Fueled by the knowledge that notoriety is better than failure, witty, unconventional Josie does what no proper young lady shouldâshe challenges fate. She discards her corset and flirts outrageously. She attends the horse races and allows an arrogant rakehell to whisk her behind the stables for a surreptitious kiss . . . and is caught!
She doesn't want to marry the young hellionâbut who's to help? Her chaperone keeps disappearing for mysterious appointments; her guardian is on his wedding trip; and his friend the Earl of Mayne is too busy staring into the eyes of his exquisite French fiancÃ©e.
Can a marriage forced by stuffy convention and unwilling desire become the match of the season?
An extract from the widely proclaimed memoir:
The Earl of Hellgate,
or Night Scenes Amongst the Ton
As I would loathe to shock and dismay you, I must beg all ladies of a delicate disposition to put down this volume on the moment.
I have lived a life of Immoderate Passion, and have been persuaded to share the particulars in the hopes of keeping any susceptible gentlepersons from following in my steps . . .
Oh Reader, Beware!
May 24, 1818
15 Grosvenor Square
London residence of the Duke of Holbrook
There was no way to introduce the subject with delicacy, at least none that Josie could imagine. "None of the novels I've read elaborate on the wedding night," she told her sisters.
"I should hope not!" her eldest sister Tess said, not even looking at her.
"So if we're going to discuss Imogen's wedding night, I'm not leaving."
"It wouldn't be appropriate for you to join us," Tess said, with the rather wearied air of someone who has said the same on two former occasions. After all, of the four Essex sisters, Tess, Annabel, Imogen, and Josie, there was only one left unmarried: Josie.
"We'll give you all the details you need on the eve of your marriage," Imogen put in. "I don't need the talk. I am a widow, after all."
They were seated around a small table in the nursery, having a light supper. Josie's chaperone, Lady Griselda, was technically dining with them as well, but since she had spent most of the evening huddled in an armchair reading the Earl of Hellgate's memoirs, she hadn't taken more than a bite, nor contributed to the conversation a whit.
They were eating by themselves because Imogen had heard it might cause misfortune to see her groom on the night before the wedding, and since Imogen was marrying their guardian, the Duke of Holbrook, they couldn't eat in the dining room. Technically, Annabel's son Samuel was a member of the party, but since he was all of four months old and dreaming of a red shiny ball, an occasional longing snort were his only contributions.
"If my season continues as it's begun," Josie said, "I shan't be married at all. One can hardly obtain one's entire education in the ways of men and women from the pages of novels."
"Tess, did you know that Josie has made a list of efficacious ways to catch a husband?" Annabel asked, taking a final bite of syllabub.
"Based on our examples?" Tess said, raising an eyebrow.
"That would be a remarkably short list," Josie said. "Lady is compromised, gentleman is forced to marry her, marriage ensues."
"I was not compromised by my husband," Tess said, but she was laughing.
"You married Lucius only after the Earl of Mayne jilted you at the altar," Josie said. "It wasn't precisely a long courtship period. All of ten minutes, as I recall."
The smile in Tess's eyes suggested that those ten minutes had been sweet, and Josie didn't want to think about that because it made her feel jealous. If she, Josie, were jilted at the altar, there'd be no secondary candidate waiting in the next room. In fact, given her disastrous performance on the marriage market, the altar was likely a prospect she should discard.
"It's true that I was compromised," Annabel said, "but Imogen is marrying Rafe for pure love and after a long courtship."
"I suggested we elope," Imogen said, grinning, "but Rafe said he'd be damned if he'd follow in Draven's footsteps and allow me to direct all the wedding traffic to Scotland."
"He was right," Tess said. "You're going to be a duchess. You couldn't marry in such a hurly-burly fashion."
"Yes, we could have."
"But think of all the pleasure you would have denied the ton," Josie said....