Authors: Jennifer Echols
Praise for these incredible novels by
“The romance in this book is outstanding, the story is superb, and it’s a story you can’t put down.
is a must read!”
—Chick Loves Lit
“Certainly a book to be read again and placed at the top of the favorites shelf….”
—A Good Addiction
“Sexy and full of surprises … an enchanting tale of searching and finding. Each of their shared moments are addictive and special, and oh-my-God, so searingly sexy, unmasking qualities they would not have otherwise discovered in each other.”
—Girls Without a Bookshelf
“Lets just put it this way, Jennifer Echols has a way with words … beautiful, intelligent, and downright sexy!”
Going Too Far
“A brave and powerful story, searingly romantic and daring, yet also full of hilarious moments. Meg’s voice will stay in your head long after the intense conclusion.”
—R. A. Nelson, author of
Breathe My Name
“Naughty in all the best ways … the perfect blend of romance, wit, and rebelliousness. I loved it!”
—Niki Burnham, author of
“Powerful … a thoroughly engrossing look into two people’s personal stories of loss and strength…. The two characters grow and change together…. Mesmerizing to read, whether you’re a teenager or adult.”
Parkersburg News and Sentinel
“None of us in the office could put the advance copy down.”
“A tremendously talented writer with a real gift for developing relationships between her characters.”
“Powerful without being over-the-top, and reveals universal truths while still being a very personal story.”
—Teen Book Review
“Edgy, tense, and seductive, with a very tough-tender, wounded heroine who is trying to figure out who she is, and an intelligent, thoughtful hero who thought he had that all figured out…. Humor and sarcastic wit alternating with terribly tender and sneakily seductive scenes.”
—Smart Bitches Trashy Books
“An amazing book … you will still be thinking about days after you have read it.”
“What a powerful read….”
—Coffee Time Romance
“A big roller-coaster ride … a torrent of different emotions….”
—YA Book Realm
“Fast paced, detailed, and addicting….”
—Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf
Going Too Far
has everything a teen love story should have.”
“An amazing writer. I can’t wait to read more of her books!”
—The Book Girl
“An absolute pleasure to read. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
—Pop Culture Junkie
“A compelling novel about the choices teens make, the consequences, and uncontrollable things that happen….”
—Ms. Yingling Reads
“I stayed up late and most likely failed two tests simply because I could not physically put this book down. It was way worth it though.”
—Addicted to Books
“Deeply rich characters with many layers that need to be peeled back before the reader is exposed to the real Meg, the real John After.”
These MTV books by Jennifer Echols are all also available as eBooks
Other romantic dramas by Jennifer Echols
Going Too Far
Available from MTV Books
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Jennifer Echols
MTV Music Television and all related titles, logos, and characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Gallery Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
First MTV Books/Gallery Books trade paperback edition July 2011
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Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.
ISBN 978-1-4391-8048-8 (ebook)
Thanks to my brilliant editor, Jennifer Heddle; Nicole James; Catherine Burns; NYPD Lieutenant Steve Osborne; Laura Bradford; my dad; and as always, my critique partners, Catherine Chant and Victoria Dahl.
Almost a Lady
by Erin Blackwell
Captain Vanderslice was something of an ass. He took Rebecca’s gloved hand and kissed it at the lowest point of a deep bow. “Miss O’Carey, you are blooming into quite the young lady.”
“And you, sir, look as fine as always,” Rebecca lied, watching him straighten before her. Tall and dark, he might have been handsome but for a stray bullet that had caught his cheek during the War Between the States ten years before, burrowing a thick scar from nose to eye.
Rumor had it that the visible wound wasn’t the only one he’d suffered during the war—and that despite his status as a bachelor in a border state deprived of many of its young men by the ravages of war, this disappointment with regard to offspring was the main factor that had kept several ladies from accepting his hand in marriage. However, the prospect of the bloodline ending mattered not to Rebecca’s self-centered and business-minded grandmother, who thought the match advantageous, for someday it would merge Captain Vanderslice’s vast horse farm with her own.
It mattered to Rebecca. She racked her brain for something to say to the captain that would be neither rude nor an encouragement of his amours. “Wasn’t Colonel Clark’s derby a delight! He talks of making it an annual event.”
“It will never catch on,” said the captain with hauteur, swirling the mint julep in a tumbler in his gloved hand.
“Oh! I’d consider the races a success, with ten thousand in attendance,” Rebecca maintained. She continued to exchange unpleasant pleasantries with the captain while her eye roved about the rich ballroom, searching for an escape before the captain’s small talk turned to courtship, as it had at every social gathering of late.
Luck was not on her side. At a typical country dance, one of her friends from the neighborhood would have strategically interrupted the exchange, drawing a grateful Rebecca away from the gentleman’s attentions. This was no country dance. Colonel Clark had organized a race of the area’s finest three-year-old colts on the outskirts of Louisville, and this exclusive ball in his mansion included only the richest families. In a gathering of perhaps a hundred, Rebecca was alone.
Almost. She spied movement out of the corner of her eye. Framed by the arched window that let in the cool May night, beyond the patio, David’s dark jacket blended with the shadows, but his golden hair and crisp white shirt glowed in the soft candlelight reflected from mirrors in the ballroom.
She had asked him to meet her. She had retreated to this corner of the ballroom with a view of the garden early in the evening, and had glanced casually through the archway in search of him after every dance for four quadrilles, three reels, and a round dance. As she spied him at last, she felt as if her heart with its insistent throbbing were actually moving the lace of her bosom.
She started, nearly bursting from her tightly laced corset in surprise. But it was only the elderly Mr. Gordon, stepping between herself and Captain Vanderslice. She smiled gratefully at him for the interruption. Recently on a turn about the garden at her grandmother’s estate, she had shared with him her opinion of the captain and her grandmother’s plans. “Mr. Gordon.” She bowed and gave him her hand.
“Gordon,” the captain said shortly.
Mr. Gordon merely nodded to acknowledge the captain. To Rebecca he said, “I was most pleased with the performance of your horseflesh in the third race today. I hear you trained this filly yourself?”
trained!” the captain gasped, aghast at Rebecca.
Rebecca kept her eyes on Mr. Gordon, which seemed a good policy if the captain was intent on merely being shocked by everybody instead of participating in the conversation. “You heard this from our stable hands,” she said, “but they give me too much credit. Our young David Archer has done most of the work. I merely took an interest.”
“And picked this filly out of the barn to train,” Mr. Gordon prompted her.
“Well, yes,” Rebecca said, “after discussions on the subject with David.”
“Young, you say,” Mr. Gordon mused. “Looking for a place of his own, out from beneath the long shadow of his famously talented father, perhaps.”
Rebecca’s heart throbbed again, this time with alarm. She knew Mr. Gordon was only making conversation to distract the captain from wooing her, and she appreciated his efforts. If only she could keep her servant-lover from being hired away from her grandmother’s farm in the process. “Well, I don’t know that Archer is all that,” Rebecca backtracked. “I probably have more of an eye for horseflesh than I give myself credit for. It is not ladylike to accept the accolades.”
“Nor is it ladylike to take such an interest in horseflesh in the first place!” the forgotten captain exploded. “Rebecca, are you mad? Hanging about in the barn will ruin your reputation! I shall speak with your grandmother!”
“What an excellent idea!” Rebecca said. “Mr. Gordon, would you be so kind as to help the captain find my grandmother?”
“And you must accompany us!” the captain exclaimed to Rebecca, offering his arm.
Rebecca hung back. “No need. I am quite incapable of disciplining myself. You had better get to the root of the problem, and I shall stand here by myself in the corner and think remorseful thoughts about what I have done.”
“Come, Captain!” Mr. Gordon feigned outrage. As he put a hand on the captain’s shoulder to turn him, he crossed his eyes at Rebecca.
She winked at Mr. Gordon. She appreciated his help, and she felt a twinge of guilt at deceiving him. If he had known he was not only extracting her from an embarrassing courtship, but also clearing her for an illicit one, he would not have been so helpful.
She watched the elegant backs of the two men weave among the partygoers and disappear into another room in search of the matriarch. With a last stealthy glance around the party, she backed to the arched doorway. She moved with excruciating slowness due to the damned fashion of the season, a bustled gown with an impossibly tight skirt, allowing steps of only a few inches at a time. The dress was flattering for marriageable women, she supposed, but extremely inconvenient when one had designs on a stable boy.
Finally she passed under the arch and outdoors. The cold air made her shiver in her sleeveless gown, but she must hide her discomfort. The only way to pull off this affair without being cast into her bedchamber until her coming-of-age, and without causing David to be let go, or, much worse, to become a victim of country justice, was to have an excuse available at all times. Her excuse at the moment was that she had felt light-headed in the party and needed fresh air. Such a thing had never happened to her—the stable hands had told her she could hold her liquor admirably for a lady—but there was a first time for everything.
Then, if she ever reached David beyond the patio, her excuse would be that she had left her fine riding gloves in her favorite filly’s stall at the races, and David, recognizing them and mistrusting the rough workmen to send them after her, had brought them to her at the colonel’s party.
At least, that was the excuse Rebecca had invented, and those were the orders she had given David to follow. But David had been known to disobey orders, and to escape the consequences with a charming smile. He might have grown tired of waiting and left for home after all.
Normally Rebecca would not have attributed such disrespect to a servant. But David was not normal. Devoted he was not. Patient he was not, either. In fact, arranging a romantic tryst with him had been a bit like herding cats, and at several points she had been ready to give up on him entirely and attempt an affair with the son of the greengrocer, and had told David as much. That he seemed hardly moved by the threat only made her want him more.
The War Between the States had begun when they both were but four years old, and though it had not ravaged Louisville, it had been a preoccupation of the community, with threats of evacuation and concerns about beloved menfolk gone. Rebecca’s father had been commissioned as an officer of General Bull Nelson and had died of a bullet to the gut at the Battle of Richmond, and her mother had slowly expired of heartbreak.
Rebecca missed her parents terribly, but she did not remember much of this period, save the sea of white tents at the Union Army training grounds on the outskirts of the city. Any parenting to which she’d been subjected had come from her aloof grandmother, grown bitter with grief at the passing of her daughter, perhaps, but Rebecca suspected her grandmother was naturally acrid, for a disposition of such intensity and consistency surely was born and not made. Rebecca had found solace in sun-filled romps through the pastures playing at army and other inappropriately tomboyish pursuits with David, the son of the stable master—a friendship that would have been harshly discouraged if anybody had been paying attention.
But nobody had. And looking over her shoulder and past the troublesome white frills on her gown, she saw that nobody watched her even now as she stole away from the grand mansion with candlelight spilling from its arched windows, across the patio, into the cool night.
David stood before her, broad shoulders and slim hips appearing all the more gentlemanly tonight in her farm’s special-occasion finery: long jacket, tight breeches, and tall riding boots. When he spied her, he ducked behind the hedgerow, where they could not be seen by anyone stepping out on the patio for air. She rounded the hedgerow and peered about the yard on the other side. Satisfied that they would not be discovered here, either, she gazed way up at him.
He smiled down at her, his eyes tracing the plunging neckline of her gown. So enraptured was she with studying his face after days caught up in the whirlwind of balls and races, and so distractingly did her heart beat against her breastbone, that some moments passed before she remembered to greet him. “Hullo, David.”
“Hullo, Miss O’Carey.” His words were the proper address to a daughter of the landed gentry from a stable hand. Indeed, his words always had been proper—in public at least. It was the attitude behind his voice that told her he did not consider himself her inferior. And that is what drew her to him, over and over.
What he said next was not proper at all. “Would you care to walk behind the stables?”
She should have laughed. Never would they get away with such a thing. A witness would happen upon them and report the tragedy to her grandmother before it could happen, saving Rebecca’s womanhood and ruining her evening.
Rebecca did not laugh. David watched her expectantly, no humor in his steady blue gaze.
“I would soil my slippers,” she murmured, “and the maid would notice in the morning.” She kicked the toe of one gold shoe beyond the hem of her gown to show him.
“Then I suppose we can’t go far.” His strong hand encircled her wrist, and he pulled her.
She looked up into his eyes in surprise, wondering what he meant.
“Come with me into the bushes, Your Highness,” he said. “Come with me into the darkness. Isn’t that what you wanted when you asked me to bring you a glove you hadn’t forgotten?”
Of course that was what she had wanted. But she was not prepared to admit this, much less to follow through.
He pulled. And in that instant, heat burst from her heart and flooded her bosom, splashing a blush across her cheeks and rushing in a tingling trail to her fingertips and her toes. This stable boy—or whatever he had grown into when she wasn’t looking—was strong enough to take her into the bushes whether she wanted to go or not. There was nothing for it but to trip after him.
Even as she did so, he whispered over his shoulder, “I’m beginning to think you don’t know as much about love as you claim. You seem astonished that I’ve called your bluff.” He stopped under a leafy bough laden with fragrant white blossoms that glowed in the moonlight.
“I’ll wager I’ve learned as much in my boudoir as you in your stable,” she countered. “My maid was previously employed by the chorus line—though if you speak a word of that to my grandmother, you will find ground glass in your coffee.”
He exhaled shortly through his nose. Rebecca was unsure whether this was a laugh or a sigh, because her presence tended to elicit both reactions from David.
Then he placed his fingers on her bottom lip—pointer finger on one side, thumb on the other—and gently squeezed as if plumping her lip to ready it. “I’m going to kiss you now, Rebecca. Don’t scream.”
Her nervous laughter was cut off as his lips met hers.
Since those long-ago summer days of play, she had considered David her dear friend. He was important enough to her that she had hidden their friendship carefully from her grandmother. But now they were both eighteen. Over the recent months, the very secrecy of their relationship had turned dark in her mind, and needful. David was a man now, she a woman pursued by others, driven toward this kiss. She opened her mouth for everything she had dreamed of and expected.
What she had not expected was David’s hands upon her bodice. They first grasped her waist, then smoothed up her back and wandered to her front. When one thumb traced her neckline, dangerously close to her bosom, she broke the kiss with a gasp.
terrified that I’d made a noise while reading my own story, surrounded by my classmates. My copy of “Almost a Lady” stared up at me from the long table of dark polished wood, just as it stared up at the other six students seated around the table, only half the class. But none of them were reading it. Two of them whispered together, two read textbooks, two typed on their laptops. And none of them were staring at me. To disguise my gasp just in case, I took another long breath as if I simply couldn’t get enough of the good, fresh New York City air. Then inhaled again and held it while I concentrated on my heart, which seemed to be palpitating.