Read an Excerpt
'Gardener's Sin' by Alysha Ellis
"Mary, I shouldnâ€™t give this to you. Itâ€™s not right."
Lady Mary Linden, third daughter of the Earl of Whitten, snatched the book of Ancient Greek poetry from her cousin Harryâ€™s hand. "Rubbish. Youâ€™ve read it. Why shouldnâ€™t I?"
"Because youâ€™re a female!" Harryâ€™s voice rose in offended outrage. "Some of these poems areâ€¦umâ€¦quite shocking."
"You mean theyâ€™re sexually explicit," Mary snapped.
"The poems are from the classical Greek period. Theyâ€™re not meant for women. The female constitution is delicate," Harry said. "Excessive stimulation is harmful."
"You donâ€™t really believe that nonsense youâ€™re spouting." Mary grinned at him. Her cousin knew her better than that. He knew she was hopelessly curiousâ€”about everything.
"A lot of people do believe it." He ran a hand though his hair, dislodging a straight golden lock that flopped onto his forehead. "They also say women donâ€™t like sex."
"Thatâ€™s probably not true either," Mary argued. "If women were given the chance I know they would enjoy sex just as much as men do. We just never get to find out. Just like we never get to learn about History and Politicsâ€”and Ancient Greek poetry. How can I tell I wonâ€™t like something if I never get told anything about it?"
Her cousin shook his head. "I should never have started lending you any of my books. I knew no good would come of it."
Mary ignored the last part of his statement. "Iâ€™m grateful for all the things Iâ€™ve learnt. I couldnâ€™t have done it without your passing on your books to me." She paced the floor, her steps long and fast, hardly befitting the elegant glide expected of a lady. She didnâ€™t care, she was heartily sick of restrictions, infuriated by the list of things boys were actively encouraged to experience that were forbidden to girls.
"But this is different. This book has poems in it that talk about things you know nothing about."
"Well once I read them, I will know, wonâ€™t I?" she reasoned.
"But thatâ€™s just it. I donâ€™t think itâ€™ll be good for you."
"If I expire from hysterical over-stimulation I am sure no one would blame you." She rested her hand on his arm. "You neednâ€™t worry."
His forehead remained wrinkled and his grey-blue eyes looked distant and disturbed. "The kind of relationship the poet describes. Itâ€™sâ€¦well, most people think itâ€™s disgusting. And it is against the law in this country." The furrow between his eyes deepened. "I donâ€™t know how you came to know the book existed, or why you asked me for it."
"I read about it in one of the other books you lent me." She stood on tiptoes and kissed his cheek. "And once I read that it existed, who else would I ask about it but my wonderful cousin Harry? I knew if you had a copy you wouldnâ€™t refuse to give it to me."
"When have I ever refused you anything," he sighed.
"Never," she replied. "And I love you for it."
<strong>'His Delectable Cook' by Cerise DeLand</strong>
Bess Deveraux stood before her new employer, prim as a blushing bride, which she most definitely was not, and proud as the virago she wished to become. And all because the man she faced was precisely the type of master she had yearned for since sheâ€™d first discovered the joys her body could give her six long years ago. He embodied all the essential qualities she desired in a lord and masterâ€”he was handsome, self-possessed, filthy rich and scandal-ridden. At the moment, he was also astonished at her appearance before him. The tick in his left cheek told that tale.
"Mrs Oâ€™Brien assures me you are qualified for my household." Lord Taryn Wentworth sat, loose-boned and maddeningly louche, in a large leather chair, examining her from across his sun-dappled library. The rogue controlled himself so wellâ€”too well. Far beyond Bessâ€™ expectations. After all, she knew he had always hated surprises, especially ones sheâ€™d concocted.
Bess flushed with pride. Convincing the acerbic housekeeper to choose Bess for the cookâ€™s position had been quite the gauntlet, but she had succeeded. The servant had riddled her with questions for hours about her previous experience and employers.
"She informs me you are experienced with supper parties and balls." Crossing one long, well-muscled leg over the other, Wentworth pursed his full lips together as his searing sapphire eyes assessed her chin, her throat and her bosom in the cookâ€™s shapeless white attire.
At his gravelly bass voice, Bess refrained from shifting on her feet as her nipples peaked high and hard against the rough cotton of her new uniform. Sheâ€™d been right not to have donned a corset this morning. Nor worn any pantalets. After all, she had taken this position to be free of all social restraints.
"Bess! Do answer his lordship," Mrs Oâ€™Brien chastised her to respond to the man who had recently inherited this Mayfair house, an older pile in Dorset, an earldom and twenty thousand a year income.
Bess locked eyes with him, the rogue. "I was not aware it was a question."
"Careful, girl," Oâ€™Brien growled.
Bess caught his lordship fighting a smile. "Yes, of course. Pardon me, Wentâ€”" No, not so familiar, Bess! "Sorry, my lord. I am very accomplished at preparing party menus. Game, beef, puddings."
Bess suppressed a chuckle at his lewd reference. How like the scoundrel to try to make her laugh. "I have it on good authority that my fish is superbly prepared. Always in a savoury sauce."
He rubbed his lower lip with the tip of one index finger. "How are your sweet things?"
When properly prepared? "They melt in your mouth."
<strong>'A Lady for Two' by Nan Comargue</strong>
At first, Lise thought it must be her husband, inexplicably home early from his intended fortnight in town. She blew a blonde curl off her forehead, straining her eyes to see through the gloom outside. The tall figure coming up the drive looked just like his, although all features and costume were lost in the growing dimness of approaching twilight. But then she saw the faint stutter in the figureâ€™s stride and knew that it couldnâ€™t be Charles.
Damn it, she thought, another visitor. And a rude one at that. The hour for paying social calls was long past.
Balancing her weight on her knees and only one hand, she waved the other behind her until it hit sweating male flesh.
"Finish quickly," she commanded, pushing her fingers between her legs to help things along. He could never be trusted to think of her pussy when he was pleasuring his cock. "Someoneâ€™s coming to visit."
The steady rhythm that was her favourite trait about her husbandâ€™s young valet was soon broken as he struggled to finish. He was like that, easily flustered, which was why they only fucked when Charles was out of the house. However much she tried to lure him with a quick tumble in an empty bedchamber, he always demurred. It was one of the things she liked about him, his stiffness that bordered on rigidity in front of others, and his eager willingness to fuck her from behind in private. She enjoyed looking out of the window at the other servants going about their daily chores while he was screwing her.
She looked at her reflection in the window glass, her smooth forehead creased over her wide green eyes, as she tried to think of who the stranger could be. Unannounced visitors often meant bad news, but with a well-run household and a wealthy husband who was very careful of his own safety, she doubted it would be that today.
Whoever the stranger was, he must be shown true Hessell hospitality. Charles would expect it of her. If the stranger had come from far, she would be expected to feed him.
Supper had already been eaten. She hoped that Cook had left some of the roast chicken instead of gobbling it up herself, as she was wont to do. Charles swore that Cook ate more than the two of them combined.
Lise turned her head away from the window, not wanting whoever it was to find her hanging out of it, staring at him, the valetâ€™s pale face sweating over her arse cheeks. Even if it had been her husband, she would not have done anything different. She had cut it close before. Fortunately, she and Charles did not have the type of marriage where she would be expected to meet him in the front hall upon his arrival. Really, she thought, no one seemed to have that sort of marriage, least of all her friends and neighbours, although the prospect of love within marriage was realised often enough in novels.
<strong>'In Service to the Senses' by Demelza Hart</strong>
<strong>Yorkshire, August 1910</strong>
The kitchen of Foresham Hall, furnishings, pots and all, seemed itself to be drooping in the incessant heat. With preparations underway for lunch and the August sun shining in, even if only through the narrow windows, it was almost unbearable. Mrs Brodie, normally so in control of her kitchen, was in a state of considerable agitation about the jellies not setting, her dimpled arms glistening with sweat as she flapped about. The kitchen maid sat dejectedly, fanning herself madly with the London Illustrated News, the lettuce she was supposed to be washing left to wilt before her. Mr Brewer, butler, had given them no respite from their tasks, despite the torpor that pervaded their limbs in this weather. Even little Billy, bubbliest of them all, frowned with discomfort as he polished his boots.
Edward alone was still and silent. The silver hairbrush placed before him was in need of a good polish, but he sat with one long, strong leg crossed over the other, leaning back in his chair, his mind elsewhere.
Edward Marham, valet to Lord Reginald Fortescue, sixth Earl of Atherton, was distracted for reasons other than the heat. Heâ€™d missed an engagement the previous night. His Lordship had made him busy without warning, keeping him up starching his bloody shirts. It had been a fucking inconvenience. The person he was supposed to meet would have given him welcome relief from what had been a mind-numbing day below stairs. With a sigh, Edward picked up the cloth and scrubbed half-heartedly at a stubborn mark on the brush. It wasnâ€™t shiftingâ€”needed a good seeing-to.
She needed a bloody good seeing-to. Always did. Fuck, he wanted her now. He pictured her gorgeous round breasts swaying as he pounded her, her lips open as she gasped in air, her legs spread wide, the inside of her thighs wet with lust. She was always wet for him, wet and fucking tight. With that vision in mind, he now went at the silver with determination, his muscled arms straining under the white cotton shirtâ€”heâ€™d stripped off the rest of his suit in the heat. He spat onto the silver to try to shift the mark, and his thick black hair fell over his eyes. Edward tossed it back.
"My lady!" Cookâ€™s startled squeal roused him.
Standing in the doorway was Lady Isabella Fortescue, Countess of Atherton, mistress of Foresham Hall.
She glanced dismissively at the damp little group, her nose wrinkling in distaste. Lady Atherton was, amongst friends and those who wished to be friends, regarded as a cool, distinguished beauty. Amongst those not her friends, she was considered an arrogant, disdainful bitch. She had married the earl in her early twenties, and now, four years later, it was clear that the marriage was hardly the stuff of fairy tales. But that was unimportant. Lady Atherton was immeasurably beautiful, a good hostess, and would soon produce an heir, one assumed. What else was marriage for?
<strong>'Memoirs of Lady Montrose' by Virginnia DeParte</strong>
"Good evening, Mrs Brown," someone murmured behind her. Helenâ€™s stomach lurched. Her heart leapt and pounded at speed. Fear fizzed down her spine and twisted in her throat. Only a small group of people knew her as Mrs Brown and those people would not mix with, or be known to the present company. The cream of Londonâ€™s society eddied around her, dressed to impress for their night at the Albert Hallâ€”the interval afforded an opportunity to be seen and husbands attended with no interest in the musical recitals of Mozart and Chopin, let alone Beethovenâ€™s Pastoral pieces.
She turned around, her gaze searching the moving crowd. Three men walked away through the theatre patrons, one younger than the others. From the rear, he looked well built, with wide shoulders, dressed in formal attire and walking with a slight swagger. The voice sheâ€™d heard had sounded young. Could it be him? Even if she could see his face she wouldnâ€™t recognise him. When in the persona of â€˜Mrs Brownâ€™, she always requested a blindfold. If she had enjoyed his company, she wouldnâ€™t know.
"Helen." Charlotte touched her arm to attract her attention and she turned back to concentrate on the moment and get her nerves under control.
"Sorry, Lottie, sorry."
"Lady Helen, may I introduce the Honourable Stuart Whitmore, Member of Parliament for Minderhurst." Charlotte indicated the gentleman whoâ€™d arrived while her gaze had been fixed elsewhere. "Mr Stuart Whitmore, may I introduce you to Lady Helen Montrose."
"Iâ€™m sorry, I canâ€™t talk at the moment. Excuse me." She inclined her head towards the fawning Member of Parliament and gave Charlotte a quick smile. "I must go, Charlotte. Iâ€™m worried about Henry. He was a little poorly when I left this evening."
"But the programme is only halfway through."
"I must go, Lottie. Iâ€˜ve a feeling something is terribly wrong."
"Iâ€™ll walk with you."
They abandoned Mr Whitmore MP in the crowd. He would no doubt turn and inveigle his way into another group. More important things weighed on Helenâ€™s mind than the ladder-climbing hopes of a back bencher. Lottie accompanied her through the throng that filled the foyer. The combined conversations hummed like a nest of wasps. They nodded politely to those who moved forward, hurrying past until they reached the entrance to wait for an available taxi.
"Helen, youâ€™re quite pale. Are you ill?"
Charlotte had known her for many years but this was one secret Lady Helen could not share, even with her best friend. The nausea held its place, churning her insides and she couldnâ€™t explain her pallor to Charlotte, no matter how desperate her need to spread the burden. Only to Henry could she talk. "Are you sure it isnâ€™t you who is feeling unwell?"
"Iâ€™m fine, Charlotte, just tired. Iâ€™ll be happy to get home."
<strong>'The Butler Did It' by Kate Deveaux</strong>
Clarkson Dale rose to his full six-foot-four frame as he rode the private elevator in the swanky new high rise to the penthouse. Heâ€™d been out of work for a month and had been grateful to finally get the call from the agency for his new posting. The elevator zipped along silently until a loud ding announced he had arrived at the forty-first floor.
Stepping out on the top floor, he found himself in a private lobby with two impressive carved wood doors, and behind those, his new employer. The agency had provided him with a brief bio. He recognised his employerâ€™s name from the newspapers and People magazine, as she was a leading fashion designer and had recently purchased the largest condominium in Miami.
Vivienne Martin heard the door chime echo across her vast penthouse. She put the phone down and impatiently called for Marie to answer it. The bell chimed again but still no Marie. Just where had her maid got to? And how was Vi supposed to get any work done around here if she had to answer both the phone and door at the same time? A reminder of just why she had let the agency know she was desperate for a butler for her new sprawling Miami retreat. Exasperated, she left her office, her Ferragamo spiked heels clicking as she strode quickly across the marble foyer.
Smoothing her skirt, she opened the front door widely and smiled.
"Ms Martin?" Clarkson asked, with surprise.
"And you are?" she asked of the hunky well-dressed man before her. Damn the media, he was probably a reporter looking for the newest scoop on her Miami retreat.
"Clarkson Dale," he stammered slightly, his eyes lingering on her silk blouse, unbuttoned to reveal ample cleavage. "The agency sent me. You requested a butler."
"Clarkson, last name or first?" she said crisply, relieved that he was the new butler. He could deal with the snooping press from now onâ€”he was tall enough and built well enough to take them on.
He just stared at her. He probably wasnâ€™t used to an employer answering her own door. That made two of them. "Clarkson, first name, madam," he said politely.
"Madam," she snorted, and she saw a smile flicker across his chiselled face. "No oneâ€™s ever called me that. Now come on, Clarkson, I donâ€™t have all day to stand here. The sooner you get to work the better. Iâ€™ll give you a quick tourâ€”I donâ€™t know where Maria got to. Sheâ€™s the maid and she should really show you around, but I guess Iâ€™ll have to."
"Yes, madam," he said, following her into the lavishly decorated surroundings.
"Vivienne," she said, "but I prefer you address me Ms Vi. Definitely not madam."
"Of course, Ms Vi."
She glanced back to catch him eyeing the sashay of her pencil skirt. It was one of her own designs and she was well aware that it accentuated her pert ass. But she also knew that as a professional butler, he knew better than to think of his employer in anything but a professional sense.