LILAC

Prologue

New York, 1885

With a completely open mind, Miss Tegan Ellis arrived at the front entrance of Sean Griffith's Gothic Revival-style mansion on the bluffs of the Hudson River. No petty hypocrisy for her. No narrow view of the world. She was quite prepared to give the wealthy industrialist the full benefit of her doubt.

Then she saw the brass door knocker.

No one would ever accuse her of being a prude. And she defied anyone to accuse her of a limited perspective. Still, even a tolerant person such as she could not help but wince. After all, the brass door knocker depicted a pointy-horned, woodland creature. A satyr, if you will, and the satyr was naked.

Naked!

Most vulgar. And that grin. Lord, she had never seen anything quite so lewd as that grin. Not to mention the…

On a shudder, Tegan briefly closed her eyes. Then, bracing herself, pretended not to notice the satyr's offensively thrusting…er…projection and his enormous…er…brass balls.

From her extensive readings on the subject of Greco-Roman myth, she knew the part-man, part-goat door knocker represented unrestrained revelry. All well and good to decorate one’s front door with whatever symbolism one pleased. And she would never equate bad taste with poor conduct. Not exactly. Though, in her learned opinion, an argument might be made that a questionable choice in door knockers did indeed reflect adversely on the soundness of a person’s judgment. There were limits.

Limits!

And this went beyond the pale. Long and short, she could only conclude the outrageous rumors swirling around about Mr. Griffith might possibly be true.

If the satyr's hugely erect…er…member and swinging…er…boulders were any indication, the egregious title-tattle was most certainly true.

Mr. Griffith was a lecher.

Her condemnation rested on firm footing, a moral high road all civilized society must take. Sly allusions to Greco-Roman symbolism aside, his flaunting of an obscene door knocker on his front door flew in the face of common decency.

And the naked satyr was but the tip of the iceberg.

Purportedly, the industrial magnate engaged in weekly orgies at this very estate.

Orgies!

Parties that featured grape peeling and heavens only knew what other dissolute activities went on behind this closed door. Certainly, she could not even begin to imagine the horrors. But of this she was quite sure --

Someday, Mr. Griffith's degeneracy would spell his destruction. May she only witness his fall into disgrace!

Pooh on witness. She had traveled all the way from Pennsylvania to New York to give Sean Griffith a big, fat push.

Sour orgy grapes? Sanctimonious fiddle-faddle?

Hardly. Behind raised hands, everyone talked about the industrialist's unsavory predilections. Not her. That sort of thing was beneath her contempt. She never indulged in unsubstantiated gossip, nor did she believe everything she heard. Whether the industrialist did, in actuality, ruin virgins for sport or send innocent misses into swoons with his cold-blooded stare or, in fact, make a habit of seducing maidens -- all that was neither here nor there. Even now, even after witnessing for herself the depravity of that brass satyr door knocker, she would not sink so low as to spread filthy innuendo about Mr. Griffith behind his back.

Taking him to task directly to his face was another matter entirely.

She fully intended to confront the gentleman -- a loosely applied term here -- with his excesses. Afterwards, she would offer him the favor of her constructive criticism on his private life. From there, she would apprise him of his grave responsibility toward the people who depended on him for their livelihoods. Namely, the immigrant labor force he exploited, the downtrodden employees whose backs he had stepped upon on his climb to the top, the hardworking and unappreciated miners from the mountains of Pennsylvania.

Oh, she could go on and on with a litany of Mr. Griffith's sins. The point was, after their little tête-à-tête, he would hopefully come to his senses. Perhaps then he would give less time over to his various sordid amusements and concentrate more on his business concerns.

Such as Central Coal Mine, the company he had owned for the past twelve months and shamefully neglected.

After shaking her head and clucking her tongue several times, she smoothed a gloved hand over her puckered mouth -- to flatten her moue of disapproval -- squared her shoulders, and carried on. Assiduously avoiding the man-goat's ten-inch woolly…er…phallus, she dropped the repellant brass door knocker on its pointy-horned head.

Mr. Griffith was not expecting her. What of it? She would remain on the grounds of his estate, camped out on his doorstep if necessary, under the satyr's obscene leer if need be, until the notorious industrialist granted her a private interview.

No inconvenience. She had no place else to go. And no means of getting there even if she did.

Tegan tightened the drawstrings of her reticule, heavy as the very dickens, but not due to an overstuffed money purse. She’d had to sell her parents' wedding bands to subsidize her trip. And with no funds left over to purchase a return train fare, her feet her only means of transportation back home.

In a word, she was impoverished. Though financially embarrassed was vastly more polite.

Oh! Finally. The ornate front door swung wide.

A matronly servant squinted at Tegan and asked, "Here for the soiree?"

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