On her wonderful website, Lauren Willig has started Tuesday Teasers, which are so much fun. Since blogging and updating the Fraser Correspondence once a week is about all I can manage, I thought I would start monthly teasers. Here is April’s. It’s from the book I’ve been calling “the Waterloo book”, now provisionally titled Imperial Scandal. It will be published next year and it’s set in June 1815, about seven months after Vienna Waltz. Napoleon has escaped from Elba and the Allied Army is gathered in Brussels preparing to fight the French. This excerpt is from the first chapter and finds Suzanne/Mélanie at ball given by the British ambassador in Brussels.
Suzanne Rannoch stirred the heavy perfumed air with her silk-painted fan. The youth and beauty of the Allied army swirled on the dance floor before her. Hussars and Horse Guards in brilliant crimson and silver lace, staff officers in dark blue coats, riflemen in dark green, Dutch-Belgians in orange-faced blue. They circled round the floor with girls in gauzy frocks of white and pink, primrose and forget-me-knot, champagne and ivory. The candlelight glanced off gold braid, medals, pearl necklaces, diamond eardrops, silver thread embroidered on sleeves and hems.
It might have been any ball in any elegant house. Save for the profusion of military brilliance and the dearth of sober dark civilian coats. This waltz had been a favorite at the Congress of Vienna, where Suzanne and her husband had spent the fall and winter. But even in Vienna military uniforms had not so predominated. The threat of war had hung over the Congress, but as a consequence of council chamber quarrels, a constant ripple beneath the surface of balls and masquerades and champagne-filled salons. Then Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped his exile on the island of Elba and returned to power in France and everything had changed.
“Standing about?” Sir Charles Stuart, Britain’s ambassador to Belgium and the evening’s host, put a glass of champagne into her hand. “We can’t have that. Where’s your husband got to?”
Suzanne took a sip of champagne and gave Stuart her most dazzling smile. “Surely you don’t believe my husband and I spend the evening in each other’s pockets, sir? Have I learned nothing in two and a half years as a diplomatic wife?”
“Off on an errand, is he?” Stuart gave her a lazy grin. “Wonder who sent him.”
“It wasn’t you?”
“In the middle of my own ball? No, ten to one he’s been seconded by the military.”
Malcolm had met her gaze across the ballroom an hour since, raised his champagne glass to her, and then slipped between two stands of candles and melted away through one of the French windows. Even she didn’t know where he had gone. Malcolm had come to trust her a great deal in the two and a half years since they had entered into their oddly begun marriage of convenience, but not that much. There were some secrets a good intelligence agent didn’t even share with a spouse. She understood that better than anyone.
Stuart put a familiar arm round her and squeezed her shoulders, left fashionably bare by the satin and gauze of her gown. “You’re a damned fine hostess, Suzanne. Couldn’t have pulled the party off with out you.”
“Nonsense. You were an excellent host long before I met you.”
“Lisbon was different from Brussels.” Stuart kissed her cheek, managing at once to be flirtatious and brotherly. “He’ll be safely back before dawn, never fear. We’re weeks away from fighting.”
“Weeks?” Even were Napoleon really still in Paris, he was only five days’ march from Brussels.
“Well, days at any rate.”
“Mrs. Rannoch.” A tall man in an austere black evening coat, his fine-boned face distinguished by a distinctive hook nose and piercing blue eyes, materialized out of the crowd. “You look lovelier every time I see you.”
Suzanne held out her hand to the commander of the Allied army. “Is that the secret of your success, your grace? Always knowing precisely the right thing to say?”
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, gave one of his brusque laughs. “Hardly. My brother’s the diplomat in the family. Like your husband. Where’s he disappeared to?”
“I fear I haven’t the least idea,” Suzanne said. “Though I thought perhaps your grace might.”
Wellington gave her a shrewd look. “Possibly, my dear. Possibly. Don’t let it get about that I said so, but diplomats can often prove remarkably useful.”
Despite the heat in the candle-warmed room, a chill coursed through her. She knew Wellington was fond of Malcolm. And she also knew he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice her husband or anyone else if he thought it necessary to achieve victory.
Let me know you think. Also, feel free to post more thoughts and questions about Vienna Waltz and The Mask of Night here. Love the discussion that’s been going on.
I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mélanie to Raoul, shortly after she and Charles discover Princess Tatiana’s body.