About the book
“I don’t give up. When I want something, I claim it.”
Lady Luisa is a virgin. Tired of her sheltered life, she makes one of the bravest decisions in her life: she hires a male prostitute to take her virginity. But no one told her that this mysterious man in her estate is actually Duke Harry…
After their passionate entaglement, Luisa tries to hide her face from the ton–and most importantly, the Duke. But he doesn’t give up easily, and when he wants something, he’ll do everything to claim it…
“But what was it like? The wedding night, I mean… what did it… feel like?” Luisa Comeford asked her newly married cousin, Phillipa Gleemstone, even as she knew the subject to be hardly an appropriate one for ladies of their class.
They were taking tea in Luisa’s drawing-room, and Phillipa had just returned from Bath following her marriage to Lord Aston Gleemstone, the Marquis of Penwardy. At twenty-three, Phillipa was seven years younger than Luisa, but a woman whose life had taken the course that Luisa’s own might have done had circumstances been different. She was married, and Luisa was not. Phillipa blushed.
“Well… it wasn’t as I expected it to be. Although, I wasn’t certain what I expected, if you see what I mean. No one tells you. That’s the problem. We’re expected just to know, and without our mothers – or an elder sister – we’re somewhat left on our own,” she replied, taking a sip of tea.
It was no surprise that Phillipa had so easily found herself married. She was an attractive blonde, with blue eyes and rosy cheeks. Her manner and deportment were impeccable, and her dowry – left by her late father, the Viscount Treble – was considerable. Luisa was glad for her, even as witnessing the marriage had been something of a trial for her, a reminder that, at the age of thirty, her own prospects for marriage were growing ever more unlikely.
“Was he gentle? Did he know what he was doing?” she asked, pressing her cousin for the details she so desperately wanted to know, and Phillipa giggled.
“Oh, poor Aston. He didn’t have a clue. Neither of us did. But it was… very nice, I suppose. We’ve learned for ourselves, in the meantime. Bath was a delight,” she replied, and by the look on her face, there was no doubt in Luisa’s mind as to her cousin’s happiness in her marriage.
Even so, she wanted further details. The pleasures of the flesh were fascinating to her, even as she knew the scandal that might be caused by only speaking of them. She had broached the topic with other friends and acquaintances, only to be met with looks of horror or mortified embarrassment. But Phillipa was different. The two of them were on the most intimate of levels, more like sisters than cousins. Each had known the tragic pain of loss brought about by the deaths of their parents, and each had supported the other in times of strife and difficulty.
“Was it pleasurable? To know him, I mean. I’ve heard it said the experience is painful for the woman. A duty to be endured if children are to result from the union. But surely there’s some pleasure in it, too,” Luisa said.
She had often imagined what the experience might be like. She wanted to know it for herself – as much as such a thought was too scandalous to speak of, even to her cousin.
“I found it pleasurable, though it hurt a little at first. Aston was very gentle, though. There’re some men who make it their business to… practice beforehand. But not Aston. He’s no rake, and I know there were no other women before me,” Phillipa said, taking a sip of tea.
Luisa sighed. She was happy for Phillipa, of course, but a part of her felt a deep sorrow at having still not found a suitable match – despite her best efforts. Without a father or a brother, she found the practice of introductions difficult. She had no chaperone in the form of her mother or an elder sister, and this meant her attendance at balls and other social occasions was presided over by older women who made it their business to interfere in her affairs. She longed for the freedom that her class and status did not afford her, and she was beginning to despair that a husband – and the evident pleasures which came with securing one – would forever elude her.
“Where do men go for such… liaisons? Are there really such women who would allow themselves to be… damaged?” Luisa asked.
The thought was both scandalous and a fascination. She knew the lower classes were afforded a looser rein when it came to the morals of the bedchamber, but even amongst such people, the scandal of knowing one another outside marriage was frowned on.
“Well… not the sort of women we would know. But men have mistresses. Think of Maria Fitzherbert and the Regent. Royalty and mistresses have always been close bedfellows if you’ll pardon the expression. What happens in public is rarely the true face of what happens behind closed doors,” Phillipa remarked, helping herself to a scone from the cake stand set on the table between them.
“That much is true. But royalty can get away with it. The Regent would still be the Regent if he had a hundred mistresses, and all of them paraded down St James’ together. The rest of us aren’t so fortunate,” Luisa replied.
Her cousin looked at her sympathetically.
“You’ve been thinking about this a great deal, haven’t you, Luisa,” she said, and Luisa nodded.
“I’m thirty years old. I live alone with my maid. I’m fortunate in my independence. My aunt provided for me when she died. But what use is independence if it offers no further advantage? One could have all the money in the world and still be miserable,” she said, sighing and setting down her cup and saucer on the table.
Phillipa was Luisa’s mother’s sister’s daughter. But it was Luisa’s father’s sister who had provided for her in the aftermath of her father’s and mother’s death. She had taken her in, given her a home, and made every provision possible for her comfort. Her unexpected death, three years ago, had come as a terrible shock, leaving Luisa with no one except Phillipa to count as family. In the tragedy’s aftermath, Luisa had had little time to consider her own future, but now, with Phillipa married, such thoughts were returning, and her sadness at her own situation was foremost on her mind.
“But these things take time. A husband doesn’t just fall out of a tree and land in one’s path. Don’t you remember? It took Aston three balls and a picnic before he even plucked up the courage to speak to me – you were there, you were my chaperone. What have you done to meet a suitor?” Phillipa asked.
If Luisa had been uncharitable, she might have retorted that her efforts had been spent in helping Phillipa find her own suitor. And whilst those efforts had borne fruit, they had come at the cost of Luisa’s own happiness. Whilst she had been busy chaperoning her cousin, any attractive, or merely suitable man, had passed her by. The assumption – or so she believed – was that any man who saw her with her cousin would immediately believe she was married, and thus make no effort to associate himself with her. It had happened dozens of times, and Luisa had resigned herself to it, as much as it pained her to do so.
“Well, nothing, but what can I do? I’ve seen so many seasons I could walk them with my eyes closed. The Assembly ball, the Cutler’s ball, the Aldershot dinner, the presentation at court, the Guthrie masquerade… it’s an endless cycle of the same rich harvest from which I can never gather any fruit. I’ve passed the age, Phillipa. I’m nothing but a washed-out old maiden,” Luisa replied, and she slumped back in her chair and sighed.
Luisa tried her hardest not to feel sorry for herself. She distracted herself with her hobbies. She was an accomplished painter of watercolors, and she played the pianoforte with flair and poise. But in everything she did, something was missing. The companionship of another, and the pleasures of intimacy which had so clearly become her cousin’s fortune.
“Don’t be so silly, Luisa. You’re nothing of the sort. There are many women who marry at… your age,” Phillipa said, looking slightly embarrassed, even as Luisa laughed.
“Yes, my age – widows trying to find a new start. It’s embarrassing, Phillipa. I know nothing of men, even as I would like to do so,” she replied.
Her only memory of tenderness was a snatched kiss at the Cutler’s ball five years ago. A gentleman had asked her to dance, and the two of them had taken a turn about the gardens, where they had shared a kiss beneath the moonlight. But the gentleman in question had soon been revealed as a rake, one for whom the kiss meant nothing but a conquest, and Luisa had been left nursing her wounds, unable to trust any man, even those who appeared to have the most genuine of interests in her. Now Luisa found herself at an impasse, and uncertain of what to do.
“You only need to find the one man for you, Luisa. He’s out there, and he probably feels just the same as you. Perhaps he despairs at ever finding the love of his life, and any day now, you’ll walk into it and live happily ever after,” Phillipa replied.
Her optimism was clearly born of her own experience, and Luisa could not find it in her heart to dissuade her cousin from the romantic notion of a fairytale ending. Instead, they finished their tea and promised to meet the following week.
“What does a newly married woman do with herself? The wife of a marquis, no less,” Luisa said, as she kissed her cousin goodbye.
“Well, Aston wants us to visit the estate in Berkshire. He says it’s the most wonderful place, with a boating lake and beautiful grounds. We’re going to go there for the summer months. And I suppose I’ll find things to do – reading and writing letters, and there’s the household to oversee,” Phillipa replied.
Luisa smiled, even as she felt envious of her cousin for her newly found domestic happiness. But it was that other aspect of marriage that Luisa truly envied – the pleasure of companionship. Aston was a handsome man, and more than once during the wedding ceremony, Luisa’s mind had wandered to his physical characteristics. She had imagined him taking her in his arms, holding her in his embrace, running his hands down her body, bringing his lips to hers…
“I’ll see you next week, then. Come and take tea with Aston and I,” Phillipa said, interrupting Luisa from her daydream.
“What? Oh, yes, next week. That would be lovely. It’s so good to see you, Phillipa. You look so happy,” Luisa replied, placing her hand on her cousin’s shoulder, and smiling.
She stood at the door of her townhouse and watched as Phillipa left in her carriage. It bore the crest of the Marquis of Penwardy, and her cousin appeared every bit the lady she was. Luisa sighed and returned inside. The house felt empty, and Luisa could not help but feel sorry for herself, as much as she tried to talk herself around.
“You’re just being silly, Luisa. You enjoy every advantage, save that of the flesh…” she told herself, as she made her way into the music room and sat down at the pianoforte.
The windows of the music room – where Luisa also practiced the harp and the lute – faced onto the garden at the back of the house. It was spring, and the blossom on the apple trees was at its best. She began to play, watching as the petals fell like a gentle flurry of snow, carpeting the grass. It was a sight that always reminded her of her mother, who loved this time of year.
“New beginnings, Luisa. That’s what spring represents,” her mother would say, and Luisa knew now was the time for just such a new beginning.
She played for a few moments, before rising from the pianoforte and going to a table by the door on which was set a small bell. She opened the door and rang for the maid, the sound of the bell tinkling through the house. A few moments later, her maid, Ellen, appeared. Ellen was her faithful servant, fiercely loyal and with the utmost discretion.
“More tea, miss?” Ellen asked, but Luisa shook her head.
“No… Ellen. I need you to perform a task for me, one which requires complete secrecy on your part,” Luisa replied.
Her heart was racing. She hardly knew what had come over her, save the thought that she simply had to do something about these feelings welling up inside her. She could hardly contain them any longer, and now she was certain her only hope lay in satisfying the curiosity which had so peaked during tea with her cousin.
“You can trust me, miss,” the maid replied, even as she looked somewhat taken aback by Luisa’s words.
She was an older woman of fifty and had been in the employ of Luisa’s aunt.
“Sit down, Ellen,” Luisa said, pacing up and down the music room, knowing the thought in her mind was the most scandalous of possibilities.
“Are you all right, miss? You seem terribly agitated,” Ellen said, and Luisa sighed.
“I need you to find me a man, Ellen,” Luisa blurted out, and the maid stared at her in astonishment.
“But miss. I’m only your maid. What do I know of such things? I’d gladly provide a chaperone for you. But the business of making a match is surely yours,” she said, even as Luisa shook her head.
“Not that sort of man, Ellen. A man to satisfy… curiosity. An… impermanent man. One who would…” she replied, her words trailing off.
It sounded so terrible when put like that, and Luisa wondered if she had crossed a line. The maid looked at her, as an expression of understanding came over her face. She smiled and nodded.
“I see, miss. There’re men like that, and there’re those who can arrange for such men to… be present. I know of one, I think. Would you like me to approach her?” Ellen said, and Luisa nodded.
“A woman? Who offers men for… companionship?” she replied, and Ellen nodded.
Luisa had always believed that one of the faults of her class – and society in general – was that no one ever said what they truly meant. Companionship was a polite term for what Luisa really meant – the pleasures of the flesh. She wanted to experience what other women experienced in their marriages, and since she was not married – nor had any prospect of being so – there was no other choice but to seek out the sort of man whom Phillipa had referred to. A rake or man of looser morals who would think nothing of enjoying the pleasures of the flesh without the commitment of vows.
Luisa knew the moral arguments against such a liaison. She could imagine the horror in the salons and drawing-rooms of her contemporaries if such a thing were to be revealed, but her mind was made up – or at least, she was resolved to know no peace in herself until she had experienced that which had so far been denied her.
“That’s right, miss. I could ask her to meet with you if you’d wish me to,” Ellen replied, and Luisa nodded.
“Yes, I would,” she said, knowing there could be no going back, and feeling her curiosity aroused by the prospect of a woman who could satisfy these overwhelming desires.
Luisa had rearranged the ornaments on the drawing-room mantelpiece a dozen times in the past hour. She was awaiting the arrival of Madam Harriet, the woman of whom Ellen had spoken and who had now arranged an appointment with Luisa to discuss her proposition. It was like something out of a storybook, and Luisa was terrified that anyone save Ellen should ever find out about it. But still, her curiosity overcame her doubts, and she was resolved to see the matter through to whatever conclusion it might reach. The thought of Madam Harriet fascinated her – a woman who could arrange the services of men to fulfill whatever pleasure a woman might desire. It seemed remarkable, even as it was true.
“We’ll take tea, Ellen. And cake, yes… cake. She’s that sort of woman, isn’t she?” Luisa asked, having summoned the maid to the drawing-room as the hour of Madam Harriet’s arrival approached.
“She’s a most respectable woman, miss. You’ll find her very amenable. A Parisian by birth, but she’s resided in London for many years. I’ll see to the tea,” Ellen replied.
Luisa went to the window and looked out at the street below. It was busy – carriages passing, and fashionable ladies taking their afternoon stroll.
“What if she’s recognized coming into the house?” Luisa asked herself.
She wondered if others of her acquaintance had used the services of Madam Harriet. Was it an unspoken norm? She realized what a sheltered life she had led, even as her thoughts were far from innocent. She knew what she desired, and it was Madam Harriet who could provide it.
“So steady yourself and tell her what you want,” Luisa told herself, knowing her mind and heart would know no peace until the matter was settled.
At precisely three O’clock, a carriage drew up outside the house and Luisa watched as an impeccably dressed lady climbed out. She was of later age and wore a peacock blue dress with a large hat that partially obscured her face. Gloves and a walking cane, topped with an ivory hilt, gave the impression of an aristocratic lady, rather than a woman of… ill repute. Luisa sat down in a chair by the hearth and listened for Ellen’s footfall on the stairs – the drawing-room being on the first floor of the house, for her aunt had always liked to observe the street below. A moment later, a knock came at the door, and Ellen introduced Madam Harriet.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Luisa said, rising from her chair and doing her best not to show her nerves.
“Miss Comeford, the pleasure is mine,” Madam Harriet said, her accent betraying her French inheritance.
Luisa could see her face properly now. She was heavily made up, her cheeks powdered and rouged, her lips red, and her eyes encircled by black lines, which emphasized their deep green. She held out her hand to Luisa and smiled.
“I’ll bring the tea and cake, miss,” Ellen said, and she left the room, closing the door behind her.
“Won’t you sit down?” Luisa said, beckoning Madam Harriet to a chair opposite the hearth.
Madam Harriet sat down and surveyed the room, nodding in approval.
“You have excellent taste, Miss Comeford. A delightful room,” she said, and Luisa smiled.
“It was my aunt who furnished it,” she replied.
The room was tastefully decorated in the French style. The walls were papered with an exotic design of birds, and the upholstery and rugs were of cream and blue. It was Luisa’s favorite room in the house, and also contained much of her substantial book collection, too.
“Your aunt had a keen eye. But we’re not here to talk about furnishings, Miss Comeford. I realize conversations such as this can be difficult. But a woman’s pleasure shouldn’t have to wait for a man’s decision,” Madam Harriet said, and Luisa’s eyes grew wide with astonishment.
She had never heard anyone speak so openly – and without qualms or embarrassment – about pleasure. Duty was the role of women. Duty in marriage, duty in childbirth, duty in comportment and decorum. This was a breath of fresh air.
“I’ve never… experienced it, you see,” Luisa said, and Madam Harriet smiled.
“And that’s why I’m here, Miss Comeford. Or may I call you Luisa?” she asked, and Luisa nodded.
“You may. But what… what happens?” she asked, knowing she had entered a world she knew nothing of, save her own imaginations.
“I am a facilitator of pleasure, Miss Comeford. There’re men – respectable men, the right sort of men, who seek the company of ladies such as yourself. I merely provide the introduction and allow events to take their course,” Madam Harriet replied.
Luisa was about to reply when a knock at the door signaled the arrival of the tea, and Ellen entered bearing a tray with crockery, a teapot, and a large seed cake on an ornate floral cake stand.
“Begging your pardon, miss,” she said, setting down the tray.
With the tea poured and Madam Harriet provided with a large slice of cake, Ellen left the room. Madam Harriet smiled.
“Now, where were we? Ah, yes, the introduction. I have all sorts of gentlemen in my acquaintance. I have some thoughts already as to which might be a suitable match for you,” she said, and Luisa stared at her in surprise.
“You… you do?” she asked, and Madam Harriet nodded.
“Don’t worry. I go to great pains to ensure my matches are unknown to one another’s social circles. It’s really a very informal agreement. There’s nothing expected of either of you, save whatever you mutually desire,” Madam Harriet said, still smiling at Luisa, who was desperate to ask more questions.
“It’s just I’ve never… I don’t know… what it’s like,” she said, hardly able to bring herself to speak the thoughts in her heart.
It had all seemed far simpler in her mind, but despite her resolve, Luisa still had her doubts.
“It’s simply what you want it to be. Perhaps the two of you will spend an evening in simple conversation. I can tell from your demeanor and comportment what sort of woman you are – a woman of wit, learning, and good conversation,” she said, and Luisa blushed.
“But still unable to find a husband. I’ve no trouble in conversation, Madam Harriet. It’s the other pleasures I lack experience of,” Luisa replied.
“Then forget the conversation. Take your gentleman to your boudoir, Miss Comeford. Allow him to show you the pleasures you’ve been missing. That’s why you’ve paid me to come here, isn’t it?” Madam Harriet replied.
The thought of paying for such a thing was quite alien to Luisa. She knew there were women who plied their wares in the less salubrious parts of London. Offering pleasure in return for a meager fee. But this was not like that, or so she told herself. This was different, and Luisa was determined to make it so.
“I’m not sure what I’ve paid you for, Madam Harriet. I’ve never done this before. It’s exciting, but I’m terribly nervous,” she admitted, and Madam Harriet nodded, taking a sip of tea before replying.
“I’m yet to meet a woman who wasn’t nervous when first she sought me out. But I’m yet to meet a woman who wasn’t pleased she did. I assure you, Miss Comeford, my services are discreet, and satisfaction is guaranteed,” she replied.
With the final arrangements made, Madam Harriet took her leave. She had promised to match Luisa with a gentleman who would call on her the following evening. He would come discreetly and there would be no question of anyone finding out the truth as to his visit. Luisa had agreed a fee, and now she was left alone, pondering her decision.
“I’d only continue to wonder,” she told herself.
The morals of the situation were cast aside. If a man could have a mistress, then a woman could enjoy that pleasure that was rightfully hers, too. It was no different, or so Luisa told herself repeatedly for the rest of the evening. She went to bed in an excitable mood, and lay awake for some time, wondering as to what the following evening would bring.
“What will he be like? Will he be handsome? I’m sure he will be. What will we talk about? Will we talk at all? What does one say to a man who comes only to give pleasure?” she asked herself.
Ellen had brought her a cup of chamomile tea to help her sleep, and Luisa yawned, closing her eyes, and picturing the scene of the gentleman’s arrival. She was waiting nervously at the window in the hallway, gazing along the street for the first glimpse of his carriage. Or perhaps he would come on foot. Sleep was coming over her, and now, her thoughts turned to dreams as the gentleman arrived…
“Miss Comeford, I presume,” he said, as she opened the door.
Luisa had given Ellen the night off, and she beckoned the gentleman inside, anxious that no one should see his admittance. Her neighbors would delight in speculation of seeing a man admitted to the house. Luisa kept herself to herself, her affairs were her own, for there was always someone wishing to pry into the life of a single lady. She closed the door and turned to the man, who removed his hat with a flourish. He was tall, handsome, with an olive complexion, well built, with black hair and blue eyes. He smiled at her.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said, and he nodded.
“So Madam Harriet tells me. But you’ve nothing to fear. You can rely on my discretion. It’s what you’ve paid for, after all. There’re plenty of women in your position, Miss Comeford,” he said, and Luisa blushed.
“Please, I’d like it if you called me Luisa,” she replied, and he nodded.
“Well then, Luisa. Where shall we go? Your boudoir? The drawing-room? Somewhere… more adventurous?” he asked.
Luisa was taken aback by his forwardness. She had expected their passions to build – a drink together in the drawing-room or a walk in the garden. Now it was happening, she was unsure of her feelings for this contrived situation. Could romance really be created in such a way?
“I… well, we could begin in the drawing-room,” she said, but now he stepped forward, still with a smile on his face, and took her in his arms. He brought his lips to hers, kissing her with such passion as to be quite overwhelming. But the sensation was not unpleasant, and Luisa allowed herself to be taken up in the moment, enjoying the sensation of his touch as a shiver of delight ran through her.
“I don’t even know your name,” she whispered, but he only laughed.
“And isn’t that better for us both?” he replied.
Now Luisa could hardly control herself. This was what she had desired, as strange as it seemed. She wanted to know the touch of a man, how it felt, how it made her feel. This was more than mere curiosity, it was a necessity if she was not to go mad with longing for that which so many other women took for granted.
“I suppose so,” she gasped, as now he brought his lips to her neck, his hands running down the length of her skirt.
She had dressed in a blue gown and sash, spraying herself liberally with rose water after she had bathed. His scent was musky, sandalwood and pine. She felt him stiffen against her, and now she clasped at him, pulling him closer into her embrace as passion overtook the reason in her mind. Every instinct warned against such a liaison, but her desire was stronger than her instinct. He pulled at her dress so that it slipped to the marble floor, exposing her as now she arched her back and allowed him to caress her, and search her out.
“You’re very beautiful, Luisa. Your skin is so smooth, your breasts so supple, your scent so delightful,” he murmured, gazing up at her.
She smiled at him, desirous of more. She stepped back, beckoning him to follow her up the stairs and to the drawing-room. Her petticoats trailed behind her as she slipped naked through the house, hardly caring as to the scandal which such behavior represented. She was delighting in this moment, her doubts cast aside in favor of the pleasure she now felt at entertaining this man who came with the promise of fulfilling her every desire. Where such desire arose from, she did not know, only that it was a desire thus far unquenched, and which now needed to be satisfied.
“And you’re so very handsome. I’ve never met a man like you,” she replied, ushering him into the drawing-room.
Her preparations there had been thorough. A fire was kindled in the hearth for dusk had fallen, and candles burned in the sconces. She had laid a rug in front of the fire, imagining herself and her mysterious caller lying as one on it. A bottle of claret and two glasses stood on the corner table, and Ellen had prepared sweet delights to tempt Luisa’s guest – dainty cakes and stuffed dates laid out on a silver platter. Her visitor smiled.
“Then it is to be here and not your boudoir,” he whispered, causing Luisa to smile.
“I’d like that,” she replied, as now he put his arms around her, kissing her as she pulled at his belt, exposing the length of his manhood which she gazed at in awe.
This was unchartered territory for Luisa, who knew nothing of the male form save for bathing with a distant cousin when she was young. But this was something quite different. She looked up at him with a nervous expression on her face, and gently he took her hand and moved her fingers along the length of his shaft, allowing her to explore him at her will. She clasped at it, causing him to shudder with pleasure, as now they lay down together on the rug by the hearth.
“You really know nothing of the pleasures which can be yours, do you, Miss Comeford?” he said, and Luisa shook her head.
“But you’re to show me, aren’t you?” she said, and he leaned forward and kissed her, running his fingers in a caress along the length of her body.
“That’s right. Madam Harriet told me you were… hesitant. There’s no need to be. Let your desires overtake you. Do with me as you please? I’m here for your pleasure,” he said, resting his forehead against hers.
Luisa ran her hand across his chest. It was muscular, taut, and toned. She traced the wispy line of hair which ran down his stomach with her fingers, desirous to touch his manhood, the sight of which fascinated her. It was as solid as a rock, bulging and erect. She smiled at him, clasping at his pleasure, and causing him to gasp. He kissed her, his tongue entwining with hers, hot and passionate.
“It’s what I want,” she whispered, as now he rose over her, his body overshadowing her, his lips tracing a line down her neck and onto her breast. His tongue felt delightful against her skin, and now he searched out a trail across her body, kissing and caressing her, until suddenly she gasped. The feeling was like nothing she had ever experienced before, a heat so intense that she cried out.
“Gently now,” he whispered, his fingers caressing her pleasure, his tongue parting her and searching her out.
Luisa writhed in his arms, overwhelmed by what was building inside her, a heat so intense that it felt as though her whole body was on fire.
“More… oh, more,” she gasped, unable to control herself in that moment of ecstasy, the moment she had longed for, dreamed of, and now knew as her own…
Luisa awoke with a start. She had been dreaming, and she sat up, rubbing her eyes, and recalling the final moments of her dream. It was all so vivid, and she felt herself blush at the details she now remembered. It had all been so very real – the gentleman caller, his touch and caress, the sensation he had brought about.
She shook her head, smiling to herself, even as she felt terribly embarrassed by what her mind had conjured. But these were her desires, and there could be no escaping from them. Today was the day Madam Harriet’s selected gentleman would call on her. The scene would be the same as in her dream, even as Luisa did not feel quite as confident as she had done in her sleep.
“What time is it?” she asked herself, pulling back the blankets and rising from her bed.
She pulled back the curtains to reveal the garden below. Her bedroom lay at the back of the house, a pleasantly furnished room that had been her own ever since she had first come to live with her aunt. She opened the window, listening to the sound of the birds in the trees outside. It was still early, the sun only just making its appearance over the surrounding townhouses. There was a coolness in the air, and Luisa took a deep breath, wondering again if she had made the right decision.
“There’s no going back now,” she told herself.
Luisa was good at talking herself in and out of things. Often, it was the idea of something which attracted her, rather than seeing it through. She would have good intentions and make plans – attendance at a ball, a picnic in the park – and at the last minute, she would convince herself she had been a fool to think of seeing it through. The older she got, the more such occasions seemed to her an endurance rather than a pleasure. To sit as a wallflower or with those entirely resigned to spinsterhood was embarrassing, and more often than not, Luisa was able to talk herself out of such things, even as others hoped for her company.
“It’s going to be different today,” she told herself, resolved to see the matter through without changing her mind.
She had come this far, and she knew her dreams would be forever those of wonder if she did not experience this moment for herself. The pleasures of the flesh held a mystery for her, one she had every intention of solving.
The clock in the hallway below chimed seven O’clock, and a knock came at Luisa’s bedroom door. It was Ellen, and she carried with her a tray, on which sat a pot of tea, an ornate cup and saucer, and a plate containing toast, with butter and preserves to accompany it. Luisa’s stomach was churning, but she forced herself to eat something, sitting at a table by the window to enjoy the sweet scent of the garden wafting through the open window.
“Would you like me to help you dress, miss? Something simple for the day and then you can change for… the evening,” Ellen said, smiling at Luisa, who nodded.
It was a simple enough code. Each of the women knew what the other meant. Luisa had asked the maid to find her a woman like Madam Harriet to satisfy her pleasures, and this had been done. Luisa knew she could rely on Ellen’s discretion. Even when they were alone, the matter would only be referred to in the most oblique of terms, and after the deed was done, they need never mention it again.
“I think my green dress for the day and the red satin for tonight,” Luisa said, reasoning that red was the color of seduction.
But such a thought brought with it fresh questions as to the nature of the act she was undertaking. What would be the proper etiquette for such an occasion? Madam Harriet had offered little by way of advice, except to say that Luisa was entirely free to make her own decisions about what happened after the gentleman she had arranged to call stepped through the door. It was exciting, but also terribly nerve-wracking.
“Red satin? Yes, miss. A lovely choice. And will you bathe, too?” Ellen asked.
“Yes, I will. And have some refreshments laid out in the drawing-room. A bottle of claret and two glasses, some cakes, and stuffed dates. I want my guest to feel welcome,” Luisa said, and Ellen nodded.
“I’ll see to everything, miss, and then slip out to see my sister for the evening,” the maid said.
Luisa was grateful to her. She knew she could count on Ellen to see to everything and ask no awkward questions tomorrow morning. Discretion was assured, and the maid now helped Ellen to dress and ready herself for the day ahead. Having risen so early, Luisa found it hard to settle. She sat down to play the pianoforte, only to find herself distracted by thoughts of what might come that evening. Would there be any conversation? Any spark of attraction beyond the merely animalistic? Madam Harriet had assured Luisa she had a suitable candidate in mind, but what if there was no draw between them? Would he even find her attractive?
“Oh, it’s no use,” Luisa complained, closing the lid of the pianoforte and sighing.
She could not settle, nor could she find anything to distract herself with. The morning dragged on, and she ate a simple luncheon of asparagus and brown bread and butter. The afternoon passed in a similarly monotonous fashion. No book could interest her, the garden held no appeal, and she had forbidden Ellen from finding her at home to visitors for fear her intentions for the evening might be discovered.
“It’s time to get ready for the evening, miss,” Ellen said, as the clock in the drawing-room struck four O’clock.
Luisa breathed a sigh of relief. The day had felt like a lifetime, but now she would ready herself and await the gentleman caller, whose arrival was timed for six O’clock.
“Thank you, Ellen. What a day it’s been,” she replied, surveying the drawing-room, which the maid had set out just as in her dream.
On a small table by the bureau stood a bottle of claret – uncorked and poured into a glass decanter. Two glasses and two dainty patterned plates stood next to it, and a silver platter held an array of cakes and stuffed dates. Ellen was not only Luisa’s maid, but she was also her cook, her laundress, and everything else required for the smooth running of the house. Visitors often remarked on the lack of staff, but Luisa would not have it any other way. No one could replace Ellen, and once again, Luisa could only feel grateful to her for all she had done that day.
“And I hope you’ll be happy for your wait, miss,” Ellen replied, as now they made their way upstairs where the maid had placed the copper tub in front of the hearth in Luisa’s bedroom.
It was filled with hot water, steaming with the scent of lavender and rosewater. Ellen helped Luisa out of her dress, and she slipped into the water, delighting at its envelopment, and sinking down into it with a sigh.
“I keep imagining what he’ll be like. The gentleman caller, I mean,” Luisa said, and Ellen smiled.
“I hope he’s handsome, miss, but… allow me to speak freely. You deserve more than an evening in the arms of a gentleman such as that. I know you’re yet to find the right man for you, but will you be happy with a man like this?” she asked.
Luisa shook her head and shrugged.
“I don’t know, Ellen. I’ve never been bold enough to seek something like this before. I’m usually such a wallflower, but… oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a terrible idea,” she replied, rising from the bath water with a sigh.
Ellen held out a towel for her.
“Now, miss. I don’t want you talking yourself out of this. You always talk yourself out of things,” she said, and Luisa laughed.
“I know, and I’m determined to see this through. Even if nothing comes of it. Madam Harriet made no mention of what’s expected of one in this situation. It’s entirely up to me. I suppose we’ll talk and… well,” she said, blushing at the sudden remembrance of her dream.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine, miss. You’re such a beauty. You’ve wit and conversation in abundance,” Ellen replied, but that only served to cause Luisa further second thoughts.
If she was truly all those things, why had she resorted to such an astonishing means of fulfilling her desires? It seemed remarkable to be awaiting the arrival of what she had tried – and failed – to convince herself was none other than a man masquerading as a prostitute. The term made her shudder, for it represented a world entirely alien to her own. A world of vice and criminality. Prostitution was an ugly stain on the city and responsible for the most appalling poverty and destitution amongst the working classes. Granted, some of the women enjoyed the most lavish of lifestyles in the company of the great and the good, but most were forced into lives where selling pleasure was a necessity, rather than a pleasure in itself.
“And you’ve stepped right into it,” she told herself, as Ellen helped her dress in the red satin gown.
She glanced at herself in the mirror, her expression telling her she was far from resolved to what was about to occur. The dream had been so vivid, so pleasurable. But waking was another matter, and she glanced nervously at the clock, which now struck the half-hour after five O’clock.
“I’ll not come back until the morning, miss,” Ellen said, as the two of them made their way down to the hall.
“Well… only if you’re sure. Perhaps… no, very well. Enjoy your evening with your sister. Give her my regards, won’t you?” Luisa said, and Ellen nodded.
“I will, miss, and I promise you’ll be all right. Enjoy the company of this gentleman. I’m sure Madam Harriet will have chosen well,” she replied.
Luisa nodded. Her heart was beating fast, her hands were trembling, and she could barely think beyond the moment of opening the door to the stranger with whom she would shortly be emboldened with. The pleasures she had dreamed of seemed remarkable in the cold reality of the moment – could she really go through with it?
“Goodnight, Ellen,” Luisa said, watching as the maid disappeared down into the kitchen, leaving Luisa alone in the hallway.
“Goodnight, miss, and enjoy yourself. You deserve it,” Ellen called back.
Luisa sighed. She was not entirely sure that was the case. Other women managed to live perfectly well in a state of spinsterhood, or widowhood. Why should she be any different? She wondered again where this strange desire for pleasure had come from. She had not cultivated it, nor had she ever been exposed to vice such that she might be desirous to repeat it. This was a foreign country, one Luisa was ill-prepared for. She crossed to the window and glanced along the street.
It was early evening, and she spotted several of her neighbors out for their evening constitutional, parading beneath their parasols along the tree-lined boulevards which flanked each side of the rows of townhouses. Luisa knew everyone, and everyone knew her. She was the niece of Patricia Comeford, whose unexpected death had been met with horror. Sympathy had poured in, and Luisa had long been an object of pity to those who resided nearby.
“And offering the excuse to stick their noses into my business,” she told herself, remembering the looks on her neighbor’s faces when she had deigned to invite a distant cousin – a gentleman – for dinner.
That innocent liaison, observed by one of her neighbors, had become a matter of talk for every drawing-room between their and Saint Paul’s. Heaven only knew what would be said if this evening’s visitor was spotted. Luisa was having cold feet. Even as she reminded herself, she was entitled to invite whom she liked into her home. Soon, she would be old enough that such things did not matter. A confirmed spinster could do as she pleased, but a young lady of good fortune, it was always assumed, must be desirous of a husband – that was a universal assumption and one which would be made about any gentleman who called on her.
“Put it out of your mind,” she told herself, determined to enjoy the moment she had spent so long in crafting.
All was prepared. It would not be like her dream. There would be no divesting of the red satin gown here on the black and white marbled checkered floor. She glanced out of the window again, just as the clock struck six O’clock. A carriage had just pulled up outside. This was not how she had expected her gentleman caller to arrive. She watched as the driver climbed down and opened the carriage door. Her heart was beating so fast she felt it might explode.
“I can’t look,” she told herself, fearful she might never open the door if the man she spied should not be to her liking.
Instead, she hurried to clasp the door handle, listening for the gentleman’s footsteps on the stone steps leading up from the street. He would be beneath the portico now, raising his hand to the brass door knocker. Luisa jumped at the sound – “knock, knock, knock.” She took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Miss Comeford, I presume?” the gentleman asked, smiling broadly at her.
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