“WHEN A MORALLY UPRIGHT gentleman discards a lady, in the eyes of Society, it ought to be owed to a defect in her character. Thus, associating with such a lady may put your reputation at risk. The only choice is to give the lady the cut direct.” Emma Drake slammed shut The Ladies Guide to Proper Behavior. “Now do you believe me?” she asked her dearest friend Susan Lancaster. “Oh, pish-posh,” Susan said with a wave of her hand. “That guide was written for young ladies who may never see a Season in their poor pitiful lives. You have already had three Seasons and captured the heart of a Viscount.” No, if she’d captured Bolton’s heart, he never would have rejected her because of her sisters’ transgressions. Sitting at her small writing desk in her bedroom, she tapped the end of a quill against her lips. Perhaps there was something bothersome with her personality. After spending the last ten months pondering what she had done to offend her former fiancé, she’d finally decided the problem lay with Viscount Bolton, not her. She’d spent most of her doing exactly as mother recommended. She befriended only the most upright ladies, never drank to excess, never swore, and was always accommodating. She had never been so bored in her life, and it had been all for naught.
Most ladies she had so sweetly befriended gave her the cut direct once Bolton jilted her. Almost a year of living with such an unearned reputation had only served to increase her desire to match her tarnished name. But could she do it? Having a bit of fun could mean ruining her name and chances of marrying. Marriage and love might have been for her sisters, but neither felt right to her any longer. At this point, Emma would have to settle for a man who wanted a prize on his arm when he entered a room. A man who only marry her because she was the beautiful Drake sister. Her stomach roiled in protest. She did not want of that any longer. She wanted adventures, amusement, and to do as she wished. Turning to Susan, who sat on Emma’s bed and stared mouth agape as if Emma had grown horns, Emma asked, “What do you think? You’ve been terribly quiet.
” Susan shook her head with a scowl. “You must be mad, Emma. You cannot do this!” “Why ever not?” she asked with a shrug. “I have been the model of Society mores for the past years. And what did that get me? Nothing but a reputation I did not deserve. For pity sake, I’ve never even been kissed!” “Bolton never kissed you?” Susan asked with wide brown eyes. “You were engaged for three months.” “Nothing more than a peck on the cheek. There was never an opportunity.” Or so he said.
Most likely because his mother barely left them alone for more than a moment. But now she knew the first item for her list. “I do believe we have discovered number one.” She dipped her quill into the ink and then wrote: L 1. Kiss a man “But who will you kiss?” Susan probed. “It’s not as if you can walk up to a man and ask for a kiss.” Emma wasn’t sure why she couldn’t do such a thing. “I am certain some man would be willing to kiss me. Now come along, it’s your turn. Give me an idea.
” “You are not seriously going to write a list of ways to disgrace your family’s name, are you?” “Susan, you are missing the point here. The list is for a few adventures. It’s been almost a year since Louisa married Harry. Both my sisters did as they pleased, while I lost a fiancé because of their actions. They had their escapades while I was stuck being a proper lady. It’s time I had a little entertainment.” “Very well, since I will never convince you otherwise, let me think.” Susan stretched languidly across Emma’s bed. “I know one thing I should love to do that would be great fun indeed. I think you should go to a gaming hell.
Think how exciting that would be with all the rogues and scoundrels in attendance. You might even win a bit of money.” She couldn’t tell Susan that she’d already been to a hell, or her friend would pester her with questions. Emma had only seen the office of the owner. She’d never actually stepped foot inside the gaming room. Thinking back to that day, all she could remember was that dreadful man and what he was doing with that woman. A shudder ran through her. “I only know of one gaming hell, and the proprietor would send me home the moment I walked inside. And then promptly tell my sister and his brother exactly what I had done.” “Dress as a man.
Then he shall never know it’s you,” Susan replied, her eyes alit with excitement. Dress like a man? Emma slowly smiled. Surely Mr. Kingsley would never suspect the seemingly perfect Miss Drake would do such a thing. That might work. “I do like the idea, but since it was your idea, I insist you accompany me.” She dipped her quill back into the ink and then wrote: 2. Visit a gaming hell dressed as a man “Of course, I will attend with you, but not dressed as a man. If my mother discovered I’d donned trousers, I would be packed off to Suffolk to my grandmother’s house for the next twenty years. Mother would consider it a far greater tragedy than walking into a gaming hell.
” Emma laughed. “As you wish. But where will I get men’s clothing?” “You mean, boys’ clothing. I have four brothers. I can get you whatever you need. Before Andrew departed for Eton, he was about your size. I’m sure there are some of his old things left that will fit you.” One problem solved. “Excellent, now we need eight more.” There had to be some code of conduct that she’d been taught she could break.
What was one of the first things her mother taught her? A smile tugged at her lips. “Susan, have you ever introduced yourself to a man?” “Of course not. You know it is not safe to do such a thing.” “I didn’t think so. Neither have I,” Emma said before dipping her quill but paused as Susan’s voice interrupted her actions. “You mustn’t, Emma. What if the man is a rake or worse a scoundrel?” Even better, Emma thought but refused to say aloud for fear of frightening her friend. “I will be cautious about who I choose. I will know of the man before I introduce myself.” Emma tapped her quill before writing: 3.
Introduce yourself to a man “Oh, that is bold,” Susan said with a giggle. “Well, that should do it, but if not write down, get banned from Almack’s.” “I think that would be my favorite,” Emma said and then couldn’t stop giggling. “I despise that place with those superior women. Just think, a Season without Almack’s. That would be heavenly, indeed.” She wondered how her mother had managed to have Lady Huntly get the vouchers for them this year. The talk surrounding Louisa’s marriage and Emma’s jilting had scarcely died down. “Your mother will have an apoplexy.” If only, Emma thought.
The woman deserved one after all she’d put the family through. Emma picked up her quill and then wrote: 4. Get banned from Almack’s “Emma, have you ever imbibed a bit too much in public?” “Of course not. Mamma won’t even let me have a sip of wine at a ball. I’m only allowed a small glass of wine at home with dinner. But I do like your thought immensely.” She smiled as she wrote the next item on her list. 5. Get foxed “You could get drunk at Almack’s,” Susan added with a chuckle. “Except, it would be most difficult to do there unless the warm lemonade goes bad,” Emma replied, tapping the end of the quill against her lip.
Alcohol was never served at the hallowed institution of Almack’s. “Well, entering Almack’s deep in your cups would likely get you banned,” Susan commented, brushing a lock of chestnut hair out of her eyes. “You just need to hide your drinking from your mother until you arrive.” “That might be difficult.” Emma shrugged, disregarding Susan’s idea. Not having been deep in her cups, Emma had no idea how she would react. Louisa tended to giggle when she drank, but Tessa became slightly sullen. “We need five more things.” “Must it be five more?” Susan whined as she flipped over onto her back and stared at the white ceiling. “Surely this is enough to ruin your good name.
” “That’s not the point of this, Susan. This is about having some amusements for a change. What do you think of this one?” She wrote number six and showed the paper to her friend. 6. Break a law Susan sat up on the bed with her mouth agape. “You are truly mad, Emma Drake. You most certainly cannot break a law!” “Not a big law, just a little one.” Emma tapped the end of the quill against her lip again. “Perhaps I might pinch something small at a ball. Just to prove I can do it.
I would return the item.” “Oh, dear Lord, you are going to hang.” Tears formed in Susan’s brown eyes. “You mustn’t do such a thing, Emma.” She wasn’t about to hang because she refused to be caught. “I shall leave it for now. We can edit the list when we are finished.” Though she had no idea how she might manage it, she did want to try. Emma wrote down the next item as she told Susan her thoughts. 7.
Learn to paint in oils She’d painted and sketched all her life, but oils were for men, which in Emma’s mind was a ridiculous rule. Women who painted in oils were only a step above soiled doves. “Hmm.” Susan mulled over the idea. “I suppose that would not be too dreadful. Still, your mother won’t approve.” Her friend was correct on that point. “No, but Louisa would approve. I’m certain she will let me take lessons at her home.” Emma closed her eyes and thought of something she’d seen a man do that she wanted to try.
Her mind wandered back to a year ago when she’d seen five of London’s rogues racing their gigs. It couldn’t be that difficult, could it? She’d driven a trap before. It was similar to a carriage, although an old nag had pulled the trap. The fine specimen of horses those gentlemen drove were slightly more spirited than old Bess. But this list was about doing things out of the ordinary, so she wrote: 8. Race a carriage “What did you write?” Susan asked curiously. Emma showed her the list with a smile. “What do you think?” Susan flicked open her fan and then waved it in front of her face. “If you don’t hang for breaking the law, you will surely die in a carriage accident.” Emma considered Susan’s hysterics for only a moment.
Racing was by far the most dangerous item on her list, but it sounded exhilarating. Perhaps for Susan’s sake, Emma should think of something that involved less danger to her and her reputation. Susan shook her head. “I cannot imagine what you have planned for the last two items.” Emma twisted her lips. “I am not certain.” “Well, if you are planning to do all this, you might as well have an affair with a rake.” An affair? Why shouldn’t she have a liaison with a man? The idea set off a fluttering in her belly. After being jilted, the concept of marriage left a bitter taste in her mouth. If by chance, she ever married, she could blame her lack of virtue on Bolton.
He deserved some ill will after abandoning her. For once, Susan had a brilliant idea. “Oh yes,” Emma said with a slow smile. “That should definitely be on my list.” “I was not serious!” Susan jumped off the bed in a flurry of yellow muslin and then tried to grab Emma’s list. Emma moved the paper away before her friend could toss it in the fire. “I am serious. It was an excellent suggestion. Why shouldn’t I discover what making love is all about?” 9. Seduce a rake “I think I am going to faint,” Susan cried, returning to the bed.
She wiped away an errant tear from her cheek. “This is the most dreadful day ever.” “That only leaves number ten. I have no idea what else I could do.” “There is nothing else you could do. You will be ruined, and I shall be forbidden to speak with you. Once you do this, there is no returning to Society.” Emma stared at the paper and nodded. Society could hang for all she cared. After spending four years conforming to their idea of perfection, she was tired of it all.
The time had come to live her life on her terms. “I suppose I could wait on number ten. I might come up with something grand after I have these adventures.” “Number ten is easy,” Susan said, wiping her eyes. “Oh?” Emma glanced curiously over at her friend. “Become a spinster. Because that is the only choice you shall have left once you ruin yourself so terribly. No decent man will want you if your virtue is gone.” Susan rose from the bed and straightened her skirts. “I cannot go along with this foolishness any longer, Emma.
” “You promised you would go to a gaming hell with me.” “And I shall, but that is the extent of my involvement in your ruination.” Susan wiped another tear. “Please rethink this idea. Once you are completely scandalized, you will not be accepted into good Society ever again.” “I’m barely accepted now even though I have done nothing wrong!” She was tired of the right thing. She wanted to do all the wrong things for once and break free of Society’s confines. “But you will lose all your friends.” Susan stared at her with those big brown eyes that reminded Emma of her mother’s pug. “And you are my only real friend.
If I cannot speak with you, I don’t know what I shall do.” “It will not be as dreadful as all that, Susan. You are assuming I will be caught doing all these things. I have no intention of that. I am doing this to have a few adventures and a little fun. If I am completely ruined in the process,” she shrugged, “then that is a bonus, I suppose. No longer will I care what Society thinks of me.” “You are doomed,” Susan cried. “For surely someone will see you racing a carriage. And whoever you introduce yourself to will speak of it.
” She laid down on the bed again. “And rakes love to tell of their conquests!” Emma hadn’t considered that aspect of this lark. They both had heard stories of young ladies who had taken up with the wrong sort of man—despicable scoundrels—who left the ladies’ reputations in shreds by speaking of their liaison. “Then it shall be part of the bargain. Whoever kisses me must remain silent, and that goes for seducing a rake too.” “Do you even know which man you will choose?” Emma went silent in thought. She needed someone who, out of honor, wouldn’t speak of what happened between them. Lord Ainsley might do. He was a friend of her brother-in-law, and that alone might keep his lips sealed. And he was a handsome man with his dark blonde hair, green eyes, and broad shoulders.
Hmm, Lord Ainsley might be the perfect rake for the job. Except, Ainsley might insist on marriage, which was not what she wanted from him. This idea might take more thought. “I have eight other items to complete before number nine. That will give me plenty of time to determine who to seduce.” Susan sighed and then held her hand out. “Let me review the list.” “Are you going to rip it up or toss it in the fire?” “No, and stop scowling at me like that,” her friend said with another heavy sigh. “Very well.” Emma scanned the list once more.
“Number ten is bothering me. What else could I do after seducing a rake? That does seem like the worst thing.” “I should say so. You might get with child, and then what?” When did the whimsical Susan become the voice of reason? Susan always danced with the wrong sort of man, saying inappropriate things, and always unpredictable. But for once, she had thought of something Emma hadn’t. “There must be ways to prevent it from happening. I suppose I will have to investigate those possibilities before I decide to take a man to bed.” She wondered who might have such information. No one of her acquaintance came to mind. “Oh, Emma,” Susan whispered.
“If you get with child, you will be forced to move to the country and live as a poor widow. Even your family will ostracize you. Please have a care.” “I will.” Why did Susan have to ruin her fun with thoughts of bastard children? Emma knew she would need to consider with care who to seduce as getting with child was not an option. Of course, if she took after her sister Tessa, it might not happen anyway. Tessa had been married for two years before she finally conceived. Emma scowled. Her luck, she would take after Louisa, who most likely was with child as she took her vows with the duke. Susan glanced over at the clock.
“I must take my leave now. I promised Mother I would be home by four such that I can be ready for Lady Leicester’s ball on time tonight.” Emma nodded and slowly smiled as she grabbed her list back from Susan. “I might be able to cross one thing off my list tonight.” Susan rose, straightening her skirts. “Just remember that the dowager countess is Raynerson’s grandmother. You wouldn’t want to embarrass your sister or her husband’s family.” “Of course, I wouldn’t want to hurt Tessa,” she said to appease her friend. Her eldest sister was one of the reasons Emma’s reputation was on the verge of objectionable. It was Tessa who, with the help of their mother, had befriended the late Duke of Worthington.
He took it upon himself to advance Tessa’s position in Society. Only his idea of advancement entailed poisoning three of her husbands so she could marry up until she reached an acceptable standing. The scandal of it all almost ruined them completely. Until Louisa got it in her head to marry the late duke’s son. Once she’d married Harry, the family had once again been on the tongue of the gossipmongers. Everyone assumed Louisa married him for the position and title that Tessa had not obtained. “I will see you tonight, then,” Susan said as she walked to the bedchamber door. As Susan walked out, Emma scanned her list again and frowned. The blank space at number ten still bothered her. The order of things didn’t make sense, but she wondered if it mattered.
They wouldn’t attend Almacks’s for another fortnight, and it certainly might be easy enough to get foxed before then. Besides, it would take some time to find a painting instructor. Staring at the list, she reordered them. 1. Introduce yourself to a man at a ball 2. Learn to paint in oils 3. Get foxed 4. Kiss a man 5. Visit a gaming hell dressed as a man 6. Get banned from Almacks’s 7.
Race a carriage 8. Break a law 9. Seduce a rake 10. That was a much better order, although, as time went by, she still might need to reorder them again. She supposed they didn’t have to be performed in any order. Number four might happen at any time if she could find the courage to ask for a kiss. Or perhaps, it might happen directly after number three because she might need to be completely in her cups to ask for a kiss. But for tonight, she would set out to complete number one.