Charlie listened impatiently, her mind distracted by thoughts of finally removing the horrid wig, stripping off her clothes, unwinding the torturous binds, and sinking into a tub of warm, soothing water. When Radcliffe finally finished, she agreed to his suggestions with alacrity and escaped the room to find Stokes waiting to lead her upstairs. He showed her to a room, informed her that her sister was in the adjoining one, and left her alone with a brimming tub of hot water.
Charlie had just finally removed the last of her boy's clothes and stepped into the tub of water when the door suddenly opened. Gasping, she dropped under the water, submerging herself in an attempt to hide from whomever it was, only to come springing up, splashing water everywhere a moment later when someone tapped on her head. She was wiping her eyes and casting frantically about for an explanation when she recognized Beth's soft laughter. Irritationwas Charlie's immediate reaction.
"Do not do that," she hissed, glaring at her twin angrily. "I near to had a heart attack. I thought it was"
"I am sorry, dear," Beth managed to murmur through her chuckles.
Sighing, Charlie relaxed in the water, her gaze moving over her sister's clean pink cheeks and nearly dry hair. "You were quick about your bath."
"Hmm," she murmured, sinking onto the end of the bed. "I was so tired, I feared I might fall asleep in the tub. I rather rushed through it."
Charlie nodded in understanding. She herself thought she might sleep in the warm, silky water if given half a chance.
"Shall I help you with your hair?"
"Aye. Please," Charlie murmured, sitting up slightly as her sister knelt by the tub.
They were both silent for a while as Beth worked on her hair and Charlie worked on the rest of herself, removing the dust and filth from their days of travel.
Then Beth asked what Radcliffe had wanted to speak to her about.
Lowering her leg back into the water to rinse the soap off it, Charlie sighed.
"He wished to tell me of his plans for us."
"Which are?" .
"He sent a message to a dressmaker in town. A Madame Decalle, requesting her presence tomorrow to fit us for dresses."
"Well, you or me. Whoever is the sister tomorrow." She sensed rather than saw her sister nod in response to that.
"What else has he planned?"
"He intends on taking Charles, whomsoever of us that is tomorrow, to a jeweler to cash in some of our inheritance, then to a tailor to be fitted for new vestments."
They were both silent for a moment, then Charlie glanced over her shoulder at her sister and told her, "He also wishes to take Charles somewhere tonight. I thought, as you wish to take turns at being the brother, you would like to go tonight rather than myself."
"Tonight?" Beth's hands stilled in her hair, then pushed gently on Charlie's shoulders, urging her to lean back farther in the water to rinse her hair.
Both of them were silent as they rinsed all of the soap out, then Beth stood and moved to fetch a linen for her.
Standing in the tub, Charlie took in her sister's frown as she returned with the linen and raised an eyebrow as she accepted it. "I thought you wished to take a turn at being the brother."
"Aye, but" Shrugging, Beth moved back to the bed to finger the clothes Charlie had dropped there. "Not tonight Charlie," she said finally. "I am ever so tired.
'Tis all the traveling, I think. I am not accustomed to it. Could you go tonight?"
"If you wish," Charlie agreed, though she had really rather hoped it would be the other way around. She, too, was rather exhausted from their journey.
Resigning herself to a night of carousing with Radcliffe, Charlie began to unfold the linen she held, only to stiffen and glance over her shoulder in shock when the bedroom door suddenly burst open.
Radcliffe had taken his own bath, dressed, then gone back to the library to await Charles, but the boy seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time at his bath. Deciding to hurry the lad along, he jogged upstairs, then along the hallway to the door of the room Charles had been given. He was so impatient, he entirely forgot his manners and burst into the room, mouth open to harry the boy into hurrying. The sight that befell him stole the words from his mouth and left him gaping blankly, for it was apparently not Charles he came upon in the room but Elizabeth.
Naked as the day she was born. Water chipping from her generous figure.
She stood half-turned away, glancing back over her shoulder toward him, frozen in place, shock on her face, and a half-open linen in her hands.
For a moment, all Radcliffe could do was stare. She was Aphrodite rising from the foamy sea. Astarte in all her glory. She was beauty incarnate. His eyes slid over the bend of her shoulder and paused at the sweet fullness of one breast as it peeked out from around her arm. Then his gaze dropped along the curve of her back where beads of water sparkled in the candlelight like jewels on rosy velvet next to the dark mystery of the hair that lay damp and smooth down the center of her back, framed between her shoulder blades. Following the length of it down to the delectable curves of her behind, he took in the rivulets of water chipping from her damp hair and rushing down over those curves and along the backs of her thighs before returning to join the water in the tub.
It was a path his hands suddenly itched to take, he realized, and recognizing the dark area his thoughts were taking him to, he quickly regained himself enough to turn away and face the hallway he was blocking. Muttering an apology, he pulled the door closed behind him and leaned against the wall beside it, amazed to find himself trembling.
Charlie turned wide eyes to her sister. Beth stood frozen beside the bed, shock and dismay on her face. Muttering under her breath, Charlie stepped quickly out of the tub and wrapped the linen around herself as she hurried to her sister's side. "Quickly, help me dress," she ordered tersely, giving the girl a push to wake her from her frozen state.
"Dress? But he saw"
"He saw you."
Beth blinked at that as Charlie tossed the damp linen aside and snatched the hose from the bed to begin dragging them on. "Nay, I do not think he noticed me at all. He was too busy ogling you."
"He was busy ogling you," Charlie collected grimly, donning the breeches now, then turning to grab the binding to secure her chest. When a glance at her sister showed her looking confused, Charlie pointed out impatiently, "He will think it was you in the tub, Beth."
Her sister blushed with embarrassment as she started to help her bind Charlie's breasts once more. "But how will we explain what I was doing in your tub?"
Charlie considered the problem as she tied her hair at the nape of her neck, then catching the end of the long ponytail, she slid it into the back of her breeches before tugging her shirt on and quickly doing it up.
"We switched rooms," she announced, grabbing the wig and slamming it on top of her damp hair before grabbing the jacket and hurrying for the connecting door between their bedrooms. "This is your room now."
"But" Beth began, but was cut off as the connecting door closed behind her sister.
It took several minutes for Radcliffe to calm himself enough that he felt ready to face anyone. It was not seeing Beth naked that had affected him so. It was his reaction to her. During the last three days since encountering Charles and his sister, Radcliffe had felt nothing more than an avuncular affection for the girl. His feelings and reactions to the boy had been something else altogether.
His body had responded to the closeness of the boy in his sleep. That had been distressing. And then of course he had begunto analyze every little reaction he had to the lad, picking apart every little increase in heartbeat and every little tingle the boy aroused in him.
Now he supposed his own fears had been the problem. For the sight of Beth standing so gloriously nude had raised nothing but good, clean, unadulterated lust in him. The woman was as luscious as a mouth-watering roast duck all dressed on the table. Radcliffe was beyond relieved. He was joyous. He was not turning to the more unusual proclivities of some of the nobles who, having grown bored with their lives and a never-ending stream of wine, women, and song, looked for new avenues of excitement. While he had always considered what a person did behind closed doors to be his own affair, he had never had any inkling of such feelings in himself. Now, he knew he was fine.
Smiling wryly at his own foolishness, Radcliffe straightened away from the wall and tugged at his cuffs. He had been so long without allowing himself to feel affection for anyone, he had quite mistaken his affection for the boy as something else entirely. It was most embarrassing, really. He was grateful he was the only one to be aware of his own foolishness.
Shaking his head, he turned down the hall and walked to the next door.
He started to reach for the doorknob, then caught himself and raised his hand to knock instead. The knock never fell. Even as his knuckles would have rapped wood, the door was pulled open to reveal a slightly out of breath Charles standing there, blinking at him in surprise.
"Charles." Relief still riding high within him, Radcliffe graced the lad with a more than warm smile. "I was just coming to see what had held you up."
"Oh So sorry, I, er Well, I did have to talk to Beth before I bathed and changed. Tell her of tomorrow's doings and all."
"Of course." His smile did not fade in the least. "She was not happy with her room?"
"What? Oh Well She preferred the other room. Blue is her favorite color." The boy paused. "Why? Did you go there first looking for me?"
"I am afraid so. In fact, I fear, thinking it was your room, I did not even bother to knock but merely walked right in. Most rude."
Despite his words, he could not manage to look the least upset by the incident, though he knew the brother of the girl would be scandalized. Instead, the boy looked at him dryly and pulled the door closed behind him. "Well, I am sure there was no harm done. Was she asleep?"
Still grinning, Radcliffe shook his head. "Nay. In fact I fear I caught her stepping out of the bath." When Charlie arched an eyebrow at his tone of voice, he grimaced slightly. "I shall, of course, apologize at the first opportunity."
The boy shook his head and followed Radcliffe as he led the way down the hall.
Well, Radcliffe thought, the embarrassment of his having walked in on the boy's sister in the bath would quickly fade with the night ahead. It would be the boy's first real adventure as a man. They were about to go out on the town in London. Radcliffe wondered if Charlie had any inkling of where he would be taken. Mayhap he thought Radcliffe would take him to a gaming hall. Or the theater. Or one of the men's clubs he had surely heard about.
Charles had a surprise coming. They were going to a brothel.
The trip had been relatively short, but Radcliffe had insisted on their destination being a surprise. Charles had tried guessing as they rode through the dark London sheets, hoping that should he hit on where they were headed, he might confirm his guess, but Radcliffe had merely smiled mysteriously and shaken his head at each guess he'd given.
The boy had been beyond frustration and well on the way to expiring from curiosity when the carriage had finally stopped. Radcliffe stepped out of the conveyance and found himself standing on a cobbled street in front of a rather uninteresting house.
His confusion showing on his face, Charles had turned to Radcliffe.
"Where are we?"
"Aggie's," had been his unruffled answer as he'd started up the path to the front door.
"Aggie's," Charles had echoed unhappily. Radcliffe smiled as he realized the boy had never heard of the place. The boy had thought they were going to carouse with London's young bloods. Now, he thought they were going visiting, that this was the house of one of his friends. How incredibly boring! Radcliffe chuckled.
"Come along. Do not dally." Radcliffe waited until the boy reached his side, then rapped at the door. He didn't know if that was the usual approach to gaining entrance to the establishment. He'd never visited Aggie's before.
He had only heard of it. It was doubtful if there was another male in London who had not heard of Aggie's, though he himself had never favored such places. He preferred the slightly less tawdry habit of taking a mistress and keeping her in style throughout the length of their relationship, to enjoying the variation though less choice quality of Aggie's girls. He could have hardly taken Charles to his mistress, though, had he had one at the moment. He was between them, in any case.
The corpulent woman who answered the door could be none other than the infamous Aggie. Her hair was a brassy red, her face a map of the London streets with all its lines, and her body best resembled an overripe tomato ready to burst at the seams. Dismayed at such a presence, Radcliffe barely managed to conceal his shock and present a somewhat uncomfortable smile.
"Well, now, what ha'e we here? Two fine gen'lemen's come to call on old Aggie.
No need to loiter about on the step, m'lords. Come on in. Aggie's open for business."
Radcliffe was trying to decide if he really wished to go through with this when Charles shifted beside him, drawing his gaze. Remembering the reason behind this excursion, he straightened his shoulders and nodded. It was for the lad, after all. Best to get the chore done.
Charlie gawked at the woman before them in amazement. She had never seen her like before. She was wearing a gown of bright red silk, though "wearing"
was not exactly an apt description. It was more as if she had been poured into the material.
Surely Radcliffe had made a mistake? This could not possibly be where he had meant to bring them. The driver must have got the directions wrong.