Lady B and I are standing by the refreshment table, arms akimbo, considering the wide array of noshes and nibbles, deep in discussion of the soon-to-begin ball and the soon-to-arrive special guest.
I snatch a quiche and pop it into my mouth as she adjusts a tray of lobster patties lovingly. “You say she’s a debut?”
“She is, my lady.”
“I hope she has a brain in her head. There’s nothing worse than a yammering debutante. They’re why I don’t attend Almack’s.”
I’m fairly certain that she doesn’t attend Almack’s because she and Lady Jersey had a row over whose house was most conducive to Prinny’s birthday ball several seasons back, but I know better than to pry. “She most definitely has a brain in her head, Lady B…I know it for a fact, as she went to a rather prestigious institution of higher learning. My own alma mater.”
Lady B cuts me a look. “I’m not certain I care much for ladies who attend school.”
“Well, I think you’d like Smith, honestly, my lady. It’s for the refined, intelligent woman.” It occurs to me I went to most classes in my pajamas. Ah-well. “The utmost in grace.”
“I shall take your word for it, then, Miss MacLean.”
I turn toward the voice and see Miss Valerie Bowman through the crowd, debut author of Secrets of a Wedding Night. She seems…excited. And, honestly, I can’t blame her. I remember my first ball at Beaufetheringstone House, and I was so excited I could puke that night.
“I beg your pardon, Miss MacLean?”
Uh-oh. I appear to have spoken aloud. “Er…I was just saying that I am excited to see the duke, my lady.” I point in the direction of Simon, Duke of Leighton. “I haven’t seen him since Juliana had her last child…”
“Like rabbits, those two,” Lady B mutters.
“Indeed,” Valerie has arrived. “May I introduce Miss Valerie Bowman, my lady?”
“You may,” Lady B condescends, and Valerie drops into a curtsey.
“Oooh, Lady B, Lady B! I am so excited to meet you! Have you heard the news, my dear?”
Knowing that Lady B will love hearing the news, I make my excuses, leaving the two notorious gossips to…gossip.
Lady B: That Lord Pemberton wears a girdle?
Lady B: That Lady Mountebank is going bald?
Lady B: That the earl and countess of Langdon are actually in love? (quite nauseating really)
Valerie: No…Really?…But no.
Lady B: Well, then, what is it, dear? Tell me.
Valerie: (glancing about to ensure she is not overheard) I have it on the best authority that there is a very, very, very (and did I mention, very?) scandalous pamphlet being distributed amongst the young ladies of ton.
Lady B: Scandalous?
Valerie: (with a nod) Very.
Lady B: Pamphlet?
Lady B: Oh, for this I may well need to sit.
Valerie: We both may need to. Where’s Albert?
Lady B: He’s molting.
Valerie: Good. I’m kind of freaked out by birds.
Lady B: Pardon?
Lady B: (fanning herself) Tell me, quickly. What is the subject of this Scandalous Pamphlet?
Valerie: (looking both ways) It’s rumored to be titled, Secrets of a Wedding Night.
Lady B: (with jaw dropped) No!
Lady B: Shocking!
Valerie: Isn’t it though? (cough, cough) Er, I mean, indeed.
Lady B: (raising both brows and lowering her voice) You don’t have a copy of the thing do you?
Valerie: (with an innocent shrug) Not on me.
Lady B: Hrmph. Well, who wrote such a scandalous piece?
Valerie: No ones knows for sure.
Lady B: How can that be?
Valerie: Er, well, I actually do know who wrote it, but I can’t tell. That’s not the point.
Lady B: Well, what is the point then?
Valerie: (gestures toward the center of the room) I may have overheard that Lady Lily, Countess of Merrill, wrote it.
Lady B: Ah, Merrill’s widow. The man died barely a month after the nuptials five years ago. She was rumored to have been nearly of the verge of an engagement to Colton at the time.
Valerie: What a succinct summarization of the backstory… I mean, yes, that is true. And guess who Lady Lily happens to be dancing with right now? (gestures to the dance floor where a stunning dark-haired couple is engaged in a waltz)
Lady B: (raising her lorgnettes to eye the couple) Why, it’s Colton! In the flesh.
Valerie: The very same!
Lady B: (giving Valerie a sly, suspicious look) Miss Bowman, methinks there is something you are not telling me.
Valerie: Do you think you could call me, Lady Valerie?
Lady B: (looking as if she is on the verge of a apoplectic fit) Absolutely not! Why, the nerve!
Valerie: (swinging her reticule from her wrist and batting her eyelashes) Can’t blame a girl for trying.
Lady B: Miss Bowman, I’m waiting. (taps her foot) Is there in fact something you’re not telling me?
Valerie (coyly): Perhaps.
Lady B: Out with it.
Valerie: (drumming her gloved fingers against her cheek) Very well. I might have heard a bit of a rumor that Colton’s recent engagement to Miss Templeton was called off as a direct result of her having read the pamphlet in question.
Lady B: (pursing her lips) Is that so?
Lady B: Miss Bowman, are you implying that the Marquis of Colton is renewing his affection for Lady Lily?
Valerie: (fighting an eye roll) What do you think? (cough) Er, it does rather look that way, does it not?
Lady B: (with lorgnettes raised once more looking at the couple) Hmm. This should prove to be quite interesting then.
Valerie: (aside) More interesting than you know.
Lady B: Pardon?
Valerie: (swishing her skirts back and forth) I may have a bit more information, Lady B.
Lady B: Do you?
Lady B: And?
Valerie: (glancing surreptitiously back and forth across both shoulders, then leaning in to whisper) It seems when the marquis heard about the pamphlet and that Miss Templeton cried off because of it, he issued Lily a challenge.
Lady B: (eyebrows shooting up) A challenge?
Valerie: Yes, indeed.
Lady B: What sort of a challenge?
Valerie: A lascivious one, I’m afraid.
Lady B: Miss Bowman! Such language.
Valerie: (shrug) I can’t help it, lascivious happens to be the perfect word to use under these circumstances.
Lady B: (leaning forward) How lascivious?
Valerie: (in a whisper) Lord Colton has ordered Lady Lily to write a retraction or he intends to…
Lady B: (leaning forward farther) Yes?
Valerie: He intends to… (bites her lip and manages to blush a little)
Lady B: Yes?
Valerie: He intends to…seduce her!
Lady B: (gasps) NO!
Valerie: (with a bit too much glee on her face) Yes!
Lady B: Well, that is lascivious indeed. (narrowing her eyes) But I must ask, how do you know all of this Miss Bowman?
Valerie: (aside) Because I wrote the book. (to Lady B) Oh, er, just rumors, you know?
Lady B: (starring at the dancing couple intently now) Given this information this should prove to be a most interesting ball indeed. The entire ton will be talking about this in a matter of moments, I assure you.
Valerie: (with a satisfied smirk on her face) Well, then. I believe I have stirred the pot sufficiently, and my work here is done. I’m off to find Jordan Holloway, the hero of my next book who is super hot and currently single. (audaciously winks, curtseys to Lady B, and takes herself off)
Thanks for joining the Ballroom today, Valerie!
Ballroomers! To win a copy of Secrets of a Wedding Night, tell us about the most scandalous book (or pamphlet!) you’ve ever read — the one that you had to hide under the bed!
We’ll choose one winner tomorrow!
And, for those of you who are desperate for more naughty books…don’t miss our own Miranda Neville’s The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, which uses excerpts from real 19th C. erotic texts…on sale in e for $.99 this week! It’s the perfect companion to Valerie’s debut!