Suddenly You – Lisa Kleypas

“What is your preferred style, Miss Briars? Would you prefer your man to be fair-haired or dark? Average height or tall? English or foreign?” The madam was astonishingly businesslike, as if they were discussing a dish to be served at a supper-party rather than a man to be purchased for the evening. The questions made Amanda cringe. She felt her face flame until her cheeks prickled, and she wondered if a man would feel this way the first time he visited a bordello. Fortunately, this bordello was far more discreet and tastefully furnished than she had imagined. There were no shocking paintings or vulgar engravings, and no clients or prostitutes anywhere in sight. Mrs. Bradshaw’s establishment was quite attractive, the walls covered in moss-green damask, the private receiving room filled with comfortable pieces of Hepplewhite furniture. A small marble-topped table was positioned neatly beside an Empire sofa adorned with golden dolphin scales. Reaching for a little gold-painted pencil and a tiny notebook perched on the edge of the table, Gemma Bradshaw stared at her expectantly. “I don’t have a preferred style,” Amanda said, mortified but determined. “I will trust your judgment. Just send someone on the evening of my birthday, one week from today.” For some reason, that entertained Mrs. Bradshaw greatly. “As a gift to yourself?…What a delightful idea.

” She stared at Amanda with a lingering smile that illuminated her angular face. The madam was not beautiful, or even pretty, but she possessed a smooth complexion and rich red hair, and a tall, voluptuous body. “Miss Briars, may I ask if you are a virgin?” “Why do you wish to know?” Amanda countered warily. One of Mrs. Bradshaw’s ruddy, perfectly plucked brows arched in amusement. “If you are indeed willing to trust my judgment, Miss Briars, I must know the particulars of your situation. It is not often that a woman like you comes to my establishment.” “Very well.” Amanda took a deep breath and spoke rapidly, driven by something close to desperation rather than the good sense she had always prided herself on. “I am a spinster, Mrs.

Bradshaw. In one week’s time I will be thirty years old. And yes, I am still a v-virgin—” She stumbled over the word and continued resolutely. “But that does not mean that I must remain one. I have come to you because it is general knowledge that you are able to provide whatever a client asks for. I know it must be a surprise, for a woman like me to come here—” “My dear,” the madam interrupted with a soft laugh, “the time has long passed since I was capable of being surprised by anything. Now, I believe that I understand your dilemma quite well, and I will indeed provide an agreeable solution. Tell me this…do you have any preferences as to age and appearance? Any particular likes or dislikes?” “I would prefer a young man, but no younger than myself. And not too old. He doesn’t have to be handsome, although I would not wish for him to be unsightly.

And clean,” Amanda added as a thought occurred to her. “I do insist on cleanliness.” The pencil scratched busily in the notebook. “I don’t foresee that will be a problem,” Mrs. Bradshaw replied, with a glimmer of something in her pretty, dark eyes that looked suspiciously like laughter. “I will also insist on discretion,” Amanda said crisply. “If anyone should ever find out what I’ve done—” “My dear,” Mrs. Bradshaw said, arranging her body more comfortably on the sofa, “what do you think would become of my business were I to allow my clients’ privacy to be violated? I’ll have you know, my employees cater to some of the most highly placed members of Parliament, not to mention the wealthiest lords—and ladies—of first society. Your secret will be safe, Miss Briars.” “Thank you,” Amanda said, filled with equal parts of relief and terror, and a terrible suspicion that she was making the greatest mistake of her life.

Chapter 1 Amanda knew exactly why the man on her doorstep was a prostitute. From the moment she had ushered him inside in the manner of someone harboring an escaped convict, he had stared at her in dumbfounded silence. Obviously he lacked the cranial equipment necessary to pursue a more intellectually challenging occupation. But, of course, a man didn’t need brains to do what he had been hired for. “Hurry,” she whispered, tugging anxiously on his muscular arm. She slammed the door behind him. “Do you think that anyone saw you? I hadn’t thought that you would simply appear at the front door. Aren’t men of your profession trained to show some discretion?” “My…profession,” he repeated in a bemused manner. Now that he was safely concealed from public view, Amanda allowed herself to stare at him thoroughly. Despite his apparent dullness of wit, he was remarkably good-looking.

Beautiful, really, if one could apply such a word to an obviously masculine creature. He was big-framed and lean, with shoulders that seemed to span the width of the front door. The layers of his gleaming black hair were thick and neatly cut, and his tanned face glowed from a precise shave. He had a long, straight nose and a voluptuary’s mouth. And he had a pair of remarkable blue eyes that approximated no other shade she had ever seen. Except, perhaps, at the shop where the local chemist made batches of ink by boiling Indigofera plants and copper sulfate together for days until they formed a blue so dark and deep that it approached violet. And yet his eyes did not have the angelic quality one might usually associate with such a color. They were shrewd, seasoned, as if he had gazed far too often at an unsavory side of life that she herself had never seen. Amanda could easily understand why women would pay for his company. The thought of hiring this masculine, opulent-eyed creature to do one’s bidding was extraordinary.

And tempting. Amanda was ashamed by her secret response to him, the hot and cold chills that chased through her body, the burning color that rose to the crests of her cheeks. She had resigned herself to being a dignified spinster…she had even convinced herself that there was great freedom in her unmarried circumstance. However, her troublesome body didn’t seem to understand that a woman should no longer be bothered by desire at her age. At a time when twenty-one was considered to be old, thirty was most definitely on the shelf. She was past her prime, no longer desirable. An “ape-leader” was what people called such a woman. If only she could make herself accept her fate. Amanda forced herself to stare directly into his extraordinary blue eyes. “I intend to be frank, Mr….

no, never mind, don’t tell me your name, we shan’t be acquainted long enough for me to require it. You see, I’ve had a chance to reflect on a rather hastily made decision, and the fact is…well, I’ve changed my mind. Please do not receive this as a personal affront. It has nothing to do with you or your appearance, and I will certainly make that clear to your employer, Mrs. Bradshaw. You are a fine-looking man, in fact, and very punctual, and I have no doubt that you are very good at…well, at what you do. The simple truth is, I have made a mistake. We all make mistakes, and I am certainly no exception. Every great once in a while, I do make a small error in judgment—” “Wait.” He lifted his large hands in a defensive gesture, his intent gaze fastened on her flushed face.

“Stop talking.” No one in her adult life had ever dared to tell her to stop talking. Surprised into silence, Amanda struggled to stem the cascade of words that threatened to flow from her lips. The stranger folded his arms across his muscular chest and leaned his back against the door to stare at her. The glow from the lamp in the tiny entrance hall of her fashionable London house cast a fringe of shadows from his long lashes onto the stark, elegant planes of his cheekbones. Amanda couldn’t help thinking that Mrs. Bradshaw had excellent taste. The man she had sent was surprisingly well groomed and prosperous-looking, dressed in fashionable but solidly traditional attire, a black coat and charcoal-gray trousers, and black shoes polished to an impeccable gleam. His starched white shirt was snowy against his swarthy skin, and his gray silk cravat was arranged in a simple, perfect knot. Before this moment, had Amanda been pressed to describe her ideal man, she would have described him as blond and light-skinned and fine-boned.

Now she was forced to revise her opinion entirely. No fair-haired Apollo could begin to compare with this large, robustly handsome man. “You are Miss Amanda Briars,” he said, as if requiring confirmation. “The novelist.” “Yes, I write novels,” she replied with forced patience. “And you are the gentleman whom Mrs. Bradshaw sent at my request, are you not?” “I seem to be,” he said slowly. “Well, you have my apologies, Mr…. no, no, don’t tell me. As I explained, I have made a mistake, and therefore, you must go.

Naturally I will pay for your services even though they are no longer required, as the fault is entirely mine. Just tell me what you usually charge, and we’ll settle the matter immediately.” As he stared at her, a change came over his face, his bemusement giving way to fascination, the blue eyes sparkling with a devilish amusement that made her nerves twitch uncomfortably. “Tell me what services were requested,” he suggested gently, pushing away from the door. He moved closer until his body loomed over hers. “I’m afraid I never discussed the details with Mrs. Bradshaw.” “Oh, merely the basic ones.” Amanda’s poise eroded more rapidly with each second that passed. Her face felt terribly hot, and her heartbeat reverberated in every part of her body.

“The usual thing.” Blindly she turned toward the satinwood demilune table against the wall, where she had placed a wad of carefully folded pound notes. “I always pay my debts, and I have put you and Mrs. Bradshaw to trouble for nothing, so I am more than willing to compensate—” She stopped with a strangled sound as she felt his hand close around her upper arm. It was unthinkable for a stranger to place his hand on any part of a lady’s body. Of course, it was even more unthinkable that a lady should resort to hiring a male prostitute, and yet that was precisely what she had done. Miserable, she decided to hang herself before ever doing something so foolish again. Her body went stiff at his touch, and she didn’t dare move as she heard his voice right behind her head. “I don’t want money.” His deep voice was threaded with subtle amusement.

“There is no charge for services you haven’t received.” “Thank you.” Both her fists clutched into one white-knuckled ball. “Very kind of you. I will at least pay for a hack. There is no need for you to return home on foot.” “Oh, I’m not leaving yet.” Amanda’s jaw dropped. She spun to face him with a horrified glance. What did he mean, he wasn’t leaving? Well, he would be made to depart, whether he wished to or not! Rapidly she considered her options.

Unfortunately, there were few at her disposal. She had given her servants—a footman, a cook, and a maid—the night off. No help from that quarter. And she certainly couldn’t resort to shouting for assistance from a constable. The attendant publicity might be damaging to her career, and her writing was the sole means of support for the household. Spying an oak-handled umbrella in the porcelain stand by the door, she inched toward it as discreetly as possible. “Are you planning to beat me away with that?” her unwanted guest inquired politely. “If necessary.” An amused snort greeted her statement, and he touched her chin, nudging her to look up at him. “Sir,” she exclaimed.

“Do you mind—” “My name is Jack.” The shadow of a smile crossed his lips. “And I’ll leave soon enough, but not before we discuss a few things. I have some questions for you.” She sighed impatiently. “Mr. Jack, I have no doubt you do, but—” “Jack is my first name.” “Very well…Jack.” A scowl settled over her features. “I would appreciate it if you would kindly leave without delay!” He wandered farther into the entrance hall, seeming as relaxed as if she had invited him in for tea.

Amanda was forced to reconsider her early opinion of his slow-wittedness. Now that he had recovered from the surprise of being yanked inside her house so quickly, his intelligence was showing signs of rapid improvement. The stranger gave her house a sweeping glance of assessment, noting the classically designed pieces of furniture in her cream-and-blue parlor, and the mahogany pier table surmounted by a framed looking glass at the back of the entrance hall. If he was looking for fancy embellishment, or obvious signs of wealth, he was to be disappointed. Amanda couldn’t bear pretension or impracticality, and so she had chosen furniture for function rather than for style. If she bought a chair, it must be large and comfortable. If she bought a side table, it must be sturdy enough to hold a stack of books or a big lamp. She did not like gilding and porcelain disks, nor all the carving and hieroglyphics that were currently fashionable. As her visitor paused near the doorway of her parlor, Amanda spoke dryly. “Since it appears that you’re going to do as you please regardless of my wishes, go right in and sit down.

Is there something I can offer you? A glass of wine, perhaps?” Although the invitation had been offered with purest sarcasm, he accepted with a quick grin. “Yes, if you’ll join me.” The flash of white teeth, the unexpected dazzle of his smile, caused a strange sensation to creep over her, rather like the feeling of sinking into a hot bath after a gray winter day. She was always cold. The damp, overcast climate of London seemed to sink into her bones, and in spite of her liberal use of foot warmers, lap blankets, hot baths, and brandy-laced tea, she was never far from feeling the chill. “Perhaps I will take some wine,” she heard herself say. “Please have a chair, Mr…. er, that is, Jack.” She shot him an ironic glance. “Since you’re in my parlor now, you may as well tell me your full name.

” “No,” he said quietly, the smile remaining in his eyes. “In view of the circumstances, I think we will remain on a first-name basis…Amanda.” Well, he certainly didn’t lack nerve! She gestured abruptly for him to sit while she went to the sideboard. However, Jack remained standing until she had poured a glass of red wine for each of them. Only when she had lowered herself to the mahogany settee did he choose to occupy the nearby Trafalgar armchair. The light from the well-stocked fire in the white marble hearth flickered over his shining black hair and smooth, gold-tinted skin. He fairly gleamed with health and youth. In fact, Amanda began to wonder suspiciously if he wasn’t a few years younger than she. “Shall I make a toast?” her guest inquired. “You obviously wish to,” she returned crisply.

That drew a flashing grin from him, and he raised his glass to her. “To a woman of great boldness, imagination, and beauty.” Amanda did not drink. She frowned at him as he sipped from his glass. Really, it was shameful of him to force his way into her house, refuse to leave when he was asked, and then make jest of her. She was an intelligent and honest woman who knew what she was…and she was no beauty. Her attractions were moderate at best, and that was only if one completely discounted the current feminine ideal. She was short, and while on some days she could be described as voluptuous, on others she was most definitely plump. Her hair was a reddish-brown, wildly chaotic mass of curls—hateful curls that successfully defied any substance or implement used to straighten them. Oh, she had nice skin with no pockmarks or blemishes, and her eyes had once been described as “fine” by some wellmeaning friend of the family.

But they were plain gray eyes, with no shade of green or blue to enliven them. Without physical beauty, Amanda had chosen instead to cultivate her mind and imagination, which, as her mother had gloomily predicted, had been the final stroke of doom. Gentlemen did not want wives with well-cultivated minds. They wanted attractive wives who never second-guessed or disagreed with them. And they certainly didn’t seek women with vibrant imaginations who daydreamed about fictional characters in books. Therefore, Amanda’s two prettier elder sisters had both caught husbands, and Amanda had resorted to novel-writing. Her unwelcome guest continued to stare at her with those keen blue eyes. “Tell me why a woman with your looks should have to hire a man for her bed.” His bluntness offended her. And yet…there was something unexpectedly entertaining about the prospect of talking with a man without any of the usual social restraints.

“First of all,” Amanda said tartly, “there’s no need to patronize me by implying that I’m Helen of Troy when it’s clear that I’m no beauty.” That earned her another arrested stare. “But you are,” he said softly. Amanda gave a decisive shake of her head. “Evidently you think I’m a fool who will easily succumb to flattery, or else your standards are quite low. Either way, sir, you are wrong.” A smile tugged at one side of his mouth. “You don’t leave much open for discussion, do you? Are you this decided in all your opinions?” She answered his smile with a wry one of her own. “Unfortunately, yes.” “Why is it unfortunate to be opinionated?” “In a man, it’s an admirable quality.

In a woman, it is considered a defect.” “Not by me.” He took a sip of wine and relaxed in his chair, studying her as he stretched out his long legs. Amanda didn’t like the way he seemed to be settling in for a lengthy conversation. “I won’t allow you to avoid my question, Amanda. Explain why you hired a man for the evening.” His lively gaze dared her to be forthcoming. Finding that she was gripping the stem of her wineglass too tightly, Amanda forced her fingers to unclench. “It’s my birthday.” “Tonight?” Jack laughed softly.

“Happy birthday.” “I thank you. Will you leave now, please?”

.

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