His hand slipped beneath my gown to slowly glide
up my leg. The muted sounds of the party came through the library door and I
knew we risked being discovered. But I simply did not care...
From Memoirs of a Mistress by An
“When we chose this book to read, I
had no idea it would be so...explicit,” murmured Carolyn Turner, Viscountess
She clutched her slim, leather
bound--and much perused--volume of Memoirs of a Mistress and glanced around her
drawing room at her three guests who, along with her, comprised the Ladies
Literary Society of London. All three faces, she noted, bore scarlet blushes
identical to the one scorching her own cheeks. Quite understandable as one of
her guests was only newly married and the other two were virginal innocents.
Virginal, yes. Innocents--no longer, thanks to
Of course, in spite of having been married for
seven years, Carolyn still had never dreamed of, let alone experienced, half the
things described in the scandalous book that had recently taken Society by
storm. Before her beloved Edward’s untimely death three years ago, she’d
believed they’d shared every conceivable pleasure with each other.
Based on her reading of the Memoirs, apparently
Her sister Sarah, the new Marchioness Langston
by virtue of her recent marriage, cleared her throat. “Well, the entire point of
forming our little Ladies Literary Society was to forsake the classics for more
“True,” said Lady Julianne Bradley, whose
normally porcelain complexion resembled a fiery sunset, “but there is forbidden,
then there is this.” She held up her own copy of the book and Carolyn noted that
many of the pages appeared decidedly dog-earred. Julianne leaned forward and
although they were alone in the room, she lowered her voice. “If mother ever
discovered I’d read such shocking things, she’d...” Julianne briefly squeezed
her eyes shut. “Oh, I cannot even imagine it.”
“She’d fly into the boughs as she always does,”
chimed in Lady Emily Stapleford with her usual forthrightness. “She’d demand her
hartshorn, then, once recovered, I wager she’d confiscate your copy in order to
read it for herself.” Emily grinned at Julianne over the rim of her teacup. “In
which case you’d not only be confined to your bedchamber for the remainder of
your natural days, but you’d never get your book back. So make certain she
doesn’t find out.”
Julianne’s color deepened, and she quickly added
another sugar lump to her tea. “As I’ve absolutely nothing to which I can
compare anything I’ve read in the Memoirs, I can’t help but wonder if half the
things the author describes are even...”
“Anatomically possible?” finished Emily. “Yes, I
wondered the same thing.” Her gaze bounced between Carolyn and Sarah. “Well?”
Sarah pushed up her spectacles then fanned
herself with her napkin. “I’m hardly an expert as I’ve only been married two
months. But from what I can tell...”
Her voice trailed off and Emily leaned forward,
so far she nearly tipped from her chair. “Yes?”
“Everything she describes is...possible.”
Emily sat back and whooshed out a long breath.
“Never say so.” Her amazed gaze shifted to Carolyn. “Do you concur?”
Carolyn pressed her hands against her book which
rested in her lap. Snippets from the scorching story of the Anonymous Lady’s
sexual exploits sifted through her mind and she felt as if the pages set her
gown on fire.
“Certainly possible,” she agreed even though she
wasn’t quite positive. But really, weren’t most things possible?
“But are they...enjoyable?” asked Julianne, her
blue eyes round. “Because I must say, some of them sound rather...messy.”
An image flashed through Carolyn’s mind...of
Edward’s handsome face hovering above hers, his flesh buried deep inside her.
The indescribable joy of that intimacy.
“Definitely enjoyable,” Carolyn and Sarah said
“Even what she describes on page forty-two?”
Emily asked in a breathless voice, rifling through the pages of her book.
Carolyn didn’t need to look at page forty-two to
know what was described there--she’d read the highly sensual passage so many
times she could recite it by rote. Still, she fell in with the group and opened
her book. Her gaze fell upon the Anonymous Lady’s vivid description of a quick
tryst in which her lover took her against the library wall between courses at a
“Possible,” Carolyn murmured, the carnal image
of the lady’s legs wrapped around her lover’s hips while he thrust into her,
hard and deep. Although Edward had never made love to her in such a rough
and...ungentlemanly way, she supposed it was possible--provided the gentleman
was quite strong and vigorous, the lady quite agile and filled with stamina, and
they were both quite determined.
“And, um, definitely enjoyable,” added Sarah.
Three gazes immediately flew to Sarah. Surely
her sister hadn’t--
But one look at her sister’s dreamy expression
glowing behind her spectacles made it clear that Sarah knew of what she spoke, a
fact which unsettled Carolyn in a way she didn’t quite understand.
Emily cleared her throat. “I...see. Well, what
about that bit on page fifty-three? Surely a man wouldn’t do that...would he?”
“And the other on page sixty-one?” added
Julianne. “Surely a woman wouldn’t do that...would she?”
Again, Carolyn knew precisely to what her
friends referred without looking at the book. Her face flamed hotter and she
found herself shifting in her seat from the same disconcerting sensations that
had plagued her during her entire reading of the Memoirs. Readingsss, her inner
voice interjected, emphasizing the plural.
She shot her pesky inner voice an inward frown.
Very well, readingsss. Many, many readings. Alone in her bed, her mind
overflowing with carnal images that left her overheated.
Although she again had no personal knowledge of
the shocking goings-on described on pages fifty-three and sixty-one, she had no
reason to doubt the word of the Anonymous Lady who clearly knew her way around a
boudoir. And a library. And the stables. And even the dining room.
Carolyn shoved the sensual images aside and
stated, “According to the rumors, everything in the book is completely true.”
Sarah cleared her throat. “Yes. Men do do those
things. Um, women, too.”
Carolyn blinked. Surely Sarah hadn’t done that.
Yet another quick look at her sister made it quite clear she had. And that she
was deliriously happy about it. An odd mixture of delight, and envy suffused
her. Delight--that Sarah, who for so long had been overlooked because she wasn’t
classically beautiful and her interests tended toward scholarly pursuits, had
found a deep and abiding love with Matthew Devenport, the Marquess of Langston.
And envy--because Carolyn so profoundly missed the deeply satisfying
relationship she’d shared with Edward, one she knew in her heart and soul could
never be duplicated. She’d been fortunate to find her one true love. And sadly,
had lost him to a sudden and unexpected illness.
After three long years of widowhood she’d
finally accepted the fact that the ache of missing her beloved husband would
never completely go away. So she kept him in a special corner of her heart where
his memory burned brightly and always would. She might have remained forever in
her state of mourning, isolated from everyone except her family and few closest
friends, but several months ago Sarah had taken her firmly in hand and all but
dragged her out, encouraging her to discard her solitude and black gowns and
join the living again.
At first Carolyn had resisted, but she’d slowly
come to once again enjoy being out in Society, attending soirees, socializing
with old friends, forging new acquaintances. She behaved a proper lady at all
times, determined to never do anything that could besmirch Edward’s memory.
Achingly lonely though the long, silent nights remained, her days were now
pleasantly occupied with visits and shopping excursions with Emily and
Julianne--her two dearest friends, and of course Sarah, her dearest friend of
all. Still, she had a great deal of free time on her hands here in London and
wished to find something to occupy herself. Something useful. A project of some
sort. Most days she felt as if all she was doing in life was taking up space.
Not wishing to dwell any longer on her
increasingly somber thoughts, nor on the more salacious parts of the book, parts
which had re-ignited desires she’d thought long buried, Carolyn said, “I
recently learned that the Memoirs, in addition to being the latest scandal, is
also responsible for a new rage sweeping the ton.”
Emily arched a brow. “Oh? Making love in a
“Or in the billiard room--“
“No,” Carolyn said with a laugh, cutting off
Julianne’s guess. “It’s the notes the author describes.”
“Oh, yes, the mysterious unsigned missives the
Anonymous Lady received from one of her lovers,” Julianne said, in a breathless
voice. “She’d arrive at the time and place in the note and they’d engage in a
“Exactly,” Carolyn said. “Last night at Lord and
Lady Lerner’s musicale I heard several ladies say they’ve received such notes.
And the results were very satisfactory.”
“I would image so,” Sarah said, her nod sending
her spectacles sliding down her nose. “I’d very much like to receive such a
“Indeed?” asked Emily, her eyes twinkling with
mischief. “From whom?”
Sarah blinked and pushed up her glasses. “Why,
Matthew, of course. In fact, I told him so over breakfast this morning.”
Julianne heaved a long, dreamy sigh. “I would
love to receive such a note. It’s so...dashing. And romantic.”
“Such a note would ruin your reputation,”
Carolyn said gently to her overly romantic friend.
“Yes, but to be desired so strongly...” Julianne
heaved another sigh. “The Memoirs have taught me so many things. Things Mother
certainly never told me.”
“No one’s mother would ever tell them such
things,” Carolyn said with smothered laugh of horror. Certainly her mother never
had. On the eve of her wedding, her mother had only offered the troubling and
cryptic advice for Carolyn to close her eyes, brace herself, and recall that the
ordeal would be over in a matter of moments.
Clearly Mother did not know of what she spoke
because Carolyn’s wedding night had been a beautiful, tender experience that
marked the beginning of her and Edward’s deeply satisfying and intimate bond.
“My mother has never spoken of such things with
me,” said Emily. “Indeed, if it weren’t for the fact that she gave birth to six
children I’d be tempted to say she didn’t know how we were conceived. I think it
very fortunate that An Anonymous Lady wrote the Memoirs to drag us all from
behind the shroud of ignorance. Someday soon some lucky, handsome, wealthy man
will have the good sense to fall in love with me, and he will be very happy that
I’ve read the book.”
Carolyn glanced up at the portrait of Edward
that hung above the fireplace and a flood of sadness swept over her. Love and
intimacy were over for her. Edward had been such a wonderful, honest, kind and
loving man. To this day she considered it a miracle that the very eligible, very
handsome Viscount Wingate had singled her out for his attention. Indeed, if her
father hadn’t been a physician, and the viscount hadn’t happened to injure his
hand in the same London bookstore where she and her father were browsing, they
most likely never would have met. But from that first moment, she’d felt as if
she’d found a piece of herself she hadn’t even realized was missing.
Blinking away the memories, Carolyn forced a
smile and said, “Well, perhaps we’ll hear of more notes being received at Lady
Walsh’s masquerade tonight. It is rumored to be a gala event.”
“I heard more than three hundred guests are
expected,” reported Sarah. “Matthew told me this morning that Lord Surbrooke is
arriving in London today and will attend.”
For reasons she neither understood nor cared to
examine, Carolyn’s pulse jumped at the mention of her new brother-in-law’s
closest friend. She’d met Lord Surbrooke several times over the years as Edward
had known him, but she herself had only become better acquainted with him
earlier this summer during a house party at Matthew’s country estate.
At first she’d categorized the handsome,
charming earl as nothing more than another shallow aristocrat, spoiled by too
much money, free time, and fawning women. Yet when he believed himself
unobserved, his dark blue eyes turned pensive and seemed to harbor sadness. It
was an emotion she understood well and she couldn’t help but wonder if some
manner of tragedy had befallen him in the past.
But there was something else in his
eyes...something that disrupted her calm and made her insides flutter in the
most unsettling way. Something she wasn’t quite certain she liked.
She was saved from commenting when Julianne
chimed in, “Mother told me that Mr. Logan Jennsen will also attend the party.”
Emily wrinkled her nose. “I’m certain he’ll be
easy to spot in the crush. He’ll no doubt be garbed as a serpent. Or perhaps a
“I don’t understand why you dislike him so,”
Sarah said. “He’s very entertaining.”
“I simply can’t credit that he’s invited
everywhere,” Emily said with a sniff. “Has no one besides me noticed he’s an
“He’s invited everywhere because he’s obscenely
wealthy,” Julianne said. “No doubt he’d like to find himself a peer’s daughter
to marry to ease his way into Society, and with his vast wealth he’ll surely
succeed.” She gave Emily a teasing nudge. “Best watch out or he’ll cast his eye
“He’d best not, unless he’d like to lose his
eye. Perhaps he’ll cast his net in your direction.”
“He’d be wasting his time as Father would never
consent to a match outside the peerage, regardless of the gentleman’s wealth.
And there’s not enough hartshorn in the kingdom for Mother to consider it.”
Carolyn had no doubt Julianne’s assessment was
true. Julianne’s mother, the formidable Countess Gatesbourne, was overbearing in
regards to her only child in a way that made other overbearing mothers seem like
tame kittens. She was determined to see Julianne make a brilliant marriage. On
the basis of her stunning looks alone, Julianne could attract any man. Combined
with her sweet disposition and her family’s vast wealth, she was one of the most
eligible young women of the ton. And sadly, very much under the crushing weight
of her mother’s heavy thumb. Carolyn prayed that Julianne’s gentle, romantic
nature wouldn’t be trampled by some philandering, jaded peer, but she’d seen
enough of the breed to know that men like her Edward were rare amongst the
Her gaze shifted to Emily and sympathy filled
her. Emily had recently confessed that her family was suffering severe financial
difficulties thanks in part to her father’s excessive gambling. She feared her
father planned to arrange for her to marry some old, creaky lord with nothing to
recommend him save a great deal of much needed money. Carolyn dearly hoped such
a fate wouldn’t befall her lively, spirited friend.
In order to break the silence that had
descended, Carolyn asked, “What sort of costumes are you all wearing?”
“You’re not supposed to tell,” said Emily,
shaking a finger.
“But how else will we find each other in the
crush?” asked Julianne. “I need to know who to look for in case I get an
opportunity to escape Mother.”
“Matthew and I will be attired as Romeo and
Juliet,” said Sarah, “except in our version of the story clearly neither of them
die as we are older than the teenaged lovers. And besides, I cannot abide
Emily heaved a sigh. “I shall be the tragic
Ophelia. I wanted to be Cleopatra, but Mama said ‘twas too scandalous.” She
grinned. “Perhaps I should go as the Anonymous Lady.”
“Yes,” Carolyn said. “For a costume you could
wear your skirt ruched up about your waist and carry a copy of the Memoirs.”
They all laughed. “I’ll be dressed as an angel,”
“Very appropriate,” Carolyn said.
“And boring,” Julianne said with a sigh. “But
“Wait until you see Carolyn’s costume,” Sarah
enthused. “I helped her choose it.”
Carolyn shot her sister a mock frown. “More like
you ordered it, had it delivered here, then demanded I wear it.” She looked at
her two friends. “Since her marriage she’s become very domineering and
“My husband likes me that way,” Sarah answered
tartly. “If I hadn’t helped you with your costume, you’d have dressed as a
“Most likely,” agreed Carolyn. “I certainly
would not have chosen Galatea.”
Julianne’s eyes lit up. “Oh, the beautiful ivory
statue that comes to life. You’ll be stunning, Carolyn.”
“And feel as if I’m only half-dressed.”
“Be happy that you’re wearing anything,” Emily
said with a devilish grin. “Galatea was nude, you know.”
Carolyn shot Sarah a frown. “I think you should
go as Galatea and I’ll go as a shepherdess.”
“Heavens, no,” said Sarah. “What on earth would
Romeo want with a Greek statue? As Julianne said, you’ll be stunning. There is
nothing the least bit improper about your costume.”
“Of course not,” agreed Julianne. “Indeed, based
on some of the costumes worn at Lady Walsh’s ball last year, you’ll be
overdressed.” She lowered her voice to impart, “A shocking number of women
dressed as harem members.”
“And nearly as many men were attired in
togas--men whose rotund figures most assuredly should not have been draped in
sheets.” Emily gave an all-over shudder.
“I’m almost sorry I missed it,” Carolyn said
with a smile.
“With a few minor adjustments we could turn you
from Galatea into Aphrodite,” Sarah said to Carolyn with a speculative air. “The
goddess of desire is who I wanted you to be to begin with.”
“Absolutely not,” Carolyn said firmly. “What
would people think?”
Sarah reached out and lightly clasped her hand,
her brown gaze serious as it rested on her. “That you are a young, vibrant woman
who deserves to enjoy herself.”
“I’m a thirty-two year-old widow who is too old
and too sensible to parade about in an unbecoming fashion.” She said the words
softly, to take any sting from them. She knew Sarah meant well, and truly she
appreciated her sister’s efforts on her behalf. But ever since she’d re-entered
Society she sometimes felt as if in her determination to get on with her life
everything were moving too quickly. As if she were losing part of herself, of
the person she’d been for the last ten years--Edward’s wife. She occasionally
had difficulty recalling images of him that used to be so clear in her mind.
Couldn’t precisely recall the sound of his laughter. The warmth of his touch.
The slow leaching of those memories confused and saddened her. And frightened
her. For if her memories of Edward faded away, she’d have nothing left.
“There is nothing unbecoming about you,” Sarah
said gently, squeezing her hand. Then she smiled. “And we are all going to have
a grand time this evening.”
Carolyn returned her sister’s smile, although
she wasn’t as optimistic. The idea of a costume ball had sounded exciting when
she’d received the invitation, but now that the day was here, she felt decidedly
less enthusiastic. She’d allowed Sarah to talk her into the Galatea costume,
because as her sister pointed out, Galatea was brought to life, just as she
wanted Carolyn to be brought back to life. What she hadn’t pointed out to Sarah
was that the statue of Galatea was only brought to life because Pygmalion, the
sculptor, fell passionately in love with his work of art. Love had brought
Galatea to life. At one time, love had done the same for Carolyn, but she knew
in her heart it would not, could not happen again.