The Rules of Engagement:Choose a bride from this year's debutantes.Decide on a proper settlement.Send an announcement to The Times.Inform the bride of her good fortune.
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December 01, 2003
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Excerpt from Rules of Engagement by Christina Dodd
This was the best day of the month, payday.
Miss Pamela Lockhart gave a light-hearted skip as she made her way toward home. The residential London street might be prematurely dark from the rain, she might be chilled and wretched, and once again she'd had to try to teach tone-deaf little Lorraine Dagworth how to play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on the pianoforte, but she had easily collected the month's fee from Lorraine's mother. She had also, after a bit of struggle, collected from the aristocratic Lady Phillips. And finally she had given Lord Haggerty's son his dancing lesson and -- while fending off both the younger man's groping and the older man's offer of an ignominious affair -- secured the month's reimbursement without offending either of the loathsome gentlemen.
Yes, a governess's work proved difficult and occasionally abhorrent, but payday, glorious payday, made it all worthwhile, and as Pamela cut through the filthy, garbage-filled alley, she tipped up her head to the raindrops and laughed aloud -- and stumbled to a halt.
Something snagged her skirt. A protruding board, perhaps, or...
A sharp point jabbed at her back and a rough voice snarled, "Give me that purse ye've got hidden in yer bosom, miss, an' I might spare yer life."
Pamela froze, heart pounding. That object... a knife! A thief held a knife to her back. He might stab her. She might die.
He wanted to steal her money.
The knife prodded her, and the man snarled right in her ear, sending the stench of gin and tobacco on the puff of foul breath. "I said, give me that purse. No denyin' ye've got it, miss. I saw ye at th' greengrocers payin' fer them pretty strawberries."
She clutched the bag with her purchase. Rain sluiced endlessly down. No one remained in sight; everyone with any sense had hurried home to sit before his fire and toast his toes. Only she remained, bait for this footpad who planned to steal her beautiful, hard-earned, just-collected cash.
The blade jabbed again, and the thieving fiend grabbed her arm hard enough to bruise it. "Are ye a half-wit? I said give me yer money or I'll kill ye."
Frustration roiled within her. Frustration, anger and despair.
The knife jabbed deeper. She felt the pop of threads as it cut through her gown and corset cover.
She snapped, "Let me think about it."