When Beauty Tamed the Beast Page 1

Author: Eloisa James

Series: Fairy Tales #2

Genres: Romance , Historical

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Chapter One


Once upon a time, not so very long ago . . .


Beautiful girls in fairy stories are as common as pebbles on the beach. Magnolia-skinned milkmaids rub shoulders with starry-eyed princesses and, in fact, counting two eyes in each bright-eyed damsel would result in a whole galaxy of twinkling stars.


That sparkle makes it all the more sad that real women rarely live up to their fictional counterparts. They have yellowing teeth, or spotty skin. They have the shadow of a mustache, or a nose so big that a mouse could ski down it.


Of course there are pretty ones. But even they are prone to all the ills that flesh is heir to, as Hamlet had it in a long-ago complaint.


In short, it’s a rare woman who actually outshines the sun. Let alone all that business about pearly teeth, the voice of a lark, and a face so beautifully shaped that angels would weep with envy.


Linnet Berry Thrynne had all of the above, except perhaps the claim to lark-like melody. Still, her voice was perfectly agreeable, and she had been told that her laughter was like the chiming of golden bells and (though not larks) linnet songs were often mentioned.


Without even glancing at the glass, she knew that her hair was shining, her eyes were shining, and her teeth—well, perhaps they weren’t shining, but they were quite white.


She was just the sort who could drive a stable boy to heroic feats, or a prince to less intrepid acts such as whacking through a bramble patch merely to give her a kiss. None of which changed a basic fact:


As of yesterday, she was unmarriageable.


The calamity had to do with the nature of kisses, and what kisses are purported to lead to. Though perhaps it’s more accurate to point to the nature of princes. The prince in question was Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex.


He had kissed Linnet more than once; in fact, he had kissed her a great many times. And he had vehemently declared his love for her, not to mention thrown strawberries at her bedchamber window late one night (which had made an awful mess and had driven the gardener into a fury).


The only thing he hadn’t done was offer his hand in marriage.


“It’s a shame I can’t marry you,” he had said apologetically, when the scandal broke the evening before. “We royal dukes, you know . . . can’t do everything we’d like. My father is slightly deranged on the subject. Really, it’s most unfortunate. You must have heard about my first marriage; that one was annulled because Windsor decided Augusta wasn’t good enough, and she’s the daughter of an earl.”


Linnet was not the daughter of an earl; her father was a viscount, and not a very well-connected one at that. Not that she’d heard of the prince’s first marriage. Everyone who had watched her flirting with him in the last few months had unaccountably forgotten to tell her that he was apparently prone to courting those he couldn’t—or shouldn’t—marry.


The prince had bowed sharply, turned, and abruptly left the ballroom, withdrawing to Windsor Castle—or wherever it was that rats went when the ship sank.


This had left Linnet alone but for her dour chaperone and a ballroom of gentlepersons, a circumstance that led her to quickly realize that a great many maidens and matrons in London were eagerly—if not gleefully—certain that she was a hussy of the first degree.


Within moments of the prince’s retreat, not a soul would meet her eyes; she was faced with a sea of turned backs. The sound of upper-class tittering spread all around her like the hissing of a gaggle of geese preparing to fly north. Though, of course, it was she who had to fly—north, south, it didn’t matter as long as she fled the scene of her disgrace.


The unfair thing was that she wasn’t a hussy. Well, not more than any girl bowled over by a prince.


She had enjoyed snaring the greatest prize of them all, the blond and winsome prince. But she hadn’t had any real hope that he would marry her. And she certainly would not have given her virginity to a prince without having a ring on her finger and the approval of the king.


Still, she had considered Augustus a friend, which made it all the more painful when he didn’t pay her a call the morning following her humiliation.


Augustus wasn’t the only one. In fact, Linnet found herself staring out of a front window of her townhouse, the better to convince herself that no one was coming to call. No one. Not a soul.


Ever since she’d debuted a few months earlier, her front door had been the portal to the Golden Fleece—i.e., her dowered, delectable self. Young men pranced and trotted and strolled up that path, leaving cards and flowers and gifts of all kinds. Even the prince had lowered himself to make four morning calls, an unheard-of compliment.


But now . . . that path was nothing more than a row of flagstones shining in the sunlight.


“I simply don’t believe this has come out of nothing!” her father said now, from somewhere behind her.


“I was kissed by a prince,” Linnet said dryly. “Which might have counted as nothing, if we hadn’t been seen by Baroness Buggin.”


“Kissing—pah! Kisses are nothing. What I want to know is why it is being reliably reported that you are carrying a child. His child!” Viscount Sundon came, stood at her shoulder, and looked with her at the empty street.


“Two reasons. Neither of which involves a baby, you’ll be happy to learn.”


“Well?”


“I ate a bad prawn at Lady Brimmer’s morning musicale last Thursday.”


“So?” her father asked.


“It made me ill,” Linnet told him. “I couldn’t even make it to the ladies’ retiring chamber. I threw up in a potted orange tree.” She shuddered a little at the mere memory.


“Uncontrolled of you,” the viscount commented. He hated bodily processes. “I gather that was taken as a sign of childbirth?”


“Not childbirth, Papa, the condition that precedes it.”


“Of course. But you do remember when Mrs. Underfoot spewed in the throne room, narrowly missing His Majesty, the King of Norway? That was no prawn, nor a baby either. Everyone knew the lady had drunk herself into a standstill. We could put it about that you’re an inebriate.”


“Would that solve my problem? I doubt many gentlemen wish to marry a drunk. At any rate, it wasn’t just the prawn. It was my gown.”


“What about your gown?”


“I wore a new ball dress last night, and apparently my profile gave people cause to think that I was carrying a child.”


Her father swung her around and peered at her middle. “You don’t look any different to me. A bit chilly around the shoulders, perhaps. Need you show quite so much bosom?”


“Unless I want to look like a fussocking matron,” Linnet said with some asperity, “then yes, I do need to show this much bosom.”


“Well, that’s the problem,” Lord Sundon said. “You look like Bartholomew ware. Damn it, I specifically told your chaperone that you had to look more prudish than anyone else in the room. Do I have to do everything myself? Can no one follow simple instructions?”


“My ball gown was not revealing,” Linnet protested, but her father wasn’t listening.


“I have tried, God knows how I’ve tried! I postponed your debut, in the hopes that maturity would give you poise in the face of the ton’s undoubted scrutiny, given your mother’s reputation. But what’s the good of poise if your neckline signals you’re a wanton?”

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