Those of you who follow me on Facebook may remember, way back in the spring, the acquisition by Sally Fitzhugh of an accidental pet stoat.
How does one accidentally acquire a stoat, one may well inquire? Well, I made a silly comment about something or other, to which there was a response involving a stoat, which may have led to a dare, which may have led to my promising to lend Sally Fitzhugh a stoat. (Suggested names included “Pulchritudinous Oblong”.)
Sally, I must confess, resisted her stoat. It began to seem as though the stoat would be lost until somewhere around the middle of Chapter Four, when an opportune moment arrived for stoatification.
So, for today’s Teaser, voila the initial introduction of the stoat in Pink XI, aka The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla:
From Chapter Four of THE MARK OF THE MIDNIGHT MANZANILLA:
“Do tell me more about your stoat breeding program,” said Sally, smiling up at her dance partner as she tried to angle just a little bit to the left.
The Duke of Belliston had disappeared through those doors a good half hour ago and hadn’t come back.
The idea that he might have departed for good made the evening feel strangely flat. She wasn’t done with him yet. She had at least seventeen opening lines prepared, each wittier than the other.
So far, her quest to discover the duke’s dark secrets had not met with unparalleled success. There were certainly plenty of rumors circulating, but what with all the slaughtered chickens and gypsy curses, Sally was having a hard time separating fact from fiction. Miss Gwen’s fiction, to be precise. Some of the theories being shared were lifted straight from the pages of The Convent of Orsino, which, as far as Sally knew, was a work of fiction, not a tell all biography of the life and times of the Duke of Belliston.
She wanted to know about the man, not the myth. Where had he been all these years? Why did he lurk in overgrown gardens? And what was it that his sister had said that had made him look like thunder?
Their meeting the other night had piqued her curiosity. And if there was one thing Sally couldn’t endure, it was being piqued.
“You mustn’t believe everything you hear,” Mr. Fitzwarren announced.
Sally looked at him sharply. “About—?”
“About stoats.” Mr. Fitzwarren shook his flaming red head. “People have the oddest ideas about them.”
Sally didn’t have any ideas about them at all. “I’m afraid I’ve never met a stoat,” she said apologetically.
“They don’t seem to get about much.” Mr. Fitzwarren seemed genuinely bewildered by this state of affairs.
“Have you attempted popularizing them as pets?” Sally asked politely, her attention on the back the ballroom. She wasn’t the only one. Half the room seemed to be glancing over their shoulders for the duke; the other half contented themselves with gossiping about him.
“Would you like one?” Mr. Fitzwarren asked eagerly. “I can give you Lady Florence.”
Mr. Fitzwarren appeared to be looking at her expectantly. Sally shook herself back to the present. “Lady Florence who?”
“Lady Florence Oblong.” When Sally looked at him, Mr. Fitzwarren explained, “That’s the name of the stoat.”
“I see.” What Sally didn’t see was any sign of the duke. Blast.
On the other hand, the people dancing behind them were having a rather fascinating whispered conversation about the wrong the duke’s mother had done. It appeared to have something to do with… sacrificing chickens? Really, the acoustics in this room were dreadful.
“She’s a very genteel stoat.” What on earth was Mr. Fitzwarren on about? Oh, yes, Lady Florence Oblong. The stoat. “She’s very dainty about her kills.”
Two words Sally hadn’t expected to hear in the same sentence. “I’m sure she’s a paragon among stoats.”
“Oh, yes, she is! You see, stoats—”
Sally stepped down hard on her own hem. “Oh, dear! Will you excuse me, Mr. Fitzwarren? I seem to have torn the hem of my gown. Clumsy, clumsy me. I simply must make the necessary repairs.”
Sally waggled her fingers and staged her retreat before Mr. Fitzwarren could inform her that stoats, not having gowns, would never have this sort of problem. A very sweet man, Mr. Fitzwarren, but a bit single-minded. She couldn’t imagine anyone being that passionate about weasels, but, then, thought Sally tolerantly, there was no accounting for taste. It could be worse. It could be minks. Sally wrinkled her nose. Or poultry. She detested poultry. Nasty clucking things.
We will see that stoat again….
More on The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla coming soon!