June 1st marked the opening of AAR’s eighth annual Purple Prose Parody Contest. Today we announce the winner from the 17 entries submitted…Amanda Grange for her brilliant Miss Bridget Jane’s Diary. Amanda had this to say when informed of her win (for the second year in a row!):
“This is brilliant! I’d just like to thank my wonderful husband for supporting me (gulp), the fabulous All About Romance site for hosting the competition (sob), the sensational Laurie Gold for inventing the competition (whimper), the marvellous people who voted for me (blubber), the flowers and trees for inspiring me (wail), the little birds for singing outside my window (howl), the sun and the moon and the stars (floods of tears)…”
Ms Grange was finally dragged from the podium in a hysterical state. After a nice cup of tea she was able to thank Ms Gold sensibly and say how much she had enjoyed entering the competition, also how much she had enjoyed reading the other entries which, as always, made her LOL. And to add that she will be ordering a new carriage asap.
Entries for this year’s contest were limited to 1,500 words. When this contest first began in 1997, all the parodies were of love scenes. We’ve expanded that concept over the years to keep things fresh and encourage the parody of other romance novel scenes, including: epilogues; Regency Romance ball scenes; the first meeting in a “love at first sight” romance; the Big Mis; the Big Secret; the “morning after” scene; the prologue of a romantic suspense novel; a skanky sex scene between villains; or a draft proposal of a category romance publisher featuring things such as secret babies, cowboys, virgins, amnesiacs, virginal sex therapists, etc. We also encourage homages to favorite romance authors as well as the “merge-matic” concept we some years ago. We still haven’t received a parody entitled Lord St. Claire’s Undercover Angel (anyone game to write a parody featuring a rake who decides to dally with a virginal arthritic spinster who shocks him with her skill beneath the sheets?) or Whitney, My Savage Love, but I remained hopeful that this would be the year!
Our suggested additions for this year included the use of some of the “romance-only” myths discussed in the June 1st ATBF column, most specifically the contemporary heroine giving up her high-powered career in the big city to live in the middle of nowhere and birth those babies. And, given the extraordinary success of Chick Lit, we also encouraged Chick Lit parodies. Remember that parodies work best when they come from love rather than hate; a Chick Lit parody by those who enjoy the novels will mostly likely come across better than a Chick Lit parody written by someone who doesn’t like the genre.
This year’s prize is a very “girlie” one – the Bare Escentuals 4-piece color kit in Evening Bag, an $86 value that includes: “cupcake” glimpse (for the eyes); “celebrate” lip gloss; “flowers” blush; a tapered blush brush (BE brushes are wonderful!); and a kicky little pink silk evening bag, all delivered to you in a pink hat box. (I’m a BE fanatic and bought an extra kit to award for this contest.)
“I have been looking forward to this all day,” Lady Diana whispered as she straddled the naked man propped against the pillows. Giving him a sultry look, she reached over to the nightstand for the velvet cord. She dusted the tassel around his manhood, which jerked in response. Smiling, she ran it up his flat stomach, over his nipples. Sliding her palms up his arms and pulling them over his head, she finally grasped his hands and efficiently tied his wrists to the bedpost.
In his helpless state, she massaged herself on him, caressed his body, licked the heated skin stretched over rock-hard muscles.
Lady Diana’s caresses became rougher, her nails coming into play as her excitement rose. Unfortunately, that was the only thing that was rising.
Suddenly she stopped, sat back on her heels, her perfect bottom resting on his steely thighs, and looked at his manhood.
His quiescent manhood. One might even say flaccid.
Lady Diana glared at him through narrowed eyes. “What is wrong with you tonight?”
The viscount avoided her eyes and shrugged. Difficult to do with his hands tied above his head, but he managed to convey his ambivalence.
“Darling, we’ve just spent the last hour plotting the downfall of that horrid Miss Merriweather, and the delicious Earl Penhurst. Once our plan is put into motion, it is only a matter of time before they are separated forever. Then I can have the wealthy, rakish earl for my own and you can console the wealthy, insipid bluestocking. It is foolproof. And now,” she purred, cradling his organ in her hands, “we get to have Skanky Villain Sex. Don’t you,” bending down to flick her tongue over the tip, “want to have Skanky Villain Sex?” Her mouth completely engulfed him as she sucked.
“Well, I’ve been thinking,” he began, hoarsely, as his body began to respond to Lady Diana’s expert ministrations. He cleared his throat and tried to speak in an offhand manner. “I’ve been kind of hoping that I might be redeemed and then become the hero of the sequel. But, if we have Skanky Villain Sex, my chances are shot.”
She bit down. Hard.
“OW!! What was that for?!”
“A hero?! You want to be a hero? You?” Lady Diana laughed derisively.
“I could be a hero,” he said defensively. “I’ve got the body. I’ve got the name. I could be a contender.”
“Drake Ravensby? You think Drake Ravensby is a hero’s name?”
“Yes, I do! It’s dangerous, but manly, don’t you think?”
“It’s a duck. Your name is a duck. There is nothing manly about that.”
Lady Diana sighed. “My love, you are not a hero. But there is much to be said for being villainous. There are … compensations.” And giving him a heated look, she reached beneath the bed and pulled out an ornate, bejeweled casket, which she placed beside them. Ravensby eyed it with trepidation.
“No, Diana. Not the Casket of Carnal Consolation! I really want to give this hero thing a try. I can do it. I -”
His voice trailed off as he watched Lady Diana rummage inside the casket. He caught glimpses of leather straps, kitchen utensils, and glass jars filled with various condiments before Lady Diana brought out a feather duster.
“Do you remember the night you used this on me? I certainly do.” She brushed the feathers over her breasts, stimulating her nipples with it, dragging it down her body. She gasped as the feathers tickled her curls and moaned when she turned the duster, drawing the thick handle against her entrance.
Ravensby’s body twitched. Oh yes, he remembered.
“Or this?” Lady Diana pulled out a long string of pearls, ran it down his chest and wrapped it around his member, which began to show definite signs of interest. “Yessss…” she hissed.
No! he thought. No. I want to be a hero. Think of something else. He broke out into a sweat as Lady Diana tightened the looped pearls around his manhood, rolling them up and down. I’ve got it. Lady Townsend, my acerbic dragon of a godmother. See? I can be a hero. I have a Dragon Dowager in the family! Think of Lady Townsend. There we go!
“Oh!” Lady Diana sounded decidedly vexed as the pearls dropped limply to the bed. Tossing them aside she growled, “I am going to have my Skanky Villain Sex. I deserve my Skanky Villain Sex, and you are not going to thwart me!”
She grabbed a plate of oysters, conveniently placed on the bedside table, and quickly force-fed him three. “Now then!”
Lady Diana delved back into the Casket of Carnal Consolation, and rifled amongst its tantalizing objects. Uttering a triumphant cry, she held before his eyes two silver balls attached by a silken cord. She held the cord in the middle and let the balls tap against each other, giving off soft “pings.”
“The last time we had this out, you used it on me, but I wonder if I can adapt it for you.” She gave a wicked chuckle as Ravensby licked the last of the oyster juice off his lips and his eyes widened. She warmed the silver balls in her mouth, then tied the cord around the base of his manhood, allowing the wet balls to rest upon his own. Then her hands and mouth went to work on him, from the tip to the bottom where she alternated rolling and then sucking balls into her mouth. And once, extraordinarily, one of each kind simultaneously.
“Oh my god, ” Ravensby panted. “Think of something. Lady Townsend… Little Jack Horner sat in the corner… A ring around the rosy… Ahhhh!”
Lady Diana impaled herself on his fully erect member and rode him hard. Each downward stroke brought the silver balls into contact with his own, a pleasure bordering on the painful.
“I want to be a hero! Ahhhh… Baby kittens! Lady Townsend in a corset!”
Lady Diana stopped his voice by bringing his head to her breast, thrusting her nipple into his mouth. He bit down on it and, ceding to the inevitable, drove upward into her, once, twice as they came in an explosion of lust and Carnal Consolation.
Falling limply back onto the pillows and breathing rapidly, Ravensby closed his eyes and gave a wistful sigh. “I could have… been a… contender…”
Kat Stone stealthily marched toward the old, abandoned warehouse. It was time. Time to catch the serial killer who’d been terrorizing all of Cheese Falls these past two years. The killer had first targeted her identical twin sister. Kat knew she was next. Knew because of the string of threatening notes she’d received lately. She pulled the latest out of her pocket and read it:
PLEASE MEET ME AT THE WAREHOUSE SO I CAN KILL YOU.
THE CHEESE FALLS KILLER. P.S. MY REAL NAME IS–
Kat narrowed her eyes, crumpling the paper in one angry fist. She’d never bothered to read the note all the way through, but its meaning was clear enough. Someone wanted to kill.
“I wonder if I should have shown this to the cops?” she mused aloud. “Nah,” she said after a minute, flinging the note over her head and walking on. The cops were terrible at solving murders. Especially when they didn’t have clues. Besides, they’d only try to make her stay away from the warehouse. There was no way she was going to sit at home, safe, when a vengeful maniac who wanted her dead was on the loose, just waiting to be confronted.
She came to a halt outside the warehouse door.
“Damn,” she muttered fiercely, “I meant to bring a weapon.”
She dug through her extremely expensive, trendy, and cool Marc Jacobs calfskin handbag, the one that was featured on page 186 of the January 2004 issue of Vogue, searching for something to arm herself with. At last her fingers met the cold, hard steel of the perfect killing machine.
It was a staple remover.
From the supply cabinet.
At her office.
She tested the weight of it in her hand, smiling slightly. What mere criminal mastermind could possibly best the likes of her? After all, she was thin as a plastic straw, had no fighting skills–not even a Tae Bo class to fall back on–and wore four-inch Jimmy Choo stilettos that forced her to take tiny, painful steps.
“Prepare to meet your doom,” she shouted as she flung open the door. There, that would show the pesky serial killer! She didn’t need to rely on lies and stealth. She would announce her every move, giving him plenty of time to react. It was only fair.
Squinting, she made out a dim figure standing at the far end of the room. He was in the process of removing the plastic cover from a TV dinner.
“Hungry, eh?” she growled huskily. “Hungry for your own death!”
She ran toward him–well, made quick, mincing steps toward him–with the staple remover brandished in front of her. In the poorly lit room, it almost looked like a real weapon. Slightly winded, she stopped a few inches away from the masked mass murderer and clicked it together like a pair of castanets.
A pair of deadly.
The serial killer sighed and pulled a gun out of his pocket with one hand, still holding his TV dinner in the other. For the first time, Kat started to feel scared, but she hid her fear behind her unique brand of spunky, not-funny-at-all humor.
“This is like a game of paper, rock, scissors,” she quipped wittily. “Only it’s staple remover, gun, and Lean Cuisine. Well, staple remover beats Lean Cuisine, but gun beats staple remover.”
“What the hell?” a deep, manly voice said.
Kat whirled around. “Adam!”
Special Agent Adam O’Mulligan stood a few feet away, fatigue and hurt written on his every craggy feature.
“I thought I’d find you here,” he said, gently running a finger along the side of her face. She tingled at his touch. “Especially after I read the E-mail you sent me.”
“The one with the hilarious blonde jokes?”
“No, the one that said you were coming to the warehouse to confront the killer.”
“Oh, Adam, you’re so smart.” Kat stepped closer, into the safe enclosure of his arms.
They met in a wild clashing of tongues, mating the way scientists wish captive pandas would. Kat ran her hands over Adam’s iron-hard male pecs, then his male nipples, ignoring the faint coughing she heard over to her left. Her hands slid lower, running over the bulge in his perfectly worn Diesel jeans, the ones that sagged low on his male hips and clung lightly to his amazingly cute male heinie.
He groaned appreciatively, drowning out the growl she made in the back of her throat as they kissed. She unzipped his pants, touching the silky, yet hard length of his male maleness.
“Good lord, put that away!”
Kat and Adam broke their embrace and looked around, confused. It was their usual expression.
The killer stood with his arms crossed over his chest, impatiently tapping one foot.
“I have a gun, and I’m about to kill you,” he said peevishly. “Doesn’t that ruin the mood?”
“I don’t see why it would,” Adam said. “This is just like that time you told us to meet you at the old abandoned movie theater–”
“–But we had such hot sex in the projection booth that we forgot to try to catch him,” Kat finished. “I remember that!”
“Yeah, it’s happened a few times. I think I should have had you two arrested for indecent exposure. The worst was the time I told you to meet me in Danger Forest, and you somehow managed to squeeze yourselves into a rabbit burrow and do the nasty. I was going to kill you anyway, but I got so icked out that I just left.”
“Being in close proximity really ups the sexual tension,” Kat said.
“And the poison oak was totally worth it,” Adam said.
“We got to sexily rub calamine lotion all over our–”
“Zip it, Kadam.”
“You know our name,” Adam said craftily. “But what’s yours?”
“For God’s sake, like it’s hard to figure out,” the killer said. He dropped his TV dinner and held his gun in both hands, taking careful aim. “There were only four main characters in the book to start with, and one of them died in chapter twelve.”
“Oh yeah,” Kat said. “I remember we hid our grief by having sex in as many positions as we could think of. Remember that, baby?”
“Definitely,” Adam growled with a sexy leer.
The killer tore off his mask. “I’m Ed Barnes, you horny idiots. Your boss, Kat. The last person you’d expect, since I’m always so friendly and nice. I thought you’d at least recognize my voice. Or the picture ID hanging from my lanyard.” He held up the Barnes Industries ID card he always wore around his neck.
“Why did you do it?” Kat asked boldly.
“You know, I don’t remember,” Ed said. “There was a good reason when I started. It’s just that I’ve been waiting so long to get caught. It’s been two frigging years. Maybe if you spent less time screwing around–literally–and more time following the increasingly obvious clues I left you–”
“Adam is a great investigator,” Kat said hotly. “And his quirky family is full of goodlooking Irishmen, all of them ripe for books of their own.”
“Great investigator? I’ve killed everyone in town, some of them twice. You goons are the only two left.”
“You know what that means,” Adam said, cupping Kat’s breasts in his warm, callused hands. “It’s up to us to repopulate Cheese Falls.”
Kat moaned, and they kissed.
Their kiss was hot. Deep. Wet. With tongues, etc. Ed aimed his gun again, then shook his head in disgust.
“They’d probably find a way to do it even if I killed them,” he said, and he left Cheese Falls forever.
Gustav tossed his head to get his floor-length, jet-black-with-touches-of-midnight-blue locks out of his eyes. “I really should have it cut,” he thought, “What if I trip when I walk down the aisle?”
Yes, incredible as it seemed to him, after a three-day whirlwind romance international playboy Gustav had lost his heart and soul to the fiery and intriguing reporter Jessica Tarte. Who could have guessed, after his years of torrid love affairs and one-night stands with supermodels on the Riviera, that he would fall for the shy, insecure country reporter trying to make it in the big city? But somehow spending three days fleeing international terrorists in a bizarre mistaken identity crisis had formed a bond between Jessica and Gustav beyond any he had ever known. And in less than an hour, she would walk down the aisle and be his forever.
His ruminations were cut short by the entrance of a bizarre and motley group. “Good god,” he thought, “The Village People are in town!”
The four men could not have looked more dissimilar. A marine in full dress whites, a cowboy in chaps and spurs, a tortured poet in a ruffled silk shirt and leather pants, and a Duke in velvet jodhpurs. They were surrounded by a gaggle of children of various ages, and they were heading straight for him as though they knew him.
“God, another hairy one,” said the Marine, “He looks like Cousin It.” Gustav bristled at this, but the Marine continued. “Good to meet you, I’m Stryker. Meet Lance, Beau, and Julius, the Duke of Poshville.”
“Gustav,” he offered, shaking hands with the men. “Who are you people?” “We’re Jessica’s ex-husbands,” said Lance. “Welcome to the club.”
“Ex-husbands? But we haven’t even gotten married yet!”
Beau snorted. “Did you miss the part where she explained all of her intimacy issues stemming from her father’s abandonment and the death of her gerbil? The woman’s got the emotional staying power of wet cardboard.”
“Let’s just get right down to business, shall we?” said Stryker. “Now since there’ll be five of us, we can split up the carpooling much easier. Monday through Friday in order of precedence. Poker night is Wednesday.”
Gustav stared at Stryker, bewildered. “Carpool? What the heck are you talking about?”
“She’s pregnant,” Lance explained.
“Twins,” Beau added, “A boy and a girl. It’s traditional.”
Gustav took a second look at the crowd of children plucking at the coat-tails of their fathers. Indeed, the five boys and five girls made perfectly matched pairs, almost identical aside from the difference in sex. Each pair combined Jessica’s violet eyes and darling chin with the features of their fathers. A sense of rising panic gripped him. “But we used condoms!” he shrieked.
Julius chuckled. “Bad luck, old sport. Did you really think those flimsy excuses for AIDS awareness could withstand the mighty force of your turgid manhood? She’s pregnant. With twins.”
“Well I wish someone had told me!” Gustav snapped. “I would have had a heck of a lot more fun if I’d known I didn’t have to bother with a rubber.”
The other men chuckled in sympathy. “If you think that’s bad,” said Stryker, “wait until you find out you can never have sex again.”
“What?!” Gustav screamed.
Beau shrugged. “If you ever have sex with anyone else, you become the evil ex-husband who threw her over for another model, she takes your kids and you have a horrible car accident a few weeks later so she can play the grieving widow and snare some other poor sap.”
“Poor Rufus,” said Beau. Two of the children turned maudlin at the name of their missing father.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” said Gustav, “Now, while there’s still time!”
The four men panicked and grabbed his arms to shake some sense into him. “Don’t even say that!” said Lance. “If you leave her pregnant at the altar, you’ll still never have sex, but you’ll have to spend the next ten years redeeming your hollow life while she struggles to raise the children alone, and when you reunite with them, they’ll be all resentful and you’ll have to pay for their therapy. Believe me, you don’t need that hassle.”
“Don’t fight it,” Stryker soothed. “It’ll all be over soon. Starr, Simon, Kayla, Kevin, Lily, Lucius, Michaela, Matheson, Desiree and Dominic, why don’t you go find us some good seats?” And with that, they disappeared into the chapel, leaving Gustav to greet his bride.
“What were you thinking, Mister Valentine?”, asked one of the many Mexican Military soldiers aiming the giant 1500-rounds a minute gut buster at his chest. “You must have been awfully mistaken if you thought that we were just going to let you escape us and pass into the United States.” The rough looking captain shouted something and one of the other soldiers reached for his cuffs.
“Just give me a second with the lady, huh guys?” The captain nodded and Hitch took Mesa’s hand and led her aside. “Mey, we have to let them take me. I can’t have you running with me anymore, it’s not fair.”
Mesa was silent for a few seconds, taking all this in. This man who had spent the past three weeks dragging her through sprays of gunfire, swamps of poisonous reptiles, bushes of prickly thorns and endless deserts was now giving her first impression wish. The one she wanted dead for such length of time of this adventure was exactly going to be that. Dead.
“What are you telling me Hitch?” Raw hurt glittered into her smoky blue eyes.
“I’m telling you what you wanna hear. They’ve got me now, I can’t run anymore, baby. You’ve got the chance to go home now and you damn well better take it.” The sharp cuffs were quickly wrapped around Hitch’s grimy wrists as two men held Mesa back. “Go , baby!” Hitch shouted. “Forget about me!” The solider’s wrestled with Hitch’s wide-shouldered, rangy body and tossed him in the back of a military Jeep. Mesa watched them like poachers with an angry tiger. Inside of her, something began to heat up. Sudden emotions she couldn’t control nor recognize where they were coming from.
“WAIT! Please wait! Just let me say goodbye to him!” The soldiers released him and tossed him out of the Jeep. He fell to the ground and grunted. Mesa rushed to his side and helped him to his feet. Tears began to pour from her eyes and she touched his filthy, sweaty face. The same face she hated for weeks, now she felt was amazingly beautiful and smiled warmly at her. “Remember when I said I hated you?”
“Which time? You told me that often.” His mouth curved into a devestating, dimpled smile. “I gave you every reason to hate me, Mey.”
“Yes, you certainly did, but you also saved my life, Hitch…and that gave me every reason to love you. I know when I took the bullet for you I was saving your life and I suppose that makes us even, but maybe I can save yours again.”
“No baby, you can’t.” His voice become scratchy and shaky. “I got my time coming to me and I’m gonna do it! Baby, please go and forget about it.”
“What about this?” She raised her left hand and showed him the tarnished gold band he had given her the day they got ‘married’ in the little iglesia. This can’t mean nothing.”
“The government can get you out of that easily honey.”
“What if I want it to be Hitch? You are a lying, cheating, disgusting, male-macho pig, son-of-a-bitch, bastard, shithead, Richard Valentine, but God help me, I love you with all of my heart. You are my husband.”
Without looking away from Mesa’s watering eyes, Hitch yelled to the soldiers in a force of anger that Mesa had never experienced before.
“Undo my cuffs, Captain Melambros.” The soldier stepped down off of the Jeep and crushed out his cigarette casually as if he didn’t hear Hitch’s demand at all. “Undo my cuffs you dirty sons a bitches so I can hold my wife!” The soldier grumbled and grunted and unlocked Hitch’s hands, which wrapped around Mesa’s body like a shield.
Her sorrow was shattered with the hunger of his kisses. It sent her stomach into a wild swirl, her arms wrapping around the soaked white shirt he wore, open at the chest and stained with Mexican soil . Her fingers found their way under and touched the warm muscles of his back as she continued to kiss him.
“I love you Richard, I love you so much. I’m gonna go everything in my power to help you get free.”
“There’s nothing you can do baby, it’s my time and I have to serve it. Ten years, it’s the way things are.” He held her snugly in his arms, her cinnamon hair flowed like a wave around him.
“But ten years? It might as well be a thousand.”
“You are my wife, Mey.” He turned her to look into her gentle understanding eyes. “Ten or fifty years will never change that.” He ran a thumb softly over her lips. “Everything that we’ve been through will be worth it, I promise. You’ll see. I’m gonna make things right..I just wish…”
“Wish what?” She whispered.
“I wish I made love to you Mey. Just once, but I didn’t.” As they pulled away, there was a soft smile on her face.
“When I see you again Mesa I will! I swear I will! The very first thing I do will be to sweep you up in my arms and make love to you, I promise.”
“Lock him back up,” the captain’s voice shattered the solemn sweet moment they shared and Hitch was soon back in the Jeep with his wrists in the icy steel. His eyes were reaching out to Mesa, to photograph a memory of her face he could keep with him.
“I’ll wait for you Hitch!” She shouted over the engine.
“Wherever you are Mesa, I’ll come for you!” The last words were all she heard as the Jeep convoy started to drive out of sight. The tears poured from her eyes and she collapsed in sorrow on the ground. In her sobbing, two hands raised her up from the ground and held her steady.
“Come, Senora, I have to take you to American Embassy.” She looked and saw a calm faced soldier smiling softly at her.
They walked backed to a lone Jeep left in the dust by the other and got in.
“What’s going to happen to him, Senor?” She asked.
“As he said, Senora, he has to do his time. He will be out in ten years.”
“Well, not if I can help it.” Mesa turned and smashed her elbow into the nose of the mexican many and hopped into the Jeep. She started it and sped off into the dust to fetch Richard.
The Elusively Flammable Flame: The Villain Explains All
Rosannalee Spermingham slipped behind the portal of the master bedroom at Oakheart, her new, paternal but incredibly manly and virile husband Swainregard Spermingham’s plantation house. Although no more than ten-and-five-and-one-and-one-and-one-and-one years of age, she knew that it was of the utmost importance that she remain quietly circumspect, LEST the villain stalking through the big house’s rooms, in which all lamps had been extinguished, hear her.
Just then a thunderclap from the tempestuous storm outside startled a roach, which ran lightly across her foot. At its touch, Rosannalee’s auburn hair rose like a flame for a moment, and her scream echoed through the upstairs rooms. She quaked at what she had done.
]]>Support our sponsors Feet pounded up the polished hardwood stairs, and Rosannalee cringed further behind the door, but it was too late. The door had moved slightly, with a tired creak, and her stalker ran into the bedroom. Rosannalee’s heart pounded in her voluptuous breast, as she wondered what she could do and wished once again that Sheriff Poundsend had not chosen this of all nights to arrest her husband wrongfully for his former mistress’s violent murder and that the three spreading oaks in the yard, from which Oakheart Plantation took its name, had not fallen prey to lightning, crashing to form an impenetrably impassible barrier between the big house and the quarters of the black servants, who were, of course, all free servants, not slaves, for her husband and his equally handsome and impressive kinsmen could afford to defy established local economic and social trends and state laws hindering the proliferation of nonenslaved blacks in the region, without fear of ostracism at social gatherings or by associates in their business affairs.
The door behind which Rosannalee cowered was yanked from her trembling grasp and slammed shut. “Aha! I have found you, insolent wench!”
A flash of lightning illuminated the figure looming over Rosannalee, garbed in apparel whose many-hued stains disguised its original hue, and a shudder ran through her. “Oh, Mr. Lint! I feared it was you.”
“Of course it was I! Did you suppose I would let an ocean come between vengeance and me after you spurned my attentions, you ungrateful b**ch?”
“But why not, when you could buy any number of strumpets in London?”
“Don’t think you can flatter me. You’re just like any other doxy, even if you were born into one of those aristocratic families who couldn’t give me the honor I deserved for my artistic skill and talent with a paintbrush. No matter how much money I made decorating the houses of the haughty rich with murals and friezes, even the lowest hussey along the docks wouldn’t act excited over the money I could pay when she saw my repulsive person. A few bored ladies pretended to feel some affection for me, while I was painting according to their silly whims, but when I dared speak to them in the street, they turned up their pretty noses, lest their friends suspect they had stooped low enough to like me. Well, I’ve had enough! It’s time I showed everybody I’m the one with real power! Henceforward no one shall oppress Thomas Lint!”
“You will never succeed in harming me,” Rosannalee declared, wishing she had found some weapon while fleeing upstairs at his entrance into the house.
“I won’t just harm you, b**ch! I’ll kill you!”
“Never! Swain will arrive in time to rescue me. His love for me is Shakespearean, Chaucerian, Spencerian, and even exceeds that of the Brownings!”
“Never mind.” Too late Rosannalee remembered that in 1820 neither Robert nor Elizabeth Barrett Browning had yet published any of their poetic, verse-filled volumes. “My point is that Swainregard will come in time to kill you.”
For answer Thomas Lint sneered. “You insult my intelligence, you d***d wench! Who do you think planted Mr. Spermingham’s old mistress’s jeweled manacles in his shipyard office, reported seeing them there, stole your husband’s initialed seal, hid it in Germaine Smallsworth’s house, near where her body was found, and drew the sheriff’s attention to it? The sheriff won’t release the man he thinks murdered the disagreeable shrew.”
Rosannalee shrank against the wall, shaking with apprehensive fear, but she sought desperately to distract the villain from his horrible plans for ending her life, thereby buying herself time. “But how did you discover me here? My husband can hardly go anywhere without drawing flocks of female admirers, but somehow he managed to spirit me out of England without drawing a crowd to the docks.”
“You ninny, did you think no one would notice your departure? When I was painting rosebuds and cherubs in Lady Louisa Shrewsdale’s boudoir, she gossiped incessantly and let slip that her uncle, who was chief customs inspector, had let Mr. Spermingham’s ship depart only with the utmost reluctance, and she disclosed further that the Yankee captain had married very suddenly a little nobody from the country, about whom rumors said she was from a very good family, although Lady Louisa did not believe a word of it. She said she had glimpsed you and your husband entering Madame Chattalot’s dressmaking establishment, and her description convinced me that the object of her spiteful gossip was none other than the impoverished wench who had dared reject the honor of sitting as my model for a series of nude Venuses and of lying in my bed between painting sessions, the better to learn all of Venus’s expressions and poses. A visit to Madame Chattalot’s couturier shop, where she gave the name of her most profitable and inspiring customer that month, simply confirmed my guess. Was that not ingenious of me?”
Rosannalee nodded and whispered, “And then what did you do?” She feared that if she said more, she could not keep from venting her actual opinion of him, and she did not wish to divert him from his boastful bragging.
“I wasted no more time in finishing Lady Louisa’s insipid boudoir, though abandoning it half-finished meant sacrificing further recommendations, should I return to London. I caught the first ship to Charleston. It took only a little of my unbounded cleverness to learn through tavern gossip about Mr. Spermingham’s former mistress, Germaine Smallsworth, and her spite over his marriage to you, and only a little more of my wit won me a room in Miss Smallsworth’s house, where I promised to make her the envy of all Charleston with my charming friezes and to increase her appeal for future paramours by the erotic pastoral scene I painted on the ceiling of her private boudoir. Her fervor to destroy you was so fervent that I even thought the bond between us would outweigh the usual female repugnance toward my misformed face and boil-covered figure. She encouraged me with caresses for a while, as we plotted your downfall. Oh, such a cruel pretense of sweetness! When her true feelings for me emerged, I simply turned my anger with her into part of my plan for ruining you. Everyone knew that your husband now loathed Germaine as much as he once seemed to worship her shallow beauty, so why would he not kill her to stop her from spreading spiteful rumors about your supposed origins?”
“YOU killed Germaine?”
“Who else?” Lint bent closer, until his greasy, pimpled, crooked hatchet nose almost touched her dainty one. His yellow eyes flashed insanely, as he screeched, “Admit that I am too clever for you to escape! Admit it! Admit-AKK!”
While he had revealed his dastardly machinations, Rosannalee had untied the sash of her silk negligee. When Thomas Lint leaned close to her, she slipped the sash round his neck and began to tie it. He did not feel the silken fabric’s softness until the knotted noose drew tight. He struggled, ripping away both her open negligee and the batiste nightgown beneath but to no avail. Suffocating breathlessly, he toppled backward. He drew the quaking Rosannalee down atop him. She squeaked with revulsion but held to the silken sash’s tasseled ends.
Finally Lint ceased his struggle. Heaving a heavy sigh, Rosannalee rose, picked up her negligee, and left the room to answer the pounding on the front door. No doubt her vitally, virilely manly husband had returned in time to celebrate their last enemy’s demise in the overly long and redundancy-ridden but steamy epilogue. Sheriff Poundsend must have realized his error in suspecting Swain of Germaine’s murder. Descending the staircase, she prayed that she would have time to garb herself in more substantial garb before all of their house servants and friends found their way to Oakheart’s big house to join in the rapturous rejoicing.
Erotic encounters with earls 0, Flowers arranged 175, Glasses of cooking sherry drunk 16, Brandies drunk 1, Pinches of snuff taken 24
Ugh! Can’t face another family New Year playing hunt the slipper and bullet pudding whilst mama says, ‘Poor Bridget, not married yet,’ and Smug Married sister says, ‘Everyone! We’ve got an announcement to make. George and I are having another baby.’
Have decided to become a career girl. Am looking in Gazette for likely position. ‘Sour old maid seeks skivvy to kick.’ No. ‘Mill owner seeks poor person to exploit.’ No.
‘Arrogant aristocrat seeks feisty virgin to be companion to . . . ARROGANT ARISTOCRAT SEEKS FEISTY VIRGIN TO BE COMPANION TO SWEET OLD LADY! Apply Lord Horty, Yorkshire, England.’
Five past three pm
Sneak into library and write to Lord Horty. Celebrate with glass of brandy from papa’s private store in bottom drawer of desk.
‘Bridget! George and I have been thinking,’ says Sister dear. ‘When the new baby comes, you can come and live in our attic and look after it for us.’ Did not rise to the bait. Reminded myself I will soon be a career girl with a hot boss. Smiled serenely and sneaked another cooking sherry.
Erotic encounters with earls 0, Flowers arranged 145, Glasses of cooking sherry drunk 14, Pinches of snuff taken 32
Walked over to Rachel’s house and told her about my plans to become a career girl. Rachel wasn’t impressed. Rachel bemoaning the fact that the new curate is married. She locked herself in the church with him and pointed out he’d compromised her so he’d have to marry her, whereupon he revealed the existence of Mrs Curate and five hopeful little curates. Told Rachel not to worry. She can find an arrogant aristocrat to work for and be a career girl too.
Erotic encounters with earls 17 (in dreams), 0 (in real world), Flowers arranged 2, Glasses of cooking sherry drunk 5
Hurrah! Have just received a very speedy reply from Lord Horty. Dear Miss Bridget Jane, Please meet me in London for interview. Lord Horty
Refused syllabub after lunch. Am watching figure.
Refused apple tart and cream after dinner. Am watching figure.
Erotic encounters with earls 1, Flowers arranged 0, Pinches of snuff taken 0, Desserts refused 2
Am regarding myself in the mirror, wondering if my pert bottom looks big in this gown? Decide big bottoms are good if pert. Decide not to wear drawers. Decide to wet muslin so it clings to shapely legs. Go for interview.
Meet Dowager Duchess, who is conducting interview. Wish I had
a) worn drawers
b) not wet muslin
c) fortified myself with cooking sherry.
Dowager Duchess says, ‘You’re far too pretty to be a companion.’ Leave feeling miserable. Bump into dumpy woman carrying bag of knitting and a copy of Fordyce’s Sermons. Glower at her. She will get job and become companion in house of hot earl.
Am about to walk out of house when I bump into hot earl coming in. Earl looks self up and down. ‘Miss Bridget Jane?’ he asks, lifting one eyebrow.
‘Yes,’ I say boldly.
‘Looking good,’ he says.
Give ridiculous grin.
‘Why don’t you come in here and we can discuss terms?’ says earl.
Earl opens broom cupboard and goes in. I follow. Feel earl’s muscular thighs pressing against me. Also feel the broom handle. At least, I think it’s the broom handle.
Cupboard door opens. Loyal butler stands there. ‘Her ladyship is about to inspect the broom cupboard for beetles, my lord, ‘ says Loyal Butler, ignoring my flushed face and ruffled lace.
‘Very good, Faithful,’ says the earl to Loyal Butler. ‘Miss Jane and I are finished.’
‘We are?’ I ask.
‘For the time being,’ says the earl with wicked grin. ‘Until you take up your position.’
Get a funny feeling when the earl says this. Feel like I have drunk too much cooking sherry.
Erotic encounters with earls 7, Flowers arranged 0, Glasses of wine drunk 5
Arrive at Horty Manor. Ask about sweet old lady. ‘What sweet old lady?’ says the housekeeper.
‘She’s on holiday. She’ll be here later,’ says Lord Horty, walking into the room and dismissing housekeeper. ‘Thank you, housekeeper, that will be all.’ Housekeeper disappears.
‘Allow me to show you to your room,’ says earl.
Follow earl to room.
‘Allow me to show you my rippling muscles,’ says earl.
Examine earl’s rippling muscles.
‘Allow me to show you my flowing hair,’ says earl.
Examine earl’s flowing hair.
‘Allow me to show you my chest,’ says earl.
Examine earl’s chest.
‘Allow me to show you mine,’ I say boldly.
Earl examines mine.
Feel I am cut out to be career girl.
Erotic encounters with earl 0, Glasses of wine drunk 75, Cheap feelings 36, Bottles of cooking sherry stolen 1, Improving books read 1/100
Earl walked straight past me in the hall this morning without saying a word.
Should have refused to play hunt the slipper with him last night, or at least said, ‘No, my lord, you can’t hunt the slipper in there.’ Have made myself cheap and have now been cast aside like used rag doll.
Returned to bedroom with headache.
Ate three desserts after lunch. No point in watching figure if earl doesn’t want to watch it too.
Earl sent message I was to join him for dinner. Wished I hadn’t eaten three desserts. Told maid to tighten my corset. Nearly fainted. Revived myself with cooking sherry and went downstairs.
Saw neighbourhood beauty sitting at the table, next to earl. Earl didn’t look up when I sat down. Neighbourhood beauty is as thin as a rake. Decide neighbourhood beauty is very boring person who never eats dessert.
Neighbourhood beauty takes three helpings of suet pudding and gives a tinkling laugh. ‘I don’t know why, but I never seem to put on weight.’
Decide that being thin is shallow. Career girls aren’t shallow. They are well rounded – in every way. Decide not to waste time on earl. Career girls are not interested in the pleasures of the flesh.
Go to bed with improving book.
Five past 8
Am bored with improving book. Sneak down to kitchen and steal bottle of cooking sherry.
Ten past 8
Retire to room and drink bottle of cooking sherry.
Erotic encounters with earl 3, Improving books read 0, Bottles of cooking sherry stolen 0, Bottles of champagne drunk 2
Go for breakfast wearing high necked ‘I am a career girl so don’t try and lure me into the broom cupboard because a refusal can cause offence’ gown. See earl sitting at the table looking broodingly handsome.
‘Ah, Miss Jane,’ he says absentmindedly. ‘I’ve sent for the justice of the peace. We’ve had a burglary.’
Heart sinks into slippers.
‘Someone broke into the kitchen last night. We don’t known exactly what’s gone so far, but we’re missing a bottle of cooking sherry,’ says the earl.
Have visions of being clapped in irons and sent to Newgate.
‘Why, Miss Bridget Jane, what’s the matter?’ he asks.
‘I might know something about the cooking sherry,’ I croak. ‘Please don’t send me to jail.’
‘You know something about the cooking sherry?’ he asks in amazement. ‘What do you know?’
‘I took it,’ I say.
‘Because you were ignoring me and flirting with your neighbour!’ I shout.
Immediately regret it. Meant to be cool and calm, with a ‘Were you flirting with your thin as a rake neighbour last night? Sorry, I didn’t notice,’ expression on my face. Earl laughs.
‘I wasn’t ignoring you. And I wasn’t flirting with my neighbour. I was catching up with the news. She might be my neighbour but she’s also my sister.’
‘Yes. She has a house in town. Did I forget to mention it?’
‘Yes, you did,’ I say, feeling ridiculously pleased.
Wish I hadn’t worn dress with such a high neck.
Earl walks over to me.
‘I hope you realize that stealing cooking sherry is a serious matter,’ he says tantalisingly.
‘Oh. I do,’ I say breathlessly.
Wish I hadn’t laced corset so tightly.
‘It can’t go unpunished,’ he says wickedly.
‘I know,’ I say.
‘I’ll have to see what suitable punishment I can come up with,’ he says.
Just hope it involves unlacing of corset.
A week ago I’d never heard of Lord Horty. Now I’m engaged to him!
Dear mama and Smug Married Sister,
I am writing to let you know I am engaged to an earl.
Look in the Gazette and get a job at once.
My last diary entry. Engaged career girls don’t have time to write in diaries. They are too busy examining broom cupboards with earls.
Cassiopeia was writing her portion of the romance novel. Her husband, DweebDawg, would be going over it starting tomorrow with his special touches. Together they aspired to be Tom and Sharon Curtis aka Laura London. Cassie was in her favorite portion of the story. It even reminded her of when she and the Dweeb met back in high school. However, they had hit it off instantly, unlike the heroine and hero here. She read what she’d written again, while their dog Snickers slept on her foot.
[Broderick was now an A list movie star, his movies commanding $20 million for his services alone. Although he’d dated everyone in Hollywood, he’d never been able to forget the girl he’d never been able to get back in high school in Elm Dale Valley. She was Katie Forest, who had spurned him when he’d been a lowly nerd. Instead she’d gone for “Fast Eddie,” top jock of the football team. They’d ended up married and Broderick had tried to forget her but she always came back to him in his dreams. Now he was returning to his High School reunion to reclaim her for, wonder of wonders, Fast Eddie had died of a sudden heart attack at only 38 years of age. Broderick’s limo pulled up to the school….]
Cassie yawned and figured she’d get a couple hours sleep and then hit it again. Dweeb wouldn’t be leaving for work until noon and she’d give him the manuscript then for this turn at it. Snickers padded into the bedroom behind her and inserted himself, as usual, between her and Dweeb. If they tried to move him, he snapped at them. They had to lock him out of the bedroom for their, ahem, closer moments.
Cassie fell asleep and Dweeb’s eyes opened. He was dying to see the manuscript and Cassie never turned the computer off. Chances are the manuscript was sitting right there in Word on the monitor. He crept out of bed, Snickers right behind him and went into the computer room. Sure enough, there it was, bold as life. He fell to reading it as Snickers went to sleep on his foot.
“Oh, nuts,” he said, “this is so trite. Snickers, your Mom really went sentimental on us this time. I think she’s been reading too much of this stuff herself. We need to break into a whole new frontier here.”
Dweeb busily got to work. Cassie would sleep till ten or so although she planned to be up much earlier-ha! As if she ever managed that in this life. That gave him plenty of time to fix this atrocity. His fingers flew over the keyboard.
[As Broderick’s limo pulled into the school, he saw Patsy Harmon, who’d always been the town’s bad girl. As a nerd, he’d never qualified to lose his virginity to Patsy, like virtually every other guy in town. Patsy still looked surprisingly good and had, from her clothing and appearance, taken her former hobby to a very professional level. Never one to miss a trick, especially a rich one, she sashayed over to the limo, hips and pelvis rotating in the oldest dance of time. As the opaque limo window rolled down, she recognized him, and assumed a bent-over position, with her head partially in the window, that any vice cop from NY to LA would have instantly recognized. Her eyes bespoke an invitation to a night of pure unbridled sex and lust in Elm Dale’s nearest motel…if not in the limo itself.]
[In the distance, she and Broderick could see Katie arriving with her friends.]
[“Yeah, your old dreamboat has 5 kids now by Fast Eddie. Every single one of them is a hellion, Frank,” Patsy breathed in his ear. Broderick winced since Patsy had spoken aloud two facts he’d been trying to repress, Katie’s kiddies from hell plus his real name. Few people knew that Broderick Roddington was once Frank Ames.]
[“You know, besides the kids, Fast Eddie also gave her a few cute venereal diseases in the further pursuit of his nickname.”]
[“I think the reason Eddie bought the farm so early, though, is that Katie went through money like water. He couldn’t earn those real estate commissions fast enough for her. The money flowed in all right but right back out again.”]
[“She hasn’t aged that well either. I bet you don’t see breasts that sag like hers in Hollywood do you?”]
[Katie WAS fat by Hollywood standards. And the breasts were by no means the worst of it. He’d have to get her a personal trainer and a dietician. He wouldn’t be able to take her out in public to his premieres looking like that.]
[“Maybe, Frank, some things are best left in the past,” Patsy concluded.]
[Broderick took out his wallet and passed her a thousand dollar bill. “I’ve got a plane to catch. Nice seeing you Patsy.”]
[“Same here, Frank, but I can’t take your money for nothing. How about I get in and earn every penny of it? Besides, you’re the one blot on my record in this town, Frank. You’re the only guy I never had.”]
[Patsy jumped into the limo and, as the opaque window slowly closed, she and Frank could be seen frantically peeling each other’s clothes off.]
Dweeb really started warming to the whole thing. Boy, they wanted romance. He’d give them romance, guy style. Hours passed as every sex fantasy Dweeb had ever had poured into the manuscript.
Dweeb didn’t want Cassie to sabotage his masterpiece so attached it to an email to the editor and went ahead and sent it. The editor would be busy reading it before Cassie even realized that her version that she was still polishing was the “old version.”
Dweeb and Snickers went to bed and no one was the wiser by the time he left for work. Dweeb was a captain of the firemen at local 23. He’d been putting out a fire that night and just got back into the station house when he got an excited call from Cassie.
“They decided to buy our book, Dweeb.” Did she know it was his version? Oh shit, she probably thought it was hers.
“The editor said that it was the combination of your final polish with my earlier version that sold her. She said she managed to combine them seamlessly together into a romance classic. I didn’t realize you’d had a chance to work on it before you left for work.”
“But the best part is that she also sold it to the movies. She said she just had to change a few things to make our versions pull together.”
Pull together? It would be like trying to reconcile fire with water. How was he going to tell Cassie?
6 months later…
“Dweeb, we just got a DVD in the mail. It’s called BRODERDICK OF HOLLYWOOD DOES ELM VALLEY. It sounds like our book but why it is on DVD and gee, they could have picked a better mailer for this. I can’t believe they couldn’t do better than a plain manila envelope.”
Cassie opened the package and was frowning at the label.
“I’ve never heard of these actors-Dirk Screwdriver? Cummy Laid?”
Dweeb knew though. They’d turned their joint story into a porno film.
He handled it like a man. He lied his ass off.
“Put it in the player, Cassie. I can’t imagine what they did to it.”
Good, now he could just blame the editor. They’d already banked the check after all.
The newly-arrived customer was tall, dark and handsome, a better Byronic hero that Byron himself. He raised a haughty quizzing glass and surveyed Tyrwhitt’s Circulating Library, as if he had just bought the place and was finding it to be worth less than he had been led to believe. If his nose had been any higher, he would be sniffing the cornice. But it must be difficult to lower your head when it was supported by enough snowy muslin to make sails for a small flotilla, thought Francesca, looking up from the reshelving trolley. The Earl St. Lucifer was inordinately proud of his cravat, even though constructing the marvel of textile engineering in time for a late lunch required rising at a most uncivilised hour. Francesca’s eye, however, was drawn to his skin-tight breeches. She idly wondered whether a rolled up stocking had anything to do with their impressiveness.
Mrs Pertington threw a glance at Francesca, a glint in her eye and matchmaking in mind, and made a beeline for their customer.
“Welcome, welcome.my lord?” she ventured.
“Earl St. Lucifer,” he drawled.
The matchmaking glint in Mrs Pertington’s eye was like the beam from a lighthouse. “Mrs Kidd will help you. Francesca!” The ringing summons rolled across the quiet library.
Francesca sauntered across the floor. She stopped at a distance and gave him a cool “Your lordship.”
“I beg your pardon, my lord, you must have me confused with somebody else.”
He raised his quizzing glass to convey the force of his displeasure – having to explain himself was most vexatious. “Iphegenia, the book.”
“I am sorry to say that our last copy went yesterday.” She wasn’t sorry at all – his contemptuous tone assured that.
He frowned, drawing together his jetty wingèd brows. Francesca felt that she was supposed to cower before his displeasure and, if she could possibly manage it, produce a copy of the feted tome from out of thin air.
“You must be reading it yourself. I will have your copy.”
“I do not have a copy. I am not reading it.”
“What, do you not thrill to romantical tales of modest maidens assailed by dangerous but handsome heroes?”
“I do not thrill to anything of the sort. It is tripe.” She made her voice as glacial as she could – it lacked only a mammoth.
“Enough! Send out the manager.”
“I am the chief librarian here.”
He raised his quizzing glass again and regarded her with disbelief. She might as well have claimed to be King George. (On the other hand, if King George had claimed to be the chief librarian of small, select circulating library on the fringe of Belgravia, nobody would have batted an eyelid.) “Of course, you did not order enough copies. You cannot properly manage this establishment, being but a woman – and a young one at that.”
“I can assure you that we ordered several dozen copies. If you like, you can see the large empty space under ‘Fiction, Authors C’ where they were ever-so-briefly placed.”
He raised his quizzing glass-cum-yo-yo and regarded her indignant, flushed face – and all of a sudden, he seemed to have developed an interest in the rest of her body. “Show me, then,” he drawled suggestively.
She did so, standing triumphantly in front of the empty space. “Just four days ago these shelves were full of Iphegenia.”
“What do I care for that silly chit Iphegenia?” whispered a husky voice close to her ear. “The only woman I care about possessing is you!”
Francesca sidled away from him.
“Don’t pretend that you do not know the effect you have on me! You enchantress! You siren! You houri! You fascinate me!!”
“I am baffled – and not a little bit scared. My lord, your violent advances are not welcome!”
“Forget everything! Run away with me and be my mistress!” He gave her an intense, brooding stare from under his heavy eyelids. Then, with a swoop of his crow-black coat-tails, he seized her and covered her mouth with a deep, passionate kiss.
In response, she hit his chest and kicked his immaculate boots. The earl had no choice but to let go. Both their eyes were ablaze – but for very different reasons.
“My god, you’re beautiful when you’re angry!”
“Will you destroy my reputation?”
“Nobody could see us!”
Mrs Pertington was clearly visible from where they were standing; she was wearing an air of benevolent, smug self-satisfaction.
The earl seized her hand and dragged her back until their audience was out of view. “Your loyalty to you husband does you much credit. But I will not be denied.”
“I am a widow. However, I would rather entertain the slobbery advances of an over-affectionate wolfhound with a cold! You are the worst kisser I have ever encountered.”
A light of understanding lit in his eyes. “Your husband was old and never succeeded in consummating your marriage. No wonder you spurn my advances! But I will awaken such delights and desires in your sweet maidenly flesh!”
“Let me assure you that I have no need of either awakening or tutelage. My husband was no spring chicken, but he performed his marital duties with great enthusiasm.”
“He never satisfied you, and you have a great distaste for bedsport.”
“He was inventive and vigorous! Satiety was not a problem!”
The earl waved a dismissive hand. “I will caress those magnificent cupolas on the church of your chest and lave your aching buds until your honey-pot overflows with the nectar of desire.”
The mixture of metaphors made Francesca feel dizzy. She put her hand to her forehead.
“Aha!” St. Lucifer pressed his advantage. “You feel now the full force of the need I unleash in you! I’m going to lash your rosy summits with my tongue until your feminine dingle deliquesces. Then my fingers will frolic through your mossy, bedewed glen to caress your tumid nubble, and you will beg me to sink my indurate frigate of passion in your fjord of love!”
He stepped towards her and tugged at the fichu tucked into her dress’s neckline. It was tucked quite firmly, but after a bit of tugging it came loose. He flicked it into the air with a gleeful look. He proceeded to her neckline, which, without the fichu, was rather low. With a pleased growl, he pulled at her neckline. Tugging did not budge it. Neither did yanking.
Francesca recovered enough to try to slap his hands away. “What do think you’re doing?”
“I was going to -” yank “- let my hot tongue -” yank “- roam over your luscious, creamy peaks -” yank yank. He let go of her dress. He looked puzzled – surely the pesky garment should have fallen to her waist?
“I am not a large portion of dairy produce for your delectation.”
“But you are delectable! You make me ravenous, but it is not food I crave!” He groaned and pressed the full length of his body against her. There was a disconcerting moment of silence. Something was not quite right. If he desired her, it wasn’t evident.
His swarthy brow furrowed in puzzlement. He growled again and dipped his head for another kiss, prompting another brief scuffle. She broke free and stood glaring at him.
The earl sighed – suddenly he looked tired and unhappy. “I’m sorry – I can’t help it! The title makes me do it! And with coal-black hair, a handsome and strong but somehow sinister face and magnificent athletic build, a name like ‘St. Lucifer’ is just the icing on the cake! They just say ‘St. Lucifer’ in an arch manner. Some of the wittier ones call me the Earl of Darkness. And they refer to my father as the Old Gentleman. It wasn’t any better when I was heir; then I was Viscount Mephisto – nobody cared that Mephisto is a sweet little village in Cornwall!”
“Poor earl,” murmured Francesca. The poor earl missed the sarcasm.
“All I really want is to settle down.”
“Well, why don’t you stop?”
“Last season, I tried to find a wife. But every girl I talked to misunderstood me – the most innocent comment on the weather provoked shocked blushes and scandalised gasping. One even fainted on me – she fell straight into my arms, and after that, Lady Jersey asked me not to come back. My marriage prospects were ruined!” His saturnine countenance wore a martyred look.
“It would be nice not to have to work any more. Every woman I know wants to use me for her matchmaking experiments. You are tolerable-looking enough, and I think that with somebody to provide willpower for you, you might achieve a reasonable level of social respectability. There is just one condition.”
“Name it!” St. Lucifer looked as if a divine being had appeared to him in a vision and granted him absolution.
“I believe we have a medical dictionary somewhere. I beg you: let me teach you some technical terms.”
The wound was fatal and he knew it. Through a daze of pain he watched his wife approach, her beautiful face ashen.
“It’s nothing,” he gasped, snapping off the shaft of an arrow embedded in his chest. “A scratch.”
“You were shot five times!” She clasped his hand in hers, lifting it to her lips. “I shall never forgive Aiden for suggesting we ride through the forest at night, never!”
]]>Support our sponsors A spasm of agony gripped him, and he writhed on the ground for a moment. “Dearest,” he panted, “my darling, I think perhaps you are right..I am hurt. Very badly.” Hot coppery blood dribbled from between his lips, and she blanched at the sight. He saw her fear in her eyes, swimming in tears. “There is so much I must tell you. The documents that prove my right to Everow Castle…the map to my hidden vault full of enough gold to keep you in comfort the rest of your life…”
“Oh, Charles!” Madeline gave a tiny hiccup. “Never mind all that – you can’t die! I cannot live without you!”
“You must, my love,” he croaked. “Don’t let the children forget me!” She cried his name again, as if from a great distance, and then everything went black.
Charles woke to find himself lying on a road paved in shining gold. Looking around in amazement, he got to his feet. It was a beautiful place, with fields of flowers and trees bearing every sort of fruit. It was paradise, he realized. A thought came to him, and he grabbed at his chest, searching for the arrows that had pierced him in five places. Not a trace remained.
“Welcome!” called a pleasant voice. He looked up to see a large lustrous gate. Approaching from the other side was a man in flowing white robes, who pulled open the gate and waved him through.
“St. Peter?” he asked, cautiously. Had he made it to Heaven? Had all those donations to the local cathedral paid off?
The man rolled his eyes. “St. Percy. Why must everyone think I’m Peter?”
“Then…this is not Heaven?”
St. Percy laughed. “Oh, goodness, didn’t you know?” He pointed up, and Charles read the large banner hanging above the gate: The Great Romance Novel Hereafter (Where Characters Who Have Served Their Purposes Are Conveniently Out Of The Way, read the smaller type beneath it).
“Now, let’s see,” St. Percy said, scanning a large book he had been carrying under one arm. “Ah, yes; another dead first husband…Charles de Everow? You’re all in order. Come right in.”
“Dead first husband?” Charles asked.
“Of course. Have to die to make way for your wife’s true love.”
“What?” he protested. “I was her true love!”
The man clucked his tongue and sighed. “Dear me, I always forget there are a few of you who aren’t vile to the bone. Let me explain.” He opened the book again. “It’s all right here: your wife, Madeline de Everow marries Aiden, earl of Montmarche.”
“Aiden!” Charles exclaimed. “My best friend!”
Percy smiled sympathetically. “Yes, it often happens that way. Best friend, or worst enemy. Anyway, he marries Madeline in six months.”
“Only six!” Charles shouted in outrage. “Not even a full year of mourning? She said she couldn’t live without me!”
“Oh, but she has to marry him, she’s pregnant with his son.”
“Of course,” replied Percy, unperturbed. “Be glad it’s not twin sons born under a magical sign.”
Charles put one hand to his brow in disbelief. His wife and his best friend, less than a year after his death? “What about my children?”
“Hm…” Percy read some more, then looked up with a reassuring smile. “You’ll be glad to know they come to love and accept Aiden as their new father.”
Charles reeled. His children, too? “Now hang on just a minute: are you saying I had to die – very painfully, I might add – so Aiden could marry my wife and raise my children? ”
“Why? What was wrong with me? I was a good father. I was a good husband. Why couldn’t I have stayed on?”
Percy sighed. “You were so ordinary. Your name should have tipped you off; heroes are very rarely named Charles. Had you been named Griffin or Kendrick, or even had a dangerous nickname like The Black Wolf of Ravenswold, you might have had a chance.”
“Charles is a perfectly good name,” he insisted.
Percy shrugged. “I daresay. But, the fact remains that usually it’s the villain, or sometimes the Other Man, who is named Charles. But I digress.”
Charles shook his head. “But I loved my wife, and she loved me. Why wasn’t that good enough?”
Percy heaved another pained sigh. “But you never once rescued her from murderous bandits. She never had to offer her body to a villain to save you. You had no dead vicious bitch of a first wife haunting your castle and leaving you bitter against all women.”
“Women want that?”
“Well, it has to be exciting in SOME way. Your marriage to Madeline was entirely, utterly, boringly normal!”
“I rather liked it,” said Charles sadly.
“Unfortunately, your entire existence was just a plot device. The author didn’t want Madeline to be a virgin, and of course Aiden needed some internal conflict, so marrying his best friend’s widow…”
“But why Aiden?”
“You really are new at this, aren’t you?” Percy waved his hand at a nearby bench. “Shall we sit? This may take a little while.” They sat. “The obvious reason is that Aiden has four brothers, which works out really well for sequels; you, sadly, were an only child. Also, it was Aiden’s idea to go riding, therefore, he will be suspected of your murder, even though it was really your cousin William.”
“He wants to claim the treasure you brought back from the Crusades.”
“Right,” Charles muttered. “I never did get around to telling Madeline where I hid it.”
Percy beamed. “You’re getting it. Naturally, she’ll run out of money soon, and William will try to force himself on her – Aiden steps in and saves her,” he hastened to assure Charles, who started in alarm. “That will make her trust Aiden, confide in him, and be the only one who thinks him innocent -probably innocent, she may have a few doubts later if the plot seems to be lagging. Then, when they’re locked in the dungeons together on William’s orders, their passions will get the better of them.”
“In a dungeon?” said Charles incredulously. Percy flipped a hand.
“Some authors think it wildly exciting to make the characters have sex in strange places. It’s so hard to find original love scenes.”
“Oh,” said Charles, dazed. “Go on.”
“William will sentence them to death, but Madeline will engineer a desperate escape plan, saving Aiden and killing several of William’s men.”
“My dainty Madeline, kill a man?”
Percy laughed. “Oh yes, she’s quite a different woman with Aiden. You’d never recognize her. For instance, she’s multiply orgasmic now, likes it doggy style, and gives unbelievable blow jobs. Aiden feels a bit guilty at first, but seeing as you’re dead, after all.” He shrugged and got to his feet.
“Wait a minute! I was a good lover! She had orgasms with me!”
“You were nothing compared to Aiden. Those two will scorch the sheets, and the walls and chairs and saddles, if you know what I mean. As I said, you’ll get used to it. Shall I introduce you around?”
Charles stood up. “Who else is here?”
Percy chuckled. “Oh, we’re booked almost to capacity. Plenty of dead first husbands, generally a dull, boring bunch, all very bad in bed. Dead first wives, too, of course, although they’re mostly frightful bitches. There are some dead first wives who seem like lovely people, but then you get to know them and find out they’re bipolar or seriously codependent. And dead parents. We have thousands of dead parents.” He rolled his eyes. “We had to start a new colony in Florida for all the dead parents. Madeline’s parents are already here. And Aiden’s father of course – he had to inherit his title to be a hero, didn’t he? Well, right this way.” He started down the path leading into lush green hills. Charles followed.
“And all that, about Aiden and Madeline…it’s guaranteed? Even the part about the blow jobs? Because she never once mentioned it!”
Percy laughed, and slung an arm around Charles’s shoulders. “Oh yes, I would say the blow jobs are definitely guaranteed. Every heroine gives good head these days, even the virgins. As for the rest, well, it’s in the first draft, but there’s always the chance the editor will change it all around.”
A tribute to Amanda Quick, Stephanie Laurens and Sabrina Jeffries as written by Helen Derbyshire:
A Motive for Marriage
The carriage door slammed shut. She raised her head to look at him and gasped as she saw the intense fire burning in his eyes.
“So you won’t marry me?” he growled, his eyes travelling the length of her body as she sat before him. “Perhaps I should show you what you’ll be missing”.
“Well, if we’re caught, or I get with child, I’ll be ruined – completely ostracised from society, without a hope of redemption for the rest of my life, my only options to commit suicide or marry you after all. However, my curiosity is peaked, so, by all means..” she replied.
He reached out to caress her cheek, then leaned forward to kiss her. She closed her eyes in expectation, and felt the sharp pain as his knees knocked painfully against hers. He cursed eloquently, grasped her arms and pulled her across the carriage to sit beside him.
Their lips met in a searing kiss. His arms tightened around her as he pushed her against the seat. She gasped again, and arched her back as the decorative carving dug painfully into her vertebrae. “Ouch!” she exclaimed, as this time the wood caught her neck.
He swore again and lifted her onto his lap, shifting her rapidly into a more comfortable position as he felt his left thigh muscle spasm under her weight.
“Tristan, please.?” she pleaded, her words barely a whisper against his lips. He immediately reached behind her and undid the buttons fastening her bodice. He pealed her dress down to her waist, leaving only the translucent material of her chemise protecting her skin from his touch. He pulled at the laces of the chemise. Nothing happened. He tugged them again, but the knot only grew tighter.
“Oh, here, allow me,” Ariadne sighed impatiently, her nimble fingers working at the knot.
After several minutes she finally succeeded in her task. He ceased to fidget and, perilously close to losing his self control, reached for her once more. He drew the flimsy and, in his opinion, completely pointless chemise down to join her bodice and pressed her breasts against his chest. She cried out as his cravat pin penetrated her shoulder, drawing several ruby droplets of blood. “Darling, I’m so sorry,” he mumbled, kissing the wound only to gag on the salty taste of the blood as he divested himself of the offending cravat.
She sat up and stopped his frantic movements, taking the cravat from him and tossing it onto the floor of the carriage. She bent to kiss his throat, her hands undoing the buttons of his waistcoat. His shirt followed the other items to the floor. He groaned with pure need as her hands roamed freely over his chest, then groaned again when his elbow hit the wall as the carriage went over a rut in the road.
Once the throbbing in his arm had reduced to a dull ache, he reached down and hitched her skirt and petticoats up past her hips, exposing her to him. Her skirts were voluminous, bunching up under his nose, the lace a delicate torment. He breathed in sharply as he felt a familiar sensation building. The next moment, he sneezed, then sneezed again. He couldn’t seem to stop. The sneezes came with such force that each time he succumbed, his head snapped back and hit the hard wooden wall behind him.
Ariadne clutched at him in alarm. He looked at her with streaming eyes, waiting for the fit to subside. When he could concentrate again, he grabbed hold of her dress, petticoats and chemise, tugged them roughly over her hips and threw them to the floor. His eyes were smouldering, his breathing ragged, his voice husky, the after effects of his sneezing fit. “God, you are beautiful” he croaked.
His arms encircled her, trapped her in his embrace: one arm was wound tightly around her waist, the other gently stroking the tops of her thighs, slowly parting them. His lips found hers, drawing her once more under his spell, as his hand found the dark triangle at the apex of her thighs. Her sharp intake of breath was followed by cursing more eloquent than he had ever managed. He looked down to find his signet ring caught fast in her curls. He was momentarily deafened by her scream, his eardrum on the point of rupture, as he ripped it free.
“Alright,” he said, “no more foreplay. My legendary self-control has finally snapped. I can’t wait any longer!” He picked her up, and sat her on the seat opposite. He pulled his boots off, each one hitting the floor of the carriage with a resounding thump.
“Everything alright in there Lord Maldemer?” came the worried shout of his coachman.
“Everything is just fine,” he replied with gritted teeth, “Kindly do not disturb me again!”
“Right ye are m’Lord”. Ariadne could almost hear the coachman winking as he replied. This would be all over the equestrian community of London by morning. A delicate blush swept her face.
Tristan stood and slid his trousers over his hips, revealing his manhood in all its glory. Ariadne gasped, and looked at him uncertainly. He moved towards her and reached for her, just as the carriage swayed precariously. Tristan lost his balance, the trousers round his ankles preventing him from regaining it. He fell against Ariadne on the opposite seat, his manhood thrust into her face. She screamed, then almost choked as her mouth was filled with him.
He closed his eyes and shut his mind away from the pleasure of her mouth, the wonderful sensation her gagging was producing. He withdrew and finally wrestled his trousers off, a not inconsiderable achievement for a gentleman without his valet for guidance.
Once naked, he kissed her, stoking the fiery passions between them once more. He laid her down along the carriage seat, holding himself above her, poised to enter her moist heat. His knee caught the edge of the hard wooden seat, and before he knew what was happening, they were both rolling onto the floor.
As they fell, his head connected with the edge of the seat. Darkness engulfed him.
“Tristan!” Ariadne cried out in concern. Then she saw he was still breathing, just unconscious. “Oh he’ll be alright” she said to herself. “I, however, give up!” she exclaimed, the frustration too great for even semi-eloquent cursing. “If this is what I’m missing by remaining unmarried, I shall count my impending spinsterhood (at the extreme old age of twenty four) a blessing”
She stretched out, naked, lying facedown on the floor of the carriage. “I wonder where we are. We must be nearing London by now”. She thought about getting up, but was reluctant to give up the strangely liberating feeling. The carriage lurched forward, and suddenly she felt the familiar vibrations of cobblestones beneath the wheels of the carriage. “Ah, we must be near Lond.”, she broke off abruptly, a new and extremely pleasurable sensation building between her legs.
“Ohh,” she moaned, as the vibrations from the floor increased with the speed of the carriage. She shifted position slightly, pressing herself to that wonderful, vibrating floor as much as possible, wave upon wave of pleasure assaulting her until she could hardly breathe. Just as she was beginning to think that she could take no more of this exquisite torture, she shattered. Her whole being was consumed, she couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, could do nothing but give herself over to absolute pleasure.
Gradually, she returned to Earth. The bump was inevitable, considering the surface of the road.
“Good heavens!” she exclaimed, sitting up and trying to catch her breath. “Well, Tristan may have been right about missing out on something, but I certainly don’t need an oppressive, overbearing, ridiculously overprotective husband who will take control of my money, my properties and my life to give it to me! What an expensive way of going about things!”.
“No,” she said determinedly, as she quickly dressed herself and tidied her hair, ” a new carriage will do nicely”.
When A Pirate Bought Me Lunch
The Port of Soupe-Aux-Choux, France *
Aboard The Galleon “Lint”
Poubelle Poitrine** was a regular ice cream truck of creamy treats, had such things yet been invented. All Captain Charmant Fromage needed now was non-existent chocolate syrup. He would bring the nuts to this lust sundae.
“Do you like apples?” he questioned questioningly.
“Sure,” she answered in a reply.
“You like apples?” he asked again, as if repeating himself.
“Yes.” She basically said the same thing she had before, but with a different word.
“Come into my cabin and twiddle me,” he cooed, slithering an arm around her burial mound-like shoulders. “How do you like them apples?”
“You are an irritating clodhopper,” she spat spiting spittle. “Better to be dragged behind the ship!”
He wore a grin like a skull splitting open to reveal a glistening brain. “Water skiing hasn’t been invented yet, my passionate little rhinoceros. Besides, the brine would render your dainty small slender tiny delicate elegant little tootsies repulsive creepy gherkins.”
She punched him once, twice, thrice, the heaving satellites of her bosom orbiting a subdued fervent supernova. “You speak such, yet expect that I cast myself upon the well-plowed field of your bed and splay my thighs like halves of string cheese!”
“Yup. Randy, isn’t it?”
Timeswept and begruntled, Poubelle gaped at him. His hair was black so as to lack color, black enough to be #000000 if hexadecimals had yet been understood. She might have thought his head was being consumed by a black hole if black holes had yet been understood. The sheer blackness of his naturally bouncy pirate bob began to drive her insane, and so she focused on the sheep-white milky dew linen of the shirt that sheathed his muscles. The coconut frosting upon the waves reminded her of the love fountain that would spray from his tower of hormones should she succumb. “You possess the charm of an overweight flatulent drunken hockey player.”
Maybe Poubelle was the pox personified, but by gosh she was a cupcake with frosting!
*Soupe aux choux literally means cabbage soup; it is also the title of a popular French novel and film. **Poubelle Poitrine is Garbage Can Bosom and Charmant Fromage is Charming Cheese.
Lucien put down the tome he was holding and focussed solely on the beautiful young woman standing before him. “You are the chosen one. You alone shall fight the vampires that infest this world and – ”
“There are vampires now?” Candy asked, a frown creasing her perfect brow. “Since when?”
Lucien sighed. “You truly didn’t notice that your next-door neighbour didn’t go out until night? And that he had waist-length sable hair and wore turn of the century clothing?”
“Yeah, but I just thought he was a goth.”
“Or that you lived next to an abandoned amusement park, and that various creatures invaded it after dark?” He felt the pulse in his temple begin to throb.
“Well, it was obvious that serial killers were gathering there,” Candy said, a patronising glint in her sky-blue eyes. “Hello. My sister is going out with an FBI agent after having psychic visions of a murder. Not that she’s traumatised or anything. Those visions were like, so icky, but Amanda was all cool and stuff. She doesn’t even need to see a councillor after her and Jack killed that guy. She was like, dude, you’re evil, I’m so going to blow you away, and blam, she did it!” Candy smacked her hands together, illustrating the noise she described. “So you see, I think I know a little bit about this stuff.”
“An FBI agent?” Lucien’s head was starting to really hurt.
“Yeah. Her and Jack, they tracked this serial killer guy to the abandoned amusement park next door to our house, cos he was, like, taking his victims there and chopping them up into pieces, some weird thing to do with his mother, and they didn’t call for back-up or anything.” Candy’s eyes shone. “They could do it themselves, and it was, like, so cool. Amanda told us all about it at dinner last Sunday. And Jack, he’s like a weapons and tactical and all this other stuff expert as well, so they didn’t even need back up, cos he so had his finger on the pulse. Did you know he was a Navy SEAL too? So he can swim really good, which is lucky cos there was this lake as well, and Amanda’s vision involved water!” Candy frowned. “I think it involved water. And that someone’s name was John, or James, or Simon . . . ” Her face brightened. “Which is, like, our cousin’s nephew’s girlfriend’s friend’s brother name! Oh my god! She is, like, way psychic!”
“Jack?” Lucien asked, completely confused now. His head was definitely beginning to pound.
“My sister’s boyfriend.” Candy shook her head, her golden hair slipping smoothly over her shoulders. “Hello, where were you? Didn’t I just say that?”
“But we were talking about you being the vampire slayer.”
“Were we? Oh cool! That is so much better than being psychic. Amanada’s just going to die. I’ve got, like, a calling, and she only has icky visions that makes her head hurt. Mum and Dad are going to be way prouder of me.”
Lucien shook his head. This was what he had to put up with? “And we’re supposed to fall in love,” he muttered. “I hate prophecies.”
“Ew,” Candy screwed her face. “But you’re so old and, like, exposition guy. Aren’t you just supposed to give the background of whatever it is that I face and then conveniently get out of the way?”
“Ah, but I have a dual role.” He drew himself up to his full height, towering over Candy. “I am that ‘guy’, but I’m also the vampire with whom you ironically fall in love.”
“You’re a vampire?” Candy asked, a speculative gleam entering her eyes.
Lucien grinned ferally, allowing his fangs to show. A flush rose over Candy’s face, and her breathing quickened.
“That is, like, so hot,” she breathed, sidling closer to him. “So, do we pash now or what?”
“Why don’t you come a little closer?” he whispered, his vision sharpening. He knew his eyes were beginning to turn red, starting with a crimson pinpoint deep within his pupil and then spreading to engulf both the pupil and the iris, turning his eyes blood red.
Candy stepped forward, her luscious lips parting in anticipation. Her pink tongue darted out, wetting them, and she smiled coquettishly at him.
Lucien smiled back, his lips pulling back to reveal the full length of his fangs. Candy gasped, her hand raising to her chest as her breath grew faster. He placed one hand on her shoulder, drawing her to him, into his embrace. She came willingly, her head tipping back, her eyes drifting shut.
He lowered his head . . . and sunk his teeth into the frantically beating pulse at her neck.
Domina Whippy, now Lady Domina Dresher, sat in her new husband’s bedroom awaiting his pleasure. From the tales her spinster aunt was currently dispensing, it would indeed be only Sir Cross’s pleasure tonight.
“And if he starts bemoaning that you lie there stiff and submissive, sneeze a few times and mayhap he shall be fooled and fall asleep after thoroughly ploughing and planting his seed in the furrowed fields below, for hours and hours,” at this, she rubbed her hands together as if cold, “and be patient with his beastly attentions for your own parents took up prostitution to pay for your dowry and the wedding; aye they lie beneath animals of men all night now-”
]]>Support our sponsors The nubile young bride had to wonder what the beastly men had done to her dear Aunt Notty Seacretly that she would go on in that vein until her voice was hoarse and she trembled.
Domina’s thoughts turned to her husband’s ancestral castle. Three decades of unbridled bachelor life was a terrible sight: holes in the roof, insolent servants, the rats having long since overwhelmed the cats and now they swarmed without fear … Sir Cross didn’t notice or care; he was so busy harassing local wenches and bloodily crushing uprisings that he was hardly ever at home.
A drunken roar echoed down the hallway. It was the man-at-arms, her new husband’s compatriot in crime, Luud Groper. “I was very disappointed in the Saucy Wench!”
Sir Cross agreed. “Who could have guessed it was a restaurant owned by women, and not a tavern of ill repute?” He kicked in the door and stumbled inside, only the grip of his man-at-arms keeping him upright. He leered at Domina. “Ah, the manly stallion sees his quivering mare!”
Domina’s spinster aunt gave her a look of prim commiseration before hurrying out. The man-at-arms pursued, his eyes fixed upon the buttocks swaying beneath the woman’s threadbare gown. Strangely enough, Aunt Notty tossed him a tiny smile before trotting down the hallway.
Sir Cross set down his unfinished flagon of strong wine and tried to set the door to rights. He had reduced it to a shambles when kicking it in. The burly knight finally settled for leaning what was left of the door against the frame. There was quite a gap around it, and a draft invaded the bedroom.
“Now, wench, I will fill your velvety sheath with my sword!” He laughed and flexed his hands, advancing on her. There was a pleasing bulk of muscles beneath his tunic, but his smell made Domina tear up. She backed away from him, only to fall across the bed. Sir Cross was inflamed when she sprawled out. He bellowed and rushed at her. Domina dodged and he crashed headfirst onto the bed, breaking the headboard in twain. After so many cranial cracks during bloody battles, this barely gave him pause.
Then the rats attacked. Sir Cross howled in frustrated lust, and a bit of pain because the little bites stung. He drew his sword and ran the mattress through in several places, causing his new bride to gasp and flush in what was surely the most sensitive virginal shock. The squeaking died away. But his delicate bride would not lie on the bed until he had shaken the rat bodies out.
He swept her onto her back and stared deeply into her ice-blue eyes. “Finally we can-”
“What’s that smell?” “It is my manly musk which, though different from your floral aroma, is something you will eventually crave-”
Domina rolled her eyes. “Other than that.”
“Oh. Hrm.” He looked around. “Aha! That’s the work of my manly tomcat.”
“The one who ignores all these rats?”
“The one and same. I see that he has marked these sheets as his own.”
A hardened knight like Sir Cross, who in his day had slept atop Saracen skeletons as well as the cobblestoned streets outside his favorite taverns, was undisturbed by the damp yellow puddles. His Lady, however, insisted that this situation was unacceptable. He grumbled and stripped off the bedding.
Now the wench was content to lie upon the torn mattress, on the cracked bed. Stabbing the mattress had released its stuffing of deer fur, which Sir Cross hoped would feel intriguing against bare skin. Coincidentally, he felt the urgent need to remove some clothes. He pawed brazenly at his wife’s dress. It was a baffling contraption involving a complicated set of disguised lacings and some pointy bits jabbing at him from somewhere.
“You are a rose beginning to blossom,” he muttered as he struggled, “and I wish to worship every inch of you – with my tongue.” He was squinting at her neckline in the dark and missed Domina rolling her eyes. A rougher tug disturbed enough cloth that he could see the tops of her breasts. His mind clouded even more. “Eve’s apples,” he muttered hoarsely. “Luring my snake … let me displace your fig leaves!”
He stuck his hands inside her bodice; her moan was swallowed by the sound of ripping cloth.
Domina had a well-developed set of lungs and her scream, emitted mere inches from the knight’s ear, was enough to knock him from the bed.
“My gown!” she hysterically railed at the stunned knight. “It was the most expensive thing I’ve ever owned. Ever! You ripped it off me, you beast!” She slapped him. “You’ve torn off the pearl beading! Where have they rolled?” She kicked him in the ribs, surprisingly hard, and scrambled off the bed in search of the pearls.
The knight was sure no man could resist those temptingly raised buttocks. His loins burned like they’d been dusted with imported pepper. With the roar of an asthmatic lion he shouted, “Prepare your innocent eyes, woman!”
He tore his shirt and pants off and posed, proudly displaying his awe-inspiring manhood.
His wife seemed singularly unimpressed. Sir Cross glanced down and quickly covered himself. “Er- there’s a draft here.” He hurried to stoke the fire. But the pitiful flames were vanquished by the chilly air in the stone room. His manroot wilted even more.
“My loins might freeze! Where are my garments?”
A sadistic smile crossed Domina’s face. “You ripped them apart,” she purred.
“As my wife, would you not – er – use the warmth of your mouth to revive my fallen stallion?”
He expected to soothe away her maidenly horror. Instead Domina ran a speculative look over his hunched, blue-tinged form as she ran her fingers over a loose strand of pearl beading. Sir Cross’s blood began to pound in an ancient rhythm.
“When was the last time you bathed?”
The knight thought back. “Christmas or the one before, I suppose.”
Domina winced. “Not even in your dreams would I caress your filthy self.”
Enraged, he roared again, though his voice definitely showed signs of strain. He dragged off Domina’s nightrail and tossed her to the bed. She shivered from the chill.
“This shall heat your blood.” He covered her body with his own. For a moment he remembered his liege making a similar promise as they fought the Saracens. He felt inexplicably rejuvenated.
His new woman was certainly energetic. Ah, how curious she was about his body, probing all his places. Ah, how sweetly possessive she was, seizing his manroot with a grip that caused him to flinch away, cracking the headboard in a second place. His battered skull began to throb thickly. He crouched, dazed, as Domina whispered in his ear,
“You dirty boy …” Her mouth curled up. “Kneel before me!” She shoved him off the bed to ensure his obedience and struck his broad chest with the string of pearls.
He jerked, knocking over the flagon of wine. The pool swept toward the fire. The air became pleasantly warm as the boudoir started to burn to its beams. Domina wrapped the stained sheet on the floor about herself and shuffled frantically toward the door.
Sir Cross could hear servants coming. He glanced down and realized that he could not be seen like this! His reputation would be ruined! Unfortunately, the only garment not in rags was his wife’s nightrail.
He threw it on, tossed his wife over his shoulder, and roared in a piteous, cracked way as he charged the door that threatened to make their love lair a burning pit of despair. Alas, he forgot he had already broken the door down. He hit it with too much force, tripped through it, and fell badly because of his wife’s weight.
The next day, the two scullery maids were gossiping as the cleaned up after the wedding feast.
“Poor Cross Dresher … his wife made him shout so boldly he’s lost his voice, and she did something to pull his groin muscle. The Leech told me he won’t be able to perform for a fortnight.”
“At least he’s married so there’s someone to handle the estate. Lady Domina seemed eager to take control of the castle. She’s buying a whip right now, to keep discipline here.”
One moment Len had been all alone in her apartment cleaning her miniscule bathroom on a Friday night, and the next an achingly gorgeous man appeared standing in her tub.
“Miss Ellen Van Allen?” he asked in an accent which reminisced of a Hungarian émigré to Australia possibly via Cancun.
Grabbing the nearest thing to a weapon she could reach, Len brandished her toilet brush in as threatening manner as one could brandish a toilet brush. Not that it could do the stranger much harm except for possibly grossing him out.
“Who are you? How do you know my name?” She punctuated each question with a jab of her cleaning tool. “And that I’m not married?” She was rather miffed about that. Was she wearing a sign or something?
She thought of trying to make a run for it out the front door into the busy street, but the man had a holster around his hips which held a weapon undoubtedly more dangerous than her own. Yet her feet wouldn’t take her a single step. She was entranced by the stranger’s flowing locks which danced in a mysterious breeze although her bathroom had never been known for its air circulation even with the window open. She wondered only half in jest whether he’d brought the breeze with him.
The tall foreigner was considering the toilet brush with care, as if it really might be a weapon. Perhaps it was time for Len to change her toilet duck. He didn’t attempt to step out of the tub.
“Miss Van Allen, be assured that I mean you no harm. None at all,” he hastened to add as Len gave the toilet brush an extra waggle. He cleared his throat. “You couldn’t put that away, could you?”
“Not a chance, Hotshot.”
“Right.” He gave a toss of his exuberantly waved hair, blacker than Len thought black could possibly be. With his open-necked, billowing, white shirt; high brown boots polished to a spectacular gloss; and tight trousers–so tight that he could have posed for a life-drawing class without taking them off–tucked in to said boots, he had a sort of romantic poet look going.
He intoned, “I am Prince Wil of the House N’Dowd of Mylaria, a planet far distant from here. I have come across the galaxy to seek your help on behalf of my people.”
“Me? Why me?” She narrowed her gaze, keep her toilet brush on full alert.
“You are the only one who can save my home world from destruction. Your sar, and yours alone, can lead me to the Artifact, placed on Earth millions of years ago by the enigmatic Old Ones. With the power of the Artifact, Mylaria can defeat our enemy the planet Kwi-9 which seeks to destroy us.”
“Sar? Never heard of it, Your Highness.”
He smiled with the slightest quirk of an eyebrow that set Len’s insides to rearranging themselves. “You may call me Wil, seeing as how we’ll be working together intimately on this mission.”
“I don’t have this sar you mention, so you can just–”
“But you do,” he reassured her in what seemed all sincerity. “All sentient beings in the universe have sar, or sarcasm potential, but that of some–such as yourself–works better with assistance. Yours is precisely the right frequency that, once run through me as a Focus, will lead us to the Artifact which will save my planet.”
“Sarcasm will save your planet? Yeah, right. I’m not that sarcastic. You must have the wrong Ellen Van Allen,” she sniffed. “I can’t even take down the office snob with a well-aimed insult at five paces.”
“Ah, but use my egotism as Focus, and you’ll be parrying her snotty remarks with ease. Your sar will be in full flower.”
The tip of Len’s toilet brush drooped. “Huh?”
“Allow me to demonstrate.” Wil leaned against the Pepto-pink tile wall in an inimitable pose of self-satisfaction which he must have practiced hours each day to achieve such perfection. “I, as Prince of Mylaria, have been named in a recent poll one of the 10,000 most intriguing beings in the galaxy.”
Len choked on her laughter. “Congratulations. I can’t wait to meet the other 9,999!” She rolled her eyes, then gasped. “You’re right! I am more sarcastic! But how can sarcasm help you find your artifact?”
“Artifact,” he emphasized, “with a capital A.” He levered himself back upright. “Did I mention the Old Ones were enigmatic?”
“Well there you are, then. No one understands how sar works, but I can testify to its awesome power,” and he snatched the toilet brush out of Len’s hands with ease while he’d distracted her.
Prince Wil tucked it under his arm, no doubt to keep Len from getting her hands on such a dangerous object. She wondered how long it would take the guys back in the lab on Mylaria to figure out how it worked.
“This can’t be real.” She crossed her arms. “How did you get in here, anyway? Is there a ship up there that beamed you down?” She peered up though she couldn’t see through her ceiling.
He chuckled. “How quaint you primitives are. We don’t use ships. We use the Network–an interconnected maze of space-time continuum used for travel.”
“Network with a capital N?”
“Of course,” she mumbled.
“You have a portal right here.” Wil stuck his hand right through the pink tile wall and pulled it back out again with no apparent ill effect to his hand or her tile.
“How … But …” It was a full minute before she managed to assemble a passably coherent sentence. “I think I would have noticed a space-time portal. In in my bathtub. Wouldn’t I?”
There was that superior alien attitude again. She could feel her sar growing stronger by the minute. Could it be he wasn’t lying after all?
“You have to have a key.” Prince Wil took something out of his belt resembling a small, electric toothbrush to show her. “You didn’t, so you couldn’t fall through. It’s fool proof. We can’t have just anyone mucking through space and time. Especially time.”
“Time?” That sounded ominous. “Does this mission of yours involve time travel?”
“Yes. Did I mention the Old Ones hid the Artifact here millions of years ago?”
He had. She nodded.
“The Artifact could have been destroyed by now, so we may have to go back to a time before that happened.” Wil tossed her a charming smile as if flipping a coin to a beggar on the street.
And Len found herself eager for his charm. It had been six months since her ex decided to leave the city to raise llamas in Saskatchewan.
“What do you say?” he prodded. “Help out a few billion souls on Mylaria. It would be terrific PR for your planet. Did I mention there’s an excellent chance you’ll end up a Princess at the end of all this?” He grabbed her by the shoulders, pulled her into his muscular embrace, and kissed her.
But this was no ordinary kiss. While their lips, hands, and bodies touched, so did their minds. Len discovered she could “see” the beauty of this far-off world and the danger the people of Mylaria faced from their enemies … not to mention the wealth of the House N’Dowd and the fact Wil had learned English by watching PBS programs carried on old television signals still coursing through space.
Dizzy with the intensity of the contact, she asked, “How did you do that?”
“Did I mention I’m telepathic?”
Len bristled, “You most definitely did not!”
“Beg your pardon. Telepathy in our race takes close physical contact, the more intimate the better. It was the best way to show you our plight.”
She sighed. So a prince from across the galaxy needed her help, and hers alone, to save his world by using sarcasm to find an ancient Artifact. What could be more ridiculous? Not much. “All right, you’re on. I’ve got nothing else planned this week.” Len climbed into the bathtub with him. It was pleasantly crowded.
“On behalf of the people of Mylaria, I thank you. Now let’s go. I’ll work the key; just walk on through. The information booth is to your left.”
“Thanks .” She paused. “This isn’t one of those time travel things where I become my own great-grandmother or anything, is it?”
He shook his head.
“Good.” And Len stepped through her bathroom wall into the Network.
“Your great-grandfather, actually,” Wil chuckled. “Did I mention we’re going to a parallel universe where everything’s opposite?” And he disappeared after her.
Amelie stood before the great oak door, her heart pounding fiercely with trepidation. This is madness, she thought. Visiting the Earl of Wroth unchaperoned, at this scandalous hour of the night, in his bedroom, no less!
She pushed a silvery strand of hair from her face and, taking a breath, entered the room. “My Lord,” she said, “I’ve come as you’ve requested.” With the words, her choice was made and her velvet cloak fell soundlessly to the floor, revealing a pale blue gown that clung recklessly to her lush figure.
Her voice stirred the man seated before a roaring fire. A bottle of champagne and two flutes were set out on a side table, and next to them a plate of ripe red strawberries. He rose from the massive leather armchair, his presence filling the dark, paneled room. “As you can see, I’ve been waiting for you.” He smiled and sipped at a glass of amber liquid, Cognac perhaps? Or brandy? and gestured to the champagne.
Amelie shivered. Could she do this? She must remain strong. Everything depended upon her. Her eyes, brilliant aquamarines, filled with radiance and with a boldness she did not feel, replied, “No, my Lord, it is I who have been waiting.”
A hint of surprise entered the Earl’s face. He lifted one elegant eyebrow and took a second look at this beauty who has entranced him. A seduction had never gone so well. Sinclair Wrede, Sin to his friends, had planned many in his long and dissolute life but never had such a timid creature turned bold overnight.
With three steps he was across the room and she was in his arms. Powerful hands unbuttoned her gown with infinite delicacy while his lips tantalized, hinting at things to come. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered tenderly.
Amelie pulled back suddenly. “Begging your pardon my Lord, but isn’t this a bit slow and tender for a ravishing?”
Sin was taken aback. “Ravishing? I thought it was supposed to a seduction. I’m sure that was on the schedule. Let me check my book.” With brisk efficiency, he pulled out a small black leather-bound book from his desk and began flipping through the pages.
“I’m quite sure it was a ravishing. I called this afternoon to check.” Sin had found the page. “Ah, here we go. Emily, gold hair, sapphire eyes, seduction, 11 pm.”
She sighed and began the difficult process of rebuttoning the dress. “That’s all well and good, but it seems that the time is the only thing you have right. I’m Amelie with flaxen hair, aquamarine eyes, and I scheduled for a ravishing. For Sweet Love, Savage Love?”
Sin sighed and then took a peak at his pocketwatch. “My goodness but this is embarrassing. You were early so it wasn’t apparent. There seems to have been a mixup with my secretary. Now we’ve still got ten minutes, so why not have a seat on the bed and I’ll see what we can work out before Emily gets here.” He gestured absently to the fourposter that had hitherto been hidden from sight and went to open the champagne.
“Naturally I feel awful about this,” he said, pouring the champagne, “and I’d like to make it up to you. I’d hate to send you home after you took the trouble you took to get here.” He handed her a glass. “There’s a few options open. I’m not sure about you but I think Emily might be open to a threesome. She’s open to just about anything as long as the language remains at least lavender, if not purple. I only charge half price. What do you think?”
Amelie considered for a moment. “No, I’m really not a Bertrice Small kind of girl. Just a good old fashioned ravishing. Besides, I’m dressed for it. You didn’t notice but the dress is designed to be ripped off, and the corset is a break-away. I brought the cloak so that I had something to sneak home in. It’s sweltering outside.”
“Indeed.” he murmured, admiring her ingenuity and thoughtfulness. “Pity about the threesome. We’ll stick to a nice early eighties Johanna Lindsay, okay?” She nodded her approval. His eyes skimmed the pages of his black book. “Here’s the ticket! I’ve got the next slot free. I was planning a secret meeting with some fellow members of Parliament but I’m sure that can wait. Why don’t you go ahead and wait in the armoire over there.” He gesture to a bulky piece of furniture behind her on the opposite side of the bed.
“The armoire, my Lord?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s perfect. Emily will arrive, ready for the next scene in Tempted, on time like the adorably punctual creature she is. We’ll have just broken from a passionate embrace interrupted by the knock on the door. I seduce her as scheduled while you observe from this knot,” he pointed out the conveniently placed flaw in the wood, “here. She leaves, flushed, happy, thoroughly sated. You erupt from the armoire, aroused by the display of lovemaking, enraged at my infidelity, tortured by the display of my naked physique. Before you can flee, I grab you masterfully and trail hot brutal kisses down your creamy throat. You struggle but can resist the onslaught. I tear off you dress and corset, bringing my attention to those lovely perfect breasts. You moan at your body’s betrayal but give in and we make hot and passionate love in the still warm sheets for approximately an hour and a half with, say, three orgasms. You’re thoroughly ravished and both stories have a new plot device.”
Amelie smiled in approval. “It’s much better than the original plot, my Lord. And when Emily discovers she was watched, her book ought to get at least fifty more pages and perhaps a scene with some exhibitionism.”
“I was thinking Vauxhall Gardens,” Sin replied. “But back to you. I think I can take off 15% percent for the wait but I expect royalties for my contribution to plot development.” He reached into the armoire for fresh glasses and a new bottle of champagne.
“Make it twenty and we have a deal.” Amelie picked her cloak off of the floor and hung it up neatly inside the armoire.
“Done.” Sin offered his hand to seal the bargain. “And now,” he said, leaving his business-like manner behind, “where were we?”
Amelie sunk into his strong arms, savoring the warmth, the power. His lips burned on her skin. The kisses trailed lower, lower to the indecent neckline of her gown, lower until she felt as if she would burst into flames. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. “The servants!” she exclaimed (forgetting one had shown her the way up, “No one must know I am here!”
Sin pointed her to a massive piece of furniture next to the impressive four-poster bed. “The armoire, my dear. No one will think to look for you there.” He kissed her one more time, drinking deeply, and then saw her safely into the armoire before going to answer the door…
The Miata sputtered one last raspberry as Sandra eased the car into the nearest parking lot. Under the neon sign for the Butterfly Bar, she fumbled for her cell phone and auto club card. Sandra persistently waited 30 minutes on hold and punched her way through five branches of the phone tree to learn that the tow truck would arrive in “only” 5 hours. Berating the salesman who sold her the car and the entire auto club, she staggered into the bar and ordered a Stinger.
Bob watched the luscious brunette stalk into the room and his heart tripped a beat. Her highlighted hair reminded him of the desert camouflage he wore while on assignment in Itstinksistan. Her Guinness colored eyes brought to mind his favorite adult beverage. His senses flared on full alert as he noted she was alone, obviously depressed and being serenaded by a drunk with a microphone. That flyboy would lose more than a loving feeling soon if he didn’t get away from Bob’s woman. “My woman?” shuddered Bob. “Where did that thought come from?” he asked himself even as he realized that he had found his perfect mate.
Sandra headed for the ladies room. Now was Bob’s chance to find out what had put the adorable wrinkle between her brows. Sandra whipped out her keys as Bob ghosted right in front of her. “Get out of my way or I’ll unlock your family jewels,” she threatened as he blocked her from the door. “It’s all right,” he soothed, “I’m here to help.” “Are you from the auto club?” she asked hopefully. “No,” Bob confessed. “My name is Bob Cubeslax. My friends call me ‘Sponge’ because I absorb problems around me. I’m from SEAL Team 69 and it’s our job to save women in trouble.”
“OK Sponge. Here’s the deal. My name is Sandra Beach. My friends call me ‘Sandy’. My car broke down and the auto club won’t be here for 5 hours. I want to go to home. I spent all day in contract negotiations for my international cosmetics company. I have to piss like a racehorse and you’re blocking the door.” she spewed out as she crossed her legs. Bob countered, “Just a minute and I’ll clear the bathroom for you. Then, I’ll get on the line to call in some favors from Team 69.” Bob slammed the door to the ladies room open and yelled, “Get out now, while you still can.” Five women exploded from the room trailing lipstick, perfume and toilet paper. “After you,” Bob gestured. “Um, thanks,” mumbled Sandy as she dove for the nearest stall.
Sponge pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed fellow SEAL Stain Washyershortz. “Stain, I’m sorry for calling but I need your help. This is off the record so if you won’t help me I understand,” whispered Sponge. “We’re a team,” answered Stain, “You need it, you got it.” Sponge quickly explained the situation and Stain formulated a plan. “Here’s how it will go down,” Stain ordered. “Get Joker to hack into the auto club computer system. Have Magnum negotiate for a tow truck and tell them we needed it here yesterday. Have Ken Spaghetti guard the car while Blues and Gull provide a distraction. Brian Brigadoon will escort Miss Beach to her home. You will recon and secure her home prior to the rendezvous.” instructed Stain. “Great plan. I’m initiating my three way calling feature and putting this puppy into action,” answered Sponge.
Sandy emerged from the stall looking much more relaxed. “What is this guy up to?” she mused as she washed her hands. While Sponge spoke animatedly into his phone, Sandy took a long, hard look at him. He held himself straight and tall. Muscles bunched and bulged under his tight, worn tee shirt. Jeans cupped an ass she would love to bounce quarters off. “Maybe this night is looking up,” Sandy mused. Then she glanced in the mirror to find his sea blue eyes locked on her and her heart flooded with the tsunami of love at first sight.
Turning to meet her eyes head on, Sponge briefed Sandy on the plan. “What is up with these guys’ names?” questioned Sandy. “SEALs love to use nicknames,” explained Sponge. “Korny Komedy is a real card so we call him ‘Joker.’ He plays the computer like a hot crustacean band. Mac Beale once put a navy shirt in with his whites so we call him ‘Blues’. Ringo’s name is a little more complicated. Ringo Starfish sounds like Ringo Starr. He acted with Barbara Bach in the movie ‘Caveman’. Barbara Bach reminded us of Richard Bach. Richard Bach wrote ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ and we shortened that to ‘Gull’,” expounded Sponge. “Now, we wait for the distraction by Blues and Gull and you hotfoot it out of here with Brian Brigadoon. He looks like Richie Cunningham and makes Opie look like a delinquent. You can trust him,” Sponge promised. “What about my car?” wailed Sandy. Sponge reassured her that Joker and Magnum were handling everything as a small explosion filled the bar with a foul smoke. “Stink bomb!” yelled the bartender, “Everybody out.”
The extraction went off as promised and Sandy soon found herself at her own front door. “Thank Team 69 for me and thank you for your help, Brian,” said Sandy. Blushing, Brian shuffled his feet and mumbled “Aw shucks. It was our pleasure Ma’am.” The front door burst open and a worried Sponge grabbed Sandy and shooed Brian away. “Your residence is secure,” announced Sponge, “And you’ve secured my heart too. Please let me show you how I feel.” With a terrible evening behind her and Sponge’s terrific behind in front of her, Sandy succumbed to his charms. The heat from their lip lock could have fueled a Trident submarine. Clothes began to fly as the sexual tension mounted. Suddenly Sandy screamed, “There’s a strange man in my living room!” “It’s OK. That’s Bernard ‘Bernie’ Clairveaux. He was my swimmers’ buddy during BUD/S training.” The barrel chested man with the saddest looking brown eyes Sandy had ever seen removed several packets from the keg shaped container strapped to his chest. Sponge accepted them gratefully and explained “These are special rubbers made just for SEALs. They inflate to 12 instead of the standard 6 used by the rest of the Navy.” Sandy swooned and gave herself fully to Sponge as Bernie slipped out the back door. All night long Sponge sank his flesh torpedo into Sandy’s broadside. He pounded her in waves until they both lay heaving like beached whales.
The next morning Sandy could hardly move she was so sated and sore. She was thankful that Bernie was so generous with the rubbers and that Sponge was so, well, generous. Heart wrenching sobs emanated from the foot of the bed. Sponge held his head in his hands, howling as though a shark were chewing off his leg. Horrified, Sandy pleaded with him to tell her what was wrong. Sponge sniffled, “I love you and I just can’t bear to leave you.” “Where are you going?” asked Sandy. “Team 69 has a training op. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I can’t say more. But, it doesn’t have anything to do with the lingerie shortage in Itstinksistan,” he explained. He hefted his huge sack and strode out the door.
Sandy hobbled gingerly to the kitchen where a group of women sat at her table. “Who are you and did you leave me any coffee?” demanded Sandy. “We’re the sweeties of the SEALs you met last night. We all hang together except for Gull’s ex, Mary Sue. Nobody wants to hear about Mary Sue,” said a perky blond. “I’m Barbie and I’m with Ken. This is Veldt, June, Pteri and Felicia or ‘Fleas’ for short,” introduced the blond. “I’m an OB/GYN and we’re here to help you out. I know you can hardly walk and we all feel your pain,” continued Barbie. “I dropped my position at Mt. Sinai like a hot potato and moved to California to be with Ken. But before I would marry him, I had to find a cure for the pain. I developed special cream making it possible for women to continue their relationships with insatiable SEALs,” smiled Barbie. “I’m here to present you with your own tube of ‘Naval Jelly’,” she announced.
“Why Charlotte, I can hardly believe it!” sighed Mari-Ann, looking down at the dainty diamond he had placed on her finger. “Tomorrow is my wedding day – tomorrow I’ll marry Zachery-Zach. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you drove all the way down here to be at my wedding! It’s clear now that all my education, hard won achievements and business success were just a way to pass the time, merely a meaningless prelude to what I really wanted – marriage to a widowed police chief in a quaint, unsophisticated and insular little Southern town.”
“Tell me again why he has two names?” Charlotte demanded, leaning forward so she could peel her blouse away from her perspiration-soaked back.
“Like I told you, he’s named after his daddy and granddaddy. His granddaddy is Zachery, that cantankerous, slightly crazy, but underneath-it-all wise and lovable old coot who shot at your car on the road into town, and his dear dead daddy was Zach, the brutually and mysteriously murdered former police chief. So that makes him Zachery-Zach. It’s just the way they do things down here in Kudzu Corners,” explained Mari-Ann taking a sip of the lemonade she had hand-squeezed while standing in front of the gingham-curtained kitchen window.
“So, they haven’t heard of using Junior or the Third?” Charlotte said, surreptitiously pouring gin into her cloyingly sweet lemonade.
“Oh, no, that’s too citified and uppity for Miz Sadie-Mabelle, Zachery-Zach’s momma who is such a dear, revered by the entire town – although she was a trifle cool to me before she realized I was the very best thing that could ever happen to her dear boy.”
“Hmmm, probably didn’t take her long to realize you were the perfect dope to take raising those four grandchildren off her hands so she could hit the casinos,” muttered Charlotte under her breath.
“Why Charlotte, I just know that marrying Zachery-Zach is my destiny, I can feel it down to the marrow of my bones. I look back on those long years I spent slaving away in college, then graduate school and finally getting my advanced degrees (all by the age of 25), as so much wasted time. I mean really, how important is it to have been the youngest woman in the history of State U to receive a joint nuclear physics/biochemistry doctorate and then to go on to head the research department at Noble-Cause Cosmetics, the most prestigious beauty products company in the United States. Why, it was just so much wasted time when you compare it to being the loving, but firm, stepmother to Zachery-Zach’s brood of unruly rapscallions and having a whole houseful of babies, starting no later than exactly nine months after the wedding ceremony.” sighed Mari-Ann, gazing off at the town’s sole stoplight where even now, Lumpy Lumpkin, Zachery-Zach’s sort-of dim, but colorful comic relief deputy was parked in his squad car to nab red-light runners and jaywalkers.
“And you’re sure that after living in New York you can be happy here?” Charlotte persisted.
Mari-Ann smoothed her hands down the skirt of her crisp cotton sundress, fluffing the ruffle at the bottom. How could she explain it to Charlotte. Why, the whole town had welcomed her so warmly, even though she was a complete stranger who spoke without a picturesque regional accent and who could only guess at what some of their strange, yet colorful sayings meant (was calling her “Cute as a gobbler’s wattle” an insult or a compliment?). How could she make Charlotte understand that no one seemed to resent, even the tiniest bit, that only a year after Susie-Sue’s (yep, no citified notions for her family either) death, she, a total stranger, would be taking her place. Zachery-Zach’s dead wife had been his high-school sweetheart, homecoming queen, Sunday School teacher and the best durn cookie baker in town and then poor Susie-Sue had died needlessly, making reckless efforts to save her four children from their burning house – a house that had been set alight by Bubba-Joe, Zachery-Zach’s old rival from the football team who had let the festering resentment of Zachery-Zach’s winning touchdown at the homecoming game grow for years, all through the time Zachery-Zach was away performing dangerous missions for a super-secret branch of the army (until he nobly cut short his beloved military career to come home to help support his widowed mother). And, the precious children, Zach-Zachery, Tiffany, Bucky and Miranda – why they would become her whole life. Who needed a career, someone else could complete her research for the perfect concealer. Why even, Adelaide, Zachery-Zach’s late wife’s cousin who had been cooking and cleaning for him and who, everyone knew, was just waiting for Zachery-Zach to realize how wonderful she was and make her the new mother for his children, had welcomed her with open arms and gracefully withdrawn from competition for Zachery-Zach’s affections. Adelaide had even promised to take her mushrooming in the spring and point out which were safe and which were poisonous.
“Oh Charlotte, I’ve realized what is really important are community picnics and church suppers with marshmallows in all the salads and having as many babies as I can as quickly as possible.”
“Uh huh,” Charlotte murmured, adding more gin, “and what about those four children he already has?”
“Oh, they-re just darling. Why already, ZZZ (not even Mis Sadie-Mabelle could force people to call him Zachery-Zach-Zach) is becoming less sullen and hostile, not dressing all in black and his grades have gone up. Tiffany has stopped shoplifting and dressing like a cheap hooker and has joined the church youth group. Little Bucky hardly ever plays with matches anymore, and yesterday, precious Miranda, the baby of the family, called me ‘Mama.’ Why, I who has never so much as owned a pet and know nothing about children, in only a month have healed the deep psychological scars all four had as a result of watching their mother go up in flames. I just know that when I have that first baby (or better yet, twins!) exactly nine months after the wedding, they’ll all be perfect older siblings, helpful, cheerful and without any resentment at all. And they’ll welcome each and every other baby I’ll birth at regular two year intervals.”
“You’re sure this is a good idea – I mean, it’s all a really big change,” challenged Charlotte.
“Oh, I know what people say,” admitted Mari-Ann, with a tiny frown puckering the flawless alabaster skin between her perfectly arched brows. “Marriage is a huge step and so is having children – not to mention taking on four stepchildren, especially when I’m only 15 years older than the eldest. I know the experts say maybe it’s a good idea to just be married for a while before adding the stress of a baby, but that never makes any difference in any of the other books, so I don’t see why it would for me.”
“OK,” said Charlotte, adding yet more gin, “How is he in bed?” Charlotte had seen Zachery-Zach in his body-hugging shiny polyester uniform with his belt full of law-enforcement gear and it had been hard to pick out which bulged more, his flashlight or his manhood.
“Oh Charlotte,” blushed Mari-Ann, “You know I never had a social life in college or since, that all I’ve ever done is work, work, work. I was a 30 year-old virgin just waiting for Zachery-Zach. So of course, even though I had no experience at all, the sex has been fantastic, or so Zachery-Zach tells me.”
“You’re sure you won’t miss all the restaurants and plays and concerts?” persisted Charlotte, dragging Mari-Ann from her blissful reverie. “I mean, there’s not even an art film house here and probably no sushi for a hundred miles. Just remember Mari-Ann, this means no more Starbucks, Chinese take-out, really good pizza, delis, first-run movies, Broadway plays, Sax, Bloomingdales. . . .”
Mari-Ann fell silent, twisting her small, but perfect, diamond ring and gazing at the sign for Cooter’s Café, where everything was fried, breaded, sugared and artificially colored. Suddenly, she threw the ring down onto the twig table (lovingly handcrafted by Grandpa Zachery), bolted upsight and exclaimed “Charlotte, you’re right, go get your car and I’ll grab my things. By this time tomorrow, we’ll be so far away, Zachery-Zack will never catch me. I’ll go back to Noble-Cause Cosmetics and kick my career into high gear.” promised Mari-Ann.
“But what about Zachery-Zach, the four kids and the great sex?” queried Charlotte.
“Oh heck, Adelaide can have him and the four holy terrors. As for the sex, it probably wasn’t that good anyway, I just didn’t have anybody to compare him with. Besides, it’s time I took advantage of my position as head of research. Remember, Noble-Cause Cosmetics is owned by the broodingly handsome, reclusive billionaire Derek Derekson. It’s high time I employ a flimsy business-related pretext to barge into his lavishly decorated but impersonal, without a woman’s touch penthouse, and catch him with a towel draped around his lean hips. Then, we can fight over something inconsequential and fall into bed.” cried Mari-Ann.
“Wait a minute, isn’t that another book?” demanded Charlotte.
“Yes,” exclaimed Mari-Ann, “and one in which I’ll be much more comfortable and better dressed!”