I’m in the card room, playing a particularly good hand of whist with three of my fellow authoress’s heroes. Colin Sandhurst, from Tessa Dare’s latest, keeps trying to look down my bodice and therefore is not concentrating on his cards. Katharine Ashe’s Blackwood is here, but his thoughts are obviously elsewhere by the state of his play – likely on his dogs. And Sarah MacLean’s Cross is here as well (he got here early). I can tell that he’s counting cards, and he can tell that I have the superior hand.
I enjoy spending time with heroes. After all, I am expecting one of my own to put in an appearance at any moment. But hopefully not before I take all of these gentlemen for all the money in their pockets.
However, it is not to be. I am about to lay my final trump when I am tapped on the shoulder by our hostess. Rather forcefully, too.
Lady B: Miss Noble, would you join me please?
Kate: Happily, just let me play this hand –
Lady B: NOW, Miss Noble.
Oh dear. Am I not permitted to fleece other Authoresses’ heroes? I quickly excuse myself, and follow Lady B as she turns briskly around and heads toward the dancing.
Lady B: Miss Noble, are you expecting any guests this evening?
Kate: Is that what this is about? Lady B, I apologize – I am still quite new to the Ballroom, but I was told that I was allowed to invite people to the festivities.
Lady B: Yes, Miss Noble, you are allowed to invite people. Not ships.
I follow the line of her angry gaze. And there, halfway in the middle of the ballroom, as if it had crashed through the wall from the garden, was a ship. Not just any ship though, one bearing the flag and insignia of the British Navy.
Lady B: I assume you can tell me why this ship is here? And destroying my new ballroom?
Kate: Lady B, I’m afraid, that I do not know…
Albert: <squawk> Uniform proves false! <squawk>
Lady B: Quite right, Albert. Do you mean to tell me, Miss Noble, that gentleman does not belong to you?
I find where she’s pointing. On the bow of the ship in his beautiful naval uniform, is Lieutenant Jackson Fletcher, the hero of my latest, If I Fall. He is looking down at the glittering crowd, some still dancing on the far side of the room, but most are staring up at the ship, and dodging the occasional falling bit of sail… or drapery, at this point I cannot really tell. Dirty river water pools around our feet – it seems that Jack has not only brought an entire ship into the ballroom, but he sailed it in.
(I wonder briefly about how the laws of physics were broken to allow for the Thames to come running into Lady B’s Mayfair mansion, but then again, I am a 21st Century authoress fleecing fictional characters in Regency London. Obviously Lady B has some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey abilities that break those rules.)
Kate: Jack! Jack, what are you doing?
Lady B: Miss Noble, if you do not know, God help us all. As it is, I would appreciate it if you would get this ship out of my ballroom!
Lady B walks away, muttering something about recent expansions and ruined stucco facades, Albert parroting on her shoulder. But I can’t worry about her right now, because it seems that Jack has finally spotted me, and is waving furiously.
Kate: Jack, what on earth are you doing?
Jack: I got your invitation! Come on up!
He kicks down a rope ladder. I awkwardly tie up my skirts, shocking no end of guests, I am sure, with a scandalous view of my ankles. But there is no help for it, because someone has to talk some sense into Jack, and he is my creation, after all.
Suddenly a pair of very strong, very tanned hands grabs my arms and pulls me up over the railing.
He’s smiling at me. And Jackson Fletcher has a particularly disarming smile. But no! I will not fall prey to that grin. Or that sun-streaked hair… or the way his uniform cuts across his shoulders…
Kate: Stop smiling at me Jack! And explain yourself. Why is there a ship in the middle of Lady B’s ballroom! Are you trying to get me kicked out of the authoresses?
Jack: (utterly befuddled) You told me to bring her.
Kate: I most certainly did not!
Instead of the courtesy of a verbal reply, Jack simply reaches into his pocket and produces a letter. The letter I sent him.
Dear Lieutenant Fletcher –
I have lately been made an Authoress of the Ballroom, and am issuing you and your lady love an invitation to stop by, and hopefully make an impression, at a time of your convenience.
Jack: You see? You told me to bring the HMS Amorata. Isn’t she beautiful?
He stares at the ship so lovingly, I mentally berate myself for even attempting casual language when I should have been completely specific.
Jack: She’s a 6th-rate banterer class post ship, made during the height of the war – she has 20 nine-pound guns, and we added some brass howitzers – a heartier girl you never will find!
Kate: Jack, by ‘lady love’, I meant Miss Forrester! Sarah, remember? The Golden Lady?
Jack looks befuddled yet again.
Jack: Sarah Forrester? I haven’t seen her since we were children. (His brow comes down) What’s this Golden Lady business at any rate?
Oh no. This is another miscalculation on my part, and one I must chalk up to being new to the ballroom. (At the rate I’m going that excuse is going to be used up faster than a bar of soap after a mud-fight.)
I hadn’t realized that when I invited a hero to the ballroom, it would be the hero from the beginning of the book! The one who had not yet gone through all the changes of heart and mind that comes with meeting and winning his true love! The one who very well could be in love with someone – or something else.
And this Jackson Fletcher is very much in love adventure, the sea, and his ship, the HMS Amorata. Without a second thought for his childhood friend Sarah Forrester. I groan and put my head in my hands.
I survey the mess around us. The wall of windows, shattered by the Amorata’s entrance. The parquet floor, torn up beneath us, and soaked through. And I don’t even want to contemplate the stern of the ship, and the state of Lady B’s garden!
Kate: Well, Jack, I’ll give you this: you certainly know how to make an impression.
While we pick through the rubble, tell us: what is your one true love, that is NOT another human being? (And, if anyone has any advice on how to remove a ship from a ballroom, it would be most appreciated.)