Audrey Byrnes doesn’t mind playing the wild Irish princess for London’s elite aristocracy—as long as they buy her novels. With her father’s Dublin theater in ruins and her sister’s illness growing worse, she’s the only person who can save her family from the gutter. As much as she enjoys the occasional passing dalliance, being the primary breadwinner of her Irish family means either marrying well or not at all.
Dr. Joseph Moorland knows it’s wrong to dress in disguise to hobnob with London’s high society, but he figures one night would do no harm—until he meets the charming and mysterious novelist, Audrey Byrnes. Too poor to marry, he hides his real identity until an accident reveals the truth, and what started as a mild flirtation turns to a complex game of secrets, passion, and desire.
Thrown together by circumstance, Audrey and Joseph find themselves in a tense alliance as they try to crawl their way up from their humble beginnings and into the highest echelons of the ton. But when one of the most formidable political players in London sets his sights on having Audrey for himself, she has to choose between saving her family from charges of treason or losing the man she loves forever.
He took hold of his silk cravat and unwound it, its silver silk fibers glinting in the firelight. “I want to tie you up.”
I shrank away from him, my mouth gaping open. “Tie me up? Are you mad?”
His face remained stern, his jaw set in harsh relief like when he had stitched my wound. “I cannot have your hands in the way. I cannot have you trying to take control.” He fumbled in his coat pocket and took out a handkerchief. “I should probably blindfold you, too.”
“Blindfold?” The words choked in my throat.
“Audrey.” He pressed toward me until my knees buckled against the mattress, forcing me to sit. “Do you remember the Gathering? Do you remember how they tied up the initiate?”
I nodded, my blood running icy cold even as my cheeks burned with fire. The space between my thighs swelled with heat, and I clenched them together to try to dispel the ache. I didn’t know what had come over me, revulsion and desire warring in my body as memories of the initiate bound to the platform flashed in my mind. It had awakened both of our desires, driving us to rub against each other like animals. My throat went dry at the thought of taking the initiate’s place, and I couldn’t imagine ever giving up complete control to another person like that.
“I’m not sure if I want to…”
“Do you know why they tied her up, Audrey?”
I shook my head, but a hundred reasons races through my head. To beat her. To humiliate her. To torture her. But then I remembered the initiate’s mouth contorted with an orgasm, how slick her sex became before the bull took her, and I looked away.
Joseph took hold of my chin and forced me to look up at him.
“The initiate comes to the ceremony willingly,” he said in a thick voice. “They tie her up so she can submit completely to the pleasure…and the pain.”
“But I don’t want the pain.”
My thoughts returned to the flogger bouncing off the initiate’s skin, and my body yearned for that sensation. I wanted it to be Joseph. Joseph to dominate me. Joseph to punish me. But for what? I had no idea. I only knew I needed it.
He made a soothing sound in the back of his throat. “No pain tonight, Audrey. Not unless you want it.”
I swallowed the lump rising in my throat.
“Tonight,” he continued, “I want to teach you how to pleasure a woman, and for that, I require your full concentration.”
His eyes bore into me, and he raised the cravat and the handkerchief up to me as if in offering. My nipples swelled beneath my nightdress, and I threw my shoulders back as I let out a long exhale.
“Well, I suppose you are the expert,” I said, scooching back on the mattress, flinging my wrapper to the side. “So how does this work, anyway? You tie me up, and—”
He pressed a finger to my lips. “Shh...let me take care of everything. I want you to concentrate. Pay attention to what you feel. Can you do that?”
“I…suppose.” My voice faltered as he grabbed hold of my wrists and began winding the cravat around them. “Where did you learn to do this?”
“Are you always this chatty in bed?” He pulled the silk fabric tight, and I let out a small gasp.
I frowned and stared at him from beneath my hooded lids.
He smiled and laughed beneath his breath. “Audrey, if you hang around Lord Weston long enough, you learn a great many things.”
Pulling the cravat tight, he wound it around one of the bed posts, loose enough so I could lie straight. But it wasn’t enough to stop him from taking over my body and doing whatever he wanted with it. A flutter of panic rose in my belly, and I began to tremble.
His lips found mine, and he smothered me, pulling my mouth to his and letting his tongue dart inside. I melted beneath him, my hips jerking with each swipe of his tongue across my teeth. The anxiousness faded away, and all that remained was a soft hum in my core.
He broke off the kiss and raised the handkerchief to my face.
“I’m going to blindfold you now,” he said. “But if you become frightened or want to stop, you need to say a word. A special word.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Like what?”
“Anything you like,” he replied. “But it cannot be ‘no.’”
“What?” I pressed. “I’m new at this. You just tied me up, so the least you can do is answer my questions.”
“It cannot be no because sometimes saying ‘no’ is a part of the game.”
I laughed, tugging on my bonds and shaking my head. “Believe me, if I say no, Joseph, I’m going to mean it.”
“Just give me a word.”
“Roger?” He shook his head. “Forgive me, but don’t you think it would be bad form to call out another man’s name in bed?”
I shrugged. “It was my dog’s name.”
He let out a long exhale. “Very well.”
“Do you have a word?”
He paused and looked up at the ceiling, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I suppose I don’t. But I doubt I shall need one.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I want a word.”
“You are in no place to make demands.”
I giggled. “Do no harm?”
He bowed his head and smiled. “It was the first thing I could think of.” Leaning closer, he pressed a soft kiss on my cheek. A tingling sensation flooded my body, and I raised my gaze to meet his. A lock of dark hair fell in his eyes, and my hands strained with the desire to brush it back behind his ear.
“Do you believe in that as a doctor?” I asked. “Do no harm?”
“I try my best.” He looked down, his face falling. “I fail sometimes.”
“Like in the Gathering when you beat up that satyr?”
His head snapped up. “That was different.”
I frowned. “How so?”
“That man had pushed you. Hurt you.” He brushed his lips against the cut on my forehead, and my entire body shivered. “He deserved it, and I would do it again.”
My heart swelled. I may have been tied up, exposed and vulnerable, and yet, I had never felt safer in my whole life. Dr. Moorland, the healer, the protector. Whatever he was about to do to my body, I embraced it completely.
“Are you ready for the blindfold?” he asked.
I nodded. His silk handkerchief pressed against my eyelids and darkness filled my sight. I nestled into the pillows, and Joseph’s hands passed down across my neck and between my breasts. With my vision gone, all I could feel were the smooth pads of his fingertips as they lingered on the lace of my nightshirt. My heart raced, my breathing too loud in my ears. He pulled on the drawstring and loosened the top, and a cool draft brushed against my nipples. They hardened, and my cheeks burned beneath the blindfold from being so exposed.
“The key to pleasuring any woman, really, is to excite her whole body.”
“The whole body?”
“Do I need to gag you, too, Audrey?”
I suppressed a smirk. “I didn’t realize I was in a lecture hall.”
“My lesson. My rules.”
The mattress shifted, and I breathed in the familiar smell of clove and cardamom. His lips brushed against my ear, and a shudder ran straight to my sex.
“You might want to start with kissing the tendons along her neck.”
His full lips brushed against my skin, and my breath hitched. I couldn’t see his hands, but my body tensed with anticipation, bracing for his next move.
“Then,” he continued. “You might want to run your tongue ever so slightly along her earlobe.”
He did the same. The lightest touch, warm and enticing. My back arched, the silk straining against my arms, the need to take control filling my limbs.
“Relax, Audrey,” he whispered in my ear. “Give yourself to me.”
I sank into the dark, and his hand pressed against my breast, pushing me down into the mattress before releasing me. The movement hypnotized me, my body rising and falling with his palm. He rubbed his thumb against my nipple, and a low moan escaped my lips.
“Yes,” Joseph said in response. “Stimulation with a light touch is the key before moving on.”
He planted a kiss on the tip of my nipple, and I let out gasp. With the blindfold on, everything felt amplified, intense. Joseph let out a low laugh, husky and dangerous. His lips clamped over my breast, and he twirled his tongue against my flesh. He pulled his mouth away, creating a suction that filled my body with bolts of pleasure. He rubbed my other nipple and sucked harder, my core pulsing with each touch, each slip of his tongue.
“Oh, Joseph,” I whispered. “Oh…”
About the Author
As a child, Colleen Halverson used to play in the woods imagining worlds and telling stories to herself. Growing up on military bases, she found solace in her local library and later decided to make a living sharing the wonders of literature to poor, unsuspecting college freshmen. After backpacking through Ireland and singing in a traditional Irish music band, she earned a PhD in English with a specialization in Irish literature. When she’s not making up stories or teaching, she can be found hiking the rolling hills of the Driftless area of Wisconsin with her husband and two children. She also writes as C.B. Halverson.