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After a chance encounter on a busy London street, Lord Pierce Warrington vowed she would be his...he just needed to learn her name. As an American, Sarah Grey still had a lot to learn about British society. She didn’t, however, need to be told handsome lords who handled you intimately and demanded to know your name were trouble. She made her living as a model with Mrs. Mildred Needham’s Studio of Virtuous Young Beautiful Women Artist Models. While it was certainly better than a life in domestic service, sitting for painters and sculptors was not nearly as exciting as Sarah would have hoped. That is until Lord Pierce Warrington strolls in looking to hire a model.
Lord Warrington is highly influential in the new medium of photography. He decides Sarah is his perfect muse...and perfect for a little sinful seduction. Will she be willing to play his dark games? Will she understand his need to explore the delicate balance of pleasure and pain? To capture it on film? To capture her. What starts as a dangerous seduction turns treacherous when an attempt is made on Sarah’s life. Will the enigmatic Lord Warrington’s games be the death of her?
*This book contains domestic discipline, spankings, creative punishments and anal play.
Diving for the wooden slab of black puddings before they hit the dirty ground, the blue-aproned butcher raised a clenched fist shouting a cockney slur at the retreating back of the running girl.
Sarah turned her head to call out a hurried apology…promptly colliding with a lavender girl.
“Oy! Watch where you’re goin!” groused the girl. Her basket filled with lavender bunches tipping precariously as they became a tangle of skirts and limbs.
“I’m so very sorry,” breathed Sarah as she hastily bent to pick up the wilted small bits of lavender which toppled out. Handing them to the girl along with a few shillings, she once again set off at a very unladylike pace down Shaftesbury Avenue. Her soft leather kid boots slid along the wet flagstone as she bustled past the various storefronts, churchyards and homes. The sickly fog still stubbornly clinging to earth despite the warmth of the afternoon sun.
Three months since she sailed from America and Sarah still was not used to the crowded London streets. Barely missing a nursemaid wheeling a perambulator in her rush, she disregarded the disapproving looks she received. Shimmying through the motley mix of aristocracy, merchants, street urchins and burgeoning middle class strolling through Piccadilly Circus, Sarah determinedly made her way.
Gripping her bonnet by the ribbons in one hand, her skirts in the other, her ink black hair a tangled mess down her back, Sarah presented quite the scandalous picture. Her stocking-clad ankles flashing as she ran pell-mell towards her destination.
Dang it all! She was going to be late, thought Sarah.
No…wait. That wasn’t correct.
Dash it all! She was going to be late.
There! That was more British sounding, thought Sarah with an inward smile. Never mind the fact running with your skirts above your knees through the fashionable West End was a very un-British thing to do.
She never should have stopped to watch the hurdy-gurdy player. It wasn’t her fault really. They didn’t have such a thing in America. It made such a lovely, jaunty sound. Sarah also couldn’t resist the adorable dancing monkey who was part of the act. He was dressed in a little red uniform with gold tassels and the cutest little hat. After each song, the monkey would take the hat off and dance around the crowd pleading for a coin. It was hard not to lose track of time watching such an entertaining spectacle.
Finally, she arrived across the street from 126 Shaftesbury Avenue. Taking a moment to place her bonnet on her head, Sarah tried in vain to tuck her errant locks up within its confines. Giving her matching gray tweed jacket one last tug in place over her skirt waist, Sarah prepared to cross the street. A fast moving water cart stopped her, but not before spraying the bottom half of her skirts. Soaking them.
“Dang it all!” she cursed out loud, angrily brushing at the wet tweed, dropping her bonnet in the process. “I mean…darn it…ah…dash it…ah bloody hell,” she ended pathetically. Her small rant was interrupted by a deep chuckle. Sarah looked up into the startlingly bright blue eyes of a gentleman.
Blushing with embarrassment, Sarah stammered, “I do beg your pardon.”
While it may be true, they said things differently over here in England compared to in America. It was not so different Sarah didn’t know it was unacceptable for a young miss to be caught cursing in the street like a fishwife by a gentleman.
The gentleman took a step closer.
It was the middle of the morning on a busy street in the West End. They were surrounded by people. This was London for heaven’s sake, not some Virginia backwater. And yet, a shiver of awareness crept over her.
Placing a finger under her chin, he tilted Sarah’s head back. Those captivating eyes closely examined her. The pad of his thumb swept across her lower lip. “Such ugly words coming from such a pretty mouth,” he mused.
Sarah could only stare in response. The gentleman was impressively tall. One would almost say, intimidatingly so. Elegantly attired in a tailored black frock coat over a pair of serge dove gray trousers with a plum silk waistcoat, he was obviously of the aristocratic class.
Resisting the urge to pull her bottom lip between her teeth, Sarah jerked her head back, trying to break his grip. His eyes flashed a warning. She instantly stilled. Some primal instinct warning her his elegant attire and demeanor were a mere facade of civility.
Without releasing her from his intense regard, the gentleman used his walking stick to retrieve her bonnet from the dusty walkway. His left hand dropped away from her chin. Sarah seized upon the opportunity to lower her face, breaking his unsettling gaze.
“Allow me.” His low, commanding tone belying the polite request. Setting aside his walking stick, he took another step closer. The polished tips of his boots disappearing under the hem of her dress. Sarah could feel her cheeks warm in response. For an unknown stranger to stand this close to a woman in the middle of the street was beyond the pale, would be so even for a married couple, she was sure. Yet Sarah knew if she tried to take a step back, he would only follow. Desperately trying to calm her pounding heart, she tried to focus on her bonnet instead of the imposing man before her.
It was a mistake. The frivolously feminine gray silk convection covered in pink ribbon and small blush roses only served to heighten the masculine hand that held it. She stared at the large powerful hand. Despite his obvious gentry status, it looked tan and strong. The knuckles slightly scuffed and scarred, from fisticuffs no doubt. Sarah felt a frisson of fear and something more elusive.
His other hand reached up to slide along the side of her neck. A shocked gasp escaped her lips. His hand felt warm and slightly rough against her smooth skin chilled from the mid-morning fog.
“Sir, I…” she stammered, keenly aware of his profound affect on her nerves.
His broad hand swept under her heavy locks. Gathering the mass in one strong grip, he gave her hair a twist, sharply tugging downward.
Crying out, Sarah lost her balance as she was thrust forward. Crashing into the resisting strength of his chest, she quickly raised her ungloved hands. Sliding them along the soft, wool of his frock coat, Sarah tried to push away.
“Be still,” he ordered.
She could feel the vibrations of the softly growled command through her fingertips scandalously spanning his chest. Risking a quick look upwards through her lashes, she could see the hard set of his jaw and the uncompromising glint in his azure eyes.
He gave another sharp tug on her silky locks. The biting sting bringing tears to her eyes. He felt himself harden at the mixture of pain and desire that flashed through her beautiful tear-glistened eyes. With another deft twist, he managed to tame her wild strands into a loose chignon. Raising his left arm, he placed the bonnet on her head.
Sarah closed her eyes, feeling lightheaded. Towering over her, her head barely reaching his shoulder. The gentleman’s long arms caging her in as he performed the intimate task. The warmth of his body soothing her cold hands. The rich smell of bay rum and tobacco surrounding her as much as his embrace. It was too much. It was not enough.
His knuckles brushed the delicate skin of Sarah’s neck as he pulled the ribbons down around her chin. As he expertly tied a bow which hugged the left side of her jaw, she could not help but wonder at his proficiency at the feminine task. How many women had been subject to his intimate ministrations?
Allowing his hand to rest at the base of her neck, just along her collarbone, his thumb lightly brushed her soft skin, feeling the feathery pulse from her trembling breath.
“What is your name, my little American beauty?”
Sarah was awkwardly brought back to the present.
Furiously looking about her, wondering at the lack of interest in their outrageous display by the passer-bys, Sarah backed away. Feeling his hand clench slightly against her shoulder, there was a moment of panic. He wasn’t going to release her.
“Please,” she fervently whispered, her cheeks glowing with embarrassment. “You must let me go.”
“Your name,” he insisted, refusing to release his grip.
She couldn’t possibly tell him. He was already too observant. She had barely spoken in his presence and he knew she was American. What else had he discerned while scrutinizing her with those sharp blue eyes? All the more aware of the growing warmth in her middle and the chafing scrape of her aroused nipples rubbing the harsh confines of her worsted corset. Her agitation grew. Shaking her head no, she scrambled backward, almost out of his reach.
That strong hand which had enthralled her moments earlier, now wrapped securely around her slim wrist.
“Do not thwart me in this, little one.” The dark determination in his voice unmistakable. “Tell. Me. Your. Name.”
They both turned sharply at the sound of a loud crash in the street. A milk cart had collided with an oyster monger, sending heavy metal jugs of milk spilling onto the cobblestones. In the ensuing chaos, Sarah broke free. Her petite frame easily dodged between the two carts and around the shouting street vendors to the relative safety of the other side of the street. She spared a furtive glance over her shoulder. The gentleman remained rooted to the spot. The tense set of his shoulders and the hard look upon his face illustrating his annoyance at her flight.
Sarah ran the remaining few steps to a battered, green wooden door. Pushing it open, she slid inside, quickly closing the door and pressing her back against it. Allowing the cool, dark interior to calm her nerves, she took several deep breaths. Uncertain whether she felt elated or despondent at her narrow escape, Sarah gave herself a stern upbraiding. She would wait till the privacy of her own bed tonight to dwell on her conflicted emotions.
Lord Pierce Warrington watched his quarry scamper across the street. The only thing saving the minx from his determined pursuit was the door she hurried through. A slow, knowing smile spread across his handsome features. Retrieving his walking stick, he warned out loud, “Till later, my little minx.”
Taking the steep, narrow steps two at a time, careful not to trip, Sarah came to a well-appointed entranceway with a long weathered wooden bench with room for a brass umbrella stand and hat hooks, to the right was a closed frosted glass door. Mrs. Mildred Needham’s Studio of Virtuous Young Beautiful Women Artist Models was written in crisp black letters.
Taking a steadying breath, Sarah turned the knob and entered the sparsely furnished parlor.
“Sophronia! You are late,” barked Mrs. Needham.
“Sorry, Mrs. Needham,” breathed Sarah, answering to the exotic name Mrs. Needham had chosen for her. When Sarah showed up on her doorstep a few months ago, Mrs. Needham had decried her black hair and swarthy complexion. Also detesting what she termed Sarah’s “heathen colonialist” name. Mrs. Needham rechristened her, Sophronia. So Sarah Grey of Dumfries, Virginia became Sophronia Greyson of…of…well…she couldn’t exactly remember where she was supposed to be from now. Mrs. Needham had mentioned it a few times but it was an odd sounding little place and Sarah would be damned…dashed if she could recall it.
“You are positively caked in mud,” snorted Mrs. Needham disdainfully, “and with an important new client expected any moment. He could open quite a few doors for us. Not to mention bring in a tidy sum.” The older woman buried her face in her white lace-edged handkerchief, the only spot of color in her unrelenting black widow’s weeds ensemble. Not that Mrs. Needham was a widow or a Madam for that matter. It was a necessary little bit of subterfuge in order to run her business.
Mrs. Mildred Needham’s Studio of Virtuous Young Beautiful Women Artist Models provided female models for painters, theatrical posters, advertisements and the new amateur photographers. With London being a bustling, cultured city full of all sorts of artists and commerce there was always a great demand for females to sit for paintings and photographs. It didn’t pay much and it wasn’t entirely considered respectable work but it was better than domestic service or being a governess. Sarah found it exciting, except when she found it boring. The artists could be interesting and humorous but the sitting perfectly still for hours on end became terribly tedious.
Mrs. Needham was a good sort, if a bit dramatic. She treated her girls well and attracted a nice clientele. None of those shifty lot who only wanted a girl to pose stark naked for one of those French postcards. Mrs. Needham ran a clean establishment. Absolutely nothing scandalous. Of course, it depended on your definition of scandalous. Society had one definition. The art world had another. For the most part, her girls never posed nude but a classic, Grecian draping was acceptable under the proper circumstances. Proper being Mrs. Needham was paid the right amount of coin for the privilege.
Of course rumor had it Mrs. Needham was quite the loose tart back in the day. There were whispers she was the model for the famous painter Delacroix’s Odalisque…the nude model. The thought always made Sarah inwardly smile whenever Mrs. Needham lectured her about deportment and proper behavior. Sarah doubted if Mildred was even her Christian name. It was probably something far more scandalous like Maude or Millie.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Needham. I’m afraid the water-cart got at my skirts again,” mourned Sarah. Pulling at her sodden attire, as she told the half-truth. Hoping Mrs. Needham would be sufficiently distracted by her ruined skirts to notice her red cheeks and bright eyes. The absolute very last thing Sarah wanted was to arouse the curiosity of Mrs. Needham.
“Really. And how do you explain your tardiness?” asked Mrs. Needham crisply.
“Well see, it involves a dancing monkey and hurdy-gurdy player,” started Sarah, warming to her subterfuge...which again was only a half-truth she told herself.
Raising her palm up in warning, Mrs. Needham shouted, “Not another word, Sophronia.” Turning on her heel, she crossed the slightly worn carpet and pulled back the emerald green curtain separating the parlor from the private rooms. “Euphemia,” she called out. “Come here at once.”
After a moment, a delicate girl with reddish blond hair in a blue calico dress appeared. “Yes, Mrs. Needham.”
“Euphemia, do please take care of this,” implored Mrs. Needham with a sweeping hand in Sarah’s direction.
“Of course, Mrs. Needham,” said Euphemia with a curtsy as she grabbed Sarah by the arm and ushered her out of the room.
“The client will be here shortly. So do not dawdle,” called Mrs. Needham after their retreating backs.
Both girls giggled as they scurried along the back corridor, waiting till they were safely behind a closed door before bursting out laughing.
They were in the private salon which had been converted into a large ladies dressing room for all the girls. It had four full-length mirrors and several old wooden wardrobes filled with dresses. It even had some cast off costumes from the neighborhood West End theaters. Occasionally the clients requested a particular theme for their sittings and paid extra coin for Mrs. Needham to provide the props and costumes.
“You really need to tell her you hate the name Euphemia,” laughed Sarah. “It is truly dreadful.”
“You’re one to talk, Sophronia,” smirked Euphemia or more accurately Elma. Like Sarah, she was the recipient of a name change from Mrs. Needham. Elma was a “heathen Scot” from the Highlands. According to Mrs. Needham, Elma was cursed with garish red curls and similar to Sarah…a swarthy complexion. Mrs. Needham felt anyone not born within the borders of jolly old England was by default cursed with a less than ideal complexion usually described as swarthy, whether or not it was true, which in Sarah’s case it was not. Despite Mrs. Needham’s protestations, she was proud of the fact she could offer the gentlemen artists of London such a wide and varied selection of female models.
“Stop your teasing and get out of that dreadful outfit,” scolded Elma.
“What is the matter with my dress?” asked Sarah as she lifted her tweed skirt for inspection. “All it wants is a little brushing.”
The filthy London streets were a plague to any decent woman’s attire. A simple afternoon visit for tea would easily mean at least a full hour of vigorously brushing the bottom six inches of ones skirts to remove the dust and dirt. In Sarah’s case it was usually worse since she seemed to have a penchant for bumping into every water cart around the city, guaranteeing the simple dust became thick mud.
“You cannot be serious, Sarah!” laughed Victoria as she entered from the private drawing room.
Victoria was a favorite of Mrs. Needham. Statuesque with honey-brown locks, she came from a titled English family who had fallen on very hard times. Her rather unscrupulous father had tried to force her to sell herself in a gambling hall to settle the family’s debts. It was all very sordid. Victoria was crafty enough to escape him and seek employment with Mrs. Needham. As if being English and having an acceptable complexion was not enough for Mrs. Needham, Victoria was her real name! Fortunately, her disreputable father had the good graces to die shortly afterwards so Victoria had been with Mrs. Needham ever since. Despite her tragedies, Victoria was unassuming and always thoughtful and kind with the other girls.
“I think the dress suits the little savage.”
The same could not be said for Florence.
“Florence, please do not call Sarah a savage,” admonished Victoria as Florence sauntered into the room after announcing her presence with the sardonic remark at Sarah’s expense.
Florence narrowed her eyes at Sarah’s knowing smirk behind Victoria’s back.
Florence had taken an instant dislike to Sarah from the moment she arrived. Spreading rumors among the scullery maids and footmen that Sarah was a savage who would scalp them in their beds. No matter how many times Sarah tried to explain to the lower staff the difference between being an American and being an Indian native they still looked at her strangely and crossed themselves when she entered a room.
Sarah knew it was because Florence was bitter.
They were both petite with lush curves and thick black hair. If they were rivals for a suitor’s affections at a public dance, the similarity would be no bother but at an artist model studio, it meant a great deal. Until Sarah came along, Florence, or Florencia as Mrs. Needham called her, was in demand with the romantic classic artists who wanted drama and rich detail. Sarah’s more striking features and unique eye color had begun to draw away Florence’s regular clients. She was extremely resentful for it. No one really knew who Florence’s family was or where she came from but Sarah suspected it was someplace mean and low, like from a Dickens’ story. Florence might give the appearance of refined gentility but Sarah knew she was just aping her betters.
“You are right, Victoria,” said Florence sweetly, too sweetly. “Here, Sarah. Let me help you dress.”
Sarah eyed Florence suspiciously. At Victoria’s encouraging nod, Sarah reluctantly crossed the dressing room to where Florence was standing.
“How about I lend you one of my best dresses? Won’t that be wonderful? We want you to look beautiful, don’t you? Mrs. Needham did say it was an important new client,” rambled Florence with false enthusiasm as she roughly spun Sarah to face away from her and began to rip the jacket from her shoulders.
Sarah exchanged a confused look with Elma, who just shrugged her shoulders. Neither knew why Florence was suddenly being so nice.
Tensing, Sarah tried to pull away. “I’m sure I will be fine.”
“Nonsense,” answered Florence, smiling through clenched teeth as she clamped her finger’s down on Sarah’s upper arms.
Uneasy about Florence’s sudden beneficence but unwilling to cause a fuss, Victoria inclined her head. “Very well, Florence. I will see that Mary has the proper instructions for the refreshments Mrs. Needham would like served.”
“I’ll go with you!” offered Elma as she rushed after Victoria.
“No, Elma!” called out Sarah.
Elma mouthed a quick apology before disappearing through the front parlor door after Victoria.
“Really, Sarah,” laughed Florence, affronted. “You would think you were afraid to be alone with me.”
Giving a tense laugh in return, Sarah offered no other reply as Florence stripped her down to her thin cotton chemise.
Crossing to her personal wardrobe, Florence chose a beautiful magenta silk day dress trimmed with bright gold passementerie.
Reverently touching the dress, Sarah was impressed by the gesture. “Oh, Florence. I couldn’t. It is too beautiful.”
“Nonsense. Besides, I couldn’t possibly wear it. I’ve been seen in it too many times,” responded Florence nonchalantly. “Although I’m afraid my waist is at least two inches smaller than yours. We will have to tight lace you in order for it to fit properly.”
Sarah hesitated. Reluctant to break this sudden truce with Florence, she hated even the idea of tight lacing and had never tried it.
“Perhaps there is a different dress I could wear?” she asked hopefully.
Florence snatched the dress from Sarah’s grasp. Swinging violently away, she sniped, “Well, if my generous offer of assistance is going to be rejected with so little thought to my feelings…” Her voice laced with bitter disappointment, Florence let the rest of her words drop.
“Oh, please…please! I did not mean to offend! Please, Florence!” Sarah ran across the room to hug Florence around the waist from behind. “Please dear, please do not take offense,” begged Sarah. Sarah genuinely wanted Florence to forgive her. Not only for there to be the possibility of a future friendship between them but because she did not want Victoria to think she had been churlish.
“Very well,” acquiesced Florence. Sarah failed to notice her satisfied smirk. “You can wear one of my corsets. Yours is too shabby.”
“Whatever you wish, Florence.”
Sarah reluctantly let Florence wrap the whalebone-reinforced material around her ribcage.
“Brace yourself against the post, while I pull on the laces,” instructed Florence.
Sarah grabbed the soft polished edged of the heavy full-length mirror. Florence gave a sharp tug, almost knocking Sarah off her feet.
“Sarah! Brace yourself!” she admonished angrily.
Sarah angled her feet forward and held on tighter.
Sarah took in a deep breath. She could hear the scrape of the ribbons as Florence pulled them tight. The fabric wrapped securely around her middle. At first it felt comforting, like an embrace. Florence gave another tug. Sarah glanced in the mirror. Her figure took on a pleasing hourglass shape. She was already that shape for the most part but this was more refined…more defined. Her waist took on the sharper focus of the ladies in the fashion magazines.
And oh my! Her bosom! Sarah was always a little shy about her bosom. There was something disrespectful about how it was so abundant. It seemed somehow wrong. Nice girls had small bosoms! She definitely did not look like a nice girl in Florence’s corset. Goodness!
Then Florence gave another tug.
Sarah could feel the breath being forced out of her body. Waving her hands, she gasped, trying to signal for Florence to relent. Sarah had never experienced such a gripping sensation. Usually the fabric would tear long before the rib cracking point, despite what men and the fashion cartoonists thought.
“Oh didn’t I tell you, dear?” intoned Florence sweetly, too sweetly. “I’ve lent you one of my new corsets with the metal eyelets. It is such a marvel. You can tighten the laces as much as you like and you won’t tear the silk!”
“But…but…Flor…” gasped Sarah.
“Oh it does wonders for your figure and of course it is the only way you will fit into my dress which I have so generously offered to you,” expressed Florence, having a difficult time keeping the malicious intent from her tone.
Before Sarah could muster enough breath to protest, she felt the cool, heavy silk of Florence’s dress slide over her head and settle on her hips. Sarah looked at her reflection in the glass. If she could have summoned the breath, she would have laughed at the irony of it all. The corset was squeezing the life out of her and yet she never looked more beautiful or alive. The bold magenta color made her green eyes sparkle bright and clear. Her cheeks were flushed a flattering deep pink. Her figure was a perfect caricature hourglass. A large bosom, impossibly narrow waist and rounded hips.
Surveying her handiwork with a jaundiced eye over Sarah’s shoulder, Florence roughly grabbed Sarah by the upper arm and dragged her over to the spindle chair in front of the vanity. “Sit down and let me fix this rag bin you call a chignon.”
It took a moment for Sarah to adjust to the sitting position. It seemed impossible but the corset felt even tighter.
“Why are you being so nice to me? Ow!”
“Keep your head straight!” admonished Florence as she dragged a bone comb through Sarah’s tangled curls, ignoring her question.
After several more painful pulls and tugs, Florence worked Sarah’s generous locks into an elaborate swept-up style with a long fringe and several small braids.
“Why, thank you, Florence! You did a beautiful…ouch!” Sarah abruptly turned to give Florence a sour look as she rubbed the base of her skull.
“Hair pin,” said Florence unapologetically with no other explanation. “Now, let’s take care of that swarthy complexion of yours before it ruins all my hard work.”
Florence took a small key from her dress pocket and unlocked her polished jewelry box. Reaching into a small rectangular box with tiny writing on it, she took out a thin piece of translucent paper.
“What is that?” asked Sarah.
“Arsenic wafer,” responded Florence nonchalantly. “Rub it on your face.”
“Are you daft?” Sarah slowly rose, backing away.
“I beg your pardon?”
“So this was why you were being so nice to me?” Sarah was incredulous.
“I’m being nice to you because Mrs. Needham promised me half a crown if I could make you presentable!” spat Florence.
“So…so you’re not trying to poison me?” whispered Sarah, somewhat chastised.
“Whatever do you mean?”
Sarah gestured towards the wafers in Florence’s hand.
Florence went to her jewelry box and grabbed the small rectangular wafer box. Marching cross the room, she angrily placed it in Sarah’s hand. Dr. Cambell’s Arsenic Wafers “The Secret of a Good Complexion”
“This is what I get trying to civilize a savage.” With that disparaging remark, Florence stormed out of the room.
Sarah tossed the box of poison wafers on the vanity. The English could be so strange she thought. Now she was stuck in the death trap dress till after the client left. With a resigned sigh and a last tortured attempt at a full breath, Sarah made her way to the front parlor.
She certainly hoped this important client was worth all this trouble and fuss!