As it’s At Home week here at Lady B’s, I have invited a special guest for tea. I’ve been a huge fan of Jennifer Haymore ever since she taught me how jealous a man could get over a woman’s bare ankle in A Hint of Wicked. Her bio mentions that she grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she surfed, learned how to fly airplanes, raced bicycles, and developed a love for sailing. But I don’t think I shall mention most of that to Lady B, as explaining airplanes and surfing might derail us from the other special guests that Jennifer has brought with her.
Sabrina: Lady B, may I introduce the fabulous authoress, Jennifer Haymore.
Lady B: Miss Haymore. A pleasure. And what do you excel in, Miss Haymore? Yesterday, Miss Maclean and Miss Randol were quite diverting on the matter of Constantinople. Only last week, Miss Dare and Miss Collins introduced me to a new parlour game. And Miss Neville is particularly fond of an entertainment called “Project Runway.” Or have you brought me some dashing hero with excellent legs? I do hope he is charming.
Lady B is lounging on her chaise longue, and plucking at bon bons. One for Albert, one for her. And so on. I’ve never, in all the last seven months, seen her quite so indolent. It’s as if she’s become very used to being entertained.
Sabrina: No, Lady B, none of the above. Jennifer has a new book coming out next week. Secrets of an Accidental Duchess.
Lady B: Accidental? Are you quite certain? Every Duchess I’ve ever known has schemed her way to the position
Sabrina: Well, let’s see. The synopsis of the story:
With her pale hair and slim figure, Olivia Donovan looks as fragile as fine china, and has been treated as such by her sisters ever since a childhood bout with malaria. But beneath her delicate façade, Olivia guards a bold, independent spirit and the kind of passionate desires proper young ladies must never confess…
It was a reckless wager, and one Max couldn’t resist: seduce the alluring Olivia or forfeit part of his fortune. Yet the wild, soon-to-be Duke never imagined he’d fall in love with this innocent beauty. Nor could he have guessed that a dangerously unpredictable rival would set out to destroy them both. Now, Max must beat a Madman at his own twisted game-or forever lose the only woman to have ever won his heart.
Lady B: Wait… Donovan? If these are the correct Donovans, I am related to them through their maternal grandfather. However, I’m not entirely certain it’s a connection I should acknowledge. There is something a bit unseemly about the whole situation with Lady Stratford.
I nod wisely. Even though I wasn’t in London at the time, it’s common knowledge(At least for anyone who has read Confessions of an Improper Bride) that the eldest Donovan sister, Meg, broke off an engagement a year ago to marry Lord Stratford, who had had a rather scandalous affair with Meg’s twin sister(now deceased) years earlier.
Jennifer: Oh, what a tangled web those Donovan sisters weave!
Lady B: Sounds suspiciously similar to scheming to me. Of which I would approve, naturally. And didn’t that other sister… Phoebe Donovan? Elope?
Jennifer: (clears throat) Yes, well. Lady B. I’ve have the Donovan sisters with me.
From between Lady B’s thumb and forefinger, a rolled sweet drops down into the tin amidst a cloud of powered sugar. Both Albert and I watch it attentively.
Lady B: Here?
She looks around the room, and I follow her gaze. It’s filled—as usual during an At Home.
But just across the way, we can see four young women: Three blond, voluptuous beauties followed by a slighter, smaller young woman. If it weren’t for the fact that she looked so much like the others, I might have thought she was the maid.
Jennifer: may I introduce my characters? This is Meg, Lady Stratford; Phoebe, Mrs. Harper, and Miss Jessica Donovan. And this is Miss Olivia Donovan, of course.
Ah! So the maid is our newest heroine. She does have a rather delicate façade.
Lady B: (peering at the young women through her lorgnettes) Hm. Well, then. I hear you hail from Antigua?
Serena: That’s right, my lady.
<<Squawk>> Antigua! <<Squawk>>
If a parrot can sound excited, Albert certainly just did. Which makes me wonder from where Lord B procured him? Perhaps he is an Antiguan bird?
Lady B: It’s very…blue. What was it like living there? What with all the mosquitoes, I imagine you prefer London’s gentle society immensely.
Jessica: Oh yes, it’s SO much more exciting in London than it could ever be in Antigua. There was so much saltwater there. And there are so many fine gentlemen here.
Lady B: (narrows eyes) Is that so?
Phoebe: Indeed it is. Like my husband, Mr. Harper. (Glances at Serena) And Lord Stratford, of course.
Lady B: (dryly) Of course. (A bit more enthusiastically) Well, there certainly have been a parade of fine gentlemen through my ballroom this season. And yes, Lady Stratford, I do believe I recall that your husband has excellent legs. (turns to Jessica) So, Miss Jessica. Do you plan to follow in your older sisters’ footsteps? What famous scandal will you spark?
Serena: I truly hope she won’t spark any scandals at all.
Lady B: Really? With you as a sister? And look at that glint in her eye. I daresay she’ll be the worst of the bunch.
Jessica does have a glint in her eye. And now I’m hopeful curious if she’ll have some sort of scandal.
Olivia: (finally stepping forward, speaking in such a quiet voice, we all have to strain to hear her) I’ll watch out for Jessica, my lady.
Lady B: I didn’t see you there, girl. You’re so…diminutive. What did you say?
Olivia: I’ll watch out for my sister. Whatever happens, I’ll keep her from suffering the way Serena did.
Lady B: Will you?
I am not entirely certain if Lady B is disappointed or amused.
Olivia nods solemnly.
Lady B: (sounding very clearly satisfied) As I said, scheming! The best Duchesses always scheme on behalf of others.
<<Squawk>> Albert leaves his perch, making a beeline straight for the sisters. They all gasp in fright and leap away, save Olivia. Albert alights on her arm, and bird and lady contemplate each other for a long moment.
<<Squawk>> Duchess! <<Squawk>>
Lady B: Well. Clearly, there is one sensible girl in this family of Donovans. If Albert likes her, I approve.
So do I! Especially because Jennifer has given us a deeper glimpse into just what makes Olivia tick, in the prequel novella Once Upon a Wicked Night!
Jennifer: Yes, Once Upon a Wicked Night is a short story about Olivia’s very first London ball. You should like that, Lady B. Aren’t you fond of balls?
Lady B: Naturally I am fond of balls. And I find them the best medicine for retiring young ladies. A good ball and the right man can bring out the sparkle in anyone.
Ooh, a very interesting theory of Lady B’s. What do we think, denizens of the Ballroom? Can quiet, and as Lady B points out, diminutive Olivia be brought to heroine status by the right man? Or as one of four, is she destined to always be out-shined by her sisters? And what about you, do you have a sibling? Which of you is the more scandalous? Jennifer will generously be giving away a signed copy of Secrets of an Accidental Duchess to one of our readers!