Authors: Lily Maxton
Tags: #historical romance, #England, #regency romance, #Entangled Scandalous, #Regency Era, #regency, #opposites attract, #London, #bet
Anne was rather bemused when a letter came for her via a footman later that day, and upon retiring to her room to read it, she recognized the Earl of Thornhill’s seal. She hadn’t expected a response. In fact, she’d hoped he would silently accept her apology and she
receive a response.
She sat down at her writing desk and opened the letter.
Was that supposed to make me feel better? Your apologies could use a little refinement. I don’t believe that Elizabeth would have been happy with me if she had accepted my proposal. Nor do I think you believe it. Content, possibly, but it’s not exactly the same.
Nor do I think you would have cared that much if Miss Richards cornered me again. She didn’t, if you were wondering so you could have a good laugh over it. I managed to escape the library and Lord Fairchild’s town house unmolested.
Curiosity compels me to ask—did you ever return the volume that you “borrowed” from our gracious host?
Anne, gnawing on her lower lip, found herself reaching for another sheet of parchment before she’d even finished reading the letter.
I shall remember not to send you any more apology letters in the future. I may be dreadful at writing them, but you’re dreadful at receiving them. There is something to be said for the gracious acceptance of an apology.
Miss Richards must have been so disappointed! And she was so tenacious—creeping into the library, throwing herself at you with pent-up passion. It brought much amusement to my evening.
I have not returned the volume yet. I’ve decided to peruse it before letting it find its way back to our gracious host’s library. Perhaps I will learn something that will be useful when I entrap my future husband at a musical soiree.
This time, when she handed the note over to her maid, a part of her (a very small part!) was curious to see if he would write back to her. That small part of her wasn’t disappointed when she received a letter the next day. Nor was it disappointed the day after, or the day after that. To Anne’s eternal surprise, their correspondence didn’t dwindle off after a few letters, but continued throughout the Middletons’ remaining week in London.
Dear Miss Middleton,
Of course I endeavor to amuse you. I shall try to find myself in other ridiculous situations simply to accomplish the feat.
Now it’s my turn to apologize. I was overly harsh when I made that comment. I cannot excuse my behavior, but I can endeavor to explain it. Part of my reaction was due to the fact that you came across me at a bad moment, and feeling like one is being laughed at when they’re already frustrated does not tend to make them feel charitable.
The other part of my reaction was due to this—you don’t act like any other young woman I’m acquainted with. You toe the line of decorum more often than not. You speak more bluntly than a lady should. You say things you shouldn’t say. You read things you shouldn’t read.
I suppose I don’t know what to make of you.
Dear Lord Thornhill,
Ha! I see I’m not the only one who writes dreadful apologies. A little refinement, indeed!
I don’t know how to answer your letter. You make me feel like a three-eyed fish or some such mutated creature. I’ve always been the way I am, as far as I can remember. I’m not attempting to be contrary; I simply don’t see why a woman shouldn’t speak her mind or have strong opinions or be allowed to do the things a man does.
I sound like a bluestocking…if only I had a voracious appetite for reading like my sister Olivia, I would truly fit the definition.
I don’t think my mother knows what to make of me, either, nor do the men she attempts to pair me off with. But it doesn’t matter overmuch. I like the way I am. I don’t wish to change myself to fit someone else’s expectations.
And really, proper debutantes are boring, aren’t they?
To keep in the spirit of impropriety and to satisfy
curiosity—have you read Confessions of a Courtesan
I cannot fathom why I’m answering this question, but here it is: I bought the novel yesterday and read the first chapter. I’d like to point out that the part about Duke M’s insatiability is most likely exaggerated. A man making love to a woman four separate times in the span of an hour is highly implausible.
Do three-eyed fish exist? Have you ever seen one?
You shouldn’t change yourself to fit someone else’s expectations. I like the way you are, too. You simply require a little getting used to.
I bow to the master of backhanded compliments. What next? Will you compare me to new boots that need to be softened with wear? A horse that needs breaking? A dreadful wine that needs to be gulped before one acquires a taste for it?
I have not seen a three-eyed fish, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Speaking of exotic things, you lived in India for some time, did you not? Do you ever miss the adventure?
Why is Duke M’s insatiability implausible?
My dear Miss Middleton,
It was only a compliment. Not a backhanded one. Some of the finest things are acquired tastes—because of their complexity, I think. It’s easy to immediately take to something. It’s not as easy to peel back layer after layer and make new discoveries.
I thought I would miss India more than I do—I left home to find adventure (and partly to escape my parents) and I did, but it’s a hard land. I’m lucky I didn’t acquire malaria or something worse. And taking on the responsibility of an earldom is like its own adventure, albeit with less heat and insects, which I can’t say I miss.
I won’t go into the physiology of the act (you could “borrow” an anatomy book), but I will say that men need some time to recover after making love.
Horses? I recall you mentioning horses on another occasion.
Very well, I shall take the compliment as it was intended. Thank you.
You went to India to escape your parents?! I often dream of escaping my parents, but I don’t think I’d travel halfway around the world to do so. What’s wrong with them?
Did you see any tigers in India? I’ve never seen a live one, but I’ve viewed illustrations of them and they look like lovely, fierce creatures.
Changing subjects—how much time does this recovery take?
I wanted to ask you about an act I read on page one hundred and two with Earl L. Do men actually enjoy this as much as our anonymous courtesan would have us believe?
Nothing in particular is wrong with my parents. I simply never quite lived up to their expectations. I was small for a boy—I didn’t grow much until I was nearly sixteen, and I looked odd, I’m afraid—a gangly, thin lad with a nose that took up half my face. I was painfully shy for several years before I grew into my features and gained more confidence.
My parents would look at my cousin Charles and wonder why I wasn’t more like him (extraordinarily handsome, charming, never lacking any sort of confidence). They weren’t very good at hiding their disappointment with me.
And I don’t mean to seem self-pitying. But yes, it was a large factor in my decision to board an East Indiaman and sail to an exotic land. Perhaps I was too rash. But I wouldn’t trade the experience.
I did see a tiger. I went on a hunting expedition with a few other men. I never thought it would be difficult to pull the trigger (it seems odd—the joy men garner in exerting their dominance over nature). The tiger came crashing through the underbrush, an orange and black blur, snarling like a creature from hell.
It was beautiful. I couldn’t kill it.
One of the other men did. As I watched the powerful creature draw its last breaths, all I could think was that it was a horrible thing we’d done. I didn’t go on another expedition after that.
I’ve spent too much time speaking of myself. Tell me something about you.
The time to recover depends on many variables—age, health, and so on. I cannot give you one answer.
And I cannot believe I’m addressing this, but yes, I would suspect most men enjoy the act described on page one hundred and two. Women can be the recipients, as well, and they enjoy it if done with finesse—refer to page one hundred seventy-six.
I am glad you could not kill it. I would be disappointed in you if you had. I think your inability to pull the trigger doesn’t show weakness, but strength. You didn’t fail to act because you were frightened, but because you recognized that a thing of power and beauty shouldn’t be harmed.
Your command is rather vague, but I shall endeavor to do my best. My favorite place to be is Middleton Hall, where I can roam about the countryside freely and escape my mother (much easier than traveling to India, you see). I love to dance, but I prefer being outdoors to in. I like riding in the evening so I can gallop toward the sunset…it’s fanciful (especially for me, as I don’t consider myself fanciful), but it feels like I’m chasing the sun. I like to make ridiculous wagers with my sisters and I’m a poor loser. Now you have probably learned more about me than you wished to.
Actually, you could give me one answer regarding the recovery issue—yours.
You are outpacing me on Confessions of a Courtesan
. If you’re not careful, I’ll assume you are actually enjoying the book.
One last question—have you done the acts on those pages?
I would hate to have you disappointed in me. And thank you for saying that it was an act of strength.
I prefer the outdoors as well. though with my new responsibilities I can’t follow my whims as often. I should demand my steward meet me in the park if I have something to discuss with him. I cannot be the first earl to make strange demands.
I do not mind dancing, but I’m not particularly fond of it. I wager on occasion, but I don’t gamble reckless amounts as some men do. I would also consider myself a poor loser—though as the title requires, I always act supremely confident, even when losing. However, I win more often than I lose.
I’ve never chased the sunset—I think I would like to. I imagine you riding at dusk with your hair streaming behind you. Astride, not sidesaddle. (See, I can be shocking, as well.)
I assume you dislike the Season, then, aside from the dancing?
Though your thirst for knowledge is admirable, I’m not going to answer your questions.
Unlike you, I am only willing to push the bounds of propriety so far.
You make it sound as though I’m placating you—I don’t placate, my lord. Well, occasionally I do, but it tends to come out awkward and obvious (for reference, see my apology letter which you so nicely remarked on).
Now I will return the shock—I do sometimes ride astride.
I’m not overly fond of the Season—which is a shame as this is my fourth. My mother has lost all hope of a good match. She will have to settle for some penniless cousin who wants my dowry.
Your reticence has answered my question. It must be yes. But I’m curious about which act—or, heaven forbid, both of them!
You are not featured in Confessions of a Courtesan, are you? Is there an Earl T I haven’t yet read about?
My dearest Anne,
You deserve far better than a man who values you only for your dowry.
Rein in your imagination. I will not tell you of my past experiences, whether it’s proper or not (it’s not, of course). It simply doesn’t seem gentlemanly to me.
But I can answer your last question—no, I’ve never employed the services of a courtesan. I prefer to let these affairs happen in a more natural manner.
Anne was still thinking about that last letter as she sat with Olivia and Elizabeth toward the back of a public assembly hall in Brighton. There was a scattering of uncomfortable chairs for the chaperones, older women, and wallflowers to make use of. The Middleton sisters fit right in—a countess who married a bookseller and who, though still beautiful and charming, was no longer quite as sought-after at the few events she was invited to; Anne, who had never been sought-after because she was too direct and opinionated for most men’s tastes; and Olivia, who wasn’t sought-after because she had the opposite problem, being shy and reserved around men.
They were quite the trio.
But Anne was barely paying attention to the fact that no one had asked her to dance yet. Michael’s letter took up the forefront of her mind. Not the letter itself, but the way he’d addressed her.