Happy weekend! After spending last weekend hosting our annual New Year party (now also a celebration of Mélanie’s birthday) I’m in the midst of copy edits of The Mayfair Affair but emerging briefly to post a teaser from my novella-in-progress about Suzanne and Malcolm’s first visit to London. It’s from the first draft without much revising so far!
Suzanne Rannoch’s first glimpse of London lived up to its reputation. Gray. Gray stone walls, gray cobblestones, seen through a curtain and gray mist and drizzle. England. The country of her husband Malcolm. The country she had spent the last five years fighting against.
“Does it ever stop raining here?” On the opposite seat, Blanca, Suzanne’s maid, also had her face pressed to the window.
“Oh, we’re sure to get at least a day or so of sun.” Addison, Malcolm’s valet, gave one of his dry smiles. “It’s summer.”
Colin, Suzanne’s one-year-old son, bounced on her lap, also intent on the window. “Russ, russ.”
“Yes, that’s a horse,” Suzanne said, though interpreting Colin’s pronouncements was still largely guesswork.
“There’s the Tower.” Malcolm spoke up, though he’d been more and more silent the closer they got to the city. “They have lions, Colin.”
“La.” Colin turned to his father with a grin.
“That was almost a word,” Suzanne said.
“Almost.” Malcolm caught his son as Colin launched himself across the carriage seat.
It seemed crowded, like all cities. But lacking the formality of Paris or the rambling quality of Lisbon where Suzanne had lived since her marriage to Malcolm a year and a half ago.
The streets widened slightly. “We’re in Mayfair,” Malcolm said. And then their hired carriage slowed to a stop. Malcolm handed Colin back to Suzanne and moved to open the door. “Aunt Frances’s.”
Holding her son, Suzanne stepped from the carriage to be confronted by a smooth facade of pale gray stone, shiny black area railings, and three polished steps leading to a doric portico topped by a fanlight. “Which floor is she on?” Blanca asked as Malcolm handed her down behind Suzanne.
“She has the whole house,” Malcolm said. “It’s actually crowded when all her children are in residence.”
Suzanne’s gaze moved up the building. Four stories. She forgot, dangerously often, just who he was, this man she had married. Oh, she’d always known he was a duke’s grandson, that his father was in parliament, that his best friend was the son an earl. But in Lisbon they had shared cramped lodgings. With her scent bottles crowding his shaving things off the dressing table, it was easy to forget the world he had come from. Dear God. The entire traveling theatre troop she had grown up with would have rattled about on one floor.
Two footmen hurried down the front steps, blue and gold livery, powdered wigs, gleaming buckles that looked to be real silver. As Malcolm took her arm to help her up the steps, a dark-haired young woman carrying a blonde child of about four. “You’re here, I’m so glad. We’ve been waiting for hours.”
“I’m honored you tore yourself away from your equations, Allie.” Malcolm leaned forward to kiss his cousin’s cheek.
“Stuff. You’re my cousin.”
“My cousin, Aline Dacre-Hammond,” Malcolm said to Suzanne. “And Chloe,” he added, ruffling the little girl’s hair.
Chloe was staring at Colin. “It’s nice not to be the baby.”
Aline Dacre-Hammond had brown hair, wide brown eyes, and a smudge of ink on her nose. She was, Malcolm had told Suzanne, a quite brilliant mathematician.
“Do bring them in out of the rain, Aline,” a voice said from the doorway.
“My dear. We’re so glad to have meet you at last. You’re just as lovely as Malcolm wrote.”
Suzanne seriously doubted Charles had written anything of the sort.
Lady Frances Dacre-Hammond was far from the grand dame Suzanne had been expecting. She must be past forty, but the lines in her face were barely perceptible. Her gown of lilac sarcenet was cut in what Suzanne recognized as the latest Paris fashion, her buttery blonde hair was dressed with a careless abandon that was carefully created, her smile was careless but warm.
“You’re very kind, ma’am,” Suzanne said.
“I fear I’m not in the least kind, but I am excessively grateful to you for making my nephew happy. And to you, young chap.” Lady Frances touched her fingers to Colin’s hair. “Now do meet the rest of the family.”
She turned to the two girls who stood behind her. One, petite, with golden brown ringlets and a pretty face redeemed from the common place by a determined chin, folded her arms across her chest. “Welcome home, Malcolm. If you still consider this home anymore.”
“It’s good to see you too, Gelly,” Malcolm said.
So the girl was Gisèle, Malcolm’s fifteen-year-old sister, who had made her home with Lady Frances since their mother’s death.
“My sister Gisèle,” Malcolm said, turning to Suzanne. “And my cousin Judith, Aunt Frances’s second daughter,” he added, indicating the other girl, taller, with paler blonde hair, who was his cousin Judith.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” Judith said, in the careful voice of a fourteen-year-old practicing her grown up manners. “I hope you realize we aren’t as odd as we seem.”
“Don’t you believe it for a moment,” Aline murmured under her breath.
“We’ve put you in the yellow bedroom,” Lady Frances said. “I trust you don’t mind sharing, we’re rather overflowing the house. And we’ve put a cradle in for young Colin. I thought you might prefer that to putting him in the nursery with Chloe. I hope you won’t be too crowded.”
“We’re used to sharing,”Suzanne said. “We don’t have a lot of space in our lodgings in Lisbon.” She and Malcolm had always shared a bedchamber, though she knew it was unusual for couples in the beau monde. It had been odd at first, for she was used to being solitary, but now the thought of being on her own brought on a wave of panic, particularly in this alien world.