The Lover

The Lover book cover
PUBLISHER: 
Kensington
ISBN-13: 
978-0758204271
Book Series: 
Les Anges Series

Anything on this earth can be bought...

Thirty-six-year-old Anne Aimes is a spinster whose only attraction is her wealth.  But her plain looks mask a passionate woman who yearns to know a man's intimate caresses.  Michel des Anges—Michael of the Angels—is renowned for his ability to bring women to pleasure.  All it will cost her is ten thousand pounds...  Driven by vengeance, Michael seeks to lose himself in a woman who will demand only physical pleasure.  A woman who won't suspect his own aching needs—or his true motive for accepting her terms.  Unable to resist the lure of her guileless desire, he plunges Anne into a deadly web of deception and revenge where the price of carnal ecstasy is life itself...

 

Chapter One

 
Death.
 
Desire.
 
Michael did not know which of the two had brought him back to London.
 
He sat and waited for both.
 
Voices rose and fell around him. The tips of burning cigars shone red like the eyes of hungry rats. Candle flames flickered, crystal glinted, jewels sparkled.
 
Women draped in gaudy silk gowns and gentlemen attired in black dress coats and white waistcoats steadily streamed up and down a curved oak staircase, footsteps muffled by plush red car­peting.
There was no question of what had brought them to the exclu­sive tavern. In the House of Gabriel drinks were charged by the dram and rooms were rented for sex.
 
A feminine titter drifted out of a dark, velvet-draped corner.
 
Michael was acutely aware of what the men whispered over surrounding candlelit tables as they waited either to gain release or to recover from it. Of what the whores laughed at, sipping vintage champagne.
 
Michel des Anges.
 
Michael of the Angels.
 
A man whom women once paid to pleasure them, he was now a man who must pay women to give him pleasure.
 
"Mon frère." Gabriel appeared without warning at his right shoulder. He did not touch Michael—he had not touched anyone in a long time. "She is here." 
 
Deliberately Michael turned his head to confront Gabriel.
 
His violet eyes clashed with silver ones.
 
Gabriel did not flinch at the sight of Michael's face. Any more than Michael flinched at Gabriel's blond, ethereal beauty.
 
My two angels, the madame of the maison de rendezvous had claimed twenty-seven years ago when she saved them from starvation on the streets of Paris. A dark one, for the women. A fair one, for the men.
 
They had been thirteen-year-old runaway boys then. Now they were forty-year-old men.
 
And they still ran from the past.
 
"Is she alone?" Michael asked.
 
"She is alone."
 
Michael's testicles tightened.
 
In anticipation.
 
In frustrated anger.
 
She did not deserve this, this woman who came to him seeking sexual satisfaction.
 
"It's not too late," Gabriel murmured. "I can send her away and she will come to no harm."
 
Five years ago Michael would have agreed.
 
Five years ago he had thought his secret safe.
 
Too late.
 
They were both trapped: the woman by her need for pleasure and he by his need for vengeance.
 
Michael smiled.
 
He knew the effect of that smile, of the crinkling of dark skin that repelled rather than attracted.
 
It was a smile devoid of humor.
 
"You are precipitate, mon vieux. After one look at my face she may decide that she is being shortchanged."
 
"She does not come here blind." Whiplash sharpness edged Gabriel's voice. "Her solicitor would have told her what to expect."
 
How could anyone prepare a woman for what he now was?
 
How could any woman want him, knowing what he was? 
 
"Is that why you did not cringe, Gabriel?" Acid threaded Michael's response. "Because you knew what to expect?"
 
"Let it be." Light and darkness danced across Gabriel's flawless features. It was impossible to read his expression. "Together we will find another way."
 
But there was no other way. Any more than there had been twenty-seven years earlier.
 
Michael dispassionately considered the consequences of his plan. And he knew that nothing would halt the outcome of this rendezvous.
 
One woman's life in the name of revenge.
 
It had already killed six. What was one more?
 
"Show her to my table."
 
A stillness settled over Gabriel. "Are you so desperate for a woman, Michael?"
 
Michael bit back a snarl of pain.
 
Yes, he was desperate for a woman.
 
The madame of the maison de rendezvous had given him the gift of redemption. He had learned to bury the horror of his childhood in the scent and the taste of a woman. Through their pleasure he had found, if not peace, solace.
 
Now whores cringed at his touch.
 
He could no longer endure the life he had been forced to live these past five years, trapped in a body which kept him from the one act that made his existence bearable.
 
He would rather die—and take with him the man who was responsible for it all: the life that had made him a stud to be sold to any woman who could afford his price, and the night that had taken it away.
 
Face impassive, Michael returned Gabriel's unblinking gaze. "Aren't you, Gabriel?"
 
It could have been a hiss that sent the candle flame dancing. Or it could have been a draft created by a man and a whore rising from a nearby table.
 
Their time had come.
 
Now it was Michael's.
 
Gabriel silently melted into the shadows that he presently lived in. Minutes later, he reappeared in the arched doorway, blond hair shining like a silver halo. The woman at his side wore a gray velvet opera cloak, hood discreetly draped over her head.
 
It was elegant. Expensive. Designed to conceal rather than reveal.
 
Clearly it was not the cloak of a prostitute.
 
She hovered in the doorway, as if hesitant to enter this tavern where every desire could be fulfilled.
 
Pleasure. Pain.
 
Nothing was forbidden in the House of Gabriel.
 
Rage flared up inside Michael, burning hotter and brighter than any flame.
 
Fire did not always kill. He would not make the same mistake.
 
Unbidden, his manhood hardened in preparation for the night to come.
 
He remembered how it used to be, lying with a woman who wanted him.
 
He imagined how it could be tonight, lying with this woman.
 
There was nothing he would not do to ensure her pleasure. No part of his body he would not use to bring her to orgasm.
 
His lips. His tongue. His teeth. His hands. His sex.
 
He would use all of them and give her more.
 
Kisses that burned. Licks that tormented. Nibbles that tried the boundaries of pleasure-pain. Caresses as soft as a sigh. Deep, compelling finger probes followed by the even deeper thrusts of his cock.
 
He wanted revenge, but God help him, he wanted a woman's passion more.
 
Michael did not flinch when the woman stopped at his table. Her features were a pale blur in the shadow of her hood, whereas his face was fully visible.
 
He could feel her stare, as he had felt every woman's stare for the last five years.
 
Michael did not doubt for one moment what she looked at.
 
Flame had licked his right cheek like the tongue of a lover.
 
He tensed, prepared for he knew not what, a gasp of horror, angry denial: This is not Michel des Anges. 
 
This is not a man whom a woman pays to have sex with.
 
Fighting the compulsion to turn his head away from her perusal, he allowed her to see what she would get for ten thousand pounds, the amount of money her solicitor had offered him for one month of service.
 
A hum of energy swelled across the busy drone of feminine titters and masculine speculations. Bets were made, odds placed.
 
Michael's left temple pounded in time to the mesmerizing flicker of light and darkness. Images clicked through his mind like painted frames inside a magic lantern: a young girl, laughing; a middle-aged madame, gasping. Worms wriggling. Breasts jiggling.
 
Death.
 
Desire.
 
Both beckoning. Both waiting.
 
"Monsieur des Anges."
 
The waiting was abruptly over.
 
As if unaware of the attention the trio was receiving—an obvi­ously well-to-do female in the company of Gabriel, the untouch­able angel, and Michael, the scarred one—the woman sat down on the chair that Gabriel held out for her, velvet rustling, wood squeaking.
 
"Monsieur des Anges," she repeated, voice low, cultured, sur­prisingly seductive. "How do you do."
 
The fluttering candlelight revealed a firm chin and rounded cheeks. Her nervousness, underneath her outward genteel repose, was palpable.
 
Forcefully Michael tamped down the intense sexuality that had made him a fortune in two countries.
 
Her solicitor had said the contract was not binding until he satisfactorily passed the test of this first meeting.
 
She might yet bolt. If she did, he would pursue her. He did not want to take her by force.
 
He wanted her to want him.
 
He needed her to want him so badly that he shook with it.
 
Michael spoke calmly, lightly, as if it had not been five years since he had last sat across a table from a woman. As if it had not been five years since a woman unflinchingly met his gaze. "Would you like champagne ... madame?"
 
"I am not married, monsieur, if that is your question."
 
He was fully aware of her marital status.
 
Her name was Anne Aimes. Her age was thirty-six.
 
She was a plain spinster with pale blue eyes and silver-kissed hair that was neither blond nor brown.
 
There was nobody who would question her whereabouts. Nobody who would miss her.
 
Nobody wanted her, save for himself.
 
"It would not matter if you were," he said truthfully.
 
"I think ... yes. Thank you." Awareness shimmered in the air—a woman's realization of how soft her own femininity was in comparison to a man's hard masculinity. "I would like cham­pagne, please."
 
Behind her, Gabriel raised his hand for a waiter before once again disappearing into the shadows of his life. Immediately a liveried man wearing a tailored black dress coat and a crimson waistcoat appeared. He held aloft a tray bearing two glasses and a bottle of champagne in a silver ice bucket.
 
"The service here is very good," she commented stiffly, politely.
 
Michael wondered if she realized that the waiter was available for sex as well as table service.
 
He wondered if she would be that stiff and polite between silk sheets.
 
He wondered how far she would continue this charade before revulsion sent her screaming into the night.
 
Brief, bitter amusement lit up his eyes. "The House of Gabriel is known for the service it provides."
 
Michael waved the waiter away when he would have poured the champagne. Grasping the slender neck of the bottle in his right hand, he cupped a crystal glass in his left, purposely holding both hands in full view, knowing what she would see: what he saw every day of his life.
 
If she could not bear the sight of his marked hands—of the puckered masses of red and white welts that ran from his fingertips to just above his wrists—she would not be able to accept their touch.
 
Her gaze followed his movements, flowing back and forth between his fingertips to the glimpse of white cuffs underneath the sleeves of his black dress coat.
 
Now she would turn away, as every woman turned away—­in pity. Disgust. Scorn.
 
"You were burned."
 
His fingers tightened around the bottle, the glass, absorbing the cold, drawing upon the strength of sand that had been transformed by fire. The memories of his defeated cries of agony blended with those of the woman he had brought to ecstasy.
 
"I was burned," he agreed tonelessly. He was vaguely surprised at the steadiness of his hands as he poured the champagne.
 
Chest tight, he offered her the glass of bubbling wine, waiting, waiting....
 
For a miracle to obliterate the never-ending terror.
 
For this woman to take him, as he would take her, endlessly, tirelessly.
 
Sensation bolted down his spine. He almost dropped the glass at the silky contact of her gloved fingers.
 
It had been five years since a woman had touched his hand. Whores stuffed his manhood inside them rather than risk his scarred flesh touching theirs.
 
She seemed impervious to the phenomenon that had just occurred. Tilting her head, she sipped champagne—the golden liquid sparkled underneath the shadow of her hood—before firmly setting the glass down on the white silk tablecloth. "Why do you call yourself Michel ... des Anges?"
 
The question momentarily caught him off guard.
 
It had been so long since he had been Michel.
 
Why didn't she repudiate him?
 
Thick black lashes shielded his eyes, a Michel trick, studied and perfected underneath the madam's tutelage. " 'Voir les Anges,' " he murmured cryptically, wondering how far he dared go, how risque to be. 
 
Some women liked blunt, sexual talk. Others preferred sensual euphemisms.
 
He did not understand this spinster woman.
 
She carefully translated his words, as if she had not spoken French outside of finishing school. " 'To see the angels.' " 
 
" 'To see angels,' " he silkily corrected her, monitoring her reaction. "It is a French expression for having an orgasm."
 
It was not the answer she expected.
 
"You named yourself because of your ability to have an orgasm?"
 
Slowly he poured champagne into his own glass, making her wait for his response. Thrusting the bottle deep into the ice—as if it were his phallus and the bucket her sheath—he snared her gaze. "I am named, chérie, for my ability to bring women to orgasm."
 
Shock gave way to blazing cognizance.
 
Of her sensual needs.
 
Of his ability to satisfy them.
 
Sex was an exciting game. A dangerous game.
 
One that even an unfashionable spinster could engage in. If she could afford it.
 
She played with the stem of her glass. "You have been with many women."
 
It was not a question.
 
"Yes."
 
First in France, then in England.
 
"Have you brought each one of them to orgasm?"
 
Echoes of passion long gone but never forgotten reverberated inside his head. Each woman made a particular sound when she reached her peak.
 
"Every woman." Michael curved his fingers around his glass, shaping it as he would a feminine breast. "Every time."
 
Sparkling liquid sloshed onto her hand. A dark stain spread over the back of her pale gray silk glove.
 
"I am a virgin."
 
Jesu. Jesus. He had not expected that.
 
She was a plain spinster, but surely there had been someone in her life—a childhood friend to experiment with, a boy who was more interested in exploring the mysteries of femininity than in courting the local beauty. A footman, a stable boy, someone.
 
He had never had a virgin.
 
"Why?" he barked, Michael now, not Michel who had never slept alone.
 
Why would any woman give her virginity to a man who looked like him?
 
Her head snapped back, the chimera of sexual tension broken. "I beg your pardon?"
 
He leaned toward her, eyes narrowed, face only inches away from the candle flame that could so easily burn out of control. "For ten thousand pounds, any bachelor in this tavern will marry you. The Speaker of the Commons sits three tables away. Baron Stinesburg sits directly behind you. Why are you doing this? With me, of all men?"
 
Candlelight flared. It reflected off of a slender nose, revealed the tightening of pale lips that were neither full nor thin. "Perhaps, Monsieur des Anges, I have seen too much death to be cheated by a few scars. Perhaps I wish to see angels."
 
Michael's breath caught in his chest.
 
Death.
 
Desire.
 
It had come full circle.
 
She did not deserve this.
 
But neither had the ones before her.
 
Purposefully he set down the champagne glass and spread his hands onto the white silk tablecloth. "I will caress you with these hands. I will penetrate your body with these fingers. Can you honestly say you will not flinch at my touch?"
 
The candle flame lurched and hissed.
 
She tilted her chin. "I cannot say, sir, never having had anyone's fingers inside my body. I dare say it will depend upon how many you use to penetrate me with."
 
Michael did not want a woman's innocence.
 
"Do you know what will happen when I take you to bed?"
 
"If I did not, I would not be here." 
 
Grudging admiration filled him.
 
There was strength in Anne Aimes; a strength born of ignorance.
 
She could not possibly know the pleasure that he would demand of her or the climaxes he would rend from her.
 
"It's not too late." He did not know where the words came from. Perhaps there still existed inside him a shred of the man he should have become. "You may still change your mind."
 
But even that unexpected bit of gallantry was a lie.
 
He would not allow her to walk away from this night. She had sealed her fate when she sent her solicitor to rouse him from his five-year-Iong sentence of solitude.
 
Her shoulders straightened beneath the concealing folds of the gray velvet cloak. "I have no desire to change my mind."
 
Michael imagined her naked, with no cloak of genteel refine­ment to hide behind. Breasts bared, thighs open, release just a scream away.
 
The sexual energy that he had so carefully leashed washed over him.
 
She felt it. Responded to it.
 
She was not beautiful, this woman who had come to him for her pleasure. But he did not require physical beauty.
 
Anne Aimes wanted him.
 
Despite his scars.
 
That was more than enough.
 
He would not disappoint her. For the allotted time they had together he would be Michel, the man who made women see angels, not Michael, the man who brought them death.
 
"One month. Of pleasure." Michael pushed his glass across the table. It connected with the base of the heavy silver candle holder with a crystal ring of finality. "I will do anything you wish. However many times you wish it."
 
She wet her lips, a quick flick of a pink tongue. "That is what I am paying you for, Monsieur des Anges."
 
A smile twisted his lips.
 
Anne Aimes had newly come to her wealth. She had yet to realize that money did not control men. 
 
Sex controlled them.
 
Vengeance controlled them.
 
Money merely made it possible to act upon the two disparate needs.
 
"I assure you, chérie, I will not forget what it is you are paying for."
 
Sliding back his chair, he stood up and held out his hand.
 
She hesitated only a brief second before taking it.
 
Exultation surged through him. It was followed by a rush of lust so strong it nearly brought him to his knees.
 
Michael steered her through the candlelit rows of tables, careful to keep her face in shadow while he deliberately flaunted his own to the men whose sweethearts, wives, and daughters he had once fucked.
 
By the morrow word would have spread throughout the far­thest reaches of England: Michel des Anges was back. And, disfigured though he was, a woman had purchased his services.
 
Anne Aimes balked when she realized their destination. "I was led to understand that there were rooms upstairs where we could ... be together."
 
Yes, there were rooms upstairs. Opulent chambers lined with beveled mirrors and equipped with every device to bring men and women sexual gratification.
 
Michael did not want her first time to take place in a night house. He could give her that much.
 
Deftly turning, he backed her into the alcove outside the arched doorway and caught her face between his hands.
 
She did not flinch from the touch of his burn-roughened skin.
 
Coldly, calculatingly, he anchored her against the wall with the press of his groin.
 
Her body, underneath the cloak, was shielded in feminine armor. The whale boned corset did not hide the thrust of her nipples. The layered petticoats did not mask the yielding welcome of her gently rounded stomach.
 
Her cheeks were soft and smooth, like velvet—softer even than her cloak. Blood thrummed beneath his fingers.
 
Fear.
 
Arousal.
 
A prostitute knew the dangers of giving in to unbridled passion. Outside a brothel or a night house, a woman was defenseless. She could be bound. She could be raped. She could be killed.
 
But Anne was not a seasoned whore; she was a virgin spinster who had yet to taste the pleasure—or the pain—that a man could give her.
 
She did not know that trusting a stranger could bring death.
 
He leaned his head forward, inhaled the commingled scents of soap and innocence. And beneath those, the tantalizing perfume of her desire.
 
Anne Aimes's hunger was not as great as his. Yet.
 
"You must trust me," he whispered. "By the time the night is over I will know every inch of your skin. I will explore every crevice, every orifice in your body. If you cannot trust me outside this house, then you will not trust me to bring you to pleasure. If you cannot bring yourself to trust me—completely, unconditionally—then the terms of our contract cannot be met. And I will bid you au revoir, here, now."
 
More lies.
 
He would not leave her.
 
Not tonight. Not tomorrow.
 
Lightly he kissed her, his lips, at least, untouched by the fire that had taken everything away from him.
 
It was a tease of a kiss, a whisper of breath, a flick of his tongue. A prelude and a promise.
 
Electricity arced between them.
 
Her need.
 
His need.
 
She wanted to lie with a man.
 
He wanted to lose himself inside a woman.
 
His body swelled to the point of pain, knowing that at least this night both of their needs would be fulfilled.
 
She gasped, her breath sweet with champagne, and underneath that, the caustic tang of tooth powder.
 
A curious pang shot through his chest. 
 
She had brushed her teeth before their meeting. For fear that she might repel him.
 
Sidling away from the hard threat of his masculinity, she squared her shoulders underneath the velvet cloak. "I assure you, the terms of the contract will be met, Monsieur des Anges. Shall we go?"
 
Michael let her go ahead of him, outside the smoke-filled safety of the night house into cool spring air.
 
He wondered if she would still want him in a month's time.
 
He wondered if she would still be alive in a month's time ...

What the Critics Say

  • [The Men And Women's Club] is not what comes to mind when I think of erotica, although the sex scenes were really well done, and they basically talk about nothing but sexuality. Honestly, it’s so much more than erotica, because Schone tells a really fascinating story that deals with sexual repression and how dangerous it can be.

  • Awaken, My Love provides a refreshingly funny commentary on the time-travel genre. Elaine’s trials regarding chamber pots, makeshift maxi pads, and social sensibilities like unshaven legs underline such astounding oversights in other books that readers may never again be able to accept a sloppily written, unrealistic experience of waking up in another century.

  • Emotionally Believable.

  • There's a lot more than explicit sex—although there is plenty of that—to this frankly erotic romance, which takes a hard look at Victorian double standards and the penalties for women who ignore them and with feminist aplomb puts everything into perspective.

  • Schone again displays her talent for highly erotic scenes and descriptions—even without the sex. Before Rose and Jack engage in sexual play, their passion burns the pages. The research of 19th century marital laws and women's rights [add] texture to the plot.

  • ...Probably the first 53-year-old eunuch to be a romantic hero.