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.”
“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.