Excerpt — The Merry Widow


Copyright © Koko Brown, 2009
All Rights Reserved, RED SAGE PUBLISHING, INC.

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“I heard he’s hung like a horse.”

Phillipa Jones’s violet eyes swung up from the stack of missives in front of her to settle disapprovingly on her office clerk. Despite celebrating her fourth year anniversary at the job this past summer, Lucy never ceased to amaze. Her brand of frankness was more suited to the docklands than a place of business. “Miss Pemberton, I’m sure that piece of information may be of interest to those within your own set, but—”
“Pardon me, ma’am,” Lucy said with dignity, “but it’s not just me set. It’s the entire ton that knows it as well. Why, just last week, I read in the Evening Marlborough about him fuck—I mean having a dalliance with a certain Italian duchess at the opera.”

Phillipa pursed her lips at the mention of the daily newspaper, which had become popular for its weekly gossip column, the “Ruffler of Victorian Feathers.” As if she didn’t have enough to worry about as a female business owner. She also had to worry about her recent decision being uncovered by the ‘all knowing and all seeing’ Lady Cherbourg.

“O’ course, they ain’t mentioned his name for they never do, but everyone knows who the honorable Viscount of Equine is.”

“Viscount of Equine?” Phillipa’s lips twitched in bridled amusement.

“Yes, it’s a reference to his cock. Like I said, hung like a— ” Lucy didn’t finish, but her brassy curls bounced around her face as she nodded in excitement.
Phillipa was not entirely unfamiliar with the male sex organ, but she couldn’t help the blush staining her cheeks. Proper ladies just didn’t speak so freely on such a subject, not even in intimate circles. Once again, she questioned her hiring of her young charge in order to her provide her with a better opportunity than the one she would have faced working on her back or eking out a pittance as a washwoman.

“Despite Lord Bellomont’s special attributes, Miss Pemberton, I will not see him,” Phillipa replied brusquely. “Furthermore, I know very well that this is his third visit, but I am not interested and will never be interested in anything he has to say. Harry and I built this shipping company from one small frigate to the five steam liners we have today all with the sweat off our backs. And I will not see it lain to waste regardless of the large purse he’s offering.  Now please go back out there and tell his Lordship good day.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Lucy turned to do her bidding but came back around, a queer look etched on her face. “Mrs. Jones, I almost forgot. Your coach is ‘ere. Oscar arrived right before the Viscount came calling.”

Phillipa looked up so suddenly her spectacles slipped down her nose. “My coach? What time is it?” she asked, reaching inside her jacket pocket.

“It’s a quarter past three, ma’am.”

Phillipa confirmed the time on the silver pocket watch Harry had given her thirteen years earlier, on her 25th birthday. Despite its age, it still told accurate time.

Hell’s bells! she groaned. She’d been so busy with making sure the books would be closed by the end of the month she’d almost forgotten what was happening tonight.

“While you tidy up your loose ends, I’ll get rid of ’is Lordship.”

“Thank you, Lucy.” Phillipa snapped the watch closed, the click resounded loudly in the quiet room. It was even more quiet now because she no longer shared it with Harry. Yet despite his passing and her subsequent taking over of the business, her routine had not changed. She always started work promptly at eight o’clock and she never left her offices before six o’clock.

Her driver arriving three hours early was due to only one thing—this was the evening of her first visit from Madame Valant’s stable of young gentlemen.
Rising from her desk, she walked over to the coat tree in the corner and removed the black bonnet hanging from the branch. As she tied the grosgrain ribbons under her chin, her fingers shook with nervous excitement.

Ironically, she’d read about the Madame and her notorious “stable of studs” in the Evening Malborough. The prime attraction was that the Madame, or at least her stable, made house calls, for Phillipa doubted that she would have had the nerve to visit the infamous Pall Mall and its stretch of gentleman’s clubs.

Not really knowing what to expect, she had been surprised by the middle-aged woman who floated into her home a month ago. Petite of stature with pale blonde hair and strikingly beautiful, Madame was a ray of light in the dark room.

“For now, all you want is a companion?” Madame Valant regarded Phillipa closely over the rim of the delicate tea service.

Phillipa took a deep breath and replied, “Yes. Although Harry died over three years ago, I am not eager to enter into the confines of a conventional marriage. I just want the company of a man to brighten the halls of this home again, even if it’s just for a few hours,” she added quietly, unable to meet the other woman’s gaze. Instead, she looked down at her dress and straightened her tartan skirt for the hundredth time across the mahogany sofa.

“I truly understand, ma cherie. When my benefactor died, I was surprised at how much I missed not only him, but his very maleness, and the security and protection that his mere presence provided. And perhaps one day you will feel comfortable enough with one of mes garcons that you might be willing to quench your baser needs.”

Phillipa opened her mouth to refute that prediction, but Madame Valant leaned over and placed a creamy, heavily bejeweled hand on her knee. “Tut, tut, cherie. You are a woman in your prime. And one that I assume was well loved and was used to the pleasures between a man and woman. If you were not, you would never have called me. Sooner or later, I hope you will indulge in my fine stock to satisfy all your womanly needs.”

And tonight might be that night, Phillipa mused as her coach ambled through the crowded streets of inner London. Over the course of a few short weeks—while the Madame searched for a suitable placement—her initial disquiet had turned into one of anticipation.

Like a connoisseur of fine wine, Madame Valant had supposedly chosen her bevy of male companions well. Not only were they rumored to be handsome, but well educated as well, many of them the bastard children of the nobility.

So even if her visits remained innocent in nature, such as sharing the occasional evening meal, playing backgammon or even discussing the evening papers, she had the option of tasting from the Madame’s stock if she was sorely tempted. And considering her heightened eagerness for her unconventional company, sooner might be now rather than later.


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