Damned if that didn’t provoke a mocking little smile from her, reminding him that she considered him to have a shortfall in his private parts. “Naturally, you will have all my best wishes for your success,” she said sweetly.
As he opened his mouth to say a few choice words that he would likely regret, Rose skipped up and slipped her hand into his. “Shall we see the house now, Mr. Dautry?”
He would be happy to convince the she-devil just how well he could succeed. But he clenched his teeth instead and again took out the key he’d been given by his solicitors.
“Has anyone lived here since Lord Jupp died?” Lady Xenobia walked ahead of him, sounding as cool as if the air hadn’t sizzled between them a moment earlier.
“No,” Thorn said, grimly registering that battling with her had perversely made his cock spring to action—and he’d left his bloody coat in the carriage. Again. “I bought the house with all contents intact. Hopefully, the furniture merely needs dusting.”
“It’s been a good six months,” Lady Adelaide said cheerfully, trotting over to join them.
The oaken door was large and heavy, with stubborn hinges. Thorn was forced to throw his shoulder against it until it swung open with a creaking noise and a rush of dusty old air. They all stepped forward as light flooded the entry hall.
A moment later Thorn snatched up his ward and headed straight back out of the house, his hand clapped over her eyes.
The Earl of Jupp had adorned his entry hall with statues.
Of naked people.
India had never seen a copulation before (if that was the correct use of that noun—was it a noun?), but she knew enough to be certain that these statues depicted variations on the act she’d heard described. Just inside the door, for example, was a group of two women and one man, their naked bodies so entwined it was hard to see whose limb belonged to whom. What’s more, they were standing, instead of lying down, and there was no bed to be seen.
“Extraordinary,” Adelaide said, fanning herself. “I’m almost sorry that my mother didn’t allow that dance with Jupp. One has to wonder whether he had these done from life.” She moved around the side of a horizontal piece featuring two people carved from a single block of marble.
“The men do not look English,” India said, feeling somewhat proud of the fact that she’d even noticed their facial features.
“Probably Greek,” Adelaide said. She peered at a bronze statue. “Do you know, I think there’s a chance that this piece is by Cellini?”
India hadn’t the faintest idea who Cellini was. Was a “piece” still a statue when there was more than one person involved? Or was that a “composition”?
She moved to stand beside Adelaide, who was staring at a naked man from the back. His legs were extraordinarily hairy. And he had a tail.
India wrinkled her nose. “Is that supposed to be a man?”
“Don’t be prudish, darling,” Adelaide said. “There’s nothing worse than an English lady who doesn’t appreciate art, particularly an exquisite bronze dating from the 1500s. The hooves and tail suggest he’s a satyr.”
“What’s a satyr?”
“Half-man, half-goat, from Greek mythology. My governess didn’t teach me much about satyrs, because they are invariably naughty.” She took a quizzing glass from her reticule, bent over, and peered at the base. “That looks very like Cellini’s mark.”
The goat man had a beautiful back, muscled in a way that India imagined few English gentlemen’s were. And although she probably shouldn’t look, his behind was very attractively shaped. Rounded, one might say. And muscled.
“Benvenuto Cellini was one of the most famous sculptors in Renaissance Italy,” Adelaide said. “My husband spent a terrible amount of money on a silver salver depicting Neptune. Naked, of course, so it couldn’t be used even among friends.” She sighed.
The late Lord Swift had been prone to extravagant decisions. Luckily for Adelaide, he died before he could lay waste to the entire estate.
The satyr was not alone. He was embracing a damsel, one arm curved around her waist and the other flung in the air, curving over their heads.
They were kissing.
His lover wore no more clothes than did he.
“Thank goodness your mother didn’t raise you to be straitlaced, as you’d likely faint at this,” Adelaide commented, taking a closer look at the way the two figures clung to each other.
It was true that India’s mother had favored dancing naked in the moonlight over instruction in ladylike behavior. At any rate, the sculpture made her feel more feverish than faint.
“I think the satyr is actually the god Bacchus,” her godmother continued. “Do you see that grapevine around his forehead? Or a follower of Bacchus, because it seems to me that the god didn’t have hooves.”
India was more interested in the fact that she couldn’t see below his chest in the front: the satyr and his beloved blended together below the waist.
Adelaide strolled away to inspect a female nude leaning against a surprisingly large bird. “This is presumably Leda and the swan. Do you suppose that Mr. Dautry was aware that these statues came with the house?”
“I had no idea.” The sunlight darkened for a moment as Dautry walked through the door. “I damn well wouldn’t have brought Rose with me. I’ve put the coachman in charge of her, but I can’t stay long.”
Adelaide began chattering to him about Cellini, and India drew out a piece of foolscap and a pencil and began making a list of the statues, the better to ignore the silly, craving ache that the satyr’s kiss had aroused.
It was ridiculous.
That whole conversation outside with Dautry hadn’t helped. She had never seen a man flaunt an erection the way he was doing—again. Adelaide had made certain that India recognized the signs of male arousal, if only so that no man could surprise her unawares.
But she hadn’t known that men were regularly lecherous. In fact they likely wore long coats just to disguise the fact. The thought of Dibbleshire’s breeches drifted through her mind; she shuddered and pushed the image away.
There were ten statues in all. She waited for a pause in Adelaide’s lecture about Renaissance sculpture, then asked, “Do you wish to keep these pieces, Mr. Dautry?”
He was standing before Leda, who had very large breasts and looked merry, as if swans were just her cup of tea. “Perhaps I’ll keep this one,” he murmured. But then he glanced sideways at India. He was trying to shock her, the way little boys did when they dropped their breeches.
“She looks like a village barmaid,” she said indifferently. “I find the satyr far more interesting.”
Dautry pivoted and gave the bronze statue a good long stare. India looked again too. The satyr’s hand was curved above his lover in a gesture both exuberant and protective. Unwillingly, she felt another pulse of warmth.
“If they were both female, I would,” Dautry said, with a wicked grin.
He was trying to provoke her again, and she refused to give him the satisfaction of appearing scandalized. “Shall we consign the statues to the barn, and you can decide their fate some other time?”
Adelaide turned around, frowning. “Darling, you can’t mean to imply that you will actually attempt to put the house to rights. India has never done anything like this,” she told Dautry, gesturing about. “Her services are more like those of a wife. A temporary wife.”