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Training Lady Townsend

By:Annabel Joseph
Chapter One: The Ball

England, 1792

He would not submit.

Lady Dormouse, they called her. His reclusive bride-to-be, shy and shrinking, and by all accounts, ugly as a shrew. Why else would they have kept her so carefully hidden away? Lady Aurelia happened to be daughter to the Duke of Lansing, which was the only reason she was the ton’s most coveted marriage prospect.

But not coveted by him. Hunter didn’t care that her father owned half the countryside around London, or that he controlled a vast swath of society’s brightest statesmen, or that he was King George’s most favored noble companion. Hunter didn’t want to wed Lady Dormouse. Hell, he didn’t want to marry anyone, but he’d just discovered this damned ball was a betrothal ball, arranged by his own father and mother. One day back from a two-week orgy of dissolution at his country estate, to be confronted with a betrothal?

Damn and blast.

His three partners in crime smirked at him from across the ballroom, bemused by his predicament. They wouldn’t find it amusing when he was setting up house with a dull stick of a wife, holding tea parties and formal dinners rather than raunchy routs. Thousands of candles illuminated a sickening swirl of silk gowns, bouncing curls, and sleek-coated men bowing every which way. He’d been instructed to dance with Aurelia at least twice, but he’d be damned if he remembered what she looked like.

He could name every courtesan, actress, and ladybird in London by first and last name, hair and eye color, but he hadn’t seen his betrothed in over a decade. He’d had better things to do. Hunter Lionel, Marquess of Townsend, was a man of the world, wealthy and powerful in his own right. He was a man of strong will and stronger appetites, as evidenced by the previous weeks’ unprecedented descent into debauchery.

But if he must be betrothed this night, as his father had thundered, he would be betrothed on his own terms, for no one, no one, pressed the Marquess of Townsend’s hand. If he was to spend a lifetime in marital agony, it would be to a woman of his own choosing, family promises be damned. He hadn’t made the blasted promises, but sat silently by when, as a boy of fourteen, he’d been betrothed to the neighboring duke’s daughter, a girl of four. Ridiculous.

Why, he barely remembered the formal event or the dinner that followed, except that it was extremely uncomfortable. He recalled two big gray eyes staring at him, and a mop of stringy, indeterminately colored hair. He remembered they’d taken his betrothed away before dinner, for the nursery.

It had seemed as stupid to him then as it seemed now, but they’d both had the misfortune to be born to high-ranking dukes, and thus become pawns in a game of alliances. This marriage, his father insisted, would guarantee a purity of line.

Hunter scanned the room for a different purity of line. Big breasts. That would be a necessity. Shapely waist and large hips to grasp when he plunged into his wife’s pussy in the throes of marital duty. Most importantly, a pillowy, delectable bottom to spank and play with as suited his will.

Ah, what a pair of arse cheeks he’d enjoyed the night before last. Some local whore his friend Warren had enticed to the party, or perhaps she’d been a good girl enjoying a forbidden tryst with some of London’s most notorious rakehells. Whoever she was, she had squirmed and cooed and squealed with delicious enthusiasm as he’d spanked and molested her backside. Hunter smoothed the hem of his waistcoat over his thickening cock, remembering how yielding the tart had been when he slid inside her. Not just her pussy, but her arsehole too before the night was over.

Gossip of his licentious activities must have finally reached his father’s ears, goading him to act in this heavy-handed manner. A betrothal ball, indeed, and not one soul had let him in on the scheme beforehand. Very well. He’d wed, but not to their perfectly pedigreed dormouse. He could very well pick his own shackle. Hunter frowned and scanned the room, searching for a suitably buxom prospect among the sea of slender, stiff-necked virgins on display.

His friends approached, formidable gentlemen in their ballroom black: Lord Warren, whom the ladies all adored for his blond curls, and Lord August, dark and severe like Hunter himself. The three of them had grown up together at Oxford, along with Arlington, a great Viking of a man and a duke in his own right. They were all only sons, dogged from a young age by the specters of “duty” and “responsibility,” and so they had formed a friendship, encouraging one another in congenial rebellion.

Until now.

Arlington clapped him on the back in sympathy, while August and Warren, both earls by title, guffawed behind their hands at his beleaguered frown.

“I suppose there’s nothing for it now, old boy,” said Warren. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have hosted such a prolonged and lascivious party at Somerton.”

“I’ll sack the whole staff at Somerton for their talk,” Hunter said. “I’m a grown man. I can bedevil whores and doxies if I like.”

“Nonsense. It’s time to grow up,” said Arlington with mock gravity. “And this betrothal has been on the books for an eternity. The Lady Aurelia Dormouse—er—Dumont must be eager to set up at your side.”

“Help me find someone else,” he pleaded over their laughter. “Some pretty girl. I’ll take her into the study and ruin her. I’ll take her out to the gardens and—”

“Tie her to a tree and whip her bottom?” August nodded. “I think that bypasses betrothal and constitutes marriage in certain shires.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes to escape a life with Lady Dormouse. For God’s sake, I don’t even know what she looks like. They’re hiding her in some corner, no doubt, until just before the announcement.”

“Look at that bit of goods.” Warren jerked a chin at the corner. A young woman in a pale blue gown with glittering sapphires at her neck stared back at the handsome blond earl. Damn, why must Warren’s good looks captivate each and every woman of the ton? The young lady in question was practically in a swoon under his friend’s regard. Hunter was uncomfortably aware of how rough and inelegant he must look beside him, with his exceptional height, and broad shoulders. The courtesans liked his build, but he’d heard it whispered by the ladies au salon that he was oversized and coarse.

He scowled at the young chit, annoyed to see she was everything a man like him desired. Her bosom pressed round and pretty as a peach from the constriction of her fitted bodice, while the skirts of her dress flared out over visible hips. No slim, lithe thing, this one. Her hair was glossy and full, rich honey-gold waves curling over her shoulders, a voluptuous temptation framing her innocent gaze. He would like to touch those curls, run his fingers through them. He’d like to grab her and subdue her with a kiss that would leave her far less innocent than she’d started out.

“She’s got her eye on you, chap,” said Warren.

“Her eyes are on you,” he ground out. “You rotting pretty peacock.”

“Go to her.” He gave his friend a nudge. “Look at that body. You can see she’s got a smashing figure, even with the petticoats.”

“Yes, go dance with her, Towns,” August prompted. “No time to lose.”

“I’m going to dance her right out of her reputation, and that’s not going to happen here in front of a thousand eyes,” said Hunter. “I’ll draw her off somewhere and ruin her so the other betrothal will be off.”

“You’ll have to marry her then,” Warren pointed out. “Do you dislike the idea of Lady Dormouse so very much?”

“I loathe the idea of Lady Dormouse, especially being forced into marrying her. It’s the principle of the thing.” He straightened his coat and nodded toward the woman in blue, who seemed more and more alluring. “This pretty piece of arse will do just as well, if I have to marry.”

“Where then?” asked Arlington, stopping him with a hand on his arm. “Where shall we bring everyone so you can be caught in the midst of an illicit embrace?”

Hunter thought a moment. “The path beyond the gardens, the one on the left that leads to the follies. Plenty of moonlight there for discovery. Anyone know who she is?” Several high born gents were paying court to her, ranging around with languid gazes. “Is she betrothed to someone else?”

“Would she be looking at you that way if she was?” Warren murmured.

A flush rose beneath the points of Hunter’s cravat. She was staring at him, really, with an arousing, fascinated expression of...dread. So she’d heard about him and his friends, perhaps heard about their famous parties. Most of the young ladies had, as in Stay away from those dangerous gentlemen. The four of them were as controversial as they were eligible. It was good that she knew his reputation. She would understand even before they married that he was a certain type of gentleman, namely the type of gentleman who didn’t stay quietly at home.

“Your mother’s headed this way,” said Arlington, interrupting his thoughts. “It’s now or never. Lure Miss Pretty Arse out the back door and around to the gardens. Work a little of your dark, seductive magic.”

“Tie her to a tree if you have to,” August added, chuckling. “Whatever it takes.”