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"You're new, aren't ye?"
"Ah ... yes," Oliver said to the servant's back as he followed her up the stairs, relieved she didn't recognize him as a former client. Though he rarely saw the brothel's servants during previous visits, a house this large couldn't run efficiently without a small army's worth. And if this one assumed he was another of Delacroix's employees, then he was not about to correct her. The fewer who were aware of his identity this evening, the better.
He had arrived at the backdoor of the brothel, just as the madam had instructed him yesterday afternoon, and had been greeted by this servant. The last thirty-four hours had passed slower than he could have imagined. But he was finally here. The time had arrived. Tugging on his coat, he did his best to keep his excitement under wraps.
The narrow staircase let up into an equally narrow hall. He must be in the servants' area of the house. The girl opened a door and motioned for Oliver to enter. The room was small and bare with only a straight-back wooden chair and square spindle-legged table.
"Where'd Delacroix find you?" she asked.
He opened his mouth then promptly shut it. Where did madams find men to stock their brothels?
The girl shrugged, seeming to understand an answer would not be forthcoming. "You're different than her usual sort, that's all."
Studying his boots, he shoved his hands in his pockets. He didn't need her to remind him he fell short. Over the years, he, too, had hired his fair share of men at Madame Delacroix's. Each one had been a prime example of their gender. Yet none had come close to what he imagined Vincent to be like in bed. Their shoulders were not quite broadenough, even the few with blue eyes lacked the pure saturated hue that rivaled a clear summer sky, and not one of them possessed a deep cultured voice that swept over his skin like fine aged whiskey.
"Ye can leave yer clothes in here." The girl motioned to the pegs lining one wall. She was dressed plainly in a serviceable brown dress and had a white cap over her mousy brown hair. She couldn't have been more than eighteen years of age, yet her manner indicated she was well accustomed to the inner workings of the brothel.
Hooking her arm under one of the rungs on the back of the chair, she opened a narrow door then carried the chair into the next room.
Uncertain what to do, Oliver followed. Someone had already lit the candles and stoked the fire. The mahogany furnishings and floorboards gleamed from diligent care. Muted tan and cream paper covered the walls and a pair of comfortable black leather armchairs flanked a marble fireplace. The bedchamber would appeal to Vincent. Neat, tidy yet masculine--everything in its place, except for the straight-back chair positioned a few feet from the foot of the bed.
The clank of metal drew his attention to the dresser. Bent at the waist, the servant searched through the bottom drawer. She turned and crossed to the chair.
His eyes widened at the object in her small hands. Apprehension rushed over his skin, pricking the hairs on his nape. Standing on the chair, she reached up and hung the middle of the length of chain from a hook in the ceiling. The contraption formed a triangle--chain on top with a three-foot iron bar connecting the ends. Pursing her lips, the girl adjusted the chain until the iron bar hung horizontal to the floor.
His heart thumped against his ribs. That contraption was meant for him. He knew it without a doubt.
She went back to the dresser. Opening and closing drawers, she pulled out objects and set them on top of the dresser. Four thick leather cuffs adorned with metal rings, two smaller cuffs and two slightly larger. Another iron bar with hooks on each end. Two glass bottles filled with golden liquid he suspected was oil. A fluffy white towel. A metal ring a couple inches in diameter. Marble dildos and anal plugs in various sizes. A coiled leather bullwhip. A cat-o'-nine with braided leather tails. A wooden paddle, the type favored by the headmaster at his old boarding school. He took a step closer and pushed his spectacles higher on his nose. Was that a dog's collar?
Christ. It was all for him. He had to be in the wrong room. Discovering Vincent had a secret penchant for male partners had been shocking enough. Fortunate for Oliver, but unexpected nonetheless. But this? It absolutely did not fit the conservative man Oliver had known since childhood.
The girl hadn't asked Oliver's name. Perhaps she mistook him for someone else. He cleared his constricted throat. "Pardon, miss. I am here for a lord."
"Yes." She slipped one of the bottles of oil into her pocket and walked to the washstand next to the narrow door.
"A Lord Vincent Prescot."
She poured water from a pitcher into the basin. "Yes, his lordship should be along shortly."
His heart skipped a beat. Holy Mother of God. His attention snapped to the dresser, to those leather cuffs. A frisson of unexpected anticipation raced up his spine at the prospect of submitting to Vincent. Then dread dropped into his stomach like a deadweight. What if Vincent restrained him then lit the candles? He'd be powerless to prevent Vincent from discovering his identity. Rolling his shoulders, he dragged his hand through his hair.
The servant took two more white towels from the bottom shelf of the washstand and placed one next to the basin. After setting the bottle of oil from her pocket and the other towel on the bedside table, she surveyed the room, clearly checking to see if all was in place. Her gaze stopped on Oliver, who lingered by one of the armchairs. She gave a little sigh. Her brown eyes softened with compassion. "No reason to be nervous. His lordship's a good sort, and he don't 'ave heavy hands. Won't leave no permanent marks on ye. If it's any help, he's Cameron's favorite. The man's been sulkin' since Delacroix told him ye were to take his place tonight."
Oliver already knew Vincent was the blond Adonis's favorite. It had been Cameron who had dropped enough hints about the ruggedly handsome lord whom he only got to see once a month for Oliver to guess the man's identity. And hell, if anything, Oliver should be Cameron's favorite. Likely Oliver was the only male patron who paid to be bent over. "I'm not nervous," he said, fighting to keep from shifting his weight.
She shrugged. "Remove your clothes except for your breeches. If you're wearing drawers, remove them, too. His lordship will expect you to be ready when he arrives."
With that, she picked up the chair and left Oliver alone in the room.
What the hell had he gotten himself into? It would be worth it, though. This was his one chance to be with Vincent, and he wasn't turning back now. He swallowed hard. No matter what.
Forcing his gaze from the iron bar suspended from the ceiling, he began undressing.
"Damn," he muttered, struggling with the knot on his cravat. He never could tie the darn thing correctly, and now it wouldn't come undone. Using the mirror above the washstand, he was finally able to remove his cravat. Dropping the rumpled linen, he studied his reflection.
He looked more unkempt than usual. Hopefully it and a lack of light would be enough to fool Vincent. He had also purposefully avoided Vincent since the man had returned from a long visit to the country--no reason to have Oliver's image too clear in Vincent's memory. A four-day-old beard covered Oliver's jaw, and he was in sore need of a haircut. Dark waves, disheveled from his habit of running his hands through his hair, hung down to his jaw. Common brown eyes stared back at him from behind wire-rimmed spectacles. He could well understand why Vincent had never shown a hint of interest beyond friendship. Everything about Oliver was unremarkable. Average height. Average build. Average intellect.
He let out a harrumph and unbuttoned his plain brown coat. Growing up with a man who excelled at everything he did, one couldn't help but feel not quite up to snuff. Not that he'd ever been jealous of Vincent's successes. He held nothing but admiration for the man.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. Something considerably more than admiration had driven him to this room.
Using the bootjack by the fireplace, he removed his boots. After he finished undressing to the servant's specification--or rather Vincent's specification--he gathered his clothes and left them in a heap on the small table in the adjoining room. He took a step back into the bedchamber then turned around, removed his spectacles, and tucked them into his coat pocket.
Hopefully Vincent would be close enough for Oliver to see him clearly. He was quite looking forward to taking in Lord Vincent Prescot without his impeccably tailored clothes. The image would need to last a lifetime, and he didn't want to miss anything.
One by one, he doused the candles until only the soft golden glow of the fire lit the bedchamber, the light so weak it couldn't penetrate the dark corners of the room. The fabric of his breeches rubbed against his cock as he paced in front of the fireplace. It was oddly erotic to go about without drawers. The decadent sensation mixed with the anticipation and apprehension strumming his nerves.
His gaze kept straying to the chained iron bar and to the dresser. Images flashed before his mind's eye. His wrists locked to that iron bar, Vincent behind him slipping oil-slicked fingers up his arse, probing deep, preparing him. Lust shot through his body. His strides faltered. No, he wanted more than that. He wanted Vincent. He wanted the man to take him, and if that meant being restrained and collared, getting flogged until he sobbed for mercy, then he would do it.
A tinkling, feminine laugh seeped through the closed door. Oliver stopped in his tracks and strained to hear. There was a deep low rumble of a masculine voice.
He had arrived.
Oliver glanced quickly about the room, unsure what to do. Sit, stand, get on the bed? Excitement and nervousness clashed, forming a noxious mixture.
The knob clicked, and the door opened.