I recently spent a very fun afternoon seeing the movie “Enchanted” with a good friend and her twelve-year-old daughter. In the movie (which really is quite enchanting) a fairy tale princess winds up (due to the machinations of a wicked queen and her henchman) in modern-day New York, where she meets a divorce lawyer who doesn’t believe in happily ever after. The question of whether or not happily ever after is possible runs through the movie. Watching the opera “Madama Butterfly” this weekend, I realized that in it too the heroine believes steadfastly in happily ever after, while the hero (though it’s difficult to call Pinkerton a hero), goes into their “marriage” knowing it will only last as long as he finds convenient. In “Madama Butterfly” this leads to tragedy, while I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say that “Enchanted” ends quite differently.

Both Mélanie and Charles have difficulty believing in happily ever after, for different reasons. They confront the question in an early scene in “The Mask of Night.” Since I got some nice feedback on the teaser last week, I thought I’d post another, this one from early in the book. A dead body has just been discovered floating in a fountain at their friends’ Oliver and Isobel Lydgate’s masquerade ball.

The French windows clicked closed and Mélanie was alone in a cold, moonlit garden with her husband and a dead man.
“We need more light,” she said, looking round the stone statues and clipped hedges. “The victim or the killer might have dropped something.”
“Roth will be here shortly.”
“Yes, but we might as well see—”
“We said we’d stay out here. No sense wasting the time.”
“Damn it, Mélanie.” He crossed to her side and gripped her shoulders. His eyes had gone from gray to charcoal. “It’s been two months. Two months since we almost lost—”
“Everything.” Child, marriage, trust. Life, and all the things that went to make up a life.
“We don’t need to be dragged into more damned intrigues.”
“I don’t,” she said, all too well aware that she was not being entirely truthful, “see how this could possibly have anything to do with—”
“We can’t tell how this may twist and turn. We’re staying the hell out of it. We’ll show Roth the scene of the crime, we’ll do what we can for Oliver and Isobel, and we’ll go home to our children.”
Check. The tie that bound them, the debt and responsibility she could not ignore. “You said yourself we can’t hide forever.“
“That was about going to a ball. This is about a murder.”
She pulled away from his grasp. “I wasn’t made for safety and cotton wool, Charles. Sometimes I don’t think I was made for happily-ever-after.”
“Perhaps not. But you owe it to your family to try.”
She spun toward the fountain, hands pressed to her face. “Damn it all, I didn’t mean— I owe you and the children more than I can possibly repay.”
“Don’t turn maudlin, Mel. I wasn’t trying to call in a debt.”
“You’d be entitled to do so. But—” Beyond her fingers, something glinted in the murky depths of the water. “Look. By the base of the fountain.”
“For God’s sake, Mélanie—”
“We can’t just leave it there. Hold on to me, Charles.” She knelt on the edge of the fountain without waiting for a reply. Charles drew a sharp breath, but his hands closed on her waist as she leaned forward and reached a velvet-clad, lace-cuffed arm into the cold, blood-filmed water. Her nails scrabbled against stone. She leaned farther forward and would have lost her balance were it not for Charles’s hands at her waist.
Something bumped against her shoulder. The dead body. She sucked in her breath. Her fingers brushed something smooth and thin and sharp. She straightened up, holding a dripping, six-inch object. “The sort of weapon that’s meant for business. Whoever brought it here didn’t intend it as part of a costume.”
“No.” Charles helped her to her feet and took the knife from her numb fingers. His gaze moved over it, sharp with an interest that he quickly masked. Or tried to.
She tugged a handkerchief from her dry sleeve and wiped her hand. “He was stabbed in the chest not the back. That means he probably knew whoever the killer was.”
Charles glanced round the walled garden. “There’s no sign of a struggle.”
“The victim was probably standing at the edge of the fountain. He stumbled back with the blow and fell into the water. You can see where water splashed onto the flagstones. It could be an hour or more before Mr. Roth can get here. If the victim has papers on him—”
“No.” Charles set the knife down on wrought iron table.
“But the water could ruin the evidence before—”
A French window clicked open. Mélanie looked round to tell whomever it was to go back inside, but when she recognized the new arrivals, she held her tongue.

Do you like happy endings? Do you like them to be Disney-perfect happily ever afters or something in between? Or does the type of ending you like differ depending on the characters and their situation?

Lady Frances expresses some view on happily-ever-afters in a letter to Geoffrey Blackwell in this week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence, in which she also talks about Charles and Mélanie’s adventures on the Continent and preparations for the approaching holiday season.

As an additional note, my friend and one of my brainstorming partners Veronica Wolff, whose first book will be out in February, has launched her new website. It has some fabulous pictures of Scotland and an excerpt from her forthcoming book.