How could a woman worthy and intelligent enough to warrant being a heroine in one of my books find fulfillment in a society which considered only a rudimentary education for girls sufficient? The merest slur upon her reputation could render her unmarriageable when becoming a wife, or a nun, were the only acceptable paths for which she’d been groomed since birth.
Even if she came from a wealthy family, a woman had no financial independence. Whether she was married or single, her father, brother or husband controlled the purse strings and decided her allowance. If she were from a poor family and had to work for wages, her husband owned what she earned. If he drank the proceeds, was violent to wife and children and she ran away, the law was on his side. Like the chattel or property she was, she belonged to him and would be returned, if found. If the marriage broke down, the children belonged to him.
It wasn’t until 1870 when the first Married Women’s Property Act was passed, that married women were entitled to keep their own earnings.
If a woman was single and working, she earned a fraction of what men earned. In the garment industry, which had a predominantly female workforce, it was common that even sixteen-hour days would not earn a woman enough to pay the bills. Supplementing these meagre wages by selling her body was often her only means of survival and accounted for the high number of prostitutes and street walkers recorded by mid-Victorian British social researcher and journalist Henry Mayhew in his detailed reports on London’s Working Poor and London’s Underworld.
It wasn’t until the Act of 1882 that married women were given the same rights over their property as unmarried women (though this property was generally administered by their closest male relative.) Prior to this, any property a woman owned, which could include land, houses and homes, automatically passed into the ownership of her husband upon marriage. Finally, the second 1893 Act gave married women control of any kind of property acquired during marriage, such as an inheritance.
A woman really didn’t have much room in which to manoeuvre. Trading on her looks, natural cunning and wit, combined with a bit of luck in getting away with how daring she was prepared to be, often determined how successful and happy she might find herself.
I had a lot of fun writing Dangerous Gentlemen, knowing how much my heroine has to lose by first taking a risk, then being caught out in a double life. Hetty, a viscount’s daughter, once counted on a handsome dowry to win her a husband, a passport to what she’d believed would be a life of ease. But the financial difficulties of her father have made her future uncertain. Now she believes she’ll be denied the love match she’s set her heart on – losing out to her beautiful elder sister – so that when she inadvertently lands herself in hot water, she makes a rash decision, as alluded to in the premise below:
Shy, plain Hetty was the wallflower beneath his notice…until a terrible mistake has one dangerous, delicious rake believing she's the prostitute he ordered.
And this response from Natalie at Romantic Historical Reviews was just what I’d hoped for: "I have to be honest; when I first read the description of Dangerous Gentlemen, I was a little incredulous. It seemed to be an impossibly tall order! How, in Regency London, with all its rules and societal restrictions, was Ms Oakley going create a scenario where a respectable, wallflower, débutante who is barely ready for the spotlight could be mistaken for a prostitute? Well, it turns out not only does Oakley manage it but she does so without making all the characters seem like 21st century people masquerading as Regency characters."
Like my heroine, I was taking risks when I wrote this story, the ending of which I’ve revised since it was first published by Ellora’s Cave several years ago. I hope you enjoy it.
***Dangerous Gentlemen is available as a pre-order until it releases on January 21, and only 99c until February 3.
Beverley is giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate and 1 ebook of Her Gilded Prison (Book 1 in the Daughters of Sin). Please use the RaffleCopter below to enter. Remember you may increase your chances of winning by visiting the other tour stops. Those locations may be found here.
Daughters of Sin Book 2
By Beverley Oakley
Shy, self-effacing Henrietta knows her place—in her dazzling older sister’s shadow. She’s a little brown peahen to Araminta’s bird of paradise. But when Hetty mistakenly becomes embroiled in the Regency underworld, the innocent debutante finds herself shockingly compromised by the dashing, dangerous Sir Aubrey, the very gentleman her heart desires. And the man Araminta has in her cold, calculating sights.
Branded an enemy of the Crown, bitter over the loss of his wife, Sir Aubrey wants only to lose himself in the warm, willing body of the young “prostitute” Hetty. As he tutors her in the art of lovemaking, Aubrey is pleased to find Hetty not only an ardent student, but a bright, witty and charming companion.
Despite a spoiled Araminta plotting for a marriage offer and a powerful political enemy damaging his reputation, Aubrey may suffer the greatest betrayal at the hands of the little “concubine” who’s managed to breach the stony exterior of his heart.
[In this extract, Hetty, a debutante and viscount’s daughter, is returning from the mending room at a ball when she learns that a certain interesting and ‘dangerous gentleman’ is a house-guest.]
With a furtive look around her, Hetty hurried left and up the stairs, at which point two corridors at right angles disappeared into darkness. Choosing the one to the right, she found herself face-to-face with a series of closed doors.
Foolish, she chided herself. Of course they were closed and she could hardly open them. As she turned back toward the ballroom, a faint light shining from the crack beneath a door that was slightly ajar gleamed beckoningly.
Glancing over her shoulder, she approached it, and when she gave the door a little nudge with her foot, it swung open.
Excitement rippled through her.
“Hello?” she asked in a low voice. She took another step into the room. “Is anyone in here?”
Silence. A low fire burned in the grate before which was a table, against which were propped several items, including a familiar silver-topped cane. Her breath caught. The last time she’d seen that cane was when Sir Aubrey had exchanged several words with Araminta in the street as Hetty had been bringing up the rear with Mrs. Monks. Of course Sir Aubrey had not looked twice at her, excusing himself before having to be introduced to the younger sister and the chaperone who’d nearly closed the gap.
Heart hammering, Hetty closed the door behind her and went to pick up the cane.
How fortunate to have stumbled into Sir Aubrey’s room, she thought when she observed the fine coat lying upon the bed, apparently discarded in favor of what he was wearing tonight.
He really was a nonpareil, wearing his clothes as if they were an extension of his athletic physique.
Yet he was dangerous, she had to remind herself. Meaning she should not be here, which of course she shouldn’t, regardless of whether he was dangerous or not.
But how such a scion of good breeding and genteel society could be guilty of such a heinous crime as treason, Hetty could not imagine. And surely the story of the runaway wife was a gilded one. It was all the stuff of make-believe and Cousin Stephen was only telling Hetty he was dangerous to curb her schoolroom daydreams.
Turning, she saw half protruding from beneath the suit of clothes what appeared to be the edge of a silver, filigreed box. It was partly obscured by the overhang of the counterpane, as if it hadn’t properly been returned to its hiding place.
A moment’s indecision made her pause but soon Hetty was crouching on the floor, closing clammy fingers around the box. Might it contain secrets? Ones that would reveal, conclusively, what Cousin Stephen claimed was true?
Alternatively, proof that would exonerate Sir Aubrey?
Hetty fumbled for the catch. Dear Lord, this was too exciting for words. Perhaps Sir Aubrey was a secret agent working for the English, and Stephen had no idea.
Perhaps he was—
Protesting door hinges made her squeal as the door was flung wide. Hetty let the lid of the box fall and retreated into the shadows as Sir Aubrey strode into the room.
He was breathing heavily as he shrugged off his jacket with a curse, raindrops spattering into the hissing fire as he raked his fingers through his hair. A curious stillness overtook him and he froze, obviously sensing all was not as he left it.
He sniffed the air. “Orange flower water,” he muttered, stepping closer to the fire, fumbling for the tinderbox on the mantelpiece to light a candle.
Immediately he was thrown into sharp relief and as he stared at Hetty, it was not his look of shock and suspicion that made her scream—but the copious amounts of blood that stained his shirtsleeves and once snowy linen cravat.
“God Almighty, who are you?” he demanded as his gaze raked her finery. “You’re no parlor maid, that’s for certain.”
Gaping, unable to formulate a sensible answer, Hetty finally managed, “What happened to your arm, Sir Aubrey? Are you injured?”
“Sir Aubrey, is it? So you know who I am but you still haven’t told me who you are?” He grunted as he looked down at his arm, the bloodied linen shredded over the long graze. “It’s not as bad as it looks and I assure you, I gave a good account of myself.” His laugh was more a sneer. “Indeed, my assailant lies dead in the gutter.”
Hetty gasped. “Dueling?” Myriad questions crowded her mind. Could this be to do with Araminta? Had Sir Aubrey left Araminta in the middle of the ball to fight some other contender for her affections?
“Dueling?” he repeated. He shook his head and Hetty drew back at the coldness in his eyes. “There was nothing noble about my activities this evening. I was set upon in a dark alley. A short scuffle ensued, I drew my knife, then…” With his hand, he made a gesture like the slitting of his throat, adding, “I am slightly wounded but as I said, my attacker does not live to repeat the insult.”
Her horror clearly amused him, for his eyes narrowed while his generous mouth quirked. He looked like an incarnation of the most handsome demon she’d ever seen depicted in the fairy stories she loved to read.
“We all have enemies, madam. Enemies who must be eliminated if we are to breathe freely.”
***Aubrey was enjoying the girl’s wide-eyed terror. No doubt she imagined he’d sliced the throat of a footpad, not the snarling, mangy cur who had leapt upon him as he’d been returning from his brief assignation to settle a gaming debt incurred by his favorite reprobate nephew.
Taking pity on her, he said reassuringly, “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.’ Her wide-eyed look as he removed first his jacket, then the bloodied shirt he tossed upon the bed before he rose to his full height, bare chested, afforded him the most amusement he’d had in a long time. “So, you’re the girl Madame Chambon sent?”
Beverley Oakley was seventeen when she bundled up her first her 500+ page romance and sent it to a publisher. Unfortunately drowning her heroine on the last page was apparently not in line with the expectations of romance readers so Beverley became a journalist.
Twenty-six years later Beverley was delighted to receive her first publishing contract from Robert Hale (UK) for a romance in which she ensured her heroine was saved from drowning in the icy North Sea.
Since 2009 Beverley has written more than thirteen historical romances filled with mystery, intrigue and adventure. Most are set in London ballrooms and country estates during the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras.
Beverley lives with her husband, two daughters and a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy the size of a pony opposite a picturesque nineteenth-century lunatic asylum. She also writes less steamy historicals and romantic suspense set in Colonial Africa, where she was born, as Beverley Eikli.
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