The woman standing across the parlor of Wallace and Permilia Sterling's London town home was the epitome of grace and poise, her statuesque figure seemingly poured into flesh from a renaissance painting while possessing all the qualities of an upstanding Victorian woman.
She was also an absolute wildcat when it came to the finer arts of pleasure, and Horace Sterling thanked the gods of debauchery for the current fashion of long coats. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to hide the raging erection spurred to life by the knowledge he'd gleaned at The Two Aces, the highly selective and secretive sex club of which he was partial owner. Of course, the woman didn't know that. And he didn't know her name. The only thing he knew about her was that she was an American, from the softly lilting accent that drove him wild, and that he'd fucked her with abandon the night before while she'd been trussed up like a Christmas goose.
When they'd founded The Two Aces, Horace and his brothers, Wallace and Richard, had agreed to some very simple rules of conduct. First and foremost was protecting the secrecy of the club. They were not to divulge their names to any patrons, nor approach them socially. That had all fallen by the wayside when Wallace had found his then-fiancee, Permilia, trying to gain entrance to the club. And it was about to fall by the wayside again.
Brothers, forgive me, Horace thought to himself as he wandered through the guests assembled at the Sterlings' latest social. He could not let an opportunity like this pass him by. The blonde was perfect for him, in every way.
"Excuse me," he said, clearing his throat softly. "You seemed dreadfully all alone over here."
The woman had been keeping to the farthest corner of the room, casting her gaze fearfully about. Now, she looked up at him with crystal blue eyes that had been rimmed with tears of desire and endurance the night before, as she'd taken all he'd challenged her with and never once attempted to utter the word that would have ended their rendezvous. At the club, she'd been a woman committed to even the roughest love play, but now she shrank without confidence from a simple dinner party. She was a mystery in desperate need of unraveling.
She dipped her head, that melodious accent illuminating her speech like rays of sunlight. "I'm afraid I don't know anyone, really. I was invited by Missus Sterling, as a way to...meet people."
Oh, she had met people, all right. Horace smiled and extended his hand. "Horace Sterling. I am Mrs. Sterling's brother-in-law."
"Charmed," she said, giggling when he stooped to kiss her hand.
"You're not from around here, I gather," he said, and then, feigning forgetfulness, said, "I'm terribly sorry, how rude of me. Would you like me to get you some punch, Miss..."
"Applewhite. Tallulah Applewhite." She smiled, displaying white teeth against sun-kissed skin that was anything but fashionable in foggy London. "From Georgia."
Tallulah. The names those Americans could think up.
"Well, Miss Applewhite," he began again, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. "Shall we venture to the punchbowl?"
She nodded her agreement, but as they walked, she admitted, rather cautiously, "It's actually Missus Applewhite. I am a widow."
Horace refrained from making the first crass remark that sprung to mind, something along the lines of, "You probably fucked him to death," and the equally insulting, "Thank God." Instead, he managed a very convincing, "I'm terribly sorry. If I had known that you were in mourning--"
"I'm not," she said quickly, looking down at her mauve gown. "James died over a year ago, in the war."
Politics not being his strong suit, especially when it involved the goings on in the colonies, he did not press her further. "Well, my condolences. I'm sure he died a hero's death."
"My husband died fighting for the right to enslave his fellow man," she said, bristling. As quickly as the dark tone had fallen over their conversation, the sun broke through. "I am pleased to find much warmer company here, though."
"We have to make up for the weather, somehow." A widow. How...odd. He'd assumed she was just a bored, married woman abroad.
"It is rather exotic, to a person from my part of the world," she said with a smile at his joke.
At the refreshment table, he dipped out some punch into a crystal cup and passed it to her. "I say, it's terribly crowded in here. Would you like to accompany me on a stroll about the garden?"
She sipped her drink and looked uncertainly to the window. "Is it usual for the English to skulk about gardens at night?"
"Madame, I assure you, I never skulk." He nodded to the doors at the rear of the parlor, closed against the light fog in the air. "I cannot promise that the rain will hold off, but think of the adventure. When you return to Georgia, you'll be able to tell all of your American friends about the strange habits of British gentlemen who skulk about rainy gardens in the night."
"I thought you said you never skulk," she pointed out.
He grinned at her. "I assumed you'd embellish the story a bit. I know how you Americans are."
Though she visibly fought against it, her lips quirking once and again as she tried to suppress it, a devilish grin spread across her face. It was the same as he'd seen in the club, when he'd had her chained to a wall in one of the dungeon rooms. That had been the first time. When he'd revealed his cock--a considerable organ he took no small amount of pride in--the same look had passed over her face, the promise of naughty fun teasing her out of her carefully constructed social shell.
They did not sneak, for Horace knew that such an action would be immediately noticed by the other guests. They strode confidently to the doors, as though they were taking a turn about the room, and no one gave them the faintest glance. He pulled the doors closed behind them and drank in the moist evening air.
"Not a terribly good climate for a tubercular, is it?" Tallulah said, peering through the haze. "And no wonder so many novels are set in London. It seems a murderer lurks around every corner."
"My lady, I assure you, I have never once encountered a murderer in my brother's garden." He used the opportune subject to slide his arm around her waist. "But I shall keep you safe."
She stepped back, her eyes flaring in outrage. "I expected you to behave as a gentleman, Mister Sterling."
Nonplussed, he soldiered on. "Oh? I thought perhaps you'd rather I behave the way I did yesterday evening."
"You're mistaken. We've never met before, and certainly not last night. I was..." her eyes grew wide, and she cleared her throat. "Well, I did not attend any social calls last night."
"Are you certain?" He took a step closer, and then another, to counter her steps backward, until she backed up to the vine-covered brick beside the door. "You weren't with anyone at all last night, Buttercup?"
Her eyes grew wider still at the mention of the word that had gained her entrance to the club, the same word that would have ended her participation, should the activities prove too much for her. But she'd never once uttered it, no matter how desperate she had become. His cock filled to near bursting at the memory.
She faltered for only a moment, then, firmly pushing against his chest to urge him a step back, she said icily, "It was my understanding that my participation...there would be anonymous."
"Under normal circumstances, I would certainly agree."
"And what makes these circumstances abnormal?" she challenged. "The demands of your ego?"
He shrugged, knowing that his cool demeanor would ruffle her. It certainly had last night. "The demands of my libido. I am not about to wait for you to show up at the club, again."
"You'd have to wait a very long time!" She pushed past him, but he caught her and spun her into him, locking her arm behind her back.
She didn't resist. If she had fought him, he would have released her. Above the low neckline of her evening dress, her considerable breasts swelled with each strained breath, and her petal-pink mouth opened to emit a gasp of surprise. Her eyes darkened with desire, and one hand found its way between them, deliciously plump fingers skimming across the front of his trousers. There, the grin returned, the naughty girl who'd crawled when he'd commanded her, who'd spread her chained legs for him and demanded more, and more again, after screaming and thrashing through countless climaxes. "So, it is you."
"All of me," he assured her. "Every last, hard inch."
"I would have come back for this." She stroked her open palm over the considerable shape of him. "You didn't have to be so indiscreet."
"This is a dreadfully dull party."
"It is," she agreed. "Would the party at the club be more...stimulating?"
He grinned. "I am almost certain it would be. Perhaps you should give your regrets to our hostess and excuse yourself. Hire a cab and wait for me outside. In ten minutes, I'll make my getaway, and your reputation will remain untarnished."
She shivered, the tremor translating through both of their clothes. "Is that an order, sir?"
"Oh, you can be assured that it is." he considered a moment. "When you get into the cab, take off your drawers and throw them into the street. You don't need them."
"Ever?" she asked, arching a brow.
"Are you challenging your master?"
"No, sir," she purred. Then, with more grace than he would have had, were he a woman trussed up in a corset and evening dress, she leaned down and lifted the edge of her skirt, to show him her bare body beneath. "But if you look for bloomers in the street, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed.
Without another word, she smoothed down her skirt and turned for the door. "Ten minutes," she tossed back at him. "I'll be waiting."