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From different worlds, drawn by desire, passion is about to change their lives forever...
Indulge in a wickedly seductive taste of CHAMPAGNE AND CHOCOLATE:
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...
“So, why the annoyance?”
Chantille’s eyes never left Austin’s face as he read the telegram that had arrived in the middle of the morning. They’d spent the past few weeks together, falling comfortably into a relationship that had taken them both by surprise.
“I’ve just been summoned to New Orleans,” he informed her, a scowl on his face.
She sat back in her chair and eyed him, surprised. “Family?”
He nodded. “Seems my cousin wants to sell the family estate.”
“You’re from the South?” She was curious. “I thought San Francisco was your home.”
“My mother’s family is from Louisiana; my father’s from Boston.”
She laughed a little. “That must have been difficult for them when the war broke out.”
He shrugged. “My mother’s family had already disowned her for marrying my father. I’m amazed they want to have me within a hundred miles of what remains of the family heritage.”
His bitterness touched her, and her treacherous heart reached out to him.
“I’m sorry, Austin. I don’t think the wounds of this war will heal for many years.”
“Twin Oaks is one of the oldest plantations in Virginia. It’s been the Standish home for almost a hundred years.”
“The Standish home?” She frowned, confused. “You said your father was from Boston.” She stopped, smiling. “No matter.”
He laughed, his agile mind understanding her perplexity.
“I took the name of my mother’s family when my father banished me from his home in Boston. Seems I’m something of a disgrace to my illustrious, respected parent.”
“How could you be a disgrace to anyone, Austin?” She shook her head as she spoke.
“I was thrown out of West Point for brawling, and, when I fought for the confederacy in the last months of the war, Barton Whitfield disinherited me and paid me well to go away and not return to Boston.”
In spite of the casual words, she heard the undercurrent of hurt in his rich voice.
“How long has it been since you saw him?”
Austin picked up his coffee and leaned back, sipping at it. “The year after the war ended. Must be almost fifteen years now.”
“A long time to have no roots.”
“When was the last time you saw your family, Chantille?” he countered.
She laughed, heard the brittleness in the sound. “We weren’t discussing me, were we?”
“That long then, is it?”
“What do you think one of Georgia’s oldest families would do to a daughter who ran a brothel and casino? A woman who isn’t any less a whore than the girls she keeps to entertain the men who come to gamble and indulge their vices.”
“You’re not a whore, Chantille.” His anger hardened and sharpened his words.
“What would your father call me?” she challenged.
When his eyes flashed with rage she relented. “Why New Orleans?”
“Elizabeth’s husband has business to take care of, and this must be part of it.”
“When will you leave?”
“I want you to come with me.”
“I have a business to run, and I’ve already seen New Orleans.”
He shook his head, smile rakish. “Not with me you haven’t.” He paused, then added, “Have you ever been on a riverboat?”
“No, I haven’t. I was invited to do a river trip, but I left New Orleans before it could happen.” She rose, agitated as old memories she did not want to discuss with Austin started to flood into her mind.
He reached out and grasped her wrist when she tried to walk past him. He increased the pressure until she looked down at him and jerked her hand free of his hold.
“You haven’t said you’ll come with me.”
He stood, his motion fluid and graceful.
“Chantille, I want you with me.” He drew her into his arms and held her close.
“I don’t have happy memories of New Orleans, I’d rather not go back there.”
“We can make enough happy memories together to erase the past, honey,” he assured her. “Your past, and mine.”