SHE WANTED REVENGE
Destitute and alone, Mina Halliday ventured into a notorious bordello and offered the only talents at her disposal—her writing skill and her scandalous imagination. Mina’s erotic letters have enticed London’s wealthiest noblemen to the Pleasure Emporium, but her real goal is to find the person responsible for her father’s ruin. Even if that means defying the orders of Chief Constable Salter Lambrick, a man who makes her feel like a wanton seductress instead of a plain-faced wallflower.
HE OFFERED TEMPTATION
The only clue Salter has to a government official’s murder is the naughty invitation found in the victim’s pocket, leading him to the most intriguing woman he has ever met. Mina may be an innocent in a den of lust, but Salter detects the sensuality beneath her surface. And uncovering the truth about the woman who stirs his deepest desires will be his most dangerous adventure yet…
Raves for Gentlemen Behaving Badly
“4 1/2 Stars for GENTLEMEN BEHAVING BADLY – Marcos gives readers another taste of desire and danger, along with an enticing adventure/mystery in the second Pleasure Emporium novel. Strong and likable characters, as well as a unique setting, should have readers longing for the next installment.”
—Romantic Times Book Reviews
“Michelle Marcos infuses plenty of humor and suspense into this historical tale which readers won’t want to put down.”
“The story line is fast-paced and filled with mystery, suspense and romance. Fans will relish the strong lead couple pairing and the antics of the support cast. Readers will enjoy this engaging tale of love.”
—Harriet Klausner, Amazon.com’s #1 Reviewer
“A talented storyteller, Marcos gives a very human face to all her characters and the moral dilemmas and situations they face. A solid gold read!”
“A unique and delightful story. For a really enjoyable summer’s fare, readers won’t want to miss GENTLEMEN BEHAVING BADLY.”
—Romance Reviews Today
“Well done, Ms. Marcos. I recommend Gentlemen Behaving Badly and anxiously await the next naughty adventure in the Pleasure Emporium novels.”
—A Romance Review.com
“When I want a great historical romance, I’ll reach for anything by Michelle Marcos!”
—Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author
Finalist, Best Historical Romance
2009 Golden Quill Contest
Desert Rose Romance Writers of America
My dear Lord Prescott,
It has taken me a long time to find the courage to write this letter. I beg your forgiveness for corresponding with you without first having made our acquaintance, but this is a matter of greatest urgency. To put it plainly, I need you.
You see, as a lady of leisure in the employ of Madame Fynch, proprietress of the Pleasure Emporium, it is my duty to provide entertainment for the members of our exclusive club for gentlemen. The Madame has told me that I am idle and do not try hard enough. It is my belief that the ardor of my gentleman callers is evidence of my work, and I told her so. She was furious with my impertinent response and forced me to find a gentleman who would implement a course in humiliation under which I would learn to treat better those charges which she appoints me.
I know I’ve been very naughty in the past, but the Madame says this time she is prepared to discharge me for my insolence. She has given my performance here bottom marks, and she says that my only hope of reprieve is to have an impartial observer judge my innocence or guilt in the matter. I therefore come to you. If found guilty in your eyes, I am to submit to whatever brand and expression of discipline you see fit, even if it means you must give me “bottom marks” as well. Between us, sir, I will do anything – anything at all – to be able to remain here. Please come at once, and exercise your ruling. You have only to decree how grateful I should be.
Mina Halliday smirked wickedly as she folded the stiff blue paper. Whetting a man’s appetite for sex was so very easy, especially when you knew precisely what form his appetites took. And at this incendiary invitation, this particular man would certainly come. She’d stake her entire collection of erotica on it.
With a practiced hand, she tilted her candle over the flap, and the red wax pooled into the shape of a heart. She glanced at the shelf above her writing desk, where a row of monogrammed seals sat like tiny soldiers awaiting orders. She ran her finger down the line until she found the right one, and then she pressed it firmly into the warm wax – L.
With customary neglect of the rules of propriety, Lollie flung open Mina’s bedroom door. “Ye didn’t come down for tea. So, nice as I am, I brought it up for you.”
Mina smiled broadly. “I’ve got a good one for you, Lollie,” she said, the gleam in her eye intensifying as she waved the letter at her. “And this quill is very special indeed. To both of us.”
Lollie pursed her generous lips as she snatched the letter from Mina’s hands. “Lord Roderick Prescott. Never ’eard of ’im.”
“You’ll meet him soon enough, if my letter does what it’s supposed to. I can promise you that he’s got pots and pots of money. You want to take your time with this one, Loll. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt it if he brought you a shiny bauble or two to relieve your discomfort.”
“Relieve my—” Lollie’s expression dissolved from puzzlement to dismay. “Oh, no…not another spanker!”
Mina held up her hands to calm her. “He’s very rich, and—”
Lollie jumped out of her seat, her pretty blond curls bouncing against her shoulders. “No! I told you I don’t want them kind o’ quills. Give ’im to Serafina. She goes in for all that ‘masterchism’ or whatever you calls it.”
“Please, Lollie. It’s got to be you.”
“Because…because…” Mina fumbled for a coherent order to express all her pent-up emotions. “Because I think this may have been the man who had my father arrested.”
Mina pulled Lollie to her bed and sat her down. “First, you’ve got to swear to me you won’t breathe a word of this to the Madame.”
Lollie’s graceful eyebrows drew together in concern. “Course I won’t.”
“Before I came to work here, my dad was a jeweler on Fulsom Street. Well, one day, a man came to his shop and brought with him a tiara. It was a lovely thing, lots of diamonds and a great big sapphire in it—I saw it later when my dad worked in it. Well, this man asked my dad to replace the expensive jewels in it with semiprecious stones. He paid well for the job—in advance—so my dad thought nothing of it. When my dad had finished the job, he turned over the tiara and the precious gems. The man left, pleased with my dad’s work. A few hours later, the constabulary came to the shop and arrested my dad, saying that one of his clients had brought in a tiara in for cleaning and it was returned to him with substandard jewels in it. Within four days, my father was convicted of thievery and fraud—and shipped to Australia’s penal colony.”
“Never! Who was that client?”
“I don’t know. I never saw him. I wasn’t even at the shop when my dad got arrested. And none of the authorities would tell me the name of the man who accused him. The clerks at the Old Bailey all tell me the same incredible thing…the case is a matter of national security and they can reveal nothing about it. National security! They won’t even tell me where I can write to him. It’s just so frustrating! It’s been three months since he was arrested…three months since I haven’t laid eyes on him. I don’t even know if he survived the voyage.”
“Poor duck,” she said, placing her hand on Mina’s shoulder. “And you think this Prescott bloke is the one what turned yer dad in?”
“That’s what I want to find out. The man who accused him had to have had some political influence. No one gets sentenced so quickly. No one! And to have a closed-door trial, where even I’m not allowed to testify on my father’s behalf? Who can arrange that quick a conviction? It has to be someone high up in government.”
“How do you know it was Prescott?”
“Well, I don’t. Not for sure. But my dad had only a handful of clients with so much power. In fact, only two men that I know of. The only thing I know about Mr. Tiara is his predilection for aggression, because he had been bragging to my dad about a woman he had taught a lesson to the night before. So I have to find out for certain which of these two men is the one who ruined my father.”
Lollie blinked her large blue eyes. “What are you going to do if it’s ’im?”
The question hung in the air as Mina’s anger filled the room. “Ruin him back.”
Lollie’s porcelain features twisted into a grimace. “So what you want me to do?”
“You have to find a way to get him to admit to it.”
Lollie’s pretty blue eyes flew open. “How?”
“Talk to him. All night if you have to.”
She harrumphed. “I can see you’ve never been with a quill, ’specially not a spanker. Believe me, you don’t want to entertain them all night. You’ll be wanting them in and done with…right quick.”
Mina shoved a lock of her straight brown hair behind one ear. “No. I mean, keep him in the salon. Sit at the bar, and I’ll keep plying him with drinks. This way, I can listen in on your conversation.”
“What am I supposed to do? Ask him if he had the owner of Halliday’s Jewelry Shop arrested? He’s not going to confess something like that to the likes of me.”
“Of course he would!” Mina exclaimed, her brown eyes widening. “One of the most astonishing things I’ve seen since I started working here is how incredibly talkative these quills are with you girls. Men talk to courtesans as if you were the most discreet and sympathetic of confidantes. They share things with you they would never tell a father confessor, or even their own spouses. They brag about even the most depraved and wicked things they’ve done. And all because as courtesans, you’ve no right to judge them.” Mina gripped Lollie’s arm tightly. “I’m sure you can get something out of Lord Prescott. All you need do is get him to talk about jewelry. Show him your necklace. Ask him what he thinks about it, or how much he thinks it may be worth. We’ll see whether he brings up my father’s name or his shop.”
“I don’t know, Mina. If this is so important to you, why don’t you take this quill yourself?”
Mina backed away, her expression sobering with unspoken emotion. “You know that’s impossible.” Mina had long since accepted that she was no beauty. Of the dozen courtesans in the Madame’s employ, none was less than flawless. With such a dazzling array of gorgeous women to satisfy the lust of a man’s eyes, no one paid any attention to Mina. She might as well be part of the furniture. “Please, Lollie. This is important to me. I’ll give you one week’s wages if you do this for me. A month’s. Anything you ask. Please.”
Lollie sighed noisily, her petulance only adding to her charm. “All right. But this better be the last perverted quill you get for me. The next one better be a good-looking prince eager to marry a Covent Garden trollop.”
Mina exhaled her relief. “I’ll start making inquiries right away,” she replied wryly.
But after Lollie left the room, doubts pressed heavily upon Mina. What if Lollie couldn’t get Lord Prescott to open up? Worse still, what if neither of the men accepted her invitation to visit the bordello? Unbidden images flashed in her mind of her father enduring hard labor under the lash of a merciless prison guard, and her heart twisted inside her. She had to find out who had consigned her father to a hell on earth. If he did the damage, he could undo it. Or at the very least, let her get in contact with her father. All her best hopes were pinned to that one missive to Lord Prescott.
There was no room for failure. At all costs, she simply had to get Lord Prescott to come.
Salter Lambrick leaned over the body of the dead man to get a look at his face. There was no mistaking it…Lord Prescott was no more.
Salter rubbed the thick black stubble on his own face, a gesture that reminded him of the haste of the call. He stood up to get a better perspective on the murder scene, but was disappointed – not at what he saw, but at what he didn’t see. Whoever had met Prescott here was careful not to leave any evidence of his presence.
Salter walked around the room slowly, allowing the alchemy of all his senses to paint a picture of what happened last night. The victim and the murderer had met here in Lord Prescott’s study. Prescott had been sitting at his desk, and at some point, the murderer came round behind him and strangled him with a garrote. Prescott was wrestled to the floor, where he fell face down. Once in the superior position, the murderer leveraged his weight to hold the victim down as he tightened the cord around the man’s neck. From the boot scuffs on the marble floor, Salter could tell that Lord Prescott thrashed a good deal. But with a man kneeling on his back, there was no way Prescott could have defended himself.
Salter crouched and turned the body over. Prescott’s face was waxy and pallid, and his tongue spilled over his blue lips. It was a hideous death mask, but Salter had shed the horror of death long ago on the battlefield. He lifted the man’s chin to get a closer look at the murder weapon. The crease between Salter’s thick brows deepened as he realized it was not a garrote at all. He untwisted the cord embedded into the dead man’s neck. It was a leather whip! Not a long one, like the kind used on carriage horses…nor even a bullwhip used on insubordinate soldiers. This was a peculiar instrument, with a sturdy handle and a thong about three feet long. Like the kind they used to chastise schoolboys.
Salter frowned. Why would a murderer bring an object like this to kill someone? If the murderer wanted to do Prescott in quietly, surely he would have brought a dagger or some poison, or even a better fashioned garrote than a whip.
Salter let the leather cord slither from his large hands. Perhaps the murderer wanted to sneak it in without detection. Or maybe the whip belonged to Prescott, and the murderer obtained it here. The answer to that question would explain whether the murder was premeditated, or the tragic result of a vehement quarrel.
Salter fished around in Lord Prescott’s pockets. He found the man’s untouched billfold in his coat pocket. Evidently, robbery was not the motive. In his other breast pocket, Salter found two items: a folded piece of paper, and a leather tawse. Salter unfolded the piece of paper, and what he found astonished him.
My dear Lord Prescott,
It has taken me a long time to find the courage to write this letter.
As he read the rest of the missive, Salter had to smile. So that’s where Prescott was headed with all these implements of torture…a bordello! Prescott seemed to have a peculiar affinity for dominating women, and he was being invited by a courtesan to indulge that inclination.
Salter’s shook his head at the writer’s lewdness. He had never made use of a bordello, but had the letter been addressed to him, he just might have been tempted enough to try it.
Salter refolded the blue parchment, a frown casting a shadow over his hazel eyes. Come to think of it, there might be more to be read from this letter than a sexual proposition. What if Prescott’s murderer was someone at this bordello? An irate Madame to whom he owed money? Another customer, jealous over his chosen courtesan? Or maybe even the very woman who wrote this letter…
“Alcott,” he called out.
A young constable wearing a weathered brown coat came to the door. “Yes, sir?”
“Have you met with all the servants?”
“Yes, sir,” he said, thumbing through his notepad. “Their statements ring true. None of them seemed to have any knowledge of the murder. After they retired for the night, no one ’eard a sound till this mornin’ when the butler raised the alarm. Frankly,” he said, lowering his voice, “I don’t think any of them could do it. Cook’s a frail woman, the maids are little things no bigger’n me sister, and the butler’s older than the Lord Almighty.”
Salter chuckled. “Fine. You can release them to their duties. Tell them that with their master gone, they should start looking for employment elsewhere.”
“Right you are.” Alcott jerked his head toward the body. “So what you reckon, Chief Constable?”
Salter put the letter in his coat pocket. “I think that this case isn’t going to be easy. Lord Prescott was senior aide to the Lord Mayor of London. And the Lord Mayor is not going to like the scandal this will stir up. Besides, as the Chief Magistrate of London, his office will be placed under a great deal of scrutiny. I think we had better be prepared for the pressure to solve this case quickly and quietly.”
“Any ideas who done it?”
“Not yet, but I’ve got a lead to track down. Ask that butler fellow to get me one of Prescott’s coats. I think I’m going to do a bit of impersonating.”
Alcott scratched his blond head with the end of his pencil. “Impersonatin’, sir?”
Salter stood up straight. “Call me Lord Prescott.”
He glanced down at the tawse in his hand, its supple leather strap split into two pain-inflicting tails.
Whoever wrote that letter had some explaining to do.
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