“Are you certain this is the way it’s supposed to be worn?” Daisy eyed herself doubtfully in the long looking-glass. The stays built into the red tulle gown cinched her waist so tight, she could scarcely breathe.
That wasn’t so bad. She’d been laced snugly before, but this gown also seemed designed to shove her breasts up, presenting them squeezed together like a baby’s behind. Thanks to a hot bath and determined scrubbing, Daisy succeeded in removing the ink stain, but now her skin was flushed. Not only that, her nipples peeped above the scooped neckline, two little pink eyes peering uncertainly into the world.
“Bien sur,” Nanette assured her. “Oh, la! I forgot the rouge.”
The lady’s maid dipped her thumb in a paintpot and then brushed Daisy’s nipples with the garish color. Now they were two little red eyes, tight and terrified. Daisy consoled herself that at least they matched the gown now. Then Nanette spritzed a liberal dose of jasmine perfume over Daisy.
“There,” Nanette said. “Much better, so?”
“If you say so,” Daisy said, coughing at the strong scent. She’d never worn anything stronger than a dash of rose water.
Daisy slipped on the plumed mask that covered half of her face. The slanted slits tilted her eyes up at the outer corner, making her seem almost feline, despite the feathers. With the top-heavy powdered wig, a black heart-shaped beauty mark affixed near one corner of her mouth, the mask and the deep décolletage, when she looked back into the mirror again, Daisy stared at a stranger.
An exotic, stunning stranger. A creature of night and passion and dangerous allure.
Daisy had never considered herself more than mildly presentable on a good day. The woman in the mirror was decadently gorgeous. “Oh, my!”
“You are lovely, oui?” Nanette said, obviously pleased with her final product. “The soreness, she is gone?”
“Mostly.” When Isabella had ordered the full toilette of a courtesan for her, Daisy had no idea that entailed the removal of all the small hairs from her body.
Even in her most intimate places.
Nanette’s hot beeswax had left her skin smooth and sensitive. When Daisy tottered across the room on the tall Venetian-style platform shoes that added a full six inches to her height, the air moving beneath her voluminous skirt caressed her in unexpected places.
Strains of the string quartet wafted up to her.
“It seems the masked ball has started,” Daisy said. She thanked Nanette for her unflagging efforts and glided to the door, mastering walking in the tall shoes more gracefully with each step. Even the slight pressure of her own thighs on her freshly denuded sex sent a shimmering tingle through her.
Isabella was right. Her body did possess a power of its own.
“Forewarned is forearmed,” she murmured, determined to ignore the strange warmth in her groin. She drew as deep a breath as her stays allowed and pushed open the door. Thanks to the boning built into the gown, her posture was perfectly erect.
Now if she could only bolster her confidence to match.
She’d wanted an adventure, she reminded herself. Only her own timidity would ruin this one for her. She’d seen other women, perfectly respectable women, sporting a neckline just as low as this one and without the benefit of being masked. Only last week, Lady Lucinda Throckmorton bared her nipples as part of her décolletage at the opera in a daring froth of Parisian lace. It was unthinkable that a courtesan would do less.
And yet, Isabella’s advice echoed in her head. Whatever happened tonight, she would have to wash her own face in the morning. Even courtesans should be allowed modesty when they wished it. Perhaps she could be a courtesan on holiday, not seeking a patron and therefore, not displaying her wares quite so boldly.
Daisy skittered back over to the dressing table and selected a filmy fichu to tuck around her neck and into the deep-cut bodice. Her rouged nipples still showed darkly through the delicate fabric, but the slight additional covering gave her a measure of relief.
She caught Nanette scowling at her in the mirror. “You wish to say something?”
“Only that mademoiselle has ruined the line of the gown,” the lady’s maid said with an injured sniff.
“Perhaps,” Daisy allowed. “But now the line of my conscience remains untroubled. ‘Blanche La Tour’ is not trying to entice a new patron this evening. This is daring enough.”
Uncle Gabriel always said she could have had a career on the stage, if only it weren’t so tawdry an undertaking. She would look upon this evening as if it were a play, Daisy decided. The Venetian shoes lifted her to a new height. The gown was more daring than plain Daisy Drake would ever think of donning. She would speak nothing but French for the rest of the night. Her accent was excellent and the nasal quality of that tongue should effectively disguise her voice, even if she met anyone she knew. No one would penetrate this disguise.
Daisy slipped into the role of Mme. Blanche La Tours, bird of paradise, albeit with a few of her finer feathers discretely tucked. With a lace-gloved hand on the brass railing, she descended slowly to join Lord Wexford’s party already in progress.
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