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Your Wicked Ways, Page 1

Eloisa James

  Eloisa James

  Your Wicked Ways


  Chapter One

  In Strictest Confidence…

  Chapter Two

  The Key to Marital Harmony

  Chapter Three

  In Which Tempers Are Lost

  Chapter Four

  Of Song Birds and Strumpets

  Chapter Five

  Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

  Chapter Six

  With the Wave of a Wand

  Chapter Seven

  Undergarments Are Vastly Overrated

  Chapter Eight

  Of Cravats

  Chapter Nine

  Of Great Acts of Courage

  Chapter Ten

  In Which Salome Begins Her Dance

  Chapter Eleven

  Marital Consummation

  Chapter Twelve

  The Saint and the Sinner

  Chapter Thirteen

  An Odd Household, Indeed

  Chapter Fourteen

  An Outrageous Proposal

  Chapter Fifteen

  In Which Helene Finds Herself Unaccountably Desirable

  Chapter Sixteen

  The Nature of My Sex

  Chapter Seventeen

  Trouble Comes in Many Guises

  Chapter Eighteen

  Dancing in the Desert

  Chapter Nineteen

  In Which the Household Gathers

  Chapter Twenty

  Inebriation Is Sometimes a Wise Choice

  Chapter Twenty-One


  Chapter Twenty-Two

  The Vicar Falls in Love

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Talk of Marriage

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Come, Come, Come to the Ball!

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  The Hunt Is On

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Darling Girl

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Morning Calls

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Secret Flirtations Are by Far the Most Potent

  Chapter Twenty-Nine


  Chapter Thirty

  In Which a Songbird Develops Talons

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Lessons in Love…and Rage

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Mother Is a Relative Term

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Because Rees Is a Very Good Student

  Chapter Thirty-Four


  Chapter Thirty-Five

  A Sibling in a Righteous Fury Is a Terrifying Sight

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Great Minds, etc.

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Siblings Are Sometimes Quite Similar

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Snippets of Conversation Overheard in London During the Week

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  The Plot Unveiled

  Chapter Forty

  Come to the Ball!

  Chapter Forty-One

  The Seduction

  Chapter Forty-Two

  In Strictest Confidence…


  Five Years Later…

  A Note on Waltzes, Operas and Musical Exceptions

  About the Author


  Other Books by Eloisa James


  About the Publisher


  In Strictest Confidence…

  18 March 1816

  The Countess Pandross to Lady Patricia Hamilton

  …my dearest, as to what you tell me of the exploits of Earl Godwin, I can only say that nothing will ever surprise me. The former Countess Godwin (who was, as you know, one of my very dearest friends) would turn in her grave if she knew that her son was entertaining opera singers in her house! And I shudder to think that one of these infamous women may actually be living with him. How his poor wife is able to hold her head high, I shall never know. Helene has always showed edifying composure, although I did hear a whisper—just a whisper—suggesting that she may request a divorce. I can’t imagine how much that would cost, but Godwin must have at least fifteen thousand pounds a year and can probably afford it. At any rate, my dear, what I am truly longing to hear about are your plans for sweet Patricia’s debut. Didn’t you tell me that you were planning a ball for the weekend of the fifth? Mrs. Elizabeth Fremable tells me…

  21 April 1816

  Helene Godwin, Countess Godwin, to her mother, currently residing in Bath

  Dear Mother,

  I am most sympathetic to your distress over the continuing debacle of my marriage. I fully recognize that my decision to elope with Rees brought scandal into the family, but I would remind you that the elopement was years ago. I am equally aware that a divorce would be far more grievous. But I beg of you, please accept my decision. I simply cannot continue in this fashion. I am heartsick when I think of my life.

  Your loving daughter,

  Helene, Countess Godwin

  22 April 1816

  Rees Holland, Earl Godwin, to his brother, a vicar in the North Country

  Dear Tom,

  Things are all right here. Yes, I know that you are fretting over my infamous reputation, but you will simply have to overlook my slurs on the family name. I assure you that my sins are even more plenteous than your pious correspondents have told you. Women dance on top of the table in the dining room daily.

  Yours with all proper sentiment,


  22 April 1816

  Miss Patricia Hamilton to Miss Prunella Forbes-Shacklett

  Dear Prunes,

  It is too bad of your mama to bury you in the country! When is she planning to bring you to town? I assure you that it is already very crowded here, and if one does not make an appointment, it is impossible to find a mantua maker who will even discuss a court gown. But Prunes, I met the most absolutely fascinating man yesterday. He is apparently quite, quite notorious—a veritable rake! I am not going to put his name here, in case my abominable little brother obtains this letter before I mail it, but he is an earl and his initials are RH. You can look him up in Debrett’s. Apparently he threw his wife out of the house some years ago, and now lives with an opera singer! My mother (as you can imagine) was in a flurry of anxiety and told me later not to even think of dancing with him, as there is talk of a divorce. Imagine: me dancing with a divorced man! Naturally I shall do it if the opportunity ever presents itself…

  23 May 1816

  Rees Holland, Earl Godwin, to Helene Holland,Countess Godwin


  If you’d like to see me, you’ll have to come to the house, as I’m trying to finish a score that’s needed in rehearsal directly. To what do I owe this charming, if unexpected, pleasure? I trust you are not going to request a divorce again, as my answer will be the same as the last. I’ll tell Sims to wait for a reply as I think it doubtful that you will find the backbone to enter this den of iniquity.

  Rees (should I say, Your Darling Husband?)

  23 May 1816

  Mr. Ned Suffle, Manager of the Royal Italian Opera House, to Rees Holland, Earl Godwin

  Without putting undue pressure on you, my lord, I must have the score of The Quaker Girl by the end of this month latest.

  23 May 1816

  Helene Holland, Countess Godwin to Rees Holland, Earl Godwin

  I shall visit you this afternoon at two of the clock. I trust you will be alone.


  The Key to Marital Harmony

  Number 15, Rothsfeld Square


  The Godwin carriage pulled up before her former residence, but the countess did not emerge. The footman was holding open the carriage door, and the steps were down.
But Helene was unable to force her limbs to move her forward, along the walk, into the house. She hadn’t even looked at the house in years. She’d gotten in the habit of glancing the other direction should she visit a friend in Rothsfeld Square. It was easy enough to let her eyes drift away, or examine the lining of the carriage as if she’d never seen it before. Because if she did peer at the house, her house, what if she glimpsed what her former neighbors saw daily?

  What if she saw the woman who by all accounts was living in Helene’s own bed chamber, sleeping in Helene’s bed, in the room next to Helene’s own husband? A bitter taste of metal rose into her mouth. What then, indeed? She could only hope that Rees had abided by her request; it would be just like him to include his doxy in the conversation she had requested this morning.

  Her footman was standing perfectly still. She could see him out of the corner of her eye, as curious as the rest of the servants about her unexpected excursion to this side of town. They knew she and her husband never met. Servants always knew everything. She rose, descended the steps, and walked up the path to the house. She held her head high, as always. It is not my fault that my husband is a reprobrate, she told herself. It is not my fault. I will not accept the shame. Helene had spent a great deal of her time in the past few years refusing to accept shame. She was tired of that particular mental exercise.

  The great house looked just the same, from the outside at least. One might have expected literal signs of the moral dissipation within: shutters askew or missing railings. But other than the need for a good polish on the brass, her house looked just as she had left it ten years ago. It towered above them, the highest in the square, home of the Godwins before Rees’s father was born, before his grandfather became an earl, since the days when King James reportedly stopped by for a cup of the new extravagant beverage, tea, by which Rees’s great grandfather had made his fortune. Even then, the Godwins were no merchants; that early Lord Godwin was an extravagant madcap courtier, who threw his entire inheritance into shares in the East India Company. His stroke of genius had turned a minor Stuart lord into the forefather of one of the most powerful families in England. Successive Godwins had augmented their fortune by shrewd marriages, and their reputations by political acumen…until the birth of Rees Holland.

  Far from showing a flare for political life, Rees had occupied himself since reaching majority by attempting to shock polite society, and by writing comic operas of dubious artistic value. In both endeavors, he succeeded with flamboyant success. The very thought of it steeled Helene’s back. It was no more her fault that Rees was the way he was, than it was his mother’s for giving birth to him. A carriage clattered by and still no one had answered the door. Her footman banged the knocker again. She could hear it echoing away in the vast reserves of the house, but a butler did not appear. “Try the door, Bindle,” she ordered.

  Bindle pushed on the door and, of course, it opened. Helene marched up the steps and into the hallway and then turned: “Take the carriage around the Park, and return for me in one hour, if you please.” The last thing she wanted was her carriage to be recognized.

  So she entered the house alone. It was utterly silent. Rees must have forgotten their appointment. Not a servant was to be seen. Helene had to admit to a spark of satisfaction at that. A month or so after she left the house, most of the staff had decamped, informing all London of their displeasure at being witness to a troupe of Russian dancers practicing their art on the dining room table. Naked, or so they said. At the time Helene had been glad both to be vindicated in the eyes of her peers, and at the thought that Rees might be uncomfortable without adequate staff.

  But naturally he wasn’t. She wandered into the sitting room and it was abundantly clear that Rees was anything other than uncomfortable. True, there was some dust about. But the ornate and vastly uncomfortable sofa given them on their wedding by Helene’s Aunt Margaret had disappeared altogether, likely banished to the attics. Instead the room was home to three pianos—three! Where a Hepplewhite secretary used to stand, there was a harpsichord. A grand piano blocked any view of the street. And a pianoforte stood at an awkward relation to the door, clearly plunked down wherever the movers happened to put it. Surrounding the feet of all three pianos were piles of paper: half-written scores, scribbled notes, crumpled drafts.

  Helene’s mouth twisted. Rees wrote music anywhere, and on anything. One couldn’t discard a single sheet of paper due to his overwhelming fear that a brilliant phrase or a snatch of melody might have been scratched down and forgotten. From the looks of things, not a single sheet of foolscap had left the house since she did, and many reams had entered the door.

  She sighed and glanced in the mirror over the mantelpiece. It was rather dusty and cracked in one corner but it showed her precisely what she wanted to know: all the trouble she had taken dressing was worth it. Her walking costume was made of a pale primrose fabric that made her hair look even lighter, almost white blond. Rees loved her hair. She remembered that. Her lips tightened. She remembered that, and a great deal more.

  Helene walked briskly over to the nearest piano. She might as well see what frivolities Rees was concocting while she waited for her carriage to return. Unlike everything else in the room, the piano at least appeared to have been dusted. But Helene grabbed a handful of the haphazard compositions that were floating around her feet and used it to dust the stool, just in case. Then she threw the sheets back down on the ground, where they floated into a drift of foolscap. The layer of paper looked like a snowbank; her sheets floated down like fresh flakes atop an older accumulation.

  The music on the piano was rather more than scrawled notes. It looked as if Rees’s partner, Fen, had given him the text of an aria, a young girl’s song about spring amidst the cherry blossoms. Helene snorted. Richard Fenbridgeton wrote all the librettos for Rees’s operas, and he tended toward flowery exuberance. How Rees could spend his time with this twaddle, she didn’t know.

  Without removing her gloves Helene picked out the melody with her right hand. The melody was rather enchanting, tripping up and down until—plunk.

  That had to be a mistake. It was utterly clear that he needed an ascending scale to an E-flat. He was making the girl sound like a dowager. She tried it again. Hum-di-de-lala-plunk. Luckily Rees had ink wells positioned all over the top of the piano, so she stood up, pulled off her gloves, stuck the score atop the piano, and began rewriting. After a while, she started singing as she rewrote, taking huge pleasure in jotting sarcastic comments in the margins. The idiot kept pushing the poor girl into the lower register when she had to stay high or the whole pleasure of springtime would be lost.

  Rees Holland was as appreciative as the next man of a curved female derrier, particularly when the possessor was clearly trying out his aria, just as he’d requested. It was hard enough to coerce Lina into singing for him; it was a true pleasure to find her engaged in the exercise on her own. He crossed the room in a few strides and clapped an appreciative hand onto Lina’s sweet little bottom. “For this I’ll buy you—”

  But his promise turned into a strangled exclamation. The woman who jumped and spun away from his hand was no Lina.

  “God above, I forgot you were coming!” Now she was facing him, Rees could hardly believe he’d made such a mistake. Lina was a plump little partridge, and his wife was a gaunt stick of a woman, with cheekbones that could cut you, if her eyes didn’t first. They were narrowed at him in that way he detested.

  “Helene,” he said resignedly.

  “I gather that charming greeting was meant for someone else?” If her eyebrow went any higher, it would dance right off her face.

  “I apologize.” As always, he felt a mantle of awkward, heavy resentment settle about him. Helene had a way of looking at him that made him feel like a great hog. A huge wallowing beast of some sort.

  He turned away and sat down, ignoring the fact that she was still standing. To his mind, after a woman has poured the contents of a chamberpot over your h
ead, one needn’t stand on occasion anymore. Not that the chamberpot-throwing happened recently, but it wasn’t the sort of thing one forgot.

  She raised her chin in that way she had and sat down opposite him, as dainty and precise as a bloody little sparrow. He eyed her for no good reason other than because he knew it made her nervous.

  “Lost more weight?” he finally said when the silence grew oppressive. He liked a ripe armful of flesh, and she knew it. Her lack of curves always used to be good for an outburst. But she ignored him, just twisted those thin hands of hers in her lap.

  “I’ve come to ask you for a divorce, Rees.”

  He settled back into the corner of his settee. “Didn’t my letter say not to bother? I haven’t changed my mind on the matter.”

  When she didn’t answer immediately, he added a sardonic comment that surely would drive her into a fury. “I find your request all the more surprising, since it appears that your future bridegroom has already changed his mind. The last time you asked me—April a year ago, wasn’t it?—you wished to marry Fairfax-Lacy. But from what I’ve heard, he’s up and married another, as the old ballad goes. So who are you wishing to marry now, Helene?”

  “That is irrelevant to my desire to divorce you,” she said, her voice disappointingly steady.

  “I disagree. As I told you at the time, if you find a man brave enough to stand at your side during the proceedings, brave enough to allow himself to be sued as your consort, I will go through with it. For your sake. But if you haven’t found such a man…”He paused. Her jaw was set in a manner he still dreamed about sometimes.