Book II of the Reckless Brides
St. Martin's Press
Forced by her family into an engagement with a man she can never abide, Antigone Preston knows only a scandal will save her from a loveless marriage. But knocking a man down to the ballroom floor with her fists brings dangerous consequences. She may have ruined her reputation, but now she’s endangered her heart…
The son of an earl and a career navy man, Captain William Jellicoe has no interest in the frivolities of London—and even less in the institution of marriage. But there’s something steering him toward Antigone. He has never met anyone as brazen and unconventional as…himself. But will he risk it all for a woman who still has the breath of scandal hot on her lips?
ANGI: Approximately how many scandals were you involved in before you met?
WILLIAM: A scandal? I can’t imagine what you mean, although there have been a number of rather colorful incidents. Are you by any chance referring to the incident involving that delightfully malodorous stink-ball in the officers’ gunroom? Or perhaps the time a banner announcing the end of Lieutenant Charles Dance’s virginity was hoisted upon the mizzen mast? Or was it perhaps that evening a milk cow went missing from its home in a field in the French countryside, and was installed under cover of night in the ship’s forecastle? Mere childish pranks. No harm no fuss.
Although, I will say it might have been something of a scandal the time I set the captain’s wife on fire—although technically, she did set herself on fire—but I was responsible, and I did also manage to do some considerable damage to the ship. But that was years ago. I’ve been nothing but the veriest bore for years now.
Well, until I met Miss Preston, that is. And then of course, there was the matter of the cognac in the locked library, and the dice game with the footmen, and most notably, the brawl in the tavern. But those were, one and all, entirely Miss Preston’s doing and not mine.
ANTIGONE: Really, I can explain everything. The cognac was practically medicinal, what with coming right after the incident on the dance floor with Mr. Stubbs-Haye. And I can’t regret striking him in the least. He quite deserved it. And I suppose the congac is what led to sneaking out of the house, which led to the marvelous little dice game—I’m rather fond of games of chance, because really, there isn’t much chance involved if one just does the maths— which led to the sojourn at the tavern. But it was all Commander Jellicoe’s doing, the brawl. I never should have gone into the tavern at all if not for him.
But I cannot find it within me to regret any of our adventures, not a one. For if I hadn’t started by stirring up a scandal, I never should have met Commander Jellicoe in the first place.
ANGI: Where did you learn to use your fists?
WILLIAM: Well, I’m a sailor, you see. We’re a notorious thirsty and pugnacious lot. And I have brothers. Always settling things with our fists, brothers and sailors alike. And over the years, there were a great many rather famous set-tos with the French. Used more than my fists then, but a steady sword arm is always a welcome ancillary to being handy in a good mill. But I do believe Miss Preston is the first, and only, young lady I’ve ever seen with such a carronade of a right. She’s downright lethal with her fives. I am, quite frankly, all admiration.
ANTIGONE: Commander, surely you exaggerate. I will admit to learning a thing or two from old Billy, the groom in our stable, when I was growing up, but that was only so I could take care of my sister when bully-boys made fun of her stammer. People ought to think before they say something hurtful, and if they don’t, well I don’t see any reason why I should have to put up with it.
ANGI: How many times did you sneak into the gardens at a ball? Did you steal a kiss?
WILLIAM: I don’t believe I’ve ever snuck into a garden at a ball. I avoid them like the proverbial plague, balls. But I can’t speak for Miss Preston.
ANTIGONE: Well I haven’t either! I’ve snuck out to play dice with footmen, certainly, and snuck out just to be on my own. And I did sneak out of the house to go adventuring with Commander Jellicoe. And there was a kiss. But it was freely given, and not stolen at all.
ANGI: What’s the first thing you liked about each other?
WILLIAM: Oh, undoubtedly it was that carronade of a right. And her derriere. But I saw the right first, and I was, as I said, all admiration.
ANTIGONE: You’re too kind. I do have to say it was his smile—a little lopsided, his smile, as if he’s too happy and lazy to use all of his face. But it’s charming nonetheless. And that was the second thing, his charm. And his marvelous ability to keep a secret.
ANGI’S GOTTA ASK: I have to know… Where did Antigone’s name came from?
ELIZABETH’S GOTTA ANSWER: Well, I knew Antigone’s father was a scholar of both mathematics and classics at Cambridge, and I thought he would have perhaps chosen a name from Greek myth. And frankly, I chose Antigone (and her sister’s name, Cassandra) as an antidote to all the too-beautifully named heroines I was finding in romance novels. There did not seem to be many plain Anne or Janes anymore. Every heroine seemed to have a lyrical, lovely name, and I (and my heroine) am just contrary enough to want to pick a difficult name instead. And in the book, the hero, Will Jellicoe, thinks Antigone is an awful name, too, so he has some fun with it—and with Antigone. :)
Antigone Preston had hoped to spend the evening unprofitably, laying low in an unseen corner of the ballroom. But her hostess, Lady Barrington, stopped her with a tap of her fan.
“Miss Antigone, we must take you in hand. My dear Mr. Stubbs-Haye.” Lady Barrington called to one of the young men slouching about. “How do you do this evening? How is your dear mother? Let me recommend Miss Antigone, here, as a most desirable partner. We must have her dance this evening.”
Antigone chose to make no objection to such an introduction. She would have been content to stay with her sister, but Cassandra appeared to have been persuaded to dance the set with a handsome young man by the very encouraging name of the Viscount Jeffrey, who was already leading her sister away on his arm. And Mr. Stubbs-Haye seemed innocuous enough.
For his part, Mr. Stubbs-Haye was also smart enough to know an order when he heard it, no matter how softly veiled, and self-interested enough to act upon it without delay. “I should like nothing better, my lady. I should be honored if you would consent to dance with me, Miss Antigone.”
She consented, the gentleman offered his arm, and at the cessation of one piece of music, Antigone found herself being led out beneath the dazzling chandelier to the middle of the crowded dance floor in almost happy anticipation of the next. In the uncomplicated, goodhearted company of a ruddy-cheeked sportsman like Mr. Stubbs-Haye, she might actually enjoy herself.
The musicians struck up a country dance, and Antigone tried to lose herself in the pleasure of the lively steps. But in a few measures, when they found themselves at the top of the dance for a moment, and the moment called for conversation, Mr. Stubbs-Haye ended all her enjoyment.
“Well, I must say, Miss Antigone.” Mr. Stubbs-Haye leaned his head across the gap to impart his confidence. “I am surprised to hear about you.”
“I’m not.” Antigone knew well enough that he must be referring to her engagement to Lord Aldridge—which was mean to be a secret—but if rumors were to be shared, perhaps she might exchange Mr. Stubbs-Haye’s for one of her own. “And pray what have you heard about me?”
“That old Aldridge has his hooks in you. You don’t exactly look the type.”
His bald, nearly vulgar statement threw her uncharacteristically off her stride. An uncomfortable heat settled between her shoulder blades and no doubt blotched up her neck. She put something more tart than vinegar into her voice. “And pray what type is that, Mr. Stubbs-Haye?”
“Ah, ha-ha.” A roguish tilt of his head supplied all the innuendo his words had not. “Manners forbid a gentleman, and all that.”
“Manners ought to have forbidden a gentleman from making reference to a lady’s type in the first place, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped you, Mr. Stubbs-Haye.”
“Ha-ha. Too true. But I tell you something. When the time comes, and you want a man who knows what to do with a lively girl like you, you remember your friend Gerry.”
“Mr. Stubbs? Are you perchance drunk? Or merely suicidal?”
“Stubbs-Haye,” he corrected without an ounce of shame, smiling at her in a way that did not inspire confidence in either his sobriety, or in appeals to his gentlemanly character. “Ain’t you just a lively, taking little thing.”
And as she skirted past Mr. Stubbs-Haye to circle around the gentlemen next down the line, Mr. Stubbs-Haye reached down, and quite deliberately patted her bum.
Antigone knew this—the deliberateness—because the dance called for no touching whatsoever at that point in the proceedings.
She instinctively sidled out of his reach, her discomfort rapidly distilling down into ire. She may have been a country miss, more at home with horses and huntsmen than dandies, but surely manners in Hampshire were not so very different from those six miles away at home, as to permit gentlemen such liberties?
“Sir! I have no wish to be a ‘taking little thing.’” Antigone attempted to keep her voice low—Mama would have apoplexies if she heard her daughter employing sarcasm in Lady Barrington’s ballroom—but Antigone could only think dark humor was necessary in such a case. “Nor do I wish to be pawed at like a tavern maid, Mr. Stubbs-Haye. Please, kindly confine your dancing maneuvers to the prescribed areas. Or-”
Antigone let her threat subside. If they had been in the upper rooms at the White Horse tavern she would have simply abandoned him on the dance floor and walked away, manners and appearances be damned, and seen to it that he was sent the wrong way on a hunt to come a cropper in a hedge. But they were not in Wealdgate village, and her mother’s tense instructions for behavior in Lady Barrington’s vaunted ballroom had not included direction on what to do when pawed by drunk, or otherwise obtuse gentlemen. As it was, her forceful style of addressing Mr. Stubbs-Haye was drawing curious eyes in their direction.
Well, perhaps the censure of his peers would help to stifle Mr. Stubbs-Haye’s ungentlemanly urges. And yet it seemed to Antigone, not all those glances were friendly or sympathetic. The gazes of the couple now nearest to them—a windswept-looking blond man and his much fairer skinned sister, for their familial resemblance was unmistakable—darted back and forth between the partners, seeming to question what she had done to invite such unwarranted liberties.
Oh, for heaven’s sake. Antigone felt the heat in her face flame higher, until she was sure it must be singeing her eyebrows. She certainly was not encouraging Stubbs-Haye. She had only just met the confounded man, in whose character Lady Barrington must be sadly deceived.
Antigone cast a glance over her shoulder toward the silk upholstered chairs where her mother sat with Lady Barrington, to see what they made of Mr. Stubbs-Haye’s egregious behavior.
Yet that proved to be an error of the gravest kind, for while her attention was diverted, Mr. Stubbs-Haye took the opportunity to make good on his vulgar promise, and reached down and groped her bottom. Roughly.
And that, as they were wont to say, was that.
Before another thought could force prudence upon her brain, and remind her that she meant to be good, and proper, and quietly supportive of her sister, Antigone simply hauled off and punched Mr. Gerald Stubbs-Haye with every ounce of indignant anger surging from her affronted behind. Luck, and the full centrifugal force of her blow would have it that she struck him squarely on the chin.
He went down hard. Felled like a tree, crashing to the ground in a tangle of flailing arms and quivering, satin-breeched limbs.
Mr. Stubbs-Haye, it would seem, had a glass jaw.
And as she stood over him, panting with the pain in her hand and not a little satisfaction, everything else stopped.
The music faded to a scratchy end, and all eyes turned to her.
No one spoke. No one came forward to offer her any kind of assistance or support. No one so much as moved a muscle. For a the longest moment, the crowded room was so quiet Antigone fancied all she could all hear was the pant of her breath, and the low creak of her heart turning over in her chest.
In reality, there was only the pathetic and decidedly unmanly moans of Mr. Stubbs-Haye.
Oh, Lord help her. She had certainly stepped in it this time.
When not rereading Jane Austen, mucking about in her garden and simply messing about with boats, acclaimed author Elizabeth Essex can be always be found with her laptop, making up stories about heroes and heroines who live far more exciting lives than she. It wasn't always so. Elizabeth graduated from Hollins College with a BA in Classics, and then earned her MA in Nautical Archaeology from Texas A&M University. While she loved the life of an underwater archaeologist, she has found her true calling writing lush, lyrical historical romance full of passion, daring and adventure.
Elizabeth lives in Texas with her husband, the indispensable Mr. Essex, and her active and exuberant family.
KEEP UP WITH ELIZABETH
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For a complete Back List and Excerpts
ALMOST A SCANDAL
Book I of the Reckless Brides
St. Martin's Press
THE DANGER OF DESIRE
ISBN: 0758251580ISBN: 0758251548
A SENSE OF SIN
UP NEXT for ELIZABETH:
SCANDAL IN THE NIGHT
St. Martin's Press
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ELIZABETH WANTS TO KNOW: When we talk about what we like to see in a hero, we often get stuck on physical attributes, but what, other than the way a man looks, is most important to you? Personally, I like a man who knows how to laugh—at himself and at the world around him. How about you? How do you feel about a hero who can make the heroine, and YOU, laugh?