A Rose at Midnight

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Harlequin Intrigue #822
January 2005
ISBN 0-373-22822-8

THE PRICE OF PASSION

Nine years ago, Christiane Lawrence surrendered her innocence to the mysterious young Daniel Moreau. Even after he left her without warning, the memory of his lovemaking haunted her. And as the child he left in her womb grew, she wondered who he’d really been—and why she felt an uneasy presence always by her side….

Daniel had been working for the devil—a madman with an evil obsession for Christiane. He’d left Christi to keep her safe, but he had only intensified the devil’s desire. Now Daniel’s redemption was at hand. But he’d have to convince Christi he loved her before midnight of Mardi Gras, for there was only a week to go before the devil exacted his bloody price.

EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE

Feelings were for fools and Daniel Moreau hadn’t played the fool for anyone in years.

But he felt her presence before he turned around.  Felt her in a way that grated against the ruthless control he’d cultivated since that night nine years ago when his world had turned upside down.  Felt her and knew with certainty that her presence here was no accident of fate.

Did she know she was being used?  Probably not.  Christiane Lawrence was too trusting for her own good.  That more than anything made her a threat to him.

He watched with predatory curiosity as the white-gloved butler took her snow-colored coat.  Watched as red-jacketed waiters offered her tantalizing tidbits and generous goblets of wine from silver platters.  Watched as Armand Langelier took her elbow and guided her to their hostess, Madame Bernier.  And found an unexpected possessiveness grounding itself somewhere between his boots and his brain.

With a shake of his head, Daniel dismissed the errant feeling.  She wasn’t his anymore.

Her dangling blue and silver icicle earrings were an anomaly in a sea of diamonds and sapphires.  He guessed she’d worn them as a conversation starter.  For all the quiet sophistication of her clothes and careful style of her short blond hair, he remembered her as shy.  She moved with confidence, the soft silk and the flattering cut of her dove-gray cocktail dress shifting pleasantly with each of her steps.  Subdued class—one of the many things he’d liked about Christiane.

Armand leaned down to whisper something in her ear, and she laughed in response.  Though he could not hear the sound, it rippled through him.  Her laughter.  Her voice.  They’d once cracked open a lock he’d thought rusted shut.  Daniel’s fists tightened by his side.  Not this time.

The older man’s gaze shifted to the crowd.  Looking for him, no doubt.  What was the point of making such a bold move if Armand couldn’t witness the expected reaction?

Daniel had worked hard to hide his secrets, to bury his past, to make amends.  And now it could all change.  Just like that.  All because of this woman.

Funny how the world kept going as if nothing was wrong.  People still laughed.  The quartet still played.  Sequined dresses still sparkled in the light on this cold February night.  He’d expected the crack of thunder, the flare of lighting, the crash of a storm, some sort of force of nature to herald his doom.

But it came quietly—just when he’d started to think everything in his life had at last fallen into place.

“There you are.”  Jean-Paul Dubuc, his manager, clasped an overeager hand around Daniel’s shoulder.  He reminded Daniel of a bulldog—short, squat, bald and ugly, but fiercely loyal.  A good man to have on your side.  Except tonight.  He’d ask too many questions, and Daniel would have too few answers.

“I’ve been looking all over for you.”  Jean-Paul tried to shepherd him toward the ballroom where the piano stood waiting.  “Time to get the show on the road.”

“Not now.”  Daniel shrugged off Jean-Paul’s hold and searched the crowd for Christiane.  The silver of her earrings winked in the distance.

“Daniel,” Jean-Paul insisted.  “Madame Bernier is waiting.”

“Not now.”

“It’s you they came to hear, not some nameless quartet.”

“Then they’ll wait.”  Daniel had to warn her.  It was the least he could do.

“What’s wrong with you?”  His manager frowned and looked him over for signs of disease or disaster—the latter probably being the more worrisome of the two for a scrapper like Jean-Paul.

“See that woman over there?”  Daniel thrust his chin in Christiane’s direction.  Armand gave a little bow and headed for the bar.

“The one in the gray dress?”

Daniel nodded.  “She’ll destroy me.”

He’d said it for shock value, and Jean-Paul didn’t disappoint him.  “Who is she?”  The creases above Jean-Paul’s eyes deepened.  His jowls quivered.  “What did you do?  What’s she holding over you?”

A humorless grin tugged at the corners of Daniel’s mouth.  He was sick of the whole business, of being handled, of neverending expectations.  He was sick of it all.  “Worried about damage control?”

“Do I need to be?”

Daniel’s gaze raked the crowd until he found Christiane again, introducing herself to two women with overteased hair.  “Not if I play the game right.”

Non, mais t’as finalement perdu la boule!  You’ve gone completely mad.”  Jean-Paul stomped in a half-moon around Daniel as if his leash was too short.  “It’s not exactly the time to go over the edge, Daniel.”

“I’m still in control.  I know the rules this time.”

“This time?”  Jean-Paul stopped short and stared at his client.  “What are you talking about?”

“Strategy.”

“Now listen, Daniel.”  Jean-Paul shook his finger at the middle of Daniel’s chest.  “I’m depending on you.  Madame Bernier is depending on you.  All those people who paid a small fortune for a ticket to hear you play your new piece next week are depending on you.  I need to know I didn’t waste my time promoting you to stardom just to have you crash when we’ve finally made it.”

Jean-Paul stopped waving his finger and planted it on Daniel’s chest.  “You owe me.  Where would you be today if it weren’t for me?”

Without looking at the annoying digit, Daniel swiped away Jean-Paul’s finger.  “Right here.”

“Maybe.”  Jean-Paul shrugged.  “More likely you’d be sitting in a jail somewhere for banging your fists on somebody’s face instead of a keyboard.”

“Have I ever let you down?”

Jean-Paul shuffled his feet.  “Not yet.”

“Not ever.”  Daniel loosed a short, sharp laugh and swept one arm to encompass the glaringly bright room.  “Why would I want to risk giving all this up?”

Jean-Paul’s jaw moved in a slow contemplative circle.  “Music is your life.”

“My soul,” Daniel said mockingly as he watched Christiane work her way around the room as if she’d done this a thousand times.

Jean-Paul panted with worry.  “So what are you going to do about this girl?”

As Daniel considered his options, the party kept up its bright pace around him.  “Have you ever had to make a choice between two impossibles?”

“Every day when I try to plan your schedule.”

“I meant important things.”

Jean-Paul frowned.  “What’s more important than molding your career?”

“Life or breath.”

“They’re the same.”

“Exactly.”

“Now I know you’re going crazy.”  Jean-Paul shook his head slowly, causing the light to dance on his balding pate.  “Promise me you won’t blow your image of the dashing, tall, dark and handsome hero until after you’ve fulfilled your contract’s obligations.”

“Worried about your commission?”

Jean-Paul’s jaw dropped.  “That’s not fair, and you know it.  About the girl …”

If Christiane was in Quebec City, it could only mean one thing.  Armand was going to try to use her just as he’d tried to use her mother.

“I’ll do the only thing I can,” Daniel said, resigned.  He’d once found heaven and had to put her through hell.  Now she was in danger.  He had to protect her.  And there was only one way she’d allow him that close.

“Which is?”

“Marry her.”