I’ve been distracted lately.
I swear I’ve been trying my best to hide it — showing up to meetings on time (having read the information necessary for said meeting on the subway on the way to the meeting), faking it ’till I make it on conference calls, drafting important documents into the wee hours of the night because I couldn’t get myself organized during the day. We’ve all had months like this one.
So, when I received a package today via VERY IMPORTANT MESSENGER from the HarperCollins offices, there was no question that I was going to PAY GOOD ATTENTION to it. Because, let’s be honest. My other work might be able to slide by, but not so the book stuff. That requires ACTUAL FOCUS.
So I opened it up, found a quiet chair in the farthest, quietest corner of the ballroom and got to work.
How was I supposed to remember that there was a BALL today?
Yes…I probably should have realized it when the footmen began taking all the covers off the furniture, and when the giant chandeliers were lowered and the candles set in them were changed for new, long tapers. And I likely should have noticed when the scent of quiche and lobster patty came wafting through from the kitchens. And I very likely should have noticed when the orchestra set up. And tuned.
But I was busy.
So busy, in fact, that I didn’t notice the guests start to arrive. And I missed the first quadrille. And the second.
And I would have missed the whole ball, and none have been the wiser, except Albert found me. And then found Lady B. Who came looking for me. And that’s when the train went off the rails.
“Miss MacLean! What are you doing?!”
My head snapped up, and two things occurred to me. 1) I wasn’t sure when I had showered last. And 2) I was starving.
“Lady B!” I said, pushing the hair back from my face. “I didn’t see you there!”
“No doubt!” she blustered. “Did you, perchance, see half of London here?”
Crud. I looked over her shoulder. Was that the Duke of Wellington dancing by? “I didn’t, actually.”
She harrumphed, then looked to my lap. “Good Lord! Are you working?”
It never ceases to amaze me that she forgets that writing is a job. “I am.”
She cranes her head. “What are you doing, scribbling about in red pencil? Where did you procure red pencil?”
I forego the part where I explain that in the future, we have the Pentel Graphgear 1000 which is an author’s dream tool and say, “I got typeset pages today. Or maybe yesterday.” I consider the state of my hunger. “It could have been the day before.”
“And what, pray tell, are typeset pages?”
“Oh, they’re quite exciting, really.” I say, gathering up the looseleaf around me. “You see, when a book is about to be printed, they send the author the pages as they are laid out for printing. We get one more look at them before they go to the printer.”
“To check for errors, you mean?” She lifts an errant page.
I smile. “Precisely.”
She sniffs at the paper. “I have found an error.”
My eyes go wide. She pulled that off the Looks Right To Me pile. “You did?”
She down at me. “Indeed. It appears I have been left off the dedication page.”
I flush. “This time. Yes.”
She looks to the next page, and it’s her eyes that go wide this time. “Miss MacLean!”
Uh-oh. Suddenly, I know exactly what page she’s looking at. What line she’s looking at. “You shouldn’t read other people’s things,” I say. “It isn’t polite.”
She cuts me a look. “First, it’s that sentence that isn’t polite…and second…you are about to publish it! I’m quite grateful that you were remiss in dedicating it to me!”
The flush turns to a full-blow, fire-engine-style blush. “It’s–”
“It’s the first line of the book?”
I flinch. “I couldn’t help it. He thinks that way.”
“And who, precisely, is he?!”
“The Duke of Lamont.”
“THE KILLER DUKE OF LAMONT.”
“He didn’t exactly–”
“He murdered his stepmother!”
“It’s irrelevant!” She is in a bit of a lather now. “I forgave you for the other two scoundrels, you know. They were fallen but not criminal.”
Bourne and Cross own a gaming hell, but I don’t point this out. “It’s quite relevant, actually. She never married his father.”
“The poor thing never had a chance! He killed her in her own bed! I know because my third cousin Gerald was a guest at the wedding!”
“But he didn’t kill her.”
“Of course he did.”
I meet Lady B’s eyes. This time I speak firmly. “Lady B. He didn’t. Kill her.”
She pauses. Narrows her gaze on me. Then turns her attention to the book. “How do you know?”
I shrug. “I just know.”
She tuts. “How do you know?”
I look to her. “Can you keep a secret?”
The magic words. She lights up. “That is a silly question.”
I nod. “He didn’t kill her…” I say, then pause. Should I tell her?
“Out with it, gel!”
She gasps. “No!”
I nod. “Yes. And I’ll tell you everything if you’ll just let me finish my work.”
No one bothered me for the rest of the ball.
Susan and Carol have inspired me in comments! Let’s play a rousing game of finish the line! How does the first line of Temple’s book read?