A passionate education leads to dangerous love.
For Claire Montjoye, widowhood is no release from scandal. Used as sexual currency by her notoriously libertine husband, she longs for a life of quiet respectability. But the ton's disapproval ensures she will never be truly accepted--and any man openly seeking her company will be tainted.
When Xavier Westbourne pulls her away from peril, his touch fills her with yearning for unattainable dreams. Accepting his invitation to the opera is not only unwise for him, it's dangerous to her lonely heart. Perhaps taking him as a lover will be enough.
Scion of one of Society's most upright families, Xavier knows propriety as a cold, brutal master. Having endured one loveless marriage, he refuses to repeat the mistake, even for his motherless son. Yet Claire easily breaks through his wall of reserve, and her offer of private instruction in the sexual arts is irresistible.
Consumed by passion, overwhelmed by ecstasy, they discover something neither thought existed--the freedom to open their hearts. Yet not all the horrors of the past are content to remain hidden by the mists of time. And suddenly their very survival depends on trusting that love really can conquer all.
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July 05, 2010
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Excerpt from Breaking Free by Anya Richards
Claire sat, awash with emotion, allowing the music to move her, using it to release the myriad feelings building inside her as they spoke. Why was life so unfair? Without doubt, Xavier Westbourne's wife would have wanted for nothing. She would have had his full attention, loyalty, perhaps even love, without having to experience a moment's unease, much less shame, or fear, or degradation.
Yet Mrs. Westbourne had scorned her marriage and husband, perhaps thinking of both as normal, even boring. How she would have loved to have such a gloriously banal marriage! A tear escaped before Claire even fully realized she was crying and she reached into her reticule for her handkerchief, thankful the aria was a particularly moving one. Let Mr. Westbourne think she was crying for the plight of the soprano, rather than for her own.
Drawing in a deep breath, she silently berated herself. Her refusal to succumb to self-pity had, to this point, been steadfast. It was a horrid, useless emotion, almost always engendering apathy and a morbid sense of powerlessness.
Claire glanced over at the man beside her out of the corner of her eye. Did Xavier Westbourne recognize the singular nature of their conversation, the understanding between them? The connection was so strong, it had even overshadowed their instinctive physical attraction.
Subduing a sigh, Claire wished there was some way she could reawaken and revitalize the confidence she sensed had been damaged during the course of his marriage.
She refused his offer of refreshments during the second intermission, asking quietly, "Are you still angry at me for what I said earlier?"
He looked out across the theatre, avoiding her gaze.
"Yes, perhaps still a little, but I am more curious now than angry." He leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees, hunched as though braced for a blow. "You see, I have just decided that, for the sake of my son, I should remarry, but the thought of again going through what I did with Marissa fills me with unease. If I, indeed, missed the opportunity to make things better, I would know, so as to be able to avoid making the same mistakes."
Instinctively, Claire reached out and stroked his back, feeling the way the muscles moved and reacted beneath her palm, offering comfort, even as her simple gesture caused a wave of longing to flood her body. He was obviously a complex man, yet she found it a simple thing to understand this about him, to read into his words the pain and doubt his marriage had caused. The coldness of his voice hid heat, and passion.
His wife's rejection had made him think he was unlovable, unwanted.
But she wanted him, oh, how she wanted him! And he had, wittingly or unwittingly, offered her the chance to have him, if he would have her in return. The idea had sprung fully formed into her mind as he spoke and had taken easy root within her. She would offer him an education in lovemaking, which would serve him and his new wife, when he took one, well.
Fingers tracing the ridge of muscle alongside his spine, she felt it flex as he straightened slowly in his chair and turned to look at her, face impassive, yet watchful.
She had been alone so long.
Here was a chance to feel the warmth of another, enjoy passion again, and eagerness to take the opportunity fate had presented fired her courage. Perhaps it would be courting heartache but, oh, the memories she could store away for when he was gone, married to his new wife. Claire drew in a deep, steadying breath, and threw caution to the wind.
"We are not allowed to know our bodies when we are young, to grow comfortable with them, touch them for ourselves and find what feels right for us, and what feels wrong. Instead we are told it is sinful."
Xavier watched as Claire laughed softly, and the silvery sound went in his ears and, somehow, made its way straight to his groin. He had been semi-erect from the first moment she touched him, but that breathy, tinkling sound made his penis granite hard. A rosy hue was visible on her cheeks even in the low light of the box, giving her countenance unmistakable warmth. The smile lingered on her lips and he wanted to kiss, ravish, it off her face. It took great effort to concentrate on what she was saying.
"I am a clergyman's daughter, if you can believe it. Sins of the flesh. If I had a penny for every time I heard that phrase when I was growing up, I would be a far richer woman today."
Her fingers slipped up to the hair at his nape, the butterfly touch sending shivers of desire through his veins. "I was lucky, in a strange way. I avoided the fear because my mother told me nothing, nothing, about what I should expect in the marriage bed, except I should bear it and do whatever my husband said. I was seventeen when I married Reginald, and by the time I realized what he had taught me, what I had been doing, was outside the marital norm, it was too late."
There was a warm brush across the edge of his ear and Xavier caught his breath, held it. How could such a commonplace thing as an ear become a centre of arousal?
Claire Montjoye's voice became as sultry as the atmosphere humming and crackling between them. "Because I followed my mother's instructions to do whatever my husband told me, I received a far more comprehensive education than anyone really should need. But I do not regret it, Mr. Westbourne, because during the course of that education, I learned all I needed to know about my body. I learned how it felt, how it moved, how it smelled, even how it tasted. But most importantly, I learned what pleasures it. I believe this knowledge, the understanding of self, is something I can share, and in that knowledge lies freedom."
He was silent, turned to stone, eyes alone able to move, to seek the truth of what she was saying, the meaning of her intimate confession. All was revealed in her emerald gaze, as though she had willingly and for the first time thrown open to him the curtained window hiding her most private thoughts. The desire, anticipation and passion coursing through his blood were all reflected back at him from her eyes, stoking the erotic fire already threatening to consume him.
Surely those emotions were not for him?
Yet Claire Montjoye held his gaze steadily and, as he watched, another roseate flush crept from beneath her bodice to tinge her cheeks, and her eyelids fluttered downward to almost hide her eyes. The languorous, sensual signal was not open to misinterpretation, and Xavier's heart leapt in delight even as uncertainty clutched at his belly.
The door handle rattled and, startled, they both turned to look. Claire's hand fell to her lap as they waited to see who would enter. No one came in. Indeed, the door remained closed. So Xavier rose to open it himself, glancing up and down the corridor, which still teemed with people making their way back to their boxes.
Turning to the footman standing nearby, he asked, "Did you see who came to this door?"
"Yes, sir," the footman said. "The gentleman realized he was at the wrong box and went away again."
Xavier stood in the open doorway for a moment more, taking the opportunity to marshal his excitement, temper it with common sense. Whatever Claire Montjoye was suggesting may be born out of her loneliness, the isolation of mourning and rebuffs of society. He would not importune her by expecting or even hoping for anything more than a brief affair, if that was what she was willing to give.
But he could not allow this opportunity to slip away, for it would, he was sure, never come again.
As he closed the door and moved back to his seat, the opening bars of the third act were beginning. The music rose and receded, a fitting backdrop for the heated anticipation swelling and swirling around them. He stood beside her, looking down, forcing her to tilt her head to see his face in turn. The motion exposed the tender line of her throat, the pulse beating swiftly at its base, and Xavier felt the last thread of polite restraint snap inside. He bent towards her to ask, "You have learned what it takes to please you?"
She licked her lips and nodded slowly, her breath becoming suspended as he leaned closer yet and whispered, "Teach me."