Please don’t tell him.
Because, you see, I’ve done a Very Bad Thing. I invited Lord Ben Doreé, the hero of In the Arms of a Marquess (in stores tomorrow yay!!!), to visit the ballroom today. But I did so under false pretenses. I told him that Octavia Pierce would be here. And you see, he has… well, he has Very Strong Feelings for her, shall we say? Quite, quite strong. For like, actually, Years.
(I don’t know why I’m emphasizing with capitals, unless it’s that I’m Really Nervous. Must be my Catholic Upbringing, because I’m a terribly guilty liar, I tell you.)
In any case, I lied to Ben. But I had to do it. I couldn’t resist, and anyway he’s got this whole Secret Identity thing going where people in society don’t know the power he really holds, beyond his noble title, so he won’t be able to throw stones at me for one little fib, right? (But I babble.) The reason I invited him here is to use him as An Example (again with the capitals). And you see if he knew that, he wouldn’t come.
For what am I using him as an example, you ask? Well, we all know how Lady B admires a fine gam. And I’m really in complete agreement with her on that, although sometimes when a gentleman wears trousers it’s tough to actually get a sense of precise shape and size. You know? Breeches are easier to see the real lay o’ the land, if you understand my meaning (which of course you all do, how lovely).
In any case, the thing is, there are all sorts of other Parts of a Gentleman that I… um… appreciate. I’m guessing you ladies do too? So I got to thinking, we’ve been tiptoeing around it for weeks here — mentioning a firm jaw on one hero, the broad shoulders of another — without ever coming right out and detailing matters thoroughly.
But I am a woman of True Dedication when charged with A Task. And the Task with which I have charged myself today is an Important One. And here is a lady who will help me!
Good evening, Lady B.
All right, Miss Ashe. I’m here in this corner behind my largest potted palm, though I don’t see Miss Darby.
I think she’s with the mistresses tonight.
Do tell me what is this amusement you have planned for my guests? I hope it won’t drive that poor Miss Seaton back into the cupboard.
Oh, no, my lady. It’s likely to do just the opposite for all the young ladies in the house. (I whip out an easel and big black Sharpie marker and scribble at the top of the easel: THE ANATOMY OF A GENTLEMAN.) Voila!
(Lady B blanches) Good heavens! (She leans forward, lifting her lorgnette to her clever eye.) Interesting.
That blanch was just for show, wasn’t it? You love this.
Don’t be insolent, gel. Now what will you do next?
Well I’ve invited two other people who don’t typically come to balls. There is one of them now, right on time. Hello, Ben.
BEN: (bows elegantly to Lady B, glances about) “An impressive crush, my lady.”
I know you don’t care for the whole public appearance thing, Ben. Oh, there’s my other guest. Hi, Mr. Singh.
BEN: My valet?
Yes. Wait! Everybody, did you see that? The way Ben lifted his brow? We really need to rhapsodize more often about gentlemen’s brows. I mean, a brow can be so very expressive and really appealing. Which is precisely my point.
LADY B: You’ve brought a turban-wearing manservant into my ballroom, Miss Ashe.
Scandalous, isn’t it? I knew you wouldn’t mind.
BEN: Your point is to rhapsodize about my brows in the presence of my valet and hostess?
No. Er- Kind of.
SINGH: His brows are quite distinguished, black and straight.
Aren’t they? So let’s get on with things. My lady and Mr. Singh, I’d like you to use Ben here as a model, as it were, to show us the finer points of a gentleman’s anatomy.
LADY B: (crack of laughter)
BEN: You what?!
SINGH: (bowing deeply) Yes, mum. We should begin with my lord’s enviable physique.
Of course. But which part of it in particular?
LADY B: His long, muscular legs.
I sort of suspected you’d say that. And it’s as good a place to begin as any. (I draw a pair of legs on the paper on the easel. Ben is staring at me open-eyed, but he’s way too gentlemanly to say anything. I’m hoping.)
SINGH: Then, mum, I would recommend next detailing the width of my lord’s shoulders, which his tailor needn’t enhance with buckram padding.
Great. (I draw a set of yummy broad shoulders) And in between?
BEN: In between is lunacy. (he bows) Lady B, I must beg your—
LADY B: Young man, remain right where you are or I shan’t tell you where I’ve hidden that gel with the apricot hair and freckles across her nose.
SINGH: Then there is the breadth of my lord’s chest.
(scribbling) He’s sort of on the lean side of very muscular, rather than bulky, and tall of course. And his arms? A gentleman’s arms are, after all, enormously important to an authoress of romance.
SINGH: A tailor’s dream, mum.
Mm hm. (mumbling) An amorous lady’s, too.
LADY B: (looking shrewd) Amorous ladies expect hands.
(drawing) Elegant, strong, long-fingered. Ben occasionally plays the piano, you know.
LADY B: Excellent. Pianists’ hands are capable of all sorts of maneuvers.
BEN: I also jump through flaming hoops at command. (fisting his pianists’ hands) This is unendurable. I am not an exhibit at a menagerie.
Of course you aren’t. But you are helping us with a Very Important Project and I’m really grateful. Let’s move upward, Mr. Sing.
SINGH: My lord’s jaw, nose and brow combine to create a felicitous arrangement.
Most felicitous. (drawing) A little unusual for an Englishman, of course.
SINGH: That would be due to his unusual parentage, mum.
LADY B: And the bronze hue of his skin, I daresay, not to mention those marvelously languid black eyes.
SINGH: And as you see, my lady, I have cut the black hair in an arrangement that compliments—
It’s like the entire ballroom has gone silent, though really it’s only this place behind the palm. I can still hear Gaelen’s heroes talking about the Warrior Spirit over there, after all.
Um, Ben? Could you bear with me for just one more second before giving me that Dangerous Man Glowering With Threat thing you’ve got going on there? See, I was just getting to the crucial wrap-up question that I was going to ask Lady B’s guests: What part of a gentleman’s anatomy do ladies notice first?
LADY B: (snorts)
(She really did. She just snorted. I kid you not.)
BEN: A gentleman’s attributes are as nothing compared to the charms of a lady. You must instead ask which aspect of a lady’s appearance she hopes a gentleman will first notice.
I must? (the Sharpie is kind of quivering between my fingers. I wrote him dangerous, but I’ve never been the actual recipient of his displeasure. oh, gosh.)
BEN: You must.
(Wait just a minute here. I’m so not going to be intimidated by my own character) Pretty deftly shifting the focus from you, aren’t you? (But now I’m feeling guilty again) I knew you’d hate this.
BEN: Of course you knew.
I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.
BEN: (gives me a slight smile) Ladies rarely can. (bows to Lady B, offers Mr. Singh another lifted brow, and walks away)
LADY B: (looking after him, his legs in particular) Positively delectable.
Octavia certainly thinks so. It’s been years since they- er- met, but she’s never been able to forget him. Is she really here?
LADY B: I expect her shortly. She is a wonderfully frank gel. I’m looking forward to hearing more about that billiards table incident.
(snort, this time from me.) But really that’s too bad she’ll just have missed him. I suppose it’s best, though, since they haven’t seen one another in seven years and I’ve already got that scene all worked out in the book. Since it’s on shelves in bookstores tomorrow, I don’t really want to go messing with their first reunion, you know? It’s pretty intense as is.
LADY B: (with a kind of sly look) Authoresses… Charming.
(turning to Mr. Singh) She’s always like this.
SINGH: With great power, mum, comes great responsibility.
Tell me you did not just quote Spider Man.
SINGH: Learned it from my lord, mum.
I daresay. I do daresay.
So ladies, at the advice of my Hero with a Secret Identity, I’m flipping the easel chart to a fresh piece of paper and I’m going to draw you (with apologies in advance for the stick-figure quality). What is your feature you wish a gentleman would notice first? Your best, your most prominent, your most valued? One random commenter will get an autographed copy of In the Arms of a Marquess.
A final note: I hope you’ll join me and Tessa Dare in September for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, in spreading the word about the whispering signs and symptoms of Ovarian Cancer. Avon Books will donate 25 cents from the sale of seven new titles (including In the Arms of a Marquess and Tessa’s A Night to Surrender) up to $50,000 for research and support programs for women suffering from this stealthy disease. Please help us K.I.S.S. and Teal!