Lord Stephen Thayer entered the ballroom to survey the last event of the fall season. He had reluctantly agreed to host the final soirée to please his parents. Now he totally understood the feelings that his sister, Georgiana, proclaimed loud and clear when she was coming out three years ago. These young women, some no more than girls embarking on their first season, were on the auction block. The result of such a marketing frenzy for Georgiana was that she was happily ensconced in a beautiful estate awaiting their first child with the proclaimed love of her life.
That’s what Stephen wanted. He wanted to be done with the chase. Unlike when he took his hunting dogs to flush the pheasants from the tall reeds on his shoot, the perfect targets did not present themselves. It appeared his family was less able to uncover the better choices for a wife with his desires in mind than he had been when first approaching the task. This evening would be the last push before the winter began in earnest and his efforts to find a wife lessened considerably for half a year.
Who would have known how trying it would be to find a woman to share his name? One who would also not be opposed to filling his nursery? It’s not that Stephen was only interested in producing an heir. In fact, that was the problem. He made it clear that he wasn’t only interested in procreating the requisite heir, and a spare, but he wanted more. How did he get to this place? He had position, money, and until recently, no desire to ferret out the perfect mate.
“I’m not inclined to be leg-shackled until I am ready,” was an acceptable stance that he fervently held, until this year. However, he had completed the Season without a wife, and now he was closing the short autumn season without a bride. The trouble was that Lord Thayer wanted it all. He wanted a wife who was elegant and presented well thus ensuring his standing in society. He wanted that same woman to tear down all of her barriers and be quite a wildcat in his bedchamber. One who gave the appearance of a woman uninterestingly proper in public but behind closed doors was adventuresome, passionate, and not at all prudish.
Finally, he wanted that lovely lady to allow him to pamper her when the need struck him. Not indulge as with jewels and dresses for he would do that automatically, but with his time. To play and allow him to coddle her, nurture her as a papa would. As his bride, allow him to bind her to his bed, make her scream his name in the agony of undiluted pleasure. He wanted her to be wanton on one day and needy as a child on another. He wanted a vixen in bed in the morning and upon retiring, innocent submission mid-day and the consummate hostess in the evening.
After speaking to a gentleman at his club, some months ago, Stephen felt that he could, at last, relax in his proclivities. “It is role-playing, much as actors and actresses, exploring their character. I hear women love the pretense even more than their men. It is a fact that mine does.”
Stephen ordered another drink.”Why is that, do you think?”
“I can only speak for my wife and me. But my position brings with it many responsibilities that fall onto my wife. She becomes distraught when she is exceedingly weary or overtaxed, but an afternoon or evening as my ward, or as my school miss, seems to rejuvenate us both.” He also explained that if there were correction necessary, he most typically dealt out that correction in this particular role. There were times that his wife needed to relieve her stress, and it was according to what that stress was and where it originated from as to whether she was his lady, his lover, or his little one when the relief occurred.
Stephen thought about this quite often since that conversation and found that it made much more sense to him than any of the other scenarios presented thus far. He had spent a little time formulating the type of woman who would fulfill such a particular genre of desires on occasion. The list seemed formidable, and quite frankly, unattainable; for one could not ask a woman if she would allow or if she shared certain tendencies.
Another friend put it in another light. “Thayer, you put your efforts into finding a woman who will be submissive to your desires for whom you also, hopefully, have an affection and the rest will happen however it happens. You will be glad for the outcome, I promise. At that juncture, it will matter not whether your preconceived ideas of your particular needs are met because you will be happy. If you think you desire a type of bondage and she is not prepared to be bound, you accept it and through patience try to entice her. However, it is the woman herself, who matters first and foremost. You will be able to see the right one if that is what you put your focus on.”
Unfortunately, this evening, as in all others, he found there weren’t many available women who took his kind of bait. Stephen looked around at the room full of visually enticing women all casting their glances his way. Some women looked boldly, some tentatively, but all looking his way and all falling short of their goal and his. He wasn’t a difficult man to look upon, and many a woman commented on his deep blue eyes, and dark chocolate hair. He was of a height that complemented most woman and took care with his build and grooming.
The parade of young women who strutted before him this evening, since the announcement that he was officially looking for a bride, was astounding. He straightened himself for yet another presentation was coming his way. She appeared to be a comely young woman and possibly someone he could consider.
“My Lord Thayer,” gushed the young woman’s mother, “this is my daughter Ophelia. I do not believe the two of you have been made known to the other.” Stephen indicated that they had not, and that was enough encouragement for this matron to continue. “Yes, well you will be happy to know her father, Lord Grantham, was desirous that I facilitate a meeting if you did not already know each other. I was quite sure you had not exchanged conversation.” When it came time for the young lady to speak, there was silence, a substantial silence.
“Yes, splendid, thank you. And, Lady Ophelia, I pray the season has gone well for you?” It was a well-used question and yet there was no answer forthcoming. Apparently, this young woman’s parent felt encouraged to speak for her and did so rather incessantly.
“Oh, my Lord Thayer, you can’t imagine what she has done this season. My Ophelia has gone to every event possible and been to the theater twice. She has engaged in walks in the Commons, and then in Hyde Park during the fashionable hours.” Her tone changed to one of slight chastisement. “However we’ve not seen you there once, my lord.”
“Yes, I don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what, my lord?”
“Strut or trot in a circle, my dear madam. I must say that even as a young man the ‘fashionable’ hour never impressed me. In fact, if that is what is essential to a woman, she needs to find a gentleman whom she encounters there in the parks, for it obviously would be important to him as well.”
While he was very careful not to be snide, this hopeful had said not one word since she had approached him with her matron. The girl sniffed her disapproval of his sentiment, but that was all. Was she mute or possibly addled he wondered? He had no time for a woman who couldn’t speak her own mind. Nor did he have time for a girl whose mother spoke for her. He couldn’t even imagine the horrors of that connection. He bid the women well, stifled a yawn, and excused himself, never once having an idea of what Lady Ophelia even sounded like.
He recounted the incident to his brother James, who laughed and shook his head. “I don’t know, Stephen, you might’ve looked at that one a bit harder. She is comely, her mother doesn’t have a hugely horrible reputation yet for throwing her daughter at every available man of peerage, and a wife who doesn’t argue might be an asset.”
“Yes, I can see how you might think that, given your in-laws. However, a wife who speaks not at all except through her mother would be an even worse predicament. I prefer to have my wife to speak her mind even if a bit too much rather than she does not speak at all.” He bid pleasant evening to his sister-in-law who was looking askance at her husband as she tightened her grip on James’ arm. With an amused smile, Lord Thayer resumed his duties as host and started a new sweep of the room.
Stephen was heard to describe things as “naughty” and “wicked” causing many a blush to rise up a cheek but not a one challenged his questionably inappropriate choice of words; no spunk. Conversely, none gave a look of enjoying the exchange either, no spice. Embarrassment and astonishment were all he encountered. He referred to several hopefuls as “little one” and “mischievous” looking for a response.
A couple of bright, attractive young women seemed intrigued by his odd usage of words but failed miserably to take the bait upon further luring, their faces taking on the scandalized look of their peers. Not as much as even a spark of interest or acceptance, dared he hope delight. All evening he tried to find an affinity that could lead to affection, but no one presented.
Stephen struck up a conversation with several gentlemen, and within the span of that short discourse, no less than three mamas brought up their daughters to meet him. One woman had two daughters and wanted him to consider both of them. He was quite sure she didn’t mean at the same time. However, he was left with the unclear understanding that she might indeed give him both were Stephen of that persuasion. To be done with the greatest of discretion, of course.
By the end of the evening, Stephen was swearing an oath of retribution upon his parents who felt that this small announcement at his soirée would be just the ticket to find the woman of his dreams. He was quite confident that after this evening’s debacle, nightmares were all that would accompany him to bed from this lot. He was quite certain that while several of them took his fancy for a moment, he didn’t believe they could meet all of the requirements he needed from his wife. He felt he would know her instinctively. There would be a spark.
As the last guest exited his home that evening, Stephen was disheartened. It was indeed a horrid night, one that seemed to sap him of all his energy. His social attributes had been put to the ultimate test, and while he felt he maintained throughout, there might have been a question the last hour. His inner male intuition, that he had been assured his whole life would be able to be the determiner of which young lady he should choose, had either not worked or had been overused by the end of the evening. He truly was weary in mind, body, and soul.
After deciding that one more polite thought would destroy the inner workings of his mind, Stephen went to bed immediately after his last guest left for home. The one thing that he enjoyed about being in the city was no one needed to stay over as everyone else was also in the city. If he had to undergo such a trying but necessary ordeal as this evening, at least they all went home at the conclusion of the party.
Stephen stared out the window of his private sitting room and thought of his predicament. There must’ve been forty unattached women there tonight. From mousy baggage just out of the schoolroom to well-established women who should have long found their husband, causing one to wonder why they had not. Widows were wandering the rooms all evening and not one with the ability to turn his head, at least not for long. He went to bed exhausted and unsatisfied.
The conversation in the study before his father left for the country the next morning resonated with him.When it came down to choosing a life partner, he was quite serious. He would not just choose anyone. The position he was offering entailed being his companion as well. He wanted more than in name only. He knew that was not a popular viewpoint among his peers and many of his mates laughed at him, and yet he continued stalwartly with that end goal in mind.
He did feel the pressure of time, however, for his father, as recently as this morning, had pointed out to him that he didn’t want to be in his dotage before he had grandchildren his eldest son had sired. When Stephen mentioned that dotage meant the age of doting of which a grandparent would qualify, his father pooh-poohed him and said, “Find a wife.”
“Stephen, you’ve got to put away your unrealistic expectations and settle on a wife. I know there are not many who would draw your eye, but there are some. Fix on one of them and let us be done with the bloody games.”
“I know you are right, Father, but I do have to like the woman. I’m not sure why a comely face and a good background is not enough, but it isn’t. There needs to be a spark of some kind, and preferably a brain of some measure as well. I cannot have some reason-deficient wife no matter her level of manners. She cannot rely on me for every thought and choice. I would go mad.”
His father softened his tone. “I know how hard it is to make a decision, but you could always find a paramour once you have your heirs, sooner if she is so distasteful, but it is your responsibility as my heir to ensure the lineage.”
His father was right, of course. It was time to start his nursery. James did not have the same concerns, as he was the second son. Stephen’s responsibility was laid out before him. He did not perceive himself a hard man to please, but he did have standards that he felt reticent to ignore. He reasoned with himself it was not that his standards were exceedingly high, elevated yes, extraordinarily so, no.
They were all about to depart to the country, but he had a few more loose ends to tie up, so his father and brother were taking their families back home several days earlier than Stephen had planned to go. James and Elizabeth were having their second child, and she was soon to show her condition, so they felt it better that she did so in the country.
His brother entered the room and joined the conversation while waiting for Elizabeth to complete her packing. “Stephen, are there any women who have even piqued your interest in the slightest way?” asked his father.
“Well, not that Landry woman. Gad, her manners are atrocious, absolutely astonishing.” The three men sat with ale that had silently appeared, to contemplate further Stephen’s fate.
“There is no help for it, but she guffaws,” continued Stephen. “I cannot, will not live with a laughing horse.”
“Stephen, be kind, son,” Lord Thayer admonished. “Although, I must agree with your assessment, don’t tell your mother.”
James added to the conversation, “Now Lady Roundtree is interesting.”
“Yes, James,” Stephen agreed, “very fair to look at but then I danced with her, and she has very little to support an original thought.”
“Oh? Shame, that. Her children would have been handsome,” observed his father.
Stephen laughed. “Yes, however, I suppose I should find occasion to speak to the woman I choose to marry, not simply bed her.”
“And what about that blonde you danced with last night?” James asked. “She was comely, and you were laughing and speaking quite well with her.”
His father joined in, “Oh yes that was the Donnelly lass? She would have plenty of strong children.”
“Yes, but she was quite clear about being desirous of Lord Madison. As a gentleman, I should not usurp that option from her.”
“Yes, it wouldn’t do. You’d have an immediate discord. Better not to start out with any,” pointed out James. “Lady Johnstone?”
His father replied dryly, “Hips too narrow. How about the recent widow Lady Aaron?”
“Too many children. I do want some of my own.”
“Lady Winchesterly?” suggested James.
Stephen snorted, “Too tiresome and too jaded.”
“I’m not sure I have much more to help you with, brother.”
“I know. I’ll find one. I am not a particular man,” he said, to which his companions laughed in disbelief. He continued defensively, “There are just some things a man cannot forfeit, and peace of mind is one of those things. Affection is another he should not sacrifice.”
“Yes, well, I hope it keeps you warm at night. That piece of mind.”
Stephen turned to his brother. “How did you choose Elizabeth?”
“She was everything I wanted. I didn’t have to decide; the choice was already made when I met her.”
“Yes, well too bad she came with a mother cut from a different cloth.” His father looked at James.
“Don’t tell your mother that either.”
“Quite right. Father, how about you with mother, how did you know?”
“The moment I danced with her I knew. The minute she stomped her small foot at me in agitation, I made the deal. I knew she was perfect.”
“Well, then I shall look for a woman who is not too long in the tooth, but not a schoolgirl, with a brain but not a bluestocking, one who can make me laugh but not rudely so. She must have ample hips, stomping feet, with manners. She must have a rounded arse for spanking and no more than two added straphangers. Let’s see, anyone come to mind?”
“Sorry, old man, I don’t think that girl exists.” Both men sadly mumbled, no prospects in their memory.
“Well then, that means I close up the house and go to the country for the winter entertainment, and maybe I’ll find someone in the New Year.”
Several days later found Lord Thayer at the conclusion of his business. In celebration of returning home, Stephen decided to have a look at the shops one last time, to see if there was anything he might have need of that would be more difficult to acquire in his little shire.
Therefore, once breakfast was over, he gathered his coat and gloves, for the weather was quite blustery, got into the carriage and headed into town. He brought along his valet who also needed to obtain things in town for his lordship. Stephen had become quite restless and disgruntled as of late due to the parade of daughters in front of him trying to entice his selection. It had continued even to this morning when a hopeful’s father had called on him. His valet announced today as he was helping his lordship dress, that he had become heartily sick of the routine and was glad they were done with the lot.
“Speaking rather boldly, aren’t you? I will continue to do what I see fit and necessary for the good of my family and myself. Is there more you need to discuss on this subject?”
“What? Oh, I beg your forgiveness, my lord, I misspoke.”
“No, you were truthful, and I can’t say that I blame you, but keeping a civil tongue when I am at sixes and nines would be a prudent idea, don’t you think?”
“Yes, milord, absolutely. I apologize for speaking carelessly.”
Stephen was a rather intelligent man who had significant holdings thanks to his family’s good business sense. Business sense that he had inherited. He had searched for a wife in great earnest using that sound logic, but he wondered if he had gone about things in too calculated a manner. He wanted children, and the settled home so many of his contemporaries had. He was tired of being the one who his friends’ wives were matchmaking for and the one who was forever having carrots dangled before his eyes. Or sweetmeats according to the dangler’s status. Maybe he needed to strategize less and just let things happen.
As they neared the shops, Stephen took an interest in the people on the street. He was not a snob per se. However, there was a certain way that the upper classes were taught to behave and that would look quite arrogant to most, but to each other, it was simply the way it was. You told no one of your inner secrets because inner secrets ruined people. Everyone had things they needed to keep quiet, just as his secret could easily bring him down, which was why very few in the world knew of his proclivities, and those who knew, were bound by the same bindings as he.
Pushing that all out of his mind, Lord Thayer conversed with his valet until they reached the merchant shops. Reggie, his head groomsman, had ridden in alongside them to pick out new tack and leather for the repairing of old equipment. Stephen wanted to choose a new saddle. He also liked to look at the guns available. Seeing the leather shop next to the gunsmith shop and the tobacco shop on the other side of that, Lord Thayer indicated that’s where he wanted to stop. It looked like the perfect male shopping. His valet went down a bit further to avail himself of gentlemen’s accessories that his lordship would need when he was returned to the country.
“I should stop in and look at the saddles now so that you can make arrangements to get them home, Reggie,” said Stephen once he had stepped out of the carriage. The brisk air was a bit of a shock after sitting in the cozier carriage replete with hot stones and blankets. There looked to be quite a brisk business going on in the gun shop next door. Stephen hoped that it would die down while he was in the tack shop.
The smell of leather permeated the establishment, relaxing Stephen with its familiar scent. He had hoped that he would be buying tack for his new wife, but it was not to be, not on this trip anyway. He felt the leathers, some well worked, some stiff and unyielding. He enjoyed working the leather, making it supple and warm.
The variety of tack was broad, and Stephen found himself lost in the exploration in search of something unique. He often looked for small strips of leather inadequate for tack. He had begun tooling his own implements such as paddles, just as one would fashion fishing lures or hunting arrows. It was a good winter pastime. One in which his future wife would have input if she so desired.
He left Reggie to figure out the things that he was best at after having chosen a well-tooled riding crop, and a soft deer leather flogger. He hesitated to get the flogger, but he thought he would add it to his implements, for he did not give up hope that he would be able to find someone who would love its use as much as he would love to use it.
“I’ll leave you to it then, Reggie,” signaled Lord Thayer. “Don’t forget to find me some scraps of leather.”
“Aye, milord, shall I take it and go when I’m done here?” asked Reggie, his voice rich with a Scot’s lilt.
“That would be fine. And take these two things,” added Lord Thayer as he handed Reggie the brown paper wrapped package. “Have them placed in my chambers.”
Stephen braced himself to leave the tight warm shop to step back out into the clear but frigid air in search of a pistol when a young woman entered.