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Authors: Beverley Oakley

Saving Grace: Hot Down Under

BOOK: Saving Grace: Hot Down Under
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About
Saving Grace: Hot Down Under
 
 

It’s 1878 and London’s most beautiful and hard-hearted prostitute, Grace Fortune, is preparing for her next job. She’s the special initiation ‘gift’ procured by a mother in fashionable Mayfair for her son’s twenty-first birthday.

 

 

When Grace discovers she is to be servicing the man whose secret she’d guarded at the cost of her once-secure position as a housemaid and whose betrayal has plunged her into this hated life, she wants revenge.

 

 

That is, until the re-emergence of malevolent forces that destroyed the couple’s young love. Now David and Grace must reconcile the past and fight for a different kind of justice to salvage their dignity and find happiness.

Saving Grace
 
 

London, 1878

Reclining on the red plush sofa, Grace sipped the sickly sweet orgeat Madame Chambon insisted her girls drink and tried not to think about the night ahead. The others were gathered in companionable groups on the fashionable Egyptian sofas, their heavy scent perfuming the air.

As usual, no one gravitated towards her, though of course later, when their clients came calling, that would no longer be the case. Grace would have preferred the company of a like-minded female rather than the alternative.

An expectant hush fell as the heavy draped and tasselled curtain was drawn aside and Madame Chambon arranged herself theatrically in the opening, ready to address her
petites choux.


Ravissement
!” she complimented them in a thick accent, clapping her hands. Grace suspected the elegantly ravaged Madame came from Lambeth rather than the Left Bank. Not that it mattered. No one in this business was who they said they were.

Least of all Grace.

The girls, awed and anxious, straightened their rich, colourful gowns nervously. Despite her appearance of bonhomie Madame Chambon could turn on a coin. And it was she who ensured the girls did not return to where most of them had been plucked from—the gutter.

“A great opportunity awaits one of you tomorrow,” she addressed them, “for I have just been honoured by the visit of a woman of great discernment …”

A couple of the girls tittered. “A woman?”

They closed their mouths at Madame Chambon’s beady stare, attending as she went on, “Who has requested I supply her with one of my loveliest …”

She drew out the pause as several of the brothel’s most popular young ladies preened.

“… and most hard-hearted girls.”

All heads turned towards Grace. She blinked. Is that how they regarded her? Hard-hearted?

She simply had nothing left to offer anyone once she’d earned enough to pay her keep and just survive.

Madame Chambon levelled an expectant look upon Grace, whose mouth dropped open in protest. “A woman? But—”

“The woman wants to give her
son
a present to remember for his twenty-first birthday. She is obviously a very fond mother—” Madame Chambon allowed herself to share the girls’ amusement, adding, “with very good sense in choosing our select establishment to provide him with the very best initiation—” Her smile grew cloying as she continued to look at Grace—“without fear of him being lured into a transfer of affections amidst all the other … ahem … transfers that take place.” Though she made a gesture with her hands to indicate the transfer of money, the girls tittered at the double entendre.

The redhead closest to Grace dug her co-worker in the ribs. “Grace doesn’t have a heart to lose.” Her whisper resonated.

Nor did Grace have the heart to participate in the banter that followed.

So what if she’d been selected? It was just another job and a good thing she need not worry about eliciting the emotions of a twenty-one-year-old virgin. Pleasing, also, was the knowledge that it would inevitably be over in less than five minutes.

***

 

Madame Chambon selected Grace's dress for her, in royal blue and silver stripes to complement her dark hair and pale skin. Grace’s slender form lent itself to the silhouette of the day: a close-fitting cuirass ending in a draped fan train emphasised with knife pleat ruching. The expensive gown was at the forefront of fashion and made Grace feel she was rubbing shoulders with those she’d once served. The only problem was the price tag and the fact she could take only mincing six-inch steps. Madame Chambon required that her girls pay for the clothes she insisted they wear. And that they deport themselves with grace.

Another job in another grand, fashionable West End townhouse, she thought wearily as she paused on the step of the hansom cab the jarvey put down for her. Until desperation had forced her to London she’d spent her entire life in the country working for a family who, like their rich and titled friends, decamped to the capital for the sitting of parliament and to further their ambitions through the social pleasures of the season—probably peppered with clandestine visits by girls such as herself.

No doubt she was the icing on the cake for a spoiled rich boy destined for some dreary, horsey-looking wife.

She was surprised when the lady of the house answered. But then, absolute discretion would be required, Grace reasoned, slanting a glance up at her from beneath the little spotted veil which hung from her neat flower-festooned straw hat—a suitably concealing millinery confection she was immediately grateful for as she found herself staring into the familiar cold blue eyes of the woman who’d once paid her wages.

“Hurry now. I shall take you immediately to my son, Miss—?”

“Fortune.” It came out as a thin whisper as fear of recognition skittered up Grace’s spine. For a moment she thought she was going to faint. She gripped her reticule tightly and forced herself to drag in an even breath.

Oh God, of all the people
 …

No, she couldn’t faint. Too much depended upon it, she warned herself as she forced steel into her spine. Fortunately her unlikely procuress seemed to have as much desire to further acquaint herself with her son’s
special indulgence
as Grace did the woman who’d cast her onto the pavement  three years before, after many years of loyal service.

“Follow me, Miss Fortune.” Imperiously her former employer led the way up a flight of stairs, not turning as she continued, “I’m assured my son will find you pleasing yet professional enough that he will be in no danger of forming an attachment. Not that there’s any danger of David doing that.”

Shame weighed heavy on her shoulders. Oh no, David the Golden Boy had an idealised vision of women’s virtue. He’d made clear his contempt and disgust for creatures like herself. No, this interview would not be long.

Passing a housemaid, Grace turned her head away, the fear of discovery almost debilitating. Although the fearsome widow Mrs Willowbank maintained two establishments, Grace knew her former employer took her personal dresser and at least one other servant from her Cotswolds estate to her London townhouse for the season. While Grace was no longer the Barton Manor parlourmaid they’d remember, she knew if one of the servants were to look more closely at her, like Brice the butler, or her old friend Jenny, they’d see through the trappings in an instant. Grace dare not risk eye contact with anyone.

Meeting David, of course, was unavoidable. Sick anticipation of his certain reaction made her heart thunder in her ears and sweat prickle her skin as they turned towards the sleeping quarters.

Breathe evenly and smile
. Grace remembered receiving the same advice when she’d had to fill in for the footman at table during one of Mrs Willowbank’s dinner parties and when she’d first undergone training as one of Madame Chambon’s “girls”.

Now her carefully cultivated facade of disdain all but deserted her. For a moment she contemplated picking up her constricting skirts and simply fleeing for her very life.

But to lose courage now had consequences: her likely return to the dungheap of society, inevitably to become a diseased creature vying with the fresh dollymops who supplemented their poor earnings selling their bodies.

Nor would she ever know the answer to the greatest mystery of her life: the reasons behind the betrayal that had thrust her into this despised life of vice.

Mrs Willowbank stopped at a door at the end of a dim corridor and turned. “You know the rules?” She seemed reluctant to look Grace in the eye, for her gaze hovered just above the girl’s head. “I was quite explicit. My son has reached his majority seemingly averse to the charms of the ladies.”

Grace’s heart hitched a little. That wasn’t exactly true.

“However, he is to be married. It is a good match and the young lady worthy and apparently understanding of David’s—” she hesitated “—deficiencies.”

Even after all these years Mrs Willowbank’s condescension fuelled Grace’s anger. Better to concentrate on that, she thought, than her devastation at this latest piece of information.

She swallowed, the moment nearly upon her as Mrs Willowbank knocked then pushed open the door. Finally Grace would find out why David had not been the loyal friend he’d sworn to be.

“David.” Mrs Willowbank beckoned Grace to follow her. “I’ve brought you a visitor. Miss … Fortune is her name. She knows what is required of her.” With a cursory nod she turned, closing the door behind her.

Blinking at the strong light that streamed through the windows, Grace took a moment to orient herself.

It was a large room, with a four-poster bed against the far wall. Quickly scanning the familiar paintings on the walls she felt a confused pang to discover there were none of herself.

It was clear the room was more artist’s studio than bedroom, for in the centre was a dais upon which was arranged a chair for the model. The very same chair in which Grace had sat for companionable hours while David painted her portrait.

A little distance away was positioned an easel. Breathing in the familiar smell of oils and turpentine, Grace blinked back the tears which burned her lids.

She breathed deeply, tensing herself against David’s judgemental scrutiny, but though he’d risen at her arrival, his whole stance conveyed disinterest and his expression was trained upon an object in the far corner of the room.

While she waited for the shock of recognition to register on his face she tried to quell the spontaneous surge of longing for him with the reminder of what he’d done to her.

Proudly, she stared at him.

The silence continued.

With a sigh, David gripped the back of his chair, angled his body towards her and trained his gaze upon hers.

Through hers.

With horror Grace registered his vacant stare: the glassiness and the faint scarring around his eyes that nevertheless did not mar his fair handsomeness.

“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Fortune.”

Grace put her hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp. He could not see her? What terrible event had befallen him? Shock and pity coursed through her and she nearly burst out, “David, it’s Grace!”

But she could not. Not like this. She could not even move.

“Not the man you were expecting?” His voice was bitter. Devoid of the energy and warmth she remembered. He made an expressive gesture with his hands. “My mother does not intend for me to disappoint my future wife. Of course, that’s not the real reason she asked for … a professional. Apparently this is my birthday present.”

When Grace said nothing he gave a short laugh, adding with a note of apology, “I am not in the habit of entertaining prostitutes. I’m not even sure what to do with you. Perhaps you’d care to take a seat and entertain me instead with your erudite view on the state of English politics.” He shrugged, adding carelessly, “If I’m so very repugnant to you, you’re free to leave, for that matter.”

Grace blinked, stupidly, only galvanised into action when he snapped, “Well, Miss Fortune, what’s it to be? I can offer you nothing. Nothing you’d enjoy, anyway.”

Forcing aside the emotion, she managed to call upon the breathy, suggestive tone of the practised whore she was while she feasted her gaze upon him. “I don’t do this for the enjoyment,” she murmured, stepping forward and running her hands down his well-cut woollen coat, “but I believe in honouring a bargain.”

He jerked at her touch and then laughed, a humourless sound that brought chillingly to mind David’s cousin. The horrible thought that Laurence might be in residence made Grace drop her hands in fear. However the urgency to learn more of what had changed the young man before her from the ardent boy she’d loved compelled her to resume the charade. Seeing David like this, so helpless and vulnerable, unleashed a flood of tenderness which was fast eroding the bitterness she’d cultivated towards him. It was clear he’d met with some accident to his sight yet his dark eyes were still just as expressive. She was struck by the most powerful urge to touch her lips to his beautifully shaped mouth, just as she had …

… the night before they parted.

No, she could not afford to have him send her away. She twined her arms behind his neck and nuzzled him, adding, “So don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth, sir. You’ll have a wife, soon. Enjoy me in the meantime. That’s what I’m here for.”

“An honest whore,” he said, crisply, though with less surety in his tone as he swayed, seemingly unwilling to touch her but not wanting to push her away either. “Still, lying on your back can’t be too difficult a way to earn your living.”

She was not surprised by the sentiment. David had been an innocent with a revulsion for women like herself. It appeared he still felt the same.

And yet he’d not
demanded
she leave. She was suddenly terrified that he would do so. She had to play on his fascination. Make him want to sample her wares now that her ridiculous longing for him had been so unexpectedly reactivated.

“Honest toil is hard to come by when you’ve lost your reputation,” she murmured, pressing herself to him and raising her hands to trace the contours of his beautiful face. “But an honest whore likes to give value.”

He swallowed and a nerve twitched in the corner of his mouth. It was clear by his reaction that he was struck by indecision, yet intrigued. The David she’d known would have been too disgusted by a woman of the night to suffer her touch. But then, he’d had Grace.

The fact he did not step away suggested that while he was prepared to give his future wife his name he’d not yet given her his heart.

Well, it would be a small victory for Grace to make him want her now, when she hadn’t been able to make him want her enough to discover her whereabouts three years ago after his mother dismissed her.

Steadying herself with her hands on his shoulders she put the tip of her tongue to his throat, to his Adam’s apple, as he swallowed his … Desire? Concern? Apprehension?

He shivered and with seeming reluctance his arms went round her, eventually straying to her lower back, as if he was both fascinated and afraid of moving beyond the realms of propriety.

BOOK: Saving Grace: Hot Down Under
6.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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