A Private Collection
Harry Blackwood has a rule never to sleep with a woman younger than thirty. But he’s also never been to a ball uninvited, stripped naked over tea in a quiet parlor, stepped inside a male bordello, been spanked by anyone other than his father, or become emotionally involved in another person’s life. And within a few hours, all that will change.
Christina Deveraux is nineteen, untamable as a hellcat and determined to enjoy Harry Blackwood’s abundant favors the moment he drops his trousers in her front parlor. As for his silly rules— she’s never met a rule she couldn’t break. After all, it is only sex, it’s her trade now she’s been left to manage her mother’s house of sin, and she has enough theory advice from a set of explicit diaries.
Now she wants to put text into practice. And Harry just happens to be the perfect study mate.
“If you’re interested in staying here, you’d better let me see what you have to offer,” she added, picking up her teacup, arching her little finger and sipping delicately. “I never take on a new boarder without a thorough inspection. One can’t be too careful.”
Was the little brat toying with him now? He could have sworn her black gown was buttoned up right to her throat before, yet somehow there was more flesh visible suddenly. She sat forward on the edge of her chair, and her dark shape was exaggerated against the paler colors of the upholstery. Her waist was narrow, her bosom a promising swell above the strict lines of her corset, although not disproportionate with the rest of her. Her long, slender hands were always busy, even when the rest of her was rigidly still. Now they held her teacup, rubbing the china, tapping it lightly. She looked down at her tea, but he caught the sparks of amusement under her pale gold lashes, the smug twist of her lips.
He sat back in the chair. “At your age, you don’t even know what you’re looking for in a man.”
Her eyelashes swung up; her eyes sparked. “I know what appeals to my clientele, and that’s what’s important.”
Young chit. How could she know? He supposed it was possible, even at her age, but the reasons why and how she came to have that knowledge only angered him, so he bit it back down and smothered it.
“Well,” she said, balancing her teacup and saucer in her lap. “Are you going to drop your drawers or have you lost your gumption?”
It would serve her right, he mused, if he did strip off and show her. That would give her a shock. Or perhaps not. Her expression was world weary now and he couldn’t tell if it was exaggerated merely for his benefit.
“I thought you said I was too old,” he replied finally, hands gripping the arms of the chair.
She gave a half shrug. “I suppose some of my clients might like an older man.” Her tongue darted out, sweeping across her lower lip. “There are some with peculiar preferences. I don’t judge. Let me see what you have to offer, and I’ll decide if you fit our high standard.”
He’d been in this world a hell of a lot longer than she, and he knew this girl thought she was teasing him. But he was drawn in, fascinated by her lusciously curved and blooming rose-pink lips.
He pictured them making a damp trail down his chest, over his taut belly, and down to his—
Don’t think about that.
Too late. Damn.
“What sort of peculiar preferences?” he growled.
She smiled coolly. “I don’t gossip.” Leaning forward, she set her tea cup on the tray. Her eyes were shrewd and quick, her smile carefully measured, but apparently he’d annoyed her. He saw the anger trying to hide behind the forget-me-not blue of her wide eyes.
He scratched his rough stubble and observed her for a moment. Miss Christina Deveraux was more trouble than he needed. He shouldn’t be admiring her figure, her lips, or her elegant hands. He should be on his way to the train station, putting her out of his mind.
“Well, Mr. Blackwood. What are you waiting for?”
Evidently, she thought she could handle him. How long had she been in this business? And why hadn’t anyone taken her out of it by now? She ought to be rescued, whether she thought she needed it or not.
“You won’t get carried away and try to touch me or anything?”
Her right eyebrow lifted. “I’m sure I’ll control myself. Old man.”
“I hope so. Most women can’t in my presence.” He treated her to a grin that didn’t earn him any more than a slight sigh of impatience.
Fine. She’d asked for it.
Standing swiftly, he began to remove his waistcoat and then his shirt, dropping each to the chair he’d vacated. “How many men have disrobed for you in this room?”
“Too many to count.” She sat very straight, hands in her lap, eyes on his chest.
“And you don’t hire them all?”
“I’m very selective.”
He waited, hands on his hips.
“Trousers too,” she instructed softly. “I must see the tools of your trade, if you mean to work for me.”
He glowered at her, but she didn’t flinch. Cool as a cucumber.
“Show me, Mr. Blackwood.”
“I’d rather not,” he muttered, thinking he’d gone far enough. Any further would be dangerous for them both.
“Why? Something to hide?”
He knew he wasn’t hiding anything at all. His erection was visible through his breeches, and she had her eyes on it, boldly assessing the rigid outline. Harry had never undressed for a woman before. It was usually the other way around, but then there was a great deal about this encounter that was different. And even though his mind doubted, his body seemed to like her bossy commands.
“This is no time for timidity, Mr. Blackwood,” she added, lashes fluttering as her gaze lifted slowly upward. “Trousers down.” There was an edge to her voice now, as if she was accustomed to giving orders and being obeyed.
“What if your housekeeper comes in?”
“I can assure you, she’s seen it all before.”
“Not mine she hasn’t.”
“Oh, is there something peculiar about it then? Something extraordinary? Mr. Blackwood, the anticipation is killing me.”
The woman was asking for trouble.
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