Claiming the courtesan's child…
It's been more than three months, but Oliver Gregory still remembers the exquisite night he shared with a beautiful woman in Paris. Discovering her working at the discreet London gentlemen's club he owns comes as a shock…even more so when he realizes she's pregnant!
Oliver knows the pain of being an outcast and will do all in his power to ensure his child is not born illegitimate. Cecilia will return to his bed…as his wife!
Society of Wicked Gentlemen Series, Book 3
Paris, August, 1818
Oliver Gregory strolled along the River Seine as the first fingers of dawn painted the water in swirls of violet. The buildings of Paris, tinged a soft pink at this time of day, were even more beautiful than in the brightness of a noonday sun. London at dawn would seem a dark maze of streets and shops.
And Calcutta…Calcutta, the city of Oliver’s birth, defied description, except in words whispered in memory—Hindi words.
Oliver struggled to remember those steaming, fragrant, exotic days of his childhood and the smiling woman swathed in brightly colored silks holding him her arms and calling him her pyaare bete, her sweet boy.
In the quiet of dawn he could bring it all back. He feared forgetting even more than the depths of depression that followed. Lately his decadent lifestyle provided no ease from the blue devils.
He’d crafted his life to distract him from the sadness of loss. What better setting than a gentleman’s club devoted to pleasures of the flesh? Oliver was one of the owners of Vitium et Virtus—Vice and Virtue—the exclusive gentleman’s club he and his three friends started when they were mere students at Oxford. Vitium et Virtus specialized in decadent pleasure, whether it be beautiful women, the finest brandy or a high-stakes game of cards.
To think he’d just left a Parisian club that made Vitium et Virtus look tame. This club featured sexual gratification through pain, whether self-inflicted or inflicted by another. Vitium et Virtus included some fantasy games with one of their tall, beautiful, dark-haired women playing dominatrix, but this French club went way beyond, so far Oliver nearly intervened to stop it. He knew some people found pleasure in pain but these Parisians flirted with death. He had no intention of bringing those ideas to their club, nor some of their particularly distasteful self-mutilation.
His mind flashed with an image of a nearly naked man swallowing a snake. And another man running over hot coals.
Memories from India again.
A cry ahead of him jerked him back to the present near dawn morning. In the distance a swarm of street urchins accosted a woman, pulling at her clothes, their demands shrill in the early morning air. He’d seen street urchins in Calcutta rush a man and leave him with nothing, not even the clothes on his back. The dark rookeries of London posed similar dangers.
Oliver sprinted to her aid. “Arrêtez! Arrêtez! Stop! Stop!”
The woman lifted her arms. “No! No!”
The children scattered.
When he reached her, she placed her hands on her hips. “Look what you’ve done!”
“You are English?” He was surprised.
She merely gestured in the direction the children had disappeared. “They’ve run away.”
“They were attacking you.” At least that is what he’d thought.
She gave him an exasperated look. “They were not attacking me. I was giving them money so they might eat today!”
“Giving them money?” He turned to where he’d last seen them and back to her. “Is that wise?”
Her eyes flashed. “Wiser than having them starve or be forced to steal.”
He could not argue with that. “Forgive me. I thought—Can you call them back?”
“No, they will be too frightened now. They are gone.”
He shook his head. “I am sorry.”
She frowned. “Another time—tomorrow—I will be back.”
She turned to walk away.
“Wait.” He strode to her side. “What is an Englishwoman doing on the banks of the Seine at dawn?”
Now mischief sparkled in those dark eyes. “Why, I was giving coins to street children until you chased them away.”
She was lovely! Those lovely eyes were fringed with dark lashes, and her brows, delicately arched. An elegant nose and full, luscious lips adorned her oval face. Her bonnet covered her hair, but as the sky grew lighter, Oliver saw her dress was dark blue and her hair a rich brown.
“What is an Englishman doing on the banks of the Seine at dawn?” she asked mocking his tone.
Oliver smiled. “Attempting to rescue damsels in distress.”
She laughed. “You must keep searching, then, I assure you I am not in distress.”
“But I am at your service.” He bowed.
She kept walking and he kept pace with her.
She finally spoke again. “Enjoying the delights of Paris now that the war is over?” Her tone was a mockery of polite conversation, but at least she’d not dismissed him.
“Actually a bit of business.” Although his business was pleasure. “And you?”
"Moi?” She fluttered her lashes. “I live here.”
He was pretty astute at perceiving the character of a person, a skill he’d honed so he’d know right away the degree to which a person might accept him as an equal or as a lesser being. She was guarding her own privacy, not giving him any information at all.
He pretended to peruse her. “I would surmise there is quite a story about why an English lady such as yourself lives in Paris.”
She looked suspicious. “Why do you say I am a lady?”
His mouth widened into a smile. “It is not difficult. The way you carry yourself. The way you speak.”
She shrugged at that. “Well, I am not telling you anything.”
And he would not press her. He understood the need to keep one’s privacy, but he also did not wish to say goodbye to her. The sky had lightened, turning the water blue and the stone path to beige. He suspected she would soon leave this path and be gone.
“I have a proposal,” he said impulsively. “Eat breakfast with me.”
She laughed derisively. “Why would I do that? I do not know you.”
“Allow me to introduce myself, then. I am Oliver Gregory. My father is the Marquess of Amberford.” He never explained further. People who did not already know his father usually assumed he was a younger son. “Now you know me.”
She laughed again, this time with more humor. “I know your name. Or at least the name you deign to give me.”
“I assure you it is my name.”
Her brows rose and she nodded with exaggerated skepticism.
He spread his palms. “I am telling you the truth.”
She cocked her head. “It does not matter.”
“So,” he tried again. “Will you have breakfast with me? I promise to be amusing. We can sit in the open at a cafe if that will ease your discomfort.”
Her expression sobered and she stared at him for several seconds, as if deciding how to respond. “At a cafe?” she repeated.
“Wherever you wish. You choose where you would like to eat.” He’d dined at Le Procope, a cafe that had been in existence for two hundred years. Would she choose some place as grand? He was suddenly very eager to find out.
“Very well,” she finally said. “But you must also give me some coins for the children. They will be even more hungry tomorrow.”
He reached into a pocket and pulled out a leather purse. He loosened its strings and poured out several coins. He extended his hand. “Here.”
She scooped up the coins and slipped them into her reticule. “I know of a place we can breakfast.”
She walked him past La Fontine du Palmier, the monument to Napoleon’s battles in Egypt, in the Place du Châtelet, to a small cafe just opening its doors. They sat at a table out of doors. With the sun, came warmer temperatures and a blue sky dotted with white puffy clouds. A perfect day.
“The pastries are lovely here,” she said.
“Pastries” He rolled his eyes. “Everywhere in Paris I’ve been served pastries and I do not possess a sweet tooth.”
“Some bread and cheese, then?”
“Ah, oui. C’est bon.” He smiled. “With coffee.”
The waiter arrived and greeted her warmly. Obviously she was known to him. She gave him their order, selecting a pastry and chocolate for herself, bread, cheese, and coffee for him.
He watched her as she settled herself in her chair. She removed her gloves and rearranged the colorful Kashmir shawl she wore that reminded him of India. She wore a dark blue walking dress and looked as if she’d just spent an afternoon promenading in Hyde Park. Was it only the children who caused her to be on the banks of the Seine at dawn?
“Tell me what your business has been that brought you to Paris,” she asked with some evident interest.
Oddly enough, he did not want to tell her of the business that brought him to Paris lest she disapprove. He’d come to explore the decadence of Parisian gentlemen’s clubs to see what they might include at Vitium et Virtus. He usually did not care if a lady disapproved of his activities. For the ladies who did disapprove of him, the gentleman’s club was the least of their objections.
“Exploring opportunities,” he responded vaguely.
“Opportunities?” Her eyes, lovely as they were, showed little interest.
He challenged her. “You are making polite conversation with me.”
Her eyes sparkled. “Yes. I am. But tell me what opportunities anyway.”
Those eyes distracted him. In the sunlight they appeared the color of fine brandy and just as liquid. A man could lose himself in those eyes.
He glanced away. “Business, you know. But nothing came to fruition.”
The waiter brought a pot of coffee, a pitcher of cream, and a sugar dish, placing it in front of him. He placed a chocolate pot in front of the lady, produced two cups and poured for them.
When he left, Oliver added only some cream. He took a sip of the coffee and nodded to her. “This is excellent.”
Her captivating eyes appeared to concur. “It always is here.” She sipped her chocolate and made an appreciative sound.
He faced her, fingering the handle of his cup. “The topic of business is always a boring one, as you well know. Perhaps there is something else you would like to ask me?”
Her eyes flickered in surprise, then fixed on him with challenge of her own. “Do you mean why you do not look like an Englishman?”
He was not certain if she was asking or not.
Who was he attempting to fool? Women always wanted to know why his skin was so dark, why his hair so dark. She simply was more direct than most and much quicker.
“See. You are wondering why the son of a marquess looks like something spawned on a foreign shore.”
“Am I?” Her brows rose. “Or is this what you desire to tell me?”
He paused, unsure of his own motivation. He did want to tell her, though, he decided. “My father is the Marquess, but my mother was from India.”
He waited. Usually the women with whom he spent the most time found his half-caste looks exotic and appealing but, then, such women were typically interested only in sharing the pleasures of the night with him.
Ladies of the ton with marriageable daughters steered them away from him, however. Even though they knew he was wealthy. Even though some of those same ladies did not mind sharing his bed.
She took another sip of chocolate. “That does explain it. Were you born in India?”
“I was. I left when I was ten.” He would not tell her everything about his birth and those first ten years of his life. He never talked about it, although many who knew his father knew some of it. His partners in Vitium et Virtus knew nearly all, and they’d accepted him as an equal since their days at school.
“You must remember it then.” She sounded truly interested now.
“I do.” He’d been remembering it that morning when she appeared.
“Tell me,” she said, licking off the chocolate from her lips and nearly driving India from his mind.
“I remember the sounds and the smells and all the bright colors,” he began.
He told her about the man swallowing the snake and others sleeping on a bed of nails or walking over hot coals. He told her of the music and the singing and dancing, of statues and paintings of gods. He talked of fragrant gardens and cool houses with pillows.
He did not tell her about his mother. Or about how his father shared his time between his Indian house and his English one on the other side of the garden.
“I cannot imagine it,” she said, her face alight with animation. “I would love to see such a place someday.”
His insides clenched in a familiar pain. He would never return there, never see those sights again.
He made himself smile. “Is Paris not enough for you?”
Her expressive face turned sad, before she composed it again. “Paris…has not been unkind.”
How much was hidden in that statement?
The waiter brought a flaky confection filled with whipped cream and jam for her and, for him, a selection of cheeses and a loaf of bread still warm from the oven.
She nibbled on her pastry. “There is much beauty here in Paris. I gather some of the buildings, statues and art were almost lost during the Revolution. We can credit Napoleon for preserving them.”
“If we must,” he said, grinning.
He was gratified she smiled in return.
“I have seen very little of the city,” he went on. His hosts had taken him to places where pleasure was more valued than architecture. “And now I have only today left.”
She lowered her pastry from her lips. “You have only today?”
“I leave tomorrow.” Somehow that information did not seem to disappoint her. “Tell me what sights I must see before I leave.”
Again her face animated. “Notre Dame, for certain. It is the most impressive and beautiful church one could ever see. The Louvre, as well. It is a beautiful building filled with beautiful art that once graced the houses of the aristocracy before the Revolution. And I suppose one should see the Palais de Royal. It is now filled with shops and restaurants.”
She went on to describe these sights in more detail as they finished their meal and drank the last of the coffee and chocolate.
“Thank you for breakfast.” She stood. “I did enjoy it.”
“As did I,” he added.
“I suppose I must say adieu.” She did not look happy about it, though.
They left their table but stood together on the pavement.
He took her hand. “Do not say adieu. Stay with me. Show me the sights you have so wonderfully described.”
Cecilia glanced into his face. His was a memorable face—as handsome as any woman could wish. That was not what captivated her, however. Duncan had been handsome. After Duncan she’d learned not to be seduced by a handsome face.
His complexion was darker than one would expect from an Englishman. Knowing he was half-caste explained that. His hair was dark as the night, worn longer than fashionable as if he did not trouble himself to visit the barber overmuch. His eyes were unexpected, though. They were hazel, the kind of eyes that changed color with the hue of his coat. When he fixed his gaze upon her she had the feeling he could see inside her, directly to her thoughts.
Perhaps that was why he asked her no questions about herself. He asked nothing of her, but shared about himself. What other man of her acquaintance would tell of his life before age ten? Duncan certainly had not.
What harm could there be in spending the day with him? She had no other obligations for today and he was leaving tomorrow. She liked his foreign looks and she relished the sound of his English accent, so familiar, so reminiscent of home. He was an easy companion, agreeable, unhurried, and undemanding.
With those enthralling eyes.
Her hands started to shake and her knees grew weak, not from his allure, but from her decision. “I will show you Paris.”
The author has created a romantic novel with characters who were truly meant to be. This book will warm the heart of readers as the two wounded main character slowly grow to know each other and heal together. The complexity of the characters and the sweet development of their love make this romance one to savor!— Steph, Bookaholics Romance Book Club
A PREGNANT COURTESAN FOR THE RAKE has emotional heartrending moments. Although the backgrounds of Cecilia and Oliver are vastly different, both have been treated unfairly and now feel dejected. I really got a sense of how much the past affected these two, and their journey to possible happiness has lots of obstacles…. The choices Oliver and Cecilia must sometimes make are extremely hard, and it was often nerve-wracking to wait on their decisions because of the effect it would have on their relationship. Ms. Gaston definitely kept me entertained the whole time I was reading.— Amelia, AlwaysReviewing.com
Book three in The Society of Wicked Gentlemen quartet is a passionate and sensual Regency romance. From the lights of Paris to the gentlemen’s clubs in London, the rake and courtesan exchange many fiery moments.— Maria Ferrer, RT Book Reviews
Readers, you will notice that The Society of Wicked Gentlemen series is a different sort of series than I’ve done in the past. Instead of books all written by me, each book in the series is written by a different author. A Pregnant Courtesan for the Rake is book 3 in the series. What you may not realize is that this series is also conceived in a totally different way.
It is called a Continuity. Our editors at Harlequin not only pick the authors to write the books, they conceive the premise of the series and the plots of each book.
Each author receives a story “bible” a synopsis of each story, so we all know how our stories are intertwined and who all the important characters are.
Here’s the introduction we received to the series:
Vitium et Virtus
An underground Regency gentlemen’s club where decadence, daring and debauchery abound!
A decade ago, four friends founded the most depraved gentlemen’s club ever to grace the hallowed halls of Oxford University. Renowned for their dissolute masked balls, their notorious high-stakes poker games, and their ability to attract the most sensual women with whom to while away the hours, Vitium et Virtus events were The Place to see and be seen.
The club moved to London after the four friends graduated, and grew bigger and more scandalous than ever! Then, one fateful night, one of the founding members disappeared. All that was left was a pool of blood and a mystery that would take six years to solve…
Now, in 1818, Vitium et Virtus is still going strong in the underworld of the London ton, one founding member short. They cater to the elite of Regency society, operating in semi-secrecy and creating scandals whenever their doors open!
With these four stories, we are thrust into the world of the founding members, the aristocrats who must keep their membership hidden, and the women who steal their hearts – from innocent virgins to spirited courtesans!
Following this overall premise comes the detailed synopses—someone else’s idea of the story.
Other writers are now cringing at the idea of being given what story you should write, but the editors make it clear that the authors are free to make each story their own. In fact, I changed my story considerably from their original idea and the editors were fine with my doing that.
Still, it was a challenge to stay within a framework not of one’s own creation and we authors had to do a fair amount of coordinating so that our depiction of the gentlemen’s club was all the same and that the characters who appeared in each other’s books all kept their own personalities. We had to keep time sequences consistent and we had to know enough of what happened in each story to make reference to certain events which happened in the other books.
Would I agree to do another Continuity if asked? I certainly would! Although this was a different writing experience, it was a gratifying one. A team approach rather than a sole endeavor. The collaboration was stimulating and the sense of accomplishing something as a team of authors and editors was something of which, at the end, I felt especially proud.
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