A confession and a story: the first is true, the second you’ll have to decide for yourself.
I have always loved to read. Always. I learned how to read on my own, sounding out words, watching as my mom read to me. In kindergarten, I was in awe of our teacher who could, get this, read upside down so she could show us the pictures as she read. (Or possibly she wasn’t reading upside down at all and was just making the story up as she went along. The book was too far away for me to tell.) Obviously, this meant I had to learn how to read upside down too and I practiced and practiced (you have no idea how much this comes in handy).
When I was in maybe third grade, someone gave me a collection of literary classics. I loved them! Well, I loved reading them. As for the actual stories, I liked the Charles Dickens, and all the Edgar Allan Poe (even though it gave me nightmares), The Count of Monte Cristo. But not so much The Last of the Mohicans, or The Call of the Wild or Moby Dick. Later, I found out they were all abridged: rewritten for a child’s understanding. I was devastated. I hadn’t actually read any of the classics, but now was spoiled on all the plots and endings.
I read at least one book almost every day. I could not understand the idea of reading a book over time, rather than at one sitting. To me, that was like watching a movie in 15-minute increments over the course of two weeks. If I wasn’t finished with a book by bedtime, I’d strain my eyes and read in the moonlight. For a while, we lived in this really small town that was just large enough to have a library (most small towns were lived in weren’t quite big enough for anything as fancy as that and I had to get my books from school). I practically lived at that place. The children’s section was down a narrow flight of stairs in a big room in the basement. I devoured those books, checking out as many as I could carry: Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Laura Ingalls. Eventually, I read every book they had.
When I got a little older, I discovered the sex books. First, it was just Judy Blume and Flowers in the Attic, but then I stumbled upon Harlequin. Harlequin is the most hard-core porn you can possibly imagine when you are in junior high school and have lived a sheltered life consisting mostly of going to church. Seriously, wow. I gravitated towards Barbara Cartland. It was historical fiction, so I could tell myself I was learning about history, not sex! History! If you have not had the pleasure of reading these books, a description of one from amazon:
The Duke of Arkrae, Chief of the Clan MacCraggan, is of great importance, owing to the strategic position of his territories. But where his sympathies lie is known neither to the Jacobites nor to the English.
Iona, the lovely red-haired ward of a Jacobite exile in Paris, agrees to impersonate the Duke’s half-sister, who was drowned as a child, in order to discover the truth. Her thrilling adventures, and how she herself finds love, are all told in this exciting tale set in the Scottish Highlands of 1750.
I imagine in this one, Iona and the duke fall in love, but he resists her, thinking she’s his half-sister and all, so ew. And she can’t tell him the truth as to remove that obstacle because that would blow her cover. But then she finds out that he’s honorable and just and so she tells him they’re not related after all and can have sex as much as they want, but then he’s pissed off because she’s a big fat liar, and so they part, never to see each other again, only they miss each other so much they can’t stand it, and they run back into each other’s arms and have wild passionate sex that involves her fondling his throbbing manhood and him admiring her heaving breasts.
Just a guess.
While these books may make girls believe a lot of crazy impossible things about sex (half of those positions could in no way result in actual sexual penetration, especially in a moving carriage, with horses galloping out of control, when she still has her corset laced up), at least they tell girls that it’s OK for them to like sex too! Sex isn’t just for the pleasure of guys. This was rather the opposite of what I learned from my mother.
So, I started loading up on those books at the library (thankfully, we had moved by then, so I wasn’t checking them out from the same librarian who helped me find the Bobbsey Twins), and in my usual fashion, checked out 20 at a time. I have no idea what that librarian must have thought. The tricky part was hiding these books from my mom.
Which is how it came to be that I have read possibly every romance novel, especially ones involving courtesans and dukes, written before about 1985. True confession.
Now here’s the story.
The Steamy Secret: Forbidden Passion (and a Poker Game)
The Duchess Harmony was bored. She was sitting in her parlor, sipping tea, watching the carriages bumping down the cobblestone street outside her window. The gin was not in its normal hiding place behind the statue of that woman holding grapes, and she suspected the maid drank it all. That bitch. She shuffled through the calling cards of the suitors who planned to visit her later in the day. Boring, boring, boring, hey wait. The Lord Ron was calling tomorrow. Last time he came by, she accidentally dropped her handkerchief and bent over to reach it. She couldn’t help that this caused her breasts to spill out a little more over the top of her dress. He reached for the handkerchief too, but his hand collided with her breast. Accidentally. Might be fun to see him again.
But other than that, it was so boring sitting here in her parlor, waiting for suitors to call, laced up tight in her puffy dress with all that lace. She wanted to go where she pleased like men did. She stayed in that parlor all day. Would you like some tea? A scone? Can I play the piano for you? And no gin to be found. It was excruciating. Finally, she was alone once again, once again looking out her window. The maid and the butler had gone to bed. Her aunt was still away. Somehow she managed to convince her aunt that she could manage five days without a chaperone. That sure hadn’t been easy.
Night had fallen and she could only see movement by the light of the moon. She would see men walking, laughing, heading out for drinks or a game of poker. She sure would like to go play some poker and have a drink, she didn’t care how unladylike it was or what it would make people think of her. But no, she wouldn’t make it halfway down the street before some snooping neighbor would run out to meet her and herd her back home. And even if she made it to the poker room, they’d never let her in the door.
And then she saw her, a woman. A woman was with the group of men, laughing just as they were, heading for the poker room. How could this be? And then the Duchess Harmony realized. She saw the red cheeks and lips, the tousled hair, the dress lifted just so the men could be titillated by her shapely ankles. The woman was a courtesan.
The Duchess recoiled in horror! A courtesan here? But courtesans were so vile and low! She asked Lord Ron first thing when he came calling the next morning. He was the only man she knew who wouldn’t be offended at her bold questioning.
“Did she have flaming red hair? That’s probably Emanuel. She loves poker.”
“But women aren’t allowed in the poker room!”
“The courtesans are! We like women around when we’re playing you know.”
The Duchess was shocked.
“You like having courtesans around? They’re so… vile!”
“They’re sexy! They’re great! They’re not so stuffy and straight-laced, sitting in their parlors drinking tea and—” He looked at her and abruptly stopped. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean you.”
“Obviously.” She didn’t have time to act offended and hurt.
“You have to introduce me to this Emanuel!”
“So, she can show me how to play poker! And how to get into the poker room.”
He laughed again. It took some convincing, but he finally agreed. Deep down he thought it might make for a good laugh down at the poker room. It would ruin the Duchess Harmony’s reputation forever, of course, but what did he care about that?
He arranged the meeting at his manor in the country, away from prying eyes. Emanuel thought the whole things was hilarious, and Harmony liked her right away. Emanuel taught her how to put rouge on her cheeks and lift her skirts just a little and how to bluff at cards. And then she made Harmony up in one of her gowns and one of her elaborate wigs so that no one would recognize her. If anyone asked, she would say that Harmony was the new girl, just learning the ropes.
Lord Ron just watched. Finally, he said, “when are you going to teach her about sex? That’s the part I want to watch.”
Emanuel laughed. “I don’t think she’s going to need to learn about that. She’s just going to play poker.”
“I don’t know. She might like it.” Ron smiled at Harmony, who turned completely red. With all the fun she’d been having with wigs and pairs and three of a kind, she forgot that she was going to pretending to be someone who really likes sex, and that’s what Emanuel did. She seemed to really like it though. It was fun and she didn’t have snooty aunts watching her every move.
“We do need to come up with a name.” Emanuel studied Harmony. “What about Missy Jane Bellinger?”
“I think Muffin would be better,” Harmony countered.
“No, I like Missy Jane. Muffin is just asking for trouble,” Ron told her.
So, Missy Jane it was. Off they went to the poker room in Ron’s fancy carriage. They stepped out onto the street, and she beamed. She was finally part of the group that was laughing and having a great time, not just watching from her window. She was a little scared when they got to the poker room, but no one questioned her. And she saw several of her suitors, but none of them recognized her. They would be shocked if they knew!
She was looking at her cards, her nose scrunched, wondering whether she should call or fold. That brandy sure was strong! Just then, she felt a pinch on her backside.
“You scoundrel!” She screeched as she turned around. Her reaction was automatic. She forgot for a moment that they thought she was used to that kind of thing. She’d blown her cover. Everyone would know now! But no, everyone was laughing. They thought she was joking. She turned around and saw the most handsome man she had ever seen. The most handsome man she had ever seen had just pinched her ass!
And he was grinning at her. “Well, little lady, I just couldn’t resist.” She couldn’t help but smile back. She started wondering if Emanuel should have given her those other lessons after all.
He bowed. “My name is Duke Christopher. What’s yours?”
“I’m, Har- Missy Jane.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance, Harmissy Jane. Unusual name though.”
She blushed, furiously trying to think of something witty and courtesan-like to say.
“Well, I’m an unusual girl. ” She tried to sound sexy.
They laughed and talked all night. Ron and Emanuel watched amused from their side of the table. Finally, the game broke up and people started wandering off in pairs.
“Hey Harmissy Jane?”
“Yes, Toph?” She had shortened his name after the third brandy.
“Want to take a ride in my galloping carriage and experience my throbbing manhood?”
“Only if you’ll promise to roughly fondle my heaving breasts.”
“It’s a deal.”
They galloped and fondled and throbbed all night. The next morning, as the sun came up, he awoke to find her sleeping peacefully beside him. Only something was different. Her wig had come off amidst all the galloping. He realized she wasn’t Harmissy the courtesan at all! She was the Duchess Harmony! He had been admiring her from afar for so long, but never had the courage to call on her! How could this be?
She woke up and saw him staring at her. She realized her disguise was gone. As were her clothes.
“You probably are shocked to find out that I was masquerading as courtesan. You’re outraged at my besmirched reputation and you’re so hurt that I’ve lied to you that you never want to speak to me again.” She sighed, her heart silently breaking as during the night, she had finally found love, along with his throbbing manhood.
“Well, actually, I think it’s kind of hot. Let’s run away together and live in love forever, free of snooping eyes and societal rules. I’m a duke; you’re a duchess. We can afford it, right?”
“I love you Harmissy!”
“I love you Toph!”
And they lived happily ever after and had lots of great sex, both in and out of carriages.