Just look at her. She belongs in a ballroom. Fiery hair, dark eyes, ivory skin. And her gown. Is that charmeuse? Such a striking shade of blue! And just look at those darling semi-opaque sleeves with sapphire piping.
<squawk!> Contradiction! <squawk!>
Sweet and enemy? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But then you wouldn’t be reckoning on chemistry! And chemistry is precisely what I wish to ask Heather’s heroine about today. Oh, there’s Heather with Lady B over near the ratafia bowl. But Lady B seems distracted by that handsome young gentleman with the black hair and gorgeously dark blue eyes. (I pause to stare at him. And stare…)
<squawk!> Task at hand! <squawk!>
Albert, there is no other task more important than staring at gorgeous gentlemen in evening finery. At least not in this ballroom.
The bird hops onto my shoulder and I head over to Heather.
Heather: (gesturing to her glass, whispers) It’s spiked!
Me: Really? Who knew? So, congratulations on your debut!
Heather: (looks quizzically at me) Katharine, my debut was more years ago than I care to—oh! You mean my publishing debut! (blushes) Sorry, we sciency-types can be so literal. Thank you. I’m very excited that Sweet Enemy will be in bookshops in just over a week now.
Me: Okay, I’ve been dying to ask Miss Liliana Claremont, the heroine of your new novel, about chemistry. She is an amateur chemist, right?
Heather: (glances around) Don’t let her hear you say that. Liliana studied with her father, an esteemed chemist, and then with one of his colleagues, so she’s actually quite learned. She’s only considered an amateur because the male establishment of the Royal Society refuse to acknowledge that women are capable of understanding complex scientific theory or making any worthy contribution to the world besides babies.
Me: Old fuddy duddies! Some men couldn’t see a woman’s intelligence if it bit them in the beakers. But you know, I’m really so incredibly jealous of Liliana for her expertise.
Heather: Jealous of Liliana? (glances over at the black haired, blue eyed god I’d been staring at)
Me: (tearing my gaze away from him again) Mm, yes. You see, way back when in school, I was a Total Disaster at chemistry. (whispering) This may have had something to do with the junior class Bad Boy who happened to be my lab partner and wrote love poetry on my Chemistry textbook. But don’t tell anyone. I’m supposed to be the Good Girl around here.
Heather: (also whispering) Love poetry?
Me: (still whispering) You know that song “Crazy Love” by Poco?
Heather: You mean Poco as in “It happens all the time, this crazy love of mine, wraps around my heart, refusing to unwind”? (She’s still whispering because I am, so sweet) On your Chem textbook? The junior class Bad Boy?
Me: Yes! See? Instant C in that class.
Heather: (nodding) I do see.
Me: But that’s why I’m dying to ask Liliana a question. Did she come tonight?
Heather: Yes, but… (Lowers her voice, which intrigues me. Why should she need to whisper?) She’s actually busy… well, snooping through an earl’s house at the moment, if truth be told.
Me: Snooping through an earl’s house! She sounds positively intrepid. We love intrepid around here!
Heather: But that’s another story… (clears her throat and pastes a sociable smile on her face in case we’re being observed) Maybe you can ask me your question. She and I are pretty well acquainted.
Me: Okay, I remember that there are Periodic Tables and beakers and chemical compounds and stuff like that. But what I really want to know is what Chemistry has to do with… chemistry?
Heather: The “crazy love” kind of chemistry?
Me: The kind that, for example, might have a Lady of Science who is bent on finding a secret stash of documents in an earl’s house instead losing her mind in the arms of that Very Hot Earl who should by all rights be her enemy.
<squawk!> Example not chosen at random. <squawk!>
Heather: (aside to Albert) I’ll say.
Me: In school we learned about H2O and CO2 and all those good mixes of chemicals, but my Chem teacher always said we shouldn’t mix volatile chemicals together. In romance, though, there’s nothing more delectably explosive!
Heather: Oh, I agree.
Me: So you’re saying…
Heather: Just that the chemistry of love is potent stuff, and it works within our brains in such a way that we are often powerless against it. Take poor Liliana, for example. She emphatically does not want to fall in love with Geoffrey. And yet, after one kiss, she can’t seem to stay away from him, despite her own intentions. (Tips her head to the distractingly delicious black-haired man, at whom — I note — Lady B is still staring. He has marvelous legs.)
Me: Wait! That’s Geoffrey over there? Oh, I think I’m understanding the whole chemistry-chemistry thing a whole lot better.
Heather: Indeed. And as learned as Liliana is in the science of chemistry in the Regency period, she can’t possibly understand what we now know—that in the early stages of lust, infatuation and romantic love, our brain chemistry becomes quite literally like one suffering from addiction…or mental illness.
Me: So when you said “crazy love” kind of chemistry, you meant literally! That explains a lot.
Heather: Just so! See, that junior class Bad Boy was onto something, penning Poco into your Chem book. But look, here comes Liliana now, and (stands on her tip toes in her dancing slippers. Ooh, they match her dress gorgeously, don’t they?) I do believe Geoffrey has spotted her. Come. (Clasps my elbow and pulls me closer to the earl so we might observe the action.) There’s nothing like a live experiment to get the best results.
Look how quickly Geoffrey makes his excuses, leaving Lady B in mid sentence and heading toward Liliana. Lady B’s eye glimmers as it meets mine. She knows exactly what’s going on, bless her romantic heart.
Heather: Here’s where we can really see chemistry at work, Katharine. You see, as much as Liliana doesn’t wish to fall in love with Geoffrey, he feels quite the same about her. You’ve heard about his cause, of course…
Me: You mean the bill he’s championing to win aide for ex-soldiers coming back from the wars to no jobs or homes? I adore a hero with a noble cause!
Heather: (nodding) Me too. As a war hero and newly belted earl, Geoffrey’s got some political capital he can put to work. But to make the kinds of changes he’d like, he needs a savvy, connected Society hostess as a wife… which Liliana certainly is not. (whispering again) And, since we’re on the subject, I must confide that the reason Liliana has been snooping around the earl’s house…
I lean in.
Heather: …is that she’s looking for evidence that someone in Geoffrey’s family killed her father.
Me: (gasp) But the scandal—
Heather: (nodding) —could ruin him politically, yes.
Me: I see the problem. Problems.
Geoffrey reaches Liliana and bows before her, sweeping her into an Allemande. The smiles that light both their faces make my heart ache. It’s clear, despite everything aligned against them, these two feel something mighty powerful for each other.
Heather: See? Chemistry. They both know they are wrong for the other, but they can’t stay apart.
Me: Hm. (I know how it goes when beakers collide. One or both of them could end up with a broken heart.)
Heather: (Noticing my concern, smiles) Don’t fret, my friend. I have a sneaky feeling Geoffrey and Liliana will find their way to a happily-ever-after.
Me: I’ll bet you do! (Geoffrey and Liliana slip out the doors onto the terrace, out of sight, and I feel that satisfied smile coming on that new love always inspires — the more explosive the situation, the bigger my smile. I take Heather’s arm and lead her back to the ratafia.) Let’s have another drink and you can tell me what becomes of them…
Dear guests, let’s make some explosions today! What elements mixed together result in the perfect romance reaction? I’ll give it a try: Dangerous, mysterious man + Smart, determined woman + Passion + Laughter = LOVE. Now it’s your turn! Design a romance compound in a comment below and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Heather’s Sweet Enemy. I’ll draw the winner with our randomizer tomorrow morning.