Authors: Michelle McMaster
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Regency, #Victorian, #London Society, #England, #Britain, #19th Century, #Adult, #Forever Love, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Hearts Desire, #Brides of Mayfair, #Series, #Atwater Finishing School, #Young Ladies, #Secrets, #Rescues, #Streetwalker, #Charade, #Disguise, #Nobleman, #School-marm, #Innocent, #Bookish, #Deception, #Newspapers
Taming the Bride
Brides of Mayfair
Taming the Bride
Copyright © 2016 by Michelle McMaster
Digital Edition ISBN: 978-0-9947817-4-1
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Art by The Killion Group, Inc.
Digital Formatting by Author E.M.S.
Table of Contents
“There, Miss—” Dolly said as she yanked Prudence’s plunging neckline quite decidedly lower, “ye looks just like a proper Drury Lane trollop. Sort o’ like me when I was plyin’ the trade.”
“I do look most convincing, thanks to your expert touch, Dolly,” Prudence replied, assessing her reflection in the mirror.
She had done this so many times, yet still the sight of herself thus dressed—or
, as it were—still surprised her, to say the least. Thanks to Dolly’s ministrations, Prudence’s breasts swelled enticingly over the tight, red satin bodice, like cream-puffs rising out of a pan. Her skirts were hiked up to expose a generous length of her thigh, which was clad in a scandalous striped silk stocking. Her flame-colored hair, usually held captive in a severe knot, now fell wildly about her shoulders in a tangle of curls.
She looked like a harlot.
Which was exactly what she wanted to look like.
She wondered if she would she ever get used to it. But what choice did she have?
Dolly bent down to tuck Prudence’s skirts up around the red satin garter that hugged the top of her thigh. “That red hair o’ yours naturally draws the eye,” she pronounced, “and when they see this shapely leg—ye’ll be stealin’ all the gents away from the proper lightskirts, or my name ain’t Dolly Simms.”
Apparently satisfied with her handiwork, Dolly regarded Prudence with a serious expression. “But miss, are ye sure ye should be doin’ this? A young lady like ye walkin’ the streets—well, it don’t seem right, it don’t. Ye should be settin’ at the fire with yer needlepoint, not dressin’ up like a tart and lurkin’ about London at night.”
“I like to think of it as more of a treasure hunt,” Prudence said, patting her friend’s arm. “And I have Mungo with me for protection. How else am I to find more students to keep you company at the Atwater Finishing School for Young Ladies? Why, you and I would never have met if I didn’t make a habit of walking the streets.”
“That may be true, miss, but for ye to be puttin’ yerself in danger for the likes o’ us—”
“The ‘likes’ of who?” Prudence said, cocking an eyebrow. “There are only
at the Atwater School, Dolly—no ‘likes’ of anyone at all. And there is no danger. None that I can’t handle, at any rate.”
Dolly laughed. “If ye say so, miss.”
“I do, Dolly,” she confirmed. “Danger or no danger, it is our duty to help those who are not as fortunate as ourselves. That is what Papa taught me—that education is the great equalizer of society. With the Atwater Finishing School for Young Ladies, I intend to take as many unfortunate girls off the street as I can, and give them a quality education. It is what Papa would have wanted to do himself, if he had lived longer.”
“Lud!” Dolly exclaimed. “What would ’e say if ’e saw ye now—lookin’ like a such a lewd hussy? I daresay ’e wouldn’t let ye go about town in such a manner, no matter what ye say.”
Prudence felt a lump form in her throat and promptly swallowed it. “He would understand the necessity of such actions,” she said, quietly. “I’m sure he would.”
Dolly put an arm around Prudence’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. “An’ so ’e would. Yer father must ’ave been quite a man indeed. Raised a right fine lady, so ’e did—and ye just a girl when yer poor mother died. She’d be proud of such a courageous daughter, I’ll reckon.”
Dolly smiled warmly at her. “I remember the night ye come across me, miss…rainin’ as ’ard as it was, and ye tryin’ t’ pass ye’self off as a lightskirt. Ye looked like a drowned rat, so ye did. If ye ’adn’t taken me home with ye, well it don’t bear thinkin’ about. I ’adn’t eaten for days, and there was no work that night. Probably would o’ died if it ’adn’t been for ye. And now thanks to ye, I’ve got a real job as a housekeeper. I thank ye miss—ye and Lady Weston both.”
Prudence fastened the clasps on some cheap-looking earbobs and said, “I shudder to think of our patroness’s reaction to knowing I was dressed like this, out on the streets myself. Lady Weston might very well pull her support from the Atwater School, and we need her funds to stay afloat. We must strive to keep my nocturnal adventures a secret from the dear old lady.”
“Not t’ worry, miss,” Dolly replied. “I’ve told a few white lies in me time. I can tell a few more.”
“Thank you, Dolly. Now, be a dear and tell Mungo that I will be down in a few moments.”
Dolly nodded and left Prudence alone in her bedchamber.
Prudence applied the finishing touch to her costume, fastening a custom-made garter around her thigh. It held a sheath and a sharp little dagger which Mungo assured her would do considerable damage if need be.
It was Mungo who had crafted the garter for her out of leather, and he who had shown her how to defend herself with a blade. So far, she had never had to use the skills the former pirate had taught her. Settling her skirts to conceal the weapon, she hoped she never would.
Looking at the clock, Prudence threw her cloak over her shoulders and headed downstairs. It was almost time for the theater to let out. And that was when most of the customers would come by, looking for a little more entertainment after they’d enjoyed a conventional performance. The streetwalkers would be waiting for them in their usual places. And Prudence would be waiting for the streetwalkers.
“Ah, Miss Atwater,” Mungo said, stooping his towering form to bow as she entered the salon. “Ye look delightful this evening.”
“Delightful?” Dolly said, quizzically. “She don’t look delightful. She looks a disgrace, just as she should.” She fussed with Prudence’s hair and adjusted the violet silk cloak about her shoulders. “There. Every harlot should be so lucky.”
“Thank you for all your help, Dolly,” Prudence said, smiling at her friend. “But Mungo, we must make haste. The theater will be letting out. Have you the carriage ready?”
“Yes, Miss. And ’ave you that little dagger I give ye?”
Prudence patted her thigh. “Right here, Mungo.”
“But ye won’t need t’ use it with ol’ Mungo around,” he said, smiling a gap-toothed grin. “I still got a few pirate tricks in me yet, miss, never fear.”
“What would I do without you, Mungo? And you, Dolly—” Prudence asked.
“Probably some more lady-like things than this,” Dolly muttered.
Prudence chuckled and took Mungo’s offered arm. “Alas, duty calls. Don’t wait up.”
“But ye knows I always do, miss,” Dolly answered.
Mungo opened the door to the carriage and handed Prudence in. Soon they were on their way, and the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves echoed down the dark cobblestone street. As she stared out the window, Prudence thought of the task that lay ahead of her this evening.
How many girls could she reach tonight? And how many would she never have the chance to help at all? It was the latter thought that sent a chill to the pit of her stomach.
Prudence had to show these unfortunate women that there was a better way…that there was hope. She had already done so successfully with almost a dozen girls. She hoped to add to their number tonight.
The carriage stopped down the lonely street where it usually did. She heard Mungo hop down from the top and then the door swung open, his big strong hand reaching in to help her out. He spoke a few words to the driver instructing him to wait. Then they headed down the dark narrow lane towards the Theater District.
“Why does ye go t’ all this trouble, miss?” Mungo asked. “For a bunch o’ whores? I mean, I think it’s lovely, ye dressin’ up an’ all, but why don’t I just swipe a few for ye? Save a lot o’ time, it would.”
“No, Mungo,” she replied. “They must come to the school of their own free will. Kidnapping these girls would do no good. They’d simply run away.
One thing my father taught me was that you can’t force happiness on a person. They must reach for it themselves.”
Prudence motioned for them to stop behind a leafy oak. The light from a nearby gaslamp fell in a dappled pattern across Mungo’s face and made him look even more terrifying than usual. Prudence wanted to laugh, for in truth Mungo Church was as gentle and faithful as an old dog, though he liked to play the roaring lion. Tonight, she would need the lion’s protection as she went on the hunt.
“I see a few girls across the street, there,” Prudence said. “I’ll stand here for awhile and make my way over to them. You may keep watch from behind this tree, Mungo, but keep well-hidden. No one must see that you are with me. If I need help, I’ll scream.”
Mungo nodded and folded his arms across his chest. “I’ll be beside ye before the first scream can pass yer lips, miss.”
“Wish me luck,” she said, turning toward the street.
“Good luck, then,” he said and gave her a nod.
Prudence walked to the corner, pushing up her breasts as if they were feather pillows that needed to be fluffed. She shook her hair and arranged it over her shoulders. Then she pinched her cheeks to make them rosy, though she didn’t know what good it would do in the dark.
She stood for awhile, keeping to the shadows as she watched the passersby amble down the street. A few gentlemen walked by, some looking at her with leering grins, and some ignoring her completely.
Soon a dark-haired young girl appeared on the next corner. She eyed Prudence warily from the shadows, like a frightened alley-cat looking for food. Her clothes were shabby, much shabbier than Prudence’s costume, and her face looked gaunt and smudged with dirt. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen.
Prudence wondered how long the girl had been coming to this corner. Weeks? Months? A sick feeling swam in her gut. But as the girl made eye contact again, Prudence felt the rush of promise in her heart. This could be the Atwater School’s next student.
Prudence began to stroll toward the girl non-chalantly, as if she were simply looking for a better spot to peddle her wares.
But something made her stop.
She felt a presence near her, quite close, in fact. Whoever it was, she would have to handle it like an experienced streetwalker or risk destroying her disguise. Hadn’t she done it before?