The stakes are high in Cyprian Sloane’s latest game–to reform his reputation as a wagerer, womanizer, and worse–and thumb his nose at the father who’s always despised him. The prize is nearly in hand when Sloane encounters seemingly respectable Morgana Hart, a baron’s daughter, who engages in fisticuffs in Hyde Park and embroils him in her scheme to train young women to be courtesans. The lively and lovely Morgana proves the biggest risk of all, even more dangerous to Sloane’s quest for respectability than the violence of Regency underground threatening to close down her Courtesan School. Morgana makes Sloane long to be the rake again–with her.
The Mysterious Miss M Series (Book 3)
“Unhand her this instant!”
The woman’s shrill voice carried easily in the evening air, reaching Cyprian Sloane’s ears as he strolled down one of the paths through Hyde Park. He stopped in his tracks and groaned. Why had he not caught a hack on Bond Street instead of yielding to the temptation of a fine spring evening’s walk?
“Release her.” Cultured and emphatic, the voice reminded Sloane of a scolding governess. Whoever she was, she was a fool for being in the park at this late hour.
“Go to the devil!” a man responded fiercely.
Sloane blew out a breath and pressed his fingers to his temple. No choice but to investigate. Gripping his silver-tipped walking stick, he automatically adopted the cat-like stealth of his former clandestine life.
He edged over to the shrubbery that hid the speakers from view, using the leaves and branches to obscure his own presence, on the slim chance he could walk on and not become involved. He peered through a gap in the leaves.
A man in an ill-fitting brown coat held the arm of a young, pretty blonde-haired woman who wore the bright red dress of a doxy. Her other arm was clutched by a another young woman, the owner of the governess’s voice. She was taller than the doxie, pleasantly slender, and respectably dressed in a plain lavender dress. That her bonnet hung by its ribbons on her back and her brown hair had come partly loose of its pins attested to the intensity of her struggle with this ruffian. The man and the “governess” played tug-of-war with the doxy in the red dress, while another female—this one could be nothing but a maid, still in her apron and cap—bawled a few feet away.
“Miss Hart, do not let him take her!” the maid wailed.
It was like a scene in a bad play, and, God knew, Sloane had seen plenty of bad plays at Drury Lane Theatre this Season. At least this time he could do something to halt the melodrama.
He stepped into view. “What goes on here?”
The characters all looked at him in surprise.
The man spoke first. “This need not be your concern, sir. You may proceed on your way.”
Sloane’s brows rose. He disliked being told what to do by anyone, but more so by an apparent low-life.
The “governess,” who was apparently the Miss Hart to whom the maid referred, took advantage of the man’s momentary distraction and yanked hard, causing him to lose his grip on the doxy’s arm. She quickly pulled the red-dressed girl behind her, shielding the girl with her body. “Do not heed him,” Miss Hart pleaded. “Help us. He would take this girl away!”
“She’s my sister!” wailed the maid.
“Bugger you.” The man lunged at Miss Hart and tried to push her out of the way. She stumbled, falling to her knees. The red-dressed doxy ran to hide behind her sister.
“Enough!” shouted Sloane, moving quickly. He crossed the short distance and grabbed the man by the collar of his coat, lifted him in the air, and tossed him into the shrubbery.
Sloane extended his hand to help the woman rise. “Are you injured?”
She shook her head. He pulled her to her feet, but her eyes flashed with alarm. “Take heed!”
Sloane spun around, swinging his stick as he did so. The man rushed at him, but Sloane’s stick struck him across the abdomen, and he staggered backwards. Putting a hand in his coat, the ruffian pulled out a knife.
The maid screamed.
Crouching, the man waved the knife, its long blade catching the last rays of the sun. “You leave her to me, now,” the man growled. “I’ll take her and be on my way.”
“No!” cried Miss Hart.
Out of the corner of his eye Sloane saw her start forward. He held her back with one hand. Not taking his eyes off the knife, he turned his head slightly toward the girl in the red dress. “Do you wish to go with him, miss?”
“I . . . I . . .” she stammered.
“Oh, say you do not, Lucy,” her sister cried.
Her words rushed out. “I do not wish to go with him.”
The man glared at Sloane, but he too addressed the girl. “You will come with me, missy. We had a bargain.”
Sloane let a cynical smile turn up one corner of his mouth. “It appears the young lady has changed her mind.” He twirled his stick, then held it in two hands in front of him.
The man came closer slashing the air with his knife, circling Sloane, who merely moved to evade him. The man scowled and spat out expletives. His performance was indeed worthy of Drury Lane. Sloane laughed at him.
Miss Hart still hovered too close. Sloane wanted to yell at her to stay out of the way, but he did not want to alert the man to her close proximity. The last thing Sloane wanted was for the man to slash his knife at her.
But the ruffian’s attention was riveted on Sloane. The man inched in closer. Sloane twisted the handle of his walking stick, ready for him.
The man swiped his blade again. Coming up behind him, Miss Hart jumped on the man’s back. He flailed at her, trying to shake her off, the blade of his knife coming perilously close to her skin.
Foolish girl! Sloane quickly released the sword hidden inside his walking stick, its deceptive wooden sheath falling to the ground. “Leave him to me, woman! Stay out of the way!”
She let go, falling backward onto the ground and rolling out of range. The man charged Sloane in earnest, but Sloane checked the knife’s blade with the steel of his sword. His opponent was undaunted and his blade flashed to and fro as Sloane’s sword rang loud when it connected with the blade.
The maid screamed, but there was little to fear. This man might grunt and slash, but Sloane had been in fights much worse than this one. This one had even odds, at least.
Miss Hart jumped to her feet again and still she did not move out of range. Her presence merely distracted Sloane and this was not a time for distractions. Sloane parried the man’s blows. Becoming bored, he bided his time until the opportunity came to knock the weapon out of the man’s hand.
Their blades connected once again and the clash of steel rang out like an alarm, loud enough for someone to hear the commotion and summon the watch. What ill-luck that would be. Sloane had no desire to be detained, and even less desire to be discovered brawling in the park. No one would believe the disreputable son of the Earl of Dorton happened upon this scene by chance. Rumors would fly, and before the rise of the next sun, the ton would have him cast back into the gaming hells and other sordid corners of London’s underworld from where he’d emerged.
He’d be damned if he let this ruffian spoil the progress he’d made. After all, he was well nigh to becoming respectable. Astounding what a fortune could do.
The ruffian, dripping with sweat, did not seem to perceive the folly of continuing to attack Sloane in every way he could conceive. Sloane had seen all the tricks before. If the man kept this up, it crossed Sloane’s mind that he would be late to dine with Lord and Lady Cowdlin and their very marriageable daughter, Lady Hannah, or that he might muss his perfectly tailored coat and snow-white neckcloth.
Sloane abandoned restraint. Snarling at the fellow, he kicked him in the stomach. Damn. He’d been aiming lower.
“Go to the Devil!” yelled the man, coming at him again.
Miss Hart charged up behind the man, the wooden sheath of his sword in her hands. The deuced idiot! She’d get herself hurt yet. She swept the stick hard at the ruffian’s feet, so hard it flew out of her hands.
The man tripped and fell forward. With a loud crack, his head struck a rock in the ground. He bounced once, then lay still, legs and arms splayed.
Well done, thought Sloane.
“Oh, dear! Have I killed him?” Staring at the prone figure, she picked up the wooden walking stick.
The girl in the red dress gaped open-mouthed at the prone figure, and the maid, still hanging on the other girl’s arm, turned her head away.
Sloane strolled over. Pointing his sword at the man’s neck, he nudged the man’s ribs with the toe of his boot. The man did not move. Sloane squatted down and felt the neck for a pulse. “He’s alive.” He stood again. “But I’ll wager he’ll have the very devil of a headache when he wakes up.”
“Good.” She handed Sloane his walking stick and he sheathed the sword.
He raised his eyes from the unconscious figure to look directly into her face. A smudge of dirt on her cheek marred a fair complexion, flushed becomingly pink. Her dark brown hair draped her shoulders like a silken veil. She returned his stare. Her eyes were light, not blue, but in the waning light of the evening, he could not tell for certain what color they might be.
He raised one eyebrow. “Miss Hart?”
There was a maturity about her that did not fit her youthful clear eyes and smooth, unlined face. He could not even ascertain her station in life by her attire and certainly not by her manner. She was not much like any other woman he’d ever met.
“Are you injured, miss?” he asked.
She shook her head and the veil of hair moved like waves on the sea. “Nothing to signify.” She extended her hand. “Thank you, sir, for coming to our assistance.”
He accepted the surprisingly firm handshake, giving her an ironic smile. “I fear it is I who must thank you. You vanquished the fellow.” His gaze reluctantly left her to glance at the other two women. “May I know what goes on here?”
“You have rescued this young woman from ruin.” Miss Hart swept her arm toward where the other two were still clustered.
Back to the melodrama, Sloane thought.
She referred to the young woman in the red dress. “He would surely have snatched her away.”
“He did not snatch me, Miss,” the red-dressed girl protested. “I made a bargain with him.”
Miss Hart turned to her, her voice incredulous. “You could not have wished to go with such a horrible man.”
The girl rubbed her arms. “But I did.”
“No, it is nonsensical,” piped up the maid. “You have respectable work, Lucy.”
The girl simply lowered her head.
“Did he give you that horrid dress, Lucy?” the maid went on. “You look like a harlot!”
This, Sloane thought, was probably just what she was . . . or intended to be.
Lucy merely responded with a mutinous look.
With a glance to Sloane, Miss Hart broke in, “We will discuss this later.” She turned to Lucy. “And we will find some other resolution than . . . than going with that creature. Promise you will have patience.”
The girl glowered at her, but finally nodded.
Sloane cleared his throat. “I am delighted that is settled. Now, may I suggest we leave the park before the creaturein question rouses? I suspect he will be none too happy when he does.” Sloane picked up the man’s knife and tossed it into the thick shrubbery. “I will escort you ladies safely to your destination, then I must be on my way.”
Miss Hart gave a dignified toss of her head. “We must not trouble you further, sir. We have not far to go.”
Sloane frowned. “I will escort you all the same. I have no wish to repeat this performance with some other fellow lurking in the bushes. The park is no place for women alone, you know.”
“Very well.” As efficient as a governess and clearly the leader of the incongruous group, she gathered the other two like wayward chicks.
Sloane followed the trio back to the path. They made their way quickly out of the park, returning to the quiet Mayfair neighborhood where he’d been strolling a short time ago.
She turned back to him. “There is no need for you to see us further.”
She did not wish him to know her direction. Perhaps he did not look as respectable as he thought. No matter. Something told him he was better off having as little as possible to do with this motley group.
All the same, a faint measure of disappointment teased at him. This ladylike virago, who scrapped as readily as the toughest rookery orphan, intrigued him.
“I do thank you again for your chivalry.” She extended her hand again, and as he grasped it, he looked into her eyes, the color escaping him still.
He hesitated before releasing her hand. “Good night, Miss Hart.”
“Goodnight,” she said softly. She turned back to the other two and herded them quickly away.
Winner of the Romance Writers of America's 2006 RITA award for Best Regency Romance, Romance’s most prestigious award.
Winner of the 2007 eHarlequin Readers Choice Awards for Favorite Historical
Finalist in the 2006 National Readers Choice Awards for Best Regency
… refreshingly unconventional…a fabulously entertaining romance.— Donna Seaman, Booklist
Brilliant writing…a compelling read for fans of this era.— Joan Hammond, Romantic Times BOOKclub
…a remarkably gifted author…an amazing zest for creativity……put on ‘auto-buy’ status!— Marilyn, Historical Romance Writers
…a delightful and thought provoking look into a side of London we don’t usually get to see…Morgana and Cyprian’s story is one of the most romantic I have read……I highly recommend this story as one you don’t want to miss.— Char, Romance Junkies
A Reputable Rake is a delightful read full of events to tickle your senses…Everything from humor to meditative to sadness to passion is covered.— Lori, Once Upon a Romance
Unmistakably, Diane Gaston’s approach to the Regency period is often SURPRISING…innovative and original…— MaryGrace Meloche, Historical Romance Writers, A Romance Designs Community
A Reputable Rake is the perfect romance…Ms. Gaston you have a new fan and I cannot wait for your next one…— Sonya, Fallen Angel Reviews
Diane Gaston, aka Diane Perkins, has done it again in A Reputable Rake…an outstanding, exciting tale of respectability and the dark side of England’s ton life…The characters are enchanting, vividly alive and the story is intriguing, filled with danger and excitement that will keep the reader turning the pages…I literally could not put down this book until I reached the last page, and even then, wanted more…An excellent, highly enjoyable read I’d recommend to all.— Linda Morelli, My Shelf
In my Regency Romance, A Reputable Rake, Morgana Hart, a respectable Baron’s daughter, decides to train young women to be courtesans.
A courtesan, like a prostitute, accepted money or goods for sex, but unlike a prostitute, a courtesan selected her men, not the other way around. Courtesans were the celebrities of their day, objects of fascination not only for men but women as well. How they wore their hair, their jewels, how they dressed, how they decorated their houses, all were much emulated and admired, just as we admire today’s celebrities.
In A Reputable Rake, Morgana stated that being a courtesan had advantages over being a wife, and she was correct. At that time, a wife was the property of her husband. A husband had the right to control and limit his wife’s behavior. He controlled her property, inheritance, income and possessions. Even her children were her husband’s property. A cruel husband could even beat his wife, if he wished, in order to keep her in line.
Courtesans, on the other hand, controlled the men instead of being controlled by them. A courtesan owned and controlled her own property, her investments, her possessions, her children. The courtesan decided when, where, and how a man could see her. She set the price of her attention. If the gentleman did not wish to proceed as she wished, he lost the right to see her. As a result, men vied for a courtesan’s favors. The most successful courtesans amassed great wealth in property, money and jewels from their admirers. They kept carriages and servants. They had all the trappings of wealth that the titled class possessed.
The price such a woman paid, however, was loss of social acceptance. She could not mix with respectable society. She could never attend Almack’s, never ride through Hyde Park during the fashionable hour, never be invited to dine at a ton house. A respectable woman would ruin her reputation if she were even seen in the presence of a known courtesan. A respectable woman, like my heroine Morgana who trains girls to be courtesans, would be utterly ruined in polite society if her secret were discovered.
And if a former rake was intent upon becoming reputable, getting embroiled in a courtesan school would certainly spoil his plans.
Morgana’s idea for the courtesan school comes from spying Harriette Wilson at the opera. Harriette Wilson was the most fashionable courtesan of her day, counting among her admirers the Duke of Wellington, the handsome Lord Ponsonby, the Marquis of Worchester, the Duke of Leinster. That arbiter of all things fashionable, Beau Brummel was among her friends.
Harriette was born Harriette Dubochet in 1786, one of fifteen children. At age 15, she followed her two older sisters into the world of the courtesan, first becoming the Earl of Craven’s mistress, then progressing into her chosen life. She certainly understood the advantages. “I will be the instrument of pleasure to no man,” she said. “He must make a friend and companion of me, or he will lose me.”
Harriette was not a great beauty, but she was intelligent and charming. Her friend Julia said of her: “She had a bewitching method of making anyone jocund against their inclination.” Harriette, Julia, and Harriette’s sister Fanny were known as “The Three Graces” cutting an impressive picture at parties and entertainments of the demimonde, the world of the courtesan and the men who pursued them. Harriette had an unabashed enjoyment of sex and a high sense of her self-worth. She was shrewd enough to withhold her favors except for the elite few, which guaranteed men from the highest rungs of society pursued her.
Unfortunately, Harriette also enjoyed spending money and she had a poor sense of how to protect her financial interests. When she was in need of funds, she devised a very clever way of raising money. She made it known she intended to write her memoirs and that she would name names. Gentlemen, however, could pay her to keep their names out of her book. Wellington was one of the gentlemen from whom Harriette requested money, giving us his famous (and probably fictional) quote: “Publish and be damned.”
Harriette’s venture was a success, garnering her today’s equivalent of a half a million pounds, but her lover at the time, Henri Rochefort, squandered the money. Harriette was destitute at the time of her death at age fifty-nine. The memoir she left, however, gives us a glimpse of the lively bright woman who cut such a dash in the Regency era, and whose life inspired me to write A Reputable Rake.
• Information for this article came from Courtesans by Katie Hickman (Harper Collins, 2003)
• First appeared in Germany’s romance magazine, Love Letter