To Tame a Beast

In August 2006, Avon publishers launched a round robin FanLit “Express Your Desires” contest.  I had a great time taking part.  The chapter below was a submission for Chapter 1.  While it didn’t win, it did get read by the judges Teresa Mederios, Eloisa James, Julia Quinn, Victoria Alexander, and Cathy Maxwell.  I loved getting to meet most of them at the RWA conference in Texas the next year.  Such amazing women.

The Regency genre was different for me since I’m a contemporary girl, but it was a lot of fun to try something new and think outside the box.  I had fun!


The Blurb: 

Every Game has its Rules. Even Love.

Lavinia Fraser knows the six secrets to molding a proper husband, and she’ll share them… for a price. On a wager, Lavinia sets her sights on London’s most eligible bachelor, Damien Stone. Will Damien win the lady, or will beauty tame the beast?



“Men are, quite simply, hounds.”

The bold declaration produced a titter from the women gathered around Lavinia Fraser. For most of them, the Duchess of Alderman’s annual ball marked the height of the Season or, as Lavinia preferred to call it, the Great Husband Hunt. At three and twenty, she held no interest in marriage, but that did not prevent her from attending such events, nor from passing her insights about the opposite sex on to the fine, young ladies who appreciated tutelage in such matters.

“With the proper incentives,” she continued as her attention shifted from one eager face to the next, “and the proper rewards, you can modify a gentleman’s behavior to match those of a meticulously bred and controlled canine’s. One can even soothe the most scurrilous beast to fashion a proper husband. All a successful handler must possess is diligence, patience, and a strong, but demure, hand as they follow six simple rules.”

“Surely not all men,” Elizabeth Barrons protested.

“All men,” Lavinia assured the porcelain-skinned blonde. “Any of them can be trained with proper time.”

“But how much time?” Roslyn Porter asked. “How can we be certain before a wedding—“

“Ten days.”

“Oh, my,” Elizabeth whispered. She fanned herself faster, her cheeks red. Lavinia wasn’t certain if the high color was a result of disbelief or intrigue.

“I have heard the success stories myself,” Lavinia assured them.

“Yes,” Roslyn said, “but have you done it?”

A chorus of questions rose up, and Lavinia lifted a gloved hand to silence them. “This is not a skill to be trifled with,” she cautioned. “It should only be undertaken by those seriously seeking a marriage based on an equal partnership. It is not a child’s toy.”

Some of the girls had grace enough to look embarrassed.

“Matters of the heart require tact and care. There is nothing as fragile as love.” Humor lifted a corner of Lavinia’s mouth. “Unless it is a gentleman’s pride.”

Roslyn came closer. “You said any man.”


“Even him?”

Lavinia followed the subtle tip of the girl’s head. Across the room, sharing the hostess’ company, was Damien Bartholomew Stone. Lavinia’s brows rose. “The Earl of Coulter?”

Elizabeth touched her gloved fingertips to the base of her throat. “But Coulter’s–“

“A confirmed bachelor,” Lavinia finished for her, though she suspected ‘rake’ had been on the tip of girl’s tongue.

An impressive man, a Corinthian, Coulter stood taller than most, darker too. He was strong and solid, built rather like the tawny mastiffs she’d seen last year in Rome. He was not a suitable husband for a lady of weak constitution, but Lavinia had never been drawn toward milksops. Coulter was everything a man should be. That meant he was too dangerous to allow close to any secret. And if it was one thing Lavinia had, it was secrets.

Yet she found his knowledge of women, which rivaled hers of men, fascinating. He was a battle-wizened specimen; a master at navigating the pitfalls of the marriage market. It was a fortuitous thing, she decided, watching as he led another delicate lady to the floor. For Coulter was a relic; one of the last magnificent creatures Society had yet to break. Twould be a shame to ever cage such a majestic beast.

“Well, I don’t believe it,” Roslyn argued. “No woman could dominate any man.”

“Tis done more oft than you think,” Lavinia refuted. It was the first of the six rules: never surrender control.

“Prove it.”

The challenge left onlookers agape.

Lavinia contemplated it for a moment. “Define the terms, Lady Porter.”

“Ten days, using your method, to tame the untamable, then lead him into a ballroom like a besotted pup on a lead. Should you fail—“

“I would not fail.”

“If you fail, I shall reveal you and your methods to Town.”

Elizabeth gasped. “Roslyn, Lady Fraser would not survive such a scandal!”

Lavinia ignored her. “And if I succeed?”

“I will provide the funds you need to establish your salon in Town to continue your teachings.”

“The gentleman?”

Roslyn snapped her fan open and pumped it before her face, lifting her ebony curls away from her temples. “The wager?”

“’Tis accepted.”

Elizabeth’s shoulders drooped. “Oh, Lavinia.”

Roslyn’s smirk was instant and arrogant. “Then I bid you luck, Countess, for I believe the Earl of Coulter will prove to you a merry chase.”

* * *

“She’s positively indecent.”

Accustomed to hearing the phrase only in regards to himself, Damien Stone paused. “Pardon?”

“The Countess Fraser.” Edward Barrons nodded in her direction. “Look at her. Surrounded by yet another flock. Do they think nothing of their reputations? She’s a widow with no sense of decorum. I swear she has them spellbound.”

Damien looked and, as usual, liked what he saw whenever Lady Fraser was present. She’d taken Society by storm several weeks ago, and her appearance silenced every ballroom. She didn’t look like a lady in mourning in her cheerful yellow gown. Her hair, a complicated shade of honey and brass, was tamed with combs, yet always looked as if it could spring free at any moment. She was curved and rounded and pink as any woman should be, but her eyes – a sparkling mix of hazel and gold – captured him.

Coulter found himself standing taller as Lavinia’s gaze met his. Her brain was working. He knew it the instant the golden flecks in her eyes flared to life. This was no simpleminded chit. Her gaze spoke of intellect and cunning. After hearing tales of how her husband died abroad, leaving her his estate – reportedly a country house, a few horses, a pig, and a mountain of debt – Damien knew she possessed a superior brain. He’d no notion of how she maintained her current lifestyle, but he intended to find out.

“Don’t look now,” Damien said without breaking eye contact with the countess, “but your sister, Elizabeth, appears to have joined Lady Fraser’s flock.”

Edward sputtered. “Coulter, you must do something.”

“I assure you, my good man, I am.” A slow smile spread across Damien’s lips. The bold look had sent many proper ladies running, but not Lavinia. She angled her jaw and fanned herself. Neither of them blinked. The pulse of competition began to keep time with Damien’s heartbeat.

“I meant about the situation,” Edward said.

“What situation?”

“Her peculiar effect on the women. Haven’t you noticed? They spend all their time talking and… reading.”

Amused, Damien chuckled. “There are worse things than an educated lady.”

“A true lady should have no such interests if she hopes for a husband. You have to handle this, Coulter.”

The thought of handling Lavinia fired desire through Damien’s blood. She was so spirited the thought of such a challenge made his nostril’s flare, his mouth firm.

Lavinia’s fan stuttered, stalled, then resumed its motion.

Damien’s eyes narrowed. The little witch knew the effect she had on him! Did she think to use it to her advantage? To control? The competitor in him took note, responding with alert hunger at the hint of a hunt. “I think you’re right, Edward. I think action is exactly what’s called for.”

With that, he strode toward her. He gave her points for bravery. She met his approach unwavering, the steady rhythm of her fan never faltered. Her nerves were only betrayed by the squaring of her shoulders and the faint shift of her weight from one foot to the other.

He stopped before her, bowed. “Lady Fraser, I believe the next dance is mine.”

Her sleek, lioness eyes held no fear. “I believe my dance card holds no names.”

“Would be a pity to waste such a fine evening.”

“My evening has not been wasted. I’ve enjoyed pleasant company.” She darted a look at the women a few feet away. “Of ladies.”

“You object to male companionship?”

“Not at all.”

“I feared perhaps you were still in mourning. One would not wish to upset your sensibilities.”

“My sensibilities are quite sturdy.”

“Perhaps you fear a misstep. I assure you I’m an excellent lead.”

“It is the following that concerns me.”

“I’d wager you deduce your every step ahead of time.”

“Indeed, I do.”

Damien offered his arm. “Shall we?”

“I think not, sir. The territory seems unpredictable, and I prefer my feet on stable ground.”

Amusement welled within him, producing a genuine smile. “Then until we meet again, Lady Fraser.”

Lavinia offered her hand, waited until he bent to brush a kiss against her knuckles. “I anticipate it, my lord.”

“Yes,” Damien said, “I believe you do.”


© Julie Harrington 2006