First Excerpt - ONCE A ROGUE
The first time she saw him, she knew he was the one.
Squinting through a peephole, heartbeat falling like coins from a tumbler’s pockets, Lucasta Collyer made the decision that changed her life.
To this man, a complete stranger, she would give her maidenhead.
She watched him for a while. Careful assessment suggested he was ideal for the job: sturdily built, quietly confident, a man of few words. Compared to the other available choices at hand, he looked sober. Participating in none of the games taking place, he sat at one corner of the hearth, mellow-tempered and disinterested, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle. One might even say he looked bored, until one of the resident old dogs slouched over to inspect him. Then his eyes lightened, his face relaxed in a smile and he leaned down to pet the animal. He wore no doublet, just a shirt with a jerkin over it, loose breeches and lugged boots. A simple peasant, with broad shoulders and a build carved through hard physical labor, he was certainly no one she was ever likely to encounter elsewhere. Their worlds would never meet again after tonight.
“Yes. He’ll do.” A pulse, reckless and runaway, hummed through her veins, but her voice remained composed. She hoped.
Mistress Comfort, the proprietress of this establishment, needed no assistance from her sharp eyes while efficiently counting the coin in her wrinkled hands. Instead she stared curiously at Lucy. “Are ye quite certain, madam?”
“Yes. The dark-haired man by the fire. Now I’m in haste. Where might I…” Tattered courage momentarily deserted her, shortened her breath so words expired on her tongue. Planning this daring escapade was one thing; actually carrying it out another. “Where might we have privacy?”
She was escorted up a narrow set of stairs and along a dark hallway to one of the small bedchambers. Mistress Comfort asked no further questions. The weight of her coin purse would silence any. Sometimes it was useful to have a wealthy father, although until now, as the somewhat inconvenient, least favored child, Lucy had never felt much benefit.
“This is my best chamber, madam,” the old proprietress assured her. “It is on the quieter side of the house,” she added.
Eager for some fresh air, Lucy hurried around the bed to open the window. It was a chilly evening with a hint of rain, but she would rather be cool than too hot. The sudden introduction of a sly breeze woke the few lit candles from their lazy slumber and long shadows danced, stretching around the walls, fluttering wings of light beating across her face. She drew a steadying breath and, in this flickering, capricious glow, inspected the scene of her imminent ruination.
A low table stood in one corner, holding a ewer and washbasin, a chipped chamber pot beneath. There was evidence of some effort to make the room appear more luxurious: a pair of threadbare, moth-nibbled tapestry curtains draped around the bed and even a small bowl of dried rose petals set nearby to sweeten the air. After all, this was the finest whorehouse in
. Apparently. Norwich
Mistress Comfort, eager to impress, had carried up a jug of wine on a tray with two dented pewter cups. Unfortunately her lurching, crook-backed gait was not conducive to an even hand, and as she shuffled by Lucy to set her burden down, several puddles of vinegary liquid sloshed onto the tray. A shiny black beetle, caught napping on the small table beside the bed, was too slow to escape its doom when she brought the tray down with a clatter.
“A little something extra, madam,” she grunted, hobbling back to the door. “Free o’ charge.”
Free of charge, indeed! She’d paid a small fortune for the use of this chamber and the old crone’s discretion.
Fingertips tentatively pinching the dusty folds of the frayed bed curtain, contemplating a damp patch on the wall, Lucy muttered, “Well, now I’ve come this far, I may as well proceed.”
She was aware of Mistress Comfort’s beady eyes assessing her critically. The old hag must be wondering why she wore a leather mask over the top half of her face and why she was there to buy a man for the evening. Lucy certainly wouldn’t tell her.
Releasing the curtain, she whirled around. “Bring him to me, then!” As always, when she was anxious, Lucy’s voice grew tight and clipped. She heard the tone, but could do nothing to soften it, Her mouth was dry, her tongue might seize up at any moment. Eager to get this over with, she jerked off her hood. “Make haste, woman!” she added, pretending not only that she purchased a man’s company every evening of the week, but she didn’t hear the little skip of panic in her own voice.
Mistress Comfort retreated quickly, closing the door behind her, and Lucy began to undress before she changed her mind.
He’d better have clean hands. She didn’t want him getting any dirt on her. A quick glance at the ewer assured her there was enough water to make him wash them. Good. And he could wash his other parts too, thank you very much, before they came anywhere near her. She looked at the bed, nervously pacing around it. There would be fleas, more than likely. She itched already at her arms and the back of her neck.
Lifting the wine jug, she sniffed daintily and immediately wrinkled her nose, almost retching. Stale, as she suspected, and there were flies floating there, merrily drowned. She set the jug back on the tray with trembling hands and ran to the window, afraid she might be sick. It was nerves, of course. Taking a few deep breaths, she bolstered her courage with a hasty self-lecture, for this was no time to be squeamish. At six and twenty, with only days left before her wedding to a man she despised, it was high time.
copyright Jayne Fresina 2011