Read an Excerpt
The Reluctant Reformer
By Lynsay Sands
Copyright © 2002
All right reserved.
London, March 1815
Maggie shifted her feet slightly, trying to ease the ache her
cramped position was causing in her legs. The small movement
was enough to bang her knees against the door of the armoire
she presently sat in, making it rattle. Wincing at the pain
that shot up her leg, Maggie was busily rubbing the appendage
when the cupboard door opened and soft candlelight spilled in
"Stop yer banging about, or ye'll be givin' away that yer in
"Daisy, is it?"
"Maisey," the girl corrected.
"Yes, well ... Maisey then," Maggie said. "This is all really
rather silly, and quite beyond the information for which I was
looking. All I really wanted was to -"
The sound of a rap at the door made Maggie pause, alarmed. The
young woman before her was startled too, but then steel seemed
to enter her eyes and she shoved Maggie firmly back into the
armoire. Maggie landed on her behind with a grunt.
"It's too late to be changing yer mind now, m'lady," she
announced. "Madame says yer to watch, and watch you will. Now
keep quiet," she hissed. The door closed with a decided snap.
Frowning, Maggie lifted a hand to push experimentally forward,
but the door stayed firmly shut. The girl had locked her in!
Well, this is just bloody beautiful, she thought irritably.
Brilliant! I do tend to get myself into fixes, don't I?
Not that she could have gotten out now, anyway. Maggie
considered herself a thoroughly modern young woman: highly
intelligent, independent, and uncaring of what others thought
of her - but only to a certain degree. Even she, thoroughly
modern as she was, hesitated to deliberately draw the wrath
and scorn of the ton down upon herself. Especially when she
merely had to sit quietly for a short time to avoid scandal
completely. Patience was not one of her natural virtues, but
she had been attempting to cultivate it of late.
She had barely finished that thought when it occurred to her
that she was crouching in a small armoire in one of the rooms
of the infamous Madame Dubarry's. This was a brothel for God's
sake! What she would learn in this room ... well, she just
shouldn't know yet! What's more, she certainly couldn't write
about it. Good Lord, how had she ended up here? Madame
Dubarry, of course. The woman had been slow to warm to the
idea of allowing Maggie to interview her and some of her girls
for a story for the Daily Express. Once Madame had agreed to
the undertaking, however, she had become quite enthusiastic.
"You must witness this, Lady Maggie," she'd said. "Really, you
must. You shall thank me for it, I promise."
Before Maggie could even collect herself enough to ask what
she must see and why, they had reached this chamber. Madame
had shoved her inside, installed her in the cupboard with
admonishments to remain quiet and see, then had instructed
young Maisey that Maggie was to witness the night's
Really, had she been a bit quicker, Maggie might have managed
to flee the room before Maisey's customer arrived. Now it
appeared she was quite stuck.
The man's voice struck a chord of recognition within her. It
sounded amazingly like ... Her gaze slid to the crack despite
her best intentions, and Maggie drew her breath in with a
hiss. Good Lord, it was him: Pastor Frances. Her eyes narrowed
on the man. She had just been discussing the fact that he was
paying her court, and that she thought he might soon propose,
when Madame Dubarry had rushed her up here. Maggie was
distracted from further thought by an odd question from
"Who am I to be tonight, m'lord? Yer mother?"
Maggie's eyes widened in shocked dismay at that, but they
nearly fell out of her head at Frances's answer.
"Nay. Tonight you shall be my dear Margaret."
"Sweet Lady Wentworth, is it?" Maggie was almost too shocked
by Frances' presence to notice the irony in the young
prostitute's voice. Almost. "The woman who personifies the
very word 'lady'? The woman who never sets a foot wrong? Who
is discretion herself?"
"Aye, my sweet Maggie. I have decided to propose to her. I
arranged to take her to the Cousin's ball tonight. I shall
propose to her afterward. I believe she will accept."
"Fine, then. Ye step on out into the hall, and I shall change.
Give me five minutes, then knock."
"Why must I wait in the hall?" Frances whined.
"Well, ye want it to be as if ye were proposing to Lady
Wentworth, don't ye? Would she dress in front of ye? Get on
with ye. I'll only be a minute, and this will seem more real."
Through the crack, Maggie saw Maisey usher Frances out of the
room as firmly as she herself had been shoved into the
armoire. The prostitute closed the door behind the pastor with
a snap, then locked it. She was a no-nonsense type of woman,
"Thank God!" Maggie burst out of the armoire as Maisey
unbolted it. " Now get me out of here."
"You know where the door is," came Maisey's unconcerned
response. The young woman was digging through her clothing,
picking up and discarding gown after gown.
Maggie frowned and glanced from the door to the girl. "I can
hardly exit that way. Pastor Frances is out there."
"Then, I guess ye'll just have to get back in the closet,
won't ye?" Maisey snapped, discarding yet another gown.
Maggie looked desperately around the room. "There simply has
to be a way out of here."
"There isn't," the girl assured her. "Unless ye can fly out
"The window!" Maggie hurried over to it, then pushed it open
and leaned out. They were on the third floor. The ground was a
long way down. She was about to give up on the idea when her
gaze dropped to the wall, and she saw a ledge a couple of feet
below the window. It was just wide enough that she could walk
it if she were careful. She would be careful, she decided.
"Here!" Maisey grabbed her arm as Maggie sat on the sill and
made to climb out. "What? Are ye daft? Ye'll break yer bones
jumpin' from here." "I am not going to jump," Maggie hissed
with exasperation, tugging her arm free. "I am going to walk
that ledge to the next room, climb in through the window
there, and get away."
Leaning out, Maisey peered down, her eyes widening slightly in
surprise. "Oh well." The girl hesitated slightly, her gaze
calculating, then announced, "Well, that would be nice,
wouldn't it? Except that Lady X and Lord Hastings are in one
of the rooms next door. Yer climbin' in on them would cause
the scandal of the decade."
Maggie frowned at the news. Everyone, absolutely everyone, had
heard of the infamous Lady X. She was the most famous of
Agatha Dubarry's prostitutes, and as such, Maggie had not been
allowed to speak to her, though she had caught a glimpse of
the woman earlier while interviewing the others. From what she
had spied, Lady X was a lovely blonde with a perfect figure,
full lips and deep mysterious eyes. That was all she had seen.
Actually, it was all anyone ever saw. Her face was always
covered by a blazing red mask that never came off. Men paid
highly for the privilege of bedding her, each trying to
discover her true identity, but no one had yet figured it out.
It was rumored that the woman was actually a lady of nobility
who worked thusly on the side to help shore her family's
sagging coffers. While many disputed the idea, claiming that
surely no lady would risk being discovered in such an
endeavor, there were enough men willing to dig deep into their
pockets to try to find out, and Madame Dubarry was doing very
Maggie definitely did not need the scandal of walking in on
the woman while she was entertaining, especially Lord
Hastings, one of the most distinguished royal councilors.
"Which room are they in?" she asked.
Maisey smiled, the expression of a cat that had cornered a
mouse. "Let me use your gown."
Maggie stiffened, then shook her head. "I shall find out for
myself," she declared. Sliding her legs over onto the window
ledge, she straightened slowly, clinging nervously to the sill
as she fought to maintain her balance.
"Have it your way," Maisey said with amusement, watching. "But
it does look a long way down, and I know I shouldn't like to
make it all the way along that ledge to a window, simply to
have to turn back and travel twice the distance to another."
At Maggie's obvious uncertainty, Maisey pressed her advantage.
"'Tis just a gown. I'll give ye one o' me own to wear in its
place. Then, I'll send yers back to ye first thing on the
morrow, once it's been cleaned."
Maggie took in the hopeful gaze of the prostitute, peered at
the ground such a long way down, then shifted cautiously on
the ledge. Her mind was made up by her jumping stomach.
Cursing under her breath, she maneuvered back into the room
and eyed Maisey unhappily. "The other room is empty, is it
not?" The prostitute nodded solemnly.
"Fine. But -" A tap at the door cut her off, and both women
glanced over sharply as the doorknob jiggled. Thankfully,
Maisey had locked it.
"Are you ready yet, my dear?" Frances cooed in a sickening
tone. Maggie had never heard it from the usually dignified
"Oh, keep yer pants on, I'm hurryin' as fast as I can," Maisey
snapped, then grimly turned to Maggie. "Well?"
"Oh ... stuff!" Maggie huffed. She set to work disrobing as
quickly as she could. Looking pleased, Maisey began to undress
as well. The two worked in virtual silence until Maggie got
her gown off. She handed it over, then crossed her arms,
rubbing them as goose bumps began to form on her flesh.
"I will be recognized anyway if my face is seen. Oh, why did I
leave my veil Madame Dubarry's drawing room?"
Whirling, Maisey hurried to her armoire, returning a moment
later with a plain red silk mask for Maggie to wear. "Here,
put this on. With the mask, my clothes, and yer cloak, ye
should escape all right."
Maggie glanced at it curiously. "Is this Lady X's mask?"
"Nay. Mine. Lady X's mask is far fancier."
Maisey helped her climb back out onto this ledge, hissing that
Lady X and Lord Hastings were in the room on the left. She
then hurried to away to attend the impatiently pounding
Relieved to be out of her predicament, Maggie had immediately
inched along the ledge to the next window, expecting to find
the room empty. Unfortunately, what she had not realized was
that Maisey had been referring to her own left which, of
course, with Maggie clinging to the wall facing her, was
Maggie's right. Which meant Maggie should have gone right.
Which she hadn't. She had come all this way for nothing, for
while curtains shrouded the window making the images beyond
blurred and foggy, they were discernible enough to tell it was
two people engaged in the most energetic round of ride the
pony it had ever been Maggie's misfortune to witness.
She forced herself to move past the window and continue on
toward the next one along the wall.
# # # James stood uncomfortably inside the foyer at Madame
Dubarry's, waiting impatiently for Johnstone to conclude his
whispered conversation with the Madame herself. Ramsey had
already been approached by, and turned down the offers of,
three of the madame's girls, one of whom had offered to do a
thing or two that he had never considered trying before. He
certainly did not wish to attempt it now, here in this place.
"It's done, yer lordship. Madame says Lady X is with Lord
Hastings now, but you can have a go at her next."
"I do not intend to 'have a go at her,' as you so delicately
put it," James hissed.
A flicker of irritation crossed Johnstone's face before he
controlled it. "I didn't think you would, my lord. But I could
hardly tell her ye wished to kidnap the girl, now could I?"
"I am not kidnapping her. I am rescuing her."
"Surely you didn't think to march out the front door with her,
did ye? Dubarry ain't gonna like that. The girl is her golden
"Ah, yes." James sighed; then he too stared at the clock on
the wall. Ten minutes.
# # # Maggie grabbed the edge of the window with relief and
paused to rest her face on the cold glass. She was sweating.
Amazingly enough, she was more terrified of falling than of
discovery - which was amazing because she could remember a
time when the prospect of social ruin had been more frightful
than anything. But that had been when she could afford such
pretty concerns as her reputation, before she'd had the burden
of so many lives piled on her shoulders. "Damn you, Gerald,
for dying anyway," she cursed in a whisper, then immediately - if silently - apologized
to her poor brother for cussing him
so. Gerald had loved life. Every moment of the short time he
had spent on earth he had lived as if it might be his last. He
had not complained when he was ordered off to fight Napoleon.
And she had no doubt he had given his life in battle with as
much passion and as little regret as he had lived. It was just
too damn bad he'd been forced to leave her in such a fix.
# # # "Lord Ramsey, we'll have to sneak her down the back
stairs and smuggle her through the kitchen."
James nodded at Johnstone's suggestion. After a brief but
thorough examination of the brothel, it did indeed seem the
best way to get the girl out. "Go have my driver move the
carriage to the alley," he instructed, his eyes on the clock
in the hall. "Hastings's time is up. I'll go see if he has
Nodding, Johnstone hurried away toward the front door and
James started upstairs. He was at the top of the steps before
he realized that the runner hadn't told him in which room Lady
X was supposed to be. He was about to return down stairs to
ask Madame Dubarry, when he changed his mind. He would
recognize Hastings. Everyone knew of Hastings, if not in
person, then by reputation. He was second only to the king in
power. Whichever room Hastings exited was the one he sought.
He had just come to that conclusion when the thud of a door
made him turn back around on the landing. A glance up the hall
showed Hastings strolling jauntily toward him, whistling under
his breath as he straightened his cravat. James almost cursed
aloud. He had been too slow and couldn't be sure from which
room the man had come. There were several possibilities.
He would try them all, he decided resolutely. Giving Hastings
a curt nod, he moved purposely past him to set about his work.
# # # The thud of a closing door, tore Maggie from her
thoughts, and she glanced through the window into the empty
room to which she had inched. If her thoughts had distracted
her so long that this room was now occupied too, she thought
she might very well throw up. She did not think she had the
stamina or nerve to traverse the length of the ledge again. It
was with some relief that she saw the room appeared empty.
Letting her breath out, she reached down, opened the window,
and silently slipped inside. Now that they were on solid
ground, her legs were more than just a bit rubbery. Ordering
them to stand firm, Maggie strode quickly across the room,
pausing at the door to take a breath and listen for sounds in
the hallway. When she heard only silence, she eased the door
open. Maggie was about to step out of the room when she
recalled the mask Maisey had given her. She had shoved it in
her pocket in her rush to finish dressing and escape. It would
be better to wear the thing. So thinking, she turned back into
the room and started to lift the flimsy red silk mask to her
face. Her eyes fell on a bed and a woman gaping at her from
the shadows within. The two females goggled at each other
briefly, then the sound of footsteps in the hall reminded
Maggie that she had to get out of here. She quickly finished
raising the mask to her face, tied the strings of it in place,
then slipped from the room without a murmur of apology.
She had just finished pulling the door closed when a hand slid
around her from behind, covering her mouth and smothering her
startled cry. She was lifted bodily, bundled in her cape, and
carted swiftly down the hall.
Excerpted from The Reluctant Reformer
by Lynsay Sands
Copyright © 2002 by Lynsay Sands .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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