Thanks to you all for sharing in my birthday celebration yesterday and for your warm, loving, generous wishes! I spent the day with eyes dripping like a leaky faucet while reading your wishes as they came through my email notifications. It was the best birthday gift ever!
I worked the randomizer, and after it came up with a few winners whose wishes were for others to get their wishes ( ), it picked Elaine C. Elaine’s wish was this:
Sometimes it is exceedingly trying being a Patroness of the Arts. Take the behavior of my authoresses this week. First of all Miss Willig omitted to tell me that The Passion of the Purple Plumeria had been published. Some excuse about about having an infant in arms, as though the wet nurse wouldn’t have seen to the little dear. I adore babies, you know, but they have no place in the ballroom. It’s quite impossible to dance the waltz with sufficient enthusiasm if you are holding one. And they are undoubtedly an impediment to flirtation.
I scarcely had time to supervise the housekeeper supervising the footmen removing the purple swags from Miss Willig’s soiree, when I received a note from Miss Katharine Ashe.
Dear Lady B
The semester just started and I’m on a deadline so I must ask a great favor. Would you be kind enough to entertain Miss Arabella Caulfield and Luc Westfall at a ball to honor the release of their book I Married the Duke? I shall see you next week.
Yours very sincerely and affectionately,
Hm. Miss Ashe writes with a neat fist and her request was courteous, if a little short on explanations. Then, by the next post, this arrived.
Darling Lady B
I totally forgot about this week’s ball to celebrate the release of The Ruin of a Rogue. I MUST finish a book so I’m sending Marcus and Anne along by themselves. You are an angel to help me when I’m in deadline. I’ll see you in two weeks for the Rogue’s Ball.
Hugs & xoxoxo
P.S. I wish you would get email. Or Twitter
At least, I think this is what she wrote. Miss Neville’s handwriting is always something of a mystery. I have heard talk of this Twitter thing before and I’m not sure I like it. Neither does Albert.*
My authoresses complain often of Dead Lines. To me, this is an unfortunately eventuality when there is no heir to a peerage. To Lord B it is something that happens at the end of a rod when there are no fish in the river. And to Albert, it is the fastest route to the–
<squawk squawk> lobster patties <squawk squawk>
–refreshment table. To my authoresses a Dead Line is an excuse for anything they have either failed to do or want to avoid. I shall not dwell on the failures of Misses Ashe and Neville because I am far too polite. They apparently wish to avoid tonight’s ball. I shall, however, rise to the occasion, do my duty, and entertain their guests.
Excuse me, sir! Who are you?
Marcus: Viscount Lithgow at your service, my lady.
Hm. Let me try and read the notes Miss Neville sent. I see that you are a professional gamester. How delightfully raffish. Pray do not enter the card room. Lord B has already spent his allowance for this month.
Marcus: I wouldn’t dream of it. I can’t play until I get through an unprecedented run of ill luck.
Good. You must dance, instead. Let me introduce you to Miss Arabella Caulfield.
Marcus: Is she rich?
Arabella: I’m only interested in marrying a prince.
I’m sure Lord Lithgow is a Prince Among Men beneath his disreputable exterior. Now go along and take your places in the next set.
Marcus and Arabella look at each other dubiously but obediently leave for the dance floor.
But who is this? From that strip of black cloth over one eye and sun-touched tan, he appears to be a pirate.
Luc: Common misconception. Actually I’m about to become a duke and I need a bride or my family will sink into scandal.
Splendid! You have come to the right place. I shall present you to… I seem to have mislaid my lorgnette but luckily I have an excellent memory … Miss Anne Brotherton. She is an heiress from one of the very best families.
Anne: I’m not interested in dukes. I already avoided marrying one in Miranda’s last book. I want to go and dig up a ruin.
Tsk. Can’t you see that this one is highly desirable while ruins are nasty, dirty things. No arguments, now. The waltz is beginning.
That was easy. I don’t see why my authoresses make such a fuss about getting these couples together. I’m sure those four will be happily married in no time.
Meanwhile, in a pair of Twenty-First Century writing caves where email has replaced the Royal Mail ….
From: Miranda Neville
To: Katharine Ashe
Subject: We have a problem
Letting Lady B give the ball without us may have been a bad idea. She has switched our heroes and heroines.
From: Katharine Ashe
To: Miranda Neville
Subject: Re: We have a problem
OMG. That means we’ll have to rewrite our books.
While Katharine and Miranda try to sort out lady B’s inadvertent meddling, let’s talk about unlikely pairs. What couple, real and/or fictional, would be the worst possible match? Heathcliff and Elizabeth Bennet? Hillary Clinton and Christian Grey? No suggestion is too outrageous! Two commenters will win a copy of either THE RUIN OF A ROGUE or I MARRIED THE DUKE.
*Lady B is in fact on Twitter @theballroomblog but she seldom tweets. She prefers Squawker.
** Katharine’s Tiara Experience Contest is in full swing. Click here to bring on your inner princess!
I sneak into the library (with a lamp in hand; Miranda’s always reminding me to carry a lamp when I intend to go into a dark room). I’ve avoided everybody in the ballroom because a friend is coming tonight to show me something very special.
And by “very special” I mean “pornographic.”
The library door opens a crack and Caroline Linden slips in. She’s carrying The Book — a very plain, thin volume, something you might hide between the pages of another book or even in your skirts. Really, it looks like nothing.
“You brought it!” I leap up and exclaim in a stage whisper (because we’re alone in the library, natch).
“Shh!” She slaps a palm over my mouth and darts a glance back at the closed door. “Keep your voice down. Do you want everybody to know?”
“Okay okay.” I’m staring at the book. “So this is The Book your heroine is looking for so desperately?”
Caroline nods. “This is it, the very book Joan Bennett sneaks out of her house to buy — that is, before Tristan, Lord Burke, follows her and makes that impossible.”
“He follows her? Why? Does he know about The Book?”
“No. You see, Joan terrorizes her brother into signing a note promising he’ll go to a ball, making a horrific impression on Tristan, who’s there at the time.”
“Oops. Is he handsome?”
“Does she swoon over him and instantly regret her behavior?”
“She thinks he’s a jerk. She calls him Lord Boor.”
“Ha!” I sober momentarily, hopefully. “But it’s love at first sight on his side at least. Right?”
“He thinks she’s fat.”
“Wait, but . . .” I gather my thoughts. “Let’s get back to The Book!”
“That’s the point. Joan goes to her brother’s in the first place as an excuse to go shopping alone–”
“For The Book!”
“For the book. But Tristan follows her–”
“She really riled him up, didn’t she?”
“Definitely. At the bookshop they quarrel, and she’s so distracted that she storms out without the book.”
“Without The Book?!”
“Without the book. So Tristan takes it.”
I consider the potential drawbacks and benefits of this. “Does he read it?”
“No. He doesn’t even know what it is. He goes to the ball and gives it to her.”
I’m incredulous. “He just gives it to her? Just like that? The Book? In the middle of a ballroom?”
“Well, he puts it down the back of her dress because she says she can’t carry it around.”
“Because The Book is . . .”
“Porn,” Caroline finally confirms.
“Porn,” I say a little dazedly. I’ve never read early nineteenth-century porn. Or, really, any porn. “So . . .?”
“Can we read it already?!”
“Sure.” She opens the plain cover.
I read. ”Oh, goodness,” I whisper, this time not because we’re in a library.
Caroline turns the page.
“Oh . . . goodness.” I look up. My cheeks are probably bright pink, though not nearly as pink as the other sorts of cheeks of the lady in The Book. “Joan wants to read this?”
“But– But–” I stammer. “What is she going to do with all this . . . er . . . knowledge? And does Lord Burke know?”
Caroline gives me an elusive smile. She’s not going to tell me — drat her. But I have a copy of Love and Other Scandals waiting on my bed table at home, so I’ll know by tonight! In the meantime . . .
I pluck Fifty Ways to Sin from Caroline’s fingers and settle back in a comfy chair. “You go out and have fun in the ballroom. Lady B is dying to see you again. I’ll just finish this up first.”
“Oh, will you?”
I glance up at her innocently. “For educational purposes, of course.”
We’re celebrating Caroline’s visit to the ballroom today with a giveaway of a signed copy of Love and Other Scandals to one randomly chosen commenter. Have you ever hidden a book or something else that you just couldn’t bear for anybody else to see? Do tell!
If you’d like a peek at the naughty book Joan and every other innocent maiden of the ton is dying to read, click here.
“Lady B! Oh, Lady B!” I call across the ballroom. It’s still relatively early and there aren’t many people here yet. The footmen are still moving about lighting candles, carrying in the punch bowl, and arranging chairs and potted plants for maximum usage.
“Miss Ashe, your cheeks are far too bright. What’s the matter with you?”
“Book release week! Er, well, that’s not what’s the matter with me. It’s what’s great with me! I love book release week.”
“Clearly.” She’s looking me up and down, but it doesn’t bother me a bit. I’m in my prettiest gown — light yellow muslin with tiny white flowers embroidered all over it — and I’m high on life.
“I invited a few friends to the ball today,” I say.
My publisher asked, “What ideas do you have for the cover?” I replied, “Chest. Kilt.”
Dismissively she waves a peacock-gloved hand. “You gels are always inviting friends here. I depend upon it.”
“Oh, Lady B, you’re a peach!” I give her a big, smacking kiss on the cheek. She looks horrified but I know she’s pleased as punch. She loves us, after all. Or perhaps it’s merely tolerance cloaked in gracious condescension. I’m going with the former. “Today, though, I invited eight ladies.”
“I know, right?!” It’s got to be a record, especially for a book that’s only 100 pages long. “There they are now!” I dash over to the door and greet Miss Teresa Finch-Freeworth, the heroine of my new novella How to Marry a Highlander.
“Ah, Miss Finch-Freeworth,” Lady B says, “what a pleasure to see you here again. How is that silly aunt of yours?”*
“Still silly,” Teresa says with a sparkling smile. She’s looking mighty pleased with herself, and it’s obvious why. Behind her coming through the door are seven ladies –
“Miss Ashe, who are all these gels?”
“The seven half-sisters of Teresa’s Highlander crush,” I say. “That is… she’s never called him her “crush”. That was just me. Of course. But she does make a wager with the Earl of Eads that if she can find husbands for all of his half-sisters, he has to marry her.”
Lady B slants Teresa a Look. “Clever gel.”
I surely don’t blame Effie for her preferences.
Teresa beams. Then she’s making introductions, and I move off to the side and observe. First there’s Moira, the Beauty of the group, and quiet and sweet as a dove. Then come Effie and Lily. Effie’s totally incorrigible, and hugely fond of dancing, laughing and soldiers (who can blame her?). Lily, her younger twin by 4 minutes, is adorably fun and a total klutz except in the kitchen where she works magic.
Right after them enters Elspeth, looking down her long nose at the lavish appointments of Lady B’s ballroom with disapproval. Elspeth is on the holier-than-thou side of holy, and had to be convinced to dress appropriately for the ball tonight–the spoil sport.
Fragonard’s “A Young Girl Reading” (ca. 1776)
Oh! There’s Abigail, sneaking around the back of the group to the other door. She totally didn’t want to come till Teresa told her about Lord B’s library. That must be where she’s headed. She’d rather read than dance any day, and she’s kind of shy. I wonder what book she’ll lose herself in while everybody else dances?
I crane my head to see around other guests entering. I count sisters again: one, two, three, four, escaped Abigail is five …
I tap Teresa on the shoulder. “Where’s Sorcha?”
“She refused to come. She’s not–”
“Interested in balls. Or dancing. Or gentlemen. I know.”
Teresa levels an accusing stare. “Why on earth did you make her so stubborn?”
And this is one of those moments when I wish the fourth wall still existed in this ballroom. “Er… Um… Hey! Look! Effie’s heading straight for the punch bowl.”
My diversionary tactic works. Teresa is distracted. Moira is already dancing with a deliciously handsome young man, and now I see Una, Duncan’s favorite sister (though he’d never say that to anyone) and Teresa’s new BFF. She’s lovely, especially her laughing smile.
There’s just nothing like a terrific girlfriend.
“Teresa, you’ve done it! You’ve made this ragtag lot of Scotswomen into a bevy of London beauties,” I say proudly.
“We both did it,” she says, and I get all warm and fuzzy inside.
And then, grinning at her, I see him: Duncan, the Earl of Eads. It’s impossible to miss him. He’s about a foot taller than most of the other men in the room, as broad-shouldered as a dock worker and muscular as Wolverine, with the most brilliant blue eyes I’ve ever seen. And, as a good Highlander, he’s wearing a kilt beneath his dress coat. Two words: NICE LEGS.
“Miss Ashe, I approve,” Lady B murmurs beside me.
“Thought you’d like that,” I murmur back.
Teresa hasn’t noticed him yet, and I’m going to let him surprise her. Actually, I have to, because that’s how I wrote the scene and the book’s already out so I can’t go changing things anyway. In fact, I’m not even in this scene, so I’d better skeedaddle! I slip around the side of the room to witness the fiasco– um– that is, the events that are about to unfold. My attention goes from one Scottish lady to another. I know which one becomes Teresa’s BFF, but I wonder which would be my closest buddy if I lived near them.
Which sister would you like to hang out with the most? Is it the same or different from the sister that’s most like you? To celebrate the release of How to Marry a Highlander today I’m giving away a signed print copy of the novella to one randomly chosen commenter.
A tremendous crash greets me as I enter the Ballroom.
“There…. No, a little to the left…. No, my other left! Goodness, Monty, can’t you get anything right?” snaps Lady B.
A perspiring Monty sets down his end of the edifice with a thump. It looks to be a large and ornate pedestal, lavishly draped with bunting and adorned with bouquets of hothouse flowers.
“Don’t you have footmen for this, auntie?” he appeals.
“Nonsense,” says Lady B, training him with a killing stare through her lorgnette. “Do you want Miss MacLean to think we don’t care?”
Above him, Albert contrives to look virtuous as he tugs at the ribbon between his teeth, as though he means to lift and convey the pillar single-handedly.
Swiping a hand across the back of his brow, Monty casts me a look of mute appeal.
Taking pity on him, I hurry into the Ballroom. “What’s this for?”
I know Lady B had been talking about auctioning off the gentlemen of the Cabal, but I didn’t think she’d meant it literally…. Plus, the pedestal is just a little too small for a grown man, particularly a romance novel hero. They grow them tall and broad-shouldered in Romancelandia.
“Haven’t you heard? This is for my latest trophy.” Beaming, Lady B waves a hand at a banner that scrolls across the far end of the Ballroom.
It reads, LADY B WINS THIRD RITA!
Under it, in much smaller letters, Sarah MacLean, A Rogue by Any Other Name, RITA Winner 2013.
Much, much smaller letters.
Lady B seems to be missing the point here slightly, so I say, “Wait, are you talking about Miss MacLean winning the RITA for Best Historical Romance Saturday night?”
Looking, I might add, absolutely glamorous in her sparkly gown—having wisely refused Lady B’s wardrobe tips about “awards garments suitable for young authoresses in my employ”.
“Yes, exactly,” confirms Lady B. She looks fondly at the pedestal, which is ready to receive the golden statuette. “My third RITA. Yes, yes, you girls may do the writing, but, as we all know, I am your wind beneath Albert’s wings.”
<< Hot air! Hot air!>> squawks Albert.
Lady B fixes him with a fierce glare. Albert goes back to innocently gnawing on one of the celebratory ribbons.
Apparently, intermission is over. Lady B levels her lorgnette at Monty. “You! I want that pedestal moved just there—between those candelabra. The light will glow so prettily off my precious…. I mean, off Miss MacLean’s trophy.”
Note to self: warn Sarah not to bring RITA into the Ballroom tonight. She might not get it back.
“I must say,” adds Lady B. “Miss MacLean has truly outdone herself with A Rogue by Any Other Name. That Bourne….” She fans herself with one hand, then looks sly. “I have issued him a special invitation to the celebration tonight. As a surprise for Miss MacLean, of course.”
Yep. Sure. For Miss MacLean. Not because Lady B, like many others, has a little crush on the dangerous marquess.
“In fact,” says Lady B, “I have a few other little surprises planned for the celebration….”
Today is the last day of the RWA Nationals conference, and tonight is the annual RITAs, the equivalent of the Academy Awards in the romance world. I’m not in Atlanta celebrating (although I am at home quietly cheering people on), but I do think this is a wonderful opportunity to host a RITA–winning scavenger hunt across the Internet.
For those of you who participate, I’ll randomly choose one winner to receive a copy of this year’s winner.
Find and post 5 historical romance books that have won RITAs. However, here is the tricky part, the books must fit the following categories:
1 book from the historical romance category for the years 2008-2012
1 book from the Regency romance category for the years 2008-2012
1 book from the Long Historical category for the years 1996-2008
1 book from the Short Historical category for the years 1996-2008
1 historical romance (of any length) from 1982-1996
There are so many wonderful books that have been acknowledged with RITAs over the years. What’s your favorite of any category? And what’s your favorite book that you feel should have won a RITA?
Tessa here, and I am just so excited to welcome guest authoress Anna Cowan and her hero, Darlington, to the Ballroom today! Anna is a debut historical author, and I predict her May 10th debut Untamed is about to make a big splash. We have had a lot of heroes in this Ballroom, but I’m not sure we’ve ever welcomed a hero quite like the Duke of Darlington…
The lovely authoress herself, Anna Cowan
“I told you not to do this,” I hiss at him. “The whole point was to impress them with your heroic qualities.”
He looks at me like I’m losing it. “You…created me. I assumed you already knew I haven’t any heroic qualities.”
Oh I am so screwed.
I have just entered a grand ballroom with the Duke of Darlington, and as it’s my first time in a grand ballroom I really didn’t need him to be so utterly himself. Tonight of all nights.
“Don’t worry so,” he murmurs, taking his time to move across the floor in a way that pulls all eyes to him. “They will adore me. And you look lovely in that dress.”
He delivers the compliment with a smile like a kiss and I think, Okay, yes, they will probably adore him.
The ballroom is incredible. I’ve always wondered whether ballrooms were actually a bit tacky. You know, if you were an actual person in an actual ballroom back in the day whether the decorations would look cheap, the big potted plants awkwardly placed, the drapes a vile colour. It makes me happy that the Regency really does have a kind of luminosity about it.
I don’t have much time to gawk, because a lady is walking towards us, and there’s something sharp and assured about her that makes me certain this is our hostess, Lady Beaufetheringstone.
“You must be Miss Anna Cowan,” she says to me. “Miss Dare told me you would be bringing your…” Her eyes flicker to Darlington. “…hero.”
I take a deep breath. Nothing for it but to brazen it out. “May I present the Duke of Darlington?”
He steps forward and takes her hand lightly in his. “What a pleasure it is to meet you at last, Lady B,” he says in that frightening, compelling voice.
She looks at him for a long time without saying anything. Her face is blank – she’s very good at hiding what she’s really thinking. I know what’s coming, though. I brace myself for it. She will be angry. She’ll tell us to leave.
“Your Grace,” she says at last. “Are you aware your dress is at least three decades behind current fashions?”
He looks delighted, which is always a bad sign. “But why would I wear something fashionable,” he asks, looking coyly up from beneath his lashes, “when I could wear something spectacular?”
He does look spectacular.
He is wearing a dress made of heavy lavender silk with birds in cages embroidered across it in yellow, parting at the front to reveal yellow underskirts. He is laced into a rigid corset, and hoops beneath the long skirts add to the effect of a slight figure. A fichu is tucked about his neck and chest, leaving as much of his perfect, white skin on display as possible. His wig is lavender, tipped with actual gold, and one thick coil lies over one shoulder.
His eyes are dark, wicked, complex. He tips his head to Lady B’s and whispers something in her ear.
And now she’s got that look on her face. I know that look. She’s starting to think about what’s beneath the dress. What’s laced and covered and hidden.
I try not to groan out loud. If only he were…vaguely malleable.
If only Katherine were here.
“Where is your duchess this evening?” Lady B asks him.
(I had heard rumours of mind-reading, but that’s just disconcerting.)
“Katherine,” Darlington says, and Lady B shivers at the way he says her name, same as me, “is probably off acquiring half the country’s debt. Or making shady deals with men in low places. Or overseeing the building of her new fleet. She’s naming her finest ship after me, you know.”
He sounds like a boy, all gleeful on Christmas morning. But there he stands: a difficult, beautiful man. He’s a bit much, sometimes.
Lady B opens her fan to hide her surprise. “Your duchess sounds rather unconventional.”
“I have never met a single other person like her,” he says, simply.
I think Lady B wants to know more, but a dashing young man joins our party. He must be Monty, Lady B’s heir. He is alight with interest, and Darlington responds by becoming even more flirtatious.
I can only stand here filled with sincere gratitude that Darlington has found his mate, and will not be luring Monty to any nearby closets tonight. Lady B would surely never forgive me that.
I’m giving away a copy of Untamed to one commenter. I’m wondering what’s the most gender-bendy thing you or your partner have ever done (or wanted to do, but didn’t)?
Anna, thank you so much for joining us today, and bringing along this “difficult, beautiful, spectacular” duke! I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands on this book when it’s available May 10th. And on Darlington.
As for gender-bendy…Mr. Dare works in a profession where most of his coworkers are women, and he has a first name that can go either way, male or female … so we are always getting calls and letters from confused people. How about you?