“…selling virtue + Thomas Jefferson = win” From Tanya on Twitter, Jan 1, 2013.Alexander Dalton was the second wealthiest gentleman in Philadelphia. He seemed to have everything but his charming smile hid a dark past which left him scarred inside. He came to the Blue Duck looking to lose himself in sexual pleasure. Then he saw her.
When desperation leads Emily to sell her virtue, she walks straight into trouble…
“Very erotic with the blistering chemistry between them…” Review from Night Owl Reviews. Mar 31, 2012
“Best Bits: The whole damn book. Every single lush word, scene, character and emotion they inspired.” Review by Miz Love and Crew Loves Books. Feb 29, 2012
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Copyright © Natasha Blackthorne, 2012
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Copyright © Natasha Blackthorne, 2012
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Excerpt One From: Alex's Angel:
A quarter to two in the afternoon. With her stomach knotting, Emily Eliot tore her eyes from the clock. She’d have to hurry, else Grandmother would get a megrim over her being out for longer than it took to walk to the baker’s and back. She hated making Grandmother ill.
Thud, thud, thud.
Emily’s heart echoed the rhythm of the printing presses as she drew up her courage. She took a deep breath and approached the man who was leaning so lazily against the worn walnut desk.
"Good afternoon, Mr Sawyer. I’d like to discuss my book again."
He blinked several times, then grinned. He wasn’t too old or too ugly, but his reptilian smile repulsed her to the very pit of her soul. "Now, sweeting, I have explained it repeatedly—if you’d only be a little more agreeable with me, I’d look a little more favourably on this book of yours."
Her mouth fell open. What—had he just made an improper suggestion? After she had so patiently explained the last time that she was uninterested in—in… Well, in what he was interested in? He’d seemed like such a rational person. Why must he be so insensitive?
She gaped at him.
He peeled an orange with his ink-stained fingers, filling the air with a sharp citrus scent that mingled with the odours of paper dust and fresh ink. All the time he leered at her. Leered at her while she was here to see him on a matter of such importance.
Crawling sensations tingled over her skin and she resisted the urge to shiver openly. She still wasn’t used to dealing with men on her own and certainly not men who regarded her so salaciously. But for the sake of her mission, she’d have to press on. She wiped her sweating, shaking hands on her skirts and took a step closer.
"Mr Sawyer, please don’t tease me. You said I might return in two months and ask if you had changed your mind about printing my book."
He lifted his sandy brows as he paused with an orange segment held to his red, overripe lips. "I believe that what I said was for you to wait at least two months before coming to pester me again."
Pester him? Pester him? How could he suggest that her work was so insignificant? It was only the most pressing issue facing the United States at the moment. Her book was a collection of stories telling the tales of some of the mariners from the Dauphin, a ship out of Philadelphia that had been captured by the Barbary Pirates in 1785.
She’d had to wait so long already, for accomplishing this work had been no small feat under the watchful gaze of her grandmother. She owed a great debt to Mr Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, who had answered her very first enquiry and generously supplied the names and addresses of the mariners’ relatives. Over the past two and a half years, through letters, she’d managed to interview the families of the captured men. She had also done detailed sketches of them, from their family’s descriptions. But gathering the information like that had taken so much time. More time than she could have imagined when she’d embarked on her course.
Now it was taking every ounce of faith she possessed to persevere with trying to get her work distributed to the populace. All she lived for was getting her book printed, but she’d never imagined it would be like this. She’d been sure that the need for her work would ensure its rapid publication. Yet to her vast shock, she’d been rejected by every printer she’d contacted. "Well, Mr Sawyer, it is very hard to remain patient when I know that my book will bring a personal perspective that the people of the United States will no longer be able to ignore."
He stared back at her silently, blinking a few times. Had he even heard her? Didn’t he know it was rude to refuse to answer? Goodness. Writing letters had been a lot easier than facing printers in their shops. She straightened her spine.
"Mr Sawyer, how could anyone with any human feeling remain passive while our countrymen are still held in Algiers, in shameful slavery?" She couldn’t help letting some of her disapprobation leach into her tone. "It has been almost a decade and still our country refuses to act."
"Indeed, it is terrible business what those Barbary pirates have done, but our country is young and money is limited." He rolled his shoulders up and tilted his head to the side.
Then he relaxed. "Without a navy and without large sums to pay their ransoms, I just don’t see what more can be done."
He popped a piece of orange into his mouth and chewed it slowly.
She resisted the urge to shake her head. Initially, he had seemed like a kind person. How could he just stand there and say those things? Didn’t he care about what his countrymen were going through? Apparently not. Unfortunately, in her experience, his apathy wasn’t atypical. Her shoulders sagged. It was so hard to see what needed to be done so clearly and yet to have others be so blind and deaf to her message. But she couldn’t give up.
Clearly she’d have to try harder.
"Please, Mr Sawyer, you must listen." The words rushed past her lips, their urgency pressing hard on her. She took a deep breath and made a concentrated effort to slow down. "The long-term lack of concern over this issue is what has allowed those men captured in eighty-four to be held for all these years. My book would really help people to see this issue in a more personal light. People need to see those men as fellow citizens, with families who love and need them—not just as names on a list."
"Young lady, I’ve told you repeatedly what I need. The public wants to read stories of captivity, torture, ravishment, a little allusion to sexual depravity…heaving bosoms." Mr Sawyer’s gaze dropped to her bodice. "Though for myself, I prefer more tender fruits." His leer was unmistakable.
She gasped and fought a sudden wave of dizziness. Every time she’d come here, he had pushed the bounds of decency a little more. However, no man had ever spoken to her so bluntly as he had just done. For one thing, they would never have dared with her formidable, sharp-tongued grandmother always close by. But here, today, Emily was alone and she’d have to fend for herself. She crossed her arms over her small breasts and squared her shoulders.
"We could discuss a compromise."
"A compromise?" she asked warily.
"Aye, a compromise." He pushed away from his desk and walked towards her... (text omitted)
Excerpt Two from Alex's Angel:
Excerpt Two from Alex's Angel:
Warm cider wetted Alex’s parched tongue, sweet and spicy and American. It did little to quell the restlessness that crackled along his nerves like lightning along a cast iron fence. He shifted in his chair and flexed his shoulders.
He’d come out tonight looking for something. He wasn’t quite sure what. In the past, more often than not, that something had been quim. But tonight he longed for something else. Something more dangerous. Dangerous quim, perhaps?
He surveyed the smoke-filled public room of the Blue Duck tavern, letting his gaze flicker over each woman present. The redhead had breasts like firm, ripe melons that threatened to explode from her tight, low-cut gown. Auburn hair fascinated him—however, these curling locks shone too brassy bright, as if she’d been too zealous with henna. And she was wearing enough paint to cover the broadside of a barn. He moved on to the blonde in the dark blue velvet with the too-round face. The raven-haired wench with eyes that were too closely spaced. The tall, chestnut-haired girl…his eyes lingered on her. Well, now, she was pretty enough, but her giggles echoed on the air, a wholly irritating sound, and her large, blue eyes looked vacant.
He couldn’t abide a dull woman.
All right, he’d be the last person to deny it. His standards were high. Not out of any particular desire to discriminate, but simply because beauty and perfection proved so unfailingly intoxicating, like opiates but without the dry mouth and aftertaste.
Indulgence in sex and sensuality was the only way besides travel where he could lose himself enough to find peace. And for a man bent on losing himself in sin, there could be no better place in Philadelphia to seek it than Hell City. But tonight it appeared as if every comely wench had abandoned the city. With an inward sigh, he turned to face the bar again and quaffed the remainder of his cider. Whatever he was looking for, he wasn’t finding it.
Perhaps he should take a trip to New York or New Orleans.
But no, he couldn’t. He’d promised his younger brother James that that he would use his considerable wealth and influence to help foster the issue of a national navy. He’d promised to stay home the entire winter while the matter was debated in Congress. God, an entire winter landlocked… Just a handful of days home from the Orient, and already his demons waited for him in the enforced self-reflection of idleness.
He’d better find something—or someone to fill the idle hours, else the season would prove to be a living hell.
“Well, well, well, Dalton, I’ve been looking for you all over.”
At the high-pitched, slightly nasal voice, Alex’s jaws clamped so tight that his teeth ground together and his neck went rigid, as if embodying his unwillingness to turn. Nevertheless, he did turn, and what he saw froze his blood to sludge. An acrid taste like ashes choked off his voice. In silence, he let his gaze slide over the deceptively boyish visage and a heavy weight of nausea settled in his guts.
Richard Green, a cousin on his mother’s side, a small-time merchant and a coward who had once betrayed Alex in the worst way possible.
“Dalton, I know you’ve been disparaging me. I warn you, I won’t stand for being made a fool of.” Green stared at him with a half-smirk, his lips twitching as if he were merely an innocent schoolboy called in front of the headmaster. As if, between them, Alex was the one capable of inhuman cruelty. As if it were Green whose youth had been shattered.
Alex tightened his grip on his tankard. Nothing would give him more pleasure than to plant his fist in the middle of that smirking mouth.
“Unless I see you, I don’t think of you,” Alex replied with deliberate calm. “I have been in the Orient for two years, Green. When would I have had time for all these machinations?”
Green laughed cynically. “You have your ways. I know you’re also behind this latest attempt to smear my good name. I can’t get a loan, suppliers think nothing of cancelling on me at the last moment, my peers have stopped sharing vital information with me—all because of you.”
“It’s all in your mind.”
Green narrowed his eyes. “I say, I know what I know. You want to sabotage my campaign for the common council. You want to destroy my political career before it can even start. But I warn you now, when I have some iron-clad proof, I shall demand my satisfaction of you.”
Alex suppressed a chuckle. Green’s paranoia made him pathetic. He wasn’t worth the strain it would cause on a man’s hands to snap his neck. And if he wasn’t such a pitiful excuse for a man, he’d have the reasoning to know that Alex sure as the devil would never reveal the shameful secret that tied their pasts together.
“Get out of my sight, Green.”
But Green was no longer paying attention. He grasped at his pocket watch, his eyes wide. His prominent Adam’s apple bobbed rapidly and he paled, licking his lips with quick flickers. The knuckles on the hand that gripped his watch went completely white.
“Another little cut-purse looking for new game.”
Green’s snivelling tone grated on Alex’s ears and Alex turned in the direction of his fixed, anxious gaze. In the front window, a petite girl was staring through the glass, her eyes huge, looking as lost as a stray kitten.
What the devil was she doing here?
She wasn’t a beauty. She didn’t even possess the promise of a late blossoming. Her face was too thin, her chin too pointed, her nose too long and her mouth too full and too wide. But Alex knew trouble when he saw it and that was definitely trouble.
* * * *
Wind gusted and howled, blowing brown leaves about in the gutters and cutting right through Emily’s woollen cloak. The squeak of rusty hinges drew her glance upwards. A swinging wooden sign bore a surprisingly well-executed painting of a bewigged, frockcoat-wearing blue duck.
Behind its monocle, his blue eye seemed to leer mockingly at her. As if he knew what she was here for. The breeze grew stiffer and the sign began to rock faster. Dizziness swept over her and her breathing became short and fast. Heavens. Employment at the Blue Duck Tavern—with all that implied.
Her stomach lurched, threatening, it seemed, to float away.
She chewed her lip and paused with her hand upon the door handle. Could she really do this? Could she really go in there and let a man approach her and take her upstairs and—and—
Metallic blood seeped onto her tongue and she eased off chewing her lip with a grimace. Oh God… Still, it wasn’t too late to run home, crawl into bed and forget about all this.
But if she did run now, there would soon be no home or bed to run to.
How dreadful could it really be? Women let men take them to bed every day. She took a deep breath, tightened her grasp on the handle and pushed the door open. Warm air rushed over her, carrying odours of stale rum, onions, rancid grease and unwashed male bodies, making her want to gag.
On either side of the public room, fires blazed in the two large, stone hearths. Seated at the tables and chairs, men bent over their tankards, holding on to them for dear life, as if the spirits they contained could ward off evil. Like everywhere else in Philadelphia this autumn, fear still vibrated on the air.
Emily didn’t fear the fever. She’d already cheated death. Grandmother hadn’t been so lucky.
Well, nothing could be changed now. On a deep sigh, she took one tentative step, then another, and another. Several men looked up and cast curious glances at her. Her heart began beating very fast. She ought to smile at them and play her part. But her facial muscles seemed to freeze into a painful mask. She was going to have to entice one of them to pay to take her upstairs and—
Her throat seized up and she couldn’t finish the thought. She swallowed hard and scanned through the smoky haze until she spied Dr John Abbott alone at a corner table. His boyish face was a welcome sight. His clothes were wrinkled, his dark brown hair unkempt and dark purple circles beneath his eyes told of many sleepless nights. Her heart gave a pang. Well, she could certainly spare a moment or two to chat with him. In fact, she should. It was her duty to buoy a friend’s spirits. After all, she owed her very life to him. Grateful for the excuse to postpone the commencement of her career as a disorderly house wench, she approached him.
Over the rim of his tankard, his dull, brown gaze widened, then narrowed as it lingered on her low-cut, stocking-stuffed bodice. As she approached, he slowly lowered the tankard to the dingy, white, cloth-covered table. “My God, I don’t believe my eyes,” he said.
Self-consciously, she drew the edges of her cloak together. She’d fashioned the claret-coloured gown from one of Grandmother’s old ones and used some black lace to make it fancier. But perhaps she wasn’t yet ready to display herself so. She could take a few moments to adjust to being here, surely. With the decision made, relief weakened her and she sank into the chair opposite him. She looked at him and raised her brows. “What about you? Anna would not have liked to see you this way.”
At the name, John paled and looked down at his hands. “It isn’t easy.”
“I know. I miss her, too.”
“There’s not another girl like her in the whole world.”
“You did everything you could. There’s no call for you to try to kill yourself with rum.”
“I could have married her and made an honest woman of her.”
Yes, he could have. But she knew he never would have. John had been a frequent caller of Anna’s at the boarding house where Emily had lived with her grandmother. Unfortunately, Anna had been a harlot. A quiet, discreet harlot, but a harlot nonetheless. Emily had liked her, but had not been able to talk to her often under Grandmother’s watchful eyes.
After Anna and Grandmother’s deaths, during Emily’s convalescence, John had taken to checking on her regularly.
“You’re not going to work here,” he stated firmly.
She’d already shared her plans with him the previous evening. Young women didn’t come to a disorderly house like the Blue Duck merely to serve drinks. They both knew it.
“I have to pay my landlord.”
He pulled his dark blue physician’s jacket aside and reached into his pocket. Then he slapped a dollar onto the table. “Will that cover it?”
She knew his own pockets were nearly to let. He had been nothing but kind to her, had helped her in every way possible. John had bankrupted himself treating the victims of the fever, many of whom had been unable to afford the medications. Now dead, they never would be able to pay him back. With his mentor also dead, John was living and working in his offices on borrowed time, unable to pay his rent either. She couldn’t take what was likely his last dollar.
And if she took his money, he might think it gave him the right to dictate her actions and decisions. During those terrible days right after Grandmother’s death, he’d already hinted around the subject of marriage with her. She couldn’t bear it if she were forced to break their friendship under such pressure. He was her only friend now.
“I couldn’t possibly take your money. I didn’t come to you for that.”
“I know you didn’t, but I’ll help you in any way I can.” With a thin smile, he pushed the money across the table. “I wish I could spare more, but you know how it is. I am at a low ebb.”
She pushed the money back at him. “That’s why I can’t take it.”
He half rose out of his chair and leaned over the table as he shoved the dollar at her. “Take the Goddamned money.”
He gritted the words out. That he would use such language with her told how overset he was with her.
“I won’t take your last funds.”
It wasn’t enough to help her in any case.
His face hardened. “Suit yourself then, damn you.” He sat back down and brought his tankard to his lips again. Then, before he’d taken a drink, he slammed it down on the table so hard that it made her startle.
“Now I’ll have to find a new place to perch.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I am not willing to watch you demean yourself.”
“Demean myself? Did Anna demean herself when you visited her?”
He made a wry expression. “You’re not like Anna and we both know that.”
“I can learn.”
He laughed and the low, cynical sound sent shivers down her spine. “Well, make certain to collect his money before he sheds his clothes.”
She wrinkled her forehead. “Why?”
“Because as soon the gent lowers his breeches, you’re going to rabbit right back downstairs and out the door.”
She blushed furiously at his blunt words and looked away, chewing her lip. Likely he was correct. Being alone with some strange man… Her nerves jangled and she clutched her reticule, trying to keep the trembling in her hands at bay.
She’d never be able to go through with this.
But how else could she pay her rent? The landlord was demanding the full six months owed to him. At the time Grandmother died, Emily had had no idea their financial affairs were so ill-favoured. Too many people were still gone from the city and many who remained were financially strained. There was no honest work to be found for a young woman like herself.
If she lost her rooms, she’d lose a lot more than mere shelter. Vagrants were sent to the almshouse—or worse yet, the workhouse. If she were incarcerated there, she’d lose her very right to control her own movements and decisions. She’d spent years chafing under the control of others, expected to mould herself according to their image of what they thought she should be. She’d never allow that to happen again.
Not even in wedlock.
In a way, losing her virginity in the name of keeping her liberty was fitting. It was a pledge that she would never give herself unto the authority of a man in marriage. For a girl could be ruined only once and it could never be undone. Pride alone would keep her from marrying any man who might look upon her as damaged goods.
It didn’t matter anyway. Nothing did. Only her continued newfound freedom mattered. Freedom that she needed to use her artistic talents to draw attention to the Barbary captives’ situation, to fulfil her life’s mission.
Having been saved from the fever, surely by only God’s own hand, convinced her more than ever that she ‘d been born to make a difference in the world.
Still, selling her virtue was a weighty matter, nothing to be taken lightly. Suddenly it was as if unseen hands gripped and constricted upon her rib cage—she couldn’t draw a complete breath.
She forced a deeper breath and exhaled with equal measure, as if she could purge herself of her panic—because panic wouldn’t help her. She had twenty-five cents left to her name. If she gave in to fear now, she’d be lost. “I can’t tarry much longer, I need to speak with Mr Porter. But first I wanted to tell you my good news.”
“Good news, eh? Does anyone ever have any good news anymore?”
“Well, I have some. I got a message today from Mr Jefferson.”
“Mr Jefferson? Anyone I would know?”
“Thomas Jefferson—the Secretary of State.”
He lifted his brows. “You know the Secretary of State?”
“I have corresponded with him for the past two years.”
“Does he have a job for you?”
“No, but he’s found me an investor.”
“For my book.”
”I don’t follow.”
“Investor is the wrong word, isn’t it? I mean a benefactor. He is going to finance the printing of my book.”
“Why should he do that?”
“Because he believes in the cause. I am to meet with him in a week at his house on the Schuylkill. ”
He quirked his mouth up. “Wonderful. You can pay your landlord with a copy.”
Unable to bear looking at his ironic expression, she made a great study of tracing the frayed trim on her reticule with her fingertip. “It’s very important work to me, John.”
“Ah, yes, you’re going to change the world with that book.” He chuckled, the sound hollow and cynical.
Stung, she looked up, lifted her chin and met his sardonic gaze evenly. “I don’t think my book will change the world—I know it will.”
“You’re just like my second eldest sister. She was always taking up some cause or another, a real bluestocking. All it took to change her mind was for a handsome cavalry captain to wink and tip his hat to her. Now she’s neck deep in soppy napkins and snotty noses.”
She blinked at him. “That will never happen to me. I have mission in life, a calling from the Creator.”
His lips twitched. “Wait and see which of us is proved correct.”
She wanted to take the reticule and knock him over the head for being so megrim-blue over her happy news. Was it too much to ask that her only remaining friend be happy about her chance at success? But his attention had drifted.
“I wish his type would stay the hell out of here,” John muttered. “Damned Federalists.”
Emily sighed. She loathed his political tirades. It wasn’t the Federalists’ fault that John’s conservative father had cut him off.
“Is it all so important?”
“Important?” His eyes bugged. “Goddamned straight it’s important. Federalist harpies are bent on changing the very fabric of this Republic. English-loving bastards want to make us over into the same royalist tyranny we’ve already won against. Just look at him.”
She dared a glance at the bar, expecting to see Satan himself. All she saw was the back of a gentleman who was deeply engrossed in conversation with Mr Porter.
He was the tallest man she could ever recall seeing. A well-tailored jacket of Federal blue clung to exceptionally broad shoulders and powerful-looking arms. Yet his body was not dense and heavy and barrel-chested, as with so many men with similar qualities. No, he was finely muscled and held himself with an elegant, upright posture.
In the yellow light from the lanterns hanging over his head, his queued hair glowed antique gold. John kept his dark hair cropped to his collar in support of radical liberalism and France’s revolution. But it wasn’t a universal gesture for all Republican-Democrats. Most men of moderate political feeling still retained their queues.
“You’re sure he’s a Federalist?”
He nodded. “I recognise him from my father’s dinner parties. That’s Alexander Dalton.”
“And why should that mean anything to me?”
“The Alexander Dalton.”
“Don’t you know anything?”
“I suppose not.”
He shook his head. “Your grandmother has a lot to answer for, keeping you so homebound and ignorant of the world.”
His words awoke an urge to run home right now, to the comfortable two-storey house on Maple Street in Easton where they had once lived, and accept her grandmother’s warm, safe embrace. But those embraces had been like iron manacles, squeezing off her freedom. Guilt, sadness and, worst of all, relief churned together like an odd sort of nausea. It confused her too much. She couldn’t dwell on it. Not now.
She was on her own from here on out. Alone in the world. Forever.
She must be brave. She must be strong.
Wrinkling her forehead, she redirected the subject. “He doesn’t look like too much of a devil.”
“Oh, aye, all the ladies are taken with him. Why should I have expected you to have better sense?” He threw some coins onto the table, then rose. “But you really shouldn’t be here. Go on home.”
He took the dollar and thrust it at her, letting it fall onto her lap. Then he donned his tall, round hat with its tri-coloured liberty cockade, and walked away.
She glanced down at his money in her lap, gathered it up and jumped to her feet. She hurried after him, determined to return his money. But he exited before she could reach him. As she watched the door close behind his tall form, she slumped and sighed. She’d catch John at his offices tomorrow and give the money back to him then.
She turned again to the bar. John’s Federalist devil had turned his head to the side, revealing his profile. She caught her breath.
He had a refined handsomeness. A proud, broad forehead, fine, high cheekbones, a straight nose, thin yet sensual lips and a strong jaw, an almost regal air… Her fingers itched for her charcoal so intensely that she tightened her hands into fists to dull the sensation.
The sight held her transfixed. She’d never seen a more beautiful person—at least not outside a book.
As if he felt her scrutiny, he turned sharply in her direction. His gaze, blue-grey and as fierce as storm clouds, locked with hers and stripped her mind clean of anything but him.
Something solid bumped into her, jarring her out of her transfixed state. She half turned. A man loomed over her. He flared his nostrils and blew hot, stale, rum-scented breath over her. It burnt her nose and she gagged. He narrowed his green eyes and grabbed her arm.
“Lookin’ to pick my pockets, girlie?”
“G—goodness no!” She tried to push him away. He was lanky, but his body was like a stone wall of hard, muscled flesh.
“Oh yes, then, what’s this?” he asked in a slurring voice. He plucked the crumpled dollar from her hand.
“That’s mine—give it back!” she cried.
“I see you’ve already hit some sap tonight.” He tightened his grip on her upper arm and gave her a shake so hard her that teeth rattled against each other. “Were we in another country, I could cut your nose off for what you’ve done, to warn other men, and no one would say a word.”
Again, she pulled against his hold, but it was futile. “Let. Me. Go.”
With one yank, he twisted her arm behind her. Pain spiked through her shoulder joint. She cried out and tears sprang to her eyes, distorting her vision. She blinked hard.
“Don’t bat those pretty eyes at me, girlie—I’ve no tolerance for cunning little cats.” His breath felt closer than ever. “You’ll not make a fool of me.”
“Let her go,” a masculine voice said with icy calm.
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