The Secret History of the Pink Carnation  |  The Masque of the Black Tulip  |  The Deception of the Emerald Ring  |  The Seduction of the Crimson Rose  |  The Temptation of the Night Jasmine  |  The Betrayal of the Blood Lily  |  The Mischief of the Mistletoe  |  The Garden Intrigue


The Garden Intrigue

It won't come as any surprise to anyone to hear that the ridiculous poet, Augustus Whittlesby, and my American heroine, Emma, are going to wind up having to form a temporary alliance to write a masque for a weekend at Malmaison. (If it's on the cover flap, it doesn't count as a spoiler.) 

In the final version, the chapter ends at the point where Emma invites Augustus to call her by her first name.In the original, it went on a little bit longer....

“No,” said Mme Delagardie decidedly.  “If we’re to work together, we ought to deal plainly with one another.  Oh,” she added, “and you’d best call me Emma.”

“Emma?”  He had heard it frequently enough before, from Jane, and, more recently, from Adele de Treville, but it sounded different in her voice. 

“I do not respond to Emmie, Ammie, or Emily,” she said firmly.  Her words were bold enough, but her hands betrayed her, fidgeting with the ruffle on her reticule.  Emma Delagardie, fashionable widow and practiced flirt, was nervous.

There was something oddly endearing about it.

“Then you’d best call me Augustus,” he said mildly.  “I don’t respond to Caesar, Auggie, or Gus.”

Mme Delagardie let out her breath in a rush.  “There.  You see?  Honestly.  Always best.”

“Always?”

“Well… mostly.”  She cocked her head.  “Auggie?”

“Don’t ask.”  Honesty only went so far.


This is my very favorite Garden Intrigue outtake.  In this scene, formerly part of Chapter Two, Augustus has just spotted Georges Marston at the Balcourt home.  Unfortunately, Miss Gwen sees him, too.

I wanted to keep this scene, really I did.  I went through all sorts of contortions to try to fit it in somewhere, anywhere.  Alas, there was no real reason for it to be in the text-- other than my personal amusement-- so, with a snip here and a snip there, it was cut from the story and Miss Gwen was introduced elsewhere.

But that's what Outtakes are for, right?

“What’s that buzzard doing here?”  Miss Gwendolyn Meadows, the least effective chaperone since Juliet’s old nurse, stalked up to Augustus’ left shoulder.  Augustus could only be relieved that she was glowering over him, rather than at him.

She slapped her fan ominously against one palm.  “When I expel a man from the house, I expect him to stay expulsed.” 

“What is this noise that besets me?” declaimed Augustus.  It didn’t take much artistic effort to look pained.  There was little love lost between him and Miss Wooliston’s chaperone.  “A burning thread of inspiration trails before me and I must follow where it leads!”

“To Marston?”  Miss Gwen snorted.  Her snorts had been known to blow small countries off course.  Augustus would have held on to his hat had he had one.  “Just see you don’t singe your fingers.  Not that you’re the sort that has anything to worry about.  You’re not his type.”  She looked Augustus up and down, from his tight, knit breeches to the billowy folds of his shirt.  “You don’t do much for me, either.”

“For which I nightly give thanks on my knees fasting,” muttered Augustus.

Miss Gwen nodded approvingly, sending her purple plumes bobbing.  “There’s nothing wrong with application to the Almighty.  If you’re lucky, maybe He’ll send you some proper outer garments.  Ha!”  She jabbed him with her fan, right in the sensitive spot between his ribs. 

Augustus emitted a very unmanly squeak. 

Miss Gwen smirked.  “Enjoy your evening, Mr. Whittlesby.”

She sailed away, looking for another soul to torment.  If she weren’t such a damned good agent….  For all her eccentricities, Miss Gwen had a spine of steel and a nerve to match.  Augustus rubbed his wounded midriff.  Unfortunately, her fan appeared to made of the same material.


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The Mischief of the Mistletoe

In the final version of The Mischief of the Mistletoe, Arabella (our heroine) invites her family friend Jane Austen to join her and Mr. Fitzhugh for a jaunt out to a nearby ruin, Farley Castle. In the original version, it’s Arabella’s youngest sister, Lavinia, who accompanies Arabella and Turnip, with disastrous results. Although I excised the scene, partly to give Austen more air time, partly because we really didn’t need to know that much about Lavinia’s digestive system, I’m still rather fond of it, because it shows us Turnip at his most lovable.

Lavinia crept into the room, clutching her own shawl about her. It was so cold in the drawing room that her breath misted in front of her, but her eyes were shining. She seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she had just taken five years off her older sister’s life.

“I saw the light and thought it might be you,” she hissed in an excruciatingly loud whisper. “I wanted to say thank you, for tomorrow.”

“Don’t thank me until after we’ve been,” Arabella warned her. “It will be cold. And quite possibly dull.”

Not to mention swarming with deranged pudding thieves, she mocked herself. They would have to swat them off with their reticules. Or perhaps Mr. Fitzhugh could dazzle them with pugilistic feats.
What had she been thinking to get herself in such a pelter?

Arabella hastily slapped the cover of her journal shut, blots and all. No point in letting Lavinia see.

“Who cares for the cold? Farley Castle! And in a phaeton!”

“It’s not a high perch one,” Arabella cautioned, before her sister could get too many ideas. “And it will be very drafty. You’ll have to bundle up warmly.”

“You can bundle me like an Eskimo and I won’t mind!” Lavinia flung her arms around Arabella, trailing tassels across Arabella’s nose. As Arabella sneezed into the wool, she exclaimed rapturously, “I promise, I shan’t be the slightest bit of trouble! You’ll scarcely know I’m there.”

* * *

“Ooooooh,” groaned Lavinia.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Fitzhugh.” Smoothing the hair back from Lavinia’s forehead, Arabella glanced distressedly at their escort. “I had no idea Lavinia suffered so from carriage sickness.”

“Isn’t carriage sickness,” Lavinia gasped, hunching over against the side of the phaeton, her face a delicate green. “I think it’s the k-k-kippers!”

“Oh, dear,” said Arabella, and exchanged an anxious look with their escort.

True to his word, Mr. Fitzhugh had collected them at ten that morning. There had been some delay while Lavinia, wild with excitement, had run back and forth for forgotten belongings, ranging from an extra shawl to some preserves she thought Mr. Fitzhugh would like excessively, while Mr. Fitzhugh beamed benevolently over the remains of the breakfast table, blunting Margaret’s barbs by sheer obliviousness. There was something to be said for obliviousness, decided Arabella.

Theirs had been a high-spirited party at the outset. It was a glorious, sunny December day, and if the phaeton was a bit cramped with three on the bench, the scramble for space just added to the adventure of it all. Until Lavinia had begun to turn a light green sometime past the first tollgate.

So much for spies, thought Arabella, torn between amusement and concern. They had gone from high drama to low farce.

“Dangerous things, kippers,” said Mr. Fitzhugh in sympathy. “Never touch them myself. Have you thought about putting a key down your back?”

Lavinia moaned.

“I think that’s for hiccups,” said Arabella, with an anxious eye on her sister’s pale face. Despite the sharp wind, drops of sweat beaded her brow. “Can you take a deep breath, darling? Maybe the cool air will help.”

“Please,” gasped Lavinia. “Please, can we stop now? Right now?”

“We’re almost there,” Arabella said soothingly, stroking her sister’s hair back from her face. “If you can just….”

But Mr. Fitzhugh had already drawn the carriage to an expert stop by the side of the road. His tiger dropped down off the perch in the back to run to hold the horses’ heads.

Mr. Fitzhugh circled around to Lavinia’s side of the carriage.

“Come along down now,” he said warmly, half-lifting Lavinia from Arabella’s arms. “We’ll soon have you right again.”

“Urrrgghhh,” groaned Lavinia.

Arabella’s sister clung to Mr. Fitzhugh’s neck as she stumbled blindly down from the carriage. Her eyes were closed and her face green.

Arabella clambered down after them. “Loosen her bonnet ribbons,” she suggested. “Perhaps that might relieve—”

But Lavinia had found a more immediate form of relief. Doubling over, Lavinia lost a large quantity of her breakfast on the verge of the road. A squirrel that had wandered by to investigate hastily scurried away again.

“There, there,” said Mr. Fitzhugh, keeping a firm grip on Lavinia’s shoulders as she rocked back and forth, producing a series of pitiful gagging noises. “There, there. Won’t be a moment and you’ll feel right as rain again. Just you see.”

Lavinia responded by letting loose another spectacular display of gastric pyrotechnics. Despite the cold, there was a sheen of sweat on her brow. Hastily dabbing a handkerchief with cologne, Arabella pressed it to her sister’s brow, wiping away the sweaty curls from her forehead.

With a muffled sob, Lavinia pulled herself out of Mr. Fitzhugh’s grasp and launched herself at Arabella. Burying her face in Arabella’s breastbone, she sobbed out her adolescent shame. “So miserable… ruined everything… hate kippers!”

“Perhaps we should….” Mr. Fitzhugh wafted his hands, indicating movement away from that particular bit of roadside.

Arabella nodded at him over her sister’s head. “Come along, darling,” she said soothingly, moving her sister along by baby steps. “Let’s just find someplace comfortable for you to sit.”

Lavinia lifted a blotched face from Arabella’s pelisse. Tears oozed weakly out of the corners of her eyes.

“I’ve ruined everything,” she whimpered.

Mr. Fitzhugh dealt her a reassuring pat on the shoulder, carefully calibrated not to jar any more of her innards out of her. “Not everything. Just my boots.”

“Your boots—oh!” With a wail, Lavinia burrowed back into Arabella’s chest, her back heaving. “H-h-hate myself!”

Mr. Fitzhugh looked horrified. “Didn’t mean—That is, meant it to be humorous, that’s all. Dash it all! Don’t distress yourself, Miss Lavinia. Never liked these boots to begin with. Deuced uncomfortable and unstylish to boot. That is, the boots to boot. So I shouldn’t mind being unbooted. Bootless even.”

Arabella cast him a grateful glance over Lavinia’s head as she rubbed her sister’s back.

“Come now, Lavvy,” Arabella said gently. “Pull yourself together. It’s not so bad as all that.”

“You’ll both h-hate me!” Lavinia hiccupped into Arabella’s chest.

“Not in the slightest,” Mr. Fitzhugh declared stoutly. “Have a sister of m’own, you know. Once cast up her accounts all over my favorite waistcoat. Great pity, that. Gave my valet a devil of a turn. But I’d never hold poor Sal to blame for it.”

“Very generous minded of you, Mr. Fitzhugh,” said Arabella, torn between amusement and consternation.

“Not at all,” said Mr. Fitzhugh. “A good sister is above waistcoats. And you can’t help feeling sick when you’re sick.”

Two reddened eyes blinked up from the vicinity of Arabella’s bosom. “R-really? Do you r-really think so?”

“Happens to us all! Deuced embarrassing, but there you are.” With an expression of deep concentration, Mr. Fitzhugh fumbled in his waistcoat pockets, finally emerging triumphant with a slightly dusty candy. “Interest you in a candy?”

A small gloved hand crept out. Mr. Fitzhugh dropped the candy into it. Both Arabella and Mr. Fitzhugh observed closely as Lavinia popped it into her mouth and sucked.

Arabella watched with relief as the color came back into her sister’s cheeks. She wasn’t quite a healthy pink yet, but at least she didn’t look quite so green.

“Shall we take you home?” Arabella asked quietly.

Lavinia’s eyes popped in horror. She emphatically shook her head. New tears seemed in imminent danger of falling.

“Not far to Farley Castle now,” pointed out Mr. Fitzhugh. “A bit of lemonade and rest and we can have a smashing afternoon, eh, Miss Lavinia?”

Lavinia nodded so hard she nearly swallowed the candy. She scrubbed the tears from her eyes with the back of her hands, a curiously childish gesture that made Arabella’s heart twist.

“I’ll be fine now, really,” she said, with a touching attempt at dignity. “I’m so sorry. And I’m so sorry about your boots.”

“What’s a pair of boots among friends?” said Mr. Fitzhugh expansively. “Better ruined boots where one’s friends are than a stalled ox, and all that.”

“How does one stall an ox?” inquired Arabella, partly because Lavinia looked in danger of sniffling again and party because she just wanted to see what Mr. Fitzhugh would make of it.

He wrinkled his noble brow. “Never looked too closely into the matter, but I imagine it’s a bit like waylaying a cow. Tetchy beasts, cows.”


Several people have been asking me recently about the fate of Tommy Fluellen, Robert’s best friend from The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Tommy did have a brief look-in in The Mischief of the Mistletoe, until he got cut for length reasons. Oh, well, at least he’s in good company. Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet, was cut from The Secret History of the Pink Carnation for similar reasons.

In the meantime, here’s Tommy’s brief appearance from The Mischief of the Mistletoe:

Arabella left the shelter of her tree to fall in with the cavalcade headed back to the house. Behind them, like magic, the torches were being snuffed, the braziers, extinguished, the tools collected, the stray ends of greenery swept up. Ahead loomed the immense façade of Girdings House, the windows blazing with candles, the grounds illuminated with torches.

Inside, the festivities would continue, probably well into the night, with flirtation and merriment and gratuitous use of mistletoe. It was an inexpressibly wearying thought. Arabella wondered if it would be considered a dereliction of her duty as guest if she just snuck away and went to bed.

“Quite the pile, isn’t it?” said a friendly voice.

Arabella looked up to see the man who had been standing with Penelope Deveraux. She couldn’t see much of him, as his face was almost entirely buried in an enormous woolen muffler that appeared to have swallowed his chin.

He assumed a parade ground pose, somewhat marred by the chattering of his teeth. “Tommy Fluellen, late of his Majesty’s Seventy-Fourth Foot.”

He was the first person to have spoken to her all evening.

Arabella accepted the introduction with gratitude. “Arabella Dempsey. Did you misplace your regiment, or did they misplace you?”

He grinned at her, teeth very white in a tanned face. “I sold out. It was an act of mercy, really. Couldn’t let old Rob—the Duke of Dovedale, that is—come back here alone.” He shivered dramatically. “Of course, had I realized quite how cold it would be back in old Blighty, I might have reconsidered my charitable impulse.”

“You were in—”

“India. In Seringapatam, mostly.”

The name meant nothing to Arabella, but she nodded intelligently anyway. One could get away with a great deal with an intelligent nod. “A long way away from Norfolk.”

Lieutenant Fluellen wagged his head emphatically. “Farther than I could ever have imagined.”


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The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

Below, I’ve posted what is probably my favorite out-take from The Betrayal of the Blood Lily. It hurt to cut this scene. Robert and Charlotte– of Temptation of the Night Jasmine fame– did, indeed, decide to take their honeymoon trip to India, largely to put a continent between them and the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale. What you may not have known is that Alex, the hero of Blood Lily, knows Robert from his India days, back when Robert was plain old “Rob” and not (at least not publicly) his grace, the Duke of Dovedale. In this deleted scene, the two old acquaintances settle down for a manly catch-up.

“Rob?”

“Reid?” Robert Lansdowne jumped to his feet with a smile of pleasure. “Good God, I forgot you were stationed here.

The last time Alex had seen Rob Lansdowne, he had been on the verge of heading home to England. He had also imparted the mind-boggling information that he was, in fact, a duke and always had been. Alex was still getting his mind around that one. Not that he knew many dukes, but they didn’t generally abandon their estates and up and join the army as a mere mister.

Rob was looking rather ducal these days. His clothes were simple, but they bore the unmistakable stamp of London tailoring and there was a large, gold stickpin with a worn signet nestled in the folds of his cravat. Next to him, Alex felt travel-stained and scruffy.

He apparently looked travel-stained and scruffy, as well.

“You look like hell,” the duke said, dropping comfortably back into his chair.

“Good to see you, too,” said Alex dryly. “What brings you back to India? I thought you had sold out.”

“I did. I’m on honeymoon. I wanted to show my bride where I used to live. It also,” he added with a mock grimace, “seemed expedient to put several thousand miles between myself and my bride’s grandmother.”

“What did you do?” asked Alex, mildly intrigued despite the five thousand other concerns pressing on his attention. “Elope with the girl against the old lady’s wishes?”

“Hardly. It’s more to keep her from personally monitoring the production of an heir. She would, too,” he added darkly. “It seemed best to flee the country.”

“Wouldn’t it have been less bother to install a strong lock on the bedroom door?”

“You’ve clearly never met the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale,” said Rob drily. “She makes the four horsemen of the Apocalypse seem like friendly, easy-going sorts of chaps. Besides,” he added, propping one booted knee against the opposite leg, “Charlotte has a friend here she wanted to visit.”

“Rather a long way for a social call, isn’t it?” said Alex idly, leaning a hand against the back of a chair. He really did have to be getting on to James.

“This was a special case. The lady had been rather precipitously married and Charlotte was worried about her.”

One precipitous marriage came very readily to mind. “You’re talking about Lady Frederick, aren’t you?”

Rob raised an eyebrow. “She’s made her mark here, too, I take it?”

“You don’t like her,” guessed Alex.

Rob never had liked laying his cards on the table. “It’s not that I don’t like her,” he hedged. “My wife is exceedingly attached to her.”

“But?”

Robert frowned, struggling against a natural distaste for what he considered gossip. After a long moment, he shrugged, saying, “It was nothing terribly damning. Tommy Fluellen—you remember Tommy? He formed an unfortunate attachment to her. It became very uncomfortable for everyone concerned.”

“How uncomfortable?” What Alex really wanted to know was how far it had gone.

“If you’d ever been on hand for one of Tommy’s epic infatuations, you wouldn’t have to ask,” said the duke drily.

“Did they—?”

“No.” Alex relaxed at the assured negative. “Staines was already on the scene. Tommy proposed a few dozen times, offering to step into the breach and all that sort of thing, but she wasn’t having it. According to Tommy, she said she wouldn’t drag him down with her.”

“That’s my girl,” said Alex softly.

The duke’s foot hit the floor with a thump. “Good God, not you, too?”

 

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The Temptation of the Night Jasmine

This scene comes from Henrietta’s and Charlotte’s tete a tete during the pre-Twelfth Night ball at Girdings, as Henrietta pumps Charlotte for the details of her possible, hypothetical, not-quite-sure-what-that-was Almost Kiss.I hated having to cut this scene, not only because I love the best friend dynamic between Henrietta and Charlotte, but because it reveals so much about the way Charlotte views the world.

“You mean kiss him myself?” demanded Charlotte, laughing at the sheer absurdity of the notion. 

Henrietta wasn’t laughing.  “That is one idea.”

“You sound like Pen!”

“Not all of Pen’s ideas are bad.”

“No,” protested Charlotte, before Henrietta could come up with any other absurd ideas.  “I wouldn’t want a stolen kiss in a corridor—especially not if I were the one stealing it.  I want….”

And there she faltered.  She knew precisely what she wanted, but it was almost impossible to reduce it to words.  She wanted him to steal the kiss, but it was more than that.  She wanted the sort of single-minded devotion of Tristan for Isolde or Leander for Hero, the sort of devotion that overleaped oceans and toppled empires.  Admittedly, there wasn’t much in the way of ocean or empire available at Girdings, but it wasn’t the specifics that mattered.  Her parents proved that.  They had conducted their grand love affair against the domestic backdrop of an ivy hung brick house outside a small market town, expressing their devotion in smiles passed across the breakfast table along with the sugar bowl and the Morning Post.  There hadn’t been any ships launched or any cities gone up in flame, but it was quite recognizably the same emotion.  That was what Charlotte wanted.  She wanted Robert to look at her as if she were the only thing that mattered in the whole wide world. 

As always, Henrietta already knew exactly what she meant. 

“True love,” Henrietta finished for her.

Charlotte looked down at her gloved hands.  “Well… yes.” 

It sounded rather silly dragged out into simple prose.  Charlotte hunched her shoulders, which suddenly felt much barer than they had before.

“True love takes different forms,” said Henrietta gently.

Shaking her hair back out of her face, Charlotte looked earnestly across at her.  “In some ways, yes,’ she agreed, thinking of her parents, of Beatrice and Benedick, of Guinivere and Lancelot, of all the loves, loves triumphant, loves doomed, loves trumpeted across the ages, loves unsung.  But all had one thing in common.  “To be true, it has to be reciprocal.  A one-way love doesn’t count.  That’s just infatuation.”

Shaking her head, Henrietta squeezed her in a quick hug.  “I love you, but sometimes you think too much.”


One of the major tensions between Charlotte and Robert—at least from Robert’s side of things—is the fact that Charlotte was raised in the ducal household and he wasn’t. Charlotte, of course, is completely oblivious to this. This scene, excised from Chapter Three, takes a dark turn as what began as a careless comment on Robert’s part—teasingly calling her “Queen Charlotte”—becomes a reminder of the social gulf between them.

“Princess Charlotte,” Charlotte corrected.  “Queen Charlotte sounds too much like lese majeste.”

“Usurping the place of the real Queen, you mean?” said Robert, amused. 

Charlotte nodded.  “I was named after her, you know.”

“I didn’t know.”  Those sorts of compliments to royalty weren’t in his experience.  In the taverns and stews in which he had spent most of his youth, women were named things like Nan or Polly or Saucy Sal, short, pithy names you could bellow to bring you another tankard of ale. 

“It was meant as an olive branch to Grandmama.  I think Papa hoped that if he showed that he still remembered his responsibilities to the family that Grandmama would become reconciled to his marriage.”

“Did she?”  Robert had no need to wait for a response; the expression on Charlotte’s face was eloquent enough.  “That would be a no, then.”

“A very great big no,” said Charlotte decisively.

“Was it very hard for your parents?  Having to give up all this?”

“Hard?”  Charlotte looked at him in genuine confusion.   “No.  It was lovely.”

“Lovelier than a ducal estate?”

“It was different,” she said finally, and although she spoke softly, Robert knew he had been dismissed as firmly as if it had been by the Duchess herself. 


Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without presents. This scene was also a casualty of Chapter Three (you can just imagine the slaughter that chapter occasioned; bits of eviscerated text everywhere!).  For all that he’s honorable to a fault, Robert has a bit of the con man in him. He’s very good at charming his way out of awkward situations—all of which, of course, Charlotte takes at face value.

“I just wanted to say thank you.  For the present.”

It took Robert a moment to remember what she was talking about.  Present?  Oh.  Right.  It had been a length of silk, purchased as random, hastily dredged from his baggage when it belatedly dawned on him that the holiday season was generally accompanied by gifts.  It hadn’t been much of a gift, but it had been the only one appropriate for a person of the female persuasion.  The hunting knife would not have gone over well.

Charlotte was thanking him for that? 

She was a duke’s daughter; she must have received gifts far richer.  His gift had been a mere bagatelle, the make-shift provision of the moment.  Had he remembered, he would have found Charlotte a more appropriate Christmas gift, but small female cousins hadn’t exactly been at the forefront of his mind when he had set off for Girdings. 

No one, however, appeared to have apprised Charlotte of this crucial fact.

“It was truly lovely of you,” she said, as though he’d showered her with ropes of emeralds, instead of a length of cheap bazaar silk, bought for a few rupees on a whim.

“It matches your eyes,” said Robert gallantly, having no notion what color her eyes were, and only the vaguest recollection of the color of the silk. 

His little cousin didn’t seem to notice anything the least bit suspect about that statement.  Her cheeks pinked with pleasure.  Above them, her eyes were a pale grey-green.  Robert fixed the image in his memory, resolving to find her something that would suit them. 

Jade might do, if fine and translucent enough.  Jade set in silver.

 

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The Seduction of the Crimson Rose

Every book has a few false starts before I get into the stride of it. Below are the first lines I wrote of Crimson Rose. Since both Mary and Vaughn tend to command the public eye, I originally intended to begin each chapter with letter and newspaper excerpts talking about their doings. 

This excerpt below, two letters from Miss Lucy Ponsonby originally meant to head up Chapter One, is my very favorite abandoned fragment of Crimson Rose:

“…of all things the most wonderful!  I nearly Burst with Laughter when I heard the news.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t had it from Percy, who saw them together—Letty and Lord Pinchingdale, that is—with his own two eyes!  It’s a pity Letty caught him (such a freckled little thing!), but I can much better stomach her as Lady Pinchingdale than our Miss Mary….  If you were Mary, wouldn’t you simply Expire of Shame?   Balked at the altar by her sister!  Perhaps now she won’t be so high in the instep….”

            -- From Miss Lucy Ponsonby to Miss Myrtia Debenham, 2 July, 1803 [errors in spelling corrected]
           
“My dearest Mary, I want you to know that all my best wishes are with you in this Most Trying time.  I think it absolutely appalling the way Letty behaved, and I cannot understand Lord Pinchingdale at all.  He always seemed so devoted.  But then Men are such Fickle Creatures, unlike the True Friendship to be found between women.  With all the fond and outraged outpourings of my Deepest Heart, I remain your most loving, most loyal LUCY.”

-- From Miss Lucy Ponsonby to Miss Mary Alsworthy, 3 July, 1803 


One of the greatest pleasures of writing
Crimson Rose was getting to look at my old characters through new eyes as I shifted into Mary’s perspective. Below is an outtake from Chapter Three of Crimson Rose, where Mary, stuck at Sibley Court, critiques my three previous heroines, baffled over why they all have something she doesn’t: husbands.

Look at the three recent wives laughing over charades or some other such childish foolery in the Great Chamber.  It was easy enough to dismiss Lady Henrietta Dorrington.  She was the daughter of a marquess, and that tended to go a long way on the marriage market, especially when coupled with a dowry worthy of the title.  But the other two didn’t fit any pattern that made the least bit of sense to Mary. 

Lord Richard’s wife was the sort usually complimented as having fine eyes, which was to say that she didn’t have terribly much else to recommend her.  Her father had been a French nobleman, but that didn’t count for much nowadays when impoverished émigrés were a sixpence the dozen.  One only had to enter any ballroom to find a cluster of them hanging about, exchanging tearful reminiscences and stuffing themselves on iced cakes.  And she had been raised in Shropshire.  Shropshire, for heaven’s sake.  The very sheep in the fields blushed to admit residence in that rural backwater.  Then there was Letty, who was certainly stuffed full of estimable qualities, none of which were—in Mary’s experience—of the least bit of interest to a man.  Men didn’t care if you had the best organized larder in three counties but they turned into slavering idiots at a glimpse of a well-turned ankle.  Letty’s domestic skills were unimpeachable but her ankles had always been thick. 

Yet every one of these girls, these nondescript, painfully ordinary girls, appeared to have discovered a secret that Mary had missed, something that caught and held the heart as well as the eye—and once it had it, held it firm.  It was enough to make Mary believe in love philters and magic potions. 


Poor Lucy Ponsonby. She keeps getting cut from the narrative. In the final version of
Crimson Rose, Mary meets Lady Euphemia McPhee, produces of the Rhyming Historie of Britain, through her chaperone, the obligingly somnolent Aunt Imogen. Originally, though, Mary made Lady Euphemia’s acquaintance through Lucy Ponsonby during that eventful night at Vauxhall Gardens. It was more efficient to go the Aunt Imogen route, but I had fun writing this scene, so I’m delighted to have the opportunity to resurrect it from my files:

Before St. George could expatiate on amphibians, a new figure appeared on the scene, blocking Mary’s view of Vaughn and his blonde companion.

“We’ve only just got back from the country,” announced Lucy Ponsonby, flinging herself around Mary’s neck in an embrace that sent silk fringe up Mary’s nose.  “It was a dead bore, as it always is.  Hunting, hunting, hunting, that’s all the men ever talk about.  I thought I was going to expire from it.”

Mary coolly extricated herself from her self-proclaimed bosom friend, who had been very quick to distance herself from Mary’s bosom when the news of the failed elopement exploded through the ton at the end of the last Season.  “Good evening, Lucy.  How lovely to you see you again.”

Lucy rustled like a broody hen.  “Don’t be cross.  I did mean to call straight off, but you know how it is, with matters so… delicate.  Mama didn’t want to risk any scandal spreading.  But I told her that it would be positively unchristian to abandon a friend in her hour of need.  So here I am.”

“How terribly brave of you.” 

Lucy preened.  “Well, I couldn’t just abandon you, could I?” 

That, Mary knew, translated roughly to “But no one would look at me if I didn’t stand next to you!”

“And the little Season promises to be such fun this year,” Lucy gushed. 

Translation: “Perhaps this Season someone will finally make an offer.”

“Aren’t you going to introduce your companion to me?”

That needed no translation.

Mary rapidly performed the introduction, trying to see over Lucy’s bobbing curls.  Vaughn’s dark head was bent down towards the mysterious woman’s.  It was impossible to make out his expression.  It might have been amorous or annoyed or anywhere in between.

“May I make you both known to Lady Euphemia McPhee?” Lucy gestured extravagantly at a woman in flowing silver robes, with a long bandeau tying back her white hair.  “Lady Euphemia is producing her very own play at her house in Richmond, and I,” Lucy preened, “am to be in it.     

“It is,” announced Lady Euphemia grandly, “a rhyming history of Britain.”  Her hands sketched out the words in the air.

“A history of Britain all in rhyme!” Lucy explained eagerly to St. George.  “You must come see it, Mr. St. George.”

Lady Euphemia froze.  “What did you say your name was, young man?”

“St. George?” said St. George diffidently.

“Yes!” cried Lady Euphemia, her draperies crackling around her.  “You shall be my Saint George!”

“That is my name,” said Mr. St. George hesitantly, not wanting to give any offense.

Lady Euphemia took him by the arm.  “You shall play St. George, slayer of dragons—or dragon,” she corrected herself.  “One wouldn’t want to be less than accurate.  And you” –her burning gaze lighted on Mary—“shall be a Princess of Britain, rescued from the dread dragons lair by the blazing blade of England’s blessed saint.”

Mary’s mind was rather more occupied with sinners at the moment.  One sinner in particular.

“But you told me I could be princess!” protested Lucy.

Lady Euphemia waved a hand in a regal gesture.  “One must think of the good of the production.  Rehearsal tomorrow afternoon,” she informed Mary and a bemused St. George.  “There’s no time to be wasted.”

Mary couldn’t agree more, but on different grounds.  As she watched, the blonde woman pressed something into Vaughn’s palm.  It disappeared just as quickly into Vaughn’s waistcoat pocket, so quickly that Mary had only a glimpse of something pale against the figured fabric of Vaughn’s waistcoat before it was gone. 

“Thank you so much, Lady Euphemia,” she said graciously, as Lucy turned purple with disappointment and dyspepsia.  “Would you excuse me?  I see my party.”

“Me, too,” said St. George hastily, retreating with a speed unworthy of the patron saint of England. 

Lady Euphemia flapped her draperies in farewell, already occupied in composing a new rhyming couplet in which the dragon’s fire burned bright, bright, bright, but not so brilliant as that valiant knight.  

I’ve always loved the How Their Lives Turned Out bits at the end of novels. So does Eloise. In this outtake from the very last chapter of Crimson Rose, Eloise visits the Vaughn Collection gift shop to sneak a peak at what might have happened after Mary and Vaughn’s happily ever after:

At least where Vaughn and Mary were concerned, I had been able to satisfy my curiosity.  It felt a bit like cheating, like peeking at the end of the novel when you’re only on chapter fifteen, but on my way in that morning, I had stopped into the museum gift shop.  Among the novelty mugs and the reproduction quizzing glasses, there had been a glossy paperback history of the Vaughns, the sort of book that features a picture per page with a very small paragraph of text underneath.  All the pictures were reproductions of portraits in the collection, one per Vaughn.

I had no difficulty locating Mary.  Her picture must have been hanging in one of the rooms I hadn’t paid to get into.  She smirked out at me from the shiny paper, her glossy black hair plaited with pearls.  Draped in a silvery silk tissue over white satin (the details of dress come courtesy of the author of the publication), she was posed in front of the ruins of a pavilion that might well have been the remains of Lady Euphemia’s personal theatre.  In one hand, she held a rose, full-blown and crimson red, dripping fat petals onto the hem of her gown like scattered jewels.

She looked regal, and more than a little bit smug.  I had no doubt she had kept Vaughn on a tight leash.  She had, according to the blurb beneath, outlasted her husband by more than two decades, living on well into the reign of Victoria, terrorizing grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a whole new generation of debutantes.  At the end of her life, a contemporary had described her as “a woman of unwavering elegance.”  It seemed a suitable epitaph.  Although the portrait must have been painted not long after their marriage, I could easily picture her sixty years later as a steely-spined old martinet, with her skin drawn tight over her elegant bones, a painfully high collar, and a whiplash stare. 

Vaughn’s first wife was in there, too.  With chronological correctness, they had placed her on the page facing Vaughn, united in print as they hadn’t been in person.  I noted that they had set down 1790 as her death date, repeating the official story of death by smallpox.  Mary and Vaughn had managed to keep their secret secret. 

In contrast to the vivid colors and crisp lines of Mary’s portrait, Anne’s looked curiously blurry.  Gainsborough had painted her walking through a wood, the leaves whispering around her.  With one jeweled hand, she held onto her broad brimmed hat.  Under the great hat, her face was pretty enough, but unremarkable, without the character that leant Mary’s features such force.  You noticed her hair first, a vast pile of ash blonde hair, frizzed out in the fashion of the day and then teased into long curls that bobbed down to one side of her ruffled white fichu.  The wind lifted her long curls and whipped her full skirts around her legs, revealing a hint of ruffled underskirt. 

She looked, in short, like a woman beset by her environment, tossed on the winds of fortune.  They do say that a great painter can see into the subject’s soul.  Gainsborough had certainly gotten the first Lady Vaughn down to a tee.

Tucking the gold medallion safely away in a corner of the box, where Dempster would have trouble finding it, I spared a moment of pity for poor Lady Vaughn.  Her only real crime had been weakness, and it was hard not to feel a bit sorry for her for that, even if she had been born with every advantage and foolishly tossed it away. 

 

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The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Every now and again, I have ambitious plans to use current books to set up future books. As planning ahead is not my forte, this usually fails miserably.  When I began Emerald Ring, I assumed I would write Charlotte’s book next and wanted to do something to bring Charlotte into the spotlight, preparatory for her star turn. It didn’t quite work—which, in the event, turned out to be a good thing, since the following book was hijacked by Mary and Vaughn and wound up not featuring any Charlotte at all. (That was the book that became The Seduction of the Crimson Rose.) Poor Charlotte had to wait a whole extra year for The Temptation of the Night Jasmine.

Below, you can see one of the lost Charlotte scenes from the original draft of Emerald Ring, in which Charlotte, in classic Charlotte fashion, attempts to console an anxious Letty on her less than joyous wedding day.

“He said something about hemlock.”

Letty grimaced.  “For him, or for me?”

Charlotte saw the grimace and strove to reassure her.  “Oh, for him!” she said, with an emphatic nod.  “It was quite definitely for him.”

“In other words,” summed up Letty grimly, “when it came down to marrying me or death, he chose death.”

“He hasn’t killed himself yet,” pointed out Charlotte encouraginly.

“It’s only been four hours,” riposted Letty. 

“Oh, Letty.”  Charlotte sank down on the settee next to her and rested a tentative hand on her friend’s arm.  She said earnestly, “You know you can always come to us at Dovedale House.  Grandmama likes you… or, at least, she doesn’t dislike you,” amended Charlotte, “which is much the same thing with Grandmama.”   


Some books scoot along peacefully from event to event and chapter to chapter.  Others stall out.  Emerald Ring was definitely a staller. In the fall of 2005 (my 3L year of law school), I spent a good two months stalled out on Chapter Six. I had an image, you see. Images always get me in trouble. It was an image of Letty sitting on her side of the connecting door at Pinchingdale House, waiting for her spouse to enter. It was the classic Arranged Marriage moment, the moment that always makes your heart go all a-flutter as you wonder, Will they? Or won’t they? Only—it wouldn’t work. After two months, I scrapped the connecting door and went with the version currently in Emerald Ring, where both Letty and Geoff leave straight from the party. 

Resurrected from the archives, here’s the original version of Chapter Six, connecting door and all:

Chapter Six

By the following evening, Letty was sure of just one thing.  She would rather be anywhere than where she was.

The Viscountess’ chambers at Pinchingdale were a frothy rococo fantasy in pale pink and gilt.  Simpering shepherdesses frolicked with amorous goatherds in perennial flirtation along the base of the vases perched on either side of the dressing table, and the gilded mirrors on the walls boasted more whimsical curves than a Botticelli Venus.  Next to the flowered satin brocade of the bed-hangings, Letty’s hand looked uncouthly brown, darkened by years of roaming around the countryside without her gloves.  Letty quickly dropped the corner of the hangings and retreated to the dressing table, but there was no refuge to be found there.  Even in all the unaccustomed glory of her best dress, with a fashionable cameo on a ribbon around her throat for ornament, Letty felt like a maid who had strayed into her mistress’ room after hours. 

But it wasn’t the Fragonard fantasies painted in mural along the walls, or even cupids supporting the mantle that wore at Letty’s nerves, and made her pace anxiously up and down on the Aubusson carpet, feet treading nervously over the gay pattern of trellises and roses.  It was the door.

The connecting door.

It was a flimsy little door, the pale blue of the paint scarcely visible under the fantastical gilded moldings that writhed across the surface.  The twisted golden doorknob was scarcely distinguishable from the rest of the ornamentation.  Unless one had been staring at it for the past half an hour.  Letty had been staring at it for so long she was sure that if she closed her eyes the image of the twining golden vines would be imprinted permanently on the insides of her eyelids. 

Letty dropped her head into her hands and rubbed her fingers hard over her eyes, as if by doing so she could wipe out the door, the room, the day.  There was so much to obliterate, Letty didn’t know where to begin.  She could, she supposed, start with the long walk down the aisle that morning, the malicious whispers of the wedding guests hissing in her ears.  In the space between door and altar, Letty had heard no fewer than sixteen versions of her own ruin, none of them coming anywhere near the truth.  When a child’s voice piped over the general din to ask, “Mama, is that what a fallen woman looks like?” Letty had had to choke back a hysterical giggle.  She ought, she thought madly, to have satisfied their suspicions, and undulated down the aisle wearing wetted muslin and a bodice that barely dipped nearly to her waist.  Instead, in her best evening dress, hastily made over for the occasion, with its modest lace fichu and little bows on the puffed sleeves, she had looked more like a vicar’s daughter at a country assembly than a notorious wanton, much to the visible disappointment of the scandal seekers packed into the pews of St. George’s Hanover Square.

Scandals just weren’t supposed to happen to people like her.  Scandals happened to people like Mary.  Beautiful people.  Daring people.  Irresponsible people.  They happened to those who pushed the edges of society’s strictures and threatened the comfortable commonplaces of the world around them.  Letty had never pushed anything more exciting than the edges of her family’s budget.  Scandals didn’t happen to people like Letty, who washed behind their ears, braided their hair at bedtime, and always ate all their green vegetables.  Well, almost always.  But, surely, a spear of broccoli more or less couldn’t make that much of a difference on the cosmic scales that weighed good and evil.

Yet, here she was, in the gilded opulence of a Mayfair bedchamber, keeping a nervous eye on the connecting door in case her reluctant husband should choose to exercise his marital rights.

Letty plucked at a stray thread on the fraying cuff of her white linen nightdress, and contemplated what she would do when the gilded handle finally moved.  Since the night of their disastrous midnight adventure, she and Lord Pinchindgale had exchanged a grand total of four words. 

One “I do” each, to be precise. 

Over the course of the endless day, they had moved in parallel through the throngs of curious guests, smilingly accepting congratulations and deftly deflecting tactless queries—at least, Lord Pinchingdale deftly deflected tactless queries.  Letty simply continued to smile.  She was afraid that if she stopped, even to speak, she would never be able to put the expression back.  And, all the while, throughout the long, painful afternoon, there had been Lord Pinchingdale standing next to her, close enough that the sleeve of his blue, superfine coat brushed her gloved arm.  Close enough that she could feel the heat from his body, like the warmth of a fire in a neighboring room, just close enough to sense, but too far away to afford any comfort.  The faint tang of his bay rum cologne teased her nose, bringing with it memories of a stolen moment in a dark inn yard, memories so vivid that Letty would have blushed from them if she hadn’t already been pink-cheeked with heat and embarrassment.  Close enough for memory, but not close enough to speak.  A nearly tangible barrier existed between them, compounded of Lord Pinchingdale’s stiff posture and the watchful eyes of the wedding guests, clamping down on any impulse to speak more effectively than concentric walls of stone.  Time after time, Letty snuck sideways glances at her new husband, convinced, each time, that she had reached the limit of her endurance, and something had to be said.  But every time she turned, prepared to tug on his arm, and demand they speak—now—something about Lord Pinchingdale’s still profile had blunted the attempt. 

Letty snuck another look at the connecting door, which was remaining infuriatingly, resolutely stationary.  Should she open it?  Should she just barge through and—but there was the rub.  She wasn’t quite sure exactly what she meant to say.  Over the past day, she had gone through several versions, which varied according to her mood.  Letty had considered and discarded, “If you hadn’t been so foolish as to elope, neither of us would be in this mess.”  While an accurate reflection of her feelings, it wasn’t exactly the most politic way to go about establishing a truce with her new husband.  “I’m sorry,” went far too far in the opposite direction.  Certainly she was sorry he’d been forced to marry her—she was sorry she’d been forced to marry him—but to apologize would be tantamount to admitting to guilt, for a situation that just wasn’t her fault.  Or, at least, only a little bit her fault, Letty amended, squirming uncomfortably on the chair in front of the dressing table.  She couldn’t quite blot out Mary’s scathing indictment of her interference.

Maybe she was a little meddlesome.  Letty picked up the silver backed brush from the dressing table, incised with the monogram of a past viscountess, and applied it vigorously to her hair.  If she was meddlesome, it was only because other people couldn’t properly manage their own affairs.

Of course, she couldn’t see that argument making terribly much of an impression on Lord Pinchingdale either.  It would have to be the rational approach.  Of all the men of her acquaintance, Lord Pinchingdale seemed most likely to respond to a calm critique of the facts.  This marriage may not have been what either of them wanted, but there was no reason they couldn’t at least try to make something palatable out of it, rather than skulking about behind connecting doors, fretting about the future.  They would have a nice, sensible talk about their unfortunate situation, she would convince him she was as much a victim of circumstance as he, and then….  Letty’s eyes strayed in the direction of the bed, then hastily scooted away again. 

That line of thought was not exactly conducive to calm and sensible.

Unbidden, memories of those confused moments in the carriage interposed themselves against the gay ornamentation of the room, memories of gloved hands in her hair, and warm breath against her lips and a strong arm across her back, pressing her closer.

But all the tenderness in that embrace, Letty reminded herself, sitting primly on the edge of her chair, had been intended for Mary, not her.  The best she could hope for was kindness.  Amiability.  She didn’t expect to inspire the sort of devotion her sister had.  Letty regarded her own small figure in the glass with an ironic quirk of the eyebrows.  Launching ships just wasn’t in her line.  But companionship wasn’t too much to ask for, was it?  Once they sorted out the series of misunderstandings that had brought them to this point.

Letty rose determinedly from her perch in front of the dressing table.  Enough behaving like a ninny.  If she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life staring at the connecting door, jumping at the sound of someone moving around in the room next door, she was going to have to take matters into her own little brown hands.  Now.  Not in an hour, not in a week.

Belatedly, Letty realized she was still holding the silver-backed brush, hoisting it aloft like Macbeth’s dagger.  Somehow, Letty doubted Lord Pinchingdale would be overawed into submission by threat of bludgeoning by brush.  Letty sheepishly deposited the brush back on the dresser and made for the door with a less jaunty gait than she had begun.

On the other side of the connecting door, she could hear the faint sound of someone moving about.  Taking a deep breath, Letty forced her cold fingers to close around the twisted brasswork of the doorknob.  A nice, sensible conversation, she reminder herself.  Surely, they could behave like two reasonable adults? 

With unnecessary force, Letty pushed down on the knob and strode through the adjoining door.

“My lord,” she began, and stopped abruptly.

The room couldn’t be more different from hers.  In place of the pale blue woodwork and nearly blinding profusion of gold leaf, Lord Pinchingdale’s room was a masculine den of dark woods and royal blue hangings, the furniture heavily carved and obviously long-used.  A vast Jacobean bed dominated one side of the room, flanked by chests of the same era, depicting the adventures of a knight leveling his lance against a series of windmills, his helm slightly askew, and his armor too large for him.  By the fire, a round table had been set, and with it cane-backed chairs, made comfortable with a profusion of velvet-covered cushions, beginning to spit stuffing out the corners. 

Lord Pinchingdale wasn’t in the bed, and he wasn’t at the table.

Instead, a neatly garbed maid was brushing the ashes of a recently extinguished fire out of the grate, leaving the hearth as cold and empty as the room. 

Seeing Letty, the maid clutched her pail to her chest with both hands and bobbed a curtsy.  “Your ladyship.”

“Oh, hello,” said Letty flatly, stopping short with her hand still on the door knob.  She curled her bare toes into the weave of the carpet, peering around the maid, for any hint of her husband’s presence.  Knowing she was being ridiculous, but unable to stop herself, she asked hesitantly, “Is your master in?”

The maid’s grip on the handle of the bucket relaxed a bit as she regarded her new mistress with evident surprise.

“You didn’t know, my lady?” she asked, with something that sounded uncomfortably like pity.

“Know?” Letty echoed, resisting the impulse to peer underneath the great bed, just in case her husband might have dived down there to avoid her.

“Lord Pinchingdale left, my lady,” the maid said carefully, in the tone of one imparting news of a death in the family.  “This evening.”

“He left,” Letty repeated, hating herself for the sudden wild surge of relief that gripped her at the news.  It wasn’t really a reprieve, she reminded herself, only a stay of execution.  They would still have to talk tomorrow… or the next day….  “For his club?”

“No, my lady.”  The maid’s shovel hit the edge of the bucket with a sound like a church bell tolling.  “For Ireland.”

 

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The Masque of the Black Tulip

Poor Gaston Delaroche. Not only did he lose his position as third most feared man in France, he lost his only chapter in The Masque of the Black Tulip. Originally, Chapter Three of Black Tulip belonged to Delaroche—in fact, he was the one who originally got to spill the news about the Black Tulip. But since Delaroche didn’t really have much of a role in the rest of the book—and, as usual, the manuscript was running way too long—Delaroche had to go. Voila the one, the only, (the slightly ridiculous) Gaston Delaroche…

 

Chapter Three

Company, wrong sort of: a murderous band of French agents, employed for the primary purpose of eliminating English intelligence officers.
-- from the Personal Code Book of the Pink Carnation

Gaston Delaroche was in disgrace.

His office, from which he had run one of the most feared spy rings in Europe, had been turned into a broom closet. His personal torture chamber, in which he had assembled a collection of implements of torture to make the Inquisition scowl with envy, had been stripped, down to the last thumbscrew. Delaroche himself, once the third most feared man in France, had fallen to tenth.

The tenth most feared man in France (if rumor was to be believed, rapidly slipping down to eleventh) paced furiously back and forth, his spurs clicking against the stone flags of the floor. Beads of perspiration formed on his sallow forehead and his small, dark eyes glowed with the fanatic fury of a rabid animal. In one furious movement, he yanked off his cravat, as though it had grown too tight. The limp piece of linen fluttered to the floor like a flag of surrender.

Tenth! All those years of grinding thumbscrews, all those late nights spent stretching hapless souls upon the rack, all for naught.

Delaroche’s elbow whacked painfully into the wall, the stone scraping the already threadbare fabric of his inky frockcoat, but Delaroche failed to notice the sting. This, this mouse-hole among offices, was what he had been reduced to. He, Delaroche, who, at one point, had been poised to rise to the position of second most feared man in France, second only to Bonaparte himself. Had he captured the Purple Gentian, it would have been he, not Fouche, whose name was whispered in fear in the taverns of Paris and the halls of power in London. It would have been he, not Fouche who bore Bonaparte’s ear and wielded his borrowed authority.

Those thrice-damned English flowers had put an end to that.

On the same night, that same hateful night, the Purple Gentian had escaped from his clutches, and the Pink Carnation had made away with the largest shipment of gold Paris had ever seen. He, Gaston Delaroche, had been officially reprimanded—Delaroche’s face contorted with remembered pain—he, Delaroche, who never made a mistake, whose quarry quavered at the mere mention of his name, had been reprimanded, and laughed at, and exiled to this tiny office in the darkest corridor of the Ministry of Police.

Delaroche dropped scowling into his desk chair.

There was no clutter on the top of the desk; like the rest of the room, it was characterized by a spartan tidiness. No paintings enlivened the walls, no rugs the floors. The furnishings consisted entirely of the desk, two straight-backed chairs, and an immense cabinet that scarcely fit along one wall of the tiny room. Inside that cabinet, in strict alphabetical order, sat secrets for which several of France’s most important men would have paid dearly.

None of that mattered. Not now, when the one secret Delaroche needed was the one secret he did not have.

The identity of the Pink Carnation.

If he could find and eliminate that flowery menace, Delaroche’s consequence would be restored, his future reclaimed. Delaroche could picture the cheering crowd surrounding the guillotine as the guards wrestled the trembling figure of the Pink Carnation out of the tumbril. Fouche would slink into the background, a mere scarecrow among spymasters.

The Pink Carnation had only been operating for a month, but already he had revealed himself a worthier adversary than his predecessors. Both the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian had taken long months to make a name for themselves. They had contented themselves with minor exploits, picking off aristocrats one by one (or sometimes two by two) from the crowded prisons of Paris, leaving dainty, flower printed cards in their wake. True, the operations had been conducted with… how could one put it? A certain flair. Despite being hampered by being Englishmen, that dull and stodgy island race, Delaroche had to concede that his flowery foes had not been without a sense of the dramatic.

All the same, for all the theatricality of their exploits, what had they accomplished? A few noble families saved, a few state secrets wrested from the coffers of the Ministry of Police…. If Delaroche were to give them their due—and Delaroche prided himself on his ability to impartially assess any given situation—their tallies had grown quite impressive over time, but it had taken months, years, to build up their reputations as gadflies of the French Republic.

Indeed, their choice of the more obscure specimens of the botanical kingdom had done little to aid them in their quest for notoriety. When the first news of the Pimpernel’s exploits began to be whispered around Paris, the worthy citizens of that city had scratched their heads, and the question wended its way from tavern to tavern: what is a Pimpernel? Some said it was type of sausage, others a lady’s undergarment. It had taken months—and several misplaced scarlet garters—to clear up the confusion. The Purple Gentian had encountered similar difficulties, his career being somewhat hampered by having been mistakenly dubbed The Bluebell, until an irate note from the Gentian, and the testimony of a famed French botanist had proven otherwise.

And then, there was the Pink Carnation.

On the Pink Carnation’s first night in operation, he had stolen a heavily guarded shipment of gold from under the very noses of Fouche’s agents, all hardened men, with orders to slay first and ask questions later. With that shipment of gold had gone Bonaparte’s hope of invading England within the summer. The coffers were empty; the advantage of surprise was lost. All with the seizure of one shipment of gold. In that same night, that very same night, he had stolen from Delaroche’s clutches the most wanted man in France, the Purple Gentian, leaving Delaroche gaping like a fish upon the floor of his own dungeon, discountenanced, disheveled, and disgraced.

Beginner’s luck, Fouché had termed it. A fluke of fate, nothing more.

Within the week, the Pink Carnation had followed up his first triumph with another daring raid, this time upon the army’s primary boot manufactory just outside of Calais. With a few well-placed torches, the Pink Carnation had consigned half the Grand Army to an uncomfortable summer of scraped soles. The army commissioners were still scrambling to award new contracts in the desperate hope of getting the army shod by the time summer gave way to the chill of autumn.

The pink petals scattered around the smoldering ashes had been the final insult.

The English newssheets had reveled in the incident, blazing headline after headline about Bonaparte’s Barefoot Army. “Bonaparte’s plans,” quipped the blasted English newssheets, “are as bootless as his men.” Delaroche could practically hear the chuckles from across the Channel.

As if that weren’t bad enough, two days later, despite agents scouring the countryside, and barricades blocking every road from Calais to Paris, from the major carriageways to the merest cow path, the Pink Carnation had struck again.

And then, with all of Paris in an uproar, Bonaparte in a temper, and the secret service in disgrace, there had been nothing. An eerie silence had fallen over the Ministry of Police as, day after day, they waited for word of some new exploit, some further humiliation. But no word had come. The Pink Carnation had disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared.

There had been, of course, the usual incidents with flowers left in suggestive places—so many, in fact, that the First Consul, in a fit of temper, had banned all pink carnations from the capital. An ill-advised move, thought the former Assistant to the Minister of Police with a silent sneer. To do so was a sign of weakness. A sign of fear.

Delaroche never showed fear.

Ah, well. Delaroche dismissed his leader’s weakness with a philosophical shrug. Bonaparte was a soldier, a man of action. Such men had little courage when faced with peacetime terrors.

In the past two weeks, aside from a bouquet of carnations tossed into the First Consul’s carriage on the way to the Opera, and another left suggestively on his lady’s pillow, there had been no sign of the Pink Carnation. Delaroche refused to believe those flowery slights to be the work of the Carnation. They were too clumsy, too mundane. No, the real Carnation was biding his time… but for what?

Delaroche drummed his yellowed fingernails on the desk in thought.

Fouché believed the Pink Carnation was hiding in Paris, waiting his moment. Delaroche knew otherwise. Delaroche’s iron maiden might be dismantled, his rack and thumbscrews in packing cases, but his network of agents, scattered across the breadth of England and France, remained intact. To his ears had come a whisper, the lightest breath of a rumor that the Pink Carnation had been in attendance at the wedding of the former Purple Gentian, Lord Richard Selwick, to Miss Amy Balcourt.

Delaroche, for whom weddings held about as much interest as romantic poetry, had pored over every account of the wedding his minions could acquire. And there were many. The English scandal sheets had reveled in the Fairy Tale Romance of England’s Favorite Spy (the terms were not Delaroche’s), cranking out exhaustive accounts of everything from the number of flowers in the bridesmaids’ bouquets (gentians, of course), to the formula used to polish the bridegroom’s boots. Delaroche had learned that the bride wore a dress of white satin trimmed with Brussels lace, that no fewer than five hundred lobster patties had been consumed at the reception, that the Prince of Wales had retired early due to a violent bilious attack (after personally consuming forty-three of the said five hundred lobster patties), and that the event had taken place in St. George’s Hanover Square on the eighteenth of May—four days after the Pink Carnation’s most recent exploit.

The timing worked. Which meant, if Delaroche was correct in his calculations—and Delaroche was seldom known to be wrong—that the Pink Carnation was in London.

Let Fouché trawl through the boardinghouses and taverns of Paris. It would be he, Delaroche, who would have the honor to lay at Bonaparte’s feet the head of the Pink Carnation, freshly plucked from London.

Delaroche’s thin lips curved into a hideous mockery of a smile. Ha! The English newssheets were not the only ones who could play on words.

Delaroche had declined to go to London himself. First, Fouché would notice his absence. Delaroche had no desire to share his glory with his superior—the credit for catching the Pink Carnation would be his, all his.

There had also been that little incident the last time Delaroche had been sent on assignment to London, involving Beau Brummel, a quizzing glass, and an unfortunate twist of the cravat. Delaroche didn’t like to be reminded of that occasion.

Besides— Delaroche drew himself up in his desk chair—he was too well known; the Carnation would recognize him and be on his guard.

Instead, Delaroche had deployed the most deadly tool in his arsenal, a spy more lethal than any combination of implements in Delaroche’s torture chamber, a spy so deadly that even Fouché himself blanched at the name. A spy who should even now be in London, poised to strike.

The Black Tulip.

 

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The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

I love epilogues, especially the older Judith McNaught ones. There’s something inexpressibly satisfying about that precious moment when all the various problems that have plagued the characters for the past five hundred pages have been cleared up, and you get a little peak into their future wedded bliss. Naturally, when I wrote the first draft of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Amy and Richard got an epilogue. But then Eloise came along, and a gooey Richard and Amy epilogue would have sounded pretty silly coming after the last Eloise chapter. Farewell, Epilogue. But here, restored to its original form, is the original ending of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation….

Epilogue

“You just scared away poor Giles Alsworthy,” Amy scolded Richard as she accepted the glass of ratafia he handed her.

“He deserved it,” Richard replied unrepentantly. “The bas—er, man, was leering down your bodice.”

“So are you,” Amy pointed out, accurately gauging the angle of Richard’s gaze.

“Ah, but as your husband I claim exclusive leering rights.”

“Drat, I’d forgotten about the part of the wedding ceremony where you promised to love, honor, and leer.”

Richard lowered his voice intimately. “Haven’t I made good on the with my body I thee worship bit? Or shall I try harder?”

Amy gulped down her entire glass of ratafia.

“Don’t,” she protested. Richard’s eyes gleamed wickedly. “Not now. Your mother will never forgive us if we leave this early.”

Acknowledging the truth of the statement, Richard forced himself to postpone his favorite pastime of seducing Amy. Judging his second favorite pastime—ogling Amy—a little too dangerous, he took a step back and surveyed the crowded ballroom.

“She has done us proud, hasn’t she?”

The ballroom of Uppington House glittered with hundreds of candles and bejeweled people, the latter all packed together in what would later be referred to admiringly as a sad crush. Although Amy had been sure a good half of the ton at least had to have been present at the wedding breakfast, Lady Uppington had dismissed that as, “A small family affair, darling!” and insisted on throwing a ball the following week to demonstrate her delight in her new daughter-in-law. Two hours into the event, it was clear it was already a smashing success.

In the center of the room, the Prince of Wales huffed and puffed his way through a quadrille with Lady Jersey. Henrietta and her two best friends, Penelope and Charlotte, huddled in a corner, communicating in a combination of whispers, giggles, and agitated hand gestures. Amy smiled as she spotted Uncle Bertrand, wearing the lopsided periwig that had been part of his formal attire since her arrival at Wooliston Manor as a child, holding forth on sheep breeding to a red-faced man in knee breeches nearly as antiquated as her uncle’s. Aunt Penelope wandered the perimeter of the room, inspecting the needlepoint seats of any unoccupied chairs.

Even Jane and Miss Gwen had returned briefly from France for Amy and Richard’s wedding—the official wedding, that was. Halfway down the ballroom, Jane, in a dress embroidered with hundreds of tiny pink carnations, partnered Geoff in a quadrille. Ever since the illustrated newspapers had reported the daring theft of Bonaparte’s gold by a dashing new secret agent, the Pink Carnation had become society’s favorite flower. At least a third of the women present wore dresses embroidered with carnations (some, it must be admitted, in shades closer to orange or red, pink thread having run short among the seamstresses who served the ton), and as many more had tucked bunches of the humble flower into their hair. Among the fashionable set, all the young men sported pink flowers on their waistcoats, and one trendsetter had gone so far as to have them embroidered upon his socks. It all amused Amy hugely.

A brief buzz of excitement had run through the ton when Richard was unveiled as the Purple Gentian (in a four page long exclusive in The Shropshire Intelligencer, Amy’s favorite periodical). After a week of notoriety, the fickle attention of society had shifted to the Pink Carnation, a state of affairs that suited Amy and Richard perfectly. It left them in peace to pursue Amy’s latest scheme: a school for secret agents, based at Richard’s estate in Sussex. Six trainee spies were already in residence, practicing French colloquialisms and learning how to blacken their teeth with soot and gum.

Amy poked Richard in the arm to draw his attention to Miss Gwen marching an unfortunate young lady and her beau off the balcony and back into the ballroom.

“That poor girl!” laughed Amy, turning to Richard.

“Come into the garden with me,” he urged. “Just for a moment.”

“And be hauled out by Miss Gwen? No, thank you!”

“Didn’t I once promise you that I’d brave dragons for you? Come with me,” Richard wheedled. “I have a surprise for you.”

“Oooh, what sort of surprise?”

“Come into the garden,” Richard repeated.

Amy placed her gloved hand on his arm, and let him guide her towards the French doors. “I hope this is a real surprise and not just a ploy to get me alone,” she admonished.

“Would you be disappointed?” he asked with a mischievous grin.

Amy refrained from answering, eliciting a knowing chuckle from Richard.

Amy lifted her face to the evening breeze as they stepped out onto the balcony. The cool air felt heavenly on her skin after the heat of the overcrowded ballroom. She tugged at the fingers of her pale blue kid evening gloves, dyed to match the gauze overlay of her gown, and gave a sigh of relief as she peeled them off.

“Feel free to continue undressing,” commented her husband good-naturedly.

Amy leaned her blessedly bare elbows on the railing, and tilted her head to look up at Richard. “Just what was that surprise?” she asked pointedly.

“Oh well,” Richard sighed, “if you insist,” but the way he was shifting from foot to foot belied his world-weary tone. Whatever the surprise was—and Amy rapidly ran through a list of possibilities—Richard was bursting in his eagerness to present it.

“First,” he said, rubbing his hands together in unconcealed glee, “you have to look up and tell me what you see.”

“The roof of Middlethorpe House.”

Richard poked her.

“Ow! All right! Um… stars. I see lots and lots of stars.”

Richard smiled with satisfaction. “Exactly. Now close your eyes and make a wish.”

Amy closed her eyes, and was casting about for a suitable wish—it was the usual dilemma, world peace or something she really wanted—when something cold and heavy plopped onto her neck. Her eyelashes flew open.

The problem with a present that had been placed around one’s neck, was that it was rather difficult to inspect. Lifting it, Amy caught a glimpse of the brilliant glitter of diamonds.

“Didn’t I owe you a necklace of stars?” Richard asked softly.

“A—oh.” Amy looked down at the necklace again, the sparkle of the central pendant refracting in an opalescent rainbow of tears. “Oh, Richard.”

“If you don’t like it—”

Amy launched herself at Richard’s neck, smashing him into the creeping tendrils of a rosebush, and nearly topping both of them over the railing of the balcony into the garden below. The smell of crushed roses drifted around them. “It’s the sweetest, most thoughtful, kindest, most wonderful present anyone has ever given me!”

Richard didn’t even notice the thorns poking into his jacket. His chest swelled with pride. “I’m glad you like it,” he said casually.

“I—oh,” choked Amy. She rubbed her face against his shoulder. “I love you, I love you, I love you so much!”

“And I love you.” Kissing the top of her head, Richard resolved to run out and obtain the matching bracelet and earrings at the earliest opportunity.

Amy flung back her head to look at him and cupped his cheeks in both hands. “But you didn’t need to buy me diamonds. It’s you. You make me see necklaces of stars. Every time you kiss me.”

The next day, the scandalous gossip made the rounds of the ton that not only were Lord Richard Selwick and his new bride unfashionably in love, they had spent a good half hour kissing—each other!—on the balcony of Uppington House during their nuptial ball. It was, the gossips agreed, shockingly bad ton. But what could one expect from a man whose parents had the poor taste to remain in love, and a girl who was half French?

 

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Just as in movies, there are those scenes that wind up in the cutting room floor, my “Discarded Chapters” folder often rivals the completed book for length. Sometimes, the scenes are discarded because they’re unworkable, other times, because they lead into alternative plot-lines that would take a seven volume set (a la the more verbose Victorian writers) to explore, and sometimes simply because the blasted manuscript is just plain too long, and something has to go.

The scene below falls into that last category, and, let me tell you, it hurt to cut it, partly because cutting anything always hurts, but mostly because it’s the only scene in “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation” where Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, puts in a cameo appearance.

To set the scene for you, Richard has just discovered that Amy is—or so he believes—in love with his alter ego, the Purple Gentian. He is kicking himself (no comfortable thing, when one is wearing Hessian boots!) for being idiot enough to be his own rival. Who better to consult than the one man in all France who encountered the exact same problem?

“Percy! I need to talk to you!” Richard barreled into the Blakeneys’ bedroom. “Oh, sorry.” Richard skidded to a stop as Marguerite’s curly head descended under the sheets with a squeal. “Uh, never mind, sorry, uh,” Richard backed out, feeling about twelve. Sounds of sheets whispering and feet scurrying emerged from the other room. Should he wait, wondered Richard with uncharacteristic indecision, or should he go away and come back in the morning? He hovered uncertainly. He hated feeling uncertain. He was a man of action, a man of decision, a… well, that was the general idea. But this whole love business was decidedly unsettling. Richard scowled at the gilded inlay of the door.

Until the door was abruptly tugged open and he found himself scowling at Percy instead.

“You do have the worst timing, lad,” Sir Percy informed him as he belted his dressing gown. “I’ll take it this is of the utmost importance?”

“Um….” Suddenly sheepish, Richard followed Percy into the room and seated himself gingerly on a chaise longue.

“Hullo, Richard!” One white hand waved at him from the direction of the adjoining dressing room and then disappeared.

Percy regarded Richard intently from his shrewd, heavy lidded eyes. “What’s wrong, lad? Is it the League?”

“When you were courting Marguerite, and she didn’t know you were the Scarlet Pimpernel, how did you manage it?” Richard blurted out, not altogether coherently.

“Ah, so this is about a girl, I take it?” Percy’s posture relaxed in a moment from that of the Scarlet Pimpernel, alert, active, to that of the urbane man about town. He settled back against the embroidered chair back. “Who is she? A Frenchwomen? They make demmed fine wives,” he added, raising his voice for the benefit of the denizen of the dressing room. A tinkle of silvery laughter floated out into the bedroom.

“No.” Richard reconsidered. “Well, half French. But that’s not the important thing. She’s…. Devil take it, where do I start?”

Lady Blakeney drifted in as Richard was about half way through his recital, and stood listening behind her husband’s chair, head cocked sideways.

Percy listened as intently as though Richard were describing his plans to overthrow the French government. When Richard finished, he shook his head. “I won’t lie to you, Richard. It was hard. Demmed hard.”

“Whoever she is, tell her the truth,” Lady Blakeney advised emphatically. “Unlike another great foolish oaf I know.”

Sir Percy twirled an imaginary quizzing glass. “Sink me if I don’t know who that might be!”

“But what about the danger to the mission?”

“How can you love someone and not trust them?” asked Lady Blakeney indignantly, ruby earrings swinging against the red-gold mass of her hair. Her words sounded unsettlingly like Amy’s in the garden earlier that evening.

Richard shot out of his seat as though he had been sitting on tacks, not petit point.

“It’s not about trust. It’s about the mission.”

Lady Blakeney narrowed her eyes at him and muttered something in French. “Oh, Richard.” She stood on tiptoe to press a quick kiss on each cheek. “If you need us, we’re always here for you.”

“You make it sound like you think I’m wrong,” Richard muttered.

Percy looked deeply apprehensive. Lady Blakeney just patted his hand and repeated, “We’re here when you need us.”

 


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