Imperial Scandal


9.19.15TracyMelBenvenuto

Happy Thursday!Recently I was looking through Imperial Scandal and found myself thinking about the letter Harry writes to Cordelia, that he gives to Malcolm to give to her in the event of his death. Of course Malcolm never does give it to Cordelia, and the reader never sees it. I found myself wondering what Harry wrote. I thought I would try writing it and perhaps find a way to include it in my WIP. Not sure about that, but I thought I would at least share it here.

So glad some of you are rediscovering the Google + Group. To those who haven’t, please check it out. Betty is making it really fun! And be sure to check out the teaser for Incident In Berkeley Square that I posted.

Have a great weekend!

Tracy

Cordelia,
So much to say and so little. I told you the practicalities at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. You’re good at taking care of yourself and our daughter. I have no doubt you will continue to be so. Above all, I want you both to be happy.
Even in the time we lived together I don’t think I properly conveyed what you mean to me. I said I was fool enough to think having you on any terms was worth it. For your sake I regret it. I was willfully blind to who you were and what you needed for which I will never forgive myself. But for myself I have no regrets. Every moment we had together was worth it. Especially these last few days in Brussels.
Livia is remarkable. I have no doubt you’ll continue to raise her as ably as you’ve done for the past three and a half years. But I’ll be forever grateful that I had the chance to meet her. You might tell her that one day, that meeting her was one of the proudest moments of her father’s life.
I love you, Cordy. I will with my dying breath.
Yours with all my heart,
H.D.

Advertisements

Imperial Scandal

The scenes of the Battle of Waterloo in Imperial Scandal were some of the most exciting, challenging, and sad I have ever written. I was in the first trimester of pregnancy when I did the revisions, and I remember working on these, my cats curled up in my lap, and being an emotional wreck.

Here, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, 18 June 1815, are a sampling of those scenes.

Harry held his restive horse in check and ran his gaze over Malcolm Rannoch as they waited in the street for the duke’s staff to assemble. The duke and his aides had been breakfasting by the time Rannoch returned to Waterloo, so they’d had no chance for private conversation until now. “Well?” Harry asked Rannoch.

“Nothing conclusive.”

“For God’s sake, Rannoch, this isn’t my first engagement. I won’t be distracted. But if I’m going to die, I’d like to have as many pieces of the puzzle as possible in my possession.”

“I confess I feel much the same.” Rannoch told him about Tony Chase’s duel with Will Flemming.

Harry shook his head. “Damned fools. So our obvious suspect has an alibi.”

“He could still have set up the ambush.”

“But much of the evidence against him and against George is explained away.”

“There’s still Billy.” Rannoch’s gaze drifted down the street. The Prince of Orange was conferring with March and Rebecque.

Harry noted the concern in Rannoch’s eyes. Concern and, beneath it, fear. “You’re fond of him,” he said.

Rannoch’s mouth tightened. “He isn’t the first murder suspect I’ve been fond of.”

<1L#>

<TXT>Malcolm was far from the only civilian to ride out with the Duke of Wellington. In addition to his staff, the Prince of Orange, and Lord Uxbridge, Wellington was accompanied by a diplomatic corps including Pozzo di Borgo, who was Corsican but represented Tsar Alexander of Russia, Spanish General Alava, the Austrian representative Baron Vincent, and Prussian Baron Müffling. Wellington, in white buckskin breeches and tasseled top boots, the gold knotted sash of a Spanish field marshal showing beneath his blue coat, might have been setting out on a fox hunt. Malcolm, who knew the value of costume and disguise, could appreciate that everything from Wellington’s polished, casual dress to his easy manner was part of his campaign tactics.

As they rode toward the troops, two men on horseback approached them. “Good God,” murmured Alexander Gordon, who was riding beside Malcolm. “It’s Richmond.”

It was indeed his grace the Duke of Richmond, whom Malcolm had last seen in his study at the ball, poring over the map as Wellington pointed at the village of Waterloo. Beside the duke rode his fifteen-year-old son, Lord William, his arm in a sling and a sticking plaster on his head. Malcolm recalled Uxbridge toasting William and the other junior officers at the Richmond ball.

“William has come to present himself for duty,” Richmond informed Wellington.

Wellington cast a glance at the young lieutenant. “Nonsense. William, you ought to be in bed. Duke, you have no business here.”

Richmond’s reply was carried away on the wind, but he appeared to be arguing with his friend Wellington. He and William continued to ride alongside Wellington’s cortège, and when they did move off it was toward General Picton’s division rather than back to Brussels.

Malcolm turned his head to see a tall figure in the short-tailed blue jacket and red-plumed shako of the light dragoons riding toward him. Even before the rider was close enough for Malcolm to make out his features or his captain’s insignia, his posture was unmistakable. Malcolm’s throat tightened, and he breathed a small sigh of relief. He hadn’t consciously let himself think it, but he’d been dreading the prospect that he might never see his brother again.

“Malcolm.” Edgar reined in beside him. “I was hoping I could find you.”

“You knew I’d be here?”

“I know you, brother mine.” A shadow crossed Edgar’s normally sunny face. Since their mother’s death, they didn’t know each other as well as they once had. Then he gave one of his careless grins. “Have a care, will you? You’re the only brother I’ve got.”

Malcolm felt his own face relax into a smile. “I could say the same to you. And I’m only observing.”

“Ha. You may be able to run intellectual rings round me, Malcolm, but I’m not quite so naïve.” Edgar glanced toward Picton’s division. “Couldn’t believe it when I saw Richmond and young William.”

“Family honor,” Malcolm said.

Edgar turned his gaze back to him. “At least if anything happens to either of us we know it won’t affect Father overmuch.” He said it matter-of-factly, because matter-of-fact was what they’d come to be when it came to their father, out of sheer survival instinct.

“Quite,” Malcolm said. For a moment, the name of their mother, who would have cared, hung between them, tightening the air with past questions and past guilt.

Edgar gathered up his reins. “Give my love to Suzanne and Colin if I don’t come back. And to Gelly.”

“Likewise,” Malcolm said. Gisèle was their seventeen-year-old-sister, home in England with Aline’s mother. He looked into Edgar’s eyes, the eyes of his boyhood confidant and first friend, and for a moment understood precisely why George Chase hadn’t turned Tony in. His throat went tight with all the things he couldn’t say. He clapped his brother on the arm. “Go carefully, Edgar.”

Edgar’s gloved fingers closed over Malcolm’s own. “You too.”

Malcolm watched his brother ride out of view. Mist hung over the fields, mixed with smoke from the Allied cooking fires and those of the French on the opposite ridge. Steam rose from cheap tea brewed in iron kettles. The smell of clay pipes and officers’ cigars mingled with the stench of wool still sodden from the night’s rain. Shots split the air as soldiers fired their guns to clean them.

“Waste of ammunition,” Davenport said to Malcolm. “It’s going to be a long day.”

And it had yet to properly begin. A breeze gusted over what would be the battlefield, stirring the corn, cutting through the curtain of mist. Wellington had taken up a position before the small village of Mont-Saint-Jean. Fitzroy had said that the duke would have preferred the position across the field at the inn of La Belle Alliance, which Bonaparte occupied, but the Allied position had its advantages. Wellington had seen the ground when he was in Brussels the previous year. Malcolm remembered the duke mentioning the slope of the land to the north, which would allow him to keep most of his troops out of sight of an enemy across the field.

To the left stood the fortified farm La Haye Sainte, with whitewashed walls and a blue-tiled roof that gleamed where the sunlight broke the mist, and still farther to the left the twin farms of Papelotte and La Haye. To the right, in a small valley hidden by cornfields, was Hougoumont, a pretty, walled château surrounded by a wood and a hedged orchard. Both Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte had been garrisoned with Allied soldiers.

The ground before them sloped down to a valley, through which the road to Charleroi ran, then rose to the ridge on which stood La Belle Alliance. On this ridge, the French army had begun to deploy. An elegant, masterful pageant. Malcolm lifted his spyglass. Lancers with white-plumed shapkas on their heads, chasseurs with plumes of scarlet and green, hussars, dragoons, cuirassiers, and carabiniers, and the Imperial Guard in their scarlet-faced blue coats. Gunners adjusted the positions of their weapons. Pennants snapped in the breeze and gold eagles caught the sun as it battled the mist.

“Sweet Jesus,” Davenport murmured.

“Bonaparte understands the value of theatre,” Malcolm said.

“Unless he’s also a master of illusion, there are a bloody lot of them. I hope to God the Prussians get here.”

Malcolm cast a glance along the Allied lines. “We happy few.”

“Shakespeare was a genius, but he’d never been on a battlefield. Do you know what you’re in for, Rannoch?”

“I’ve seen battles before,” Malcolm said, scenes from the Peninsula fresh in his mind. “But I don’t think any of us has seen anything like what’s about to unfold.”

Cheers went up among the French troops as a figure on a gray horse galloped into their midst.

“Boney,” Davenport said. “Odd to think I’ve never seen him before.”

Malcolm handed his spyglass to Davenport. Bonaparte wore the undress uniform of a colonel in the Imperial Guard and a bicorne hat without cockades. Wellington, too, wore casual dress for battle, though his buckskins and blue coat were more in the style of a gentleman out for a morning’s ride. He wore four cockades on his own bicorne, for Britain, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

Even without a spyglass, the cheers of the French troops for Bonaparte were evident. In response Wellington rode among his own troops, at a sedate trot rather than Bonaparte’s gallop. The duke was greeted with respectful nods but no cheering.

Alexander Gordon pulled up beside Malcolm and Davenport. “Uxbridge has ordered sherry for his staff so they can toast today’s fox.”

“Fox hunting always struck me as a bloody business,” Davenport said. “And a damned waste. My sympathies go to the fox.”

Gordon shot an amused glance at him and held out a paper. “Well, while you’re feeling sympathetic toward Boney, you can take this to Picton. Wellington’s orders.”

Davenport wheeled his horse round but turned back to Malcolm before he rode off. “I don’t say this often, but it’s been a pleasure working with you, Malcolm.”

Malcolm reached between the horses to clasp the other man’s hand. “Likewise, Harry.”

Gordon cast a glance after Davenport as he galloped off. “Odd devil. But a brave one.” He turned his gaze to Malcolm. “We all right, Rannoch?”

“Really, Gordon. Arranging a duel in the middle of a ball?”

Gordon flushed. “Flemming’s one of my oldest friends. One doesn’t refuse such a request from a friend. Besides, no one was badly hurt. If Will hadn’t been drinking he wouldn’t have winged Tony Chase at all.” His gaze moved to the field stretching before them and the French on the opposite ridge. “Seems like child’s play compared to today.”

“It gives both Chase brothers an alibi.”

Gordon met his gaze, a soldier not shirking rebuke. “I couldn’t tell you, Malcolm. It was a confidence.”

Malcolm reached out and gripped his friend’s arm. “It’s all right, Sandy. I do understand.”

Gordon’s face relaxed, though doubt still lurked in his eyes. “If–”

As Gordon spoke, the roar of guns cracked open the summer morning.

It had begun.

***

Raoul O’Roarke reined in his restive horse, sweat dripping from his forehead, and muttered a curse. The damned assault on Hougoumont, intended as a diversion, had sucked up far too many French troops. They should have taken the château within the first hour. It was now almost half past one, nearly two hours since the assault on Hougoumont had begun. Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s youngest brother, was leading a ferocious fight, but he was pulling precious resources away from the rest of the battle.

Raoul had spent the time supervising the placement of a battery of guns–twelve-pounders and eight-pounders and horse artillery–in front of d’Erlon’s infantry divisions. Now, with a crashing rumble, a renewed cannonade thundered across the valley. The cannonballs should have ricocheted over the crest of the opposite ridge and reached the Allied soldiers sheltering behind it, but they fell into the mud. The poor Dutch-Belgian devils at the front of the Allied lines were cut to pieces, but most of the Allied army remained safely behind the reverse slope of the ridge or the thick hedges that bordered it.

Though the assault of the guns was less effective than it should have been, the French infantry began to advance in columns. Save that instead of the narrow columns that Raoul had seen prove ruinously ineffective against British infantry, d’Erlon spread his men into shallower, wider columns that were closer to line formation yet still deeper than the Allied lines they faced. “Clever,” Raoul murmured to Flahaut, who had pulled up beside him. “The British muskets cut our columns to pieces in the Peninsula.”

Drumbeats and voices raised in “The Marseillaise” echoed across the valley. Flahaut scanned the mass of advancing French. “They look as though they’re going to sweep right over the British and Dutch-Belgians.”

Raoul frowned at the Allied ridge. It wasn’t like Wellington to sit this quietly and let the enemy overwhelm him. “I wouldn’t cry victory yet. ‘That island of England breeds very valiant creatures,’ ” he added in English rather than the French they’d been speaking.

“Must you start quoting now of all times, O’Roarke?”

“It’s rather apt. Wellington’s sure to have a counter-measure up his sleeve.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it.” Flahaut gathered up the reins, then looked back over his shoulder. “O’Roarke,” he said, over the roar of cannon fire and blare of martial music.

Raoul looked into the younger man’s eyes, dark with fear and uncertainty. “If I live through this and you don’t, of course I’ll tell Hortense. Not that she doesn’t know already.”

“Thank you.” A smile crossed Flahaut’s smoke-blackened, blood-smeared face. He regarded Raoul for a moment, eyes narrowed against the smoke and the glare of the sun. “What about Suzanne?”

Raoul drew a breath. His neckcloth seemed to have tightened round his throat. “Tell her that I have every confidence she’ll make the right decisions.”

Flahaut looked at him a moment longer, then saluted and rode off. Raoul turned his gaze to the opposite ridge. Quiot’s left brigade had success at the walled farm of La Haye Sainte, driving back the King’s German Legion troops in the orchard. His right brigade drove Prince Bernhard’s Saxe-Weimar brigade from the twin farms of Papelotte and La Haye and pushed the 95th from the sandpit opposite La Haye Sainte. A Dutch-Belgian light brigade either withdrew or fled.

But Wellington had indeed had a counter-measure up his sleeve. Squadron after squadron of Allied heavy cavalry charged down the slope. The French cavalry met them near La Haye Sainte. The French cuirassiers should have been able to hold them, but the Allied cavalry were fresh and ready for blood after missing the fighting at Quatre Bras. The French cavalry broke in confusion before the Allied charge. Much of the infantry followed suit in a tangle of fallen men and blood-spattered ground.

Raoul spurred his horse forward from his station at the gun battery, calling to the retreating soldiers to rally and re-form. His cries fell on deaf ears. Formations dissolved, men ran away, others stood their ground and hacked wildly at the onrushing Allied soldiers only to be mowed down by the tide. The Eagles of the 45th and 105th glittered in the hands of Allied soldiers, drunk on their success.

Raoul waited for the British cavalry to rally and draw back. But the Scots Greys instead pounded on across the valley. Good God, the madmen. They would be slaughtered.

The thunder of hooves shook the ground. Cries of “92nd” and “Scotland forever” carried on the breeze over the screams and groans and neighing of horses as the Allied cavalry fell beneath the blows of the French cuirassiers and lancers who had been sent up as reinforcements. For a moment Raoul could almost smell the salt breeze off Dunmykel Bay in Perthshire.

More Allied cavalry pounded after. Life Guards and King’s Dragoons judging by the helmets and crests. They slammed against Travers’s cuirassiers, British swords smashing against French breastplates. Raoul drew in his breath. Dear heaven, was that Lord Uxbridge leading the Household Cavalry? Why the devil hadn’t the cavalry commander remained behind to direct the reserves?

The breeze carried the sickly-sweet smell of fresh blood. Buglers sounded the rally, but by then the British cavalry were tired, scattered, and deep in enemy lines. Raoul drew his sword as the British swept over the French guns. Instinct took over, honed through the Revolution, the United Irish Uprising, the Peninsular War. He cut, parried, slashed, dispatching soldier after soldier.

He ran his sword through the throat of a dragoon, pulled it clear, and wheeled his horse round to parry an attack from a hussar lieutenant. He dispatched the hussar with a cut to the chest, then nearly fell from the saddle as his horse stumbled. He looked down to see that his horse had tripped over the body of a French private. He found himself staring into the dead blue eyes of Philippe Valery.

Later, when the numbness wore off, he would feel grief. If he survived.

Someone touched his arm. He spun round in the saddle, sword raised.

“O’Roarke.” Flahaut grabbed him by the arm. “Pull back. The British are trapped.”

French lancers and hussars filled the valley, cutting the British cavalry off from their lines. The British cavalry circled in disarray. One colonel, both his arms shot off, gripped his horse’s reins between his teeth. French swords and lances hacked and stabbed those who tried to ride back to their own lines. Raoul saw Sir William Ponsonby, with whom he had shared a glass of champagne at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, fall to a lance thrust.

“Christ,” Flahaut said. “Only a handful of them can have survived.”

Raoul wiped his hand across his face and realized he’d smeared blood over his forehead. “They took two eagles. And more than a dozen of our guns are disabled.”

“Are you saying the fight went to them?”

Raoul tugged a handkerchief from his pocket and dragged it across his forehead. “I’m saying it was a damned waste.”

***

An odd quiet had come over the battlefield. At least it was quiet compared to the chaos of the cavalry charge. Shots still sounded to the right from Hougoumont and to the left from La Haye Sainte, on which the French had begun a determined assault. Malcolm swung down from Perdita and ran to help one of the stretcher parties carrying the wounded to makeshift hospitals behind the lines. Across the valley, the French were doing the same.

Eye-stinging black smoke hung over the field. Soldiers marched prisoners behind the lines, put bullets through the heads of horses too wounded too walk, rounded up riderless horses galloping among the injured or cropping the grass with fine disregard for the chaos. Malcolm paused to yell at an infantry sergeant pulling a watch from the pocket of a dead lieutenant. Then he knelt beside a dragoon with blood dripping from his mouth and the light fading from his eyes and took a letter and ring the young man begged him to send to his wife and son. Closer to the lines Malcolm closed the eyes of a lance corporal with whom he remembered sharing a flask of wine before the battle of Toulouse.

“If we lose La Haye Sainte the French will smash right through our center,” Fitzroy said when Malcolm returned to the elm tree that served as Wellington’s command post.

Malcolm glanced to the right. “I still see flames from Hougoumont.”

“They’re managing to hold out. The duke’s told them to hold on as long as they can but not endanger their lives from falling timbers.”

“Wellington looks calm.” Malcolm had spotted the duke riding among the troops on his chestnut horse Copenhagen.

“Looks. He must have taken his cloak on and off two dozen times. Sure sign of disquiet. Good God. The madman.” Fitzroy’s gaze went across the valley to the French ridge. “Ney’s going to send his cavalry at us without infantry support.”

“Perhaps he thought it only sporting to even up the score when we were so reckless with our own cavalry,” Malcolm said.

Shouts of “prepare to receive cavalry” echoed along the Allied line. The infantry began to form into squares. French cuirassiers pounded across the valley and up the hill. Division after division of heavy and light cavalry joined them. Wave upon wave, with no supporting infantry or horse artillery. They met a checkerboard of Allied infantry squares, four men deep, the front lines kneeling with bayonet-tipped muskets pointed, the rear lines holding muskets ready to fire. Confronted with the bayonets, horses reared up and dashed to the side.

With no supporting infantry to batter the squares, the French cavalry wheeled and slashed, retreated, re-formed, charged again. And again and again. The squares held steady. When a soldier fell, his fellows pulled him into the center of the square and closed ranks.

“Oh, Rannoch, good.” Wellington thrust a paper at Malcolm as shots whistled by. “Take this to Maitland. I’ve lost too damned many aides-de-camp.”

Malcolm tucked the paper into his coat and galloped toward General Maitland, by instinct as much as sight. Guns thundered. Bullets hammered against metal breastplates, sabres rang against bayonets. Cannon smoke choked the air. Men screamed, horses flailed, blood spurted, piles of dead and dying men and animals littered the ground.

He delivered the message to Maitland and made his way back to Wellington, who was moving among the squares, pausing to exhort the soldiers and offer encouragement. Wellington thrust another message at him, and he galloped on again in the choking inferno, this time to the Prince of Orange. Sweat soaked through his shirt. Smoke stripped his throat raw.

“We tried to save La Haye Sainte,” Billy said when Malcolm reached him, eyes fever bright in his pale face. “Alten ordered two battalions of the King’s German Legion to attack in line. Ompteda objected, but I told him– It should have worked.”

“It’s done, sir.” March laid a hand on Billy’s arm. “You can’t refine upon it.”

Malcolm held out the dispatch. “Remember, sir. One moment at a time.”

March, his face set in harsh lines, rode part of the way off with Malcolm. “When Billy insisted Ompteda follow Alten’s order to form line, Ompteda stared at him as though he’d received a death sentence. After a moment he said that then he would try to save the lives of his two nephews. Fourteen and fifteen.”

“Did they survive?”

“Yes, but Ompteda and dozens of others didn’t. And God knows how many were taken prisoner.”

“Try to keep him steady, March. It’s all you can do.”

March nodded. “The others?”

He meant the rest of the “family,” Wellington’s staff from the Peninsula. “Fitzroy’s fine,” Malcolm said. “I just saw him with the duke. I saw Gordon about an hour ago rallying some Hanoverians and Canning half an hour or so before that. I saw Freemantle and Davenport some time after the cavalry charge. The time starts to blur.”

March gave a brief nod.

“Your brothers?” Malcolm asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen George since the start of the battle.” George Lennox was also an aide-de-camp to Wellington.

“I haven’t, either. I can only hope Father and William have the wit to keep out of fire. Edgar?”

“I haven’t seen him since this morning.”

On the way to deliver another message to Sir Colin Halkett, Malcolm turned his head to see a French cuirassier galloping straight at him. He dashed into a nearby square, which opened to receive him, then quickly drew closed. The ranks were thinned, scarcely two deep now. Inside, red-coated men lay on the ground, some twisted in an agony of death, some groaning with wounds. A man in his shirtsleeves bent over them.

“Geoff.” Malcolm swung down from Perdita.

Geoffrey Blackwell’s gaze skimmed over Malcolm as he finished tying a bandage round the arm of a young private. “Are you–”

“Unhurt.” Malcolm dropped down beside Blackwell. “Just delivering messages.”

“A lot of Wellington’s message deliverers have lost their lives today.” Blackwell cast a glance round the square. “I’d give a great deal to have Suzanne here.”

“So would I.” Malcolm shook his head. “Odd. A man should want to protect his wife from this.”

“Not a man who knows his wife as well as you do.” Blackwell crawled over to an ensign who was curled on his side, his ribs exposed. “Let’s have a look at you, lad.”

“Shall I stay?” Malcolm asked.

“Get your message delivered. I’ll manage.”

A quarter hour later, Malcolm drew up beside Wellington and Fitzroy. “Billy ordered another line attack. Or rather Alten ordered it, but Billy backed him up.”

Wellington grimaced. “Ney’s going to come straight at our center now La Haye Sainte has fallen. And we don’t have the heavy cavalry left to oppose him. If–”

A hail of sniper fire came from La Haye Sainte. “A bit hot,” Wellington murmured. And then, in a different tone, “Fitzroy?”

Fitzroy was clutching his right arm. Malcolm grabbed his friend as he swayed in the saddle. “I’ll be all right, sir,” Fitzroy murmured, face drained of color, blood spurting from his arm.

“So you will when you’ve seen a surgeon,” Wellington said. “Get him behind the lines, Malcolm.”

***

Malcolm returned from taking Fitzroy behind the lines only to be dispatched by the duke with a message for Lord Edward Somerset, Fitzroy’s elder brother, whose brigade had played a prominent role in the cavalry charge. He found Lord Edward by the side of the road with only two squadrons. “Pressed into service, Rannoch?” he asked, lifting his hand to shield his eyes against the slanting rays of the sun.

“Wellington’s running short of aides-de-camp,” Malcolm said. “Fitzroy took a bad shot to the arm. But he was conscious and in good spirits when I got him off the field.”

Edward drew in and released his breath. “Thanks.”

Malcolm held out his message. “Where’s your brigade?”

Edward glanced at the few men surrounding him. “Here,” he replied.

Malcolm returned to Wellington to find him riding among the Brunswickers, attempting to rally the younger troops. Cannon and pistol smoke choked the air and bullets whistled by. Alexander Gordon had pulled his horse up beside the duke. “For God’s sake, sir, you’re an open target. This isn’t fit for you.”

Wellington wheeled Copenhagen round. “It’s work that needs to be done, Gordon. Oh, Malcolm, good, I need you–”

The sound of a ball connecting with flesh interrupted him. Gordon tumbled from the saddle. Malcolm flung himself down beside his friend. Gordon’s leg was a mess of blood and torn flesh.

Gordon seemed to have lost consciousness, but as Malcolm slid his arm beneath his shoulders he opened his eyes. “Glad you know about Stuart’s ball at least. Wouldn’t want us to part enemies.”

“Don’t be a damned fool,” Malcolm said, lifting Gordon in his arms.

Two men with a stretcher arrived to take Gordon from the field. Wellington looked after his aide-de-camp for a moment with drawn brows, then thrust a paper into Malcolm’s hand. “For the Prince of Orange.”

Malcolm nodded and turned Perdita. Men and horses littered the ground, wounded, dying, dead. Bullets sang through the air, shells exploded, cannon rumbled. Beneath his coat, his sweat-soaked shirt was plastered to his skin. The smell of blood and powder, the screams of men and horses, the sight of gaping wounds and blown-off limbs had become monotonous reality. His own wounds from the past few days were a dull throbbing on the edge of his consciousness. He steered Perdita round two dead dragoons sprawled over the body of a horse with the lower part of its face shot off. Perdita was breathing hard, her sides damp with sweat, but she pressed on, surefooted and remarkably calm in the chaos. Malcolm patted her neck. With the part of his mind that could still think beyond the moment, he felt a flash of regret that he hadn’t left her in Brussels and ridden a borrowed horse.

At last he caught sight of March through the smoke.

“Malcolm! Glad you’re still alive.”

“Gordon took a hellish shot to the leg.” Malcolm said. “And I think Fitzroy’s going to lose his arm.”

March squeezed his eyes shut. His face was bone pale and smeared with blood.

“Where’s Slender Billy?” Malcolm asked. “I have a message from the duke.”

March jerked his head to the right. Then his gaze fastened on a lone rider approaching down the line. “I think that’s Canning.” He raised a hand in greeting.

Malcolm turned his gaze in the direction March was looking. Canning saw them and lifted his hand in acknowledgment. A moment later, grapeshot hit him in the stomach, and he fell from the saddle.

Malcolm and March touched their heels to their horses. Canning pushed himself up on one elbow as they swung down beside him. Pain glazed his eyes and blood seeped through his coat. His mouth twisted with the effort at speech. “The duke,” he said in a choked voice. “Is he safe?”

“Unhurt. I just saw him.” Malcolm slid an arm beneath Canning’s shoulders.

“God bless him,” Canning gasped. He turned his head toward March, who was kneeling at his other side, and reached for his hand, then looked between March and Malcolm. “God bless you both,” he murmured, and went still, the light gone from his eyes.

March drew a breath that shuddered with grief and rage. When he lifted his gaze to Malcolm, tears glistened in the blood and dirt on his face. “Curzon died in much the same way. Only a few– God, I can’t say how many hours ago it was. Damn this day.”

The ground shook with the pounding of horse hoofs. The Prince of Orange flung himself down beside them. “Malcolm. March. Who– Oh God.” He put his fingers to Canning’s face. For a moment, they were all back in the Peninsula, laughing heedlessly over a flask of wine, danger quickening their blood but death still impossible to imagine.

“He’s gone, sir.” Malcolm touched the prince’s arm. “We have to go.”

Billy turned toward him. “We can’t just–”

A bullet whistled through the air. Malcolm grabbed the prince but not quite quickly enough. Billy collapsed against him, blooding spurting from his shoulder.

“Sir,” Malcolm said. “Billy? Can you hear me?”

“Yes, of course.” The prince struggled to sit up, then fell against Malcolm again, his breath quick and uneven. “I shall be quite all right in a moment.”

“I’ll get someone to carry you off the field, sir.” March released Canning’s hand, hesitated a moment, then plucked the Orange cockade from Billy’s hat. “Wouldn’t do to have you recognized.”

Billy gave a weak smile. Blood dripped from his shoulder but not so quickly an artery had been struck.

March looked toward the trees from which the shot had come. “What the devil were the French doing shooting from there?”

Malcolm glanced at the trees, now still. “I don’t think it was the French.”

***

Harry Davenport pulled his horse up beside Wellington. “The 5th division is reduced from four thousand to closer to four hundred, sir. They have little chance of keeping their post.”

Wellington cast a glance toward La Haye Sainte, from which the French were now peppering the Allies with musket balls. “We have no reinforcements to send. Will they stand?”

“I think so.”

Wellington shot him a brief smile. “Never one to exaggerate, are you, Davenport? Tell them I shall stand with them until the last man.” The duke tugged his watch from his pocket and cast a glance at the sky. “It’s night or Blücher,” he muttered. Then he thrust a paper at Davenport. “All right, off with you. This is for Maitland. Bonaparte’s about to send in the Guard.”

At least Maitland was still alive and might make it home to pretty Sarah Lennox. Three generals had been killed and five carried from the field that Harry knew of. He had begun to ask, “Who commands here?” whenever he rode up to a brigade with a message.

As he bent over Claudius’s neck, he heard a stirring along the Allied line. A glance across the field made the reason plain. As Wellington had said, Bonaparte was at last sending in the Imperial Guard. The legendary elite troops, never defeated in battle, marched forward to the beating of drums, gleaming bayonets fixed. They moved over the undulating ground through a rippling curtain of cannon smoke, hidden for moments by the ground or the smoke only to emerge seemingly stronger and more implacable than ever.

By the time Harry had delivered his message to General Maitland, chaos engulfed the field again. The Allied infantry waited for the French columns in line, some of them, such as Maitland’s men, lying flat on the ground to conceal their presence. Cannon thundered on both sides. Shells whistled through the air, exploded, or lay spitting and hissing on the muddy, bloody ground.

The French closed to within forty feet. “Now, Maitland!” Wellington’s voice rang out over the cacophony of drums and shots. “Now is your time! Up, Guards! Make ready! Fire!”

Maitland’s men sprang up from the ground and fired. Drumbeats, musket fire, and screams choked the air. Caught up in the confusion, Harry saw a familiar face in the smoky mêlée. “Ashton.” He edged Claudius toward his brother-in-law. “What are you doing among the infantry?”

“Sent with a message. We’re running short of staff officers.” Ashton’s voice sagged with exhaustion. Blood and dirt crusted his coat and his face glistened with sweat. “Glad you’re alive, Davenport.”

“It isn’t over yet.”

“I’m glad–” Ashton hesitated. “I know if I fall you’ll help Cordelia look after Robbie. Thank you.”

“Look, Ashton–”

But Ashton had already ridden off. Through the smoke, Harry saw a musket shot wing his brother-in-law’s horse, saw Ashton tumble from the saddle and roll downhill. Harry urged Claudius forward in time to see a French grenadier rip through the cannon smoke, bearing down on Ashton with a bayonet. Harry fired off a shot, but he was at an awkward angle and it only grazed the grenadier’s cheek. As Harry fought his way forward, knowing he was too far to save Julia’s husband, a French infantry officer hurled himself forward and took the bayonet thrust. Ashton fired his pistol from the ground, bringing down the grenadier.

It was only when Harry flung himself down beside Ashton that he recognized the soldier on the ground beside him who had taken the bayonet thrust. Anthony Chase. In a blue coat. There was blue on both sides today, but that coat was unmistakably a French uniform.

“What the devil–” Ashton pushed himself up on his knees and bent over his childhood friend.

“Ask Davenport and Rannoch,” Tony gasped. Blood dripped from his mouth and his eyes were already clouding. “No time to explain. Listen, Ashton. Look after Violet.”

“But–”

“She wants you. She always has. And I think you want her.”

“I don’t–”

But as Ashton spoke, Tony’s gaze froze, and his head flopped to the side. Ashton stared down at him for a long moment, then lifted a hand and closed his former friend’s eyes. “Why in God’s name–”

Harry touched his shoulder. “Explanations if we survive this, Ashton.” Musket fire sounded on either side of them. They seemed to be in a gap between the French attack on the Allied right and another attack farther to the east. Ashton’s horse had galloped down the hill toward them. Harry caught its bridle. The animal had a graze in its side but was otherwise unhurt. “Get back in the saddle before you’re trampled.” Harry pulled Ashton to his feet and swung back up onto Claudius. No possibility of moving Tony’s body in the chaos.

Allied soldiers were advancing down the slope. Harry lost sight of Ashton as Allied and French soldiers spilled in from either side. Shouts of “Vive l’empereur,” “Form up,” and “Oranje boven” cut the air. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw a flicker of movement in the smoke to his left. Pain exploded in his chest. He tumbled from his horse and gasped Cordelia’s name into the mud.

***

The Imperial Guard had broken. Cries of “la Garde recule” sounded from the French ranks. Allied cavalry thundered down the ridge. Allied infantry followed. Malcolm, who had just delivered a message to Sir John Colborne, watched the Allied army, which had fought a defensive battle most of the day, at last advance. Three hussars galloped past him. A gust of wind stirred the smoke, and he caught sight of a muddy form in a dark blue coat sprawled on the slope below. A staff officer. A familiar-looking brown horse nuzzled the fallen man’s arm. Malcolm urged Perdita forward. Brown hair. Something mocking and instantly recognizable about the small bit of profile showing. Malcolm swung down from Perdita, reached for Harry Davenport’s wrist, and felt a faint pulse.

He turned Davenport over. Blood streamed from a wound in his chest. He gave a groan, then seemed to lose consciousness. Malcolm lifted him as carefully as he could.

Boots thudded against the ground. Malcolm looked up to see a chasseur leveling a musket at him.

***

They had lost. Raoul O’Roarke had known that even before he rode in the Guard’s advance at Marshal Ney’s side. They had seen troops approaching from the east. On Napoleon’s orders, la Bédoyère had shouted that it was Grouchy bringing French reinforcements, but Raoul had been sure from the first that it was the Prussians, come at last to reinforce Wellington.

Still he fought, even now the seemingly invincible Guard had been pushed back. He heard shouts of “nous sommes trahis” from French soldiers who had realized the Prussians were at hand. Ney, his fifth horse shot from under him, wielded his sword with grim determination. For Raoul, the world had shrunk down to the few feet of ground in front of him. He slashed at a British hussar and saw a man in a brown civilian coat kneeling on the ground a few feet away. He held a fallen comrade in the dark blue coat of one of Wellington’s staff officers. Good God. A chill went through Raoul. It was Malcolm Rannoch. And Raoul wasn’t the only one who had seen him. A chasseur moved toward Malcolm, musket leveled.

Raoul didn’t hesitate. He lifted his pistol and shot the chasseur in the back.

***

Georgiana and Sarah returned home in the still warm evening air, escorted by the footman who had come with them from the Rue de la Blanchisserie. Suzanne helped David and Simon settle a Prussian private they’d brought back from the road to Waterloo, gave some laudanum to Henri Rivaux, who was tossing restlessly, assisted Cordelia with changing Angus’s bandages. She went upstairs to look in on the children. They were all sharing a room tonight, as they’d seemed comforted by being together. She found Colin stirring fretfully, his blankets pushed down round his feet. She straightened the covers and stroked his hair until he flopped against the pillows. She touched her fingers to Livia’s and Robbie’s hair, surprised at how steadied she felt.

When she stepped into the passage raised voices assailed her from the hall below. She hurried to the stair head, pulse quickened. The light of the chandelier and lamps and candles flickered over the scene below. Christophe and two of the other wounded men were on their feet, cheering and slapping hands with the footmen. Aline was hugging Rachel. Addison was embracing Blanca. Cordelia, hair falling from its pins, had her arms round David and Simon.

“Wonderful news.” David caught sight of Suzanne and moved to the base of the stairs, a surprisingly youthful grin splitting his face. “The French are in retreat. We’ve won.”

Such simple words. And it was over. The fighting, the struggle, the betrayals. All so she could stand at the head of a flight of mahogany stairs and hear the end of everything she had fought for pronounced by her husband’s grinning best friend.

Suzanne ran down the stairs and flung her arms round David, burying her face in his shoulder. He swung her round in an exuberant circle. By the time he set her back on her feet, she had recovered her self-command. “Tell me. Where did you hear?”

“Stuart just sent word round. He had the news from Alten.”

Suzanne shook her head. She could still not make sense of it. “I thought General Alten had been brought in wounded.”

“He ordered one of his aides-de-camp to send word to him as soon as the battle was decided,” Simon said.

Suzanne hugged Simon, holding on a little tighter than usual. “What else have you learned?”

“Nothing about anyone we know.”

She nodded and reached out to hug Cordelia and then Aline. Rachel had dropped back down beside Henri, who was sitting up against the pillows, a smile creasing his face.

Simon and Cordelia opened champagne and handed it round in a variety of drinking vessels. Suzanne sipped champagne from a teacup, laughed, grinned, said and did everything that seemed appropriate.

Cordelia caught her eye. “I know. Such amazing news, and it won’t mean anything to me if they don’t come back.”

“Quite.”

“Drink some more champagne.”

With the giddy atmosphere in the hall, it was a moment before Suzanne realized the door had opened. She turned round to see her husband standing just inside the door. She ran to him and flung her arms round him with the force of everything coursing through her.

Malcolm hugged her to him hard, but he spoke over her shoulder to David, Simon, and Addison. “Davenport’s in the cart outside, badly wounded. I’m going to need help getting him in.”

Suzanne drew back to see that Cordelia had taken two steps forward, parchment pale but all questions suppressed.

“It’s serious,” Malcolm said, meeting Cordelia’s gaze. “But not beyond hope.”

Cordelia gave a quick nod and snatched up a lamp. “Put him in my room.”

Malcolm, David, and Simon carried Harry Davenport upstairs, while Addison saw to Perdita and Claudius, who had somehow survived the battle. Cordelia held the lamp to light the way. Suzanne set about gathering up lint, brandy, and clean cloths. Aline brought a bowl of warm water from the kitchen.

By the time they came into Cordelia’s room, the men had got Harry’s boots and coat off. He was moaning and twisting his head against the pillows but seemed unconscious of his surroundings.

“Bless you for the water.” Cordelia dampened a cloth and sponged her husband’s mud-caked face.

“He fell facedown,” Malcolm said. “And it was some time before I got to him. I fear at least one horse trampled him. Blackwell says he has two broken ribs, but it’s the wound in his chest that’s really concerning. Blackwell said to tell you to change the dressing.”

Suzanne pushed back the remnants of Harry’s shirt, which had already been sliced neatly in two, probably by Geoffrey Blackwell. She peeled back the dressing. Cordelia sucked in her breath. The wound was deep and perilously close to Harry’s heart. But at least it was leaking clean blood. She cleaned it with brandy and applied a fresh dressing. He twitched but didn’t waken from his feverish state. Cordelia held him steady, as Rachel had done earlier with Henri.

Suzanne bent over Cordelia and put her arms round her shoulders. “I’ll have some tea sent up, and I’ll be just downstairs should you need me. I’ve seen men much farther gone make a complete recovery.”

Cordelia squeezed Suzanne’s fingers. She didn’t ask how many men in a similar state Suzanne had seen die, though the question lurked in her eyes.

Suzanne slipped out into the passage. Malcolm followed and pulled the door to behind him. For the first time since he’d come into the house, Suzanne looked properly at him. In the light from the candle sconces, she saw that his face was mud spattered and covered with a day’s stubble. There was a red- brown smear just below his jaw. She put her hand up to it.

“I’m all right.” He curled his fingers round her own. “I don’t think it’s mine.”

“We heard the battle’s won,” she said, carefully calibrating a note of bright cheerfulness tempered by the horrors all round them.

Malcolm’s mouth twisted. “At an intolerable cost.”

The candlelight bounced off his eyes, revealing a hell starker than all the horrors of their years in the Peninsula. “Who?” she asked.

He swallowed. “Easier to ask who survived. Canning died of a stomach wound. De Lancey fell and last I heard no one had found him. Gordon lost his leg. He’s in Wellington’s bedchamber at Headquarters, and I doubt he’ll last the night.”

She sucked in her breath as though she’d received a blow to the gut. Gordon’s infectious laughter echoed in her ears. She saw Canning’s smile, heard Gordon’s ironic voice, had a clear image of De Lancey bending over his young wife’s hand. “Fitzroy?” she asked, holding her breath for the answer.

“He lost his arm. But Blackwell thinks he’ll recover.”

She squeezed her eyes shut. “March?”

“He was alive last I saw. He got Slender Billy off the field.”

“The prince was wounded? Is he–”

“Alive at last report. He took a shoulder wound from a sniper. Who I think was aiming for me.”

“Tony Chase?”

“So I suspect. Though I think any number of people would have quite cheerfully put a bullet through Billy in the course of the day. The damn fool ordered his men to form line instead of square again. It was like giving them a death sentence. The number who fell–”

“Malcolm.” She tightened her fingers round his own. “Harry was right last night. Billy’s failures shouldn’t be on your conscience.”

“Countless pointless deaths. If I’d been truly brave I’d have bashed him over the head and dragged him from the field.” He caught her other hand in his, so tight she could feel the pressure of bone on bone. “The road from Waterloo is clogged with dead and dying men. Some were crushed under overturned wagons. Some are lying among the trees on the side of the road, unlikely ever to emerge. The number I passed without stopping–”

“Darling.” She pulled her fingers free of his grip and took his face between her hands. “You can’t save everyone.”

“Of course not. It would be hubris to think so. Not to mention idiocy.”

“But you still feel guilty when you can’t.”

He shook his head. “Wellington came through unscathed. But Blackwell told me Uxbridge had his leg shattered just at the end of the battle, when his horse was scarce more than a hand’s breadth from Wellington’s. He’ll lose his leg.” He drew a breath. “I was almost done for myself. When I was rescuing Davenport. A chasseur was coming straight at me.”

A chill shot through her. “What happened?”

“Someone shot him in the back. Whoever it was, I’ll be forever grateful to him.”

She wrapped her arms round him and pressed her face into the hollow of his throat. “So will I.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Excerpted from Imperial Scandal by TERESA GRANT Copyright © 2012 by Tracy Grant. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Imperial Scandal

Wellington’s staff officers were some of my favorite real historical characters in Imperial Scandal. Here’s a glimpse of them interacting with Malcolm Rannoch and the other fictional characters on the night of 17 June 1815, the night before the Battle of Waterloo.

“Malcolm. Davenport.” Fitzroy Somerset, as usual, was bent over a pile of paperwork by the light of a single, guttering candle in the inn at Waterloo that served as Wellington’s temporary Headquarters. “Have you brought food?”

“And wine.” Malcolm pulled a bottle out from under his sodden greatcoat and set it on the gateleg table. Davenport did likewise. “Where’s the duke?”

“Asleep. I hope. I’m to call him between two and three so he can write letters. He’s been waiting all evening for news from Blücher.”

“Still nothing?” Davenport asked.

Fitzroy shook his head. “But Müffling continues to insist Blücher can and will support us tomorrow. So much depends on it.” A rare frown creased Fitzroy’s face.

“Have a glass of wine.” Malcolm, having extracted the cork from one of the bottles, splashed wine into a glass and held it out to Fitzroy. “For once you almost look worried. Which is enough to send your friends into a panic.”

Fitzroy grinned and accepted the glass.

Malcolm stripped off his greatcoat. “I sent your message on to Harriet in Antwerp. Suzette had seen the Duchess of Richmond, who had word that Harriet’s well, as is the baby.”

Fitzroy smiled. “Thanks.” He took a sip of wine. “The duke’s marked out a position at Mont-Saint-Jean. He would have preferred the ground on the opposite ridge at La Belle Alliance, but De Lancey thought it too extended. The emperor’s taken up the ground at La Belle Alliance. Boney had his batteries fire off some shots to try to smoke out our position, and some of our lads had the bad sense to fire back and give themselves away.”

“And so the duke’s in a temper?” Davenport picked up a glass of wine.

“He was. He’s calmed down a bit. Or he’s so busy he’s forgot he was angry.”

“You back, Malcolm?” Canning strolled into the room, yawning. “Still don’t have the wit to see when you’re well out of it?”

Malcolm took a sip of wine. “Can’t stand the thought of you lot having all the fun.”

“Ha. You don’t believe that for a moment. I’ve heard you talk about war. Poor me a glass of that wine, will you? The beds are too damned hard for sleeping.”

Alexander Gordon followed Canning into the room. “Is that wine? Always said you were a good man, Malcolm. For a diplomat.” He spoke in a cheerful voice. Their quarrel over why he had left Stuart’s ball might never have been. He moved to the table and accepted a glass of wine from Malcolm. “Lord, will the rain never let up? This is going to be the slowest battle ever, with all of us slogging through the mud.”

Fitzroy looked up from his paperwork. “There’s still time for it to dry out.”

Gordon dropped into a chair with his glass of wine. “You’re a damned optimist, Somerset.”

“If by that you mean I’m not given to exaggerated flights of fancy, I’ll concede the point.” Fitzroy held a lump of red sealing wax over his candle.

“You wrote to Harriet that we and the Prussians had repulsed the French.”

Fitzroy dripped the melting wax onto his folded letter. “The French didn’t overrun us.”

“What would you call our retreat today?” Gordon asked. “Advancing backward?”

Fitzroy pressed a seal into the wax. “When you’re married, Gordon, you’ll understand.”

“Malcolm is married.” Canning looked up from his wine to come to Gordon’s defense. “You wouldn’t catch him telling such a farrago to Suzanne.”

Gordon snorted. “Suzanne wouldn’t believe it.”

“Suzanne’s lived through battles before,” Fitzroy said. “Though she always had nerves of steel as I recall,” he added, looking at Malcolm. “Even when you first brought her to Lisbon.”

“She’d already been through a great deal,” Malcolm said. Even more, he had learned last autumn in Vienna, than he had at first supposed.

Gordon stretched his feet out toward the fire. “I miss Spain. Battle seemed friendlier in Spain.”

“By the way,” Canning said, “I saw Harry Smith earlier. With Lambert’s brigade from Ghent and not long before that from America.”

“Is Juana with him?” Malcolm asked. Juana Smith, like Suzanne, was a Spanish war bride.

“Yes, though he’s sending her to Brussels in the morning.”

Davenport, who had been leaning against the wall, moved toward Fitzroy. “Could I beg a sheet of writing paper?”

“Certainly. Ink as well.”

Davenport took the paper and ink and retired to a chair in the corner by the fireplace.

The door opened again, letting in a gust of wind, a hail of raindrops, and Geoffrey Blackwell. “Damnable weather. It’s all I can do to keep my instruments clean.”

“Sit down by the fire.” Canning got up to offer Blackwell his chair.

“No, no.” Blackwell waved a hand. “I may have nearly thirty years on you, Canning, but I’m not quite decrepit. Besides, have to get back to my patients. I have a good half dozen who’ll pull through if we can stave off wound fever. Only came to see if Malcolm was back.”

“Allie’s holding up well,” Malcolm said.

Blackwell met his gaze and colored slightly. “Thank you.”

“David and Simon are in Brussels. They and Suzanne and Allie and Cordelia have the house full of wounded soldiers. You trained Suzette and Allie well.”

Blackwell gave a crisp nod. “Glad to hear it. God knows there must be need enough of nursing in Brussels.”

Davenport crossed to Malcolm and held out a folded piece of paper. “Would you mind keeping this and giving it to Cordelia? In the event I don’t return.”

Malcolm met his gaze for a moment. Davenport’s expression was as armored as ever, but his blue eyes looked as though they could be smashed with a word. “Of course,” Malcolm said, and tucked the letter into his pocket.

“Thank you.” Davenport was silent for a moment. “It’s a damnable thing to find, on the eve of what’s probably going to be the worst battle in which one’s ever participated, that on the whole one would prefer not to die.”

“I can think of another Harry who couldn’t sleep before a battle against the French. He came through well enough.”

Davenport grinned. “ ’Fraid I’m not up to a St. Crispin’s Day speech.”

“I don’t think it’s much Wellington’s style, either.”

By the fireplace, Gordon let out a laugh.

“You’re impossible,” Canning said. “I don’t know why your friends put up with you.”

“My fellow staff officers don’t have any choice.”

“You have friends outside the staff. In fact, it’s disgusting how many friends you have.”

“Most of them don’t have any choice, either. Campbell and Flemming grew up with me–”

“Will Flemming?” Malcolm asked.

For a moment Gordon went still. Then he gave a deliberate smile, a trifle too broad. “Yes, he and Jack Campbell and I grew up on neighboring estates. Those are the friends one can never get rid of, don’t you know.”

“Quite.” Malcolm stared at Gordon. Between them Gordon and Canning had given him a new piece of the puzzle. He reached for his greatcoat–still damp, but at least it would keep the rain off the rest of his clothes–and moved to the door.

“Where are you off to?” Davenport asked.

“To have a talk with George Chase.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Excerpted from Imperial Scandal by TERESA GRANT Copyright © 2012 by Tracy Grant. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Imperial Scandal

One of history’s most famous social engagements was two hundred years ago today. 15 June 1815. The ball given by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels at which Wellington got word that Napoleon’s forces were on the move and Napoleon had “hoodwinked: him by attacking in a different direction from what he had anticipated. Officers rode to battle in ball dress (Waterloo was not the next day but 18 June, with the fighting at Quatre Bras in the interim).

In honor of the anniversary, here is an excerpt of how the scene plays out in Imperial Scandal.

When the meal came to an end, the spell that had held the company under some semblance of illusion that they were at an ordinary ball well and truly broke. Malcolm was claimed by Stuart, Davenport by Colonel Canning. Raoul met Suzanne’s gaze briefly across the supper room. It was, she knew, the only good-bye they would have.

By the time Suzanne and Cordelia stepped back into the hall it was a scene of chaos. Soldiers calling for their horses, girls darting across the floor, tripping over their skirts, shouting the names of their beloveds, parents scanning the crowd for sons. The musicians had begun to play again in the ballroom, but the strains of the waltz vied with the call of bugles and the shrill song of fifes from outside. A broken champagne glass scrunched under Suzanne’s satin slipper. By the dining room door a young captain stood holding the hands of a girl in orange blossom crêpe. A little farther off a girl in pink muslin had sunk to the floor, weeping into her hands. Suzanne felt Cordelia go still beside her.

A man in a rifleman’s uniform brushed past them, a girl in white on his arm. Suzanne suppressed a start at the sight of those finely molded features. Then she forced her gaze away. The ghosts of her past seemed irrelevant in the chaos of the present.

“Suzanne.” Georgiana touched her arm. “I’m going to help March pack up his things.” She glanced toward the ballroom. “I can’t believe people are so heartless as to still be dancing.”

Cordelia drew a harsh breath. “I wouldn’t be too hard on them. It may be their last chance.”

***

“Malcolm. Glad I found you.” Stuart gripped Malcolm’s arm, his face uncharacteristically grim. He jerked his head toward the Duke of Richmond’s study. Malcolm followed the ambassador into the room to find Wellington and the Duke of Richmond already there, amid the ranks of books and the smell of old leather and dusty paper. Richmond was spreading a map out on the desk.

“Napoleon has humbugged me by God!” Wellington glanced at the door as Malcolm and Stuart stepped into the room. “He has gained twenty-four hours’ march on me. And separated us from the Prussians.”

“What do you intend doing?” the Duke of Richmond asked. He was a soldier himself, in command of the reserves in Brussels. Three of his sons were in the army, and Malcolm knew Richmond himself had been displeased not to receive an appointment on Wellington’s staff.

Wellington moved to the desk and stared down at the map. “I have ordered the army to concentrate at Quatre Bras, but we shan’t stop him there, and if so,” he said, pressing his thumb down on the map, “I must fight him here.”

Malcolm moved to the duke’s side to see what he was pointing at. Wellington’s thumbnail rested on a small village called Waterloo.

***

“Rannoch.” Davenport fell in beside Malcolm outside the door of the duke’s study. “What did Hookey have to say?”

“That Bonaparte has humbugged him. He’s gained a day’s march on us and separated us from the Prussians.”

Davenport grimaced. “Exile apparently hasn’t dulled Boney’s brilliance. It looks as though I’m back to being a staff officer. I’m off to Fleurus with a message. I don’t know if I’ll get back to Brussels before the fighting starts. Tony Chase–”

“I’ll talk to him.” Malcolm nearly said more, but he wasn’t quite ready to share the suspicions roiling in his head. “You need to find Lady Cordelia and make your farewells.”

Two cavalry officers pushed past them. A girl in blue ran up and seized one by the arm. Davenport glanced at them for a moment, then turned his gaze back to Malcolm. “Look, Rannoch.” His voice was clipped. “I know Cordelia. I’ve no illusions she’ll go home or even to Antwerp.”

“I shouldn’t think so. Suzanne wouldn’t, either.”

A smile of acknowledgment tugged at Davenport’s mouth. “And Wellington wouldn’t thank me for considering defeat. But I have a healthy respect for Napoleon Bonaparte. Should the unthinkable happen–”

Malcolm gripped his friend’s shoulder. He had many acquaintances but few friends. He realized Davenport had become one of them. “I’ll make sure Lady Cordelia and your daughter get to safety. My word on it.”

Davenport met his gaze, for once with no hint of mockery. “Thank you.”

Davenport strode off in search of his wife. Malcolm spared a brief thought for what it would be like to say farewell to Suzanne with such a nightmare of estrangement between them. Then he pushed the thought to where personal thoughts had to go at times like these and glanced round the chaos of the hall for Anthony Chase. Soldiers pushed past, white-gloved fingers clutched scarlet-coated arms, shouts for horses and calls to husbands, wives, sweethearts, children, parents cut the air. Malcolm saw a flash of green and a bright gold head near the front door and pushed his way through the crowd, only to find it was a lieutenant in the 95th rather than Chase.

He turned back toward the ballroom and saw a familiar face. “March. Are you off?”

“When I’ve seen my parents,” Lord March said. “Georgy helped me pack.”

“You haven’t seen Tony Chase by any chance, have you?”

“Not since supper, I think. Probably slipped off to say good-bye to his latest mistress.” March grimaced with distaste. “I’ve always thought Jane Chase deserved better.”

“I won’t argue with you there. Though one can’t deny Chase’s bravery at Truxhillo.”

“No, though if you ask me half of his success was the French being so bloody incompetent.”

“I was in Andalusia at the time,” Malcolm said. “I think the accounts I’ve heard were rather exaggerated.”

March frowned. “It’s odd. Tony Chase asked me about that.”

“About the accounts being exaggerated?”

“Where you were at the time, of all things. Seemed to think you were on a mission near Truxhillo.”

Malcolm felt his pulse quicken. “When was this?”

“Fortnight or so ago. Wellington’s ball for Blücher perhaps? One of the endless round of parties we’ve been attending. The days have a way of running together.”

Malcolm gripped the other man’s arm. “Thank you, March. Look after yourself.”

“Always do, old fellow.”

Malcolm scanned the hall for Tony Chase again. Finding him had suddenly become a matter of pressing urgency.

***

“Harry.” Cordelia skidded over fallen roses and shards of broken champagne glasses on the hall floor. “Thank God. I was afraid you’d left.”

“Cordy.” He was standing by the base of the stairs, drawing on his gloves. She thought, inconsequentially, that he must have had them off since supper. Absurd the way one’s mind worked at such moments. “You’re staying in Brussels?” he asked.

“Don’t try to argue me out of–”

He gave a faint smile. “I wouldn’t dream of it. This is no time to waste one’s breath. But in the event it becomes necessary, Rannoch can help you get back to England.”

She nodded, swallowing her surprise.

Harry continued pulling on his gloves. “Should I– In the event I don’t see you again, my man of business has all the necessary documents. Alford-Smith in St. Albans Lane. There’s a portion for you and everything else is in trust for Livia with you as trustee. Neither of you should want for anything.”

She stared at him. It was as though she was looking at a stranger, and yet she sensed he had never spoken so genuinely. “Harry– I didn’t expect–”

He tugged the second glove smooth. “What did you think I’d do? Support you and Livia in life and abandon you in death?”

“No, of course not. But I wish you wouldn’t talk about–”

“Merely taking precautions. I’ve lived through a tiresome number of battles, I daresay I shall live through this one.”

Beneath his easy tone and cool gaze something belied his words. She looked at him for a moment, every nerve stretched taut beneath her skin. This could be the last time she would ever see him. She reached up and curled her gloved fingers behind his neck.

He stiffened beneath her touch. “Cordy–”

“I have no right to ask you to come back to me, Harry. But for God’s sake, please come back.” She drew his head down and pressed her mouth to his.

For a moment he went completely still. Then his arms closed about her, as though he would meld her to him. His mouth tasted of wine. His hair was soft beneath her gloved fingers, his hands taut and urgent through the net and silk of her gown, his mouth desperate yet oddly tender against her own.

When he raised his head, his eyes were like dark glass. He stared down at her with the wonder and fear of a man who has stepped into an alien world. “I’m sorry. I didn’t–”

She put her hand against the side of his face. Her fingers trembled. “Thank you. That is, I didn’t mean to–”

He seized her hand and pressed it to his lips with a fervor equal to his kiss. “Tell Livia–”

“You can tell her yourself when you come back.”

He gave a twisted smile. “Look after yourself, Cordy.”

She swallowed. “That’s one thing I’ve always been good at.”

***

A few couples were still waltzing in the ballroom. Cordelia found Suzanne beside a gilded table that held a porcelain bowl of wilting roses and a brace of candles dripping wax onto the marble tabletop.

“Did you find Harry?” Suzanne asked.

“He’s just left. You’re staying in Brussels?”

“Of course.”

Cordelia smiled, more relieved than she would care to admit to know she would have her friend to rely upon in what was to come. “I knew you could be depended upon. Livia and I will be at the Hôtel d’Angleterre.”

“Lady Caroline’s leaving?”

“Along with half the expatriates in Brussels. I can’t quarrel with her. But I feel compelled to stay.”

“Of course. But not in an hôtel. You and Livia must come to us.”

Cordelia shook her head. “That isn’t why I told you–”

“I know that. But it’s the logical solution.”

“It’s not just Livia and me. I’ve told Johnny I’ll take Robbie and his nurse in.”

“Aline’s coming to us as well. We have plenty of room.” Suzanne touched Cordelia’s arm. “You’ll be doing me a great favor. Malcolm is bound to be off on an errand, and God knows when he’ll be back. I’ll be going mad with worry, and I suspect you will as well.”

Cordelia looked at her for a moment, a dozen polite denials trembling on her lips. Then she said simply, “Thank you.”

“Splendid. I daresay–” Suzanne broke off as a tall, fair-haired man in a colonel’s uniform brushed past them.

The colonel went stock-still, his gaze locked on Suzanne’s. “Suz– Mrs. Rannoch.”

“Colonel Radley.” Suzanne’s voice was as icy as Cordelia had ever heard it. She turned to Cordelia and performed a quick introduction.

Radley inclined his head. He had an elegantly boned face and a self-assured blue gaze that implied he was quite aware of how handsome he was. But that confident gaze shifted over Suzanne as though she was a cipher he could not solve. “I’m off to join my regiment. Are you staying in Brussels?”

“Of course,” Suzanne said. “My husband’s here.”

“Your devotion continues to be remarkable.” Radley regarded Suzanne a moment longer, half- speculative, half-challenging. Then he nodded and moved off.

Cordelia adjusted the folds of her Grecian scarf. Suzanne Rannoch was a surprising woman, but Cordelia had never thought to find her friend playing out the equivalent of her own scene with Peregrine Waterford.

“I knew Frederick Radley in the Peninsula,” Suzanne said. “Before I married I Malcolm.” She gave a faint smile and looked directly into Cordelia’s eyes. “You aren’t the only one with ghosts, Cordy.”

***

Suzanne studied Malcolm’s face. “You’re not going home to change?”

He shook his head. “There’s no time. Richmond’s lending me a horse. I need to find Anthony Chase or at the very least warn his commanding officer. It’s not precisely a message I can trust to someone else.”

Beside them, a dragoon was pulling a flower from a girl’s gold ringlets, while a fresh-faced young Foot Guard lifted a dark-haired girl’s hand to his lips. Suzanne’s hands closed on her husband’s arms. “Be careful.”

A smile pulled at his mouth, the familiar, maddening smile he employed when going into danger without her. “I’m only delivering a message.”

“You’re looking for a man who means to kill you.”

“He won’t try to do it himself.”

“You don’t know what he’ll attempt if he’s driven to desperation.”

His gripped her shoulders. “I’ll try to be back tomorrow. I think it will be a day or so before anything decisive occurs.”

She leaned into him and put her mouth to his. His arms closed round her with the force of everything he couldn’t put into words. Bugle calls sounded in the distance. The French had gained valuable time. Something sang within her at the knowledge, and yet at the same time her heart twisted at the danger her husband faced.

He drew back and set his hands on her shoulders. “Should the news not be good, you should have plenty of time to get to Antwerp. I’ll find you there. Or back in England if necessary.”

She gave a quick nod. “Cordelia is coming to stay with me. Allie as well.”

“Good.” He hesitated a moment, then added, “There are still papers in the compartment in the bottom of my dispatch box. Where I told you to look when we were in Vienna. Travel documents, letters for Aunt Frances and David. And for you and Colin.”

A chill shot through the gauze and satin of her gown. “Malcolm–”

“In our line of work, it’s always wise to be prepared.”

She had letters for him and Colin as well, but Raoul had them in safekeeping. One in case she died and took her secrets to the grave, one in case she died and Malcolm had already learned the truth of her work. Since she’d married and become a mother she feared death as never before, but even more she feared a future in which she was gone and her husband and son hated her.

She reached up and kissed Malcolm again, branding him with a memory meant to survive whatever was to come.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Excerpted from Imperial Scandal by TERESA GRANT Copyright © 2012 by Tracy Grant. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

I’m looking forward to a weekend filled with a picnic, a visit to the local pumpkin patch, and lots of wrtiing time on my WIP (the final chapters have finally sorted themselves out in my head). But an email from a reader has me thinking back to Imperial Scandal. In this email, the reader asked me about the three alternate versions I had posted of a key scene between Suzanne/Mélanie and Raoul after Waterloo in which she tells him she is going to stop spying. When I posted the different versions I said that initially I had seen Suzette/Mel going to Raoul, despairing over the defeat, and sleeping with him one last time before she tells him she is going to stop working for him. My editor thought that Mel/Suzette’s actions in the scene might destroy reader sympathy for her. On reflection I agreed, and I like the way the scene ended up in the revision process. But I’m glad I got to write it the original way to see how that played out. In the course of the revision process, I also wrote a third version I wrote in the revision process.

The reader who emailed me recently wanted to know if in my own mind the scene still played out with Suzanne sleeping with Raoul. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but I realized no, as I’ve gone on to write the subsequent books, to me the version in the public book is what happened. If they had slept together, they’d both be carrying added guilt that would have to be dealt with (that guilt would make for some interesting complications, but it’s not as though there aren’t plenty of complications as it is).

Revisiting this was particularly interesting for me as Raoul plays a major role in my WIP and there are some important developments in the Suzanne/Malcolm/Raoul dynamic in the course of the story. I thought it would be interesting to post the three versions again and get readers takes on them. Do you like the way the scene played out in the published book or do you prefer one of the alternate versions? If one of the alternate versions had taken place, how might things be different now for Suzanne, Malcolm, and Raoul?

This is the original scene:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw the desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. She closed the distance between them, took his face between her hands, and kissed him full on the lips for the first time since her marriage.
For a moment he went still as ice beneath her touch. Then he closed his arms hard round her.
Sensation took over, driving out the demons of the past seventy-two hours. The past two and a half years. She curled her fingers behind his neck, seeking oblivion with the desperation of one on the edge of madness.
His lips slid to her cheek, the line of her jaw. She tugged at the folds of his cravat.
Air rushed between them. One moment his arms were round her, his mouth against the hollow of her jaw. The next he was he was holding her by the shoulders, his gaze opaque. “Think, querida.”
“No.” Thinking was the one thing she didn’t want. She dragged him back to her, fumbling with the buttons on his waistcoat.
She felt the breath shudder through him. Then he crushed her to him and his mouth was against her own again, urgent and desperate. She stumbled to the narrow bed and pulled him down beside her, keeping her mouth against his so he couldn’t utter any more foolish protests. She pushed his waistcoat from his shoulders, and then she had to pull back enough to tug his shirt over his head. By that time he’d found the strings on her gown. They fell back against the scratchy blanket in a tangle of half-removed clothes and urgent, clumsy fingers.
Coherent thought mercifully fled. She lost herself in the scrape of fabric, the brush of skin against skin, the pressure of his hands, the force of his lips.
When thought inevitably forced its way back, she was lying on his chest, her head pillowed on his collarbone, his fingers twining in her hair.
She stayed still for a moment, memorizing the scent of his skin, the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear, the solidity of his arm round her. Then she pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down at him. “I’m through.”
He folded his arms behind his head. His gaze showed not surprise but something else that might have been sadness. “I thought as much.”
“You couldn’t possibly–”
“What did what just passed between us mean if not goodbye?”
“This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She sat up and folded her arms across her chest. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over. But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She reached down and grabbed his shoulders. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrists in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Malcolm’s wife.”
He nodded. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip and grabbed her mantilla from the pile of clothing on the floor. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I mean it.” She tugged the mantilla round her shoulders. Her nail snagged on the lace. “I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
For some reason that was when her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do is do the best one can in the moment.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes. You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–”
Her chest ached from the lost purpose that had been wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. A sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her again, in a very different way from earlier. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
“You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” he said, stroking her hair. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She drew back and looked up at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–” He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
“Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from what had passed between them a short time ago.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to—“
“No. I know where to send it.” She reached down into the pile of clothes and found her drawers. “What will you do now?”
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He picked up her chemise and handed it to her. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. He pulled on his own clothes and helped her do up her laces and strings in silence. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to think back on the past hour and feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“For a cause. And there’s one way in which you managed to stay faithful.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I don’t believe in fidelity, remember?”
“You didn’t use to. I think you’ve changed.”
She stuck two more pins into her hair and draped her mantilla over her head. “I have so many sins on my conscience, I hardly think this one is going to rankle.”
“But it may.”
“What the devil makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll feel the same.”
She turned to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the needs of the moment.
He took a step away from the wall and moved toward her. “If it does, look on it as a moment’s madness.” His hands closed on her shoulders. “And for what’s worth and for my sins, it meant the world to me.”

This is the first alternate version:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw the desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. She closed the distance between them, took his face between her hands, and kissed him full on the lips for the first time since her marriage.
For a moment he went still as ice beneath her touch. Then he closed his arms hard round her.
Sensation took over, driving out the demons of the past seventy-two hours. The past two and a half years. She curled her fingers behind his neck, seeking oblivion with the desperation of one on the edge of madness.
Air rushed between them. One moment his arms were round her, his mouth against the hollow of her jaw. The next he was he was holding her by the shoulders, his gaze opaque. “Think, querida.”
“No.” Thinking was the one thing she didn’t want. She tried to drag him back to her, but his hands tightened on his shoulders.
“You don’t want this, Suzanne.”
“Damn you, you can’t know—“
“I know exactly. You want to lose yourself. You want to forget. You want to find solace. But a few moments of oblivion won’t take away the pain. And afterwards you’ll hate yourself.”
She wrenched herself out of his hold. The pain and anger she’d holding at bay since last night roiled through, clawing at her mind and senses. “ I don’t believe in fidelity, remember.”
“But Charles does. And you believe in him. Even if his side defeated ours.”
She stared at him, the word defeat echoing in her brain. Her chest ached from the lost purpose that had been wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. She pressed her hands to her face, but a sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
She stayed still in his arms for a moment, memorizing the scent of his skin, the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear, the brush of his breath against her hair. Then drew back and looked into the eyes that knew her so well. “I’m through.”
“I thought as much.” His gaze showed not surprise but something else that might have been sadness.
“This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She sat down on the edge of the cot and dripped its metal frame. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over.” Raoul sat beside her, a few inches of gray blanket between then. “But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She grabbed arm. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrist in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Malcolm’s wife.”
He nodded. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I mean it. I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
Her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes again. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do hold onto what one believes in.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes.” Her fingers dug into the coarse blanket. “You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–”
A gentle hand stroked her hair. “You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” Raoul said. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She turned to look at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–” He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
She stared at him, memories coming thick and fast. His hands tossing her into the saddle. His voice drilling her on court protocol. The steady trust in his eyes when he sent her on her first mission. “Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from their kiss a short time ago.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to—“
“No. I know where to send it.” She got to her feet and picked up her mantilla. “What will you do now?” she asked, running the black lace through her fingers.
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He got to his feet as well. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“But you could hide in the needs of the moment.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I’m used to living with sins on my conscience.”
”With peace you’ll find you have leisure to dwell on the past. To question past actions to replay past moments, to play the damnable game of what if.”
She pushed two more pins into her hair and draped the mantilla over her head. “What makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll be doing the same myself.”
She turned to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the needs of the moment. He returned her gaze. The scars in his eyes had never been plainer. “Raoul—“
He gave a faint smile. “Don’t worry. As I said I’ll manage. Somehow other one finds a way to go on.”
She crossed the room to him and put her hand against the side of his face. “Keep safe.”
He caught her hand in his own and kissed it. “Look after your family, querida.”

And this is the scene in the published book:

He pushed himself to his feet at her entrance but made no move to come toward her. The light slanting through the high windows showed her that apparently he had received no further hurt. She stared at the familiar bones of his face and felt the breath rush from her lungs. In his eyes, she saw desolation and shattered hopes that were the twin of her own. For a moment, she wanted to run and hide in his arms. Instead, she leaned against the closed door and said the words that most needed to be said. “I’m through.”
Something flared in his eyes. Not surprise but a flash of acknowledgement that might have been sadness. “I thought as much.”
She took two quick, determined steps into the room. Her mantilla slithered to the floor. “This isn’t another attack of conscience. I’m done. I’m getting out. I’m not your agent anymore.”
“Clearly stated.”
She dropped down on the edge of the cot and gripped its wooden frame. She mistrusted that mild tone. “It’s over.” Her voice shook, beyond her control. “We lost.”
“It’s never entirely over.” Raoul sat beside her, a few inches of gray blanket between then. “But we were certainly dealt a decisive blow. Not only has the game changed, it will be played on an entirely different board.”
“Damn it, Raoul.” She grabbed his arm. “It’s not a game.”
“Of course it is.” He caught her wrist in a gentle grip. “A game with life and death stakes and people’s future and liberty hanging in the balance.”
“I’ll still fight for the things I believe in,” she said, perhaps a little too firmly, because she couldn’t bear for there to be any doubt on this score. “But I’ll only act openly as Malcolm’s wife.”
He nodded. “Knowing you, not to mention Charles, I imagine you’ll be able to accomplish a great deal.”
“I mean it. I won’t dwindle into a wife.”
His mouth curved in a faint smile. “I don’t think you could if you tried.” He looked at her for a moment. She had the oddest sense he was memorizing her features. “I think you’ve made a wise choice.”
“For God’s sake, Raoul.” She pulled free of his grip. “What game are you playing? You’re never so magnanimous without an ulterior purpose.”
“We’ve never been in circumstances like these.”
“I’m serious. I won’t work as your agent anymore.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
For some reason, that was when her throat closed and tears prickled the back of her eyes. She turned her head to the side, unable to bear the pressure of his gaze. “All these years. The fighting, the lying, the compromising. Twisting ideals to meet necessity. And this is where it got us.”
“One can never see where it will take one. All one do hold onto what one believes in.”
“Damn you, stop it with the platitudes.” Her fingers dug into the coarse blanket. “You have to feel it too. It’s over. Bourbons on the throne of France for good, reforms repealed, monarchs grabbing for power. Castlereagh and Metternich and their ilk trying to turn clock back on every shred of progress since the Revolution. Wasted years, wasted lives–“
Her chest ached from the lost purpose, wrenched from her at the news of the French defeat. The thing that had kept her going after the loss of her family, that had given her a focus, that had been the core of who she was. She couldn’t seem to stop shaking. A sob tore through her.
Raoul’s arms closed round her. She pushed against him, desperate to strike out at something. Then she drew a sharp breath and sobbed into his chest with raw desperation until the rage had drained from her, leaving her empty and winded.
“You can never let yourself think your work’s gone for naught,” he said, stroking her hair. “Or you’ll go mad. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
She drew back and looked up at him. “Ireland.” She’d spent many evenings hearing him talk about the failure of the United Irish Uprising in 1798, anger and regret sharp in his voice.
“And the Revolution.” Raoul had been a passionate supporter of the Revolution, but he’d found himself imprisoned in Les Carmes and had nearly gone to the guillotine. “One has to go on and do the best one can. Which I’m sure you’ll continue to do.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“Easy?” His voice cut with sudden force. “There’s nothing easy about it. Do you think I haven’t replayed every decision I’ve made a dozen times, haven’t asked myself–“ He shook his head. “But believe me, believe me, querida, you’ll find a way to go on. Because there’s no other choice.”
She stared at him, memories coming thick and fast. His hands tossing her into the saddle or showing her how to load a pistol. His voice drilling her on court protocol or correcting her accent. His arm secure round her as she drifted into sleep. The steady trust in his eyes when he sent her on her first mission. “Are you saying this is what you want?”
“No.” The short word held layers of meaning. “But I think it’s what’s best you for you.” He pushed her hair behind her ear with a tenderness that was somehow in very different key from the days when they’d been lovers.
“Since when does what’s best for any of us matter more than the cause?”
“My dear girl. I’m not nearly so single-minded or such a schemer as you make me out to be.” He hesitated a moment. “Philippe was killed.”
She bit her lip. Fresh tears stung her eyes. “I have a letter for his sweetheart.”
“Do you want me to–“
“No. I know where to send it.” She got to her feet and picked up her mantilla. “What will you do now?” she asked, running the black lace through her fingers.
“I’ll manage.”
She swung her gaze back to him. “You don’t trust me any more.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He got to his feet as well. “But our interests no longer neatly align. No sense in putting either of us in an awkward situation.”
She nodded. Practicality, that was what was called for, and a cool head. She turned to the cracked looking glass and tried to pin her hair into some semblance of order.
Raoul leaned against the wall behind her. “In a few days or a few weeks you’re going to feel an intolerable burden of guilt. Try to remember that guilt is a singularly wasteful emotion.”
She met his gaze in the spotted looking glass. “Who says I’ll feel guilty?”
“My intuition. You won’t like the fact that you’ve betrayed your husband.”
She gave a rough laugh. “I’ve been betraying Charles from the day I married him. The day I met him if it comes to that.”
“But you could hide in the needs of the moment.”
She jabbed a pin into her knot of hair, hitting her scalp. “I’m used to living with sins on my conscience.”
”With peace you’ll find you have leisure to dwell on the past. To question actions, to replay decisions, to play the damnable game of what if.”
She pushed two more pins into her hair and draped the mantilla over her head. “What makes you so certain?”
“Because I’m quite sure I’ll be doing the same myself.”
She spun round to look at the man who had always subsumed guilt to the goal in front of him. He returned her gaze. The scars in his eyes had never been plainer. “Raoul–“
He gave a faint smile. “Don’t worry. It won’t be the first time I’ve pieced my life back together.”
She crossed the room to him, took his face between her hands, and kissed him on the lips for the first time since her marriage. For the last time. “Keep safe.”
He squeezed her shoulders for a moment, as though catching onto the past, then released her. “Look after your family, querida.”

In their work as spies, Malcolm and Suzanne often make quick changes to their appearance to suit a new role. I’m used to writing such scenes for them. I’m less used to thinking about it in terms of myself. Until yesterday. It was the opening night of the Merola Opera Program’s wonderful production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. After spending the afternoon stuffing inserts into programs, I had a quick dinner with Mélanie and a couple of colleagues and then hurried back to the theatre to meet one of Mel’s wonderful babysitters. While quickly going over details with the babysitter, I pulled a hair of feels from the toy bag and exchanged them for the flats I was wearing, took off the cardigan I’d been wearing all day over my black cocktail dress, unwound the long linen scarf I had wrapped around my neck and thew it over my shoulders as a shawl.

It was only when I was hurrying  up the street to a pre-performance reception (combing my hair as I walked)  that I realized I had just made the sort of quick change Suzanne often makes (such as in Imperial Scandal when she transforms herself into a shopgirl to go into Le Paon d’Or). It was also just the sort of scene I might put in a book to dramatize a working mom balancing her multiple roles.

As  a multi-tasker, I’ve always been grateful for multi-tasking clothes. As a working mom, I’m more grateful for them than ever. Day-into-evening dresses (nothing like black to stand up to the dust of a theatre and the smears left by toddler hands), earrings one can sleep in, sweaters that can be easily stowed in a diaper bag, a bag that works as purse, diaper bag, and computer bag, scarves that double as shawls, a light weight trenchcoat the works over everything. I have a pair of black satin heels that basically live in the car or the toy bag.

Do clothes help you balance different parts of your life? Which pieces are particularly good multitaskers?  Writers, do you think about clothes to define different roles your characters play?

 

 

 

 

I’ve been tweaking the opening scene of my WIP. Openings are tricky. One wants to start with something that will grab the reader’s attention. But what i tend to forget is that even with an action opening,one has to take the time to set the scene and characters, to give the reader of sense of who the story is about and what is at stake. This doesn’t necessarily mean a whole chapter devoted to establishing the characters and setting. it can be integrated into the action. I originally started Vienna Waltz with Suzanne walking into the room to find Malcolm kneeling over Tatiana’s body. then i realized I needed a few paragraphs first to set up who Suzanne was, how Tatiana had summoned her, and the sort of marriage Suzanne and Malcolm had. Still later I decided I needed the Prologue to set up Tatiana and some of the other key characters.

In Imperial Scandal, Malcolm has a few moments of interaction with La Fleur and Harry before the shots ring out. And the ambush at the château is intercut with Suzanne at the embassy ball in Brussels so that (hopefully!) the suspense of the action sequence balances the talkier scene at the ball.

With my WIP, set in London in 1817, I once again forgot about the need to establish the characters and the stakes, even in an ongoing series. I originally began with a wounded Simon climbing in through the library window of Malcolm and Suzanne/Charles and Mel’s Berkeley Square house. here’s the original opening paragraph, which is still in the book:

A thud on the window glass cut through the whisky-scented shadows and candle-warmed air. Charles dropped his book. Mélanie nearly dropped baby Jessica. Charles sprang to his feet, disrupting Berowne the cat, and moved to put himself between Mélanie and Jessica and the window. Mélanie tightened her arms round Jessica. Old defensive instincts sprang to life, like hairs responding to a shock of electricity. The Berkeley Square house, still so new, had perhaps never felt so much like home than now, when it was threatened.

Berowne hissed and arched his back. The window scraped against the sash. Charles snatched up a silver candlestick. Jessica released Mélanie’s breast and let out a squawk.
“It’s all right.” A slurred, strained voice came from the window. “It’s me.”

I then decided i needed to show what happened to Simon, so I added a scene which begins:

The lamplight shone against the cobblestones, washing over the grime, adding a glow of warmth. Creating an illusion of beauty on a street that in the merciless light of day would show the scars of countless carriages, horses, and pedestrians. Much as stage lights could transform bare boards and canvas flats into a garden in Illyria or a castle in Denmark.

Simon Tanner turned up the collar of his greatcoat as a gust of wind, unusually sharp for October, cut down the street, followed by a hail of raindrops. His hand went to his chest. Beneath his greatcoat, beneath the coat he wore under it, he could feel the solidity of the package he carried, carefully wrapped in oilskin. Were it not for that tangible reminder, it would be difficult to believe it was real.

Still more recently, I realized that the reader still didn’t know enough about Charles and Mélanie and what was at stake for them, and that with the action of the opening with Simon, I could afford a conversation that set up Charles and Mel (catching readers of the series up with where they are at this point, introducing them to new readers) before Simon climbs through the window. So I added a scene that begins:

Charles Fraser glanced up from his book and tilted his head back against the bronze velvet of the Queen Anne chair. “There’s was time when I thought we’d never have a quiet night at home.”

Mélanie Fraser regarded her husband over the downy head of their ten-month-old daughter Jessica, who was flopped in her arms, industriously nursing. “There was a time when I never thought we’d have a quiet night.”

His gray eyes glinted in the candlelight. “Sweetheart. are you complaining of boredom?”

I’m sure I’ll tweak the opening scenes many more times, but I think I now have a shape for the opening that balances action and character revelation.

Writers, how do you approach openings/ Readers, what are the openings of novels that you find particularly effe3ctive? is it action or character that catches your attention?

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mel/Suzette to Isobel about Rachel and Henri’s wedding. I love using the letters to touch on things I don’t show in the actual books.

Next Page »