A Date at the Altar
Marrying the Duke #3
By: Cathy Maxwell
Releasing October 25, 2016
New York Times bestselling author Cathy Maxwell’s glittering Marrying the Duke series continues—Twice he has been close to the altar and still no duchess.
Will the third time be the charm? A duke can’t marry just anyone. His wife must be of good family, be fertile, be young. Struggling playwright Sarah Pettijohn is absolutely the last woman Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Baynton, would ever fall in love with.
She is an actress, born on the wrong side of the blanket, and always challenges his ducal authority. She never hesitates to tell him what she thinks.
However, there is something about her that stirs his blood. . . which makes her perfect for a bargain he has in mind: In exchange for backing her play, he wants Sarah to teach him about love.
And he, in turn, has a few things to teach her about men. . .
Sarah Pettijohn had vowed she would never play the role of the Siren again . . . and yet here she was, tucked high above the stage behind the proscenium arch so that the audience could not see her, dressed in practically nothing, waiting her turn on stage. From her perch, she watched the teeming mass of male bodies in the audience below and knew they did not bode well for her.
The owners of the theater, Geoff and Charles, were masters at creating a stir. The house was packed with men from every walk of life. The rich, the poor, the old, the young, and the stupid had all paid their four shillings because, as Geoff said, men could never have their fill of “tittie” watching. “No matter how much it costs them, they like to look.” Sarah was not showing her “titties.” She wore a nude shift beneath her diaphanous costume.
Granted there was little beneath the shift, but she was well covered compared to the other women in the company. She’d insisted upon it. She knew from the last time she had been compelled to play the Siren, six years ago, the male imagination could fill in the details, whether seen or not. Keeping her identity a secret was important, just as it had been in the past. To that purpose, Sarah wore a bejeweled mask and mounds of face paint and powder to create a fanciful, feminine creature with long lashes and golden skin. A black wig plaited into a thick braid hid her red hair. She’d also refused to attend rehearsals, preferring to practice her act in secret. She was not proud of what she was doing. She had a reputation to protect. After all, she wasn’t just an actress. She was a playwright. She’d agreed to play the Siren because Geoff and Charles promised to stage her play. Her play. For years, Sarah had rewritten and edited the work of men who used her talent and gave her none of the recognition. This past summer, Colman at the Haymarket Theater where she’d been part of the company for years, had promised to produce one of her plays but when the time came, he’d reneged and put one of his own on the schedule instead. One Sarah had rewritten for him.
Sarah had walked. She’d left his company with her head high, and her pockets empty. That is when Geoff and Charles had approached her. They were talented theater men who had staged the first Naughty Review in order to raise the funds to build the Bishop’s Hill Theater. It had been a one-night event, just as this was. At that time, Sarah had been desperate for money so that she could provide a home for her half-sister’s orphaned daughter. She didn’t expose her “titties” then, either, but she would have done that and more to protect Charlene. What no one had expected was for the Siren to become almost legendary in men’s minds. Even Sarah was astounded and she was thankful that she’d been disguised so no one knew who she was. For months after that first Review, personal notices were run in the papers from men either begging the actress playing the Siren to contact them or looking for information about her. Fortunately, those few people who knew Sarah never betrayed her. Now, after years of running their own theater, Geoff and Charles were deeply in debt. They were in danger of losing the Bishop’s Hill and hoped that if the Review worked once, it would do so again. “Everyone wants the Siren,” Charles had said.
“You do this for us and we will stage your play. We’ll all have what we want.” Sarah had reluctantly agreed. She’d had no choice, really. She didn’t have the means to stage the play herself. Charlene was now happily married and living in Boston, an ocean away. The time had come for Sarah to live her own life. If dancing and singing almost naked would bring her what she wanted, then so be it. A woman alone had to do what she must to survive—and if Sarah was one thing, she was a survivor.
She shifted her weight on the narrow shelf and tightened her hold on the silken rope that would be used to lower her to the stage. The Siren would be the last performance of the evening. She’d secreted herself an hour before the curtain. Below her, two female gladiators with swords shaped like phalluses left the stage. William Millroy, an Irish tenor, came out and began singing about being cuckolded by his wife. The audience wasn’t paying attention. They had come for women. Someone threw a cabbage at Will but he ducked. More vegetables and a few fruits were thrown to the delight of the crowd, especially when they hit their target. William scampered off stage to the sound of cheers.
“Where’s the Siren?” someone called out. A chant began. “Siren! Siren!” Sarah shook her head. Men could be so ridiculous. They had been doing this all evening. Her nerves were frayed.
New York Times Bestselling Author, Cathy Maxwell spends hours in front of her computer pondering the question, “Why do people fall in love?” It remains for her the great mystery of life and the secret to happiness. She lives in beautiful Virginia with children, horses, dogs, and cats.