With proper motivation, even the innocent can learn…
London, Venice and Paris, 1889. A sexy historical romance about the opening of the infamous cabaret, the Moulin Rouge.
After seven failed seasons on the chopping block—aka, the “London Marriage Mart,” Valerie Hempstead takes her fate into her own hands with a tour of the continent. Accompanied by a female cousin of Valerie’s French relatives and the girl’s childhood companions, all of whom live fast and for the moment, Valerie is swept away to Venice, Italy. A scandalous party renders her unnerved, having been passionately kissed by a strange man in a very public setting. She eventually finds herself back in Paris, stranded with no funds and at the mercy of the manager of the newest cabaret in the quarter of Montmartre, the Moulin Rouge. But being a successful dancer places her in the lime light. Intimidating notes are placed in Valerie’s room, and her suspicions lead her to at least five people who could have reason to leave her such ominous, frightening threats. But who has penned them and what does the villain really want?
Travis Elijah Colin Wade, the son of no one in particular, has just been handed a vast amount of money and a large country estate and, of all things, a bloody title. However, he’s not at all pleased about leaving his care-free bachelor days behind. Loathing to be tied to his new enforced endeavors, he goes abroad to spend some of his money and relax before assuming his duties for Queen and country. In Venice, Italy, a brief encounter with a sweet girl in a cat mask leaves him undone, but Travis is unable to find her after she hastens from his embrace. Incapable of remaining in Venice without thinking of his kitten at every turn, he flees to Paris where he’s sure to forget her, only to find himself smitten by another such innocent female—a dancer at the Moulin Rouge.
One couple drew each other into an intimate embrace. Valerie stood immobile, staring at the scene, until she suddenly found herself being led by her elbow behind one of the white barriers.
Trying to evade his hold she spoke. “Er, I don’t think—”
“Shhh— Don’t speak. It will be all right,” he said and closed the curtain behind them.
The man took her empty glass and set it on a small table. He positioned them between the candle’s flame and the fabric.
She cast her gaze upon the sheet next to them and noticed how clear and perfect their silhouette was upon the surface—two dark figures crisply outlined against a field of white. With an inhaled breath that could have been shock, she realized how close he stood. He was tall and towered over her by at least a full head and shoulders. For the first time in her life, she felt petite. She should run, she thought distantly, but that insistent finger of his reappeared to rest under her chin, tilting her face to his, causing Valerie to look beyond the gold mask into the eyes of her captor.
“Come here, my sweet kitten. Let me hear you purr.” He moved closer, now loosely holding her masked face between his hands.
Praying to God that he would be dissuaded from whatever it was he was about to do to her, Valerie swallowed and half-succeeded in twisting away from him again, but his hands wouldn’t permit a complete rotation.
“You mistake me, sir. I am here with some friends. I had no idea what this party was about,” she said, her voice higher than normal and her pounding heart nearly audible. Much to her embarrassment, he seemed to snuggle his body even closer to hers and her head turned back to him of its own volition.
“So, you’ve never attended a Shadow Party before?” he whispered.
Valerie shook her head almost imperceptibly as his face inched nearer to hers.
Her senses heightened, whether by the champagne or the heady sensation the man’s proximity was causing, she didn’t know. Nevertheless, he did smell wonderfully masculine. His gentle touch had been quite foreign to her, and yet she welcomed it; hand to elbow, finger to chin, palm to cheek, body to body, whatever the combination, it was wonderful.
And very dangerous.
This was on my computer’s desktop while I wrote TAoT:
This is quite a bit later than 1889, but this 1926 photograph by James Abbe, reminds me of the scene where the dancers are reading love notes to each other that the Moulin Rouge patrons had sent to them.