“Who is that?”
Lord Gideon Harcourt studied the young gentleman who stood by the fireplace in the salon of Madame Desiree’s House of Pleasure. The man’s gaze remained fixed on the fireplace as if he was oblivious or impervious to the riotous pursuit of sexual gratification going on around him.
Madame Desiree shrugged. “I’m not sure of his name. I believe he came in with Lady Jane Mellows.” She pursed her lips. “He does seem a mite uncomfortable and he looks rather young. Do you think I should send him home?”
“With his tail between his legs?”
Gideon smiled at Madame Desiree. For a woman who ran a house unsurpassed for the level of erotic fantasies offered for the amusement of the rich, she was remarkably sentimental. He kissed her hand.
“Don’t worry, cherie, I will take care of him for you.”
She laughed and rapped his knuckles with her fan. “Be nice, Gideon.”
He winked at her. “When am I ever anything but?”
To the young man’s left, two women played a game of cards, which involved the loser removing items of clothing. Shrieks of laughter wafted over to Gideon as one of the ladies tore off a stocking and flung it straight toward the fire.
He concealed a smile as he reached his prey. It took him but a moment to untangle the hapless youth from the still warm silk stocking that landed on his face. The young man gave him a relieved grin.
“Thanks for your help, sir. For a moment I feared I had gone blind.”
“There are far better ways to go blind, my dear boy, particularly here.” Gideon gestured at the crowded room. “Is this your first visit to Madame Desiree’s?”
“Indeed it is.” The youth tugged at his badly tied cravat. “Is it that obvious?”
Gideon guided him toward the buffet table. “To a man as experienced as I am, yes.” He handed him a glass of champagne. “Am I permitted to know your name?”
A flash of guilt crossed the boy’s pleasant features. “Of course, sir, I am Anthony, erm, Smith.”
Gideon raised an eyebrow. “It’s remarkable how many of the patrons of this elegant and discreet establishment go by the name of Smith. You must meet a lot of relatives.” He bowed. “I’m Harcourt. Lord Gideon Harcourt.”
Anthony studied him with wide gray eyes. They reminded Gideon of a deep lake on a calm day. How old was the boy? A shiver of heightened awareness coursed down his spine. Anthony’s skin was as smooth as the finest porcelain. Gideon’s fingers itched to trace the curve of his high cheekbones.
“Did you come here by yourself tonight?”
He gestured to a chair and took the one opposite. Anthony crossed one long leg over the other and finished off the champagne. “No, my lord. I came with a connection of mine.” He leaned forward, the flush on his cheeks rising. “In truth, I didn’t know quite what I was letting myself in for.”
Around them swelled the intimate sounds of subdued music, foreplay and lovemaking. The unmistakable scent of arousal mingled with candle wax and heated, perfumed bodies. Gideon paused to admire the tangle of limbs on the couch to his left where three women and a single man seemed to be convulsing in simultaneous orgasm.
He’d had the dubious pleasure of fornicating with two of the women earlier in the evening. One of them was a duchess, the other her sister. He had good reason to know their sexual appetites were voracious. Not that he intended to bed them again. He rarely found anything interesting enough in a partner of either sex to warrant a repeat performance. He noticed that Anthony kept his gaze on the badly polished toecaps of his boots.
An unwilling laugh shook through him. Had he ever been that naïve?