Teaser


photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

Happy weekend! After spending last weekend hosting our annual New Year party (now also a celebration of Mélanie’s birthday) I’m in the midst of copy edits of The Mayfair Affair but emerging briefly to post a teaser from my novella-in-progress about Suzanne and Malcolm’s first visit to London. It’s from the first draft without much revising so far!

Suzanne Rannoch’s first glimpse of London lived up to its reputation. Gray. Gray stone walls, gray cobblestones, seen through a curtain and gray mist and drizzle. England. The country of her husband Malcolm. The country she had spent the last five years fighting against.
“Does it ever stop raining here?” On the opposite seat, Blanca, Suzanne’s maid, also had her face pressed to the window.
“Oh, we’re sure to get at least a day or so of sun.” Addison, Malcolm’s valet, gave one of his dry smiles. “It’s summer.”
Colin, Suzanne’s one-year-old son, bounced on her lap, also intent on the window. “Russ, russ.”
“Yes, that’s a horse,” Suzanne said, though interpreting Colin’s pronouncements was still largely guesswork.
“There’s the Tower.” Malcolm spoke up, though he’d been more and more silent the closer they got to the city. “They have lions, Colin.”
“La.” Colin turned to his father with a grin.
“That was almost a word,” Suzanne said.
“Almost.” Malcolm caught his son as Colin launched himself across the carriage seat.
It seemed crowded, like all cities. But lacking the formality of Paris or the rambling quality of Lisbon where Suzanne had lived since her marriage to Malcolm a year and a half ago.
The streets widened slightly. “We’re in Mayfair,” Malcolm said. And then their hired carriage slowed to a stop. Malcolm handed Colin back to Suzanne and moved to open the door. “Aunt Frances’s.”
Holding her son, Suzanne stepped from the carriage to be confronted by a smooth facade of pale gray stone, shiny black area railings, and three polished steps leading to a doric portico topped by a fanlight. “Which floor is she on?” Blanca asked as Malcolm handed her down behind Suzanne.
“She has the whole house,” Malcolm said. “It’s actually crowded when all her children are in residence.”
Suzanne’s gaze moved up the building. Four stories. She forgot, dangerously often, just who he was, this man she had married. Oh, she’d always known he was a duke’s grandson, that his father was in parliament, that his best friend was the son an earl. But in Lisbon they had shared cramped lodgings. With her scent bottles crowding his shaving things off the dressing table, it was easy to forget the world he had come from. Dear God. The entire traveling theatre troop she had grown up with would have rattled about on one floor.
Two footmen hurried down the front steps, blue and gold livery, powdered wigs, gleaming buckles that looked to be real silver. As Malcolm took her arm to help her up the steps, a dark-haired young woman carrying a blonde child of about four. “You’re here, I’m so glad. We’ve been waiting for hours.”
“I’m honored you tore yourself away from your equations, Allie.” Malcolm leaned forward to kiss his cousin’s cheek.
“Stuff. You’re my cousin.”
“My cousin, Aline Dacre-Hammond,” Malcolm said to Suzanne. “And Chloe,” he added, ruffling the little girl’s hair.
Chloe was staring at Colin. “It’s nice not to be the baby.”
Aline Dacre-Hammond  had brown hair, wide brown eyes, and a smudge of ink on her nose. She was, Malcolm had told Suzanne, a quite brilliant mathematician.
“Do bring them in out of the rain, Aline,” a voice said from the doorway.
“My dear. We’re so glad to have meet you at last. You’re just as lovely as Malcolm wrote.”
Suzanne seriously doubted Charles had written anything of the sort.
Lady Frances Dacre-Hammond was far from the grand dame Suzanne had been expecting. She must be past forty, but the lines in her face were barely perceptible. Her gown of lilac sarcenet was cut in what Suzanne recognized as the latest Paris fashion, her buttery blonde hair was dressed with a careless abandon that was carefully created, her smile was careless but warm.
“You’re very kind, ma’am,” Suzanne said.
“I fear I’m not in the least kind, but I am excessively grateful to you for making my nephew happy. And to you, young chap.” Lady Frances touched her fingers to Colin’s hair. “Now do meet the rest of the family.”
She turned to the two girls who stood behind her. One, petite, with golden brown ringlets and a pretty face redeemed from the common place by a determined chin, folded her arms across her chest. “Welcome home, Malcolm. If you still consider this home anymore.”
“It’s good to see you too, Gelly,” Malcolm said.
So the girl was Gisèle, Malcolm’s fifteen-year-old sister, who had made her home with Lady Frances since their mother’s death.
“My sister Gisèle,” Malcolm said, turning to Suzanne. “And my cousin Judith, Aunt Frances’s second daughter,” he added, indicating the other girl, taller, with paler blonde hair, who was his cousin Judith.
“It’s lovely to meet you,”  Judith said, in the careful voice of a fourteen-year-old practicing her grown up manners. “I hope you realize we aren’t as odd as we seem.”
“Don’t you believe it for a moment,” Aline murmured under her breath.
“We’ve put you in the yellow bedroom,” Lady Frances said. “I trust you don’t mind sharing, we’re rather overflowing the house. And we’ve put a cradle in for young Colin. I thought you might prefer that to putting him in the nursery with Chloe. I hope you won’t be too crowded.”
“We’re used to sharing,”Suzanne said. “We don’t have a lot of space in our lodgings in Lisbon.” She and Malcolm had always shared a bedchamber, though she knew it was unusual for couples in the beau monde. It had been odd at first, for she was used to being solitary, but now the thought of being on her own brought on a wave of panic, particularly in this alien world.

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Mélanie and I had a very fun weekend with a trip to Children’s Fairyland with friends (pic above) and a reunion of alums and teachers from my high school, Marin Academy.  It was great to see what everyone is up to and to introduce Mel to old friends. Yesterday we had a mid-week treat with a wonderful writer lunch yesterday at Catherine Coulter’s fabulous house. (For pics from all these events see my Facebook page). Now I’m back at work on revisions to my  WIP, and I thought this would be a good time to post a teaser. Here’s a scene I’ve just been going over that shows Malcolm and Suzanne/Charles and Mélanie navigation the uncertain waters of their first investigation since Malcolm learned the truth. Any spoilers are for very early in the book.

 

Malcolm tucked Suzanne’s hand  more securely through his arm as they turned in the opposite direction. “What haven’t you told me?” she asked.
“Am I that transparent?”
“No, it took me years to learn to read you.”
Malcolm saw the realization of what she had just said flash in his wife’s eyes in almost the same instant it dawned on him. So much between them was unchanged and so much would never be the same. She swallowed but didn’t look away. Suzanne was tougher than that. “If you prefer not to tell me, I quite understand.”
“Good of you. Though of course that never stopped you from uncovering things in the past.”
“Darling—“
“Sorry.” He squeezed her arm with his free hand. “No sense in dwelling. In truth I could use your opinion. David revealed rather a lot about Trenchard.” He recounted David’s story about his belief that Trenchard had struck Mary.
Suzanne’s eyes darkened. “Men who strike their wives rarely do so only once.”
He pulled her arm closer against his side, aware of the warm of her skin through the layers of coat and pelisse. “Quite. David knew he was giving a motive for himself and for his father. I don’t think he realized the same about Mary. Perhaps because it’s beyond his comprehension that she could have committed murder.”
“It is beyond his comprehension about his father?”
“No, David made a token protest, but I’d say he’s all too aware of what his father’s capable of. As am I. And as a father myself, I can well understand Carfax feeling the impulse to murder. It’s damnably difficult for a woman to get out of a bad marriage. Money and family help, but even with a legal separation, she’d be likely to lose custody of her children. I find the thought intolerable in general. I can only imagine how I’d feel if it were Jessica and our grandchildren in the equation.”
“Your conscience would stop you. Carfax isn’t given to moral quibbles.”
“No. The chief factor in Carfax’s defense is that he asked me to investigate. It was actually  David who pointed out Carfax might have known I’d investigate anyway, and he wanted me in the open as well as to keep a check on Roth. And that he then brought David in to keep a check on me. David knows his father well.”
He could feel Suzanne considering this as they covered the damp cobblestones between the yellow glow of two street lamps. “It’s possible.”
“I was holding my breath lest Carfax say that Trenchard was a French spy.” He looked sideways at her familiar profile. “He wasn’t, was he?”
“Not that I know of.” She looked up at him, her eyes as hard and fragile as crystal. “I would tell you, Charles. Do you believe me?”
He gave the question honest consideration. “I think so.”
“Impressive.” Suzanne was silent as they turned into xyz Street. “Darling— We haven’t talked about this part of it, but these are your friends.”
“It’s hardly the first time we’ve been involved in an investigation involving friends.”
‘But these are the people you grew up with. In a way they’re family.”
Family. Always a tangled word for him. “Difficult to think of Carfax that way. What concerns me, is that I don’t want him anywhere near you.”
Suzanne’s fingers tightened round his arm. “I don’t think that’s an option, dearest. Unless we go to a remote desert island.”
“Don’t imagine I haven’t  thought of it.”
“I’ve told you before it isn’t wise to try to protect me, Malcolm. The recent revelations don’t change that.”
Malcolm looked down into her bright eyes. There had always been a hardness beneath the glow. He was just more aware of it now. “I’m not just protecting my wife. I’m protecting the mother of my children.”
“Darling—“
“You’ve always run risks with your safety, Suzette. I understand now just how far you’ve gone. But it’s different now. Colin and Jessica make it different. There’s no room for extravagant gestures. Whether they come from indulging a craving for adventure or trying to expiate guilt.”
Her chin jerked up. “I’ll own to a taste for adventure, but I’m not in the least given over to guilt. In fact one could say I’ve been all too able to commit all sorts of betrayals without showing any proper guilt at all.”
“My dear girl. Don’t show off. I may have been criminally blind to a number of things where you were concerned, but in other ways I can read you rather well. I know you. I know what you’ve been doing to yourself. And it’s folly—it won’t improve matters for any of the four of us.”
She glanced away. “Damn you, Malcolm—“
“Because I think we agreed. Before anything else, we’re parents.”
“I never forget that.” Her voice was low and rough.
“I know. But sometimes you’re so busy looking after everyone else, your forget to look after yourself.”
“All right. I won’t give in to any extravagant guilt-driven impulse—not that I admitting to having them in the first place—if you won’t give in to any extravagant protective impulses.”
“Fair enough. If—”
From the sudden tension that ran through her, he felt her sense what he had in the same instant. Nothing as defined as footfalls or movement in the shadows or a rustle of clothing, but someone was following them.
“Diversion,” she murmured.
The uncomfortable moment was gone. They were a team again. Of one accord, they moved into the doorway of a shuttered shop.

5.21.13TracyMelHappy end of summer and holiday weekend to those in the states! I’m emerging from a whirl of turning in The Berkeley Square Affair, writing The Paris Plot (the novella about Jessica’s birth), revising The Berkeley Square Affair, and doing copy edits on The Paris Plot, not to mention the general fun and chaos of raising a toddler and some summer fun (there are Mélanie and I above in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) to try to get back to more regular blogging.

Here is the cover art for The Berkeley Square Affair, which I really love, and a brief teaser in the form of the Prologue. Several of you have asked about the Fraser Correspondence, and I will try to post a new letter soon and also get back on a regular posting schedule.

Meanwhile, let me know what you think of the cover and the teaser and feel free to ask any questions about the book or the series.

Cheers,

Tracy

the berkeley square affair

Prologue

London

December 1817

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 and stains of countless carriage wheels, horse hooves, shoes, pattens, and boots. 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, sharp with the bite of December, 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.

He’d hardly had a settled life. He’d grown up in Paris during the fervor of the French Revolution and the madness of the Reign of Terror. Here in England, his plays had more than once been closed by the Government Censor. He’d flirted with arrest for Radical activities. He and his lover risked arrest or worse by the very nature of their relationship. But Simon had never thought to touch something of this calibre.

He held little sacred. But the package he carried brought out something in him as close to reverence as was possible for one who prided himself on his acerbic approach to life.

The scattered raindrops had turned into a steady downpour, slapping the cobblestones in front of him, dripping off the brim of his beaver hat and the wool of his greatcoat. He quickened his footsteps. For a number of reasons, he would feel better when he had reached Malcolm and Suzanne’s house in Berkeley Square. When he[TG3]  wasn’t alone with this discovery and the attendant questions it raised.

He started at a sound, then smiled ruefully as the creak was followed by the slosh of a chamber pot being dumped on the cobblestones–mercifully a dozen feet behind him. He was acting like a character in one of his plays. He might be on his way to see Malcolm Rannoch, retired (or not so retired) Intelligence Agent, but this was hardly an affair of espionage. In fact, the package Simon valued so highly would probably not be considered so important by others.

He turned down Little Ormond Street. He was on the outskirts of Mayfair now. Even in the rain-washed lamplight the cobblestones were cleaner, the pavements wider and neatly swept free of leaves and debris. The clean, bright glow of wax tapers glinted behind the curtains instead of the murky yellow light of tallow candles. Someone in the next street over called good night to a departing dinner guest. Carriage wheels rattled. Simon turned down the mews to cut over to South Audley Street and then Berkeley Square. Another creak made him pause, then smile at his own fancifulness. David would laugh at him when he returned home and shared his illusions of adventure.

He walked through the shadows of the mews, past whickering horses and the smells of dung and saddle soap and oiled leather. The rain-soaked cobblestones were slick beneath his shoes. A dog barked. A carriage clattered down South Audley Street at the end of the mews. It was probably just the need to share his discovery that made him so eager to reach Malcolm and Suzanne. If–

The shadows broke in front of him. Three men blocked the way, wavering blurs through the curtain of rain.

“Hand it over,” a rough voice said. “Quiet like, and this can be easy.”

Lessons from stage combat and boyhood fencing danced through Simon’s head. He pulled his purse from his greatcoat pocket and threw it on the cobblestones. He doubted that would end things, but it was worth a try.

One man started forwards. The man who had spoken gave a sharp shake of his head. “That isn’t what we want and you know it.”

Acting could be a great source of defense. Simon fell back on the role of the amiable fool. “Dear me,” he said, “I can’t imagine what else I have that you could want.”

The man groaned. “Going to make this hard, are you?”

Simon rushed them. He had no particular illusions that it would work. But he thought he had a shot.

Until he felt the knife cut through his greatcoat.


Happy March! Hard to believe the publication of The Paris Affair is just over two weeks away. We’ve updated the sidebar with some interviews and events I’ll be doing to promote the book. On March 15 I’ll be doing an interview (and ARC giveaway) on Deanna Raybourn’s blog. On March 25 (they day before the book’s publication) I’ll be on Susan Spann’s blog. On March 30 at 4:00 pm I’ll be talking about and reading from The Paris Affair at Book Passage in Corte Madera. If you can’t make the event but would like a signed, personalized copy, you can order one through the link. And then on April 5, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose will be interviewing me on Word Wenches.

Do check out the interviews, as I have lots more to share about the book and the series. And if you can make it to Book Passage, I would love to see you or love to sign a book if can’t make it but would like to order one. Meanwhile, here’s a new teaser featuring Malcolm and Harry Davenport. More soon!

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Harry stared after him as the door closed and his footsteps retreated down the stairs. “Wellington gave you no clue?”
“None.”
“Interesting man, our duke. Do you think Rivère approached him about the Laclos affair himself?”
“Then why Rivère’s dramatic approach to me last night?”
“Cover?”
“They wouldn’t need the cover for the Laclos affair, since Rivère brought it up to me. But if he approached Wellington about something else—”
Harry met Malcolm’s gaze for a moment. “Wellington can be ruthless.” It was a flat statement about the man they had both served for years and risked their lives for. “We considered in Brussels that he might be capable of murder.”
“But in the end he wasn’t behind Julia Ashton’s death.”
“Which doesn’t mean he isn’t behind Rivère’s death. Julia was an English lady. Rivère was a French double agent who was trying to blackmail the British.” Harry kept his gaze on Malcolm. Uncompromising, yet oddly compassionate. “War isn’t played by gentlemen’s rules. You know that.”
“Neither are politics or diplomacy.”
“Go carefully, Malcolm. Wellington can be dangerous.”
“At least I know him.”
“That’s precisely what makes him dangerous.” Harry cast a glance round the room. “You take the boxes on the left. I’ll take the right.”

THE PARIS AFFAIR SIDEBARThis week brought a lovely gift courtesy of UPS – ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of The Paris Affair. In honor of their arrival, I’m posting a teaser from the book and one commenter on the teaser will receive an ARC of The Paris Affair. This is a scene between Malcolm and one of the real historical characters in the series who is a major presence in his life – Prince Talleyrand. I love writing scenes with Talleryrand, and it was a delight to return to him in this book.

Let me know what you think! And be sure to also check out the new Fraser Correspondence letter I just posted from Charles/Malcolm to David in January 1816.

__________________________________________________________________________________

“Malcolm.” Prince Talleyrand extended his hand. He was, as usual, faultlessly arrayed, in a frock coat that would have been quite at home in the ancien régime, a frilled shirt, a starched satin cravat, and diamond-buckled shoes. “I saw you dancing with your exquisite wife. You make a charming couple.”

“I thought you had far more important things to observe in a diplomatic ballroom.”

Talleyrand turned his walking stick so the diamonds on the handle flashed in the candlelight. “I’d scarcely have survived as long as I have could I not observe more than one thing at once. I’m glad you dance more than you used to.”

“Even if it is with my own wife?”

Talleyrand’s thin mouth curved in a smile that also lit his pale blue eyes. “On the contrary Unfashionable, perhaps, but then you’ve never been one to care about the fashion. It’s good to find you circulating instead of spending the evening in the library.”

Malcolm had been four when he first met Talleyrand. It was both an advantage and a disadvantage in their relationship. It gave Malcolm inside knowledge of the prince, but it also gave Talleyrand inside knowledge of Malcolm, and Talleyrand was a master at using it. “I’m not quite such a recluse, sir,” Malcolm said. “Though as it happens I was hoping I could have a word with you in private.”

Talleyrand’s shrewd gaze slid over him, but the prince merely said, “Of course. I confess I frequently find society stifling myself these days.”

They moved along the edge of the dance floor, Talleyrand stopping several times to exchange greetings, and at last reached a white-and-gold antechamber, empty though the candles were lit. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” Talleyrand asked.

“Do I need an excuse to talk to you?”

“These days none of us does anything without an excuse.” Talleyrand dropped into a gilded armchair. “Is it to do with Rivère’s death last night?”

“What do you know about Rivère?” Malcolm asked, settling into the chair across from the prince.

Talleyrand leaned back in his own chair, stirring a faint dusting of powder from his hair. “I’d hardly be doing my job if I wasn’t aware that Rivère was selling information to the British.”

“You didn’t tell anyone. Did you?”

“By the time I acquired the knowledge I was dealing with the British myself.”

Malcolm set his hands on the arms of his chair, his gaze steady on Talleyrand’s face. “Who killed him?”

“My dear boy. I’m not as omniscient as you think.” Talleyrand smoothed his frilled cuff over his fingers. “I assume Rivère wanted you to get him out of France?”

“Was he about to be arrested?”

Talleyrand pressed a crease in the frill. “You’d have to ask Fouché.”

“Rivère’s cousin had been pressuring to have him arrested.”

“Yes, I believe so.” Talleyrand crossed his clubfoot over his good leg. The diamond buckle on his shoe flashed in the light from the branch of candles. “What did he threaten if you didn’t help him?”

“Vague claims to wreak havoc on the British delegation. What did Rivère have to do with Bertrand Laclos?”

Talleyrand’s brows drew together. His hooded eyes were suddenly more hawk-like than usual. “What did Rivère tell you?”

“Nothing specific. But his threats of havoc centered on Laclos.”

Talleyrand stared at his signet ring. “Laclos was an embarrassment. We were so proud when he returned to the fold. We should have suspected he might be a British asset from the first. I should have. I pride myself on knowing how the British think.”

“But in the end he wasn’t.”

Talleyrand frowned. “As is often the case, you’re too quick for me, Malcolm.”

Malcolm swallowed. Unease coiled within him. “Laclos was a double. I intercepted the communication that betrayed his work for the French myself.”

Rare surprise shot through Talleyrand’s blue eyes. “My word. So his death—”

“He was deemed to know too much.”

Talleyrand settled back in his chair. “Either I am a lamentable fool—which is entirely possible—or you’ve been deceived.”

Unease gave way to sick certainty. “You didn’t know Laclos was a double?”

“No. Of course I scarcely know the name of every French agent, but I like to think I would have done with someone so high profile.”

Guilt tightened Malcolm’s throat. “When did you learn he’d been working for the British?”

“Not until after his death. I could hardly fail to investigate with so important an asset. I had someone go through his papers. There was evidence he’d been working for the British. Given the embarrassed ripples that sent through French intelligence, if he’d actually been one of ours someone would have spoken up.”

Malcolm pushed himself to his feet and strode to the unlit fireplace. “I was afraid of this.”

He could feel Talleryand’s gaze on him. “You blame yourself too much, Malcolm.”

Malcolm spun round and looked at the man he had known since boyhood, his grandfather’s and mother’s friend. “An innocent man may have been killed because of me.”

“And in your line of work, I highly doubt he was the first. Or the last. You reported the evidence, Malcolm. Evidence which must have been fabricated.”

“By whom?”

“A fascinating question.” Talleyrand tented his fingers together. “I must say this is interesting. I can certainly understand Rivère’s claims that he could shake the British delegation.”

“I’m glad our difficulties amuse you, sir.”

“You must allow me to take my amusements where I can, Malcolm. There are few enough of them these days.”

Malcolm crossed back to Talleyrand. “Laclos was friendly with your nephew.”

“So he was.”

“Did you arrange it?” Malcolm dropped back into his chair and leaned towards the prince.

“My dear Malcolm. I choose my agents with care, for their keen understanding and discretion. Which is why I’ve always regretted I couldn’t have you for an agent. And why I’d never want Edmond for one. I did suggest it might be a good idea for Edmond to show Laclos round Paris.”

“And you got reports on Laclos from him.”

“I found it useful to get Edmond’s rather unsophisticated view of Laclos. Later when I learned Laclos had been working for the British, I wondered if Laclos had encouraged the friendship because Edmond was my nephew. Perhaps he thought my avuncular affections went further than they do.”

“You got Edmond his wife,” Malcolm said, perhaps unwisely.

“So I did.” Talleyrand’s fingers tightened. He unclenched them and curved them round the arms of his chair. “Speaking of actions which haunt one.”

“Actually knowing Dorothée makes it clear she’s not a chess piece?”

“Regrets come with age. God knows what that means lies in store for you, considering the number you already appear to have at—what? Eight-and-twenty?”

“Come October.”

“When I was eight-and-twenty—” Memories drifted through Talleyrand’s eyes. “I thought I knew a great deal, but in many ways I think I was much younger than you. I certainly hadn’t yet learned the meaning of regret. Or of love.”

Malcolm watched the prince for a moment. “Sometimes the two go hand in hand.”

“Yes.” Talleyrand’s fingers tensed on the chair arms. “So they do.”

“Rivère said one thing more.” Malcolm drew a breath, his throat raw. “Sir, is it possible Tatiana had a child?”

Talleyrand went still. His eyes became even more hooded than usual. “Rivère knew how to wound.”

“Is it—”

Talleyrand folded his hands together. “It’s possible Tatiana did any number of things.”

Malcolm studied the man his grandfather had trusted with the secret of his unmarried mother’s pregnancy thirty-some years ago, the man his mother had trusted to keep an eye on her secret daughter in France. The man who had made Tatiana his agent. “Are you saying you knew—”

“My dear Malcolm. If I’d known your sister had a child I’d have told you.”

“Would you?”

“After Tatiana died.” Talleyrand’s gaze was now unusually open.

“You might have thought I was better off not knowing. You might have made a promise to Tania.”

Talleyrand’s mouth curved in a rueful smile. “I’m not as protective as you think me. And I’ve learned to take a flexible attitude towards promises.”

Malcolm pushed himself to his feet, crossed the room in two strides, and leaned over the prince’s chair. “What do you know?”

Talleyrand looked up at him with the same open gaze. “A few stray comments, that might, in retrospect, mean something.”

“What comments?” Malcolm’s fingers bit into the fabric of the chair.

“An uncharacteristically wistful look in her eyes when she saw a small child once or twice. A comment, on hearing of a courtesan or actress who’d found herself in a delicate situation, that at least she herself had learned the value of precautions. And—”

“What?” Malcolm tightened his grip on the chair, holding Talleyrand’s gaze with his own.

“She asked me to help arrange time away from Paris for her. She needed a rest, she said. She needed not to be troubled by any of her various lovers. She was gone for about five months.”

“When was this?” Malcolm did calculations in his head.

“The spring of 1807.”

Malcolm straightened up and paced across the room. “More than three years after Tania left Russia. So the father couldn’t have been Tsar Alexander . Who could have fathered the child?”

“My dear boy. No offense meant to your sister—I hardly consider such behavior offensive—but keeping track of Tatiana’s conquests would have left me quite without time to tend to the business of France. I was still foreign minister at the time.”

“And Tatiana was your agent. Whom else did you have her collecting information from?”

“You can’t be so crude as to think the only way of collecting information—”

“Perhaps not the only but certainly one of the most likely with a beautiful woman like Tatiana.”

“She was establishing herself in Parisian society. She was indulging in flirtations with attachés from the Austrian and Prussian embassies. I don’t know if they went further. Even if they did, I see no reason for a child born of such a liaison to be kept secret.”

Malcolm locked his gaze on the prince’s own, trying to see behind that enigmatic stare. “Is there any chance Tania was involved with Napoleon Bonaparte that early?”

Talleyrand hesitated a fraction too long before he answered. “Not that I know of.”

“Not that you know of?”

Talleyrand smoothed his ruffled shirt cuff over his fingers. “I’d be lying if I said Bonaparte hadn’t noticed her. And it was like Tania to set her sights on men in the highest positions of power. It’s possible something had begun and she had reasons for keeping it from me. But even if it had, even if he was the father of her child, there’d have been no need then for such excessive secrecy. Bonaparte was generous with his bastards.”

Malcolm paced back to Talleyrand’s side and stood looking down at him. “What else?”

Talleyrand looked up at him, gaze bland as butter. “I don’t believe there is anything else.”

“Doing it much too brown, sir. You admit yourself you suspected Tania had had a child. And that she might have been Bonaparte’s mistress. You can’t expect me to believe you didn’t ask her about the child’s parentage.”

Talleyrand’s mouth curved with appreciation. “I could deny it, but I suppose there’s no point now. Yes, as it happens I did ask her. Tatiana didn’t deny there was a child. But she went as serious as I’ve ever seen her. She begged me not to ask any questions about the baby’s parentage. Not for her sake, but for the child’s.” He shook his head. “I’ve never been the sort to take vows seriously.”

“She made you swear not to ask more about the child’s parentage?” Malcolm asked.

“She made me swear not to tell anyone there was a child.” Talleyrand met Malcolm’s gaze, his own deceptively clear and direct. “Especially you.”

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Happy Holidays! Hope everyone celebrating any of the midwinter holidays is having a wonderful holiday season. For all the chaos, I love this time of year. Decorations, treats, time with friends and family.

Because this is a family time of year, December’s teaser from The Paris Affair show Suzanne/Mel and Colin with his honorary uncle, Simon, visiting a family of new characters in Paris’s Left Bank.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline writes to Gisele about the Fraser/Ramnoch Christmas in Paris in 1815.

“Thank you for coming with me,” Suzanne said to Simon, as their fiacre clattered through the cramped, twisting maze of the Left Bank. Colin bounced on her lap, face pressed to the grimy window.
Simon grinned. “I’m always pleased when you and Malcolm let civilians assist you.” He leaned back in his corner of the cracked leather seat and studied her across the fiacre. “How are you?” he asked softly.
Suzanne steadied Colin as he squirmed on her lap. “You mean besides investigating another mysterious death?”
“I haven’t asked you in a while. You look a bit less haggard than you did in Brussels.”
“Aren’t we all?” Her mind went back to their house in the Rue Ducale in Brussels, the black-and-white marble floor tiles lined with pallets on which wounded soldiers lay, the smells of laudanum and Waterloo had touched all of them, but in addition the investigation into Julia Ashton’s murder had been a strain, not just on Suzanne and Malcolm and Cordelia and Harry, but on Simon and David as well. The secrets uncovered had scarred all of them.
“Quite,” Simon said. “But I don’t think you’re finding Paris entirely easy, either.”
Simon understood her confoundedly well. Which meant he saw far too much. She often thought it was because like her he was an outsider in the beau monde, so the usual assumptions didn’t apply. “You have to admit the atmosphere in Paris is rather fraught.”
“And the politics not what one could call convivial.”
Simon was a Radical. He hadn’t supported war when Napoleon escaped from Elba. The politics in Paris now weren’t convivial to him or to Malcolm or to David. It didn’t mean he had any special knowledge about her and her past. She had to remember that. “Scarcely.”
Simon tilted his head back. “Just remember that I’m here to listen if ever needed.”
Colin bounced in her lap. “Dragons,” he said, his face pressed to the glass.
Three British dragoons had stopped before a bakery to flirt with a couple of Parisian girls. Colin had become good at spotting different types of soldiers in Brussels. Simon gave an ironic smile. “Even on the Left Bank.” He glanced out the window. “I grew up only a few streets over. One saw more tricolor in those days. And then Republican soldiers.”
They pulled up in a narrow winding street before a blue-shuttered house with a riot of violets spilling from the window boxes. Emile Sevigny himself opened the door to greet them, a wiry man in his early thirties with a bony face and a shock of disordered dark hair. His neckcloth was carelessly tied and a spot of blue paint showed on the shirt cuff peeping out from beneath his rumpled blue coat. “Simon, we got your note this morning. Splendid to see you.”
When Simon introduced Suzanne and Colin, Sevigny said, “Forgive the informality. Simon and I’ve known each other since we were boys. His father was my mentor.”
Emile Sevigny took them through a hall with walls hung with bright watercolors, charcoal sketches, and vivid oil portraits, and floorboards strewn with blocks and tops and a toy wagon, and out into the back garden. Louise Sevigny came towards them. She’d been fashionably dressed when Suzanne met her at the exhibition at the Louvre . Now she wore a simple muslin gown and her red-brown ringlets slipped from their pins beneath a gypsy straw hat. “Simon. It’s been too long since you’ve come to see us.” She lifted her face for his kiss and then held out her hand when he introduced Suzanne and Colin. “Of course. Madame Rannoch. Your husband is the dashing man who does all sorts of secret things for Wellington.”
“My husband would say not to listen to gross exaggerations. Colin, make a bow to Madame Sevigny. You saw some of her husband’s pictures when we went to the Louvre.”
Colin bowed and shook Madame Sevigny’s hand. Louise Sevigny called over her own children, two boys of about eight and two, and suggested they might like to show Colin their fort. The three boys at once darted across the garden to the fort, a paint-spattered tablecloth draped over two bushes. Louise and Emile Sevigny smiled. It was a good thing, Suzanne thought, that most spymasters didn’t realize how wonderful children were at creating diversions and putting suspects at their ease.
Louise Sevigny waved the adults towards a wrought-iron table set in the shade of a lilac tree. A maid emerged from the house with a tray of chilled white wine and almond cakes.
Emile cast a glance at the children as he poured the wine. “Simon and I were like that once at his parents’ house.”
“Save that Emile always dragged me off to the studio.” Simon accepted a glass of wine. “He found the sight of my father at work much more entrancing than I did.”
“It meant a lot, having someone take my youthful paint smears seriously.” Emile returned the wine bottle to its cooler. “I’ve started a new painting. The conspirators in the capitol after the assassination of Julius Caesar.”
Simon stared at him. “Good God, you madman.”
Emile gave a grin that turned him into a mischievous schoolboy. “It’s a classical subject. Something of a tribute to your father’s style.”
“My father could be a madman, too, when it came to running risks with the authorities.”
“And you’re a model of sober caution? I read the reviews of your plays, Simon. You’ve had the government censor close you down more than once.”
“There’s a big difference between risking a theatre being closed and risking—”
Emile shot a glance at Louise. She was watching him with a steady concern that reminded Suzanne of the moments she watched Malcolm go into danger. Knowing that to give way to any impulse to stop him would be to deny who he was. Not to mention who she was. Emile settled back in his chair. “People can take from the painting what they will. The assassination of a general who aspired to be an emperor could easily be a commentary on Bonaparte. A way of atoning for having painted the Bonaparte family.”
“My father would be proud of you,” Simon said.
“I hope so.”
“The truth is Emile has to do something other than society portraits or he’d go mad,” Louise said.
Simon took a sip of wine. “You both seem more at ease than the last time we met.”
Emile exchanged a look with his wife again. “We’ve just learned to laugh in the face of adversity. Forgive me, Madame Rannoch,” he added quickly. “These aren’t easy times for someone who painted the Bonaparte family.”
“I quite understand, Monsieur Sevigny. My husband deplores what’s been happening in Paris. As do I.”
Emile inclined his head. “It’s worse for others. Men like St. Gilles, who were more outspoken.”
“Including against Bonaparte.” Simon glanced at Suzanne. “Paul St. Gilles is a committed Republican.”
“So he was equally disgusted with Bonaparte and Louis?” Suzanne recalled a striking seascape by Paul St. Gilles she’d seen at the Louvre.
“He thought Bonaparte was the lesser of two evils,” Emile said. “Which is enough to render him anathema to the Ultra Royalists.”
Louise shivered. “I keep thinking about Paul and Juliette and the children. Dreadful.” She cast a glance at her own children, whose shiny black shoes and white-stockinged ankles peeped out from beneath the tablecloth fort.
“But I’m far less important than St. Gilles,” Emile said.
Louise turned her gaze to him, frowning.
Emile touched her hand. “My wife has an inflated sense of my importance.” He leaned back in his chair. “It hasn’t stopped the commissions, thankfully.”
Simon brushed crumbs of almond cake from his fingers. “I’d like to see what you’re working on. Particularly this Julius Caesar piece.”
“Of course.” Emile turned to the ladies.
“I’d best stay out here.” Suzanne glanced at the tablecloth fort from whence high-pitched chatter now emitted. “You wouldn’t think it, but ever since Waterloo Colin gets a bit nervous when I’m out of sight.”
“It will give us a chance to talk,” Louise said with an easy smile.
Emile refilled the ladies’ wineglasses before he and Simon went into the house, already deep in a conversation about capturing the quality of light.
“Simon’s a dear friend,” Louise said, looking after them.
“One of the first of my husband’s friends I felt at ease with,” Suzanne said. “I often think it’s because he knows what it is to be an outsider.”
“Yes, that’s it precisely.” Louise gave her a quick smile. “And that makes him at home anywhere.”
“It’s quite a knack.” Suzanne settled back in her chair in the sort of pose that invited confidences. “I can’t say being an outsider has quite done that for me. I certainly didn’t feel at home when Malcolm took me to Britain last year.”
“I know precisely what you mean. Marriage is supposed to make one belong, but sometimes it just makes one feel hopelessly lost and lonely.” Louise glanced round the garden. “Though it doesn’t seem to have done that for me.” She took a sip of wine. “I was married before Emile.”
“To the Comte de Carnot.”
“Yes.” Louise stared into the pale gold wine, as though looking into a troubled past. She must be in her midtwenties, but her wide blue eyes and soft-featured face made her appear younger than her years. “A very different life. I’d say it seems like a dream now, save that it’s more like a nightmare.”
Sometimes honesty was the best way to discover information. Which was rather a relief. Suzanne took a fortifying sip of wine and set down her glass. “Madame Sevigny. I confess I’ve been hoping for a word with you.”

I have a special treat this week. The lovely and fabulously talented Lauren Willig will giveaway two copies of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine and one audio copy of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily to commenters on this week’s post. If you haven’t yet discovered Lauren’s wonderful Pink Carnation Series, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. And if you’re already a devotee of the series, as I know many readers of this blog are, this is a great chance to have a copy autographed by Lauren.

Thinking about the inimitable Pink Carnation and Lauren’s other flower spies got me thinking about the Scarlet Pimpernel, an influence for Lauren (actually mentioned in the series) and for me and for countless other writers. My forthcoming The Paris Affair features a Scarlet Pimpernel type character coded named the Kestrel. I thought I would combine Lauren’s giveaway with my October teaser, an exchange between Suzanne/Mélanie and Raoul that introduces the Kestrel.

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She stared at him. She used to be quicker. She’d been too absorbed by her own concerns. Now she saw the strain in the set of his mouth and the worry at the back of his eyes. “Who?”
“Who what?” He took another swallow of wine.
“You’re worried about someone new. Someone who’s been proscribed? Or is about to be. I should have seen it.”
“Querida—”
She sat back against the bench, hit by the reality of how much things had changed. “You don’t trust me.” It was as though a well-worn cloak had been lifted from her shoulders on a cold day. “Can you honestly think I would betray one of our comrades—”
“I trust you with my life,” he said in a low, rough voice. “I’m trying to keep you from the intolerable burden of divided loyalties, my darling idiot.”
“It’s a bit late for that. You let me marry Malcolm. Not that I’m sorry you did.”
He kept his gaze on her face. “And I’m trying to avoid doing more damage to your marriage.”
“Since when have you been so driven by personal concerns?”
“Perhaps since personal concerns became all that are left to us. Or perhaps you had a somewhat exaggerated view of my ruthlessness.”
“You’ve quite neatly managed to change the subject.” She leaned forwards.”I won’t let you wrap me in cotton wool any more than I’ll let Malcolm do so.” That had become doubly important to her since she had left the work that had been the focus of her life for so long. “Who are you worried about now?”
Raoul released his breath in a harsh sigh. “Manon Caret.”
Suzanne drew a sharp breath. “But she’s—”
“No longer untouchable. She may still reign over Paris from the Comédie-Française, but that won’t hold much weight with Fouché.”
Suzanne swallowed. “Fouché knows Manon was a Bonapartist agent?”
“More to the point, others do and have denounced her. He’ll look soft if he doesn’t move against her. With the Ultra Royalists claiming he’s too moderate—God help us—he can’t afford any hint of softness. And I suspect he’s worried about what she knows.”
Suzanne shook her head at the idea of Manon Caret, the celebrated actress who had kept Raoul apprised of the doings of Royalists for years, facing arrest. “She’s on the proscribed list?”
“No, and I doubt she ever will be. Too many embarrassing questions. I doubt there’ll even be a trial. But Fouché’s planning to take her into custody. She’ll quietly disappear, probably never to be seen again.”
Suzanne nodded. Spies were rarely dealt with through official channels. “When?”
“According to my sources we have a week at most.”
Suzanne stared at the candlelight flickering in the depths of her wineglass. They had drunk Bordeaux the night she first met Manon Caret. Suzanne had been sixteen, raw from the dubious results of her first mission. Raoul had taken her along when he went to meet with Manon at the theatre late one evening. They’d watched the last act of The Marriage of Figaro, joined the throng of Manon’s admirers after the performance, then lingered on in her dressing room. Suzanne still recalled Manon going behind a gilt-edged dressing screen and emerging in a froth of sapphire silk and Valençiennes lace, despite the frivolous garment somehow transformed from charming, imperious actress to hardheaded agent. Hardheaded agent who had been remarkably kind to a sixteen-year-old girl still feeling her way in the espionage business, far more uncertain than she would admit to anyone, even herself.
She had drunk in the talk of the seasoned spies that night, as they sat round a branch of candles and a bottle of wine, surrounded by costumes and feathered masks and the smell of powder and greasepaint. She had met Manon a handful of times in the next two years, though Suzanne’s work had been on the Peninsula. And then, in 1811, Suzanne had been called upon to assist Hortense Bonaparte, the Empress Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s brother’s wife, who found herself with child by her lover. Suzanne had thought they were safe when Hortense delivered the baby safely in Switzerland and gave it into the care of her lover’s mother. But returned to Paris, Suzanne had learned that evidence about the child had fallen into the hands of Fouché, who wouldn’t hesitate to use it against Hortense or her mother. Suzanne had stolen the papers from the ministry of police before Fouché could make use of them. But she had had difficulty slipping out of the ministry. With a knife wound in her side and one of Fouché’s agents on her trail, she had sought refuge at the Comédie-Française with Manon. If she’d been caught with the stolen papers in her possession, she’d have faced prison and very likely execution as a spy, no matter that she was working for the French. Manon had dressed her wound between scenes, bundled her into a costume, and hidden her in plain sight onstage as one of Phèdre’s ladies-in-waiting. All at considerable risk to herself.
Suzanne snatched up her glass and took a sip of wine. “Manon probably saved my life. I’ve never forgot it.”
“Nor have I.” Raoul’s mouth turned grim.
One would almost think he blamed himself for her predicament that night, save that that was so very unlike Raoul. Suzanne pushed aside the thought. “What are you planning?”
“Suzanne—”
“You must have a plan.”
He hesitated a moment. “I’ve made contact with the Kestrel.”
“The who? One of your former agents?” It wasn’t like Raoul to go in for fanciful code names.
He shook his head. “Not one of mine. Or anyone’s. He works for himself. For some years he wreaked havoc by rescuing Royalists from our prisons or from certain arrest.”
“And now he’s rescuing Bonapartists?”
“He claims to deplore wanton killing.”
“And you believe him?”
“I don’t have many other options. He was behind the rescue of Combre and Lefèvre’s escape.”
She leaned forwards. “I can help you.”
“No.” His voice cut across the table with quiet force.
“Since when have you been one to refuse aid? I assure you, I haven’t let myself grow rusty.”
Raoul’s gaze darkened. “For God’s sake, Suzanne. You have a husband, a son, a life. To be protected, for all the reasons you so cogently explained when you told me you were stopping your work.”
“This is different. Stopping my work doesn’t mean turning my back on my comrades.”
“The risk is still there.”
She gave a laugh, rough in her throat. “We live with risk.”
“You don’t have to anymore.”
She stared at him across the geraniums. “This isn’t like you.”
“Perhaps Waterloo changed me. Or perhaps I’ve always been less Machiavellian than you were inclined to believe.”
She pulled her wineglass closer. She’d loved Raoul, but she’d always known she couldn’t trust herself to him. Had her judgment of him been a form of defense, a way of protecting herself from disappointment? “I need to help. I need to do this.”
“Querida—” His gaze turned soft, in that way that always disconcerted her. “You don’t owe anyone anything. Least of all me. And Manon would tell you she knew the risks.”
Suzanne drew a harsh breath. For a moment, the table and the wineglass, the bottle and the vase of geraniums swam before her eyes. She saw Manon’s daughters, asleep on the sofa in the room that adjoined her dressing room. Then she saw Colin, eating a boiled egg with concentration when she had breakfast with him before she left the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré this morning. “I have to help, Raoul. Or I’ll go mad.”
“Why—”
“Because I’m safe. Or safer than most of us. Because I live in luxury, with the man I love and my child. Because I dine and dance with the victors and even count some of them as friends. Because for hours together I forget who I am and what I fought for. I forget that we lost.”
“All the more reason—”
“I wanted to stop betraying my husband. I didn’t want to lose myself.”
“You’d never—”
“You told me when you first recruited me that it was my decision, my choice what risks to run.” She saw them in the cramped, gaudy room in the brothel in Léon where he’d found her, surrounded by gilt and crimson draperies. “You always let me make up my own mind.” She swallowed, holding his gaze with her own. “It was one of the reasons I loved you.”
He returned her gaze for a long moment, his own steady and unreadable, then sat against the bench. “The Kestrel has a plan to get Manon out of Paris. Getting her out of France will be more difficult.”
Suzanne released her breath. “You’ll need travel documents. If I get you Castlereagh’s seal can you forge the rest?”
Querida—”
“It’s far less dangerous than half the things I did in Lisbon or Vienna. Castlereagh’s fond of me. I help smooth the waters with Malcolm.”
He took a drink of wine, as though still deciding. Then he gave a crisp nod, transformed back into the enigmatic spymaster. “I’ll be at the ball at the British embassy tonight.”
She nodded. “If you bring me the papers, I can add the seal, then return them to you. It will be simple—”
A faint smile crossed his face. “Don’t say it, querida. It’s like wishing an actor good luck.”

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What do you think is responsible for the enduring appeal of the Scarlet Pimpernel? What are some of your favorite books and movies inspired by it?

I’ll post the winners of the contest nest Tuesday, 16 October.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Jane Chase to Mel/Suzette.

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