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Excerpt From Dangerous Affairs

 

Chapter 1

   "Telegramme pour Monsieur Carocelli. Monsieur Anthony Carocelli," the ragged messenger announced to the pretty, young receptionist in the foyer of Lucile’s luxurious Paris salon.
   "Merrci, je me charge de le lui donner
."
   "Signez l , s'il vous plaît."
   The receptionist sighed and signed where indicated. "Va t-en maintenant," she said curtly with a double wave of her hand as if brushing dust off an objet d’art.
   The messenger, seeing he was in a place unappreciative of his importance to society, turned on his heel and departed, leaving behind a response which elicited from the receptionist an expression of disgust and caused her to switch her new electric fan on high.

* * *

   In his spacious studio in the depths of Lucile’s busy salon, Anthony Carocelli was expertly pinning the bodice of one of his unfinished creations around a young mannequin, and he was not happy to be interrupted at just that point. His left hand was justly and professionally employed inside the model’s dress, pressing against her bare breast, and he was enjoying the sensation. So was she, judging by her movements. All in a day’s work for the chief designer at one of the world’s finest fashion establishments. And all in a day’s work for a junior mannequin trying to please her boss.
   Having completed the pinning without puncturing anything vital, Tony withdrew his hand and took the telegram from the intern who had brought it. He quickly ripped it open and read the contents.

DEAR CAROCELLI STOP ASSIGNMENT COMPLETE STOP RESULTS WILL BE OF GREAT INTEREST TO YOU STOP SUGGEST YOU RETURN TO LONDON AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE FOR CONSULTATION STOP PLEASE ADVISE ARRIVAL TIME STOP SIGNED HOLMES

   Tony grimaced. This was what he had feared. It could mean only one thing - Annie’s alleged affair must have been confirmed. He dismissed his mannequin with a friendly pat on her now scantily-clad derriere, gathered Chocolat and Rosé, his signature poodles, and went immediately in search of his own employer. He found Lady Duff Gordon ensconced in her plush pink office on the second floor — her counting house as he like to think of it. From there she could keep an eye on the main showroom and hear the quartet of harpists whom she employed to soothe the customers souls — and loosen their pocketbooks.

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   Lady Lucile Duff Gordon was an eminent British fashion designer, socialite and business woman who was married to Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, himself a moderately distinguished member of Scottish aristocracy. Using her considerable talents as a designer of women’s apparel, Lady Duff Gordon had created a highly successful business in London before she ever met Sir Cosmo. But, thanks in part to his financial encouragement, the firm had opened successful branches in both Paris and New York and Lady Duff Gordon — Lady Lucile — had become quite wealthy and distinguished in international high society.
   But, her real secret weapon was Anthony Carocelli. Athletic, tall, and only thirty-three, he cut a dashing figure about town, making it all the more amazing that he was also an extremely accomplished fashion designer and dressmaker. Anthony, himself, credited his expertise as a dressmaker to the long apprenticeship he served at the knee of his father, a well-known Italian tailor who had emigrated to Leeds with his family in 1890 when Anthony was only twelve. Now, he was even more valued for his independently-gained expertise as a designer of women’s fashions, and, especially, for his uncanny ability to know just where in the world to find the unusual and beautiful fabrics he employed for his designs. For these talents, he was well compensated by Lady Lucile and had become widely sought after in British and French social circles - especially by female patrons.
   Tony’s own secret weapon were his perfectly-coiffed miniatures poodles — one a natural chocolate color, the other an artificial pink — and they accompanied him everywhere. The dogs were a sensation with Lucile’s customers and would often parade on the unique fashion runway, an invention of Lucile’s, in company with the models during Madame’s fabulous seasonal shows.
   Lady Duff Gordon had discovered Anthony while he was still making a name for himself in a shop owned by a rival fashion queen in Regent Street. When she later ran into him at a fabric fair in Milan, she made him a handsome offer of employment which she felt would surely secure his services for her own firm. It did not, but it did help secure for him a higher salary from his current employer. In the next six months, Lady Duff Gordon tried twice again with much improved offers before finally realizing success on the third attempt.
   Tony went to work at Lucile’s London Salon in the summer of 1904 and had acquired Chocolat and Rosé as puppies almost immediately thereafter. The three of them became instant hits. Seven years had passed since then and Lucile’s had thrived, thanks in large measure to Tony’s work, and his now-renowned poodles. In fact, the team of Anthony Carocelli and Lucile Duff Gordon had become something of a national treasure, he for his creations and popularity with the ladies, she for her wealth, connections and marketing skills, as well as her generous philanthropic activities.

* * *

   Upon entering the lady’s domain, Chocolat and Rosé immediately leaped to their accustomed positions, like royalty, on the side chairs next to Lucile’s large desk.
   "Pardon my interruption, milady," Tony said, "but I must tell you that your source may have indeed been right in spite of my protestations. I’ve a telegram here from your man Holmes. He advises that I return to London with haste to be apprised of his findings."
   "My dear Anthony, I am so sorry to hear that. I was hoping my information would be wrong." Lady Lucile sounded genuinely concerned. She could ill-afford a scandal to taint her business, not that one would in her line of work. On the contrary, it could be of benefit. "You must, of course, leave for London immediately and take care of this unfortunate business. We will manage without you for a while."
   "Thank you, Madame. I will finish my work here today, then go about making my travel arrangements. As you can imagine, I am most distressed over this turn of events and can only hope I have misunderstood the gentleman’s telegram. In any case, I will get to the bottom of this and return to work as soon as possible. And, once again, my thanks for your concern and thoughtfulness."
   "Not at all, Tony. But, since you’ll be in England anyway, just stay and work out of the London salon for awhile. I’ll be back there myself in a few days. Meanwhile, let me know if we can be of assistance to you in any way. Oh, and give my respects to Sherlock, when you see him."
   Tony clicked his heels, bowed slightly and departed with his poodles close behind.

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   His first stop was the travel agency, where he was able to exchange his Friday tickets for accommodations leaving early the next morning. This would get him home late in the evening, but two days early.
   He then reluctantly made another stop.
   "Chéri," Désirée Bagot cooed, "Ce qui vous apporte ici si tôt — what brings you here so early?" She pulled him into her flat and helped him out of his coat. The poodles blitzed through the door, leapt onto her couch and awaited the treat she always had for them.
   He held her face in his hands. "My sweet fille, I have bad news. I have been called to London unexpectedly and I won’t be able to meet you tonight after you finish work. I’m so sorry. I had great plans for us." He caressed her gently, breathing in her familiar perfume, his favorite. Désirée, at twenty-six, had that rare soft, supple, and willing feel that women in their stiff girdles always lacked and that Tony so dearly loved.
   "You are leaving tonight, then?" Désirée pulled away to get the dogs their treat.
   "No, early tomorrow, but if I come to you, you will keep me awake all night with your loving. Besides, I have discovered my wife may be having an affair and that puts me in a bad mood. I would not be a good lover for you tonight."
   Désirée pouted. "I suppose that means you couldn’t be a good lover for me right now, either." Then she brightened. "But if your wife is cheating, maybe you will get rid of her and marry Désirée, soon, eh?"
   "Chéri, you know better than that. You are my lover. A lover is much better than a wife, as I’ve explained before. Do I make you wash my clothes and have my children, do the dishes and clean the house? No. You are above such things. I put you on a pedestal. I carry you about on a silk pillow. I take you to the best restaurants and shows, I take you to the finest hotels and resorts. I make love to you often, and all night long. I don’t treat my wife as well as you."
   "Maybe that’s why she cheats on you. Could that be?" She looked at him with that certain tilt to her head, that certain coy look in her eye that Tony found irresistible.
   He smiled. "No, mon amour. And that’s another thing. A wife cannot cheat on her husband. It is not acceptable in polite society. It is socially disgraceful to her husband. But you don’t have to worry about that. You can take other lovers if you like and no one but me would think twice about it. But if you were married to me, you could not."
   "But I do not cheat on you now, chéri and, if I were married to you, I would surely not cheat then either. That’s the difference between your wife and me. You should be happy to make me your wife."
   Tony gave her a long hug and she responded warmly. Another few seconds of that and they’d be naked on the bed. As much as he would normally want that, on that particular day he truly was not in the mood and pushed himself away, searching for an excuse.
   "Désirée, listen to me. The travel agency closes in less than an hour. I must go. Take care and I will see you next time I’m in Paris — next month. I’ll bring you a new gown. Okay? D’accord?" He called to his poodles who came quickly to heel.
   "Si tu veux," she said with a pout.
   "Bravo! Give us a kiss now and I’ll be off."
   She did and he left without looking back.

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