I See London, I See France

I located an amazing board on Pinterest where corsets and stays and chemises are shown in real life. I love this one of a chemise. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/217298750742808383/

And more pretty things to go under the actual gown: http://www.koshka-the-cat.com/regency_underthings.html

And another statement that the drawers were just not the thing: http://www.janeausten.co.uk/corsets-and-drawers-a-look-at-regency-underwear/

So we pretty much see how women got on for most of the month, but what about when Aunt Flo came to visit? You know, that time of the month. LONG before maxi-pads and tampons. I have found a place where this seems to be the conclusion: They used nothing. http://www.mum.org/pastgerm.htm I am not sure that works for Regency women, but for rural and lower classes, it could be just part of life.

However, some interesting points there include that women began menstruation much later than today, used no contraceptive, so were pregnant and not menstruating most of the time, and also breastfed so again, they put a stop to it. Plus many had no idea of good nutrition, and were malnourished or overweight or sick most of the time. So when they did have their monthly courses, they uses pads that were held in place by a belt of some sort. This is speculations, but not a bad guess.

Everyday stockings would be similar to the ones on this page: http://www.fugawee.com/Stockings/stockings.htm but they would not do for a fancy dress ball. http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2012/03/wearing-right-shoes-stockings-in-1811.html Most of the history of stockings and hose skip right over the Regency period http://www.stockingirl.com/hosieryhistory.html which probably means nothing much changed during that time. Finally, someone mentioned the garters! http://uffnervintage.blogspot.com/2010/01/hose-me-down-so-where-are-my-garters.html

Now to shoes, the finishing touch. The women could pick dancing slippers, boots, and heels, according to this wonderful site: http://www.american-duchess.com/shoes-18th-century Here’s a complete history of the shoe: http://all-that-is-interesting.com/fascinating-history-footwear

The final package: http://www.wemakehistory.com/Fashion/Regency/RegencyLadies/RegencyLadies.htm
http://www.kristenkoster.com/2011/11/a-primer-on-regency-era-womens-fashion/

And just for fun, I leave you with this until Sunday.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tanyachen/wow-the-history-of-womens-shoes-is-really-insane-and-patriar

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Slip of the Tongue – Or – The Foundation Series – Or – The Stays the Thing.

I may have mentioned that I write Regency Romances. Published nothing so far, but come pretty close a time or two. Under and assumed name so my sister won’t be ashamed to acknowledge me in public, I am writing erotica. I have a fun scene where the hero dances the heroine outside and into a hedge maze, and does unspeakable things to her. That’s why I wrote it down, instead of making a recording.

One reader was amazed that the hero could simply pull her sleeves down her arms a bit, and all her glorious bounty lay exposed before him. “Didn’t they have bras?” she asked. No. No, they did not.

I’ll let Uncle Wiki fill you in on the history of the brassiere. Suffice to say bras were not used until the late 1800s, and the Regency era really slipped into the Victorian era about 1820. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_brassieres

What did the women do to keep the “girls” in line? There were several options. Much depended on the social status of the woman. Regency women dressed like an onion, in layers. First there was the chemise, also called a shift. Often this was the nightgown, too. Over this light and easily washed shift, would go the stays. https://mantua-maker.com/Corset_Patterns.html The breasts were lovingly placed into the stiff cotton twill garment, and a wooden (usually) busk (yardstick) is inserted in the front, in a pocket designed just for that use. The stays were expected to flatten the stomach, but lift and separate the bosom. This is more flattering than the Georgian flat from neck to toes style, and much more comfortable than the Victorian corset.

The shoulder straps, as you can see here: http://www.songsmyth.com/underthings.html can be undone from the front and tucked in the back, if your ball gown had a wide neckline. So my hero could easily have pulled the stays down the slender heroine, with no impediment.

Shall we finish dressing our Regency Heroine? Why not! Over the stays, her ‘tiring woman or abigail places the petticoat. The bodice of the petticoat would be of a cheap, coarse fabric, and the had open sides for eas of dressing. Strips of fabric tape tied it all closed. The chemise would not be ankle length, but the petticoat was designed to fill out the shape of the dress, so that the wearer’s legs could not be easily perceived under her gown. It went to the hem and had at least one ruffle, properly called a flounce. http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/why-petticoats-and-chemises-were-worn-under-regency-gowns-jane-austens-world/

Drawers, you ask? Oh, no. Only fast women and prostitutes would wear drawers! http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/11/06/ladies-underdrawers-in-regency-times/

But that’s a step backward. Here are a few more wonderful links on the subject, and next Thursday we’ll look at the outer layers, and that wonderful hobby, laundry! Have a good week.

http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2007/10/undressing-your.html

http://www.kristenkoster.com/2011/11/a-primer-on-regency-era-womens-fashion/

The Formula of Love

Well, it’s a tie. Only one vote came in on the three possible candidates for modeling my heroine after, and then there’s my vote. But as the official tie breaker, I get to pick the one I want. My friend and fellow writer who voted picked my least favorite of the three, to my amazement. She felt the first picture was too sleek and modern-looking, and the third, my favorite, looked too inactive to be a heroine.

I’ve been large size since sometime after my 2nd birthday. I’ve juggled emotional issues and depression and low self-worth, and by some luck managed to stay alive long enough to meet a man who loves me more than I love myself. I’m not saying being overweight is not a problem. I found a plan that works for me and I have lost 70 pounds in the last two years. I’m taking a break and doing maintenance currently while dealing with financial stress (that is going away, hooray!) and getting through the last months before my retirement.

One thing that made the weight loss work is a support group that I found, and that I in turn support through my gift, writing. I take the notes for the group, and keep the information fresh in their minds. We have a great facilitator who is a certified nutritionist, and once a month we have a special speaker who has an amazing alphabet soup behind her name. She works with mostly young women who have eating disorders. She’s lost a few patients, too. It’s a very deadly condition that usually starts with a negative remark from another person. Or maybe just a friend tells you how to drop a few pounds quickly by purging. Size bigotry is killing more people than we realize.

I’m less active than I would like to be, but not long ago (within the last millennium) I took part in three times weekly aerobics classes, hiked with my dog on weekends, and went to as many social events as I could afford. Just last year I was in Tai Chi, my favorite form of exercise, and walk a few times a week at work, plus volunteer to walk dogs at the local humane society. Anything to keep from cleaning the house.

So to prove that size does not equal inactivity, I went on line. I found a wonderful site called Monica Wants It. This plus size beauty blogs about do it yourself decorating, crafts, entertaining, and weight loss. http://www.monicawantsit.com/search/label/fashion

I zipped over to Daily Venus Diva, a fashion place for beautiful and curvy women. I am so impressed and amazed that there are fashion models out there, working, and larger than I currently am. The site is for fans to follow large size celebs but it’s great for a quick boost of window shopping. http://dailyvenusdiva.com/

Tess Munster is a plus size beauty, a model, and a campaigner for acceptance for all sizes. I love her t-shirts that read “Eff Your Beauty Standards.” http://theplussizelife.blogspot.com/

There’s even a Plus Size Mag with the hottest BBW models in the business. http://www.plus-model-mag.com/2013/07/hottest-bodies-in-the-plus-size-modeling-industry-2013/

And I fell in love with The Militant Baker’s spoof of a certain clothing store’s ads. Who is that delectable eye candy she is posing with? I may have to pin him somewhere. http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/23/living/abercrombie-attractive-and-fat/

But I really wanted to find out more about the model in the photo that got my vote. You see, something clicked in my writer brain when I looked at her, and now I know a lot more about my hero. He’s a large man, tall, broad shouldered, big feet to go with it all, and learning to live on board a space-challenged sailing ship that he commands. A larger, softer woman would feel more comfortable in his arms. And that’s part of the equation, the formula that equals sexual attraction that unfolds into love. I am miffed that I have to put this story on ice for a bit, but it is unfolding in my brain.

Kate Dillon is the model. She is an active and interesting person. She’s educated, she survived her “non-trivial eating disorder” and she likes herself better every day. http://www.vogue.com/magazine/article/a-life-in-full/

And more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-541288/Supersize-Me-The-Top-Model-Who-Piled-Pounds.html

And this: https://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/model-kate-dillon-speaks-outa-about-being-too-skinny-too-plus-size-and-whats-up-with-the-crystal-controversy-2015056.html

What I want to say by all this is, don’t judge! Love yourself, and don’t let others judge you. You are Perfect, Whole, and Complete! See you Sunday for more book travels.

Crowded Virtual House

At any time, I have multitudes of characters inhabiting my head. I carry story ideas that have been waiting their turn for 25 years or more. All romances, some erotica, some also science fiction, but the majority are Regency.

While I am working on the story, they come closer to the surface. I finished my Regency erotica Book 1, and the characters in Book 2 are clamoring for my attention. But I have a deadline for a story that will be part of an anthology, with a bartender and his boss lady. Also there’s a regular Regency romance with an agent, while the second book in that series has started but is waiting these other priorities.

That second Regency is at an interesting point, and I feel the characters glare at me now and then. I’ve talked about both characters in previous blogs. The main male character is a dandy, whom I interviewed, and the main female character is a Regency nerd, deeply engrossed in Roman antiquities.

I have a SciFi Romance that ground to a halt when critiques on Scibophile had more questions than comments about the planet that I had no answers for. I’m waiting for a chance to do some world building to figure out how the ecological disaster came about. Then I can get the MCs back on track for a happily ever after.

Eventually, thanks to my love of the Master and Commander, Aubrey and Maturin, books by Patrick O’Brien, I will deal with an inspiration involving a captain in the British Navy in 1801. I finally fixed on his name, something gallant but not already in use. Now the FMC needs to be discovered. She is an English woman who has relatives in France, living along the channel, who stayed after a visit to help out her relatives. What will bring them together? What will keep them apart philosophically/ What will each of them have to sacrifice for a HEA?

The best way to keep all those characters separated is through character sheets, especially very detailed ones. But on the fly, I just need a reminder of the basics, eye color, hair color and length, height, build, physical condition, obvious things people notice about the person. I need to find a way on-line to pull up a character card with basics and in-depth details available with one more click. Here’s my favorite character sheet so far: http://www.uncleanarts.com/writing/tutorial/tutorialcharacter.htm

Lately, I have developed a great collection of models and such on whom I base my characters or who resemble what I had in mind for the character. Pinterest is the best ever in this regard. Not only do I find characters but also houses or towns or whatever! Here’s the captain: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/514606694893848864/

Here’s the hero in the sequel to The Viscount’s Mouse: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/514606694894257684/

And his love interest, my Regency nerd:

I could spend more time looking through Pinterest than writing, so I have to put limits on that activity. And if I haven’t completed my imagining of this character, it could be a choice between one model and another. So here’s your chance to help.

The love interest for the captain is a mid-twenties English woman of French heritage, in 1801. Vote for Link 1: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/514606694894666716/
Link 2: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/514606694894666730/
Link 3: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/514606694894666796/

I’ll shared the winner next Wednesday. And Sunday, we’re back to travel by book!

Regency Banquet Sneak Peek

Let’s pretend you finished reading one of my books. (Okay, first, let’s pretend I have a book out that you might buy and read and finish.) Now, at the end, you see a preview for the next series. Is that good or bad? I normally don’t read these. I did once and when the actual book came out, the story had changed. I felt I wasted my time. But some people like to get a jump on the next story.

I have in the works a series called Regency Banquet. The stories are going to be erotic romance set in the Regency period. The first of three novellas is called Appetizer: Pure Seduction. Here are the first few pages, before things get hot and heavy. Hope you like it.

Regency Banquet: The Appetizer
Pure Seduction, Part One
Brothers could be the most hateful creatures in the world. Yet sometimes, like now, they could behave wonderfully. Ellen Curtis adjusted her cap and pulled down her waistcoat. She followed her older brothers, Bernard and Roland, out of the hired coach.
She took pride in their sharp appearances, dandies from the tips of their Hessian boots to the top of their tall hats. Few people outside the family could tell them apart, but Bernard’s blond hair curled to the left, while Roland’s went to the right. Their green eyes matched hers, as did the shape of their long jaw lines. She’d often wished for blond hair, too, but had now grown to accept her shade of honey brown.
Bernard stopped her with a hand on her arm. “See here, Ellen. You cannot walk like that. You won’t fool a blind mouse if you don’t swagger more.”
“You must remember to not call me Ellen! I am Lenny, for the evening.” She turned and walked away from them, trying to walk with a bit of the arrogance her brothers showed. “Is that better?”
“A bit, but once we get in there,” Roland motioned to the doorway up a short run of stairs before them, “You just sit and observe.”
Bernard glanced nervously up at the door. “This will never work. We’ll be found out, Ell will be sent to a convent, and after Father thrashes us, he’ll purchase commissions and ship us off to Spain.”
“I should be so lucky,” replied Roland. “You should have kept that in mind before allowing your love letters to fall into enemy hands.”
The young gentlemen turned and glared at Ellen, she shrugged.
“I doubt a convent would keep me long. Besides, we’re not Papists. I think that’s a requirement.”
Bernard took a step toward her. “Give them to me,” he growled.
“Not yet. Once we’re inside, maybe.” She patted her coat, which rustled at the touch.
“Ro, it’s not going to work!”
“Bern, you got us into this mare’s nest!”
Ellen sighed and pushed the two toward the door. Her brothers had agreed to let her come with them to a gentleman’s club, for which boon she would not give their father letters from Bernard’s mistress, to which Father would object. She could not wait to look around, to see what a club was like, to listen to all the talk about politics and finances and things in which her father and brothers thought she should not have an interest. “We are going in, now!”
“Wait. We should tell you –”
Whatever Roland planned to say evaporated as a group of men exited the doors. Lowering their hats, the twins walked hastily up the stairs. Ellen copied Roland’s walk through the door, pleased that none of those leaving paid her any mind.
They entered a small vestibule, oddly furnished with huge Chinese vases full of feathery plants. Ellen stared open mouthed at a large painting of a naked woman, well executed to be sure, but hardly what she expected. Bernard grabbed her by the arm and pulled her through another door. This room appeared to be a lounge or parlor, rather larger than she expected, with chairs and sofas set about in cozy groups. If not for the lurid red velvet upholstery and the mirrors everywhere, she would have thought it a perfect place for conversation.
Then she noticed the women. The scantily clad women, draped over some of the chairs. Their dresses fell into one of two categories: so sheer as to be a waste of fabric, and so low as to be more of a skirt than a dress.
“Mr. Curtis, how good to see you again.” A short, plump woman in a slight, sheer, and clinging gown slipped her hand through Roland’s arm, smiling. Surely no one could be born with hair that brassy shade of red.
Ellen blinked, and looked at Bernard, who did blush slightly. Roland had allowed the woman to lead him to the stairs.
“This is not a gentleman’s club,” she hissed. “Take me home this minute!”
“Very well, give me the letters.” Bernard held out his hand.
She shook her head. “I will not. You have not kept your word.”
They stared at each other, and Ellen’s temper began to boil, when another of the “ladies” swooped toward them. This one had very black hair, and more makeup than Ellen had ever seen on a person before. She laid a possessive hand on Bernard’s arm, and his face lost all traces of anger. Instead he smiled at her. “Dorothea!”
“Bernard, do you plan to stay here all evening? Madame will be back soon, and if I am still downstairs, she may force me to take someone else.” Darkened lashes fluttered coyly.
“Damned if you will!” He covered her hand with his and turned to the stairs. “Ah. A moment, my dear.” He returned to Ellen’s side and whispered, “We’ll go to White’s directly. Sit over there in that dark corner, and don’t talk to anyone.”
“You can’t leave me here! What if someone recognizes me?”
Bernard’s grin made Ellen flinch. “A convent for you, then. And serve you right. But it won’t come to that if you stay quiet.”
The dark-haired Dorothea called Bernard away, and he went without a backward glance.
Fuming, Ellen sat down in the corner as instructed. She remembered to spread her legs, and crossed one ankle on top of her knee. She had been a fool to believe her horrid siblings could be true to their words. She could not complain to Father, and that galled her more than anything.
The door opened from the vestibule, and two men entered, soon being escorted away. One had stopped to stare at her, but her haughty glare apparently persuaded him to keep going. She allowed a glimmer of pride to cheer her up, but soon noticed that the chairs near her now contained more of the ladies of questionable virtue. And they all seemed interested in her. Oh, drat!
A short woman, girl really, came and sat next to her and put a plump hand on Ellen’s leg. “Hello, dearie, what’s the problem, then? None of the ready, or too shy?”
The other women laughed, and Ellen felt her cheeks redden. Not only by the familiarity of the girl, but by the extremely low bodice on her gown, and the sheer fabric. Why, she could see the woman’s nipples! Summoning the voice she used to imitate her father, she said, “No offense, miss, but I am betrothed. I don’t want any girl but her.”
“You sweet thing,” exclaimed one of the others. “I could cry! Here, I’ll give you a kiss for free!” She suited the action to the words, and Ellen drew away in amazement. The girls laughed and exclaimed over the “young gentleman.”
More men came in, calling the girls away, and Ellen rubbed at her lips. Damn her brothers! Her first kiss, and she got it from a woman!
A couple walked into the room, different in appearance from the other habitues. The woman looked older than the working girls, who had all gone upstairs now. Her dress and bonnet too were of a better quality and style.
The man riveted Ellen’s attention. Taller than any man she had ever seen, broad shouldered, his tan face made her think of a fallen angel. His profile cut a sharpe line of straight nose and strong chin, dividing the planes of his smooth cheeks. As if divining her thoughts, he looked over at her, and stopped whatever he had been saying to the woman.
“Good Lord, Vivienne! Since when have you supplied boys for sodomites?” He looked angry and came toward Ellen.
“He’s not one of mine.” The woman clutched his arm. “Don’t frighten the boy, Cooper!”
Ellen jumped to her feet, thinking to run out of the room, but at the woman’s words, Cooper stopped and his expression lightened.
“I beg your pardon, sir.” He bowed, and Ellen almost curtsied.
“Think nothing of it,” she said.
Cooper stared at her, and she returned a level gaze. Finally he said, “Why are you here?”
Ellen glanced at the woman, Vivienne, who merely shrugged, then back at the man. “M’brothers are upstairs. I’m waiting for them.”
“Ah. Too young to be interested, are you?” Cooper showed white teeth in a mocking grin. “You cannot stay here. I would not be the only one to get the wrong idea.”
Panic seeped into Ellen’s chest. Where would she go, alone, at night, on London’s seedier streets?
Cooper nodded and clapped her on the shoulder. “Come wait in my office. Viv, have a tray sent in, would you?”
And that solved everything, or so his manner told her. He led her past the stairway to a long passage, and into a large room. If the reception parlor had been decorated in the gaudiest fashion, this room stood directly opposite in decor. A dark green paper covered walls from high ceiling to dark oak wainscoting. Bookshelves covered another wall. Near a fireplace, in which flames danced, a few chairs and a sofa were arranged. Closer to the door stood a huge desk, with neat stacks of paper and envelopes.
Ellen went straight to the bookshelves, forgetting for a moment everything else. Her father held books in low regard, so she had never seen so many before. A book on philosophy caught her eye, and she pulled it out without thinking.
“A scholar, are you?” Cooper had followed her, and smiled at her interest. “That one is rather dry, I like this better.” He reached around her and removed a slim book bound in red.
She took it and read the cover. “Du Contrat social ou Principes du driot Politique, by Jean Jeaques Rousseau. My father detests Rousseau!’
Her host chuckled. “Good, sit down there and help yourself to tea.” He gestured to where a maid servant set down a tray.
Ellen smiled and moved away from him. She told herself it was the presence of so many books that made her heart beat faster, not the presence of Mr. Cooper. She still smiled when she met the eyes of the maid, who smiled back and winked.
“That will do, Sally,” the man said in stern tones. The maid, unrepentant, curtsied and left. Shaking his head, he looked back at Ellen. “What’s your name?”
“Lenny. Sir.” She picked up a biscuit and stuffed it in her mouth as she had seen the twins do.
“Lenny. Do sit down. I must change but I won’t be long.” He crossed to an opened door and stepped out of her view. She heard water poured into a bowl, and gathered he washed as well as changed his linen.
Why did Mr. Cooper live in a brothel? Ellen poured herself a cup of tea and made free with the cream and sugar. She began to read the book but soon tired of translating everything from the French. And the lingering scent of leather and cloves which the man wore distracted her. She set the work down and went to explore the shelves in more detail.

* *
Some days wore a man down. David Cooper sluiced water on his head, face, chest, and neck, letting go of the dust, sweat, and fatigue that had accumulated since noon. In spite of the issues of importance that he juggled mentally, what came to the front of his mind now? A boy. A youth waiting, unprotected, in the reception parlor of a house like this.
Damn! They had to hire a new porter, soon. The youth could be no more than 12 or 13. No beginnings of a beard showed on his smooth white cheeks, flushed a beautiful pink –
Cooper threw the towel he’d used to the floor with a snarl. Could he be attracted to that boy? No, it had to be his resemblance to Mathilde. Had she come back from the dead and dressed as a boy, she would have looked– Like Lenny.
“Dressed like a boy!” He stared into the pier glass but did not see his image. Instead, he remembered green eyes flecked in gold, straight brown hair, slender form, and absolute absence of anything that one expected to see in a young man. “Huh. But, why?”

Sexual Dealings

I am working on erotica set in the Regency period. Don’t ask me where the idea came from, but when I mentioned my need for quick income, a friend told me that self published erotica would be my best bet, and if the writing was good, there would be nothing to worry about.

So boom, the idea came to me, and now I am struggling with my heroine. Not the hero, he’s a good guy who had a bum rap in life through on fault of his own, and while he wouldn’t mind having sex with a beautiful 19-year-old, he won’t do it unless they are married.

My heroine, we’ll call her Ellen because that’s her name, has been raised mostly by her father and two older brothers. Father distrusts learning, so while she has had lessons in drawing, music, and French, she is not allowed to pursue her interests in philosophy, politics, and business.

My problem is, finding herself alone with a nice, attractive man, would she want to explore her sexual feelings? So off I go to Google sex drive and sexual desire. The best information comes from Canada! Who knew polite sex could be so arousing?

Ninety percent of adult women have sexual fantasies. I so wonder about the other 10%. Anyway, there are people who experience hyper-sexuality, but they usually have had some life experience that brings that on. However, just being overly impulsive can lead to sexual explorations.

Maybe she has observed the servants engaging in some sort of snogging. In looking for a slang term to use for snogging, I discovered one of the more comprehensive lists: https://sites.google.com/site/regencymurdermystery/slang and this: http://www.pascalbonenfant.com/18c/cant/ But there don’t seem to be any cant expressions for the simple act of cuddling and kissing. To bill and coo might just have been in use, according to this site: http://voices.yahoo.com/bill-coo-origin-history-lovers-expression-3089287.html

Most lower servants were prohibited from marrying, not only by the disapproval of the employer, but also by the low wages they earned. An absolutely wonderful person who has been very kind to me posted this on her blog: http://www.kristenkoster.com/2011/11/a-primer-on-regency-era-servants/ which is extremely helpful.

What I think will unfold is this: Ellen observes a footman and a maid kissing. She begins to follow them around, and eventually observes them actually clicketing. (Go look it up at the second link, I’ll wait.) And so, when alone with a man she finds attractive, she begins to explore this interesting pastime.

Thanks for helping me work through this dilemna. Back on Sunday for the next leg of our trip around the world by books.

Chance Encounters

I met my husband on-line. This was many years ago before the internet was such a big deal. We both belonged to a bulletin board system, a BBS, that specifically wanted people to get to know each other and make matches. I’d been on there for a couple years, and Mike had been on before that. He just happened to log on again, and we played in the nightly trivia game.

Many other things had to happen, and did, and we are still happy together, but I sometimes marvel that the chances of a moment brought us together.

I’m sharing most of the first chapter of my Regency Romance, The Dandy’s Wager. The chance encounter of Lady Elizabeth Underwood and Lord Robert Coleman in an old church yard sparks an attraction neither looked for. They are both there for a wedding, following which Elizabeth sneaks away in her quest for Roman artifacts and ruins. She is behind a hedge when Lord Robert and his friends come out to the yard. I hope you enjoy it.

The Dandy’s Wager

Voices from the other side of the hedge startled her out of her meditations. Smoke, too, drifted past the leaves. Some gentlemen had come out to the churchyard to smoke cigars. She shrank back to the wall, thankful for the lush coverage and concealment.

“Thank your brother for us, Rob,” one man called. “This wedding has inspired our mothers to push us toward parson’s mousetrap.”

A chorus of laughing agreement and ridicule followed. Then a different voice answered, “You know I tried to talk him out of it, Will. Being the last unmarried child, both my parents are on me now to settle down.”

Yet another man chuckled. “Perhaps we should just pick one of the pretty girls here today. None of them are hard on the eyes, and none too silly. If we have to marry, we can do worse than these, and we can make it interesting.”

A fourth man, at least Elizabeth thought this one had not spoken before, said, “We court then, wed them, and bed them–”

Shouts and comments interrupted him, mostly things she could not understand. Then Rob, the first speaker, said, “We must have heirs. Then our parents will be satisfied, and while the woman takes care of the child, we are free to return to normal life.”

“Gilbert, what say you? How can we make this interesting beyond the eventual bedding?”

“That’s simple. As long as we can each agree to which female we wish to pursue, the first one to marry will win the wager.”

Rob laughed. “A marvelous plan. Pick your intended bride and the first of us to wed will have twenty pounds from each of us.”

“Twenty pounds? And we still need to be leg shackled?”

“Indeed, Toby, a high price.” She thought this was the first speaker again, Will. “Surely 20 schillings would do?”

“Miss Twigg for me!” one of them called out. “And twenty pounds that she will marry me in three months!”

“Lady Elizabeth,” Rob pronounced, making her jump. “The only title in the bunch, and therefore my match.”

Elizabeth could not stop a gasp at this, but she covered her mouth in the next instant. The arrogance of the man!

“I will gladly try for Miss Sebastian. That leaves Miss Preston for you, Will.”

“She will do as well as any.”

A noise from the church put an end to this conversation. Elizabeth waited for the footsteps and comments to fade away. One more glance at the Roman well, and she hurried toward the gate.

She collided with something firm and unyielding as she rounded the end of the hedge. Her eyes traveled up several inches. Somber gray eyes studied her.

“Lady Elizabeth,” Lord Robert Coleman steadied her with a hand on her arm, but did not let her step back from contact with him. “You are in the habit of eavesdropping?”

“No! I wanted to see the well. Excuse me.” She managed to get her hands up to his chest and push herself away. She took a step back, and straightened her gown. Anything to not meet his disturbing gaze.

“If I promise not to court you, would you–” he hesitated and reached to take her chin in his firm grip. “Promise to not reveal what you heard?”

“I don’t know what you mean, my lord.” Elizabeth returned his look steadily. His hand, ungloved, burned against her skin, with heat and with steely strength. “But I vow I will not repeat a word of it, no matter what you do.”

He grinned and let her go. She walked around him, but before she passed the hedge, she looked back. A smile escaped her. “Perhaps I wish for you to court me.”

His eyebrows rose, causing a flutter in her chest, and giving wings to her feet as she hurried away.

***

The little vixen! Rob watched until the last flash of her peach muslin skirts were gone from his view. God, what a delicious pocket Venus she could be. Did she have any idea of the danger she flirted with?

He chuckled and glanced back at the well. Antiquities seemed an odd interest for a titled young woman. Intriguing.

Footsteps in the yard drew him out from behind the hedge. William St. James, his closest friend, had come back to look for him.

“Did you scare off the chit?” he asked, looking around.

“Apparently I did.” Rob clapped Will’s arm. “Come, let’s go wish the happy couple well and proceed to drink ourselves blind.”

They walked to the front of the old church. Rob’s brother, Viscount Miles Coleman, and his new viscountess Cassandra, nee Jennings, continued to talk to family and well wishers. The coach waited in the road, the flashy pair of bays showing signs of restlessness.

“Robert,” Miles flashed a strained smile while giving him a firm handshake. “Can you distract the crowd so we may leave? Cassie can’t stand much longer without collapsing.” He nodded amiably to William.

Rob looked at Will, smiling. “I don’t doubt we can think of something.”

“I know just the thing,” said Will, and he hurried off toward the church. He returned in a few minutes with his arms full of very young orange tabby kittens.

The women in the crowd sent up oos and ahs and moved in on Will. This shift opened the path to the carriage. Cassie smiled and took the arm of her husband.

“Thank you, brother.” She stretched up to kiss his cheek.

“I wish you both joy, sister. And if he does anything you do not like, be sure to send word to me. I will thrash him soundly.”

Bride and groom laughed, with Miles adding a low-voiced, “You would have to stand in line behind her uncles, you know.”

Rob managed a thoughtful look. “I suppose I will have to settle for thrashing whatever they leave of you, then.”

He watched them step into the carriage, watched the crowd realize the couple were making an escape, and watched the shower of flower petals follow the dust of their departure. An arm extended out of the carriage and coins rained down on the crowd.

William appeared, still clutching a kitten. “One left. Does she not touch your heart, Rob?”

He looked at the animal in horror. “Do you think I would allow orange fur on my black velvets or silks? Surely not!”

“I suppose I will take her, then. Perhaps Miss Preston likes cats.”

With a theatrical shudder, Lord Robert pulled a lace-edged handkerchief from his pocket and dusted the arms of his coat. But his thoughts turned to Lady Elizabeth and what sort of things she liked. With a surge of anticipation, he decided he would find out soon.