Champagne and Chocolate
by Denyse Bridger
Austin Standish is a man of refined tastes. Intelligent and educated, Austin enjoys all of the best life has to offer. A gambler, a gunslinger, and a man who has plans to taste the sweetest prize at The Palace Casino and Saloon – the lovely owner, Chantille L’Amour, the most sought after jewel on the Barbary Coast.
Running a high-class brothel and casino isn’t exactly the life she was born to but Chantille is determined to overcome the ruin her family was left in once the Civil War ended. But, she has chosen a difficult path… one that demands much and leaves her lonely. She’s noticed the handsome man who comes into her world from time to time, and when she chooses to give in to desire, the passion evoked by Austin’s touch may change her life forever…
As she led him to the private wing of the large building that housed her home and business, Chantille had time to question the wisdom of her actions—again. She’d been berating herself for most of the past thirty minutes. Austin Standish was a danger to her; she knew this on an instinctive level. Not that he would hurt her, of course. But, he was dangerous, just the same.
She was acutely aware of every panther-like, lissome step he took behind her. He was elegant in manner and dress, quietly contained but always alert. The sense of being in perilous company assailed her with new severity. She opened the twin doors to her living suite and went inside, hearing him close the doors behind him before joining him.
She continued into the room, uncomfortable as she chafed against the restraints of her heavy dress and the many layers beneath it. She’d permitted a few select men into this suite over the past five years, but none had ever made her so acutely aware of herself and the desire to shed her clothes and feel solid muscles and male hardness pressed to her warm curves. Her breasts felt heavy, and her nipples strained against the fabric of her chemise, rubbing against the soft material until the pebbled points ached. Between her thighs, a slow, steady throb began to increase in rhythm, finding a matching tempo in her heartbeat.
The soft illumination from the fireplace touched the wood that dominated the room’s furnishings, warming the smooth, lustrous finish as shadows danced on the walls and glimmered in the reflections of the mirror that adorned one wall of the room. She saw nothing, only the darkness that had grown around her so steadily throughout the past half-hour, a darkness that touched her with fears she couldn’t clearly define, much less explain.
Watching the play of light catch in the soft gold of his hair, Chantille was struck again by the intuitive knowledge that dominated the man’s handsome features. Barely suppressed sensuality and anticipation were so strong in the shadowed intimacy of the suite that she felt she could reach out and touch the things that presently put them on opposite sides of a chasm she didn’t know with certainty she wanted to close. The only thing she did know was that she wanted to be with him more than she had any man she’d ever met.
“Tell me what you’re feeling right now, Chantille.”
“No,” she whispered, then shook her head to deny her dishonesty. “Yes.”
“I don’t like being vulnerable.”
For the first time, Chantille looked right at him, and Austin could read all the uncertainty he hadn’t taken the time to notice before. He answered her honestly, unwilling to do anything less.
“Being vulnerable isn’t always a bad thing, Chantille. Sometimes it makes you stronger.”
“I don’t believe that, and you certainly don’t.” The edge crept back into her tone. “I feel like I did when I was a child, needing to be wanted. When I came to San Francisco, I swore I’d never feel that way again.”
Austin drew in a deep draught of air and ran a hand through his hair.
“You don’t have to be afraid of anything, Chantille.” He knew the words were weak, and he could have kicked himself for them once they were spoken.
She actually managed to smile at the statement, though there was no warmth in the expression.
“Weak women hold no appeal for men like you, Mr. Standish,” she remarked.
“Is that what you want? To appeal to me?”
She laughed, a low murmur of sound that stirred the air between them.
“I want to share my bed with you, Austin,” she conceded. “What I don’t want is for it to cost me everything I’ve worked for.”
“What are you afraid of losing?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Don’t lie to me, or to yourself.”
Chantille met his eyes as if she were trying to pierce the shadows that surrounded them, to see what lay hidden behind that confident stare. When nothing shone forth, she closed her eyes.
Austin let the silence engulf them again for a long minute, then he closed the distance, touched her chin, and made her face him. His thumb brushed at the tear welled in the corner of her eye.
“I do want you,” she murmured, voice raw with the force of her feelings.
The loneliness and the need for reassurance was almost a physical presence in the room with them, and Austin was forced to wonder just how long it had been since Chantille L’Amour had uttered those words to any man. If she ever had.
“I want you, too, Chantille.”
Canadian born and bred, and a lifelong dreamer, I began writing at an early age and can’t recall a time when I wasn’t creating in some artistic form. My life has had several on-going love affairs that shape much of what I write, the American West, Victorian England, cowboys, a passion for pirates, Greek Gods, and Ancient Egypt. The other endless love affairs in my life are Italia and all its magic, beauty, and dazzling culture, and a passion for Romania. Those loves spill into all aspects of my life.
In the past half dozen years, I’ve signed with over a dozen publishers, and have released books in all lengths and genres, and it’s something I hope to continue to do for many more years. A visit to my website will show the diversity of what is currently available, and the mixing of genres and styles that will be employed in many up-coming projects as well.
Voted Preditors and Editors Best Author of 2012 and 2013
A signed print of the book cover, copy of the eBook , and a pair of handcrafted earrings.