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Authors: Taboo (St. John-Duras)

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BOOK: Susan Johnson
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But she whispered, “I adore you …” with surrender in her eyes and voice, in her hot, orgasmic body, and he knew he had to fill her and fill her again, spill over and fill her once more. And if fate decreed or the stars in heaven allowed, he would sire a child on her tonight.

Swelling larger at such self-indulgent vanity, he glided deeper, his callused, muscular hands holding her firmly under him, the delicate swish of skin on skin a whisper between them like her welcoming sigh, her thighs opening wider as he drove forward. And he perversely thought, I insert myself exactly here and drive faster and then slower, heat what is hot and open what is already wide open and deposit my semen into the very center of her glorious body.

He arched his strong back and she lifted her hips to his and breathed, “I love you …” with such tenderness, her words almost stopped him. His new inclination for fatherhood
was so tenuous, his familiar habits so rooted, there was a brief moment when he found himself still capable of debate.

But the moment swiftly passed, deluged by predaceous lust and unfathomable feelings of possession, and he found he could no more let her go than he could suppress his cresting orgasmic frenzy. “Hold on,” he murmured, as though they were about to fall off a mountain or the edge of the world, and she seemed to understand because she twined her arms more tightly around his neck and whispered, “Take me anywhere.”

He took her in the next few moments to a place where stars danced and raw need was like a blue fire and they didn’t need another chance to get it right.

And he held her afterward in silence and she him and felt a power and glory on earth. They didn’t talk then beyond their whispered love words, nor later when they made love again—when he ran his hands up and down her thighs, when his mouth was a dream between her legs, his tongue sliding and darting inside her, nibbling, nipping, bringing her a bouquet of orgasms—because there was nothing to say that wouldn’t ultimately touch on his leaving and neither could bear to think of it with paradise in their grasp.

He said, “Thank you,” finally when he rose from the bed, coming back twice to kiss her, leaning over her for lingering moments half-dressed, his mouth drifting over hers.

“The pleasure was mine,” she murmured with a smile the first time. The second and third time, her words were variations on a theme, graceful, charming words that wouldn’t alarm him or disconcert the man who was taking on the persona of commander-in-chief before her eyes.

When Bonnay came to fetch him, Duras was dressed and ready. And Teo knew better than to shed any tears; the daughter and granddaughter of tribesmen who’d waged war against Russia for decades, she understood protocol on the eve of battle.

“Come back to me,” she quietly said.

“I intend to.” They were standing very close, their fingers twined, her white cashmere robe delicate against his dark tunic and leather riding breeches.

“When?”

“Hopefully in a few days.” He shrugged. “It depends.”

“Don’t be reckless.”

He smiled faintly. “But that’s how I win.”

“Don’t be overly reckless.”

“I never am.” His grip loosened on her fingers; Bonnay was waiting outside the door.

“Thank you for the baby.”

This time his smile was genuine. “You have enormous faith.”

“Yes,” she simply said as his hands slipped away. “Come home to us.”

5

“A courier from Paris arrived while you were gone,” Bonnay immediately said as Duras stepped into the corridor.

“More operational orders from the War Ministry telling me how to fight this campaign from the comfort of their Parisian offices no doubt,” Duras sardonically replied, striding down the hall. “Is there anything in the reports worth reading?”

Keeping pace beside him, Bonnay smiled. “Of course not. With the exception,” he blandly added, “of your wife’s note of instructions.”

Duras’s gaze turned briefly to his aide. “More advice from her uncle, Talleyrand?”

“That and she’d like some Russian sables if there’s any to be confiscated after your expected rout of the Russian corps.”

“No concern for my health, I presume.” Duras slid his fingers into a riding glove.

“I didn’t notice any.”

“I suppose if I were to die, you could see that her Russian sables are sent to her along with my body,” he casually remarked, carefully smoothing the leather down each finger, a snug fit essential for saber work.

“In the coffin, sir?”

Duras’s grin flashed white against his dark skin. “That would be a nice touch. Tell me, Henri, how you managed to find such a suitable wife when mine is interested only in my name and rank.” He adjusted his second glove with the same meticulous care.

“Amalie and I grew up together, sir. She was a ward of my aunt.”

“Ah.” Duras’s soft exhalation drifted behind as the two men swiftly descended the carpeted stairs. “I met
my
wife at what were euphemistically referred to as receptions at Barras’s Luxembourg Palace.” The more conservative in Parisian society called them orgies, with all the women scantily clad in the new Grecian fashions. The high-stakes gambling and shocking new dances further condemned the entertainments.

“And she was very beautiful,” Bonnay leniently noted.

“Yes.” No one could deny Claudine’s exquisite blond prettiness. “And I was more intrigued with politics at the time.” At Barras’s and Talleyrand’s instigation, Duras had been nominated for a place on the Directory in the spring elections of 1797.

“We’re beyond the politicians out here.” Bonnay held the outside door open for Duras.

“Thankfully.” Although several high-ranking politicians, Napoleon included, had never forgiven him for taking the spotlight away from them that spring. “And we’re beyond
the orders from the War Ministry as well,” Duras went on, drawing in a refreshing breath of cold air. “You signed off on the reports?”

“Your name and mine.”

“Well done as usual. And if we’re victorious today, the War Ministry will take credit with my blessing as long as they stay in Paris where they can’t do any harm.”

“All those reports they keep sending out should keep them busy.” The lights of their offices were visible down the street.

“While we have an offensive to begin—in what! Ten minutes?”

“Five minutes, sir. I gave you an extra five minutes.”

Duras laughed. “You’re a true romantic, Bonnay.”

A short time later, when Tamyr entered the bedroom suite, Teo was stepping into her fur-lined trousers, her winter hunting clothes piled on the bed. “I’m following him as far as the river. And don’t give me any arguments because I’m having his baby.”

No visible surprise showed on Tamyr’s plump round face. “I’d suggest you have an escape plan ready when the baby begins to show and Korsakov sees you.”

“You forget I endured my husband’s filthy embraces at Salzburg,” Teo calmly replied, reaching for her reindeer-skin boots. “Would he kill his own child?” She cast a speculative glance at her companion.

“The child won’t be fair-haired.”

“Nor am I. And Korsakov needs an heir, doesn’t he?” Teo added, stepping into her boots.

“Are you planning on staying with him?”

“Not for a minute more than necessary.” Teo picked up her parka. “But the fiction of his child will protect me.”

“You can’t be certain about this babe, however much you may wish for it.”

“But I am,” Teo declared, slipping the fur jacket over her head. “Absolutely certain.”

Argument was useless, Tamyr decided. She’d never seen Teo so transported, almost rash. “What of Duras? Does he want a child?”

Teo smiled. “I talked him into it.”

“I see. Are we staying, then?”

“If he kills Korsakov today, we could with certainty.”

“So the Evil One is across the river?”

“Duras thought so. Now are you coming with me or not?” Teo didn’t like to think of her husband or hear his name or be reminded that he still had authority over her life.

Tamyr pursed her thin lips. “Have I ever left you unprotected?”

“I’m sorry, babushka,” Teo apologized. “Of course you haven’t.”

“Your grandfather charged me with your safety,” she quietly declared.

“We might have our freedom by tomorrow, Tarn, darling,” Teo said with relish, “and then I won’t need your protection.”

“The spirits willing.”

“And then we’ll no longer live in fear.”

“I’ll burn some sweet moss tonight and talk to the spirits.”

“Ask them to let me keep this happiness, Tarn.”

“Don’t be too trusting, child. Duras may not be interested in love.”

“You’re wrong. He’s wonderful, warm and kind, and he may have asked me to marry him,” she lightly went on, smiling at the warm memory. “So you’re not allowed to be negative,” she blithely added as if the world for a moment bent to her will. “And if you knew him, you’d
understand
.” She pronounced the last word without equivocation.

“Hmpf,” Tamyr muttered. “As if you know him after a few hours.”

“But I’m truly happy, Tarn, really and truly. Don’t begrudge me this.”

“I’m afraid he’ll hurt you, child, that’s all,” her companion gently said. “Women don’t stay long in his life.”

Oblivious to all but her intense joy, Teo smiled. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life and I’m going to have the child I’ve always wanted—
his
child. So you needn’t worry,” she went on, cavalierly dismissing her maidservant’s warnings. “And if you’re coming with me you’d better hurry,” she briskly added, picking up her gloves, “or we’ll miss the river crossing.”

A quarter-moon and occasional stars gleamed through the cloud cover, and the possibility of more snow hung damply in the air as Teo and Tamyr arrived at a vantage point on the river bluff. The light infantry units were crossing the trestle bridge in the darkness, spreading out along the east bank, setting up a protective line of defense for the march into Austrian territory. Cavalry companies clattered across next to screen the deployment—dragoons, hussars, cuirassiers—followed by the horse artillery. A dozen horses were needed to move each twelve-pound cannon, and the caisson wheels had been muffled with cloth to stifle the noise. Then the infantry of the line passed over the Rhine, the stream of troops undiminished for almost two hours.

Duras and his staff, mounted, muffled in greatcoats, their weapons gleaming dully in the subdued light, watched the procession cross the river. Partially detached from the group, Duras rarely spoke, observing the passage of troops without expression. Occasionally a soldier would greet him, and Duras would reply with a comment that brought a flash of a smile to the infantryman’s face.

Duras believed in the republican principles of equality, his friendliness toward the common soldier unconstrained, natural—a rare quality even in the postrevolutionary army.

How different he was, Teo thought, from the man who’d forced her into marriage. Korsakov’s family wealth had gained him his rank, minions did his bidding, and he arrogantly considered no man his equal. But she hoped as she stood with Tamyr behind a shield of dark pines watching the French army move into Austria that the coming battle would put an end to her husband’s despicable life and neither conscience nor pity altered her resolute hatred.

She had more reason than most to wish him dead.

Just prior to the advance of the rear-guard detachments, Duras moved onto the bridge at the head of his staff, his bay charger restive on the unsteady trestle footing. The rushing water was visible between the planks, unnerving the high-spirited animal, and it tossed its head, caracoled. Keeping a firm hand on the reins, Duras leaned forward and murmured near its ear, stroked its powerful neck, and the horse instantly calmed.

Touched by such gentle humanity, Teo felt tears well in her eyes. And she thought of her own favorite mare killed by her husband last year for the most minor infraction.

“He’ll be back,” Tamyr soothed, misinterpreting Teo’s tears. “They say no enemy fire can touch him.”

“Pray they’re right,” Teo softly murmured, as the shadowy pines on the opposite shore swallowed up the last glimpse of the man who’d introduced her to the miracle of love.

The snow that had fallen most of the night lent a magical illusion to the dark forest, the tall pines with their powdery mantle gleaming pale against the gray sky. And the narrow path climbing by a shallow gradient lay untouched, pristine before the advance units. It hardly seemed possible
enclosed within the still, frosty whiteness that the carnage of battle waited at the end of their march.

Scudding clouds overlay St. Luzisteig, only a few drowsy guards patrolled its walls. Even the smoke from the chimneys rose in slow lazy trails into the dusky sky. The fort sat atop a steep col, its huge mass blocking the main road from Feldkirch to Chur. To its left the Falknis mountain soared steeply to 8,416 feet, forming a natural barrier, while the lesser Fläscherberr on its right dropped sharply to the Rhine.

It was still dark when the French Army of Switzerland arrived at the rim of the forest bordering the snow-covered slope fronting the fort’s north façade. Silently, the artillery set their muffled twelve-pounders and howitzers just inside the tree line, out of range of any St. Luzisteig artillery piece.
1
Sharpshooters and skirmishers were sent to scale the heights east and west of the fort, and once everyone was in place, Duras gave the signal for the bombardment to begin.

The predawn stillness was shattered by the deafening thunder of exploding shells, as the well-trained gunnery crews fired in swift, synchronized order. Cannonballs hammered the walls of the fort, leaving great gaping holes where shot struck a weakened portion of masonry, smashing through the east guard post in a bloody slaughter, discharging a murderous barrage the entire length of the north exposure.

The garrison came awake in shock, the attack completely unexpected. The Aulic Council in Vienna had just recalled several regiments from the fort yesterday in anticipation of the French march into the Grisons. Duras had been expected to attack Chur, the capital, thirty miles south.

BOOK: Susan Johnson
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