The paper ribbons are festooning. The heavy red drapes hang with languor, while brass chandeliers dance next to Tintorettos. The entire ballroom is packed with people in costumes and masks, creating a delicious air of mystery. I grin to myself, underneath my mask. I’ve done it. And I actually got away with it.
“Miss Noble!” I hear the familiar outrage with my usual guilt.
I turn – Lady B bustles her way through the crowd, tearing off people’s masks, looking for the culprit of today’s injury.
I decide to cut to the chase, and un-mask myself, saving untold characters ruthless unmasking. Most of them only speak Italian anyway, and are already pretty alarmed to find themselves in a ballroom in London.
“Lady B!” I cry, painting a smile on my face. “What do you think? Isn’t it glorious?”
“Miss Noble – you have transposed my beautiful, elegant ballroom into a… a…”
“A beautiful, mysterious ballroom?”
“A DEN OF INIQUITY!”
“It’s not a den of iniquity!” I protest. “I know, it looks a little Eyes Wide Shut, but these Venetian Carnival masks long pre-date Kubrick.”
Lady B blinks at me, and tactfully glazes over my non-period appropriate references.
“It’s just all so… so…”
We both turn, and I can’t help a relieved sigh. “Oliver. Thank goodness you’re here.”
Oliver Merrick, his laughing light eyes a contrast to his silky dark hair and tan (well, of course he’s tan, he’s been in Venice for five years). I have never been so happy to see one of my fictional characters in my life. If anyone can smooth Lady B’s ruffled feathers (the plume sticking out of her turban today looks suspiciously like one of Albert’s feathers. And I suddenly realize just how long it’s been since I’ve seen Albert), it’s Oliver.
“My Lady,” he says with polished grace, bowing over Lady B’s hand. “And my author,” he winks at me before bowing over mine. “How can I be of service?”
“Erm, Lady B is a bit thrown by the décor for tonight’s ball… the one celebrating the release of Let It Be Me?”
Oliver nods, understanding my predicament. He moves gallantly to Lady B’s side, and offers her his arm.
“As well she should be.” Oliver chides. “The hostess of the ball not having any say over the decorations?”
“Oh, Mr. Merrick,” Lady B trills. “I’m so glad someone understands.”
My brow comes down. I didn’t think Oliver would smooth ruffled feathers by throwing me under the bus. Or the gondola, as it were.
“Of course. An Italian masked ball must be terribly surprising to someone of your faint sensibilities.”
“Faint? Faint?” Lady B stands up straight. “I assure you I never faint. I am made of much sturdier stuff. Good British stock.”
“Then how could a few masks and a bit of drapery ever offend you?”
“They don’t!” Lady B contends. I smile to myself. Trust Oliver to figure out Lady B’s weak spot and know how to use it. As the owner of a theatre, Oliver is adept at handling problems. And egos.
“I assure you they do not,” Lady B demurred, not wanting to be thought of as stuffy or fainting. “Drapery would have to work very hard to offend me.”
“I should think so!” Oliver chuckled. “Would you like to meet someone who will not have to work hard at all to offend you?”
“Absolutely,” Lady B smiles, and leans even more heavily on Oliver. I should have seen this coming, of course. Oliver does have some very nice legs.
He takes Lady B to the railing of the balcony, offering her a view of the dance floor below.
“Oh my – who is that?” Lady B points to a figure holding court at the center of the room. Even with his mask and harlequin costume, I knew exactly who it was.
“That is my friend Vincenzo Carpenini,” Oliver whispered in Lady B’s ear. “The composer. He excels at making trouble.”
“And one assumes he also makes music.” Lady B returned. “And who is that – the young lady in the green dress playing the piano? She’s quite good.”
“Yes, she is.” I can hear the hitch in Oliver’s voice. The way he leaned forward ever so slightly, to listen to the notes from the pianoforte, spoke volumes.
“That is Bridget Forrester,” Oliver breathes. “Carpenini’s pupil. And she…. she is music.”
Lady B sends me a smirk. Yeah, she clocked his interest too.
“But tell me, Mr. Merrick,” Lady B says. “If this is an Italian ball – why is Miss Forrester playing Beethoven?”
Oliver gives me a quick glance. “Well, for that answer, it might be simpler to just read the book.”
I’m so excited that come Tuesday, Let It Be Me will be here! (Obviously, since I threw a Venetian Carnival masquerade in its honor.) Tell me – what’s your costume to the ball? (by the way I’ve decided to be a 18th century shepherdess. I borrowed it from Lady B.) I’m giving away a copy of Let It Be Me to one lucky commenter!
(oh, and for the curious, here’s the book trailer!)