During the nineteenth century a debutante who wanted to marry well would count among her advantages beauty, a spotless reputation, a good lineage and a handsome dowry.
My heroine in Rake's Honour, Fanny Brightwell, has beauty, a perfectly acceptable lineage, a paltry dowry and, until she goes to dinner alone with the man she'd assumed was going to ask her to marry him, a spotless reputation..
In the following scene, I show how Fanny's miscalculation plays right into the hands of another aged and odious suitor, Lord Slyther. He's already sired an heir by his first wife and now he's looking for a delectable debutante to make his wife - and his slave.
You can see why Fanny is prepared to take great risks to make the man she really loves - the notorious rake, Lord Fenton - her slave... so he'll make her his wife.
Excerpt from Rake's Honour
"Ah, but, Miss Brightwell, your misfortune is that you have miscalculated, and my fortune is that it gives me all the bargaining power in the world.”
Her already great horror was compounded as she felt his hand upon her neck, gently caressing her skin. Frozen, unable to move as she accepted the truth of his assessment, she trembled as she tried to assimilate his words. Until last night, she had conducted herself with all the decorum required by a chaste innocent, hopeful of contracting a suitable marriage. True, she wasn’t decorous by nature, but only the gleam in her eye when a handsome gentleman showed interest would give her away, surely? Not her actions. Her mother had spent her lifetime trying to subdue that reckless, adventurous streak Fanny had inherited from her ill-fated father and, until last night, Fanny could not have been accused of anything that would compromise her reputation.
“It is true, my lord, that I accompanied Lord Alverley to Vauxhall, alone, in masquerade,” she whispered, “but my virtue is unblemished.”
“Surely the boy tried to kiss you.” In the firelight she saw Lord Slyther’s stained teeth bared with prurient interest before he burst out laughing. “You didn’t enjoy it, eh? Well, that’s good, because as your future husband it’s my job to show you how to kiss. Now stand up, Miss Brightwell, if you please, and face me.”
Fanny rose, silent while her mind whirled at this new and dreadful situation. Her mother was in the next room with Antoinette. When Fanny emerged with Lord Slyther to announce the news of their engagement, Lady Brightwell would clasp Fanny tenderly to her bosom in perhaps the only gesture of genuine pleasure she’d ever extend towards her eldest daughter—the daughter upon whom she was pinning all her hopes. All the family’s hopes, Fanny amended silently. Either she or Antoinette was required to make a decent marriage if the Brightwell family was not to slide into worse than simply genteel poverty. If Fanny was not prepared to sacrifice herself to this horror, there would be no more rubbing shoulders with the haut ton. No, she’d be rubbing the chilblains of some crotchety old woman to whom she’d be paid companion, while Antoinette worked as a governess and their mother lived out her days beholden to her detested cousin, having never forgiven Fanny for failing in her duty.
“Show me your ankles.”
Fanny swallowed down her surprised outrage, only raising the skirts of her cerulean blue lutestring gown when he repeated the command, his voice now cajoling.
He relaxed deeper into his chair with a sigh. “Such prettily turned little ankles, Miss Brightwell.” He patted his heart. “Indeed, you are going to bring me much pleasure in my dotage. Now let me feel your ankle, if you please. That’s right—raise your leg upon the footstool so I may bend forward and caress your pretty little limb.”
At this, Fanny objected while trying not to cry. Never had she been so demeaned in all her life. “With all due respect, my Lord, I committed no sin greater than conversing alone with Lord Alverley.”
“And kissing him.”
“Your reputation is besmirched, Miss Brightwell, and only I will be prepared to overlook it once it becomes public knowledge. Now, if you please, my dear, raise your little ankle over the arm of my chair so I may stroke it for you while we discuss the terms of this marriage you’re in no position to refuse.”
Sucking in a shuddering breath, Fanny raised her leg, hooking her ankle over the arm of Lord Slyther’s chair, bracing herself against the horror of the liberties he was about to take.
When his fat, bejewelled hands clasped her calf and began to stroke the contours up to her garters, just below the knee, she tried to transport herself back to the evening before, when in the arms of the thrilling stranger she had discovered her body’s responses to pleasures unknown. It was no use. Lord Slyther’s loathsome touch put him in the league of some wart-ridden toad, crawling, fat and oily to the touch.
At least she had the protection of a sheath of white silk, but when he tugged at the ribbon of her garter and slowly eased one stocking down to her ankle, she felt her defences all but crumble.
Lord Slyther rested his cheek against the bare flesh of her calf and, as if reading her thoughts, said between laboured breaths, “If you call your mother there will be no wedding and your peccadilloes, Miss Brightwell, will be all over town. Ah, such sweet young flesh. Let me press a kiss to that adorable point just behind the knee. Yes, you’ll have to turn around so I can reach it better.”
Horrified, Fanny gasped, “You’ve already determined the terms of our marriage with my mother?” She squeezed her eyes shut as Lord Slyther put his hands on her hips and drew her closer. Clutching the hem of her skirt, he raised it thigh high and she braced for the wetness of his lips against her skin.
“At great length, Miss Brightwell. Indeed, she was most forthcoming, offering me first your younger sister, Antoinette, whom she described as much more manageable.” He chuckled as she shuddered at the touch of his wet tongue upon the sensitive flesh behind her knee, while he steadied her, his stubby fingers digging into her thighs. “Less likely to cause me problems. I told her I had eyes only for you.” He had to stop to draw in another shuddering breath. “Turn around again, Miss Brightwell, so I can see your face. That’s right, yes…and just what I’d hoped to see. Fear. Innocent creature though you are now, I intend to keep you true to your adoring and—as long as you play your cards right—indulgent husband.”
Fanny fought hard not to cry. She was helpless. Her mother would not come at her screams, she knew that, for her mother had all but sold her to this loathsome creature.
“I also relish the idea of keeping such a bold and beautiful creature as you in check, my dearest Miss Brightwell. Now, sit on my lap. As I have satisfied myself that your lovely limbs are as soft and well-formed as in my fevered imaginings, it is time to satisfy myself as to your wondrous bosom. No, do not be afraid, Miss Brightwell. I plan to keep some surprises on hold. No doubt you wish to build up your anticipation for our wedding night as much as I do. For now, I wish merely to caress those magnificent mounds of creamy flesh while we discuss some of my stipulations as regards our happy union.”
If you'd like to be in the running for an e-copy of Rake's Honour just tell me the names of two other of my releases and I'll select a commenter at random at the end of the blog-a-thon.
You'll find the answers on my website at www.beverleyoakley.com
Have fun and good luck!