Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
“Miriam Minger is a master storyteller who illustrates
the full gamut of emotions felt by her characters.
Emotions so strong that you are pulled into
the pages and into their lives.” – Inside Romance
1992 by Miriam Minger.
With the exception of quotes
used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by
any means existing without written permission from the author.
Originally published by Avon Books, February 1992
Cover Copyright © 2010 by Hot Damn Designs
This is a work of fiction.
Any references to historical events, real
people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the
author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Other Electronic Books by Miriam Minger
Regency Era Romances:
A Hint of
Table of Contents
"Yer late, ye little bitch!"
Nimbly dodging her father's swinging fist, her heart
thundering, Susanna Guthrie skittered barefoot across the dirt floor and took
refuge behind a lopsided table.
Daniel Guthrie was drunk again.
In the hazy light cast by the smoking oil lamp, his
watery eyes were red-rimmed and his once-handsome face was flushed and bloated.
The stuffy air reeked of cheap gin, sweat, and urine. Shattered liquor bottles
littered the tiny cellar, a sure sign of her father's explosive anger. An anger
which the long-unemployed foundryman would easily vent upon Susanna if she was
foolish enough to come within arm's reach. Her bruised young body still ached
from the cuffing he'd given her yesterday; her thin shoulders still stung from
last week's lashing.
"Where the 'ell 'ave ye been, girl?" Daniel
slurred thickly, staggering toward her. "Ye know me rules. Yer t' be back
'ere by sunset with yer day's earnings. 'Twas dark two 'ours past!"
Lurching into the table, he glared at her furiously. "Answer me, ye chit,
and stop starin' at me with those big green saucers o' yers! Where were
Susanna swallowed hard against the fear that was
paralyzing her throat. She drew some courage from the hope that her explanation
for her tardiness would soothe his temper.
"Covent Garden Theatre, Papa," she blurted in
a nervous rush. "An op'ra was playin' there tonight, so I went t' the
front entrance t' do me beggin'. Look!" She fished into both pockets of
her filthy, tattered skirt and withdrew two handfuls of gleaming coins. "I
tied one leg up under me dress joost like y' taught me and limped 'round with a
wooden crutch under me shoulder. I must 'ave been a truly pitiful sight, for two
fine ladies with tears rollin' down their rouged cheeks gave me a shillin'
apiece. A kind gentl'man, too!"
"Dump the money on the table," Daniel
commanded, his eyes alight with greed and his fury clearly forgotten as he
plopped heavily onto a bench. "That's me clever girl. All of it now, and
show me yer pockets."
Susanna quickly obliged him. In her fumbling haste to
turn her pockets inside out and prove that they were empty, she tore a hole in
one of them.
"Friggin' flimsy fabric," she muttered under
her breath, poking her forefinger through the offending tear. Now she would
have to mend her only skirt before she set off to beg in the early morning, and
she hated sewing!
Intent upon the pocket, Susanna did not look up in time
to see her father's sudden movement. His sharp, unexpected box to her ear sent
her reeling to the floor.
"I'll 'ear no more cursin' from ye, Susanna
Jane!" Daniel shouted, retaking his seat with a grunt. "Yer mother's
foul tongue, the devil rest 'er soul, was the bane o' me life, and I'll not
'ave the same from ye! 'Tis bad enough ye remind me of
'er, the witch, wi' yer honey hair and
Her head ringing from the painful blow, Susanna gripped
a table leg and rose shakily. Hot tears burned her eyes, but she stubbornly forced
them back. She wouldn't give her father the satisfaction of seeing her cry, no
matter how much he hurt her. She had learned early that tears didn't help
anyway. They seemed to make him madder, and he would hit her again, just for
Instead, as she silently watched him count the coins
and test their metal between his rotted teeth, Susanna thought for the
thousandth time of leaving Daniel Guthrie and his brutality far behind her. But
where could she go? He had warned that if she ever ran away, he would not rest
until he found her, and she believed him. Oh, how she believed him. She could
well imagine the beating he would give her then.
Sighing, Susanna darted a glance around the shadowed
At least here she had a roof over her head, a bed of
straw, and one meal a day, which was far better than sleeping cold, miserable,
and starving in doorways and dark alleys. As for her father's abuse, his very
presence did offer her some measure of protection from others who might seek to
do her harm.
At twelve going on thirteen, she was experiencing most
perplexing changes in her body, including a bloody flux that came every month,
starting five months ago, and budding breasts and gentle curves she could not
hide. She had seen the leers lately on the faces of male passersby, the hungry,
speculative looks that made her shudder. She would be a fool if she left this
place to spend the nights alone on London's streets, prey to any ruffian or
footpad who might take a lustful fancy to her.
No, she was safer here, at least until she found a
position as a scullery maid in some gentry household. Her father could hardly
object to the steady work and wage, which couldn't be found in the begging
trade, and she wouldn't be running away from him. He would know exactly where
she lived and would share in her earnings. Mayhap he would even be pleased with
her new status.
She, for one, had no intention of remaining a beggar
forever. Not Susanna Jane Guthrie.
She had big dreams. Dreams of putting this miserable
existence behind her and making a better life for herself, and, if she was
lucky, in a few years finding a skilled tradesman to marry. It wasn't so
important that they love each other, just that he be a good, honest man. A man
she could trust and put her faith in. A man wholly unlike her father. Together,
if they worked hard enough, maybe they could afford a place of their own
someday, a small business or a shop. Aye, a shop with a fine bow window would
"Ye did well this day, chit," Daniel said,
his gruff voice jarring Susanna's daydreaming. He scooped the stacked coins
into a small leather pouch and stuffed it inside his stained shirt. "But
I've a way ye can do even better, and God knows" —his bleary eyes raked
her appraisingly, lingering on her swelling bodice— "yer old enough
"How's that, Papa?" Susanna asked, growing
uncomfortable under his queer scrutiny.
"Never ye mind. Take these two pennies upstairs t'
Nellie Brice in the gin shop and buy yerself a pitcher of 'ot water, then bring
it down 'ere and clean yerself up. Oh, aye, and fetch me another bottle o' gin.
We've a fine gentleman caller comin' t' see y' tonight."
Confused, Susanna stared at him. "A gentl'man . .
. t' see me?"
"Aye. Mr. Keefer Dunn. Enough questions now. Go on
She tensed, growing wary.
Keefer Dunn was no gentleman, but a well-known
scoundrel and king of thieves who had grown wealthy from the sale of stolen
goods. She had seen him leaving the cellar just the other day as she was
returning home from a day's begging. With his ruddy face marred by the pox and
his crooked gap-toothed smile, he was not a pretty sight, and the disturbingly
possessive way his strange amber eyes had roamed over her had filled her with
disgust. Even more repulsive had been the pungent smell of sweat and stale ale
that had emanated from him as he passed her on the street, the odor heightened
by his sickeningly sweet cologne.
"I don't understand, Papa. Wot does Mr. Dunn want
Too late, Susanna realized she'd asked her father one
too many questions. His face had grown so red it had taken on the hue of an
overripe berry, and looked fit to burst at any moment.
"Are ye daft, girl?" Daniel exploded, jumping
up from the bench so suddenly that it crashed to the floor. "Surely y'
didn't think I'd waste yer beauty upon the beggar's trade! Ha' ye not looked
into a mirror o' late? Yer bloomin' into a fine-lookin' wench, and ye've caught
Keefer's eye, ye 'ave! He's bought ye for the night and paid me a pretty price,
too! I was at me wit's end when ye didn't come home, and 'im probably on 'is
way t' see ye even as we speak. Now get yer bloody arse upstairs so ye'll be
ready when 'e comes t' call! 'E wants a virgin, and a clean one!"
Susanna was thunderstruck, his words searing into her
brain like red-hot pokers. She felt ill, her meager lunch of dry, days-old
bread and sour milk roiling in her stomach.
Her father had sold her to Keefer Dunn! He wanted her
to whore for him! What a fool she was to have believed she was safe here. After
years of his abuse, she should have guessed he would do something like this—
"Keep in mind, chit, that if ye please Keefer
b'neath the sheets tonight, 'e might take ye on for a while as 'is
mistress," Daniel added coarsely, oblivious to her horrified distress.
"Joost think of it! Fancy clothes, plenty o' food t' put some flesh on
those skinny ribs o' yers, and money t' buy whate'er yer 'eart desires. You and
me can make a right pretty penny t'gether.
Daniel gaped at her in stunned surprise, his face
turning an even deeper shade of red. Finally he managed to choke out,
"Tell me I 'eard ye incorrectly, Susanna Jane. Y' know bloody well the
price for disobeyin' yer father. Now I'll 'ear an 'Aye, Papa' if ye
Susanna shook her head, her knees quaking so badly she
could almost hear them knocking together. She had never crossed Daniel Guthrie
before. It was both heady and terribly frightening, yet this time he had gone
too far. She would not be his whore!
"Ye heard me right, Papa," she said, her
heart beating violently in her chest. Commanding her limbs to move, she began
to edge around the table. "I won't do it. I've begged fer ye since I was
only four years old and picked pockets time and again, but I will na' whore fer
ye." She glanced in panic at the door, which seemed miles away instead of
a few short feet, then back to her father, "I 'ave dreams, Papa. I—I was
plannin' t' find work as a scullery maid—"