“Lady Claire!” a voice cried out. Evan jogged across the small patch of grass on the common, behind where Claire sat with Julia, her younger sister. It was half past five o'clock and the sisters had taken a stroll through Hyde Park. Papa's affairs brought him into the city and they had. With Mama's permission, come to London with him for a short visit. Their promenade complete, with plenty of ogling and pleasantries exchanged, they had just settled upon a park bench for a much-needed rest. “Oh, dear,” Julia exclaimed, then giggled in Claire's ear. “Here he comes,” she whispered. “Two yards of muscle topped by China-blue marbles.” Claire just rolled her eyes and worked to steady her heart, which chose to dance a quadrille within her chest at the sound of Evan's voice. She stared at her sister as a method for calming down, taking deep breaths, like a child struggling to manage a tantrum. Julia took after their mother, with honey-brown hair and eyes that matched, wide cheekbones and a peasant's strong build. She would be married off to some Eastern European prince, like Claire, and despaired of it. She had more time, as the youngest, though not much more. Papa was working furiously fast. “Mr. Michaelson,” Claire replied. He nodded his head to Julia, who nodded back. When had they all become so formal? “Evan! Whatever are you doing in London?” Julia shouted, jumping up to greet him, then halting, offering her hand. The shift from child to young woman had been a rapid one, advancing during Evan's time in battle, and Claire wished that time would move more slowly, for her mind seemed too delayed to process all she needed to understand and experience. He took Julia's hand and grinned, lips pressing against her glove, his words muted as he said, “My father sent me.” Julia pursed her lips and then bit the lower, a coquettish affect that led to a slow crawl of territoriality in Claire. Do not even think it, sister, she thought to herself, covering her mouth with one hand to stop the words from making their way to air, the other hand curling into a cat's claw. “Might I have a word alone with you?” he asked Claire, those eyes so intense, his gaze melting the rest of the world away. “Within view of your chaperone, of course,” he said, smiling at Julia. “We wouldn't want any rumors to float about that might cause a stream of discomfort,” he added, winking at Claire and pointedly making eye contact with the minor audience who now gaped openly at the trio. What? What? She fairly screamed in horror. Float? Stream? Detestable man. To think she ever wanted to marry him! Was he trifling with her, making innuendos about what he might have seen the other day at the waterfall? His eyes twinkled with the merriment of torturing her with a secret, yet she could only grit her teeth and act as composed as possible. “No, Mr. Michaelson,” she finally replied, steely eyes boring into his, Julia perking up with the preternatural sense that something was amiss – and worth watching. “Whatever you say to me must be said to my sister, as well.” “Did you know that one of our cousins from South America is coming to live in England!” Julia declared, taking Evan's arm. He seemed unbalanced by the gesture, so certain a moment ago and now a bit befuddled. Good, thought Claire. Julia was a wicked gossip and would find some way to keep them all talking with poisoned tongues in a few moments. She needed to discuss anything other than that day with him. “Really?” he inquired politely, walking with Julia and Claire around a small shrubbery. “And which cousin is this?” “The triplets!” Julia cried out, as if Evan offended her with his failed memory. “Ah, yes. The triplet daughters from your aunt.” His face closed off, and she realized he was unsure how to proceed. Their aunt Katherine had died seven years past, likely of some horrid disease caught in the filthy jungles of Venezuela. Claire's mother always said Aunt Katherine had been too adventurous, and it had killed her in the end. Her father claimed Uncle Manuel told him it was a slow-moving disease of the belly that took five years to creep through her. Mama wouldn't hear of it; she would always blame her uncle for luring Katherine off to that dangerous land. “Yes! Our cousin, Anastasia, has married an earl!” Julia said breathlessly. Of all the Hanscombe girls, Julia wore the most distinguished bosom, which now heaved with the excitement of a juicy bit of information she clearly needed to express. Her brown eyes widened and narrowed with intrigue and importance. Claire, of course, knew what she was about to say, but did not spoil it for her sister. The climax was, for Julia, the fun of whispering scandalous things about town. Evan seemed to know exactly what to say next, and winked at Claire. She flushed, heat pooling in that same place where the water had excited her. “And which earl?” he inquired. Julia looked hurriedly to the left and right, as if worried about spies. “The Earl of Framingshire!” Claire and Julia shuddered simultaneously. Evan came to a halt and openly gaped, all composure and courtly manner discarded. “The Earl of Framingshire? No!” Then he laughed, great belly laughs that made Claire want him even more, his relaxed and open state tipping a keen yearning in her from simple want to open desire. The Evan she had known all these years was right before her, eyes filled with shock and mirth, shaking his head, casual and free. “Yes!” Julia clapped, clearly thrilled by her execution of what would prove to be the talk of the ton for the season. “Someone's father actually agreed to marry him. And that someone is our cousin from the savage land!” “Didn't the earl make an offer to your father, Claire?” Evan asked, one hand suddenly clenching into a fist. She swore that he had, imperceptibly, almost reached out to touch her. Oh, how she wished he had. She closed her eyes and bristled. “Yes,” she sighed. “Apparently, the earl's man made an overture to every wealthy father within a two-week voyage of his estate. Fortunately, like all other good fathers, Papa said no. Can you imagine being married to, to that?” She swallowed and shuddered again. “He is quite pleasing to the eye,” Julia replied, moving her head and eyes about as if conjuring his physical memory. “But his reputation,” Evan said, “is...far too perverted for any decent woman.” “Are you calling my cousin 'indecent,'” Claire asked archly. Oh, good. A reason to be angry with him. Now she could work with this, could get her mind off that mouth, those hands, and her mind's torment of imagining them on her body here, and there, and oh, yes, here. “Oh, no, that is not what I...” Julia and Claire glared him down. “But ladies, I did not mean to imply...” “No. You did not imply. You stated it outright, Sir,” Claire retorted. She was enjoying her anger now. Something tangible, with fangs, a feeling she could control with reins and a bridle of fury. It was so much easier to be his nemesis and not his object of desire, to view him with contempt instead of passion. “But he has been with three women! At once! What sort of father would accept that in a man? And what sort of woman...” He fumbled for words and she lit into him. “Women have no choice in the men they marry, Mr. Michaelson. You, of all people, should be quite well acquainted with that fact!” she nearly shouted. Passersby began to slow their walking to a slug's pace, ears turned to catch as much of the scene as possible, fuel for gossip sessions at tomorrow's tea. Julia arched her eyebrows, shrewd eyes picking out all of the undertones as she watched them, Claire now two feet from Evan, facing him directly, so aroused with anger and passion that she'd as likely slap him as kiss him. He arched his eyebrows, the expression making him more attractive, her stomach tightening with the pain of rejection. “And you, Lady Claire, should know that the same holds true for many men.” “What do you mean?” asked Julia. Evan let out a sound of disbelief. Julia looked at him quizzically, then at Claire, and then her mouth opened slightly, as if to acknowledge the deeper implications. “Men cannot choose their wives? You are equating the role of women and men in courtship, Mr. Michaelson? Are you certain you did not injure more than your leg at war? Your thinking seems impaired,” Claire blurted. She was breathing hard, her clothing oppressive, her body angry and smothered by so many layers. So many rules. He reached for her gloved hand and startled her, bending slightly, his lips pressing against the cloth, murmurs creating small vibrations that seemed centered on the tender flesh of her belly. “Forgive me. I have clearly offended you.” Anything but this. Claire could handle being angry with him. Could manage any condescension he might inflict. Could even muddle through watching him dance with another. But right this very moment, his apology and the view of his lips on her hand made her light up with passion and pain, the blend so flurried she needed an escape. “And furthermore!” Claire added. “If you are going to besmirch my family's reputation, my sweet cousin's honor, please kindly do it in the manner of polite company – with whispers behind fans at soirees and in salons, hisses and moans in a lover's ear on country visits – and not in the middle of Hyde Park in broad daylight.” And with that she hooked her arm in Julia's and the two women stormed off, her sister now joining her in the art of angry offense, leaving Evan to stand there sputtering apologies that were a balm for Claire's aggrieved heart and body. The buzzing faded as she stepped further from him, though the abatement was temporary. She knew she would not rest for as long as she lived if she could not be with Evan. Yet why, oh why, had he not fought for her? Papa's words stung. But thank goodness Papa had not paired her with the Earl of Framingshire. However, a worse thought invaded – she truly had no choice. Papa could pick someone far worse than Framingshire, and she, like her cousin Ana, could be judged for the pairing. Ah, her heart hurt.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Where two worlds collide
So I've written a novella, The Waterfall's Kiss, which focuses on the Hanscombe girls (Lady Claire Hanscombe, in particular), daughters of the Earl of Landsdown. Their mother is the sister of Lady Katherine Bonham, who married Manuel de Vargas and moved with him to South America, giving birth to triplets in 1785. An Inconvenient Fortune is the first full-length novel featuring one of the triplets, Anastasia, who is now 25. Set amidst the toppling of King Ferdinand of Spain and Napoleon's installation of the imposter king, his brother Joseph, on Spain's throne, the book looks at romance during a time of revolution in the Spanish colonies. Got all that? But back to England, and the very proper ton as the triplets' English cousins have their own rebellions to deal with. Here's a scene from The Waterfall's Kiss where we see the cousins and the interrelationships: