Usually, a few months before the book comes out, I post a Colin and Eloise excerpt on Teaser Tuesday. This time around, I couldn’t. Not because the chapter wasn’t there yet. (It was.) The reason I couldn’t share it with you was because the very first line of that very first chapter contained a major spoiler.
But the book comes out tomorrow, and this spoiler has cropped up a time or two in reviews, so….
Here you are! As my present to you, on Book Release Eve, here’s the first eight pages of the Prologue of The Lure of the Moonflower…. Spoiler included!
Reader, I married him.
Or, rather, I was in the process of marrying him, which is a much more complicated affair. Jane Eyre didn’t have to plan a wedding involving three transcontinental bridesmaids, two dysfunctional families, and one slightly battered stately home.
Of course, she did have to deal with that wife in the attic, so there you go.
There might occasionally be bats in Colin’s belfry, but there were no wives in his attic. I’d checked.
“Hey! Ellie!” My little sister drifted into the drawing room, where I was busily and profanely engaged in tying bows on the chairs that had been set up for the reception. Silk ribbon, I was learning, might be attractive, but it was also more slippery than a French spy in a Crisco factory. “Delivery for you! Is that supposed to look that way?”
“It’s a postmodern take on the classic bow,” I said, with as much dignity as I could muster. “Think . . . Foucault’s bow.”
Jillian cocked a hip. “Or you could just call it lopsided.”
“Oh, ye of little faith.” I abandoned my attempts at Martha Stewartry. The guests wouldn’t care if there were bows or not. They just wanted us to be happy. And an open bar. “You said there was a delivery? Please tell me it’s the port-a-loos.”
“There’s a perfectly good bathroom down the hall. If you want to, you know, wash off that thing.” Jillian gestured at the tectonic layers of mud that were beginning to crack on my face.
No, I hadn’t fallen in the garden. I had fallen prey to my oldest friend, Pammy, and her Big Box of Beauty Aids. Which appeared to involve highly priced purple-tinted garden mud.
“Not for me. For the reception,” I said patiently. Well, sort of patiently. My mud mask was beginning to itch.
I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to itch.
“Not unless it’s one for midgets,” said Jillian.
“Cutlery? A tent?” I followed Jillian down the hall, ticking off items, and rather wishing we’d thought to invest in item number one: a wedding planner.
’Twas the afternoon before my wedding, and all through Selwick Hall nothing was where it was supposed to be, not one thing at all. We had chosen to be married in Colin’s not so-stately home, on the theory that if you pour enough champagne, no one will notice the cracks in the plaster or the faded bits in the upholstery. We were having the ceremony in the drawing room and the reception on the grounds, which had sounded romantic in theory.
Like many things that sounded romantic in theory, it was proving more difficult in fact. Right now I was awaiting the delivery of a tent, several cartloads of china, folding chairs, half a dozen port-a-loos, and Colin’s best man, who had inexplicably failed to arrive, although his explanation through the crackling cell phone connection had hinted at obstacles including pile-ups on the A23, an overturned lorry just out of London, and the sheeted dead rising and gibbering in the streets.
Translation: he’d overslept and was just now leaving.
My future mother-in-law, on the other hand, had arrived safe and sound, which just went to show that there were times when the universe didn’t have its priorities straight.
With twenty-four hours left to go, I was beginning to wonder whether I shouldn’t have taken my mother’s advice and just had the wedding in New York.
But it was Selwick Hall that had kind of, sort of brought us together. Or at least given us the opportunity to find each other, depending on how you preferred to look at it.
I hadn’t come to England for love. I’d crossed the pond in search of a spy. And if that makes me sound like an extra from a James Bond movie, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. The spy I was looking for was long since out of commission. My hunting grounds weren’t grotty clubs or the glass-walled lair of a villain with a taste for seventies-style furnishings, but the archives of the British Library and the Public Records Office in Kew; my weapons a few heavily underlined secondary sources and ARCHON, which might sound like the sort of acronym chosen by a criminal cartel, but was really the electronic search engine for manuscript sources in the UK. Plug in a name and, voilà!, it would locate that person’s papers. Letters, diaries, random ramblings, you name it. There was one slight problem: To find the papers, you needed a name. Spies tend not to use their real names. Unless they’re Bond, James Bond. I’d always wondered why, with such a public profile, no one had succeeded in bumping him off between missions.
The Pink Carnation hadn’t made the same mistake. The spy who gave the French Ministry of Police headaches, who had caused Bonaparte to gnash his molars into early extraction, didn’t go by his real name. He was everywhere and nowhere, a pastel shadow in the night. Oh, people had speculated about the Carnation’s identity. Some argued that he wasn’t even English, but a Frenchman, cunningly pretending to be an Englishman playing a Frenchman. And if that isn’t enough to make you want to reach for a gin and tonic, I don’t know what is.
But I had one lead. Sort of. When you’re desperate, “sort of” starts looking pretty good. According to Carnation lore, the Carnation had his start in the League of the Purple Gentian, a spy unmasked fairly early in the game as one Lord Richard Selwick, younger son of the Marquess of Uppington. So I’d done what any desperate grad student would do: I’d written to all the remaining descendants of Lord Richard Selwick, asking, pretty please, if anyone might happen to have any family papers lurking about in the attic or under a bed or tucked away among the lining of their sock drawers.
Did I mention that Colin just happened to be a descendant of that long-ago Lord Richard?
I found documents. I found love. I found the identity of the Pink Carnation. I didn’t quite find my doctorate, but that was another story. It was all ribbons and roses and happily-everafters, or at least it would be as long as the caterers catered, my mother didn’t kill my future mother-in-law before the ceremony, and all the bits and pieces made their way into place by roughly ten a.m. tomorrow.
I say ten a.m. because we were doing this the traditional way, morning suits and all. Everyone would be blotto by noon and hungover by sunset, but that seemed a small price to pay for the sight of Colin in a morning suit.
And yes, I may have watched Four Weddings and a Funeral one too many times.
“Delivery?” I reminded Jillian.
“It’s a box,” said Jillian informatively. “I signed for it for you.”
“Did it clink?” I asked plaintively. Booze. Booze would be good. Wedding guests would forgive lopsided bows and a missing best man as long as there was enough booze.
“See for yourself.” The deliverymen, in the way of deliverymen, had dropped the box smack in the middle of the hall, where it was currently impersonating a large speed bump.
Just what our wedding was missing: a do-it-yourself obstacle course.
Although, come to think of it . . .
I abandoned that tempting thought. Survival of the fittest is a principle best not applied to wedding guests. The person most likely to wipe out on the box was me, after a few gin and tonics too many at our rehearsal dinner.
I was not looking forward to the rehearsal dinner, that intimate occasion where one’s nearest and dearest can shower blessings on the impending nuptials. The big problem was that Colin’s nearest . . . Let’s just say they weren’t always dearest. There was enough bad blood there to give a vampire indigestion. It was tough enough for Colin that his mother had run off with a younger man, a man only a decade older than Colin. Worse that she had done so while his father was dying, slowly and painfully, of cancer. But the real kicker? The younger man was Colin’s own cousin. It got even more fun when you factored in Colin’s sister joining with his mother and stepfather in a coup against Colin the previous year, when they’d used the combined voting power of their shares in Selwick Hall to saddle Colin with a film company on the grounds of the Hall.
Never mind that Colin was the one who actually, you know, lived there.
For the most part, it had all been smoothed over. Colin and his sister were speaking again—just. And Colin and his stepfather had reached a tentative peace. As for Colin and his mother. . . that relationship made no more sense to me than it ever had.
The one saving grace in the mix—other than my groom himself, of course—was Colin’s aunt, Arabella SelwickAlderly. I wasn’t sure whether it was her natural air of quiet dignity or the fact that she knew where all the bodies were buried, but either way, she was very effective at exerting a calming influence over feuding Selwicks.
I looked down at the box in the middle of the hall. It wasn’t a box so much as a trunk, the old-fashioned kind with a domed lid and brass bands designed to hold it together through squall, shipwreck, and clumsy customs officials. It looked as though it had been sent direct from Sir Arthur Wellesley, from his headquarters in Lisbon.
“Maybe it’s a wedding present?” said Jillian dubiously.
I looked from Jillian to the trunk, a smile breaking across my face. “That’s exactly what it is.”
Mrs. Selwick-Alderly had already given us a wedding present, and a rather nice one: a Georgian tea set, made of the sort of silver that bent the wrist when you tried to lift it. But there was no one else this could be from.
Unless the Duke of Wellington really had sent his campaign trunk from beyond the grave.
Ignoring the flaking mud on my face, I knelt down before the trunk. The box looked like it had been through several wars. The boards were warped with age and the elements; the brass tacks were crooked in parts and missing in others. But it had held together. Rather like the Selwick family.
It was also quite firmly locked. Again like the Selwick family.
I sat back on my haunches. “Was there a note? A key?”
Jillian held up her hands, palms up. “Don’t look at me. I’m just the messenger.”
Will Eloise make it down the aisle without getting tangled in Foucault’s Bows?
Find out in The Lure of the Moonflower— coming out tomorrow!