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“If you know something to be right deep in the pit of your stomach, do it, no matter the consequence.”Those were Lord Anthony’s earnest words of wisdom to Lord Nathaniel Duncan before the old gentleman died, leaving in Nathaniel’s hands his estate to settle and hisward to protect.
Young and naïve Mary Elizabeth loved Lord Anthony, and losing him seems like the single worst thing that could have happened to her – until the new housekeeper sends her packing. With Lord Anthony gone, Lord Duncan away, and nowhere else to turn, she has to rely on her own abilities to survive. Where she finally lands and how she decides to earn her living is anything but proper. But what is a girl to do?
Nathaniel returns to London to find the house in an uproar and Mary Elizabeth gone. When he finally locates her, she is perilously on the verge of agreeing to a most improper liaison. He is furious and demands if she is going to belong to someone, then it will be him. She says it would never work; he needs a proper lady. Nathaniel is determined to convince Mary that His Improper Lady is all he will ever need.
DISCLAIMER: This book contains elements of discipline, sexual scenes, and power exchange. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.
"Ginny, we must hurry. I can only be gone a short while." Mary Elizabeth rushed her sister forward down the cobblestoned street. "Mayfair is a posh bit of gentry, most if not all are members of the Haut Ton. They always need help, and if Cook Agnes is right with her information, this house needs kitchen help now. Hurry along," Mary Elizabeth coaxed, "you're quite comely and sweet natured, they won't find fault in your manner. Tell them you have to go home tonight if they take you on, and you'll be back bright and early tomorrow, to board if you must."
Mary Elizabeth did not allow her misgivings at permitting her newly fourteen-year-old sister to hire herself out as kitchen help to show.
"Ginny, you are becoming more beautiful every day. I'm not sure how I am to keep you safe for much longer. I know you're of an age to become part of a well-bred household, so I hope you will be safe in a position. Well, safer than in the merchant part of town during the day." The kitchen was a hard place to work, but she would always be warm in the day, and her belly would be full.
"If you are taken on, and we both work for a while, pool our money, we will be able to leave London for the country on the coat tails of some often absent but kind old gent. Maybe Lord Anthony will have a place at his estate."
It was quite dangerous for an unattached female without benefactor or protector to be in need of a position of any type. Mary Elizabeth was running out of options. Conversely, if the worst happened and her employer, whom she loved like a father, died, they would have a plan. Lord Anthony was eighty-two on his next birthday, and he had lived longer than most she had known. They must be ready.
That night, when Mary Elizabeth came home later than usual from the old viscount widower's household, she was dismayed to learn Ginny was not there to greet her. Sometimes Mary Elizabeth was late due to playing host for Viscount Anthony. Tonight he had a small gathering that went late but as soon as the guests had taken their leave, so did she. Mary Elizabeth served him exclusively when he requested it. His lordship missed his wife, and she would have thought him the perfect gent to tag along with to the country, but he had decided to leave the estate to the next in the family line. His only living relative in the direct line was a distant cousin who lived out of the country. His lordship intended to stay with his cronies in London. A small core of servants kept up the estate.
Mary and Ginny lived in a small room off the butcher shop because he was an old friend of their parents at one time. The old butcher couldn't bear to see the girls out in the cold or at the Almshouse, so he offered the extra room as a place to lay their heads. Even though there was room for nearly nothing else, Mary Elizabeth was thankful for Lord Anthony allowed her an enormous amount of freedom to come and go as she might as long as she met his rules.
After waiting a quarter hour, she couldn't settle. Something was wrong. She threw her shawl over her dress and went out to find Ginny, diligently searching the streets for any chanced sighting indicating Geneviève was on her way home. Mary took the most direct route to the place she had left her sister and when she reached the kitchen door, she boldly knocked.
"Hello, Geneviève Chatham was here this morning, inquiring about employment. She's a young girl, dark red hair like mine, blue eyes, about my build and height." Mary didn't realize she was wringing her hands in the doorway of a bustling kitchen.
A boy from across the room called out. "Hang on." He rushed over. "Gel, about sixteen or so, blue dress?"
Mary eagerly nodded. "Yes, that's her. Is she here?"
The lad shook his head sadly. "We took 'er on, but milord's friend, Lord Conrad, snatched her up right away. Paid for her, I heard. She's been gone most of the day."
"Oh, and do you know where this Lord Conrad is?"
"I don't know where but I do know he's a bad lot, that one. If you don't find her by tomorrow, it wouldn't be worth looking. She will be tarnished for sure."
"What? She's still a child."
He gave her a sorrowful look. "She don't look it, and I'm sure it don't matter to the likes of him. If you know what I mean." A shout came across the noise, and the young man turned to go. "Sorry, Miss. I wish you luck."
Mary stepped back, and he closed the door. Determined to find her sister before it was too late to save her honor, which was all a woman without means had to give her husband, she raced to her employer. Mary Elizabeth wanted to find someone who could tell her about or was acquainted with this Lord Conrad. The man was a blackguard who unabashedly preyed on young girls. Upon arriving, she quickly found out the sordid details of the man who had taken Geneviève as his own. She also received a warning not to exchange so much as a word with that man. She reassured Lord Anthony she would not.
She thankfully received directions to Samstone Manor from a servant, and she caught a hack arriving there just as she saw her sister stealthily making her path away from the manor. Gesturing madly to Ginny, she was able to gather her into the seat next to her and instructed the attendant not to turn into the entryway to Samstone Manor but gave instructions to take them home.
"Geneviève, this is a grave question, and you must answer truthfully no matter the answer."
She waited for Ginny to slow her crying that sent choking tears down her throat and encouraged her with her hand placed lightly on Ginny's fisted ones. "Ginny? Did he touch you, take your maidenhead?"
Geneviève stilled for a moment, sending Mary's heart into her throat. She'd hardly told her sister of such things, and now she was asking if the worst had happened. What if she had experienced the most unbearable of defilements? She sucked in a deep breath. Well, they would have to learn to live with it.
"No, Mary Elizabeth, he had not yet come up to me."
"How is it you were outside the manor?"
"I was to take the place of his current, paramour but she wanted to stay. I wanted to go so we each did what we wanted. She would say she never observed me.
"Well, if this is the end of it, then yes, quite a good fortune indeed. We shall find another way for you to earn a little coin."
"Yes, but I can work."
"Of course, but I, however, am unable to survive the drama associated with you trying to work. No, my sweet, we will find another way."
Coming home the next night found a fine carriage outside the butcher shop, and the sight gave Mary Elizabeth a terrible feeling deep in her belly. She rushed around to the back of the shop to the storage entrance she and Ginny used to access their room. Mary's heart was pounding as she entered the room in a rush, running into someone standing precisely in the entryway, her sister crying.
"Ginny? What is going on? Get out of my way."
Mary pushed past the entrance and stood crammed between the footman at the door, the butcher at the connecting egress to the front shop, and the man standing between Mary and her sister in the little room they shared. The man turned, and Mary Elizabeth felt something in the pit of her stomach, this was he, Lord Conrad.
"Mary, Mary, he says I have no choice but to return to be his bedmate."
"I assure you no man has legal rights over any woman without the benefit of parentage or marriage." Of that, Mary was confident. "And you are merely a child."
"He says he paid for me." She cried in such a forlorn way with a defeated voice as though the outcome was inevitable. "But I was not for sale."
"Quite right, but what I understand he did, was take a scullery maid, and paid her employer, not her or with her permission, to come be a servant in his house. Since you have not worked for the first household yet, nor are you indentured, he does not have the right to sell your services permanently. You were only a scullery maid, the job offered and accepted. If you were expected to do anything but scullery or kitchen work and money was paid to anyone but you for your services, it is not legal. Meaning, he can't sell you." Mary Elizabeth looked hard at Lord Conrad. "Yes, my Lord Conrad, I listen to the gentlemen in my employer's meetings and teas. They are quite informative."
Lord Conrad appeared quite upset with the turn of events. "But I must get my monies worth."
"Then get the blunt from your friend who received the coin, milord. You as good as stole her, even kidnapped her."
"Well, I will apply to get my money back, but until then I have an expectation that the services I bargained for will be performed and your sister will do it." He signaled the footman behind Mary, and she shoved him back towards the outer door. Her heart beat rapid and heavy in her chest. She could feel her breath more labored.
"I think not. Taking another in that way is not seemly or legal without the woman's consent. Therefore, you will leave and perhaps your friend would perform the duties you paid him for, milord."
"Not without satisfaction." He stopped a moment and said, "But I would be happy if you stood in her place. The courts will take an extended passage of time to hear this as I am a wealthy man, not without the influence necessary to delay the proceedings for quite a while.
"Until such time, I would pursue your sister until she did as I bid, used as I see fit and even if the court agrees with her, by then," he shrugged, "there will be nothing to fight for. Her reputation will be tarnished beyond repair. Just a hint is all it will take to ruin her and by virtue of you as her caretaker, yours as well. I would toss her out with the rubbish and not think a thing about it."
Mary had to think fast. Her little sister, so incredibly young could not survive the horrible abuse this man was implying he wanted from her. What kind of debased animal did such things? As she looked into his eyes, she could see there was no emotion of human origin nor was there sanity in his depraved thinking. No, to save her sister, she, once again, would sacrifice. It was her lot in life, to sacrifice, but if taking her place gave her sister a real chance at life, then she would have to do it.
"If you will meet my conditions, I will take her place." She almost spewed she was so nauseous.
Lord Conrad's countenance brightened and he seemed eager to agree without so much as a blink of his eye. Mary understood she had him by the short hairs and she would press her advantage. It may be the only one she had. "This is a limited arrangement," she cautioned.
"What are the conditions?" he asked warily.
"It is well you should ask. If you never bother my sister again, I will take her place at your home, but I will return at the end of the evening to my own place."
"My days and nights are often tangled. I would expect you no later than ten o'clock in the evening and not to leave earlier than three o'clock in the morning."
She hesitated before answering. "Agreed." Now Lord Anthony would never need to know. "And in return, you will not talk to me or accost myself or my sister at any time. I will not go with you outside of your home, Samstone Manor. If you break any of these conditions, I will not only expose you but every person you have as a visitor."
She grew bolder in her words. "And I will tell not only my employer but Lord Duncan, the Duke of Rossington and his son Viscount Barrington." She was glad she remembered a notably high person, nay, two members of the House of Lords and in the local community. She had no doubt Lord Anthony would indeed bring in the duke and many other men of high station and regard. A man such as Lord Nathaniel Duncan who was the duke's son was such an imposing figure.
Her stomach clenched at the thought of Lord Duncan coming to her rescue. She could imagine he would be a staunch protector, but like most if not all of Lord Anthony's visiting friends, he would most likely cane her for her trouble. It gave her pause for the intensity of emotion the image produced. When adding Lord Duncan as the protector and chastiser, it brought an ache and almost giddiness to the mental picture. Both were also something to fear.
His eyes bulged, and then they shuttered their emotions away. "Agreed."
"And I am my own person. I will be free to end our relationship after fulfilling this pseudo-obligation. You will not have any say in the outcome."
He hesitated and then agreed. Mary was sure her name-dropping had ensured this compliance as well.
"You will come when I return from my business. I will send a message around when I am available."
Seemingly satisfied, Lord Conrad left, and Mary Elizabeth soothed Ginny who was crying in abject fear. When Mary heard her sister's even breaths of sleep, she allowed the hot tears to streak her own face, silent in their descent. She would confide in Mrs. Phee, the woman who had overlooked the final raising of Mary Elizabeth.
She was the housekeeper of Lord Anthony and had educated Mary on the finer points of raising young girls. That good woman knew all the answers to life's difficult questions. Mary Elizabeth hoped Mrs. Phee had the answer to this one, for if she didn't, Mary feared all was lost.
The next morning Mary Elizabeth bade her sister goodbye and admonished her to stay inside allowing no one to pass their door. She spoke to Mr. Crone, the butcher, of her concerns and he assured Mary he would keep a good watch over Geneviève. It was all she could do this morning, so she left the shop, hurrying to her employment and Mrs. Phee.
His lordship wasn't out of his dressing gown yet, so Mary Elizabeth took tea in the kitchen and tried to corral her thoughts. Many of the maids coveted her position for it was seen merely as a companion to his lordship. It was much more. It was personal, from her heart. A lady on his arm to whom he paid a generous wage and nothing else was expected. Mary Elizabeth fell into this job because Mrs. Phee suggested the job to his lordship when he became a widower.
Mary was but eighteen, her mother was still alive, and Geneviève was a little girl. When Mary turned twenty, her mother contracted consumption and died rather quickly. The doctor said she had suffered with it for quite a while before she succumbed. Her mother, Joanna Chatham, had hidden her symptoms well from her daughters. When Mary looked back on things, she could see he was right, her mother had been ill for quite a while. That was when she secured the little storeroom in the butcher shop.
When Mrs. Phee made her rounds through the kitchen, Mary Elizabeth stopped her, and they walked into a serving preparations area to have a quiet chat. Her fears were given to Mrs. Phee who was horrified, then concerned, and finally angry.
That good woman stood with her hands on her hips and then folded them in agitation across her ample bosom. "Well, you will do nothing of the kind."
Mary reached her hand out to calm Mrs. Phee. "So Mrs. Phee, I have a plan if you will help me, but it won't work without your assistance."
"First I need to be able to bring Geneviève to stay again in the manor. Do you think you could arrange it?"
"Aye. I'll put her to work cleaning the upstairs. A purpose to her day should keep her out of trouble and busy. I have a room the two of you can share."
"Excellent. Now the next part is a bit more tricky."
Then Mary tucked her head closer to Mrs. Phee's and began to speak in earnest. By the time she was done, the plan had been set, and while neither woman was entirely sure it would work, they both agreed it was worth a try.
Mary Elizabeth saw his lordship would be away from home today. With him going out instead of receiving guests, it meant he had no need of her, giving her leave to go about her personal tasks unfettered. Relieved, she raced home to gather her sister and their meager belongings. With tears in her eyes, she gave the butcher extra coin for being such a wonderful, caring friend and left the back of the shop forever.
After she had set Geneviève up in their shared room, Mary Elizabeth began to prepare for what could be a lucrative but inappropriate foray into a world she was unequivocally uneducated in or her total ruination. It could quite possibly be both, if her mentor’s words were true. Mrs. Phee had the cook send up a dinner tray for the girls and they settled into a quiet evening, without his lordship around. Mary Elizabeth expected if his lordship knew of the circumstances, he would unceremoniously put an end to her plan. He and his friends were so kind to her, especially that broody and oh so proper Lord Nathaniel Duncan, who would come on occasion with the viscount or was it Duke of Barrington? Their father, the duke, visited on occasion as well.
Lord Duncan was usually relaxed in his presentation without unnecessary conversation or a hair out of place, unlike Lord Anthony. However, she had seen every one of his cronies change in a heartbeat, no matter their age if there were some mischief of which they disapproved. Women would be safe around these gentlemen, well, except for their bottoms.
Lord Anthony himself, a man in his eighties, had made her lean over the arm of a sofa once when she had gone home without allowing his footman to escort her there. Her gown protected the worst of the assault, but as she had only one crinoline on at the time, it did not provide enough. After chastising her and thrashing her, he comforted her as a father or uncle would have.
She adored the old man, and it would kill him if he knew what she had planned to do. If he did, and after he had disposed of the problem that was Lord Conrad, he would spank the thinking out of her head. He would probably not allow her to leave unescorted ever again. A part of her wanted to tell him, wanted the type of control he would offer her but she didn't. It was her fault her sister was in this tar pit. It was her responsibility to find a way out of the situation.
Four days later, the missive came. Ten o'clock, tonight. C