Only Pleasure Will Do – Jenna Jaxon

With more than a little impatience, Reginald Matthews knocked a second time on the nondescript brown door at the rear of the House of Pleasure, somewhat unnerved at disturbing the relative silence all around him. Not far away, a dog barked, and the sudden sound of chickens clucking rent the quiet air, but nothing else. Apparently, even London’s most notorious brothel stood in repose this time of day after the usual night of drinking and debauchery. Its neighboring houses in the back streets of Covent Garden—some taverns, some additional schools of Venus—were thankfully peaceful this early in the morning, their occupants either dead drunk or sleeping off a night’s indulgences. Yet again cursing the inefficiency of the night watch for their part in bringing him to this particular establishment this morning, Reginald pounded on the door. Blast it, he had other stops to make in this investigation. He didn’t have time to waste trying to wake these Drury Lane drabs. His inquiry into the assault on the Earl of Manning and the kidnapping of his sister Lady Katarina Fitzwilliam had ground to a halt over the past three weeks. Matthews had canvassed the brothels in the area immediate to where Lady Katarina had been discovered to no avail. “A green room with a gold wingback chair, a double bed, a washstand, and bars on the window,” was not as singular a description as Lady Katarina believed it to be. Most of the establishments in question possessed rooms that fit that depiction to some degree. Neither had a description of Lady Katarina jogged any of the madams’ memories. Not that he’d expected any of them to be so stupid as to admit the lady had been in their houses. Reginald hadn’t even been able to wheedle information out of their whores. Must be losing his touch.

Then, last night, Mrs. Dove, the Bow Street housekeeper, had brought his tea at the usual time, just before he settled down to work on the day’s reports. The older woman had bustled around, pouring his tea and serving him a piece of his favorite lemon curd teacake. Mouth watering, he’d stopped his work. Cook’s dinners were reasonably palatable; however, her desserts were the real reason she’d been kept on all these years. At the door, Mrs. Dove, dressed in a serviceable gray gown, had paused and turned to him. “Beggin’ your pardon, Mr. Matthews, but are you still investigatin’ that young lady’s kidnappin’ from a month or so ago?” He looked up from his papers, bemused. The discreet housekeeper never remarked on any of his cases.

“Yes, I am, Mrs. Dove, although I’ve not been able to find out much. Why do you ask?” Dropping her gaze to study the floor, the woman had wrung her hands. “I’m awful sorry, sir. I hope you won’t sack Alfred and Josh. They didn’t mean no harm, I’m sure. But Josh plum forgot the lady’s cloak, sir.” With a sharp intake of breath, Reginald rose from his chair, the untouched plate of teacake clenched in his hand. “What cloak are you referring to, Mrs. Dove?” “The black cloak the lady arrived in, sir.

” “The lady being…” “That Lady Katarina, sir. The one who come here with the watch.” “She arrived in a black cloak?” Reginald carefully set the plate down before he sent it sailing across the room. The gross incompetence of the local watch was not to be believed. “Yes, sir. When I first saw her, she was only wearin’ that awful, dirty white dress. But this evenin’ Josh come in and handed me a huge black cloak. Said as how when the lady fainted on the street, the cloak come off her, and Alfred stuck it into the round house to get it out the way. Josh found it there last night an’ brought it in today, just before his rounds. Said you might want t’ return it to the lady.

” She arched her eyebrows. “But I don’t think it was her cloak, sir. ’Tis a man’s cloak, made for a man’s frame, sure as I’m born.” “Can you bring it to me now, Mrs. Dove?” Somehow, Reginald had managed to keep his voice even. The housekeeper was not the one to blame here. She nodded and scurried from the room. Three weeks wasted! He stood clenching and unclenching his fists, awaiting the woman’s return. “Here y’ are, sir,” she said a few minutes later, handing over the bundled-up material. “Will there be anything else, sir?” “No, Mrs.

Dove, thank you.” With his normal stoic composure, he watched her mount the steps on her way out, inwardly trembling in anticipation of examining the garment. When the door clicked shut, he shook out the folds of the stained and creased cloak, measured it against his own frame then carefully laid it on his desk. Mrs. Dove had been right: the cloak belonged to a man. A man even taller than himself, for when held up to his shoulders, the bottom of the garment still brushed the ground. He bent over to examine the hem more closely. A good six inches had been dragged through mud and muck. No, the cloak Lady Katarina had worn had not been her own. Neither had she mentioned acquiring it in her story.

That made the garment a good bit more interesting to him. The cloth itself was a fine black silk, lined with satin, and woven with an intricate design in the fabric. Foreign made. So from whom had she gotten it? And when? And where? He straightened, considering his options. A visit to Lady Katarina for more information came first to mind, but he dismissed it immediately. If she hadn’t mentioned it before, she would likely lie about it now. Instead, he would go back and make inquiries at the brothels again, this time merely trying to return property mislaid several weeks ago. Surely something so costly would’ve been noted missing. The patron obviously had expensive tastes; therefore, Reginald would start at the most expensive brothel in London, the House of Pleasure. Which brought him to his current place outside the brothel’s back door.

Patience at an end, Reginald knocked a fourth time, harder, making the door jump on its hinges. At last, the bolt shot back and the door opened, revealing a woman. A very attractive woman, with a pale face and dark hair pleasingly disheveled, as though she’d just risen from her bed—which, of course, she had. “May I see the owner of the house, please?” “You see her now.” She opened the door wider, revealing a petite form clad in a bright scarlet silk wrapper that slipped down to reveal one delicate white shoulder. “I am Amorina Vestry, Mr. Matthews.” She frowned, squinting against the light. “Whatever are you doing here at this hour of the day?” The madam’s insinuation was clear, but he ignored it. “You know who I am?” “But of course.

I make it my business to know all my patrons—to some degree.” Reginald gritted his teeth. “I have never patronized your establishment, madam.” She stared at him, a flash of hunger in her eyes as she took him in from top to toe. “Perhaps it was just wishful thinking, then.” The hunger disappeared as quickly as it had come. “Suffice it to say, I do know who you are, Mr. Matthews. How may I help you?” “I have a garment, a black cloak that was found near here several weeks ago,” he gestured to the folded material clasped beneath his arm, “but which has only now surfaced from the night watch. I’m trying to ascertain its owner, Madame Vestry.

May I come in?” A bare flicker of interest—or alarm—crossed her face at the mention of a black cloak, and his lips curled into a smile. His instinct to try the House of Pleasure first this morning had been exactly right. “Of course, Mr. Matthews. I’m always eager to assist the Runners with their investigations.” The woman’s tone was smooth, but insincere. She opened the door and let him in, her gaze once more ravishing him as he walked past her. Warmth began to build within him, in the most inconvenient of places. After shutting the door, she glided past him. “Follow me, please.

” She led him down a dim hallway carpeted in soft, brilliant red and green Turkey rugs. Reginald glanced at the artwork on the walls—massive gilt frames displaying Rubenesque nudes in lewd poses—and sudden heat bloomed in the pit of his stomach. He’d not realized how easily mere images could affect him. Concentrate on the job at hand. He determinedly turned his gaze back to the small figure before him, although that wasn’t much better. The gentle sway of her hips as she walked drew his attention immediately to the shapely curve of her buttocks. His cock stirred restlessly against his breeches. Madame Vestry exuded sensuality like a jungle feline. She led him into a small receiving room, the décor of which was titillating, to say the least. More lascivious artwork, both paintings and statuary, adorned the creamcolored walls.

Scarlet curtains, embroidered with figures in various sexual poses, shut out the early morning light. Madame Vestry gestured for him to sit on a pomegranate-red, satin-covered sofa. “May I see the garment?” “Certainly.” He handed it over for her perusal, his gaze trained on her face. Only a slight widening of the dark brown eyes gave her away, but oh yes, she recognized the cloak. Satisfied he’d come to the right place, Reginald relaxed into the sofa. Vestry felt the expensive cloth then ran her hand down the front opening, almost caressing it. A good customer then. “Do you recognize it, Madam?” He waited patiently for her denial. “Yes, Mr.

Matthews, I believe I do.” He tensed, attentive to her once more. Never trust a woman to be predictable. “I think that cloak may belong to one of my patrons. I seem to recall him wearing it to an auction here some time ago,” she replied smoothly. “His name, Madame Vestry?” “Is none of your concern, Mr. Matthews.” Sharply raised eyebrows, like birds taking flight, signaled offence at his question. Madam Vestry suddenly reminded Reginald of his nursemaid, who used to tower over him with hands on hips whenever he broke the rules. Her voice had brooked no nonsense either.

“I can assure you that I will deliver the garment to my patron today.” “Alas, Madame Vestry, the garment is part of an ongoing investigation and may not leave my custody.” Reginald attempted to inject regret into his voice. “But if you would supply me with your patron’s address, I would be glad to assure him it has been found.” “Alas, indeed, Mr. Matthews.” The woman’s tone sounded more genuinely apologetic than his own. “My establishment is well known for its discretion. How would my reputation fare if it becomes known that I named names to a Bow Street Runner?” The now highly indignant voice matched the cold-as-ice gaze that pierced him. “Then pray it does not become known.

” Coercion was an integral part of Reginald’s repertoire, one he enjoyed employing with the seedy characters he dealt with on a daily basis. With Madam Vestry, however, the activity became elevated to the level of sport. The woman was certainly no fool. “Let me assure you I will have that name before I leave, or I will have a magistrate sign a warrant for your arrest and shut your house down before the first customer sets foot in here tonight.” A deep frown darkened Vestry’s face, although it did nothing to dispel her beauty. Still, she apparently knew when she’d been bested. With a sniff, she said, “If I remember correctly, the cloak was worn by the Marquess of Dalbury the night of my tableau auction. I saw him with it on after he won the bid, but I cannot tell you if he wore it out of my establishment. There were many men here that night and much excitement.” Cool gray eyes raked Reginald’s frame appraisingly then crinkled with humor.

“You must attend the next one, Mr. Matthews. I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking.” She captured his gaze as her tongue flicked out to lick her full, red lips. The heat in Reginald’s belly exploded downward to lodge as a seething mass in his groin. Although a man of modest appetites, he was certainly no virgin. He’d had his share of female companionship—discreetly, of course—but damn if this woman didn’t make him feel like an untried lad of thirteen. Her skills in the bedroom were widely touted throughout London. Certain rumors about her prowess came to mind, and the ache below worsened. Shifting his weight forward, hoping for some relief, he gripped the arm of the sofa like a vise and dragged his eyes away from her unwavering stare in the hopes his body would do his bidding and not hers.

He willed himself to refocus on the case and continued in what he hoped was a dispassionate voice. “Which of the tableaux did the marquess win?” She hesitated only a second. “He bid on the first, which was loosely based on The Beggar’s Wedding. My girl Jenny was the ‘maiden’ accosted. Dalbury bid to become the highwayman who robs her of her jewelry.” Her lips turned up in a sly smile, her eyes glittering in the soft candlelight. “Among other things.” Reginald clenched the carved end of the sofa. Madame Vestry’s predatory air made his heart hammer. The woman looked as though she wanted to suggest he do the same thing to her, a thought that played havoc with his already aroused body.

“He paid his vowels, and that was the last I saw of him.” Reginald breathed deeply, willing himself to focus. “Which room did the marquess use for his purchase?” “The blue room. Would you like to see it?” As she turned toward the door, her scarlet dressing gown slipped open, revealing her voluptuous curves. The alluring sight of a creamy white throat and firm, full breasts swelling out of her low-cut, white silk nightgown set his pulse frantically tapping. Her sleep-tousled black hair, charmingly disarrayed about her shoulders, seemed to invite his hands to plunder. He leaned forward and began to rise from his seat, his hand stealing out toward the retreating figure. She swung back around, stopping him halfway to his feet. Embarrassed to be caught with his desires showing, Reginald jumped up, avoiding her eyes by casting his own down to the smooth wood of the sofa arm he’d been caressing. The end of the arm had been carved in the likeness of petals to resemble the grooves of a woman’s most intimate parts.

He’d been stroking that. He bit back a groan as fire surged in his groin. “If you would be so kind,” he mumbled, not trusting his voice. “But of course.” The hint of amusement in her voice rasped against his already thrumming body. “This way.” She led him down a different corridor, streaked with sunlight from a bank of windows, past more artwork. The madam’s hips undulated seductively as she glided down the hall, the soft swish-swish of silk rubbing against her legs filling his ears. Reginald took an agonized breath and gripped the cloak so hard his fingers sank into the material. Madame Vestry halted at the end of the hall then gestured to the door on the right.

She stepped back to let him enter. A quick look told him the room didn’t fit Lady Katarina’s description, for it was long and narrow, with no bars on the window. The inspection, however, gave Reginald time to breathe deeply and bring his now-throbbing flesh under control. With a nod, he exited the room and glanced down the hall. Two doors on each side of the hall spelled more chances for success. Sending the madam a charming smile, Reginald indicated the next door. “The other rooms are at hand. Do you mind if I take a look at them as well, Madame Vestry? It would only take a few moments of your time.” “No bother at all, Mr. Matthews.

” Vestry sounded delighted at the request. “Inspect all the rooms, if you desire.” Her sultry voice seemed to linger on that last word as her gaze swept low on his body. “Come back and visit your favorite one.” Several very distracting images surfaced in his mind, none of which had anything to do with his investigation. She opened the next door, and Reginald walked to the center of a square room painted green and slowly pivoted, taking in a bed, washstand, gold wingback chair, and a window with bars. He turned to the lovely woman standing behind him and said in a low, suggestive voice, “I think this one could be a favorite. Which tableau wench was housed here?” A slight pause only before Vestry replied, “There was a mix-up at the last moment, but I think the harem girl was in this room. The security bars on the window were to help with the illusion of a seraglio.” The madam smiled, as if at some private joke, then, with that secret smile still in place, left the room.

Reginald trailed after her slowly, mulling over the madam’s lie. The room was obviously the one Katarina had described. For form’s sake, he peeped into the other rooms on his way down the hall, but none of them held any interest. Madame Vestry, on the other hand, had become even more interesting in her own right. Why would she lie for the marquess after the high-handed way he’d dropped her last year? Reginald would’ve bet his soul that Dalbury had been the man in Katarina’s room three weeks ago —obviously the way she’d come by his cloak. So why was Amorina Vestry not implicating him? At the outside door, he hesitated then asked, “What were the other tableaux at that auction, Madam Vestry? For my report.” A granite gaze met his. “Of course, Mr. Matthews. There was a pirate scene.

Poor Serena was quite chilled after walking the plank. And the last one was…” She paused, tapping one perfectly rounded fingernail on her chin. “The last one was a Christian slave and Roman senator.” “And this girl’s name?” “I don’t know.” The woman still wished to toy with him. Out of patience, he growled, “I cannot believe you don’t know your own girl’s name.” “She wasn’t one of my girls.” “No?” His heart missing a beat, Reginald froze. Was he to get a full confession now? “She was borrowed from another house at the last moment,” Vestry continued smoothly. “My original girl, Chloe, was taken ill during the afternoon.

I had no one else with the skills the tableaux required, so I sent my bodyguards around to Mrs. Bontemp’s house to borrow one for the night. I forget the chit’s name. I understood from her purchaser that she did not please.” “And the harem girl’s name?”

.

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