Simply CarnalBy: Kate Pearce
This book is dedicated to all the readers
who have enjoyed the “Simply” series over
the past years. I wish I had the space to
name you all, but rest assured that I appreciate
each and every one of you.
London, England, 1826
“May I speak to you, sir?”
“Of course, Ambrose. What is it?”
Christian Delornay looked up from the accounting book he was studying and considered the worried face of his normally unshakeable aide-de-camp. According to the clock on the mantelpiece, it was already well past midnight, but the noise from the upper floors of the pleasure house had not yet abated.
He directed a frown at Ambrose. “Why are you still here? You are supposed to be off duty.”
Ambrose shrugged. “Because there were matters that required my attention. Why are you still here?”
“Because my mother is not, and she’s left me with all the monthly bills to pay.”
“You like it when she’s away. You fight less.”
Christian found himself smiling reluctantly at that truth, but Ambrose didn’t smile back. “What exactly kept you?”
“There’s a woman in the kitchen.”
Ambrose’s upper-class drawl held a hint of the warmer cadences of his West Indies homeland that emerged only when he was perturbed.
“There are always women in the kitchen.” Christian put down his pen. “Should she not be there?”
“She is asking to speak to Madame Helene.”
“Did you tell her my mother isn’t here?”
Ambrose hesitated and came farther into the room. “I did not. I think you should see her yourself.”
“Because she is sorely in need.”
“Of what? A man?” Christian grimaced. “Then she hardly needs me. There are plenty of willing guests upstairs for her to choose from no matter what her tastes.”
Ambrose shut the door behind him with a definite click and advanced on Christian’s desk. “That wasn’t the kind of help I had in mind.”
“Does she want money, then, or worse, a shoulder to cry on?” Christian’s smile wasn’t pleasant. “I’m not known for my soft heart. I leave that to my mother and sisters.”
Ambrose held his gaze, his warm brown eyes steady. “I would still ask that you see her.”
Christian leaned back in his chair. “She obviously had quite an effect on you.”
“She ...” Ambrose hesitated. “She reminds me of how I was before you took me off the streets and offered me a job and a home.”
“She’s a pickpocket and a thief, then?”
Ambrose’s smile flashed out, his teeth white against his dark skin. “I doubt it. She seems to be a lady, but there is something in her eyes that reminds me of how it feels when you can see no future for yourself. I’m not sure if she has the will to last another night.”
Christian sighed. “A lady you say? I can scarcely fail to help a damsel in distress. Send her in.”
Ambrose paused as he opened the door. “You will be gentle with her, sir?”
“As gentle as I was with you when I caught you picking my pocket all those years ago.”
Ambrose chuckled. “You threatened to strangle me and drown me in the Thames.”
“Ah, that’s right.” Christian nodded. “I promise I will listen to what she has to say. Will that satisfy you?”
“I suppose it will have to. I’ll go and fetch her from the kitchen.”
Christian returned to his account books half hoping that the woman had taken off, preferably without stealing anything too valuable. He was soon engrossed in the complex figures, and it was only when he heard Ambrose gently clear his throat that he remembered to look up again.
The sight that met his eyes wasn’t unexpected. Working, as he did, on the less salubrious edge of society, he’d seen plenty of desperate women. But Ambrose was right—she was different, and he’d been trained to notice the smallest details. Her clothes, although soiled, were of high quality, and her skin was as pale and unlined as a lady’s. She briefly met his gaze and then raised her chin as if he was beneath her notice and looked beyond him to the window.