Title: The Count’s Last Mistress (The Valencourts #1) by Bess Greenfield
Genre: Historical, Romance
Length: 314 pages/Word Count: 91,000
She set out to expose his true nature, but the secrets revealed were her own…
In the aftermath of war and revolution, cavalry officer Olivier Valencourt, the comte de Chaumenay, only wants peace. But his discovery of his deceased brother’s child in a Montmartre hovel leads to a battle of wills with the lovely but evasive American struggling to provide for him. Determined to gain custody of his nephew, Olivier sets out to win the audacious bohemian’s trust with patronage and patience, but her courage, wisdom, and innocent sensuality divert his agenda.
Painter Jeanne Delancy has good reason to despise the portrait-worthy count before she ever meets him. She believes he’s the man who seduced and deserted her friend long ago. Unfortunately, the talented and persuasive Olivier is hard to dislike or resist in person.
Conflicted by loyalty to her missing friend and her duty to the abandoned six-year-old she’s vowed to protect, Jeanne feels obligated to give the war hero the opportunity to prove he’s worthy of knowing his son. But the independent woman who thinks herself immune to temptation underestimates Olivier in many ways and reveals far more than she ever anticipates. While the strong-willed opposites struggle to reconcile their deepest longings, dangerous alliances and scandalous secrets threaten a tragic repetition of history.
Warning: This title is intended for readers over the age of 18 as it contains adult sexual situations and/or adult language, and may be considered offensive to some readers.
The door opened, and the impersonal explanation he’d memorized vanished from his mind. He’d expected to see the lithesome, titian-haired beauty he’d known long ago in Burgundy. Instead, he encountered a petite brunette in a paint-smeared smock. There was also paint in one of the corkscrews of hair which had fallen free of her chignon. Something about the woman arrested him though he deemed her unconventionally pretty at best with her wide forehead, long nose, and dainty mouth. Perhaps it was her reaction to him. He could sense the frantic beating of her heart, and her golden brown eyes telegraphed wariness.
He regretted causing her distress and hastened to explain himself. “Good afternoon. I am Olivier Valencourt.” He bowed instinctively. “I’m looking for Claudine Ardaut, and I was informed she lived here. Is she at home?”
The young woman swallowed and hesitated, clearly debating her reply. “I am not familiar with anyone by that name.”
Her French was grammatically correct, but her accent revealed her as American. It surprised him to find a foreigner in Paris now. It was unlikely that she’d come here recently. The ruins of landmarks and homes and the mass burials of the executed made Paris a tourist destination only for those with a morbid taste for tragedy. She must have come before the war. There had been little warning when France declared war against Prussia. Many foreigners found themselves trapped inside the barricades along with working-class Parisians without the resources to leave.
“I was given this address by a reliable source,” he persisted. Instinct told him she was lying.
“Are you implying that I’m lying to you?” she asked in her slow, unnatural-sounding manner of speech.
“Certainly not. I was merely hoping you might know some little detail which would enable me to find her.”
Absently, she touched her face, leaving umber fingerprints upon her cheek. He felt an irrational urge to wipe the paint from her smooth, fair skin. She was pretty by any standard, he decided.
“Why are you looking for this woman? Has she done something wrong?”
“No. I’ve come on a personal matter.”
If anything, she looked even more defensive. Her enormous eyes filled with censure as if she knew what he’d done and the ramifications. The guilt he’d been trying to suppress for weeks finally assailed him. If only he’d kept his opinions to himself, so many lives might have turned out differently.
Her evasiveness maddened him. He only wished to complete his mission and be done with the whole matter, and she was keeping him from accomplishing that. He’d overcome far more challenging obstacles than a reticent female. He’d been good at persuading women at one time though he could scarcely recall those years now. Searching for some way to draw her out, his glance fell upon her voluminous smock. Sometimes the best strategy was the most obvious one. “You are a painter, I see. I recently came into possession of some property and could use some new art for decoration. Do you have anything for sale?”
She frowned, instantly suspicious. “Nothing is finished.”
“I know how you artists are. Nothing is ever completed to your satisfaction.” He took a step toward the threshold. “Why don’t you allow me to be the judge?”
She held her ground. “I’m certain my style would be too modern to suit your taste.”
She folded her arms about her waist, and his eyes were instantly drawn to her small form. She possessed a better figure than he’d thought, full round breasts and a tiny waist. A strange sort of agitation arose inside him. With astonishment, he recognized the sensation as lust. He hadn’t felt desire for so many months he’d feared he might never regain that part of his nature. Though he felt reassured that all was in working order, the inappropriateness of his irrational attraction irritated him. “And you know my taste.”
She surveyed his uniform from his polished boots to his fitted jacket with its neat rows of small gold buttons and black braiding. “You are an officer of some sort. A military man. I would guess you are conservative and view art primarily in terms of investment.”
He’d never given a second thought to art, but he didn’t appreciate her making assumptions about him. “There you are wrong. As it happens, I prefer more modern pieces. Besides, your refusal to let me judge your work only makes me more curious about it.”
Bess Greenfield grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Cornell University and University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Before coming to the conclusion that she should pursue her passion and become a novelist, she worked as a journalist for several newspapers, as a lawyer, and as a waitress (disastrously). She is a lifelong aficionado of romantic literature and currently lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, three children, and overly affectionate chocolate Labrador. When she is not dreaming up and researching new stories or driving her children somewhere, she enjoys traveling, walking in the forest, and adding to her growing collection of native Virginia plants. For more information about Bess Greenfield and her books, please visit www.bessgreenfield.com.
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