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Authors: Cari Hislop

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Taming the Shrew

BOOK: Taming the Shrew
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Taming the Shrew
Copyright 2009 Cari Hislop
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Taming the Shrew
Chapter 1

Feb 9th 1814

Clutching her folded fan like a knife she wished to drive into someone’s heart, Miss Juliana Browne stomped into her house with bloodshot eyes, her lips quivering with rage. Mystical animals stuck out their wooden tongues as they crawled up the staircase and onto the first floor landing where family portraits stared with indifference as their progeny marched past. Down a corridor and up a short flight of stairs she rudely opened her mother’s chamber door without knocking and slammed it behind her with a ferocious scream. Her eyes slowly focused on the serene woman lying on a Recamier daybed staring at the ceiling with a soft unnatural smile, “You’re back.”

“I want to die!”

“Your cousin would inherit.”

“I don’t care...” Juliana threw her reticule on the floor, “...I want to die.” Running across the room she dropped to her knees beside the smiling woman and sobbed against her mother’s unresponsive arm.

“Why?”

“Life is hateful.” The angry words were heavy with exasperation. “I wouldn’t want to die if I was happy would I?”

“I don’t know. Would you?”

“Of course I wouldn’t, I’d have something to live for wouldn’t I?”

“Would you?”

“It was a rhetorical question and I’ve had the worst day, ever.” The last word was a satanic growl.

“Why?”

“No one likes me.” Her heartbroken sobs were met with a placid sigh. “I woke and the sun was shining. It was going to be a good day. I went to Ackerman’s to buy a print, and one of those stupid ugly de Vere’s insulted me in the most despicable manner, and the whole shop laughed as I left. I thought visiting with four school friends would cheer me up, but I was forgotten as soon as they handed me a cup of tea.” Juliana sat up and threw her fan into the fire. “The cursed harpies talked about nothing, but their latest brats and the vile joys of marriage. My face nearly burst into flames when they started arguing which of them had the better lover. When they got up to leave they finally noticed I was sitting there and they had the affront to scold me for not reminding them a virgin was present. I hate them. I never want to see the horrid cows again. I could be married and have children if men weren’t so hateful and I didn’t have red hair.” The reclining woman continued to smile peacefully at the ceiling as her child’s wrath rippled through her body. “I want to be married. I’m tired of people talking down to me like I’m a child because I haven’t shared some stupid man’s bed. I’m sick of it. I want a husband!” Another scream rent the air without causing the least distress to Mrs Browne.

“Marry Hervey de Vere...”

“Hervey de Vere? Are you mad? He’s an ugly fortune hunter. I’m sure he has me followed. He appears everywhere I go like a curse and smiles at me with that sickly devoted look that makes me want to claw out his eyes.”

“He wants you. Marry him.”

“I don’t cursed care what he wants. As if seeing him outside the chocolate shop this morning wasn’t bad enough, the idiot made a point of embarrassing me in my box at the playhouse this evening. I thought a funny play would cheer me up. The whole theatre stared and laughed as someone called me Medusa from across the pit. I hate them all!” A Satanic scream of anger was followed by another sob. “As if I hadn’t had the worst day of my life the Hervey creature was waiting near my carriage as I tried to escape.” Her face scrunched up as she mimicked her unwanted admirer, “May I help you in Miss Browne? May I see you home? Will you marry me? I told him he could jump into the Thames and drink till he sank.”

“I’d marry him. He has a reputation.”

Juliana rolled her eyes and glared at her mother knowing that if she wanted more information she’d have to ask for it. “A reputation for what?”

“As a lover.”

“Hervey de Vere has a reputation as a lover? Don’t make me sick. What woman would want a boyish looking man with orange hair as a lover?”

“He’s charming, attentive, and very discreet.”

“Hervey de Vere is as charming as a three legged goat.”

“They’ll turn green.”

“Who will?”

“Your school friends...Town tabbies...”

“Really?” Juliana wiped her snotty nose and tears on her mother’s night gown as the possibility of making the hated ton jealous eased the pain. “But my babies might look like him; I don’t want children with orange hair.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s ugly.”

“I like it.”

“Well he won’t marry you, you’re old and you stink like laudanum.”

“Pity.”

Juliana closed her eyes as the awful possibility of marrying her despised admirer crept into her broken heart. “But I loathe him.”

“I loathed your father.”

“Yes and look what happened, he shot himself in the foot trying to defend his mistress and bled to death. I suppose I could have the creature come to me after I put out the lights. I could pretend he was handsome or someone else. Oh Mamma, I’m sick to death of being Miss Browne. I want to be Mrs something or other. I want a lover. I want babies so I know what my stupid friends are talking about.”

“Marry Hervey.”

“I can’t marry him; he takes off his hat and all I see is orange.”

“Invite him for tea. Look at him.”

“Tea?” Juliana sniffed back her tears. “That’s a good idea, but everyone will laugh at us. They’ll call us Mr and Mrs Red.”

“Who cares?”

“I do! It hurts my feelings. Why do people have to be so horrid?”

“For amusement.”

“That’s very helpful; thank you for supporting me in my distress.”

“I’m tired, go write an invite. I need to rest.”

“All you do is rest when you’re not consulting that young doctor. I think he’s in love with himself. Every time I see him he’s looking in a mirror. What could he possibly need to visit with you for an hour every week behind a locked door for?” Her mother merely smiled and waved her out of the room.

Chapter 2

The honourable Hervey de Vere, ninth son of the impoverished Baron de Vere, was oblivious to the cheerful noise engulphing his breakfast table as he studiously read The Times while crunching on a piece of toast. Thirty year old Avery de Vere, the eldest at the table, rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Hurry up Hervey; are you reading or memorising it? If there’s mention of an heiress in need of a fortune hunter I want to be the first de Vere at her door.”

Hervey threw the paper across the table with a wry smile and studied six of his older brothers. They all shared his freckled pale skin, slender frame and wild orange hair. “If there’s an heiress desperate enough to wed a de Vere she’ll have already married her footman.” His brothers all loudly disagreed as Hervey sighed into the dregs of his tea cup. “I wish I could persuade my beloved heiress to marry me. This week I’m having a difficult time believing she’ll ever dance with me.”

Avery looked over the top of the broadsheet, his brown eyes filled with concern, “Hervey, you need to stop chasing the Browne chit. I wagered you ten pounds you couldn’t get her to dance with you three years ago. Have you even been allowed to fetch the vixen a glass of lemonade?”

“No.”

“Don’t look so hipped Hervey; she’s not the sweetest fish in the sea. Just pay up and tell your heart to chase some other pretty wench.”

Twenty-nine year old Belvedere de Vere wisely nodded in agreement, “Why do you want her? She’s heartless.”

Hervey bristled with indignation, “She’s forthright and opinionated...”

Avery’s eyes appeared once more over the top of the paper, “Hervey she’s a shrew. Yesterday afternoon I was in Ackerman’s looking at the latest prints when I turned to find her eyeing me with contempt. She clearly wanted me to move on because she said, ‘You’re one of those penniless de Vere’s aren’t you? You can’t possibly afford a print when you obviously can’t afford regular meals. You look like one of those starving criminals they hang to thin out the prisons. If you weren’t so ugly I’d feel obliged to invite you to dinner, but I’m afraid seeing you at my table would upset my digestion.”

Hervey snorted with laughter, “She said that?”

“Yes and when I politely told her she could go hang herself if she didn’t want to wait till I was finished she slithered closer and hissed, ‘You’re not that Hervey creature are you?’ I said, ‘No Madam I’m the Avery creature. My baby brother must be mentally deranged to want to marry you. I’d rather swill a bottle of poison than share a table with Medusa.’ She then hit me with her reticule filled with lead and stormed out of the shop with tears of acid dripping from her eyes as if I was the monster.”

Hervey’s tea cup cracked against the table as he glared at his brother in horror. “You made Miss Browne cry? She’ll never marry me now. What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking self-preservation. Miss Juliana Browne makes Cousin Verona look like the goddess of love.”

“I don’t care what you think of Miss Browne, I want her and if you have a heart you’ll call on the lady and grovel an apology in-between singing my praises.”

“Sorry Hervey, lying is a sin.”

“Then call on her and tell her how upset I am that you upset her.”

“That would be a waste of time; you know she wouldn’t see me. Open your eyes Hervey. London is filled with beauties.”

“Miss Browne is particularly lovely. I could stare at her forever...”

“You shouldn’t look at Medusa it turns a man to stone.”

Hervey blushed at the thought of entwining his limbs with the lady in question. “How can I stop thinking about her when I see her everywhere I go?”

“So blind yourself.”

“I saw her last night at the playhouse. She looked lonely and depressed so I presented myself...” Hervey sighed as he stared off into space remembering the sight of hair like fire competing with emerald encrusted gold combs in the candlelight. “She didn’t even look at me when I asked if I could fetch her a glass of wine. Looking straight ahead she said, ‘I’m not thirsty Mr de Vere, but I would enjoy seeing you fall headfirst into the pit. Feel free to oblige me.” I declined the honour so she hissed, ‘Then go away before people think I encourage your repulsive attention.’ Some days it does seem rather hopeless.”

Belvedere shook his head, “Forget the shrew. Why do you torture yourself?”

“Because I want her and that should be reason enough to persuade my brothers to treat the woman with courtesy. Promise me you’ll all be polite to Miss Browne.” His brother’s groaned in horror, but Hervey’s brown eyes promised future deprivation if the request was not met. They all muttered curses under their breath before agreeing to be kind to the shrew.

Avery de Vere was the last to give his word after a stare off with his baby brother. “If I must, I give my word. I’ll end up looking like a ragman if I don’t. I need some new dancing shoes and my unmentionables have holes in unmentionable places. Give me fifteen pounds; it’ll lubricate my heart with kindness.”

Hervey returned his brother’s stare. “I have a cheaper idea. Help me this afternoon and I’ll pay you five pounds each. I bought an old carriage from the Duke of Lyndhurst yesterday. It needs to be cleaned and polished.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to sell it and make a profit, what else?”

“Why would anyone want to buy the devil’s old carriage?”

Hervey sighed loudly in despair at his siblings’ lack of vision. “Someone is dying to possess a carriage once owned by The Devil’s Corpse and I’m going to find them and empty their purse.”

“Why do we have to clean it? We have six servants; make one of them do it.”

“I hate working, it gives me boils.”

“Work gives me nightmares.”

“It gives me gripe...”

“It makes my bowels loose.”

“It makes me tired.”

Hervey eyed his older brothers with a steady look they knew well. “It’s wash day. They’re scrubbing a mountain of your unmentionables. Help me or you won’t get another farthing this week.”

“Shabby whelp!”

“I’m not holding you hostage Avery; you’re free to leave at will.”

“Papa disowned us the day he married that girl who hates us. Vernon lives in a closet barely big enough for his bed and David’s an unpaid skivvy to that so called friend he lives with. Where the devil would I go?”

“There’s always Aunt Violet.”

“Her house stinks of wet dogs and the food is revolting.”

Hervey smiled in triumph, “Good, then you’ll enjoy working up an honest sweat. I’d like to be finished by two; I have an appointment at three with a countess in need of a discreet buyer. Her husband has been spending her inheritance on his mistress. I understand he has some cherished valuable manuscripts taking up space in his library. I’m going to land a fortune when I sell them to the Archbishop.”

BOOK: Taming the Shrew
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