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As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I have a new book out. Lady Westbrook’s Discovery is my second book (and my favourite but don’t tell His Lordship’s Apprentice that. I don’t want them fighting.)
Set in England in 1870, it is about a 41 year-old widow, Lady Margaret Westbrook who meets a charming young scientist, Felix Oliver, when he comes to her house to give a lecture on electricity to the members of the Waverley Ladies Society.
She has put all notions of romance far behind her so when Felix – a man 15 years her junior – proposes to court her, she refuses to entertain the idea. They agree to become friends instead and at the time of the excerpt below, Felix has just spent an agreeable few days as Margaret’s friend and house guest. But he loves her. And settling for friendship was never going to work as a long term solution…
“I should be delighted to visit you whenever you will have me, Lady Westbrook. I am glad to have you as a friend.”
“And I you. Since you have put your ridiculous and unthinkable notion of courtship behind you and we can move on from that silliness…”
“Silliness?” said Felix before he could stop himself. Don’t say a word, he chided himself. You intended to come here as a friend not a suitor. He took a sip of his drink and counted to ten. “Oh dash it all,” he said as he realised that he was just going to plough ahead anyway.
“Lady Westbrook,” he said, “you put me in a difficult position. I had resolved not to do this as I had no wish to offend you further. But then you used words like ‘unthinkable’ and ‘silliness’, and I feel that I must speak up. I assure you that I was quite, quite serious. My feelings have not changed in that regard. In fact, our time together over the last few days has just served to convince me further that you are the person with whom I would wish to spend the rest of my life.”
Felix set down his drink and dropped to one knee in front of Lady Westbrook. She raised her hands to her mouth, her eyes widening in alarm.
“Lady Westbrook, would you do me the great honour of consenting to be my wife?”
Lady Westbrook stood speechless in front of him.
Well done, old man, he said to himself. You’ve really done it now. So much for deciding that you’d be happy to accept her friendship. She’ll probably never want to see you again after this.
“Are you serious?” Lady Westbrook asked.
“I assure you I have never been more so.”
“Because I love you, of course.”
“But marriage …. it’s unthinkable.”
“Mm. You used that word before. I don’t find it unthinkable, at all. In fact I find it remarkably easy to think about. The thought of you becoming my wife is, I confess, something I think about rather a lot.”
“But it’s so ridiculous! You’re half my age.”
Felix laughed. “No I’m not. Call yourself an adherer of scientific methods? You should be a bit more exact in your mathematics, then. If you were twice my age, you would be 52 and you are a long way off that, still.”
Lady Westbrook started pacing around the conservatory in an agitated state. Felix stood from his kneeling position and watched as she took her handkerchief and twisted it anxiously between her fingers.
“Forty-one or fifty-two, what difference does it make? I’m far too old for you. You should marry a young woman with whom you can start a family.”
“I have no wish to start a family. I am wholly indifferent to the idea of having children. Luckily, coming from a large family myself, there is no expectation on me to produce an heir to the Earldom. I was already eighth in line for the position when I was born. My brothers’ ever increasing families have pushed me down to something like twenty-fifth in the pecking order. Even if by some extraordinary twist of fate my armies of brothers, nephews and nieces prove insufficient, my two sisters and their numerous children are right behind me. Believe me when I say that not having children will not be a problem.”
“Speaking of heirs, this is Robert’s home, you know. It’s the family seat and belongs to the current Lord Westbrook. To be honest, the idea of my moving out has never been discussed, but I could hardly carry on living here with a new husband.”
“We’d find somewhere new to live. I am doing all right for myself, what with lectures and the books I’ve published. I live well below my means at present. It might not be quite the splendour to which you’ve been accustomed, but I think I could keep you very comfortably.”
“You would keep me? Of course, I must always rely on a man to keep me. First my father, then my husband, now my son. And next, you.”
Felix felt his heart lift a little at these words. She really did sound like she was considering the idea even if she was being belligerent about it.
“Do you not like my talking of keeping you? I could send you out to work to earn your keep if it would make you happier. And would vacating Westbrook Manor be so bad? Surely, Lord Westbrook will be taking a wife himself soon enough and will expect to move back here.”
“Well yes, I hadn’t planned to stay here once Robert returned from the army. I don’t want to move away entirely though. Waverley is my home.”
“I would be more than happy to live in Waverley,” said Felix. “In fact, Colonel Huffington told me yesterday that he will be putting his house on the market as he intends to return to live in India. Would that house suit you?”
“Oh it’s not just the house. The boys would be horrified by the idea of my marrying a man not much older than them. And what would other people in the neighbourhood say? There would be a scandal.”
She had paced to the end of the conservatory, reached the back wall and turned round. Felix followed her there and they now stood face-to-face. He put a steadying hand on each of her shoulders.
“I don’t believe for a moment that you are worried about what the busybodies of Waverley will think. Let them be scandalised.”
Lady Westbrook stood still; she had stopped frantically twisting her handkerchief. She stared back at him.
“I don’t need to get married,” she said quietly.
“No more do I. Let’s consider what we want instead.”
Their eyes remained locked for several minutes. It seemed to Felix that time had stopped entirely.
“Would you beat me if we were married?” she said.
“What?” Whatever he had been expecting her to say next, it wasn’t that.
“The first time we met, you told me that you thought it a good idea for men to spank their wives. You said that if I were your wife, you would spank me.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“Of course I thought you were speaking entirely rhetorically at the time. It’s funny how things turn out. So, tell me, would you expect physical discipline to be part of our marriage?”
Felix spoke quietly but without hesitation. “Yes I would.”
“Very well. Then before I can decide whether or not to accept your proposal, I need to understand precisely what I am letting myself in for.”
“You want to be spanked?”
“I need to know what to expect if you decide to punish me. I think the only way for me to ascertain that would be for you to carry out such a punishment this evening.”
Felix’s heart hammered in his ribcage. She had laid down a challenge and he was damned well going to be man enough to accept it.
“Very well,” he said. “But not here in the conservatory. Do you have a study?”
“I have my writing room.”
“That sounds ideal. Take me there.”
|Available from all good book sellers.
And slightly dodgy ones like
“Honest Mick Slipper’s Legitimate Spanking Romance Emporium”
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