Dinner at Balboa Café
Happy August! The novella will be off the to the copy editor shortly. I’m mulling possible titles – Continental Escape, Continental Interlude, and Mission for a Queen are among the options. What do you think? The queen in question is Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s stepdaughter, who plays a major role in the novella. If you haven’t already seen it, I blogged about her on History Hoydens recently. The plans for the series reread on the Google+ Group are proceeding with a September start – do check it out. I’m really looking forward to new insights as we go along.
Mélanie and I had a fun break last night going out to dinner at the Balboa Café and seeing a great production of The Little Mermaid at 142 Throckmorton. But I’ve been writing a lot this weekend, and the new novel is really hitting it’s stride. I’m very excited about the new directions it takes the characters, and the new characters it brings into the series.
Meanwhile, here’s another teaser from the novella, the first scene between Malcolm and Suzanne (who, in a sign of how their lives are changing, is thinking of herself as Mélanie).
Mélanie Suzanne Rannoch tucked a blanket round her son, Colin, on a bench in the tiny cabin, while holding her sleeping eighteen-month-old daughter, Jessica, a boneless weight against her shoulder. She touched the fingers to the soft head of Berowne, their cat, curled up on the bench beside Colin, then dropped down on the opposite bench, Jessica in her lap, braced against the rocking of the boat that was carrying them across the Channel. Away from the life they had built carefully in the past year and a half. The life she had thought would be the foundation of her children’s future.
The boards creaked. She looked up to see her husband stoop his head as he stepped into the cabin. He gave her a quick smile, a gleam in the yellow light of the single lamp. He touched his fingers to Colin’s hair, then dropped down on the bench beside her and Jessica. He cupped his hand round Jessica’s head for a moment. “Oh, to be able to sleep anywhere.”
“I thought they wouldn’t sleep at all for a while. So much excitement.” A day that had begun with a seemingly normal breakfast in their Berkeley Square house and ended with a midnight escape on a boat down the Thames. For some reason the image of the breakfast parlor, with the peach-colored walls she had chosen and her cream-and-rose breakfast china, brought a lump to her throat. She’d bought that china on a shopping expedition with her friend Cordelia, while they carried their babies in their arms and Colin played in the china warehouse with Cordelia’s elder daughter. Mélanie rocked Jessica, willing her hands to be steady. “We’re going to have to talk about it at some point.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Malcolm said.
“We took an action we always knew we might have to take. If our house burned down, and we had to flee, there wouldn’t be anything to analyze after the fact.”
“There would if it was my fault it burned down.”
He lifted a loosened strand of hair from her neck and let it slide through his fingers. “If Carfax hadn’t wanted to drive a wedge between David and Simon, if David and Simon hadn’t been my friends, none of this would have happened.”
“If I hadn’t been a former Bonapartist spy, Carfax wouldn’t have been able to use my past against David and Simon.” Her fingers dug into the soft wool of Jessica’s blanket. Simon’s gaze, when he had visited them in Berkeley Square hours before they left London, hung in her memory. The compassion in his eyes still seared her. But she had escaped with her family intact, whereas his had been shaken to the core.
Malcolm turned sideways on the bench and gathered her against him. “We’re spies. We deal in information. Some people are going to be hurt when we use it. Some saved.”
“My God.” She swiveled her head round to look at him. “Don’t tell me you’re saying it’s all relative.”
“Of course not. But guilt is inevitable. We have to live with it. You’ve always been better at that than I am. You need to go on doing so. For the children’s sake.” His fingers moved to Jessica’s head again. “For your own sake. For my sake.”
“I won’t let you down, Malcolm. Or the children. And I’m too selfish to let myself down.”
“You’re one of the least selfish people I know, sweetheart.” He pulled her closer and dropped a kiss on her hair.
She let her head sink back against his shoulder. “I don’t deserve you.”
“That sounds like the sort of idiotic twaddle you despise, sweetheart.”
“Simon would be horrified. Not at all up to the dialogue in his plays.” She swallowed. Better not to talk about Simon just now. They needed to focus on the future. “Darling— Now we’re out of Britain, there’s no hurry necessarily in getting to Italy, is there?”
He drew back to look down at her. “You want to see Talleyrand and Dorothée? I’m not sure that’s wise. Talleyrand is fond of you, but he’s also in communication with Carfax.”
“Yes, I know. That is, I would like to see them, but I agree it’s not sensible, not now.” She looked up at her husband. “You see, I can be sensible sometimes, darling.”
“Sometimes,” he agreed.
She twisted one of his silver waistcoat buttons between her fingers. “I was wondering about stopping in Switzerland.”
His gaze told her he understood at once. “You want to see Queen Hortense? To warn her?”
A mere month and a half ago, Malcolm hadn’t known of her connection to Hortense Bonaparte, daughter of the late Empress Josephine, stepdaughter of the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. But last April a letter from Hortense to her former lover, the Comte de Flahaut, had gone astray at a ball Mélanie and Malcolm were giving. Mélanie had trusted her husband with her friendship with Hortense and the story of how she had once helped Hortense conceal the birth of her secret illegitimate child by Flahaut. “That’s part of it,” she said. “Hortense should know Julien St. Juste was in England, that he’s been working for Carfax, that he was willing to move against Flahaut, for all he swore he’d never touch Hortense herself. And if Carfax knows about me, there’s a chance he knows about Hortense and her child. I don’t want to scare her, but we should put her on her guard. Also—” She hesitated, fumbling for words she wasn’t entirely sure of herself.
“You’ve been shaken from your moorings. It would be good see someone from your old life.”
“I suppose so. Yes.” She looked up at him. Six months after he’d learned the truth of her past, sharing that truth was still uncertain territory for them. “I took Colin to see her once. After Waterloo.”
“I’m glad.” Malcolm’s gaze was warm and steady on her face.
“Truly. You lost a lot from your old life. Colin and Jessica are exposed to little enough of it. They should know your friends. But are you sure you want to take me to see Queen Hortense?”
“Malcolm, you can’t doubt I trust you now.”
“There are different degrees of trust.”
Mélanie settled back against her husband. “I told you when I told you about her baby with Flahaut. You wouldn’t hurt a woman and her child. Besides—” Incredibly she almost laughed.
“What?” he asked.
She titled her head back to look up at him. “I thought it would be impossible to escape him. But you really aren’t working for Carfax now, darling.”
“No.” Malcolm’s gaze went still. “I only wonder how much I’ll be working against him.”