Incident in Berkeley Square, the new novella, will be out November 2, and should be available for pre-order shortly. Above is a peek at the cover, which I love (looks so like Suzanne in an early scene in the story). And below is another teaser which shows the start of the intrigue that threatens the peace of Suzanne and Malcolm’s ball. What challenges do you think this will pose for Malcolm and Suzanne and their friends?
Be sure to check out the great character analysis thread Betty has started on the Google + Group. Some fascinating comments on Malcolm, and we’ve just begun to discuss Suzanne. it would be great to have more people chime in.
Have a great weekend!
Malcolm exchanged greetings with Crispin and Manon Harleton, then stopped short at the sight of a familiar auburn head in the throng. “Bertrand.” Malcolm touched Bertrand Laclos on the arm. “Rupert said you wouldn’t be able to make it tonight.” He ran his gaze over his friend. Bertrand was always quietly elegant, and his dark coat and trousers blended in well—these days not all men wore knee breeches to balls, thank God—but Bertrand was not really dressed for the occasion. There appeared to be salt stains on his shoes and the cuffs of his trousers. “You didn’t come for the ball, did you?” Malcolm asked.
“Not for want of wishing to.” Bertrand cast a quick glance about. “I’m sorry, Malcolm,” he continued in a voice that managed to sound conversational to anyone passing but was also quick and focused. “I’m afraid we had a spot of trouble at the docks. I could have gone to our house, but Rupert’s sister’s Clarissa and her family are living with us while their house is painted—”
“No, you were right to come here.” Malcolm touched Bertrand’s shoulder. “Walk with me. I assume you brought friends. Where have you stashed them away?”
“Excellent.” Malcolm tightened his hand on Bertrand’s shoulder. “I’m taking you to sample a new whisky Andrew sent from Dunmykel.”
Bertrand moved with the ease of a guest at a ball, a languid gait that somehow made his plain coat and salt-stained trousers take on the look of evening wear. Malcolm, more than passingly good at disguise, recognized Bertrand as a master. For years, presumed dead thanks to the machinations of his lover’s father, he had lived a secret life in Paris while he donned a variety of disguises and smuggled both Royalists and Bonapartists out of the war-torn country. Three years ago he had returned to Britain and to Rupert Caruthers, whom he had loved all his life. But Malcolm knew Bertrand still slipped across the Channel to rescue those in need. He had an agent’s skills, but he wasn’t in the service of a country. He made his own choices and rescued those in need. A position Malcolm could envy.
“Do you want to find Rupert first?” Malcolm asked.
Bertrand hesitated a moment, then shook his head. “Not yet. No sense in taking the time. And it might be better if he can genuinely deny I’m here.”
Suzanne had come into the ballroom. She was by the open double doors, talking to the Hollands and Lord John Russell. Malcolm met her gaze and realized she was well aware of Bertrand at his side. He inclined his head slightly and saw the message received in her eyes. “You handle the guests, I’ll handle this.”
It was probably quite unfair. He’d rather handle a mission than a ball any day. Of course, Suzanne was much better at juggling matters in the ballroom than he was. And her absence would be noticed much more quickly.
They made their way out of the ballroom. A few people recognized Bertrand and nodded to him, but they managed to avoid stopping to talk. No sense in wasting time and no telling what might be overheard. Instead of going down the main staircase, still clogged with latecomers, Malcolm took Bertrand through the baize-covered door to the backstairs.
“Malcolm,” Bertrand murmured as they reached the study on the ground floor.
“Explanations inside,” Malcolm said, and pushed open the door.
A lamp flickered on his desk. Its muted glow caught the fair hair of a man lying on the sofa in front of the desk, booted feet sticking out over the green velvet. Another man was bent over the sofa. Dark hair, a lean form, and something unmistakable about the set of the shoulders. Malcolm pushed the study door to. He might have known.
“Good evening, O’Roarke. Kind of you to join us.”
Raoul O’Roarke straightened up and regarded Malcolm across the study. His eyes were a dark gray and even Malcolm could now recognize that they were the twin of his own. O’Roarke, Malcolm had learned the previous winter, was Malcolm’s biological father. He was also Suzanne’s former lover and spymaster. Nothing in Malcolm’s family, acknowledged or unacknowledged, was easy.
“I’m sorry, Malcolm,” O’Roarke said. “We didn’t want to impose on you. But we had limited options.”
“No, you were right to come here.” Malcolm advanced into the room. “How hurt is your friend?”
The fair-haired man on the sofa turned his head and gave a weak smile, and Malcolm saw that she wasn’t a man at all but a woman, a quite young woman, dressed in a coat and breeches.
“Malcolm, may I present Lisette Varon?” Bertrand said, in the same tone he’d use in the drawing room. “She found it necessary to leave the Continent abruptly. O’Roarke and I assisted her.”
“Mademoiselle Varon.” Malcolm inclined his head. “Welcome to England. My apologies for your difficult arrival. We are usually more welcoming to visitors.”
“Monsieur Rannoch.” Lisette Varon’s voice was low-pitched and educated. Its steadiness indicated her injuries were not grave. “I am sorry for disturbing you.”
“On the contrary,” Malcolm said. “I’m glad our friends knew where to bring you.”
“We came over on a smuggler’s boat,” Bertrand said. “Tim Leggett. He’s consistent. I’ve worked with him before. Honest dealing. Good at evading the authorities. It seemed safer and easier to take a smaller boat up the Thames with him than to wrangle transportation from Dover. But the Preventive Waterguard must be looking for someone to make an example of. They met us at the dock. Leggett had enough advance warning to fire off a volley of gunshots. The preventive men fired back. More excitement than one usually sees in London. We got caught in the crossfire. Lisette took a bullet. It seemed prudent to make ourselves scarce. One of our number didn’t have papers that would stand scrutiny and O’Roarke and I weren’t best placed to answer questions.”
“So you ran,” Malcolm said. “Prudent.”
“We ran,” O’Roarke agreed. “Unfortunately, one of the preventive men gave chase. No reason to realize we weren’t some of the smugglers. We had the devil’s own time losing him. Did a dance through Covent Garden and finally shook him on the edge of Mayfair. I’m sorry to have come here, but—”
“We’re better equipped to deal with it than most,” Malcolm said. “No one’s likely to come in here, but you’d best keep the door locked, just to be safe. I’ll have some food sent in. And I’ll send my wife in to look at your wound, Mademoiselle Varon. She’s quite good at patching up people.”
“Thank you.” Lisette hesitated a moment, as though unsure whether or not to say more.
“You can trust him,” O’Roarke said. “My word on it. And he should know.”
Lisette cast a quick glance at O’Roarke, then looked back at Malcolm. “You’ve been very kind, Monsieur Rannoch. I’m sorry we imposed on you, as I said. But selfishly I’m glad we came here. I have a message for Madame Rannoch.”
Malcolm met Lisette’s gaze across his study carpet. The gaze of a former French agent. Who had a message for his wife, also a former French agent. Life had got unbelievably complicated four and a half months ago.
He could feel O’Roarke watching him, but he kept his gaze on Lisette and inclined his head. “Then all the more reason for me to send her in,” he said.
Malcolm moved to the door but paused, gripping the brass handle, to look back at his father. The last time Malcolm had seen him O’Roarke had been on his way to Spain to help the rebels against the restored Bourbon government. “O’Roarke.”
O’Roarke looked up at him.
“We’ve been worried about you,” Malcolm said. “It’s good to see you back in London in one piece.”