Read an Excerpt
Marry the Man Today
Tend to his every part in the bath, dear reader,
fondle his manly shapes, linger where he seems
to most enjoy your touch.
Elizabeth Dunaway, Unbridled Embraces; or Fifty Proven Techniques for an Intimate Marriage, 1852
Whitehall, London, England
"From now on, Blakestone, you'll just have to watch her like a bloody hawk."
"Of course, Lord Aberdeen." Ross Carrington, the first Earl of Blakestone, was finding it difficult to conceal a snort at the prime minister's unnecessary warning. "However, if I watch her any more closely, I'm liable to cause an international incident. We can't risk that."
And Ross had deflected too many of those lately for his luck to hold much longer.
"Fine, Blakestone, but just don't let her get the upper hand in the situation."
"I won't, Aberdeen," Ross said, "no matter how outrageous her royal demands." He turned pointedly from the tall windows that overlooked the wide expanse of Whitehall and its bustling midday traffic to look at Drew Wexford, a lifelong friend who surely understood the royal mind like none other.
The man had married one two years ago.
Drew leaned back in his chair and laughed in that maddeningly contented, happily married way that had overtaken him. "She's not the least bit shy about asking for the impossible -- "
"Exactly what I'm afraid of, Wexford," Lord Clarendon said, dropping into a chair. He picked up a troop report and fanned his wilted face. "We can't bend to her."
"Nor is she at all shy about putting us inone untenable position after another." The First Lord of the Admiralty launched himself out of his chair.
Aberdeen threw up his hands. "Never stopping to consider the cost of her conceit to anyone around her."
"Completely irresponsible," sputtered Lord Weldon.
"Molly coddled at every turn!" Clarendon shook his fist toward the ceiling.
"Gentlemen, please!" Ross said through his clenching jaw. "Anyone would believe that we were gossiping about a beautiful woman instead of thrashing over the wiles of Mother Russia and her scheming tsar, Nicholas."
"Now, there's a pity we're not, Blakestone." Lord Aberdeen grunted, scratching at his steely gray temple. "At least with a beautiful woman we could dazzle her speechless with a bauble or two. That bastard Nicholas wants the whole of the Ottoman Empire all to himself."
"Careful, Aberdeen," Jared Hawkesly said with a slow grin from the sprawling comfort of his chair. "If you value your life and your fortune, you'll never let my Kate hear you be so flip about a woman."
"Or my Caro," Drew added. "I learned the hard way that an angry ex-princess can be just as deadly as one with a glittering crown and an empire of her own."
"You'd best take heed, Aberdeen," Ross said, feeling singularly distracted by a curious noise drifting through the window. A clattering rumble from the direction of Trafalgar Square, though he couldn't quite place the exact nature of the sound.
"No need for your kind warnings, gentlemen," Aberdeen said, "I've partnered both ladies in whist and now refuse to play against them."
Deadlier than the male, Ross was going to say. But he now found himself intrigued by the rising sounds in the street. He pulled aside the sheering drapes and, feeling like a lunatic, leaned partially out the window.
What the devil?
A cluster of people had formed up into a parade of some sort at the upper end of Whitehall. Now they were beginning to walk south toward the Admiralty.
Four abreast, six lines, a limp banner lagging between two of the marchers. And a half-dozen signs being jabbed into the air. None of the words readable yet.
Because the mob consisted entirely of women.
"I just don't know what's wrong with these young ladies of today," Lord Weldon said in a voice as rattling as the tremors in his hands. "Seem to have grown minds of their own. No respect for an old man's opinion."
"All the fault of permissive fathers, I say." The Lord Admiral clacked the bowl of his pipe against the fireplace grate. "Give a young woman an inch and she takes the whole of the street and half the curb."
Indeed, all of Whitehall. Ross nearly laughed out loud as the carefully lettered signage came into sharp focus from the street below.
Liberty! Equality! Sorority!
And in the vanguard, one sign was being thrust repeatedly into the air like a galvanizing call to arms, the most preposterous sentiment of the lot:
Votes for Women!Marry the Man Today. Copyright © by Linda Needham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.