When genteel poverty strikes Lady Charlotte’s family, the innocent virgin puts herself on the auction block at Madame Bella’s school for mistresses in a desperate bid to provide a Season for her younger sisters. For her plan to succeed, she must show auction winner, Lucas Morgan, what a valuable prize he’s won. Morgan may have only bid on her to thwart his hated twin brother, but she’s going to prove she’s worth every pound.
“Mistress in the Making” September 28, 2011 from Ellora’s Cave
3 stars from Romantic Times
5 stars from MizLovesBooks
“Do I hear one thousand?”
Madame Bella’s overly floral scent floated up to Charlotte’s position on the newly erected dais, forcing her to hold her breath, lest she get sick. Nothing would lower the bidding like the sight of her casting her crumpets all over her royal-blue, slightly vulgar gown. Charlotte tried to hide a nervous giggle and focus on smiling prettily at all the assembled gentleman never allowing one in particular to catch her eye. Better she maintain the pretense that they weren’t real flesh-and-blood men who eyed her as if she were their next meal. There’d be time enough for that later, when she belonged to one of them.
“One thousand five hundred.”
Madame Bella paused to acknowledge the bid from a man in the corner. The sudden slight English inflection told Charlotte, the madam was surprised by this latest bidder, but didn’t outwardly show it other than losing the French accent she claimed was real.
“Show your bosom,” called a voice from the crowd. “How am I to know to know if she’s worth a bid?”
Charlotte lifted her chin and let her coy smile stretch, planting her sisters’ images in her mind. She did this for them. For them she could do anything. Thank goodness Madame had allowed her to switch places with Elizabeth. When she’d arrived at Madame’s doorstep instead of Elizabeth, she risked everything, but luckily Madame relented and agreed to train her instead of her younger, prettier sister.
Lavish, crimson velvet draperies hung inches away giving her comfort that she’d grab them if her knees crumpled as they currently threatened. It was a false hope. She’d seen George hang those draperies this morning. Barely more than a thin nail apiece held them aloft, giving the dais the appearance of a stage and her as a prima donna on display. More likely, she’d pull the curtains down with her.
There was an endless, infinite pause as Madame turned to her for an assessing glance before turning a coquettish smile to the heckler. Her smile reminded most men in the room why she’d been the toast of London mistresses before retiring and opening her “finishing” school.
“I promise you, Charlene is worth every sovereign and more. She’s my best pupil. I considered keeping her on as my assistant teacher.”
Charlotte nearly snorted at Madame’s lie, but barely started at the sound of her new name. If caring for the other girls and reading every book in her library meant top marks in Madame’s mind, then yes, she was a top pupil. Somehow she doubted they valued the same qualities.
Madame continued berating the loud-mouth. “Seeing as you haven’t got a ha-penny to your name, it is unlikely you’ll ever see a hint of any bosoms in this venue,” she said, quickly turning away from the heckler and back to the bidding.
Madame stepped onto the dais and fisted a lock of Charlotte’s hair. “Like silk gentleman. And the color? Pure gold.” Charlotte stood as still as possible while Madame detailed each of her features. She’d never thought about her breasts being a perfect handful, but she supposed Madame knew what gentleman liked.
Most of the offers now seemed to be coming from the same two men, both seemingly opposites in position and temperament. One of the higher-bidding gentleman, stood surrounded by cronies and hangers-on. His old-gold coat bespoke of wealth and a fine valet. The group of men surrounding him drank heavily and made lewd jokes. The man at the center preened and played to his loyal audience. The other man lurked alone in a dark corner, kept even more hidden by his black coat and hat, which he’d kept on in the house.
More offers flew, the numbers going higher than Charlotte ever dreamed a man could earn in a lifetime. The dapper gentleman, surrounded by his friends, stepped closer to the dais with each offering, and even she heard the competitiveness in his voice. He didn’t really want her. He wanted to win.
A shudder rippled through her at the thought of bodily belonging to such a man. Would he ride her like a prize horse and leave her out to pasture when she’d outrun her usefulness? According to Madame, yes.
One last bid came from the shadows where the hidden bidder stood. A sum so astronomical, Charlotte cringed knowing she’d never live up to the price. The things he would expect from her. She couldn’t possibly…but she’d have to. Her sisters, she repeated silently. She did this for her sisters. And she’d cut out a person’s tongue if they ever told her sisters she’d turned into a whore, albeit, a highly coveted one, to support them through a season in London.
The crowd of wealthy gentleman stirred uneasily as the loser of the auction slammed his glass full of amber liquid to the carpet. A few stray drops landed on the hem of her dress. Madame Bella gestured frantically behind her back for her to join her on common ground to soothe the gentleman’s ire, but before she took more than a few steps off her auction block, a leather-clad hand landed heavily on her forearm.
“Excuse…” She broke off at the realization that the hand belonged to the auction winner, her new protector. He allowed her no room to catch her bearings, but swept her alongside him as he strode toward the now-cursing loser.
“You promised me, Bella.” The auction loser loomed over Madame Bella, seeming to physically threaten her.
Charlotte shrank back into the protective shadow of her new lord and master who showed no outward sign of fear at the ugly outburst. If anything he seemed bored.
“Is there a problem?” His smooth, deep voice conjured images of reading in a toasty-warm library, snuggled in a large chair surrounded by walls of books. Her idea of heaven on earth.
“Yes, there is a problem, but it’s none of your damn business. This is between me and Bella.” The man kept glaring at Madame.
“I’m afraid I have to disagree, brother.”
Charlotte jerked her head to stare up at the man in black, startled by the hatred she heard hidden by the mild tone. If she hadn’t been pressed in close enough to feel the tautness of his muscles, she’d never have guessed he cared in the slightest about the ensuing scene.
“Brother?” Finally, the man stopped his abuse of Madame Bella and turned to face them. His eyes narrowed. “Lucas? You’re alive?”