Wedding Violet ~ Book 4 in the Fair Cyprians of London series
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“Gad’s teeth, that was the best tupping I’ve ever paid for, my lovely Victoria!” Lord Belvedere regarded Violet with satisfaction as he reclined in all his youthful glory upon the pink satin counterpane of the iron four-poster.
“It’s Violet, actually,” Violet said, pulling the bedsheets up to her chest as she swung her legs over the edge of the bed.
Through the thin walls of Madame Chambon’s infamous house of assignation sounded the thumps and cries of the night’s trade. Strange that this had become normal to her now, she thought as she began to untangle her long dark hair with her fingers. Strange, too, the way she’d experienced real excitement from the moment the young nobleman had gazed into her eyes before kissing her. And then doing all those other things that constituted bedroom sport.
“Actually, it’s the first tupping I have ever paid for—and worth every penny, my exquisite Violet.” Belvedere grinned as he met her look, then reached forward to draw her back down beside him. “Where did you learn those tricks?”
“I could ask you the same, my Lord,” Violet replied, gently disengaging herself from his embrace so she could return to her task of ordering herself. For once, it was more than lip service. It was the best tupping of this strange, sordid year.
It was also the first time she’d felt regret at cutting short a business encounter; something she’d have to do if she wasn’t to anger her most reliable and high-paying customer, Lord Bainbridge. He’d probably be pacing the length of the drawing room downstairs like a caged tiger by now.
With an extremely satisfied sigh, Lord Belvedere put his hands behind his head and crossed his ankles. “And I would answer that pleasing a woman has always been a favourite pursuit of mine.” He continued to regard Violet with appreciation. “Now, surely I can persuade you to finish our delightful encounter with less unseemly haste. Let’s order a bottle of champagne and bring out the draughts board, shall we?”
Violet flicked a quick glance at him as she leaned over to roll on one of the fine, white stockings she’d hung over the iron bed end. He really was rather a delicious specimen with his soulful caramel eyes. And that beautifully curved mouth was as accomplished at kissing as it was issuing quips that made her laugh. This last hour they’d done all that and more as they’d rolled about on the counterpane in Violet’s attic room, with its view of St Paul’s being its most redeeming feature. There weren’t many other redeeming features at Madame Chambon’s.
Lord Belvedere looked in no hurry to leave. He stretched languidly, and Violet tried to hide her interest in assessing his unashamedly naked form. She’d never felt anything, other than revulsion, for any of the men she entertained in order to keep a roof over her head. Until now.
“Yes, champagne and draughts is just the thing, I say!” He sat up, clicking his fingers as he joined her on the edge of the bed, their naked thighs touching before Violet pulled her chemise over her head.
“I’m afraid no one is going to come running at your summons, my Lord.” With a dampening smile, she turned and presented him with her back, holding up the long laces of her corset in a clear implication that she needed his help. “Regrettably, our time together is at an end, and I’d appreciate it if you helped make me decent. I presume you have done this before?”
“Naturally.” But instead of the tug of laces, she felt his arms go over her shoulders to fondle her breasts while he pulled her against him and nuzzled her ear. She could feel the swell of his erection against her behind while the whisper of his breath against her ear stirred her insides into an unexpected state of anticipation.
The acknowledgement of this sensation of physical enjoyment was troubling.
“Nevertheless, I have no intention of leaving before we’ve ended matters in a civilised fashion.” He kissed her shoulder and turned her to face him. “I realise there are men who consider it civilised, or within their rights, to pay an unseemly amount for sex and then leave the moment they come.” He smiled pleasantly at her as he stroked her cheek. “I, however, am a gentleman, and I like to reward good value. You, my dear Violet, have given excellent value.”
Violet blinked, surprised at the pang of regret she felt at his impending departure until she remembered how important the no doubt hideously impatient Lord Bainbridge was to her long-term goal of escaping Madame Chambon’s house of assignation. Or bordello, nunnery, brothel, or whatever term it went by in the lexicon of the gentlemen who crossed its threshold in pursuit of London’s most sought-after companions. Ladies of the night. Lightskirts. Fair Cyprians. She’d been called many things, but she rather liked the way ‘my fair Violet’ rolled off young Lord Belvedere’s tongue. Just as she’d liked what young Lord Belvedere’s tongue had done to her in a myriad of other unexpectedly erotic ways this evening.
“Madame Chambon will be most pleased,” Violet murmured, extricating herself from his grasp.
“I have no interest in pleasing Madame Chambon.”
It seemed Lord Belvedere was not going to be easily persuaded to leave. He cupped Violet’s chin, turning her head slightly so that she was forced to look at him. “If I’m cutting into the time of your next highly anticipated customer, then perhaps Madame Chambon will be pleased if I double your rate just so we can drink champagne and play draughts together for half an hour. I trust you can play draughts? It’s hardly a complicated game.”
Violet considered him. She made no secret of it as her eyes roamed the length of him: his long, muscled thighs lightly dusted with the dark hair from which his manhood sprouted; further up, his well-delineated chest with its delicate nipples suggesting the first possibility of vulnerability. His mouth was the second. And it really was a lovely mouth, his lips soft though his jaw determined; as determined as his eyes as he stared back at her.
He indicated the bell that sat on her side table. “Surely you need only to ring that and a servant will come running to do our bidding?”
It was true. If Violet were creative enough, her next customer would be given the necessary excuse that would see him offered any of the other exceptional young women for whom Madame Chambon’s establishment was renowned.
“Unless you would, in fact, prefer to be entertained by your next customer rather than drink champagne with me?” His voice was lower by several notches. Caramel and persuasive. Like his eyes.
No, Violet had no desire to entertain Lord Bainbridge but nor did she want to anger him. Lord Bainbridge was well on the way to making her that offer of exclusivity which every girl at Madame’s craved.
She licked her lips as she stared back at his lordship. She’d happily drink champagne with him. Heavens! She’d happily roll about on the bed with him for another session, which was unheard of.
Violet contemplated her options. Perhaps denying Lord Bainbridge tonight might be just the ticket for hustling him along the road to setting her up in her own little ladybird’s lair so Violet could shed this hated life and plan her next elevation.
Without a word, she picked up the little bell and sent the message for which his lordship was so eager. Champagne and a board game. What a perfectly delightful way to end an evening.
* * *
“Clever move, lovely Violet. You’re as inspiring on the draughts board as you are in bed.”
Predictably, they were once again back on the coverlet, Lord Belvedere stark naked, Violet in only a peignoir, but he’d been true to his expressed desires. It seemed he really did want to end their session with some rivalry on the draughts board and some lively conversation rather than once again demonstrating his prowess as a lover.
Violet watched his lordship toss back his champagne. His cheeks were flushed and there was an air of excitement about him, or suppressed emotion, that she’d not noticed before.
With a gusty sigh, he set down his glass and sent Violet a long and level look as he leant back against the pillows. “Definitely a moment to celebrate. A lucky escape, if ever there was one.”
Violet shook her head when he reached for the bottle on the bedside drawers and tried to top up her glass. “And what have you escaped, my Lord? A marauding tiger? The firing squad?” She tried to sound relaxed as she ran her forefinger over the smooth surface of the white piece she was waiting to move once it was her turn. She could see an opportunity that she suspected he’d missed.
“Not quite, though, either way, my fate would have been equally unhappy.” Lord Belvedere leaned over, picked up his black, and neatly moved to take three of her pieces. “You thought I’d missed that, my love. But I’m not so stupid. Nor are you, for that matter.” Then, in a more robust tone, “I was to have been married tonight. Can you believe it, but three hours ago I was all dressed up and standing at the altar in my very finest.”
“You were to have been…married?” Violet felt her first flush of panic for the evening as she tried to discern if the beautiful…naked…man before her was in earnest.
If he was, then—what had she done?
Sensing her discomfort, he patted her wrist. “I waited at the altar for more than an hour for the wretched female.” For the first time this evening he looked grim. “Lord, I certainly had everyone’s sympathy by the time we all realised the game was over.”
“I’m sorry.” Violet plucked at the silken folds of her peignoir and thought how strangely different men were from women when dealing with crises of the heart. Recalling the moment of realisation that the man she’d loved had let her down so terribly still sent ice through her veins, nearly two years later. But her first recourse had hardly been sexual diversion. A wave of self-revulsion engulfed her. Oh no, that had come much later. Though hardly at her behest.
“Lord, you can’t imagine it! I’d arrived at the church feeling sick to my stomach with nerves but determined to do the right thing.”
She searched for any sign of remorse on Lord Belvedere’s part for having assuaged his wounded pride in the arms of a…lightskirt—oh, how she did suffer at the term that indicated how far she’d fallen.
But she could find none.
He glanced at her, then looked away, stroking the glossy tops of the marble pieces as he added, reflectively, “Of course, I got what I deserved. The whole debacle was, after all, my fault.”
“What was your fault? That she didn’t arrive?” Violet tried to imagine what scenario might have prevented an eager bride-to-be from making such an important appointment. Her self-recrimination of a moment before was replaced by a surge of anger towards the man in front of her. Somehow, she suspected, Lord Belvedere had evaded a marriage he didn’t want. Perhaps he hadn’t waited long enough. Perhaps he’d ensured his bride-to-be was detained on purpose. Oh, Violet knew of many underhand ways a man could slip and slide out of his obligations.
Yet, was she any better? If she were made of sterner stuff and lived by her principles, she’d point at the door and tell him to get out right now. No young woman should ever have to go through what Violet had gone through.
Just as quickly, the emotion drained away. Why should she expect any better from a client? Clearly Lord Belvedere, for all his charm and winning ways, was as morally deficient as all the rest.
And besides, one only had to see how far Violet had fallen than to know that she was the last person alive who could criticize another for their morals.
Lord Belvedere shook his head, unaware of her changed feelings towards him. “No, it was my fault for asking her to be there in the first place. For asking her to marry me when I knew she didn’t want to. Standing there in the silent vestry, feeling the sympathy of the wedding guests while my own shame nearly felled me…well, it was just divine punishment.” He took another sip, then kissed the tips of his fingers in a careless gesture of gallantry towards Violet.
Violet sought for a response. She was hardly about to exonerate him if that’s what he wanted. “That sounds like an excuse to me. She wouldn’t have accepted if she didn’t want to marry you. What if she was in an accident and that’s why she was delayed?” Her outrage grew. What a terrible thing for him to have done? Gone straight from the church to Violet’s bed. Why, that made Violet implicit in causing an innocent young woman pain she did not deserve.
“Believe me, there was no accident. Mabel cried off at the last moment. She realised what I should have realised—that she should never have accepted me, and that she’d be making as big a mistake as I by trying to please our families rather than ourselves.”
His face softened as he extended his arm and stroked Violet’s shoulder. “No need to look like that. No harm done. Best thing that ever happened, in fact.”
Violet frowned. She couldn’t decide whether his cavalier attitude hid a broken heart, or whether he really was as overjoyed to be free as he made out.
“Your father must have been dismayed to say the least.”
“Pater’s been dead a long while. Mother the same. No trouble from that quarter.” His smile broadened.
“So…the poor young lady’s decision to cry off has left everyone happy? What a strange state of affairs.”
“Well, not everyone was happy. My grandfather was irate, to say the least, as was hers. They share adjoining estates and thought the idea of forging the next generation to create a mighty union a capital idea.” Lord Belvedere sighed and, for the first time, looked regretful as he toyed with the pieces. “My great-aunt, alas, is inconsolable.”
Violet wasn’t sure how to navigate such strange territory. “I suppose it’s better if one doesn’t get married just to please one’s grandfather…or great-aunt,” she said slowly while also thinking of the many women who married to please everyone in their families other than themselves.
Suddenly, he became brisk. “Now, where were we? Your turn, I believe?”
Violet studied the draughts board and made her move.
“Got me! And I didn’t see it coming!” Lord Belvedere took another slug of champagne.
“That’s either because you wanted to redeem yourself by playing the gentleman and letting me win or because your wits are addled.”
He laughed as he moved one of his pieces three places. “I like to think of myself as a gentleman. I’ve not found myself in an establishment like this before. And as to my wits being addled, it is not, in fact, a sensation with which I’m terribly familiar. I like operating with a clear mind. Tonight is an exception.”
“That would make you an anomaly amongst your set.” Violet sent him a wicked smile across the top of her glass as he raised one eyebrow and clearly pondered a response. She wondered if he were the kind who was quick to anger when their manliness or any other apparent prowess was questioned, despite his assertions that suggested the contrary.
“I am an anomaly amongst my set apparently.” He gestured to his surroundings with a sweep of his arm. “Yes, it’s my first visit to a place like this, and I don’t know why I allowed Bletchley—that’s my best man—to persuade me to come here, though when I set eyes on you all objections died on my lips. But, do you know; I recognised three gentlemen. Married men, too.” He shook his head. “Now, coming to a place like this when one is married is not, in my opinion, the mark of a gentleman.”
Violet shifted position, uncomfortable with his talk. “Some of these men do not enjoy the comforts of home that they—”
“Feel entitled to?” he interrupted. He shook his head, his expression uncompromising. “Sorry, but that doesn’t wash with me. They should have been wiser in their choice of wife.”
“You do not recognise a double standard? I hardly believe you are practising as you preach, Lord Belvedere. Sorry if I sound sceptical, but don’t you think you’d have soon been back through those doors to see me as a married man if the woman you wed proved unsatisfactory in bed?”
He sent her a level look and shook his head. “No.”
“No?” Violet tried for her most artful smile in an attempt to lighten the mood.
To her surprise, he remained serious. “No. Honour and freedom are the codes by which I live. I was ready to follow the honourable path and do what Grandfather wished of me for the sake of the family. I’d have accepted my responsibility and I’d have been faithful, regardless of what it cost me. But when Mabel bolted, I was overwhelmed by the prospect of being, suddenly and unexpectedly, free.” He relaxed, his beautiful smile transforming him into the most handsome man Violet thought she’d ever seen.
“My, but I am glad it was you who came to my rescue, sweet Violet. So much so that I’m truly sorry to leave you, knowing that I shan’t be back.”
A pang of regret ripped through her. Violet couldn’t believe it. She actually wanted to welcome this man back into her arms and would have no issue telling him so? What’s more, she’d mean it, for while she’d said similar words to Lord Bainbridge, that had been paying her most valuable customer the necessary lip service. Survival talk.
“You’d be very welcome,” she said softly. And he would. In all the time she’d been at Madame Chambon’s, Violet had never met a man as charming as Lord Belvedere.
“Ah well.” He began to neaten the draughts board, placing the scattered pieces in their rightful places. Violet couldn’t keep her eyes off his hands. They were long-fingered and gentle. Well, gentle when needed, and very successful in whipping up her long-dormant sexual impulses, too. She swallowed, hoping he didn’t notice the blush that brightened her cheeks as she recalled the clearly mutually enjoyable exploits that had so recently played out upon her bed.
He looked up. “Lightskirts are forbidden in my code of gallantry, and tonight will be a single lapse before I pick myself up after the tumultuous events of this afternoon and forge ahead as the gentleman I propose to be.”
Violet ignored the taunt to her calling. “I think you are more upset about being jilted than you would allow.”
“My pride was dented, it’s true, but I am more excited about the freedom ahead of me than I am downcast at losing face.”
Violet held out her empty glass, then raised it in a toast as the foaming liquid spilled over the edge. “Here’s to your freedom, my Lord. Go forth and make the most of it for not many of us know what freedom is.”
He raised his eyebrows as if her words surprised him, stopping with the glass poised at his lips. “And what is freedom for you, my lovely Violet?”
“Choosing the man upon whom I bestow my favours.” She regretted the words the moment they were out and hoped one of Madame’s spies didn’t have their ear to the wall. Gentlemen paid a fortune to come to this house in order to feel they were the centre of the universe.
“Ah, so that’s why you’re so pleased I’m here since you invited me back, and it’s clear we like one another.” In one swift movement, he placed his glass upon the chest of drawers and pushed her back onto the mattress, kissing her thoroughly on the mouth while one hand skimmed her thigh.
To Violet’s astonishment, her body responded with a skittering of pleasurable anticipation right the way up her spine while her womb pulsed with desire.
Until, to her equal surprise, her pleasure was replaced by a sense of desolation when he rolled off her and stood up, casting about for his shirt which he began pulling over his head.
“You have been utterly beguiling, my delicious Violet,” he said, as his head emerged and he positioned his stiffened collar before reaching for his trousers. His light-brown eyes sparkled. He truly did look like a man who was both satisfied yet regretful to be leaving.
But surely he’d come back?
“And, dear girl, you deserve all the freedom you desire.”
“So, freedom for you is simply not being married to Miss Mabel?” Violet couldn’t let him go without knowing more. “Is that all?”
“Freedom for me is adventuring across the seas to foreign lands. I was supposed to be heading off on my wedding tour to the Continent as we speak, but I’ve a notion that Africa will suit me far better.” As he worked to slide his cufflinks into place, his expression took on a faraway look. “Yes, Africa. There’s gold and diamonds to be discovered there. Perhaps I’ll book my passage to Cape Town the moment I step out of here. I could invest in a gold mine. And shoot some lions and tigers. After all, I’m a free man now without obligations for the very first time I can remember. I can do anything I want. You have no idea how wonderful it is to say those words out loud, Violet. I’m free.”
Violet watched him in silence. Already he was leaping forward in his life, envisioning all the marvellous opportunities that stretched ahead. She felt like weeping at the vast chasm between what each could hope for from their respective futures. Instead, she murmured, “There are no tigers in Africa.”
He stopped as he slid the second cufflink home, his lips trembling with suppressed amusement. “Not only beautiful, you are also clever, Violet. I was testing you, of course. Though what would you know about tigers?”
The pounding in her head made her close her eyes. What would she know about tigers? More than he’d ever find out, she thought painfully.
“A little,” she ventured. But he was too occupied with tidying himself to attend to her properly. Finally satisfied with his appearance, he turned and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Farewell, my lovely Violet. Thank you for this evening. You brought me back from the brink.”
“But now you will never think of me again. Or visit?”
Why had she said that? It sounded bitter, and that was something she’d sworn she would never be. Not like her grandmother who revelled in it, and who’d ensured the orphans thrust upon her would never know what it was like to be carefree as their punishment for being born.
He was halfway to the door but he turned, a myriad of emotions flitting across his face. What a handsome man he was, his well-cut suit highlighting his broad shoulders and long legs, his smile boyish and heartrending. In two strides, he returned to sweep her into his arms and kissed her deeply.
A long, languid, thorough kiss that left her shaking and desperate for more when they both came up for air.
For a moment, they remained clasped tightly in one another’s arms, the only sound their heavy breathing.
After a moment, he whispered, “No, I will not return, alas. But I’ve enjoyed what we shared.” He held her away from him and gently touched her lips with his forefinger. “It was a…particularly satisfying intimacy I could never engage in with a young lady I’d only just met.”
“You just did.”
“With a marriage prospect, then.” He cleared his throat and seemed to try for a brisker, more lighthearted tone. “Well now, my clever Violet who possesses such attention to detail, it has been an absolute pleasure meeting you.” He dropped his hands and made for the door. “I wish you all the best for your life. You never know, perhaps I’ll send a postcard from the Sudan or Cairo, for I don’t expect I’ll forget you in a hurry.”
“Please address it to Miss Violet Lilywhite,” Violet murmured, wanting to imprint it on his brain. “And you can always ask for me by name if you can toss out your scruples and step over Madame’s threshold. Remember, it’s Violet, not Victoria. Violet like the colour of the sunsets you dream of experiencing on the dark continent and Lilywhite because,” she touched her heart, “though my soul may seem black with sin to you, now, it was lily white when I stumbled into this house.”
A shadow flickered across his face. He looked about to question her. Then he smiled; genuine and regretful as he put his hand on the doorknob. “I’m afraid I shan’t be back, but I shall certainly relive this lovely evening with you when I recline in my chair in the heart of the African bush and gaze at the setting sun. And I’ll certainly recommend you to the more discerning of my set. Decent fellows, they are. Because a girl like you deserves the best.”
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