Hush, My Inner Sleuth

In the fall of 1947, an impressionable young scholar finds herself seduced by the spirit of a Hollywood pulp detective….

This serpentine saga opens at a New England women’s college, where the ever-playful Betty escapes a meddlesome narrator by slipping her friend a mickey and assuming her identity. Undaunted, the plucky storyteller adopts said friend—the literarily precocious Willie—and accompanies her to L.A.

Meanwhile, the pulp-inflected ghost of Skip Ryker—a recently atomized Hollywood detective—tries in vain to solve his untimely demise. What he needs, it quickly becomes apparent, is a willing instrument.

The ensuing collision of these disparate narratives sparks a battle royal for control of Willie’s suggestible psyche—and subsequently, movie rights to the book.

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About M.E. Meegs
M.E. Meegs

M.E. Meegs began writing epic poetry while still in the cradle, though her first real recognition came only after the completion of her dramatic tragedy, Dolly’s Fourth, and Final, Crusade. Written when she was five, it chronicles the midnight adventure of a favorite doll, which ended sadly in the jaws of a neighbor’s mastiff.

She lives now—inasmuch as any pseudonym may be said to live—with a first-class typewriter and a middling husband, who will soon be in need of a food taster if he doesn’t begin showing a little more appreciation for her literary efforts.

A truly loving soul, she harbors neither children nor pets—fearing the temptation to make sacrifices of them to her tetchy muse might prove irresistible. She does, however, heartily enjoy correspondence and may be reached at:



Hush, My Inner Sleuth
Chapter 1.
Ladies Don’t Pee

Shapely, wry Betty Moran traversed the campus with all the speed and purpose of a cat making its rounds. Though she had traced the paths of this sheltered yard a thousand times before, this day, the first cool day of a New England September, they unfolded fresh. Each perspective came as novel, each shift of light distracted—until, at last, she came upon the perfect, irresistible patch of sun.

How long she sat cosseted in its warmth, she couldn’t say. But now the sky had darkened, and rather than give quarter to the melancholia she abhorred, Betty set off for the paint shop, where she knew the crew would be ensconced, as they were this time every afternoon, cleaning brushes and dissecting their employers, friends, and family to the noise of a polka show.

“Hello! Anybody home?”

A stout man in immaculate gray overalls peered out from a back room.

“You ’gain?”

“I’m afraid so. We need another gallon.”

“Dey need anutter gallon,” he repeated for his fellows, then brought one out and set it on the counter. “Whattaya, drinkin’ it?”

“Well, if you must know, Mrs. Blakely’s taken to bathing in it.”

“Yer housemutter?”

“Yes. Of course, she prefers the blood of freshman virgins, but they won’t be arriving for another week or so…. Thanks.”

As she lifted her load, he returned to his lair, droning, “I wun’t let my girl wid’in a hundret miles a’ dis place.”

For the moment contented, Betty made her way back to the large Victorian house she called home, having made it so by dint of her guile and a waggish disposition her allies found charming, and all others too caustic. She walked directly now. The paint weighed more than she remembered, and a cool breeze brought goose bumps to the bare legs below her denim shorts. A shock of brunette hair fell across her face. By luck alone, she managed to push it back without encountering the sticky splotch of green atop her pate, an unfortunate shade called Summer Mint by its market-minded maker, but by Betty, the vague, ugly envy of the dilettante scholar.

She entered through the kitchen and there encountered a trim, middle-aged woman preparing a tray of coffee.

“What took you so long?”

“Well, if you must know, the man at the shop was reluctant to give us more paint, until…”

“Until what?”

“I performed certain favors…. It would embarrass me to say more. Though I should say men.”

“You should quit talking nonsense.”

“I only did it for love of this house, Midge. You of all people should appreciate that.”

“Shut up. And I told you, don’t call me Midge. Mrs. Blakely.”

“Your sister calls you Midge.”

“You’re not my sister.”

“I don’t even have a sister. I’d think you’d feel a little sympathy.”

“Well, you’re mistaken.”

“Why are there four cups?”

“Char Kaplan’s here. She stopped by to show us her baby.”

“Oh, nausea!”

“Betty! She was your classmate.”

“A deserter. Couldn’t even make it through junior year.”

“Enough. Go and get Willie. I called her, but she must have her music on. Do you know you have paint in your hair?”

“Do I? Damn.”

“Language. Ask Willie to cut it off. Go on.”

“Yes, Midge.”

Yes, Mrs. Blakely.

During the academic year, Betty set aside a part of every day for plotting the destruction of certain of her housemates. She held little regard for the slow-witted, but saved her best work for the snobs. And they returned the favor.

Snobbery, of course, didn’t play well in wartime. But in the two years since the A-bombs, just as rationing and price controls abated, the affectations of affluence revived. It was November that first fall of peace when Betty overheard a conversation in the coffee shop catty-corner from the house.

“Oh, she’ll go back to Ohio and be the life of the party at the country club.”

“Assuming she isn’t black-balled.”

“Then the second-best country club.”

They stopped and smiled as she passed, just so there was no mistake. It was for Betty a revelatory moment. Since then, the gloves were off.

When she reached the third floor, she shouted, but the music above drowned her out. She went on to the next landing and tried again—still no response. On entering the empty room, she lifted the arm of the phonograph and placed it on its perch, then picked up a hand mirror and made a fruitless search for the telltale paint.

“Hey!”

A small dirty-blonde, not five foot tall, and wearing nothing beyond apricot panties and a smock streaked in vague, ugly envy, entered the room.

“Where were you?”

“Taking a pee, where do you think?”

“Is it new?”

“New to me. Sarah Vaughan. Lover Man. With Dizzy, and Charlie Parker.”

“Bop and rebop?”

“Yeah. Why’d you take it off?”

“I knew it would draw you from your hidey-hole.”

Betty restarted the record, but lowered the volume to a point just shy of that which promised imminent cerebral hemorrhage.

“Why didn’t you tell me I had paint in my hair?”

“I thought you were trying a new look.”

“Ass. Do you have any scissors?”

“Look around.”

As Betty did so, the blonde fell onto her unmade bed, staring into space and listening to the record she’d heard already seven times that day—not to mention a further nineteen the evening before. When she found her vision insufficiently transcendent, Willie removed her eyeglasses and absentmindedly cleaned them with a pair of underwear lying within reach. Then she replaced them and returned to the business of staring into space.

“…pee …wee …yellow and warm …give or take …take or give?”

“What are you mumbling about now?” Betty asked.

“Why would you want to take a pee? Or, more to the point, take a shit? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give the pee away? You can give a shit, but only metaphorically.”

“Well, I don’t. Especially metaphorically. Besides, you shouldn’t be taking a pee. A lady powders her nose. And yours could use it.”

“My what?”

“Christ,” Betty said. “All I could find were these little things. What are you doing with a manicure set?”

“Is that what that is? Who was the first woman in literature allowed to take a pee?”

“No idea. There’s Swift’s Celia. ‘Celia shits,’ so presumably she pees.”

“Celia presumes to pee. Rabelais is earlier, and thoroughly scatological. But Chaucer’s earlier still.”

“Alison got to let loose a fart…. But who peed?”

“The miller’s wife, born of a celibate priest. It’s when she’s gone to pee that the clerk moves the cradle, then has his way with her when she gets into the wrong bed. But is she the earliest?”

“Why’d you ask if you don’t know?”

“I thought you might.”

“Do you see the paint?”

“Turn around. Hmm, yes. A nice big gob.”

“Well, here. Cut it off. By the way, Char Kaplan’s downstairs displaying her comeuppance. I’m supposed to bring you down for coffee.”

“Who’s Char Kaplan?”

“Née Goodwin. The itch from Greenwich. She of the silent B.”

“Who’s Née Goodwin?”

Char Goodwin, you moron. Your freshman roommate.”

“Don’t call me names. You know I suffer from anomia.”

“What a crock…. What’s the name of the shepherdess—”

“Marcela, but that’s different. She’s a feminist icon.”

“How’d you know I was talking about Quixote? And what makes her a feminist icon?”

“She’s the only shepherdess I know. She’s a passive feminist. They call her a plague on mankind simply because she wants nothing to do with men. By her mere humility, she exposes their hypocrisy, the animal lust masquerading as pious adoration.”

“Oh, spare me the passivity and humility. A true feminist icon would have castrated the bastards and set up a matriarchy.”

“Gynecocracy.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Well, more often than not, a matriarchy is simply a tribe where bonds of kinship pass through the line of the mother. Like the Iroquois. When a brave married, he joined his wife’s clan. But you can be damn sure the men ruled the roost. In a gynecocracy, women hold the power. Like the girls in Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen—brief though the experience was. And anyway, by having castrated the men, you rendered the matter of lineage moot.”

“I’d have set one aside. Whoever reminded me most of Frankie. How much are you cutting?”

“All done.”

Betty felt the back of her head. “Christ. Now I’ve got a bald spot. I’ll look like a Trappist monk.”

“You do, sort of. Who was the first female author to allow a woman to pee?”

“Certainly not Jane… or the Brontës…. Well, we should go down. Better put something on.”

“All right. You go ahead,” Willie told her. “You know, she accused me of stealing a bracelet her father had bought her.”

“Char? I don’t remember that.”

“Never told you. Aphra Behn had the perfect opportunity.”

“To steal Char Goodwin’s bracelet?”

“No, to allow a female character to pee. It was the early days of the Restoration. You could get away with anything.”

“Christ. I’m going. Hurry up.”

However alike in their affections, the two scholars were in other ways living contrasts. Betty, though not tall, was at least of a height sufficient to be seen above the furniture. She had a healthy, ruddy complexion, and a figure suitably soft and round—ideal for the age of Rubens, if marginally less so for that of Lana Turner. And she generally made good use of her lush hair, only rarely letting rattlebrained barbers loose on it. But certainly her finest asset was her large brown eyes. Even half hidden behind her ill-chosen glasses—tortoiseshell cat’s-eyes—they rarely failed to impress.

Willie, by contrast, was pale, thin, and flat-chested, her stringy hair cut in a sloppy bob, her nose always red, and her mouth and eyes too large for her too-small face. What’s more, in matters of personality, she was at a distinct disadvantage to the garrulous Betty. Willie was prone to long stretches of silent contemplation, and absentminded to a degree even her few friends found suspicious. Most annoying of all, she had a habit of sliding directly from daydream to soliloquy, spouting disjointed thoughts and odd bits of incongruity like a talking Delphic doll. She was, in sum, at so great a handicap, any display of impartiality would be transparently insincere.

~~ end Chapter 1 sample ~~


(The following excerpt, from the opening of Chapter 4, introduces Skip Ryker.)

Chapter 4.
I, Shamus

You know, there’s some nights a bird could do himself a favor by hittin’ the roost early. Just so long as he’s sure he’s hittin’ the right roost.

Like a pigeon homing for Hades, I coxswained my chariot up the meandering alleyways of Beverly Hills, past the peppertrees, eucalyptus, and palatial perches of my betters, the Hollywood swells who had the geetus to shell out five hundred G’s for a chalet only half the size of the Taj Mahal—and still have enough left over to cover my day rate. I was on a pilgrimage, to do a little kowtowing, but I wasn’t making much progress. There was a Caddy convertible blocking the way, with a dainty dame staring into its open posterior. And what I glimmed of hers made me hungry for dialogue…. Besides, chivalry’s the only hobby I got.

“Need a hand?” I queried.

“I… I seem to have a flat tire….”

“Yeah. You can’t drive too careful in the Land of Promises—lot of broken dreams littering up the place.”

“True, I suppose. But in this case, it looks like a broken bottle.”

“Dollars to truffles, it’s Dom Perignon.”

I did the deed—whoa now, don’t be getting ahead of me—and put the flat in the trunk.

“You’re Skip Ryker, aren’t you?”

“For my sins.”

“I don’t know how to thank you, Mr. Ryker.”

I could think of three ways—nine if she had a twin sister.

She was on the sunny side of thirty, blonde tendrils dancing about her naked shoulders and a big baby-blue hat circling a mush that would tempt a Trojan prince off the reservation.

She slid in close and yanked my face into hers. Then did a thorough examination of my interior furnishings with a serpentine lapper you could mop floors with. I didn’t have any thousand-ship Greek navy, but I knew a boatload of Polish seamen only too happy to go canoeing in her fish pond. Then I piped a blushing diamond the size of a Brazil nut. It was bolted to the ring finger of the quail’s left wingtip.

“Sorry, Queenie, I saw that epic in previews,” I told her. “Better set sail.”

“All right, hawkshaw,” she growled. A second before, her peepers were giving me the sleepy-eyed focus. Now they let loose a broadside of javelins—Beverly hath no fury like the fancy wife bored.

In my business a mug’s gotta be leery about sticking his fork in some other bozo’s fruit salad. Especially if that bozo buys his wife’s baubles in the 12-carat economy size. That apricot might smell riper than last week’s underwear, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break a bicuspid on her. Believe me, I know—half the pearly gates wear caps.

The moon rising over Alhambra reminded me of a pearl onion, which reminded me it’d been almost an hour since I’d had a cocktail. I made the turnoff onto Coldwater Canyon and a few minutes later was climbing the windy drive that led to Sid Eisenger’s ten-acre citadel.

The grounds were salted with the reproduction ruins of Persepolis, remnants of an aborted Attila the Hun biopic. At the top of a rise sat a mission-style wigwam that would have shamed Buckingham Palace. And out back, a watery patio modeled on the wading pools at Versailles. Who says Hollywood can’t do culture?

I dropped anchor and debarked, then noticed a new bullet hole decorating the gondola. What a way to earn a living. The valets were all busy, so I stood by cooling my heels and patting the lawn jockey’s head for luck.

“Keys?” he bleated.

Should’ve known—a munchkin in blackface.

Poor little gees had probably been out of work since that Technicolor debauchery in the land of Oz. Every midget and hophead in the Sunkist State had worked that screensation. But don’t go thinking Eisenger hired them out of charity—this was just a taste of what passes for humor in Celluloidia.

When I got inside, I had another taste. The party was a birthday bash given by Sid for his ittish wife. She was just unwrapping his present: a crossbow. I guess Sid Eisenger liked to live dangerous.

The crowd had moved in close to glom the gift giving and I was assaying the fairer half’s afts when my optics froze on the familiar empennage gracing a partridge off my port bow. She was wearing a half-hearted skirt, one that couldn’t quite circumnavigate her hips. With that as invitation, I reached in a mitt and gave her a massage. She leaned back into it. God she was hot.

We just stood like that for a minute or two. She was purring when she turned toward me.

“Oh! It’s you, Skip.”

“Whattaya mean, ‘It’s you, Skip’—who’d you think it was?”

“Don’t get sore, sweetheart. A girl in this business can’t afford to bite the hand that feels her.” Then she quick-changed the topic. “Why’re you so late? And where’s that little niece?”

“Damn airship was way off schedule. Then I find out she was never on it. Wasted three hours guzzling gimlets in the Grand Central Terminal boozeteria, listening to some would-be scenario scribbler’s nutty notion for a horse opera featuring Lady Godiva as a cowgirl. Rides the whole Chisholm Trail bareback… and bare-assed.”

“You get his name?”

Get his name? Hell, Lulu, you don’t have the calluses for a cattle drive like that. Better stick to the ape flicks where you belong.”

“Don’t type-cast me, you… two-bit Sherlock.”

“Sorry, baby. But you hadn’t oughtta risk your assets on a nudie one-reeler.”

“Get me a martini and I’ll forgive you.” She handed me an empty vessel you could float a destroyer in. “By the way, this wire came while you were out getting plastered.”

I gave her back the schooner and took up the little envelope.

“It’s from Betty. Says she missed the airship and will be on the Super Chief arriving Monday. Why the hell couldn’t she have sent it yesterday?”

“No use crying over guzzled gimlets. Here, get going.”

She pushed her tankard on me and I went off to find the bar. It was out beside the pool. There were some cute little numbers handing out champagne, guys dressed as corpses mixing highballs, and a stoneware Cupid blending the martinis. His mom, Venus to her pals, was squeezing one of her dugs in each hand, with the two streams they sent forth—one gin, one vermouth—landing in her progeny’s open yap. Then he piddled out the cocktail. A little sweet for my palate, but you had to admire the stamina.

I’d filled and emptied Lulu’s jorum three times when something whizzing by ventilated my tailored jacket, then murdered the pheasant nesting in the turban of a silent idol’s relict. An arrow. I traced its route back to the vestiges of Persepolis, where two disorderly demoiselles were playing William Tell with Mrs. Eisenger’s birthday present.

The archer was lining up another shot when I snatched her weapon.

“Sorry, sister. That makes for mayhem.”

“Hey!” she yelped—then turned on me, claws engaged. At first I didn’t notice the talons, probably because she was unadorned from the waist up, and hers was a tableau worth the ten-cent admission. But I came to my senses in time to fracture the crystal chalice over her steeple. She crumpled into a heap.

Now the other harpy, the one with the apple strapped to her head, came at me. Sheriff of Rotterdam, I think the legend has it. I would have noticed the machete a lot sooner if she hadn’t been leafless from the breadbasket down. One of those mean little jobs the boys brought back from Burma. The machete, I mean, not the dame. She was all-American.

My cupola missed decapitation by a whore’s breath and the jungle knife sank into a palm tree. Then a heaven-sent coconut delivered her bye-bye. This bush baby had her faults, but she made a better-looking heap than the other jane.

I picked up the crossbow and went back to Cupid in desperate need of a refill. Having used the glassware to dispatch the Amazon, I had no choice but play urinal to the diminutive deity. By then momma’s mammaries were running low and the once-mighty river emerging from his doodle was reduced to a trickle. I moved in closer. Then some jackass behind me shouted my name.

I turned around and spat the limestone dingus at the feet of the family butler. He didn’t bat an eye.

“My apologies if I caught you at a bad moment, Mr. Ryker. But Mrs. Eisenger was hoping to have a private word with you.”

“Lead the way, Jeeves.” I picked up the crossbow and handed it to him. “You know, you shouldn’t be handing out lethal party favors when your statuary is peeing 80-proof hooch.”

“Are you attempting to tell me my duties, sir?”

“No, just having fun trying to guess what they are.”

“Might I suggest you wipe the remnants of scrotum from your face while you’re guessing?”

I would have popped him one for that, but I needed him as guide. We were headed upstairs, into the cloistered part of the palace.

“By the way,” I cracked, “there’s a couple of besotted vixens out in the Persian ruins, knocked out cold and with just one change of clothes between them.”

“There often is,” he let fall, kind of weary-like. “I will see that they are attended to.”

“Bet you have a lot of unpleasant little jobs to attend to.”

“Indeed. Such as playing straight man to a puerile flatfoot with a penchant for fellating plaster divinities.”

That was two I owed him. He opened a door and stood aside.

“Mrs. Eisenger is waiting on the balcony.”

Then I had one of those Hooeywood dizzy spells. You know what I mean: things go out of focus, then get wavy, and suddenly you’re back where you were on a Thursday afternoon three weeks before. In this case, that was Sid Eisenger’s outer office.

~~ end Chapter 4 sample ~~


(The following excerpt, from the opening of Chapter 15, continues a story in which the narrator has adopted a new protagonist, as well as a new genre.)

Chapter 15.
Catch as Catch Can

Episode Two: Jane’s story continues…. The young wife has just received a telegram from her husband of mere hours….

As she read the missive from her beloved, Jane’s face—which had only a moment before flushed with anticipation—went pale.

Jane,
Regained memory of previous wife. Tough break, kid.
Casper

At once too brief yet dismayingly lucid, the telling communiqué slipped from Jane’s hand; the flustered filly faltered. Thank goodness an able-bodied Marine was on hand.

Bronze-chested Glenn gathered the ill-omened maid in his virile arms and transported her back to the matrimonial chamber. The poor girl seemed to have lost consciousness. With a care born of heartfelt regard, he set her down on the still-fallow nuptial bed, then stroked her soft brunette curls…. Did he notice an inviting pucker taking form upon her crimson lips? Did her semaphoric eyelids just quiver with unmistakable purpose? He couldn’t be sure. Perhaps his own feelings of incompleteness were planting the seeds of hopeful hallucination.

Then, once more, the revelatory robe fell open…. And this time, it wouldn’t be taking no for an answer.

O night of rapture! Who would have dared dream lovemaking could be so perfect? What were the odds that their amatory appliances would fit with such machine-like precision? Or that they both could muster such rodeo-style stamina, like a matched pair of impassioned mustangs?

The next morning the lovers awoke in their steamy bower, each bearing the commingled fragrance of their solemn exertions. For the first time in her life, Jane felt a complete woman. Complete, and yet in very real need of a shower.

The cleansing stream rejuvenated the former maiden. And watching the new-made woman lather the beguiling contours of her flawless form had a similar effect on Glenn. He joined her, in all the manifold senses of that so supple word.

When they emerged—clean, yet exhausted—Jane fixed Glenn the hearty breakfast she’d planned to share with her husband their first morning together. How strange it was to think of those prior plans. The what-might-have-beens… and beens-forgone!

Only as he was downing the last of the ham did Glenn ask about the telegram she had received. Not wanting to trouble him, Jane told him it was news that her mother had died—then broke into tears at the memory of her poor mother, who, though long dead, could still be made use of. The Marine took her in his convincing arms and comforted her…. Her reassured robe came obligingly undone….

Afterward, Glenn dressed quickly, not wanting to be late for his screen test at the Cannonade Pictures studio in Long Beach. This was his big break, and if things went off as he hoped, he and Jane could start a life together…. He only had time for one final, quick kiss good-bye. He pulled Jane manfully toward him… her tireless robe fell persuasively open…. He’d have to take a cab.

An hour later, Jane woke alone, her mind as disheveled—though not quite so damp—as the sheets she lay on. Oh, what a difference a day makes! Twenty-four hours before, Jane was a pure and virtuous girl. Now, as an eager inductee into Venus’s libidinous cult, she found herself in a sticky mess—and it wasn’t merely the soiled linen.

By ceremony, she was coupled to one man—but by passion, conjoined to another. Was there no way out? Perhaps, with Casper’s cooperation, an annulment could be procured. But where was he now? A knock…

Jane closed her robe and went to the door. It was Mr. Grimball, from the aircraft factory. He’d come to tell Jane that Casper never returned from his test flight and was believed lost at sea. Confused, Jane reached for the telegram… but stopped herself just in time. A dead Casper would solve her dilemma nicely…. She flung herself onto the floor in a false flood of emotion. She pounded her fists in rage at the unfairness of fate, and so on. Mr. Grimball, moved by her lamentations, picked her up and carried her to the couch. As he set her down, her robe fell open… but this time, only from habit.

Jane pulled her robe closed and Mr. Grimball told her that all was being done to locate Casper. There was, he consoled her, some hope of finding him. But not too much, Jane suggested. No, he agreed, not too much. Soon after, he left her to her thoughts.

Jane was beside herself. If Casper was thought dead, she would be free to marry Glenn! And there might even be some sort of widow’s pension involved. She dressed and went out to do some shopping. Keeping her indefatigable Marine adequately nourished was now her first priority.

When she arrived back at the house, two patrolmen were stationed on the front walk. A crowd of onlookers had assembled and several men in suits were descending from the porch. Could they have come to tell her that they had already found Casper’s body? But if he was dead, how did he send the wire? She stood away from the crowd, not sure she wanted to hear the news they might bear. A woman who’d been talking to the policemen walked past her. She dropped a card. Jane set down her groceries and picked it up. But by the time she turned to look, the woman had gone. She glanced at the card and stuck it in her purse.

A moment later, two men carried out a wicker basket holding the skeletal remains of a body. What a relief—the coming of the police had nothing to do with her or Casper. The corpse had been buried in the cellar, she heard someone remark. It was that nosy Mrs. Caruthers from the second-floor rear. She spotted Jane and approached.

Mrs. Caruthers held up a newspaper with the story of Casper’s disappearance on its front page. Then mentioned she hadn’t been able to sleep a wink the night before. She’d assumed it was the honeymooning couple…. Jane told her she’d been up all night, suffering convulsions of grief. The meddlesome witch smirked, and noted that the moans she’d heard—in two different registers—didn’t sound like those of grief. She laughed, then told Jane it might take seven years before Casper could be declared dead. Seven years!

Glenn returned an hour later with news that the screen test had gone fabulously well. So well, he’d already been signed to a contract and would be leaving on a bus for Puerto Vallarta that very evening. He’d be starring in a new series of pictures featuring a promiscuous primate named Longdonga. The thought of their parting tore his heart asunder, he said, if not in those words, and, he assured her, he would be back in a week. By then they’d have the first three episodes in the can—one of the advantages of not having sound recording equipment and, therefore, no need of a script.

When he returned, he promised, they could be married. Jane was once again beside herself with happiness. And taking its cue, her insatiable robe fell open….

~~ end Chapter 15 sample ~~


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