New York 1886
Paul had traveled to New York to settle a family matter and
his own life, but everything changedâ€”and not for the betterâ€”
after the naked woman ran into him.
Heâ€™d just downed a mouthful of brandy to ward off the early
spring chill and boost his courage when the flash of dark
hair and pale skin raced out the side door, and the
unexpected object hurtled into him.
The silver flask clinked on the cobblestones of the alley
as he raised his hand to protect himself. His palm met the
warm, soft skin of a round, very bare shoulder.
Astonishment, rather than their collision, pitched him
backward onto the filthy stones.
In the dim gaslight from the nearby street, he looked up to
see the woman leaning over him, hands on knees. Bare knees.
Her breasts heaved as she panted. Even in the shadows, he
made out the curves of her unclothed breasts and the
delicate shape of nipples. He blinked. A sensation of warmth
that had nothing to do with the brandyâ€”something inside him
that had lain dormant, something entirely unwelcomeâ€”began to
It was an odd moment to be reminded of his lack of
experience, but as he stared up at her, he realized he had
never seen a live woman entirely without clothes.
Not surprising, considering his upbringing. But after he
left Winsforth, heâ€™d met women. Heâ€™d even had what the
Winsforth rector called congress of the unmentionable sortâ€”
but those few women in his past had not been completely
naked. Without clothes. Nothing on their bodies.
He cleared his throat. â€śI say, are you all right?â€ť
â€śGood heavens, what a relief,â€ť the woman gasped. â€śYouâ€™re
English. Youâ€™re Johnnyâ€™s friend. Did I hurt you?â€ť
He reached for the emptied flask and slipped it into his
waistcoat pocket, then clambered to his feet. â€śJohnny? Iâ€™m
â€śFirst things first, now that youâ€™ve come to my rescue, and
thank you for that. May I borrow your coat?â€ť she
interrupted. She peered up at him in the dim light, and he
made out a heart-shaped face surrounded by masses of dark
hair. He determinedly kept his eyes above her neck as he
unbuttoned his coat. He watched her eyes. Luminous, dark
eyes that appeared amused and strangely unperturbed by herâ€¦
He took off the heavy wool coat and handed it to her,
wondering when he should tell her the only Johnny he knew
was across the ocean and a junior member of parliament. Very
soon heâ€™d mention the fact. When he felt less befuddled.
â€śThank you.â€ť She sighed. â€śItâ€™s lovely and warm from you.â€ť
He shivered at her words but not with cold. Unfortunately,
his coat was large enough to cover her from neck to midcalf.
Unfortunately? No doubt about itâ€”the almost forgotten
sensation called desire uncoiled through his body.
She put her ear to the heavy wooden side door of the club
and listened. â€śNo, thatâ€™s him yapping,â€ť she murmured. â€śHeâ€™s
French or something.â€ť
After a moment, she pushed past him and limped across the
cobblestones to the edge of the alleyway, where she looked
out at the considerably busier street. Even now, close to
midnight, hacks and dray carts rolled past.
Leaning against the rough brick wall, she lifted her foot
and examined her toe. The soft light of the lamp picked out
the curve of her limb. No, her leg dammit. No need to be
Paul hadnâ€™t much use for decorum under normal circumstances,
but at least he knew the rules. This situation most
definitely called for some rules.
â€śI have a carriage that way.â€ť He waved at the other end of
the alley where heâ€™d told the coachman, Brinley, to wait for
him. â€śAllow me to offer you a ride if you need it.â€ť
â€śYeah, Mrs. Malloy wonâ€™t be missing me for a few minutes. I
lost my costume, what there was of it, when a bald man
grabbed at me. He was disgustingly drunk.â€ť She hobbled
slowly back to him.
Paul knew he should bid her a polite farewell and send her
off in his carriage or a hackâ€”and never expect to see her or
the coat againâ€”but he was intrigued. â€śWhat did you do?â€ť
â€śI gave him a kick and took off, but I didnâ€™t mean to run
outside in this state. I thought that door led to a back
corridor. Oh dear.â€ť She laughed, an earthy, mischievous
chuckle that made the corners of his mouth twitch with
shared amusement, although he had no idea what was so funny.
â€śTheyâ€™ll wonder why I left rather precipitously, although I
suppose theyâ€™ll think I drank too much champagne.â€ť
What kind of a whore used words like precipitously? He
shoved his hands into his pockets. â€śI say, will you be in
trouble because you were rude to the man?â€ť
She shook her head. â€śNaw. Mrs. Malloy knew I wouldnâ€™t do
more than put on a show. Thatâ€™s why Johnny said heâ€™d send
you, after all. I donâ€™t want to get pressured to do more.â€ť
â€śI beg your pardon?â€ť
She gave her foot one last rub and limped over to his side.
Her head came just to his shoulder. â€śThe deal was Iâ€™m
entertainment. Not a regular girl. Dancing only.â€ť
She undulated under the coat and struck a pose. He caught a
whiff of flowers and wine. She stumbled slightly. â€śHa, and I
read this in a magazine serialâ€”the young lady careened into
a gent, just like you and me. But she didnâ€™t topple him like
a tree. Ow. Do you mind if I use you as a crutch? I hurt my
foot on the drunkardâ€™s shins and on a brick or something
just now. I think my toeâ€™s broken. Ow. Iâ€™m not sure about
â€śYes. Of course.â€ť He offered his arm as if escorting her to