Characters from two of Coulter’s most beloved novels in the Sherbrooke Bride series find each other in The Courtship. Helen Mayberry of Mad Jack has one passion: to track down a mystical treasure. That is, until she meets the thoroughly wicked Spenser Heatherington in a clash of the titans.
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London 1811 May 14 Just before midnight
Lord Beecham stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around so quickly that he nearly tripped over a huge potted palm.
He couldn't believe it. He had to be wrong. She couldn't have said that, could she? He looked for the woman he had just heard speaking.
He parted two huge palm fronds and peered into the Sanderling's library, a long, narrow, shelf-lined room just off the ballroom. Where the library was filled with dark-bound tomes, cobwebs in gloomy corners, and just one small branch of candles casting shadows, the ballroom was overflowing with lit candles, plants, and at least two hundred guests, all of them laughing, dancing, and drinking too much of the potent champagne punch.
The woman he had heard before spoke again. He took a step closer to the dimly lit library. Her voice was rich, tantalizing, filled with laughter. "Really, Alexandra," she said, "doesn't just the simple thought of discipline, just hearing the word, saying it slowly to yourself and letting it caress your tongue as you say it, doesn't it conjure up all sorts of delicious scenes of dominance? Can't you just see yourself?. You are completely at the mercy of another, that person is in total control, and there is nothing you can do about anything, You know something is going to happen, you're dreading it, your heart is pounding, you're afraid, so very afraid, yet it's adelicious sort of fear you feel. You know, deep down, that you are anticipating what is to come. You can't wait for it to come, but there is nothing you can do except imagine what will be done to you. Ah, yes, your skin is rippling with the excitement of it."
There was dead silence. Wait, was that heavy breathing he heard?
Lord Beecham, whose very active imagination had conjured up a vision of himself standing over a beautiful woman, smiling down at her as he tied her hands over her head and her legs, spread, to the posts of his bed, knowing that in just a few minutes, he would remove her clothing, one lovely garment at a time, slowly, ever so slowly, and
"Oh, goodness, Helen. I have to fan myself. I believe my bosom is palpitating. You are far too good at painting word pictures. What you describeit sounds terrifying and wonderful. It rather makes my mouth water. It also sounds like a grand production that requires a lot of planning."
"Oh, yes, but that is part of the ritual. It is very important that it be planned perfectly. You are part of the ritual, the most important part, if you are the one in control. It requires that you be constantly inventive, that you don't continue to rely on the same old disciplines. Remember, anticipation of something unknown is a very powerful thing. To be effective, discipline must constantly grow and change. In most cases, it is effective to have other people nearby to witness the discipline. This makes the recipient all the more frightened, his senses more heightened, his thoughts more focused. It is an amazing process. You will have to try it. Both sides of it."
More deep silence.
Try it? He wanted to run into that room this very instant and try everything he could possibly envision or dream about. His fingers were already on his cravat, ready to jerk it off so he could tie the wrists of the woman speaking, together over her head, so she would be helpless, her eyes large and frightened and excited as she stared up at him, her lips parted. Damnation, he had only one cravat, the one he was wearing. He needed at least two. He shuddered, imagining the smooth flesh of her wrists as he lightly wrapped the cravat around and around them, then pulled them bound, over her head
He heard a deep sigh.
"All of that is well and good, Helen, but what I need are specific disciplines to try. A list of disciplines, if you will. From mild disciplines to the most rigorous."
He realized suddenly that he knew that voice. Good God, it was Alexandra Sherbrooke. He couldn't believe it. On second thought, he pictured Douglas Sherbrooke in his mind's eye, that big, hard man who had reputedly kept his wife happy for eight whole years now. And Alexandra wanted to know about discipline? To try on her husband? What a delightfully wicked idea.
Who was the woman speaking to her, this Helen?
"On the other hand," Alexandra said after a moment, "I would like to know how you know so very much about discipline."
"I have read every book, every article, every paperboth scholarly and secularever penned on the subject. I have seen every painting, etching, and drawing of disciplines employed throughout the world and throughout the ages. Now, the disciplines in Chinagoodness, talk about inventive. The drawings show that the Chinese are exceedingly flexible."
A bit more silence, then Alexandra said, her voice lowered a bit, as if she were leaning closer to this other woman, speaking in confidence, but he could still make out her words. "Helen, you are laughing at me. All right, I accept that you know all about discipline. Now, you must force yourself to come to my level. You have told me how you discipline your servants. You have told me about the ritual, how to build to a climax, how to squeeze out every tantalizing drop of fear and excitement during the discipline to achieve the result you wish.
"Now I want to go directly to the extreme pleasure end of things. I want specifics. I am talking about physical pleasure, Helen. I want to know exactly what you would do to a man to drive him to the brink of madness. Since you have read every tome written about the subject, you must know something that would help me."
Lord Beecham would not have moved if a beautiful woman had stripped naked in front of him and started kissing him. Now this was a kicker. Alexandra Sherbrooke wanted to know how to drive Douglas to the brink of madness? That made no sense. Driving a man like Douglas to the brink would require very little effort on her part. It would probably require an effort of ten seconds, no more. Actually, any man who was still breathing was a suitable candidate. He himself, for example.
Suddenly it simply became too much. He was eavesdropping on two ladies discussing discipline, for God's sake. He was lurking there behind a palm, listening to them, sweating, and ready to remove his cravat. It was not to be borne. Lord Beecham couldn't hold it back. It just burst from his mouth. He laughedsomething he didn't normally do because he was, after all, a man of the world; a lazy nod or a slightly contemptuous snicker was usually more fitting. And so what poured out of his mouth sounded a bit rusty, perhaps a tad hoarse to the casual ear, but it was a laugh, a good strong laugh, and it just kept rolling out of him.
He realized they could hear him. That would never do. He tried so hard to stop laughing that he hiccupped. He clapped his hand over his mouth and quickly slipped behind another-giant palm tree. And none too soon.
"I know I heard someone, Helen. It was a man and he was laughing. Oh, dear, you don't think it was Douglas, do you? No, Douglas would come right in here and laugh in our faces. Then he would look at me with a smile in his eyes and tell me to forget the thought of disciplining him, that he is in charge. I am tired of his controlling everything. Eight years is a long time, Helen. I want to make him wild first, for once."
"Well, that can't be too difficult. Simply distract him when he is reading the Gazette. Start nuzzling his ear, kiss his neck, bite him. Why haven't you done this already?"
"Oh, dear, you are scarlet to your hairline, Alexandra."
"I have bitten him, Helen, I have. My bites simply take place in a different context. There is no Gazette lying about."
"A context that Douglas has provided?"
"Yes. You know, it's just that Douglas has only to look at me, perhaps give me a small touch anywhere with his hand or his mouth, and I lose every shred of thought. I puddle right on the floor, directly in front of him. It just does not stop, Helen. Help me. Oh, dear, what if he is out there, listening? Now he knows what power he wields over me."
"Trust me, he already knows. Now, you're right, of course. If it had been Douglas, he would be standing right in front of us, laughing his head off. But then, perhaps he would have let you lead him off to begin disciplining him this very nightthat is, if he didn't decide to discipline you first."
"Goodness, you mean it? You're serious here, Alexandra? Doesn't Douglas ever let you have control? Eight years of one-sided marital sorts of things? From everything I've read, this isn't good. The Italians, especially, believe that participation in lovemaking should be balanced. You must pull yourself together."
"It's difficult once Douglas turns his attention on me. I would like to read what the Italians have to say about this."
"I will lend you a treatise on it. Now, you cannot allow Douglas-always to discipline you first. You must focus your mind, Alexandra."
Alexandra's eyes nearly crossed. She shuddered delicately. "Douglas has never said anything at all about discipline. I'm sure he's never done any to me."
Helen laughed and patted her cheek. "From everything I've read, I'll wager Douglas already performs a lover's standard discipline on you and you don't even realize it. You're just having fun."
"Do you really think so? I wonder what specific sorts of things that Douglas enjoys with me one could call discipline? Perhaps I shall ask him."
"Or perhaps not, at least not yet."
"Whatever he does, it's true that I do sometimes forget to think," Alexandra said, then squared her shoulders, "but that's another problem, one I will have to solve." Her shoulders squared even more and her magnificent bosom achieved new prominence. "I will have to learn how to retain my own control if I want to have a chance of controlling Douglas. I will have to have a specific goal in mind, a course that I will have to follow. I will get the upper hand of Douglas. The brink of madnessyes, Helen, that is where I want to dispatch Douglas. You must tell me specifically what I am to do."
Helen looked down at her fingernails a moment. She knew she should keep her mouth shut, but she couldn't help herself. She said on a deep, wistful sigh, overflowing with exquisite memories, knowing that Alexandra would be enraged within moments, "Ah, even when I was fifteen and I first saw Douglas and fell in love with him, I knew instinctively that he wouldn't be a clod. I knew he would excel, and I wanted to be the female he chose to excel upon. Such a pity that it wasn't meant to be." She sighed again, a sad, forlorn sigh.
Helen watched beneath her lashes as Alexandra's eyes narrowed remarkably, and her voice turned mean and low. "Helen, I will not tell you again. You will forget those early years of infatuation with Douglas. You will forget those tender feelings you cherished for him when you were too young to realize what was what."
"Yes," Helen said at her most humble, her head bent to show how contrite she was, "I will try." She hoped Alexandra couldn't hear the laughter in her voice.
Lord Beecham heard the laughter. And then he realized that here he was, a man of immense savoir faire, hiding behind huge green palm fronds, hanging on these women's every word. He hadn't yet seen the disciplinarian, but he could see Alexandra Sherbrooke now. She was looking around, just a bit apprehensively, her fingers splayed over her incredible bosom. It was too bad Douglas insisted she keep all that lovely white flesh more covered than not. It wasn't at all the style. God gave women bosoms to flaunt, and every woman he knew flaunted, except Alexandra Sherbrooke. Everyone had seen Douglas drag his wife into a corner from time to time to pull up her bodice if the thought there was too much white flesh showing.
Lord Beecham loved breasts: bountiful breasts like Alexandra's that would overflow a man's hands, small breasts that were ripe and sweet, breasts pushed up to be lovingly framed by a gown's satin and lace. He loved to bury his face in a woman's breasts.
He got hold of himself. Who was the other woman, the self-proclaimed mistress of discipline? He knew only that her name was Helen.
Lord Beecham was not normally a skulker, but he had to know who she was. He waited, veiled by the palm fronds, until, finally, the two ladies came out of the Sanderling's library.
He nearly dropped his glass of champagne when he saw Helen. She was the woman he had seen riding in the park with Douglas. He remembered remarking to himself then that he wanted a better look at her. Now he was getting it. She had to be nearly as tall as he was, but there all resemblance between them ended. His imagination soared to Mount Olympus for suitable comparisons. She was sculpted like a goddess, statuesque and beautifully curved, skin so white it was alabaster, and her hairsurely even goddesses didn't have hair like that, thick and pure blond with no hints of gold or red. She wore it twisted atop her head, making her appear even taller, with long, lazy curls caressing the white flesh of her shoulders, Her eyes were bluer than Aphrodite's, her smile so charming, so utterly seductive, it could have belonged to Helen of Troy. He would wager that this new Helen could launch even more ships.
Lord Beecham had just lost his wits. Frankly, his literary-inspired imagination had made him produce tripe. She was a woman, just a woman, and her name was Helen. She might be on the magnificent side, but she was still only a woman, nothing more, nothing less. He had seen women who were more beautiful, had bedded women who were more beautiful. She was not a goddess, not even close to a siren of myth. She was just a very big girl who happened to have very nice hair of a shade that sparked poetry in a man's soul. And she had spoken authoritatively of discipline.
All other things being equal, she was a man's dream.
He watched Helen and Alexandra walk away from him, down the corridor to the ballroom.
She wasn't a young, untried girl of eighteen either, newly released from the schoolroom to prey upon the hapless bachelors of London. No, she had been released a goodly number of years ago, which meant she was well married and knew exactly what was whatand that was surely an utterly excellent thing.
He had always preferred married women. What man didn't? They were safe. They wanted what he wanteda bit of excitement, a bit of warmth, a new companion to add spice and passion. They didn't usually whine or carp when he was ready to move on. He did not have to worry about their husbands, most of whom were his friends and who bedded other friends' wives just as he did. Many men and women were not discreet, and that sometimes stretched civilized manners to the limit. Lord Beecham, however, never spoke of his conquests. There wasn't any need to even if he had been inclined to bray and brag. For some reason, he could not escape the gossips; no matter how silent he remained
He tossed down the rest of his champagne as the two women disappeared from his view back into the ballroom.
He rubbed his hands together.
Helen was a very big girl, He spread his fingers out. He thought of her breasts. Were his hands big enough for her? Oh, yes, he thought, his hands would make do quite nicely. He looked at his hands, pictured her breasts, and knew that if he had been speaking just then, he would doubtless have been stuttering.
Why were they talking about discipline? His flesh rippled. He pictured Helen on her back, her white arms pulled above her head, her wrists tied with two of his softest cravats to the posts at the head of his bed.
A woman who was well versed in the art of discipline? She had read everything ever written about it? Had she also employed everything she had learned? Had it all been employed upon her?. It was a heady thought, one that made him swallow a bit convulsively.
When he reached the ballroom he looked and looked, but the big girl was gone.
He wasn't worried. He would simply call upon Alexandra and, with his exquisite finesse, discover Helen's address and the name of her husband.
He hoped Alexandra would cooperate. He had stopped trying to seduce her at least six years ago, when one evening in the midst of one of his more effective offerings she laughed at him. It had wounded him greatly. He was a renowned loverat least that was what the gossips were always saying.
But in the end, he quite liked Alexandra Sherbrooke, despite her appalling preference for only her husband in her bed. He liked her husband as well, all the more so once Douglas determined he wouldn't have to kill him for trying to seduce his wife. It was nothing more than attempted poaching, and that, Douglas had told him some years before, he would let slide. Thank the heavens that there were not all that many couples like the Sherbrookes in London.
Exactly what did the big girl know about discipline? Like Alexandra, he wanted specifics, He couldn't wait to find out. Other than her far-flung reading, had her husband taught her? Or a lover?
Lord Beecham wanted her in his bed, and he wanted her there very soon. He would be a lover who would teach her something altogether new about discipline. He would take his fill of her and when they eventually parted, she would never forget him. Whenever she spoke of discipline after her time with him, she would remember him, and smile.
He rubbed his hands together in anticipation even as he wondered if her hair was long enough to fall over her shoulders and curl lazily around her breasts.
Lord Beecham was a man with a very detailed imagination. He saw her beneath him, all of her, stretched out, smiling up at him, and her hands were busy, very busy. He was forced once again to swallow. He would bed her soon. Very soon.
Tomorrow night would fit nicely into his schedule.
His fingers clenched at the emerging picture in his mind, a very big picture.
So much white canvas.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
“A good storyteller…Coulter always keeps the pace brisk.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Ms. Coulter is a one-of-a-kind author who knows how to hook her readers and keep them coming back for more.”—The Best Reviews
“Coulter is excellent at portraying the romantic tension between her heroes and heroines, and she manages to write explicitly but beautifully about sex as well as love.”—Milwaukee Journal
“Coulter instinctively feeds our desire to believe in knights in shining armor and everlasting love—historical romance at its finest.”—BookReporter.com
“One of the genre’s great storytellers.”—Kansas City Star
“One of the masters of the genre.”—The Newark Star-Ledger
“Catherine Coulter is one of the best authors of exciting thrillers writing today.”—Midwest Book Review
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of my favorite books by this author. The story moves fast and the banter between the hero and heroine so great.
This was not one of the best books I ever read by this author. It was hard to get into the plot. I did finish it, but would not read it again.
This book failed to keep my interest for long, and I struggled to finish it. The plot was completely unrealistic, especially because it's set in the 19th century, when the prevailing view of women was 'virtue or else'. None of the women in this book, excepting perhaps the grandmother, had an ounce of virtue and would never have survived the harsh realities of that time. And the hero would realistically have died of some venereal disease long before turning 30 if his exploits are anything to go by. Sorry, Catherine, my first and last read by you.
This is a good book to enjoy and at times hard to put down. It does have an unusual twist as well, with the husband 'gone but not forgotten.' What a position to be in in life...A good love story that keeps your atttention for sure.
I have read many of Coulter's books and this was wonderful, full of humor, adventure and love. I highly recommend it. Her books are hard to put down.
I've read many of Catherine Coulter's books and I don't think this is one of her better ones. Her other books have made me laugh and made me cry. This one did nothing. With some books, when you get to the end you wish the story would continue. Not so with this one.
The Courtship,one of the newer Catherine Coulter publications, is prime example of why her book's have had such success. The Courtship is set in 1811 London and manages to combine humor, passion, and danger in one package. I won't tell you the plot(because that would ruin it) but the art of discipline is a main feature and this aspect will have you laughing and appreciating the antics of Lady Helen and Lord Beecham, Spenser Heatherington. And for anyone who has read a Catherine Coulter novel, this holds to the tradition of excellence and reintroduces you to former characters that may hold a special place in your heart.