(Lesbian Historical Romance- 1870’s Americana **Revised and re-edited from 2011 release**)
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Lily Odell was the belle of Charleston, South Carolina high society until her husband, Beau, walked out on her after believing she’d been unfaithful to him. Lily has always been devoted to Beau, although she has kept a dark secret concerning her relationship with her childhood girlfriend. Now she has been ostracized because of the gossip and lies and has no one to turn to for help.
Charleston’s most popular brothel madam, Mrs. Rose Ware, lives her life on her own terms. When she discovers Beau abandoned Lily, and has thrown her out on the street, she takes Lily in until she can get back on her feet. She has always been attracted to the spirited and beautiful Lily, but kept her feelings to herself because of her wanton reputation and her past with Beau. Now with Beau out of the picture, she might have a chance to seduce the heartbroken Lily.
Lily wants revenge against Beau, and Rose is more than willing to help her. Soon both women come up with a plan that will scandalize Charleston, and expose a forbidden passion between a brothel madam and a genteel Southern lady.
“I hold a masquerade twice a year for my most favored clients.” Rose appeared in the doorway.
Lily went to cover her mouth but then dropped her hand to her side. She had seen Rose dressed for a night out on the town in the past at various public functions such as the theater and at restaurants, but never in what she wore now. She stood on full display, wearing a gown of deep crimson with beads lining the hem and a slit up the right side, past her knee. Lined with feathers, her bodice was cut low enough to show off the tops of her breasts. With each breath, Rose’s chest thrust forward, showing the tops of her areolas. Her waist was the tiniest Lily had ever seen it, tightened with strays crossing her stomach. Her hair was up high on her head, with small, white pearls among her curls that would come tumbling down if someone sifted their fingers through it.
She looked at her hands as she thought about doing just it. She folded them behind her back and waited as Rose came into the middle of the room.
“I hope you don’t mind the intrusion, but I overheard you and your girl talking about your plans for tonight.” Rose fluffed her bangs.
“I will most likely stay in my room and read before I go to bed.” She lifted part of her satin nightgown covered by her robe then she went to the window and lifted it higher, allowing the night air to cool her flushed face.
“The party will go late into the night, but most of the celebrating will remain on the ground floor. The second floor is where more personal activities take place.”
Lily turned around and gave Rose a head-to-toe look over.
Rose swiveled her hip and placed a hand on her waist. “Do you approve, Mrs. Odell?”
She stopped nibbling on her bottom lip before she ended up chewing away the skin there. “You look beautiful tonight. Most of the men won’t be able to stay away from you.”
Rose’s laugh filled the room. “I’m untouchable. I no longer give out my favors for payment. I observe my guests and wait for them to come to me and inquire about one of my girls they want to spend a few hours with. The days of being bought and sold for a man’s pleasure are long gone for me.”
She simply blinked from the harsh tone in Rose’s voice. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for her to be bought by a man for his own sexual gratification. The urge to go to Rose and hold her close made her walk over to her. Rose stared at her with suspicion, and, as Lily lifted her hand, Rose grabbed it.
“Don’t feel sorry for me, Lily. I won’t apologize for what I had to do to survive.”
Her hand trembled, but Lily pretended not to notice and gave Rose a bright smile. “I have no right to judge you. There are some things I’ve done I’m not proud of, and, like you, I won’t make any apologies.”
“Good.” Rose nodded, and pulled her hand back.
She wanted to tighten her hold, but decided not to. She simply couldn’t hang on Rose the entire night.
At a low ding from the clock on the wall, Rose rubbed her palms together. “I have to go downstairs to welcome my guests.”
“Will you be wearing a mask, too?” She folded her hands on her stomach.
“I hadn’t planned on wearing one. But I do have a mask to match my dress.” Rose flicked her feathers on her bodice.
She kept her eyes on Rose’s face. She didn’t know how she would explain her stare if Rose caught her ogling her chest with the feathers barely covering her nipples.
“You have a strange expression, like you want to ask me something but don’t know how to go about doing it.” Rose tapped the middle of her chin.
She wiped her palms down the side of her robe. Tandi continued to move around the room, not saying a word, which was unlike her. The covert stares, and the way Tandi kept wrinkling her nose at Rose was a sign of displeasure on her part. She had seen it many times—the majority of them directed at her. For once, Rose was on the receiving end.
“And now a secret smile slowly forming,” Rose pointed out. “Whatever is going on in that head of yours, Lily?”
You. She did bite her lip this time to stop from blurting out Rose’s name, quickly dropped her mouth to a straight line and relaxed her pose.
“I can’t stay shut up in this room with just Tandi as company. Since I’m residing here as your guest indefinitely, don’t you think I should be…um…involved in the procedures of your….”
“Brothel?” Rose asked.
“Yes. I must admit I’m curious to see how your parties are played out.” Her nerves almost got the best of her as she hurried on. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of her throat. “I don’t want to be a participant, but an observer. I think tonight would be ideal because everyone will be wearing masks to disguise their faces. I can do the same.”
“Please don’t say no.” She lifted her palms. “I’ve been so bored and need to do something with myself or I’ll scream.”
“And watching how whores and their johns interact is your idea of fun? You may be shocked by what goes on here tonight.”
“I’ve seen many upsetting things in my life thanks to the past few years.” She swallowed. “Dead bodies lining the road, half-naked children roaming the country-side, starving women selling their bodies on the street for—”
“Stop right there.” Rose rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and mumbled something under her breath. She’d been far too dramatic but wanted to show Rose she was a mature woman and not some fickle bored lady who hadn’t experienced life.
“I can stay by your side the entire time, and if you think I should return to the safety of my room because things might become too rowdy, I will.” Lily gave her a sunny smile, fingers crossed behind her back.
Tandi stood behind Rose and shook her head in bewilderment.
“Maybe it is time you’ve received a lesson. I can’t have you running out on the streets traumatized the moment you see one too many naked bodies or witness a sexual act you might consider depraved,” Rose pointed out, her voice more playful than serious.
“I promise I won’t faint at the sight of any immoral sex acts I may come across.”
Rose sighed. “I may regret this later, but fine. You may join the entertainment below. You’ll have to change into something more suitable and wear a mask at all times. So far, there hasn’t been much talk in town about you staying here. But if you mingle the men with your face bare tonight, there might be talk tomorrow.”
“I agree with you.” She lost her smile. “But I don’t have a mask. Where would I get one at this late hour?”
Rose swiped a finger down Lily’s cheek. Her skin tingled from Rose’s touch and continued to do so after she pulled away. “Remember how I said I had a mask but wouldn’t wear it? You can.” Rose eyed her from top to bottom. “I think we can find you a suitable dress as well. It may be a tad low in the bosom area, but then again, we’re not living in a convent.”
She arranged her palm on her chest, and Rose’s lips twitched in humor.
“Stop playing the naïve virgin. It doesn’t suit you.” Rose took her wrists. “You have a nice chest and should show it off. As long as no one touches, they can admire you as you stand on display like I’ll be doing most of the night to make certain nothing out of the ordinary arises.” Rose glanced at Tandi, who’s remained silent during the entire exchange even though her expression showed her displeasure. “Let’s make your mistress so ravishing the men, and perhaps even the women, will salivate for the chance to have an hour alone in her company.”
“But that won’t happen…I mean, you won’t leave me alone with any of those people downstairs?”
“Only if you want to, pretty Lily.” Rose gave her a smile full of mischief.