Authors: Louise Allen
Innocent Laurel Vernon is living a nightmare after being kidnapped and put up for auction in one of London's most notorious brothels. Only the memory of private enquiry agent Patrick Jago gives her strength. Even though she only knew him for a few days, Patrick made her feel both protected and weak with desire.
When Laurel sees Patrick among the brothel's clientele, she isn't sure if he has come to rescue her or to satisfy his own lust. But she
certain that he intends to bid on her!
When I was writing
Practical Widow to Passionate Mistress
I found myself becoming curious about Patrick Jago, the enquiry agent that Meg Halgate sends in search of her missing sisters. I sensed that behind Patrick's businesslike exterior there was a man of action and that I would like to see more of him. He was certainly more attractive than the elderly ex-Bow Street Runner who I had been expecting to arrive.
He carries out his mission for Meg, but mysteriously writes to say he is delayed in London. I had no idea why, so I set out to discover what he was doing. I did not expect to find him in The Temple of Venus, a high-class brothel, but there he was.
I hope you enjoy discovering just what Patrick is about as much as I did!
With best wishes
The Temple of Venus, King's Place, St James's London, May 1814
The clock struck the hour. Eleven. Laurel clenched her tethered hands, felt the nails bite into her palms. It was going to happen now. It was hopeless, but she would not surrender lightly. She would fight and she would hurt whichever foul man they sold her to, even though she had no hope that it would do her any good. She wished her nails were longer. She wished she had a knife. She prayed she would not cry.
Laurel forced herself to stand up straight and not huddle into a mindless, terrified ball. She
terrified, she admitted, but she was not going to give them the satisfaction of showing it. Her hands were shaking, her stomach was hollow but she was not a mindless victim, even if her concentration was all over the place, her imagination skittering from one hideous imagining to another.
She stood in the shadowy antechamber, barefoot in the long white linen shift, her hair loose around her shoulders.
, she thought as the two young women who flanked her, painted and scantily dressed in crimson silks in contrast with her virgin white, took her by the arms.
How could the name of a man she had known only a few days give her strength? And yet she had not been able to get him out of her mind.
, she repeated over and over as she was led through a door into a sudden explosion of noise and heat and the smell of alcohol and smoke, perfume and food.
He stomach roiled and her knees shook, but she kept her head up.
He had been an impossible dream from the moment she met him in the inn room in Martinsdeneâtall, serious, a private enquiry agent, all the way from Cornwall with a mission to find two missing women who had once been her friends. A man who had unaccountably made her weak with a longing she did not understand. She had spent three days trying to help him in his search for Lina and Bella Shelley, but he had given her the key to her future with news of her old friend, their sister Meg, who had employed him.
As she forced her chin up and her shaking legs to walk, she remembered the blaze of feeling as she met his eyes that third afternoon as he prepared to leave. Something in his look had spoken to the feminine core of her in a language she had not been consciously aware of before. But then she realised something about him had attracted her from the very first.
Patrick Jago was calm, intelligent and, by some alchemy she did not understand, he made her feel both protected and vulnerable. As his eyes had held hers, that look said that he was a man and she was a woman and that was all they needed to know.
He is going to kiss me now
, she had thought as he had moved closer. And nothing had happened. Perhaps she had been wrong and he felt nothing. Perhaps he was too much a gentleman to take advantage of an innocent young lady sharing a mild adventure with him.
Then she had the sense to go, to run, not from him, but from her own foolish fantasy that here was the man she had waited for all her life. Because that was all it could have beenâa fantasy.
I'd have been safer throwing myself at him
, she thought bitterly as she had a dozen times an hour for the past two days. Safer than arriving as an innocent lamb amidst the wolves who hunted in London's crowded inn yards, the wolves who had snatched her up and borne her away as she had tried to work out where to change stage coaches.
Her attendants led her toward a platform draped in white, untied her wrists and fastened cuffs around them so she was tethered between two classical columns. The present, in all its hideous reality, surged back.
The noise was like the roar of the sea, beating at her brain. Laurel tried to sneer at the plaster and wood of the stage setting, the hypocritical idiocy of anyone partaking in this travesty of a Roman slave market, but it was impossible. The setting was a myth; the reality would be rape and captivity.
Reluctantly her eyes focused on the mass of men crowding in front of the stage.
, she thought.
They are baying. And I will wager that every one of them sees himself as an upright man of honour. Most of them will have wives, daughters.
Oh, she was so desperate that now she was hallucinating. Laurel stared at the tall figure in the third row.
Patrick. He is real. He has found me.
She almost sagged in her bonds with relief until she remembered he had no idea she had come to London. He was not searching for her: the only reason he could be here was to satisfy the same brutal lust that had brought these other men.
It was the only thing that could have broken her spirit.
I thought you were perfect, I thought you were the man I had dreamt of and now I know you are like the rest of them.
She had even fantasised about giving herself to him, tried to imagine what it would be like to lose her virginity to his lovemaking. Yet here he was, and Laurel's knees gave way as the disillusion and mounting terror swept through her.
She saw him realise that she had recognised him. His mouth curved for a moment, but the smile did not reach his eyes. Instinctively, Laurel knew what he was about to do. He was going to bid for her.
Patrick Jago fought against the horrified shock.
Laurel Vernon? Here, of all places? I left her in Martinsdene. I'm hallucinating.
But he was not. There was no mistaking those deep violet eyes that had regarded him with such intelligent interest when he had explained why he was in a remote Suffolk village. Now they were wide and dark with defiant terror.
He clenched his hands into fists at his side in an effort to control himself. He could not shoulder his way through this mob and demand her releaseâthey would knock him unconscious and sell her anyway.
For days he had been trying to ignore the attraction that he had felt for her, the suspicion that she felt the same tug in the blood as they had searched together for clues to the fate of the young women he had travelled to Suffolk to seek.
I would have come back for you
, he told her silently now.
Too late for that now.
Too late to worry about how she had got here, one of London's most notorious brothels.
She's seen me.
He saw the recognition strike her and the revulsion that followed it.
No! You can't believe that I'dâ¦
But she did. Laurel thought he was like all the others who pressed up to the stage, the sharp smell of their sweat and arousal rising like a miasma.
He shook his head against the instinctive hurt. What she thought did not matter, not now. She could not know he was following up one last clue to Celina Shelley's whereabouts: a street urchin who thought he remembered her, thought he recognised the carriage she had got into.
What mattered now was freeing Laurel. His immediate thought was to start an incident, create chaos, get her out. He glanced around, assessing the odds, and recognised they were too high, and the risk to Laurel if he failed too great. He would have to do this by stealth. In an inner waistcoat pocket was the two hundred pounds he travelled with to be sure of every contingency. Except this was a situation beyond his wildest dreams or nightmares. It would have to be enough.
A man stepped onto the stage and the crowd gradually fell silent, their eyes shifting between the white-clad sacrifice and the auctioneer. âMy lords, gentlemen, tonight the Temple of Venus offers you this vestal of innocence, this modest maiden of refinement. You know our reputation of oldâno counterfeit here, only guaranteed, untouched quality.
âNow, who will start me at fifty guineas?'
Patrick did not look at Laurel as the bidding ran on, but he could feel her eyes on him. The bids went high, then higher. He did not raise his hand, not wanting to fuel the contest. Gradually men dropped out until only two were left.
âTwo hundred and ten.' One of the two made a gesture of defeat, the other, a thin, saturnine man, looked rueful at the price he had just offered.
âTwo hundred and ten and this gold ring.' Patrick tugged at his signet and held it up.
There was silence. âSir?' The auctioneer looked at the thin man. He hesitated then he shook his head abruptly and turned away.
Patrick shouldered his way to the front and handed over the money and his great-grandfather's ring. He had a sudden memory of Joshua Jago's portrait, hanging in the hall at home.
An old rogue
, his father had said once.
But a man of honour for all that.
For a lady's honour, Joshua
, he thought, seeing the heirloom disappear into the man's pocket.
âWhat are we waiting for?' he demanded, turning towards the stage. It sickened him to see Laurel hanging there, slumped between the pillars. That faint was no ruseâstress had finally overcome her stubborn will.
did she get here?
The anger he had been controlling so savagely began to roil in his veins.
âImpatient, aren't we, sir?' the auctioneer said, straightening up. âCan't say I blame you, ripe little pippin that one. Wouldn't mind a bite myself.'
One more word and I'll kill you
, Patrick thought, closing his eyes against the red haze that shimmered in front of his vision. He was no saint, and no celibate, and he enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh as much as any man. But the thought of the selfish desires that terrorised and used women sickened him. A man who did not care about pleasuring the woman he was with was no man, in his opinion.
Two of the brothel's bullies moved toward Laurel and Patrick vaulted up onto the stage and caught her in his arms as they freed her wrists. She was cold and naked under the thin shift but his warmth seemed to revive her and she stirred. âYou're all right,' he murmured. âI've got you.' He had never touched her before and the feel of her now was like flame, burning through the fear for her, the urgent need to get them out of here.
She opened her eyes and looked up at him, and his heart contracted as it had on that last day in Martinsdene whenever he had looked at her. He was used to taking his pleasures with women of equal experience, and his profession brought him into contact with many ladies of sophisticated tastes and a willingness to share them with a passing adventurer. Neglected wives, spirited widowsâbut not country innocents. He understood the flare of attraction no better now, and yetâ¦
I've got you, you're mine.
she said in tones of revulsion. âHow could you?'
Patrick bent his head. âShh, Laurel. I'm going to get you out of here,' he whispered. âPretend to be afraid until we reach the bedchamber, they will watch us.'
He felt her go rigid in his grip, but she murmured, âYes.' Her eyes held nothing but bitter mistrust, but he could not reassure her here.
He carried her upstairs amidst catcalls and cheers, blocking the sound from his brain, focused only on getting out of this with Laurel unharmed. The door was opened with some ceremony and then they were alone.