Only virgins need apply… Amelia Ashworth’s eyes widened at that scandalous headline in the Daily Mail. Well, it was her own fault. She never should have snuck into her uncle’s study to pour over the Notices in the morning newspaper, and she never should be considering what she was now considering, but she was a desperate woman. Desperate, and miserably unhappy. At age twenty, she was close enough to being on the shelf as to fully believe she would be a burden to her aunt and uncle for the rest of her life. Marriage at this point seemed a distant possibility. After all, with her black hair and startling green eyes, she was the furthest thing from the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pale porcelain ideal of beauty that was so popular these days. She was certainly no English rose, and suitors were not exactly lined up at her door. Aunt Caroline and Uncle Henry had been kind enough to take her in after her parents had been killed in a carriage accident last year, but it was clear they had considered it their familial duty, not an act of love. As a result, Amelia was always careful to express her gratitude to them, but even still, there was a constant tension in the house, especially with her aunt. Amelia couldn’t imagine spending the rest of her life walking on eggshells here. Indeed, that was the reason for her stealthy search of the Notices of Situations Vacant. Amelia knew it was shocking that a woman of her upbringing and position would even consider taking a post somewhere, but if she could just earn enough coin to be able to live on her own, the scandal would be more than worth it. After all, she couldn’t be any unhappier than she was right now. But what was she qualified to do? Nothing.
That was the depressing truth of the matter. With a touch of despair, she glanced back down at the paper and forced herself to continue reading. …to participate in a scientific study… She frowned. What was this? A scientific study of virgins? Since it was in the section of the newspaper dedicated to employment opportunities, this investigation must offer payment of some kind. Well, she was a virgin. Ironic to think that at least she would be considered qualified on that score! Could this be the answer to her prayers? Surely participating in a scientific study was far better than taking a menial job, and could possibly even be of some humanitarian value. Yes. She could do that. A scientific study probably involved answering questions—albeit most likely highly personal, embarrassing ones—but no matter. If it paid well enough, she could force herself to swallow her pride.
She quickly scanned the rest of the text. …compensation of five thousand pounds… “Good lord!” Amelia slapped a hand across her mouth, her gaze darting around the rich, mahogany-paneled room as she listened intently for any sound of approaching footsteps. The last thing she wanted was to be found here by the butler, Giles, or any of the maids who might come to investigate a loud outburst emanating from Uncle Henry’s supposedly empty study. Luckily, no one seemed to have heard her unguarded response, and after several nerve-racking moments, she turned back to the paper. “Five thousand pounds?” Her comment was whispered this time and laced with a touch of awe. Spent carefully, that amount of money would allow her to live comfortably for the rest of her life, to buy a small cottage, to keep a servant, even to afford the occasional entertainment. It was almost too incredible to believe. Just what exactly would the woman who responded to this advertisement have to do to earn such a princely sum? She swallowed hard, then took a deep breath and started to read from the beginning. Mr. Trevor Markham, doctor of medical services, seeks virgin to participate in a scientific study for a period of three weeks.
Ideal subject would be available weekdays from one to three in the afternoon. Compensation of five thousand pounds. Apply in person. Amelia stared at the fashionable Chelsea address included. This Mr. Markham was no back alley trickster looking to take advantage of some naïve young girl. His address spoke for itself. Yes. It seemed the scandalous advertisement was legitimate, even if it was a bit vague on the particular requirements it entailed. But the inducement… Five thousand pounds.
Anyone willing to offer that sort of money must be desperate for a subject. Which meant the “scientific study” must be quite beyond the pale. And anyone thinking of accepting it must be equally desperate. She bit her lip. No, no, no. She should not be considering this! She forced herself to scan the rest of the notices. Cooks… housekeepers…lady’s maid. Amelia raised an eyebrow. She certainly knew the responsibilities of a lady’s maid. Yes, she supposed she could do an adequate job in that sort of position, so long as she wasn’t already socially acquainted with the potential employer.
That would simply be too embarrassing. She squinted to read the details. The honorable Hortensia Biddle-Bosworth seeks a tractable lady’s maid for live-in duties including all usual. Compensation of twelve pounds per annum. Comparable experience and spotless references absolutely required. Amelia sighed deeply. She was acquainted with old “Biddy,” as the gossips called Hortensia Biddle-Bosworth. She was a three-hundred pound aging spinster who insisted on wearing virginal white despite her advanced years and carrying her beloved French poodle Fifi everywhere she went. As the distant relation of a duke, she considered herself an arbiter of taste and refinement. Biddy’s lady’s maid would undoubtedly be responsible not only for her dressing, washing, mending, pressing and boot shining, but also for the upkeep of her many wigs, and probably for seeing to the care of her pet as well.
All while being tractable, as the ad specified, which meant meek and biddable since the old woman was known for her cutting judgment and sharp tongue. And all this for twelve pounds per year! Never in a million years would Amelia subject herself to the employ of Miss Hortensia BiddleBosworth, and yet how ironic it was that Amelia would never even be seriously considered for the position. She had no experience, and she certainly had no references. Amelia bit her lip, even as her gaze drifted back to Mr. Trevor Markham’s notice. She needed to find out more details about this “scientific study” in particular and this Mr. Markham in general. She glanced at the clock on the mantle. The ad said the “ideal candidate” would be available weekdays from one to three in the afternoons. “Good God, am I seriously considering this?” Even as she shuddered at her own brazenness, she quickly jotted down the details of the address on a scrap of paper and decided to pay a visit to her friend Claire Beringer, in the hopes that Claire could talk her out of this folly.
“You, madam, are no more a virgin than I’m the queen of England.” Trevor Markham let out an exasperated sigh and pulled back from his patient. He carefully laid the brass scope he’d just used for his examination on a nearby tray. The woman in question scrambled from her reclining position to sit up on his examination table, pulling her skirts down around her in a huff. “I am a virgin, guv, I swear!” Trevor turned wearily to rinse his hands in a nearby basin. How many times had he been through this same scenario since he’d put that damned advert in the paper? Hell, he almost wished he’d never started out on this foolhardy experiment. “Your body doesn’t lie, madam. There is a thin membrane that protects a woman’s virginity. Yours is ruptured.” “A mem—what?” Trevor wiped his hands on a clean rag.
He thought he’d been prepared to deal with whatever type of woman might respond to his ad. After all, what he’d be asking of them went well beyond the pale, so he’d fully expected to find the willing woman from amongst the lower classes. And that would be perfectly fine. They were just as human as he was, if a little more desperate for coin. But he needed a virgin. A clean slate. One pure, unadulterated maiden, so that he could be certain the results of his experiments would be scientifically valid. Yes, he needed a virgin. He’d been quite clear about that in his ad. Which is why he was amazed that every single woman who’d responded so far believed they could fool him on this critical point.
“I’ve never been with a man, guv, cross my heart. I’m the perfect girl for your scientific study.” Trevor scowled. There were some who’d come to his office over the past two days who were cleverer than this one. Yesterday, for instance, another candidate had tried to convince him of her suitability with more than just her impassioned words. She’d smuggled in a small needle, and in the instant he’d turned away to lay down the scope after his examination, she’d surreptitiously pricked her finger and managed to smear a small amount of blood on the sheet covering the table between her legs. A little knowledge was a dangerous thing. Luckily, it wasn’t enough to fool a competent physician. “I’m sorry, madam, but there is no denying your anatomy. Please climb down off that table.
” “No!” She reached out and grabbed him by the front of his shirt, pulling him close enough to gift him with what she obviously thought was a saucy smile. Unfortunately, Trevor noticed that several of her teeth were missing, so the effect was somewhat ruined. Plus, her breath smelled of kippers. Holding his gaze, she took one of his hands and placed it blatantly between her legs. “For five thousand pounds, guv, I can guarantee that your little scientific study will prove whatever you want it to prove.” Even though the woman was covered by her skirts, Trevor jerked his hand away, appalled. Did she honestly think he was some sort of sexual deviant, willing to pay an exorbitant fee to find a woman who would fulfill his aberrant inclinations? Hell, if that was all this was about, he certainly would not have risked his professional reputation by putting an ad in the newspaper, where all of London could read it! His jaw tightened. “I thank you for your time, madam, but the facts of the matter are these: I require a virgin. You are not a virgin. Therefore, you cannot be part of my study.
” With a loud harrumph, the woman climbed down off the table and stuck her chin in the air. “Well, it’s your loss, guv. I would have given it to you for a lot less than five thousand pounds.” She straightened her shoulders, shook out her skirts, and sashayed provocatively to his door, apparently intending to give him a taste of what he’d be missing. The door banged loudly shut behind her. Once she was gone, Trevor shoved a hand through his hair and sat down hard on the chair behind his office desk. What the hell was he doing? Was he out of his mind? Ever since the age of ten, he’d had a dream. A deep-seated desire to help people. It had propelled him to become a doctor, and after the last decade spent working hard to establish his reputation, he was now putting everything on the line for another boyhood ambition. One that meant almost as much.
It was intended to honor a man he’d admired, a man who’d been nearly as important to him as his own father. What Trevor intended to do was scandalous, certainly. As a result of his ad in the paper, his regular patients were beginning to look at him askance, his own friends were appalled, and he hadn’t even told anyone the half of what he was really up to. Luckily, his father would be spared all this scandalous to-do. Trevor Markham, Sr, was dead. But there was no getting around the fact that if something was indeed ruined here, it might be more than just one woman’s virginity. Was it worth it? More to the point, could he even find the woman that might make it all worth it? He blew out a hard breath and leaned back in his chair. One more day. He’d give it one more day, and if he hadn’t found a woman who would fit his scientific parameters by then, he’d simply call the whole thing off.