Raoul O’Roarke


I have a special treat this week. The lovely and fabulously talented Lauren Willig will giveaway two copies of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine and one audio copy of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily to commenters on this week’s post. If you haven’t yet discovered Lauren’s wonderful Pink Carnation Series, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. And if you’re already a devotee of the series, as I know many readers of this blog are, this is a great chance to have a copy autographed by Lauren.

Thinking about the inimitable Pink Carnation and Lauren’s other flower spies got me thinking about the Scarlet Pimpernel, an influence for Lauren (actually mentioned in the series) and for me and for countless other writers. My forthcoming The Paris Affair features a Scarlet Pimpernel type character coded named the Kestrel. I thought I would combine Lauren’s giveaway with my October teaser, an exchange between Suzanne/Mélanie and Raoul that introduces the Kestrel.

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She stared at him. She used to be quicker. She’d been too absorbed by her own concerns. Now she saw the strain in the set of his mouth and the worry at the back of his eyes. “Who?”
“Who what?” He took another swallow of wine.
“You’re worried about someone new. Someone who’s been proscribed? Or is about to be. I should have seen it.”
“Querida—”
She sat back against the bench, hit by the reality of how much things had changed. “You don’t trust me.” It was as though a well-worn cloak had been lifted from her shoulders on a cold day. “Can you honestly think I would betray one of our comrades—”
“I trust you with my life,” he said in a low, rough voice. “I’m trying to keep you from the intolerable burden of divided loyalties, my darling idiot.”
“It’s a bit late for that. You let me marry Malcolm. Not that I’m sorry you did.”
He kept his gaze on her face. “And I’m trying to avoid doing more damage to your marriage.”
“Since when have you been so driven by personal concerns?”
“Perhaps since personal concerns became all that are left to us. Or perhaps you had a somewhat exaggerated view of my ruthlessness.”
“You’ve quite neatly managed to change the subject.” She leaned forwards.”I won’t let you wrap me in cotton wool any more than I’ll let Malcolm do so.” That had become doubly important to her since she had left the work that had been the focus of her life for so long. “Who are you worried about now?”
Raoul released his breath in a harsh sigh. “Manon Caret.”
Suzanne drew a sharp breath. “But she’s—”
“No longer untouchable. She may still reign over Paris from the Comédie-Française, but that won’t hold much weight with Fouché.”
Suzanne swallowed. “Fouché knows Manon was a Bonapartist agent?”
“More to the point, others do and have denounced her. He’ll look soft if he doesn’t move against her. With the Ultra Royalists claiming he’s too moderate—God help us—he can’t afford any hint of softness. And I suspect he’s worried about what she knows.”
Suzanne shook her head at the idea of Manon Caret, the celebrated actress who had kept Raoul apprised of the doings of Royalists for years, facing arrest. “She’s on the proscribed list?”
“No, and I doubt she ever will be. Too many embarrassing questions. I doubt there’ll even be a trial. But Fouché’s planning to take her into custody. She’ll quietly disappear, probably never to be seen again.”
Suzanne nodded. Spies were rarely dealt with through official channels. “When?”
“According to my sources we have a week at most.”
Suzanne stared at the candlelight flickering in the depths of her wineglass. They had drunk Bordeaux the night she first met Manon Caret. Suzanne had been sixteen, raw from the dubious results of her first mission. Raoul had taken her along when he went to meet with Manon at the theatre late one evening. They’d watched the last act of The Marriage of Figaro, joined the throng of Manon’s admirers after the performance, then lingered on in her dressing room. Suzanne still recalled Manon going behind a gilt-edged dressing screen and emerging in a froth of sapphire silk and Valençiennes lace, despite the frivolous garment somehow transformed from charming, imperious actress to hardheaded agent. Hardheaded agent who had been remarkably kind to a sixteen-year-old girl still feeling her way in the espionage business, far more uncertain than she would admit to anyone, even herself.
She had drunk in the talk of the seasoned spies that night, as they sat round a branch of candles and a bottle of wine, surrounded by costumes and feathered masks and the smell of powder and greasepaint. She had met Manon a handful of times in the next two years, though Suzanne’s work had been on the Peninsula. And then, in 1811, Suzanne had been called upon to assist Hortense Bonaparte, the Empress Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s brother’s wife, who found herself with child by her lover. Suzanne had thought they were safe when Hortense delivered the baby safely in Switzerland and gave it into the care of her lover’s mother. But returned to Paris, Suzanne had learned that evidence about the child had fallen into the hands of Fouché, who wouldn’t hesitate to use it against Hortense or her mother. Suzanne had stolen the papers from the ministry of police before Fouché could make use of them. But she had had difficulty slipping out of the ministry. With a knife wound in her side and one of Fouché’s agents on her trail, she had sought refuge at the Comédie-Française with Manon. If she’d been caught with the stolen papers in her possession, she’d have faced prison and very likely execution as a spy, no matter that she was working for the French. Manon had dressed her wound between scenes, bundled her into a costume, and hidden her in plain sight onstage as one of Phèdre’s ladies-in-waiting. All at considerable risk to herself.
Suzanne snatched up her glass and took a sip of wine. “Manon probably saved my life. I’ve never forgot it.”
“Nor have I.” Raoul’s mouth turned grim.
One would almost think he blamed himself for her predicament that night, save that that was so very unlike Raoul. Suzanne pushed aside the thought. “What are you planning?”
“Suzanne—”
“You must have a plan.”
He hesitated a moment. “I’ve made contact with the Kestrel.”
“The who? One of your former agents?” It wasn’t like Raoul to go in for fanciful code names.
He shook his head. “Not one of mine. Or anyone’s. He works for himself. For some years he wreaked havoc by rescuing Royalists from our prisons or from certain arrest.”
“And now he’s rescuing Bonapartists?”
“He claims to deplore wanton killing.”
“And you believe him?”
“I don’t have many other options. He was behind the rescue of Combre and Lefèvre’s escape.”
She leaned forwards. “I can help you.”
“No.” His voice cut across the table with quiet force.
“Since when have you been one to refuse aid? I assure you, I haven’t let myself grow rusty.”
Raoul’s gaze darkened. “For God’s sake, Suzanne. You have a husband, a son, a life. To be protected, for all the reasons you so cogently explained when you told me you were stopping your work.”
“This is different. Stopping my work doesn’t mean turning my back on my comrades.”
“The risk is still there.”
She gave a laugh, rough in her throat. “We live with risk.”
“You don’t have to anymore.”
She stared at him across the geraniums. “This isn’t like you.”
“Perhaps Waterloo changed me. Or perhaps I’ve always been less Machiavellian than you were inclined to believe.”
She pulled her wineglass closer. She’d loved Raoul, but she’d always known she couldn’t trust herself to him. Had her judgment of him been a form of defense, a way of protecting herself from disappointment? “I need to help. I need to do this.”
“Querida—” His gaze turned soft, in that way that always disconcerted her. “You don’t owe anyone anything. Least of all me. And Manon would tell you she knew the risks.”
Suzanne drew a harsh breath. For a moment, the table and the wineglass, the bottle and the vase of geraniums swam before her eyes. She saw Manon’s daughters, asleep on the sofa in the room that adjoined her dressing room. Then she saw Colin, eating a boiled egg with concentration when she had breakfast with him before she left the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré this morning. “I have to help, Raoul. Or I’ll go mad.”
“Why—”
“Because I’m safe. Or safer than most of us. Because I live in luxury, with the man I love and my child. Because I dine and dance with the victors and even count some of them as friends. Because for hours together I forget who I am and what I fought for. I forget that we lost.”
“All the more reason—”
“I wanted to stop betraying my husband. I didn’t want to lose myself.”
“You’d never—”
“You told me when you first recruited me that it was my decision, my choice what risks to run.” She saw them in the cramped, gaudy room in the brothel in Léon where he’d found her, surrounded by gilt and crimson draperies. “You always let me make up my own mind.” She swallowed, holding his gaze with her own. “It was one of the reasons I loved you.”
He returned her gaze for a long moment, his own steady and unreadable, then sat against the bench. “The Kestrel has a plan to get Manon out of Paris. Getting her out of France will be more difficult.”
Suzanne released her breath. “You’ll need travel documents. If I get you Castlereagh’s seal can you forge the rest?”
Querida—”
“It’s far less dangerous than half the things I did in Lisbon or Vienna. Castlereagh’s fond of me. I help smooth the waters with Malcolm.”
He took a drink of wine, as though still deciding. Then he gave a crisp nod, transformed back into the enigmatic spymaster. “I’ll be at the ball at the British embassy tonight.”
She nodded. “If you bring me the papers, I can add the seal, then return them to you. It will be simple—”
A faint smile crossed his face. “Don’t say it, querida. It’s like wishing an actor good luck.”

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What do you think is responsible for the enduring appeal of the Scarlet Pimpernel? What are some of your favorite books and movies inspired by it?

I’ll post the winners of the contest nest Tuesday, 16 October.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Jane Chase to Mel/Suzette.

When I was working on the Imperial Scandal revisions, I mentioned that there was a scene my editor asked me to consider changing. It’s a scene after Waterloo, where Mélanie/Suzanne goes to see Raoul. My editor thought that Mel/Suzette’s actions in the scene might destroy reader sympathy for her. On reflection I agreed, and I like the way the scene ended up in the revision process. But I’m glad I got to write it the original way to see how that played out. I thought it would be interesting to post both versions along with a third version I wrote in the revision process. I’m keeping the Mélanie & Charles names in these because that’s how I wrote it originally.

Let me know what you think. Which version do you prefer? Would the original version have damaged your sympathy for Suzanne/Mélanie? How would your image of the characters and response to the book have changed if I’d included one of the alternate versions? Would a different scene have changed the impact of the book or the trajectory of the series? Which would do you think is truest to the characters?

In keeping with the theme, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Raoul to Mélanie.

This is the original scene:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw the desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. She closed the distance between them, took his face between her hands, and kissed him full on the lips for the first time since her marriage.
For a moment he went still as ice beneath her touch. Then he closed his arms hard round her.
Sensation took over, driving out the demons of the past seventy-two hours. The past two and a half years. She curled her fingers behind his neck, seeking oblivion with the desperation of one on the edge of madness.
His lips slid to her cheek, the line of her jaw. She tugged at the folds of his cravat.
Air rushed between them. One moment his arms were round her, his mouth against the hollow of her jaw. The next he was he was holding her by the shoulders, his gaze opaque. “Think, querida.”
“No.” Thinking was the one thing she didn’t want. She dragged him back to her, fumbling with the buttons on his waistcoat.
She felt the breath shudder through him. Then he crushed her to him and his mouth was against her own again, urgent and desperate. She stumbled to the narrow bed and pulled him down beside her, keeping her mouth against his so he couldn’t utter any more foolish protests. She pushed his waistcoat from his shoulders, and then she had to pull back enough to tug his shirt over his head. By that time he’d found the strings on her gown. They fell back against the scratchy blanket in a tangle of half-removed clothes and urgent, clumsy fingers.
Coherent thought mercifully fled. She lost herself in the scrape of fabric, the brush of skin against skin, the pressure of his hands, the force of his lips.
When thought inevitably forced its way back, she was lying on his chest, her head pillowed on his collarbone, his fingers twining in her hair.
She stayed still for a moment, memorizing the scent of his skin, the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear, the solidity of his arm round her. Then she pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down at him. “I’m through.”
He folded his arms behind his head. His gaze showed not surprise but something else that might have been sadness. “I thought as much.”
“You couldn’t possibly–“
“What did what just passed between us mean if not goodbye?”
“This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She sat up and folded her arms across her chest. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over. But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She reached down and grabbed his shoulders. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrists in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Charles’s wife.”
He nodded. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip and grabbed her mantilla from the pile of clothing on the floor. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I mean it.” She tugged the mantilla round her shoulders. Her nail snagged on the lace. “I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
For some reason that was when her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do is do the best one can in the moment.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes. You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–“
Her chest ached from the lost purpose that had been wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. A sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her again, in a very different way from earlier. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
“You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” he said, stroking her hair. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She drew back and looked up at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–” He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
“Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from what had passed between them a short time ago.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to—“
“No. I know where to send it.” She reached down into the pile of clothes and found her drawers. “What will you do now?”
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He picked up her chemise and handed it to her. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. He pulled on his own clothes and helped her do up her laces and strings in silence. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to think back on the past hour and feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“For a cause. And there’s one way in which you managed to stay faithful.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I don’t believe in fidelity, remember?”
“You didn’t use to. I think you’ve changed.”
She stuck two more pins into her hair and draped her mantilla over her head. “I have so many sins on my conscience, I hardly think this one is going to rankle.”
“But it may.”
“What the devil makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll feel the same.”
She turned to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the needs of the moment.
He took a step away from the wall and moved toward her. “If it does, look on it as a moment’s madness.” His hands closed on her shoulders. “And for what’s worth and for my sins, it meant the world to me.”

This is the first alternate version:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw the desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. She closed the distance between them, took his face between her hands, and kissed him full on the lips for the first time since her marriage.
For a moment he went still as ice beneath her touch. Then he closed his arms hard round her.
Sensation took over, driving out the demons of the past seventy-two hours. The past two and a half years. She curled her fingers behind his neck, seeking oblivion with the desperation of one on the edge of madness.
Air rushed between them. One moment his arms were round her, his mouth against the hollow of her jaw. The next he was he was holding her by the shoulders, his gaze opaque. “Think, querida.”
“No.” Thinking was the one thing she didn’t want. She tried to drag him back to her, but his hands tightened on his shoulders.
“You don’t want this, Mélanie.”
“Damn you, you can’t know—“
“I know exactly. You want to lose yourself. You want to forget. You want to find solace. But a few moments of oblivion won’t take away the pain. And afterwards you’ll hate yourself.”
She wrenched herself out of his hold. The pain and anger she’d holding at bay since last night roiled through, clawing at her mind and senses. “ I don’t believe in fidelity, remember.”
“But Charles does. And you believe in him. Even if his side defeated ours.”
She stared at him, the word defeat echoing in her brain. Her chest ached from the lost purpose that had been wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. She pressed her hands to her face, but a sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
She stayed still in his arms for a moment, memorizing the scent of his skin, the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear, the brush of his breath against her hair. Then drew back and looked into the eyes that knew her so well. “I’m through.”
“I thought as much.” His gaze showed not surprise but something else that might have been sadness.
“This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She sat down on the edge of the cot and dripped its metal frame. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over.” Raoul sat beside her, a few inches of gray blanket between then. “But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She grabbed arm. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrist in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Charles’s wife.”
He nodded. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I mean it. I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
Her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes again. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do hold onto what one believes in.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes.” Her fingers dug into the coarse blanket. “You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–“
A gentle hand stroked her hair. “You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” Raoul said. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She turned to look at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–” He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
She stared at him, memories coming thick and fast. His hands tossing her into the saddle. His voice drilling her on court protocol. The steady trust in his eyes when he sent her on her first mission. “Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from their kiss a short time ago.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to—“
“No. I know where to send it.” She got to her feet and picked up her mantilla. “What will you do now?” she asked, running the black lace through her fingers.
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He got to his feet as well. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“But you could hide in the needs of the moment.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I’m used to living with sins on my conscience.”
”With peace you’ll find you have leisure to dwell on the past. To question past actions to replay past moments, to play the damnable game of what if.”
She pushed two more pins into her hair and draped the mantilla over her head. “What makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll be doing the same myself.”
She turned to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the needs of the moment. He returned her gaze. The scars in his eyes had never been plainer. “Raoul—“
He gave a faint smile. “Don’t worry. As I said I’ll manage. Somehow other one finds a way to go on.”
She crossed the room to him and put her hand against the side of his face. “Keep safe.”
He caught her hand in his own and kissed it. “Look after your family, querida.”

And this is the scene in the published book:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. For a moment, she wanted to run and hide in his arms. Instead, she leaned against the closed door and said the words that most needed to be said. “I’m through.”
Something flared in his eyes. Not surprise but a flash of acknowledgement that might have been sadness. “I thought as much.”
She took two quick, determined steps into the room. Her mantilla slithered to the floor. “This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She dropped down on the edge of the cot and gripped its wooden frame. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over.” Raoul sat beside her, a few inches of gray blanket between then. “But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She grabbed his arm. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrist in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Charles’s wife.”
He nodded. “Knowing you, not to mention Charles, I imagine you’ll be able to accomplish a great deal.”
“I mean it. I won’t dwindle into a wife.”
His mouth curved in a faint smile. “I don’t think you could if you tried.” He looked at her for a moment. She had the oddest sense he was memorizing her features. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I’m serious. I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
For some reason, that was when her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do hold onto what one believes in.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes.” Her fingers dug into the coarse blanket. “You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–“
Her chest ached from the lost purpose, wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. She couldn’t seem to stop shaking. A sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest with raw desperation until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
“You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” he said, stroking her hair. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She drew back and looked up at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–“ He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
She stared at him, memories coming thick and fast. His hands tossing her into the saddle or showing her how to load a pistol. His voice drilling her on court protocol or correcting her accent. His arm secure round her as she drifted into sleep. The steady trust in his eyes when he sent her on her first mission. “Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from the days when they’d been lovers.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Fresh tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to–“
“No. I know where to send it.” She got to her feet and picked up her mantilla. “What will you do now?” she asked, running the black lace through her fingers.
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He got to his feet as well. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall behind her. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“But you could hide in the needs of the moment.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I’m used to living with sins on my conscience.”
”With peace you’ll find you have leisure to dwell on the past. To question actions, to replay decisions, to play the damnable game of what if.”
She pushed two more pins into her hair and draped the mantilla over her head. “What makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll be doing the same myself.”
She spun round to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the goal in front of him. He returned her gaze. The scars in his eyes had never been plainer. “Raoul–“
He gave a faint smile. “Don’t worry. It won’t be the first time I’ve pieced my life back together.”
She crossed the room to him, took his face between her hands, and kissed him on the lips for the first time since her marriage. For the last time. “Keep safe.”
He squeezed her shoulders for a moment, as though catching onto the past, then released her. “Look after your family, querida.”

In the comments on last week’s Imperial Scandal teaser with Raoul, Jeanne had some interesting comments about how Raoul feels about Mélanie/Suzanne.

“I want to like Raoul even though he is ruthless. It’s his ruthlessness that gives Melanie her independence and her freedom to be “feral”, “fierce” and “reckless.” He never tries to protect her by restraining her actions. He uses her for those qualities seemingly without hesitation.

“But the common trope in a romance is that, if a good man loves a woman, then he wants to keep her from endangering herself. He may not act on those feelings, he may even recognize the inconsistency between loving her for her strength and wanting to protect her from harm but those protective instincts always seem to arise. So when we are seeing from the good man’s POV, we will eventually hear those thoughts.”

I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms before, but it’s true that Raoul and Mel/Suzette’s whole relationship is built on shared danger. In fact, there’s a scene in Secrets of a Lady where Charles asks why Raoul didn’t protect her, send her somewhere safe, and Mel says something along the lines of “I didn’t want to safe, I wanted to fight.” I think Mel is inclined to see Raoul as a bit more ruthless than he actually is. It’s Charles in Secrets who sees that Raoul is obviously still in love with her, while Mel’s never been sure Raoul loved her.

Jeanne went on to say, “I don’t want to hear Raoul having those thoughts and I was glad to he doesn’t in this scene. I want him to be so ruthless that it never even occurs to him that he should protect her as it doesn’t seem to here. And yet, I want to know that he loves her as we also hear in this scene.

“I don’t think most readers will like Raoul for this, most of them probably won’t even believe he really does love her. But I do. And, at the end of The Mask of Night when Charles asks Raoul to stay because his presence makes Melanie happier, I realized that Charles thinks so too.

“I can think of one other male “romance” character who understood that love doesn’t give a man the right to restrain a woman’s actions in order to protect her. It’s Lord Peter Wimsey in “Gaudy Night”. Somewhere in that book, he and Harriet discuss this and that male protectiveness leads women to deceive men in order to be free of it. I think Melanie and Charles get close to having a similar discussion in The Mask of Night.”

I think the Peter & Harriet parallel is very apt. Peter certainly has times when clearly wants to protect Harriet, yet in Gaudy Night he understands the importance of her being able to run her own risks. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes struggle with this as well in Laurie King’s books. They have an extraordinarily egalitarian relationship. Yet the scene that ends with them becoming betrothed begins with Holmes hitting Russell over the head and knocking her out so she can’t go with him after the villain. Granted Russell is still recover from being abducted and exposed to heroin at the time. But it becomes part of their marriage negotiations (“I’ll not marry a man I can’t trust at my back.”).

Charles/Malcolm is more definitely inclined to try to protect Mel/Suzette than Raoul is, which she rebels against. Not that he’s overprotective–-she runs a lot of risks at his side from even before they get married. But he slides into what she calls his “Brutus/Hotspur” moments where he tries to protect her or feels guilty because she’s been hurt or put in danger. As she says in Vienna Waltz, “Darling, I knew what you did when I married you. I knew I’d never be able to bear being your wife if it meant sitting on the sidelines or waiting like Penelope to see if you came back alive. If you wanted that sort of wife you shouldn’t have married me, however strong your chivalrous impulses.”

Not that there aren’t moments when Mel/Suzette wants to protect Charles/Malcolm as well. I also think it’s interesting that one of the results of Mel/Suzette marrying Charles/Malcolm is that it puts her in a much safer situation than she’d been in running about Spain. Which I don’t think she considered, but I suspect Raoul did…

Do you equate protectiveness with love? Do you think Raoul loved Mélanie/Suzanne? And does his not trying to protect her make you more or less likely to believe he loves her? What are other literary couples you can think of who struggle with this issue?

I’ve just posed a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline tells Gisèle about her engagement to Geoffrey Blackwell.

Jeanne had a great suggestion last week for a novella about the start of Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne’s marriage. I’m seriously considering trying to write, though finding the time is always the challenge. In the course of the discussion, we talked about Raoul’s POV on their marriage. Jeanne mentioned that I haven’t used Raoul’s POV so far in the published books. Which is true. But I do in Imperial Scandal. So for the August teaser, here’s a scene in Raoul’s viewpoint. It occurs fairly late in the book, after the news at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball that the French have crossed into Belgium, but the spoilers are more historical fact than plot-related.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Raoul O’Roarke swung down from his horse at French Headquarters at Charleroi. The mare’s sides heaved and her coat was damp with sweat from the hard ride. Raoul patted her neck, turned the reins over to a sentry, and made his way to Napoleon’s tent (even now it grated on Raoul’s republican convictions to think of him as the emperor).
He could feel the crackle of Mélanie’s message inside the cuff of his shirt. She’d done well. Amazingly well, though he knew just how much it had cost her. He’d been right to put his faith in her. He pictured the girl he’d first met in the brothel in Léon, the almost feral wariness in the way she held herself, the fierce line of her jaw, the burning eyes, the quick, biting wit. She’d changed a great deal. But the core of that girl remained.
General Flahaut, aide-de-camp to Napoleon, ducked out of the tent, tugging his coat on over a stained shirt and crumpled cravat. His well-cut features were drawn with exhaustion and blue shadows showed beneath his eyes.
“I have a message for him,” Raoul said.
“He’s asleep,” Flahaut said. “As I was.”
“I have intelligence from Quatre Bras. The Allies only have a battery of eight guns and no more than seven thousand men. If you move now, you can take the crossroads easily.”
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“It’s the middle of a war.”
“Look, O’Roarke. We’ve been marching and fighting since two in the morning yesterday. Fifteen hours without respite or refreshment and more than that for the forward troops. Our men are dropping from exhaustion. Not to mention that they’re spread from Marchienne to Fleurus.”
“I was at a ball in Brussels last night with Wellington. He ordered his troops to march. He’ll have reinforcements at Quatre Bras by afternoon. You have a very small window in which to gain a crucial advantage. Damn it, man, this could decide the campaign.”
Flahaut shook his head. “It will be up to Ney, God help him. He’s been given command of the left wing. He’s barely had time to settle in. He doesn’t yet know the strength of his regiments. Or the names of their generals, let alone their colonels. Or how many men actually kept up with the march and got here. He and the emperor were closeted until two.”
Raoul took a step forward, fueled by the frustration of past missed opportunities.. “For God’s sake–“
“Yes, yes, I’ll give them the message.”
“Thank you.” Raoul stepped back and surveyed the younger man. In the distance, he could hear the sound of someone cleaning a musket. “Flahaut–“
“Yes?” Flahaut turned back from the tent, voice sagging with fatigue. “What else?”
“Have a care, mon ami.”
“I wouldn’t have survived this long had I not learned to do so.”
“Your father will be impossible to live with should anything happen to you.”
Flahaut grimaced. He would know Raoul meant not the late Comte de Flahaut, his legal father, but the man most assumed to have fathered him. Prince Talleyrand, once foreign minister to Napoleon Bonaparte, now foreign minister to Louis XVIII. While Flahaut fought to restore Napoleon, Talleyrand was in Vienna representing the Royalist government. “I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for returning to the emperor.”
“He’s your father,” Raoul said. “He’ll forgive you.”
“I had to follow the dictates of my conscience. Besides, it could mean a great deal for–“
“For you and Hortense,” Raoul concluded for him. Flahaut was the longtime lover of Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine’s daughter, Napoleon’s stepdaughter, and the unhappy wife of Napoleon’s younger brother Louis.
Flahaut drew a rough breath. “Yes.” He studied Raoul for a moment. “How’s Mélanie Lescaut? That is, she’s Mélanie Fraser now, isn’t she?”
“As well as can be expected in the circumstances. She’s in Brussels with her husband.”
“Good God.”
“Feeling the pull of competing loyalties.”
“But she’s still–“
“My agent? Yes. I owe the information I just gave you to her.”
Flahaut smiled. “Brilliant as ever.”
“And still loyal. Also very much in love with her husband.”
Flahaut’s dark brows drew together. “That can’t be easy for you.”
Raoul swallowed, throat raw. “In some ways I think it was inevitable. She was never mine to hold.”
“That doesn’t make the feelings go away.”
Memories he did his best to suppress shot unbidden through his mind. Her hair soft between his fingers. The reckless light in her eyes when she returned from a successful mission. The warmth of her body, relaxed in sleep as she never was in waking, curled against his own. “No. It doesn’t.”
“I haven’t forgot the great service Mélanie did Hortense and me. I never shall forget it. Nor will Hortense.” Flahaut stared at the sentry lights in the distance. “It’s odd, in the midst of everything, how one can form friendships. And how those friendships can matter in the face of all else.”
“There are times,” said Raoul, committed heart and soul to his cause for above thirty years, “when I think those friendships are the only thing that matters. Go carefully, mon ami.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Let me know what you think. Is it different reading a scene actually written from Raoul’s POV? I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mélanie/Suzanne to Raoul.

I got a wonderful present this week. My first glimpse of the Imperial Scandal cover. I confess I was worried because I love the Vienna Waltz cover so much I was afraid this one wouldn’t be able to equal it. I was so excited when I saw it – I love it just as much, and somehow the richer, more vibrant colors seem right for a book that begins in the glamour of the expatriate British community in Brussels and moves to the brilliant madness of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball and then the chaos of Waterloo. And again, the woman on the cover could be Mélanie/Suzanne.

What do you think? Does seeing the cover change your image of the book? (I know for me it makes it more real). What draws you in in a book cover? What are some of your favorites?

Any questions about Imperial Scandal? I also got the catalogue copy for it this week, which I think captures the story beautifully:

Removed to Brussels in the wake of Napoleon’s escape from Elba, British intelligence
Agent Malcolm Rannoch and his wife, Suzanne, partake in lavish balls and bucolic
picnics. Such pleasures can’t last. With the Duke of Wellington preparing for battle, Malcolm
is ordered on a perilous mission to meet a British spy. When he arrives at the chateau, he
discovers a deadly ambush, and when the shooting stops, Lady Julia Ashton is dead…

What was the demure, highly respectable Lady Julia doing in such a place? As Malcolm and
Suzanne search for the truth, they realize that Lady Julia was not at what she seemed. And as
the conflict with Napoleon marches toward Waterloo, they discover a labyrinth of intrigue in
which no one can be trusted…

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Raoul to Mélanie/Suzanne when Charles/Malcolm is in prison about her discovery that Charles and Tatiana were behind the attack on Acquera. Writing the letters that last couple of weeks, I realized that of course Raoul deliberately gave Mel/Suzette the Acquera backstory, which explains the coincidence of Charles/Malcolm being behind the attack on Mel/Suzette’s supposed home. I love it when my characters are a step ahead of me :-).

I just got back from a lovely few days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Among the highlights were a superb Measure for Measure, a very fun, exuberant Pirates of Penzance, and a brilliant new play called Ghost Light. Ghost Light was conceived and developed by Jonathan Moscone (Artistic Director of the California Shakespeare Theater) and Tony Taccone (Artistic Director of Berkeley Rep), written by Taccone and directed by Moscone. It explores the 1978 assassinations of Moscone’s father, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and Supervisor Harvey Milk by Supervisor Dan White. But rather than being a docudrama that recreates historical events, Ghost Light focuses on Jonathan Moscone’s response to the loss of his father, both as a fourteen-year-old boy and as an adult man, struggling to direct a production of Hamlet.

The story that emerges is rooted in historical events (events that I remember vividly, as a twelve-year-old at the time of the assassinations) yet at its heart it is an intimate look at coming to terms with the loss of a parent. As such it is both specific to the characters involved and wonderfully universal. We all struggle to understand our parents as individuals. Loss of a parent is a haunting fear, and losing a parent is never easy, at any age.

Ghost Light is a haunting play, beautifully acted and directed. It was the first play we saw on the trip, and I thought about it and talked about it a great deal afterward. Among other things, I found myself mulling over what it is to write historical fiction. Real events form the framework in my books (particulary my recent books), but within those events, the arc of the book focuses on the personal journey of the characters. Both the fictional characters and also the real historical characters, such as Wilhelmine and Dorothée in Vienna Waltz and Hortense Bonaparte in The Mask of Night. Hopefully there’s something universal in those character arcs, at the same time the story is rooted in a specific time and place. It’s a tricky balancing act, that I struggle with constantly when I’m writing. Often in the first draft I’m focused on just having, the historical narrative in place, and a lot of my work in subsequent drafts involves adding layers to the character arcs. My own struggles made me appreciate the brilliant writing in Ghost Light all the more.

What appeals to you most in historical fiction? The historical narrative or the personal stories of the characters? Both? Writers, if you write historical fiction how do you balance historical context and character development?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Raoul to Mélanie/Suzanne, reacting to the news of Charles/Malcolm’s imprisonment.

Earlier this week week, I turned in revisions on Imperial Scandal, my Waterloo-set book (which will be out in April 2012). My greatest challenge during the revision process was how to handle a scene involving Mélanie/Suzanne that my editor wanted me to change. I discussed this scene in the comments on my post on sympathetic characters a few weeks ago and found everyone’s comments very helpful. This week I blogged on History Hoydens about how I ultimately handled the scene and again touched on what makes characters sympathetic–or not. I thought I’d repeat the blog here. Warning:this post contains spoilers for the series, particularly for Secrets of a Lady and Imperial Scandal.

I love the revision process, a chance to hone and shape and refine the story and characters (though I get very nervous letting the book go, afraid I’ve missed something). Thinking back through the revisions, I didn’t actually make that many major changes (though it certainly felt as though I was working on them long enough!). But I did make one significant change at my editor’s suggestion. It involved reworking a scene which originally involved infidelity on the part of the one of the major characters.

This was a scene I’d had in my own mind for a long time before I wrote Imperial Scandal, and I was sure that this was how this would play out for these two characters (two people who are devastated and cast adrift in the wake of the battle of Waterloo). But my editor was afraid it would destroy reader sympathy for the character committing infidelity and on reflection I could totally see her point (I had actually known I was pushing the envelope with this scene). When I broached the topic on my website with some readers who were familiar with both characters, reactions were mixed, but in general convinced me my editor was right to worry about the sympathy issue.

Oddly enough, going back to Leslie Carroll’s and Pam Rosenthal’s recent excellent posts on writing sex scenes, this was the one sex scene I’d written recently where it actually seemed important to show some detail of how the scene played out. I’d actually had some qualms myself about whether or not one of the characters (not the one committing infidelity as it happens) would actually go through with it. I ended up writing two new versions of the scene, one in which the characters almost make love and break it off, one in which is a tearful farewell without lovemaking (though it does still include a farewell kiss). I ended up using the later, and I’m quite happy with it and how it fits into the arc of the book. But when I was describing the revision over the weekend to a writer friend who had read the original manuscript, she said she’d liked the way the scene originally played out (even though it surprised her) and that it actually made her more sympathetic to the characters.

Which prompted me to think about what makes me lose sympathy for a character. It’s an elusive thing. In general, once I’m engaged with a character, I will stick with her or him through a lot. And an action that might make me lose sympathy for one character in one set of circumstances might not bother me so much with another character in other circumstances. Heathcliff lost my sympathy when he let his sickly son die (not calling a doctor). Francis Crawford of Lymond held on to my sympathy when he was more directly responsible for the death of his son, the difference for me I think being that Heathcliff acts out of anger and hurt whereas Lymond is trying to save others. And that Lymond is wracked with guilt afterward. I confess I lost sympathy for Fanny Price when she objected to amateur theatricals. Whereas Emma’s Woodhouse’s treatment of Miss Bates saddened me but didn’t destroy my sympathy for Emma. Of course Emma too feels guilt afterward.

I’m still pondering other characters and what engages or disengages my sympathy. Meanwhile, while I like the revised scene in Imperial Scandal, I’m also glad I had the chance to write it the way I originally envisioned it. After Imperial Scandal is published, I’ll post all three versions on my website. I’ll very interested in reader reactions.

Writers, what’s the biggest change you’ve made in the revision process? Have you ever changed something because you were worried about reader reactions? Readers, has a character you liked (particularly in an ongoing series) ever lost your sympathy? Why? And what do you think of the decision I ultimately made about the scene in question?

Perhaps appropriately for this blog, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Mélanie/Suzanne to Raoul.

There’s a fascinating discussion going on at All About Romance just now about prostitute and courtesan heroines. It sent me back to a post I wrote here a couple of years ago and then reworked for History Hoydens. I thought this would be a good time to repost the reworked History Hoydens version. It’s especially timely as it hits on some issues I’ve been dealing with in Imperial Scandal (I’m finishing up the revisions over the weekend) where Suzanne/Mélanie’s past comes into play more.

[Spoiler warning: if you've only read Vienna Waltz and/or Beneath a Silent Moon, this post contains some spoilers].

There’s been a lot of discussion on e-lists I’m on and blogs and message boards lately about Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase. I love Loretta Chase’s writing. I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it (update note: I’ve since read it and loved it; great characters, both with complicated, compromised pasts, and a compelling love story). Going back to a couple of recent posts on my own website posts about Deal-Breakers (things that keep one from even trying a book or make one put it down unfinished) and Deal-Makers (things that make one seek a book out), it combines two of my deal-makers–spies and and an experienced heroine. Francesca, the heroine of Your Scandalous Ways, is a divorced woman who’s become a courtesan (the book is set in Venice in the 1820s).

And that’s been the source of much of the discussion about the book. Some readers find the idea of a courtesan as a heroine wonderfully refreshing. Others are disturbed by the idea of a heroine who had sex for money. Some have suggested the a courtesan heroine glamorizes prostitution. Others have pointed out that there’s a world of difference between a prostitute walking the streets or working in a brothel and a courtesan. Both may have sex for their livelihood, but a courtesan had far more control over her life and her person. She might have sex for money, but she could choose who she slept with. In fact it could be argued that she had more control over who she went to bed with than a married woman did in the early nineteenth century. In Beneath a Silent Moon, Mélanie/Suzanne says to Charles/Malcolm:

“Legally you can take whatever you want from me.”

“That’s barbaric.”

“That’s marriage.”

“Not our marriage.”

No, it isn’t their marriage, but that’s thanks to the man Charles is. Legally Mélanie had more control over whom she slept with when she was a spy using her favors for information than she does as a married woman.

The courtesan heroine is almost an operatic staple, from Traviata to La Bohème (Mimi and Musetta both have wealthy protectors at various points in the story) to La Rondine.

Violetta celebrates the freedom of her life as a courtesan in “Sempre Libere”. Magda’s “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” in La Rondine plays on another paradox of the courtesan heroine. A courtesan is a sophisticated woman of the world who has had a number of lovers, yet though she has had the freedom to choose her lovers, there’s an economic element to all of them. She may never have actually been in love. In a sense, she’s the literary female counterpart to the rakish hero whose heart has remained untouched. Of course, rakish heroes get happy endings far more often than courtesan heroines. I was going to say that none of the love affairs end happily in La Traviata, La Rondine, and La Bohème, but in fact, Musetta and Marcello are back together at the end of La Bohème. One can argue, given their history, over how long it will last, but the romantic in me likes to think they’ve learned something and it will.

Back to my own books, Mélanie/Suzanne was never a courtesan precisely. She was a prostitute, an experience she revisits in Imperial Scandal in light of another character who’s both a prostitute and a spy, and also when she and Charles/Malcolm go to a brothel seeking information in Secrets of a Lady. It’s clear, I think, that her time in the brothel was fairly horrific. As she thinks in Secrets, In the past ten years she had known anger and fear and self-hatred. But since Raoul O’Roarke had taken her out of the door of the brothel in Léon, she had rarely felt powerless. It was one of the reasons she would be forever grateful to him. Later, though she didn’t sleep with men for money, she did so for information. I think it’s fair to say her feelings about this part of her life and about sex in general are more complicated. As she says to Charles in The Mask of Night:

“It can’t always be sublime communion, Charles. Not for me. It’s been too many other things. A tool. A weapon. A defense. An escape.” She pulled her dressing gown tight about her. “I told you once that my acting abilities deserted me in the bedchamber. That was true when I was in the brothel. I was too young to put on more than a crude show. But later– Sometimes it was sordid. Sometimes it was mechanical. But sometimes—slipping into a fictional skin, making love to someone for the night, knowing it’s just that night. There’s no freedom quite like it.”

Mélanie/Suzanne, however, is not an experienced woman who’s romantically untouched until she meets Charles/Malcolm. She was in love with Raoul up to when she met Charles and overlapping with her falling in love (against her better judgment) with her husband (those feelings are still present, if transmuted, in Imperial Scandal). That was a plot element I had in place very early in my planning of the book, before I had all the elements of the Charles/Melanie/Raoul triangle worked out. I hadn’t thought of it until I wrote this post, but I wonder now if I was subconsciously reacted against the archetype of the experienced heroine whose heart remains untouched until she meets the hero.

What do you think of courtesan heroines? Deal-maker, deal-breaker or neither? Any interesting examples to recommend? Do you view courtesan heroines differently from heroines who’ve had sexual experiences but not for financial reasons? Do you view courtesan heroines differently from heroines who’ve been prostitutes or who’ve been spies and slept with men for information? Does it make a difference to you if the heroine has or hasn’t been in love before she meets the hero?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence letter is from Isobel Lydgate to her brother David about the rumors in England about Charles/Malcolm and Princess Tatiana.

May’s teaser from Imperial Scandal introduced Lady Cordelia Davenport. June’s teaser introduces Cordelia’s estranged husband Harry. Charles/Malcolm has slipped away from the embassy ball (where Mélanie/Suzanne meets Cordelia) to rendezvous with La Fleur, a French soldier who is a British spy, at a château just outside Brussels. Charles has just realized there’s someone else in the château garden.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Charles tightened his grip on La Fleur’s arm and kept stone-still until he could make out the shadowy form standing just inside the gate. Then he hurled himself across the garden in three strides, kicking up a hail of gravel, and knocked the man to the ground. They crashed through a hedge. Branches broke. Something prickly jabbed Charles in the eye. He gripped his fallen adversary by the shoulders. “Qui êtes-vous?”
“Easy, Fraser. Don’t take my head off.” The other man’s voice was hoarse but acerbic. “Your French is impeccable, but I know damn well it’s you.”
That incisive, mocking tones were unmistakable. Charles sat back on his heels. “Davenport. What the devil are you doing here?”
“Warning you.” Harry Davenport pushed himself up to a sitting position and stared at La Fleur, who had crossed the garden to them. “You must be La Fleur. Hanging back from a fight that isn’t yours?
“Never know what the hell Fraser’s up to. Seemed better to stay back. Who the devil are you?”
“Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Davenport,” Charles said. “Aide-de-Camp to the Duke of Wellington. Currently seconded to Colonel Grant.”
Colquhoun Grant was the head of British military intelligence, keeping watch for movement of French troops near the border.
“Grant sent me.” Davenport pulled himself free of the hedge and reached for his hat. “He intercepted a dispatch that implies the French may have broken one of our codes. Which means you could be compromised, La Fleur. We need to extract you tonight and get you back to Brussels.”
“See here,” La Fleur said, “selling you information’s one thing. If you think I’m going to turn my back on everything–“
“You should have thought of that before you started selling out your fellows,” Davenport said.
La Fleur whirled on him, hand raised. “Damn you–“
Charles grabbed La Fleur’s arm. “Who knows where–”
Shots rang out. Charles flung himself down and heard Davenport and La Fleur slam into the gravel beside him.
Davenport lifted his head. “What the devil–“
Another shot whistled overhead from the direction of the garden wall. Charles rolled onto his back and fired off an answering shot.
“Compromised you say?” La Fleur aimed a shot at the wall. “What the hell have you got me into?”
“Risks of the trade.” Davenport fired as well, as a fresh hail answered from the wall. Whoever they were, they had the devil’s own skill at reloading.
Charles jammed fresh powder into his pistol. A cry sounded from above, and he caught a glimpse of stirring blue fabric and pale hair. A light glowed behind one of the windows of the château. What the devil–
La Fleur flung himself over Charles just as a fresh volley rang out. Charles felt the impact of the bullet that struck La Fleur, an instant before the other man collapsed on top of him.
Davenport dragged La Fleur off Charles. Charles drew a ragged breath and fired off a shot from his reloaded pistol. He reached toward La Fleur and felt the spreading sticky warmth of blood. He yanked at his cravat, undid the twists of linen (there were advantages to favoring simple styles) and pressed the fabric to the wound in La Fleur’s chest.
“Don’t worry-‘bout me.” La Fleur’s voice was a hoarse rasp. “Get the bastards.”
“Got it covered.” Davenport fired off a shot. A scream sounded from beyond the garden wall.
Another hail of fire came from the wall. Another scream sounded, this time from above, startlingly high-pitched.
Charles could feel blood seeping through the folds of linen. The sickly smell choked the air. Davenport jammed fresh powder into his pistol, but the garden had gone almost eerily still. Crashing sounded from the underbrush beyond the wall, not approaching but retreating.
“Made ‘em run,” La Fleur said in a faint voice. “Good for you.”
Charles increased his pressure on the wounded man’s chest. Blood welled between his fingers. “Don’t waste your energy.”
“Done for in any event,” La Fleur muttered. “Listen, Fraser.” He switched to his native French. “The Silver Hawk.”
“The what?”
“Be careful. Don’t trust–”
La Fleur’s head fell to the side. Even in the murky moonlight, Charles saw the life fade from the other man’s eyes. He put his fingers to La Fleur’s neck for confirmation. No blood pulsed beneath his touch.
“Poor blighter,” Davenport murmured. “Though at least he’s out of whatever the rest of us bastards are going to be up against in the next weeks.”
“If he hadn’t flung himself over me–“ Charles stared down at the still features of the dead man in whose place he could so easily be lying. Mélanie’s and Colin’s faces swam before his eyes. Fear squeezed his chest. Sometimes he thought he hadn’t known the true meaning of fear until he was a husband and father. “Why in God’s name–“
“Don’t waste time questioning it, Fraser. Just be grateful that if La Fleur had to be an idiot he was the sacrificial sort. You’re lucky.”
“Damned lucky.”
“Not that.” Davenport picked up La Fleur’s pistol and stowed it in his pocket. “You’re lucky that you actually care whether you live or die.”
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Do let me know what you think of Harry and feel free to ask questions about Imperial Scandal. I’ve also just posted a new letter in the Fraser Correspondence from Raoul to Mélanie/Suzanne in which he talks about Princess Tatiana and her relationship with Charles/Malcolm.

Mist hung over the fields, mixed with smoke from the Allied cooking fires and those of the French on the opposite ridge. Steam rose from cheap tea brewed in iron kettles. The smell of clay pipes and officers’ cigars mingled with the stench of wool still sodden from the night’s rain. Shots split the air as soldiers fired their guns to clean them.
“Waste of ammunition,” Davenport said to Charles. “It’s going to be a long day.”
And it had yet to properly begin. A breeze gusted over what would be the battlefield, stirring the corn, cutting through the curtain of mist. Wellington had taken up a position before the small village of Mont-Saint-Jean. Fitzroy had said that the duke would have preferred the position across the field at the inn of La Belle Alliance, which Bonaparte occupied, but the Allied position had its advantages. Wellington had seen the ground when he was in Brussels the previous year. Charles remembered the duke mentioning the slope of the land to the north which would allow him to keep most of his troops out of sight of an enemy across the field.
To the left stood the fortified farm La Haye Sainte, with white-washed walls and a blue-tiled roof that gleamed where the sunlight broke the mist, and still farther to the left the twin farms of Papelotte and La Haye. To the right, in a small valley hidden by cornfields, was Hougoumont, a pretty, walled château surrounded by a wood and a hedged orchard. Both had been garrisoned with Allied soldiers.
The ground before them sloped down to a valley, through which the road to Charleroi ran, then rose to the ridge on which stood La Belle Alliance. On this ridge, the French army had begun to deploy. An elegant, masterful pageant. Charles lifted his spyglass. Lancers with white-plumed shapkas on their heads, Chasseurs with plumes of scarlet and green, Hussars, Dragoons, Cuirassiers, and Carabiniers, and the Imperial Guard in their scarlet-faced blue coats. Gunners adjusted the position of their weapons. Pennants snapped in the breeze and gold eagles caught the sun as it battled the mist.
“Sweet Jesus,” Davenport murmured.
“Bonaparte understands the value of theatre,” Charles said.
“Unless he’s also a master of illusion, there are a bloody lot of them. I hope to God the Prussians get here.”
Charles cast a glance along the Allied lines. “We happy few.”
“Shakespeare was a genius, but he’d never been on a battlefield. Do you know what you’re in for, Fraser?”
“I’ve seen battles before,” Charles said, scenes from the Peninsula fresh in his mind. “But I don’t think any of us has seen anything like what’s about to unfold.”

That’s an excerpt from Imperial Scandal (on which I’m finishing up revisions), which finds Charles/Malcom and Harry Davenport (estranged husband of Cordelia Davenport, whom you met in last month’s teaser) on the morning of the battle of Waterloo. Yesterday, 18 June, was the 196th anniversary of Waterloo. In June 1815 the British, the Dutch-Belgians, and the Prussians were spread out along the border between Belgium (part of the Netherlands after Napoleon’s downfall) and France, the British and their Dutch-Belgian allies to the west of the old Roman road from Bavay to Maastricht, the Prussians to the east. Eventually, when their Austrian allies were ready, they would advance into France to take on Napoleon, returned to power after his escape from Elba. But if Napoleon, as seemed likely, crossed the border first they would close in and trap him. Only of course it was a long border and there were any number of ways the master strategist Napoleon Bonaparte could move. Together, the Allies and the Prussians outnumbered the French. But if he could separate them, Napoleon would have the advantage.

Last Wednesday, 15 June, was the anniversary of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, at which rumors were already rife that the French had crossed the border. Earlier in the day, the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied British and Dutch-Belgian army, knew there had been attacks on Prussians outposts and the French had been seen to the south around Charleroi. But he suspected the attacks were a feint and the real attack would come from the west, to separate the Allies from the sea and their supply routes. He’d ordered the army ready to march, but he was waiting for confirmation of where the French attack was coming from. Wellington let the ball (given by his good friends the Duke and Duchess of Richmond) go forward because to have canceled it would have led to panic in the city and encouraged the many Bonapartists among the Dutch-Belgian citizens. Also, most of officers of rank would be there, and it was a good chance to speak with them.

At the ball, Wellington received confirmation that Napoleon had crossed into Belgium through Charleroi to the south to separate the British and Dutch-Belgians from their Prussian allies. He famously exclaimed “Napoleon has humbugged me by God!” He then went into the Duke of Richmond’s study to look at a map of Belgium and said he had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre-Bras, but they wouldn’t stop him there. “In which case,” Wellington is reported to have said, “I must fight him here,” pressing his thumb down on the mao. In Imperial Scandal, Malcolm/Charles is present for the scene. He moves to the duke’s side to see that Wellington’s thumbnail rests on a small village called Waterloo.

The Allies fought the French, under Marshall Ney, at Quatre-Bras on 16 June. The results were inconclusive, but on 17 June the the Allies had to fall back north toward Brussels to keep close to the Prussians, who had been driven back by Marshall Grouchy. The retreat took place in torrential rain, thunder, and lightning. Wellington and the other senior commanders and their staffs spent the night of the 17th in quartered in the village of Waterloo. The battle took place the next day, 18 June, on a nearby stretch of ground between two ridges on which each army assembled.

Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field, a relatively confined stretch of ground, was strewn with dead or dying or wounded men and horses. The 5th division was reduced from four thousand to little more than four hundred. General Cavalié Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery reported that “of the 200 fine horses with which we had entered the battle, upwards of 140 lay dead, dying, or severely wounded.”

The Waterloo scenes in Imperial Scandal are some of the most challenging I’ve ever written, both in terms of trying to get all the details right and trying to capture the characters’ experience. As with any action scene involving multiple people, it’s hard to give a sense of the sweep of the whole scene while being true to a character’s POV and their visceral reality (an individual probably doesn’t have a sense of how the full battle is unfolding). In An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer uses an omniscient POV for much of her Waterloo description. Bernard Cornwell also moves into omniscient POV at times in his Sharpe novel Waterloo. Both use omniscient POV to great effect to convey the battle as a whole, while then moving back to their main characters to give immediaacy. I didn’t do that (my goal is less to describe the whole battle than to try to capture my characters’ experience of it), but I did use multiple POVs, both British and French, to try to capture different aspects of the battle and also different characters’ experience of it. I invented Harry Davenport initially because I knew I needed a major character who was a soldier (which Charles/Malcolm isn’t). And Harry is an aide-de-camp to Wellington so he moved about delivering messages. Malcolm/Charles also ends up delivering messages (apparently Wellington really did press civilians into service to carry messages, as so many of his aides-de-camp were killed). And then I also have Raoul to give a French perspective on the events (and he and Charles/Malcolm have an unexpected encounter on the battlefield).

Do you have a favorite fictional depiction of Waterloo or another battle? How do you feel about battle scenes in novels? What makes them work or not? Writers, what do you think are the particular challenges of writing battle scenes?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Mel/Suzanne to Raoul about the Carrousel and the plot Princess Tatiana uncovered.

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