Excerpt: Until You

Excerpt: Until You

A Romantic Suspense


Paris, 2003

It was April in Paris the first time Miranda Beckman saw the City of Light but if there were chestnuts in blossom, their beauty was dimmed by the rain that fell from the dull pewter sky.

She tried to tell herself the weather wasn’t an omen of things to come as she and Edouard emerged from the arrivals building at Orly Airport. A cruel wind cut through her denim jacket and she shivered a little.

Edouard put his arm around her.

“Are you cold, ma petite?” he said and when she nodded he laughed and said she’d be warm soon enough.

There was no mistaking what he meant. A day ago, even ten hours ago, the suggestive words, delivered in that wonderful accent, would have brought a rush of color to her cheeks and a racing sense of anticipation to her heart, but all that had changed during the flight from New York, while she and Edouard had sat crammed together in the five-across-the-row seats of a crowded Air France jet.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, the delicious excitement had started wearing off and doubts began creeping in. It had all seemed so romantic: slipping out of her dorm late at night and into Edouard’s waiting arms, flying to Vegas, getting married by a justice of the peace who’d been too busy or too nearsighted to take a really good look at her birth certificate…

During the flight, she’d begun to wonder if they’d moved too fast.

Maybe she and Edouard should have driven to New York and confronted her mother. Eva might have understood.

Miranda tried to tell that to Edouard but he hushed her.

“Your mother would not have approved, ma petite, you know that as well as I.”

He reminded her of all the things they’d already discussed. The huge difference in their ages. The difference in their nationalities. The fact that she hadn’t finished school.

Miranda knew he was right, knew, too, that Eva would have started dredging up the past, rubbing her nose in all the other headstrong, stupid things she’d done. Not that marrying Edouard was one of them. Oh, no. Marrying him was the only truly intelligent thing she’d done in all her seventeen years.

Still, after they’d boarded the plane to Paris, as they flew into the night and the cabin lights dimmed, an uncomfortable silence settled over her. Edouard sensed it, put his arm around her and drew her close.

“Poor Miranda,” he murmured, “you are exhausted. And who can blame you, my little treasure? If only the airline rules were not so ridiculous, we would be up front, sipping champagne.”

She thought again of all the empty first class seats they’d passed on their way to the coach section, and how Edouard had explained that businesses made a habit of buying seats and then not using them.

Doubt crept into her thoughts again, which was stupid. Why on earth would her new husband lie about such a silly thing?

“Never mind the airline’s champagne,” he said, smoothing strands of her long black hair back behind her ears. “When we reach my chateau, we will drink all the champagne we want. Now, close your eyes, Miranda, and rest. I will help you to relax.”

His kiss brushed her lips as lightly as a feather as he tucked the scratchy wool airline blanket over the both of them. Miranda sighed as she laid her head on his strong, comforting shoulder. Her doubts faded away.

This was why she loved Edouard, why she’d loved him almost from the day he’d first come to visit his cousin, her roommate at Miss Cooper’s School for Young Ladies. It wasn’t because he was so much older, or because he was sexy and gorgeous and an honest-to-goodness Count, or even because all the other girls in the dorm had gone green with envy at his obvious interest in her.

No, she thought, snuggling closer, she loved him because he so obviously loved her and cherished her as no one ever had.

Miranda’s eyes shot open. Edouard’s hand had snaked under the airline blanket, slipped under her T-shirt and beneath the waistband of her jeans. She struggled to sit up but his arm tightened around her.

“Sit still,” he said softly.

“Edouard, no! What are you…?”

His hand moved again, almost as if it were not connected to him. It skimmed across her belly, intruded itself roughly between her thighs and cupped her innocence. Miranda gasped, tried to pull away, and his fingers tightened cruelly on her flesh.

“Sit still,” he repeated, his voice harsh.

Her eyes widened in shock as his fingers began moving. He had never touched her like this, not once in the four weeks she’d known him. No one had ever touched her like this, despite what the girls at school whispered, despite what her mother thought. And, oh God, to have something like this happen for the very first time in a crowded airplane, with people all around…

“Someone will see,” she hissed.

“No one will see,” Edouard muttered, turning in his seat so he was facing her. In the dim light, his face had taken on a mask-like quality. “Open your legs.”

She clamped her thighs together instead. “Edouard,” she whispered, her voice desperate.

He bent his head to hers. “Do you love me?”

His hand had shifted. He’d thrust his finger into her and it hurt, but he’d silenced her cries with his mouth. His breathing had quickened and he’d grasped one of her hands and snugged it against his bulging crotch, holding it tightly in place when she’d tried to pull free.

Terrified, she’d numbed herself to sensation. It was only a dream, she’d told herself, a hideous dream.

But it wasn’t. It was real. And as they stood in the cold rain outside Orly, she knew she’d made the worst mistake of her young life.

A taxi pulled to the curb. Edouard reached out, opened the door. “Get in, my treasure,” he said, as if nothing had changed between them.

Miranda pulled back. “I—I’ve changed my mind,” she said. “I want to go home.”

His hand fell, hard, into the small of her back. “You are my wife,” he said coldly. “Now, get in the taxi and behave yourself.”

The drive through the rainy streets was long, but not long enough. All too soon, the cab pulled up before a stone building that was the same color as the Parisian sky. Edouard paid the driver. Then he locked his arm around Miranda’s waist and walked her quickly up a flight of steps and through a massive door.

“Your new home, darling Miranda,” he said, as the door slammed shut behind them. “If it is not yet the stuff of girlish dreams, it will be—once your dear Mama provides us with an income.”

Miranda looked at the walls spotted with mold, the room almost empty of furnishings. She felt the chill in the house close around her, and she finally understood everything.

Edouard, the Count de Lasserre, had a title that spanned five centuries. But standing in the gloomy, drafty hall of his ancestral home, she realized that the money in his bank account probably wouldn’t cover the next five minutes.

Her Prince Charming was broke. He had married her not for love but for her mother’s money—and for what he had done to her on the plane.

Miranda tore free of his encircling arm and grabbed a poker from beside the huge fireplace that took up almost one entire stone wall.

“If you touch me again,” she breathed, her green eyes wild, “I’ll kill you.”

Edouard’s handsome face twisted. The suave features became an ugly parody of the face she knew.

She backed away as he came towards her and raised the poker over her head. He laughed, wrenched it from her hand and threw it to the floor with contempt. Then he grabbed Miranda’s wrist, swung her into his arms and carried her, sobbing and beating her fists against his shoulders, up the wide, creaking staircase to his rooms.