It’s our first Monday ball after Lady B’s attempt at a Thanksgiving dinner. The game birds instead of turkey were a– well, let’s just say that it was an interesting touch. And I’m pretty sure that most of the guests have recovered from that slight bout of food poisoning.
I’m in a bit of a quandary as I peer through the Ballroom doors. You see, Lady B specifically has a “no repeat guests” rule. As she somewhat less tactfully put it, after having us authoresses cluttering up her ballroom, noon and night, she needs a bit of variety to enliven the tedium. But that’s just her way of showing affection, right?
But I digress. Lady B asked me (and by “ask”, I mean “command”) to bring that intriguing Mrs. Andrea Penrose, author of those charming mystery stories, to attend her in the Ballroom. And if Mrs. Penrose might bring with her some of those chocolate recipes she mentions in her books…. Not that Lady B holds with such newfangled things as eating chocolate (everyone knows chocolate is for drinking, not for eating!), but it doesn’t do to be entirely behind the times. Especially when the times are so tasty.
There’s a hitch, of course. What Lady B doesn’t know is that Andrea Penrose, writer of Regency-set mysteries, is also Cara Elliott, author of the Lords of Midnight series. She visited here last year, in her Miss Elliott guise– and Lady B is very fond of bragging that she never forgets a face.
I’ve just dragged Cara behind a potted palm in a last ditch attempt to get her to don the frizzy red wig and dark lorgnette I’ve brought for her in the hopes of obscuring her identity when the inevitable happens: Lady B spots us.
Lady B (peering through her lorgnette): Miss Elliott! I see you there behind the potted palms! What are you doing here again? Don’t try to slither past me without making your curtsy. Shabby manners are NOT tolerated here in my Ballroom, especially from one of Miss Willig’s guests. She does tend to invite the oddest creatures.
Cara: It wasn’t quite a slither, it was, um, more of a ladylike tip-toeing through the tulips.
Lady B (eyes narrowing): Tulips? I hate tulips. The gardener promised to decorate the hallway with pink carnations.
Cara: Poetic license, milady. I assure you the pots are overflowing with pink.
Lady B: Hmmph! As opposed to the purple of your prose.
Cara: (shooting an appealing look at Lauren and mumbling sotto voce) I didn’t think my latest book was THAT bad.
Lauren (whispering back): No, no the book was fine. She’s just a bit miffed because– um, she thought you were going to be your other self. And you– I mean, Andrea Penrose, were asked to bring a gentleman with you to balance the numbers for dancing. I had thought maybe Cam—)
Lady B: Don’t mumble, Miss Willig! It’s rude. (Another glare) Like Miss Elliott here, who apparently can’t read as well as can’t write.
Cara (repressing a pained wince): I assure you, Lady B, I wouldn’t dream of ignoring the request spelled out on your lovely invitation. That’s why I was delaying my greeting. My gentleman friend is definitely coming. He will be here at any moment.
<squawk> Impossible! We just had the doors locked, ha, ha, ha! <squawk>
Lady B: Albert is correct. Here at the Ballroom, we don’t permit access after a certain hour. Your friend is late, and thus he will definitely not be making an appearance.
Cara: (shuffling uncomfortably from foot to foot) Um, well the thing is, a lock will not be . . . an impediment. Cameron Fanning is very clever with his hands.
Lauren: Exceedingly clever.
Lady B: Indeed?
<squawk> Hands are vastly overrated. <squawk>
Lady B: Do be quiet, Albert. (To Miss Elliott) Explain yourself more fully, gel.
Cara: Before I do so, I feel compelled to add just a wee bit of backstory— that is, if Your Ladyship will permit me. (A regal nod indicates that she may proceed) First of all, it must be said that Cameron Fanning is the hero of my latest book and as such, he is—”
Lady B: I trust you are going to say handsome, otherwise there is no point in going on.
Cara: Oh, yes, he is handsome as SIN. (She and Lauren exchange titters)
Lady B: At last, you begin to sound interesting, Miss Elliott. (A fraction of a pause) Go on.
Cara: Cameron is—
Lauren (interrupting): A devil of a rogue. He’s a thief to boot.
Cara: Yes, yes, but he only steals from those who can afford it.
Lady B (eyes widening in alarm): Be advised that I have recently installed the latest German puzzle locks on all my doors.
Cara: I’m afraid they won’t have the slightest effect on Cam. He’s extremely skilled at maneuvering delicate little buttons and releasing complex locking mechanisms. I’ve never known him to fail in entering a private place he wished to penetrate, no matter how well-guarded.
Lady B (raising her brows) Are we talking about Ballrooms? Or some other more intimate space?
Lauren (trying to keep a straight face.) Perhaps you should decide for yourself. That appears to be Cameron strolling through the archway.
Lady B (following his progress with a gimlet gaze) Explain yourself, sir.
Cameron: In a moment. But first . . . (He raises her bejeweled hand to his lips and holds it there for a fraction longer than a gentleman should.) You have divine hands, Lady B. (A wink) And divine rings. By the color and clarity, I would say those are emeralds from the Spanish mines of South America, are they not?
Lady B: Never mind!
Cameron: You have nothing to worry about. Beautiful women need never fear of losing their costly jewelry to me. (A pause) But I make no promises about purloining other infinitely more precious possessions.
Lady B: W-w-what could be more precious than emeralds and rubies, young man?
Cameron: (leaning close to whisper in her ear): Some might feel that a lady’s heart is her greatest treasure, and I confess, I agree. If I could find a true and loyal one, I just might consider becoming a reformed rogue.
Lady B: (letting out a breathy sigh) Perhaps we should retire to the side salon and discuss the matter of hearts over a bottle of my special port. (A sidelong look at Cara and Lauren) After I lock the door and throw away the key.
Cara: Umm . . .
Cameron: I believe Miss Elliott was about to warn you that she know all my secrets.
Lady B: Oh, I do like a man with secrets. (Stepping a tad closer) What are they?
Cameron (with an enigmatic smile): You will have to ask Miss Elliott the details. Suffice it to say, I’m not what I seem.
<squawk> Have a care, ladies. If you kiss him, he might turn into a frog, ha, ha, ha! <squawk>
Lauren: Noooo, definitely not a frog.
Cara (brows shooting up): Lauren! What will your husband say?
Lauren (with an airy wave): Research. He knows I’m very serious about my research.
Cara: But it’s MY book.
Lady B: Come along with me, Mr. Fanning! Let us leave these two ninnyhammers to their silliness. (To Albert) In my experience, a fine bottle of port always loosens a man’s tongue.
Cameron (with a casual flick of his long, lithe fingers, he mimes turning a key): Sorry, but my lips are locked.
Lady B (hooking her arm with his): We’ll see about that. I, too, have some tricks up my sleeve.
Cameron: Ahhh, well, I always enjoy going mano a mano with a clever lady. Let the latches and levers fall where they may . . .
Cara (watching them walk away): Perhaps I should have told Lady B about Sophie Lawrance. I’m pretty certain that she is the only one who holds the key to Cam’s heart. And seeing how long he’s waited for a second chance to win her heart, I don’t think he’ll risk mucking it up.
Lauren (looking thoughtful): Hmmm, an interesting observation . . .
Which begs the question: How do you feel about rakish rogues? Do bad boys who have grown older and wiser deserve a second chance?
(Or even more interesting, is there an old flame in your life you’ve thought about, and wondered whether now it might work out differently. Does that intrigue you . . . or is the past best left in the past?)
Do dish! Two commentators will be chosen as random to receive a free copy of TOO DANGEROUS TO DESIRE. (U. S. addresses only, please.)