One Night's Desire Online - Rue Allyn

PROLOGUE

San Francisco, September 1868

“Let me go.” Kiera wasn’t strong enough to push Herbert away. He was a large man, and he overpowered her. Locking her wrists in a one-handed grip above her head, he used his other hand to rip and tear at her clothes.

“When I’m done with you, you’ll be happy to lay with any man I choose to sell you to.”

Where was the friend of their long journey to California? What happened to the gentle lover who’d introduced her to passion with care and tenderness? Who was this monster that drank and gambled away the few pennies she could earn taking pictures of prostitutes and clients for Madame Cerise Duval, San Francisco’s most notorious madam.

“Please, Herbert, don’t do this.” Kiera hated the pleading note in her voice. In all her years under her grandfather’s cruel thumb, she’d never begged. Would she have screamed her protest now, fought harder now, if guilt and love didn’t weaken her resolve? She’d given herself to Herbert freely. So of course he thought he had the right to use her as he pleased. But she’d given herself to him in love. She did not deserve to be beaten, raped, and sold.

He tore off the last shred of cloth then flipped her over so her breasts pressed into the rough splintery wallboards of the attic room Madame Duval rented to them.

“Spread your legs.”

Kiera shook her head, then bit her cheek against the urge to weep and wail.

A terrific blow to her temple made her world reel.

She kept her limbs tightly together. She would not make this easy for him.

A second, harder blow forced her body to sag.

Her own weight jerked downward on her arms and her shoulders screamed with pain. Blood slithered down the side of her face and neck. He shoved a knee between her suddenly lax thighs and, kicking at her ankles, pried her legs apart.

He leaned in, the buttons of his clothing scraping her back. His hand fumbling at his trousers teased her buttocks with unintended caresses.

“That first blow was for disobeying me. The second was to remind you of the first.”

“Please … ”

“Shut up. I want to enjoy this, not listen to you whine.”

His erection sprang free. Now his hand wandered her bottom, stroking, squeezing, testing, patting the two mounds and pressing his fingers against then within …

She couldn’t stop the scream that tore from her throat the same way he was tearing into her body.

He hit her a third time. “I said shut up.”

Her vision dimmed, but she still felt his hips lift as he prepared to thrust fully into her.

The thrust never came. Instead, he released her wrists.

Dizzy with pain and chilled with fear she lay panting against the wall. She could hear his heavy breathing, feel his body’s heat, but he didn’t touch her.

“Now step back, Herbert.”

Madame Duval’s voice finally registered. Where had she come from? Why interfere in rape when flesh peddling was her stock in trade? Kiera slowly rolled to face the room, an odd sense of detachment possessing her as she moved. The effort to think was great — almost too great. She should be grateful, she supposed. She was grateful, but couldn’t help wondering why Cerise Duval cared if a man chose to sodomize his lover against that lover’s will?

“You’ll regret this,” threatened Herbert.

Kiera’s lips twitched, and she almost laughed. Madame Duval held him at pistol point, and he was threatening her? The arrogance of the man. Didn’t he realize that, even if he escaped being shot, Duval’s power in San Francisco was so great she could — with complete impunity — have him publicly hanged and his body tossed in the bay. No one would dare object, save the victim, for whom it would be too late.

“Come over here, Mrs. Whitson,” Duval spoke the false name Kiera had been using since before she met Herbert. “Stand in front of me and face this morceau de merde who calls himself a man.” Those steel on velvet tones brooked no disobedience.

Legs shaking, Kiera complied, even though doing so placed her between Duval’s pistol and its current target. Holding the pistol steady and aimed at Herbert’s head, the madam’s free hand stroked soothing circles across Kiera’s back.

“Tch, tch,” the madam clicked her tongue. “Your threats are a bit foolish, don’t you think Herbert? Given who has the gun.”

Breath scented with orange pastilles touched Kiera’s cheek. “Give me your right hand, chère,” continued Duval. “I will show you how to protect yourself from beasts.”

Still dazed, Kiera lifted