Happy Friday! The Merola summer is winding down. This week we had our last public Master Class of the summer (the picture above if Mélanie and me when I got back) afterwards) with Antony Walker, who will conduct our Merola Grand Finale concert next weekend on August 22 (the culmination of the program and a wonderful chance to hear all the Merola vocalists sing on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House for anyone in the Bay Area).
I’ve taken a mini-break from my WIP to get started on novella that will be out this fall. I wanted to have a good start on the novel before I focused on the novella. Once I had the plot idea for the novella it’s been falling into place with surprising ease (at least so far :-). It takes place during a ball Suzanne and Malcolm are giving in Berkeley Square. I realized I’ve never written a scene of them entertaining in a big way. Lots of great possibilities and fun to do the novella all on one night, with all the pressure of hosting a large event..It takes place about a month and a half after the end of The Mayfair Affair.
Here’s a teaser excerpt that takes place while Malcolm and Suzanne waltz. Early draft, so my apologies in advance for errors.
Have a great weekend!
Suzanne stepped into her husband’s arms and smiled up at him. “How bad is it?” she asked as the first strains sounded.
He swept her in front of him, their hands interlaced. “Nothing we can’t handle. Child’s play compared to six weeks ago or three months before that or—“
Suzanne spun beneath his arm “It must be serious indeed if it’s driven you to seek refuge on the dance floor.”
“On the contrary. I’m well aware the dance floor provides good cover.” He pulled her back to him, chest to chest. At a distance Emily Cowper and the other patronesses of Almack’s would not approve, but there were advantages in being a married couple. “Bertrand de Lisles and O’Roarke are in the study. With a young woman they smuggled out of France. Not sure if she’s an agent or just a Bonapartist, but they had a run in with excisemen who were after the smuggler who got them into Britain.”
Suzanne drew a sharp breath. The movement of the dance had her spun out to the side so she couldn’t look into Malcolm’s eyes. “Is anyone injured?”
“The young Frenchwoman. It’s not dire, but you should take a look at her. Bertrand’s all right. So’s O’Roarke, and it doesn’t look as though he’s met with anything serious in Spain.”
Suzanne spun back towards her husband and saw a relief in his gaze that mirrored her own. Last winter she’d never have believed they could get to this point. Where Charles knew the truth about her and about Raoul, and Raoul was a frequent guest in their house. But perhaps oddest of all was that these days their feelings about Raoul seemed remarkably similar. Largely involving worry about what he might be getting into in Spain. She gave her husband a bright smile, part distraction for anyone watching them, part defiance in the face of challenge. “Life never gets dull, does it?”
“Not for long.”
“Darling, you’re enjoying this.”
He twirled her again. “Of course not.”
“Really, Malcolm, I know you better than that. The distraction of a mission and an excuse to escape into the study during a ball. It’s the answer to your prayers.”
He gave an bashed grin and pulled her back into his arms. “Put that like that— I’m not glad anyone’s injured. But I can’t deny it’s livened up the evening.”
“And you accuse me of living dangerously.” She looked into her husband’s gray eyes, so familiar, but often so unreadable. There was a time, not so very long ago, when she’d never thought to again see trust or tenderness in them again. She was beyond fortunate to have both back, even if the shadows of the past still hung between them. Now that he had communicated the most urgent facts, it occurred to her that her husband, a former British agent (assuming one could ever be a former agent) was hiding a French agent in his study. She drew a breath. “Darling—”
“Remarkable how far we’ve come, isn’t it?” He smiled. A sweet smile intended to reassure but also to deflect further probing into whatever he was thinking. There were some things Malcolm still wasn’t prepared to share with her. “I’ll cover so you can go in and tend to the woman. And we should send some food in. The Frenchwoman’s name is Lisette d’Armagnac. At least that’s what they told me. Do you know her?”
He paused slightly before that last question, and Suzanne realized he wasn’t entirely certain she’d tell him the truth. “No,” she said. “Truly. At least not by that name. Did she say she knows me?”
“Not precisely. But she says she has a message for you.”
A chill shot through Suzanne. Along with the dangerous thrill that a return to game could still bring. “About what?”
“I didn’t ask.” Malcolm spun her under his arm and pulled her against him, her back to his chest. “Once you’ve found out what it is you can decide whether you want to tell me.”
She couldn’t see into his eyes, but she could feel the trust in the steadiness of his voice and the strength of his arm round her. Trust was such a precious thing and a fragile burden. That could upend a marriage if it tipped the wrong way. “Darling—“
He spun her to the side, their arms crisscrossed overhead, then forwards to face him. “All things considered, it’s probably best I know the truth. Makes evenings like these much easier to navigate.”
How often in the past four and a half months had humor saved them? It was, as Malcolm said, sometimes the only possible response. And yet Suzanne suspected that for her husband it was also a defensive shield. A shield over feelings still too raw to share with her. Over feelings he perhaps feared to let himself express. A shield she had no right to breech, even assuming she could do so.
“Of course I’ll—“
Malcolm’s fingers tightened on her own. “Best not to make promises.”
She nodded. “Carfax—“
“I know.” His mouth tightened. “No reason to think he has a whiff of what’s going on, but we’d best tread warily. I’ll keep an eye on him.” He turned round, holding her against him. “As you say, life certainly stays interesting.”