A torrid affair with an abrupt ending is what divided Diane Benchley, Countess of Cameron, and Oliver Warren, Marquis of Haybury. Now Diane is back in London and needs a favor from the man she loathes most. Oliver is happy to help Diane, since she does have some blackmail handy, but he’s going to name a price of his own. With his help, Diane sets the ton on its ear by starting a club for men staffed entirely by women. However, Diane’s success is immediately threatened by her greedy former brother-in-law. Can these two stop fighting long enough to save The Tantalus Club and actually admit their feelings towards one another? Will Diane ever actually give her consent to...anything? A Beginners Guide to Rakes by Suzanne Enoch is well-written and full of Suzanne’s expected whit but it gave your hosts A LOT to talk about. **Don't leave over the SPOILERS**
Pick up a copy of this week's book, A Beginner's Guide to Rakes by Susan Enoch, here!
Want to listen to a certain segment? Here is our outline this week:
0:00 - 8:48: Intro/Author Facts
8:48 - 29:28: Synopsis
29:28 - 32:17: Parlour
32:17 - 01:27:16: General Discussion
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 :)
A Beginner's Guide to Rakes Synopsis:
Our book opens to our hero taken aback by a simple statement. It seems that a lady from his past, Diane Benchley, has been seen returning to London after two years abroad. He tries to play it cool as he asks for more information, for no one knew that they had ever been involved, but he is immensely curious. However, no one is quite sure anything more than the fact that she’s returned.
Diane, on the other hand, has finally returned to London after two years of very careful planning. After her husband’s untimely (or perhaps timely) death in Vienna, she’d spent two years clawing her way out of his enormous debts, vowing to find a way to never be at the mercy of another man ever again.
She has moved back to Adam House, which her husband thankfully had left her in his will as it was not entailed. However, it is grander than Cameron house in London, and the Cameron’s are extremely unhappy to lose Adam house. In fact, on her first day back, her brother-in-law, the new Lord Cameron comes calling to try to strong-arm her into giving them back Adam house.
Of course that isn’t going to happen. Truly, they should be thankful that she paid all of her late husband’s debts for them, so the Earldom isn’t in the black anymore. Plus they have all the entailed properties. She is owed Adam house. So she turns him away easily. Her spine is quite straight and unbending now.
After some time sitting in quiet at Adam House to let the ton speculate, Diane makes her first appearance at a ball, and starts dropping hints about her plan. A plan which has had to drastically change in the past few days, as her original benefactor has had the indecency to drop dead at a most inopportune moment. However, she knows that there’s another person, who, while a lot more dangerous to tangle with, might just make a better investor and pawn in her scheme after all. Plus, she has some blackmail to hold over this adversary…
So while mingling, she lets drop that she plans to open a gaming club to a few choice ears. And then she squares her shoulders for the next part of her plan - hooking the attention of the Marquess of Haybury.
But, knowing their history, she has to be a bit devious, so she tells him quote “Do call on me tomorrow. At ten o’clock. We shall have tea.” in front of a crowd. But Oliver is an admirable foe and grabs her arm roughly, crowd be damned quote
The murmuring became gasps of surprise. “Whatever you’re attempting to tangle me in, I will destroy you for this,” he breathed. She smiled again. “You may try,” she returned. “Now unhand me or I shall kiss you.”
So Diane leaves the ball later with her main objectives achieved, thinking quote
This was her venture, and no one else would be allowed to guide, assume, or abscond with it. Ever. And the sooner one particularly arrogant man learned his place in the scheme of things, the better for everyone concerned. She would tell him that tomorrow. At ten o’clock.
Oliver joins Diane the next day a bit after ten warily. Oliver comments that she was wearing black when they first met as she still is now. We learn that they had met in Vienna less than a month after her husband’s death, and he pokes at her saying that she certainly didn’t mean the black then, and can’t possibly mean it now. Quote
Oliver lifted an eyebrow. “How closely do you wish me to recall the events of Vienna? Because I wouldn’t have called it mourning.” “You didn’t care what I called it. How could the color of my gown signify when you only wanted me out of it?”
We also learn that after their affaire, Oliver ran back to London, to Diane’s eyes, “like a scalded dog.” He insists it was to claim his inheritance, but the animosity between the two is clear.
So eventually we get to the crux of the meeting: Diane has a bit of blackmail on Oliver. She has a signed affidavit that he cheated at one game of cards in Vienna. And as Oliver is a heavy and fortunate gambler, this knowledge could get him evicted from every club in London and afar forever. So he listens to her terms:
Diane needs 5000 pounds investment to start her new club. As a woman, she can’t get the money from a bank, so she needs a personal loan which she will repay with appropriate interest. She will not, however, take any advice or in fact, any input at all from Oliver. Oh, and he shall live in one of the private apartments to lend credibility to the club as well.
She also admits that she has a talent for forgery and had forged her late husband’s will, signing over all the unentailed properties to her. Then she had sold all but Adam’s house to pay off the debts. And now, since her old benefactor and his promised property were now off the table, Diane plans to turn Adam house into her club, with a few tricky renovations.
She is inspired to start a club because her husband’s wagering had taken everything from her - and she’s learned one important lesson from that - the House always wins. So she shall become the house. Plus she shall employ pretty, educated women, which she believes the men will enjoy. She won’t be running a brothel, but she won’t stop the women from doing what they would like.
Suffice it to say that Oliver does not like this plan, but Diane has won this round. (Also at some point she pulled out a pistol from her desk and pointed at him for a while during the conversation. What prompted the need for a pistol during deliberations is, admittedly, not clear. Tensions did not seem that high.) So Oliver decides to acquiesce and strategize for the next battle.
As funds have been secured, and renovations commence, word about her club is spreading around town. Most think her insane to try but admit to a curiosity about her curious ideas and the air of mystery surrounding the whole affair. It seems all the men can’t wait to take a peek, and then see her fall. Her Cameron relatives are also quite upset at the renovations of Adam house and her scheme. However, Diane firmly tells her brother in law that he has no hold on her, and boots him out of her house on his next visit again.
Diane also sets about hiring her educated ladies. She is surprised at the number of applicants, and happy when there are quite a few suitable ladies through the first round of interviews. Soon she realizes that some of these ladies are hiding their real names, and some even come from noble backgrounds, but she doesn’t really care as long as they can do their job and do it well.
Attempting to get the upper hand in the next round, Oliver arrives at Adam house unannounced. They spar a bit, but then determine that Oliver can interview and train the ladies how to be dealers and aid in their selection process. Of course, he has a few demands of his own. Since part of the plan is for them to appear to be lovers, Diane must accompany him to a ball. Taken off guard by his quick maneuvering, Diane agrees.
However, Diane wins the ball-round. After an argument during a waltz, Oliver stops in the middle of the dance floor, surprising everyone around them. However, Diane just takes it all in stride, kisses her palm, places it over his mouth, telling him “You do say the most interesting things,” and walking away from him.
Their next meeting is for interviewing prospective dealers at Adam house. They get into a couple arguments throughout their discussions on which girls are suitable for the task and which games they should have at the club. But one thing is clear - they are both quite hurt from their time together and whatever transpired in Vienna. They call each other names and append adjectives to each other like “Satan,” “evil,” “vile chit,” and constantly call each other “liar.” There is no trust between them, and Oliver keeps trying to intimidate Diane by getting closer to her, but she never ever ever backs away nor even leans a tiny bit into his advances. When he tries flirting to throw her off guard, her guard instead raises.
After the interviews are over, they manage to have a civil conversation over a game of cards discussing the applicants. And then, quite literally all of a sudden, Oliver jumps across the table and kisses Diane roughly. Quote
Before she could shift backward he grabbed the front of her black muslin gown and yanked her forward. Lifting her chin with his free hand, he lowered his mouth over hers. Heat slammed down his spine at the contact. He wasn’t gentle about it either, pulling her halfway across the table as he plundered her mouth.
Oliver of course, had meant this kiss to prove to himself that Vienna was a fantasy, but to him, the kiss had only solidified the passion they had had. However, it is extremely important to note that we get none of Diane’s inner thoughts here. But we do get her actions, for as he turns to leave with what he and the author thought was a witty exit line, she shoots him.
They bandage his flesh wound and he tells her they’re even. He damaged her pride in Vienna, and she has now shot him. She replies
“If you attempt to kiss me again without my consent I will aim my pistol much lower.”
However, here on page 73, we get the first tiny glimmer of anything warmer than hatred from Diane towards Oliver when she confesses that shooting him quote “disturb[ed her] more than [she’d] anticipated.”
As the renovations die down and furniture and decorations begin arriving in earnest, Oliver gets his first tour of The Tantalus Club. He realizes a couple of things - first, Diane needs more advice than she’s willing to receive, so he basically growls that she will listen to him for a bit, and she argues quite a bit but eventually does and realizes it’s quite good advice. Secondly, he realizes that it’s actually quite scantly furnished and in fact, Diane really needs more money for this place to be a success. So offers her a deal - he’ll give her 5000 more pounds, but he doesn’t want money in return. What does he want? Quote
“You.” Her jaw dropped before she could stop it. A thousand thoughts spun through her mind. At least half of them involved her with a weapon and him lying dead. The other half though… “But I hate you!” she exclaimed. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You are a despicable man. Go away before I have you removed.” He rose as well, moving around the table toward her. “You could do that. Or attempt it, anyway. But consider my offer. Another five thousand pounds with the same terms as previously. And one night - no, twenty-four hours- with no one but me. At a time and place of my choosing.”
But Diane knows the money will help her venture, wondering quote
If she agreed, would he claim victory? He could certainly attempt to do so, but if she viewed it merely as a business transaction, then what had she to lose? She’d survived him before, after all. And this time, at least, she knew the rules.
After much deliberating, she decides to agree. When they meet again she shakes on it saying quote
“I’m not yours, Oliver. Nor will I ever be again. As I said, this is business.” “Call it whatever you like, darling. We’ll see how clinical you can be when I’m moving inside you.”
But Oliver isn’t done bargaining for Diane’s affections. The next time she wants something from him, he barters for a kiss from her. She threatens him with the blackmail letter, but eventually he out argues her. She presses a fast kiss that he comments isn’t much of a kiss and she replies he isn’t much of an inspiration as she leaves. But somehow Oliver sees this as a victory, and we continue.
The opening night of the club arrives and is a rousing success. Perhaps spurred by the energy of the successful opening night, perhaps spurred by seeing Diane dolled up and flirtatious, but Oliver decides to claim his 24 hours then. Starting at 4 am when the club closes.
And so their first night begins. Oliver has told himself that he is going to woo her slowly starting with a bath. And he does start with a bath that she takes warily, trying to decide if she should drink or not, as quote
If she could become inebriated enough, perhaps she wouldn’t even remember the next twenty-four hours. But that would make her a coward, and he would know it.
She really doesn’t trust him as he even starts to wash her hair, flailing thinking that he is going to push her head beneath the water. But he isn’t, and he tenderly washes her hair and eventually she begins to relax.
Although Oliver planned not to make love to Diane until after a good night's sleep, seeing her wet after she emerges from the bath he can’t stop his passion and they have encounter number one. Diane is a willing partner for sex, but it important to note that not once has she verbally expressed interest in Oliver, in fact, calling him “Satan” only about 20 pages ago, and after the following passage occurs quite literally just before they get in bed together quote
“You may as well enjoy yourself, Diane,” he continued in the same tone. “Because while you may claim to detest me, you also want me.” It took a moment for her breath to return. “Don’t be so certain of that.” “I am.”
Well, Oliver, I for one, am NOT.
But, he doesn’t give her a chance to respond, and they get to the aforementioned encounter, begging her to say she wants him, and Diane flat out refuses. However, when she orgasms, he seems to think that her arousal meant consent, saying “I knew you wanted me,” while Diane tries to pretend she isn’t enjoying the orgasm.
So afterward they sleep and in the morning over breakfast we learn a little more of their affair in Vienna. Here are the details
It lasted a fortnight
It started less than a month after her husband died
Oliver left without much fanfare when his uncle died and they haven’t spoken since then.
Ah, dear listener, I’m sorry. Are you surprised at the lack of some sort of crazy trauma like I was? That Diane’s animosity and absolute hatred of this man stems from a two-week affair and that there’s not some secret baby or a traumatic miscarriage or anything else underlying? That he somehow formed the opinion, after two short weeks in bed with a woman who he had too-strong feelings for, that she was absolutely devious and not to be trusted? Nothing else happened except they slept together and he left? Well, apologies for that is their story.
So we continue as Oliver takes Diane on a date. He’s nice and normal and Diane starts to realize she’s having a decently enjoyable time with Oliver. Funny, as they’ve never really spent much time together except for those two weeks IN BED in Vienna. What a surprise that he is a human being!
So he takes her to go ballooning - something neither of them has done, and something really neither of them should do, as the balloonists tell them that they are simply setting up today and open tomorrow and quote “Today is only for show and to make certain we have patched all the … les trous.” “The holes!?!” Diane squeaked, translating. “Yes. Holes.”
But no holes will stop Oliver, and the captive Diane, due to their bargain, has to go up. Luckily, no accident occurs, and they again have an enjoyable time.
After the balloon ride, Oliver can’t resist a wager. He bargains for an evening at the theatre with her if he can get her into White’s for lunch, and ends up winning. Then later that day, he bargains for another night with her if he releases her from her bargain this evening and she can see to the club. Diane relents. However, perhaps Oliver is growing, because while he wants her quote
He found the idea of experiencing that aspect of their encounter again distasteful. He wanted her to want him. Which was odd, considering that if she’d been anyone else he would have thought the night’s encounter absolutely ideal. Physical pleasure with no emotional entanglement. Apparently, at some moment in the past handful of hours, he’d gone mad.
Or, perhaps, he isn’t really growing after all.
Regardless, our story continues. Diane begins to be a bit more receptive to Oliver. They have a fine time at the theatre. The Tantalus club continues to be a success, despite all its eccentricities, and Diane accepts more of Oliver’s help with some decisions about club business. Of course, 25 or so pages later, she’s once again not letting Oliver get a word in edgewise when he genuinely tries to be helpful because we aren’t that trusting yet.
And then we get the twist in the plot and the big hurdle that they’ll need to band together and learn to trust each other to overcome. It turns out that her brother in law has decided he wants to get the courts involved and have the will thrown out and take over the Tantalus club.
And so, with an overly complicated plan, with, to be honest, a great deal too-many gaping plot holes in it, they do swindle Lord Cameron out of a lot of money and make him think that he’s somehow gotten involved with a treason plot, and so if he ever tells anyone of his involvement in it he’ll be hanged or deported. And so he eventually runs squealing from the house, never to be heard from again.
In between these 100 pages of elaborated scheming and moving things forward ever-so-slowly, Oliver and Diane learn to trust and perhaps even like each other. And he admits he wants her willingly in his bed, and lets her leave his quarters one evening without touching her. But then, feeling that he needs to show her the level of his desire, he chops a hole in the ceiling of her bedroom later that evening and drops in, trying to convince her that he’s changed. She replies quote
“Yes, convinced! Not...frightened half to death by men falling through my ceiling!”
But somehow this plot works, and they have encounter number two, and somehow emerge from it in a much better relationship than before it.
And later, as they’re still trying to foil Lord Cameron, they talk more about Vienna, and Oliver admits he was scared by his intense feelings for Diane, which is why he ran. He was scared. But, he insists, he isn’t running now. In fact, he’s realized that he wants to marry her, but knows she isn’t ready to hear that yet.
A few weeks later they have encounter number three, which is a quick on the desk office encounter, which seems enjoyable for both of them.
And we’d think that after 75 more pages of growing closer, those two weeks of hurt might have been erased, but alas, Diane isn’t there yet. For when Oliver professes his love for her, she responds by slapping him because he broke her heart after their two-week affair two years ago. But he is not deterred saying
“We are two bullheaded, wicked people who have lived very unconventional lives. Personally, I think we belong together.”
And he asks her to marry him after this, though he requests she mull it over a while and withhold her answer until her club is safe from Lord Cameron.
And when Lord Cameron runs scared, Diane finally does reply, saying
“In the past two months you’ve annoyed me, aggravated me, challenged me, argued with me...and you put my heart back together again. I tried to tell myself that I had what I wanted, I had my independence and that I didn’t need anything else. I’ve discovered I like sharing things with you. I like chatting with you; I like sharing my life with you. I don’t want someone to tell me what to do or what not to do. I am willing, however, to take on a partner. An equal.”
So they have agreed to be married! And she says she loves him. And now….I think we have a lot to discuss so...shall we adjourn to the parlour?
To hear our thoughts on the book, tune in to our General Discussion portion of the episode!