Lysandra Keates is running out of options. Her father is dead, her mother is ill, and her efforts to find respectable employment have ended in failure. With her small savings bleeding away, she swallows her pride—and her terror—and turns to Vivien Manning, an infamous courtesan, to match her with a wealthy protector.
For years, Viscount Andrew Callis has lived a monastic existence at his country estate, hardening his body against the snobbish, lazy young man he once was, hardening his heart against grief over the deaths of his wife and infant son. When Vivien asks him to spend one month training a young woman in the ways of a mistress, his mind resists…but his body responds with an ache he thought long dead.
As Andrew begins his gentle tutelage, he finds himself falling under the spell of Lysandra’s innocent charms. And as they give in to the powerful hunger, the last thing Andrew ever expected, or wanted, forms between them. An emotional connection that could carry them well past the training period—if only Andrew can open his heart to the possibility of love.
"This author!!! Gah!! She has the ability to create characters the draw you in until they swallow you whole!"
"It is sexy and sweet at the same time, which is, in my opinion, the hallmark of a well done erotic romance."
"I can't say enough good things about this book. READ IT! Read it NOW. I'm already looking into her other books, especially in this series."
The hack was overly hot and smelled of whatever its last occupants had been eating during their travels. The seats were covered with threadbare fabric and the cushioning had long ago worn away to leave hard patches. However, all these things were not why Lysandra Keates
shifted in discomfort.
Rather than her mode of transportation, it was her destination that gave her pause and made her quake. And now they were here, in front of a rather marvelous London estate that was obviously well tended to, but these facts gave Lysandra no comfort. In fact, she was utterly numb as she stared through the dirty window to the house.
“I do not wish to do this,” she whispered to herself, clutching her reticule against her chest. It was very light, thanks to its nearly empty state.
And that was why she was here, despite her strong misgivings.
Suddenly the door to the hack flew open and sunlight streamed into the confined space, making Lysandra lift her hand to her eyes until they adjusted and the man who had opened the door became more than shadow. The driver was fat, sweaty and scowling.
“’Ey, are you going in or what, chit?” he snapped. “I don’t have all day to wait for you to make up your damn mind.”
Lysandra flinched both at his harsh tone and the strong scent of uncooked onion coming from his rancid, rotting breath. She had never been spoken to in such a coarse fashion…at least not until this most recent year of her life. Now it felt all the more commonplace.
Still, this was her last chance to make this decision, to answer the question he so rudely posed to her.
“Well?” he said as he folded his arms.
She swallowed. Like it or not, this was her only choice, wasn’t it? She had gone over all the others and here she was. Slowly, she nodded.
“Y-Yes. I’m going in.”
The driver smirked as he looked her up and down in slow, leering appraisal. With a start, Lysandra realized he knew what this place was. Who this place belonged to, and he was judging her accordingly.
Hot blood rushed to her cheeks, making her dizzy as her stomach turned ever so slightly. She forced herself to speak, though, to maintain what little dignity she had left.
“Will you wait for me while I have my meeting?” she asked.
Not that she wished to see this man ever again, but hailing another hack might be difficult.
He gave her a grin that revealed missing and rotting teeth and shrugged. “Love to, but it will cost you.”
Lysandra clutched her nearly empty reticule closer. She could scarcely pay for her trip here and home, there was no way she could afford a fee for sitting, too. It was a long walk back, but once
again, she had no choices.
“Very well, then be on your way,” she said as she pushed past him and got down from the vehicle without his assistance. She didn’t wish to touch him.
He chuckled as he slammed the hack door behind her and swung back up into the driver’s seat. As he pulled away, his laughter echoed and she shivered, feeling as dirty as if she had allowed his hand to take hers.
Once he was gone, that feeling faded, but it left another in its wake:
There was no going back now.
With a sigh, she smoothed her gown, which was two seasons out of style and at least a size too big, and then forced herself to move up the marble staircase and to the very tall, very official-looking black door. With shaking hands, she knocked and in a few moments, it opened to reveal a butler dressed in a smart livery that spoke of the homeowner’s wealth and taste.
Lysandra drew back in surprise.
“Good afternoon, miss,” the butler said, his tone bland, though not unfriendly. “May I help you?”
Lysandra blinked a few times, still taken aback by how very sophisticated the servant seemed to be. She had expected many things, but not this.
The butler tilted his head. “Miss?”
She shook her head. “I’m so sorry, my mind wandered. M-My name is Lysandra Keates and I’m here to see Miss Manning.”
The servant’s brow wrinkled ever so slightly and his gaze flitted over her, not in the leering fashion of the driver, but judging nonetheless. Lysandra forced herself not to shift under his appraisal and prayed her cheeks weren’t flushed with embarrassment.
“And do you have an appointment?” he finally asked, not unkindly.
Lysandra pursed her lips. She hadn’t even thought to make one. “I… No, I do not. But I assure you, I do not wish to trouble her, nor take up too much of her time. But this is a matter of great
importance and I really must see her if she is at home.”
She swallowed hard as she awaited the servant’s decision whether to even allow her entry into the foyer, let alone to have an audience with the woman she had come to see. If he wouldn’t… well, she had no idea what she would do. Her options were few and very unpleasant at that.
“Do you have a card?” he asked.
Lysandra sucked in a breath. A card. Of course that was what someone who mattered would present.
“No,” she whispered and couldn’t help it when her gaze slipped down to her feet.
There was a moment’s hesitation, and Lysandra waited for the inevitable excuse that Miss Manning was not at home at present, but that the servant would certainly pass along a message. Which, of course, he wouldn’t. Why would he trouble his mistress with such a trivial person who she did not even know?
“If you will follow me to the west parlor, I will ascertain if Miss Manning is currently at home,” the butler said.
Lysandra jerked her gaze to his face. Although his expression was still bland, his eyes were kind and filled with understanding that actually made her want to weep. But she pushed that reaction aside and simply nodded.
“Oh, thank you so much,” she whispered and followed him down a short hallway and into a small, elegant parlor.
“I will be but a moment. Please help yourself to tea and cakes on the sideboard if you would like.” He gave her a short bow and then backed from the room, shutting the door behind him.
Lysandra covered her mouth as she sank into a chair before the low fire. Somehow she had made it past the first challenge in meeting Miss Manning. There was no guarantee the woman would see her, of course, but this was far closer than Lysandra had ever dared to believe she could come.
Her gaze slipped to the cakes the butler had so kindly offered, and her stomach growled faintly. She had eaten no breakfast and her lunch had consisted only of a hunk of dry bread with a ridiculously thin wedge of cheese.
She got to her feet and slipped to the table. With a quick glance at the door, she yanked her handkerchief from her reticule and quickly folded a cake into the fabric before she returned it to her bag. She was too nervous to eat now, but tonight this would supplement whatever meager supper, or lack thereof, awaited her.
The door behind her opened and Lysandra spun around, guilty and embarrassed that she had nearly been caught stealing cakes like a child. But those feelings faded as a woman swept into the room.
She was utterly beautiful, with honey-blonde hair twisted into an intricate fashion. Her pale blue gown was of the finest quality silk and had hand-stitched pink rosettes that cascaded over the fall of the skirt. Lysandra had never been of the ton, even before her life had changed, but she had worked for her betters. This woman put them all to shame.
“Good afternoon, my dear,” the lady said as she closed the door behind her. “I am Vivien Manning.”
Lysandra sucked in a breath. Of course, this had to be true, but…
“But you don’t look like a—”
With a gasp, Lysandra covered her mouth with a trembling hand. Dear God, had she almost voiced that statement aloud? Insulted this woman who held her fate in her perfectly manicured fingers?
But Miss Manning did not look insulted. In fact, her face didn’t even falter as she said, “A whore?”