Just for fun I thought I’d cut and paste the first chapter of my newly contracted sequel to Her Gilded Prison. It’s called DANGEROUS GENTLEMENT and it focusses on the story of plain, shy Hetty, making her first debut and coming in contact – unexpectedly – with Regency London’s Underworld.
I haven’t had any edits done on it, so if something’s slipped through, it’s my fault.
Here’s a taster, anyway.
Chapter One - DANGEROUS GENTLEMEN
Brushing beetles out of her cleavage as she shrouded herself in the fronds of a concealing potted palm was not how Hetty envisaged making her grand London debut.
Still, it was better to be hidden by the horticulture than being humiliated as one. A wallflower. She’d prepared herself for such a fate but being passed over for the last three dances at Lady Knox’s lavish ball had brought home to her how much worse was the reality.
A painful reality that was going to last another three months before she could return to her quiet, unexciting but familiar home.
As the orchestra tuned up for another country dance Hetty watched the slow progress of a ladybird over the bodice of her white sarsanet gown. How much more complimentary the little creature’s bold red and black coat would have been to her own lackluster coloring. A debutante was required to wear white and pale shades to reflect her innocence, status and wealth. The ballroom was bursting with such rare prizes, she reflected gloomily as she carefully transferred the ladybird onto a palm frond. Wallflowers like her faced fierce competition and she was not bolstered by her sister Araminta’s kind reassurance that her sizeable dowry would ultimately compensate for her lack of looks after all the pretty girls had contracted good marriages by the end of the season.
Guiltily she watched her chaperone Mrs. Monks pass nearby, an anxious frown turning down the corners of her thin, bloodless mouth. Hetty held her breath. The truth was, she wasn’t hiding only to avoid public humiliation.
Really, she was here to spy, though spying was the preserve of devious sorts like Araminta.
Araminta, the bold and beautiful sister who was currently clasping hands with the handsome baronet whose brief kindness towards Hetty at the beginning of the evening had ignited a torrent of never-before experienced sensations but whose later actions had quashed every hope for the season Hetty had foolishly entertained.
No, spying from behind a potted palm was as close as a shy, plump debutante like Hetty would ever get to her heart’s desire.
A little sob escaped her as she gazed upon the well-matched couple. Araminta, as always, was dazzling, yet for a few moments earlier this evening, dressed for her first ball in her new cream sarsanet with its powder blue sash, her light brown hair tumbling in curls from a high topknot at the apex of a center parting, Hetty, too, had felt almost beautiful.
Then Araminta had swept her aside to admire her own gleaming reflection before the looking glass.
Indeed, gleaming and self-satisfied were appropriate epithets, and ones Hetty was as inclined to use on the family Siamese cat as her sister. She knew she shouldn’t be uncharitable. Araminta’s first season had ended under a cloud and she should be pleased her sister had caught the eye of a man as seriously handsome and eligible as Sir Aubrey, a baronet who was set to inherit a viscountcy and vast estates in the north.
But it was hard to rejoice in Araminta’s good fortune when Hetty still felt the pain of her sister’s dismissive: “I suppose you’re up to the mark as much as can be expected”—lip service to Hetty’s doubtful inquiry regarding her appearance.
Not only had tonight brought home clearly the fact that Hetty was seriously wanting in the eyes of the male contingent, it had highlighted the fact she was completely beneath the notice of dashing Sir Aubrey, for all that it had started with such a flourish when he’d returned her dropped reticule to her with a bow of sweeping chivalry and a smile that had seemed for her alone. Silly girl. He smiled like that at all the girls, of course.
Still, Hetty never suffered from the blue devils for long and the lively music soon had her tapping her feet, enjoying her seclusion and fascinated by the way the light caught the extraordinary streak of white hair that cut a swathe through Sir Aubrey’s dark locks. Araminta, while pointing out the peculiarities of several gentlemen of interest, had told her while dressing earlier in the evening that it was a peculiar physical trait shared by all the men in his family.
The foot-tapping stopped abruptly when Hetty saw Sir Aubrey tighten his hold on her sister after Araminta stumbled.
Conniving minx, Hetty thought uncharitably, even though being charitable was, she knew, one of her few commendable traits and that if she couldn’t be beautiful she should at least try to be nice.
Living with Araminta for the past eighteen years, however, had opened her eyes to the fact that vibrant beauties could get away without being nice or charitable and Araminta was certainly neither. But in all those years Hetty had not known jealousy.
The corrosive poison had only started dripping into her veins tonight—not to see Araminta feted, admired and in continual demand, for she was used to that—but to witness Sir Aubrey’s interest, though she’d told herself a thousand times it should hardly come as a surprise that rakish, handsome Sir Aubrey didn’t notice debutantes like plain, plump and awkward Hetty.
Note* Although Her Gilded Prison is, technically, an erotic romance, it would be classified according to the usual rating system, as Sensual rather thank Sizzling, as although there are some fully developed sex scenes, they’re not overly explicit.