Today I’ve donned my prettiest gown, new kid gloves, and a pair of antique pearl earrings I borrowed from one of my heroines. I’ve even dabbed lavender water behind my ears and on my wrists. Why the extra primping? Because it’s my first time bringing an author as a guest to the ball, and I’m feeling celebratory!
And what a guest! Anne Gracie – author of deliciously emotional, sexy, captivating stories – enters the ballroom with me. She’s dressed in a flowing purple gown and is wearing a string of glittering beads and a turban with peacock feathers.
I peer about for Lady B. Across the ballroom I spot Albert by the glimmer of the diamond stud lodged in his beak (Seems he’s still pilfering jewels from Lady B’s dressing case, the dear bird). Lady B can’t be far off.
Anne (gesturing discreetly as we move forward): There she is.
I don’t know how she recognizes Lady B; I don’t think they’ve met before. Then again, Anne has a long familiarity with another formidable lioness of the ton, so she probably recognizes the gleam in Lady B’s eye…
We have strolled the breadth of the ballroom and are upon our hostess already.
Lady B (sniffing the air): Miss Ashe, you smell like a sachet one finds in a garment press.
Katharine: Oh, yes, well, lavender. Can’t get enough of it. Love it like I love champagne! Even made one of my heroes wear lavender. Though he prefers rum to champagne. Pirate, you know. And brandy, cause he’s also an earl. Um… (I’m babbling. Can you say “a tad overexcited”?) Anyway… it’s perfume! Because today is a special day at the ballroom. Very special. Like champagne.
Lady B actually rolls her eyes. Then she turns her gaze upon Anne and gives her a once-over though her quizzing glass. It’s clear in an instant she approves.
Katharine (puffing with pride): My lady, please allow me to introduce to you a wonderfully gifted storyteller, Anne Gracie.
Anne (blushes madly, executes a wobbly curtsy): I do believe Lady B might be acquainted with Lady Gosforth, the aunt of several of my heroes.
Lady B: My dear gel, Maude Gosforth and I go back to the time when we were both in leading strings. Fourth cousins thrice removed, don’t you know. Redoubtable woman! Keeps all those handsome Renfrew brothers in line, doesn’t she?
Anne: She does indeed. Lady Gosforth has a fine line in Crushing Epithets and Withering Looks and I see it runs in the family.
Lady B offers Anne a Narrow Glance and then decides it was a compliment.
Katharine (hurriedly, in case it wasn’t): Lady B, the delectable hero of Anne’s next book, Bride By Mistake, is one of the Renfrew brothers’ closest friends. Anne, please, please, please tell us about Luke Ripton — or, to those who’ve seen him, Lieutenant Tall, Dark, and as Beautiful as an Archangel. (My favorite kind of hero!) What is he like?
Anne: A princess once said this of him: “Luke was their ‘fallen angel’, and when she saw his face, she understood why. He was darkly beautiful and somehow tragic-looking, with dark eyes and cheekbones a woman would weep for. His thick dark hair was tousled, and he wore his neckcloth carelessly knotted.”
Katharine (breathing unevenly, looking a little flushed): Oh. Em. Gee.
Anne: But Luke is also a man haunted by his past. Back home from the war, he’s a daredevil who indulges in all kinds of extreme Regency sports and invariably wins; he doesn’t seem to care if he lives or dies. Women flutter around him but he shows no interest in settling down, even though he’s now a lord, and needs an heir. But things are about to change. Or rather the past is about to rise up and bite him in the… er.
<squawk!> Bite him in the unmentionables! <squawk!>
Katharine (whips out a fan; fans self wildly): Sounds good to me.
Lady B: Miss Ashe, pray pause in your swoon for a moment. Let us address the most important matter first. Miss Gracie, are Lord Ripton’s gams shapely?
Katharine (snaps fan shut): Of course they are! He was a soldier. All those battlefield marches make for gorgeous legs. Am I right, Anne?
Anne: Almost, Katharine — he’s a cavalry officer, so not a lot of marching. Think long, hard, horseman’s thighs, a tight butt and gleaming top boots.
Katharine (clutching her heart): C-C-Cavalry officer? Beyond dreamy! And I always say that a delectable hero deserves a fabulous heroine. I cannot wait to meet Isabella.
Lady B: Isabella you say? I adore the name.
Katharine: Oh, so do I! But Anne, how does Isabella come to be acquainted with Lieutenant Tall, Dark and as Beautiful as an Archangel? (whispered aside to Albert) Actually, I already know, and it’s really crazy but totally honorable. I love that kind of beginning! (dreamy sigh)
<squawk!> Sucker for a hero with a noble heart. <squawk!>
Katharine: I am! I know! (another dreamy sigh)
Lady B: Miss Ashe, you are dismissed.
I blink. I kind of gape.
Lady B lifts a single fingertip toward the door. Her look is implacable.
I. Am. Totally. Mortified.
Katharine: (whispering) I’m really sorry, Anne. This is so embarrassing. I’m just so excited you’re here — talking about Luke, no less! I think I’m a bit giddy. And when I get giddy, I babble. Please forgive me. I’ll just go now.
Anne (grabbing Katharine’s arm): No, no, dear Lady B, please reconsider. If Katharine leaves, I will have to depart with her — I am her guest, you see. And if I leave, I cannot tell you of how Luke and Isabella met… Such an interesting tale… (Fans herself casually with her sandalwood fan, affecting a downcast expression while hanging firmly-but-elegantly onto Katharine.)
Lady B (sniffs, harrumphs, and finally gives Katharine and Anne a Beady Look and sniffs again): Very well, Miss Ashe, you may stay. You (raps Anne with an ivory fan, thus trumping mere sandalwood) do tell me how they met.
Anne: Luke was a young officer, barely nineteen, and on a mission. In the mountains of Spain he came across a young girl being attacked — Isabella. She was just thirteen, and fleeing from a hateful forced marriage. Luke rescues her, and, you know it already, don’t you? Yes, dear Reader, he married her.
<squawk!> Noble hero! <squawk!>
Lady B (eyes snapping): Marries a gel of thirteen? Shockingly bad ton! And he dragged the poor child off to war, like that fellow, Harry Smith I suppose.
Anne: No, Lady B, though Isabella did want to go with him. Luke placed her in a convent in the care of her aunt.
Lady B (to Katharine, who is staring across the ballroom): Miss Ashe, if Miss Gracie insists upon you remaining, I expect you to attend to her scandalous revelations and my righteous outrage. Are you paying attention, gel?
I’m not. My gaze is glued to the entrance. Tall and Handsome with the brooding, dark eyes of a fallen angel — a really masculine, incredibly hot angel — has just sauntered into the ballroom. I’ve seen this gentleman before. My heart sped up then too. It’s Luke Ripton.
Anne: Ah, there is Lord Ripton now. Shall I introduce you?
Katharine (choking on eagerness, barely manages words): I wish you will.
Anne beckons to Luke, who is dressed in severely cut, dark formal evening wear. He gives a curt nod and strides across the ballroom. My heart is spinning, I tell you. Spinning. Anne makes the introductions. Luke bows. Ladies around the ballroom sigh and drift subtly closer.
Lady B: Lord Ripton, Anne has been telling me about your marriage to a thirteen-year old child.
Luke (giving Anne a look, glittering ice blue): Has she indeed?
Anne fans herself airily and hums a little tune.
Lady B: Left her in a convent, I gather. And where is she now, pray tell?
Luke arches a dark, potent eyebrow and says nothing.
Lady B (whose family invented the Silent-Yet-Potent Eyebrow Response, snorts) I said, young man, where is your bride now?
Luke (being well acquainted with Lady Gosforth, recognizes the breed and clenches his jaw): Still in the convent. I meant to have the blasted marriage annulled, but it’s been refused.
Lady B: So you are off to fetch her from Spain, then?
Katharine (sighing): How thoroughly romantic!
Luke (turning a cold eye on her): No, Miss Ashe, it’s a cursed nuisance! But at least, being convent raised, she’ll understand obedience, unlike some ladies I know.
He glances at Anne, bows to Lady B and me, and stalks away. Lady B scowls. I gape.
Anne (grinning): And wait till you see how Bella reacts!
~ ~ ~
Lovely guests, today I am giving away a copy of Anne’s Bride By Mistake to one randomly chosen commenter (paperback, Kindle or Nook, as desired). Tell us, are you an obedient sort of person (like Luke expects Isabella to be!), or not? Have you ever broken the rules really scandalously? Or do you prefer to play it safe and reap the rewards of propriety? Since I’m wearing the lavender scent of one of my own most rule-breaking heroes, I’ll throw in a signed copy of Captured by a Rogue Lord too (If you already have it, I’ll be happy to send it as a holiday present to a friend of your choice)! I’ll keep the drawing open through Friday evening.