“Good God,” Henry said when I swept into John’s study. He was standing by the mantel, a glass of brandy in his hand.
Nearby, John rose from the leather couch, the book he’d been reading dangling from his fingers as if forgotten.
“I’m guessing you approve of the dress?” I asked.
“That would be an understatement,” Henry said, setting his drink down so he could look his fill.
I spread my arms and turned in a slow circle so they might appreciate the outfit in its entirety. I was attending the Coal Baron’s masquerade not dressed as a person, but as a season: summer. The costume was cut in a style from another era, when a queen named Marie had sat on the French throne.
My dressmaker had outdone herself with it. The heavy underlying silk was dyed a glimmering, gossamer gold. Over this was spread the thinnest cream-colored muslin I had ever laid eyes upon, making it seem as if the dress was lit from within. A sunburst climbed up from the bottom right-hand side of the skirt, as if just cresting the horizon, the painstakingly detailed rays of which reached all the way to my waist as they spread outward toward an imaginary horizon. I wore a heavy petticoat to support the weight of these layers, and the added width of it made my waist seem even smaller in comparison.
The intricately stitched bodice was shot through with white and silver thread, its golden cap sleeves clinging to my outer shoulders as it bared most of my décolletage before dropping to a dramatic V, low on my chest. Beneath it, I wore a corset especially designed for the costume. It pressed my breasts up in a way that I wasn’t used to and still didn’t entirely trust, despite the fact that I had leapt several times after being tied into it, and, miraculously, nothing had popped out.
As it was a masquerade, I wore a demi-mask over the upper part of my face, painted in gold leaf and covered with paste gems. Harriet had wisely secured the ribbons that held it in place with the same diamond-tipped hairpins she had used on the rest of my coiffure, so there was no need to fret about it falling off before the unmasking at midnight. My locks were dusted in the same gold powder that she had sprinkled carefully over the exposed skin of my shoulders and chest. I had wanted it to look as though I shimmered in the candlelight, but not to the point that it would be distracting or tasteless. I still worried that I had gone too far.
“It’s not too much?” I asked.
“No, Katherine, it’s not too much,” John said, his gaze taking me in from my piled hair to the tips of my embellished shoes.
Henry came over to stare down at me, and the expression on his face made the past hour of preparation well worth it. “You look radiant,” he said, his eyes creasing at the corners as he smiled.
I smiled back at him. “Thank you. You both look very handsome.”
Masquerades were always more for ladies than they were gentlemen. Few male members of the ton wore costumes, choosing instead to don dark masks and hooded cloaks to hide their appearances.
John and Henry were no different. My husband was wearing black trousers and a black jacket. Beneath the coat, he wore a white shirt, the bones of the outfit similar to what he had worn the night before. The monochrome cravat he typically favored had been replaced with a gold one, and in addition to this, the waistcoat he wore had been designed by my seamstress to match my costume. It was shot through with the same gold and silver thread, the pattern masculine but no less complimentary to that of my bodice. The final touch, his mask, was also embellished, the black background dressed up with gold and white gems alternating around the edges. It rested on the table beside the couch, the last piece of his costume to be donned.
My skirts were so wide that Henry had to reach forward slightly to twine his bare fingers through my gloved ones and place a kiss on the back of my hand.
I looked him up slowly, taking in his uninterrupted black outfit. He wore riding trousers tucked into Hessian boots, paired with an impeccably tailored dinner jacket that clung to his form in a way that caused my gaze to linger longer than would be proper outside of this room. It was buttoned all the way to his chin. The lack of a cravat made the rugged handsomeness of his face all the more apparent, and the heavy cloak pinned to his shoulders lent a dangerous appearance to his dark looks.
“Right,” John said. “Before either of you acts upon the looks you’re giving each other, let me be the voice of reason and remind you that Katherine is essentially a priceless statue tonight.”
I frowned at him in confusion.
“You can look, but don’t touch.” He waved a hand at my dress. “Delicate skirts, intricate hair, gold powder. I can just see one of us smearing a hand over your chest and then leaving prints all over your gown to mark the path of where we’d been.”
“Oh, God. Yes, that would be rather obvious,” I said.
Henry’s laughter was like a distant crash of thunder, starting low and soft and ending with him having to pull free from me so he could clutch at his sides.
I smiled as I watched him. It was such a glorious sight. By the couch, John was grinning too, and we shared a brief look filled with the shared amusement of seeing someone we loved be happy.
He turned back to Henry first, his smile replaced by a slight frown. “And I would like to point out that we still haven’t discussed the physical, emotional and situational logistics involved in successfully commencing a ménage à trois.”
“Kit, isn’t that the title of one of those banned books you’ve been harboring?” Henry teased.
John gave him a blank look. “Really?”
Now it was my turn to chuckle. I immediately regretted it. “Ah, don’t make me laugh, this corset is tight,” I wheezed.
“We know,” John said, staring straight into my cleavage. “I’m almost tempted to say to hell with the entire evening,” he added, tossing his book aside as he stalked toward me.
“But think about how much better it might be if forced to wait for several hours before you could touch her,” Henry said.
John stopped just outside of arm’s reach, as though he didn’t trust himself to come closer. “As opposed to you, who have been waiting months?”
“Both of you, stop this,” I said, a familiar heat beginning to burn its way through my body. I had been wrong. It wasn’t going to take me several days to recover from last night. I wanted them already. Now. Here. “Or we’ll never leave this room.”
“Afterward then,” John said, the words a promise.
A knock sounded from the door, and we separated from each other and took up more relaxed positions about the room before John called the command to enter.
It was Sherman. “The carriage is ready, Your Grace,” he announced with a bow.
“We’ll be down presently,” John answered.
“Of course, Your Grace. And might I just say that you all look quite splendid tonight, especially Her Grace,” he added.
“Thank you, Sherman,” John replied.
“Yes, thank you, Sherman,” I echoed, smiling at the butler.
He left us with another bow.
“Shall we?” John asked.
We elected to use our larger carriage for the evening, as its spacious interior allowed more room for the three of us. Henry and John sat side by side, facing me. The sun had set several hours past, the dark of night dropping the cabin into a muted world of grays that was only briefly interrupted by the streetlights we rumbled by and the lanterns that swung from the front and rear of the vehicle.
A passing torch bathed Henry’s large form in flickering firelight before dropping him back into hazy shades of black. With his dark attire, he loomed in the in the shadows as though he were a creature born from them.
My breath hitched at the sight, lust and desire stirring to life inside me. It was only too easy to imagine him rushing out of the darkness at me, to hell with masquerades or what the servants might think when we ordered the carriage to turn around.
“That dress is going to be the death of me,” John declared.
I turned from Henry to see him staring at my chest again. My seated position had only served to press my breasts toward my chin. They jiggled slightly each time the carriage wheels rattled over an uneven cobblestone.
“Well, it might literally be the death of me,” I said, shifting backward a little as I tried to get comfortable.
“How’s your breathing?” Henry asked.
“Quite fine aside from the fact that my clothing is attempting to strangulate me. I’ll be much better once we’re out of this carriage.”
“You and I both,” John said.
“We need a distraction,” I told him.
“You still have Aberdine’s murder to plan,” Henry supplied, helpfully.
“Too true,” I said. “Now, will it be via runaway carriage, a hunting accident, or poison? Me, I’m leaning toward poison. If we find some sort of undetectable, slow-acting one and give it to him in small doses, we could drag it out for months, make it appear as though he contracted some deadly but natural disease. No one would suspect us then.”
It was the wrong thing to say. I had forgotten that it was my darkness John was most drawn to.
“To hell with it,” he said.
And then he was there, closing the space between us, pushing into my voluminous skirts, his mouth hot and demanding on mine. No other part of him touched me – his hands were braced on the top of the seat above my head. The rest of my outfit would remain intact. Only my lip stain would be ruined, not that I gave a damn about it in that moment.
I had no such restrictions on his person, and so I gripped his jacket and used it to pull him closer. The threat of smearing the gold dust and giving us away added a thrill of danger that only heightened my pleasure.
John released my mouth just long enough to drag my lower lip into his and bite it, almost hard enough to draw blood. I gasped and pulled him back to me, trying to bruise his lips with my own.
The carriage hit a pothole then, and he was wrenched from my grip and thrown backward, into Henry. The larger man caught him easily around the waist and guided him down to the seat so that he could sear his mouth over the same lips that I had.
I was forced to fist my hands into the cushion to keep myself where I was, watching, voraciously, as their mouths worked against each other’s.
John pulled himself free, gasping, then raised a hand to ring the bell that signaled the driver to stop.
“What are you doing?” I asked, breathless.
Before the carriage could roll to a standstill, he cracked the door open and yelled up at the driver, “Circle around the long way until the bell is rung again.”
“John, we’ll be late,” Henry said. The tone of his voice made it clear he didn’t give a damn, but was merely mentioning the fact on the off chance that either John or I cared. I sure as hell didn’t, and judging by the way my husband was looking at his lover, he didn’t either.
“How slow do you want to take things, Katherine?” John asked, breaking their gaze so he could glance my way. “Would one of us putting our hands or mouths on the other in this carriage be too much, too soon?”
“No,” I said, feverish with want. “Do it.”
“If anything we do makes you uncomfortable, tell us to stop,” Henry said.
“I will,” I promised, adding, with a throaty laugh, “though I doubt anything ever could.”
“Henry,” John said, his cultured voice gone raw with need.
The smile Henry gave him in response went straight to my core. It was lazy, wanton, hedonistic. No thing fit for public. Anyone who saw it would know it for what it was. Would see the sex in it.
I watched with baited breath as Henry undid the buttons on John’s trousers. He made quick work of them, his long fingers practiced and nimble. John shifted his hips back so his lover could free his engorged manhood from within their confines.
We passed a streetlight then as we rounded a corner, and I greedily took in the sight of my husband’s member. The drawings and statues I’d seen up until this point had done little to prepare me for the reality. The skin that covered it was flushed pink and pulled tight, the long shaft ending in a swelling not unlike that of a mushroom. Was it as smooth as it looked? I longed to find out, suddenly craved the feeling of it within my hand.
I lifted my gaze from it to see John staring at Henry like a starving wolf might look upon a lost lamb. Hunger. Desire. They warred with each other in his gaze. Then his eyes shifted to mine, seeming to shine out from the darkness we were dropped back into as the streetlight fell away.
“My God, you’re beautiful,” I told him. Them.
“Will you join us, Kit?” Henry asked, sliding from his seat to kneel between us and offer me his hand.
I placed mine in it without hesitation. “Yes.”
He helped me cross the divide, so I might sit beside John and watch what was about to transpire from up close.
John leaned toward me. “Careful, now. Just your mouth,” he said.
I closed the remaining distance and pressed my lips against his. His own opened over mine immediately, our tongues searching, caressing.
Too soon he pulled away, gasping.
I looked down to see Henry’s lips fastened over the head of my husband’s manhood. The sight turned my blood into a wildfire lit by desire. Then Henry moved, his lips sliding slowly down John’s shaft as he sucked him in. The wildfire inside me turned into a conflagration.
Beside me, John’s head fell back against the seat, exposing a long line of his neck. This close, I could easily make out the unguarded ecstasy on his face. I drank down the sight of him, committing this moment to memory. In my mind I added brushstrokes and a different backdrop, rendering him into a magnum opus of art entitled The Rapture of Jonathan. I wanted Henry to paint it, hang it on the wall of my bedroom, so that I could stare at it in open wonder as I pleasured myself.
Henry drew his mouth back up just as slowly. A low groan slipped from John’s lips in response. Then his lover began a steady rhythm. Up, down, up, down. Unexpectedly, his eyes flashed open, meeting mine. We stared at each other as he worked my husband, the only sounds in the carriage my breaths, John’s low moans, and the soft sucking noises Henry was making.
I nearly came from the sight of it. Only my voluminous skirts kept my hands in place. Kept me from tearing off a glove and giving into the need to orgasm.
John’s head came back up off the seat, a little frown forming between his brows as he stared down at his lover.
“Henry,” he whispered, the name like a benediction.
He shifted his hips forward then, into Henry’s mouth, a gentle thrust.
In answer, Henry moved faster, gripping John’s hips with both hands now as he drank him down.
I didn’t know where to focus my gaze, so I looked everywhere at once, trying to commit every motion to memory, trying to learn from Henry how to please a man with my mouth.
“I’m going to come,” John warned, his back beginning to arch.
Henry made a pleased sound, low in his throat, and sucked John down all the way to his base.
“Christ,” John moaned, staring down at what was being done to him.
Henry opened his eyes once more and stared back up at him with a look that was so filled with heat, it felt as though flames licked over my skin.
A moment later, John’s jaw locked, his head tilted further forward, and his hips slowed to a lethargic, shuddering pace as he spent himself into his lover’s mouth, a long, low exhale hissing through his clenched teeth as he climaxed.
Henry’s head moved up and down, slowly, a few more times, his throat muscles working as he swallowed. Then he was sitting up, wiping a thumb over his lower lip, his expression still dark with lust.
“I’d offer to return the favor, but I want you two ravenous for each other,” John said, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to clean himself up and tuck himself back into his trousers.
“Bastard,” Henry said, but he was smiling. He turned to me then, and I don’t know what he saw on my face that caused his expression to turn slightly concerned. Shock? Awe? The raging torrent of lust I’d been swept away on? “Are you all right, Kit?”
“What does he taste like?” I whispered.
John sucked in a harsh breath beside me.
Henry’s dark grin returned as he pushed himself forward. His large body closed the distance between us easily, and he braced his fists on either side of my hips to steady himself as the carriage swayed.
“Would you like to find out?” he asked, his voice as low and intimate as a caress.
My gaze went to his swollen lips, so recently used. “Yes,” I said, leaning up to fasten my own over then.
His mouth opened beneath mine hungrily, our tongues mingling, the taste of salt and something more substantial passing between us. It wasn’t a bad taste, and knowing where it came from only made me more desperate to try what I had just played voyeur to.
“Will you teach me?” I asked when he pulled away.
“God, yes,” he said as he retook his seat.
John made a sound like a growl, then reached up to ring the bell again. “Let’s get this night over with. The sooner we arrive, the sooner we can go home and begin the duchess’s education.”
Good Lord, the night to come. How would I get through it with this torrent of lust still coursing through my veins? Thank God for the literal mask I wore. It would be my saving grace, since the figurative one I donned in public seemed far outside my reach right now.
We were still a full block away from the baron’s when we slowed to a stop, a line of other carriages queued up ahead of us to deposit their guests. Like John, the baron had elected to live outside the teeming city-center of London, in Hampstead, just a short ride away from our own home in Highgate.
The baron’s was the first large ball of the season, and therefore almost everyone invited was expected to attend, having no other conflicting engagements. That there was still traffic on his street so late in the evening came as something of a surprise, however, and it caused me to wonder just how many people the baron had invited.
“If you’ll excuse me, I think I should walk from here,” Henry said, leaning forward to place a quick kiss on John’s cheek. “I need to clear my head some, and it’s probably best if we didn’t arrive together.”
We said our farewells, and he saw himself down from the carriage and strode off into the night, his cape swirling behind him until his black-clad form melded into the surrounding darkness.
“Kit, that was…” John began from beside me.
Kit, not Katherine.
I shifted my gaze to meet his. “I know.”
“Remember it,” he said. “When faced with unpleasantries this evening. It might help you through them, knowing there’s more to come afterward.”
“Is that how you get through nights like this? How you stand Osley’s antagonization?”
He nodded. “Sometimes. Others my mind is preoccupied with the paperwork I left on my desk, or thoughts of the latest bill being drafted.”
“John, I…” I didn’t want to ruin this openness between us, the lingering heat in his gaze, but thoughts of becoming his lover brought thoughts of my mother as well.
“What is it?” he asked, his expression blanking.
“Whatever happens between us…there can’t be a child. Please, I can’t…”
“We’ll be careful,” he told me. “We’ll take every precaution available. We won’t come inside of you. And we’ll wear French Letters. You can also take an emmenagogue, and we can look into still more ways. Whatever will put your mind at ease.”
“Thank you,” I said. “With things changing between us, I feared you might be thinking of an heir.”
He shook his head. “Christopher is my heir. I am perfectly content with him remaining so indefinitely.”
Christopher was his closest surviving cousin, a studious older man more interested in antiquities than people or politics. His son, George, was the spitting image of him, the apple having not even rolled a little when it fell from the tree.
John took my hand then, squeezing it once in comfort. “Christopher might not be capable of taking over where I left off in the House of Lords should anything happen to me, but at least I can trust him and George not to run the duchy into the ground. So, no, I don’t desire an heir from you, especially not when it would jeopardize your life,” he assured me.
I love you, I almost said.
“Thank you,” I whispered instead.
“Now, shall we lift the mood again?”
I nodded. “Please.”
“Then allow me to distract you with all the ways I plan to thank our dear Henry for seeing to my pleasure.”
He leaned down and began whispering conspiratorially into my ear, subverting my dark thoughts with the endless erotic images he was conjuring. By the time our carriage pulled even with the baron’s door, I was grinning so wide my cheeks hurt, imagining all the ways I might help him see to his lover’s bliss.
I had just enough time to pull a mirror from the reticule I carried and fix my lip stain before our footman handed me down to the sidewalk. My gaze was immediately drawn to the towering stone façade in front of us. Light and sound poured forth from the windows, giving us glimpses of the crush inside. Through them, I saw people standing far closer than they would dare at a normal ball.
It was popular at masquerades to pretend not to recognize anyone else, to pretend that you weren’t yourself. On nights like this, rules were broken, lines of propriety were crossed, and bastards were sired. Part of me longed for such a carefree night, wanted to join in the celebrations with reckless abandon, but I wouldn’t, couldn’t, especially now that I had so much to lose.
“Shall we?” John asked in his practiced tone of indifference.
“Of course,” I said, attempting to feign boredom.
I wore the guise poorly with such little preparation, but as I took John’s proffered arm and allowed him to lead me toward the entrance, I straightened my spine and readied myself for the battle to come. And a battle it would prove to be.
Copyright © 2018 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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