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Vax eyed his sister over the breakfast table Miss Liana had laden down with food—the hearty stuff that’d stick with you all morning, beans and bacon and freshly made biscuits, not the fancy frou-frou stuff they threw at their guests on their way out.

“So, that makes last night the third night young Mr. de Rolo has visited you this week, doesn’t it sister?”

Vex leveled a glare at him over her coffee. “You’re one to talk, brother. That Miss Keyleth has been in every night this week. Don’t tell me it’s just to lose at cards or to sample Miss Liana’s cooking.” She looked over at the young woman, who was already getting started on lunch for the household. “Not that it’s not lovely, dear. I know half the johns we get in are because of the way you can filet a salmon.”

Miss Liana hummed noncommittally under her breath and went right back to kneading the bread dough, but there was a small smile on her face that hadn’t been there before.

Vax pointed his fork at his twin, bringing her gaze right back to him. “Don’t change the subject, sister. You actually laughed at something he said in the parlor, and that weren’t your usual ‘oh, you’re so clever I’m so impressed laugh.’”

“You’ve categorized my laughs.”

“You're changing the subject…”

“Alright, alright.” She rolled her eyes, attempting to play it off. “So he’s actually somewhat amusing and I may genuinely laugh at something he says from time to time. So what?”

All the teasing in Vax’s expression melted away, and he picked up the mug before him to hide whatever it melted into—was that concern? Vex scowled.

“Just keep both eyes open, yeah?”

“I always do.”

He set the mug back on the polished oak, staring at where his hand still gripped it tight. “I know you don’t need my two cents in your decisions. You know how to handle yourself. Always have.” She raised an eyebrow as he continued. “I just don’t want to see you hurt. He’s just like the tossers back in Syngorn. He’ll make pretty overtures, but… he ain't gonna to follow through, yeah? That ‘take you away from all this,’ stuff is just for the dime novels. His family probably already has some pretty socialite all picked out for him, and he you know ain’t gonna go against them, no matter what he feels.”

Fucking hypocrite. As if he wasn’t flirting every night with the Princess of the Ashari instead of taking in proper custom. All the while knowing damn well the Ashari wouldn’t accept the girl taking up with no homme de joie, no matter his linage, or how they could make her laugh.

“He can make whatever pretty overtures he likes,” Vex snapped back, putting her mug on the table with none of her brother’s care. “So long as his gold is good. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She stood, brushing the crumbs off her modest brown walking dress, and straightened, mimicking the proud elves she’d grown up alongside in the tilt of her jaw, the disdain on her face. “I promised Pike I’d help her with the shopping.”

“Vex—” Vax was already on his feet, an apology already being put together in his head.

But she wasn’t ready to hear. She let her expression soften, just a tick, but she kept on walking. “I’ll see you later, Vax.”

***

“You know, Stringbean kind of has a point,” Pike said as she turned over an onion in her hand, checking for spots.

Vex groaned, thumping her head back against a stall post. Not an easy task with her hair all done up proper. “Oh, Pike. Not you too.”

Pike gave her friend a half-hearted smile and placed the onion in the basket next to her. “I’m just saying, he’s got those blue eyes, and a bit of silver in his tongue,” she sighed a little, only half-mocking, “and you wouldn’t be the first girl to be done all topsy-turvy like for a bit of charm and a nice set of peepers.”

Vex muttered under her breath.

“What was that Vex? You know Monsieur Gilmore don’t hold with muttering.” She said it so sunny, so cheerful, that Vex couldn’t hardly scrape her irritation back together.

“I said,” she said, “I ain’t all ass over teakettle for some rich boy just because his eyes are blue.”

“So why are you ass over teakettle for him?”

Vex tried to cut a glare at her friend, but Pike just laughed.

“It’s okay if you are? I ain't gonna judge, or tell you you should know better.”

“You ain't.”

“Nope.” Pike picked up a head of broccoli this time, one the size of her own head, judging its weight with one hand. For a small girl, Pike was strong as they come. She was the one they trusted to come in and save the day if a trick started getting mean or wasn’t taking no for an answer and Grog already had his hands full.

“Then why…?”

“Because I’ve seen that boy mooning at you. He may have started coming down for Professor Shorthalt’s music, like he told you. More like ‘cause that older brother of his decided it was time he ‘became a man’ or suchlike,” she rolled her eyes, and Vex let out a breath of a laugh. “But he keeps on coming back for you.”

“That’s good ain’t it? Regulars is always a good thing.”

“Regulars that know what they’re there for is a good thing. Regulars that actually fall for a girl? Real proper ass over teakettle love?” Pike gave a little shrug as she handed the broccoli over for Vex to put in her basket. Vex accepted it wearily, her brow furrowing as Pike continued. “That don’t usually end well. Either they start getting possessive, or…”

“Or?”

“Or with a family like young Mr. de Rolo has? They’re gonna want to settle him down with some angel what hasn’t ‘fallen.’”

“You sound like you’ve got some experience with this, Pike.”

Pike’s mouth twisted. “That’s a story for another day. Now help me with this basket. We gotta get this food to Miss Liana before the dinner crowd rushes in.”

Vex hefted Pike’s basket for her, knowing full well she could have handled it herself if she wanted, and trundled on down the road a half step behind her, worrying on her bottom lip.

It’d be fine. Percy wasn’t in love with her, right? And if he was, she’d just have to make sure they kept it professional like. Strictly professional like. That was her, professional, all over.

***

Since it was a Wednesday night, work was going easy and custom relatively light. Not too many men in the drawing room, or in the parlor across the hall, where Monsieur Gilmore had had a beautiful mahogany bar installed with the matching stools. Where Vex had instilled herself since coming back downstairs.

With the house so empty, the sound of Miss Kaylie’s singing and her father on the piano in the drawing room spread unhindered throughout the bottom half of the house. Sooner or later, Miss Kaylie would break out the fiddle and whip the whole house into a right mood, but just then everything was pretty. Almost sedate.

Almost boring.

With custom so slow that night, Allura and Pike were in the drawing room playing cards, which made four, and Vax had one of his gentleman at one of the small tables near the curtained windows, so that left Vex by her lonesome. She’d had one in tonight already, actually, but Jarrett had had an early shift and couldn’t pass the entire night with her, more’s the pity.

So she was at the long mahogany bar with a glass of cold, unsweetened tea passing for whiskey. At least, since the night weren’t too busy, Zahra had more than enough time to linger and chat in between taking care of the place.

Zahra mostly ran the bar, since, with her red skin and her curling ram’s horns and all, she was considered a bit of a specialized taste. At least her regulars had very specialized taste. Not that Zahra was complaining—those regulars were always free with their coin, and she enjoyed what she did. And when the john wanted someone else joining in, either as a witness or a participant, Vex got to play too.

In her professional opinion, Zahra was entirely wasted behind the bar.

It was somewhere around ten or so that Zahra had flashed a sharp grin, her gaze flicking towards the door. "Your young man is here," she purred.

That might be what irritated Vex out of all of the teasing and commentary; everyone in the house thought Percy was just the naive second son of a wealthy landbaron. And alright, yeah, he'd been a blushing virgin when his elder brother had ushered him through those doors, and hadn't quite known what to do with himself once Julius had gone to enjoy Allura's many, many charms. But he weren't some yearling lamb.

“He ain’t mine,” Vex said, rolling her eyes. But she did straighten up in her seat and take her elbows off of the polished wood, slipping into that prim persona she took on with the johns, all sparking wit and laughing eyes. The pretty, proper mirror-girl without a speck of baggage or bad feeling.

The smile though, the smile was real.

She forced herself not to turn around, watching in the mirror behind the bar as Percival de Rolo—call me Percy, ma’am—bid Grog hello and removed his hat, revealing the brown mess of his hair underneath. He was dressed up proper at least. He always was, though his body belied days of hard labor at a forge or tinkering at some latest contraption, he was always kitted up right for a baron’s son when he came to see her.

He was eager, maybe trying a little too hard to impress, but he wasn’t naïve, she thought as she heard him approach. Inexperienced, sure. But once Vex had gotten him upstairs, he had been quick and keen and ready to learn. And he was quickly growing into a new confidence.

Case and point: a month ago he never would have come right up to the bar and sat right down beside her, catching Zahra's attention with a cocky little grin and a wave, ordering "Green Tear Whiskey and another of whatever the lady is having," like he'd been born to it.

He had been born to it, Vex reminded herself. The fact that he was starting to act like it just meant that if the eldest de Rolo's had had a plan asides a little fun, it was working charmlike.

Zahra placed the glasses in front of them and, with the ease of long practice, made herself scarce without going anywhere at all. Only then did Vex let herself turn a little in her seat, a small smile on her face.

Percy, for his part, leaned over to her to her immediately, glass in hand, those famous blue eyes seeming to shine in the low light of the in-house bar. Even behind his spectacles. “Good evening.”

Vex leaned in just a bit, murmuring “Night, really. You’re in a bit later than usual,” before she could stop herself. She managed to wrangle teasing into her tone, but inside she was already cursing herself out for a fool. Just because he was usually in long enough to spend the whole night with her, and she’d had enough time to see to Jarrett this evening … gods, and with Zahra right there, too. Everyone was going to think Vax was right.

“I’m so sorry, Lizzie,” he said, using her house name. The only name he knew her by; Lizzie Dove, chosen as a counterpoint to Vax’s simple, dramatic “Raven.”

A part of her—a very small part of her— regretted that he didn’t know her real name, but at least she’d gotten him to stop trying to call her Elizabeth.

“I was working on my latest project, and time sort of got away from me again,” he offered her a small, apologetic smile. “I think I finally got the trick of it. It’s this device, you see, that contains a sort of galvanic cell, so, when activated could sort of project electricity into flesh, thereby rendering a person…” he trailed off, a flush rising in his cheeks. “But you don’t want to hear about that.”

“No, no, I do. It sounds fascinating.” She leaned in, placing a hand lightly on his arm. “I’ve never heard of such a weapon before.”

Something in his shoulders relaxed as soon as the pads of her fingers met the fine blue wool of his frock coat. He curled his fingers inward until they were just gracing hers. “Really. I’d much rather hear about your day.”

Vex swallowed, feeling like he’d pressed that galvanic cell to her skin. Her tricks never asked after her like that. Not even Jarrett cared, and he was otherwise the picture of a gentleman, for all he was a city guard.

What even was she supposed to say? Well, I went shopping with my friend Pike—that’s Joy, as you’d know her— and then I had an old regular’s cock down my throat.

He was full of questions like that. First night they met, he’d asked where she was from, after her family, and not in the sort of judging way the hypocritical bints from the Women’s Erathian Anti-Prostitution and Soiled Dove Rescue League would, all “what would your mother think to see you fallen so low,” but honest. Like he actually wanted to know.

Vex had stared at him long enough that he'd retracted the question, sputtering apologies, and she'd had to change the subject by pointing out Vax across the room flirting with his own gent, and make some crack about patrons liking twins, which had made Percy go even more red. But she'd been touched that he asked.

Now, faced with his latest probing question, she just took a sip of that cold, bitter tea, let the taste remind her where she was, and composed herself. “Oh, my day was rather boring, darling.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be.” She leaned in, just enough that he could peek down over the lace to her décolletage. And peek he did. That was enough to right her feet underneath her. “It’s not so boring anymore.”

***

She got him upstairs in record time. Most of the other rooms were empty— though it looked like Vax had gotten his gentleman into the Rose Room. Which was completely fine, because the Bluebell Room was open, and that was her favorite room anyway.

Sure, it was like most of their other working rooms: Comfortable, well appointed, but without anything too fragile or actually expensive, but there was a fetching blue and white rug against the polished wood floor, and a beautifully thick cerulean duvet covered the featherbed that took up most of the room, matching the painted flowers chasing up and down the walls. And the window looked over the west, where the blue waters of Dagger Bay rolled sweetly into Emon Harbor.

She guided him over to the bed, shoving his bothersome coat off his shoulders along the way, sending all that fine blue wool to the floor. She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck, using her leverage to pull him into a kiss.

He went willingly, mouth crashing into hers, his arms wrapping around her waist to pull her ever closer.

And after a moment or two of this, Vex let her hands untangle from the nape of Percy’s neck, and slipped down to his cravat, her nimble fingers quick to loosen the strip of silk and toss it aside. Then she went in for his shirt, quickly unbuttoning it and sending the crisp white linen to the floor. Only after she was done, when the pale planes of his body were visible, did she break the kiss. Her eyes swept appreciatively over his chest, before flicking back up to meet his gaze, grinning.

Percy looked back at her, lips still parted and bee-stung, pupils already blown wide, his cheeks starting to pink. It was a good look on him, that level of awe. That amount of lust.

She rose up to take his mouth with hers again, but Percy ducked his head, and she froze. “Is something wrong?”

“No, no. Wrong? No nothing’s wrong. It’s just…”

“It’s just...?”

“This is nice, it really is.” Vex snorted at the word ‘nice,’ and Percy’s mouth twitched. “You know what I mean. And I love—what we do, whether you or I are on top—”

“Which do you like better?”

It was the barest change of hue but she caught it, from orchid pink to carnation, and he avoided her eyes. “When you’re on top.” Vex’s smile spread slowly. “But that’s neither here nor there, right now.”

On the contrary, she thought. It was very here, very now. But. “What do you mean?”

“Just that…” he drew himself up, clearing his throat. "Just that there was something new I wanted to try,” he admitted.

Her eyebrows rose, her interest peaked. "Oh? Like what?"

"Well, it's just. The thing you did a few nights ago. With your mouth" he replied trying for a deliberate and off-hand manner, which was belied by the darker blush currently creeping up his neck, and the way his hands tightened around her waist. "And I wanted to return the favor so I've been reading up on, er. Cunnelingus and...

"Ooooooh. I know what you mean." The wicked grin came back as she peered up at him. "Worshipping Sehanine." She wiggled her eyebrows. "Or practicing Celestial." That one was a favorite of Pike’s. "Trust you to find the fancy word."

"You know what I mean." He said, shoulders fell from around his ears, and he could suddenly meet her eyes, searching. "So you've... done this before?" He didn’t seem disgusted, at least, though he did look a little put out.

"Of course I have," she replied, with a soft, fond smile. "I have been both the worshipper and the altar. Some men like to watch." She added when his brow furrowed.

"Ah." His hands loosened a little.

She winced internally, but kept that fond smile directed at him. There was an art to that, directing a smile at someone. At making them the only person in the world. “Sorry, darling.” She reached for him, her hand cupping under his chin, forcing his gaze back to hers, and she saw him melt under that smile. “You know we don’t have to…”

“Did you enjoy it?” he asked softly, eyes searching hers.

Gods above, he was the oddest of ducks. Another man might have spat those words at her, accusing. As if they didn’t know what she did for a living.

She nodded.

“Then how come you never told me? Never asked me to? I would have--”

“Percy,” she said softly. “I mean, I could teach you, if you want.” His future wife would certainly be grateful, if she wasn’t a total priss. “But these meetings of ours? They’re for your benefit, Percy. It doesn’t matter if I—”

“It matters to me.”

It came out so earnest. Four simple words. She knew all about words, knew all about their weight, knew all about the kind of sincerity that was as false as Madame Dierdre’s left leg.

Back on track, Vex. These are dangerous waters.

“Well,” she said, getting herself back up on her elbows so she could look at him proper. “With another man I might of. But you’re already so good with your hands, darling. I thought you might kill me if you used your tongue too.”

He ducked his head.

“But if you really want to try, of course.” It’s your copper, she finished silently.

“Okay. Okay,” he glanced back up at her without moving his head, eyes meeting hers over the rim of his glasses. “So. Where do we start?”

“How about we finish getting you undressed.”

“You first,” he said, and she just caught the own mischief in his smile before his arms tightened about her waist and he picked her up in one smooth motion, Vex laughing as he whirled her around and deposited gently her onto the bed. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but under all those proper baronet layers he had arms like a blacksmith’s, and Vex’s weight didn’t trouble him at all.

Which gave her quite a few delicious ideas about wall sex, but that would have to come later.

“Alright,” she acquiesced in between giggles. “Me first.”

He kissed her again, just a quick press of the lips, and then he was sliding down her body until his knees met the floor, and gods, but wasn’t he a pretty picture like that, at her feet, his shirt off, his hair all disheveled, his nimble, clever fingers slowly working off the buttons of her boots, not even needing a buttonhook to pry them open.

She bit her lip in anticipation, just watching him as he set her boots aside with the utmost care, as he rose up on his knees and slid his hands up the backs of her stockinged legs his work-roughened hands catching just a little on the silk, arms raising all the petticoats and crinoline as he moved.

She paused him, just a moment, to gently remove his spectacles and place them on the table. Then she had to stop and admire his unshielded eyes for a moment (damn Pike again for putting it into her head), but they really were quite pretty. A shade or two lighter than the rich blue of his coat, even darkened and simmering with anticipation.

She bit was biting harder on her bottom lip as she tried not to squirm, his hands having reached the top, and nodded for him to continue.

With her permission, Percy slowly undid each stay, then slid each stocking off, one at a time, and carefully set them by before taking her right ankle in his hands.

“If you’re looking to worship,” Vex said, raising an eyebrow. “I think you’ll find the altar is up here, darling.” She tapped her mons with the flat of her hand. Or at least the approximate area, hidden as it was by her navy blue dupioni working dress, but she thought it rather got her point across.

“Patience, dear,” was the reply.

She narrowed his eyes to tell him exactly where to put his patience, but the look in his eyes ripped the words from her throat. He had this infuriating little smirk on his pressure-reddened lips, and mischief sparking in his eyes and she quite forgot what she was going to say.

“After all,” he continued, lifting her leg up so he could kiss the top of her ankle. “It was you who taught me the importance of foreplay.”

Sehanine’s tits.

He kissed up her leg like that, each one petal-light. Ankle, calf, top of her knee, inseam of her thigh. Then he reached the top of her thigh he kissed her once, very near where she was wet and open and wanting, and drew away, which elicited a disappointed whimper from Vex. He just flashed her another knowing smile, gently moved her leg to leave a place for him between her thighs.

“What in the nine hells do you think you're doing?" she asked as he started back in on her other leg with a soft brush of his lips against her ankle.

He paused, mischief-lit eyes flicking up to hers. "Worshipping. Now hush or I'll have to start my litany all over again."

She glared at him, but pressed her lips together, knotting her hands in the sheets so she wouldn't shove his face into her throbbing cunt. She almost wished he'd bound her, like most of Zahra's clients liked. Then she wouldn't have to keep still on her own.

Percy left barest of kisses at the top of her foot, then on the meat of her calf. Slowly he slipped up her legs, pressing his lips to the back of her knee, then moved up her thigh, his hands coming with him this time to push up her petticoats, then to wrap around her thigh. His fingers spread so she could feel his callouses, and every indent and wave on the pads of his fingers making her skin pebble in their wake.

Her heart was a storm rolling in, her body lightning ready to ground, suspended in the flash between breaths before it strikes home, and as much as she just wanted him to dive in already, she held herself still.

She was soaking by the time he finally reached her black fletched mound. He slid a finger inside and she let out of soft gasp, looking down the curve of her body at him. She could see the traces of a smirk in his eyes as he twisted that finger, brushing the tip against her pearl, making her gasp again, and her thighs twitch with the need to clench.

Then he withdrew his finger, and she glared down at him, ready to tell him to get back to work, gold be damned, when he lowered his mouth to her heat, and showed her what his silvered tongue could really do.

He started off slowly, exploring, taking note of what sound each movement elicited, what made her thighs clamp around his head. Then, when she was starting to quake apart, he pressed the flat of his tongue against her pearl, and suspended lightning lanced through her, her back arching with the force of it. She couldn’t control her hands anymore. Sometime in the last flash one had found the back of Percy’s head, and it was tightening in his soft brown hair, urging him onward, probably pulling just a little too tight. But by the quick, hot breaths on the apex of his thigh, the occasional throaty sounds he made, he didn’t mind at all.

She’d have to remember that.

As he seemed to remember everything. Every time a sweep of his tongue forced a sound from her throat he did it again and again until moving onto some other equally delightful maneuver, tongue circling her pearl then, dancing away to drive her mad, that shimmering edge of electricity becoming more and more blinding.

She was close, she could feel it, she just needed a little more...

"Percy, your fingers."

His tongue flicked again, and she received a muffled "hm?" in reply.

"Your fingers. I need them inside of me. Please."

He complied, one of his rough calloused fingers slipping inside of her heat, searching until she let out a low keen.

"Just like that. Now another one. Just one more and--"

A second slipped in, and she gloried in that fullness, the shining electric cusp, her thighs shaking from where they encircled her lover's head.

"Yes,” she gasped. “Now, just, curl them in and then--"

He curled his fingers so they hit her sweet spot, simultaneously renewing his assault on her pearl, sweeping over it in the way that had made her gasp breathlessly before.

"Right there, right--"

The delicious electricity that had been building up inside her grounded all at once, the flash of orgasm and the echoing pleasure rolling through her as she road that wave, body clenching around him, breath and senses all at once wiped white, until she was left shaken, wide eyed and staring at the ceiling.

After a moment or two of stunned silence, she gathered herself up to look at him. "Not bad for your first time."

He laughed, and she grinned back. "I've been told I had a gift for tongues."

It was bad. It was a bad line. By rights she should have taken the pillow beside her and hit him with it, but she leaned down and kissed her taste from his mouth.

When she pulled away, his smile had gone shy. "I uh," he cleared his throat. "I'm glad I was able to please."

Whoever his family was going to sell him off to was one lucky bird, Vex thought.

“You did,” she assured him. “You very much did. I can’t believe you got all that from a book.”

“Only the start,” he admitted, gaze dropping. “I… built upon the explanation some, and you helped.” She raised an eyebrow, and he continued, his cheeks going pink. “Following your instructions of course. And watching you,” he explained. “Has anyone ever told you how wonderfully expressive you are?”

She blinked at him.

“Watching you... it was transcendent. You’re magnificent,” he breathed, and her heart about nearly stopped. She knew from fake sincerity, and that… that was 24 karat honest.

Fuck, she thought frantically. Maybe Pike was right. Maybe he has gone ass over teakettle for me.

But it wasn’t until he gathered himself up on his knees, and she saw the flush of breathlessness on his cheeks, the outright earnestness in his eyes, that her own breath vanished from her lungs. He crawled up onto the bed towards her, kicking his own boots off along the way. She couldn’t move. She just stared, just froze like any spooked deer, any trapped hare, and let him slide up close to her, let him press his lips to hers.

It was a sweet kiss, nice and slow, and it set her heart doing triplets. Reminded her why she usually kept kissing off the menu.

“You were magnificent, Lizzie,” he repeated as he pulled away. “So, so beautiful. Thank you, for letting me.”

The sound of her house name was a January downpour on her head, and she blinked, hard. Fuck.

She needed to get some distance, she needed air she needed—she needed to get back in control.

“I haven’t done nothing for you to thank me for,” she said softly. Voice low, words slow, so she could pretend she was calm, and not like her head and heart were trying to outpace a tiger. She fit herself back into place. “Not yet, anyway.”

And she smiled that lazy, practiced smile that the johns loved, the one that said she had a wicked streak and could give just as good as she got. She sidled herself up on her knees and pushed him down with one hand, the other fishing him out of his trousers. She needed both hands to actually push them past the curve of his ass, but once he was free she raised herself up, swirling the rest of her skirts out of the way.

“Lizzie, you don’t have to—”

A gentle squeeze at the base of his cock quieted him right quick, though, and she couldn’t help but give him a wink as he twitched. “Hush, darling. Let me take care of you.”

She wrapped that beautiful cock in a sheepskin and mounted him with a swirl of her skirts, then slid herself down on him, inch by beautiful inch, until he was filling her up and the line of his breath broke. Then, then she began to move, setting her focus on building a rhythm between them, on her hands on his shoulders, her ears full of the harsh sound of their mingled salt breaths, on his soft, stuttering moans. The slap of flesh on flesh.

This was the world. Not on the way her heart fluttered when he smiled, or the sound of his laugh, or the way her cheeks warmed when he complimented her wit or her observational skills rather than the size of her tits or the shape of her ass. Not the way he actually wanted to know her, to know her ambitions, to know how she took her coffee the morning after. Not the way he looked at her when he was at her feet, or his shyness when he asked if she was enjoying herself.

And as she felt his climax build, cock twitching inside of her—and her own orgasm building alongside— all she could think was Fuck. Vax was fucking right.

I’m am so screwed.