Winterberry Spark: A Silver Foxes of Westminster Novella (The Silver Foxes of Westminster #2.5)

Winterberry Spark: A Silver Foxes of Westminster Novella (The Silver Foxes of Westminster #2.5)

Merry Farmer

Chapter 1

London – January, 1879

Gilbert Phillips pulled up the collar of his coat against the icy wind that blew through the West End and tucked his hands in his pockets. One street over, the bright gaslight and cheery music of London’s great theaters filled the air, bathing the whole area in its glow. An occasional peal of laughter split through the whistling of the wind around the cold stone corners of the buildings that weren’t quite posh enough for respectable people to frequent.

Somewhere on the brighter side of the street, Gil’s employer, Mr. Alexander Croydon, was enjoying a night at the theater with his friend, Lady Katya Stanhope. The two were strictly friends, but Gil didn’t see how. Lady Stanhope was beyond desirable, in spite of her age. Perhaps because of it. She had kept her tantalizing shape over the years, and she had an air about her of a woman who knew what she wanted and would teach you how to give it to her if you didn’t already know. And just one look at her told any man he had a lot to learn.

Gil laughed at himself and shook his head, dodging around a fellow pedestrian prowling through the dodgy section of town. He wasn’t the first man to go lusting after Lady Stanhope. In fact, it was something of a rite of passage to wake up from a dream about the woman with a raging erection. It was not as though he ever planned to do anything about it. But it’d been long enough since the last time he’d been with a woman that thoughts of Lady Stanhope made the prostitutes that lurked in the shadows he passed seem like a good idea.

“Lookin’ for a bit o’ fun, lad?” one of the ladies called from the street corner ahead of him. In spite of the January frost, she wore her ragged coat unbuttoned and falling off her shoulders, her exposed corset tugged so low that one of her ample breasts spilled out the top, her nipple pebbled.

“Uff, look at that hair,” the whore’s slimmer companion cooed as Gil passed under a streetlight. “I love me a ginger,” she added, swiping her tongue along her painted lips. Two of her teeth were missing, and the rest didn’t look like they would last much longer.

“No, thank you, ladies,” Gil chuckled as he passed them. “I’m working.”

“You’re certainly working for me,” the slimmer whore sighed, rubbing her crotch.

Gil shook his head again and hurried across the intersection, laughing. The sad thing was, he was laughing at himself more than anything else, because, God help him, he was tempted. And yes, he was on his way back from an errand in the City, meeting with Mr. Croydon’s solicitor to finalize a financial deal, but Alex had said he could take the night off when he was done. It had been so long since he’d sunk into the perfumed embrace of a woman, felt that rush of excitement as their skin slid against each other, the heady fulfillment of orgasm while buried deep inside of a willing woman instead of just his own hand.

He slowed his steps and scanned the street for available goods, cursing Lady Stanhope for sending his thoughts down the sinful path in the first place, though truly, it wasn’t her fault. It didn’t matter how much he reminded himself that paying for a whore was sinking pitifully low, that they were riddled with disease, and patronizing one would only perpetuate a terrible injustice to the fairer sex. His balls were so heavy with need and his cock stiffening so fast that it was getting hard to walk. A few shillings might mean the difference between life or death to some unfortunate woman. He would be doing her a favor, helping her survive, contributing to her income. His patronage might be just what she needed to earn her way into a better life, where she could stop selling herself. And if he picked out one who looked a bit cleaner than the rest….

“Gilbert, you fecking fool,” he muttered to himself. He sucked in a breath, ready to pick up his pace, cross the street, and get away from the temptation. A hot bath and a quick wank back in his room at Croydon House would be enough for him to—

“Do you want a friend?”

The shy, shivering voice startled Gil out of his thoughts. He stopped in his tracks, turning to look at the woman who had stepped away from the alley between two shops. Her face was pale and dark circles rimmed her eyes. Her mousy, brown hair hung in limp waves over her shoulders. She wore no coat, only a threadbare shawl that hardly covered her bare arms. The swath of exposed skin above her thin chemise and corset was almost blue with cold. But it was the pleading in her large, brown eyes that grabbed him and held him to his spot.

“Aren’t you freezing?” he asked.

She nodded jerkily, hugging herself for a moment, then flinching, as if she were reminding herself not to cover her breasts. “Y-you could warm me up,” she said.

Gil’s heart twisted in his chest. Her words could have been a saucy enticement, but he had the sickening feeling she was serious. His gut told him she was probably so desperate for physical warmth she wouldn’t care who lifted her skirts.

“Do you have someplace to go?” he asked, stepping closer to her.

She sucked in a breath, swaying into him. She opened the top button of his coat and slid her hand inside to rest over his pounding heart. It was like being touched by ice.

“Come with me?” Her voice quivered, and her eyes filled with supplication.

The overwhelming urge to wrap the poor whore in his arms and just hold her until she wasn’t an icicle filled Gil. “All right.”

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