A Lady’s Delights — Chapter 1 Preview

Cassandra touched the end of one finger to the tip of her tongue, moistening it ever so slightly, and turned the page of her novel. She sighed as the young man it described — a handsome suitor in the prime of his life, with dark hair and a tan complexion — leaned the lady of his interests against a tree. Their bodies pressed together in a way that, even though the author described them as mostly dressed, still brought a blush of pink to her cheeks. It was simply scandalous, she thought to herself with a shiver.

“Lady Cassandra?”

The young lady looked up and past the brim of her hat, bent down to shade the fair skin of her face from the warmth of the afternoon sun. Her maid had approached from elsewhere in the walled gardens, smiling as she always did. Skin a warm brown in color was half covered by long, black hair, a white scarf tied under her chin to hold its length away from her eyes. Her young figure was wrapped neatly in the plain, black dress of a servant, her white apron crisply ironed and tied in a bow at the base of her spine.

She was a lady from the Continent, though Cassandra was never quite clear from which nation she originally immigrated from. It left an air of mystery between the two of them, she supposed. It caused her to look forward to the moments throughout the day when their paths would cross each other.

Cassandra smiled and acknowledged the servant girl’s presence, nodding as the other woman balanced a silver tray on one hand. “Goodness Lord,” she said, glancing up to look for the sun in the sky, and found it descending towards the roof of her estate. “Is it tea already? I swear, Estelle, I should have a clock placed in every room, not to mention this garden.”

Estelle nodded, the gesture displacing not a single hair from underneath her scarf. “Your tea and your delights, my Lady.”

Cassandra perked up at that.

Estelle handed her the small, covered dish, waiting until Cassandra held it in her lap before starting to pour her tea. Cassandra moistened her lip, excitement building beneath her breast as she lifted the lid to expose her delights.

There, laid out on the china, was a line of three miniature human figures, their limbs tied and bound together, their torsos covered in a glaze and powdered spice to cover their nakedness. Each lay motionless on the small plate, staring up at her, waiting.

Her delights, she thought, her mouth starting to water in anticipation. An illicit little treat she bred with her servant’s help, and the sole source of her income. They were alive, marvelously alive; she could see their tiny chests rising and falling as she hovered over them. All three were male, as was her preference; she enjoyed the female ones from time to time, but there was just something about the male variety she found particularly delicious.

Her long, slender fingers floated above their bodies, pausing a moment over each as she decided which she wished to enjoy first. Estelle had seasoned each one differently, a small sampling of the flavors she was preparing to sell this season. The mint one seemed as though it would go best with the scent of the tea Estelle was pouring, she decided, sliding two fingers around the tiny man as she picked him up.

“They’re the most recent vintage to come of age,” Estelle said, matter-of-factually.

She examined the boy, turning him from side to side. One finger brushed along the creature’s spine; a quiet giggle fluttered past her lips as she watched him shiver beneath his mint coating. She breathed deep, drawing the scent of mint inside of her. “They look healthier every year.”

Her servant nodded. “The more I study the book, my Lady, the better I learn to care for them.”

The book, she mused. It was magic, after all, that bound the delights to their shrunken form. Her house and her family held many secrets, secrets that were buried deep underground in an ancient room the house was built on top of. The hidden room was a treasure trove of forgotten, forbidden knowledge; things she once believed were confined to lurid fantasies printed in cheap novels.

The letter she discovered in her parents’ belongings, though, made it clear that no, these things were real. It took weeks of searching for her and Estelle to find the entrance; when they did, though, a new world of possibilities opened with it. The pages of the ancient tome they discovered contained the awful knowledge of how to shrink a human being down to size fit for one to consume. Desperate to retain possession of her family’s estate, it was her last, best chance to sell something truly spectacular.

The first stock were beggars and petty thieves, forgotten men and women taken from the streets and drugged with the compounds described in the book. The first, a boy, she ate bare — no dressing, no glaze, simply the bare taste of his skin inside her mouth. That sensuous flavor of something terrible on her tongue, the feel of it writhing as it slid down her throat, and the realization that her body held something alive within it, sent power surging through her blood. Hundreds, she realized, would pay for this pleasure, and she would charge them a premium for that luxury.

None noticed, or cared, for the disappearances; the penniless and destitute of the city disappeared all of the time, the victims of this or that horrid crime. It was simply an artifact of society in Angliea, the forgotten byproduct of the social tiers that kept money flowing properly and greased the gears of burgeoning industry. That a few disappeared every month, every year was of no consequence so long as the factories remained sufficiently staffed. Cassandra herself could care less; she was a self-made woman and she was, at least, giving these poor souls more purpose than they otherwise would ever have possessed in the world.

She slipped the first slowly between her lips, pushing it inside, tasting the mint as the boy slid onto her tongue. It was refreshing, cool as the breeze through her auburn hair. Her tongue moved the tiny, bound body forward and back along its length, tasting the natural flavor of his skin as the mint glaze and cream drizzle melted away in the humid heat of her mouth. If sunshine possessed a flavor, she thought to herself, it was surely captured in this tiny creature’s skin. Dry, warm, with the slightest hint of salt.

The corner of her mouth turned up as she swallowed, sending the young man into her throat to descend into the depths of her body. She took the napkin Estelle offered her, blotting specks of mint flavor from her lips before accepting the warm cup of tea the woman handed her. She chased her tiny prisoner with the liquid, the bittersweet taste filling her body, warmth chasing the cool mint down into her core.

“Are they to your liking?”

She looked up and nodded to Estelle as she set her cup down to pick up another delight; the cinnamon dusted one this time. “Oh, yes,” she said. “You always prepare them perfectly. The mint complimented his taste marvelously… more of your studies, I take it, Estelle?”

The dark-haired woman shook her head. “I am simply applying my kitchen work to this, my Lady.”

“Marvelous.” She placed the next treat into her mouth, nearly coughing as the bite on cinnamon hit her palette. Her tongue shoved the tiny body against the roof of her mouth, sandwiching him between that rigid surface and the thicker cushion beneath him. She could feel him struggling, surely panicking at the violent force she’d exerted on him.

Carefully, she lowered her tongue, curling the muscle around him as she allowed her mouth to water up. When she felt him start to slide, she tipped her head back and swallowed, coughing again as soon as he fell past the entrance of her airway. Estelle moved quickly, pouring a small glass of ice water for her employer.

Cassandra’s hand lunged out for it, nearly knocking the crystal glass from the girl’s tray before she wrapped her hand around it. She clung to the cool glass, letting water pour over her tongue and down her throat, soothing the over-stimulated taste buds. “Sorry,” she said, blushing at how roughly she’d grabbed for the water.

“It’s nothing, my Lady. Are you alright?”

She nodded, allowing her breath a moment to slow to normal before having more tea. There was one more of the delights left in the dish, white chocolate and brown sugar this time. She looked up at Estelle, smiling at the girl. “Have you tasted the new vintage yet, dear?”

Her servant blinked, balancing her tray on one hand as she held the other to her breast. “I… why no, my Lady. That wouldn’t be proper. The stock are your property, after all; I have no right to taste them without your knowledge.”

Cassandra waved a hand at her, shaking her head. “Oh, don’t start with that nonsense. They’re your work as much as mine, and it’s your efforts that keep this stock managed.”

“My Lady…” Estelle blushed; it was rather cute, Cassandra thought to herself.

She picked the last of her delights up, holding it carefully between two fingers as she raised her hand toward Estelle. “Here, you have the last one. A show of thanks, for your service to me.”

The rose color on Estelle’s cheeks burned brighter; the sight stirred something in Cassandra, lighting a fire within a heart as easily as her novel did. The servant girl stammered for a moment, shaking her head. “I… I really couldn’t, my Lady.”

“Oh, of course you could.”

She reached out with her other hand, taking Estelle’s, leading her to lean over her while remaining careful not to knock the platter of dishes from her servant’s other hand. She hadn’t noticed just how nicely the girl’s dress was tailored to her figure, how neatly it conformed to the shape of her body, the flat plane of her belly and the broad span of her hips. She had never seen the woman undressed; it would be unseemly, of course, to look upon her servant in such a state. It was certainly her right, being of a higher station than her servant, but the thought of an aristocrat expressing her longing for the touch of one of her servants was entirely unbecoming of her position.

Still, though, her mind raced at flashes of the girl’s skin through her stockings at her ankles as she walked, at glimpses of her neck and collarbone.

She brought the chocolate-flavored delight to Estelle’s lips, slowly easing him into her mouth. The girl’s mouth opened to accept the snack, blush still covering her face beneath her closed eyes. Estelle’s tongue caught hold of the treat, dragging him inside, pulling him out of Cassandra’s fingers, bit by bit.

Cassandra’s fingers brushed against the girl’s lips; for the briefest moment, she felt the slightest pang of envy for the boy resting against her tongue. He was gaining a more intimate knowledge of this woman than she ever could, would know her in ways impossible to her. Her fingertips hesitated to pull away from those lips, their soft, cushioning flesh keeping her digits close like a magnet.

She was not one of those ladies, she told herself as she watched Estelle suckling on the boy within her mouth, cheeks shifting each time as the tongue hidden inside squeezed at the body it held. Men were handsome, men were attractive, and the thought of one filling her made her think sensual, improper things when she fell asleep at night. That heat that could split her open and surge deep into her body, the feeling of capturing part of her lover within herself forever, was spine tingling. What woman, she scolded herself, could ever provide her with such a feeling?

And yet, and yet, there was a mystery and a beauty to this girl, to this particular girl, that she wanted to dive down into. She wanted to penetrate her interior, to flood and fill and overwhelm her body just as she longed for someone to do to her. The delight she suckled on in her mouth would do so, she realized, if only for a short time while her body broke him down into the raw material it would use to sustain every particle of her being. That, even she could not provide.

Her fingers traced back along Estelle’s face from her lips, down until it met the line of her jaw and back to her throat. She felt the twitch of the girl’s tongue pushing her snack backward, the motion of her throat muscles relaxing to open the passage to admit him down to her stomach. Then, he was in her throat, fingers tracing the lump descending along Estelle’s neck as she swallowed until they met the collar of her dress. The boy slipped out of sight, sealed forever within Estelle’s body.

Estelle breathed, licking her lips before covering her mouth, embarrassed.

“Definitely a good vintage?” Cassandra asked, blushing herself as she pulled her arm back. It took every effort not to touch her fingertips to her servant’s mouth, again.

“D… definitely, my Lady.”

“Very good. Thank you.” She cradled her tea cup in her hands, its contents already lukewarm, not nearly as warm as Estelle’s skin. “I… I will be in when I am finished with my novel. I would like to attend to my correspondence before I sit down for dinner tonight. If I’ve not left the garden an hour from now, please come and remind me?”

Her servant girl nodded before taking the now-empty dish and hurrying away, the click of her shoes on the stone path through the garden receding faster than they had approached earlier. Cassandra exhaled, resting a hand on her stomach, feeling it start to squeeze and work at the tea and food now filling its interior. She smiled and, once Estelle comfortably out of sight, wafted her fingertips under her nose. The girl’s lips smelt strongly of vanilla; a shiver ran through her as she imagined licking that taste from them.

She turned back to where she’d left off with her novel, but her thoughts were no longer on the couple described in its pages — they wandered, instead, to Estelle. Images of the servant girl laying under her, her clothing tossed aside onto the floor, the girl’s body growing steadily bigger as she grew smaller and landed between breasts normally held tightly under her simple dress. Fingers that served her food, that handled her laundry and dusted her furniture plucked her from her chest and dangled her over her mouth. That sweet, pink-rimmed portal opened wide beneath her, beckoned her, sealed behind her as Estelle trapped her inside and swallowed.

Cassandra’s hands lay over her lap, her desire surging through her body. She imagined the view the delight she fed her had as he slipped past the back of her tongue and into her throat, soft, silken walls wrapping tightly around him. She raised one hand to her heart, imagining the echo of the organ within Estelle’s chest in her ears. The warm embrace of her belly, deadly as it was, was so inviting that she could not push its call from her thoughts; deep in some hidden recess of her passions, she longed to dwell inside that beautiful woman’s body.

She cursed under her breath and set the book aside again. That settled matters, she told herself. She would invite the girl to her study for tea after dinner. Perhaps, she thought, picturing the girl’s puckered lips from behind closed eyes, she would share a delight or two with her, as well.

Scandalous, she thought. Deliciously so.

Eventually, after thoroughly giving up on her novel, Cassandra went inside. There was work waiting for her in her office atop the grand stairway in the foyer. As much as she enjoyed the pleasure of literature and her daydreams about her servant girl to balancing figures and responding to requests, it was the work conducted there that ensured she could continue to live a life of relative leisure.

The office was once her bedroom; a small space, one that evolved slowly over time from a nursery into a child’s room, and from there to the bedroom of an adolescent girl. The walls were still covered in the warm pastel paper her father himself put into place, though faded with age and sunlight, the same paper they’d had since she was a little girl.

The furniture, though, was long gone and replaced with more adult fixtures. The bed below the window, replaced with a writing desk; the chest of stuffed toys and wooden playthings set aside in favor of bookshelves filled mainly with ledgers and records of transactions conducted — the sale of tins filled with her delights. Volume after volume, bound in dark leather with dates embossed with gold leaf on the spine of each, declared the span of more than a decade of transactions conducted with the whole of the Angliean aristocracy. Cassandra slipped one from its place, one of the newer volumes, and thumbed through its pages. The names of lady after lady — it was always the ladies, she thought to herself, their husbands and lovers too preoccupied elsewhere — followed one another down page after page, often repeating themselves.

“Lady Cassandra?”

She spun about, breath catching in her throat, only easing its way out of her mouth when she saw that it was just Estelle at the door. “I must have been in a daze,” she said, setting the ledger back into its place.

“Perhaps you’ve had too much sun?”

Cassandra laughed and walked deeper into the room, turning the chair to face Estelle before seating herself. “Oh, don’t tell me you really believe that.”

Estelle smiled. Cassandra noticed the envelopes in her hands, and looked back up at her servant’s face. “More mail? Business, I might imagine. No one ever sends me casual correspondence…”

“I suppose it is, my Lady.” Estelle approached, and began handing the envelopes to Cassandra. The first bore a wax seal with an intricate design, Cassandra’s lashes fluttering as she blinked at it.

“A royal seal?” Cassandra said as she sliced the slender blade of a letter opener under the wax circle and withdrew the folded paper within the envelope. The penmanship was exquisite; Cassandra’s smile grew as she scanned down the page to the signature at its end. “Her Royal Highness, Anne Lauderlie. My! The daughter of Her Majesty…”

Estelle seemed hardly moved by Cassandra’s excitement. “She wrote to you?”

“Indeed she has, expressing an interest in my delights.” Cassandra nearly shook with excitement, her eyes flying up and down the page, reading the princess’ words again and again. “It turns out a friend of hers stayed for a weekend and brought a tin with her for the two to share. She found the taste quite exquisite and — dare she say it! — curiously erotic. The pulse of warmth, living, moving warmth, sinking into her body makes her shiver, she says, the thought that the sweet on her tongue was a living being, that she was letting some tiny creature into such a hidden place… oh!”

Estelle offered the slightest of smiles as she set the remainder of Cassandra’s mail on her desk. “You seem as excited as Her Highness, to be entirely honest.”

“How can I not be! Oh, I must respond to her quickly, quickly, perhaps even mail a bit of a sampler to her discretely…” Cassandra set the royal letter aside and turned to the other envelopes, opening each in turn. Several more requests spilled out before her, promising swift payments for sizable deliveries of the tiny, candy- and chocolate-dipped beings. Each letter, extolling the writer’s intense pleasure experienced when consuming her product, broadened her smile.

It was Estelle who noticed the last remaining, unopened letter. “From Lady Wilemere…”

The smile faded from Cassandra’s face as she snapped the letter up from the desk, striking the opener through it’s wax seal. “Demanding money from me, no doubt.”

“She may be placing an order,” Estelle suggested. “Lady Wilemere is fond of the delights, herself.”

“She’s also fond of badgering me about my property.” She sighed in relief as she opened the letter; it was, as her servant suggested, no more than a letter seeking to order delights. Cassandra folded the letter back onto itself, placing it into one of the open slots above the desk’s worktop. “Violette waves the title of this house over my head like a schoolboy dangles his peer’s hat out of reach.”

“Yet, she spends freely from her purse to pay the extraordinary prices for your delights.”

“She does, yes.” Cassandra pushed thoughts of Violette from her mind, bringing the pleading letter from the Princess back in front of her. She licked her lips as she dipped a pen into its inkwell, starting her response to Her Highness’ request. “It is an uncomfortable stalemate, and I’d much rather have it ended once and for all.”

“In your favor, naturally,” said Estelle, standing patiently with her hands laid against the apron draped over her skirt.

“Naturally,” said Cassandra, without lifting her eyes from her writing. There was little to be done about Violette, though. She owned more than just the Selby estate; she owned a considerable portion of Angliea’s property outside of what belonged to the Crown. Her wealth dwarfed all but the Queen’s, and her hands were in the wallets and bank accounts of every branch of the overgrown tree that was the aristocracy. Confronting such a vast financial empire, one that she depended upon, would be suicidal. She would be penniless and broken within days, the last of the Selby line locked away within a debtors’ prison, a further dishonor to her ancestry as far as her peers were concerned.

Cassandra set her pen down and looked over her shoulder at Estelle, the servant still standing by her side. “Was there anything else?”

“Only that dinner will be ready soon, my Lady.”

“Very well,” she said, plunging herself back into the letter she was writing. Thoughts of Violette faded as she hoped. Instead of being replaced by Her Highness’ words, though, she found them occupied by the sights of Estelle’s lips, wrapped around the delight she’d fed her earlier that afternoon. Something shivered through the depths of her body, her heart trembling at the sight of her servant’s features in such sharp focus in her mind’s eye. Unable to peel her mind away from that image, she set her pen down and turned to Estelle, shifting her chair across the floor to face her servant.

“Is something the matter?” Estelle asked, a bit started startled by her mistress’ sudden movement.

“No, nothing’s the matter…” Cassandra said, laying her hands atop one another in her lap, turning her eyes up to look into Estelle’s. Irises of warm browns, oranges, and yellows encircled the darker apertures that were her windows out on the world. “I would like to ask… to ask if you would join me at dinner, tonight.”

Estelle’s lips parted, the young woman stepping back at such a bold request. “My Lady,” she said, her voice hushed despite the fact that they were alone together in the house, “that would hardly be proper!”

Cassandra shook her head, though. “That hardly matters,” she said, her own voice hushed as well. “This is a house of many improper things. What is one more, on top of the rest?”

The other woman shook her head. “Nonetheless, it is hardly something to be so casual about. Your family’s good name should not be pinned to such things.”

“This family’s name has already been thoroughly dragged through the mud.” Cassandra sighed and pushed her chair back, rising up out of it. “You’ve surely heard how people talk about my mother and father. Lurid tales of murder, or accusations that they abandoned everything, abandoned their every responsibility to start another life in another land.”

Estelle closed her eyes, ever-so-subtly shaking her head. “Such tales are owed more the to sensational imaginations of the idle rich, than to any actual substance or facts, my Lady.”

Cassandra cocked an eyebrow at her servant. “That’s rather forward of you, Estelle. I don’t think I’ve heard you so outspoken before.”

The other woman raised a hand to her mouth, casting her gaze downward. “My apologies, my Lady. I’ve not meant to speak out of turn, but I cannot stand such disrespect to you and your family.”

A smile returned to Cassandra’s face; she gestured towards the door, nodding for Estelle to come with her towards the stairs. “It’s no matter, Estelle; people will think what they will of my parents. But the gesture is appreciated. I’d rather not talk further of such depressing things; I’d rather share a warm meal with you, my dear Estelle.”

The young woman followed after her, the slightest upward curl to her lips hinting at a thankfulness Cassandra could only wonder about. “As you wish, then, my Lady.”

The dining room was an intimate space; Cassandra had long since shuttered the grander formal dining room; the larger space had not been used since the disappearance of her parents, and now sat unused. Estelle occasionally dusted the space to keep it from falling entirely into disrepair, but otherwise, the doors remained locked.

The room she used instead held a much smaller table, walls painted in a soft, pastel blue with cream wainscoting around their base. A fireplace was set into one of the longer walls, much like many of the other rooms in the manor, with a portrait hanging over the wall of the Selby family. Master and Missus Selby stood smiling in their finest clothes, a youthful Cassandra seated in front of them.

She’d thought several times of removing the painting; each time, though, she decided against it. Her parents had disappeared from so many other corners of her life; this would be one at least space where they would stay, forever.

Estelle was already at work, setting food at the table. There were two places set; Cassandra smiling at the busy servant. “I was worried, for a moment, that you would decided against joining me after all.”

“That would hardly be polite,” her servant said as she carried on her work. “I was extended an invitation, after all.”

“You were, yes,” she said, and took her seat as Estelle finished preparations. The meal looked delicious, a hot roast cooked with potatoes and carrots, Cassandra’s mouth watering as Estelle sliced into the meat to serve her. The young woman hesitated for a moment after finishing, then cut a serving for herself on the dish across the table from the Lady of the House. “It can be lonely, sometimes, eating all by one’s self.”

Estelle nodded as she set the carving knife down, the blade hardly making a sound as it was set carefully onto the platter the roast was set on. Cassandra waited for the other woman to seat herself before sampling a bite of the meat, smiling as her tongue registered its flavor. “Your talent in the kitchen never ceases to please me, my dear Estelle,” she said after swallowing the morsel of food.

“Cooking is an essential art in life, my Lady,” Estelle said, carefully and precisely cutting her meal apart with fork and knife. The roast sliced neatly under the blade she eased through it, cleaving cleanly, not tearing, as she divided her meal into small bites. “Food is one of the key elements to survival. If we cannot draw pleasure from the things that sustain us, then all other pleasures are a waste of our time.”

“And yet, we make things to be consumed, that benefit the body in no way…” Cassandra sighed, resting her fingers against her lips while holding her fork between them. “I traffic in the extraction of life from one being to another.”

Estelle frowned at her, the express surprising the lady of the house. “Such is the nature of food, my Lady. It is life that is taken and used for the sustenance of another.”

“Yes, yes, I know.” Cassandra set her fork down, pressing her forehead against the fingertips of her other hand. “The… creatures… out in the garden. They’re little more than men and women, in miniature. That doesn’t bother you?”

Her servant cocked an eyebrow at her. “Does it bother you, my Lady?”

She thought again of her envy and horror at what her delights surely experienced as they were consumed. The thought of her servant’s mouth crept back to the forefront of her consciousness, heat springing forth from within her at the thought, only to be forced under the surface again. She would not allow her passions to run amok in the dining room. “It’s something I’ve grown comfortable with,” she finally said, lifting her head to look Estelle in the eyes. “Though, it is also something I fear I should be more disturbed by than I often am. Perhaps, I think, it comes down to what one thinks of the poor creatures as: people, or food. Do they have minds anymore, or are they little more than cattle meant for a slow slaughter, hidden deep within our flesh and bones?”

Estelle sat quietly, eating her meal as Cassandra’s thoughts meandered around this question. The servant’s eyes half-closed, her being seeming to retreat into herself as the question soaked into her as surely as the juices from the roast saturated her palette. “Then, my Lady,” she said, keeping her head bowed, “if you had to choose, what would you think of them as?”

“I could not chose between the two,” Cassandra said. “I would not know which to; besides, you spend more time with them than I do. You would know better than me.”

“It rather seems like you don’t want to answer, not that you can’t come up with an answer.” Estelle lifted her head, staring her mistress straight in the eyes from across the table. “The possibility of answering one or the other makes you uncomfortable. If they are people, then that potentially makes you a monster for consuming them. However, if they are cattle, then what are we to have brought them to that state? Perhaps, my Lady, we are damned either way.”

Cassandra frowned, her hands tightly gripping her utensils. “Once again, you speak so boldly to me…”

“I remind you that you invited my answer, my Lady. Furthermore, you need to be spoken to boldly, at times. You tend to be indecisive with anything that doesn’t regard your own pleasure.”

Cassandra set her utensils down too quickly, the silverware clattering loudly against the table. “And you think that it is your right to demand when I should make decisions?”

“It is my responsibility,” Estelle said, her voice as calm as it ever was, betraying no sign of frustration or anger with her employer, “to see that you properly attend to all your responsibilities.”

“My conscience is none of your business, Estelle!”

The young servant shook her head, not raising her eyes to meet Cassandra’s gaze, even as the other woman stood up from her seat. Cassandra’s hands were curled tightly into fists, her arms vibrating with tension at her sides. “It should be someone’s business, my Lady, and as you appear to be unwilling to accept that responsibility…”

Cassandra stood, slowly raising one arm to grip the back of her chair, holding her head in the other hand. Her fingers traced along the design carved into her seat, following the lines again and again. “I don’t want to be angry with you, Estelle. I desperately do not want to be angry at you. I do not want to argue the philosophical weight of the only thing keeping us out of a prison cell and bankruptcy.” She looked up at the woman seated across from her; Cassandra’s hair was tangled from resting against her fingers, fine strands of red looping over and around her eyes like the matted locks of a wild-woman. “Not now, and not any time in the foreseeable future. Am I clear on the matter?”

Estelle was silent for several long moments; Cassandra lips parted, her mouth primed to speak, when the young woman raised her head to look up at her. “You are entirely clear, my Lady.”

Cassandra sighed, combing her hair back into order with her fingers as she sat down. “Thank you,” she said as she breathed out. She pressed her palms together as though she were preparing to pray, her forehead resting against the point of her fingers. “Thank you, Estelle.”

“Are you sure you won’t join me?”

Cassandra stood on one of the lower steps of the grand stairway, one hand resting on the banister as she looked downward at Estelle. The servant girl kept her distance at the foot of the stairs, matching gazes with the mistress of the house. “I thought you might enjoy a chance to enjoy tea together, upstairs.”

Estelle shook her head. “I’m sorry, my Lady, but I feel as though I have intruded a little too far into your own space, today. I have chores that must be attended to, as well, and I shouldn’t delay those any further.”

“Oh, Estelle…” Cassandra said, her lips curling in a pout, her fingers wrapping more tightly around the rail that she held to. Something felt heavy within her; she was confident the weight came from higher up than the meal now filling her stomach. “There is always time later for those things. Every time that I see you, you are occupied with your work.”

“Because, my Lady,” Estelle said, her eyes closed as she frowned, “your work is my occupation. There may be time later for it in your world, but that is only because I am there, tending to it, after your thoughts have gone elsewhere.”

An uncomfortable silence fell over the foyer. Why was she so bold today, Cassandra thought, unsure if the unsteadiness of her legs was owed to her longing for the servant standing statuesque before her, or from the impact of that same woman’s words upon her conscience. She longed to draw the answers from her, but it seemed that Estelle slipped from her fingers each time she reached within for some pearl of truth.

“If you’ll excuse me…”

“Estelle, wait!”

Her servant stopped as asked, but kept her back turned to Cassandra, “Estelle…” Cassandra said, feeling a surge of warmth across her cheeks. “Estelle, I just… I want to share my time with you.”

Slowly, Estelle turned to face her; the look on the other woman’s face was more expressive, more openly emotive than Cassandra was used to seeing. “In a more perfect world, my Lady,” she said, her voice just loud enough for Cassandra to hear from the stairs, “it would be my pleasure to sit at a table with you, to share tea and cookies and exchange talk of our peers. As much as you might like to fantasize otherwise, though, there are dishes to be done, and your delights must be tended to.”

Estelle started her way around the stairs, walking steadily towards the manor’s central hallway. “Good evening to you, my Lady. Your tea will be brought to you before bedtime.”

The young woman’s footsteps faded into the hall, echoing softer and softer until they faded entirely from Cassandra’s ears. For a fleeting moment, she pictured exactly the scene the servant girl had described; Estelle dressed finely, the two of them talking and giggling over cups of hot tea scented with chamomile and mint. The girl was smiling, a broad smile lined with the edges of her teeth and the slightest peek of that hidden space behind them. Her mind taunted her again, dwelling on the imagined sight of Estelle’s mouth, her own form laying among the crumbs of a tea cookie before tilting and sliding downward, downward, downward…

Cassandra cursed, striking a fist against the banister. She couldn’t decided what she wanted: to have Estelle as her lover, or to give herself to the servant girl to be trapped within her. Something within her howled in confusion and frustration, but she swallowed the sound back into herself. She was a lady, she reminded herself, a proper lady. Her world contained such nasty things; the walls of her estate were filled near to the point of bursting with mysteries and forbidden secrets, but at least, she must maintain the presentation of a woman of class and standing, even if the only one observing was the servant who was, herself, privy to those secrets.

Breathing deep to steady herself, she made her way up the stairs to her room. There, she reasoned, she could at least be alone with her frustrations and fantasies for a little while.

A Lady’s Delights is currently being Kickstarted into publication. If you enjoyed this preview, please consider funding this project by visiting A Lady’s Delights @ Kickstarter.

Like what you read? Give Karie Senkow a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.