Let’s pretend you finished reading one of my books. (Okay, first, let’s pretend I have a book out that you might buy and read and finish.) Now, at the end, you see a preview for the next series. Is that good or bad? I normally don’t read these. I did once and when the actual book came out, the story had changed. I felt I wasted my time. But some people like to get a jump on the next story.
I have in the works a series called Regency Banquet. The stories are going to be erotic romance set in the Regency period. The first of three novellas is called Appetizer: Pure Seduction. Here are the first few pages, before things get hot and heavy. Hope you like it.
Regency Banquet: The Appetizer
Pure Seduction, Part One
Brothers could be the most hateful creatures in the world. Yet sometimes, like now, they could behave wonderfully. Ellen Curtis adjusted her cap and pulled down her waistcoat. She followed her older brothers, Bernard and Roland, out of the hired coach.
She took pride in their sharp appearances, dandies from the tips of their Hessian boots to the top of their tall hats. Few people outside the family could tell them apart, but Bernard’s blond hair curled to the left, while Roland’s went to the right. Their green eyes matched hers, as did the shape of their long jaw lines. She’d often wished for blond hair, too, but had now grown to accept her shade of honey brown.
Bernard stopped her with a hand on her arm. “See here, Ellen. You cannot walk like that. You won’t fool a blind mouse if you don’t swagger more.”
“You must remember to not call me Ellen! I am Lenny, for the evening.” She turned and walked away from them, trying to walk with a bit of the arrogance her brothers showed. “Is that better?”
“A bit, but once we get in there,” Roland motioned to the doorway up a short run of stairs before them, “You just sit and observe.”
Bernard glanced nervously up at the door. “This will never work. We’ll be found out, Ell will be sent to a convent, and after Father thrashes us, he’ll purchase commissions and ship us off to Spain.”
“I should be so lucky,” replied Roland. “You should have kept that in mind before allowing your love letters to fall into enemy hands.”
The young gentlemen turned and glared at Ellen, she shrugged.
“I doubt a convent would keep me long. Besides, we’re not Papists. I think that’s a requirement.”
Bernard took a step toward her. “Give them to me,” he growled.
“Not yet. Once we’re inside, maybe.” She patted her coat, which rustled at the touch.
“Ro, it’s not going to work!”
“Bern, you got us into this mare’s nest!”
Ellen sighed and pushed the two toward the door. Her brothers had agreed to let her come with them to a gentleman’s club, for which boon she would not give their father letters from Bernard’s mistress, to which Father would object. She could not wait to look around, to see what a club was like, to listen to all the talk about politics and finances and things in which her father and brothers thought she should not have an interest. “We are going in, now!”
“Wait. We should tell you –”
Whatever Roland planned to say evaporated as a group of men exited the doors. Lowering their hats, the twins walked hastily up the stairs. Ellen copied Roland’s walk through the door, pleased that none of those leaving paid her any mind.
They entered a small vestibule, oddly furnished with huge Chinese vases full of feathery plants. Ellen stared open mouthed at a large painting of a naked woman, well executed to be sure, but hardly what she expected. Bernard grabbed her by the arm and pulled her through another door. This room appeared to be a lounge or parlor, rather larger than she expected, with chairs and sofas set about in cozy groups. If not for the lurid red velvet upholstery and the mirrors everywhere, she would have thought it a perfect place for conversation.
Then she noticed the women. The scantily clad women, draped over some of the chairs. Their dresses fell into one of two categories: so sheer as to be a waste of fabric, and so low as to be more of a skirt than a dress.
“Mr. Curtis, how good to see you again.” A short, plump woman in a slight, sheer, and clinging gown slipped her hand through Roland’s arm, smiling. Surely no one could be born with hair that brassy shade of red.
Ellen blinked, and looked at Bernard, who did blush slightly. Roland had allowed the woman to lead him to the stairs.
“This is not a gentleman’s club,” she hissed. “Take me home this minute!”
“Very well, give me the letters.” Bernard held out his hand.
She shook her head. “I will not. You have not kept your word.”
They stared at each other, and Ellen’s temper began to boil, when another of the “ladies” swooped toward them. This one had very black hair, and more makeup than Ellen had ever seen on a person before. She laid a possessive hand on Bernard’s arm, and his face lost all traces of anger. Instead he smiled at her. “Dorothea!”
“Bernard, do you plan to stay here all evening? Madame will be back soon, and if I am still downstairs, she may force me to take someone else.” Darkened lashes fluttered coyly.
“Damned if you will!” He covered her hand with his and turned to the stairs. “Ah. A moment, my dear.” He returned to Ellen’s side and whispered, “We’ll go to White’s directly. Sit over there in that dark corner, and don’t talk to anyone.”
“You can’t leave me here! What if someone recognizes me?”
Bernard’s grin made Ellen flinch. “A convent for you, then. And serve you right. But it won’t come to that if you stay quiet.”
The dark-haired Dorothea called Bernard away, and he went without a backward glance.
Fuming, Ellen sat down in the corner as instructed. She remembered to spread her legs, and crossed one ankle on top of her knee. She had been a fool to believe her horrid siblings could be true to their words. She could not complain to Father, and that galled her more than anything.
The door opened from the vestibule, and two men entered, soon being escorted away. One had stopped to stare at her, but her haughty glare apparently persuaded him to keep going. She allowed a glimmer of pride to cheer her up, but soon noticed that the chairs near her now contained more of the ladies of questionable virtue. And they all seemed interested in her. Oh, drat!
A short woman, girl really, came and sat next to her and put a plump hand on Ellen’s leg. “Hello, dearie, what’s the problem, then? None of the ready, or too shy?”
The other women laughed, and Ellen felt her cheeks redden. Not only by the familiarity of the girl, but by the extremely low bodice on her gown, and the sheer fabric. Why, she could see the woman’s nipples! Summoning the voice she used to imitate her father, she said, “No offense, miss, but I am betrothed. I don’t want any girl but her.”
“You sweet thing,” exclaimed one of the others. “I could cry! Here, I’ll give you a kiss for free!” She suited the action to the words, and Ellen drew away in amazement. The girls laughed and exclaimed over the “young gentleman.”
More men came in, calling the girls away, and Ellen rubbed at her lips. Damn her brothers! Her first kiss, and she got it from a woman!
A couple walked into the room, different in appearance from the other habitues. The woman looked older than the working girls, who had all gone upstairs now. Her dress and bonnet too were of a better quality and style.
The man riveted Ellen’s attention. Taller than any man she had ever seen, broad shouldered, his tan face made her think of a fallen angel. His profile cut a sharpe line of straight nose and strong chin, dividing the planes of his smooth cheeks. As if divining her thoughts, he looked over at her, and stopped whatever he had been saying to the woman.
“Good Lord, Vivienne! Since when have you supplied boys for sodomites?” He looked angry and came toward Ellen.
“He’s not one of mine.” The woman clutched his arm. “Don’t frighten the boy, Cooper!”
Ellen jumped to her feet, thinking to run out of the room, but at the woman’s words, Cooper stopped and his expression lightened.
“I beg your pardon, sir.” He bowed, and Ellen almost curtsied.
“Think nothing of it,” she said.
Cooper stared at her, and she returned a level gaze. Finally he said, “Why are you here?”
Ellen glanced at the woman, Vivienne, who merely shrugged, then back at the man. “M’brothers are upstairs. I’m waiting for them.”
“Ah. Too young to be interested, are you?” Cooper showed white teeth in a mocking grin. “You cannot stay here. I would not be the only one to get the wrong idea.”
Panic seeped into Ellen’s chest. Where would she go, alone, at night, on London’s seedier streets?
Cooper nodded and clapped her on the shoulder. “Come wait in my office. Viv, have a tray sent in, would you?”
And that solved everything, or so his manner told her. He led her past the stairway to a long passage, and into a large room. If the reception parlor had been decorated in the gaudiest fashion, this room stood directly opposite in decor. A dark green paper covered walls from high ceiling to dark oak wainscoting. Bookshelves covered another wall. Near a fireplace, in which flames danced, a few chairs and a sofa were arranged. Closer to the door stood a huge desk, with neat stacks of paper and envelopes.
Ellen went straight to the bookshelves, forgetting for a moment everything else. Her father held books in low regard, so she had never seen so many before. A book on philosophy caught her eye, and she pulled it out without thinking.
“A scholar, are you?” Cooper had followed her, and smiled at her interest. “That one is rather dry, I like this better.” He reached around her and removed a slim book bound in red.
She took it and read the cover. “Du Contrat social ou Principes du driot Politique, by Jean Jeaques Rousseau. My father detests Rousseau!’
Her host chuckled. “Good, sit down there and help yourself to tea.” He gestured to where a maid servant set down a tray.
Ellen smiled and moved away from him. She told herself it was the presence of so many books that made her heart beat faster, not the presence of Mr. Cooper. She still smiled when she met the eyes of the maid, who smiled back and winked.
“That will do, Sally,” the man said in stern tones. The maid, unrepentant, curtsied and left. Shaking his head, he looked back at Ellen. “What’s your name?”
“Lenny. Sir.” She picked up a biscuit and stuffed it in her mouth as she had seen the twins do.
“Lenny. Do sit down. I must change but I won’t be long.” He crossed to an opened door and stepped out of her view. She heard water poured into a bowl, and gathered he washed as well as changed his linen.
Why did Mr. Cooper live in a brothel? Ellen poured herself a cup of tea and made free with the cream and sugar. She began to read the book but soon tired of translating everything from the French. And the lingering scent of leather and cloves which the man wore distracted her. She set the work down and went to explore the shelves in more detail.
Some days wore a man down. David Cooper sluiced water on his head, face, chest, and neck, letting go of the dust, sweat, and fatigue that had accumulated since noon. In spite of the issues of importance that he juggled mentally, what came to the front of his mind now? A boy. A youth waiting, unprotected, in the reception parlor of a house like this.
Damn! They had to hire a new porter, soon. The youth could be no more than 12 or 13. No beginnings of a beard showed on his smooth white cheeks, flushed a beautiful pink –
Cooper threw the towel he’d used to the floor with a snarl. Could he be attracted to that boy? No, it had to be his resemblance to Mathilde. Had she come back from the dead and dressed as a boy, she would have looked– Like Lenny.
“Dressed like a boy!” He stared into the pier glass but did not see his image. Instead, he remembered green eyes flecked in gold, straight brown hair, slender form, and absolute absence of anything that one expected to see in a young man. “Huh. But, why?”