Teaser


Mission for a Queen 2

Mission for a Queen will be out November 3 and is up for pre-order. You can find it here on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.

Excited to have it out in the world! Meanwhile, check out the teaser with Mélanie Suzanne and Hortense Bonaparte I just posted on History Hoydens.

Cheers,

Tracy

TracyMelMemberLounge

 

Greetings from Ashland, Oregon where Mélanie saw her first Oregon Shakespeare Festival play last night, a very fun production of The Wiz that she loved. Here we are afterwards, bathed in the green lights of the Emerald City.

TheWiz

Some friends and I also saw a fabulous matinee of Richard II yesterday. I was really struck by all the lines about exile in light of Malcolm and Suzanne’s current situation. It seems a good time to post this snippet from the next full novel, which is inspired by John of Gaunt’s “This England” speech.

Also, I just got my first look at a draft cover for the novella.

Mission for a Queen 2

 

“Darling.” Mélanie turned to look at her husband. The brace of candles cast flickering light over his face. The flexible mouth, the deepset eyes, dark now with concern and yet steady with confidence. “Has it occurred to you that when if they learn the truth, they may well see me as the woman who betrayed their country and their father.”
“I doubt it.” Malcolm’s tone was even and matter-of-fact. “Not given the way they both already question things. Besides, by the time they’re old enough for us to tell them, they may well not see Britain as their country anymore.”
She turned her head away. “Damn it, Malcolm—“
“There’s no particular reason they should,” he said. “Neither of them was born there. It’s not their mother’s country. Jessica won’t even remember it.”
Mélanie could keenly recall a moment on their first to Britain four years ago, after Napoleon’s first abdication. Colin had wanted one of the Royalist Bourbon flags vendors were selling in Hyde Park, and Lady Frances had bought one for him. The sight of it clutched in his small hand had cut her in two. So why did the thought of the children growing up alienated from Britain now tear at her with a physical wrench? “It’s still their father’s country.”
“Well, yes. And I suppose I want them to know that. Though at the moment I’m more aware that it’s the country I had to flee.”
“Because of your wife.”
“Because of my spymaster. Who claims to be working in its interests. I walked away once before.”
“Because of your family.”
“Mostly. I’d probably never have gone back if it wasn’t for you. So in a sense I’m where I might have been a year and a half ago anyway.”
“Malcolm—“
“I almost didn’t go back when I left the diplomatic corps, you know. We talked about where else we might go, and I came closer to considering it than I even admitted to you. A fresh start had an appeal. I wasn’t sure it was fair to inflict what I’d have to face in Britain on you. I was afraid of what it might do to us. Of the person I might become. The person I did become to a degree. At the same time, I had this absurd sense I had to face the past. And as much as I didn’t want to put you through that, I could never have done it without you.”
“Darling—“
He tightened his grip on her hand and carried it to his lips. “That’s the thing, sweetheart. For all we’ve been through, I’m not sorry we went back. If I never see Britain again, I won’t have to live with the questions I lived with before we returned. I’ll always be grateful to you for getting me through that.”
Tears stung her eyes. “I didn’t get you through anything you couldn’t have managed much better without me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, beloved. And why I can be happy now. I wonder how Thurston and the contessa’s children feel,” he added after a moment. “There’ve never seen Britain and likely never will.”
“And yet their father’s still an Englishman,” Suzanne said.
“More than I will be in fifteen years, I suspect. Being an agent comes in handy when one has to blend into a new country.”
“Being an agent has to do with the surface.”
“And changing the surface can change what’s underneath. You should know that better than anyone.”
“In a way. But it hasn’t changed who I was born, as you just pointed out.”
“No. But you always believed in your cause more than I did in mine. If it can even be called that.”
“Oh, Malcolm. You’ve always believed in it.”
“What? If you mean the Crown—”
“The scept’rd isle, the little eden, the demi-paradise—“
“I’m Scots.”
“It’s the same island, darling.”
“We’d have to ask Shakespeare what he meant.”
She shook her head. She knew on some level that being away from his country would always tear at him. And she knew with the same certainty that he’d never admit it.
“The children won’t have the same view,” he said. “They may not be particularly attached to any country, which isn’t a bad thing.”

Dinner at Balboa Café

Dinner at Balboa Café

 

Happy August! The novella will be off the to the copy editor shortly. I’m mulling possible titles – Continental Escape, Continental Interlude, and Mission for a Queen are among the options. What do you think? The queen in question is Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s stepdaughter, who plays a major role in the novella. If you haven’t already seen it, I blogged about her on History Hoydens recently. The plans for the series reread on the Google+ Group are proceeding with a September start – do check it out. I’m really looking forward to new insights as we go along.

Mélanie and I had a fun break last night going out to dinner at the Balboa Café and seeing a great production of The Little Mermaid at 142 Throckmorton. But I’ve been writing a lot this weekend, and the new novel is really hitting it’s stride. I’m very excited about the new directions it takes the characters, and the new characters it brings into the series.

Meanwhile, here’s another teaser from the novella, the first scene between Malcolm and Suzanne (who, in a sign of how their lives are changing, is thinking of herself as Mélanie).

Mélanie Suzanne Rannoch tucked a blanket round her son, Colin, on a bench in the tiny cabin, while holding her sleeping eighteen-month-old daughter, Jessica, a boneless weight against her shoulder. She touched the fingers to the soft head of Berowne, their cat, curled up on the bench beside Colin, then dropped down on the opposite bench, Jessica in her lap, braced against the rocking of the boat that was carrying them across the Channel. Away from the life they had built carefully in the past year and a half. The life she had thought would be the foundation of her children’s future.

The boards creaked. She looked up to see her husband stoop his head as he stepped into the cabin. He gave her a quick smile, a gleam in the yellow light of the single lamp. He touched his fingers to Colin’s hair, then dropped down on the bench beside her and Jessica. He cupped his hand round Jessica’s head for a moment. “Oh, to be able to sleep anywhere.”

“I thought they wouldn’t sleep at all for a while. So much excitement.” A day that had begun with a seemingly normal breakfast in their Berkeley Square house and ended with a midnight escape on a boat down the Thames. For some reason the image of the breakfast parlor, with the peach-colored walls she had chosen and her cream-and-rose breakfast china, brought a lump to her throat.  She’d bought that china on a shopping expedition with her friend Cordelia, while they carried their babies in their arms and Colin played in the china warehouse with Cordelia’s elder daughter. Mélanie rocked Jessica, willing her hands to be steady. “We’re going to have to talk about it at some point.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Malcolm said.

“Darling!”

“We took an action we always knew we might have to take. If our house burned down, and we had to flee, there wouldn’t be anything to analyze after the fact.”

“There would if it was my fault it burned down.”

He lifted a loosened strand of hair from her neck and let it slide through his fingers. “If Carfax hadn’t wanted to drive a wedge between David and Simon, if David and Simon hadn’t been my friends, none of this would have happened.”

“If I hadn’t been a former Bonapartist spy, Carfax wouldn’t have been able to use my past against David and Simon.” Her fingers dug into the soft wool of Jessica’s blanket. Simon’s gaze, when he had visited them in Berkeley Square hours before they left London, hung in her memory. The compassion in his eyes still seared her. But she had escaped with her family intact, whereas his had been shaken to the core.

Malcolm turned sideways on the bench and gathered her against him. “We’re spies. We deal in information. Some people are going to be hurt when we use it. Some saved.”

“My God.” She swiveled her head round to look at him. “Don’t tell me you’re saying it’s all relative.”

“Of course not. But guilt is inevitable. We have to live with it. You’ve always been better at that than I am. You need to go on doing so. For the children’s sake.” His fingers moved to Jessica’s head again. “For your own sake. For my sake.”

“I won’t let you down, Malcolm. Or the children. And I’m too selfish to let myself down.”

“You’re one of the least selfish people I know, sweetheart.” He pulled her closer and dropped a kiss on her hair.

She let her head sink back against his shoulder. “I don’t deserve you.”

“That sounds like the sort of idiotic twaddle you despise, sweetheart.”

“Simon would be horrified. Not at all up to the dialogue in his plays.” She swallowed. Better not to talk about Simon just now. They needed to focus on the future. “Darling— Now we’re out of Britain, there’s no hurry necessarily in getting to Italy, is there?”

He drew back to look down at her. “You want to see Talleyrand and Dorothée? I’m not sure that’s wise. Talleyrand is fond of you, but he’s also in communication with Carfax.”

“Yes, I know. That is, I would like to see them, but I agree it’s not sensible, not now.” She looked up at her husband. “You see, I can be sensible sometimes, darling.”

“Sometimes,” he agreed.

She twisted one of his silver waistcoat buttons between her fingers. “I was wondering about stopping in Switzerland.”

His gaze told her he understood at once. “You want to see Queen Hortense? To warn her?”

A mere month and a half ago, Malcolm hadn’t known of her connection to Hortense Bonaparte, daughter of the late Empress Josephine, stepdaughter of the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. But last April a letter from Hortense to her former lover, the Comte de Flahaut, had gone astray at a ball Mélanie and Malcolm were giving. Mélanie had trusted her husband with her friendship with Hortense and the story of how she had once helped Hortense conceal the birth of her secret illegitimate child by Flahaut. “That’s part of it,” she said. “Hortense should know Julien St. Juste was in England, that he’s been working for Carfax, that he was willing to move against Flahaut, for all he swore he’d never touch Hortense herself. And if Carfax knows about me, there’s a chance he knows about Hortense and her child. I don’t want to scare her, but we should put her on her guard. Also—” She hesitated, fumbling for words she wasn’t entirely sure of herself.

“You’ve been shaken from your moorings. It would be good see someone from your old life.”

“I suppose so. Yes.” She looked up at him. Six months after he’d learned the truth of her past, sharing that truth was still uncertain territory for them. “I took Colin to see her once. After Waterloo.”

“I’m glad.” Malcolm’s gaze was warm and steady on her face.

“Malcolm—”

“Truly. You lost a lot from your old life. Colin and Jessica are exposed to little enough of it. They should know your friends. But are you sure you want to take me to see Queen Hortense?”

“Malcolm, you can’t doubt I trust you now.”

“There are different degrees of trust.”

Mélanie settled back against her husband. “I told you when I told you about her baby with Flahaut. You wouldn’t hurt a woman and her child. Besides—” Incredibly she almost laughed.

“What?” he asked.

She titled her head back to look up at him. “I thought it would be impossible to escape him. But you really aren’t working for Carfax now, darling.”

“No.” Malcolm’s gaze went still. “I only wonder how much I’ll be working against him.”

ViansaTMSunday Mélanie and  i spent the afternoon at Viansa, a lovely winery in the Sonoma Valley that always makes me think of Tuscany. Great inspiration for the new novel! I’m really delving into it, as the novella is in revisions.

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Here’s a sneak peek at the novella, the first scene between David and Simon that catches us up on where they are after London Gambit.

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I posted another scene (the reveals the identity of Lady Frances’s mysterious lover from the Valentine’s letters) on the Google+ Group. Do head over and take a look at it, and join the group if you haven’t already done so.

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Speaking of the Google Group, Betty is planning a group read of the Rannoch books starting in September if there’s enough interest. If you’d be interested in participating (even without reading all the books again, you could still chime in) do post, here or in the group.

David Mallinson, Viscount Worsley, looked across the library at the man with whom he had shared his life for the past decade. “I wasn’t sure you’d come here today.”

“I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome here today.” Simon Tanner leaned against the window ledge, hands braced on the sill, the light behind him, tension writ in the lines of his shoulders. “Malcolm and Suzanne have left Britain.”

Shock drained the blood from David’s head. “How long have you known?”

“Since last night.” Simon stayed still, his face hard-cut in the shadows, his voice even.

“You went to see them.” The reverberation of the door closing when Simon had left the house the previous night seemed to echo through the room. He hadn’t slammed the door, but the click had echoed with finality.

“I wanted to say goodbye.”

David swallowed. His mouth was dry with the ashes of the two most important relationships in his thirty years. “You knew they’d leave.”

Simon met his gaze without flinching. “I guessed.”

“That I’d drive them away.”

“That the truth being out would.”

Malcolm Rannoch’s face, in the sitting room at Brooks’s where David had confronted him yesterday—God, was it less than twenty-four hours?—hung in David’s memory. Close on that came a memory of Malcolm huddled beside him at Harrow beneath a blanket, giving him a cup of hot chocolate, both their noses bloody thanks to a trio of older boys devastating with fists and words. “I never wanted—”

“No. I didn’t think you did.”

This time it was Suzanne’s image that shot into David’s mind. Laughing up at Malcolm as they waltzed. Holding her children. Bending over the pallets of the wounded who filled her house during the battle of Waterloo. The woman his friend loved, against all expectation. The friend David had come to love as well. Who he now knew had been an agent for the Bonapartist French. Had married Malcolm to spy on him and his country. David’s country. Who had been giving information to the French even as she nursed the British wounded from Waterloo beside David. “Where have they gone?”

“I don’t know,” Simon said. “I didn’t want to know.”

David nodded. He was so used to seeing his friends nearly every day that he could still scarcely comprehend it. “I wouldn’t have—”

“For what it’s worth,” Simon said, “once he knew your father knew the truth about Suzanne, Malcolm was bound to leave the country, whatever your reaction.”

“I don’t think even Father would—”

“You know as well as I do there’s no telling what your father might do.”

David nodded. His father, Lord Carfax, was the unofficial head of British intelligence. Even David could still be surprised by his ruthlessness.

“David—” Simon drew a breath as though weighing words he wasn’t yet sure he should speak.

“Father told me about Suzanne to drive a wedge between us?”

Simon stared at him. Dust motes danced in a shaft of sunlight between them. “You worked that out.”

“Once the initial shock wore off.” During the long night, when he’d paced the floor, first of the library, then of his cold and empty bedchamber. “I may not be an agent like Malcolm, but I know something of the way my father’s mind works.” And Lord Carfax, above all, wanted David to marry and father an heir to the earldom.

“I expected he wanted Malcolm away from you as well,” Simon said. “Malcolm’s always had a way of encouraging you to move in the opposite direction from what your father wants.”

“Perhaps. One way or another, if it wasn’t for me, Malcolm and Suzanne wouldn’t have had to leave.”

“David.” Simon look a half step forwards, then checked himself. “Malcolm and Suzanne left because your father knows the truth about Suzanne, not because you do. Your father has known for some time.”

“And they’ve managed to go on comfortably in Britain despite it. I’m the cause of the crisis.”

“I expect Malcolm’s glad to know Carfax knows.” Simon watched David for a moment. Of all the things David had thought to see in his lover’s gaze today, compassion wasn’t one of them. “For what it’s worth, I think they’d have left whatever your reaction had been.”

David drew a breath, the angry words he had hurled at Malcolm in a sitting room at Brooks’s yesterday echoing in his head. There were too many things he wasn’t yet prepared to discuss with Simon. “Are you coming up to see the children?”

“Am I welcome to?” Simon asked.

“Do you really have to ask that?” It was only three months since David had moved into this house to raise his sister’s four orphaned children, but in that time they had come to seem like Simon’s as much as his own. “And whatever I said, would you let it stop you?”

A smile curved Simon’s mouth, the first David had seen on his face since their quarrel. “You know me too well.”

David moved to the door. “In some things.”

Xmas2015NYE

New Years Eve 2015/6 (photo: Bonnie Glaser)

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a great holiday season and that your New Year  is off to a good start. I just send London Gambit off to the copy editor. Here, for January’s teaser, is the second half of the Malcolm & Suzanne scene I posted in November.

Cheers,

Tracy

Xmas2015TracyMelClassic

Christmas 2015 (photo: Julianne Havel)

“What did you learn about the dead man in the warehouse?” Suzanne asked.

“He appeared to have broken in the steal something. There was a hidden compartment in the floorboards that had been pried open near where he was lying.”

“Empty?”

Malcolm nodded. “It looks as though he had a confederate who turned on him and took what they had come to steal or a second person broke in in search of the same thing.”

“Something of Craven’s?”

“There’s no way to tell at this point.”

“Jeremy wants you to assist him with the investigation?”

Malcolm nodded with the abashed look of one who didn’t quite want to admit he was pleased. “Someone will have to talk to Carfax given that Craven was his son-in-law, not to mention one of his agents. It’s only sensible for me to do that. And I can probably help with Eustace and Cecilia Whateley.” He twisted his head round to meet her gaze. “That is we can, if you’re willing.”

Suzanne felt a genuine smile break across her face. “Unlike you, dearest, I’m not going to even pretend I’m not pleased to have another investigation.”

Paradoxically, some of their most intimate moments had come in the course of investigations. And, a small voice said inside her head, hopefully this investigation would distract Malcolm while she looked into the rumors about the Phoenix plot.

Malcolm smiled. “I own there’s something appealing about a puzzle. Though I could wish it didn’t involve Carfax, however tangentially.”

“Carfax is in the middle of too many things for that.”

Malcolm gave a wry smile and pulled her in for another kiss. “I told Roth I’d call on Eustace Whateley tomorrow. He was at Harrow a couple of years before David and me so I can use the old school tie.”

Suzanne drew back to look at her husband. “Was everyone even remotely on the fringes of the beau monde at school with you, darling?”

Malcolm gave an abashed grin. “Most boys whose parents want them to grow up to be gentlemen go to Harrow or Eton or Winchester. So if they’re remotely close to my age there’s a one in three chance. Whateley’s father was a banker who wanted his son to move up in the world, know the right people, speak with the right accent. Looking back, I’m afraid he suffered more ribbing from the other boys than I appreciated at the time.”

No wonder thinking among their set could be so uniform. “I don’t want Colin to go away to school, Malcolm.”

He kissed her forehead. “I know. I shocked David today by telling him as much. One of the ways he and I see the world somewhat differently.”

“I imagine Simon was all for it.”

“Mmm. Though careful to acknowledge the decision is David’s.”

She put her hands against his chest. “I suppose I’m afraid—”

“That I’ll change my mind?”

Memories shot through her mind. Malcolm and David laughing over a school memory with a schoolmate. The almost palpable connection one could feel in the air when one learned two men had attended the same school. The unthinking way Malcolm would refer to someone as a Harrovian. “It’s a tradition.”

“You keep expecting me to revert to type.”

“And you keep confounding my expectations. I’m sorry, darling. But—”

“Once a revolutionary always a revolutionary?”

“A palpable hit. So I’m the one who’s reverting to type?”

“We’re all perhaps partly a prisoner of our world. Though you have more flexibility than most. Look at how well you tolerate the world you married into because you were trying to change it.”

She choked. “Talk about flexible thinking, dearest. But you can’t deny it’s part of who you are. I wouldn’t want it not to be. It’s part of the man I love.”

“Fair enough. I won’t deny it. But I won’t send Colin away to school. Even if you decide you want him to go.”

“I wouldn’t—”

He kissed her nose. “My point precisely, beloved.”

Suzanne laughed and reached up to wrap her arms round his neck. “Fair enough. Unless his thinking is as flexible as yours, Eustace Whateley isn’t likely to talk more freely if I go with you.” She frowned, staring at her husband’s cravat. “Darling. I never told you, because I was trying to keep her out of it as much as possible. Last April when Bertrand and Raoul brought Lisette to us and Lisette lost the letter in the garden. It was Cecilia Whateley who accidentally picked it up.” The letter Lisette Varon had been transporting had been from Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine’s daughter, to her former lover the Comte de Flahaut. They had all had some anxious moments when it was missing.

Malcolm’s brows rose. “Interesting.”

“Apparently Cecilia was in the garden to speak with a man she’d loved before her marriage. Just to talk, she told me. I don’t think she even looked at the letter. At least that’s what she said, and I’ve been telling myself it must be true. I don’t know if it makes her more or less likely to confide in me now.”

“Difficult to tell,” Malcolm said. “Though it means you’re already beyond social formalities.”

“There is that. But it also may mean she’s wary of me. I’ll see if Cordy has any connections to Cecilia. Despite the lack of girls’ schools, Cordy’s connected to nearly as many people in the beau monde as you. It’s almost as if the two of you spent your lives preparing to run investigations into their numbers.”

Malcolm grinned. “One has to put the social tedium to use somehow.”

11.15.15TracyMel

photo: Raphael Coffey

Happy Friday! To those celebrating U.S.Thanksgiving this week, I hope you have a great holiday! I’m hard at work on the closing chapters of London Gambit, so it seemed a good time to post another teaser. This scene between Malcolm and Suzanne follows directly on the excerpt at the end of Incident in Berkeley Square.

Have a great weekend!

Tracy
Suzanne went down the passage to her own bedchamber. A lamp was lit on the pier table. The glow caught the white of the covers in the cradle over Jessica, her seventeen-month old daughter. The deep even sound of Jessica’s breathing confirmed that she slept. The room was empty otherwise, but the black evening coat Malcolm had been wearing when he went out was flung over the black of the frayed green velvet chair. A sliver of light showed through the gap where the door to the night nursery was ajar.
Suzanne crossed the room and pushed the door further open. Her husband was between the two iron beds where their five-year old son Colin and Laura’s four-year old daughter Emily slept. Malcolm was on the edge of Colin’s bed, smoothing their son’s hair. Suzanne stayed still. Tenderness washed over her, as it did at unexpected times. Perhaps it was the angle of his head or the way his hair fell over his forehead, but Malcolm looked unexpectedly vulnerable.  Her throat tightened the way it did when she looked at the children and willed time to stop, trying to commit the moment to memory. It was these unexpected moments that had so very nearly been her undoing a hundred times or more in the years of her deception.The preciousness of life sneaked up on one, not so much in times of danger, when one would expect it, but in seemingly trivial moments. The sort of moments that went to make up a life and a marriage and a family.
Malcolm turned, as though aware of her regard. A smile crossed his face as he met her gaze. He  touched his fingers to Colin’s hair one last time, then to Emily’s, got to his feet with his usual catlike grace and crossed the room to her. He took her hand, lifted it to his lips, and drew her into the bedchamber. He closed the door with his free hand and instead of releasing her pulled her into his arms and kissed her with unexpected urgency.
It was a relief to lose herself in his kiss and then to slide her arms round him and bury her face in the starch and lavender smell of his cravat. He rested his chin on her hair for a long moment, then at last drew back enough to look down at her. “How was the Grandisons’ rout?”
“As dull as I feared. Fortunately I had distraction. I received a message from Marthe. Bertrand needed my help settling someone.” Nothing odd in that. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. Better, Raoul had taught her, to stick as close to the truth as possible. She kept her voice level and her heartbeat even. If she hadn’t learned to control it long since Malcolm would have suspected her years earlier.
Malcolm twined one of her side curls round his finger. “Someone you knew?”
“No, but he’d been wounded on the way to meet Bertrand in Calais. I helped with bandaging.”
Malcolm nodded. He now knew the location of a number of former Bonapartist agents who were settled in London. In fact he had helped her settle several of them. He took helping them and keeping their secrets without question. A sign of how far he had come since their marriage. Of how far they had come. Mostly she thought it was a good thing. But every so often she felt a faint twinge. Was she encouraging him to compromise so much that one day he would look back and hate where he had ended up? Hate the wife who had helped him get there?
“My evening was interrupted by a summons as well,” Malcolm said. He drew her over to the green velvet chair and sank into it, holding her against him as he proceeded to recount the message he’d received from Jeremy Roth and finding Teddy Craven at the Whateley & Company Warehouse.
“That’s why you were sitting with the children,” Suzanne said, lifting her head from her husband’s shoulder to look into his eyes.
Malcolm nodded. “One tries so damnably hard to protect them. Sometimes I look round and the world seems full of traps. Growing up is challenging enough for children who are protected and nurtured. For those with added challenges—“
“We both faced a lot of challenges, and we managed to muddle through more or less,” Suzanne said.
He slid his fingers into her hair. “You’re a marvel, my darling. What you went through—”
“But I had more love and security in my early years than you did. More perhaps than Teddy Craven did. I don’t think Louisa and Craven were the warmest of parents.”
“No.” His fingers stilled in her hair. “Simon and David can do a great deal for the Craven children.” A smile curved his mouth. “I never thought to see Simon an expert on putting a two-year-old down. Apparently he’s the only one who can get young Jamie to sleep.”
“I’m not surprised,” Suzanne said. “I remember how easily he held Colin when we first met him.”
“Yes, but it’s a bit more challenging when one can’t hand the child back.”
“If he still going back to the Albany every night?”
Malcolm nodded. “I saw him leave. David was franker than I’ve never heard him about the challenges of a relationship that has to remain secret. About his parents’ veiled disapproval. And the people who think worse.” His brows drew together. “I don’t think I properly appreciate how it is for them.”
“We’ve talked about the pressure on David to marry.” Suzanne was confidant David could withstand that pressure, but Malcolm, she knew, had doubts at times. He was less of a romantic, he said, though Suzanne vehemently denied she was a romantic. Perhaps it was that Malcolm was more clear eyed about just how strong the pressures of being born an aristocrat could be.
“Yes, I worry about what that could do to David. But they’re so comfortable with each other and we—not just the two of us, but Bel and Oliver, Harry and Cordy, Rupert and Bertrand, Crispin and Manon—are so used to seeing them as a couple that I think I forget sometimes that to the rest of the world they can’t be.” His free hand curved round the chair arm. “David reminded me that it’s a hanging offense. According to laws imposed by the Parliament I’m a part of.”
“Not laws you had anything to do with passing.”
“Still.”
“You could introduce a bill to repeal them. It won’t get anywhere, at least not now. But then neither will your capital punishment bill. And it would lay groundwork. Jeremy Bentham argued for repeal of the anti-buggery laws  thirty years ago. And others have more recently. Juliette Dubretton—-”
“Not to mention my wife.”
“That provoked more comments than some of my articles,” Suzanne said. She regularly contributed articles to the Political Register.  “But a parliamentary bill would cause more talk. You’d have to consider the position you’d be putting David in though.”
“You mean because there’d be talk if he supported it? There’d be talk about me as well. There already is. Has been since David and I were boys, though it took us both a while to understand it.”
Suzanne pressed a kiss against Malcolm’s throat. “Yes, dearest, but you aren’t at risk of getting caught. At least not unless there’s a great deal going on in your life that I’m not aware of.”
“Given my difficulties sharing myself with you, I really can’t imagine doing so with another person, sweetheart. Of either gender.” He turned his head and kissed her temple. “David would brave the talk. He has the courage of a soldier.” Malcolm’s fingers curled inward. “But I think what’s even worse for  David is that the world expects him to marry and produce an heir. Which would be solved if we simply got rid of inherited privilege, as my wife advocates.”
“You advocate it too. In writing. Very cogently.”
“And yet I’ve benefited. Though the man from whom I inherited all this”—he glanced round their room, where so many intimate moments in their life had taken place, in this exquisite house they had inherited from Alistair Rannoch—“has no biological connection to me. What a world we live in.” He laced his fingers through her own. “A bill is a good idea. But it won’t begin to do enough.” His gaze darkened. “I knew I couldn’t leave the intelligence game, not completely. And I had no illusions I be able to get very much done in Parliament. But I thought at least I’d be my own man.”
Suzanne lifted her head to look at her husband, so stubbornly idealistic for all he’d deny it. “And you are, darling.”
“To a degree. Better than in the diplomatic service, where I had to argue for policies that half the time I didn’t believe in. But the I’m still arguing within the terms of a debate set by someone else. And the damnable thing is sometimes I get so caught up in the debate I don’t see the parameters enclosing it.”
“Sometimes—“ She drew a breath. There were still things she tried not to burden him with.
“That’s how you feel as a Republican living as the wife of a duke’s grandson?”
“Sometimes.”
He tightened his arm round her.  “Sometimes I think  Davenport has the right idea, living a life of scholarship.”
“I think Harry would go mad if he couldn’t help with your investigations.”
“There is that. It’s just hard not to feel tainted by the game. All the games.” Malcolm stared down at his arm, curved round her own. “I’ve never heard David talk with such anger as tonight. In truth, we’ve scarcely talked at all about—about how it is for him.” He was silent for a moment, one of those shifts when he talked of something he’d hitherto held close. “I remember one night the summer before we went up to Oxford. We’d gone to the theatre—As You Like It. And I glanced over and saw David watching the actor who played Orlando. Just watching him. But something about the look in his gaze—. I’d realized years before, sitting in a maths class, watching David have that same look in his eyes as he glanced at another boy. But this time David turned his head as though he realized I was watching him. I think he was embarrassed at first. But then he seemed to understand that I understood. And that was that.”
“You never talked about it?” Suzanne asked.
“Not in so many words. When he met Simon. Well, first I pretended I was deaf and blind and tried to give them as much time together as possible. But I remember telling David a few months later when it was pretty clear which quarter the wind sat in—not that it hadn’t been clear from the night they met—that I was happy for him. That he had something I never thought to have. David started to protest and then said ‘thank you.’ He complains sometimes about the pressure on him to marry, but even that he tends to avoid. I never heard him rail at a world that’s so savagely, insanely set against him. Even tonight he was telling me how much there is to honor in Britain. Christ.”
“Given everything he sacrifices for Britain, he probably has to believe that or he’d go mad.”
Malcolm looked at her for a moment. “Insightful as always, Suzette. Perhaps that’s it.”
“Simon talks a bit more.”
“To you in particular.”
“The outsiders banding together. But even Simon doesn’t complain. Nothing like as much as he has cause too.”
Malcolm frowned at a patch of shadow on the carpet. “I wish I could have found the right words to say to David tonight.”
“It’s not as though you can fix it, Malcolm.”
“No, but—“ He shook his head. “I couldn’t of course tell him that I have a whole new appreciation for the challenges he and Simon face keeping their relationship secret now I know my wife’s story.”
Not for the first time, Suzanne wished Malcolm could talk to David about her and the challenges of their marriage. It would be desperately good for him to have a confidant. But she knew he feared David’s reaction to the truth more than that of any of their other friends. David, Malcolm said, was an Englishman to the core, with very precise ideas about what that meant. She drew a breath. “David—“
“Believes theres much to honor in England. The country with laws on its books that would hang him and Simon. The country—“
“I betrayed.”
“You aren’t an Englishwoman. But I wouldn’t be surprised if David thought I’d betrayed it now if he knew the extent of my actions.”
Her qualms of earlier in the evening came flooding back. “Malcolm—“
“I’m not saying I regret anything, Mel. Quite the reverse in fact. You’ve opened my eyes to things I should have seen earlier. David and I have always seen the world in different ways.”
“The last thing I ever wanted was to come between the two of you.”
His arm tightened round her. “You haven’t, beloved.”

Incident in Berkeley Square 2_face
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!
Tracy

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?”

“Your study.”

“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.”

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