Welcome, friends! Today the ballroom is festooned in black and orange, decorated with paper cut-out bats and lanterns fashioned with alarming faces — horrifying eyes, protruding noses, ghastly grimaces — the flickering candlelight within casting spooky shadows on the walls and costumed revelers. It is Halloween, my favorite holiday as a child and—
Lady B: What in heaven’s name are you wearing, Miss Ashe? Is that fur? And a tail?
Oh, hello, my lady. Welcome to our masquerade ball! Tessa, Miranda, Sabrina, Sarah, Gaelen and I decorated the ballroom today to celebrate the holiday with our guests.
<squawk!> Shiver me timbers! <squawk!>
Hi, Albert. Fabulous eye patch and gold earring you have on. My favorite costume of all time, of course.
Lady B: Miss Ashe, given the opportunities a masquerade ball offers for scandalously anonymous dalliance, I haven’t any difficulty with you ladies throwing one today. But what, pray tell, is this Halloween of which you speak?
<squawk!> Ghosts and goblins! <squawk!>
Halloween is a holiday Americans celebrate with gusto, Lady B. It’s connected with the Catholic Feast of All Saints on November 1, but scholars aren’t really sure how. Some say it began with the ringing of bells that augured in the feast day the evening before — thus All Hallows Eve — and that common folk believed those bells scared away evil spirits. Others say the holiday has something to do with the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain that marked the onset of winter when Irish and Scots would have big parties. My favorite tidbit of Halloween history is how young people would name two nuts after themselves and a desired partner, then put them both in the fire and see if they popped, which indicated whether or not the match was a good one.
Lady B: It seems a thorough mish-mash.
I suppose it is, historically speaking! But it’s great fun, and these days it allows everybody to get dressed up in costume, especially scary costumes. So you see, my favorite TV show— er— theater production as a child was always about monsters and haunted houses. Also, the hero of my next book has two very large dogs. So I’m dressed as Scooby-Doo.
Lady B: Hm. And your fellow authoresses?
Sarah: As I never remember that it’s Halloween in time to do anything extravagant, I’m dressed as a romance novelist. Think Miss Piggy. Big hair, feather boa–
<squawk!> Feathers! <squawk!>
Sarah: Don’t worry, Albert. They aren’t parrot feathers. I don’t think. Anyway…and what romance novelist costume would be complete without a Pomeranian? I borrowed this one from a neighbor. <yip!> (The dog mounts Sarah’s leg.) No! Down, Lady. Bad dog.
Lady B: (raising a brow) Lady, you say? How…ironic.
Katharine: (snort) I wouldn’t put that sort of behavior past certain la–
(Lady B’s brow perks higher yet)
Katharine: Er. What I mean to say is, diminutive dogs, Napoleon complex, you know.
Sabrina: Dogs seem to be a theme this year. However, I deviated a bit and am dressed as Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, revisiting my brief childhood acting experience. The Zeffirelli version inspired my costume, so think of Olivia Hussey and you’ll imagine what I look like perfectly. Well, what the costume looks like.
Gaelen: Oooooo, ooooo, OOOOOOOOOO! (Did I scare you?) I’m a ghost, preferably the Gray Lady who haunts Kilburn Castle (Rohan’s home in My Dangerous Duke). Boo!
Miranda: I’ve decided to go traditional for this Halloween party, i.e. scary. Since it’s highly unlikely that I will ever write a paranormal romance, I’m going to unleash my inner bloodsucker and go as a vampire. I haven’t yet decided whether to go camp (Elvira Mistress of the Dark) or horrible (Bride of Dracula).
Lady B: This Halloween is merely an occasion for a costume ball?
Katharine: Not exactly, although lots of people throw Halloween parties. But the usual practice is that on Halloween night children don costumes and walk from house to house, knock on doors, and when the doors open they shout—
<squawk!> Trick or treat! <squawk!>
Katharine: Which in translation means, “If you don’t give me a treat, I will play a trick on you.”
Lady B: Young ruffians.
Katharine: Aren’t they? Especially after all that candy. The little darlings.
Tessa: Tell me about it. I have two little ruffians of my very own, Lady B, and Halloween gets harrowing.
Lady B: Miss Dare, is that you? What is this long, draped tunic you’re wearing? With all that kohl around your eyes, you look positively…Egyptian.
Tessa: Exactly, Lady B. I’m Cleopatra. On a day when my little ones get entirely out-of-hand, I rather covet her supreme power. Not to mention, her accessories.
Lady B: I’ve no doubt, dear gel, that you are capable of managing any ruffians who offer you tricks, as are your heroines and fellow authoresses’ heroines. Especially the gentlemanly sort of ruffian.
Katharine: I like the way you think, my lady. And do you know what, I see all of our most recent heroines here today. I think you should ask them which they would prefer from their gentlemen, a trick or a treat?
Sarah: Don’t tell our guests which heroine is answering, though. It will ruin the fun.
Tessa: Oh, yes. Let’s let them guess.
Miranda: How about a prize for the winner? Whoever identifies all six heroines correctly by their responses gets today’s giveaway.
Lady B: Splendid idea. Let’s begin! Ladies, which would you prefer your gentlemen to offer you, a trick or a treat?
Lady #1: Most days, my gentleman is too proper for games like this…but I am happy to say that since we married, he’s made time for more treats. I should like a trick from him tonight, however…as I do love to see the childish side of him.
Lady B: I believe you mean childlike, my dear.
Lady #1: Is that not what I said? (Waving one hand in the air.) I mean the side of him that laughs and teases and plays. That side is very very rare. And very very tempting. (She sighs.) Yes. A trick. Most definitely.
Lady #2: I like this game, and it’s not one I need confine to one day a year. The worst trick I could play on my darling husband would be to kidnap his tailor. Or, less drastically, I could hide all his clothing. That will result in a treat for both of us.
Lady B: Delicious!
Lady #3: The most horrid trick my husband played on me was showing up in the first place! He invaded my quiet seaside village, took possession of our ancient castle, blew apart our tranquility, and somehow managed steal my heart. But now that the wounded beast is soothed, so to speak, I enjoy many a treat. Frequently outdoors. Ahem.
Lady B: Nature unmasked, as it were.
Lady #4: I haven’t worn a mask such as this since my marriage. Amazing how I feel right at home again with the disguise! Ah, but back to the question: Even though he likes to play the proper gentleman, I assure you, my husband knows exactly what sort of naughty trick I prefer. In fact, the trick is a bit of a treat, if you know what I mean.
<squawk!> Tricky talent! <squawk!>
Lady #5: Honestly, between you and me, my husband’s tricks ARE a treat. *g* Irresistibly so. Like they say, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for. The polite gentlemen who can be very bad, indeed, behind closed doors. Well, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, it’s a bit of a trick making sure the little one up in the nursery doesn’t hear us. He got away from his governess the other day and very nearly walked in on us. Most embarrassing. Fortunately, my husband is the consummate diplomat and managed to send the boy off on some errand without little Thomas ever being the wiser. But it was a close thing, that.
Lady B: I admire a man who can don different roles as required.
Lady #6: I agree. But since my husband’s public life is already something of a masquerade, he and I usually leave tricks to others. I adore the treats he favors me with in private, though, or really wherever he favors me with them… in the pouring rain, on a billiards table… any place he prefers. And, as he is a generous man, he prefers favoring me quite, quite often. (dreamy smile)
<squawk!> The tricks and treats have it! <squawk!>
Lady B: I daresay, you scallywag.
Honored guests, to celebrate the day we’re giving away a treat: a $30 Amazon gift card. Identify our six heroines by their responses to Lady B’s question, and tomorrow we’ll randomly choose one winner from all who answered correctly. And do tell us what costume you’ve donned for our ball today! Happy Halloween!