I’ve been away from the Ballroom for a week as I’ve been trotting around on book tour, but I really hadn’t expected it to have changed as much as this. The spindly gilt chairs have been pushed to one side of the room, making way for old chests filled with dusty papers. A vast oak table is piled high with scrolls, parchments, and decaying chronicles.
Has Lady B taken up antiquarian scholarship in her spare time?
“Nothing of the kind!” snaps Lady B, making me wonder whether I spoke aloud, or if Lady B had taken up mind-reading among her other hobbies. I wouldn’t be surprised. “I shouldn’t wish to be thought a bluestocking. I am assembling my application for the DNC.”
I stare at her blankly.
“The Daughters of the Norman Conquest,” she elaborates. “In order to join, one must prove one’s Norman ancestry, as well as produce a ticket from the boat upon which one’s ancestor sailed with the Conqueror. Some of those boats,” she continues with asperity, “are becoming suspiciously crowded.”
“If it had gone the other way, do you think they would have called it the Daughters of the Saxon Resistance?” I wonder.
Lady B gives me one of those looks she saves for frivolous authoresses.
“Besides,” she says, as though I hadn’t spoken, “it’s past time Monty learned something of his family heritage. I was just telling—Monty? Where has that boy gone?”
Out the window, if the open shutter is any indication. I think I catch a glimpse of the heel of a well-polished Hessian boot, but I can’t be quite sure.
“Hmph,” says Lady B. “And after I took the time to read all sixty pages of the Chronicle of Sir Guillaume de Beaufeatheringstone aloud to him—in the original Norman French!”
There is the sound of a distinct groan from the vicinity of the window.
“That’s all quite interesting,” I say politely, “but don’t you think Monty would rather hear about his parents? Wasn’t there some sort of story about them?”
Lady B slams the chronicle shut. “Recent history is so uninteresting, don’t you agree?” she says, tight-lipped. “And, really, quite uninspired. There’s no chain mail, no jousting. Just assemblies and routs and—”
“The odd scandal?” I venture, watching Lady B closely. There’s some secret there, I just know it.
“Hmph,” sniffs Lady B, and plunks a heavy volume down in front of me, raising a cloud of dust. As I cough, she says, “If you are so interested in the past, Miss Willig, you might as well make yourself useful. I expect to see that entire chronicle transcribed—and footnoted!—by tonight’s ball.”
I risk a peek at it. This isn’t going to be fun. I haven’t seen handwriting that illegible since the last time I had to get a prescription from the doctor.
“But Monty’s parents….”
“BOTH these chronicles,” says Lady B, and drops another on top of the first. In the resulting dust cloud, she makes her exit.
The top of a man’s fashionable hat bobs briefly up above the sash of the window—and then disappears again.
Sighing, I settle down to transcribing the Chronicle of Sir Guillaume de Beaufeatheringstone, as recorded by his faithful scribe, Patsy—but I can’t help wondering, just what is it that Lady B doesn’t want us to find out? And how much does Monty know?
Maybe there’s really nothing to discover, but thanks to The Ashford Affair, which is all about a Big Family Secret and the ramifications thereof, I’ve had family mysteries on the brain recently.
Have you come across any surprising stories about your family?
It’s Thursday, of course, and I’m comfortably ensconced in Lady B’s library reading and avoiding doing the very thing an artist is supposed to do at the home of her patroness.
Lady B looks very put out. Immediately I catalogue all the things I’ve done that she might be upset about: the continued mess in my room, the fact that I never did bring my latest hero to visit…
“Have you seen Monty?”
I blink. Monty? Why on earth would she be looking for Monty in the library? I think back. I remember seeing Harold the other day. And I’m fairly certain I saw Monty’s valet creeping down the backstairs with one of the maids. But Monty?
Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen him in at least several weeks. Perhaps, since Easter.
I shake my head slowly. Of course, now I am curious to know what the rapscallion has been doing. Surely if he’s been up to his usual sport of saving damsels who may or may not actually be in distress, we’d have heard something about it. Why, with the season in full swing, Lady B’s parlor has been nonstop filled with callers. Mostly mothers with their newly come out daughters…oh.
Maybe that’s why he hasn’t been around.
“I haven’t seen him, but I shall definitely keep my eye out for him. He can’t have gone far with Harold and his valet still here. Has he done something to upset you?” Clearly he has, but now I’m fishing for gossip. Because after all, there is nothing like Regency gossip!
“Upset? Do I look upset?”
I’m not certain what I’m supposed to say to that so I hold my tongue and wait for her to continue.
“No, Miss Darby, I am not upset. I am furious!” She waves a stack of invitations around wildly. “Do you know that I have been beset with the most insipid of conversations for the last three weeks? I already had a list of prospective wives for Monty, but naturally, all of London wishes their pale, quiet, brainless daughter to marry the Beaufetheringstone heir. And if the daughters weren’t bad enough, I have to deal with their mothers, who seem to conveniently forget that in our youth I thought them just as brainless as their spawn.”
“Monty is quite a catch,” I offer tentatively.
“Yes, he is. Despite his irregular upbringing. However, I have a list and if he refuses to abide by my wishes and pursue these particular women, then I demand he at least be present during these interminable afternoon visits. He simply cannot go about London at all hour attracting the wrong sort of woman.”
Now I’m even more curious.
“Who do you think would be the right sort of woman?” I ask. I’d love a peek at her list. After all, after nearly two years at Lady B’s I’ve met half of London and certainly all manner of heroines.
“Someone intelligent. Vibrant yet restrained. Who will know how to curb his more physical tendencies. Lady Arabella Prescott comes to mind as a possibility. Her parents are both brilliant. Lord B always agrees with Lord Prescott in parliament and Lady Prescott is a fabulous wit. From the little I’ve seen of the young Prescott girl, I believe she has inherited her parents’ intelligence.”
I actually haven’t met Arabella yet, and I have a strange feeling this list might hold even more surprises. What about all of you? What qualities do you think Monty needs in his future wife? And do you think he’ll bend to Lady B’s will?
To the untrained eye, it appears that Monty and a Vegas showgirl have escaped a large showgirl competition with Harold. But the truth is, we’re in Brazil, and the Vegas showgirl is either Brazilian or Australian of American. Whatever she is, she’s heavily tanned. And whitened. And tightened. And Montague Moylan-Hazwell is pretty well flummoxed by them. And even more flummoxed by the vehicle they’re attempting to foist upon him.
“Get on!” The feathered female is yelling, pushing him toward a very handsome, very un-Regency-era motorcycle.
“I beg your pardon,” Monty cries as Harold clings for dear life to his shoulder, “What is that…thing?”
The showgirl gives him a look–as though he’s grown a dozen heads. “It’s a motorcycle, you dummy! And if you don’t get on it and take a hike…you’re going to have to deal with…” She points down the dark alleyway to a group of silk-clad gentlemen coming up the street, a-la West Side Story but with more…well…Portuguese.
Monty doesn’t like the look of them. After all, over the last month, he’s met with extravagant dancers and George Lucas and volcano sacrificers…and he’s come to know what dangerous looks like. And in this case, danger is garbed in silk and dancing shoes. They’re snapping their fingers and moving in formation.
It’s a problem.
Only slightly less of a problem than the fact that Monty doesn’t know how to operate a motorcycle. In fact, he’s never even seen a motorcycle, due to the fact that he’s from the Regency. And…time is…well…usually not so bendy. The silk clad gangmembers are grand jette-ing closer and the showgirl realizes that it’s time to take matters into her own hands.
She leaps onto the bike and repeats, “Get on!”
“My lady!” Monty says, all propriety, “I cannot straddle that…thing…with you…it would be…incredibly disrespectful.”
She cuts him a look. “More or less disrespectful than The Fancy Feet Gang killing you?”
He considers the question briefly, then hops onto the motorcycle. “Less. But only slightly.”
“Yeah, I thought so,” she says, and takes off through the streets of Rio, ignoring the way Monty cries in surprise and clings to her for dear life.
“This thing goes faster than any horse I’ve ever ridden!” He yells into her ear.
She screams back at him, “That’s because it has the power of 123 horses!”
“What mad place is this? And what did those men want?”
She laughs and opens the throttle through Rio’s central market, dodging donkeys and bystanders, and nearly running them straight into a banana cart. “This is Rio, Montague…and those men want your treasure map.”
“I don’t have a–”
“Of course you do. It’s in your breast pocket.” She takes a particularly dangerous turn, leading them onto a dirt road headed up the cliffs on the outskirts of the city. Once they’ve righted themselves from the precarious tilt, Monty risks a look into his breast pocket.
“I had no idea…where did it come from?”
“Volcanoes, Amazons, Wookies, who cares! What’s important is that you keep it safe. It’s worth a fortune.”
“How did you know it existed? How do you know who I am?”
She checks the mirrors to be certain no one is behind them and pulls over to the side of the road, climbing off the motorcycle before turning back to Monty and clasping his face between her palms. “I know because you’re a legend. With all of us. The fated marzipan hatbox. It’s you.” She presses a long, lingering kiss to his lips, then pulls back and whispers, “At another time…in another world…”
Engines sound in the distance, coming fast and furious from the direction of the city. Monty pulls her to him, ready to take a second kiss. A third. More. He’s not choosy, and she’s wearing virtually nothing. She stays the movement. “We can’t. You have to save yourself…and the map, Monty.”
She points into the darkness, away from the city. “As fast as you can, down that road. Don’t stop until daylight and they shan’t catch you. I promise.”
“What of you?”
She smiles, her sequins shimmering in the moonlight. “I will survive.”
“I don’t even know your name,” he said softly.
“Harley,” she said. “Call me Harley.” The engines are coming closer now, and she kisses him–fierce and quick–once more. “Go. Now. And don’t forget me.”
As if that could happen. Monty turns to the bike and eases it into acceleration, pulling away as she calls out “Goodbye! Until next January!”
Whatever that means.
Uh…yeah. Time & space are a bit “bendy,” to quote Kate.
Full throttle, down the road. He takes the words to heart. Follows them to a tee–faster and faster, The Fancy Feet Gang closer and closer, desperate for his treasure map…
Until he goes right over a cliff and into thin air.
And lands, sans-motorcycle, in the middle of the Beaufetheringstone Ballroom.
“Good heavens! Montague!” Lady B approaches, extracting her lorgnettes to have a good long look at her nephew. “Wherever have you been? It looks as though you were chased through a holly bush!”
He brushes his fingers over the cut on his eye and the mottled bruises across his cheek. “I’ve been…Aunt Tropey…you wouldn’t believe it.”
Lady B raises a brow. “No. I don’t believe I would. Please go tidy yourself. People will arrive any moment. We’re to have a ball for Miss MacLean. She’s a new book out, and I’m told I am mentioned in it. I can’t very well have you scandalizing the guests.”
Monty smiles and begins to make his way to the ballroom door, wondering how it is that he’d experienced such remarkable things over the last month. Perhaps he dreamed them. Perhaps worse.
His hand drifts absently to the inside breast pocket of his coat, grazing the parchment there. What in– He extracts the paper. An old, creased map. With a large red X in the center.
His next adventure, no doubt.
Welcome back to The Ballroom, all! Monty is here–bruised as ever thanks to his insane motorcycle leap!
Tell us, what’s the one daredevil stunt you’d like to try? Bungee jumping? Motorcycle racing? Hang gliding?
When we last left Monty and his loyal toucan, Harold, they were being summarily ejected from a spaceship on their way back to England from a galaxy far, far away—or, at least, Northern California.
Unfortunately, the ship didn’t quite come to a complete stop before the pilot pressed the eject-o button. Monty found himself clinging to Harold’s legs as the toucan desperately flapped his stubby wings, squawking something about his plumage being meant for show, not for use.
Together, the hapless pair plummeted through the flimsy roof of a tent into—into a form of arena.
Monty turned to Harold. “Old chap,” he said hoarsely, “I don’t think we’re in England anymore.”
Still miffed at being used as a flotation device, Harold ruffled his feathers and turned his back on his master while Monty took a slow turn around the room, trying to figure out where the devil they might be.
Music, like no music Monty had ever heard, throbbed through the room. A gaudily decked pair pushed past him, moving in a strange sort of rhythm. They were dressed in the oddest sorts of costumes, all feathers and sparkles and a rather alarming quantity of face paint. They were all lunging and swinging their hips and waving their arms about in a rather intense way.
If this was dancing, it certainly wasn’t the quadrille.
And why were they all wearing numbers on their backs? Was it in case they forgot their own names?
Monty looked about for someone who might be able to tell him what was going on, but everyone appeared to be jabbering away in a language foreign to his ears.
“Hallo?” he called. “Bonjour? Salve? Χαῖρε!”
He even contorted his body into an Egyptian hieroglyph, but no one seemed to speak Ancient Pictogram either.
Wait! Someone was glaring in his direction, muttering something about “illegal dance steps”. The words didn’t make any sense, but, by Gad, at least the chap spoke English—of a sort.
Turning his back on Monty, the man went back to his low-voiced argument with the female beside him. Both man and woman had the blondest hair Monty had ever seen, browned skins, and alarmingly white teeth.
The female was rather fetching, for all that, at least what he could see under the rather violently applied face paint, which appeared to include some sparkly bits on her cheekbones that flashed when she moved. They were flashing quite a bit at the moment. (As was her bosom, although Monty found it incumbent upon him as a gentleman to pretend to ignore that.) As Monty approached, the lady wrenched her arm from that of the gentleman beside her, sending a shimmer of sparkles drifting to the floor.
“For the last time,” she hissed, “I will not perform the Bogo Pogo!”
What was this Bogo Pogo? Clearly, a carnal contortion of the most depraved and deviant sort.
The anguish on her fair—if overly made-up—face tore at the cockles of Monty’s tender heart. None of his affair, and all that, but still, one couldn’t stand by and watch men in strangely shiny knee breeches molesting innocent young women.
Leaning forward, Monty tapped her on her bared shoulder. “Madame,” he said, in a low voice, “if I might be of any assistance, my sword–”
Where was his sword? Blast! He must have lost it somewhere on that peculiar, rudderless ship. Instead, he seemed to have an odd stick thingy with a button that emitted, when pressed, a strong, red light. Not much use that.
“My toucan and I stand at your assistance,” Monty amended quickly. He essayed a bow. “Lord Montague Moylan-Hazwell, at your service.”
“Who is this tosser?” demanded the man, with a sneer that might have been rather more villainous if his eye-black weren’t starting to run.
“I, sir,” said Monty loftily—but was rudely interrupted by a woman, garbed in a sober suit of black with no sparkles to be seen, who waved a sort of board with a clip on it in the air in Monty’s general direction in a rather menacing way.
“You must be Contestant #32. You’re late! Come with me at once!”
With Harold clinging to his shoulder, once again, Monty found himself being hauled away to part or parts unknown.
Over his shoulder, he cried, “Fear not, fair lady! I shall return.”
He only hoped it was a promise he might keep….
Monty was summarily marched off to a chamber of torture. He knew that it was so for there were round lanterns (how did they get the candles to stay that way?) suspended all around a large mirror. The lanterns shed a harsh light upon a series of arcane implements, undoubtedly the brainchild of the Inquisition, set out on a table in ominous array.
“I shall reveal nothing,” Monty declared bravely.
The woman cast him a jaded look. “Trust me,” she said. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”
She tossed him a pair of curiously spangled breeches and a shirt so slippery it slid right through Monty’s hands.
“Put these on.” She seemed rather determined, so Monty put them on, although the breeches had rather bizarre fastenings and the shirt appeared not to fasten at all.
The woman in black—obviously a High Inquisitor of some sort— fixed him with a particularly piercing stare through her strange, tilted spectacles. “Where’s your partner?”
Monty grabbed Harold by the feather. They went down together or not at all. “This is my partner.”
The woman gave him a strange look. “Right. Whatever. You’re on the floor in five.” She gestured another woman forward, a woman wearing a long, white coat. What acolyte was this? “Andrea? Take over.”
Monty found himself being pressed into that oddly shaped chair in front of the table with the bulbous lights and the array of small implements of torture. Monty gathered the shreds of his courage. He might be wearing a shirt that bared his chest to the naval (rather a good thing he hadn’t neglected his calisthenics during his sojourn in India), but he was still British, blast it all, and he would not be broken. Rule Britannia and all that.
“Whatever it is,” he declared boldly, “I shall tell you nothing.”
“Honey,” said Andrea, pushing him back in the chair. “You wouldn’t believe the things people tell me.” She unscrewed one of the ominous jars and began—painting Monty’s lips with rouge?
Hmm. Not an altogether unbecoming color….
“I’ve heard it all,” Andrea said wearily. Monty flinched as she brandished a dark wand in his face. Was the torture about to begin? “Hold still. I’m just doing your eyes. Hey, has anyone told you that you have great eyelashes?”
“Well, Aunt Tropey does say I have the family lashes,” Monty said modestly. He considered for a moment. “Unfortunately, she seems to want them back.”
Somewhere, a bell sounded, and a voice rolled out from above, booming something in that strange, foreign language.
Funny, Monty had always imagined the voice of the Lord speaking English and sounding rather like the Pater in one of his more moralizing moods.
“Darn it,” said Andrea. “This’ll have to do. Break a leg!”
And before he could ask her why she wanted him to commit indignities upon his own person—was it a means of avoiding conscription in the army of a foreign power?—she had pushed him out into a form of pen, a bejeweled, bedazzled, and decidedly grumpy Harold perched on his wrist. Harold appeared to be wearing a form of spangled pettiocoat.
“Don’t ask,” he squawked.
But before Monty could ask anything at all, he felt yet another urgent tug on his arm. It was the fair-haired lady, her headdress in disarray, her spangled bosom heaving.
“The competition’s been fixed,” she said. “They’re about to blow the whistle. Come with me!”
And she pulled him through a door into—
Where do Monty and Harold find themselves now?
I must confess to being a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see Monty tango—I rather suspect he’d look pretty dashing with a rose between his teeth, don’t you?
Do you watch those ballroom dance shows? Or do you have another guilty viewing pleasure?
When we last left our intrepid travelers, Monty’s vision of a woman begging for his assistance and Harold’s precipitous discovery of a bag of California gold nuggets had begun them on their newest leg of their quest.
Bodhi’s spare surfboard under him, Monty paddled his way out to the trading vessel that sat on the horizon. A sack of gold nuggets later, he was comfortably ensconced in a berth as they made their way to their destination. And promptly fell asleep.
Paddling was strenuous work.
That night he dreamed of the woman again.
“Help me, Montague Moylan-Hazwell, you’re my only hope.”
Monty awoke with a start. “My dream,” he mused. “It was so odd. And the beautiful woman… had such a strange hairstyle…”
But Harold was all in a flutter in his cage. It only took Monty twenty or so minutes to figure out why. The ship had stopped moving.
quite the view
“Where are we?” Monty cried, coming up on deck.
“Our destination,” a deck hand informed him, as he was loading crates of apples onto the dock. Or at least, Monty assumed they were apples, given the apple painted on the side.
“We cannot be in Madrid already!” Monty cried, taking in the lush landscape, the tall buildings, the… bright orange bridge in the distance.
These look like tasty apples
“Not Madrid,” the deck hand wheezed at him. “Marin. County,” the deckhand clarified, before yelling to his coworker – “This lot goes to Cupertino!”
“Cappucino?” Monty asked Harold, who was still trying to figure out how to shrug his non-existent Toucan shoulders. “If we are not in Spain, we are definitely not in Italy. Come on Harold,” he said as he walked down the dock. “We need to find a new ship.”
They walked and walked, a distance immeasurable, until appearing like an oasis in the proverbial desert, they came across a sign:
“Skywalker Ranch,” Monty mused. “Well, I have no idea what a ‘ranch’ might be, but I have hopes that ‘skywalker’ refers to a travel service of some kind.” He flagged down the first person he could find, a bearded gentleman, his shirt plaid. Perhaps he was Scottish.
“Hi,” said the bearded one. “Can I help you?”
Vulnerable and tough. And wearing pastries on her head.
“Indeed!” cried Monty. “I have been visited by an apparition, of a woman with a hair bundled about her ears asking for my help. One can only assume she requires either rescuing, or assistance arranging her hair into a more manageable style.”
“Sounds familiar…” the bearded man mused.
“It does?” Monty exclaimed happily. “Then perhaps you can help me find her. As a man of honor I must rescue this poor woman –”
“Actually, she’s a princess.”
“ – this poor princess from her trials. Or hairstyle.”
“Well, if I recall correctly,” the bearded man rubbed his jaw, “We shot the rescue scenes in England.”
“England! What ho, Harold, we shall be home before we know it – and rescue a princess on our way!”
“Halfway around the world!” Harold squawked, adding a well-practiced shoulder shrug.
“Good point, Harold.” Monty nodded. “Sir, do you know of a way we could get to England with good speed?”
“Well, I could take you,” the bearded man replied. “I do have this.”
With a flourish he whipped the dust cloth off the large structure that had suddenly appeared behind him.
“That?” Monty asked. “What is that? Is it… er, new?”
“Actually, it’s from a long time ago…”
“It looks like a death trap.”
“Hey – she made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs!” the bearded man replied, affronted. “She’ll get you where you need to go. Nothing can stand in our way!”
“Alright…” Monty hedged. “But alas, we have nothing to pay you with. I gave my only bag of California gold nuggets to a feckless ship captain who told me we were going to Madrid.”
“No he didn’t,” seemed to be what came out of Harold’s beak on a cough.
“No worries,” the bearded man replied. “The adventure will be payment enough. Well, that and the merchandising rights. Climb aboard!”
Monty and Harold climbed in and took their seats – and if the ship didn’t have sails or a rudder, no one saw fit to comment. Before they knew it, the vessel was shuddering, and then sprinting, and then lurching to a stop!
“What ho!” Monty cried. “Are we there already?”
“Sorry guys,” the bearded man’s voice floated through the air, projected by some kind of voice amplification device, “This ship is wanted in several galaxies, but I thought we were safe on own planet. Alas, there’s trouble up ahead. I’ll have to drop you here.”
“Drop us where?”
Okay, the space-time continuum is a little bendy, so it should come as no surprise that Monty quasi-ended up in a space opera. What’s your favorite space/sci-fi movie? And what makes it so awesome?
When last we left them, Monty and Perdita were soaring high into the air to escape a volcanic explosion.
Unfortunately, they lost consciousness due to the high altitude.
The next thing Monty knew, he was sprawled face-down on a sandy beach, waves lapping at his ankles. His skin was crusted with fine golden sand, and his cracked lips tasted of salt. A curious hermit crab tickled his ear, and he slapped it away.
Where was he?
What a shame all my clothes were destroyed in the volcanic explosion.
He stood. No sign of her sweet face. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “PERDITA!!!”
Still no answer.
“Oh, no. No. I’ve lost her.”
Harold landed next to him, squawking something that sounded like, “That’s irony for you.”
He might have lost Perdita, but he wasn’t alone. A throng of young men and women came dashing toward him, all dressed–if one could call this ‘dressed’–in red. They soon surrounded him.
Imagine them in slow-mo, if you will.
“Oh my gosh. Mister, are you all right?”
“We saw you wash up on the shore.”
“Do you need mouth-to-mouth?”
The scarlet-clad Samaritans offered him water and some sort of nutritious ration bar. They lent him clothing of faded cotton fabric, dyed with indigo–worn and frayed at the knees, yet serviceable. After the Amazons, he was overwhelmed by such warm hospitality.
“What magical land have I reached now? Everyone is so good-looking here.” He looked down at his naked, perfectly bronzed and toned chest. “I am better looking here.”
He even caught Harold preening over his reflection.
“Where am I?” he asked.
One of the blonde ladies giggled fetchingly. “California, of course.”
“California,” he whispered. He was closer to Aunt Tropey, but still half a world away. And who could tell what had happened to his poor Perdita. “I must leave this place at once. Do any of you fair maidens know how I might find a seaworthy craft?”
“You’d better ask Bodhi. He knows everything.”
The red-clad maidens indicated a man with an unshaven jaw and blonde, shaggy hair. He sat cross-legged on the beach, applying wax to a long, mysterious board.
“Is that some sort of sea craft?” Monty asked, drawing near. “Does it float?”
“Yeah, it floats. It’s a surfboard, dude.”
He had to get back on the sea one way or another. Looking around, Monty didn’t see any other potential vessels. It was this or nothing. “Will you teach me to use it?”
“Rock and roll.”
Monty wasn’t sure he liked the sound of rocking or rolling, but he followed Bodhi into the waves.
Monty and Bodhi, one with the sea
Bodhi showed him how to paddle and stand up on the board–but no matter how vigorously Monty paddled, the waves threw him back against the shore, again and again.
“I don’t understand it. What am I doing wrong?” he asked.
“But I cannot escape this bay.”
“Why would you want to escape it?” Bodhi flashed a smile, his teeth dazzling white in his tanned face. “Look around you, man. This is paradise.”
“You don’t understand. I’m on a journey. I have duties, obligations. I must get back to England and–”
“Whoa, whoa.” Bodhi held up his hands. “Time to buck that uptight English establishment. The journey is the destination. That’s surfing, bro. It’s all about the rush. The ride.”
Puzzled, Monty followed him back out into the water. He had to admit, his own efforts weren’t working, so perhaps it was time to try Bodhi’s advice. When a perfect wave came rolling toward him, he stopped trying to escape the bay. He turned, paddled, stood up on his board–and enjoyed the ride.
As he emerged from the waves, the surge of raw, primal energy pounding through his veins was more intoxicating than opium. “That..was…”
“Pretty radical, huh?” Bodhi said.
“Magnificent.” He lifted his arms and shouted into the sea and the roar of salty wind. “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!”
“See?” Bodhi chuckled. “That’s the rush, man. You were born to surf.”
Later that evening, after a rousing game of touch football with his scantily clad rescuers and a dinner of crabs and oysters roasted over a bonfire, Monty considered. Maybe Bodhi was right, and the journey was the destination. He liked California. Sun, sand, surf. Maidens in scraps of red slowly jogging to his rescue. The rush.
Perhaps this was paradise.
But then that night, he had a dream…
When he woke the next morning, his decision was made.
“I must go at once. I am needed. As a man of honor, I cannot hide from my duty.”
“Vaya con Dios, Monty.” Bodhi clapped him on the shoulder before dashing into the surf to chase another wave.
Monty scanned the beach. A trading vessel appeared on the horizon. He jumped up and down, drawing the merchant sailors’ attention.
“Now,” he mused, “if only I had something valuable to interest them, so I could pay my passage around Cape Horn and back to the Atlantic.”
“Squawk! Blow me down!”
Monty turned to view the bird’s discovery. “Harold, my feathered friend. You’re brilliant!”
Tessa here: Okay, I’ll admit – despite living in Southern California, I am not tanned, and I have never surfed. Is there anything your local area is known for, that people travel thousands of miles to visit/do, and yet you’ve never tried?
Monty and Harold, together with the feisty and scantily-clad Anisha, floating on a huge trunk, have reached the island of the Amazons. As half a dozen of the magnificent sun-bronzed creatures escort them into their town, Anisha whispers fiercely. “Do not tell them my name or I’ll slit your from throat to gizzard.”
Always joking, that Anisha, Monty thinks, but his attention is distracted. Having been properly brought up, he tries not to stare at the magnificence before him. But one part of his brain is trying to imagine what their new acquaintances would look like with both breasts bared.
“We will take you to She Who Must Be Obeyed,” an Amazon explains.
“Is Aunt Tropey here?” Monty asks. “How jolly!”
“Silence! Men should be seen and not heard.”
The trio are taken into a magnificent audience chamber constructed from intricately woven gilt palm leaves. A beautiful woman subjects Monty to a thorough examination from head to toe.
Wish I looked better, he thinks, remembering that he isn’t allowed to speak.
“He’ll do,” the lady says dismissively. “Pity his face is messed up but the maids will see to that. The rest is good enough and he has decent legs.
Just like Aunt Tropey, but with fewer clothes.
“Take him away.” She seems to be in a very bad temper and Monty summons his courage to bear whatever indignities should follow.
Six young women subject him to brutal torture: a full body massage followed by a perfumed bath. Perdita, the youngest, prettiest maid with the softest hands applies a salve to his face and when he looks in a mirror he finds all his bruises magically healed.
“Uh, I say,” he whispers. “I can’t go out dressed like this. Where are my breeches?”
Monty displays his assets
Perdita giggles. “You look very fine. The queen candidates will be pleased.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are the next king of the island. The old queen resigns today.”
“No wonder she’s grumpy.”
“You will chose your consort and the next queen.”
“King, by Jove! How splendid.”
Perdita looks a little sad. I do believe she likes me. And I like her. I don’t suppose she’s a candidate.
He is left in an antechamber where he is reunited with Harold and the biggest bird he has ever seen.
“What ho, Harold. Introduce me to your friend.”
“Delighted to meet you, Hilo…. Whatever. What kind of a bird are you.”
“I am a roc,” the creature replies.
“You’re as big as an island. Mind if I call you Rocky? You speak English like a Londoner.”
“‘Ere, ‘ave a fig.” Rocky flaps his wings at a dish of fruit, the rush of air knocking Monty to the floor and Harold to the ceiling. “Sorry ‘bout that. I don’t know me own strength. I’d better warn you …”
But before Rocky can say more, the Amazon guards appear and lead Monty to the audience chamber where he is placed on a throne next to the bad-tempered beauty.
“Bring in the candidates!”
Three even more beautiful women appear, absolutely stark naked.
“Take this,” orders the soon-to-be-former queen, her peerless feature marred by an angry frown. She hands him a heavy golden ring engraved with runes in an ancient script. “This is the ring of power, know as The Preshus. Present it to your choice.”
The bachelorettes – er contenders - begin to dance and Monty’s eyes are out on stalks.
“Shouldn’t I interview them?” he asks. “Ask them about world peace and their favorite cricket teams? I’ve always heard compatibility is important between spouses.”
“It matters little since you’ll only be wed for a year. My husband died last night.”
“I say, I am sorry. No wonder you seem out of sorts.”
The queen shrugs. “He lacked inventiveness. I’ll be happy enough taking one of the drones to my bed but I shall miss being She Who Must Be Obeyed.
Mont gives an involuntary flex of his muscles, forgetting that they can be seen by all. “I’ll endeavor to please my bride better, just as soon as I get back from a quick trip to England. My Aunt Lady Beaufetheringstone needs me, you know.”
“You’re not going anywhere. You will be king for the year of your wife’s rule, then you will be sacrificed to the volcano. Time’s up. Name the next queen.”
Monty looks wildly around the chamber. He sees Anisha among the gathered Amazons.
“Can’t do it,” he says with a burst of inspiration. “I’m already betrothed. To Anisha.”
A collective gasp arises from crowd.
“Seize her!” cries the queen. “Rahul will pay us in gold and slave men for her return.”
“Idiot!” cries Anisha. “I told you not to say my name.”
“You didn’t mean that about the gizzard, did you?”
Anisha is dragged from the chamber, screaming curses and threats.
“Choose!” screams the queen.
“I choose Perdita.” If he has to be wed for a year and then die, it might as well be to a nice girl not a Fury. “I want her or nobody.”
“This man is unworthy. Seize them both and take them to the volcano.”
A few hours later, Monty and Perdita, bound back-to-back, are suspended over the smoking crater. A candle flame licks the rope that holds them. Strand by twisted strand is consumed by fire until only a single thread keeps them from the fire pit.
“I’m sorry, Perdita. I meant it for the best.”
“It’s all right, Monty. I love you and I wouldn’t want to live without you.”
“Better to die together, than live apart.”
He gropes for her hand and the Ring of Power, the Preshus, which was clutched in his fist, falls into the inferno. A terrifying roar like the wrath of an entire Pantheon of Gods emerges from beneath.
“Now I’ve done it.”
The last thread of rope cracks ….
A whoosh of air cuts through the din. Monty, Perdita and Harold escape on Rocky’s back as the island of the Amazons is engulfed in lava and ash.
“Oh dear! What will become of Anisha?” Monty wonders as the roc’s giant wings bear them safely out to sea.
Who is better suited to be Monty’s bride? The fiery Anisha or the gentle Perdita. What will Lady B. think? And what will Albert make of Rocky?
Hurricane-force gales rattle the doors of the Ballroom, but inside the Ballroom Masquerade Ball is in full swing.
We’re having the ball tonight instead on Halloween proper because (a) Lady B claims that nobody who’s anybody goes to a ball on a Wednesday, and (b) she doesn’t believe in Halloween— much the same way she refuses to believe in Whig politicians, woolly socks, and most of Scotland. She is willing to acknowledge that they might, theoretically, exist, but she prefers to pretend they don’t.
Right now, I’m lurking next to a potted palm, trying to pretend I don’t exist. It’s not just me. All the authoresses are attempting to hide behind the same batch of fronds. You see, in order to persuade Lady B to let us have a Halloween masquerade, we had to… well, we had to let her pick our costumes.
I know. Trust me, I know.
Lady B has decided to relive the fashion triumph of her youth and appear as a Slutty Shepherdess, complete with clocked stockings, red heels, panniers that could knock out a fop at ten paces (and tend to get wedged in even the double doors of the ballroom, which we know from experience, having had to unwedge her at least three times already) and a ribbon-bedecked crook, which appears to be a multi-functional tool. She uses the hooked end to snag interesting parties and the blunt end to thwap them when they cease to be intriguing.
Hook and thwap, hook and thwap. It’s the theme song of the evening.
Sadly, the crook is not Lady B’s only accessory. Do you know what else every shepherdess needs?
Yes, that’s right. Sheep.
Kate, naturally, has the most lustrous fleece. Sarah has gone all urban on us and is wearing a black fleece. It’s very stylish. For a sheep.
We all have the same adorable furry ears and tails. And when I say adorable, I mean “Calgon, take me away!”
Lady B tried to put Albert into a sheep costume, too, but he was too fast for her. He’s currently roosting on one of the chandeliers, pelting the assemblage with marzipan in the shape of candy corn.
Lord B has, as usual, decamped to the card room, taking with him the assorted Ballroom spouses, which is a relief, since the sheep jokes were getting old. Fast.
“Monty, my boy!” Lady B calls out, bowling over Tessa and Miranda with her panniers as she swings towards the entrance, where a six foot tall parrot is posing debonairly for the society portrait painter who is hastily sketching the Who’s Who of the event that will appear in Tuesday’s gossip column, fondly known as Page 1806.
Gaelen tugs on Lady B’s crook. “Lady B, I don’t think that’s Monty.” She points towards a knight complete with visor, riding a horse with wooden wheels. “Isn’t that Monty?”
“No, no,” says Katharine with authority. She shakes a hoof in the direction of a rather well-muscled Poseidon, with a trident at least as long as Lady B’s crook, wearing a mask composed of stylized waves and—wait, are those live goldfish?
Sabrina swipes the wool out of her eyes. “But I thought that was Monty….”
“Um, isn’t that a statue?” says Sarah, just as the statue detaches itself from its plinth and strolls towards the refreshment tables. For a statue, it’s surprisingly mobile. Also, rather nude. “Or not.”
Dodging Lady B’s crook, we form a furry huddle and agree: we’re stumped. Unless…. No. Monty wouldn’t come disguised as Lady B. That would be too weird.
Or would it?
Help us find the real Monty! What do you think Lady B’s heir would wear?
Dear Ballroomies, All September long, you have come along with us on a whirlwind tour of Choose Your Own Adventure month at the Ballroom. But today, I have designed a special tour for YOU. How well do you know your Ballroom authors? Carissa Portland, the “snoop” heroine of My Scandalous Viscount, is here to make some revelations about each of us. Wherever you see a Link below, it’ll take you to the Bio or revelant page of one of the Ballroom authors. You may get more than you bargained for! Enjoy!
* * * * *
Lady B: Miss Portland! We meet at last. I was so pleased when Gaelen sought an invitation for you to my Ballroom.
Carissa Portland, heroine of My Scandalous Viscount: My lady, it’s truly an honor.
Lady B: Well, as a niece of the Earl of Denbury, I knew you’d be most suitable for our gatherings. But I must confess, the real reason I was excited you were coming is because I hear you have a penchant for gossip to match my own.
Carissa: Gossip, my lady? Me? Never! On the contrary, I am a lady of information.
Lady B: Isn’t that the same thing?
Carissa: Not at all, ma’am. It’s all a matter of intent—what one means to do with the information one learns about others. ‘Gossip’ suggests an undertone of malice, don’t you think? Whereas ‘information’ is simply… well, knowing useful things about others.
Lady B (leaning nearer): Do you know anything useful about anyone here?
Carissa(with a slight gleam in her green eyes): Maybe.
Lady B: Oh, do tell!
Carissa: Well… since you are one of the most esteemed hostesses inLondon, I suppose you have a right to know more about your regular guests.
Lady B: You know something about my authoresses?
Carissa: A bit.
Lady B: Well?? Out with it, you marvelous sly thing!
Carissa: As you wish. (She scans the Ballroom, her painted fan half covering her face. Her gaze lingers on the cluster of authoresses hanging around the ratafia.)
Carissa: I happen to know that Katharine Ashe—
Lord Beauchamp: Hullo, ladies.
Carissa(nearly jumping out of her slippers, for unbeknownst to Lady B, he has discreetly pinched her arse when he sauntered up behind them): Don’t do that!
Lady B(looking like she might swoon): Lord Beauchamp!
Beau, with a bow: So nice to see you again, Heliotrope. You are radiant tonight.
Lady B: So charming!
Carissa:Don’t believe a word he says.
Beau: So what’s going on, then?
Lady B: Miss Portland was just about to share a few on-dits about my authoresses.
Beau: Really? (With a mocking twinkle in his sky-blue eyes.) Do tell.
Lady B: You were about to say something about Katharine Ashe? She’s right over there, my lord. (She nods toward Miss Ashe, who is beaming as certain readers say how much they enjoyed the book party for her new release.)
Beau: Ah, yes, isn’t she the lady with the smart crimson spectacles? Fetching creature…
Carissa smacks him. Must you ogle every female you see?
Beau, innocently: Who, me?
Carissa (slightly jealous): As I was saying, it might interest you to know that a major revelation has been made about Miss Ashe. It was even in the papers!
Lady B: Really? Nothing too scandalous, I hope!
Carissa (whispering): She leads a double life. It’s true.
Beau: Well, well, double life… a lady after my own heart.
Carissa: If you think that’s big, you should hear what I found out about Sarah MacLean.
Lady B’s eyes grow round. Don’t torment me!
Beau: You mean the fact that her mother was a spy for MI6?
Carissa gasps and turns to him. You know?
Beau: Of course. I read her dossier. We always know our own.
Lady B: What are you talking about?
Beau: She was stationed inParis for MI6 during the 60’s. I always knew that Sarah MacLean was good people… and must admit I’ve always had a weakness for redheads.
Red-haired Carissa gives him a reluctant smile at his pointed compliment, but at the same time, is beginning to see the difficulty in being courted by a spy.
While wondering how poor Lady Sarah ever got away with anything as a youngster, having a mother for a spy, she is unsure if she, in turn, will still be able to follow her various whims and impulses if her ongoing love/hate flirtation with Viscount Beauchamp becomes more serious.
And I’m rather sure it will. (You can read Chapter One of their story at www.gaelenfoley.com if you like!)
Lady B: It’s all too delicious! Come, what else do you know about our friends?
Carissa looks around discreetly: Well, Sabrina Darby started writing her first romance novel the day after her wedding.
Beau: Blazes! Really? Why, I don’t think even I ever inspired a women to write a whole novel after a night together, maybe a sonnet…
Lady B: Perhaps, knowledgeable as you are, Miss Portland, you could explain to me what the Californian contingent of authoresses (Sabrina, Tessa, and Kate N.) mean by a particular word they often utter. I believe it’s pronounced, “Dude.”
Lady B: More like, “duuuuude.” Is it French?
Beau: I hardly think so. And, er, pardon, but what is this California of which you speak?
Lady B: I’m not entirely sure. Some region of the American wilderness, I daresay. A strange, dry country where the earth quakes, but somehow our brave Sabrina Darby, Kate Noble and Tessa Dare have all managed to settle there.
Carissa: I hear it’s also the place where they make “movies,” which explains why Tessa Dare is not only a writer, but an up-and-coming “movie director.” Her films are not to be missed. (Click here to watch one of Tessa’s blockbusters. Seriously.) For what it’s worth, I also have reason to believe that Kate Noble’s favorite movie is a famous story of a horrible marauding shark called Jaws.
Lady B: That’s it! Just like that. Miss Portland, do you have any more tidbits on our friends?
Beau: Don’t encourage her, my lady. Carissa, why are you gossiping again?
Carissa: It’s not gossip! It’s just information.
Beau arches a brow, and once more, considers training her for a spy. Very well, my dear, what else have you got, then?
Carissa: Don’t look now, but that lady over there, in the fascinator?
Beau: Yes, nice hat. I love a lady who knows how to wear a hat.
Lady B: What? A lady at Oxford? I never heard of such a thing!
Carissa: I know, it’s very shocking. And by the way, she always gets lost because she spent every Geography class secretly reading romance novels instead of paying attention to her teacher. But if you think that’s surprising, consider this. That mild-mannered gentlewoman standing next to her—
Beau (giving our friend a smoldering once-over): Lauren Willig? Lovely…
Lady B smacks him with her fan. You’re as bad as Monty! Hush, now, you rake! Let her talk!
Beau: I can’t help it. I love women. All these blondes…
And we love our blond boys, too. Here’s a couple of possible Beau’s for your consideration and viewing pleasure…
Carissa: Perhaps it’s better if I don’t go into it—
Carissa: I see, so that’s the game you’re playing? (turning to me.) You go telling our private story about Beau and me to the whole world, and we’re not supposed to say a peep about you? That is hardly fair!
Lady B (perking up): What’s this?
Carissa: Well, one time, while she was writing our book, she came to a part where she sat in front of her computer crying like a baby—
Gaelen: That will do! Carissa, you are one of my favorite heroines, but you’d better watch your step. Don’t forget, I still control the Delete key.
Carissa: You wouldn’t!
Gaelen: Try me.
Beau: I see where I get my ruthlessness from. Delete key, indeed. Come along, darling. (Taking Carissa’s hand and tucking it through the crook of his elbow) You have worked your mischief quite enough for now. Besides, I have something better for your lips to do other than repeating gossip.
Carissa: It’s not gossip. How many times do I have to explain that?!
* * * * *
Well, Ballroom friends, I hope you’ve learned something you didn’t know before about your humble authoresses. It’s all true!
And to celebrate the release of Beau and Carissa’s story, MY SCANDALOUS VISCOUNT (on sale this week!) I’m giving away a signed (but not tearstained) copy of the book by random drawing to anyone who can tell us a good piece of funny/interesting/little known gossip—I mean “Information”—that we ought to know about YOU. *g* Don’t worry, nothing too incriminating. We just want to get to know everyone better! Thanks for being with us today. xo, Gaelen
I have been charged with a very important task, and that is to ensure that we arrive in London TODAY. No water crossings, no freak snowstorms, no pirates, no moors and highwaymen. After all, there is a certain ball to plan and I am certain Katharine and Lady B will need every day between now and Monday to do so.
Lady B: I assure you, Miss Darby, that I could plan this ball in my sleep.
I eye Lady B from my position in the corner of the coach, facing forward and near the window. (I’m not a good traveler and, although it took them nearly three weeks to realize this, the rest of my travelling companions have decided its best to let me pick my seat.)
Lady B: You doubt me?
And I don’t. However, considering the amount of days we’ve spent on the road, and the number of hours per day we’ve all spent napping the interminable hours away, it did look for a while that Lady B might have to plan in her sleep.
Of course, it’s my job today to ensure that will not be the case. And I am indeed the right person for the task. After all, I’ve never seen Magic Mike and I’m not easily impressed by a famous male face.
Doesn’t affect me at all.
Katharine: It will be fine.
She’s sitting opposite me, and I can see that she’s speaking out of a desire to convince herself it will be so.
Lauren: I’m famished.
We can’t stop. We’re so close (The landscape blurring past, etc…)
It’s Lady B making the demand, so of course, we stop. However, I don’t see any convenient copse of trees around. The edge of the nearest forest is visible a mile away.
My goodness, Look!
I look. It’s a lovely September day. I always love the English countryside. I wish I could spend as much time here in the 21st century as I do virtually in the 19th.
I hear Sarah say rather incredulously: So unicorns are real.
Which means I am clearly looking in the wrong direction.
Kate: Aside from narwhals, of course.
I’m picturing a whale with a horn when suddenly a flash of white crosses my vision. OMG. It’s actually a unicorn. As in white coat. A single horn. And absolutely stunning.
Lady B: I want to see it. Miss Dare, you have a way with animals, fetch it for me, will you?
Gaelen interrupts. “Actually, a unicorn can only be captured by a virgin. At least, according to mythology.”
We all look at each other. Eight married women and we are quite certain that despite her husband haring off with Lord B, Kate has consummated her union. If only this journey had happened at the beginning of the summer, when neither Lauren nor Kate were married.
“This is the 21st century, Sabrina.”
“Nonono! It is the 19th, I assure you.”
“Right, I heard that the horn is a symbol of virility.”
“Well we need a virgin. Albert?”
Lady B coughs.
Monty stirs from his careful ignoring of us, which he’d been doing for the better part of the last two days. He stares at us between swollen eyes, then those eyes grow wider, even as he winces in pain.
Ladies, I assure you, there is no reason to be looking at me.
I look at him doubtfully. Or hopefully? Because it really would make it so much easier if he were…
Lady B: Follow that Unicorn!
I look out the window to see that the white horned animal is speeding away from us and suddenly we are speeding after it, as if the forces of darkness will overtake the world and keep it in winter forever if we don’t find the unicorn. At a pace not at all copacetic with my stomach.
I have no idea where we are anymore. Last I knew, we were a mere 20 miles from London. Now, with my internal compass all turned around, I have no idea.
We’re in the middle of the forest thicket, and the path before us is lit with tiny candles in decorative lanterns.
We’re never going to get to London.
Except, there’s a familiar odor in the air. Like stagnant water and coal…
“London!” Miranda cries, like someone starved for sustenance and I do believe she’s right. Furthermore, somewhere in this fair city is a unicorn, sniffing after virgins like a Regency rake. The only question is, where is the unicorn? And where exactly in London are we?