London, 1842

Benedick Francis Alistair Rohan, Sixth Viscount Rohan, arrived at his town house with a mission. First and foremost, find a biddable bride, get an heir and a spare on her and then proceed to ignore her for the rest of their lives.

The second and more pressing need was to get thoroughly and royally fucked.

He wanted someone so skilled in the erotic arts that he would be unable to move, talk, or think for at least four hours afterward. He didn't want a mistress—his most recent had been cheerful, complacent and only moderately inventive. He wanted variety. He wanted to shag everyone who caught his eye, young and old, fat and thin, pretty and plain. He was after mindless sensation, and he intended to find it.

London was the best place to take care of these pressing needs. In fact, there was nowhere else he wanted to be. He was tired of his house in Somerset, even more tired of his parents' house in Dorset. His brother Charles was simply annoying, with his smug wife and their smug children. And his sister's place in the Lake District was untenable due to the fact that he was certain to murder his brother-in-law if he was forced into any proximity with him.

At least he was properly enchanted with Miranda's unending succession of offspring, even if they were fathered by that spawn of Satan commonly referred to as the Scorpion.

No, at least the familiar house on Bury Street was empty of loving but interfering parents, siblings and anyone else who wanted to fuss over him. He was handling his second widowhood perfectly well. His headstrong wife had died in childbirth, as his first wife had, and he'd come to the conclusion that he was better off marrying someone made for breeding. He hadn't loved Barbara as he had Annis, but her death had still been difficult. The year of mourning was thankfully over, and he had returned to London for the two aforementioned reasons.

He'd already chosen his new bride. The Honorable Miss Dorothea Pennington would do him very well. She wasn't fresh from the schoolroom, though at three and twenty she was still young and strong enough to be able to give him the children he needed and well-bred enough not to cause him much trouble. She was everything that was proper, and once he wed her he wouldn't have to think of her again.

And if she were unfortunate enough to die after presenting him with a couple of boys, he would take it in stride instead of mourning desperately, as he had after his first wife's death in childbed. After all, any woman unlucky enough to marry him was probably doomed anyway, two wives gone already. Lucky in cards, unlucky in love, they said, and he was an excellent gamester.

He was about to rap on the front door with his walking stick when it was flung open, and Richmond, his majordomo, greeted him with his usual repressed effusiveness. "Your lordship! We had no idea you would be returning to us." He signaled the coachman as he moved to allow Benedick to enter. "The house is, of course, ready for you, but had I known I would have endeavored to have fresh flowers brought in."

"There's no need, Richmond," he said, stripping off his greatcoat and gloves and handing them to him. "Flowers are the least of my worries. I need a hot bath and food and a nap and a little breathing space before I can face anyone."

Richmond made that discreet noise he tended to use when he wished to impart something unpleasant, and Benedick halted his stride toward the stairs, wheeling around to look at him.

"Spit it out, man," he said, trying not to sound too irritable. Richmond was one of the few people he tended to spare the brunt of his bad temper. He'd known the man since he was in leading strings, and while he hovered like the others, he did so unobtrusively and with only the occasional look of reproach. The only other human being on the face of this earth capable of making him feel guilty was his mother, but fortunately she and his father were traveling in Egypt.

"Master Brandon is here, my lord."

"Brandon? Here?" He was flooded with both astonishment and annoyance. "We thought he was up in Scotland, fishing. How long has he been here?"

"Two months, my lord." There was something in Richmond's tone that conveyed a great deal. Brandon was in trouble. Which came as no surprise—ever since he'd returned from the Afghan Wars he'd been a changed man, no longer the cheerful boy who'd entered the army expecting a great adventure.

"Where is he?"

"Abed, my lord."

It was four in the afternoon. The younger brother he knew rose with the birds and was out riding by the time the sun was full. "Is he ill?"

"I do not believe so, my lord." Richmond was an excellent servant—he anticipated his master's every need. "He is in the blue room at the end of the hallway."

Benedick took the steps two at a time, his long legs eating up the distance, irritation and worry fighting for dominance. Irritation won. When he reached the bedroom at the far end of the second floor hallway he flung open the door without knocking, strode into the Stygian darkness and flung open the curtain, letting in the bright afternoon light.

The figure sprawled out on the bed didn't move, and he knew an instant's dread, one he refused to consider. He went over and yanked back the cover to find his baby brother lying there, still in his breeches, his back rising and falling.

He was too thin. The scars on the left side of his torso were healing slowly, but Benedick knew how pity scourged a man, and he refused to feel any. "Wake up, you miserable reprobate, and tell me what the hell you're doing here?"

"Go 'way," Brandon muttered thickly, his face buried in the pillows.

"Not likely—this is my house you've chosen to usurp. Why aren't you in Scotland?"

Slowly Brandon rolled over, and even in the shadowed light of the bedroom he could see the ruin of his once-handsome face. The mortar that had killed his commanding officer and seven of his comrades had only taken half of Lord Brandon Rohan's pretty face, turning it into a horror of torn flesh that even now managed to both break Benedick's heart and enrage him. For some strange reason he felt he should have been able to protect his headstrong younger brother, kept this disaster at bay. Though, if their father had refused to buy him colors, Brandon would have run off and enlisted. He had been army mad, determined to become a hero.

He was a hero, indeed. And a shell of a man.

"Looked your fill, Neddie?" Brandon used the old nickname that only his brothers were allowed. "Lovely, aren't I?"

"It's healing," he said without sympathy. "What are you doing abed at this hour?"

"Don't you think I'm better off being a night creature? Who wants to look at this in broad daylight?"

"I never thought you were one for self-pity," Benedick said scathingly.

Brandon's mouth twisted in a parody of a smile. "Trust me, brother mine, I have been experimenting with all sorts of things that are new to me." He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "I suppose you're going to write mother and father and tell them I never went to Scotland."

"Why should I? They'll only worry, and I know full well what a trial their concern can be. If they only visited it on you then you would be well served, but I expect they'd fuss over me, as well. So no, baby brother, I shan't tell on you. Is that why you chose my house over the family manse in Bury Street? So no one would rat on you?"

Brandon's smile was without humor. "You know me well. As I do you. There's no way you're going to allow me to catch a few more hours of sleep, is there?"

"Not likely. Where were you that you returned home so late?"

"None of your damned business," Brandon said sweetly, and for a brief moment Benedick remembered when that sweetness had been real. "I have friends."

"I expect you do. Anyone I know?"

"Doubtless. But you're not invited."

"Not invited where?"

"None of your damned business."

"Are we going to keep going round and round?" Benedick demanded.

"As long as you keep asking me questions I have no intention of answering. Don't worry—I'll remove to a hotel while I find rooms…"

"Take a damper, Brandon," Benedick said irritably. "You'll stay here. In truth, I don't give a damn what you do as long as you don't interfere with my plans for the next fortnight."

"And what plans are those?"

"I plan to get engaged. And to indulge in all manner of acts of sexual gratification."

"Presumably not with the same female…and I trust you're restricting yourself only to females?" There was an odd languor about Brandon, the faint teasing in the questions almost pro forma.

Benedick fought down his uneasiness and fixed his baby brother with a haughty glare. "My tastes are narrow in that regard. And I do not think the Honorable Miss Pennington will be the type to satisfy my rather urgent demands, do you?"

"She's going to be your next wife?" He laughed mirthlessly. "That shows a singular lack of imagination. Then again, if she's going to die you're probably better off picking someone as cold and judgmental as you are. She'll do nicely. So if she's not the one to satisfy your…er…sexual urgings, who is?"

"I rather thought I'd start with Violet Highstreet. If I can find her. I gather she left Mrs. Cadbury's establishment." Benedick didn't like the slow, wicked smile that crossed his younger brother's ravaged face.

"Excellent choice," Brandon purred. "I can give you her new direction. I expect she'd be more than happy to come to you this evening. And I'm afraid Mrs. Cadbury's excellent house is no more. You'll have to find some new source for your tame excesses. In the meantime, I'm going out. And don't ask me where."

Benedick resisted the impulse to protest. His planned excesses felt far from tame. "My interest in your activities was simply a momentary lapse, baby brother. You may go to the devil any way you please."

"Decent of you," Brandon replied. "I intend to."


Six o'clock in the evening was not the most conventional time for sexual congress, but Benedick, Viscount Rohan didn't give a damn. Living in Somerset had required a certain amount of sexual circumspection on his part, and ever since his latest mistress had departed in a wounded huff, some six months before, he'd been depressingly celibate. He intended to take care of that matter immediately, and Violet Highstreet and her talented mouth would prove more than up to the task. Of all Mrs. Cadbury's highflyers she was the one who specialized in that particular variation, one of many he was extremely fond of. She would take the edge off him, so to speak, and he would then enjoy himself more traditionally or perhaps head over to his club to discover who exactly was in town. At the moment, however, all he could think of was La Violette's carmined lips enclosed about him.

If Emma Cadbury had closed her doors, he would have to find a new source of enthusiastic—and healthy—companions. The women of London fell into a number of categories, starting with the virtuous wives and widows, which were of no interest to him, followed by the virgins, who were only worth marrying and turning into virtuous wives and widows and nothing more.

Then there were the far from virtuous widows and married women who only wanted pleasure without accountability, his favorite breed of bed partner. Followed by courtesans and mistresses, highflyers living under the protection of a distant, beautiful abbess like Mrs. Cadbury, women whose establishments could range from crystal chandeliers to the best champagne. Or they could descend to the more depressing, staid households with a grim harridan overseeing the proceedings.

Then, of course, there were the many varieties of streetwalkers, all of whom he tended to avoid, rather than risk disease. But even among his limited categories he could find infinite choice, and he had every intention of sampling the spectrum.

Starting with Violet Highstreet. He was as randy as a teenage boy, and she'd have very little to do before embarking on the sweet journey to completion.

He sank down into one of the leather chairs in his study, his long legs stretched out in front of him, and awaited her arrival.

Lady Melisande Carstairs, widow of Sir Thomas Carstairs, better known as "Charity" Carstairs to her much-disgusted social acquaintances, looked up from the tiny Louis Quinze desk with its gilt and ormolu trim, a frown crossing her face. She'd made a huge blot of ink on the letter she was writing, and it stained her fingers, which was nothing new. Since she was always petitioning the House of Lords or the House of Commons for one thing or another, and generally being ignored, her ink-stained hands were de rigueur. Wasn't that why they made gloves?

Something was wrong. She could have sworn she heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and yet no one had popped her head inside the door to talk or see what Melisande was doing. The inhabitants of Carstairs House, more familiarly referred to as the Dovecote, numbered twenty, and every one of them was a Ruined Woman, a Soiled Dove, one of the Poor Unfortunates. Every one of them had broken free of the shackles of their degrading profession and were busy training in any number of useful fields, such as housemaid, seamstress, cook, and there were even a few she had higher ambitions for, including that of amanuensis, governess or lady's companion.

Working as a seamstress or a hatmaker wouldn't necessarily provide better wages than servicing men in the alleyways, but Melisande already had funding for several cooperatives that would hire the girls, give them decent meals and a clean roof over their heads, and, with luck, prepare them for marriage.

Emma Cadbury, her second in command and capable of almost anything she turned her hand to, might eventually go on to become a governess. Perhaps to a prosperous shopkeeper's family—someone who had worked his way up in the world and wanted a genteel female to teach his awkward daughters to ape the ways of the upper class and wouldn't be too nice about her history. Though Melisande would be devastated to see her go. Emma, at thirty-two, was close to her own age, and yet so many worlds of wisdom separated the two of them. She counted on Emma for the more unpleasant facts of life, for the practicality she sometimes lacked. Melisande would have brought any soiled dove into her house, but Emma cautioned her against some, and she listened. She could scarcely jeopardize her work by trying to retrieve a soul already happily lost.

Such as Violet Highstreet, who was still a question mark. When Emma had closed her establishment the exquisitely beautiful Violet had come along with her, happily willing to take the easiest route. She was far from the brightest of lights, and she was entirely devoid of ambition or interest in finding an alternative way to make a living.

"The girl needs a husband," Emma had announced one evening over tea. The girls had all been tucked away in their dormitories and Emma and Melisande were discussing the myriad decisions that had to be made for their charges. "She's never worked a day in her life and I doubt she'd know how to. She's good for one thing and one thing only, and the man who wins her will be a very happy one, possibly happy enough to ignore her past and her far from intellectual leanings. Her talents are remarkable."

"Talents?" Melisande had echoed, confused. "Exactly what is so special about her occupation?"

Emma made a little face. "She's good with her mouth. The best in London."

"You mean she knows how to kiss? Or something else, like singing?"

Emma had laughed. "My poor innocent! Something else not at all like singing. She gives a man pleasure with her mouth."

"How?" Melisande asked, mystified. And Emma had explained.

From then on she could never look at Violet without feeling slightly disturbed. In the beginning the thought made her queasy, but that had disappeared long ago and left her with an odd sort of curiosity that was both shameful and unmistakable. Not that she'd ever do such a thing. She had no intention of kissing a man's mouth, much less his…

She was blushing again. She pushed back from the desk, unable to concentrate, wandering over to look out onto the London street outside Carstairs House. She'd inherited it from her husband, who would probably be rolling over in his grave if he knew to what use she'd put it. But in truth she'd ended up with too much money and too much time, and there was a world of pain and suffering out there, and she could have brought in a half dozen more if she found the space. Not that their neighbors were particularly happy about her project. But she was no more interested in her neighbors' opinions than she was in her husband's postfuneral concerns.

Right now the only thing that interested her was who had been sneaking down the stairs at a time when most of the women were having dinner and working on their reading and writing skills.

The door to her study was flung open, and Betsey stood there, positively bursting with news. The youngest of the inhabitants of the household that society, and even Melisande, referred to as the Dovecote, she was twelve years old, and she'd spent most of her life in the brothel where her mother worked, until the past two years, when she'd somehow managed to survive on the streets simply due to her impressive wits. No one had touched her, but the necessity of selling herself had been coming closer when Melisande found her, and everyone in the house looked on the child as a pet. With her bright red hair and bewitching grin she was a far cry from the women who filled Carstairs House, but she was irrepressible.

"Remember to knock, Betsey," Melisande said in a tranquil voice, trying to ignore the worry that churned in her stomach. At least it wasn't the youngest sneaking out when no one was looking. Betsey was born to mischief and as headstrong as Melisande herself, a lucky thing, or she never would have survived on the streets for so long.

"Begging your pardon, miss…er…your ladyship," Betsey said cheerfully. "But there's a note." She was holding a thick piece of vellum in her hand, and even from across the room Melisande could see the thick scrawl of handwriting. A man's, of course.

"For me?"

"No, miss. It was sent to Violet. I can't read well enough yet to tell what it says, but she took one look and just about ran for the door. No one knows where she's gone."

Violet. Of course it was Violet. Melisande crossed the room to take the note from the child's hand. She should have told her to bring it to her, but she was too worried to waste time on a lesson. "Normally we wouldn't read other people's mail," she said, scanning the words with a worried air. "But this is an emergency."

"Coo," said Betsey, impressed.

And emergency it was. Violet had been bidden to attend Viscount Rohan at his town house on Bury Street, immediately. This was no request; it was a royal summons. Melisande cursed beneath her breath, further impressing Betsey. "Get me my bonnet and pelisse, Betsey," she instructed, crumpling the note in one hand. "I'm going out."


La Violette was as beautiful as always, Benedick thought as he strolled into the smaller salon on the first floor. While he fully intended to put every single room in this house to use for sexual purposes he wasn't yet ready to breach the sanctity of his library. Perhaps that would be the final bastion to fall. This was a house where he had never shagged anyone. He'd always had a tendency to conduct his affairs away from home, probably because of some stray remnant of courtesy for his disastrous second marriage. He had every intention of remedying that situation forthwith.

She was waiting for him, and while his brain took in her oddly subdued clothing, his cock knew nothing but her mouth, which curved in a bright smile of promises to come. He knew his own grim mouth curved in response as he shut the doors and advanced on her.

"Your lordship," she said in that breathy voice that was actually quite irritating. Fortunately he didn't have to listen to much of it. "I've missed you."

He put his hand beneath her chin, tilting that lovely face upward. "If I believed that, my sweet Violet, I would be very much a fool. You and I have always been honest with each other. What's this sudden sentimentality?"

Her own eyes crinkled. "It's the truth, God knows," she said with a gusty sigh. "You're a sight prettier than most of the men I've had to deal with, and you know how to show your appreciation, and not just with coin. You're generous, and kind, and a girl learns to value that in a man."

He felt a small tug of amusement. There were few in this world who would consider him either generous or kind, and the fact that it was a whore who saw that in him normally would have been pause for reflection. Right then reflection was the furthest thing from his mind.

"I'm flattered. Now if you wouldn't mind…"

She grinned at him saucily. "My pleasure, my lord," she said, and sank to her knees in front of him, reaching for the fastening to his breeches.

He closed his eyes, letting his head drop back in preparation for the supreme pleasure La Violette was more than capable of delivering, when the door to the salon slammed open, Violet let out a little shriek of dismay, and he turned his head to observe a virago standing in the entry.

Fortunately he was still properly covered, and he took a small step back, while the woman on her knees in front of him didn't move, clearly thunderstruck.

"Get up, Violet!" the newcomer said in stern tones. "You have no need to perform such demeaning acts anymore. Haven't you learned that yet?"

"But your ladyship," Violet wailed. "I like it!"

For a moment the woman was startled into silence, giving Benedick a moment to survey her. He didn't believe she was a lady for one moment—Violet was prone to calling everyone "your lordship" or "your ladyship" in hopes of creating goodwill that would lead to financial generosity. This woman was past her first youth, though still young, wearing a bonnet that hid most of her hair and a great deal of her face. She was dressed in clothes of excellent quality but little style, and her voice was that of the upper classes or someone who'd had an excellent governess. She could almost carry it off.

Finally, she spoke. "Get up," she said again. "I don't know what kind of threats this man made, but you've nothing to be afraid of. He can't hurt you—I won't let him."

Benedick decided it was time for him to interfere. "If you'd stop to listen to the girl, you'd realize that she's here on her own volition."

The woman turned toward him, and he could see blazing blue eyes beneath the brim of her hat. "She simply picked a likely door and walked in to offer her services, did she?"

"I sent her a note requesting her presence, but it was up to her whether she wished to accept my invitation."

"Hardly an invitation." She dropped a crumpled piece of paper on the floor with a contemptuous gesture. "It read more like a royal command than an invitation."

"You read other people's private correspondence?" He didn't like this irksome woman one bit. "Perhaps you prefer I address my future requests to you."

"To me?" she said, startled.

"You certainly don't look like any abbess I've ever known, nor do you dress your girls particularly well, but times have changed since I was last in the city and I'm willing to be accommodating."

The woman ground her teeth, but she ignored him, her eyes focusing on the woman still kneeling in front of him. "Violet, do you wish to stay here or come back to the house? You cannot do both."

Violet looked up into Benedick's eyes, a woeful expression on her face, and she slowly rose to her feet. "I'm sorry, my lord," she said. And without another word she scuttled out of the room.

The procuress didn't move, looking at him with cool dislike. "Do not interfere with my girls again," she said in a dangerous voice.

"Your accent is really quite extraordinary," he said lazily. "One would almost assume you were a lady and not the keeper of a house of ill repute. I presume you don't allow your girls to make visits—so be it. I will take my custom elsewhere. In the meantime, however, I wondered if you might be good enough to finish what Violet has started." He reached for the fastening of his breeches, just to see what she might do.

She was gone in a flash, her simple gown flying out behind her, and he laughed as he sank into a chair. Annoying as she was, her ridiculous outrage was fascinating, much more so than Violet's cheerful enthusiasm, even if she probably didn't possess the same skills. Nevertheless, he could only assume she'd learned her trade well. If she didn't bar him from the door he would have to see if she might be persuaded to dispense her own favors. Her anger with him had burned fiery hot, and it was most…enticing.

There was a soft knock on the door, and Richmond appeared, a worried expression on his face. "I'm sorry, my lord. Young Murphy opened the door and he didn't know how to stop her. Is there any way I can be of assistance?"

"Not unless you can tell me the name and direction of the woman who just left this house," he said, not expecting success.

Richmond's disapproval was evident. "I believe your lordship is well acquainted with Miss Violet Highstreet."

"Indeed I am, Richmond. But who is the woman who came charging in here to interrupt us? I'm surprised you didn't stop her."

If anything Richmond looked even stiffer. "You are referring to Lady Carstairs, I believe."

Benedick let out a snort of laughter. "Believe me, Richmond, the woman who stormed in here was a far cry from a lady. She was an abbess."

"Much as I regret to disagree with you, my lord, that was Melisande, Lady Carstairs, relict of Sir Thomas Carstairs, who operates a haven for fallen women in her home in King Street. I rather believe Carstairs House is referred to as 'the Dovecote' for obvious reasons, and the lady herself is called 'Charity' Carstairs in reference to her good works."

Benedick looked at him in mingled horror and disbelief. "I believe you're making a joke, Richmond."

"I assure you, my lord, I have absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever."

Bloody hell, he thought, sinking into a chair. He could thank his darling baby brother for this one, damn him. Brandon would have known perfectly well that Violet had been attempting to retire from the business, and that sending for her would open up all sorts of difficulties. Odd—it wasn't like Brandon to play such a malicious trick on him.

"Would you be wanting anything else, my lord? Perhaps you'd like to send one of the footmen out with a note for a different establishment?"

"Stop looking at me like that, Richmond. I don't care if you've known me since I was an infant—it's not your place."

"Of course not, my lord."

And now he'd hurt the old man. His day was going from bad to worse. "Never mind, Richmond. I find I'm no longer in the mood. Tell Cook I'll be eating at my club tonight."

"Yes, my lord."

"And Richmond."

"Yes, my lord?"

"It's good to see you again."

The old man unbent, just slightly. "And you, my lord."

By ten o'clock that evening he'd discovered all that he would ever want to know about Melisande Carstairs, from her marriage to the ailing Sir Thomas Carstairs, a son of a bitch if ever there was one, to her widowhood and her unceasing good work that most people found tedious. She had come from decent if not impressive stock—an old Yorkshire family whose money had long ago disappeared. She'd made her bow more than a decade ago, putting her around thirty, married the aging and choleric Sir Thomas and devoted herself to his last, unpleasant years. She'd returned to London a wealthy widow and instead of doing the sensible thing, throwing herself into the frivolity long denied her and embarking on a series of affaires, she'd simply continued her self-sacrificing ways, eschewing parties and public gatherings to concentrate on good works.

She'd started her current crusade almost by accident, his old friend Harry Merton had told him over two bottles of claret. A soiled dove had been hit by her carriage, and ever since that momentous occasion she'd been collecting them like so many china figurines, and taken to installing them in her town house and teaching them a respectable trade, for God's sake. Of course she was totally ruined socially, given her associating with whores, but that didn't seem to bother her in the slightest. The only time she ever came close to mingling with her own class was at the opera or the theater—even a saint couldn't abjure everything, and Lady Carstairs appeared to love music. Even if she didn't care much for men.

"But then," Harry had added, "old Sir Thomas was enough to put even the most enthusiastic female off men for the rest of her life." He'd drained his wineglass and signaled for a third bottle to be brought to them. "Imagine running afoul of her on your first day back. It could almost be a Sign."

Harry was a good fellow but not possessed of a great deal of brain, and he was superstitious to a fault. "Simply a sign I've been absent too long," Benedick was too far gone to summon up the choler he should have.

"Didn't have much choice in the matter, did you? You do have the damnedest luck when it comes to women."

"It's not women I'm worrying about," he said, accepting more wine from the steward. "It's Brandon."

"What's that scamp gotten up to now?" Lord Petersham roused himself from the wine-laced reverie he'd drifted into. "Always liked your little brother, Rohan. More heart than sense, but a pluck lad, game to the backbone. Dreadful what that war did to him."

"Dreadful what war does to any man," Benedick said, pure heresy in these days of expanding empire. "But Brandon was always impulsive, rushing into things without thinking them through first." In fact, that was how Brandon had been so grievously wounded. His battalion had been under attack, and he'd gone in to pull the bodies of comrades from the fray, and nearly been killed doing so.

"I don't think you need to worry about Brandon," Harry said, his voice still jovial despite being slightly slurred. "He'll be just fine. Best not to interfere or ask too many questions."

Benedick raised an eyebrow, but Harry was too drunk to notice. Then again, there was little he could do until Brandon was willing to talk to him, to let him into the private hell that had been his dwelling place for the past six months, ever since he'd returned from the Afghan battlefield.

"So tell me, where's the best establishment for seeking female companionship?" he said, changing the subject, unwilling to have his troubled brother the topic of conversation among a group of drunken aristocrats. "I gather Emma Cadbury has closed her doors."

"And moved in with Lady Carstairs," Lord Petersham said mournfully. "And The White Pearl has been abandoned. In fact, several of the most beautiful of highflyers in town have abandoned their profession and either left London or become depressingly respectable. It's damnable."

"Are you telling me I can't find a decent whore in this city? I don't believe you."

"Wouldn't you rather have an indecent whore?" Harry said, then subsided into giggles. Benedick ignored him.

"Oh, there are still a number of reasonable establishments where a gentleman might go for a glass of wine, a hand of cards and female companionship. The night is young!"

For a moment Benedick hesitated, and the fact that he did shocked him. He'd returned to London to assuage his appetites, to feast until he was gorged on sensual pleasures, and yet for a moment he could see those blazing blue eyes, looking at him with utter contempt. Lord, there was nothing more tedious than a zealot.

"Indeed it is," he said, rising to his feet, pleased to note that he was almost entirely sober. Sober enough to enjoy himself. A slow, wicked smile lit his face. He looked down at Harry, but his old friend was drifting, and he'd never been one for the ladies. Or the whores, for that matter.

"I do believe I'll accompany you, Petersham," he said.

"Capital!" Petersham beamed. "I can promise you clean and willing companionship, with this one little darling who has the most amazing trick of the…"