The Secrets of a Courtesan

The Secrets of a Courtesan by Nicola Cornick Read Free Book Online

Book: The Secrets of a Courtesan by Nicola Cornick Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nicola Cornick
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    enough to attend.
    Servants were circulating with trays of champagne. In the center of the hall was a gigantic ice
    sculpture of a naked, rampant god Poseidon, his icy erection almost as enormous as the trident in
    his hand. It rather spelled out the point of the entertainment, Eve thought. And in the middle of
    all this splendid ostentation was Warren Sampson himself, preening in peacock blue, expansive
    and vulgar and most frightfully proud, as far as Eve could see, of displaying his money in such
    an opulent style. He was surrounded by a positive plethora of hangers-on, including the squire’s
    brother Tom Fortune, who smiled very suggestively as Eve approached. As she and Rowarth
    stepped forward Eve registered the sudden excitement that ran through the ranks of Sampson’s
    guests. The men raised their quizzing glasses and looked Eve up and down from the diamond
    clasp in her red curls to the tips of her red satin slippers, lingering on the bodice of her gown
    where her abundant charms were so amply displayed. The women cast glances of lascivious
    greed at Rowarth who was looking exceptionally elegant in his austere black-and-white evening
    dress.
    A frisson of nerves ran through Eve as Sampson’s gaze fell on them and he came forward to
    greet them, his eyes lighting with self-congratulation to have caught so eminent a guest as the
    Duke of Welburn.
    “My dear fellow…” He stretched out a hand to Rowarth, his voice unctuous. “I am charmed that
    you have been able to join us tonight.”
    Not by a flicker of expression did Rowarth give away any emotion other than an apparent delight
    to be there. The perfect courtesy bred in an English gentleman evidently made him able to carry
    off such a meeting, Eve thought. In contrast, her skin was crawling simply at being in close
    proximity with Warren Sampson. There was something unwholesome about the man and when
    he turned his gaze on her she felt a sense of revulsion she was afraid might be almost too strong
    to conceal.
    “Mrs.…Nightingale, is it not?” Sampson was working hard to cover his astonishment at seeing
    her, but could not quite hide his feelings. Eve could not be sure whether his surprise arose from
    the unexpected appearance of his unwitting stooge or simply from shock at seeing a lady he had
    previously thought irreproachably respectable flaunting herself in such a shocking gown. His
    eyes lit with a predatory gleam as his gaze lingered on the swell of her breasts. Eve felt Rowarth
    stiffen almost imperceptibly beside her but when she flicked a glance up at his face his
    expression was quite smooth. His hand was in the small of her back, pushing her forward a little
    so that she could not avoid Sampson’s appreciative appraisal. She felt a bitter taste in her mouth,
    as though Rowarth was whoring her out, which of course, he was. And she had only herself to
    blame. When he had started to question her on the past in the intimate darkness of the carriage
    she had lied to him because it was the only way to keep her secrets and to keep the horrible
    memories of her miscarriage and loss locked away in the dark where it belonged. But she knew
    that she could not now complain if Rowarth despised her. She had deliberately pushed him away.
    Even so, a sliver of misery like a lump of ice wedged itself in her heart.
    “Mr. Sampson.” She forced a smile. “It is such a pleasure to attend one of your parties. Your
    hospitality is legendary.”
    Sampson laughed, showing his teeth. “My dear Mrs. Nightingale, had I known of your interest I
    would have invited you sooner.” He took her hand, his touch suggestive, and pressed his lips
    wetly to her fingers. Eve suppressed a shudder. Sampson’s predatory gaze went from her to
    Rowarth.
    “Nor did I realize,” he murmured, his breath hot in her ear, “that you were a particular friend of
    his grace.”
    “Oh, Rowarth and I are very old acquaintances,” Eve said, with an arch look up at Rowarth

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