A Gentlewoman's Dalliance
London, 1890
    Mrs. Mary Brigstock looked around at the familiar faces of the Ladies’ Sewing Circle, her expression half a smile and half a frown. Who among their number shared the foible that preoccupied her? Surely someone did. Certain Circle members were daring, to say the least. Incorrigible, even.
    â€œYou look perplexed, Mary,” remarked Mrs. Prudence Enderby, one of those most qualified for the label of daredevil. Her expression was shrewd and her eyes narrow as she hacked away rather ineptly at the Madeira cake and handed around unladylike doorsteps on dainty china plates. “Surely you’re not experiencing any difficulties with Mr. Brigstock now? I thought you and he were lovebirds reborn nowadays?”
    Mary blushed furiously. Her friend was quite correct. Why, only this morning there had been an instance. Mr. Brigstock had woken some considerable time before the maid brought up their tea tray, and proceeded to put his fine morning cock-stand to excellent use. Mary’s heart fluttered inside her corset just at the thought of it, as did another region of her anatomy, the southerly portion that lay within the lace-trimmed confines of her drawers. Dearest Leonard had plowed her most enthusiastically and his efforts had made her squeal and moan with pleasure as the birds had welcomed the dawn outside with song.
    â€œOh, we are, Prudence, we are,” Mary admitted, crumbling her already ramshackle slice of cake between her fingertips. When she’d first joined the Sewing Circle she’d been painfully shy, and half-afraid of the bolder members of the group, and some of that early prickly nervousness still lingered in her. It had taken her quite some time to come around to the naughty, free-speaking and free-thinking ways of Prudence, but more and more she was shedding her inhibitions.
    â€œIt’s just that I’ve…well…I’ve developed a yen to try something new…a foible, shall we say. Mr. Brigstock is anxious to accommodate me—in fact, most eager to satisfy my desires—but he does have one or two slight misgivings.”
    â€œOh, Mary, you rogue, whatever is it?” Prudence chuckled and waggled her eyebrows.
    Pink-faced and thoroughly overheated, Mary wished that a jug of well-iced lemonade had been served alongside the teapot full of hot oolong. Memories of this morning’s excellent bedroom endeavors had turned her blood into hot treacle, and in the warm weather, her chemise was moist with perspiration and sticking to her. Some of the ladies were shockingly acute where matters of the bedroom were concerned, and it suddenly felt as if Prudence, at least, was well aware of Mr. Brigstock’s dawn performance and the way Mary had writhed and yowled with the pleasure of it.
    But before she could stammer further, Lady Arabella Southern cut in. “Oh, you’ll just have to use your feminine wiles on him, my dear,” the peeress advised archly, before launching into yet another colorful tale of her own persuasive powers. “Why, my dear Horace was a bit reluctant at first when I asked him to service me over the billiard table while he was wearing his regimental dress uniform. In fact, he hummed and hawed for several minutes about disrespect and all that palaver, and spoiling the nap on the baize, but I won him around eventually with certain promises he couldn’t resist.”
    The ensuing account—possibly true, possibly fabricated—gripped the attention of the entire Circle for the rest of the tea party, and caused even the most experienced eyebrows to rise. Mary was heartily grateful that the peeress had drawn their fire from her, and it wasn’t until the gathering was breaking up that their unspoken grande dame Sofia Chamfleur drew her aside.
    â€œYou know that I have certain, shall we say, resources, Mary dear, and a good deal of expertise,” murmured her friend in a discreet, hushed voice. “If there’s any

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