Scandalous Lovers

PUBLISHER: 
RS
Book Series: 
The Men And Women's Club Series

I can't live knowing that I'm a victim, simply because I'm a woman.

A wife at fifteen, a mother at sixteen and now a widow, country-bred Frances Hart does not know how to simply be a woman.  Until she accidentally interrupts a meeting of the Men and Women's Club...an elite association dedicated to the study of sexology...and is challenged by widower James Whitcox, a sophisticated London barrister.  Her honesty—dangerous in an era when women were dependent upon fathers, husbands and sons for their very survival—tests the convictions of every man and woman in the Club, even as it catalyzes a passionate odyssey of intimate discovery.  But Victorian society does not approve of the forty-nine-year-old widow's scandalous affair—and neither does her family.  Defying convention, Frances and James sue for a woman's right to love. No one will escape the consequences... 

 

Chapter One

 
He saw through the eyes of a woman.
 
The five-globe gas chandelier.  The twenty-foot-long mahogany table.
 
The twelve members of the Men and Women's Club.
 
Doctor.  Banker.  Publicist.  Teacher.  Student.  Professor.  Suffragette.  Architect.  Philanthropist.  Journalist. Accountant. . . .
 
Unerringly he focused on the barrister who sat at the head of the conference table.
 
Silver frosted the crisp chestnut hair at his temples; uncompromising lines radiated outward from cold hazel eyes.
The truth forcibly struck him.
 
During twenty-four years of marriage, his wife had been the perfect hostess and mother.  And then she had died.
 
Alone.
 
Pinned underneath the wheels of a carriage.
 
He had not known the woman who bore his name, and who had borne his two children.  He had not known her fears, her dreams, her needs.
 
Staring at the man with the silver-frosted hair and the cold hazel eyes, he realized that this was the man she had seen over breakfast each morning: she had seen a stranger.  James Whitcox.  Husband.  Father.  Barrister, Queen’s Counsel.
 
Recognition erupted into an explosion of sound.  The mahogany door slamming into a burgundy-papered wall snapped James back into his own masculine perspective.
 
The woman whose pale green eyes he had for one infinitesimal moment stared through, stood frozen in the doorway, hand extended to recapture the brass doorknob that had escaped it.  Her face beneath a round straw hat was gently marked by maturity.  Vibrant red hair framed her temples.  Her green-checkered velvet coat with matching walking skirt and green silk polonaise were unapologetically feminine.
 
She was a woman who did not hide from her sexuality.  Clearly she did not belong to the Men and Women's Club.
 
The squeak of a chair slashed through the quiver of vibrating wood.  Even as he watched, the mahogany door rebounded off the wall.
 
She had a small hand.  It was covered in a tan, kid-leather glove.
 
Any second now that hand would grasp the doorknob, and the woman would walk away.  A stranger.  As his wife had been a stranger. And he would never know. . . .
 
James snared her gaze.  "What does a woman desire?"
 

The harsh words ricocheted off the gas chandelier.

 
His voice was not that of the gentleman he had been raised to be: in public; in court; in bed.  It was the voice of a man:  commanding; demanding.
 
The chagrin in the woman's eyes blossomed into surprise.  At the same time, her gloved hand wrapped around the brass doorknob.  "I beg your pardon?"
 
Her voice was clear, the clip of gentility softened by a faint country dialect.
 
She wasn't from London.
 
Her origins were of no consequence.  James didn't want a socialite's pardon:  he wanted a woman's honesty.
 
"Does a woman desire the touch of a man?"
 
His wife had in the past spoken of the latest on dits, charitable activities, and of their children.  The members of the Men and Women's Club had in past meetings discussed the biology, the history, the philosophy, and the sociology of sex.  Not once had they acknowledged the existence of simple human need.
 
But James did need.  Did this woman?
 
He raked her face with prosecutorial eyes.  "Does a woman desire to touch a man?"
 
Shock stunned the members of the Men and Women's Club—men and women who had yet to understand the difference between sexology and sexuality.
 
“Are women repulsed by a man’s sexuality?”
 
Passing carriage wheels shrilled.  The faint blare of a German polka wafted up from the street below.
 
Inside the burgundy papered-meeting room, the silence was absolute.
 
"Exactly what is it,” James pressed, “that a woman desires from a man?”
 
Something flickered inside her eyes—something that James had never before seen.
 
"Pray accept our apologies, madam"—masculine censure shuttered her face—"on behalf of Mr. Whitcox.  We are in a private meeting, as you see.  If I may direct you. . . ."
 
Immediately her gaze skittered away from James and found Joseph Manning, founder and president of the Men and Women’s Club.
 
She opened her mouth—
 
To accept the apology on James's behalf, perhaps.  Or to ask directions to the room she had all along intended to visit, a museum exhibition where men would not inflict unwanted masculine needs upon her.
 
"Pray accept my apologies, madam," James ruthlessly intercepted, "on behalf of Mr. Manning.  He forgets that the purpose of the Men and Women’s Club is to discuss sexual relations."
 
The woman's gaze snapped back to his.
 
"Doctor Burns"—James indicated the woman who sat to his left with a short thrust of his head—"is a firm believer in Darwin's theory of sexual selection; whereas, Mr. Addimore"—he indicated the accountant who sat to his right—"is more interested in Malthus’s thesis for population control.  Mrs. Clarring"—he indicated the philanthropist who sat on the right side of the accountant—"is an expert on erotic composition in still-life paintings."
 
"Mr. Whitcox, this is highly irregular—"
 
 “If you had not interrupted when you had,” James ignored the publicist’s sharp reprimand; she was a beautiful woman, but her beauty did not touch him, “I would even now be delivering a lecture on English law and divorce.  Are you interested in English law and divorce?"
 
The woman’s small, gloved hand clenched.  "No, thank you—"
 
"Are you interested in Mr. Darwin's theory of sexual selection?"
 
"I’m not familiar with Mr. Darwin's theories."  Dark rose tinted her cheeks.  "I really must—"
 
Go.
 
But James couldn't let her go—not until he knew whether that brief flicker inside her eyes had been a result of feminine need and not the effect of flickering gaslight.
 
"Are you interested in erotic art?"
 
He knew her answer before she opened her mouth—the only answer any respectable woman could rightfully claim.
 
"I have never seen any works of erotic art—"
 
"Would you like to?"
 
The woman's head snapped back.  Simultaneously, a volley of "Mr. Whitcox!" rang out.
 
"Miss Palmer."  James turned to the thin, anemic teacher who underlined flowery prose in archaic French novels and labeled them erotic metaphors.  "Have you ever seen a French postcard?"
 
Her pinched nostrils turned purple.  "Sir!"
 
James glanced one by one at the men and women who sat stiffly upright, ten in medallion-backed armchairs, the journalist in a lattice-backed wheelchair.  He had investigated each member before joining their circle of five bachelors, five spinsters, and one wife whose husband preferred the oblivion of alcohol over the comfort of feminine arms.
 
"We have discussed sexual symbolism in art"—his gaze slid past the young men in their dark, tailored wool suits that resembled his own, lingered on the young women in their conservative dresses and dark bonnets—"but how many of you ladies have ever seen a painting or photograph whose sole purpose is to arouse and titillate?"
 
Angry red blotching their faces, the women gazed past James's shoulder . . . or at the notes on English law and divorce neatly stacked by his left hand . . . or at the mahogany table . . . anywhere but into his eyes.
 
They knew how to respond to a sexless gentleman.  They did not know how to respond to a sexual man.
 
"We are here to discuss sexology, sir," Jane Fredericks curtly rallied; the white feather in her black bonnet pointed to the ceiling like a signpost to heaven, "not pornography."
 
He studied the twenty-seven-year-old suffragette who idolized Josephine Butler, a clergyman's wife who had successfully campaigned to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts on the basis that it enabled men to enjoy sex without suffering.  Not once in the seven months that James had been a member of the Men and Women’s Club had he seen inside her eyes a spark of warmth, of need, of curiosity.
 
"Have you never wanted to see what it is that excites a man, Miss Fredericks?" he dispassionately queried.
 
Frigid green eyes stared at the wall behind him.  "No."
 
She believed her lie.
 
Seven months earlier James, too, would have believed it.
 
He sought out the woman with the pale green eyes.  "What of you, madam?  Do you desire to see a French postcard?"  James remembered the gold with which he had paid his mistresses, and the jewelry with which he had gifted his wife.  Compensations, both, for enduring his touch.  "Or do you think that women are naturally repulsed by objects that incite lust in a man?"
 
Red-gold lashes shadowed her cheeks.  She had elegant cheekbones.
 
Her gaze seared James's left hand.  She stared at his wedding band, a badge of respectability.
 
Marriage had paved the way to political appointments.
 
What had marriage brought his wife? he wondered.  Social position?  Daughter of the First Lord of the Treasury, she had possessed a privileged place in society before marrying James.
 
What had marriage brought to the fashionably dressed woman who now stared at the lie that circled his finger?  She shone with the confidence of knowing a man's protection, but did she enjoy satisfying a man's desire?
 
"I suggest, sir," the woman said finally, calmly; eyelashes slowly rising, her gaze pinned his, "that your wife would best be able to answer your questions."
 
Straw hat screening her face, she stepped back.
 
“My wife is dead.”
 
The words ripped through the chill spring air.
 
She paused, head snapping upward.
 
James's gaze was waiting for hers.  "I will never know which of my touches excited her, or which ones repulsed her.  I will never know how I failed her, or even if I failed her.  I will never know what she needed, because I never asked."
 
"Why not?"
 
The rejoinder was swift.  The woman's body remained poised for flight.
 
"Because I was afraid," James said.
 
Feminine gasps greeted his admission:  a man could do or say many things as long as he didn't admit fear.
 
"I am still afraid."
 
A masculine protest overrode the feminine gasps.  "I say, there—"
 
James ignored the accountant’s objection.
 
"I am forty-seven years old, and I have never experienced a woman's passion."
 
"Mr. Whitcox, sir!" the suffragette sputtered over the hiss of the gas chandelier.
 
"I need to know that it's not too late."
 
The woman with the vivid red hair remained motionless, her expression arrested.
 
"I need to know that men and women share the same needs."
 
A shudder vibrated the wooden table, a door slamming below.
 
“I need to know that there can be honesty between men and women.”
 
A short, urgent shout sounded from the street outside.
 
The solitude that filled his every waking moment stretched out before James.  "I need to know that a man and a woman can live in the same house, and lie in the same bed, and be more than two strangers."
 
Low murmurs bounced around the mahogany table, feminine whispers recoiling off of masculine rumbles:  "I never—"  "—does he—"  "—not himself—"  "—grief—"
 
"Mr. Whitcox, really, sir," Joseph Manning cut through the jumbled voices, "there’s no need for this melodrama."
 
"I am being honest, Mr. Manning," James riposted, every fiber in his body concentrated on the woman who stood on the threshold.  "Are you offended by honesty, madam?"
 
He had no difficulty reading what lurked inside her eyes: uncertainty.
 
"I try not to be."
 
“Are you frightened by your sexuality, or is it a man’s sexuality that frightens you?”
 
It was not truth that she offered him.
 
“Sir, I can not answer for all women.”
 
“I don’t expect you to answer for all women."
 
He only wanted her to answer for herself, one woman to one man.
 
“I’m not certain what it is that you’re asking,” she evaded.
 
James leaned forward, daring her to be a woman of flesh and blood, and not a paragon of feminine virtue.  “I am asking if you want to be touched by a man.”
 
Crackling paper underscored his challenge.
 
“I am asking if you are repelled by the thought of a man who needs the touch of a woman.”
 
Her pupils dilated, darkness swallowing light.
 
James did not relent.  “I am asking if you lie awake at night aching for the satisfaction that men are told respectable women do not desire.”
 
Desire reverberated inside the room.
 
Sighing wool slid over squeaking leather.  Six women leaned forward, waiting to hear a member of their sex acknowledge what they themselves were afraid to admit.
 
"I do not indiscriminately desire a man's touch"—the gently accented voice was quiet, resolute; the woman's chin firmed—"but yes, I do desire to be touched."
 
Emotion squeezed his chest.  James recognized it as hope.
 
"Do you desire to touch a man?” he asked.  “To give pleasure, as well as to receive it?”
 
The wooden table groaned.  Five men leaned forward to better hear her answer, swept up in the masculine compulsion to know a woman.
 
She took a deep breath, green-checkered coat rising—she had full breasts—falling. . . .  "I do not believe that all men want to be given pleasure."
 
It was not the answer James had expected.
 
The question she had earlier asked shot out of his mouth:  "Why not?"
 
Memory clouded her face.  "If it were so, surely a man would not apologize to a woman when he touches her."
 
Pain slashed through James.  He had apologized to his wife every time he had come to her bed.
 
He had apologized through his restraint, that he not overwhelm her with his masculinity.  He had apologized through his silence, that he not repulse her with labored breathing or an animalistic grunt of completion.
 
Their sexes had touched, but they themselves had not.
 
Every release James had gained had been weighted with the knowledge that his wife did not share it.  It had been her duty to submit.  It had been his duty to procreate.  Their duty had made them strangers.
 
"You are concerned that you did not satisfy your wife," a feminine voice unexpectedly charged.
 
James focused on pale green eyes instead of the past.
 
“There is no need for a woman to lie awake at night, aching with need.   Women have hands and fingers."  She notched her chin, daring him to judge her.  "We do not need a man to give us satisfaction.  We are quite capable of satisfying ourselves."
 
A shocked intake of breath shot down his spine.
 
"You said you wanted to know if women have the same needs as men," she continued, as if unaware of the furor she created, a woman publicly admitting to the act of masturbation.  "I believe they do."
 
A distant Big Ben bonged the half hour.
 
"I believe there are women who may want more out of marriage than what their husbands are capable of giving to them, just as I believe there are men who may desire more than what their wives are capable of giving.  I do not believe either are at fault."
 
The pain James had earlier felt briefly shone in her eyes.  "You said you needed to know if there can be honesty between men and women.  I believe we have both just now proven that it is, indeed, possible.  Good day, ladies"—she curtly bobbed her head—"gentlemen."
 
Having opened the door on feminine desire, she now closed it.
 
"You are afraid of your sexuality," he goaded.
 
The closing door halted; her head snapped upward.
 
"I am forty-nine years old"—laughter abruptly illuminated her face; the soft skin at the corners of her eyes crinkled—"and have been married for thirty-four of those years.  I have five children, and eight grandchildren.  I assure you, sir, there has been no time to fear my sexuality."
 
Nor had she possessed the opportunity to explore it, she did not need to add.
 
James did not share the laughter she so generously offered.
 
She had married at the age of fifteen; he would have been thirteen, studying at Eton.
 
Silver glinted out of the corner of his right eye, a flash of metal spectacles.
 
Marie Hoppleworth, a perennial student at the age of thirty-six, focused on the enigma that stood in the doorway, and not the leather-bound ledger that lay before her.
 
What was it that compelled one woman to speak honestly before twelve strangers, when the members of the Men and Women’s Club could not speak honestly among themselves?
 
“You are not from London,” he said shortly.
 
One second the woman’s eyes were alight with laughter; the next second they clouded with wariness.  “No.”
 
James had been a barrister too long not to recognize the look in her gaze: she was hiding—but from what?
 
Deliberately he used the provocative term for the metropolis that lured like a flame both the young and the old, the poor and the wealthy.  “Why did you come to the City of Dreadful Delights?”
 
“I wished to experience a season of entertainment,” she said with obvious reserve, “and amusement.”
 
James’s voice was pistol sharp.  “Without your husband?”
 
Had she come to London to find a man who would not apologize for touching her?
 
How could he blame her if she had?
 
She visibly recoiled.  “I am a widow, sir.”
 
A widow who did not dress in mourning black.
 
His youth had been filled with ambition.  Her youth had been filled with children.  Did she yearn to experience all the things as a woman of forty-nine that she had not experienced as a girl of fifteen?
 
Had she heard of the Men and Women’s Club, and—as he had seven months earlier—hoped to learn about passion?
 
"You answered my questions," James said, gaze intently searching her face.  "What would you have a man answer?"
 
Her top lip—slightly fuller than her bottom one—quivered, firmed.  "I would like to ask one question, if I may."
 
No woman had ever shared her sexuality with him, or asked him to share his sexuality with her.
 
He wanted her to question him.  He wanted to be more to a woman than a stranger.
 
"What is it?" James asked softly. . . .

What the Critics Say

  • [The Men And Women's Club] is not what comes to mind when I think of erotica, although the sex scenes were really well done, and they basically talk about nothing but sexuality. Honestly, it’s so much more than erotica, because Schone tells a really fascinating story that deals with sexual repression and how dangerous it can be.

  • Awaken, My Love provides a refreshingly funny commentary on the time-travel genre. Elaine’s trials regarding chamber pots, makeshift maxi pads, and social sensibilities like unshaven legs underline such astounding oversights in other books that readers may never again be able to accept a sloppily written, unrealistic experience of waking up in another century.

  • Emotionally Believable.

  • There's a lot more than explicit sex—although there is plenty of that—to this frankly erotic romance, which takes a hard look at Victorian double standards and the penalties for women who ignore them and with feminist aplomb puts everything into perspective.

  • Schone again displays her talent for highly erotic scenes and descriptions—even without the sex. Before Rose and Jack engage in sexual play, their passion burns the pages. The research of 19th century marital laws and women's rights [add] texture to the plot.

  • ...Probably the first 53-year-old eunuch to be a romantic hero.