Authors: Sally Orr
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency
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Copyright © 2016 by Sally Orr
Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover art by Judy York
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Apart from well-known historical figures, any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
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This book is dedicated to the wonderful author Wendy Kitchen.
What manner of ladies would he find on his doorstep today? Wilting Flowers or Happy Goers? Previous experience taught George Drexel that any lady who managed to discover his place of residence must be displeased with her perceived category in his book,
The Rake’s Handbook: Including Field Guide
Four years ago, George had agreed to write the field guide on a drunken wager. A friend challenged his reputed successes with the fairer sex, so he wrote the book to prove his greater knowledge of females—and their bedroom behaviors—than the average gentleman’s. In his field guide, he created fictional initials to describe each lady’s best features and intimate habits. He then grouped these ladies into six representative categories. Of course, he’d never dare use the initials of
names, or he could find himself facing some husband seeking satisfaction.
At the time, the book proved his expertise and turned out to be a monetary success. The extra funds were welcome to a young man-about-town. Then last week the field guide’s publisher announced that he planned to print a second edition in three months’ time. Upon this news, many of London’s older females—widows and married women—started to appear on his doorstep. The ladies called to plead for initials similar to their real names to be included in the next edition.
Sitting at his large desk by the window, he tucked his black hair behind his ears and examined the women on his doorstep. Since the day was a warm one, the ladies wore light muslin walking dresses, so he could easily admire the details of their figures.
The older, gray-haired lady, busy directing the younger one where to stand on his doorstep, likely possessed more experience in bedroom behaviors. She probably paid him a call today to ask him to move her presumptive initials into the higher category of lady termed “Happy Goers,” a very popular category in the field guide. The other, possibly younger lady avoided her companion’s direct gaze and appeared hesitant in her manners. From previous interviews, she likely suffered from an unhappy marriage. Still, he was able to discern that she possessed a very fine figure, indeed. This aging beauty might have assumed her initials appeared under the category of Wilting Flowers, a great injustice, so she had joined her companion today to complain to the author directly and request an elevated category too.
Much to George’s surprise, these female visitors never complained about the impropriety of his book. Instead, every lady requested her position to be elevated to a more notorious category in the next edition. Whether the presumed advantage of a higher category resulted in practical gains, such as additional lovers, or greater bragging rights during card parties, he had no way to determine. But now after numerous interviews, he suspected these older ladies derived their greatest enjoyment from the excitement of believing themselves to be naughty.
Regardless of the ladies’ aspirations, George resented this upcoming distraction, since he had an important business deadline to meet. He had been given a month to diagram a new drain for the Thames Tunnel, and with a little over a week remaining, only half of the plans had been completed. Picking up his pencil, he resumed work on his drainage plans.
A predictable thirty seconds after the ladies arrival, his ever-efficient housekeeper, Mrs. Morris, entered the cluttered parlor. “The first of the female callers has arrived today, sir. Shall I show them in?”
“Can I refuse?” George ground his teeth and kept his eyes focused on the detailed drawing in front of him.
Mrs. Morris did not reply. A distant cousin of his mother, she had successfully run the household staff with apparent ease and privately treated him like her own son.
Once aware of her unusual silence, George looked up and noticed her watery gaze. He dropped his pencil on the desk, moved close, and gave her a brief hug.
Her lower lip trembled. “Oh, sir, I
sorry. You worked so hard on that bridge. In my opinion, it’s a crime to ask an engineer to work diligently, give him hope, and then crush him by refusing to fund it. All because of some stuff and nonsense about that silly field guide. A book I’d bet not a single one of those Bristol townsfolk would even admit they read.” She sniffed. “If there is any justice in the world, those Bristol scoundrels should be arrested and jailed.” She pulled out a white handkerchief from her apron pocket and wiped her eyes. “Your iron suspension bridge is beautiful, sir. I know someday another city will be fortunate to have it.”
Mrs. Morris’s vigorous defense of his latest failure brought him out of his doldrums and fortified his resolve. He’d never give up his dreams and ambitions. Perhaps someday his unique chain bridge would be built elsewhere. He desperately hoped so. Every gentleman knew that the future would be built using iron and steam, and he wanted his chance to contribute. He dreamed of building a grand structure to serve the people of England for centuries. Then, like the Pantheon in Rome, he’d credit himself as the builder by marking his creation front and center: George Drexel Fecit. “Thank you, Mrs. Morris, for your unbiased belief in my abilities.” He winked. “But we don’t want to keep the ladies waiting. I suggest you remain in the hallway, since this interview will last exactly five minutes.”
“You sound like you plan to eat them.”
“Right, a happy thought. I’ll enter the hallway and growl at them. My brown bear impression should frighten them enough that they will flee the house immediately. Then I can return to my work.”
“I doubt that will prove effective.” She shook her head, making the gray curls peeking out from under her lace cap bounce. “While in person you appear quite dark and scornful, your habit of spontaneous drollery usually endears you to the more clever ladies within minutes.”
“I’ll have you know my drollery is excessively planned.” He took a deep breath. “Well then, if my growl is insufficient, I’ll throw in a snarl or two.”
“Any lady in her right mind will realize you pose no threat. These ladies may even like bears.”
Mrs. Morris had been the housekeeper since his parents’ marriage, so he could rarely fool her with any sort of gammon.
“Besides,” she said, “these ladies are always very determined. They would have to be, wouldn’t they? They must have a vulgar nature, indeed, to ask for the favors they seek. I would have expected them to be offended and take you to task for penning such a foolish book, but this forward behavior”—she shook her head—“well, that beats everything.”
“I’m thankfully ignorant about the subject of ladies’ jumbled motivations and wish to remain so. We’ll just ask them to leave as soon as possible. Then I can finish my drainage plans on time.” He’d rather instantly march them out of the door, but he must try to behave like a gentleman.
Just a month earlier, the youthful mistake of writing his shocking field guide had mostly been forgotten by society. But the news of a possible second edition revived all sorts of tittle-tattle. Today he needed a gentleman’s spotless reputation to earn building contracts from local officials. The publication of a second edition might revive the scandal and damage his reputation. His new career as an engineer of public works would be finished before it even had a chance to start.
He chucked Mrs. Morris under the chin. “I also take exception to your evaluation that I pose no threat—I certainly feel like a dark beast. Let’s get this interview over with, so I can return to work.”
Mrs. Morris headed back to the ladies waiting in the hall, while he took a position in front of the fire with his fists resting on his hips and legs set in a wide stance.
The two ladies stepped into the parlor and froze. Their eyes widened as they glanced around the cluttered room.
George remained silent, waiting for the women to criticize him for the disorder created by the many wooden models of bridges, tunnels, and steam engines covering most of the tables and floor. If a lady smiled after viewing the untidy room, he would show his gratitude by making the interview quick but courteous. However, if the many tossed books, bits of iron, and wooden human models elicited the universally recognized frown of feminine disapproval, then he’d resort to the angry bear to hasten their departure.
The older woman frowned and shook her head. “Oh dear.”
A wide-eyed, fixed stare graced the other lady’s features. “So deplorable.”
Right, time to open the cage door.
“Ladies, please take a seat.” He motioned to a pair of ivory tub chairs directly in front of him. “I’m honored you’ve called upon me today. However, it is an inopportune moment. So speak up.”
Both ladies stiffened. The older lady, perhaps fifty, held her lace handkerchief to her mouth and cleared her throat. “Well, I…I don’t know how to begin.” She continued to glance around the disordered room. “We…we heard a rumor that a second edition… Such horrid conditions,” said the older lady. “You obviously lack a wife.”
The prettier lady, not much younger, slouched in her chair.
He flashed his most wicked grin. “Are you applying for the position? As head of the household the position of wife is, of course, under me.”
“Well, I never—” The older woman balled a fist.
“I doubt…” He paused and mentally kicked himself in the arse. For the sake of what remained of his gentlemanly reputation, he should at least try to adhere to his resolution not to offend them. “Let me be of assistance. Even though you fully understand my book is fiction…you ladies
understand the field guide is satire?”