Welcome to #teasertuesday again! This week I have a (not so little) snippet from a work-in-progress, entitled The Ballet of Chestnuts. You can find out more about the brief overall premise for the story here as it’s one that I will be publishing next year.
The extract I am sharing with you is the very beginning of the story in its current form. It’s another historical — mainly because I wanted a means to ensure none of the characters had mobile phones (after all, if you’re in an exclusive house, at the mercy of the whims of the owner who may happen to be a murderer, you’re not going to want an easy getaway, are you?)!
I’d love to know what you make of it, and of the characters. It gets a bit hotter as the scene moves elsewhere; if anyone would like me to reveal a little bit more… well…I might… if you ask nicely!
As Melissa rested a clammy palm on the mezzanine balcony, she couldn’t help but think that the entire house had lost its roof and the light that sparkled below her was the result of a thousand tiny stars. It wasn’t really the romantic in her which had caused such a thought; nowadays it was buried quite deep so that she wasn’t sure it was really there. Admittedly, though, she had jumped at the chance of a party in a house which had slept kings and queens. No, it wasn’t this, but it was the bizarre, animalesque scene that had been unfolding in front of her for the last half an hour: dozens of guests, lit up by twinkling lights against the deep green carpet as if in a vast expanse of nature, and dressed absurdly, to Melissa’s mind.
She felt herself grow hot at her own hypocrisy, as she ran a hand down her white rubber outfit. In the convex shimmer of the rail, she caught sight of both her tail, which was somehow sprung to swish randomly behind her, and the little pointy ears that perched on the top of her head.
Looking below, at all the other female attendees, every one in a black trouser suit – a ‘catsuit’ – her first instinct was to find a coal shed to cover her ridiculous obviousness, and in absence of that, to clasp her face in the childish notion that, if she hid the other guests from view, then they wouldn’t notice her. Just in time, she remembered her painted whiskers and opted not to draw attention to herself further by smearing them across her face.
The men below preened and crowed in a very literal sense. Some had opted for the discreet look of a dinner suit but with added ruffles, attention to fine detail in everything from gold buttons to matching jacquard embroidery to a glittery sheen in the slick of their hair. Others, in general the more rotund, older generation, had taken their invitation literally and donned an actual feathered monstrosity of a costume. Watching their foreheads glow and shine as they danced, and the frequency with which they had to stop to mop their faces, Melissa was convinced they must be as red inside as the plumage on the top of their costumes.
How on earth had she managed to achieve an invitation to a ‘cats and cocks’ party? Who had thought this a great alternative to the crass and clichéd ‘vicars and tarts’ party?
One couple flew through the room, high on pheromones or goodness knows what. He was dressed as a gigantic penis, his entire head glistening in gel, and she had come as something resembling the screwed up folds of a very rumpled sheet. Melissa watched, amused and wide-eyed. It was clear what the woman was meant to be, and she made it particularly obvious when she burst between a group of smart cocks and black chiffon-endowed cats with one breast bare that she offered to several men in turn, squealing, “Stroke my kitty”, while her counterpart stuck his shining head through the opening deliberately sewn into the folds of her costume. He was bent over double and looked, to Melissa, like he was headbutting the woman’s stomach repeatedly, and not enacting a bizarre, giant personified version of sex.
She stood watching the costumes, from the sublime to the ridiculous, and the behaviour, from the elegant to the comedic and bawdy, knowing that she would never have been in such a place, had it not been for the Great War. She wondered how many more of the young women in the room below had been forced to give up VAD posts as they were decommissioned, how many were despised for wanting to work, for needing to support themselves, now that their loved ones could no longer keep the promises they had made before heading off to Ypres, or the Somme, or other unknown places. Looking at the women below, she wondered if, actually, she might be the only one in the entire house who had to endure the despising of the Flapper Girl. People were still grieving, even several years later; their image of the Flapper – the parties, the fringed dresses, the flighty social and sexual engagement – it all belied the pain of loss, and of social rejection.
Suddenly Melissa didn’t much feel like a party. Maybe she should head back down the back steps, out of the balcony, and see if there was a way to summon a cab home. There must be someone downstairs who could get one for her. Black-edged letters was not a memory that she wanted to carry with her to the dance floor below.
“What an angelic pussy. So untouched and virginal. Or are you? Why are you hiding away?”
Melissa started as a soft, deep voice, an accent like syrup amid the crowing and meowing below, trickled to her ears from just above her head. She felt an equally soft yet brief tug on her tail. Spinning herself, ready to give the assailant of the cat without the tongue of her cat within, she found her eyes level with a darkly shadowed chin, and just above, lips red as if they had been bitten to draw the blood to the surface. Or maybe they had just finished being kissed. She gulped quite unexpectedly, as a long finger stretched out and lifted her chin upwards so that she stared fully into wide brown eyes, rich as the darkest chocolate. She took in the rest automatically – the thick black eyebrows, the short dark hair, almost black, and the black shirt and trousers, overlaid with a burgundy velvet jacket, long enough to be a smoker’s jacket. Her inner cat wavered.
“Oh, I see you haven’t anything of the cock about you. How disappointing.”
It had seemed like a suitable retort, but her insides fumed with her at just how feeble it was, especially when the man smiled, showing a smooth line of almost perfect, almost white teeth. Just not quite. And something about that shot an ache through her body, coming to rest between her thighs. He let go of her chin, and as he opened his mouth to speak she felt as if she’d swallowed a stone.
“Oh dear. Now I wouldn’t want to think that I’d given you the wrong impression.”
As she tried to draw her eyes away from his, he grasped her hand and brought it to his lips. Her eyes flicked from the deep red against the white of her partially lace-covered hand to the eyes that, although in part hooded by lashes – such long lashes – and brow, drew her gaze just as the depths of a river had always done as a child. Sudden maternal words invaded her memory: ‘if you stare deep enough, it may reach out and pull you in’, and ‘it may be dark, and it may mesmerise you, but never forget the dangers beneath the surface. You never see them until it’s too late’.
The stranger lowered Melissa’s hand. His eyes drove themselves deep into her face and she was sure she was colouring to match his lips as he lowered his voice, bringing his face right up close to hers.
“And I would never recommend underestimating just what I’ve got about my person. I have more about me than you could ever imagine.”
Just as he released her hand, he brushed the backs of her fingers against his clothes. Velvet became the fabric of his trousers, and she was unable to miss the hardness that filled them. Instinct made her want to look; he grinned and bit his bottom lip as he eyes flickered downwards but regained their composure, and tried to meet his stare with a defiant one of her own. A flash of – something – shot across his face. Whatever it was vanished in a second, but it left her with goosebumps inside, while her skin burned beneath her white, skin-tight outfit. She focused on pondering the strange feeling, and the impossibilities of internal goosebumps, as she forced her gaze from his face and to his own attire.
“So why aren’t you dressed in feathers? Don’t you like costumes?” Why would she want him looking like poultry? He was more cock than she had expected to encounter.
“Do you? Do you enjoy acting? Playing a role?”
She considered her current life. “I guess it depends on the role. And whether I think I’d like to play it.” She looked up at him through her eyelashes. “Or have a burning need to.” Her fingers touched his velvet jacket, her index finger stroking against the grain, meeting his fingertips. She only realised she was doing it when his voice slid through the air between them like liquid honey.
“I think you could play any role you wanted. I think you’re full of contradictions. It intrigues me. Why are you here?”
She looked straight at him. “For the food.” It was more honesty than she’d intended, and she felt her cheeks colouring. His eyes bored deep into her, and she gasped involuntarily, feeling as if his gaze wrapped around her entirely, encasing her in a secret place known only to him, even while they stood on public display on the balcony. He continued.
“Look at your costume here. White. Perfect. Or should I say ‘purrfect’?” She rolled her eyes and smiled. “But you play the pussy, curvaceous, sensuous, an excitement to your swirling tail and the coquettish ears. And a zip down the front.” His fingernail ran the length of the zip from her waist to where it ended at the top of her neck. The slow ‘zing’ reverberated through her, sending a ladder of tingles up her spine. She gasped, unable to hide it from him. His fingers clutched the top of the zip, his yes burning into hers. “Why the front and not the back? Is it so you can do this?”
The air clung to her flesh as he inched down the zip. She watched him slide it down, leaving it resting at the valley of her cleavage. Why was she watching this stranger’s fingers and not grabbing his hand and stopping him, not slapping his face and telling him to keep his hands to himself? He did it so expertly, his fingertips skimming her flesh and resting between her breasts as his silken words captivated her head, just as his dark eyes had trapped his gaze.
“There you stand, the good girl, yet such a sexy cat. I wonder if you are pure white, or if you have a darkness inside you? How much of a costume is this?”
She had no words. Her mind had become full of the guests below: were they watching? Had anyone seen her undone on the balcony by a man she’d never met before? He wasn’t the kind to let her repay a succession of evenings out and a few pairs of stockings – maybe a new pair of shoes so she could stop using cardboard in the soles – with time under her sheets to keep out the damp, two bodies hotting up with the friction of their need, and a promise that she would take care of any consequences. Just what kind was he? All she had in her was a rasping, “I think you are wearing a costume, sir. The nicety you portray in your clothes contradicts close-up scrutiny of your manners. I am almost certain you have a darkness in you.”
He laughed. The sounds rippled wide, causing a number of guests to look up to the mezzanine balcony. She caught the attention of various male gazes, possibly, she believed because she was the only cat in white. A hand in her back pushed her to the rail and leant her over enough for her ample bosom to be on display to the group below. Something about it shocked her, yet her every vein pulsed, burned. She couldn’t remember ever being in such a position of sexual appreciation by so many before.
“If only you knew, Miss—?”
“Grant. Melissa Grant.”
He bowed low, his eyes taking in every part of her body until his head was level with the curve of her thighs. He tilted his head to look up at her, and she felt it again – that strange something that made her think of a river. She imagined herself being sucked into the swirling undercurrents, and everything inside her sprang to life.
“Angelo Belladonna. I am extremely pleased to meet you, Melissa.”
He rose slowly, his nose brushing intermittently against her costume. She heard him inhaling. Her mouth felt like the Sahara had found a new home, and she was sure she was breathing grit. She tried to swallow. It didn’t help.
“Belladonna? As in Deadly Nightshade?” She managed to unstick her tongue from her teeth long enough to stutter an inane question. His answer was anything but inane.
“I am well named. Ask anyone who plays with me after dark.” His eyes soaked into her again, causing every part of her, from head to knees that were giving way beneath her to seize. Her chest banged, and the heat rose between her thighs. “I wonder, would you care to dance, Melissa? I would very much like to get a feel for you.”
If that had been any other man, at any other party, at any other moment, she would have asked him just what the hell that meant. She was nothing if not protective of herself before she fell into bed with a man. But she wasn’t sure what was going on here. She just knew that she didn’t want to ask what he meant.
She wrestled with her pounding chest. It was too easy to see the heaving in this outfit, and even more so since he had arranged her to his desired effect. Without thinking, she ran a finger down her cleavage. His eyes devoured the sight of her hand. Before she knew it, her instincts engaged her mouth in direct communication, completely bypassing her brain.
“Do you take a lover at every party you attend, Angelo?
He grinned. “I did not expect you to call me by my first name. Most people call me Belladonna. They have another name for me, too, I understand.” At her quizzical stare, he wafted away the comment with a sweep of his hand. “Have you never heard my name mentioned at parties, Melissa?”
“I – well – quite frankly, I’ve been rather lacking in the social department for a while.” It was true. Her fleeting relationships in her rickety bed on the third floor of her boarding house had counted less as social engagements and more as a means to an end: a girl forced out of her job and with no immediate financial security had to survive somehow.
“Ah. Then my earlier question is important. Would you dance with me?”
The place was spacious and warm. There were drinks and tables laid with food downstairs. And this man whose eyes hadn’t left her since he arrived on the balcony. Just for one evening, it would be wonderful to bathe in the soft, twinkling light, the laughter and the food. To relax and remember what enjoyment was. How pleasure made her feel. She bowed her head in acceptance.
Arm linked in that of Angelo Belladonna, Melissa descended the staircase into the large room. Eyes spun and found them. Nudges created more stares. It was true that a large proportion of the men were watching her.
“Look at them watching you. They recognise the same as I do.”
The eyes of the women, however, were different. Many gazed upon her chaperone, some with admiration in their faces, but some with a peculiar look that she didn’t understand. It was like an amalgam of a smirk and terror, and it left goosebumps on her outside this time. What left her swallowing hard was the way small groups of them proceeded to fasten their stare upon her afterwards. And the look they gave her was plain. Disgust riddled every female visage. One or two let their face fall into a pitying gaze. The warmth, the beauty, the potential for an enjoyable evening was being ripped out from under her with every step.
“What is it? What do they recognise?” Why was she so abhorrent to them all? Was it because she wasn’t ‘old money’? Or ‘new money’? To be truthful, she wasn’t any money, but telling them was the last thing she wanted to do.
She tried hard not to catch the eye of any of the guests as Angelo swept her into a striking, if somewhat embarrassing, pose, like two professional dancers ready to perform a tango. He was an adept dancer; he manoeuvred her between paired cocks and pussies effortlessly, and to Melissa, it felt as if he was home in doing so. He swept her between couples, never once faltering in his movements, never once dropping his smile, and never, not even for a second, letting his gaze move from absorbing every fleeting and embarrassed drop of her eyes, or every unnerved yet surreptitious glance around the room that she cast.
“Why are you watching me like that?” Angelo had pulled Melissa so close to him that not a hair’s breadth separated them. She burned inside. Had she fallen into a hell she knew nothing of? Her entire being was alive, and terrified, and aflame. As they moved, her hip pressed against the hardness that hid itself inside his trousers.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
He swung her round, so that her leg rested between his in the motion. Had she caused that? Or was there another cause of the erection that wanted to tantalise every part of her pelvis? “Which question is that?”
“What do they recognise, these guests?”
His words breathed over the top of her hair. “They recognise the signs.”
“Of my desires.” The words whispered against the soft skin of her earlobe; his lips were so close she could almost feel them brush it. The heat of his breath found her cheek, and she tried to remain stiff in his arms. Her legs had other ideas but she fought against the way they ached and suddenly found her bones too much to support.
“And what exactly are those? Are you planning on enlightening me?”
“Certainly, Melissa. If you insist.” He released his almost suffocating hold of her, and offered her his arm. “Come with me, and I will show you. Do you really want to know?”
She took his arm, and he led her from the room. Every eye was upon them as they left. She could have sliced the tension with a hatchet.
© Ina Morata 2017