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One Wicked Night
By NOELLE MACK
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2008 Noelle Mack
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt began with one night. But what man would stop there? Not I, not then, for I was just twenty and not yet schooled in the infinite variety of pleasure. My sensual education began upon the stroke of twelve during that long-ago encounter. The lady and I loved each other well in that one wicked night. My beautiful tutor was someone I cannot name, wanton in all her ways but necessarily discreet, as she taught me to be.
In six hours with her I learned more than most men learn in six years of vigorous whoring, or during the sort of fashionable affaires de coeur that so seldom involve that most vulnerable of human organs, the heart. She was somewhat older than I and far more experienced, and she taught me well, pleased to have such an eager student who wanted to learn everything at once. My dear love-she was my first love-did her best in the brief time that we had.
Of course, we had known each other, although not intimately, for a while before she acted upon her secret passion, having guessed my feelings for her. Until our first kiss, I had never experienced such ardent tenderness. A decade later, I remember it well.
I am straightforward as a rule, but only the most romantic words serve to describe her, such were her charms. Where to begin? She had eyes the sweet brown of meadow honey, and unruly hair like afternoon sunshine, golden and long. My hand was lost in her tresses when she let her hair down and allowed me to touch her for the first time. But it was her open-hearted nature that captivated me most of all, expressed to perfection by a voice so soft and mellow that ... ah, a man never forgets his first love, it is said. If he is given to writing, as I am, she will appear again and again, in many different guises.
She is in this book. But no-I cannot very well bestow the name of Book upon the heap of miscellaneous paper presently upon my desk, at my right hand. A casual look through it reveals pages and pages of my private musings upon my affair with a very different woman: Lady X. There are also rough drafts of erotic tales I wrote to please that insatiable female, penning the finished versions in a little volume of which there is only one copy. And, of course, many amorous missives from me, read attentively and promptly returned-my darling X was not the sort of female who bound such things in silk ribbon and sighed over them.
All were written in secret. My crest does not appear upon the cream-colored paper that makes up so much of the pile, mingled with torn pages from lewd chapbooks that she sent her maid to buy. I often wondered what the girl thought of those. She could not read but the illustrations made the subject quite clear.
A faint scent of perfume still clings to the note-sheets on which my darling scribbled sexual fantasies of her own that aroused me to the point of fever, a fever that only she could cure. Many of her notes bear only a swiftly penned message. Come to me. Words that I kissed each time I received them.
We are all doomed to remember our greatest joy, the mingling of our soul with that of another, when we are utterly alone, as I am now. Perhaps solitude has led me to attempt to make sense of it all. Certainly several of the stories I wrote were inspired by the Lady X, although other lovely creatures appear in them now and again.
It has been whispered that only I am privileged to know the intimate desires of the most sensual and daring women in London. Perhaps it is so. Some of these wantons are entirely fictional, but many are real, masquerading under different names and costumes. They, and the pages on which they appear in promiscuous array, crowd my mind as well as my desk.
I would be rid of them all. When I am done, I shall consign every page, every memento of her and the others, to the fire. Erotica created by a sensual imagination may well make the hottest blaze of all.
Ah, the myriad sources of my inspiration might not be pleased if they knew of their ultimate end in a drawing-room grate. But they will never know. It is not masculine boasting to say that I bedded many women in the ten years that passed since the night of my initiation. My heart, however, had remained untouched. It could be argued that my dear Lady X thought me, a rake with a deservedly wicked reputation, essentially naïve and easy to deceive. She was a highly intelligent woman.
Once our affair was over, I could scarcely comprehend what had happened between us. And so I collected these papers and began to reread them, adding to them here and there for my own edification and for no other reason. Certainly not for publication- do I repeat myself? I am a man of honor, and every lady's secrets are safe with me.
Some minutes later ...
I have returned with a glass of brandy that will fortify me to look more closely through my odd collection. I especially treasure the stories that Lady X set down in a fine, light hand that brings back the memory of her touch, something I would like very much to forget. But I find I cannot. Not yet.
Damnation! I have knocked over the glass-
The fumes ignited, owing to the shortness of the candle, which had burned low. The hour is late. For a few seconds, a blue fire danced over the surface of my desk but I pushed the hodgepodge of paper to the floor in time. However, I will take the mishap as a sign of sorts: I must be careful.
In any event, a trustworthy friend, Richard Whiston, who is also my secretary, has instructions to destroy my personal ephemera upon my death, if I have not done so first. Only he and I have keys to the safe hiding place to which I return the collection when I am done leafing through it and scribbling. Having rescued it this very night from untimely destruction, I suppose I should pick it all up and sort it as best I can ... my contributions in one pile, Xavi's in another ...
There, I have done so-got it back upon the desk, if not sorted it-and finished the brandy in the decanter. After some moments of reflection I find I have not the heart to separate my things from hers. The task could be accomplished quickly. The writings of Lady X-she did beg me to destroy them, which I will in due time-are easy enough to distinguish from mine, owing to the different paper and the delightful small sketches that sometimes enlivened them. Here is one of hers-it has jumped to the top of the pile!-a drawing of a fetching little whore in black stockings and nothing else. She very much resembles X, who told her stories from a feminine point of view, of course, providing a highly stimulating counterpoint to mine. She had a rare talent for becoming anyone she pleased.
My naughty inamorata was the Lady X, of course. Notorious. Uncommonly lovely. And for a while, the talk of London. The scandal sheets never printed her full first names, Xaviera Innocencia, let alone her last.
Don Diego Mendez y Cartegna was her husband, a grandee in his own land, a person of great influence in ours as the Peninsular Wars dragged on.
Don Diego prided himself on his jealous supervision of his young wife. Nonetheless, Xavi assured me that after he had taken her virginity-adding that it was without a doubt the most unpleasant five minutes of her life-she never went again to his great gilt bed, knowing that her side of it was sure to be occupied by a housemaid or some other unfortunate female who did not have the power to refuse the lord and master of the household.
So perhaps her infidelity was justified-she thought so and I was not inclined to argue the point. My feelings for her had been sparked in an instant and the fire between us leaped high for many months. Yet our passion was unequal and it was clear from the beginning that I loved her rather more than she loved me. At least she was truthful about that.
Her desire for sex was more than a match for mine. Hence the little blank book in which I wrote, at her request and for her amusement, of amorous adventures. Rescued, it sits on the other side of my desk, holding down a ream of my preferred paper: foolscap. The word is appropriate. Love is a fool's game, no matter one's skill at it.
In that arena, I would call myself simply lucky, although there were women who told me-their fervent words, not mine-that my magnificent build and remarkable height and handsomeness and so forth and so on were enough to make them swoon. Romantic flattery, nothing more. Some females need a reason to be overcome, and if my appearance met with their approval, then well and good.
I myself do not set much store by physical perfection, being attracted just as much by intelligence and high spirits-the quality the French call joie de vivre-and the way a woman carried herself. If, underneath her frills and furbelows, a female of new acquaintance seemed quite at home in her own skin, as lithe as a healthy animal and as bold, then I marked her as mine.
Xavi had all those qualities and a sultry beauty of her own that set her apart from English women. She was outwardly demure; inwardly, not at all. She called to mind the most outrageous erotic fantasies.
Naked from the waist down, straddling a chair ... her full breasts bared and held up high by her tight stays, her nipples turned deep pink from the light tugging and rolling between my fingers ... her soft lips, parted to tell me what she wanted ... ah, I envisioned her just in that way at the moment I saw her.
I happened to be visiting the studio of my good friend, Everett Quinn, a portrait painter of note. Men who had risen far above their humble beginnings, millionaire brewers and the like, came to him for gilt-framed ancestors to hang on the walls of their new country houses. Any ancestors would do, so long as their painted faces suggested a distinguished pedigree.
Bewigged, ruffed, clad in courtly velvet or sober Jacobean black, the subjects were entirely imaginary but they bore an unmistakable resemblance to whoever had commissioned them in the first place. Quinn's skill at reinventing a given set of features through the centuries was unrivaled and he commanded high fees.
He also did the portraits of actresses lucky enough to bag a peer or wealthy lover. These men paid well to have their women immortalized at the height of their beauty and fame. Quinn had a knack for making them look altogether respectable at the same time, to everyone's amusement.
It was at his studio that I first glimpsed Xavi. Quinn was seldom alone there, and various people came and went at all hours. There was an older woman, a Miss Reynaud, who did the drawings for the engraved reproductions of his paintings, which were peddled in the print shops; and Rob Hutchenson, the apprentice who mixed his colors and did the other dirty work; and his models, human and otherwise. For a while Quinn had kept two small spotted pigs he'd needed for a rustic landscape. They clattered about on the bare wood floors and stuck their snouts into everything and he'd had to give them away.
But on that day only the apprentice was there, a lad of nineteen or so who showed me in without taking my hat or my greatcoat. He didn't bother to introduce me to a pretty girl, neatly dressed, who I took to be a ladies' maid. Not of the more fashionable French type, to be sure, and new to her calling-the girl had an air of the Surrey countryside about her and seemed English to the bone. She sat quietly in a straight-backed chair and did not look up as I passed by. I assumed she had been brought along to give the appearance of propriety.
No doubt the subject of Quinn's latest commission was in the next room. I wondered idly who it might be this time as I pushed aside the heavy curtain that blocked the door.
Quinn was always working and there were many paintings propped against the walls, some framed and some not. He liked to fiddle with them and add improvements: dabbing rosy cheeks on the plainer females and painting breasts upon females not thus blessed by Mother Nature, who had not thought to buy a pair of artificial ones in the shops to fill out their bodices.
But the woman I glimpsed in the center of the room needed no help of that kind with her complexion or her figure. Calling a halloo, I entered without further ado-Quinn cared nothing for social niceties-and then stopped and stared.
She was sitting on a raised platform in perfect stillness, her exquisite profile turned into the light that flooded the room from the high, north-facing windows, so that she did not see me looking at her. I was thunderstruck. She was remarkably beautiful, almost exotic, and her body, even clothed, was utterly graceful in seated repose.
Motionless and silent, she scarcely seemed to breathe, but I perceived the slight rise and fall of her bosom when I came back to my senses. I turned my back to her and mouthed a question to Quinn. Who is she?
He winked at me, noticing my obvious interest, and put down his brush and palette to answer, thinking for a moment before he raced through the syllables of a very long Spanish name, the sort of name which included ancestors and in-laws and several Catholic saints. She had just come to England, he explained. They had exchanged only a few words-sit here, look there-and he did not think she spoke or understood much English.
I looked over his shoulder at the woman whose outline was sketched upon the canvas supported by Quinn's easel. Her gaze rested now upon two finished, nearly life-size portraits hanging on a wall of the studio, a matched set meant to convey the appearance of happy matrimony between the earl and the countess depicted. I had to smile. I knew both of them, though not well. In any case, their names-or the first letters of their names, followed by unsubtle dashes-frequently popped up in the press, which gleefully chronicled their affairs with others and their noisy public squabbling.
Xavi studied the portraits thoughtfully. Something about her deliberate consideration of the two, as if she were assessing everything from the sitters' clothes to their character, suggested a considerable intelligence and made me think that she did understand us. But I could not stop Quinn from continuing blithely on, although he kept his voice low.
The lady who sat so patiently upon his platform was the wife of the Spanish ambassador, he explained. The man was descended from an ancient family of Castile and was a disgusting old goat-
"Have you met him, Quinn?"
"No. He sends payment through an intermediary."
"What is his name?"
"The intermediary? He is called Vendela, I think-"
"Not him, her husband."
I barely heard my talkative friend say her husband's name because Xavi had turned to look at me at last. Quinn chattered on, but she spoke not a word, observing me calmly with large dark eyes. Her lustrous black hair was swept up in a thick coil that left the nape of her neck adorned with a curl or two that I suddenly, passionately, longed to kiss. I had never seen so beautiful a woman, yet even a passing flirtation with this one was entirely out of the question.
Even if her husband's name had barely registered-I did know I had never met the man-Don Diego's position at court had. Although I did not spend time there, my own interests were at stake in those important circles, having to do with the manufacture of munitions-but I will say no more on that subject. My business affairs are recorded elsewhere and those papers will not be burnt. Suffice it to say that my plans were likely to make me a wealthy man. Or so I hoped. Like many a nobleman, I had inherited a distinguished title but little more.
I considered the matter for a moment, while I wondered where she lived. Dallying with the wives of powerful men was best done at some distance from London if it was to be done at all. Most of us took our pleasure with women who were not received in polite society in any case.
But someone like Lady X would be welcomed in the highest circles. Her looks alone ensured that she would be a sought-after guest at elegant soirees and balls, and surely she was about to burst upon the social scene. Being the wife of Don Diego might keep predatory males at a respectable distance, if he was as passionate and vengeful as Spaniards were reputed to be. But what had Quinn just called him? A disgusting old goat? I felt pity for her.
Excerpted from One Wicked Night by NOELLE MACK Copyright © 2008 by Noelle Mack. Excerpted by permission.
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