continued from previous page

 

The following entries can be found on the first page

The Rake's Reward by Cheryl Sneed
The Horniest Danger by Jenny Evans
The First Husbands Club by T.W. Lewis
Better the Devil You Know by Kimberly Borris

The following entries can be found on this page

The Elusively Flammable Flame: The Villain Explains All by Varina Martindale
Miss Bridget Jane's Diary by Amanda Grange
Forever in High School with DweebDawg by Carol Knowlton Irvin
Lord St. Lucifer and the Librarian by K.T. Shaw

The following entries can be found on the third page

Character Assassination by Phoebe Belsley
A Motive for Marriage by Helen Derbyshire
When A Pirate Bought Me Lunch by Emilie Conroy
Candy, the Vampire Slayer by Cassandra Dean

The following entries can be found on the fourth page

Embers of Surrender by Camilla Rayne
Universe Enough and Time by Astrid Chronopolis writing as Jane Doe
Tempted by Sweet Savage Love by Laura Cain
Overheated by Theresa Luke
Zachary-Zach's Babies by Twinkie Brite

An homage to Kathleen Woodiwiss as written by Varina Martindale:

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.

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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!"

"Who?"

"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.

A Regency Chick Lit diary as written by Amanda Grange, co-winner in 2003's contest:

Miss Bridget Jane's Diary

JANUARY 1st 1815

Erotic encounters with earls 0, Flowers arranged 175, Glasses of cooking sherry drunk 16, Brandies drunk 1, Pinches of snuff taken 24

Three pm
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.'
YES!

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.

Five pm
'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.

JANUARY 2nd

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.

JANUARY 3rd

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

12 noon
Refused syllabub after lunch. Am watching figure.

6 pm
Refused apple tart and cream after dinner. Am watching figure.

JANUARY 4th

Erotic encounters with earls 1, Flowers arranged 0, Pinches of snuff taken 0, Desserts refused 2

Noon
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.

One pm
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.

JANUARY 5th

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.

JANUARY 6th

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.

Noon
Ate three desserts after lunch. No point in watching figure if earl doesn't want to watch it too.

6 pm
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.

8pm
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.

JANUARY 7th

Erotic encounters with earl 3, Improving books read 0, Bottles of cooking sherry stolen 0, Bottles of champagne drunk 2

7am
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.
'Why?'
'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.'
'Your 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.

JANUARY 8th

10 am
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.

Dear Rachel,
Look in the Gazette and get a job at once.

JANUARY 9th

My last diary entry. Engaged career girls don't have time to write in diaries. They are too busy examining broom cupboards with earls.

Purple Prose as written by Carol Knowlton Irvin (and edited by the DweebDawg):

Forever in High School with DweebDawg

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."]

[Bingo 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."]

["Sure."]

[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."

"What?"

"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.

Purple Prose as written by K.T. Shaw:

Lord St. Lucifer and the Librarian

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."

"Iphegenia."

"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.

"Poor earl!" repeated Francesca. "I'll marry you."

He looked up at her, astonished.

"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."

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