Reckless - By Anne Stuart


England, 1804

"Move your bleedin' arse," Miss Charlotte Spenser's maid, Meggie, said to her.

"Isn't that a little too graphic?" Miss Spenser inquired. "I have visions..."

"Don't think about it. Just say it."

"Move your bleeding arse," Charlotte said in the polite tones of a well-bred female.


"Bleedin'," she repeated dutifully. "So let me get this straight. Bloody hell, move your bleedin' arse, that's a pile of shit, or shite if I happen to be in Ireland, and," she swallowed, "fuck you. Do I really say that?"

"If you want to. You 'ave to be really mad to say it, and you might get backhanded by your man if you do, but sometimes it's worth it."


"Slapped. With the back of the hand, which hurts more, 'cause of knuckles and rings and such like."

Charlotte looked at her maid curiously. "Did your husband ever do that?"

"Oh, that and far worse. Too bad he took a tumble out that window when he was too drunk to know what he was doing," she said, cheerfully callous. "It'll be a cold day in hell before I ever let a man near me again. They're untrustworthy bastards. Try that one.”

"Bastards," Charlotte said, liking the taste of it on her tongue. "Bloody bastard. Bleeding bastard arse.”

"No, Miss Charlotte. It has to make sense in English. Arses aren't bastards."

"True. Arses and bastards are nouns, bloody and bleeding are adjectives. Do you my fucking as well?"

"Oh, most definitely."

"Splendid," said Miss Charlotte Spenser. "I'll practice." And they continued down the sidewalk, maid and mistress in perfect accord.

They had just attended the weekly meeting of the Richmond Hill Bluestockings and Viragos, a most enlightening afternoon during which Meggie had proceeded to instruct the highborn members how to curse. Charlotte, to her dismay, had been an utter failure, but she was improving with private instruction.

As she climbed the steep marble stairs to Whitmore House, the door was flung open and she was presented with a scarcely controlled chaos. Servants were rushing to and fro, carrying baskets of flowers and gilt chairs and great silver platters. Her cousin Evangelina was throwing a ball, and Charlotte had forgotten about it entirely.

"Drat," she muttered to Meggie. "My cousin is entertaining tonight."

"Try for 'bloody hell,'" Meggie suggested helpfully. "And her's not just entertaining," she added darkly. "Her's got two hundred people coming tonight or I miss my guess."

"She's," Charlotte corrected automatically. "Bloody hell."

Meggie laughed. "Not fierce enough. Miss Charlotte. You need to practice if you want to sound like you mean it." She started toward the side alley that led to the servants' entrance, but Charlotle didn't make any attempt to stop her. She'd learned her democratic ideals were not appreciated by everyone. Charlotte was an egalitarian, and she'd plucked Meggie from the slums, determined to save her.

In the beginning Meggie had flatly refused to be saved, but for the last two years she'd become Charlotte's trusted companion. Meggie, fresh from her life as a fallen woman, flat out refused to enter by the front door, even though, as Charlotte's maid, it was perfectly acceptable, and the one time Charlotte tried to join her and the army of servants below stairs for a cup of tea the atmosphere had been excruciatingly uncomfortable. Charlotte had learned, to her sorrow, that there was no one more snobbish than a British domestic servant, and her lack of welcome was glaringly obvious. She hadn't attempted it again.

She sighed. She would have so much rather have sat and had a cup of tea and a biscuit, her feet up before the fire in the servants' gathering room, than wind her way through the back stairs to the upper floors of Whitmore House, but she had no choice. She nodded as she passed the footmen draping garlands of fresh spring flowers over the massive doorway, handed her hat, pelisse and gloves to the maid who was waiting. Hetty, her name was, and she bobbed a curtsy, eyeing her nervously, as if afraid of an unwelcome gesture of friendship.

But Charlotte had learned her lesson. "Where is Lady Whitmore?" she inquired in a cool, distant voice.

"In her dressing room, Miss Spenser," Hetty said. "She left word that you were to come to her as soon as you returned home."

Charlotte didn't bother to hide her grimace. "Any idea why?"

"I'm sure I couldn't say, miss."

"No, of course you couldn't," Charlotte said with

a genteel snort, heading for the stairs. She tried to will a wan expression into her face, wrinkling her forehead in a semblance of pain, opening her eyes wide. She was a