I am delighted to present the 2018 Pinkoramae!
The first of this year’s amazing Peep creations comes from Carrie and Laura.
Without further ado, I present to you, “The Peep of Belliston Hall,” or, “Those aren’t daisies,” taken from Pink XI, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla.
At a ball at the home of the Duke of Belliston’s uncle, rumors swirl around the reclusive duke….
Lucien’s Aunt Winifred and Uncle Henry receive their guests. Lucien’s sister is dressed modestly, as befits a debutante, while Aunt Winifred is matronly in purple.
As is traditional, the Vaughns snub everyone. Note Mary’s fashion-forward lace. Also, her pearls would be larger than everyone else’s. Lord Vaughn, of course, wears his customary black and silver.
But who would pay any attention to the Vaughns when the Peep of Belliston Hall emerges from his lair? After all, a duke does trump an earl, much as Lord Vaughn might prefer otherwise. And all the more so when rumor has it that the duke is a vampire….
Sally Fitzhugh and the Duke find themselves in tete a tete as another dance begins (i.e. Sally feels the need to get back at the duke for having a better closing line during their last tete a tete):
When Sally discovers that Lucien has been invited to a secret assignation on the balcony, she can’t resist joining him there. But what awaits them is even more alarming than Lucy Ponsonby’s dress– a woman, dead, with fang marks on her throat.
Flowers have been strewn around her– but they aren’t daisies. They’re the blooms of the manzanilla. A message? Or just what the florist had available?
Of course, we all know what the members of the ton will think when they come upon the scene…. Has the Peep of Belliston Hall struck again?
So many thanks to Carrie and Laura for this tour de peep!
For your amusement, here’s a snippet from the relevant scene, from Chapters 6 and 7 of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla.
“Hello?” said Lucien tentatively.
The woman appeared to have fallen asleep. She lay on the hard marble bench as though it were upholstered in the softest of velvet, her diaphanous white skirts falling gracefully around her legs. Her head had fallen back a little against the scrolled arm of the bench, her long, black curls partly obscuring her face.
In her lightly clasped hands rested a straggling bouquet of pale flowers.
Like a funeral wreath.
The full moon lent an uncanny clarity to the scene. Or maybe that was some long-buried, atavistic reaction, sharpening his senses, making every detail stand out with unnatural sharpness. Lucien took a step forward, his own footfall echoing in his ears.
The fabric of the woman’s dress was pathetically thin for the weather, the neckline cut low, but the woman betrayed no signs of cold. She lay entirely still, as still as the empty fountains and deserted paths of the garden. Her eyes were closed, her lips ever so slightly parted.
Lucien didn’t need to hold a mirror to those lips to know that there was no breath between them, but he held out a hand all the same. Just because.
“What is it?” There was a series of light footfalls on the flagstones. Miss Fitzhugh came to a stop behind him, her shadow touching the other woman’s tousled skirts. “Why are you….”
She broke off, her eyes widening, her mouth rounding into a silent “oh”.
In the silence, Lucien could hear the rustle of fabric as Miss Fitzhugh’s chest rose and fell, and the small, damp noise as she swallowed. Hard. “Is that…. Are those….”
“Yes,” said Lucien.
In the hollow between the lace ruffle of her dress and the dark fall of her hair, the woman’s skin was a clear, pale white.
Aside from the two red marks by the side of her throat.
“Is she—” Sally’s throat felt tight.
She stared at the woman on the marble bench, her flowing draperies arranged so carefully around her. So peaceful. So still.
The duke drew his hand back. Sally watched as he rubbed the palm against his waistcoat. “Yes.”
“Oh.” For once in her life, Sally didn’t know what to say. All she could do was stare and stare.
Dead. She had never seen a dead person before. Well, unless one counted great aunt Adelaide and one hardly did, because she had been properly in a coffin and not just lying there on a slab of marble like a princess out of a story book waiting to be awakened by true love’s kiss. Only nothing was going to wake this woman. That chest would never rise and fall, those eyes would never open. She would never wiggle herself upright on that marble bench and shake out those long, skirts.
Sally found her eye caught by those flowing folds of fabric, by the long, dark stripes and blotches that made an eccentric pattern down the sides and along the hem. She caught herself staring at it, trying to make sense of it. Anything but look at that cold, still face. And those two, red marks on her neck. It was an odd sort of pattern, with no symmetry or order to it.
Only it wasn’t a pattern at all. That was blood. Lots of blood. Long ribbons of blood, staining the woman’s dress and marking her shoes, twisting down her sides and caking her hem.
There was bile at the back of Sally’s throat and a ringing in her ears; her hands felt cold and damp, but she couldn’t look away. All she could see was those long ribbons of blood, twisting and twining towards her….
The duke caught Sally around the shoulders. “Where’s that vinaigrette?” he said roughly.
Sally wiggled in his grasp. “I’m not swooning.” She wasn’t really. The world had just gone a bit hazy for a moment. “I just—tripped on my own hem.”
The duke looked skeptical, but he removed his arm all the same. Sally rather wished he hadn’t. Without the warmth of his body, the night air crawled along her bare arms like a cold, dead hand.
Like the hand of the woman, dangling by her side, the fingers small, smaller than Sally’s, fine-boned and white.
“I had never—” Sally caught herself, saying wonderingly. “She looks asleep.” Asleep and peaceful.
But for the blood staining her skirt.
Sally swallowed, hard.
“I should get you inside,” said the duke.
Sally drew herself up. “No. No. I’m quite all right. Really.”
She wasn’t going to swoon, not in front of the duke. She could feel her nails making sharp half-circles in her palms and forced herself to relax her hands, finger by finger.
Didn’t she pride herself on her cool head in a crisis? Of course, in the past, her crises had been limited to propping up falling scenery in amateur theatricals and coolly talking her way out of French exercises. For all that she thought herself a woman of the world, she had really lived a rather sheltered existence.
Someone had placed flowers in the woman’s hands. It wasn’t an elegant bouquet. The stems were uneven, bound untidily in a trailing yellow ribbon. The flowers themselves were simple white flowers with a yellow dot in the center.
“Daisies,” said Sally. “She’s holding daisies.”
There was something poignantly sad about those simple flowers in the woman’s still, white hand. They were meant to be plucked in sun-washed summer meadows and twisted into chains. They didn’t belong here in the chill autumn night any more than the woman, with her inappropriately light dress, belonged here, cold and dead on a marble bench.
The duke’s voice seemed to come from a long way away. “Those aren’t daisies.”
Stayed tuned for Pinkorama #2, coming your way tomorrow!