I’m standing at the side of the ballroom, beaming at the new Duke of Lycombe dancing with his beautiful bride, and I am filled with the most wonderful happiness and relief.
Lady B: Miss Ashe, you appear both pleased and relieved.
I’ve said it before: I’ve no idea how she reads my mind.
I am! Just look at them, so happy now after they’ve been through so much!
Lady B: (rolls her eyes) I told you and Miss Neville that I hadn’t the slightest idea your heroines and heroes would not be perfectly happy matched in any which way.
Oh, I don’t mean that. Although, really, the next time we ask you to host our characters in our absence, perhaps you might consider cracking open our books first?
Lady B: It isn’t enough that I allow you authoresses the run of my ballroom?
And library and garden and balcony and— Oh! Here they come.
Lady B: Miss Ashe, enough sighing.
I’m just so happy they’re happy. Finally!
Lady B: What on earth did you put them through in that book, you cruel gel?
Oh, you know. The usual.
Arabella is smiling as she approaches on Luc’s arm. She’s dressed in her wedding gown, a Cinderella-esque confection of white silk, tulle and tiny diamonds, with a sparkling diamond tiara nestled in her hair. He’s devastatingly handsome in a green coat that’s just a bit darker than his eye, with a simple black silk band across the scar that runs through his other eye.
(I gesture at Luc) For starters, Lady B, I had Luc’s cousin blind him in one eye about six months before the book started.
Luc: (looking around) That rakehell isn’t here now, is he?
You mean Cam, of course.
Lady B: Camlann Bedwyr? In one of your books, Miss Ashe? There’s hope for you yet.
He’s not here. Not till November anyway. But hey, Luc and Arabella, Lady B wants to know what I put you through to reach your happily-ever-after. Could you help me explain?
Arabella: Of course, Katharine. Lady B, she began with a shipwreck in my youth and a holy terror of the sea thereafter.
Lady B: Well, dear gel, then you must simply avoid sailing.
Luc: I was a shipmaster when we became acquainted.
Arabella: That was when I was on my way to a castle in France—across the Channel, a large body of water—and missed my ship.
Lady B: (pursing her lips) Miss Ashe . . .
Oh, come on. Everybody knows hardship brings people together.
Arabella: Then there was the sailor who stole my family’s heirloom at knifepoint.
Luc: And the wicked bishop bent upon ruining my family’s estate.
Arabella: And your uncle’s unexpected heir that overturned your inheritance.
Luc: And my meddling cousin.
Arabella: And my determination to marry a prince. Oh, and the storm on the Channel.
Luc: And let us not forget the Sicilian assassins.
Arabella: (squeezing his hand) How could I ever forget them? I’m married you because of them.
He smiles warmly down at her.
Lady B: You married him because of Sicilian assassins? (turns a gimlet eye upon me) Miss Ashe, really.
They’re all looking at me like I’ve plucked the wings off a butterfly, which—let’s be perfectly clear—I’ve never done, no matter what I’ve made my heroes and heroines suffer. I am A Humanitarian. At this point, a slightly miffed humanitarian. I didn’t make them suffer that much.
Lady B: Must you throw at these poor creatures every obstacle toward happiness that you imagine?
Arabella: I’m of the same mind, Lady B. It might have all been a great deal easier.
Luc: She is a merciless creator.
Lady B: I daresay.
Well, it was that or starving French bandits bent on violence!
All three stare at me blankly.
And Gypsies. Though the Gypsies were actually the good guys. And orphans! Oh, Luc, you were really noble. (I sigh)
Luc: I was noble? As in, in the past? Now just a moment—
No, I mean, you are. But originally, in the first version of the book, there was your old French fencing master and—
Yes! Father Orlan, who taught you and Cam to fence when you were boys, then returned to France and became a priest. You sent him money every month to care for war orphans. Then you took Arabella to the orphanage, after Dr. Stewart did that surgery to remove her tooth—
Luc: Miss Ashe, perhaps you would enjoy a spot of fresh air at this time?
No! I’m trying to make a point.
Lady B: Which is . . . ?
I’m just saying it could’ve been worse.
Arabella: (gripping Luc’s hand tighter) Worse?
Lady B: It?
The obstacles in the way of their happily-ever-after.
Luc: (grim about the mouth, but he turns to his wife and his eye softens) Duchess, shall we forget about all of this authorly nonsense and dance?
Arabella gives him a sparkling smile and they move toward the other dancers. I and my cruelty are forgotten. Which is as it should be. Just like all the parts of the original version of the story that didn’t make it into the final book, a labor of love—literally—that will never see the light of day. Which is exactly as it should be!
Have you ever worked really hard on something yet no one (your pet cats, dogs or goldfish excepted) ever knew anything about it, and you were just fine with that?
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Are you ready to bring on your inner princess? My Tiara Experience Contest to celebrate the inauguration of my new Prince Catchers series is in full swing. Six finalists win prizes, and the grand prize will go to one winner chosen by popular vote! I’m posting the wonderful entries on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest and my website. Click here for information.
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