"Ethan, calm down."
"Calm down?" he repeated, staring at his mother in disbelief. "Are you insane? Mom, I am so far beyond calm that I doubt I will ever reach it again."
"Darling, you're being melodramatic."
"Mom, you signed me up for a show on the telly."
"Well, yes, but you needn't react like it's the end of the world."
"Mom, you signed me up to get married. To the winner of the show. Like - like I'm horseflesh!"
"Yes, well, women have been treated like horseflesh for thousands of years. You'll be able to stand it."
He gaped at her. His mother might be well-meaning, but she had a very strange way of showing it. "Mom. I need to know a girl for a year before I can get up my nerve to ask her out. I never flirt with strangers. I was severely burned by my last girlfriend, who only wanted me for my money."
"Your title, darling. Any lackey off the street can have money, nowadays. What makes you special is your title."
"Oh. Good," Ethan said faintly. "I'm glad I'm special."
She hrrumped. "You ought to be. After all, it's not like there's an awful lot of genuine dukes running around."
"We're a dieing breed."
She shot him a look. "That is precisely the point, Ethan. Eventually, you will die -"
How sweet of his mother to point this out.
"-and when you do, you ought to have a nursery full of heirs. But to do that, you need a wife."
"No necessarily," Ethan put it.
His mother rolled her eyes. "I know you, Ethan. If you ever got a women pregnant, you would marry her immediately. You're too straight-laced to have any illegitimate brats running around.
It was a sad day when one's mother considered you entirely too proper.
"The thing is, Ethan, you're entirely too proper."
"And so I've arranged this for you. Not only will you not have to go through the trouble of asking out women, you'll know they're interested - otherwise they wouldn't be on the show."
He could feel laughter, of the panicky sort, welling up inside of him. "The show called 'American Duchess'? Where the point is not to marry me, Ethan Dane, but to marry the duke of Westland. Mom, this is exactly what I want to avoid in women."
"But the fact is," his mother said, running right over his protests, "You've been avoiding women altogether. And if I don't take a hand in it, you'll never get married."
"Mom, I'm not even thirty. I have time."
"You may, my boy, but I do not, and I intend to see you wed before I go."
He rolled his eyes. "You wouldn't dare die until you're a hundred and fifty. I'll probably go before you will."
She pinned him with her eyes. "You will be on this show, Ethan. And you will marry the girl who wins. There's no reason to look so outraged. Look here." She put the contract on the table before him. "The fifth clause says you only have to stay married to the winner for a year, and if you don't suit, you can easily be divorced. She can't claim anything of yours, either. And by then, even if you do divorce, you might have an heir."
"Mom, I'm not going to do a stupid reality show."
"Yes, you are."
He rubbed his neck, wondering why he was cursed with a mother so fixated on grandchildren. "Mom . . ."
"If you refuse, I will cut you off and leave everything to your cousin Samuel."
"Mom, I already inherited everything when Dad died. The title, the money, the lands. There's not really anything you have to leave me."
Oops. Wrong thing to say.
Her face froze, and he could swear a look of upset crossed her face. She swallowed. "Well, then," she said quietly. "If that's how you feel . . . I would have thought some of my side of the family mattered to you. We did spend every summer in my parents' home. And I thought you cared about the library . . ."
"Mom, I didn't mean it that way," he hurried to say, to smooth over any hurt feelings. Then, at the mention of the library, he stopped. That was it. She wasn't really hurt. She was reminding him what he had to lose.
"But," his mother said, in a quivering voice, "I suppose I could just donate the library to the public. Give it away. I'm sure they'd love to put some of those books on display. No one would be allowed to read them, of course, as they're far too fragile. . ."
"Well, not if you're on the show."
Dear Lord. He sunk his head into his hands and sucked in a breath. What had he done to deserve this? His mother would do it, he knew. Oh, she wouldn't disinherit him. She wouldn't leave anything to Samuel. But to what was, to her, just a pile of books - she would have no problem giving those away.
And there would go any chance at finding Atlantis.
Not the real Atlantis, if any such place existed. He simply had dubbed in that in a flight of childhood fancy. This was, instead, an order of people who had lived thousands of years ago, yet had, like the creators of Earth's Seven Wonders, had technology beyond their times. They had created precise calendars, maps, known math allowing the construction of complicated bridges, had a set of laws that were more advanced then any other culture of their time. They had risen and fallen before the Egyptians, had contacts with all corners of the world, and spoken a tongue uniquely their own. What people knew of them was only what the outside world had documented, what few artifacts remained. They were largely forgotten.
Except, then, there was his mother's library.
Somewhere, in there, was the key to the language. He knew it as a fact, not because of a gut feeling, but because previous earls of Sable, his mother's family, had learned it. Learned it so well that they wrote all their documents on the subject in that language, preserving the secret so that no prying eye would come across anything. Ethan didn't know why it was kept secret, but he wanted to find out. He had been searching that library for years, looking, though his grandfather had informed him the secret was likely lost. The last earl to write of this almost-Atlantis had lived two hundred years ago.
Around the time of the Elgin Marbles, actually, which Ethan couldn't help thinking must be important. In the early eighteen hundreds, there was all sorts of renewed interest in ancient history. Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians had all been eagerly studied. There was no reason to think that someone hadn't come across Atlantis as well. Maybe there was someone the current earl had shared his knowledge with, as they shared a love of history. Maybe someone else knew the key, or even had the key.
Or maybe it was still somewhere in that library, tucked away in one of those books.
He was going to do it.
He was going to be the duke on American Duchess.
"Fine," he said shortly to his mother. "You win. I'll do it. Just leave my library alone."
His mother turned her forlorn face into one blazing with triumph. "Wonderful. Sign here." She pointed at a line as he picked up the pen numbly. "Quick, now, or you'll lose your resolve, and we'll have to do this entire thing again before you regain it. Just think of the library, Ethan."
Right. And so he signed.
"Sign here, too," she said, flipping the page.
He signed again.
God dammit, did he have to write his name on every bloody page? He'd rather just have it once and over with. This way, phrases were leaping out of him, like "black tie" and "Paris" and "hot tub" and "formal dinner," -
"Mom," he ground out, as she took the papers away, satisfied, "I am not going to get into a hot tub on national television."
"Don't worry," she told him. "It's an American show. They'll only see it in the States."
This made him feel marginally better, until he remember that sometimes a single one state was bigger than all of England.
Really. This was great. Blackmailed to be on a reality show.
"Of course," his mother went on in what he labeled her "delicate matters" voice, "They might pick it up over here. As you are a peer of the realm."
"Mom, I will die if anyone sees me-" And then he stopped, it hitting him that everyone was going to see him. This was not just a little show. Or, it was, but he was not a little person. God, that wasn't right either. His title wasn't little. And so this was going to get out. To everyone. He was going to walk into Parliament and they were going to laugh him right back out.
He lunged for the papers, but his mother was faster. "Too late!" she crowed, then patted him on the head when he slumped, defeated, across the table. "Don't worry," she told him. "It won't be so bad. Only a few short weeks, and then it will be over. And you'll be married." With the smile of a mother-knowing-best, she swept out of the room.
Oh, god. He was doomed.
Steve Taylor, director of the show "American Duchess," crowed after his phone call with the dowager duchess. It was on. She had faxed him the sheets, and here they were, with Ethan Dane's signature scrawled on all the correct lines. A duke. They had snared a duke, which would catch America's attention like wildfire. If they wouldn't have nobility themselves, they certainly weren't against marrying it. The very idea had called in a record number of audition tapes - because a duke was a far better catch then any average millionaire. A duke didn't have to have money. He had a title.
Steve had received tapes from actresses and models and lawyers and doctors, from divorcees and mature widows and high school students. Many swore they never did this sort of thing, and giggled nervously on their tapes. At the auditions, half had seemed like they normally sneered down their noses at reality shows.
But they had entered anyways. Because, why not? A shot at a duke? They weren't ever going to get this chance again.
Humming to himself, Steve pulled up the list of twenty girls who had made the cut. Each one had a picture, next to which was a short description of the girl. Feeling quite satisfied, he emailed the list to the duchesses, then leaned back in his hair, hands behind his head, and grinned up at the ceiling, exuberant.
Then he called the rest of the industry and bragged.
Straight blond hair, dark brown eyed
Marie is very intelligent, observant, and outgoing. She is organized, tends to get along with people, and is well liked, with natural charisma. People follow her lead. She loves nature, and is very philosophical.
Misty: farm girl
curly brown hair, brown eyes
Misty tends to cling to people, and act like everyone is her closest companion. She shares more information than is appropriate.
Wavy/curly dark brown hair, hazel eyes
Alexandra is a quiet girl, slow to warm up to people, and is quiet around strangers. She has a quirky sense of humor, is very creative, and is fascinated by ancient history.
Courtney: hotel manager
straightish dark brown hair, hazel/green eyes
Courtney is very put together, a calm woman who, once you get to know her, can find things absolutely hysterical. Most of the time, however, she is very elegant.
Wavy/frizzy light brown hair, blue eyes
An off-Broadway actress, Kelly is loud, friendly, and is one of those people that everyone else seems to know. She often takes charge of situations and is used to a role of leadership. She waitresses on the side.
Danielle: society girl
Shiny black hair, dark brown eyes
Danielle comes from a rich family and lives a rich life. She is uninhibited in her rather wild actions.
Brianna: charity organizer
light brown hair. brown eyes
Brianna is warm and undoubtedly feminine. She laughs loudly, is welcome to everyone, and has a very cuddly personality. She runs a charity for breast cancer.
Jessie: elementary school teacher
dirty blond hair, dark brown eyes
A very talkative girl, Jessie is not one to hide her opinions. She makes her thoughts clear, and works extremely hard at everything she does.
Pamela: protégé engineer
curly yellow-blond hair, blue eyes
Though extremely intelligent, Pamela has little social skills. She is used to being the smartest person in a group, and this has made her a little snobbish.
Jenna: professional soccer player
straight blond hair, blue eyes
The 'typical' American girl, Jenna likes sports and partying. She is concentrating on having fun.
Emily: fashion magazine advertisement
straight layered brown hair, brown eyes
A loud and chatty girl, she is rarely on time for anything, has few serious conversations, and likes to hear herself talk.
Cara: event organizer
Light wavy brown hair, brown eyes
An elegant girl, Cara is always dressed in the latest fashions and up to date on the latest political news. She is not very forthright, but is comfortable with people.
straight (dyed) red hair, blue eyes
An artist, Natalie often displays her art in city squares. She is on the far left and very concerned with the world's poor.
Sarah: magazine editor
curly light brown hair, blue eyes
Though quiet, Sarah is harsh in her opinions of other people, and sometimes alienates people this way.
Katherine: trophy wife
straight blond hair, blue eyes
Katherine married a rich, elder man, who died leaving her with significantly less money than she expected. She is petty and high maintenance.
Dale: fashion designer
short brown hair, dark brown eyes
Makes most of her own clothes. Came from an extremely poor background and is slightly aggressive about this. Tends to be into the alternative side of life.
Shiny black hair, dark brown eyes
Nicole has written two books on philosophy, tends towards deep conversations, and is extremely energetic. When not thinking, she likes to play around with friends
Shiny dark brown hair, dark brown eyes
Tina appears shy at first, but underneath that is a very hardworking, intelligent girl. Her moods occasionally swing to the darker side.
Curly black hair, brown eyes
Though a nice enough girl, Maggie is rather bland, an irritating person who worries too much and too loudly.
Dirty blond straight hair, light brown eyes
Friendly, outgoing and apparently universally loved. Lyda is wholesome, pretty, and has done modeling for a number of health and beauty magazines. She is also involved in charities.
Hello all, and welcome to American Duchess. Every other Saturday, a new chapter will be posted, reminiscent of that weeks "episode." Likewise, you, oh lucky reader, have the ability to vote off the contestants (because I certainly do not plan on juggling around twenty characters.) While a fair amount will be Ethan's point of view, as the choices are narrowed down, they will get a choice as well.
Next week, poor Ethan meets all twenty girls. (Yeah, yeah. Like he doesn't love it.)
This came about after me becoming sick of all the disgusting TV shows and deciding that the only cure for the stupid things was obviously to make my own. But of course, right?
I hope you enjoy.