Read Storming the Castle Online
Authors: Eloisa James
Storming the Castle
The residence of
Phineas Damson, Esq.
Little Ha’penny, Lancashire
ot every fairy tale begins with a prince or a princess. Some begin with a kiss that turns a man into a frog, or a tumble on the road that turns a basket of eggs into scramble. They begin with the realization that what was once tall and handsome is now green and croaky.
My story belongs in that category, because it wasn’t until Miss Philippa Damson gave her virginity to her betrothed, Rodney Durfey, the future Sir Rodney Durfey, Baronet, that she realized exactly what she wanted from life:
Never to be near Rodney again.
It was unfortunate that she realized this significant point only now, standing in the barn and readjusting her petticoats after giving Rodney her most prized possession. But sometimes it takes a clear-eyed look at a man sprawled in the straw at your feet to realize just how you feel about him. One moment of weakness, ten minutes of discomfort, and now she was a woman. She felt different.
“Damn, that was nice,” Rodney said, making no attempt to straighten his clothing. “You’re as tight as a—” His imagination apparently failed him. “A lot tighter than my hand, anyway.”
Philippa wrinkled her nose. “Don’t you think you should get up now?”
“I waited so long that it took all the strength out of me. It isn’t every day that a man loses his virginity, you know.”
“Or a woman,” Philippa pointed out, using her fingers to comb bits of straw from her hair.
“My friends have been poking around from the moment they got a stand. You’re not innocent anymore, so it doesn’t matter if I’m blunt, I reckon. I saved myself for you. Didn’t want to get a disease.”
The etiquette her mother had taught her did not foresee this particular situation, but Philippa said, “Thank you.”
“If you aren’t the prettiest thing with your hair shining like that in the sunlight,” Rodney said, stretching. “I’m about ten times as much in love with you now, Philippa. And you know I’ve loved you ever since I saw you the first time, ever since—”
“Ever since you saw me in church when I was seven years old,” Philippa said drearily.
“You were like a little angel, and now you’re a bigger one. And your bosoms are heaven-sent, all right. Damn, but I could do that all day.” He reached toward Philippa’s ankle, and she moved back just in time. “Shall I climb up to your window tonight? I know you never let me before, but the banns have already been posted at St. Mary’s, so it seems as if—”
“No,” Philippa stated. “Absolutely not. And you should cover yourself. What if one of the stable hands returns?”
Rodney peered down at the limp pinkish thing he called his own. It was draped across his thigh in a way that made Philippa feel positively ill. “I bet I’m the biggest man you’ve ever seen.”
Philippa rolled her eyes and started braiding her hair.
“ ’Course you never saw anyone else,” he added. “I know that. You were a virgin all right. Of course you were. I had to force my way, you know.”
She did know, and the recollection made her grind her teeth.
“Though I did right by you too,” Rodney said, as oblivious as ever.
“You did what?”
“Didn’t you notice when I tiddle-taddled you?” he asked. “Diddled you right where I was supposed to, giving you women’s pleasure. I expect we’ll be making love two or three times a day in the next year. I expect we won’t even get out of bed in the next few weeks. Not even to eat. My daddy planted me in the very first week of his marriage, and I aim to keep to the tradition.”
If Philippa hadn’t already made up her mind, that would have done it.
She was not going to marry Rodney Durfey. Even though he had told the whole village at age nine that he would marry her or no one. Even though she had spent her girlhood being complimented by those who thought she was the luckiest girl in the world.
Even though she had given him her virginity, which rendered her, for all intents and purposes, unmarriageable.
Just at the moment, she had absolutely no problem with that idea.
“I’m leaving, Rodney,” she said.
“Won’t you kiss me good-bye?” he said, his blue eyes still hazy.
And she walked out, feeling—as her nursemaid would have said—meaner than a barnyard dog. As she walked away, she realized that it wasn’t an entirely new sensation. She’d been a little angry at Rodney for a long time.
After he’d made his famous declaration in St. Mary’s Church, Little Ha’penny, no boy ever looked at her twice. She was “that lucky Damson miss,” destined to be the next Lady Durfey. What’s more, no one ever asked her what
thought about Rodney, about his pale blue eyes, or his round buttocks, or the way he looked at her heaven-sent bosom.
Her mother had died the summer before, clutching Philippa’s hand and repeating how glad she was that her little girl was taken care of. Her father had told her over and over that he was grateful to have been spared the expense and bother of a Bath season or—even more onerous—a trip to London to be sponsored into society by her godmother.
The Damsons and the Durfeys had always celebrated Yuletide together and walked to the front of church together at Easter. When both ladies in their respective families passed away . . . well, Sir George and Mr. Damson, Esq., simply kept trudging side by side as they had before.
Their children’s marriage would place Damson land in the hands of the baronet, which everyone, including Philippa’s father, agreed was a good idea.
“My land runs alongside his,” he had told her once, when Philippa complained that Rodney had stolen her doll and chopped off its head. “You two will be married someday, and this is the boy’s way of showing affection. You should be happy to see how that lad adores you.”
Everyone had always told her just how she should feel, from the time she was seven years old: lucky, special, celebrated, and beautiful.
Now, though, she felt nauseated.
She also felt like running away. Her father would never understand if she told him that she’d changed her mind about marrying Rodney. It wasn’t as if she could claim Rodney was cruel, or bestial, or even unlikable.
And the moment her father found out what had just happened in the barn—which he would, because Rodney would stop at nothing to marry her—he would deliver her to the altar no matter how fervent her protests.
No, if she wanted to escape Rodney, she would have to run away.
She took a deep breath. Why on earth couldn’t she have figured this out yesterday rather than after that unpleasant episode in the barn? She’d never granted Rodney more than kisses until this afternoon. Instead, she had drifted along like a twig caught in a stream, not really visualizing her life with Rodney. The
But now . . . there might be a baby. She walked back to her family’s trim house, so different from the garish brick monstrosity that was Durfey Manor, worrying about the possibility.
She loved babies; she always tried to steal away from tea parties and find her way to the nursery. What’s more, she had spent her happiest hours with her uncle, a doctor in Cheshire, who allowed her to accompany him as he ministered to village children.
Still, it was that possible baby who posed the greatest dilemma. She wasn’t sentimental about the life of servants. She couldn’t condemn Rodney’s child to a life of servitude, which is what her life was bound to be if she was with child but nevertheless fled her intended marriage.
Her mind was spinning like a whirligig in the wind. Finally, she made a decision: She would leave it up to fate. If there was a baby, she would resign herself. Walk down that aisle, smile, become Lady Durfey. She shuddered at the thought.
But if not . . . she’d steal freedom.
hat very night, she discovered that Rodney had failed to “plant” anything, to use his repulsive terminology.
Philippa was still thinking about what it meant, and what she would do next, when she realized that Betty, the upstairs maid, was chattering on and on about a castle. Elsewhere in England, people undoubtedly talked of the great castles of Windsor and Edinburgh, but around Little Ha’penny, there was only one castle worth discussing: Pomeroy. It stood on the other side of the great forest, its turrets just tall enough to be visible on a clear day. For years, Philippa had stared out her window and dreamed of a knight in shining armor who would ride through town and fall in love with her, sweeping her onto the back of his steed and taking her away.
Away from Rodney, she now realized.
No knight in shining armor ever came; in fact, the castle had been unoccupied and neglected for years until a real prince moved there a couple of years ago. He was a foreigner, from some place in Europe.
As in a real fairy tale, the prince hadn’t lived in Pomeroy Castle long before he fell in love and married a princess. Or an heiress, at the least. No one really knew for sure because Little Ha’penny was far away from the polite world. Although Rodney puffed out his chest and boasted about his father’s connections, the fact was that Sir George Durfey was the sort of man who stayed very close to home. He’d even kept his son home with a tutor rather than send him off to Eton.
“It’s not good for the lad to be so provincial,” her father had remarked, years ago. Phineas Damson, Esq., was the only other gentleman in the area, though, and if the truth be told, he wasn’t all that interested in Sir George, nor in his future son-in-law. What Papa liked was to investigate battles. He spent the better part of his days in his study, surrounded by maps of places like Spain and Egypt, painstakingly translating accounts of Greek battles.
In short, no one knew anything about the castle and its royal occupants, and in keeping with their provincial outlook, most of the goodly inhabitants of Little Ha’penny had lost interest once the Prussian prince moved in.
“I’m sorry, Betty,” Philippa said, “could you tell me that again? About the princess, I mean?”
“Well,” Betty said importantly, “I was just saying what I heard from Mrs. Pickle, who heard it from the coachman of the morning mail.”
“She had a baby. The princess that is, not Mrs. Pickle.”
“Oh,” Philippa said. “Very nice.”
“You’ll be having one soon enough,” Betty said comfortably. “One only has to take a look at the young master’s good, strong thighs to know that he’s all man, if you know what I mean. At any rate, this baby up at the castle cries all the time. Has the collywobbles, like my cousin’s second. I shouldn’t wonder if it will die. Some of them can’t take milk, and they just fade away.”
Philippa’s lips tightened. “Only if people insist on giving them cow’s milk as a substitute.”
“Well, my point is that the child isn’t doing so well,” Betty said. “The coachman said that he’d dropped off a footman in Manchester who is supposed to round up nursemaids and doctors, as many as he can find.”
“They must be desperate,” Philippa said.
“The baby’s a
’Course they’re desperate. He’ll inherit the castle someday, though not if he’s dead.”
It was that easy. Philippa packed a small bag with her plainest clothes, and wrote a note to her papa. Then she made her way to what passed for a high street in the village and paid the old drunk, Fettle, who lay around in back of the Biscuit and Plow, to drive her to Bigger Ha’penny.
There she covered up her hair, which was distinctively silver-colored and therefore annoyingly recognizable, and bought a coach ticket to London. She hopped off in a bustling inn-yard in Lower Pomeroy, reasonably certain that with all the milling passengers, no one would notice that she didn’t get back on the coach.
An hour or so later, she was standing at the foot of Pomeroy Castle.