Authors: Louise Allen
Three sisters, three escapades,
three very different destinies!
Meet Meg, Bella and Celinaâ
three loving sisters, desperate to escape the iron rule
of their fanatical rector fatherâ¦.
One by one, they flee the vicarageâonly to discover that the
real world holds its own surprises for the now-disgraced
Shelley sisters! How will they get themselves out of the
scandalous situations they find themselves in?
Find out in Louise Allen'sâ¦
Practical Widow to Passionate Mistress
Vicar's Daughter to Viscount's Lady
Innocent Courtesan to Adventurer's Bride
THE OFFICER AND THE PROPER LADY
“The Silk and Scandal series has led readers through a labyrinth of events stemming from a 17-year-old mystery. Allen sends readers down a new path, adding twists and surprising turns while delivering a strong and moving romance set against the battle of Waterloo.”
RT Book Reviews
THE DANGEROUS MR. RYDER
“Allen's latest adventure romance is a roller-coaster ride that sweeps readers through Europe and into the relationship between a very proper baroness and a very improper spy. The quick pace and hold-your-breath escape plans turn this love story into a one-night read that will have you cheering for the appealing characters.”
RT Book Reviews
THE OUTRAGEOUS LADY FELSHAM
“Allen's daring, sexy and, yes, outrageous spin-off of THE DANGEROUS MR. RYDER gently borders on erotic romance because of the manner in which she plays out her characters' fantasies (including a marvelous bear rug!) without ever losing sight of Regency mores.”
RT Book Reviews
THE SHOCKING LORD STANDON
“Allen continues her collection of novels centering on the ton's scandalous activities with another delightful and charming Ravenhurst story of love and mayhem.”
RT Book Reviews
For AJHâfree at last!
The Earl's Intended Wife
The Society Catch
Moonlight and Mistletoe
A Most Unconventional Courtship
Virgin Slave, Barbarian King
No Place for a Lady
The Dangerous Mr. Ryder
The Outrageous Lady Felsham
The Shocking Lord Standon
The Disgraceful Mr. Ravenhurst
The Notorious Mr. Hurst
The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst
The Viscount's Betrothal
The Lord and the Wayward Lady
The Officer and the Proper Lady
Practical Widow to Passionate Mistress
Vicar's Daughter to Viscount's Lady
Innocent Courtesan to Adventurer's Bride
Other works include:
Harlequin Historical Undone ebooks
Disrobed and Dishonored
Auctioned Virgin to Seduced Bride
Hot Desert Nights
Celina Shelley is the youngest of the Shelley sisters and the shyest. She always thought of herself as timid compared to headstrong Meg and stoic, determined Bella, but her one act of rebellion lands her in a quite shocking and scandalous place and, from there, she faces not just ruin but headlong flight from the law. Somehow Lina has to find reserves of courage she never knew she had. Discovering them surprised her almost as much as it did me!
I knew I had to find a sanctuary for her and I literally stumbled on it in Sheringham Park on the north Norfolk coast, which became the inspiration for Dreycott Park. The house and park belong to the National Trust now, and the house is not open to the public, but you can walk in the park and climb to the top of the hill and the windswept gazebo as Lina did.
And it seemed right to give the shy sister a rakish adventurer for her hero. Both Lina and I fell head over heels for Quinn Ashley and I hope you do, too, as her adventure, the final episode in
The Transformation of the Shelley Sisters,
LondonâMarch 4th, 1815
ou, my dear Miss Celina Shelley, are most definitely an asset of the business.' Mr Gordon Makepeace folded his hands on the desk blotter in front of him and smiled.
Lina had never seen a crocodile in the flesh, but she could imagine one very clearly now. âI believe you mean that I am an asset
the business, Mr Makepeace. That is, I hope that by keeping the accounts and managing the housekeeping here at The Blue Door I am repaying some of my debt to my Aunt Clara for taking me in.' She looked at the closed door that communicated with her aunt's rooms. âI really should go and see how she does. I was on my way to her when you arrived.'
âI do not think so.' The smile had vanished. âWe don't want you catching whatever it is she has, do we?'
âMy aunt has a chronic disease of the stomach. That is hardly contagious.' Lina stood up and went to the connecting door. It was locked.
âSit down, Miss Shelley.' The vague feeling of discom
fort that had been almost unnoticed under the greater anxiety about her aunt became a chill shiver of alarm.
Twenty months ago Lina had run away from her miserable home life in a Suffolk vicarage to find refuge with her aunt. She had known of her only from one letter written to her mother years before and it had been a severe shock to discover that Aunt Clara, far from being the respectable spinster of her imaginings, was Madam Deverill, owner of one of London's most exclusive brothels.
But Lina had burned her boats now; there could be no going back to the wretched safety of the vicarage, back to one of the only two people who loved her, the sister she had run away and left. Her father would never allow her over the threshold and the scandal of where she had been would tarnish her elder sister.
Lina had fled impulsively, snatching at the tenuous lifeline of that hidden letter. She had been so utterly miserable, she had felt so trapped, that escape was all she could think of, especially after Meg, her other beloved sister, had left. Now her conscience nagged her with the knowledge that she should not have left Bella alone.
Her elegantly alluring aunt accepted her without a murmur, gave her a room on the private floor at the top of the house with windows that looked out to the roofs of St James's Palace, and proceeded to treat her as a daughter. How could she go back? Aunt Clara asked her. Her father would bar the door to her. Bella was the sensible, stoical sister, her aunt said. If she wanted to leave, too, she would. But Lina's conscience still troubled her.
Gordon Makepeace had been a silent partner in the business ever since a crisis with a difficult landlord some years ago had plunged Clara into near-bankruptcy. His money had saved the business and now it flourished again,
she explained to Lina when her niece insisted on taking over what work she could that did not involve her directly with the purpose of the establishment. Now, every month, Lina counted out the guineas that represented Makepeace's share of the profits.
He had been a shadowy figure up to now, but this last bout of sickness had left Madam Deverill too ill to leave her bed and he had simply walked in and taken over. âWhy are you keeping me from my aunt?' Lina demanded. âYou have no rightâ'
âI have a considerable sum invested here; as Madam is not fit to run the business at present, I have been looking at the books.' He waved a hand at the stack of ledgers. âI can see that opportunities are being missed, avenues of income are not being explored. I intend to take things in hand. There will be changes.' It was a threat, not a suggestion.
âWhat changes?' Lina asked. Aunt Clara would be better soon, surely? She could not intend that this man should make decisions.
âThere are services that are not offered. Highly profitable services.' He raised an eyebrow as though daring her to speculate. But Lina had listened while her aunt had explained the business to her in terms that even the most innocent daughter of the vicarage could grasp. The Blue Door sold sex. Luxurious, indulgent sex accompanied by excellent food, good wine and choice entertainment.
âBut I will not have virgins here,' Madam had said. âOr children, or girls doing things they aren't willing to. My girls get a fair wage and I make sure they keep healthy.' And the fierce light in her eyes as she spoke had told Lina that these were more than merely house rules. Once, long
ago, she realised, someone had forced her aunt to do things against her will and that had left deep scars.
Later she had discovered, to her stunned surprise, that her mother and her aunt had both been courtesans in their youth. At first she was too bewildered for questions, then, still almost unable to believe it, she had dared to ask.
âWe fell in love with brothers,' Clara had said with a bitter twist to her smile. âAnd they seduced us and abandoned us here in St James's, where we had innocently followed them. We were young and lost and heartbroken and it did not take long for us to be found by a brothel keeper.
âWe grew up fast,' she added, seeming to look back down the years. âWe saved, we found wealthy “friends” and I started my own house that grew eventually into The Blue Door. Your mama, bless her, never became accustomedâshe took over the housekeeping and the books, just as you have.'
There was so much to come to terms with there. Lina asked only one question. âBut however did Mama meet Papa?' For surely the fiercely moral Reverend Shelley had never been inside a brothel in his life, except perhaps to harangue the occupants on their evil ways and the certainty that Hell's fires awaited them?
âShe met him in Green Park. Annabelle always dressed well, like a lady. He tripped over and sprained his ankle, she stopped to offer him assistanceâit was love at first sight. Then he was not the Puritan prig he grew into,' Clara said with a sniff. âThat came later. She never told him what she was, of course. He believed her when she said I was a widow and she was my companion. They married, he took her off into the wilds of Suffolk, they had three daughters and he became, year by year, more rigid, more
sanctimonious. And she fell out of love and into a sort of dull misery with him.
âI do wonder,' her aunt had said thoughtfully, âif your father found out, or came to suspect, something about your mother's past. We will never know now, although her letters tell of him becoming more and more suspicious and unreasonable. She met Richard Lovat and they eloped. She wrote to me, confident that your father would let you all come to herâyou were only girls, after all. But he refused. Annabelle was beside herselfâLovat took her abroad, but she died in Italy two years later. I do not think she ever forgave herself for leaving you.'
Now Lina felt her vision blur and she wrenched her attention back to the man on the other side of the desk. She had left Bella as her mother had left her daughters. Well, she was paying for her heedless, selfish, panic now, it seemed. âWhat do you mean to do?' she asked, trying not to show how she felt. Like all bullies he would feed on her fear.
âRealise some assets, for a start. You, to begin with.'
âMe?' She swallowed. âYou
a virgin, are you not, Miss Shelley? A most valuable assetâa pretty, well-bred young lady.'
âNo!' She stood up so abruptly that the chair fell over with a thud.
âBut yes. Or I will demand the return of all my investment, and to meet that your aunt will have to sell the entire establishment, for I am certain she does not have the ready cash.
âI will buy her share, of course, and then the pampered little trollops who work here will service
the clientsâin every way the clients want. I'll have none of this picking-and-choosing nonsense. Some flagellation rooms, a Roman
orgy every week, an auction of virginsâthose will get us off to a good start. I've got the ideas and very profitable they are, too.'
Lina edged around to the far side of the chair. Her heart was thumping, her mouth was dry. Perhaps Aunt Clara's illness was contagious after all. She must be in a fever, dreaming this. âYouâ¦you would auction me off to the highest bidder?'
âOh, no, not an auction. I have an offer for you already from Sir Humphrey Tolhurst.'
âThe magistrate?' But Sir Humphrey was fifty if he was a day. And pompous and only came to play cards and ogle the posture girls. She had seen him from the screened gallery that her aunt used to watch the activities in the salon.
âThat's the man. I pointed you out to him in the street and he was very taken with you. He would not want to be involved in anything like an auction, of course; he values his privacy too much for that. I was able to set a very good price in consideration of that accommodation.' Makepeace chuckled. âA very good price indeed.'
âAnd then what?' Lina asked, surprised to hear herself sounding defiant. She had never before turned and faced danger, or her father's bullying anger. She had always been the timorous sister, the nervous one who ran if she could not hide. But it seemed that, if pushed to extremes, she could try to fight.
âYou can only sell my virginity once.' Legitimately, that was. The girls had told her all about the ways to feign a maidenhead, as they had so much else that should have shocked her to the core. But their open, cheerful acceptance of the commerce between men and women, in all its weird and puzzling manifestations, had left her much wiserâin theoryâand reluctant to judge them.
âTrue,' he said. âBut it will give me a tidy sum to invest in the equipment this establishment is lacking. Flagellation is all the rage.'
âMother Moll's is the specialist in that,' Lina retorted, parroting the girls' gossip. âThere is too much competition for another flogging school so close.'
âOh, no. Not for the
who require chastising. This would be for those who wish to administer the punishment.'
âBut the girlsâ'
âWill do as they are told or be out in the gutter.'
Lina clenched her teeth to stop them chattering. One of them, Katy, had shown her the scars she had received after a vicious flogging at another brothel. She had been imprisoned there until she'd managed to escape by climbing down the drainpipe.
âI will leave,' she said, trying her best to sound confident. âI will go back to my father.'
âTo the vicarage?' he enquired, startling her with his knowledge. âOh, yes, I made it my business to find out all about you, Miss Celina. Both your sisters are gone nowâdid you know that? And your doting papa has struck your name from the family Bible and denies he ever had daughters, so my man tells me.'
Bella gone? But where?
She had soon realised that her letters home were being destroyed, just as her father must have destroyed those from her sister Meg after she eloped. But she had always thought that Bella was safe at home. Sensible Bella, housekeeping for their tyrant of a fatherâ¦ Please God that wherever she was, she was safe and happy as Meg must be with James, the young officer she had run away with six years before.
She realised Makepeace was still speaking. âYou'll do as
you're told, my girl, or your ailing auntie loses this house and her precious girls start earning their living like the common whores that they are.'
âWhen?' Lina whispered. There was the sound of doors slamming all around her, but they were in her head. If she had only herself to worry about she would run, even though she had nowhere to go. Anything, even going back to Suffolk and begging forgiveness on her knees, would be better than this. But that would leave Aunt Clara and the girls at the mercy of this scheming reptile. She could see no way out, none at all.
âTomorrow. They will send a carriage at seven in the evening. And you be nice to Sir Humphrey or I know who will be the first one to try out the new flogging horse.'
Lina edged towards the door, unwilling to turn her back on him. The handle turned and she was out. But not alone. A big bruiser, a man she had never seen before, stood in front of her aunt's door.
Lina turned and walked away on unsteady legs to the room shared by Katy and Miriam. They were sprawled on the bed, laughing and playing with Miriam's collection of paste jewellery. As Lina walked in they looked up, their smiles of welcome freezing as they saw her face.
âWhat is it, Lina love?' Katy slid off the bed, her dyed red curls bouncing.
âMr Makepeace has sold me to Sir Humphrey Tolhurst.' Lina heard her own voice, so flat and expressionless that she could hardly recognise it. She swallowed hard. If she gave way now she would collapse into hysterics, she was sure. âTell me what to do so it will be over quickly. Please, tell me.'