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Authors: Marguerite Butler

Compromising Prudence

BOOK: Compromising Prudence
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Compromising Prudence
The Mad Hatterlys [1]
Marguerite Butler
Musa Publishing (2011)

Prudence Wemberly is desperate. Her reputation has been damaged by a cowardly suitor and her overbearing father will disown her when he finds out about it. She musters her courage and flees to the house of the most notorious courtesan in London. If she's ruined, why not become a courtesan herself and have a little fun for a change? It sounds like a reasonable idea—after she has her third glass of sherry.

Charles Hatterly only wants to pursue his passion for ornithology, but his family expects him to marry and manage the family estates. He needs to find a well-behaved girl who will be content to marry him—and then leave him alone.

For a gentleman scientist in need of a wife and a ruined miss in need of a future, there is an obvious solution. If Prudence and Charles can make it to the altar despite their meddling families, unscrupulous rakes and the brewing scandal that has the ton talking, they just might find more than they bargained for. Can true love bloom amid the catastrophes that arise from compromising Prudence?

title page

Compromising Prudence

The Mad Hatterlys Book One

Marguerite Butler

...

Aurora Regency
An imprint of
Musa Publishing

Copyright Information

Compromising Prudence, The Mad Hatterlys Book One, Copyright © Marguerite Butler, 2010

All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.

...

This e-Book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.

...

Musa Publishing
633 Edgewood Ave
Lancaster, OH 43130

www.musapublishing.com

...

First Published by Aurora Regency/AMP, July, 2010
Aurora Regency is an imprint of Musa Publishing

...

This e-Book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. No part of this ebook can be reproduced or sold by any person or business without the express permission of the publisher.

...

ISBN: 978-1-61937-034-0

...

Editor: Celina Summers

Cover Design: Kelly Shorten

Interior Book Design: Coreen Montagna

Dedication

For my mother, who listened to endless stories about whales, clouds and talking flowers and encouraged me to write them all down.

Chapter One

B
EFORE
P
APA
C
AME
H
OME
to put her out on the street — or worse, foist her upon Aunt Hetty as a companion — Prudence took matters well in hand. If she was to live her life as a ruined woman, her downfall might as well be spectacular.

Fortified by three glasses of sherry, she packed her smallest portmanteau and set off in a hack for the Melbourne Street address of Mrs. Dorothea Tuppence, the most notorious courtesan in London, who might provide a sympathetic ear and hopefully some sage advice. After all, it was not as if Prudence were appearing on her doorstep empty handed.

She had a proposition for her.

Prudence would be a courtesan — and not just any courtesan. No, as the ruined daughter of the famously moral Sir Algernon Wemberly, she would command a healthy price. The men of the ton would all pay for the privilege of bedding her.

Let them laugh at me now. They’ll be crawling to me with their purses open and Papa will hide his head in shame. They will all be sorry for the shabby way they’ve treated me. Oh yes, they will!

Just as soon as Pru figured out how to become a courtesan.

The hack deposited her in front of a house ablaze with lights. Carriages lined the streets and behind the curtained windows of the house, shadows cavorted in a raucous pantomime. Mrs. Tuppence might laugh at her, but Pru was immune to humiliation by now. Her hand hovered over the brass knocker. She was saved from her indecision when the butler opened the door. He frowned, perhaps at finding a proper miss on the doorstep. “Help you, miss?” Unlike the butlers of her experience, this one had a cheeky gleam in his eye.

Too late Pru realized she should be wearing something more provocative than a demure visiting dress. Prudence lifted her chin. Aunt Hetty said bravado counted for more than sense sometimes.

Her recent actions certainly lacked sense. Time for bravery.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Tuppence,” she said in her haughtiest voice. She should have brought a card.

No
.

No card. She was no longer The Honorable Miss Prudence Wemberly. She would create a fresh identity; a new life starting with a new name — preferably something wicked to signify her new status.

“You are expected?” With a subtle shift of his brow the butler indicated he highly doubted this. “Mrs. Tuppence is entertaining.”

The brow lowered meaningfully.

Prudence struggled to maintain her composure. A courtesan would never blush.

Honestly. If you’re going to be a wanton you’ll need to move past years of instruction in the arts of missish modesty!

“Please.” She hated the wheedling note in her voice. “I need to speak with Mrs. Tuppence. It’s very important.”

The butler stared a long while before rolling his eyes. “Your name, miss?”

“Ah.” Her name.

Yes, I should have been prepared for that question
.

She looked down at her blue gown. “Cerulean. My name is Cerulean.”

The butler let the silence linger before resigning himself to a sigh. “Of course it is. How clever. Please step inside, Miss
Cerulean
. You cannot remain on the steps.”

He led her down a narrow, empty hall. “I’ll tell Mrs. Tuppence you’ve called. Any other message? Hmm?”

“I don’t think so.”

Good heavens. This will take getting used to
.

“Very well, miss. In here.” He winked.

When the butler opened the door, she hastily averted her eyes from the sofa. A woman reclined there with her legs in the air as a man rolled down her stocking. His shirt hung open, exposing a broad, hairy chest.

“Upstairs with you now,” the butler said severely. “This room is not for guests.”

After much giggling and rearranging of clothing the man and woman scampered from the room.

“You know better, Loretta,” the butler said as they passed. “I will inform Madam of this.”

“Oh please don’t, Bobby,” the woman said, breathlessly clutching her stockings in both hands. “I’ll make this up to you.”

She kissed the butler full on the mouth, then was gone in a swish of silk.

He watched the woman go and then straightened his jacket. “Right. Here you are, miss. Back in a minute.”

Prudence, by now more than a little lightheaded, was only too glad to sit.

What have I done?

She tried to imagine herself occupying Loretta’s place in the tableau as a strange man fondled her leg, but her own face never replaced Loretta’s.

After a moment the butler returned. “Madam will see you if you are patient, Miss
Cerulean
.” There was his cheeky grin again. “May I bring you something while you wait?”

Prudence looked down at two half-empty glasses abandoned by the interrupted lovers. “Champagne?”

Who knows when I will have good champagne again?

“Oh, Excellent choice! I had you figured for a chocolate sort.” He swept up the discarded glasses.

How thoughtful. Very, very thoughtful. I just might find this decadent life to my liking.

Charles Hatterly could not explain his restlessness. Dorothea’s parties were usually the solution when the marriage mart drove him mad, but nothing and no one suited him today. He had agreed to a month-long stint in London to appease his father. Although he claimed to be resigned to finding a tolerable mate, his heart wasn’t in it. Not only was Charles ambivalent regarding the institution of marriage, he could not imagine yoking himself to any of the misses paraded before him at the endless balls. Overly cosseted and overly corseted, the lot of them.

The last debutante he’d danced with had been too terrified to make conversation. She froze with a ghastly smile on her face as he attempted to waltz with her rigid corpse. One dance and he deposited her back with her chaperone. The one before her had chattered endlessly about nothing, trying so desperately to be witty and clever that he couldn’t squeak a word in edgewise. She was just terrified as the frozen girl.

He couldn’t say who was the most mortified by the process, he or the girls. How was a man supposed to find a bride that way? So here he was, just as unhappy at Dorothea’s party as he had been at the ball.

He wandered away from the lively swirl of the evening, toying with the notion of going outside to smoke or perhaps even departing for his club. Dorothea had a smoking divan, if he could only remember which room.

Brandy and a cigar. That would be the thing.

His wandering led him to a small sitting room around a private hall. He knew when he opened the door that he had made a wrong turn. Apparently, so had the girl in the room.

She didn’t notice him immediately. She was too engrossed in pouring champagne and having a more difficult time of the maneuver than she should. She had a white-knuckled grip on the neck of the bottle and it was only with the utmost concentration that she was able to fill the glass to the rim. She kept the glass stationary, craning her head forward to slurp down the champagne until she could move without spilling it.

He leaned against the doorway, his arms crossed. “Don’t you think you’ve had more than your share tonight?”

She looked up with a frosty glare. “Why? Didn’t you have enough?”

“Perhaps I haven’t.”

“Well, get your own. This is mine.”

If he had seen her before, he didn’t recall. Surely he would remember that thick golden-brown hair swept away from a pert face with fine dark eyes. She had the sort of posture and tones that someone not born to the
ton
could never hope to replicate.

No, he’d definitely not had the pleasure of her company before. She was out of place. She didn’t belong here. In fact, she appeared to belong at the ball he had just fled. From the demure cut of her expensive gown to her proper kid gloves, if this chit wasn’t good
ton
he would eat his chapeau-bras.

“What are you doing here?”

She paused, her glass halfway to her lips. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“I meant aside from drinking Dorothea’s champagne. You aren’t one of her girls.”

She frowned. “Not yet.”

Surprised into a laugh, Charles sauntered across the room to the decanter of brandy on the sideboard. “This is rich. I must hear more.”

“How rude you are.” She glared at him and set down her champagne. “Why do you say that? Don’t I look as though I could be a courtesan?”

“You’re as out of place here as a thoroughbred pulling a donkey cart. Dorothea’s girls are diamonds of the first stare but no one would mistake them for debutantes. I’d wager you’re the genuine article.”

“I could be one of her girls,” she insisted. “I mean to be. That’s why I’m here — to offer Mrs. Tuppence my services.”

He choked on his brandy. “I’m sorry. I must have misunderstood. Your services?”

“I think you took my meaning well enough. I mean to become a legendary courtesan. I’ve heard Mrs. Tuppence offers direction in such matters and I’m in need of guidance.”

“Yes, I definitely must hear more.” He moved to sit next to her. Her startled eyes reminded him of a kitten, but she ceded space on the narrow loveseat and shifted her skirts so as not to touch him. He bit back a smile.

Legendary courtesan,
indeed
!

“Why on earth would you want to do such a thing?”

“I’m at
point non plus
. I have no place else to go.”

“Surely not.” Good heavens, the cost of the girl’s dress alone could purchase most of the carriages parked outside. He shifted a bit farther away and something crunched beneath him. “What the devil?”

He removed a squashed brown lump.

“My hat! Oh, you’ve ruined it!” She snatched the lump from him, staring mournfully at the brown material. “This was my favorite hat, too.”

“I am sorry. Let us hope that’s the only casualty of your little sojourn. This is hardly the place for you, my dear.”

“Who are you to say what is right for me?”

“Don’t look so offended. I mean that you’re clearly an innocent.”

She lifted her chin in the air. “Perhaps I am not as innocent as you think.”

“You’re far too innocent to be in a Cyprian’s house, tippling her champagne and sitting unchaperoned with a strange man. This is a wicked place and you don’t belong here at all.”

The kitten flared into an angry cat. “I will
not
be lectured on morality by some man I’ve just met in a brothel! I’m not a widgeon!”

“I beg to differ.”

“My eyes are wide open.”

“You’re a wide-eyed miss for certain. I grant you that.”

“Are all the men here as odious as you, sir? If that is so then I’ve made a grave error indeed.”

“Have you any idea what sort of men frequent places such as this?” He leaned in until his nose was touching hers. “Depraved men. That’s what sort,” he said pitching his voice as low as he could. In a swift movement he had his arms on either side of her, boxing her in. “Men like me.”

She struck his chest. “Get off me, you bufflehead!”

“What will you do if I don’t? To whom would you turn for help? I daresay you’re accustomed to a doting papa or brother to keep you safe.”

She had the most extraordinary eyes, dark as the night sky and tilted slightly at the corners. Her eyes gave her an exotic look that was undercut by the faintest sprinkling of pale freckles across her nose. Her plump lips, only inches from his, were parted in a mixture of surprise and outrage, which looked adorable on her.

“Control yourself, sir!!” She struggled to push him off. “You’re too forward!”

“Words a courtesan would never speak. You’re an innocent and I shall prove it to you.”

“Men like you don’t frighten me!” They were brave words, but her rapid breathing betrayed her. “Why would I be frightened of…of a…of a ninnyhammer!”

BOOK: Compromising Prudence
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