thought of Diego’s lips descending on his. That he had developed a habit of getting as hard as a rock whenever staring at the older man no longer came as a surprise to him. He accepted that he was beginning to want Diego as much as he wanted Cherie. Watching Diego breath in and out roughly as he glared at the waves, Étienne finally knew what he had to do to win his fiancé back. He had to welcome Diego into his life as well. Smiling at the plan hatching in his head Étienne leaned against the ship’s rail. “So you know I will never give up trying to steal my fiancé back from you, non?” “What is your point, pup?” “We can always share.” Diego’s entire body went rigid. He wanted so much to be able to yell “No!” at the top of his lungs, but he couldn’t. From the day Étienne entered his study Diego had dreamed of little else. It was a complete blow to his pride, but damned if he didn’t want the little shit in his bed. Not as much as he wanted or needed Cherie, but the longing was there. “Cherie is not a whore,” Diego managed to croak out. He knew damn well that wasn't what the younger man was implying, but it was the only defense he had. “I am surprised that the man claiming to want to marry her would ever suggest such a thing.”

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Étienne’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t remember implying she was.” Diego turned to face the younger man but refused to look him in the eye. “This conversation is over pup.” Étienne smiled as he watched Diego stride towards the spacious cabin he shared with the woman of both of their dreams desperately trying to hide the hard on he was sporting. “Ask Cherie to tell you about Luc,” he called after him. Diego paused, but did not turn around. Étienne knew he heard him and that was all he needed. Diego might not ask right away, but he would ask. He only wished he could be around to see his face when she told him. ******* “Maman!” Cherie flew into the arms of her mother as soon as the carriage stopped in front of her grandfather’s luxurious mansion located in the heart of the Garden District. Claude followed in his daughter’s wake more sedately. He watched the mother-daughter reunion with a mixture of pleasure and trepidation. They had received word from Étienne that he had retrieved their lost child at long last a little more than a month ago. What the young man had failed to reveal was that Cherie had become the paramour of a notorious Spanish duque. A royal duque at that. Though Étienne had assured him more than once since meeting the ship he had every intention of marrying her, Claude had his doubts the young

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man would ever get the chance. Diego Esteban de Aguilar would not let his lady love go so easily. It had taken Claude less than five minutes of observing the enigmatic duque with Cherie to recognize the depth of feelings the man had for her. Possessiveness boarding on obsession coupled with a healthy dose of pure unadulterated lust only began to describe it. Then there was the question of the child his daughter was now carrying. Claude gave himself a mental shake. Now was not the time to dwell on the all the problems he feared he would not be able to help his only daughter resolve. Besides, she wasn’t even aware she was pregnant. Now was the time to rejoice and celebrate her return home. “Ma petit fille, come, you must be tired,” Amélie ushered Cherie into the house. “Your grandmére is most anxious to see you!” Cherie relaxed and allowed herself to bask in the love of her family. How she had missed them! After hugs and kisses from her grandfather and brothers, her mother and grandmother had ushered her upstairs putting off the demands from the men to know the details of her kidnapping. “There will time enough for that later,” Solange admonished. “The child is no doubt weary after such an ordeal, non?” Cher was grateful for her timely interference. Now alone with her mother and grandmother she let herself relax completely. The older women had ordered her a hot bath

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and were now busily helping her out of her heavy traveling gown so she could enjoy a nice, long soak and perhaps some answers to the myriad questions about this whole placée business. Both women would no doubt be disappointed she would not be marrying Étienne, but how could she now? It didn’t matter that she still had feelings for him; she was hopelessly in love with her fierce duque. The thought of never being in his arms again was too terrible to contemplate. Relaxing all of her muscles in the fragrant bath, she allowed her mother and grandmother to soothe all the aches and pains from her travel weary body. Funny, she didn’t remember her original trip to Florida being so very exhausting. But then, they had made several stops along the way. And then there was Diego, who had been extremely diligent in his attentions towards her. Though she had tried to assure him she would always belong to him, no matter what her family had to say in the matter, it almost seemed as if he was afraid of losing her and made love to her every night as if it would be the last time. Part of his actions was probably brought on by the presence of Étienne. But surely he must know she could never marry ‘Tienne. A sharp gasp from her grandmother brought her out of quiet contemplations. “What is it?” she asked her grandmother anxiously. “I am not hurt…” “Cher, when was the last time you had your menses?” Amélie asked her daughter softly.

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Cherie looked from her mother to her grandmother. Her menses? Why would they ask her about that? “Maman, I am perfectly fine,” she assured her firmly. “Christine ensured my safety at all times. I was never unescorted or abused in any way. I know it sounds odd, but she took care of me as you would. And after Diego, uh, found me, I was never out of his sight.” “Ma amoureux,” Solange soothed, “we have no doubt your Diego took very good care of you. We only want to know when was the last time you bled? Your womanly bleeding?” “I don’t know. It had to be…” Cherie’s voice trailed off as realization struck her. She had not bled for a little more than three months. Color drained from her face as her knees threatened to buckle. She was with child! Wordlessly, Amélie and Solange grabbed her arms and settled her on the soft bed. Her eyes and hands flew to her stomach in wonder. Sure enough there was a soft rounding she had failed to notice. Her thoughts wandered to just this morning when she had attempted to don a corset, for propriety, she had explained to Diego. He had literally snatched it from her, railing all kinds of nonsense about how unhealthy the “damnable contraptions” were. He had known. All this time he had known, but hadn’t told her. But of course he had known the bâtard! Lately he made love to her so gently she thought she go mad. She had to say the dirtiest things to make him loose control and take

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her with authority and even then he had seemed overly cautious. He had even taken up the habit of rubbing her belly a lot lately, holding it closely as they slept. Gradually shock gave away to joy. Yes, he had known and he had been glad. She was going to have a baby! Their baby. She didn’t have explain or excuse her choice to stay with Diego. The baby did all of that for her. Loud voices ascending the stairs snapped the women out of their silent reflection. Cherie could make out her grandfather and brothers raised voices getting closer. Solange quickly threw a light blanket over the shoulders of her granddaughter before the door burst open. “Diego!” Throwing the blanket off Cherie threw herself into the arms of her lover as soon as he burst through the door. Solange and Amélie quickly moved to push most of the younger men out of the room leaving only Gaspar, who stared dumbfounded at the man who had stormed into his home demanding to see his only granddaughter. The brash man now stood in the middle of the bedroom holding his very bare grandchild as if they were alone. Solange placed a comforting hand on her long time lover’s arm. “Let’s just give them a minute.” Gaspar raised a brow, but allowed himself to be led out of the room.

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“I suppose you know what this is all about?” he asked after Solange had firmly shut the door. Solange nodded her head sadly. Both Gaspar and Claude had wanted so badly to see Cherie married with a secure place in society. Now their machinations would come to naught. “I fear there will be no wedding between Cherie and Étienne,” she sighed. “But I just spoke to the boy and his father not thirty minutes ago and they both assured me no matter what Cher has been through, 'Tienne has every intention of making her his bride.” Solange sighed again. There was no hope for it. “Oui, but there has been a recent development I am afraid. Cher is pregnant.”

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CHAPTER EIGHT

“Have you unpacked yet?” Diego demanded burying his face in Cherie’s freshly washed hair. God knows he had tried to stay away, to let her have a happy reunion with her family. But the specter that they might try to convince her to give him up was driving him crazy. It took him all of an hour and a half to secure a home right here in the Garden District. There was no furniture other than the massive bed he had dismantled and shipped with them, along with various other smaller household items. She could attain as many servants and as much furniture as she needed to decorate and maintain the mansion as she saw fit later. He would be damned if he spent one night away from the woman who was quickly becoming as necessary to him as the air he breathed. “No, my luggage just arrived,” she indicated to the trunk that stood by the bedroom door. “But I have an entire wardrobe here already. I did not exactly pack for my little adventure.” He would never say it aloud but Diego would forever be grateful for the misdeeds that blew Cherie his way. “Find something to put on so I can take you home.”

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Cherie’s heart sped at the authoritative tone in which he spoke. Still, she had not seen her family in over a year! “I can’t possibly leave yet,” she said taking a step back. “There is so much I have to talk to Maman and Grandmére about. And my brothers, I must see how they are. I’m sure they were all worried sick about me! And Papa Luc! I have not seen him at all. Papa Claude went to collect him, I’m sure…” Diego grasped her by the waist bring her freshly bathed body flush with his as he took her mouth. Immediately his shaft rose to attention at her nearness, but there would time enough for that later. Right now he had to make sure his woman understood her place would forever be at his side. Tilting her head up to face him he bent to place a feather soft kiss on her parted lips. “I will not spend the night without you, querida. I can’t.” Cherie was held captive by the possessiveness and longing she saw in the burning gray depths of his eyes. With one look she was unbearably hot and needy. As much as she might wanted to deny him, to assert her independence there was no way she would not give in. The fact excited and infuriated her at the same time. “Your family can visit you…Tomorrow, I promise.” Diego’s gripped tightened on her waist. “I need you tonight, bebé. Just you and me.”

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He wanted to tell her of his fears she would turn away from him and return to her fiancé. He wanted to share how scared he was that now that she was back among family and friends that he might lose her. The words stuck in his throat, his pride refusing to let her know how much he needed her. Diego would have been astonished to know Cherie did not need the words. It was written all over the anguish she saw in his face. Without a word she reached up to stroke his cheek. He would never admit it, but he loved it when she touched him like that. The man was such a big baby at times. “I cannot stay at a hotel, Diego. There are far more rules here than in Florida.” “I bought us a house, just down the street.” Cherie pulled away from her lover’s arms dumbfounded. He really had no clue how society worked here, or anywhere else for that matter. Being a royal duque she doubted he ever had to bow to convention before. The dominant French culture in the Louisiana territory was somewhat more relaxed than the Spanish, but there were far more European women here than in all of the other territories currently under Spanish rule. The plaçage system had certain unwritten rules that all but the most powerful was expected to live by. While the single men chased free women of color, or freed slaves that were their lovers, married men were far more circumspect as a rule. Many children of liaisons between French and Spanish men were supported by well-to-do fathers. A majority of sons born from these relationships were sent to Europe to be education or set up in businesses and

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plantations of their own, as were Cherie’s brothers and uncles. Some inherited. Such lax attitudes concerning race mixing incensed European women who were constantly pushing for more restrictions on the gens de couleur libres. As a result the government had passed code noir, or black codes that instituted silly laws such as the “tignon laws”, that decreed femmes libres de couleur must cover their hair, which the women promptly turned into a badge of honor. They wore silk and satin headdresses, elaborately tied and adorned. Codes outlawing cohabitation and marriage were ignored, but only in certain areas. There were even men like her father and grandfather who lived openly with their mistresses, or placées, however that was not at all common. However, Gaspar, Claude and Luc were well established in society. They held the debts of quite a few planters and businessmen. The owned the local bank. They could get away with far more than a newcomer, no matter his rank. Respect for Old World titles only went so far oceans away from Europe. Diego did not understand that by living openly with her would blacklist him from every home with a wife or daughter of European decent. While most men could care less, there would be a social price to pay. The women here were not so desperate for feminine company that they would be seen within 100 yards of her. “Diego, I cannot live with you here,” Cherie said softly. “This is not like San Agustín. Things are not so free here.”

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“Your parents and grandparents seem to have no problems. Am I not as powerfully as they are, chica?” “But of course. I have to point out the women here will not look kindly on you living openly with your placée. Such rumors have a way of floating across waters. I would not want to some vengeful woman to make things difficult for you.” Diego tightened his grip around the waist of a very naked Cherie. The very thought of spending one night away from her was more than he could endure. Polite society could go hang, as if he gave a tinker’s damn for such things. “Cher, you will live in my house. You will sleep in my bed. I don’t care if the governor himself is offended. Besides,” smirking, he bended down to place a soft kiss on her lips, “I outrank him.” ******* It took longer than Diego expected to make it out of Gaspar Durand’s home. When he and Cherie had emerged from the bedroom, they were quickly ushered into the older man’s study were they was interrogated for almost an hour. Diego had stood unflinching in battle, braved wild and untamed territories, stared down his own king on occasion, but the first time he had known pure fear was facing Cherie’s male relatives. Five brothers were surely too much for any one woman to have, but there were also two fathers! He could not begin to understand that one, but it wasn’t like he had the opportunity to think about it. If

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it wasn’t for the collective efforts of Cherie, her mother Amélie, and her grandmother Solange, he would surely be dead by now. To make matters worse, the ever present Étienne had arrived with his father, both still insisting little pup would marry his Cherie and make an “honest” woman of her. No one seemed to be amused by his quip that she was perfectly “honest” with him. Between the puppy-dog looks towards his woman and the inscrutable glances in his own direction, Diego’s patience had been stretched to its limits. Then there was the “Papa” Luc. The man he had thought was Cherie’s father, Claude, had just come in with the tall quiet blonde man just as they were being ushered into the library. He said nothing, just stood to the right of Amélie while Claude stood on her left. He was not openly hostile as were the other men in the room. Diego found his eyes drawn to the silent man more and more. Funny, two of Cher’s brothers looked just like… He managed to swallow his gasp before it escaped from his lips. Turning away he caught the smirk Étienne threw at him. On the ship the younger man had told him to ask Cherie about her Papa Luc, which of course he had not. He had stormed into their cabin and proceeded to make love to her until he couldn’t think. He didn’t want to think of the reason he had been so aroused. He refused to question what it was about arguing with the infernal boy that made him so amorous. Surely it was only a product of the younger man trying to take his woman. That she had once been promised to the other was of no

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consequence. Looking out of the corner of his eyes, he could see Étienne still looking in his direction. He was no longer smirking. The look in his eyes was something Diego did not want to acknowledge. Perhaps he would ask Cherie about Luc when they got home. Then again perhaps not. Cherie had felt the tension steadily building in Diego’s body all afternoon. She had expected he would relax once they were finally away from her family, but even in the carriage he was visible on edge. “What is it?” Cher asked softly laying her head on his chest. “Nothing. I am just relieved to be out of the lion’s den.” Diego’s arms immediately embraced her, holding her close. What could he say? He Couldn’t begin to describe all the things he was feeling. It had been a relief beyond anything he had ever felt when her male relatives had finally ceded her choice to be with him for now. There would no doubt be attempts to get her to come to senses and marry Étienne. He would deal with the challenges as they came. All that mattered was that he had the woman who completed him in a way he felt no woman ever could. It was a rare thing him. People feared him, they respected him, but very few had ever loved gave him the unconditional acceptance and love the way she did. So what was wrong with him? “There is something I need to tell you.”

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Diego tensed. For a split second he was afraid to hear what she might say. If her family had convinced her to come home to them she would not be in the carriage with him now, he told himself. Still there was a trickle of apprehension about what she might say. “Tell me, bebé,” he whispered into her hair. “I am with child.” Diego was so relieved he couldn’t speak for a minute. “Diego? Are you upset?” “I know.” “I thought as much.” Cherie pulled herself upright to look in his face. “Is that why you wanted me to come with you? Because of the child?” She knew he wanted a child, she also knew part of the reason for his abrupt annulment was due to the fact his former wife could not conceive. He rarely talked about his brief marriage, but Cherie gathered it had been completely untenable for him. Maybe the desperate need for her stemmed from his desire for a child. “Cherie, bebé,” Diego pulled her back into his arms. “I am overjoyed about the child. But I am crazy about you.” Pulling her completely on his lap he forced her chin up. “Look at me querida. I love you. I never thought it possible until you came into my life.” His lips descended on hers as he kissed her softly, murmuring, “I need you. After having a slice of heaven I find I cannot live without it. You are my heaven, Cher.”

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The kiss became deeper until their breath mingled tongues intertwined their bodies pressing together as if seeking to meld. “I swear I will never let you go.”

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CHAPTER NINE

Diego was in a rotten mood. The Honorable Governor of Louisiana and Cuba, Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Vizconde de Gálveztown just happened to be in New Orleans and had dropped by this morning for a “chat”. Diego had tried to be politely interested. De Gálvez was a military man, so he wasn’t as intolerable as most in government. He was decent governor of Louisiana and Cuba, though lately he had been spending more time in Havana with his father Matías de Gálvez y Gallardo, Viceroy of New Spain, who was said to be gravely ill. It was whispered de Gálvez would replace his father. That meant he too had many ties to the throne, which meant he was here to spy. He had tried to rope him into attending some damnable ball held in the governor’s honor. Because his wife Matías would be present, there was no way he could take Cherie, which mean there was no way he would attend. The governor’s wife was criollo, pure Spanish blood. She could barely tolerate the French (he guessed she had conveniently forgotten the King of Spain was cousin to the King of France, and thusly descended from French royalty). She would probably burst something important were he to walk in with his beautiful quadroon. He was gracious in declining the invitation but the governor had not been pleased. Diego was obliged to remind Vizconde de Gálveztown that even when his father died and he became Conde de Gálvez, Diego would still be not only a duque but a

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Duque Real, thereby outranking the pissant governor and a viceroy. After several failed attempts to wrangle a dinner invitation, an invitation tea and blunt questions concerning the extent of the lands and business he had acquired during the five years he had been in New Spain, the governor finally left. He had only been back to examining contracts on some land he had recently purchased in Mexico when his door was once again thrown open without preamble, and the man he was coming to think of as his father-in-law, Claude Bonnet, strode in with his ever present shadow, Luc. Neither man looked happy, which did not bode well for him. Claude had recently been informed of his only daughter’s impending pregnancy and had been decidedly cool towards Diego though not outwardly hostile. Luc, who never said much, had begun to study him whenever they were in the same room together in way that was quite unsettling, and Diego rarely deigned to be unsettled by anyone. The man was just too damn calm. There was just something about him that made Diego believe he could see into the darkest recesses of his soul. Places Diego never wanted to acknowledge let alone explore. Now the man looked disturbed, and Luc was never disturbed. “I came to inform you if you care for my daughter, you might want to stick closer to home,” Claude growled at him as soon as he closed the door behind him. Diego sat back in his chair silently grounded his teeth waiting for Claude to continue. There had to be more than that cryptic statement. He was well aware the man

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had his sons and God knows who else watching his every move. Anytime he stepped out of his home with or without Cherie in tow he was followed. The only reason why he allowed such a thing was for Cherie. He couldn’t very well run one of her brothers through just because they irritated him to no end, though Buen Dios how he wanted to. Her fathers were far blunter, walking right up to him and having the cheek to inquire what he was doing and with whom, and where was Cherie. He hadn’t had to answer to anyone since he was in leading strings. None were impressed by his title or position in the royal navy. He decided he liked Cherie’s male relatives for their cheer audacity. When Claude went no further, Diego sighed and stood with every intention of escorting the men out. He seriously doubted Claude spent every waking minutes at home in attendance to his lovely wife, or lover rather. It was irrelevant that Diego wanted nothing more than to be at home with his Cherie, the man had no right telling him how handle his life or his woman even if he was her father. “Yes, well, thank you very much for advice; I will take it to heart.” He said coming around the desk to open the door. “Claude, tell him.” Diego stopped cold. Luc was not one to talk, so the quiet command was a shock. The man had a deep, authoritative voice, one that obviously made Claude the Obstinate obey.

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“The woman who had Cherie kidnapped had escaped the asylum to which she was committed after she…after…” “After she kidnapped and sold you daughter to a brothel? And you mean your wife don’t you?” Diego supplied helpfully. At least he thought he was being helpful. Claude glared at him and stalked to one of the chairs in from of his desk. When Luc followed in a much more measured sedate pace, Diego had no choice but return to his seat behind the desk. “The marriage was annulled; as was yours if I remember correctly,” Claude shot right back. “But still doesn’t seem to get you any closer to making an honest woman out of my daughter!” “As you have made an honest woman out of her mother?” “Who is with Cher now?” Luc interjected before the argument got any more heated. “I believe she went with you, your, uh…” What the hell do you call the mistress to the father of your mistress who also happened to be your mistress's mother? It boggled the mind. “She is with her mother, shopping I believe.” “’Tienne went with them,” Claude stated absently. “So she should be safe enough for now. Besides, Amélie wouldn’t let Agathe anywhere near her baby.” Great, that accursed puppy again. Now Diego had a raging headache. If he were honest, he would admit he felt better knowing Étienne was with Cherie. But Diego did not

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feel like being honest. He did not want to admit to himself the raging jealous he should have felt was not there whenever he walked into the house and Étienne was there. He would not own up to the fact he kind of liked the boy and enjoyed his company. He refused to acknowledge he sometimes fantasized… “I don’t remember Amélie saying anything about shopping last night or this morning.” Diego’s headache evaporated. Luc sounded downright upset. He was glaring at Claude who was squirming in his seat. “Luc, it was important to Cher. She wants to make the perfect home for the Spaniard here, and Amélie wants to help her.” Claude explained. Funny, he didn’t sound any weaker than had before. He was not in any way acting effeminate, but something told Diego that Luc was most definitely the one in charge. “I told you both until we find the person who tried to attack Amélie, she was to only go to her mother’s of Cher’s. I was not kidding. We will discuss this later at home.” Wait, what the hell?! “Um, pardon me for interrupting,” that got Diego a glare from both men, but he was far too fascinated to pay any attention. “Someone tried to attack your, uh, Cherie’s mother? When exactly did your wife, my pardon,” he stopped and rephrased at Claude’s

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glare, “Agathe, escape the asylum? Could you please start this sordid tale from the beginning so maybe I could follow?” Luc turned his attention to the young duque. He had to admit he was not unhappy Cherie had become attached to such a man. It was easy to see Diego was very much in love. While Claude agreed Diego had to be informed of Agathe’s disappearance he was very much against telling him about the unique relationship between himself, Amélie and Claude. Luc disagreed. Diego would perhaps claim to be scandalized, or at the very least in shock. But there was something about the young man. Even more there was a chemistry between Diego, Cherie and Étienne that would soon become too strong for him to ignore. Luc recognized the signs well, even if Claude had missed it. “You’re right,” Luc conceded. “We have been remiss in telling you the exact nature of Agathe’s psychosis and her hatred of our daughter and our woman.” Our? Diego sat forward in his chair looking from one man to the other. They were a ménage? Diego thought back to Étienne’s statement when they were on the ship once again. Ask Cher to tell you about her Papa Luc. Damn, the little shit had known. Did the puppy think he would be repulsed and give Cherie up? His mind reeled. Sweet and gentle Amélie in a long-time ménage relationship? The petite woman seemed so – innocent, in a motherly kind of way. She was undoubtedly beautiful, but there was nothing about her

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that implied the kind of wild inhibitions that a ménage implied. But then she was Cherie’s mother and Cherie was nothing if not passionate. “I sincerely hope that smile has nothing to do with our Amélie,” Claude growled. “Actually, I was thinking about your daughter.” As soon as he said it, Diego wanted to bite off his tongue. Dios, but it was easy to forget one’s self in the face of all of this. Luc quickly cut his companion (lover?) off before he could respond to Diego’s slip of the tongue. “Let me explain to you how this began so that maybe you will understand Agathe’s anger against us all.” Diego listened with rapt attention as Luc explained how Claude came to marry Agathe and the subsequent annulment after Agathe found out about Amélie. He was told about how the unusual relationship began between the three had grown, and finally how Agathe had reacted to the indignity of her annulment, the ménage and the many children that resulted from the unusual relationship. While Diego could sympathize with Agathe’s initial anger and shock, he had to agree the woman had let her bitterness eat at her until it gave way to something twisted. She had thought to use Cherie, who was innocent in the entire dirty little drama, as a weapon to strike at Claude and Amélie. Sitting back once more Diego regarded the men in front of him. They didn’t need to be censured or chastised or even the least bit embarrassed. To be honest, casting

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judgment on any of them was not his place. They obviously understood where they were guilty to an extent. Luc had not glossed over their casual disregard for the demented woman’s feelings in their quest to have the live they wanted to live. “Does anyone outside your family know all of the details of this? Anyone who would want to assist Agathe in her plots for revenge?” He asked them both. The first order of business had to be to find the threat then neutralize it. “No one outside the family knows,” Claude absently rubbed at his throbbing skull. “Agathe would never admit her humiliation to anyone. Whenever we happened to be at the same place she would either leave of act as if we were no more than passing acquaintances. In a way, I guess that is exactly what we are. I saw her rarely. We introduced Cherie as my adopted daughter. There had been massive speculation, but no woman in society wants to even acknowledge the plaçage system. They all pretend it doesn’t exist.” “Étienne knows,” Diego informed him, his mind already working on the best way to track down one very disturbed woman bent on destruction. He didn’t notice Claude’s sudden preoccupation with something in the corner or Luc’s secretive smile. “Perhaps you should keep ‘Tienne close,” Luc suggested with a sly smile. “For added protection, just until we find Agathe.” *******

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Cherie watched with some enjoyment as Diego tried to pace a hole in the brand new carpet in the newly decorated front parlor. She doubted he even noticed that since he had been gone today the room which had previously held only a medium sized sofa now contained two additional settees, three comfortably stuffed chairs, two lamps, various knickknacks, artwork and a baby grand piano. The reason for her lover’s agitation was twice as amusing as his preoccupation. Étienne was sprawled across one of the settees shooting her amused glances every so often. For reasons only known to Diego, Claude and Luc, Diego had agreed to let Étienne move in with them until Agathe was found. Now apparently he was having second thoughts. She sighed as she rose to approach Diego. “If you did not want to do it why did you agree?” she asked softly, reaching up to stroke his clinched jaw. Diego looked down at the little woman who had managed to wiggle her cute little ass into his jaded heart and turn his life upside down. She was amused. He did not find any part of this situation humorous. “Your fathers insisted.” “Diego, no one can make you do what you do not want to do. Not even my fathers.” She said with twice as much sarcasm as he had. Cute. “Can’t they?” he demanded.

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“This is not about my family!” Cherie responded hotly. She knew that if Diego didn’t want Étienne here, he would just say it. Why was he being so damn difficult? “Isn’t it?” Cherie reared back as if slapped. “You would judge them Diego?” Diego could have kicked himself as soon as he said it. Damn! He didn’t really have any issues with Étienne staying here. That was the problem. Why the hell didn’t he have a problem with it? Looking down into the stunning aquamarine eyes bright with unshed tears, he felt a wave of guilt. “Querida, I’m sorry.” Pulling her into his arms he bent to trail kisses across her face. “I am just uptight.” “Well don’t take it out on me,” she mumbled against his chest. Um, he smelled like sandalwood and spice. Deliciously male. Looking up she tried her damnedest at a glare and failed miserably. “Next time I will not be so forgiving.” He let out a bark of laughter even as he swept her up to place her on her back on the sofa. “Te amo, mujer,” Diego whispered before covering her mouth with his own. As soon as his lips touched hers she went up in flames. Moaning she arched her back seeking the comfort of his hard body against her softness. He complied immediately pressing his chest against her breasts, but it was not enough. She need to feel the heated smoothness of his skin sliding against her, she needed him to be inside her so deep she

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could not distinguish between the two of them. With all of the urgency she felt, Diego reached under her to undo the buttons of her gown, pushing it down her shoulders to her waist along with her shift without moving his mouth from her. Their tongues parried and thrust stimulating the act of love heedless of the man watching from across the room. Tearing his lips away from the ambrosia that was her lips and tongue, Diego captured a painfully puckered nipple, lightly biting then licking the small hurt. His hand wandered to her legs making a slow trip up her body while pushing the yards of material up as he went. Thank God she had decided against wearing hoops or a panier. She inhaled sharply when his blunt finger found her core, his strokes against her clit sending delectable shock waves throughout her body. He played with the nubbin at his leisure, strumming until she was whimpering with need. “You’re so wet, bebé. So hot. You make me so hard when you’re wet like this.” He slipped two fingers inside her cunt, making her hips jerk as she tried to force him deeper. “Get hotter for me, Cher. Show me how much you want me.” “Please Diego, take me.” His mouth encased her nipple, his teeth tugging the sensitive flesh. “Please fuck me. I need to feel you inside me.” With a growl he moved back slightly to free his throbbing cock from his breeches. Dios but this woman could drive him wild with nothing more than a moan. Watching how

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she licked her lips as his engorged penis came into view almost made him come on the spot. “Kiss him, bebé. Show him how much you want him.” Leaning forward she wrapped her lips around him without protest, swallowing him whole. His hands fisted her hair, pulling her closer on to his cock. “Mierda bebé, you’re killing me!” Cherie merely moaned around his rigid cock making him quiver from head to toe. “Sí, sweetheart. Just like that.” He was going to have to stop her soon. His balls were full and tight as he watched her swallow him, her cheeks hallowing as she sucked him down. So beautiful. He allowed himself to savor just a few more strokes before pulling out of her greedy little mouth. He didn’t want to spill his seed down her throat; he wanted every drop to be spent inside her core, not in her mouth. It wasn’t until he had sunk every inch deep inside her wickedly snug pussy that he remembered they were not alone. Casting a quick glance to the other side of the room his eyes met Étienne’s. He should pull out immediately, bundle his woman up and head for the privacy of their bedroom. Instead he held the other man’s gaze as he began to slowly move. Sliding back until he was almost completely dislodged, then driving forward until their pelvis’ were mashed together, Diego flexed his muscles of his ass as he watched Étienne’s nostrils flare. He repeated the motion, his eyes drifting down to the growing bulge Étienne did nothing to disguise. Licking his own lips, Diego

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increased his pace, thrusting and retreating as he watched the younger man free his own rigid cock and stroke in time with the movements of Diego’s hips. He wanted to look away, but he was enthralled. Watching Étienne, feeling Cherie’s ever spasming pussy; it was most erotic thing he had ever experienced. His hips began to move faster, going as deep as he could possibly get. It was so good, it felt so right. Diego wished he could feel disgust at what he was doing, about what Étienne was doing, but he didn’t. He had crossed some invisible line and he knew he could never go back. When he felt Cherie’s release ripping through her body causing the walls of her cunt to tighten painfully down on him he let go with a howl, witnessing Étienne’s simultaneous release. Shit! What had he done? Not wanting to examine what had just happened he scooped Cherie up in his arms striding towards the door, intending to ignore the other man and what had just taken place between them. He almost dropped her when at the door she lifted her head, looked right at Étienne and said, “Join us in the bedroom after you clean up, ‘Tienne. There really is no point of you sleeping in one of the guest rooms now.”

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CHAPTER TEN

“Capitán? Capitán, you must wake up!” Diego opened one eye to see Carlos hovering over him like some mother hen. What the devil was he doing in his bedroom? As the memories of the previous nights activities came flooding into his consciousness he turned his head sharply to see Cherie curled up against his side and sure enough, the puppy was right beside her. No, he would not think about what had happened after leaving the parlor. He would not acknowledge the other man in his bed, beside his woman. Was that Étienne’s hand on his. . . Jumping out of the bed, he turned to Carlos heedless of his very naked state. “What is it?” he growled. To his credit, Carlos didn’t even attempt to look towards the bed. In fact he looked far too preoccupied and agitated, which was not a good sign. “You have to come downstairs, Capitán.” Carlos may not have looked toward the bed, but his voice never rose about an urgent whisper. “Meet me in the front parlor,” Diego growled shrugging into a robe thrown across the end of the bed. Feeling a bit snug across the shoulders he looked down at the garment. But of course it was the puppy’s. Pulling the thing off again he glanced around the room

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summarily putting from his mind the clothing strewn about on the floors. Where the hell was his robe? “Uh, mi Señor Duque, there are guests in the parlor,” Carlos stammered. “Guests?” It was practically the crack of dawn, who could possibly be paying a visit? His first thought was Claude, Luc or some other member of Cherie’s irksome family. Perhaps there was word on the whereabouts of Agathe. Absently he waved his personal secretary away. “Fine, make sure they have refreshments and let them know I will be down soon.” Well he probably wouldn’t be going back to bed now. He might as well dress for the day. “And find my valet. I am going to need a shave.” And a bath, but a quick wash would have to do for now. Noticing Carlos still had not moved he lifted and imperial brow. “Was there anything else Carlos?” “Err, you guests Señor.” “Yes?” This was getting tedious. “It is the governor and your former wife.” ******* Diego was seething by the time he made his way to the parlor over an hour later. Let them wait, he fumed to himself. Dressing meticulous in full dress uniform complete with

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saber, he strode into the room every inch a royal duque and captain of the Spanish Armada, a fidgety Carlos at his side. He be damned if he would be cowed by a viscount and his overly pious ex-spouse. Walking over to the fireplace mantle he faced the tiny crowd arrayed before him arching, an imperial brow at every one of the five people assembled in front of him. Governor de Gálvez, his beady eyed secretary, Maria-Teresa and her duena Ana, and slightly frightening looking woman swathed in black from head to toe, remained seated at his entrance. “Carlos,” he drawled, “is there anyone in this room besides my dear wife who outranks me?” “No, Señor.” Three of the four promptly rose to their feet. Maria-Teresa remained seated and the mystery woman was already standing behind his fomer wife. “Ah, much better.” Diego crossed his ankles while motioning for everyone to return to their seats. “To what do I owe the honor of just an early morning house call?” He had looked directly at the governor while speaking. The impertinence of the man intruding on his private residence at this hour was astounding. One would think after their little test of wills yesterday, de Gálvez would be far more prudent. At least the man’s secretary had the common sense to look frightened. The governor looked – triumphant. Well that just would not do at all.

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“I did not think there was an appropriate time to seek out my husband,” MariaTeresa spoke for the group in her soft-spoken manner. One had to literally strain to hear her. “Since you would not come home to Spain, I came here to you.” As if that explained everything. Turning to face her, Diego had to fight to stay on his best behavior. His dear wife had no great desire to see him anymore than he had to see her. “We are no longer married, my dear. And how is your father?” She had the grace to blush and looked down at her hands which were firmly clasped together in her lap. He could have sworn her ever-present duena cracked a faint smile. But that would be impossible. The sour faced woman did not laugh or even deign to smile. Surely if she did so, her face would shatter in a thousand little pieces. “Señor,” de Gálvez began only to be cut off by Diego at his most haughty. “You may call me Señor Duque, Vizconde. Or do you prefer Governor?” The governor quickly looked to Maria-Teresa, but finding no support there, he quickly switched tactics. “Excuse me, I meant no disrespect.” Diego inclined his head and waved for the governor to continue. “I would never dream to interfere with your personal affairs, but on this matter I felt I have no choice but to step in.”

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“I would tread wearily if I were you,” Diego responded softly, lightly caressing the sword at his side. In any other situation Diego might have been impressed by the man’s bravado. At the current time, however, he was in no mood to be charitable. With Cherie and the puppy upstairs, some maniac woman looking to do God knows what to his lover and mother of his unborn child, and now his singular cause of the worse two years of his entire life (no doubt at the behest of the king) sitting in his home, he had enough on his plate. Impatiently he drummed his fingers against the mantle, the only visible sign of emotion he would allow. The governor swallowed harshly and plowed straight ahead. “Your lovely wife and Madame Bonnet here have brought to my attention you have been living openly with a disreputable woman. While I must admit I have no authority to generally get involved with my subjects personal affairs, Señora Maria-Teresa and Madame Bonnet…” Before any of them was aware of what happened, the sword that had previously hung on Diego’s hip was pressed against the governors Adam’s apple. A visible tick showed prominently on Diego’s jaw as he had to fight to control the urge to slice the pompous idiot’s throat from ear to ear. “First of all de Gálvez, Maria-Teresa is no wife of mine. Second, you allowed the daughter of the king to be influenced by a woman has just escaped from a mental asylum.

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And third, you invade my home, insult me and insult my rank,” Diego’s voice was barely above a whisper, but fury emanated clearly from every word. “Nothing concerning my life is of any consequence to you. Not ever. You may think you have the king’s ear, but I can guarantee you by the time the pieces of your body make it back to Spain; he will be cursing your name. I promise you, if you ever place you nose into my business, darken my doorstep, or even think about sullying the princesa’s ears with the sound or your voice, I might have to feed to creatures of the swamp with your carcass, then have you family’s lands and titles confiscated by the crown and have you sons impressed upon my ship. ¿Entiende?” To emphasize his point, Diego nicked the governor’s throat just enough to cause a small trickle of blood to trickle down his throat. The governor stumbled to his feet and practically ran out of the room with his secretary trying to hide a suspicious wet spot on his breeches, right on his heels. Crossing to a chair directly in from of Maria-Teresa, Diego sat heavily and regarded the wan looking woman. She sat as serene as ever, as if nothing that had just happened affected her in any way. But of course it hadn’t. Maria was rarely affected by anything outside the spiritual. How in the hell did she get involved with Agathe? Come to think of it, where the hell was Agathe? “Carlos, did you see where the other woman went?”

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“I am sorry Señor, she must have left after you started, uh, talking to the governor. Do you want me to see if I can find her?” Diego sighed wearily. “No. I want you want you to go find several of my men. I will give you a list. For now, escort Ana to the kitchens. I am sure she could use something heartier than coffee, tea and petite fours.” Ana shot him a grateful look, but waited for permission from her mistress before moving a muscle. When none seemed to be forthcoming from the tight-lipped Maria, Diego prodded. “Maria, I will speak with you alone. Give Ana leave to go.” “You should not refer to Ana so familiarly,” Maria-Teresa sniffed. After traipsing across the ocean to find him, she still had no desire to be alone in a room with him. “You may go Ana, but be back here in fifteen minutes.” “Make that thirty.” Ana bowed to Diego before a hasty curtsy in the general direction of her mistress. At forty-years -old and a poor relation, Ana would always be a spinster, but she was not really cut out to be a duena. There had been no other choices for her so did her duty to the best of her abilities, but she was not the best choice for the Princesa. She did not relish the hours upon hours spent in prayer and confession nor the endless amounts of fasting her mistress opposed upon all of her household. She frankly could not imagine what Maria-Teresa had to confess. The woman rarely left the chapel or the company of her personal priest. It had

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gotten increasingly worse when Diego had finally convinced the king to petition the Church for an annulment only to leave Spain as soon as it was final. Maria-Teresa had become almost fanatical; she was in chapel before sunrise staying until mid-morning, she was often on a diet of bread and water, demanding Ana do the same, she was never without her priest, Father Manuel by her side whom she lavished with gold and expensive gifts. Maria-Teresa raved how it was her purpose in life to show Diego the errors of his ways. If only he would reconsider their annulment and agree to a chaste marriage. She believed she and she alone could save him and bring “back to the fold with God”. She had convinced her father to send her to bring Diego back to Spain since none of the emissaries had been successful. The king wanted Diego to marry her sister, Isabella now that she was widowed, but Maria-Teresa had other plans. She would sometimes rant for hours about how the duque was a carnal creature in peril of losing his immortal soul to wine and women. She believed he was being led astray by what she called “demonic native seductresses” and “African witches” which was why he had failed to return to Spain. Many in Maria-Teresa’s household worried about her, especially Ana. They all had serious doubts as to the piety of Father Manuel who was the major influence on the princesa. The priest was rarely in chapel during the predawn hours though he encouraged his patroness to be there. He disappeared for hours, sometimes days at time, always insinuating he needed more money when he returned. The household maids steered clear

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of the man, an ominous sign in itself. Ana had wanted desperately to tell the duque all she all this and more, but her mistress never let her out of her sight. As she followed Carlos out of the room she tried to catch the duque’s eye, to give him some kind of signal. MariaTeresa was getting worse, especially after the inexplicable appearance of the strange woman named Agathe. Ana feared for her mistresses sanity if the people around her kept adding fuel to the unnatural fire burning in her mind. “My things should be here shortly. If the African woman is here, you must make her leave immediately. I will need at least three maids and some sort of social secretary so that…” “Maria, how many times must I tell you we are no longer married?” Taking a deep breath, he rubbed his head trying to think of way to tell there was no way in hell she was moving anywhere near him in a way she would understand. “Maria, you are an unmarried woman. It is against all propriety you stay here with me.” His voice was dangerously quiet. Maria hated when used that tone. It frightened her. Although he wouldn’t raise his tone of his voice, it seemed to get colder. She pulled her rosary from the folds of her gown and silently began to pray. She had to be strong. Dear Agathe had warned her that the voodoo priestesses here that seduced decent mean were potent; she would have to be stronger. She decided to attack the problem head on. Diego was far too stubborn for anything else.

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“Diego, I know you cannot see it now,” she began earnestly, “but this woman, this African, she has got some kind of spell on you. I am here to help you. You must send her away, for the sake of your soul!” Diego regarded the Maria noticing how gaunt and wasted away she looked. She ran through the rosary in her hands at a speed had not seen from priests. Her formerly luxurious jet black hair was scraped back into a painfully tight bun and looked to be thinning. She was dressed in a dark gray gown that began at the top of her neck falling past her feet. Her sleeves ran down slightly over her wrists and her hands, which were covered with gloves. Not an inch of flesh was visible. On closer inspection her gown appeared to be made of coarse linen. Maria had always been deeply religious; she was fast becoming a fanatic. “Is that why you are here Maria? To save my soul? This is what your father sent you half way around the world for?” Maria’s gaze slid from her husband to the floor. She could not lie. “No. My father wants an heir for your lands and title. He wants you to marry Isabella.” She admitted softly. “But, Diego she is no good for you! Her husband and his court have corrupted her. She is a sinful woman who would only farther imperil your soul.” “And you, you are right for me, sí?” He rose in one fluid motion to circle the sofa in which she sat. Leaning down to whisper against her ear he continued his assault. “You do

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remember what it takes to get with child, don’t you Maria? You remember how I must lift up your nightdress, spread your legs wide and slip my…” “Stop! We must have a chaste marriage! Pure and free from all carnality. It is the only way you can repent!” Maria jumped to her feet whirling to face her know smirking husband. “I refuse to listen to such filth! I am a princess of Spain and you will do as I say!” She was yelling, crass as that was, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t take it. The thought of him, of any man touching her flesh made her physically ill. She had thought she could endure it, but she knew she couldn’t. She most certainly couldn’t with this man. He was far too, too virile. “And I what am I supposed to do for an heir?” he smirked. She knew all men wanted heirs, but it that was a problem of the world. Diego needed to be concerned with the problems of the soul. “You will cease speaking to me of sinful things this instant!” she demanded, stamping her feet for emphasis. “You do not command me to do a damn thing.” He had not raised his voice above a normal octave, but then he didn’t have to. “I want you to understand what it is you are asking for.” “I am trying to help you! You must send that, that person away! Now!”

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“So that you can take her place in my bed? Will you let me bury my face between your legs to suckle your woman’s honey? Will you let me bend you over my desk or a chair and take you from behind, riding you until we both scream from the sheer joy of it? Will you let me take your ass, Maria? Would you let me slide into your forbidden entrance and ride you there?” “You will be silent! Shut up now!” “Yes, Diego,” came a soft voice from the doorway. “Why don’t you shut up now?” “Cherie!” Diego rushed out of the parlor, leaving a confused Maria-Teresa standing alone with what appeared to be a young gentleman. Who or what he was she couldn’t begin to know. One was never sure here who was a regular person and who was descended from slaves. Agathe had warned her of that. The man bowed appropriately but did not introduce himself, as was proper. She was a woman alone, it was not proper to talk to her without a proper introduction from someone she knew and trusted. She did not however, appreciate the amused look on his face. He was not smiling, but his eyes implied inappropriate mirth. She decided she would use her royal imperative to put him in his place. “Who are you and what are you doing in my husband’s house?”

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“Your husband’s house? I was unaware Diego had remarried.” The young man replied rudely. “”I am sorry, but this house belongs to Cherie Bonnet. And I, Your Highness, am Étienne Barbin, first and only son of Rémi Barbin, Vicomte de Alsace.” Maria dismissed the notion that this was that woman’s house. Of course this was Diego’s home. “You are impertinent. What are you doing here?” “I am a friend of Diego and Cherie,” Étienne replied undaunted. “Well, go and fetch him.” Seeing that she had dismissed him with her decree, Étienne walked away in amusement. Poor Diego. He found the man standing in front of the closed door of a guest bedroom looking lost. “The pricesa has demanded I come and fetch you.” Diego growled in reply. Étienne decided to take pity on him and leave the subject of his strange former wife alone. “Let me talk to Cher. You go, deal with the Spanish woman. We will talk later.” Shit! That was the last thing Diego wanted to do. There was no way out of it. “Do not let her leave this house alone, ‘Tienne. Agathe was in this house” He was gone before the other man could question him. On his way back to the parlor he noticed workmen brining in several traveling trunks and crates.

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“No, no, no! Take these things right back to the wagons!” He bellowed striding to what appeared to be the man in charge. “Diego what are you doing?” Maria-Teresa rushed out of the parlor. “These are my things. I will need them until we return to Spain.” Merciful Heavens, take me now! Diego pinched the bridge of his nose trying valiantly to contain the rage threatening to erupt. Turning to Maria he spoke slowly and deliberately through clinched teeth. “You will not be staying here. This house belongs to – someone else. If you must stay, you can stay at my plantation about fifteen miles upriver. When I have calmed down, I might come and deal with you then. I will provide you with all you need, but you need to leave now.” Turning from her he bellowed for Carlos, and as the man came running with Ana in tow he was hit by a sudden inspiration. “Carlos, you need to go find Maria…” “I am Princesa Maria-Teresa!” “Whatever. You will go to the plantation and you will wait. Carlos will acquire a couple of holy sisters to keep you company, Ana will stay here and before you open your mouth to protest I must warn you I am fast losing patience and would not encourage you to push me too far. I seriously doubt your father had any hand in this hair brained scheme

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of your for us to remarry. King Ferdinand is well aware of the reasons why our annulment was necessary. ” Maria swallowed but said nothing. He took small comfort at least she was chastened enough to looked embarrassed. Turning on her heel she returned to the parlor head held high. Carlos ran out the door, just happy to be given a task away from this madhouse. Ana fell to his feet in tears. “Thank you, thank you senor! Thank you so much! I do not know how much more I could take!” Considering the woman weeping at his feet he suddenly felt completely out of his depth. What the hell was he supposed to do now?

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

“How dare he bring that woman into this house!” Cherie ranted. “He didn’t bring her here.” “I don’t care who brought her ‘Tienne, I do not want her in my house!” Étienne enclosed her in his arms holding her tight, drawing her into his lap while he sat down. God, how he loved this woman in all her tempestuous fury. For a moment, when he first found out where she was in Florida, he had despaired he had lost her forever. But when he had entered Diego’s study watching the man had made love to her while he watched, something strange had happened. He still wanted Cherie so badly it hurt, but his dreams had an added player. His father’s plantation bordered Bellemere, so he had known Cherie’s parents, all three of them, most of his life. His mother died in childbirth and his father never remarried, so Cherie’s mother had become a surrogate mother to him. His father had known about the ménage at Bellemere but being that he had a predilection towards men rather than women, he hadn’t cared. Growing up with a father with a secret such as homosexuality had taught Étienne not to judge. It also made it easier to spot alternative lifestyles. He himself had never felt attracted to another man until Diego. He still had no interest in any other man. It was like being with Diego was an extension of being with Cherie. He couldn’t explain it he just knew it felt right. Of course, he was now

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going to have to convince Diego to marry Cherie, for her sake and the sake of whatever children the three of them might have. Thinking back to last night Étienne shivered. He had known Diego was just as attracted to him, but he also understood that such a thing was unthinkable to such a dominate man as Diego. It had been Cherie’s soft invitation to their bed that had broken Diego’s guard. At first, both men had focused their attention on her. Étienne had dove between her legs to feast on the banquet he had been denied for so long. She tasted better than his wildest dreams, but there had been more there than just her natural juices. Her natural scent was light and flowery with just a hint of musk, but there had been the added scent of Diego. He had tasted the other man right along with her honey, and Diego had stood back to watch. She was so delightfully responsive, flying apart on Diego’s demand as the older man had devoured the sight of Étienne licking, suckling and nibbling as if she was his last meal. When Diego had instructed him to take her while kneeling behind him while kneading his shoulders and nipping his ear he became harder than he had ever been in his life. He had sunk into Cherie’s waiting warmth in one powerful stroke, while Diego whispered the most erotic encouragements Étienne had ever heard in his life. The feel of Diego’s hard cock against his backside as he powered in and out of the snuggest, sweetest pussy he had ever experienced in his life drove him crazy with yearning

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for more of Cherie and more of Diego. Then he had felt Diego’s hand moving down his ribcage to his hips to settle on each cheek of his ass. He felt something cool and wet being spread inside his crack until finally it reached his puckered rosette. When Diego’s thick fingers had breached him, he had gone wild. He couldn’t stop powering into the woman beneath him especially when he felt fingers penetrating him, spreading cool cream until he was well lubricated. Étienne had cried out at the sudden loss of those deliciously wicked fingers; then all of the sudden something alarmingly large, hard, and smooth was questing entrance. Diego had entered slowly, instructing him not to stop driving into Cherie. Finally Diego was fully seated inside him causing so many sensations he felt he would die from the intense pleasure attacking every nerve ending. It had been so hard not come right then. But Diego had warned both him and Cherie not to come until he said so. A sweeter torture had never been invented. Diego’s hands had been everywhere, his teeth marking Étienne’s neck and shoulder. They had all moved in tandem, their tempo set by the domineering Diego who played them all as if their bodies were instruments played by a maestro. The onslaught had felt so good, so right. Even now the memory of what they had shared made Ètienne shiver. “Am I being unreasonable?” Cherie asked, her voiced muffled against his chest. “Yes.”

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Cherie smiled at his simple answer. ‘Tienne was nothing if not honest even as he was indulgent as always of her bratty ways. When she had first talked with him after he had found her in Florida, she had explained she could not marry him feeling as she did about Diego. She had begged him to go on with his life and try to forget her, but in typical ‘Tienne fashion he had told her he would never give her up. He had even said of that meant sharing her then he would because he loved her. When he begun to have feelings for Diego himself, he had told her without delay. He had acted as if she would be horrified at the revelation. As if she hadn’t seen this for herself. But that was her ‘Tienne, the one person in the world who never tried to shield her from things he felt was too much for her to handle. “Will he leave me you think?” She couldn’t stop herself from asking. While she never once doubted Diego’s feelings for her, she knew he had a strong sense of duty. He hadn’t brought her back to New Orleans when she thought she should have after they first met, but he had believed her old life was over. It was a fair assumption given the way of the world. But as soon as Étienne had appeared, he had made arrangements to come here without delay. Étienne gentle moved her back a little so he could look down into her eyes. “No, Cherie, he will not leave us.”

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His sky blue eyes told her more than she had asked. Whatever happened to her she would never be alone. He really did have complete faith in Diego. Cherie buried her hands into his silky auburn curls, tugging his head down to meet her lips. He always kissed her so softly, as if she was precious and should be cherished. Whereas Diego made her burn, Étienne soothed her like balm to her soul. There could be no going back now; like her mother before her, Cherie was now the center of a committed ménage. ******* Though he would have rather died before admitting it, Diego was in need of advice. Before he knew it, he wound up at the front door of the Bonnet townhouse in the French Quarter. Sighing in defeat, he knocked lackadaisically, jumping back at the speed to which the door was opened. The imposing figure that stood as regal as any king made him take a step back. Diego himself was at least six feet four inches tall. This man was a full head taller than he was. His skin was a deep bronze like some kind of Arab sheik who spent all his time in the sun. That in itself would be normal – for New Orleans anyway. What threw one off was the fact that the man's eyes so light blue they were almost colorless and the cascade of straight startling white hair fell past his shoulders to the middle of his back. “My Lord Duque,” the man intoned in the deepest voice Diego had ever heard, and in clipped British accent. “Please come in and follow me.” The man executed a perfect military pivot and led him into the house.

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“May I presume you are here to see Monsieur Bonnet?” “Well, no, actually,” Diego began only to be brought up short when the man stopped in his tracks to fix him with a glare that actually had him shivering. The infamous Capitán Diego Esteban de Aguilar, Duque de Suárez, weary of a…what the hell was this man anyway? “I am here to see Monsieur.. . Err, Luc.” He had not realized until that moment he had no idea what Luc’s surname was. Everyone simply called the man Luc. The bronze man seemed satisfied with that answer. At least, Diego thought he must be because he simply repeated his military pivot and moved on to a door near the rear of the house. The door opened to a typical masculine study complete with overstuffed leather armchairs, large fireplace, and several bookshelves strategically placed around the room. Instead of one desk however, there were two. The bronze man waved towards one of the chairs near the fireplace. “Please be seated. I will return with Monsieur shortly.” And with that he was gone. Diego didn’t have time to question the wisdom of making this trip. Not more than a few minutes after bronze man disappeared, Luc appeared. “Diego,” Luc swept into the room shaking his hand wearing a decidedly irritating smirk. “While I did expect you, I must say I did not expect you so soon.” Diego decided to ignore that one. “Was that your butler?”

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Luc glanced toward the door. “You mean Farnsworth? He is whatever he chooses to be.” Farnsworth the mixed race British butler? No, that was just too comically stereotypical. “Is he a slave?” Couldn’t be. The man was a sultan masquerading as a servant to spy on the European colonies, or a Native chief/king whose tribe was tragically massacred and by the British but spared him, which explained the accent. Yes, Diego liked his imaginary scenario much better than anything Luc could tell him. Dear God, the ever fanciful Cherie had taken residence in his brain and taken over the way he normally thought. “We actually don’t own slaves,” Luc informed him pouring two glasses brandy. “All the servants here are paid. Most of the people on the plantation are sharecroppers or paid servants. Farnsworth has been with me since I came here from France. He worked for my grandfather. Amélie was amused by him, so Farnsworth stayed. So,” Luc handed him a brandy, “is it Cher, or is it ‘Tienne?” Of course the cheeky bastard knew about his attraction to the younger man. He had known from the first day at Gaspar’s. He had probably suggested Étienne stay with them to move things along quickly. “Agathe was in our home this morning.” Luc’s hand stilled in the act of raising his glass. “And you didn’t detain her why?”

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“She was gone before I knew who she was.” Taking a deep breath, Diego filled him in on everything that had happened in the last forty-eight hours, edited of course. By the time he was done Luc was sprawled in the chair opposite him, a deep frown marring his face. “Somehow Agathe had gotten to the governor, or more likely the governor’s wife. She is a criollo, non? And from what I hear quite prudish. She would be scandalized enough to insert herself in your personal affairs.” “Possibly, but now I have a former wife and two lovers to contend with. A man can only take so much.” Luc studied Diego intently. He was taking his attraction to Étienne fairly well, far better than Claude had taken it. Claude had fought him and their mutual attraction for months, fearing that to admit it he would lose some part of his masculinity. Diego had no such qualms. But then, he had Cherie. She had grown up witnessing a loving permanent ménage relationship and she was far more used such things than her mother had been. By her complete acceptance she probably made it seem normal and natural for Diego making it an easier transition for him. Still, there had to be lingering doubts. “And this thing between you and ‘Tienne? How are you feeling about that?” “I haven’t really given it much thought. It just is.”

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In truth Diego hadn’t wanted to dwell on it. How did he feel? He knew he should feel disgust or confusion, but he didn’t. Last night he had made love to another man as if it was the most natural thing in the world. All three of them had touched, kissed, caressed and made love to one another and nothing had ever felt so right. He had never felt so complete. If he had believed Cherie completed him, the addition of Étienne had made him more of a man then he was before. Cherie had held him afterwards, even as ‘Tienne held her. She had whispered she was so happy, that the three of them would be happy together. He had believed it because he believed in her. “I could be content with the situation. But there is Maria-Teresa to deal with. She has become fanatical in her devotion to the church. She has somehow gotten in her head we should remarry, or we are still married – I’m not sure which. Whatever Agathe is telling her, it is making it worse. She actually believed herself to be saving me from some a demonic seductress.” “Well, at least we know where Agathe is likely hiding,” Luc mused. “And who is giving her shelter.” “But what can we do about it? If she is with the governor’s household, she is well protected. With the addition of the king’s daughter, I am somewhat neutralized, and I am the only one who outranks the governor.” “Are you?” Luc mused.

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Diego glanced up sharply but the older man was in his own little world. He was loath to interrupt his private deliberating. “Let me deal with the governor,” Luc said standing. “You go home and deal with Cher. After this morning I imagine she will be in quite the snit, non?” ******* Agathe watched and waited hidden in the bushes where she had been for a while. The little putain was just like her mother. She had to be stopped from corrupting decent men with her voodoo and her foreign wiles. She now had the help of the governor and his wife. She couldn’t save Claude, but she could save the duque. Smiling with satisfaction she eased out of her hiding place and made her way back to the governor’s home. She would visit Princesa Maria-Teresa without delay. The woman needed to take her former husband in hand and soon. Étienne was a hopeless case. She had not realized he came from tainted stock. Soon the putain breed would be gone; Étienne could find his own way. She was concentrating so deeply on her plans she never noticed the man following her.

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Diego gritted his teeth as he reread the fifth missive this week from Maria demanding he attend her. He had written her back after the first one, explaining he would not be able to get away for the foreseeable future. Apparently Maria-Teresa had lost the ability to read. There was no way he could leave New Orleans now even if he wanted to. Étienne had to travel to see his father on the family plantation after some kind accident. Cherie could not be left alone; especially since the governor’s wife had taken up Agathe’s crusade to save the men of the New Spain from femmes libres de couleur. All kinds of ridiculous laws had been passed with the aim of restricting interactions between the races. The famed octoroon balls where wealthy planters often went select quadroon and octoroon mistresses were deemed illegal. The governor had soldiers patrolling popular venues were the balls had been held. The Creole elite had simply moved them to plantations owned by gens de couleur for a healthy price, of course. What irritated Diego the most were the laws that directly affected those free people of color who were not in any way involved with the balls or anything else dealing with the French and Spanish Creoles affairs de coure. Businessmen and women were often affected financially by decrees barring them from interacting in public with whites in any way. And for what? Things would go on the way they always had. After over hundred years, there still

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was a serious lack of white women in all the colonies except the English ones. Perhaps English women were far more adventurous. Though many had tried throughout history there was just no way one could force abstinence on an unwilling population. “Just go and see what she wants.” Diego shook of his ruminations at Cherie’s entrance. Holding out his hand for her he marveled at the way she seemed to glide towards him despite her now obvious state of pregnancy. She wore her growing belly with innate grace, glowing with some mysterious inner beauty more and more with each passing day. He had to admit he found her even more desirable with her rounding belly and spreading hips. He was seriously contemplating keeping her pregnant for the foreseeable future. If he wasn’t positive she would probably cause serious injury to his person he would actually put his thoughts into action. “How do you feel, querida?” He murmured as she snuggled in his lap. “Don’t change the subject,” Cherie pouted, loving the way he lavished affection on her. He and Étienne were ever solicitous, sometimes too much so. “Papa Claude and Maman will be here soon and if you go now you can be back by tonight. Go, see what she wants. She was once your wife, Diego. It is your duty, non?” He wanted to say he had done his duty when he married her, tried to do his duty by getting an heir before it drove him not only to have the marriage dissolved but to put oceans between them. He had tried. It was not Maria-Teresa’s fault she was not cut out to

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be a wife, but it was not his either. They had married according to the dictates of their stations. Such marriages rarely resulted in great love or passion but he had hoped for a least mutual respect and friendship. When it became apparent that was not going to happen he had to get out. He could not be the man Maria-Teresa wanted him to be. “I cannot leave you, Cher. I don’t want to.” “You can and will. Whatever it is the princess wants you will do your best to oblige. She was your wife, Diego. I am just your…” “You are the love of my life,” he replied fiercely, tilting her head up by her chin. “Nothing less, querida. Never less.” ******* Agathe cackled in absolute glee as she witnessed Diego riding out. Finally! She had told Maria-Teresa to keep up the pressure and sooner or later her wayward duque would come running. Fairly skipping down the street to the waiting hired carriage she went over her brilliant plan in her head done last time. By now, the men she had hired would have shot Gaspar as he was leaving his home to run to his daughter’s assistance. Of course, the whore Amélie was not in need of any assistance. She had one the governor’s houseboys deliver the old man an “urgent” message from his bâtard, saying that something had happened to Claude. She also arranged to have several “witnesses” swear that a deranged Cherie Bonnet had shot her own grandfather because he would not sanction a marriage

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between herself and Étienne due to her recent scandalous behavior. Because no one outside their little family cult of sin knew of the relationship between Cherie, Diego and Étienne; it would be easy to plant the seed of a wicked breed who seduced one man, got with child and try to pawn her it off on another. After all, how many of her mother’s bastards carried the name Bonnet but where sired by Luc, who as far as Agathe knew, had no surname? There was a messenger who should be at this moment informing Claude and his whore what happened to Gaspar. They would of course hurry to his side without delay. That left Cherie all alone. Having the hired hack park a few houses down from Gaspar’s, Agathe waited until she saw a frantic Amélie running into the house, Claude and Luc trailing behind her before she instructed the driver to take her to the governor’s house with all haste. Trembling with anticipation she couldn’t hold the crows of glee that escaped her lips. This time there would be no knight in shining armor for the breed’s bastard. With governor’s blessing, Cherie Bonnet, the breed bitch would be dead in a week. It took less than an hour before the soldiers arrived at the door. Agathe watched with the governor’s wife safely ensconced in a carriage across the street while they dragged a visibly shaken and very pregnant Cherie out of the house into a prisoner’s carriage. Carlos Hernandez was yelling behind them trying desperately to get the soldiers to let the girl go. Oh, it was just too delightful. The girl was perceptibly frightened with tears running

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unchecked down her face. Later, Agathe would allow herself a good laugh. For now she sat stoically beside the uptight bitch who was the instrument of her revenge. “Hernandez will have to be dealt with,” Agathe hoped she sounded regretful. It was so hard when she was so very happy. “He will attempt to run to his master.” “Madame Bonnet, we are not thugs. This is about justice. There is nothing the duque can do with so many witnesses against her.” Señora de Gálvez sniffed disdainfully. “The girl must have been quite mad to shoot her own grandfather.” Agathe gritted her teeth at that one. If Gaspar Durand had been more of a father to her maybe none of this would be necessary. Placées were meant to be kept a secret, away from decent women. They were not supposed to usurp the rightful place of wives and daughters. Carlos watched helplessly as the soldiers left with Mademoiselle Cherie. He knew the He had to get to the duque, but he also knew he was being watched. He had to get help. Instead of heading out of town straight into whatever trap that waited him, he headed towards the seedy bars by the docks. The duque never went anywhere without suitable backup. Carlos had a feeling he would was going to need all the help he could get. ******** “Señor Duque, I am so glad you are here,” Sister Asrid rushed to hustle Diego into a small parlor near the front entrance. “Sister Margaux and I have been most concerned.”

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Diego followed the nun without protest. He noticed she chose a room with a clear view of the staircase and the door. There was only one way into the room. They would not be disturbed without clear warning. “Please sister, tell me what troubles you.” Sister Astrid cast a worried glance to the staircase, working the rosary in her hands in an agitated manner. The sister was a petite older woman, probably entering her sixties, but her eyes were sharp. Diego doubted she missed much. “Father Manuel is not a man of God,” she said in little more than a whisper. “He is using the pricesa for monetary gain.” Diego sighed. Was that it? He had never met the man, and he was well aware of the so-called priests many, many sins. He had received missives from the overseer of the way the man made use of any woman under the age of eighteen. Diego was obliged to have any and all young females removed immediately, sending them to any of his other properties if that was their wish, or offering a stipend and free passage to Canada, France or anywhere else they wanted to go. The last he heard the priest traveled to Storyville three to four times a week, which was just as well. “I am aware of the father’s peccadilloes,” Diego ensured her.

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“Yes, well. If that were that all, I too would be satisfied to just inform you and move on. I have been a nun for many years; sins of the flesh, even when committed by men of God do not faze me.” Of course not, Diego thought. This was the Crescent City after all. “No,” the sister went on. “What he is doing is dangerous. The princesa is teetering on the brink of insanity, if you beg my pardon.” Didn’t he know it? The nun went on. “She is so very fragile señor. He uses this, encouraging her in her growing fanaticism. He tells her that your placée is a demoness bent on collecting your soul for Satan. He brings the evil woman, Agathe here. Together they convince her that if you lose your soul then she too is in mortal danger because she was once your wife and in the eyes of God you are still married. She is close to the edge of her sanity they are determined to push her over. As it stands right now, she cannot be in normal society. She sees demons and agents of Satan everywhere. She fasts too much to be healthy and is on her knees so much they are raw. Devotion to the Lord is a beautiful thing, but la princesa, she uses this to avoid all other aspects of life. To hide away in the cloak of faith. I just wanted you to know I have contacted the Mother Superior and she had ensured me she is sending word to the Bishop. She needs a nice quite convent, where the sisters can care for her around the clock and she would not be victims for men like that Father Manuel.”

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Diego wished he could be shocked, or even sad. The fact was Sister Astrid was not telling him anything he did not already suspect. He had hoped Maria-Teresa would get tired of waiting for him to attend her out here so far away from everything. He had been wrong. If she thought her immortal soul was irrevocably tied his, she would never give up trying to “save” him. She had to go back home. “Thank you, Sister Astrid,” Diego stood kissing the elder nun on the cheek. “I will get rid of Father Manuel and I will do what I have to in order to get the princesa to return home to Spain.” “I do not think she will go easily.” Neither did he. He knew what he must do. Nothing horrified Maria-Teresa more than being the subject of his sexual attentions. All he had to do was to convince her he had decided to stay with her, but he expected her to act like a wife in all ways. After all he did need a son, the king had decreed it. He only hoped he would not bring down the wrath of the king while making his point to his youngest child. “No, it will not be easy, sister. I ask that you please stay. I think she will need you.” Sister Astrid nodded in understanding. “You will find her awaiting you in the upstairs parlor.” “And Father Manuel?”

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“I believe the father has gone into town today. It had been a few days since his last trip.” Diego nodded as he escorted the sister to the door. “Thank you again, sister. I appreciate you coming to me with your concerns.” It was not surprising to find Maria-Teresa on her knees in a stark room with only a huge wooden cross adorning the walls, hard wooden bench with no pillows to soften the seat, a simple desk and a hard back wooden chair. It was every bit as austere as she in her shapeless black gown and her ever-thinning hair in a tight bun. Her head was bent, her arms were stretched toward the ceiling though her right hand worked her rosary without pause. He watched her for a few minutes, trying to remember if there had ever been a time in his marriage were they had just gotten along, accepting one another for who they were. He couldn’t think of one. It was sad really; two dramatically different people needs that conflicted in almost every way should have never been given to one another in marriage. “Diego!” Maria gasped, when she finally noticed him. “I did not think you would come,” “Well here I am. What was so urgent Maria?” When she scrambled to her feet Diego’s heart leapt to her chest. She had lost so much weight she was little more than skin and bone. She was noticeably weak, though when he reached down to try to help her to her feet she scurried away as if burned by his

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touch. Guilt weighed down his shoulders like boulders. Had he brought her to this? Had he asked too much of a gently bred princess, more than she could bear? Maybe if he had wooed her, if he had spent more time trying to find what she might have found arousing, things would be different. But Maria had not wanted to marry, not him not anyone. She obeyed her father’s dictate because there was nothing else to do. There was nowhere else for her to go. There had been no convent in the world would take her against the will of the King of Spain, cousin to the King of France, father of the King of Two Sicilies, father-inlaw to the Holy Roman Emperor, cousin to the Pope before their farce of a marriage. Maria had been trapped to be what others wanted to be. Now she was free to enter a convent, she didn’t want to. “Diego, you must…” “Señor ! Señor ! You must come quickly!” A mulatto boy no more than seven or eight wearing little more than rags ran into the room following much more slowly by a winded Sister Astrid, huffing apologies for having disturbed the couple. “Señor ! Monsieur Gaspar has been shot and the soldiers have arrested Mademoiselle Cherie!” “Get out of here you little devil!” Maria-Teresa screamed flying towards the boy. Diego had to move quickly to intercept her before she harmed the boy. He was surprised

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by the strength in such an emancipated woman. “He is a demon seed! Diego you must see that. All of these people here, they are trying to steal our souls! Let the puta hang! It is the only way for you to be free!” Diego felt an ice cold fist grip his heart. What had she done? “Let who hang, Maria?” His words were slow and concise, afraid to unleash any of the emotions simmering right beneath the surface. “Your demon puta! Agathe told me she would arrange for her to be arrested and hanged to help me free your soul, to free our souls. Don’t you see? It’s the only way! She must die so that our immortal souls will live on to be with God.” He couldn’t look at her. He had to physically take a step away from her. He was afraid he might wrap his hands around her boney neck and squeeze until he felt it snap in two. “She has done nothing deserving of death, Maria. To kill is a mortal sin. Helping facilitate the murder of an innocent make you just as guilt as the one that commits the murder.” It was so very hard to speak calmly. He wanted to roar in fear and fury. This woman was every bit as insane as Agathe, probably more so. This was no act of revenge, as was the case with Agathe. This crazed woman actually believed every word that came from her mouth.

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“She endangered our souls! She is not even human! You cannot murder a creature from the pit! It is our duty to destroy them.” Diego was holding on by a very thin thread. He had to tread carefully, but Maria had to be dealt with now. “So, Maria,” he said slowly, carefully, “this means you are ready to be a wife to me, sí?” “Have I not said so?” “And you will welcome me in your bed? Every night?” “Well, I…I…Surely that would not be…” “Necessary? But of course! You want to return to being my wife. I had thought to spare you from my intentions, but now there is no other way. You are right. I should cleave to you. I think we should share a room in fact.” “Share? A room? Diego, we must concentrate on the spiritual…” “Are we not tasked to be fruitful and multiply? There was only one way to do that.” He was right in front of her now. He started caressing her face then moved down to her shoulders. She tried to move away, but he held her still. “The king would want us to produce a child.” He leaned down to trail kisses across her forehead, then her cheek. He had to fight to keep his roiling stomach down. As much as he would like to slap her silly, he couldn’t. His patience was fast disappearing. He had to push her to break her, God

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forgive him. He needed to get to Cherie, but he had to assure that Maria wouldn’t go after her again. The only way to do that was to get her to see they would never be remarried. She had to give up on him completely. “We might have to try several times a day –“ “NO!” Maria screamed breaking away from his hold. “No! No! No! Don’t touch me!” Reaching out to grasp her chin in a none-too-gentle hold he let every bit of his rage show on his face. Through clenched teeth he addressed the deranged princess, “You will stay out of my personal life. You will stay the hell away from me for the rest of your natural life, because I cannot promise you I will not kill you if I have to be burdened with your presence ever again.” Bellowing for the overseer, he instructed that Maria-Teresa be locked in a windowless room until passage to Spain could be found. Taking the boy who had been sent by Carlos, Diego rode like the wind to find his love.

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Cherie shivered in the dank cell she had been thrown into. They had stripped her of her gown, leaving only her shift to protect against the draft. She didn’t know long se had been in this cell, only that hadn’t yet been a day. This was soon kind of holding cell. From what she could make out by hushed conversations of three officers across the room they would move her soon to the general population. Two of the three were wary of holding her here. They were afraid of someone she was attached to. Diego? She didn’t know. They did not use names. The ranking officer was more worried about his career if he defied the governor. The other two cast furtive glances in her direction but finally gave up the argument. Oh, God what was going to become of her? “Mademoiselle Bonnet? Please follow me.” One of the junior officers escorted her out of the holding cell through an iron door. The cells were quite a bit larger here filled with unwashed humanity in every shade. They passed the men’s holding cells first. Dozens of faces pressed against the bars shouting obscenities and reaching out to grab at her. Her young officer escort had to bang against the bars with a metal bar to keep the longer arms at bay. Several times a strange substance was thrown in her general direction. Was that semen? Her knees buckled. If it weren’t for

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the quick reaction of her escort she would have fell face first in the splatter one of the prisoners had thrown in front of her. “Try not to despair Mademoiselle,” He whispered against her ear. “I have one more hour on duty, then I will tell le Capet myself of this injustice. He will free you, never fear.” Le Capet? “I don’t know…” “Mademoiselle, please, don’t speak. Not to me. Not to anyone. Say nothing so that there will be no further witnesses against you.” But what had she done to have witnesses against her now? “It is better you don’t know why you have been arrested. Your innocence will shine without subterfuge,” the man continued as if reading her thoughts. He led her to the one cell for women. It was not surprising that all of the inhabitants were women of color ranging from deep ebony to dusky ivory. Most were probably a there due to infamous code noir, women whose only crime really was their lineage, though there were several street walkers unlucky enough not to belong to a “house” with the ability to bribe officials or attract important clientele. There were also a few mambos that probably pissed of the wrong patrons. People were forever looking for someone else to blame for their own mistakes and misfortunes. All of the women were in various states of undress much like herself; more for the titillation of the guards than any claim of safety.

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A couple of the rougher women approached her immediately approached her. Fingering the fine linen of her shift, insolently flipping a stray curl that escaped her coiffure. Cherie had never been more frightened in her life, but she refused to show it. Any sign of weakness and the she wolves would tear her apart. “Well, well, well. What do we have here? Une bonne dame, eh? We don’t get many placées in this place,” a haggard looking woman with blackened teeth breathed fetid air in her face. “Look at her shift, Lattie!” The other with equally bad breath and more than her fair share of body odor chimed. “And such pretty ribbons in those curls all done up gentil et assez! Like she’s so much better than us filles travaillantes, eh?” Cherie said nothing, keeping her head held high and staring straight ahead. Bravery was well and good, but to respond would only invite trouble. She did not need to have dealt with women such as this before to know it was probably better no to encourage them. She prayed they would tire of their sport and leave her alone, though she feared they would not be satisfied until they knocked her down a peg or two. Cherie wasn’t so blind to the realities of life. She understood it was only by luck of birth she was not one of these wretched creatures. It could have easily been her, and given a series of unfortunate events it still could. Look where she was now. Without Diego or Étienne by her side she was vulnerable to whims of society in general. This was the fate her parents and grandparents

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had tried to protect her from. Had she been the wife of ‘Tienne, no one would dare seize her from her home and throw her into a dank, dirty jail cell. “Leave her alone before I turn you into a frog.” Cherie turned around to see a girl, fourteen at most leaning against one of the walls, a cheroot hanging from her mouth. She was a striking figure, despite the undeveloped straight lines of her body. Her thick, straight hair fell below her waist in unrelieved black, she had strong arched brows a little too full to be feminine, but her lashes were long and curled. It was her eyes that held you; deep blue, bright green, frosty gray all mixed together gave her an eerie appearance. Eyes that saw far too much, eyes that knew too much. “Come here,” the girl told her. Seeing how the slip of girl stopped two of the hardest women Cherie had ever seen in her life she did not hesitate to make her way over to the girl. “I am Marie, daughter of Gran Maître and Papa Legba,” the girl told her. Cherie had no more than a passing knowledge of the Orisha, Voodoo gods, to which Marie referred, but she found herself believing every word. “I am, or will be a great mambo one day,” Marie went on, pointing to a cot against the back wall. “We will go and sit, oui?” Cherie decided not to point out the cot was occupied by four other women already. As soon as they approached the women got up and moved away.

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“Now, what is your name?” Wouldn’t a child of two orishas already know her name? “Cherie, Cherie Bonnet.” “Oui, that’s right. You were supposed to be Cherie Barbin, non? Well, you will be Madame La Duchese, eh? You will be out of this place by the morning. The Marassa Jumeaux have taken an interest in you for some reason. They want to make sure you see justice, you and your men. You will of course have to be separated from the fierce one, but only for a time. Sad he won’t see the birth of his garçon de bebé, but he will be back soon. All loose ends must be tied up, non? I have decided to stay here until le Capet sees to your release and puts the harpy, the governor’s wife in her place. Until then, we will sit and get to know one another, oui?” Cherie had no idea what the girl was talking about. However, while she was not altogether sure what Marie had said, but she decided to relax and let the girl’s chatter wash over her, keeping her mind off the terrible reality of where she was and how she was possibly going to get out. *******

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Étienne returned to an eerily empty house. Not even a servant was about. Thinking Cherie was probably at her parent’s house, he decided to meet her there. He had just started out before he was stopped by an old friend. "You must be thanking God you didn’t marry her,” the man gushed with barely suppressed glee at the juicy gossip making its rounds across New Orleans. “That Bonnet girl, I mean. Imagine shooting her own grandpére for refusing to trap you into marrying her and raising the Duc de Mortel’s by-blow.” Étienne’s fist connected with the unsuspecting man’s face before he even realized he threw it. Cherie shot Gaspar? He doubted she had ever held a gun. If she wanted the old man dead she would simply worry him to death. And as far as him marrying her, he had every intention of doing exactly what the idiot now sprawled on the sidewalk had implied. He would marry Cherie and give Diego’s child his name, but Diego would be every bit as involved with the child’s upbringing as he was. Of that he had no doubt. And when the hell had people began to call Diego the Deadly Duke? “Name your seconds,” Étienne growled. “I suggest you think before wagging your viperous tongue like a woman next time. Should you survive.” He turned on his heel to jog to the Durand household. What the hell was going on? It took less than five minutes to make his way there to bang on the door. Making his way into the house, Étienne’s heart felt as though it stopped at the unnatural silence in the

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house. The servants scurried about heads down making not a sound. He was led to Gaspar’s study, where Luc sat alone staring off into space. “What are you doing here?!” Étienne demanded. “Why haven’t anyone gone to get Cher out? And where is Diego?” Luc’s head snapped to stare uncomprehending at the fuming younger man. “Get Cher out of where? Isn’t Diego with her?” Étienne was brought up short. “How is it you don’t know when the entire city is buzzing of her arrest for shooting Gaspar?” “That is preposterous! A deranged cross dressing psychopath shot Gaspar. He is here, being detained in the basement in the watchful company of several guards. Cher is at home with Diego.” “Diego is not at home, neither is Cher,” Étienne informed him as he walked towards the exit. “I have no idea where Diego is, but I am going to see what I can find out about Cherie.” “Hold!” Luc rose to his full height. “You need to go and find Diego. Take Farnsworth with you, I believe you will find him in the kitchens. Try Diego’s plantation first. I will take care of Cherie.” ******* “You, there! Come with me!”

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Cherie swallowed hard, trying not to show how much her knees were knocking together. It had not been an hour yet, so the guard that said he would inform her family was still on duty. She saw him out of the corner of her eyes, red faced and furious. What was going on? The guard who had summoned her grabbed her arm as she neared the door of the cell. The girl, Marie, walked right along with her. Curious, but the soldiers paid the girl no mind as she slipped her small hand into Cherie’s and smiled up at her. The sight of the little imp with a cheroot forever dangling from her mouth gave Cherie some small comfort. Surely it couldn’t be that bad if they let the girl tag along, right? This whole situation would be farcical if it wasn’t so damn scary. Cherie was pushed and prodded up narrow dank stair towards the same bolted doorway she had entered the prison from. For a few precious minutes her heart swelled at the possibility they might be letting her go. Instead of leading her to one of the carriage by the side of the plain gray stone prison building, she was led to a tiny building directly adjacent to the one that held prisoners. A chill rushed through her body to her very soul causing tremors she couldn’t control. She had heard whispers of the hanging court, a small mockery of a real courthouse set up for the sole purpose of hanging the undesirable with little to no evidence. The judge would be real enough giving the faux trails a veneer of actual justice, but that was about the only thing this charade of justice could lay claim. This

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was a place for revenge against those who would not be missed or could do nothing against their accusers. They were going to hang her. “Courage, petit,” Marie whispered. Cherie wanted to laugh at the insanity of one so young calling her little, but she couldn’t get past the lump in her throat. Being shoved before the bench she cast a futile look around to see if there was anyone she could call out to. Anyone who knew Papa Claude or Papa Luc that would help save her. Instead she saw the haughty governor and his wife, with a smug Agathe at their side. The other occupants of the room were people she’d never seen before. The judge sat hunched over as if his spine had a permanent bend. His eyes looked beady behind thick spectacles that appeared too large for his face. His thinning black hair had been pomaded against a shiny bald spot he could not hope to hide. His thin mustache was uneven and unkempt. His eyes were cold as he glanced down at her, his eyes lingering on her breasts. It had been cold in the cells her nipples were hard little pebbles against the fabric of her shift. They could have at least given her a blanket to cover herself. She tried crossing her arms in front of her, but Marie would not let go of her right hand. “Don’t tell me you have an attack of modesty now, petite fillette.” The judge’s voice was every bit as oily as his person. The man was actually leering at her causing Señora de Gálvez to huff in disgust. “You and your kind are used to flaunting yourself in front of decent Christian men, non?”

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“Say nothing,” Marie whispered harshly. “He is trying to goad you. Help will be here soon.” When Cherie obeyed the girl at her side, the judge frowned but went on determined to get a rise out of her. “It says here,” the weasel of a little man continued. “You have been seen in public indecently flaunting your dubious wares trying to entice gentleman into indiscreet liaisons…” Cherie wanted to laugh, but she started straight ahead saying nothing. “Also, you tried to seduce a young man of decent family to into an unholy marriage using voodoo charms and spells. You stole the seed of an upstanding member of society to impregnate yourself…” How did one do that? Cherie wondered. The mechanics simply boggled the mind. “And most heinously shot and killed one Gaspar Durand, Comte de Toulon when he tried to stop you from working you demonic wiles of the unsuspecting public.” Cherie stared uncomprehending at the awful man sitting on the raised platform in front of her. Someone had shot grandpére? He was dead? She knew she should be crying, but she was numb. She couldn’t move a muscle. She did not hear the judge asking the false witnesses who had stepped up to testify against her, she didn’t hear the demands for her death from the rowdy crowd behind her, she did not feel the rotten fruit and vegetables being thrown at her. It seemed as if she was watching all these events from somewhere far off, trying desperately to get to the ashen-faced young woman with one arm held

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protectively over her growing belly. She watched the so-called judge bang his gavel, pronounce her guilt and sentence her to hang without delay. It was all happening to someone else. She had done nothing wrong. “You will hang my child over my dead body!” The room collectively swung their heads to the door thrown open by a regiment ofCarabiniers du Roi? But they were bodyguards of the king, the French King. Luc stood in the middle of the elite fighting force as if he were born to it. “And who are you to interfere with justice?” The outraged Señora de Gálvez demanded surging to her seat. Luc arched a brow towards her husband. “Control your woman, or I will.” The woman gasped, turning an interesting shade of purple. Cherie watched in absolute fascination as she literally puffed herself up to twice her size. “I am…” That was all she could get out before her husband slapped his hand against her mouth. “Please forgive her mon Liège,” the governor babbled. “We had heard rumors, but we did not dare to believe.” “I am not your liege, Espagnol,” Luc drawled. “I am the bastard of the French king. It will be my half-brother, Louis-Charles who will reign after my father. I sincerely hope

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you don’t mean you suspected who I was but imprisoned my daughter anyway and was about to…What exactly were you about to do to my child, Bernardo?” The governor sputtered, trying to come up with any acceptable answer. Looking into a face devoid of any emotions was like looking at your death. Why had he listened to the incessant ranting of his wife and the harpy hanger on? “It was this woman!” Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Vizconde de Gálveztown and royal governor of Louisiana and Cuba thrust Agathe toward Luc in a panic. “She convinced us that that girl…I mean you daughter was, was…” “Evil? A seductress? A voodoo priestess?” “They are called mambos,” Cherie wasn’t really sure why she had spoken. It was all so unreal. Maybe the sound of her voice would wake her up from this horrid dream. Luc simply smiled at her before ordering one of his soldiers to wrap her in his own coat. “We certainly did not know she was your by-blow!” Señora de Gálvez exclaimed, eliciting a grown from her husband. “My patience is wearing quite thin with your irritatingly bourgeois woman, Bernardo. You will, of course, leave New Orleans. I find I cannot stomach the idea of you alive and breathing in the same city,” Luc strode towards Cherie, throwing his arm around her shoulders and holding her close. Cherie melted into the embrace of one of her

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cherished fathers. It felt good to be claimed here in front of the worst bigots in all of the territory. “I will of course support you in your endeavor to succeed your father, as long as I am never burdened with your presence or the presence of your rather plain wife.” “Of course, of course,” the governor tripped over himself stumbling towards the door, pushing Agathe towards the waiting arms of any soldier on his way out. She tried to follow, but was immediately stopped. “Make sure she is chained and locked in one of the prisoner transports outside,” Luc told one of his men. “Cherie, my God we thought we were going to be too late!” Cherie peeked over the shoulder the man holding her to see Diego and Étienne rushing into the building with Diego’s men. Smiling in relieve she ran towards the two. “Of course I am fine. Papa Luc saved me and the girl…” She looked back to where the girl had been standing, but she was gone. Cherie, feeling the sudden weight of all she had been through, promptly fainted.

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Luc regarded Agathe seated so forlornly in front him. He leaned back in his chair, drumming his fingers on his desk as he contemplated the guard standing behind her. With Gaspar still recovering, Luc had taken it upon himself to head the family, which meant he would have to deal with “the Agathe problem.” No matter how mad he might be at the woman sitting stiffly, her back painfully erect, Amélie’s admonishments before he had come down echoed in his head. “She was wrong, oui,” she had said. “Dead wrong. What she did was evil. But what we did to her was just as evil.” “We never tried to kill anyone!” Luc had thundered. But Amélie had continued unperturbed, being used to his bluster. “No, we just took away her entire world. Not only did she walk in on what was then her husband and her half-breed sister, she was forced into an unwanted annulment. And for what? Her world crashed in on her and she had no comfort, no relief. She bore the snickers and the whispers with no one to cry to.” “She almost had our child killed!” Claude had interjected. Amélie had sighed, grabbing both men’s hands pulling them all close together.

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“But she didn’t succeed. Cherie is fine. Had she succeeded, I might not be so forgiving, but she did not succeed. She deserves a chance to live. Maybe not here in Louisiana, but she does deserve a chance to find happiness. None of us here are innocent of her pain.” Luc hated to admit it, but Amélie was correct. The only person that been innocent in any of this was the one who had suffered the most. While he could not tolerate any further threats on Cherie’s life, he could not deny Agathe a chance to find peace. “Where would you like to go Agathe?” Agathe stared incredulously at the man before her. Surely she had not heard him right. “You are letting me go?” Luc sighed heavily, disliking what he was about to do, but knowing it was right. “You sister thinks we have done you a great disservice. I would not want her upset anymore,” he answered simply. Agathe was astounded. She had been so wrong, she had always known that. Her fight was ultimately with Claude, who had used her. But to be honest, she had used him for respectability and position in an unforgiving society. She had lashed back by trying to take away his only daughter, which would also hurt her half-sister and the man before her now. That hadn’t been fair to the child; she had no hand in her birth or the actions of her

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parents. The very idea of mixing races still rubbed her raw, but what she had done had been unforgivable. She would never see Amélie as a sister, but she was grateful for the other woman’s mercy. Agathe knew she would have never been so lenient. But the fervor for which she wished an innocents death had been shocking to her, now that she had been left alone with her own thoughts. She had driven herself mad with longings for revenge. What had she become? “Perhaps Canada,” she said quietly. “There are still a goodly amount of proper French society there.” Plus it was far enough away so people would not know her past. She could live as the aging spinster she was. Perhaps she should have left long ago. There was no joy for here; there never had been. New Orleans was an albatross around her neck. “We will give you the money to buy a suitable house, hire the appropriate staff. You will become known as the widow to Claude’s dearly deceased brother. We will wire funds to you at regular intervals. This will be done legally, the papers have been drawn up. However, should you ever be seen in Louisiane again, I will show no mercy. I will kill you, Agathe. Make no mistake of that.” It was far more than she had ever expected, and truth be told, she was grateful. “I will escort Madame of course.”

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Luc raised a brow at Farnsworth’s proclamation, but he said nothing. Farnsworth was his own man, he could do what he pleased. “And should we expect you back?” Luc asked his long time companion. Farnsworth started at Agathe for a moment, before a smile that held many secrets behind it spread across his face. “I think not.” Agathe stiffened but did not gainsay the strange butler. She did not look at him either. Interesting, Luc thought. Rising from his seat he regarded Agathe once more. “I have to have you guarded until you are safely to your destination. I am sure you understand.” He was sure she did. What she didn’t know was she would be watched carefully for a few years, just until he was sure. Standing in front of her, he bowed. If he touched her, he might hit her and that wouldn’t so at all. “Godspeed, Agathe.” “Godspeed to you and yours, Capet,” she replied standing to sail out the door. Luc had to smile at the arrogance still apparent in her every move. “Indeed,” he whispered to himself.

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EPILOGUE

Cherie sat quietly on the front porch watching the sea. It had been a little over a year since that horrible day she was snatched from the home she shared with Diego and Étienne. So much had changed for them all. Her grandfather Gaspar had not been killed; he had made a full recovery and his assailant had been tried in a real court and sentenced to life hard labor in the mines in Mexico. The man Agathe had hired had been a low life street criminal she’d found on the docks. He had lasted six months in the mines before he had died of consumption. Agathe had made it safely to Canada. Strangely she was content there with Farnsworth of all people as her constant companion. Word had recently come that she was expecting, despite her age. She refused to marry Farnsworth, still claiming she could never marry “beneath her.” Her last letter had indicated she was at peace with her life and she had begged forgiveness for all she had out them through. It was funny what love could do. Governor Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid and his wife had left for Cuba soon after Cherie’s ordeal and had not been back to the Crescent City. The judge at the staged trial had not been seen since that awful day. Cherie had her suspicions about what might have happened to him, but she really didn’t spend her days thinking about it. Although all who had taken part in her arrest had been punished or dispatched, Diego had moved their strange little family to a property south of New Orleans near the

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ocean. The house was massive, built on a rise to protect against flooding with one known road in or out Diego had shown them several other lesser known routes in case of emergency. The property built on solid group with acres of deep green lawns but bordered deep swampland. Diego had trenches built on the far property to keep swamp creatures and undesirables out and housed his own guards at outposts strategically placed around the perimeter. All in all, Cherie felt pretty safe. The strangest thing to come out of it all was the knowledge of just who Luc was. No one other than Amélie and Claude had known that Luc was actually the bastard of Louis XVI and the daughter of Philippe Henri, marquis de Ségur, Marshall of France. Philipe was feted in France as a military hero; he was known for courage, honor and valor. Luc was raised in his home, every bit the noble despite his bastard status. Due to deep dissatisfaction with France’s current regime and growing calls for the bastard to replace the father on the throne, Luc Fitz-Capet simply became Luc. He signed up to be a regular sailor aboard a ship bound for the New World. There he had exchanged ships and met Claude. They became fast friends and when Claude had married Agathe, Luc had come along to be his overseer. He was never a great sailor anyway. The relationship between himself, Claude and Amélie had grown gradually over time and developed into a true love three-way match. They really had no idea who the true father of any of their children was, but it did not matter. Luc allowed Claude to claim them to protect his identity. He hid in

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open sight from his mother, who had searched for him in order to try to put in on the throne. France’s monarchy was in serious peril. The queen was hated, whispers of revolution were becoming a dull roar. New Orleans was currently enjoying a population boom of lesser nobility with rumors of massacres on country estates and increasing unrest. Being that most of the Creoles in Louisiana prided themselves on their gentile roots, Luc had become something of a celebrity. Word had moved fast among the Creole population and everyone who was anyone who wanted to be his friend. Luc had married Amélie within a week of Gaspar’s full recovery to keep matchmaking mamas and their machinations at bay and to give the children between he and his two lovers a name. Now Cherie’s brothers were in demand as suitable matches for women that had been completely off limits to them just a month earlier. The most important thing was that her parents, all three of them, were unbelievably happy. And now they were grandparents. Cherie had given birth to a robust baby boy with ink black hair, bright, gray eyes and dimples to die for. Alphonse de Aguilar was a perfect happy baby boy adored by all who beheld him and a father who had never seen him. Diego had sailed back to Spain with Maria-Teresa to make sure was placed somewhere she could be cared for and to confront his king. Though her parents had begged them, Cherie and Étienne had not married. They had promised Diego to wait until

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his return to do anything. Cherie sighed as she glanced once more to the sea. He would come back, wouldn’t he? “He will return,” Étienne gathered her from behind to hold her close. “I know,” she sighed. “It’s just been so long.” “Oh ye of little faith.” They jumped apart at the drawled words, whirling to the front door. There he stood, a bit leaner with a full beard and more lines around his eyes. “Diego!” Cher flew into her lover’s arms trying her best to crush him against her. “I was so worried you wouldn’t come back!” Étienne stood back allowing the two a moment. Diego looked up to stare in the younger man’s eyes. He how he had missed them both! He had thought given time away his feelings would change toward the other man; that he would become repulsed by the things he had done with Étienne. But if anything, he had yearned for him every bit as much as he yearned for Cherie. “Come ‘Tienne,” Diego said softly holding out an arm for his male lover while holding tight to his woman. With a visible sign of relief Étienne allowed himself to be wrapped into a three-way embrace with the two people who meant everything to him. Diego was home – all would be well.

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There was no hesitation when Diego took the younger man’s lips. His kiss was all consuming, demanding as his tongue plundered Étienne’s mouth until he was grasping Diego to keep standing. It was the first time Diego had ever kissed him on the lips. There had been playful nips along the back or neck, passionate bites and traveling mouths, but they had never shared this simple intimacy before. “I suppose this means you miss me too?” Étienne’s lids were heavy, his breathing labored when Diego finally allowed him up for air. “Come.” Diego kept a firm hold of Cherie as he led the way into the house. “I’ve been away for far too long.” Diego didn’t have the patience to wait for his lovers to undress themselves. He tore at their clothing, alternately kissing and caressing first one, then the other. They were both so different, yet so desirable for their uniqueness. Cherie’s soft, smooth skin and light floral scent drove him wild. Her breasts were fuller than they had been, as were her hips. He wanted to kiss and lick every inch, familiarizing himself with her charms all over again. “Querida, I’ve dreamed of you for so long. I burn for you.” Cherie’s body ignited at first touch. As much as she loved Étienne, she missed Diego’s fiery passion. The way he scraped his teeth across her nipples sent quivers all over. She had no idea how she ended up on the bed beneath Étienne while Diego explore her body with his lips and tongue.

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“You taste delicious, querida. I can never get enough.” She cried out as his mouth traveled down her stomach to rest between her thighs. “I missed this sweet honey.” His hot breath wafted across her quim, heightening the anticipation of the pleasure she knew was soon to come. “Did my pretty puss miss me, bebé? Has ‘Tienne taken good care of you?” Cherie could only moan as Diego’s tongue took a long leisurely swipe against her slit. Despite the urgent tension in his body, he took his time licking her cunt with complete absorption. She tried to buck her hips to get him to move faster, but he would not be moved. “Does it feel good, ma poupée? Do you like the way he is eating you little pussy?” Étienne’s voice was a sensual murmur, his hands cupping her breasts, pinching down on her nipples as he seduced with his words as much as Diego was doing now between her legs. “Does it make you hot and wet, petit? Soon he will bury his long, thick cock deep inside your cunt. It will feel so good, Cher. I know. It feels so good to have Diego inside me, stroking me.” Diego groaned against her clit, the vibrations echoing down to her toes. She cried out arching up trying to get closer. Étienne’s words seemed to affect him to because he eat her pussy in earnest. He thrust two broad fingers inside her as he sucked down on her clit. Cherie exploded, her body shaking with the force of her release.

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“That was beautiful, Cher,” Étienne praises, whispering kisses down the side of her face. “You are so perfect. Tu es magnifique.” “As are you.” Diego answered Étienne for her, sharing her taste with the other man in a slow, carnal kiss. Diego kept her between them, his hands wandering all over her body as he made love to Étienne’s mouth. It was incredibly sexy to see them kiss so openly and feely. Diego didn’t stop his sensual onslaught while he slid his engorged shaft inside her. “I want to feel you too ‘Tienne,” Diego moaned, rolling over on to his back while buried inside Cherie. He cupped the cheeks of her ass, holding her open. “Let’s take our woman to heaven.” Étienne was so hard he hurt, but he took his time to prepare Cherie carefully before slowly slipping into her back entrance. He could feel the thick ridge of Diego’s cock through the thin barrier separating them’ what a magnificent feeling! “Are you okay, petit?” He held perfectly still wanting to make sure Cherie was alright. He wanted to plunge inside and take her, to feel Diego against him, to feel Cherie clinching him, but he managed to hold back. “Please, you have to move,” Cherie pleaded. “One of you, both of you. Baisez-moi!” “Oh we will, querida,” Diego promised as he drove upward. “I promise we will fuck you all night.”

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Étienne couldn’t speak. His senses were overloaded with carnal ecstasy. Their bodies moved as one, straining to get ever closer with each move. Cherie’s behind clamped down almost unbearable tight on his shaft, Diego’s thick, heavy meat seemed to caress the sides of his own dick. There was no way he could last. “I’m going to come, cocotte. You feel too good.” Étienne couldn’t hold back any longer. His hips moved faster, seeking the ultimate release. “Yes! Please, yes!” Cherie cried. Her body was awash in blazing rapture. She felt so very full, so beautifully complete. “Diego, ‘Tienne! I need, sweet heaven, I burn!” “Burn for us, bebé,” Diego encouraged. “Come for us now.” Diego surged at the same time as Étienne, sending Cherie spiraling out of control. With a broken scream Cherie exploded, rocking back and forth between her two lovers uncontrollably. Neither of her lovers left her as they shifted to lay on their sides. Cherie felt surrounded by love and acceptance, her life full and complete. She never wanted to move again. “I could stay like this forever,” she sighed in contentment, nuzzling closer into Diego’s chest while reaching behind her to pull Étienne closer. “I don’t think little Alphonse would care for that much.” Diego smiled as he paced a gentle kiss on top of her head.

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“Oh! Have you seen the bebé?” Cherie asked pulling back. “Oh, he is beautiful Diego! He looks just like you! And he is beginning to walk.” “I came in the back and snuck up to the nursery. I wanted a little time alone with my heir.” He waited for what he said to register. The shock on their faces was priceless. “What of the king? Did he not want you marry his other daughter?” Cherie demanded. Diego laughed, ushering them inside to sit down so he might tell them his news. The king had been both shocked and sympathetic as he witnessed the state of his youngest daughter. It had taken five months to free himself from the king’s insistence Isabella would be just the thing he needed and return to his family here. “My lands in Spain are secure; my son’s future is secured, as soon as Cherie agrees to become my duchess.” ******* Three months later Cherie stood on the bedroom balcony inhaling the flora and fauna on the night wind. Only southern Louisiana contained a spicy, sweet, sultry scent and feel in the very air. The breeze was light caressing her skin through the sheer nightgown she had donned as she slipped out of bed. Taking a glance over her shoulder she couldn’t help but smile at the men tangled in the virginal white cotton sheets snoring

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softly. It had been a perfect day. She still couldn’t quite believe she was now Señora de Aguilar, Duquesa de Suárez. The wedding was larger than she would have liked, though it was bearable she supposed. It was the ceremony performed later in this very bedroom that meant the world to her. Here, Diego and Étienne pledged their undying love and fidelity to her and each other, she pledged hers in return. The all wore identical rings on their left hand for propriety’s sake, but in her heart she was now married to two men, and all was right with the world.

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