Bonus Excerpt: Some Like It Scandalous
In which our hero and heroine, in the midst of a faux betrothal, are brought together by…complexion balm.
Barnard College, 1895
It was two days after the disastrous kiss and mere weeks before the alleged wedding, and Theodore Prescott the Third was venturing where no man had gone before. Probably.
Barnard College had recently opened its gates to welcome women into the ranks of higher education. He was not remotely surprised when, upon calling on Daisy at home, he was informed that she was at school. Specifically, the laboratory. He went to find her there. They needed to talk.
He found her at work on some project involving beakers and bowls and low flames. He hadn’t a clue what any of it was, or if it was explosive, but he didn’t care. Theo just leaned against the door frame and watched the surprisingly wonderful sight of Daisy Swan, clad simply in a gray skirt and shirtwaist, at work.
This was obviously a place where she felt at home, right in the world, even. Her movements as she poured, measured, transferred, and mixed were smooth and controlled. She knew what she was doing and she was lost in concentration. It was a good look on her. Gaze focused, lips parted slightly.
She hadn’t seen him yet; he could still leave. If they never spoke again, other than to communicate the end of their engagement by letter, it wouldn’t be strange in the slightest. But he had this hankering now for more. He still hadn’t quite figured out the more yet, but he knew that making a woman feel overwhelmed from his kiss—and not just whelmed—was part of it. They had to talk about it. Clear the air. Move on with their lives.
He knocked on the door frame.
She looked up, perplexed.
“I hope you’re not brewing some poison to be rid of me,” he said with a nod toward the beakers before her.
“A marvelous idea. Why hadn’t I thought of that?” Daisy quipped. “What are you doing here, Theo? How did you even find me? Are you even allowed here? This is a college for women, you know.”
“Good afternoon to you, as well. Your mother told me where you were. In fact, she hoped I would come and distract you.”
“Of course she did,” Daisy said dryly.
Theo pushed off the door frame and strode into the room, approaching the bench where she worked. He was curious about what she was doing. Was it poisonous?
“Can’t a man pay a visit to his fiancée?”
“If the couple in question is you and me, the answer is no. There is no point. No reason. No purpose.”
He leaned in. “But there is.”
“Hmmm.” She spooned a mixture of gloop—for want of a better, more scientific term—into a plain old jar that had obviously been repurposed.
“Our kiss,” he said. “We need to talk about our kiss.”
“Yes, that. I kissed you.”
“Yes, I do seem to recall that happening.”
“You said it was underwhelming.”
There, he had done it. The impossible. He had broached a conversation that had the great potential to shred his ego and sense of self-worth to ribbons. He’d even gone all the way uptown to do it. He had questions and wanted answers, even if he feared what she would say. And it was Daisy, who never missed an opportunity to cut him down to size. He could count on her for the truth. And then he would know how to kiss her to leave her breathless and wanting more.
“I did find it underwhelming.”
“I’m hoping you’ll tell me why.”
“I was hoping to avoid this conversation.”
“I’m not exactly keen to have it, either. I’m not exactly in the habit of honest, heartfelt conversations. I haven’t exactly had practice, given how busy I’ve been living my life of idle dissipation. But I’d like to be good at this one thing. For my reputation . . .”
“Your precious reputation.”
“And women’s pleasure. Don’t they deserve a good kiss? Listen, Daisy. I just want to clear the air and come to an understanding about this. Then we’ll go our separate ways and never speak again.”
“Hand me a jar, will you?”
He handed her a jar, while casting a critical eye at it. “So tell me, Daisy, why was the kiss underwhelming?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“I have come all this way, haven’t I? All this way in the northern reaches of the city. I have even come across town. You know what a trial that is. I have infiltrated the gates of a ladies only college.”
“All this way is merely uptown on public transport. It is easy, safe, and reliable enough that a woman can do it alone in daylight without irreparably harming her reputation. As long as she wears sufficiently lethal hatpins in her hat. Which I do, of course.”
“Well, it’s not as if it was just next door to my club. That would be convenient.”
“Yes, if your membership hadn’t been revoked.”
“Suspended,” he corrected. His father had somewhat cut him off; a warning as to what his life would be if he broke off his engagement. “Let’s not mention it.”
“Fine. You have come all this way to my laboratory. To talk about kissing.”
He couldn’t resist giving her a rakish grin. “Unless you’d rather just kiss and make up?”
She gave a huff of vexation. “This is the laboratory. It is where I have lessons. I perform experiments and I work on important things. This is not where I kiss men to whom I am faking an engagement.”
“What are you working on anyway?”
Daisy glanced up at him, wary. He saw the hesitation in her hazel eyes. Was she waiting for him to tease her for this, too? He cursed his thirteen-year-old self.
“Complexion balm,” she said. It was not what he’d expected. He didn’t understand it. But his instinct was to understand it, not mock it.
“It must have been a trial to convince your mother to let you study at college, to say nothing of the sciences,” he remarked.
“It was. Because what would a society wife need to know of chemistry?” Daisy said dryly, repeating her mother’s argument.
“Yet you are here,” Theo persisted, becoming animated now. “You have gone to battle and won. And now you are dedicating your time and brain to making complexion balm. You are devoting yourself to the study of something possibly useless and definitely frivolous.”
“Says a man.” Daisy dabbed one manicured fingertip into the cream. Yes, this consistency was finally perfect. Silky, smooth, and cool to the touch with just a hint of resistance. “Men never worry about their appearances quite like women do. They never have to. Yet women are expected to fight this battle against perception and the clock without any tools or secret weapons. I intend to change that.”
“Speak for yourself,” Theo said. “Some men care about their appearance.”
“You’re special in that regard,” Daisy replied. Then she held out a sample. “Since you do admittedly care, would you like to try some? After all, you have come all this way uptown. Crosstown, even.”
She applied the littlest amount to the smooth skin of his clean-shaven cheek. It was shockingly cool at first contact and it warmed under her touch as she smoothed it in with a circular motion of her fingertips. It took only the lightest touch.
“I have had to experiment to find the right consistency,” she explained. “Something that blends easily and blends in well, yet still holds its shape.”
“It smells like . . .”
“Primrose and bergamot. My earlier attempts didn’t have the most enticing scent, according to my testers.”
“Just some friends,” she added hastily. “So I have added my own blend of distilled fragrance oils. It’s a custom blend. I wear it as my perfume. You may have noticed it.”
“I have,” he said. “So now I smell like flowers. Like a woman. Like you.”
“You smell faintly like Daisy’s Complexion Balm.”
“And what are your plans for Daisy’s Complexion Balm?”
“I’m going to sell it. I’m going to make a fortune selling it.”
He first thought, ha! And then he thought, how clever. And then he thought, it’s impossible. For a multitude of reasons it was impossible. Women weren’t exactly in the habit of using the stuff, so they certainly didn’t buy it, so no stores would stock it. Those were just the initial obstacles. But he took one look at Daisy—proud and braced for teasing—and he bit back the words because he wanted to do better. Be better.
Instead, he started thinking about why it was and how they could fix it. So he said, “Not with that name you’re not.”
“What’s wrong with it? The name says what it is.”
“Exactly. There’s no magic in it. No mystery. No romance. No seduction,” he said, leaning in close and dropping his voice to be more romantic, more seductive. To show her.
“Such a name leaves me whelmed, Daisy.” She had the decency to blush. “And by that I mean it’s underwhelming.”
“It only needs to work, which it does,” she said. “And quite well, I might add. My friends saw improved complexions within a month.”
“Sure. I bet it does.” Theo dabbed a little more on his other cheek as he considered the product. The texture and fragrance were alluring. If she succeeded in getting a woman to try it, she’d have a chance. Especially if it worked as well as she claimed it did. Given her glowing complexion, he was certain it did. “But no one will know that because it won’t sell with a name like that.”
“Fine,” she huffed. “I’ll think of something else.”
“What is your sales plan?”
“I have some friends who plan to buy it. Then they’ll tell their friends and . . . word of mouth. That is my sales plan.”
“Not with this name. Not with this jar.”
“But I need this to sell. Spectacularly,” she told Theo in no uncertain terms.
“So that we don’t have to get married.”
Oh, he understood now. She had plans, she’d said. And this was it. If she could earn her own fortune—or just enough—then she could afford to tell him, her mother, and all of society the wedding was off. She would ride off into the sunset alone, with a fortune and independence of her own making.
Theo was suddenly struck with an almost violent pang of jealously. Because all he wanted in this world was their wedding to be called off and something to do all day.
Theo took another look at that jar. It was so plain, and old, and used. He had a vision of what it could be instead.
And he thought maybe her purpose could be his, too. He saw exactly what to do to make it at least better. He also could not really fail at an industry that didn’t even exist yet. His father would hate it but if they were spectacularly successful maybe that would make it all right in the eyes of Prescott Senior. Given what Theo stood to gain (everything he wanted) and what he stood to lose (nothing), it was worth a try.
For her. For him. For them and their freedom.
“We can make this a success,” he replied. He stood up straight, tall, ready. “To do that, we will need a new name, Daisy. We’ll need new packaging. A label that entices. We’ll need to make it romantic, seductive, and irresistible.”
“We? We?” she retorted. “Last I checked this was mine.”
“Anything to get us out of this unwanted marriage, right?”
“So you’re saying I just need to take this ugly thing and make it pretty?”
Theo smiled, feeling for the first time like he knew exactly what to do. “I’m saying I might be just the man you need after all.”