Vienna Waltz

Mummy back from Merola's Schwabacher Summer Concert

Mummy back from Merola’s Schwabacher Summer Concert

Happy Friday! If you’re like me, you now spend the weekend anticipating the new version of Poldark on PBS Sunday nights. I still have vivid memories of being glued to the original series with my parents in late night reruns in the 80s. Watching Ross Poldark torn between Elizabeth and Demelza (and frequently thinking “won’t you wake up to what’s in front of you?”) I’ve been thinking about triangles. Last night at Merola’s wonderful Schwabacher Summer Concert a fabulous except from Verdi’s Don Carlo also made me think about the fascination of triangles (for those in the Bay Area, the concert is repeated Saturday at 2:00 for free outdoors at Yerba Buena Gardens).

The Mayfair Affair takes the Suzanne/Malcolm/Raoul triangle in some interesting new directions. This seemed a good time to ask what readers think of the current state of that triangle (is it even still a triangle?) and of literary triangles in general, and also to repost a post I originally put up in 2011 on Squaring the Triangle.

Have a great weekend!


“Squaring the triangle” is a term the playwright hero of S.N. Behrman’s No Time for Comedy flippantly uses to describe what he does writing romantic comedies. I was thinking about this last week watching one of my favorite television shows, The Good Wife. The heroine is back together, at least on the surface, with the husband who betrayed her. Peter Florek is a deeply flawed character, yet I find him likable in many ways, and in last week’s episode I genuinely believed him when he said he’d fallen back in love with his life. I almost found myself wanting their marriage to work out. And that’s despite the fact that I really like Alicia’s colleague and old love, Will, and most of the time I desperately want the two of them to get together.

That’s the key to writing a really fascinating triangle, I think. Having all the characters interesting and sympathetic enough that one is somewhat torn about who ends up with whom. Which of course can create problems with also having a satisfying happily ever after, if such an ending is the goal of the story. As I’ve mentioned before, I think one of my favorite plays/movies, The Philadelphia Story, does this brilliantly in that both Mike and Dexter are sympathetic and possible options for Tracy (both much better than her stuffy fiancé George). I think often the viewer isn’t quite sure who will end up with whom. And yet the ending feels very right (at least to me).

Both Vienna Waltz and The Mask of Night have several triangles. I don’t really want Mélanie/Suzanne to go back to Raoul, at least not in that way (or mostly not in that way, to paraphrase both Charles and Mel in Mask). But I’m very fond of Raoul and I can definitely see that tug between them. As Jeanne adeptly pointed out in last week’s comments, he represents a world in which Mel can practice her talents to the fullest and be herself, whereas in Charles’s world she has to work more behind-the-scenes (though she manages rather a lot of adventure in any case). Raoul ended up much more sympathetic than I had at first envisioned when I wrote Secrets of a Lady, and I think that makes the dynamic among the three of them much more interesting. Not to mention that in addition to the residual romantic tension, there’s a spy dynamic, ideological issues, and a father-son story between Raoul and Charles that takes on more prominence in Mask.

The plot of Vienna Waltz is more or less built on triangles–the triangle of Tatiana, Tsar Alexander, and Metternich which forms the set-up of the murder discovery and investigation; Suzanne/Mel, Malcolm/Charles, and Tatiana (which, whatever else it is or is not, is certainly an emotional tug-of-war); and real life triangles such as both Metternich, the tsar and Wihelmine of Sagan, and Metternich, the tsar, and Princess Catherine Bagration (Metternich and Tsar Alexander definitely carried their rivalry into the boudoir). And then there’s the triangle which is still very much an open question at the end of the book of Dorothée, Count Clam-Martinitz, and Prince Talleyrand. Dorothée isn’t sure at the end of the novel which man she’ll end up with, and that’s certainly a real life triangle in which I can sympathize with all three participants.

What do you think of triangles in books? What are some of your favorite literary triangles? Are there times when you’ve been dissatisfied with the resolution of a triangle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Céline asked me to do my next writing craft post on research. A welcome suggestion as research is one of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction. As with many facets of writing–plotting, character development, drafting–i do my research in layers. Often it’s a piece of research from an earlier book that gives me the original idea for a book. My fascination with the Congress of Vienna. My research into Waterloo and the White Terror for the backstory of various books (and the central plot of Shores of Desire). An intriguing historical character like Wilhelmine of Sagan or Dorothée Talleyrand. As I plot the book, I need to do more research, and that research in turn inspires plot developments. A duel between Dorothée Talleyrand’s husband and lover became an important sequence in The Paris Affair. One of the early things I do is make a timeline of historical events for the period of my book (Scrivener makes it easy to keep the timeline and other notes handy0. Then I can layer my fictional events in with the real ones as I plot.

When I’m writing the first draft, I do more specific research, particularly into settings. For instance, with Vienna Waltz I knew enough about the Carrousel to know it would be central episode in the book, but I didn’t research it in depth until I was writing those scenes.

With later revisions, as now with The Paris Affairohv , there are details to check like whether or not there were benches in the Luxembourg Gardens in 1815 (which resulted. after inconclusive hours, in me having the characters sit on the ground).

I like to use primary sources–letters and diaries and other accounts by people who were actually observers of or participants in the events I’m writing about. I used to spend a lot of time at the Stanford and University of California, Berkeley, libraries. i still use those libraries, but I can find more and more on the internet now. A lot of the books I used to check out are now available through Google Books (mostly free because they’re in the public domain), so I have a research library I can carry with me. And I can highlight and type notes in the books. much easier to decipher than my handwritten scribbles. Some details that don’t make it into a book end up in the Fraser Correspondence as in the letter i just posted where Mélanie/Suzanne writes to Simon about a military review.

I also gather up nonfiction books by contemporary authors about the events I’m researching. Then there are some resources I return to again and again like my Oxford English Dictionary with historical usage examples, so I can see when a word came into use and how it was used. even though I’ve been writing in the same era for all of my writing career, there are always new things to learn. which is one of the challenges–and one of the delights.

Research is one of my favorite things to talk about so do ask any questions you have. Writers, how do you balance research and writing?

Photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

VW Cover Home Page

You’ll notice that my website has a new look for Imperial Scandal, thanks to my wonderful web designer Gregory Paris, and there are now Imperial Scandal detail pages. But Vienna Waltz is also on my mind this week. Last Wednesday I got the fun news that
 Vienna Waltz is a finalist in DABWAHA, a contest for romance novels that mirrors basketball’s March Madness. As with the March Madness NCAA tournament, there are 64 contestants. Readers vote for their favorites in each round from 64 books to 32 to 16 to •8 to 4 to 2 to the tournament champion. I don’t expect Vienna Waltz to last in the tournament long, but  I confess it’s fun to be singled out. I have fond memories of watching March Madness games with my dad. I think he’d enjoy one of his daughter’s books being part of a March Madness tournament.

Any questions about Imperial Scandal from the new pages? Have you ever participated in DABWAHA? What are your favorite books from 2011?

My daughter Mélanie is eight weeks old today. Hard to believe it’s already been eight weeks (she’s two weeks in the picture above) and at the same time hard to remember there was a time she wasn’t here. As we move into February, my late New Years resolution is to get back to regularly updating this blog (it may take me a bit longer to get the Fraser Correspondence back up to speed). This week’s post is an excerpt from my WIP, The Princess’s Secret, which is set in Paris after the battle of Waterloo (and after my forthcoming Imperial Scandal). I just finished a draft and am starting to revise, so it’s a fun time to be sharing a bit of the book.

The post-Waterloo Paris setting lets me revisit a number of the characters from <em>Vienna Waltz, including Wilhelmine and Dorothée who are in this scene. Let me know what you think and which other characters, real or fictional, you’d like Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzanne to cross paths with again. Once again I’ll give away an ARC of Imperial Scandal to a commenter.

“How should I have the least idea what Edmond may or may not know?” Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord flung herself down on her chaise-longue. “I’m the last person in Paris he’d confide in. You should have seen the way he was looking at Karl and me at the opera the night before last.”
“I did see. It argues something other than lack of interest,” Mélanie took a sip from the gilt-rimmed cup of coffee Dorothée had given her.
Dorothée grabbed a cushion from the chaise-longue and plucked at the fringe. “Edmond isn’t any more interested in me than he ever was/ His pride was hurt. Stupid honor.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more there.”
Dorothée flung the pillow aside. “I’m sorry, Mélanie, I’m not usually so pettish. It’s being back in Paris. Having Edmond here even if I see next to nothing of him. Facing down the gossip. Worrying about Karl.”
“And then there’s the strain Monsieur Talleyrand is under,” Mélanie said.
“That too.” Dorothée reached for her own cup of coffee and took a careful sip. In Vienna, she had fallen in love with the handsome Austrian Count Karl Clam-Martinitz, who was still her lover. But her relationship with her husband’s uncle, Prince Talleyrand, had also deepened in ways she would not admit even to a close friend like Mélanie. Perhaps not even to herself. “Who is this man who was a friend of Edmond’s?”
“Bertrand Laclos. He died in the Peninsula in 1811.”
Dorothée frowned a moment, then shook her head, her glossy brown ringlets stirring about her fine-boned face. “I’d just married Edmond then [?} and come to Paris. Paris bewildered me, and I tended to want to sink into the shadows. Edmond’s friends were all a blur.”
“What are you looking so serious about?” Dorothée’s eldest sister, Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, swept into the room with a rustle of Pomona green sarcenet and a waft of custom-blended scent. She dropped down in a chair and began to strip off her gloves. “Do pour me out a cup of coffee. I drank too much champagne at the Russian embassy last night.”
“Do you remember a Bertrand Laclos?” Dorothée asked, pouring a cup of coffee for her sister. “A friend of Edmond’s.”
“I make it a point to avoid Edmond’s friends.” Wilhelmine took a grateful sip of coffee. She lowered the cup and looked at Mélanie over the gilt rim. “Is this to do with the Comte de Rivere being killed last night?”
“That’s quick even for you,” Mélanie said. “How did you guess?”
Wilhelmine tugged at the ribbons on her cottage bonnet and lifted the straw and satin from her burnished gold curls. “Someone dies under mysterious circumstances, and you and Charles start asking questions. I’ve learned to put two and two together.”
Dorothée regarded her sister. “Besides, I suspect Lord Stewart told you.”
“Possibly.” Wilhelmine took another sip of coffee., then shrugged her shoulders, fluttering her gauze scarf. “Oh, very well. I was there when he got the message from Castlereagh this morning.”
“I don’t know what you see in him, Willie.” Dorothée made a moue of distaste. “When I remember how he pinched me at the Metternichs’ masquerade—“
“I admit Stewart isn’t always subtle—“
“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one. I think Talleyrand would have struck him at the masquerade if I hadn’t intervened.”
Wilhelmine took another sip of coffee. “Yes, well, we know how protective Talleyrand is when it comes to you.”
Dorothée flushed. “Don’t make this about me, Willie. I liked Alfred—“
“Alfred, if you’ll recall, left me.” Wilhelmine rubbed at the lip rouge smeared on her cup.
Dorothée bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Willie—“
“Don’t be. Every love affair has to end with someone leaving.” Wilhelmine’s mouth curved with customary cynicism. Yet in Vienna last autumn, Mélanie had seen how deep Wilhelmne’s feelings for Alfred von Windischgrätz ran.
“Then there was Fred Lamb,” Dorothée said. “I liked him as well.”
Wilhelmine leaned forward to pour more coffee into her cup. “Agreeable. But not serious.”
“And now Alfred’s in Paris and seems very—“
Wilhelmine clunked the coffee pot down on the silver tray. “Are you saying you think I should come running the moment he crooks his finger?”
“No, course not. But if love him—“
“I don’t believe in love. Or at least I don’t trust it.” Wilhelmine tugged out her handkerchief and wiped at the coffee that had spattered on the tray and the porcelain tiles of the table. “Whatever Alfred may think he feels, within a few years he’ll be married to a nice, respectable girl. It was never going to last—“
“And you think—“ Dorothée stared at her sister. “Willie, are you considering marrying Stewart?”
Wilhelmine lifted her cup, full to the brim, and took a careful sip. “You say that as if marriage was some new form of sin.”
“You’ve sworn you’re never going to marry again.”
Wilhelmine, twice divorced, gave her sister a careless smile. “You’ve known me all your life, Doro. Surely you realize I’m changeable.”
Dorothée shook her head. “I can’t believe you love him.”
“My dear child. You’re nearly two-and-twenty. You can’t still think love has anything to do with marriage.”
“It does for some people.” Dorothée flicked a glance at Mélanie.
“There are always exceptions.” Wilhelmine’s face relaxed into a smile. Then she studied Mélanie. “Though I don’t know that even Mélanie would claim her marriage began with love.”
“It began with necessity,” Mélanie said. Which was the truth. Though as with so much else to do with her marriage, a twisted truth.
Wilhelmine’s gaze held perhaps more understanding than Mélanie would have liked. “There are all sorts of reasons one marries. Necessity. Security. Position.”
Dorothée stared at her sister, as though she were a puzzle with unexpected angles. “And you think Stewart will give you—“
“His brother is the foreign secretary of England. It might be amusing.”
“It sounds beastly.” Dorothée reached for her lace shawl and pulled it tight round her shoulders. “Take it from me, there’s nothing worse than being tied to a man one can’t respect.”
“But then I’m not a romantic, Doro. That makes it easier.” Wilhelmine turned her gaze back to Mélanie. “I don’t know anything about this Bertrand Laclos, but if you want to learn about Rivere, you should talk to Lady Caruthers.”
Mélanie was used to making quick leaps of thought, but this was too much even for her. Gabrielle Caruthers was a French émigrée to England now married to a British officer. “Why?” she asked. “What does she have to do with Rivere?”
Wilhelmine settled back in her chair. “She was his mistress.”
“Gabrielle Caruthers”?” Dorothée said. “That’s a bit of gossip I hadn’t heard.” Her eyes narrowed. “I suppose Stewart told you.”
“No, Annina did. Maids always hear gossip first.”
“Lady Caruthers always seemed so demure.”
“They’re often the most scandalous ones.”
Dorothée shot her a sisterly look. “You’ve never been the least bit demure, Willie.”
“There are always exceptions.” Wilhelmine settled back against the cushions, cradling her coffee cup in one hand. “I expect you want to talk to Lady Caruthers. I understand she’s in the habit of taking coffee in the late morning in the Café Luxembourg. Quite like a Frenchwoman. Which of course she is. Though she hasn’t live here for years.”
“Much like me,” Mélanie said. Which was a truth, caught in the myriad lies she told about her past, even to her closest friends.
““Is that why you’re looking into Rivere’s death?” Dorothée asked. “Because you suspect Lord Caruthers was involved?”
Mélanie took a sip of coffee. “Until two minutes ago I hadn’t the least idea Lady Caruthers was involved with Rivere.”
“According to Annina, Rivere and Lady Caruthers had become quite reckless,” Wilhelmine said. “Though Lord Caruthers doesn’t particularly seem the jealous sort.”
“One never knows.” Dorothée’s face darkened. “I’d have never thought Edmond—“
“Edmond’s just the sort to get his pride hurt. Rupert Caruthers seems more—“ Wilhelmine’s delicate brows drew together as she searched for the right word.
“Temperate?” Mélanie suggested. She pictured Lord Caruthers, well-cut features, an agreeable smile. The sort of man to get a lady lemonade at a military review or return to the carriage for her parasol. And it was all done with sincerity rather than an attempt at flirtation.
“Yes, that’s it precisely.” Wilhelmine nodded. “Too well-bred to fight a duel.”
“That’s all very well,” Dorothée said, “but betrayal can take people the oddest ways.”
Mélanie reached for her coffee, a dozen thoughts tumbling through her brain, not all to do with Antoine de Rivere and the Carutherses. Her fingers closed hard round the delicate porcelain handle. “So it can.”

It’s autumn – rose gold light, pumpkin spice lattes, cuddly sweaters (in the San Francisco Bay Area, the weather turned distinctly crisp last week). And Halloween was just last week. It was always one of my favorite holidays growing up, not for the candy but for the magic of masquerading as someone else (inevitably a favorite historical or fictional character) for the day.

Thinking about Halloween made me think about masquerade balls. I’ve always loved them in books. Costumes allow characters to highlight their personalities or to masquerade as someone quite different. And masks allow for all manner of intrigue, romantic or otherwise. My mind tens to run to suspense when it comes to intrigue. My idea for The Mask of Night began with the image of a masked man floating, stabbed to death, in a fountain, and Mélanie in black Elizabethan dress, reaching a lace-cuffed hand reaching into the water to examine the body.

Masked balls were a frequent form of entertainment at the Congress of Vienna. In a city filled with dukes, princes, kings, and emperors, where rules of protocol and precedence hung over most public events, masquerades provided unexpected freedom. Not to mention an opportunity for sexual and diplomatic intrigue. A masquerade at the Hofburg Palace marked the start of the Congress. At another masked ball at the Hofburg on 30 October, 1814, a masked figure slipped Prince Metternich a note from his political and romantic rival, Tsar Alexander, concerning Wilhelmine of Sagan, a woman they both pursued.

Costumes at these masked balls followed a variety of themes. At a masquerade Mettternich gave in November at his summer villa (which is the setting for a sequence in Vienna Waltz), the sovereigns were told to wear black and ladies were asked to dress in regional costume. Peasant dresses swirled on the dance floor, many stitched with enough jewels to feed an entire peasant village for a month. Lady Castlereagh excited comment by wearing her husband’s Order of the Garter in her hair. At midnight, many of the guests exchanged masks, adding to the masquerade mischief. And despite the glittering guest list, not all those present were monarchs and aristocrats. Metternich sent Wilhemine of Sagan tickets for her maid Hannchen and Hannchen’s daughters and even suggested Hannchen and Wilhelmine could switch masks if they liked.

In January, yet another masked ball at the Hofburg followed a glittering sleigh rideto the Schönbrunn and back. Only Lent put an end to the endless round of masquerades, though not to the romantic and political intrigue.

Do you enjoy masked balls in books, as a reader or a writer? What do they allow that isn’t possible in non-masquerade party scenes? Any favorite sequences in books?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mel/Suzette to Charles/Malcolm on their anniversary in 1814, a companion piece to his letter to her last week.

Happy autumn! In celebration of the season, my historical romance, Dark Angel, is .99 cents on Nook and Kindle for the month of November.

And for my October teaser, I thought I’d dip into my current WIP, The Princess’s Secret. It’s set in Paris after Waterloo, a few months later than Imperial Scandal (which will be out next April). I’m having a lot of fun writing it, and enjoying the fact that the Paris setting lets me revisit a lot of the characters from Vienna Waltz.

Here’s a sneak peek of the opening scene:


The hanging oil lamps swayed and gusted at the opening the door. The wind brought in the stench from the Seine. A man and woman stepped into the Trois Amis tavern and stopped just beyond the door. The man was lean and dark-haired and perhaps taller than he looked. He slouched with a casual ease that took off several inches. A greatcoat was flung carelessly over his shoulders. Beneath, his black coat was unbuttoned to reveal a striped crimson waistcoat. A spotted handkerchief was knotted loosely round his neck in place of a cravat.
The woman, who leaned within the circle of his arm, wore a scarlet cloak with the hood pushed back to reveal a cascade of bright red curls, brilliant even in the murky light of the tavern. Glittering earrings swung beside her face, though surely they must be paste rather than diamonds. Her rouged lips were curved in a smile as her gaze drifted round the common room with indolent unconcern.
The other occupants of the tavern glanced at the new arrivals. It was an eclectic crowd, a mix of sailors, dockworkers, merchants, women who plied their wares along the docks, a few young aristocrats in sporting dress. And soldiers, in the uniforms of Russia, Prussia, Austria, Bavaria, and England. These days, less than two months after Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo, one couldn’t go anywhere in Paris without seeing soldiers.
After a moment, the crowd returned to their dice, drinks, and flirtation. The accordion player seated in the center of the room, who had paused briefly, launched into another lively air.
The couple moved to the bar, where the gentleman procured two glasses of red wine. While he was engaged with the barkeep, several men ran appreciative gazes over the lady. One went so far as to put a hand on her back. “How much?” he asked, his head close enough to her own that his brandy-laced breath brushed her skin.
The lady ran her gaze over him. Her eyes were an unusual color between green and blue. She brushed her fingers against his face and then put a gloved hand on his chest. She gave a dazzling smile. “More than you can possibly afford.”
The man regarded her for a moment, then shrugged and grinned. “Can’t blame a man for trying,” he said, and moved toward a fair-haired girl by the fireplace.
The gentleman turned from the bar and put one of the glasses of red wine into the lady’s hand. If he had noticed the man making her an offer, he gaze no sign of it. He touched his glass to hers, and they threaded their way through the crowd to a table neither too obviously in the center of the room nor too deep in the shadows. Experience had taught them that the easiest way to hide was often to remain in plain sight.
The lady tugged at the cords on her cloak and let it slither about her to reveal a low-cut gown of spangled white sarcenet. The gentleman shrugged out of his greatcoat, slouched in his chair, and ran a gaze round the room.
“I don’t see anyone matching the description,” the lady said in unaccented French.
“Nor do I,” the gentleman agreed, in French that was almost a flawless.
“We’re a bit early.”
“So we are. But I’d give even odds on whether he actually puts in an appearance. He’s never been our most reliable asset.”
The lady tossed back a sip of wine. “Oh, well. At least we’ve had a night out.”
The gentleman grinned at her. “I can think of places I’d rather bring you.”
“But this one has a certain piquancy, darling. An evening without diplomatic small talk. Bliss.”
The gentleman lifted his hand to slide his fingers behind her neck, then went still, his fingers taut against her skin.
The lady had seen it too.
The man they had come to meet stood by the door, a short, compact figure enveloped in a dark greatcoat. He removed his hat to reveal hair that was several shades darker than its natural color. A good attempt at disguise, but nervousness still radiated off him.
“Well,” the gentleman murmured to the lady. “People can surprise you.”
The lady touched his arm. “I’ll take care of it, Charles.”
Charles Fraser caught his wife’s wrist. “Be careful.”
Mélanie Fraser turned to look at her husband. “Really, dearest, you’d think you didn’t know me.”
“Sometimes I wonder.” Charles pulled her hand to his lips, the gesture flirtatious to anyone watching, but his grip unexpectedly strong. “Remember, we’re in alien territory.”
She squeezed his fingers. “When are we not?”
Mélanie moved into the room, her spangled skirts stirring about her, and bent over the accordion player. He gave her a quick smile. A moment later, he launched into a lilting rendition of La ci darem la mano. Melanie began to sing, her voice slightly huskier than usual. She moved toward the nearest table and brushed her fingers against the face of the portly man who sat there, then bent over a young Russian lieutenant at the next table, her burnished ringlets spilling over his shoulder.
The buzz of conversation stilled. The dice ceased to rattle.
Charles allowed himself a moment to appreciate his wife’s skill, then picked up his greatcoat and glass of wine and strolled across the room to the corner deep in the shadows of the oak-beamed ceiling where the man he was to meet had taken up his position.
“My compliments, Rivere.” Charles dropped into a chair across from him. “I gave even odds on whether or not you’d actually put in an appearance.”
Antoine, Comte de Rivere, cast a quick glance about. “For God’s sake, Fraser, what do you mean coming up to me openly?”
“You were thinking we’d pass coded messages back and forth instead of having a conversation?”
“If we’re noticed–”
“My wife has things in hand.”
“Your–” Rivere stared at Mélanie, who was now perched on the edge of a table, leaning back, her weight resting on her hands, her skirt pulled up the reveal the pink clocks embroidered on her silk stockings. “Good God.”
“Yes, I don’t think you’ve seen Mélanie in action before. We’re both more accustomed to disguise than you are.”
Rivere looked from Mélanie to Charles. “Neither of you seems to have much sense of the need for secrecy. You’re both dressed to attract attention.”
“But the man and woman people will remember seeing tonight will seem nothing like Charles Fraser, attaché at the British embassy, and his charming wife.” Charles pushed his glass of wine across the table to Rivere. “You look as though you need it more than I do.”
Rivere took a sip of wine. His fingers tightened round the stem of the glass. “I pass messages. I don’t–”
“Indulge in this cloak and dagger business. Quite.”
“It’s all very well for you British.” Rivere twisted the glass on the scarred wood of the table. The yellow light from the oil lamps glowed in the red wine. “You’re protected by embassy walls and diplomatic passports. It’s getting more and more dangerous for the rest of us. The Ultra Royalists have been out for blood ever since the news from Waterloo. I sometimes think they won’t rest until they’ve rid the country of every last taint of Bonapartism. I’m not sure even Talleyrand and Fouché can hold them in check.” He grimaced. “Mon Dieu. That I’d ever be calling Fouché the voice of moderation.”
“If nothing else he’s survivor,” Charles said. “As is Talleyrand.” Prince Talleyrand, who had once been Napoleon Bonaparte’s foreign minister, and Fouché, who had been his minister of police, had both managed to survive in the restored Royalist government.
“Even they can’t hold back the tide,” Rivere said. “Look at la Bédoyère. The man just slipped back into France to say farewell to his wife and baby son, and they threw him in prison and executed him.”
“La Bedoyere was the first officer to go over to Bonaparte when he escape from Elba. You aren’t on the proscribed list.”
“Yet.” Rivere cast a glance about and leaned forward, shoulders hunched, voice lowered. “Fouché receives more denunciations every day. You’ve heard Royalists in the Chamber of Deputies clamoring for blood. Cleansing they call it. It’s the Terror all over again.”
Charles cast an involuntary protective glance toward Mélanie, who was tugging playfully at the cravat of a Prussian major. He looked harmless enough, but these days Charles’s every sense was keyed to danger. There was no denying France in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat was a dangerous place. Frenchmen clashed in the street daily with soldiers from the occupying armies of Prussia, Russia, Austria, Bavaria. And, Charles could not deny, England as well. Royalist gangs had ravaged Marseilles and Toulon and other cities. “It’s dangerous,” Charles conceded. “But that doesn’t mean you—“
“My cousin’s in the Chamber, and he wants me dead. My father got the title when his father was guillotined in the Terror. He wants it back.”
“There are legal avenues he could pursue.”
“But getting rid of me would be quicker. And it would be vengeance for his father. He’s worked his way into the Comte d’Artois’s set. It’s only a matter of time before I’m arrested.”
The Comte d’Artois, younger brother of the restored Bourbon King Louis XVIII, was known for his zeal in exacting retribution on those who had supported Napoleon Bonaparte. It has been easier when Napoleon was exiled the first time. After his escape from Elba and his second defeat at Waterloo, the Ultra Royalists wanted blood.
Charles studied Rivere’s usually cool blue eyes. “The irony being that while you served Bonaparte you passed messages to the British.”
“But there’s no way I can prove it, damn it.”
“We could help. But being a British spy isn’t likely to gain you favor with the French, even the Royalists.”
“Precisely. I’m damned either way.”
“You’re not generally one to talk in such melodramatic terms.”
“I don’t generally fear for my life.” Rivere cast another glance round the tavern. Mélanie was now standing on one of the tables, arms stretched in a way that pulled the bodice of her gown taut across her breasts. A whistle cut the air.
Charles reclaimed his glass and took another sip of wine. “What do you want, Rivere?”
“Safe passage out of France.”
“I can talk to the embassy—“
“Not through official channels. That will take too long. Get me out of Paris and across the Channel within the week. Once in England I want a pension, a house in the country, and rooms in London.”
“You don’t set your sights low, do you?”
“Do you have any idea how much I’m giving up leaving France?”
For a moment, Charles could smell the salt air at Dunmykel, his family home in Scotland, and hear the sound of the waves breaking on the granite cliffs. It wasn’t easy to be an exile. Even if one had chosen the exile oneself, as he had done. “We don’t turn our back on our own, Rivere.”
“No?” Rivere gave a short laugh. “What about Valmay and St. Cyr and—“
“I don’t turn my back on our own,” Charles said. Far be it from him to defend the sins of British intelligence. “But I can’t make you guarantees of that nature on my own authority.”
“Take it to Wellington or Castlereagh or whomever you damn well have to. But I want an answer within twenty-four hours.”
“You seem very confidant.”
“I am.” Rivere reached for the glass and took a long drink of wine.
A whoosh sounded through the tavern. Mélanie had jumped off the table and landed in the lap of a red-faced gentleman in a blue coat.
Rivere set the glass down but retained hold of the stem. “Tell your masters that if they don’t meet my demands, the information I reveal will shake the British delegation to its core.”
Charles leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. It was not the first time he’d heard such a claim. “It’s not as though the British delegation has never weathered scandal. And the behavior of most delegations at the Congress of Vienna rather changed the definition of scandal.”
“This goes beyond personal scandal.”
Charles pulled the glass from Rivere’s fingers and tossed down a swallow. “Enlighten me.”
“Oh, no, Fraser. I’m not giving up my bargaining chip. But mention the Laclos affair to Wellington, and I think you’ll find the hero of Waterloo is all too ready to accede to my demands.”
Charles’s fingers went taut round the glass. “What the devil does Bertrand Laclos have to do with this?”
Rivere’s brows lifted. “That’s right. I forgot you were involved in the Laclos affair. I think I’ve said enough for now. Just take my message to Wellington and Castlereagh. I doubt either of them wants to see England and France at war again.”
Charles kept his gaze steady on Rivere, trying to discern how much was bluff, how much was real.
“I may only be a clerk,” Rivere said, “but clerks are privy to a number of secrets. I didn’t just ask you to meet me because you’re Wellington’s best agent. I asked you because what I know about you should guarantee you’ll help me.”
“Oh, for God’s sake—“
“For the sake of your family.”
“A bit extreme, surely,” Charles said in a light voice that sounded forced to his own ears. “My family are a long way from Paris.”
Rivere leaned back, holding Charles’s gaze with his own. “Given her varied career, it never occurred to you that she might have had a child?”
Oh, God. Rivere knew—
“Your sister,” Rivere said.
For a moment, the blood seemed to freeze in Charles’s veins. His acknowledged sister, Gisèle, was seventeen and safely in England with their aunt, where she had made her home since their mother’s death. Even given Aunt Frances’s penchant for scandal and his own absence, he couldn’t believe Gelly had had a child without his knowledge. So Rivere must mean–
“Yes.” Rivere reached for the glass and tossed down the last of the wine. “Tatiana Kirsanova.”
The blood roared in Charles’s head.
So that it took a split second for him to register the gun shot that had ripped through the tavern.


Let me know what you think. I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Charles/Malcolm to Mélanie/Suzanne written on their wedding anniversary in 1814 after the events of Vienna Waltz.

I’ve just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence in which Charles/Malcolm writes to David about Eithne returning to England and Fitz going off to India. Various types of marriages are a theme that runs through my books, and Eithne and Fitz’s marriage, ideal on the surface, certainly holds it’s share of challenges. This seemed a good time to focus on another of the Vienna Waltz discussion questions.

Compare and contrast Suzanne and Malcolm’s marriage with Fitz and Eithne’s, from their reasons for marrying, to their secrets and betrayals.

I’ll give away another signed coverflat for Imperial Scandal to one of this week’s commenters.

Like a chess master, he carefully weighs his next move . . . advancing slowly until he is sure he can capture his helpless pawn. For in his mind, there’s no way to . . .

My good friend, the wonderful writer Jami Alden, is celebrating the release of her new romantic suspense, Hide from Evil. Jami’s giving away a copy of Hide from Evil to one of this week’s posters (I’ll draw the name next Sunday the 23rd).

RT Book Reviews gave Hide from Evil 4 1/2 stars and said “Anyone who says that romantic suspense is no longer a hot commodity hasn’t read Jami Alden. She’s quickly making a name for herself as one of the top writers in the genre. Her latest novel continues her streak of excellent, gripping stories and brings captivating recurring characters along for the ride.”

Here’s a bit about the story:

Sean Flynn should feel lucky he’s alive. But his betrayal by a close friend—and two years on death row—have left him feeling only numb. When his conviction was overturned, Sean retreated to a quiet woodland cabin, far away from prying eyes. There, he believed the past couldn’t come back to haunt him . . . until she showed up.

Overcome with guilt, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Krista Slater can’t forgive herself for convicting an innocent man. But when another brutal murder reveals chilling, new facts about his case, she must turn to Sean for help. She’s ready to face his anger, but the desire in his eyes ignites a need she’s never felt before. Shadowed by danger, Sean and Krista uncover a twisted maze of deception and betrayal—all under the dangerous gaze of a cunning mastermind who will do whatever it takes to keep his evil secrets safe.

If you visit my blog, there’s a good chance you like suspense stories. What differences do you find between historical suspense and contemporary suspense? What characteristics are the same in the genre regardless of the period the book is set in?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mélanie/Suzanne to Raoul, written after the revelations at the end of Vienna Waltz.

In the comments on last week’s Imperial Scandal teaser with Raoul, Jeanne had some interesting comments about how Raoul feels about Mélanie/Suzanne.

“I want to like Raoul even though he is ruthless. It’s his ruthlessness that gives Melanie her independence and her freedom to be “feral”, “fierce” and “reckless.” He never tries to protect her by restraining her actions. He uses her for those qualities seemingly without hesitation.

“But the common trope in a romance is that, if a good man loves a woman, then he wants to keep her from endangering herself. He may not act on those feelings, he may even recognize the inconsistency between loving her for her strength and wanting to protect her from harm but those protective instincts always seem to arise. So when we are seeing from the good man’s POV, we will eventually hear those thoughts.”

I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms before, but it’s true that Raoul and Mel/Suzette’s whole relationship is built on shared danger. In fact, there’s a scene in Secrets of a Lady where Charles asks why Raoul didn’t protect her, send her somewhere safe, and Mel says something along the lines of “I didn’t want to safe, I wanted to fight.” I think Mel is inclined to see Raoul as a bit more ruthless than he actually is. It’s Charles in Secrets who sees that Raoul is obviously still in love with her, while Mel’s never been sure Raoul loved her.

Jeanne went on to say, “I don’t want to hear Raoul having those thoughts and I was glad to he doesn’t in this scene. I want him to be so ruthless that it never even occurs to him that he should protect her as it doesn’t seem to here. And yet, I want to know that he loves her as we also hear in this scene.

“I don’t think most readers will like Raoul for this, most of them probably won’t even believe he really does love her. But I do. And, at the end of The Mask of Night when Charles asks Raoul to stay because his presence makes Melanie happier, I realized that Charles thinks so too.

“I can think of one other male “romance” character who understood that love doesn’t give a man the right to restrain a woman’s actions in order to protect her. It’s Lord Peter Wimsey in “Gaudy Night”. Somewhere in that book, he and Harriet discuss this and that male protectiveness leads women to deceive men in order to be free of it. I think Melanie and Charles get close to having a similar discussion in The Mask of Night.”

I think the Peter & Harriet parallel is very apt. Peter certainly has times when clearly wants to protect Harriet, yet in Gaudy Night he understands the importance of her being able to run her own risks. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes struggle with this as well in Laurie King’s books. They have an extraordinarily egalitarian relationship. Yet the scene that ends with them becoming betrothed begins with Holmes hitting Russell over the head and knocking her out so she can’t go with him after the villain. Granted Russell is still recover from being abducted and exposed to heroin at the time. But it becomes part of their marriage negotiations (“I’ll not marry a man I can’t trust at my back.”).

Charles/Malcolm is more definitely inclined to try to protect Mel/Suzette than Raoul is, which she rebels against. Not that he’s overprotective–-she runs a lot of risks at his side from even before they get married. But he slides into what she calls his “Brutus/Hotspur” moments where he tries to protect her or feels guilty because she’s been hurt or put in danger. As she says in Vienna Waltz, “Darling, I knew what you did when I married you. I knew I’d never be able to bear being your wife if it meant sitting on the sidelines or waiting like Penelope to see if you came back alive. If you wanted that sort of wife you shouldn’t have married me, however strong your chivalrous impulses.”

Not that there aren’t moments when Mel/Suzette wants to protect Charles/Malcolm as well. I also think it’s interesting that one of the results of Mel/Suzette marrying Charles/Malcolm is that it puts her in a much safer situation than she’d been in running about Spain. Which I don’t think she considered, but I suspect Raoul did…

Do you equate protectiveness with love? Do you think Raoul loved Mélanie/Suzanne? And does his not trying to protect her make you more or less likely to believe he loves her? What are other literary couples you can think of who struggle with this issue?

I’ve just posed a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline tells Gisèle about her engagement to Geoffrey Blackwell.

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