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A London night, 1816
Why was she doing this naughty, naughty thing? She was mad! That was why. She was completely and utterly mad!
Arabella shrank along the darkened hallway and suppressed a shiver of dread as echoes of her own idiocy bounced about in her brain. Drawing her gray wool cloak tight around her body, she wondered what foul deed she'd done in the past that had reduced her to this.
She was a properly raised British girl, for heaven's sake. Not some fancy trollop accustomed to nights spent in a brothel. But this wasn't just any brothel, no indeed. The Constantine was known as the most gloriously wicked of them all.
Why on earth had she come? All for the sake of education and the quest for enlightenment, of course. If it became a titillating adventure, then who would know?
A shadow of doubt made her throat tighten with dread. Maybe she should stick with her mystery writing. A.S. Penwrite, alias Arabella Spencer, had achieved a certain level of fame during the past few years and the money was nice as well.
But sex was a mystery of sorts, was it not? Still, mystery writing was more suited to the life of a sheltered spinster. That was the problem, she admitted. She was sick and tired of being a sheltered spinster. She would much prefer to be a knowledgeable one.
Arabella Spencer wanted to take a big bite of life and with this bit of whimsy; she would surely achieve her goal.
At five and twenty, she wanted excitement and adventure. Desperately, she wanted to shake loose the shackles of a spinsterish existence and have some fun.
Was she having fun yet?
She shrank along the shadowy wall,frightened out of her mind. A loud moan seeped through the nearest door, making her tremble. The depth and tenor of the voice seemed almost tortured. Arabella's own dear papa had died of a heart seizure. Should she go in and see whether she could help?
Swiftly deciding against that course of action, she continued away from the disturbing sounds of a guttural moan that was quickly followed by a high-pitched feminine giggle. This must be a part of sex, she reasoned. Loud noises and gasping. Seemed reasonable. Breathing a sigh, she looked right, then left, and rushed across the empty hallway to another door.
Pushing back the hood of her cloak, she rested her ear against it and, hearing no alarming sounds, turned the knob. Peeking inside, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Unoccupied. At least for now.
Noises came from the hallway, so Arabella quickly stepped inside and quietly shut the door. Leaning back, she closed her eyes and caught her breath. Imagining paintings of naked men and women cavorting sinfully, she steeled herself and opened her eyes.
In all her years, she'd never seen such opulence. Pushing her spectacles back in place, she gazed around. It didn't look like a den of sin, but was indeed lovely. A dark blue brocade spread covered the largest bed she had ever seen. The fabric was shot with gold threads that glittered against the light of a brace of candles setting upon a heavily carved table.
Arranged by the fireplace on either side of the table were two wing back chairs. A plate of candies and fruit, a small paring knife, and a carafe of red wine waited atop the table. Thinking sex must be a hungry and thirsty business, she licked her lips. Curiosity consumed her, and her imagination went wild.
Tonight, surely, she would have the answers to all her questions on relations between men and women. And who better to learn from than the women who worked within these walls? Wrinkling her nose, deep in thought, she let her eyes skim the rest of the room. A fire twinkled cozily, casting gentle light over hardwood floors. Elegant rugs in varied shades settled over them. A changing screen nestled in one corner featured paintings of rubenesque women frolicking in a forest.
Glancing upward, she admired the molded ceiling, but then her eyes widened at the sight of an enormous mirror located directly above the equally enormous bed.
"Oooh, merciful heavens," she breathed.
Looking around, a desperate sort of fear overtook her. Her aunts believed her to be in London doing research for her latest mystery novel, yet here she was, visiting a decadent house of pleasure. What would they think of this undertaking? Most likely they would be appalled, but then who knew? They were known as the most outrageously eccentric denizens of Upper Biddleton.
The sound of quiet murmurs reached her ears and without further delay, she cast about for a place in which to hide. Heavy footsteps and voices sounded closer. Desperation filled her at the threat of discovery. Spotting the wardrobe, she started toward it, but then suddenly stopped mid-stride. She hadn't explored it and had no inkling of its size. Though she was a small woman, she wasn't assured of an easy fit and time was fast running out.
When the sound of a masculine voice reached her ears, she gasped. It came from just outside. Though it was gravelly and deeply stirring, his words were muted. Then she heard a woman's husky laugh. The doorknob turned and she panicked.
Diving beneath the huge bed in a flurry of skirts, she caught her breath and fought off a sneeze at the intrusion of dust on her senses. A sneeze would give her away. Holding her nose to prevent such an occurrence, she slammed her eyes shut and waited for the game to begin.