Being a bit of a blow-by-blow by SBiT Patrick, Part the Second: Chapters 3 through 5
Chapter 3: The Bluestocking Does Some Blue-Balling
“Dain felt extremely reluctant to enter any room with a fille de joie, which created a serious problem, since he was just fastidious enough to dislike having a female in a reeking Parisian alleyway.”
For over a week after his first encounter with Jessica, Dain has been unable to get his rocks off, making him one of the most ornery sumbitches in all of France. Bertie Trent picks the perfect time, therefore, to drop in and let Dain know that the moldy old chit Jessica’d taken off of Champtois’s hands for ten sous has turned out to be an extremely rare Russian icon of the Stroganov school (there’s the beef!). Dain sends Bertie off to find a wild goose and sits down to haggle with Jessica for the trinket.
The next several pages contain a hilarious pissing match pitting Dain’s shrewdness against Jessica’s quick wit. There are some great zingers in here, ranging from Dain’s assessment of the faces on unhappy Madonnas (“They look exceedingly ill tempered. I suppose it’s on account of being virgins—of experiencing all the unpleasantness of breeding and birthing and none of the jolly parts.”) to Jessica’s ability to parry his quotations from Publius Syrus with snippets from the same. Zing, indeed!
This is good stuff; Chase is clearly in her element. By the chapter’s end Dain has resolved to ruin Jessica’s reputation, and Jess’ll be damned if she won’t let him try. All the while they’ve been arguing, they’ve been undressing each other in their minds, only as a prelude to the actual disrobing that begins the next chapter….
Chapter 4: Said the Spider to the Fly
…Button by tiny pearl button, off comes the glove from Jessica’s slim hand. Dain coos to her in Italian, saying nothing more than non sequitur, but for all anyone else in the tea shop knows he’s got her verbally on her back with her bluestockinged legs high in the air and his own ogreish body placed squarely between them.
Cool as he tries to seem, he’s inwardly tormented by his first physical contact with the virgin vixen: “he couldn’t believe his untoward state of excitement—over a damned glove and a bit of feminine flesh. Not even one of the good bits, either—the ones a man didn’t have—but an inch or so of her wrist, plague take her.” Chase’s knack for steamy suspense makes this scene sexier than anything I’ve yet encountered in my admittedly short journey through romantic literature.
Once he’s unhanded her hand, Jessica points out Dain’s undoing: in his attempt to destroy her reputation, he’s set about the ruination of his own. Surely once it’s gotten around that he’s been seen wooing a woman (a virgin, no less!) of her repute he’ll never live it down.
His only defense is a strong offense: it’s now Dain’s mission to bring Bertie Trent to his knees.
By the end of the chapter he’s well on his way. On the evening of Madame Vraisses’s party Bertie has stayed too long at Dain’s den of sin, and his porter, whom Jessica had sent to retrieve him, has been rudely ejected before straggling back to the Trents’ to lick his wounds. Jessica is furious, and makes her own way to Satan’s lair.
Moments after stepping inside, she hears a shot. “If Bertie was in the vicinity of a ditch, he was sure to fall into it. If Bertie was in the vicinity of an open window, he was sure to tumble out of it. Ergo, if Bertie was in the vicinity of a moving bullet, he may be counted on to walk straight into it.”
Bertie’s unharmed, but sprawled, drunk and unconscious, on the parlor floor. Dain sits upon his chair as though it were the throne of Hell, a prostitute on either arm, a smoking pistol in one hand. He’s beside himself with glee, seeing that Jessica’s near the breaking point, right up until the moment when she stands and coolly takes her leave: “do carry on, monsieurs. And mademoiselles.” With this she’s out the door onto the darkling streets of Paris.
Jessica: 1, Dain: 0.
Note to authors: “baconbrain” is surely one of the most delightfully original calumnies one can lay upon another’s head, second, perhaps, only to last chapter’s “sapskull.”
Chapter 5: Singin’ (et Cetera) in the Rain
Coachless and umbrellaless, Jessica sets out for home as the storm clouds gather overhead. Like a gentleman, of sorts, Dain comes along to escort her. “It’s very chivalrous of you, Dain. Rather sweet, actually.”
“‘What did you say?’ he asked in ominously low tones. ‘Sweet,’ he said.” He’s a hair’s breadth from knocking her block off. But is it really anger?
Jab for jab they pick away at one each other’s calm composures until Jessica’s all but forced to kick Dain in the ankle and beat at his breast with her bonnet. That does it! As the rain begins to fall, they share their first kiss, a passionate, three-page-long affair that backs Dain up against a lamppost and turns him weak in the knees.
Who in the hell has ever had a kiss like this?
Jessica goes home to bathe and prep herself for Madame Vraisses’s party, to which she’s determined to go, late or not. Dain slinks back to his own home only for the time it takes to get rid of his whores and his whoring friends. Then it’s off to dinner at his club and a nice night of stalking the woman he’s secretly falling in love with. From a distance he spies her taking her leave of the other party-goers: “He wanted to rip out the pearls and plumes and pins…and watch the silky black veil ripple over her shoulders…white, gleaming in the lamplight.”
Yup, he’s hooked.
I’m nearly a hundred pages in now, and all I want to know is how Chase is going to maintain the rolling boil to which she’s now brought these characters’ passions. How much more obloquy can they heap on one another’s heads? How much more white-hot sexual tension can they withstand before they melt away? How’s this going to play out for another two-hundred-plus pages?