As the madam of Aphrodite’s Grotto, the most infamous brothel in London, Coral Smythe knows everything possible about men’s needs and desires. Yet she’s never experienced the love of a single man—not even that of Captain Isaac Wargate whose hawk-like eyes stare at her with both condemnation…and lust.
SEVEN NIGHTS OF ECSTASY
Captain Wargate heartily disapproves of the sensuous madam who always wears a golden mask. She lures his officers from both his ship and their duty. But when Coral herself is offered up as the prize in a game of chance, Wargate impulsively enters…and wins.
SEVEN NIGHTS OF LOVE
Now the puritanical navy captain has just seven nights to learn everything he can about the mysterious madam and what she knows of a man’s desires. But when Coral is threatened by the new owner of Aphrodite’s Grotto, will Wargate take a chance on the woman beneath the mask…and on love?
Sweet, adorable story...
The Ice Princess is a wonderful, short romance.”
— Farrah from Imagine a World…
“Ms. Hoyt managed to develop her characters well and let us enjoy their road to HEA with enough angst and sensual scenes that will melt your heart.”
— Mel from Bookworm2bookworm
“I absolutely loved this series so this was a wonderful treat!’”
— Jessica B. from Goodreads
“It was great being able to meet the real Isaac and Coral and watching them start trusting each other. Thanks for a great story.”
— Crystal from Romancing the Book
“THE ICE PRINCESS (is a) deeply satisfying story of two people learning to love and hope again.”
— Maria from Fresh Fiction
“Winter Makepeace is, by far, the most interesting hero, I’ve read in a very long time.”
— Kathy Wheeler, Book End Babes
Excerpt from The Ice Princess
The madam of an infamous brothel has to handle many types of difficult men, Coral Smythe reflected. Drunken lords, arrogant merchants, callow youths teetering on the crumbling edges of their own personal disasters, and just too many men with more money in their pockets than sense. But few men were as irritating, provoking, vexing, or aggravating as a puritanical naval captain.
An attractive puritanical naval captain.
With one finger, Coral touched the gold mask covering her face, checking as she always did that it was in position. Thus satisfied, she descended the staircase into the gilded hellhole that was Aphrodite's Grotto. Business was brisk tonight. The curving grand staircase spilled into the main hall. At the far end were the great double front doors to the Grotto, with Aphrodite herself frolicking overhead in painted pink clouds, surrounded by her well-endowed mythical lovers, and below...
Well, below was bedlam of course.
Ladies—some of the evening, some quite real—swanned about in demi-masks, their faces much more decorously covered than their bodies. Gentlemen—one used the word loosely here—strutted and shouted and fell over themselves in drunken revelry.
Coral lifted her upper lip beneath the mask. Easy marks, every one of them. All these men just waiting to lose their money. And for what? A handful of soft breast? A warm, wet mouth sucking on their cock? Foolish, ephemeral pleasure that disappeared with the light of the next morning. Men were such idiots, so alike in their base desires and loud demands. Dukes or self-made coal merchants, they threw back their sweaty heads and laughed at Aphrodite, smiling down from her clouds.
All except that one puritanical naval captain.
Captain Isaac Wargate stood like a gloomy black rook of doom at the side of the hall. He still wore his long naval cape, despite the heat in the crowded hall, and held his cocked hat under one arm. He surveyed the room expressionlessly, but Coral knew there was disapproval in the hawklike eyes that peered beneath heavy black eyebrows.
She sauntered toward him, aware somehow that he knew of her presence, though he didn't deign to look her way. She could study him thus—his nose large in profile, his full lips compressed just slightly, his dark hair pulled back into a tightly braided queue, the lines about his mouth deep and cynical—and she could feel and acknowledge that traitorous bit of heat that pooled low in her belly every time she saw him. Damn him.
"Goodness, Captain, we haven't seen you here for half a year or more," she called sweetly when she was within a few feet of him. "Have you found a ladybird for the evening?"
"You know I don't sample these wares, madam," he growled in reply.
He didn't bother looking at her, despite the low cut of her glittering black-and-gold dress. Her nipples were rouged tonight and peeked from the top of the square-cut bodice, a startling crimson contrast to the black material and her white skin. She had the eyes of every other man in the room. But not his.
Which only irked her more.
Beneath her mask she smiled and infused contrition into her voice. "Oh, of course. How silly of me to have forgotten." She leaned closer to him, his broad, cloaked shoulders at the height of her forehead, and said conspiratorially, "You do know I can supply boys as well, don't you?"
He turned then, his dark blue eyes hitting her like a physical blow. "I'm not interested in the trade of any human flesh, ma'am."
"Then one wonders what you're doing in a brothel."
"I'm here only to round up my junior officers," he said shortly. He nodded to a bantam man across the room—one of his sailors. "As you very well know."
"Mmm. I'm probably alerted before your admiral when the Challenger docks. All those lovely officers in their pretty uniforms come streaming off your ship and in my doors."
Over the captain’s shoulder, she caught the eye of Big Billy, one of the Grotto bullyboys. The bullyboys were employed to keep the rough out and, when needed, to help the finer hurry home when they'd overstayed their welcome. To look at Billy—a huge, hulking man with almost no forehead—one would never think that he was actually quite sharp. He brushed the tip of his nose with a thumb—a signal meaning trouble in the offing. Coral nodded imperceptibly and glanced about. The man in front of her was the only trouble she could see, but Billy knew something was up.
She turned back to the captain.
Who was frowning down at her. "My officers gamble and wench away here what little pay they have."
"Is that my problem?" She shook her head sorrowfully and spread her hands. "I but provide the enticement. They come here of their own free will. I can hardly turn those poor, lonely boys away."
"Can't you?" He eyed her thoughtfully. "I'd've thought you could do whatever you wished in this place."
She shrugged, her nipples rising above her bodice for a second. "Looks can be deceiving, Captain. I'd've thought a man of your years would know that."
"Oh, I know it well enough." He glanced away from her as if he couldn't bear the sight of her white flesh on display. "If I could keep my men from coming here I would, damn you."
"So stern," she crooned. She reached up and trailed a gold-lacquered fingernail through the strict folds of his black neck cloth. It gave her a little thrill—like petting a great bird of prey who might bite at any moment. "Is there nothing I can do to relax you, Captain?"
His hand caught hers in a move so swift she started. His hand was big and hot, his fingers entirely enveloping hers. For a moment he stared at her, his blue-black eyes narrowed and watching.
Then he abruptly let her go. "You can refrain from touching me, ma'am."
And the awful thing was she felt a pang of hurt from his words. Stupid, really. She'd been a whore since the age of fourteen. Had withstood far worse insults without turning a hair. Yet the clipped words of a puritanical naval captain could hurt her.
Fortunately, her golden mask hid everything but her eyes. She let her hand fall carelessly as her eyes trailed down his person. His cape was thrown back, revealing the dark blue of his coat, trimmed with bright gold braid, a pristine white waistcoat, and white breeches. Her gaze settled there, below the waistband of his breeches, and she cocked her head, examining the magnificent bulge under the white cloth.
Then she raised her eyes to his blue-black stare. "You do not want my ladies; you do not want my boys. I've heard that you are not married—"
"Widowed," he snapped.
She inclined her head. "So tell me, Captain. Is that padding to make your uniform fit properly? Or do you actually have a cock and balls like any other man, for I declare I am in doubt."
She expected anger, even rage. Many men of her acquaintance would've struck her for such a shameless insult.
Captain Wargate smiled. His full lips widened and parted,
revealing strong white teeth. She caught her breath. The man
was astonishingly handsome when he smiled.
"You're insulting my manhood,ma'am? I must've truly rattled you. Your repartee isn't usually so crude."
She glanced away uneasily, and again caught Big Billy's eye.
He nodded to one of the sitting rooms off the main hall. She
should go find out what had Billy so worried. She should tend
to her business.
Instead she turned back to the captain and purred, "You must forgive me, sir, but I've not seen any evidence of your, er, manhood as you so delicately put it. Quite the reverse, in fact."
Stupid. She needed to find the threat, not stand here and trade ineffectual gibes with a man who came from a world entirely different from her own.
He shifted and suddenly, the broad expanse of his white waistcoat was all that was in front of her face. She glanced up, startled, meeting too-perceptive dark blue eyes.
"Who're you watching for?"
She opened her mouth, intending to deny or confess, she wasn't sure, but a loud male voice spoke behind her before she could.
Coral turned, already knowing the source of that high, excited voice, already knowing what Billy had been trying to signal her.
A lithe young man in powdered wig and blazing orange coat leaped to the top of a table. He spread wide his arms. "Gentlemen! Kindly lend me your ears, for I have an announcement you won't want to miss!"
By this time the entire room had turned to look, the laughter and shouted talk gradually dying.
Captain Wargate was at Coral's back and she felt the brush of his chest as he whispered in her ear. "That's the one you were watching for, isn't it?"
She gave a single jerky nod.
"Who is he?"
"Jimmy Hyde," she said grimly.
"And what is he?"
But there wasn't time to answer and she wasn't sure she could in any case.
Jimmy was talking again. "Tonight, gentlemen, you are very fortunate. Very fortunate indeed! For tonight you'll witness a game of chance like no other."
"What kind of game?" a tall elderly man in a full-bottom wig shouted.
"Loo, sir!" Jimmy called back.
"Phht!" A thin-lipped dandy in black and scarlet shrugged a discontented shoulder. "I can get a game of loo in any gambling house in the city."
"True, sir, very true!" Jimmy might be a spawn of Satan, but he knew how to work a crowd. He grinned and raised his right hand with a flourish. "But I'll wager, sir, you'll not find a pot like the one Aphrodite's Grotto offers tonight."
"And what pot's that?" a royal duke drawled.
Jimmy turned and in the second before he spoke, Coral met his evil little eyes. "Why, gentlemen, we offer up Aphrodite herself!"
She staggered, though no one but Captain Wargate would've noticed since he caught her at once about the waist to steady her. What nasty plan had Jimmy come up with now? She hadn't sold her own body in over two years. He knew that. He knew how much she hated it.
Which, obviously, was his point.
Jimmy grinned again like an impish monkey bent on destroying what soul she had left. "Seven full nights, gentlemen! Aphrodite will serve the winner for seven nights of bliss in any and every way he wishes!"
A buzz began in the crowd, like flies swarming to a wounded deer. Jimmy jumped from the table and held out his hand to her, graceful, indolent, the command almost entirely hidden. "Won't you, my dear?"
And there wasn't anything she could do. He held the majority share in the Grotto. Four months ago a fire had raged through Aphrodite's Grotto. She'd been very lucky. No one had died; all the girls, the boys, and the marks had gotten out; and only part of the building had been lost. But the back wing had needed to be rebuilt and furnished, and then when the Grotto opened again, she'd thrown a grand celebration to show she wasn't down. Coral Smythe wasn't out of the business.
But all of that had taken money. Too much money. She'd borrowed from Jimmy Hyde, only later finding out that several of her original backers had already sold their portions to him. By the time she'd realized what he was doing, he'd held the majority share in the Grotto. In effect, he owned Aphrodite's Grotto. Which meant he owned her. If she refused, Jimmy was quite capable of tossing her out in the street. Without her, the Grotto girls and boys would be unprotected—and subject to Jimmy's less than tender mercies.
Coral calculated and decided quickly. If she showed reluctance, he'd be twice as gleeful at her misery. That much she'd learned about Jimmy Hyde in the last four months.
So instead of trembling, instead of balking or running away, Coral threw back her shoulders and stepped away from Captain Wargate's protective hands. She sauntered forward and placed her hand in Jimmy's and then she looked about the room, her head held high.
"It will be my pleasure," she murmured, and she put every ounce of allure and promise that she'd ever learned in her life as a courtesan into that one sentence.
Which, frankly, was quite a lot.
The crowd erupted into a roar.
"One hundred guineas!" Jimmy called, raising his voice above the eager shouts. "One hundred guineas to join this game, gentlemen! Who's in?"
That silenced them, and even Coral's lips parted beneath her mask. One hundred guineas was a mad fortune. Her best working girl made only eight guineas a night—and that was when the mark was too drunk to realize his folly. Jimmy had lost his mind. No man would gamble a fortune for a chance—a mere chance—of winning her for a sennight.
But broad dark blue shoulders were making their way through the crowd. Captain Wargate parted the men standing in front of Jimmy, and without even looking at her slammed down a worn leather money bag on the table.