I had the fun of speaking on a panel of alumni at the Literary Festival at my high school, Marin Academy, last week (the picture above is Mélanie and me at dinner afterwards). It was exhilarating to be part of such a dynamic and diverse group of writers of both fiction and nonfiction, novels, short stories, and journalism. There were of course differences in how we approach our work but also a surprising amount of commonality. Particularly when it comes to the challenge of just getting the words down on paper – or rather, on the computer. I left feeling energized – perfect for diving back into revisions of The Princess’s Secret.
This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d post one of Mel/Suzette and Charles/Malcolm’s “almost love scenes” this one from Princess’s Secret (in fact, from the scene I was working on this evening. It’s a good follow up to last week’s excerpt because they’re talking about Wilhelmine and Dorothée. (Minor spoilers, but for plot elements revealed early in the book). I still have Imperial Scandal ARCs to giveaway, so I’ll be giving one to another of this week’s commenters. Let me know what you think of the scene and what your favorite Valentine’s Day reading is.
She looked up at him. The candlelight slid over her face. “I don’t know that I was ever a romantic even—-before. I just—“
“Believe people can be happy.”
Her fingers curled into the coverlet. “I believe happiness is possible, in fits and snatches if nothing else. Perhaps it’s precisely because it’s rare that I believe in grabbing hold of it.”
Growing up, watching his parents, happiness had never seemed like much of a possibility. He lifted his hand and pushed the loose strands behind her ear.
She smiled, but then went still, her hand on his back. “Darling—“ She broke off. He could feel the question in the tension of her fingers through the silk of his dressing gown.
“Don’t tell me there’s something you’re afraid to ask me.”
“No.” Her gaze moved over his face. “Not afraid. But I’m not sure it’s my place—“
“For God’s sake, Mel, since when do you worry about what it’s your place to do or not do?”
“I don’t think marriage should entirely strip one of privacy. But—“ She sat back against the bedpost and regarded him. “Have you thought about telling Willie and Doro about Tatiana’s child?”
He checked the instinctive denial. His fingers dug into the coverlet. His mother had trained him to secrecy when it came to his sister. But she was Wilhelmine’s sister as well, and he knew Dorothée felt a responsibility toward her. Tania and Dorothée did not share a biological father, but the man Dorothée had grown up calling father had fathered Tania. Questions of parentage and sibling relationships were complicated among the aristocracy. “You think they’d want to know?” he asked, his voice harsh to his own ears.
“I think so. I think I would in their place. And I think they could help.”
“Help can always come in useful, dearest. I think one’s wise if one learns to accept it when it’s offered. I know I’m trying to do so. There’ve been a lot of secrets where Tatiana’s concerned. Perhaps it’s time—“
‘For honesty? That’s what I was just saying to Wellington and Castlereagh.”
Mélanie sat back against the headboard as though to give him space to make his choice. “It’s your decision, darling. There’s no right answer. But for what it’s worth, I think you can trust Willie and Doro. I think we learned that in Vienna. After all—“
“I owe Wilhelmine my liberty and quite possibly my life.” Charles saw the heavy door of his Vienna prison sell swing open to let in his wife and Duchess of Sagan. And Prince Metternich. “And without Wilhlemine and Dorothée we might not have been able to save the tsarina. You’re right. One should be grateful for help where one finds it.”
“I know I’ll be forever grateful to them.”
For a moment in Mélanie’s eyes he saw the fear of the time he had spent in prison. It was still odd to think of such fear being focused on him. Of his safety mattering so much to someone.
Mélanie leaned forward, her dark hair ringlets stirring about her face, her silk gown rustling. The roses and vanilla and exotic tang of her perfume teased his senses. Her hand slid behind his neck and her lips met his own.
He closed his arms round her and returned her kiss with an urgency that took him by surprise. With the portion of his brain that could still think, he knew that she was trying to comfort him for his discoveries about Tatiana. Part of him rebelled against needing comfort, while another part craved it as a wounded man craves laudanum.
His fingers sank into her hair. She pushed his dressing gown off his shoulders and slid her hands over his back with familiar witchcraft. They fell onto the coverlet and pillows, and the last vestiges of coherent thought fled.