A Woman of Good Reputation

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 3 (v.1)

Submitted: April 26, 2007

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Comments: 3

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Submitted: April 26, 2007



"Papa!" exclaimed his perfect, adorable whore, as she grabbed at the sheet to cover herself up.

Stephen reached for his clothing, drawling, "Do not worry, sir. Her virginity is still intact."

"Do you expect me to believe that?" blustered her father. "After the way I have discovered the two of you?"

"There are other things to do with a lady in bed, you know that." Stephen arched a single eyebrow. "Or possibly you don't."

"You speak of such things in front of my daughter?"

Stephen pulled on his shirt. "She's had them done to her, surely she can stand to hear them spoken of."

"And there is nothing that you do in bed with a lady."

"The entire institution of the British aristocracy is based on the premise that men will do something while in bed with a lady," remarked Stephen, thoughtfully, reaching for his cravat.

The girl's father-and he still did not know her name-narrowed his eyes at her. "Well, what is to be done about this?" he demanded.

"Nothing," said the girl, looking stricken. "Nothing, Papa. Please-"

"What's going on in here?"

It was the prostitute he should have had, he realized. Come to collect her fee. And how, looking at her, he could ever have thought that the exquisite creature on the bed was a whore was beyond him. Whores did not have such creamy, alabaster skin, such deep, dark blue eyes, such lovely, brown-gold-red hair. Whores did not flush so rosily under a man's ministrations. How could he have made such a ridiculous mistake?

Her father lifted his finger threateningly in Stephen's direction. "You will marry her," he announced.

"Papa!" exclaimed the girl, scrambling over to him while trying to keep herself respectable. "That's not necessary. It isn't his fault."

"Not his fault?" repeated her father, in outrage.

"I should have told him to stop. I meant to tell him to stop. I just...got caught up in..." She blushed.

Stephen had never been so flattered by a compliment about his sexual abilities, strangely enough. But the girl's jumbled explanation had not improved the situation at all.

"You should have known better," her father thundered at him.

"Known better?" he repeated. "She was standing in a brothel in the room I'd paid for. How was I to know better?"

Her father gestured at her. "You really thought she was a whore?" he asked, in disbelief.

The girl was looking at him now, in shock. "Oh, no. Did you?"

"What?" he said to her, in astonishment. What had she thought?

"Oh, I'm so sorry I confused you. I confused him," she said to her father. "This is all my fault. I should never have been in a brothel."

"Yes, we will be discussing that later, young lady," he assured her, sternly. "But for now, we will announce the engagement immediately."

"Papa, please," she begged.

She apparently did not wish to marry him, a thought that irritated him. It was true that he did not want to marry her, either. But still. There was the small matter of a man's pride. "It would seem your daughter does not wish to marry me," he pointed out, stiffly, pulling his jacket on.

"And it would seem she has no choice in the matter," her father retorted. "She is a woman of good reputation. You have ruined her for all time. She will never recover from this. She will have no chance of a good match. No man will want your castoffs."

"Why not?" he inquired, blandly. "I would recommend her highly."

"You will marry her. I will speak to your father about it, Chesham."

Stephen laughed lightly. Did he really think that was a threat? It would be a bit of a relief, to cross his father in this matter and be disowned.

"Papa," said the girl, miserably, bringing his attention back to her.

Damn, he thought. If he did not marry her, she would, indeed, be ruined forever. He did not understand why she had been in a brothel, but, unless she was the best actress in the world, her objective had not been to corner him into marriage. Damn. "Fine," he clipped out. He could tell he had surprised everyone in the room - except for the whore, who continued to look bored by the door. He looked at the girl, who looked back at him with unmistakable panic on her face. "Get dressed," he said to her, and looked at the whore. "Help her," he ordered, and stepped out of the room, waiting for her father to follow him. He closed the door, said to her father, "I will take her to your house in my carriage."

"You really think I will allow her, unescorted, into your carriage-"

"Of all the unescorted activities your daughter and I have engaged in this evening, a carriage ride should be the least of your concerns. You have my advantage, I am afraid, sir. I do not know who you are."

"The name is Bienville. You have been pointed out to me at clubs."

"Yes, it would have to be at clubs, as I do not go out in society. You should be well-pleased with your daughter," he remarked, ironically. "She has made herself an exceptional match."

"If you had behaved yourself-"

"Men do not behave themselves in brothels, as you are well aware, or else you would not be here tonight. I highly doubt you followed your daughter here. Or, if you did, you are an abysmally bad father not to have rescued her earlier. So how did you know she was here?"

Bienville regarded him for a long moment, then admitted, "One of my acquaintances recognized her in the yard. He came to alert me..."

"But you were otherwise engaged," guessed Stephen, with a sardonic edge. "I see."

The door opened. The girl, looking calm and composed, holding her hat primly in her hands, walked out. She had her chin raised, her face a cool, haughty mask. Stephen admired her more for the lack of hysterics.

"You will come in my carriage," he informed her, shortly.

She looked alarmed then, her composure slipping a bit. "What?"

"We have much to settle, you and I. This way, if you please." He offered his arm. She stared at him for a long moment during which he was convinced she would refuse him. Then she took his arm and allowed him to lead her down the staircase, sweep her through the front hall, where she was the object of many curious gazes. "Fetch my carriage," he said to the boy waiting outside, then turned back to the woman. His new fianc. Dear God.

"Thank you," she said.

"For agreeing to marry you?" he guessed.

She smiled bitterly. "No, I disagree with that decision and hope to compel you to change your mind. But thank you for sparing me the unpleasant carriage ride with my father. Now. I wonder if you would be so kind?"

"To do what?" he asked, warily.

She gestured. "That hansom cab over there is mine. I fear I do not have enough pocket change to cover the fare. If you could?"

"You're already costing me money," he grumbled, but he walked across the street and paid the fare for her.

She waited, watching him, feeling frightened and uncertain. She did not want to marry this man she did not know. It did not matter how handsome he was. Or what wonderful things he had done to her in bed. It had always been a personal goal of hers to marry for love, and she was not about to compromise on that point.

His carriage came up, and Abby blinked at its grandeur. He returned, helped her up into it. "Where do you live?" he inquired.

"Grosvenor Square."

She heard him give the direction to his driver, and then he climbed into the carriage, sitting opposite her. She thought he was looking at her, but she could not really tell in the carriage's dim interior.

"What is your name?" he asked, finally.

"Abigail," she answered.

"Abigail," he repeated, and then was silent.

"And what is your name?" she asked, when she could not bear the silence any longer.

"Chesham," he replied.

"Will you not give me your first name?"

He did not respond for a moment. "Stephen," he said.

"Stephen. May I call you Stephen?"

"Well, I will not make you ‘m'lord' me."

"'M'lord' you?" she said, in surprise. "Have you a title?"

He chuckled. "Several. The title Chesham means nothing to you?"

"I am American," she reminded him. "And I have not spent any period of time studying the names of eligible members of the ton."

"Why not? I should think it is the only occupation of women your age."

"It is the only occupation of foolish women my age," she rejoined, hotly.

"I would not brag of your intelligence, if I were you," he snapped at her. "An intelligent woman would never have been in a brothel."

She sighed. "I know."

Her acknowledgment of her foolishness effectively disarmed his anger. "Then what were you doing there?"

"I was there for a friend. Oh, drat. And I've failed my friend. This is a miserable evening."

"In what way have you failed your friend?" he asked, curiously.

"It is really none of your concern. We will not be announcing an engagement."

"Oh, won't we?"


"I think your father has other ideas."

"I do not care what my father thinks."

Stephen regarded her for a second. She was not, he thought, like any woman he had ever known. Which did not mean he particularly wanted to marry her... "You have been quite thoroughly ruined. It is true that your virginity is still intact-"

"How can you say my virginity is still intact? After what has happened between us?"

"Yes, I am clinging rather desperately to technicalities here," he conceded, sighing. "You wish to marry me as much as I wish to marry you."

"Then we are agreed."

"We are not agreed. Much as I dislike it, I have ruined you. I will not refrain from saving you."

"But you will not be saving me!" she cried. "I do not mean to marry this way, a cold transaction in a bank."

"Yes, it does not delight me, either. Nevertheless, it is done. We must make the most of it."

"I will run away," she threatened. "I will leave you at the altar."

He laughed. "Will you? That would be an adventure. I would appreciate that. And it would save me."

Men, she thought. Men with their ridiculous sense of honor. He did not want to marry her, but he would not go against his stupid sense of honor. And she would not be dragged into marriage with a man who did not want her. "Then I shall put that plan into action," she assured him.

"You cannot."

"Why not?"

"Where would you go?"

"Back to America."

"And how would you live?"

"Well, I-"

"Have you money of your own? Independent income?"

"Well, no, but-"

"Then you'd better get very used to being on the inside of a brothel."

"That was an unchivalrous thing to say," she informed him, scathingly.

"Truth is seldom chivalrous, my pet."

She narrowed her eyes at him but the effect was lost in the darkness. The carriage jolted to a halt, and Stephen leaned forward, peered out the window. The movement put him momentarily in her immediate vicinity, close enough that she could smell him, could feel the heat pouring off him in a thunderous wave that made her feel a little light-headed. She had never had such a reaction to any man before, and she was perplexed by the reaction now. The only thing she could think was that Stephen, Something of Chesham, was a dangerous man.

"Which house is yours?"

"This is fine," she said, stiffly.

"I will not let you walk home in the dark alone. You are my fianc now, remember. You must be kept good and pure for our wedding night."

She heard the smirk in his voice, rather than saw it. She yanked the carriage door open in annoyance and half-tumbled out, gathering her skirts and walking swiftly. She had taken a few paces before he collected himself enough to follow her.

"Where do you think you're going?" he asked, catching up to her.

"Home. To talk my father out of this folly of marrying you."

"Look," he said, soberly. "I doubt you will be successful. You have made yourself quite a match, though you don't seem to know it. I am going to be a duke someday."

"A duke!" she scoffed. "How fortunate for me! I will be called ‘your Grace!' That makes this whole situation much better."

"It could be worse."

"How?" she demanded, rounding on him on the front stoop of her parents' house. "How could it be worse?"

"I could be someone other than me," he answered.

He was maddeningly calm. She was furious. "I have an unchivalrous truth for you, my lord."


"I will not marry you." She turned, her hand on the door latch, prepared to lift it.

He put his hand over hers. "But, darling," he murmured. "Shan't we have a good night kiss? Before we part?" He breathed into the hollow behind her ear.

He knew, blast him, what that would do to her. She hated him at that moment. And she hated the fact that he had brought up kissing, made her think of the unbelievable way he kissed her. Which was why, she knew, he'd mentioned it.

"Good night, my lord," she said, firmly lifting the latch. She walked through the doorway, turned and gave him an imperious look down her nose.

Her parents would not listen to reason. She begged with them until she was blue in the face, but they would not listen to her. Her mother, once she had gotten over the shock of the story, thought Abby was brilliant to have trapped such a catch as the Earl of Chesham. Abby discovered he was the Earl of Chesham. Indeed, Abby had to listen to his entire family history. And each time her parents said Earl of Chesham, their voices raised in even screechier delight. It was the first time Abby could remember her parents being pleased with her, and it disgusted her that they refused to realize that she could not marry this man she did not know. Could not go off and live with this complete stranger.

She gave it up for the night, although she could not sleep. She simply laid awake, staring at her ceiling with a vague feeling of panic. He was right, the Earl of Chesham. She could not run away. How would she survive? What would she do? She tried to think what women did, women who were not born with money. Could she be a maid? A governess, possibly?

Her parents refused to let her leave the house. They seemed to think that the Earl would come to call, and the Earl must find his fianc at home. Feeling even more out of sorts about the whole thing, Abby locked herself in her room and skillfully climbed out the window. Because the Earl had paid the hansom cab from the night before, Abby had enough pocket change left to get to Lucy's. It was too early for proper calling, but the butler knew she was welcome at Newcombe House whatever the hour. He led her without comment into the music room, where Lucy stopped playing the piano and turned toward her.

"Abby!" she exclaimed. "Where have you been? Meg and I were worried sick over you when you didn't come back yesterday."

Abby managed a weak smile and sank to a chair. "I didn't get the money back, Lucy."

"Oh, bother the money," said Lucy, impatiently. "What happened to you? You look pale and tired and unhappy."

"All three of those things? Really? Oh, my." Abby laughed tightly.

"Abby," said Lucy. "What is it?"

"I am getting married," Abby announced, trying to make light of it.

"Getting married? To whom?" asked Lucy, shocked.

"The Earl of Chesham. Do you know him?"

"Chesham?" she echoed. "No. Not really. He doesn't go about in society. However did you manage to meet him?"

"Oh, it's the funniest story. He ruined me in a brothel last night."

Lucy's jaw dropped. "He did what? I think it's time for the whole story, Abby."

"Sylvester did not go home to drop off the money, which ruined the whole plan. He went to a brothel."

Lucy regarded her with knowing disapproval. "And you went in, too."

"I had to, Lucy. I had to try to get your money."

"Who cares about my money? At the expense of your reputation?"

"I didn't think anything would happen." And she had been curious, awful as it was to admit it.

"Clearly you were mistaken."

"Yes. He...thought I was...you know."

Lucy looked horrified. "Abby! How awful for you!"

"Not really. I mean, he wasn't particularly ungentlemanly-"

"Not particularly ungentlemanly? Then why didn't he stop when you told him to?"

Because she had not really told him to stop. Maybe she had, hesitantly, begun to tell him to stop, but she had never really asserted herself. Instead, she had told him to do more of what he was doing. Had downright encouraged him. She was a terribly wicked woman, and she did not want to admit that to Lucy. "He didn't...I mean, we didn't get very far. But it doesn't matter. I was still ruined."

"Why should you be ruined? Abby, if it didn't get very far, surely the Earl would keep quiet about it and-"

"We can't keep quiet about it," wailed Abby. "Because my father walked in on our...misunderstanding."

"Your father?" repeated Lucy, frowning. "What was your father doing in a brothel?"

That was the first time Abby had thought to consider that question, as she had been far more concerned with what a mess her life was. But it gave her pause now. What had her father been doing in a brothel? Had he really been...? She shivered in horror. "Let's not think about that," she said. "We have to think about what I'm going to do."

"Do?" echoed Lucy.

"Yes. Well, obviously I can't marry him."

"Abby. You may not have any choice. Unless you have a white knight like Derrick ready to ride in and save you. You have been ruined. You will never be married."

"Maybe I don't want to get married." Abby shrugged negligently. "Maybe I want to do all sorts of things that I can't do as a married woman."

"Like what?" asked Lucy, dubiously.

"I don't know." Abby paused. "Maybe I wanted to fall in love. Maybe I wanted to be like you and Derrick. I don't know this man, Lucy. How can I go off and live with this man? What will I do?"

Lucy regarded her for a moment. "Let's ask Derrick," she decided, reaching for the servant's bell.

"Ask Derrick? Ask Derrick what?"

"Could you fetch my husband, please?" Lucy asked of the butler who appeared, then turned back to Abby. "Ask him about the Earl. Derrick knows him far better than the two of us."

"Does he?"

"I believe they belong to the same club."

"Did you ring for me, my love?" drawled the Earl of Newcombe, as he entered the room, then he said, catching sight of her, "Abby! I did not know you were here! Allow me to congratulate you! It really is a very fine catch, and I look forward to the story of how you accomplished it." Derrick St. Clair leaned over and took her hands in his and kissed her cheek warmly.

"Why are you congratulating her?" asked Lucy.

"She's getting married, isn't she?"

"How do you know that? Did the Earl of Chesham tell you that?"

Derrick regarded his wife blankly. "Chesham? No, I haven't heard from him. The announcement was in the newspaper this morning."

Abby's eyes widened. "In the newspaper? Oh, no! I shall never get out of it now."

"Get out of it?"

"The Earl of Chesham ruined her last night," proclaimed Lucy, firmly, as if daring Derrick to disagree.

Derrick dared. He lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "Ruined you? Did he really? That doesn't sound at all like Chesham."

"Do you know him?" asked Abby.

"Quite well. I was at Eton with him. And he is not much of a seducer. So he must be quite serious with you."

"He is not serious at all," remarked Abby, with scathing self-loathing. "I tricked him."


"I was in his room in a brothel."

"Chesham was at a brothel?"

"Yes," reported Abby, miserably.

"And so were you?"


"And he thought you were...?" Derrick regarded the sharply dressed, rosy cheeked, fresh faced woman in his music room, and chuckled in amusement. "You see? He makes that mistake because he never goes to brothels."

"I do hope you and the Earl of Chesham are similar in that regard," remarked Lucy, sternly.

Derrick sighed in her direction, decided that statement was not even worth a response. "How is Chesham taking this?"

"Who cares how Chesham is taking this?" snapped Lucy. "What about poor Abby?"

"Of course, Abby, I am sorry for this unexpected situation. But did you think any good would come of your going into a brothel? What were you doing in there, anyway?"

Abby hesitated, glanced at Lucy.

Derrick caught the glance. "Uh-oh." He looked at his wife. "What is this story? And why won't I like it?"

"I told Lucy to pay off Sylvester Green," Abby inserted, swiftly.

"Pay him off? What are you talking about?"

"He was threatening to-It doesn't matter. I promised Lucy I'd get the money back, and I couldn't get the money back without going into the brothel."

Derrick gave his wife a hard look. "We'll be discussing this later. You know that, don't you?"

"I do. For now, tell Abby what you know about the Earl of Chesham."

"What I know about him?"

"Yes. For instance, is he a nice man?"

"Nice? I suppose. I don't know. Do not ask me silly, feminine questions. He is a decent man. He won't beat you, Abby."

"Dear God!" exclaimed Lucy. "I should think we should set the bar a bit higher than that."

"Of course we do. But it is somewhere to start," replied Derrick.

Abby was not feeling any better. Indeed, she was feeling markedly worse. She stood up. "I hope you do not mind. I am going to return home."

"Really, Abby," said Derrick. "Congratulations. He is one of the best catches I can think of in the ton."

"I do not care about being a duchess, Derrick."

"And I do not mean because he is going to be a duke."

Abby looked over at Lucy. "Thank you for listening. I'll see myself out."

Derrick watched her sweep out of the room, then turned to his wife. "You sent her into a brothel?"

"Of course not. I didn't send her anywhere. You know how Abby can be once she sets her mind to something. Please don't try to make me feel guilty. I already feel badly enough about the whole situation."

"I'm not trying to make you feel guilty. But you should have come to me immediately with the Sylvester Green situation. What do I care what he tells other people?"

"I will not have people think I cuckolded you. I will not have people doubt your heir."

"What does it matter? I do not doubt my heir, and that is all that matters." Derrick leaned over her, kissed her fondly. "You, my silly, beautiful wife, should worry about nothing but my heir here. I will not allow Sylvester Green to upset you."

"He does not upset me." She reached her hand out, brushed it through his hair, down his cheek. "He only upsets me if he upsets you."

"He does not upset me." He kissed her forehead. "And don't worry about Abby, my love. She and Chesham might actually be fairly well-matched."

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