Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell may be named for an Empress but she certainly doesn’t feel the part. She’s not exactly sure when she became a plain, boring spinster of the ton, but somewhere along the way she lost herself. After Callie overhears a conversation where she is described as “passive” it lights a fire in her to become just the opposite. Armed with a list of things she would do if she were truly wild, she heads out into the night to complete item one: kiss someone - passionately!That someone is the handsome Lord Ralston, who just happens to be in need of spinster with a sterling reputation. He did not realize that one kiss from Callie would have him looking for more. Sarah MacLean's debut romance novel Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake is all the fun and drama you want from the genre! Plus it's a little hot to the touch with all that glorious spinster/rake chemistry!
Pick up a copy of this week's book, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake by Sarah MacLean, here!
Want to listen to a certain segment? Here is our outline this week:
0:00 - 08:29: Intro/Author Facts/Tropes
08:29 - 44:52: Synopsis
44:52 - 49:26: Parlour
49:26 - 1:16:21: General Book Discussion
We mentioned the (fabulous) Alanna Series (Song of the Lioness Quartet) by Tamora Pierce. Pick up your copy here!(really, you should read it!!!!!)
And pick up a copy of next week's book, Band Sinister by KJ Charles, here!
We are now including our synopses as a semi-transcription of the episode in our blog posts. You can learn more about how we compose these by reading this article. As a reminder though, our synopses are FULL of spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk :)
Nine Rules Synopsis:
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell is in her first season and it’s going horribly. It’s only been a month and it’s just been one embarrassment after another. As she mutters to herself “I cannot return. I shall just have to live here forever.” she hears a chuckle from the shadows.
Let the embarrassment continue.
The Marquess of Ralston, a notorious lord and rake, is also out in the dark of the garden and has overheard her.
He coaxed her into telling him why she is hiding in the garden and what her name is.
Great. Even more mortification, until he says the thing that will make her admire him from afar evermore.
“It’s a horrible name.” “Nonsense. Calpurnia was Empress of Rome—strong and beautiful and smarter than the men who surrounded her. She saw the future, stood strong in the face of her husband’s assassination. She is a marvelous namesake.” He shook her chin firmly as he spoke.
“Remember, you are an empress. Behave as one, and they will have no choice but to see you as such. I already do...” He paused, and she held her breath, waiting for his words. “Your Highness.”
He then leaves her to meet up with his paramore for the evening. We know because Callie followed him deeper into the garden and saw them passionately kissing. It was as if ice water had been thrown over her. She would never be the one in the arms of the Marquess of Ralston. She was not an Empress, she was just plain old Callie.
10 years later…
Gabriel St. John is awoken by his twin brother Nicholas who has some shocking and important news: It turns out they have a half-sister, and she is apparently in London ready to move it albeit reluctantly.
It turns out that after their mother left their father when the twins were very young, she ran off to Italy and married an Italian Merchant, produced a daughter, and then proceeded to do the exact same thing to that family. Lovely woman.
Juliana Fiori has been sent by her father’s lawyers who were told in the event of her father’s death to send
Juliana is not thrilled to be in England, residing with strangers (afterall, she had no idea who these brothers were until recently) and requests to be sent back to Italy. However, Gabriel denies that request. They end up striking a bargain. If Juliana stays for 8 weeks to be presented in society as their half sister, if she still wishes to return to Italy after that time, then she may.
However, who is going to help Gabriel present this sister, the daughter of the Marchioness who abandoned not one but two families.
He’ll need to find someone who can guide his sister...someone from a good family with a respected name...but who will take on such a challenge.
At the Earl of Allendale’s house, there is much celebration. Mariana, Callie’s younger sister, has just gotten engaged to the Duke of Rivington. Not only is this a stellar match socially but it’s obvious the pair are smitten with each other.
The night of the betrothal Callie’s family hosts a betrothal dinner for the happy couple and it is wearing on Callie’s nerves. After 10 years out, she is firmly considered a spinster and every matron is reminding her of that fact.
To get a break from all of this she enters her brother’s study, which is currently occupied by him as well.
“I hope you have a good reason, or I shall have to send you back.” “Oh? I should be interested in seeing how you accomplish that, as you cannot reveal my escape without calling attention to your own,” she teased. “Too true.” Benedick’s white teeth flashed. “Well, then, you can stay.”
Her brother, now the earl is also unmarried and not really in a hurry to remedy that situation, which means he and she are in the same boat.
He tells her that she should really have told their Aunt Beatrice to buzz off but Callie has always been a little too nice.
In fact, she tells him how she is dreading the lead up to Mari’s wedding because she will have to plan and attend all these events, just to be reminded that she is a spinster.
He insists that if she doesn’t want to do something then she shouldn’t have too. In fact, she has been so good, her reputation probably would not suffer if she were to push the boundaries. Nothing too crazy like taking a lover, but if she wants to drink Scotch why not?
In fact, he even offers her some to replace the sherry she’s currently drinking
She shook her head finally, and the moment passed. Benedick threw back the liquid and spoke again. “I am sorry about that,” he said, rising from his chair. “I should be happy to hear of you taking a risk or two, sister.”
However, this conversation lights a spark inside Callie, what if she could change? What if she did dare to take a risk or two? What would she even do?
The answer comes almost immediately, Kiss someone.
Callie decides in a burst of inspiration to write it down, however seeing the words on paper are missing something.
She adds one more word- Passionately
And then follows more things she could do, if she were a wild version of herself
Smoke cheroot and drink scotch
Attend a duel
Fire a pistol
Gamble (at a gentlemen's club)
She pauses there to look over her list. But if she’s really thinking of what she wants to do, she should include some smaller ones that are just things she wants for her life.
Dance every dance at a ball
She’s always loved dancing but the partners dried up over the years as she became more firmly on the shelf. Afterall she was plain looking and a little plump. Not one to inspire on her own. Her final item causes her to blink tears from her eyes…
Be considered beautiful. Just once
She had only felt something close to that once after meeting the Marquess of Ralston. However, he probably did not perceive her as such
No, he was just a man who did what he could to make a young girl feel better so that he could escape to a midnight tryst. But in that moment he had made her feel beautiful. Like an empress.
She closes off that memory with a sigh and folds up her list so she can head upstairs. As she is about to leave the study she hears her sister in a secret meet up with her fiance. They really do like each other.
Callie is shocked to hear her sister talk in such a suggestive manner and also a bit jealous. Quote:
It simply wasn’t fair that her baby sister—who had looked up to her for so long, who, for so many years, had turned to her for advice and guidance and friendship—was now experiencing this remarkable new world of love.
And then suddenly her sister’s conversation turns to her. Rivington kindly tells Mariana that Callie will always be welcome at their country home. She’ll make a lovely aunt for their children.
Oh how that burns. Do they really not see a possible scenario that does not involve her being the poor spinster aunt?
Mari added, “I only wish she could have had what we have. She so deserves it.” Rivington sighed. “She does. But I am afraid that only Callie can seize such a life for herself. If she remains so...” He paused, searching for the word, and Callie strained to hear—the angle of her body so unnatural that she risked toppling over entirely. “Passive...she shall never have those things.”
Quietly Callie retreats back into Benedict’s study to absorb this blow? Passive? They thought her passive? As her mind is coming to terms with this perception of herself, Callie pulls the list from her bodice...Maybe she should take some action...she has a whole list afterall.
Action is what we get! Lady Calpurnia heads out into the night!
And immediately regretting her decision when she is deposited in a hack outside the Marquess of Ralston’s door.
She does knock and is quickly escorted in and directed as to where to find his lordship...what? She hadn’t even said two words or even taken off the hood of her cloak.
Callie watched the servant mount the stairs as understanding dawned and her eyes went wide as saucers. Good lord. He thought her a lightskirt! The shocking realization was quickly followed by another—the butler thought her Ralston’s lightskirt. Which meant that Ralston was here. In the house.
As she is led upstairs, she hears music getting louder. She is ushered into Ralston’s bedchamber where he’s currently playing piano and playing it very well.
Ralston doesn’t even turn around instead addressing her as if she is his mistress. One he apparently dismissed and thinks is here to beg for either the position back or for more money.
Callie had never thought she would feel for one of the courtesans who lurked on the edges of the ton as mistresses of the aristocracy, but she couldn’t help but take offense on this particular woman’s behalf. And to think, she had thought Ralston a pillar among men!
Now she is angry on this woman’s behalf and luckily gets the perfect opening.
He did not look back as he said, “I beg you not to make this situation any more awkward than you have, Nastasia.” “I’m afraid this situation can only become more awkward, my lord.”
Ralston whips around and is clearly in shock. He recovers quickly and asks who she is and how he can be of assistance.
Callie instead ops for a snappy retort and an exit, but alas this would be a boring book if that were how it went.
Ralston quickly blocks her exit by pushing his hand against the door and closing it. Man he covers a room quickly.
Giving up the facade of the offended lady, Callie reveals her identity to Ralston. He is very curious as to why she came to his house in the dead of night. Not a normal location for an upstanding lady.
She tries to dance around the topic and claim it’s non-importance. It was a mistake, she’ll just leave…
Ralston however, is not going to let her go without the truth.
And then, whether from courage or cowardice or too much sherry she would never know, she decided to answer him. After all, the evening couldn’t possibly become any worse. In a whisper, she announced, “I came to ask you to kiss me.”
Now, Ralston is a bit perplexed. He only knows her, a lady of the ton who attends many of the balls he infrequently attends. So he asks, Why?
Again, there is hemming and hawing but as ever, Callie admits the truth.
“I’ve never been kissed. I thought it was time.” The words shocked him—they were not filled with self-pity, nor did they plead. Instead, they were so honest, so matter-of-fact, that he couldn’t help but admire her courage. Such a statement could not be an easy one to make.
Ralston agrees to kiss her but for a price. Callie must agree to help launch his sister to the ton. In fact, Callie is the solution to the problem he had been faced with earlier in the day. She has the reputation and the connections that will help make his sister a success. He tells her this and she agrees but also with the addition of the right to a favor at the time of her choosing.
And so the bargain is sealed with a kiss. Well two kisses. The first shocks Callie into saying that was satisfactory. Thank you! But Ralston, ever the rake, tells her that it needs to be a real kiss. So she gets one that she feels throughout her whole body. And in a whisper Ralston tells her. “Kisses should not leave you satisfied...They should leave you wanting.”
The next morning Callie, safe in her room, is considering what she did. No one could call her passive again! Well at least if they knew, not that she’ll tell anyone. But maybe, she thinks pulling out her list, she could be that person she was last night.
Her maid Anne arrives, with a missive from the Marquess of Ralston. What had Callie gotten herself into? While Callie is distracted Anne finds the list and learns that Callie went to Ralston house last night.
She warns Callie away from the list and Ralston but Callie made a promise and keep it she shall.
She arrives to meet Julianna. Ralston meets her in a very business-like fashion and gives some rules for Callie’s lessons with Julianna which will involve Callie being at his house quite a lot.
Meeting Juliana Fiori though is a delight and they quickly become friends in truth. Callie immediately notices how frank the girl is about everything and Juliana quickly sees that Callie and her brother must have something going on. But no worries, the secret is safe with her.
At his club, Ralston is talking with his brother Nick about what will be required of them to bring Julianna out successfully when he is distracted by some antics at the betting book.
Baron Oxford, a drunk and not very wealthy bachelor, has declared he will marry this season. All the men are betting on who the unfortunate woman will be and Lady Calpurnia’s name comes up. She’s been on the shelf forever, she’ll fall over in gratitude at the proposal and her dowry will be just the trick for the baron’s pockets.
Ralston, having recently learned a bit more about Callie, is offended on her behalf and tells the man there is no way in hell she’ll marry him. In fact, he bets a thousand pounds she turns him down. Challenge accepted.
At the Engagement ball for Mariana and Rivington, the ton is surprised to see Ralston make an appearance. He rarely attends such banal events. He however makes short work of asking Callie to dance and securing an invitation for Juliana to have tea with Calle’s mother. The Countess is very well respected in the ton. Her approval will go a long way for Juliana. Overall evening was well spent. However, Callie asks a curious question. Could he recommend the name of a tavern?
After getting the information and Ralston taking his leave, Callie heads upstairs to seek Anne’s help.
How could she discuss the season when there was scotch to be tried? A tavern to visit? A new Callie to encourage?
Ralston watches Callie enter the tavern. What could she be doing? Is she meeting a man?
He continues to keep an eye on her while she takes a seat in a far corner and orders a scotch.
One thing was certain. He had entirely misjudged little Callie Hartwell. She was most definitely not the appropriate sponsor for Juliana. He’d been looking for a woman of impeccable character and, instead, he had found Callie, who calmly ordered whiskey in London taverns.
He approaches her and immediately is like WTF you doing? And Callie is all, “drinking scotch duh.” And then she actually drinks scotch and realizes it’s not very good. Ralston gets a bit of a chuckle from that but he just wants to get her out of the tavern before anyone notices her.
Eventually he gets her out and into his carriage where he tells her she’s risking his sister’s coming out. Callie says that Juliana will be a success and hopes she’ll find a love match.
Ralston has a differing opinion.
“My lord...are you saying that you do not believe in love?” “Love is merely an excuse to act without considering the consequences,” he said with disinterest, “I’ve never seen evidence of its being anything more than a precursor to pain and anguish. And, as a concept, it does more harm than good.”
Then Ralston demonstrates how attraction is even more potent than love. And they have a hot and heavy make out in the carriage.
Sadly they end up back at Allendale’s house and must part ways.
Callie is all stoked about her little adventure but uh oh, her brother has found her out.
“I would not test me, Calpurnia. Now, answers. Where did you go?” “Out.” Benedick blinked. “Out.” “Indeed,” Callie said with a firm nod. “Out.” “Out where, Calpurnia?” “Really, Benedick,” she said in her haughtiest of tones, “I don’t harangue you about your comings and goings.” “Callie—” The word was laced with warning.
So she tells him she went to a public house. Don’t worry only Ralston saw her, he recommended the place after all. And wasn’t this your idea anyway?
As you can imagine, Benedick is not pleased. And tells her she better knock her shit off, at least outside the house. She is welcome to all the adventures she wishes in the house, with the family.
Callie uses this opportunity to smoke a cheroot, because she’s in the house and he just said…
As a tired older brother he gives in and another item is taken off the list! (It was terrible but worth it to have the adventure)
A few days later Callie is back at Ralston house to pick up Juliana for shopping! Callie personally hates shopping, so she’s brought Mariana along. The two girls hit it off immediately.
While they’re at Madame Hebert (the most exclusive dressmaker in London), Callie seems the most beautiful fabric and is encouraged to get it by the two girls. Even Madame Hebert tells her the fabric is made for her and she personally will make the dress and then removes the fabric from circulation.
There is also a weird interaction with Baron Oxford outside the shop.
And Juliana has been invited to her first outing in the ton. She will join the Allendale family in the Rivington box, escorted by her brothers of course.
The opera is about to start and Ralston accompanies Callie to her seat. Thanking her for her help with his sister.
Now as Callie is rambling about the show, it comes to her attention that the lead soprano for the night is none other than Ralston’s former mistress Nastasis Kritikos. The woman Callie was mistaken for that night at Ralston house.
At intermission, Ralston receives a note from Nastasia asking him to come to her. Callie is able to see it before he shoves it in his pocket. Then as the curtain goes down Ralston leaves the box. Callie makes excuses for following him. How dare that man risk being seen going to his former mistress on the night of Juliana’s first ton event? After all her hard work?!
She does catch him before he heads down the stairs and proceeds to give him a piece of her mind.
They argue about her involvement in what she is doing and then she dares tell him a rake and libertine cannot tell her what to do. His response is that if he’s a rake then he can stop resisting the part and seizes her in a kiss.
She breaks out and they exchange heated words. Parting ways both furious with each other.
Ralston did go to his mistress that night but only to tell her that they really are done and she’s not to try any more tricks like she pulled that night.
This was a tough night and Callie cried to Anne for all the “lost” years.
However, the new adventurous Callie cannot be stopped. She has a list to complete. Next up fencing! Not even nosy little sisters cannot stop this train.
With a pair of borrowed equipment, she’s off to the fencing club. Using her brother’s name and fake one of her own to gain entry to “look the place over”
She asks where one can practice with a sandbag and is given a room number, but after entering the room it turns out there is someone already there, awaiting a partner. Oh shit! It’s Ralston! Afterall, this is a romance novel.
Ralston is fooled at first due to the fencing mask and actually begins teaching the “young man” the basics of sparring with a partner. However, Callie was unable to tie on an essential piece of practice equipment which results in her receiving a cut to her sword arm and discovery by Ralston.
He is furious and expresses it. Not just about her being there, but also not having the proper protective equipment. What the hell was she thinking?
“It’s really quite fine, you know,” Callie said, her tone belittling the importance of her words. “It’s just that... even in this moment, while I’m faced with certain ruin, and your anger, and my own fear, and not a small amount of pain from my wound—not that you didn’t do a lovely job binding it, my lord.” He nodded his acknowledgment of her praise. “Even with all that,” she plunged on, “I am having one of the best days of my life.”
She spills the whole thing about the list and trying to find herself again.
He is sympathetic and begins using his Empress endearment which makes her all warm and fuzzy inside.
Which leads to a marvelous orgasm for Callie from the nimble fingers of our Marquess.
He helps her to escape from the fencing gym unnoticed but not before extracting a promise from her that she will not complete any more items on that list without him.
At Juliana’s next dancing lesson, there is a bit of drama. First Ralston is miffed to find Callie having a grand, giggling time waltzing with his twin brother. And then Juliana calls her dancing master “un idiota” and Ralston tells her to stop being such a child. Causing the girl to run from the room and saying she is going back to italy. Screw this guy!
Callie goes to comfort Juliana and realizes that only Ralston has the power to fix this.
So she goes in search of him and overhears him vehemently tell his brother there is nothing between him and Callie,
“What on heart would I want with such a plain, missish creature?
That is all. It is not my fault if the girl finds me attractive.” Nick nodded once at the words before pulling open the door, which had been ajar, to reveal Callie, wide-eyed and pale-faced. If Ralston were less in control of his emotions, he would have cursed violently. It was obvious that she had overheard.
Despite this blow, Callie persists in demanding Ralston apologize to his sister. Ralston tries to apologize but Callie does not want it, so he gets all defensive and starts attacking her, saying, was landing his brother St. John on the list?
I assure you that were there a conquest on my list, it would not be your brother.” “Who would it be?” Against my better judgment, it would be you, you cabbage head. “I am through with this conversation.”
However, Ralston is not through with the conversation or with Callie, “I’ve tried to forget that kiss...and the carriage ride...and the fencing club...but you seem to have taken up residence...in my memory.
Anger turns to kisses which turns to Callie getting an orgasm from Ralston’s mouth...but when he asks her to tell him that she wants him...she remembers his words from a short time before, plain and missish and pushes him away.
“I don’t deny it. It’s always been you.” She watched him react to the words, watched him register the truth in them. And then she said, “I just wish it were anyone else.” And with that, she turned and—pride be damned—she fled. He watched her go, unmoving.
Gabriel St. John is now in a fury and taking it out on his piano. He is absorbed with thoughts of Callie and replaying their last interaction in his mind, regretting his words, he cannot regret the actions.
Juliana slips in and they have a great brother sister moment because they both take Callie’s advice.
The next our MCs meet, it is at the Royal Art Exhibition. Callie is being escorted by Baron Oxford, because he kind of cornered her into it. However, Ralston takes the time to steal Callie away so he can have a private word. Callie personally just wants to go home and is not interested.
Ralston is also jealous of seeing her with Oxford and determines the man cannot have her. He sets about apologizing for his hurtful words and asks if he can take her somewhere. After all she stepped out with Oxford.
Instead she asks him to help her with another item on the list. He needs to take her gambling at her club. He is convinced she will be caught. He should not do it.
“Well, it seems you are my partner in crime.” She smiled then, a beaming grin not unlike the one he’d seen her give Oxford earlier. He lost his bluster at the words, feeling the full force of her pleasure like a blow, and a nonsensical wave of pride coursed through him...pride at being the one she would turn to with such excitement, pride at being the one she would ask to escort her on such an adventure. And, in that sun-filled moment, with all of London mere inches away from their hiding place, he was struck by her beauty—her bright brown eyes and her hair, gleaming auburn in the light and her mouth, wide and welcoming and enough to bring a man to his knees.
That evening they are off to Brooke’s! Callie is once again in her man costume driving Ralston crazy.
Now, they do go to Brooke’s and they do gamble but in a private back room. On the way in, Callie sees a woman with multiple men! She had no idea that was even possible! Lots of questions.
To make their night interesting, they begin gambling for favors.
He meant for her to sit on his lap? She shook her head “I couldn’t.” “You wanted to try the role on for size, lovely,” he said, the words warm and coaxing. “Come. Sit with me.” She knew without his having to say any more that this was her chance to experience it all. With Ralston.
They have glorious sex. Callie orgasms before and after, while Ralston has an epiphany.
He’d never experienced anything like this...anything like her. He’d never been with a woman so open and free... never known someone so willing to give and receive and embrace passion with such a powerful will. He’d never known anyone like her.
Then Gabriel (we can call him that after such intimacy), thinks about the virginity he’s just taken and ruins everything by apologizing and saying of course they will marry.
He goes to her at Allendale house (She’s reorganizing the library because that’s what she does when she is frustrated) the following day to repeat his offer of marriage but Callie will not accept it. So he leaves with a very haughty, “this isn’t over”
Then he goes to Brook’s where Oxford is boasting about the money he’s about to win from Ralston because he is going to marry Lady Calpurnia Hartwell. Ralston tells him that he's not good enough to lick Callie’s boots and doubles the wager.
When next he finds Callie, it is at a ball. The very ball that Juliana is having her debut.
Callie is also wearing the ball gown from Madame Hebert and it is fire!!! Ralston tries to catch her eye so he can find a way to speak to her.
He met her gaze and was shaken by the sadness in her eyes. There was something about her tonight that was different, more tragic, from other nights. He knew instinctively that he was the reason for her sadness—that he had made a thorough mess of everything, mucking up his marriage proposal, somehow leading her to believe that he didn’t really want to marry her.
Before they can speak Callie is whisked onto the terrace by Baron Oxford who tries to force himself on her after announcing he has decided to marry her. Isn’t she so grateful? She thoroughly rejects him and then he says some really nasty things. Feeling low, she is made to feel lower when Ralston appears to repeat his offer.
“You know I shall give you everything.” She closed her eyes against the words and their dark promise. “Not everything,” she said, sadness in her tone.
They argue about this fact and Callie admits that she loves him and then uses her favor from the beginning of the book to get him to leave her alone.
Devastated by the thought of living without Callie, Ralston goes to Allendale house and admits to Benedick that he compromised Callie and just wishes to convince her to marry him. He gets punched in the eye and then told she is in the library.
They talk and he tells her of his horrid mother who left not one but two families. She feels empathy for him and then agrees to marry him.
They confirm this by having encounter number 4 in her bedroom and then encounter number 5 in the morning where Callie gets to learn to “ride astride”
They are officially engaged and Callie is feeling the belle of the ball at the ball she is attending that night. In fact, did Ralston have a hand in all her dance partners? Afterall she had wanted to dance every dance.
But the ball is ruined because Baron Oxford is telling everyone who will listen that Ralston is only marrying Callie to get out of paying him two thousand pounds. Why else would he marry Callie. Obviously Callie is crushed and tells Ralston they will no longer marry and he turns his anger onto Oxford and demands satisfaction.
Yes ladies and Gentlemen we have a duel.
Benedick is furious with Ralston but does tell Callie about the duel. She immediately must rush to the field. She needs to save the man he loves from his own stupidity.
The duel is literally happening when Callie comes rushing in, Ralston sees her and runs towards her, getting shot in the process because Oxford had planned to shoot wide and sadly that meant Ralston actually got shot.
Callie and Ralston reunite and we get an I love you on both ends.
“I love you. I love your extravagant name and your beautiful face and your brilliant mind and your ridiculous list and your taste for adventure, which I imagine is very likely going to be the actual cause of my death. And I very much wanted to be able to tell you all that before you were shot in a field.”
Oh, and he gives her his pistol to shoot because that will finish up her list.
The Epilogue is the new Marquess and Marchioness of Ralston in the garden where they first met, even though Ralston still does not remember it. He wishes he did and hadn’t wasted all his time. Callie is happy they had to wait, afterall her list brought them together in the end. Now they’re going to start in on her new list which includes “tryst in a garden”