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Authors: Summer Devon

Tags: #Historical, #Adult X/Fiction

Powder of Love (I) (4 page)

BOOK: Powder of Love (I)
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He shrugged. “Burn it? Bury it?”

“I think it needs to be destroyed, but burning it might be disastrous.”

She twisted her hands together and chewed her lip. “Perhaps I should ask some professionals. Chemists.”

“Yes, take it to one of them. There must be one on every other street corner.”

“No, I mean specialists, not just a pharmacy, as they call it here. It’s terribly important that I find someone who wouldn’t attempt to use it for his own gain.”

He knew she’d grow angry or skittish if he again hinted that she was under the influence of nonsensical fears. Easy enough to help. “My duties here don’t require all my time. I would be glad to help you.”

She smiled and her shoulders visibly relaxed, but the smile faded almost at once. “I don’t want to give you the powder. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but…”

He waited for her to finish the sentence, but she only pressed her lips tight. He reassured her. “I understand and will only seek out information. I’ve worked as an investigator in England for private parties. Certainly I can undertake a simple search like this—locating a reputable scientist, correct?”

“You? An investigator? What are you doing here?”

“I made the mistake of taking on what I thought would be an easy assignment,” he said drily, “and ended up being dragged across the ocean.”

“I suppose it’s very secret, this assignment?” She made a show of looking left and right to make sure no one in the indifferent crowds around them listened. “And you don’t dare allow me a single hint?”

He actually enjoyed her mild mockery of him, but he wasn’t going to answer her questions. “Yes, and no, I don’t.”

She burst into laughter. “You do enjoy putting me in my place, Mr. Reed.”

“Not at all. I might accuse you of the same thing.” They stopped at a corner and waited a long few minutes for the busy traffic to pass before attempting to cross the street. “Don’t you recall what you said when we called upon you the other day?”

“I did so much talking that day. Someone had to fill the silence.”

“Toward the end of our visit you asked me which I disliked, parlors or ladies. I suspect you were only trying to needle me and perhaps convince us to leave.”

She blushed. “I beg your pardon. I had forgotten that. But I know I have a reputation as a plain-speaking shrew.”

“No doubt you carefully maintain it to keep strange gentlemen and fortune seekers from your door.”

“No doubt.”

An impatient driver of a dray cart snapped a whip, causing his horse to take the corner too sharply.

She deftly retreated, bumping against Reed hard enough that he had to catch her around the waist so she might not fall. His hip was against her side, and for less than a second, he allowed himself the enjoyment of holding her, discerning the slender form under his hand before she straightened.

“You’re used to this city,” he said.

“I think I’ve lived in New York too long. I would have made a dash across the street, but I don’t want to show a visitor to our country what sort of language drivers use when annoyed.”

“Do you believe they’re worse than London drivers?”

She smiled up at him. Her face glowed with amusement, and his chest grew tight as their eyes met and held. “Oh yes,” she said. “They are far more impatient.”

One of the ubiquitous two-wheeled carts slid over the cobblestones and onto the curb, so they had to back up again, but when the plodding old cab horse was far enough away, they could cross without running.

“Dancing with traffic,” she said and slowed to take his proffered arm. He wanted to pull her close, but was content with her arm crooked through his.

Even this shared light touch was enough to distract him and make him fall silent, though she still chattered on easily enough. “I don’t think we’ll have to face another street. There are plenty of attractions on this single block to afford us a half hour’s entertainment. The windows of the stores are enough.”

They stopped in front of a shop window where live models moved as if time had slowed through a tableau of friends meeting in a park. The scene was only slightly marred when one of the girls dropped her fringed parasol.

He didn’t watch the window but kept his attention on Miss Ambermere and tried to think of ways he might make her smile at him. She had so many kinds of smiles—astonished, playful, knowing. And she wasn’t afraid of using her expressive face. He remembered that playful look of horror he’d seen her direct to her companion that day.

“Why are you grinning?” She let go of his arm to walk closer to a display.

“I’m, ah… Oh. I wasn’t aware I was.” He wasn’t terrible at flirtation, but with Miss Ambermere, he realized he felt as awkward as a boy fresh from school, encountering a female in public. She leaned over and began a conversation with a small girl pointing into the window. He missed her presence next to him.

Good God. He was worse than a young boy—more entirely, blunderingly blind, at any rate.

He hadn’t even recognized he’d developed what he’d heard an American call a crush. Not the sort they’d just left behind in the corridors of the hotel. He felt passionately drawn to this woman.

Granted, he’d rather use his mind for something other than male-female interactions, but this attraction to her was more interesting than the tedious automatic arousal he felt when escorting Clermont to the various dens of flesh and corruption. Although yes, that sort of activity he wanted with her. He was enveloped by the sudden and fierce desire he’d managed to control for months. He longed to watch her air of competent dignity turn into something wild. Not to defeat her, but to see that mouth open wide in a cry of pleasure would be so sweet. The same sort of scene he’d witnessed far too often, except this time he’d be the cause of that glazed passion in her eyes.

Not a chance in hell or heaven he’d act on it. Not with a lady like her. Slaking hunger for momentary satisfaction made him no better than Clermont. That left only a longer, stronger connection, but he had no interest in finding a partner for life, not after that disaster with Lily. Should he ever seek a wife again, she’d be a woman from his own class. The daughter of a clergyman or a professor, perhaps. Even Lily, the squire’s daughter, had considered her position in life too lofty for the likes of him.

“You’re glowering now.” She had returned to his side. “And I can see by the reflection in the window that you’re looking at me. Should I have been introduced to that little girl before speaking to her? Do I have a smudge on my cheek?”

“Oh no. Of course not. I beg your pardon,” he said. “I ought to return to the hotel. Mr. Clermont will be expecting me.”

He didn’t dare leave the idiot to his own devices for more than half an hour, but this evening he’d be occupied for at least four hours at the Lotus House. “Shall I call at your home at seven?”

“Yes, please. You’ll have names for me then, I hope? It’s vitally important that we find someone—a scientist—who can help me deal with this.”

He probably wouldn’t have names, but it would give him an excuse to spend time with her. Perhaps by then he’d have regained his equilibrium. After months of exposure to writhing naked bodies, he’d grown used to controlling his desires. He was not used to this sudden, intense yearning for a woman.

* * *

As soon as he entered the suite, Reed knew he’d stayed away too long. Carelessly tossed clothes lay on the floor—nothing out of the ordinary, except resting on the man’s scarlet-and-yellow waistcoat was a working woman’s thick stocking and a much mended petticoat. He froze for a moment and listened. A female voice moaned, but it was nothing like a sound of distress he’d have to act upon.

More than once he’d had to rip Clermont away from a protesting woman.

It hadn’t taken many days of acting the role of keeper before Reed understood the extent of the man’s idiocy and persistence. Clermont rarely believed a woman’s no. He once explained. “
They don’t want to think of themselves as strumpets, so they’ll whimper and plead, ‘No, no,’
” he had said in a falsetto. Then he smiled and rubbed his pale, long-fingered hands together. “
But they love it. They need it. The man who knows what’s where on those delectable bodies will prevail
.”

Why Clermont hadn’t been jailed for ravishment was only due to the vast fortune doled out for his “research and escapades,” as he called them.

A woman’s voice called out something in another language, and Reed decided it was probably a maid—again. He relaxed; the cry was of astonishment and pleasure. No doubt about it, Clermont was proficient. He knew more about a woman’s body than most doctors did. Because of those “readings” of Clermont’s, Reed did too.

Reed picked up the newspaper and settled on the sofa. Not so long ago, he would have gone to his room to wait, but he’d soon learned tact wasn’t as important as making sure the woman would be fairly dealt with—and with discretion.

Within a few minutes, a young, dark-haired woman emerged from the bedroom. Sure enough, she wore the black gown and was tying the apron of a hotel maid as she walked from the room, barefoot. She gave a little shriek when she spotted Reed. “Oh, sir, I-I…” She put her hand over her mouth, covering suddenly trembling lips.

He pointed to the chair where he’d laid her things. “Good afternoon, miss. You’d best get dressed and return to work before the housekeeper notices your absence.” He paused. “Only, do not expect a repeat of today, do you understand?”

She sobbed. “You… Sir… Ah, no, no. I am a bad woman. Ah, my Antony.”

“Your husband?”

A tear rolled down her cheek as she nodded, incapable of speech. He couldn’t figure out why she looked so horrified until he saw she was unbuttoning her gown again.

Reed held up a hand. “Stop. No, no. I won’t tell your husband.”

She moved toward him, and he jumped up and backed away. “I said no.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t need your services to keep me quiet. Take your clothes and get back to work, please. I shan’t say a word, and I’ll make certain Mr. Clermont keeps his mouth shut as well.”

She’d be a description in Clermont’s dreary memoir, but she’d never know.

As soon as the maid silently left the suite, her head bowed, Clermont strolled out of his bedroom in shirtsleeves and maroon braces, smoking a cigar and smirking. “A good one. Undervalued and underemployed by her husband. They so often are. Did you know she had no idea she could be brought off? Never so much as touched herself enough to find the secret. It’s a crying shame. A crime, really.”

Reed turned the page of the paper and tried to concentrate on a story about a local murder. He might agree that teaching a woman about her own body’s capacity for pleasure was an actual service of sorts. But performed by Clermont?

And of course, the man couldn’t leave it at that. “Hairier than I expected. And her nether lips were a trifle darker and thicker than my favorite—”

Reed looked up. “I’m going to order food. If you ruin my appetite again with one of your descriptions of eating a woman’s private parts, I’ll beat you senseless.”

Clermont laughed. “You are the toughest audience I have ever faced. Would you rather I described sucking on a man’s parts? Hmm? Is that why you’re so disgusted? You like that idea better?”

“Should I order for you, or will they feed you at the Lotus tonight?”

Clermont frowned and didn’t answer.

“Well? What do you want? They do a good ragout in the restaurant, I hear.”

“What I want. Ah, interesting question. I think I have a new goal. I want to break you.”

Reed stopped pretending to look at the paper. “What are you burbling about?”

Clermont was unusually serious. His pleasant face was drawn into a rictus of a smile that made Reed’s blood chill, but his words were worse. “I want to watch you go wild fucking a woman. I want to see you lapping and sucking at her titties. At first I would have been happy enough knowing you did it behind a closed door, but you’ve proved such a tough case, I want to witness your fall.”

“Leave me out of your plans, Clermont. I’m warning you. Don’t even jest about bringing me into your strange little life. Bad enough I have to witness and hear about it. I’m not stripping off my trousers and joining in.”

“The last man my family hired gave in almost at once. Made it far easier to get around him once I told him I knew all about his delicious little interlude with a married woman. Insatiable female finished up with me and tackled him, but he didn’t know he was taking leavings from another man. He was much less intelligent or careful than you. Thought he found her on his own.”

“Sorry, you won’t be able to blackmail me.”

“You’re that perfect, are you? At any rate, I don’t want to blackmail you; I want to break you. I already told you. I think I’ll even pick out the woman and place for you.”

Reed shoved aside the paper and strode to the door. Instead of summoning a bellboy, he’d go down to the restaurant and order food to be brought up to the rooms.

And while he was downstairs, he’d take the final step, because the time had come.

He’d send a telegram to England. Never mind the enormous sums they paid him. As of this moment, he’d had enough of Clermont’s games.

“I’d like the fish,” Clermont called after him. “I find it goes well after the taste of woman. By the way, what woman was waiting for me downstairs? Did you entertain her for me? I’m disappointed you didn’t bring her up. It might have been delicious, sharing treats.”

Reed slammed the door.

The crowds had thinned, and he had little trouble ordering the food and dispatching a lad to send a telegram. The moment he handed over the money—transatlantic telegrams were expensive—he felt tremendous relief.

Freedom. He’d return to England and pick up again with the inquiry agency he’d left. Quite a joke to think he’d disdained that work and left it to take on the job of Clermont’s keeper. Following an errant husband would be about as vile as this work, but at least he wouldn’t have to listen to the husband’s endless descriptions afterward.

Maybe he’d look for work in this country. After all, this was the home of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

BOOK: Powder of Love (I)
4.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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