An Excerpt From:EDUCATING APHRODITE
“Have you completely lost your wits?” Vincent Delacroix stood upright behind his pine desk and wrenched his fingers into pitch-black hair. “You’re the bloody Countess of Warwick for God’s sake! A lady of noble breeding. Not a common doxy.”
Unable to hold his boiling black glare, Alexandra twisted her gloves in her lap and blew a white-blonde curl from her eyes. “My husband obviously doesn’t want a lady in his bed.”
“Christ, Alexandra!” His harsh tone indicated his opposition, and she’d yet to tell him the whole of her plan. “Your husband is the proprietor of the Piacere Theatre. Not to mention a close friend.”
“Which is why I came to you.” Perhaps this was madness. Perhaps loneliness drove her toward lunacy, but she was desperate to rekindle the passion in her marriage. Unfortunately, she lacked the courage and experience to accomplish her task without Delacroix’s assistance.
“I cannot begin to fathom why you would go to such measures.”
The light-blue silk choker that matched her eyes seemed to tighten around an expanding knot of frustration. She swallowed it hard and raised her pale lashes to Delacroix. “Sebastian and I have not been…intimate since I conceived Edward.”
The angry lines between Delacroix’s dark brows disappeared. He scrubbed his tightly groomed black beard in obvious astonishment. “Your son is nearly a year old.”
Shame burned her face and stung her eyes. Alexandra bit back the tears and looked down the expanse of her fashionable gold gown trimmed with frills and flounces and lace. At twenty-three, she was fit and well-kept and upheld her role as Countess of Warwick with elegance and grace, but hidden beneath layers of perfumed petticoats was a woman that no longer appealed to her husband. “It has taken me months to accept the fact Sebastian no longer desires me.”
“Forgive me. I did not know.” Delacroix rounded the desk to kneel in front of her. He captured her cold wringing fingers then raised her hands to his warm lips. He kissed one, then the other, and offered her a sympathetic look that began to tear the thin layer of restraint guarding her temper.
“I don’t want your pity. I want your help.”
“I’ll help you.” His agreement came quicker than she’d expected. “What exactly is it you had in mind?”
Hope swirled behind her breast. She sat up taller. “I want to dance in Saturday night’s performance of Aphrodite.”
Shock widened his dark brown eyes. He stabbed a finger between his cravat and neck and yanked. “You know about the performance?”
“I know everything.” She knew about the actresses slated to dance at the Piacere Theatre. They were the same women who warmed her husband’s bed and satisfied his carnal appetite. “I know Sebastian is playing the role of Adonis and will select the woman who performs in the finale. I also know that same woman will attend him privately the remainder of the night. I want to be the temptress behind the mask who catches his eye.”
Delacroix stood and walked away from her to a side table where he poured himself a hefty noggin of bourbon. “Then you’re willing to defile yourself before an audience.” He angled his chin over his shoulder. “With me.”
Heat crawled up Alexandra’s neck, spread across her face, then scalded the tips of her ears. That was the one obstacle she hadn’t quite figured out how to get around. The literal climactic ending included three players—Aphrodite and her two lovers, Ares and Adonis. More specifically, Sebastian and Delacroix. She’d never been with anyone other than Sebastian. And she’d certainly never been with two men at the same time. But her faithfulness had gained her naught but an empty bed. “I am willing to resort to whatever means are necessary to have my husband back in my bed.”
“Warwick will kill me if I agree to this.” He emptied the contents of his glass in one loud gulp.
“I do not need your permission to take the stage. I own the theatre. But I lack the confidence and the experience to play the role, which is why I need you to hypnotize me.”
Delacroix paused for long moments, no doubt contemplating her request.
“Please, Vincent. I cannot continue to live like this. I feel like a widow in the latter months of her mourning period.” This shell of isolation grew colder every day and she feared she would freeze to death waiting for Sebastian to warm her again.
Delacroix exhaled a fierce breath then removed his cravat and waistcoat. “Let it be known that I’m doing this against my better judgment.” He pivoted on his heel and splayed his long fingers toward a fainting couch. “Lie down, Alexandra.”