Archery…Gentlewoman’s leisure or Badass athlete?

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English Archers, William Powell Firth, 19th century

Well the question begs to be asked.  Seeing The Hunger Games recently, I was impressed with the main character’s skill with a bow and arrow.  Katniss can wield a bow pretty darn well, and so did those very proper Georgian and Victorian ladies.  It was considered acceptable for high bred females to indulge in target shooting if they were so inclined to the sporting life.  I guess I am suitably impressed with what they did, or rather how they managed to do it.  All trussed up in a corset, multiple layers, and  a fitted jacket hardly seems amenable to hitting your mark at 200 feet.  Archery is such an intense sport today and it makes me wonder how the years have changed it for the women who partake.  I am guessing not by much.  The heroine of my latest book, The Undoing of a Libertine, Gina, is an accomplished archer and in a funny twist of roles, Jeremy, the hero, uses her knowledge to have a private moment with her…and he isn’t quite as forthcoming about his skills as he could be either.  I have left the excerpt for you.

Excerpt:

Georgina stifled the urge to laugh at him. Mr. Greymont standing in the glade, arrows strewn everywhere but in the rings of the target, his slightly rumpled appearance in perfect harmony with the scene of destruction, reminded her of a child attempting to hide a stolen sweet, with the evidence smeared all over his face. The picture of him was too much. A smile cracked, and then a giggle escaped. Georgina had to cover her mouth to keep from losing control. She didn’t want to be rude.

“Ah, I amuse you.”

“In this instance, sir, I am afraid, yes.” Georgina bit the inside of her lip to still the persistent urge to laugh.

Mr. Greymont grinned back at her though, a naughty look that told her he wasn’t all that bothered by her amusement at his expense. “I s’pose I deserve it. I am, after all, a dreadful shot, the proof displayed for all to witness, my dismal talent with a bow.” He held out his arms wide. “I assure you, I can do much better with a gun.” He shook his head back and forth slowly and released another grin. “I plead mercy, Miss Georgina.”

“And mercy you shall have, Mr. Greymont. I’ll never disclose my knowledge of your…ah, skills, as a bowman.” Georgina cocked a brow at him. “But perhaps you’d better take a brief lesson in the basics of proper form, you know, should you find your curiosity getting the better of you again at some other house party you might attend in future.”

“Miss Georgina, I heartily accept your offer. How do we begin?” he asked, far too easily.

“You want me to instruct you, Mr. Greymont? What say you I am no better at hitting the mark than you are?”

“I would be honored to take any bits of wisdom you care to scatter my way, Miss Georgina. And I know you’re skilled because I remember you shooting at targets when you were just a girl. Your accuracy was true then, and you’ve had years and years to hone your talent. I’d bet my horse you’re a crack shot by now. At the very least, a Lady Paramount worthy of master status, or in your case, mistress.” He winked at her.

Mr. Greymont had a naughty streak. What was he playing at? Could an educated man really be so inept at a sport that must be compulsory for someone of his class? He knew enough to know that a “Lady Paramount” was the person appointed to preside at tournaments and had ultimate say. And he definitely looked a little too eager in Georgina’s opinion. Smiling at her, waiting on her answer, like he’d anticipated her offer before she’d made it. He held out his hand to her. The breeze rattled the leaves in the trees above them.

“No need to bet your magnificent Samson, Mr. Greymont. I’ll do it.”

Georgina deliberately clasped her hands behind her back, deciding that two could play at this game, whatever it was, and that sharing in some company could be no harm. It would even be a pleasant change to have a companion while she was out here shooting. Jeremy Greymont was safe.

* * * *

“Before we can start, all these arrows must be collected first,” she told him, her eyes missing nothing as she observed the scattered points. Jeremy caught another amused grin cracking from the corner of her mouth.

God, she was a delight to look at. With her hands clasped behind her back, the most pleasant result of lush breasts pushed forward as if in welcome was much admired. Today she was gowned in a rich brown velvet that wrapped around her lush curves like melted chocolate. He’d bet she tasted just as sweet as the decadent dessert if ever he could get his tongue anywhere onto her skin. The mere thought of tasting even a sliver of her sent the stuff behind the front flap of his kecks to throbbing. Whatever else was at issue between the two of them, Jeremy found himself hugely attracted to this woman. He wanted her.

“Mr. Greymont, I do believe you have emptied the quiver,” she teased as she bent down to gather up points.

I’d love to find my way into your quiver.

“Have I? How many arrows to a quiver?” Jeremy kept his face straight as he asked the question, even though he knew the answer. No, he was enjoying this playful banter with Georgina Russell too much to come clean about his archery skills not being quite so terrible as he intimated. Jeremy wasn’t being entirely truthful, but what harm was there in this? His gun had indeed jammed, and by chance he’d come upon her archery equipment laid at the ready. What better way to get to know Georgina than begging for help with his shooting technique?

So in the glade he’d waited until she’d arrived. Jeremy couldn’t have just sat in the grass. He would’ve looked a tremendous sap, so he had shot arrows to fill the time while he waited for her to show up. With as little focus as possible. But with Georgina to help him, hopefully standing very close so he could breathe in her lovely scent some more, his bowman skills might take a swift turn for the better.

All in all, Jeremy would say that things were working out rather well. Today was the first time he’d seen Georgina cheerful and light. And Jeremy quickly decided that a smiling, happy Georgina was well worth any effort on his part.

“Two dozen fills a quiver, and not a hit among them!” she sang back at him.

The laugh Georgina had been suppressing up until now came forth with a clear burst into the autumn air of the glade. Jeremy could tell she had been trying to hold back from laughing outright at him, for she was a lady after all, but the happy sound of her was so lovely, Jeremy felt grateful to have been the person responsible for making it happen. Suddenly struck with the notion that her laughter was a gift, he paused for a moment. Strange. He shook off the sensation and kept retrieving arrows.

“Miss Georgina, I believe you are finding my lack of accuracy to be a great source of merriment. And actually, I did make a hit, but the arrow did not stick. It came off from the target.”

“Ah, well, there’s a name for a point that does that. It’s called a—”

“Let me guess!” Jeremy blurted, holding up a hand to stop her. “You call it a bounder.”

“No, not a bounder.” Georgina shook her head slightly.

“A jumper then.”

“Wrong again, Mr. Greymont.” Her lips twitched.

“A springer? Tell me it’s called a springer, Miss Georgina.” Jeremy was enjoying himself too much to stop.

“Well, you are certainly full of creative ideas, I’ll give you that, Mr. Greymont, but I am afraid you are still incorrect. The proper term is ‘bouncer.’”

“Ah, bouncer. Right. Bouncer makes good sense, for the arrow bounces off the target without holding fast. Very good.”

Georgina gave him what could only be described as a tolerant look. “So, if we were to assess your performance thus far, we could say you had one bouncer and the all rest were a miss.”

I’m here alone with you, and I’d call that a direct hit. “But you won’t tell on me, will you?” Jeremy said knowingly, loving the fact that they could share in another secret.

“No. I will not expose you as I’ve already said.” Her eyes swept down to the grass.

“Why won’t you?” Not understanding why he asked her such a thing, Jeremy just knew he wanted something from her. A gesture on his behalf. What? He couldn’t really say, and the question left his lips as easily as a spot of fluff pulled by the wind.

Georgina blushed beautifully before answering. “Because, I think you are—”

She paused and lifted her eyes to meet his. Jeremy felt his body tense in anticipation of what she would say of him. The snapping sound of leaves rocked by the wind filled the silence.

“—in great need of my help, Mr. Greymont!”

And then the beautiful Georgina laughed. A sound not loud or boastful, but soft and sweet and gentle, like a caress down his neck that travelled straight to his heart and warmed it, spreading slowly from the inside out.

You have that right, Miss Georgina Russell. I desperately need your help.

Jeremy bowed with a flourish before stepping forward to hand over the last collected arrow. “That’s the last, and I am ready for my lesson.”

He made sure to get a brush of her hand with his as he passed her the arrow. The place where their hands touched tingled under his leather glove. And as Jeremy gave himself over to her for archery basics, he truly felt some goodness, some enjoyment, a blast of happiness, some delight—whatever the hell it was—it felt nice. Jeremy felt damn wonderful for the first time in a long, long while.

~    ***     ~

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I had so much fun writing this scene.  I laughed the whole time.  The photo above is from the Austen classic, Emma with Gwyneth in the title role.  The scene between her and Knightly practicing at targets in this movie is one of my all time favorites.  *sigh*

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