The Lady's Tutor
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Robin Schone
All right reserved.ISBN: 978-0-7582-3475-9
Ramiel would not be blackmailed by any
woman-no matter how great was her need for sexual gratification.
He leaned against the library door and watched through narrowed eyes the woman who stood in front of the half-circle bay of floor-to-ceiling windows. Wispy tendrils of fog bridged her and the opened drapes, the first a monolith of black wool, the latter sentry columns of yellow silk.
He did not recognize her, covered head to foot in a bonnet and shapeless black cloak with her back toward him. But then, he would not recognize her were she naked and facing him with her arms and legs spread wide in lewd invitation.
He was the Bastard Sheikh, the illegitimate son of an English countess and an Arab sheikh. She was the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; her father was the prime minister of England.
The likes of her did not socialize with the likes of him save behind closed doors and between silken sheets.
Ramiel thought of the black-haired woman whose bed he had vacated only an hour earlier. The Marchioness of Clairdon had waylaid him at the ballum rancum, a whore's ball, dancing naked as had the other whores. She had used him to fuel her need for sexual titillation, and for a few hours he had become the animal that she thought he was, thrusting and grinding and pounding into her body to find that moment of perfect release where there was no past, no future, no Arabia and no England-just blinding oblivion.
Perhaps he would take this woman, too, if she had not willfully forced her way into his home through intimidation and blackmail.
Muscles coiled in silent aggression, he stealthily pushed away from the cold press of mahogany and padded across the Persian carpet that covered the library floor. "What do you want, Mrs. Elizabeth Petre, that you invade my home and threaten my citizenship?"
His voice, a raspy purr of English refinement masking Arab savagery, ricocheted off the three sash windows and chased the curved brass curtain pole rimming the twelve-foot-high bay ceiling.
He could feel the woman's start of fear, could almost smell it over the damp pervasiveness of the fog.
Ramiel wanted her to be afraid.
He wanted her to realize how vulnerable she was, alone in the Bastard Sheikh's den with neither her husband nor her father to protect her.
He wanted her to know in the most basic and elemental way possible that his body was his to bestow and he would not be blackmailed into having sex.
Ramiel paused underneath the blazing chandelier and waited for her to turn and face the consequences of her actions.
Burning gas hissed and popped in the frozen silence.
"Come now, Mrs. Petre, you were not so reticent with my servant," he gently taunted, knowing what she wanted, daring her to utter the words, forbidden words, familiar words, I want to diddle an Arab; I want to rut with a bastard. "What could a woman like you possibly want from a man like me?"
Slowly, slowly, the woman turned, a dark swirl of wool framed between shimmering yellow columns of silk drapes. The black veil covering her face did not hide her shock at the sight of him.
A derisive smile curled Ramiel's lips.
He knew what she was thinking. What every Englishwoman thought when she first saw him.
A man who is half Arab does not have hair the color of sun-kissed wheat.
A man who is half Arab does not dress in tailored clothing like an English gentleman.
A man who is half Arab-
"I want you to teach me how to give a man pleasure."
The woman's voice was muffled by the veil, but her words were unmistakable.
They were not the words he had expected.
For one timeless second Ramiel's heart stopped beating inside his chest. Erotic images flashed before his eyes ... of a woman ... naked ... taking him ... every way a woman can take a man ... for his pleasure ... as well as her own.
Searing heat shot through his groin. Against his will he could feel his flesh swelling, hardening, hearkening to the images that would never be, exiled as he was in this cold, passionless country where women used him for their own needs-or reviled him for his.
Raw rage flicked along his nerves.
At Elizabeth Petre, for invading his home for her own selfish satisfaction under the guise of learning how to please a man.
At himself, who at the age of thirty-eight still ached for what she offered, knowing it for the lie that it was: Englishwomen were not interested in learning what pleased a bastard sheikh.
Deliberately, relentlessly, Ramiel closed the distance between himself and the woman who hid behind a cloak of respectability.
To her credit, she did not back away from his fury.
To his credit, he contented himself with merely flinging back her veil.
Up close and without the sheer black material marring her vision, she could clearly see his Arabian heritage. His skin was dark, sun-baked to the hair that was sun-kissed.
Now she would realize that his English-gentleman facade was just that-a facade. He had learned to be a man in a country where the worth of a female is half that of a male-a woman could be sold, raped, or killed for daring far less than what this woman dared now.
Elizabeth Petre should be afraid.
"Now, tell me again what you want," he murmured silkily.
She did not flinch at the smell of brandy and perfume and sweat and sex that he reeked of.
"I want you to teach me how to give a man pleasure," she repeated calmly, tilting her head back that she might meet his gaze.
She did not stand more than five feet three inches tall-she had a long way to look up.
Mrs. Elizabeth Petre had very white skin, the prized white that on an Arabian auction block represented a woman's bondage. She was not young. Ramiel judged her to be in her early thirties. Faint lines radiated outward from the corners of pale hazel eyes. The face lifted up to his was more round than oval, the nose more pug than aquiline, and her lips were too thin. Her pupils were dilated, but otherwise her face was devoid of the fear that she surely must be feeling.
Ela'na. Damn. Why didn't she show it?
A muscle ticked in his jaw. "And what makes you think I am capable of teaching you such a feat, Mrs. Elizabeth Petre?"
"Because you are the-" She briefly faltered over his nickname, the Bastard Sheikh, bold enough to blackmail him for sex but not bold enough to call him a bastard to his face.
"Because you are the only man who-" Nor could she finish that sentence, that he was the only man in England reputed to have been given a harem on his thirteenth birthday.
She notched her chin up higher. "Because I overheard a ... a woman say that if husbands had only half of your skill, there would not be an unfaithful wife in all of England."
Ramiel's savagery erupted into biting sarcasm. "Then send me your husband, madam, and I will instruct him on how to keep you faithful."
Elizabeth Petre's lips tightened in a spasm of emotion-fear, anger, it was impossible to tell by looking at her; the woman had a face like a sphinx. "I see that you will leave me no pride. Very well. I love my husband. It is not he who needs instruction on how to prevent me from straying, but, rather, the opposite. I do not desire to bed you, sir. I only want you to teach me how to give my husband pleasure so that he will bed me."
All the heat in Ramiel's body dissipated.
"You do not care to be dirtied by the hands of an Arab, Mrs. Petre?" he asked softly, dangerously.
"I do not care to be unfaithful to my husband," she replied evenly.
Ramiel's nostrils flared with reluctant admiration. Elizabeth Petre did not lack courage.
There were rumors that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a mistress.
Edward Petre was a commoner. Were he of the peer, society would not be interested in his extramarital affairs, but his voters were the middle class and the middle class expected their political representatives to be as sternly moral as was their queen.
No doubt Elizabeth Petre was more concerned over the potential loss of her husband's career than she was of losing his services in the bedroom.
"Women who love their husbands do not ask strangers to teach them how to please a man," he said caustically.
"No, cowards who love their husbands do not ask strangers to teach them how to please a man. Cowards sleep alone, night after night. Cowards accept the fact that their husbands take their pleasure with another woman. Cowards do nothing, not women."
Cowards echoed in the sudden silence.
Short, quick spurts of gray mist warmed Ramiel's face-her breath. Long, even spurts of gray mist mingled with hers in the winter-chilled air-his breath.
Elizabeth Petre blinked rapidly.
For one timeless moment Ramiel thought she batted her lashes in a gauche parody of flirtation; then he saw the sheen of tears filming her eyes.
"I refuse to be a coward." She squared her shoulders. The motion elicited a creak of whalebones-a corset too tightly laced. "Therefore once again I ask you to teach me how to give a man pleasure."
Blood thrummed through Ramiel's temples.
In many ways Arab and English women did not differ.
An Arab woman wore a veil. An English woman wore a corset.
An Arab wife accepted her husband's concubines with resignation. An English wife accepted her husband's mistresses by ignoring them.
A woman in either culture did not baldly arrange sexual instruction from another man that she might secure her husband's interest.
An acrid aroma stung Ramiel's nostrils-it came from her cloak. She had freshly cleaned the wool.
Women came to him drenched in their musk-no woman had ever come to him smelling of benzene.
Ramiel wondered what color her hair was ... and what she would do if he reached out and plucked off her head the ugly black bonnet that hid it from his view.
He abruptly stepped back. "And just how do you propose that I teach you to please your husband if I do not bed you myself, Mrs. Petre?" he bit out.
Her eyes remained steady, oblivious of the sexual curiosity that hummed through Ramiel's body. "The women who live in harems-do they learn how to please one man by going to bed with another?"
For a second, Ramiel was back in Arabia, twelve years old again. A blond-haired concubine, the bored favorite of a vizier, had been curious to try the sheikh's uncircumcised infidel son. Ramiel, trapped between sleep and opium-scented breasts, had thought she was a houri, a Muslim angel sent to give him a taste of paradise.
The concubine had been stoned the following day.
"An Arab woman would be put to death if she did so," Ramiel said flatly.
"But you have been with these women-"
"I have been with many women-"
She ignored his curtness. "Therefore if it is possible for an Arab woman to learn how to please a man without benefit of personal experience, I see no reason why you, a man who has benefited from that training, cannot in turn instruct an Englishwoman."
Many Englishwomen had asked Ramiel to demonstrate the sexual techniques Arab men use to pleasure a woman; no woman had ever asked him to teach her the sexual techniques that Arab women use to pleasure a man.
It was the remnants of hard liquor and a night of even harder sex that prompted Ramiel's next question. Or perhaps it was Elizabeth Petre herself. And the stabbing realization that no woman, either Eastern or Western, would risk for him what this woman now risked for her husband. She imperiled her reputation and her marriage to learn how to please a man sexually so that he would turn to her instead of to a mistress.
What would it take for a woman like her, a respectable woman, to want a man like him, a man born in England who had adopted Arabia and now belonged to neither?
What would it be like to have a woman willing to do anything to gain my love?
"If I should undertake your tutoring, Mrs. Petre, what would you expect to learn?"
"Everything that you have to teach me."
Everything vibrated in the chill morning air.
Ramiel's gaze slammed into hers. "Yet you said that you have no desire to bed me," he said harshly.
Her face remained composed, the face of a woman who is not interested in a man's passion-or her own. "I am assured that you possess enough knowledge for the both of us."
"No doubt. But my knowledge is of women." Suddenly, he was repelled by her innocence. "I am not in the habit of seducing men."
"But women ... they flirt with you, do they not?" she stubbornly persisted.
The duchess's naked body had gleamed with perspiration as she danced her need. She possessed no subtleties ... either out of bed or in it.
"Debutantes flirt. The women I bed are not virgins." He insolently perused Elizabeth Petre's voluminous black cloak that revealed neither a thrust of breasts nor a curve of hips to entice a man. "They are experienced women who know what they want."
"And what is that, pray tell?"
"Pleasure, Mrs. Petre." He was deliberately crude and rude. "They want a woman's pleasure."
"And you think, because I am older than these women, and my body is not perfect like theirs ... do you think that I do not also want a woman's pleasure, Lord Safyre?"
Ramiel's gaze snapped back to hers.
An electrical current of pure, unadulterated need shot through his body.
It came from Elizabeth Petre.
Sensual longings, sexual desires ...
And still her face was that blank, expressionless mask.
A virtuous woman did not seek out a man to teach her how to please her husband.
A virtuous woman did not admit to wanting physical gratification in her marriage.
Who was Elizabeth Petre that she dared what other women did not?
"A man is more than a series of pulleys and levers that need only be cranked in order for him to receive gratification," Ramiel exhorted sharply, keenly aware of the cool perfection of her pale skin and the hot blood that pulsed in his groin. "His satisfaction is dependent upon a woman's ability to receive pleasure. If you want the latter, he will receive the first."
She stiffened her spine with another telltale creak of her corset. Anger flickered in her eyes-or perhaps it was a flare of light from the overhead chandelier.
"I have two children, sir. I am fully aware that a man does not consist of pulleys and levers. Furthermore, if my husband's satisfaction depended upon a woman's desire, then he would not have left my bed. For the last time, Lord Safyre, will you or will you not teach me how to give a man pleasure?"
Ramiel's body tightened.
Elizabeth Petre offered him a man's ultimate fantasy. A woman whom he could teach every sex act he had ever wanted a woman to do ... with him ... to him.
"I will pay you," she offered stiffly.
He studied her through the shield of his lashes, trying to see behind the emotionless mask that was her face. "How will you pay me, Mrs. Petre?"
There was no mistaking his coarse suggestiveness.
"With English currency."
Nor was there any mistaking her deliberate obtuseness.
He cast a telling glance about the library, at the ceiling-to-floor shelves filled with leather-bound books, at the priceless silk-screen panels that dotted the remaining three walls, at the credenza inlaid with mother-of-pearl, at the carved mahogany fireplace that was a masterpiece of English craftsmanship.
"That is one of the benefits of having a sheikh for a father. I have no need of your money," he replied with feigned disinterest, all the while wondering just how far she would go in her quest for sexual knowledge-and how far he would go in his quest for oblivion. "Or that of anybody else, for that matter."
Her gaze did not waver from his.
She would blackmail ... but she would not beg.
"Do you know what you are asking, Mrs. Petre?" he asked softly. "Yes."
Ignorance shone in her clear hazel eyes.
Elizabeth Petre thought that a woman like herself, a woman who is older and whose body is not "perfect," a woman who is respectably married with two children, could hold no appeal to a man like himself. She did not understand the driving power a man's curiosity could become or the powerful attraction a woman's desire could ignite.
Ramiel knew these things only too well. Just as he realized that mutual need could bind a man and a woman together more surely than vows spoken in a church or a mosque.
A dull sulfuric glow penetrated the bay windows. Somewhere above the yellow fog that heralded another London morning shone sunlight and the beginning of a new day.
Pivoting sharply, he crossed the Oriental carpet and reached to pluck from the ceiling-high wall of books a small leather-bound volume.