My daughter Mélanie is eight weeks old today. Hard to believe it’s already been eight weeks (she’s two weeks in the picture above) and at the same time hard to remember there was a time she wasn’t here. As we move into February, my late New Years resolution is to get back to regularly updating this blog (it may take me a bit longer to get the Fraser Correspondence back up to speed). This week’s post is an excerpt from my WIP, The Princess’s Secret, which is set in Paris after the battle of Waterloo (and after my forthcoming Imperial Scandal). I just finished a draft and am starting to revise, so it’s a fun time to be sharing a bit of the book.
The post-Waterloo Paris setting lets me revisit a number of the characters from <em>Vienna Waltz, including Wilhelmine and Dorothée who are in this scene. Let me know what you think and which other characters, real or fictional, you’d like Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzanne to cross paths with again. Once again I’ll give away an ARC of Imperial Scandal to a commenter.
“How should I have the least idea what Edmond may or may not know?” Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord flung herself down on her chaise-longue. “I’m the last person in Paris he’d confide in. You should have seen the way he was looking at Karl and me at the opera the night before last.”
“I did see. It argues something other than lack of interest,” Mélanie took a sip from the gilt-rimmed cup of coffee Dorothée had given her.
Dorothée grabbed a cushion from the chaise-longue and plucked at the fringe. “Edmond isn’t any more interested in me than he ever was/ His pride was hurt. Stupid honor.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more there.”
Dorothée flung the pillow aside. “I’m sorry, Mélanie, I’m not usually so pettish. It’s being back in Paris. Having Edmond here even if I see next to nothing of him. Facing down the gossip. Worrying about Karl.”
“And then there’s the strain Monsieur Talleyrand is under,” Mélanie said.
“That too.” Dorothée reached for her own cup of coffee and took a careful sip. In Vienna, she had fallen in love with the handsome Austrian Count Karl Clam-Martinitz, who was still her lover. But her relationship with her husband’s uncle, Prince Talleyrand, had also deepened in ways she would not admit even to a close friend like Mélanie. Perhaps not even to herself. “Who is this man who was a friend of Edmond’s?”
“Bertrand Laclos. He died in the Peninsula in 1811.”
Dorothée frowned a moment, then shook her head, her glossy brown ringlets stirring about her fine-boned face. “I’d just married Edmond then [?} and come to Paris. Paris bewildered me, and I tended to want to sink into the shadows. Edmond’s friends were all a blur.”
“What are you looking so serious about?” Dorothée’s eldest sister, Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, swept into the room with a rustle of Pomona green sarcenet and a waft of custom-blended scent. She dropped down in a chair and began to strip off her gloves. “Do pour me out a cup of coffee. I drank too much champagne at the Russian embassy last night.”
“Do you remember a Bertrand Laclos?” Dorothée asked, pouring a cup of coffee for her sister. “A friend of Edmond’s.”
“I make it a point to avoid Edmond’s friends.” Wilhelmine took a grateful sip of coffee. She lowered the cup and looked at Mélanie over the gilt rim. “Is this to do with the Comte de Rivere being killed last night?”
“That’s quick even for you,” Mélanie said. “How did you guess?”
Wilhelmine tugged at the ribbons on her cottage bonnet and lifted the straw and satin from her burnished gold curls. “Someone dies under mysterious circumstances, and you and Charles start asking questions. I’ve learned to put two and two together.”
Dorothée regarded her sister. “Besides, I suspect Lord Stewart told you.”
“Possibly.” Wilhelmine took another sip of coffee., then shrugged her shoulders, fluttering her gauze scarf. “Oh, very well. I was there when he got the message from Castlereagh this morning.”
“I don’t know what you see in him, Willie.” Dorothée made a moue of distaste. “When I remember how he pinched me at the Metternichs’ masquerade—“
“I admit Stewart isn’t always subtle—“
“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one. I think Talleyrand would have struck him at the masquerade if I hadn’t intervened.”
Wilhelmine took another sip of coffee. “Yes, well, we know how protective Talleyrand is when it comes to you.”
Dorothée flushed. “Don’t make this about me, Willie. I liked Alfred—“
“Alfred, if you’ll recall, left me.” Wilhelmine rubbed at the lip rouge smeared on her cup.
Dorothée bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Willie—“
“Don’t be. Every love affair has to end with someone leaving.” Wilhelmine’s mouth curved with customary cynicism. Yet in Vienna last autumn, Mélanie had seen how deep Wilhelmne’s feelings for Alfred von Windischgrätz ran.
“Then there was Fred Lamb,” Dorothée said. “I liked him as well.”
Wilhelmine leaned forward to pour more coffee into her cup. “Agreeable. But not serious.”
“And now Alfred’s in Paris and seems very—“
Wilhelmine clunked the coffee pot down on the silver tray. “Are you saying you think I should come running the moment he crooks his finger?”
“No, course not. But if love him—“
“I don’t believe in love. Or at least I don’t trust it.” Wilhelmine tugged out her handkerchief and wiped at the coffee that had spattered on the tray and the porcelain tiles of the table. “Whatever Alfred may think he feels, within a few years he’ll be married to a nice, respectable girl. It was never going to last—“
“And you think—“ Dorothée stared at her sister. “Willie, are you considering marrying Stewart?”
Wilhelmine lifted her cup, full to the brim, and took a careful sip. “You say that as if marriage was some new form of sin.”
“You’ve sworn you’re never going to marry again.”
Wilhelmine, twice divorced, gave her sister a careless smile. “You’ve known me all your life, Doro. Surely you realize I’m changeable.”
Dorothée shook her head. “I can’t believe you love him.”
“My dear child. You’re nearly two-and-twenty. You can’t still think love has anything to do with marriage.”
“It does for some people.” Dorothée flicked a glance at Mélanie.
“There are always exceptions.” Wilhelmine’s face relaxed into a smile. Then she studied Mélanie. “Though I don’t know that even Mélanie would claim her marriage began with love.”
“It began with necessity,” Mélanie said. Which was the truth. Though as with so much else to do with her marriage, a twisted truth.
Wilhelmine’s gaze held perhaps more understanding than Mélanie would have liked. “There are all sorts of reasons one marries. Necessity. Security. Position.”
Dorothée stared at her sister, as though she were a puzzle with unexpected angles. “And you think Stewart will give you—“
“His brother is the foreign secretary of England. It might be amusing.”
“It sounds beastly.” Dorothée reached for her lace shawl and pulled it tight round her shoulders. “Take it from me, there’s nothing worse than being tied to a man one can’t respect.”
“But then I’m not a romantic, Doro. That makes it easier.” Wilhelmine turned her gaze back to Mélanie. “I don’t know anything about this Bertrand Laclos, but if you want to learn about Rivere, you should talk to Lady Caruthers.”
Mélanie was used to making quick leaps of thought, but this was too much even for her. Gabrielle Caruthers was a French émigrée to England now married to a British officer. “Why?” she asked. “What does she have to do with Rivere?”
Wilhelmine settled back in her chair. “She was his mistress.”
“Gabrielle Caruthers”?” Dorothée said. “That’s a bit of gossip I hadn’t heard.” Her eyes narrowed. “I suppose Stewart told you.”
“No, Annina did. Maids always hear gossip first.”
“Lady Caruthers always seemed so demure.”
“They’re often the most scandalous ones.”
Dorothée shot her a sisterly look. “You’ve never been the least bit demure, Willie.”
“There are always exceptions.” Wilhelmine settled back against the cushions, cradling her coffee cup in one hand. “I expect you want to talk to Lady Caruthers. I understand she’s in the habit of taking coffee in the late morning in the Café Luxembourg. Quite like a Frenchwoman. Which of course she is. Though she hasn’t live here for years.”
“Much like me,” Mélanie said. Which was a truth, caught in the myriad lies she told about her past, even to her closest friends.
““Is that why you’re looking into Rivere’s death?” Dorothée asked. “Because you suspect Lord Caruthers was involved?”
Mélanie took a sip of coffee. “Until two minutes ago I hadn’t the least idea Lady Caruthers was involved with Rivere.”
“According to Annina, Rivere and Lady Caruthers had become quite reckless,” Wilhelmine said. “Though Lord Caruthers doesn’t particularly seem the jealous sort.”
“One never knows.” Dorothée’s face darkened. “I’d have never thought Edmond—“
“Edmond’s just the sort to get his pride hurt. Rupert Caruthers seems more—“ Wilhelmine’s delicate brows drew together as she searched for the right word.
“Temperate?” Mélanie suggested. She pictured Lord Caruthers, well-cut features, an agreeable smile. The sort of man to get a lady lemonade at a military review or return to the carriage for her parasol. And it was all done with sincerity rather than an attempt at flirtation.
“Yes, that’s it precisely.” Wilhelmine nodded. “Too well-bred to fight a duel.”
“That’s all very well,” Dorothée said, “but betrayal can take people the oddest ways.”
Mélanie reached for her coffee, a dozen thoughts tumbling through her brain, not all to do with Antoine de Rivere and the Carutherses. Her fingers closed hard round the delicate porcelain handle. “So it can.”