In July I blogged about Hortense Bonaparte
, who is an important character in my new historical mystery novella, Mission for a Queen
With Mission for a Queen out in just over two weeks (November 3), here is teaser, a scene between Hortense and Mélanie Suzanne Rannoch. Mélanie Suzanne (the fictional heroine of my series) met Hortense on a mission seven years before. Now Hortense is in exile in Switzerland following Waterloo and Mélanie and her British husband Malcolm are exiles themselves due to Mélanie's past a French spy being exposed. They have stopped to see Hortense on their way to Italy and find Hortense one again in need of their services.
watched the door close behind Malcolm and Raoul and drew a shuddering breath.
She glanced down at her hands, then seemed to force herself to meet Mélanie's
right to trust Malcolm," Mélanie said.
don't doubt it. He's plainly a remarkable man." Hortense gathered the
paisley folds of her shawl about her shoulders. "I'm sure you could read
between the lines of what I didn't say."
reached for her cooling coffee and took a sip. "Some of it."
must despise me."
Of course not."
gave a bitter smile, twisting her fingers in the fringe on the shawl.
"Aren't you going to say it?"
returned the cup to its saucer with care. "Say what, dearest?"
you thought I'd already met the love of my life. Having thrown away so much of
my life for him, how could I possibly look elsewhere?"
Mélanie put her hand over her friend's. Hortense's fingers were cold to the
touch. "I'd never presume to claim I knew who was the love of someone's
life. And even if one does talk in those terms, losing that person doesn't mean
one can't feel for someone else."
glanced away. Silhouetted against the French windows, her face was drawn with
anguish. "Does he love her?"
need to ask whom Hortense meant by "her." Mélanie saw Auguste-Charles-Joseph,
Comte de Flahaut, bending over his bride's chair in the supper room at her ball
in Berkeley Square two months since, handing his wife into her chair at the
opera, circling the floor with her in a waltz. "He cares for her."
She saw the look in Flahaut's gaze as it rested on Margaret's perfectly coiffed
hair. "There's been gossip, of course—"
always is about Flahaut and his women." Hortense's mouth twisted in a wry
smile. There had been a string of women in Flahaut's past, long before their
scandalous affair ("More beautiful women than I," Hortense had said
to Mélanie seven years ago). "And of course, given his situation and her
fortune, people were bound to draw obvious conclusions. But I know him. I can't believe that's
The gaze she turned to Mélanie was wide
with fear, but whether fear that her former lover had fallen in love or that he
hadn't, Mélanie couldn't have said. She wasn't sure Hortense could have done.
"I don't think that is all," Mélanie said truthfully. "He told
me he cares for her, and seeing them together, I believe it. But—" She
hesitated, wondering how much to say, how much might bring the most comfort.
"I don't think it's the same as what you shared. I don't think anything
ever will be."
mouth twisted again, this time with sorrow. "You're kind, chérie. But now which of us is
talking like a romantic?"
not in the least romantic." Mélanie had a sharp image in her mind of
Flahaut, lifting Hortense's hand to his lips, tenderness writ in the angle of
his head as it bent over her own. "But I understand love rather better
than I did seven years ago."
ma chère." Hortense gripped her
hand. "Here I am going on about myself when you're facing—"
safe." Mélanie reached for her coffee again, taking refuge behind the
gilt-rimmed porcelain. Coffee in Britain never quite tasted the same, even when
she or Blanca made it. "Which is more than most of my compatriots can
say." She took a fortifying sip of coffee and explained briefly that
Malcolm had discovered Carfax knew of her past, leaving out mention of David
and Simon. "It's no more than I deserve." She squeezed Hortense's
hand, determined not to be coddled. "But I hate what's it's doing to
can't imagine he wants to be anywhere but where he is. He's head over ears in
love with you."
dear." Mélanie straightened up and drew the gauze folds of her scarf about
her shoulders. "You've been little more than a half hour in his
I've seen the way he looks at you."
plainly adores you." Hortense hesitated a moment. "Speaking of which,
yes." Mélanie smiled despite everything. "He's head over ears in love
her words, Hortense gave a start of surprise. "I think even he'd admit it,"
Mélanie said. "Or, if not, it's only because words like that don't come
easily to him, and he's trying to protect Laura."
never saw him—"
change. Which doesn't mean he's any better than the rest of us at letting
himself be happy." Mélanie leaned forwards. "Right now we aren't the
ones with the problems. Tell me about Pierre Amouret."
drew a breath, a scrape of sound in the lace and crystal of the room. "As
you must have guessed, I let myself grow—close to him."
had guessed, and though she could never despise Hortense, she owned to having
felt a start of surprise she would not for the world let her friend see.
Throughout their friendship, she had seen Hortense as single-mindedly in love
with one man. Laughable, given her own past and views on love, to feel such
surprise, but—"I'm sorry for how it ended, though I'm glad you haven't
been entirely lonely."
laugh was bitter as stewed tea. "He—we—I enjoyed the admiration. I let
myself feel things I hadn't for a long time. Things I shouldn't."
one should have to live without—"
wasn't love. I don't know about Flahaut, but I'm quite sure I couldn't follow
that road again. We weren't even—" Hortense colored. "But I can't
deny it was agreeable. Having a man's admiration. Letting myself flirt. What
harm could it do? I thought." She gripped her elbows, hugging her arms
across her chest. "God, I was a fool."
hardly the first person to have been taken in by someone's romantic
attentions." Mélanie swallowed. Hard.
should have seen—"
hard to spot when you're not trained to see it. Or even when you are. And he
smoothed the links of her bracelet, the slender white-gold chain with diamonds
that Malcolm had given her for her most recent birthday. Before he knew the
truth about her. "He may really have cared for you."
not imagining things, Mélanie. I know what he took from me."
not suggesting you're imagining things. It doesn't mean he didn't care."
Hortense shook her head. "I don't know what would have happened if he
hadn't left. If I hadn't learned the truth. How far I'd have let it go. Not
far, I think. But after being alone for so long—I was enjoying the soap bubble.
And then yesterday he went out for a ride and never came back." She pushed
herself to her feet. "I thought it was odd. I thought"—she shook her
head—"that perhaps I'd gone too far. Offended him in some way. He was so
courteous and well mannered. It was only that night when I opened my jewel box
that I realized my bracelet was missing." She locked her hands together,
her knuckles white.
pushed herself to her feet as well. "Don't panic just yet. We don't even
know why he took the bracelet."
rubbed her bare arms. "That almost makes it worse. He went to such
lengths, it must be important. Which is rather terrifying.
find it, dearest. Before any damage is done."
can't be sure of that."
Mélanie put an arm round Hortense's shoulders. "But the odds are very
good. If you don't trust me, trust Raoul. Not to mention Malcolm."
shook her head. "You and Raoul are expert at fixing things. I'm sure your
husband is too. And I'm the sort of person who gets things fixed for her."
She stared at a painting of a young Napoleon in gleaming uniform, brilliant and
defiant. "But you can't fix everything. Perhaps it's time I learn to be
responsible for some of my own mistakes."
squeezed Hortense's shoulders. "Life is complicated enough, sweetheart.
Take help where you can."
by the most self-reliant woman I know."
I wouldn't have survived half this long if I hadn't learned to accept
I should simply sit here and let you rescue me again?"
one of the strongest people I know, Hortense." Mélanie drew her friend
back over to the sofa. "You're keeping your children safe in a dangerous
world. There's no challenge more important than that."
gaze went to the French windows. Indistinct childish voices echoed through the
glass. A blur of movement indicated the game of tag was still in progress.
"Both the boys are safe, thank God. And—"
broke off, but Mélanie knew she was thinking of her third surviving son,
Flahaut's child, who lived in secret with his grandmother. And with that
realization came the knowledge of something else she had to share with her
friend. Not the best time for such news, but perhaps it would at least give
Hortense another focus for her thoughts. "Hortense—I saw someone else we
both know in England."
gaze flew to Mélanie's face.
stared at her. Seven years ago, when Mélanie had traveled into Switzerland with
Hortense so she could give birth to her illegitimate child by Flahaut in
secret, Julien St. Juste had escorted them. "He was there on a
was working for Lord Carfax. Malcolm's former spymaster."
man you're running from now." Hortense's voice shook with disbelief.
a nutshell. Apparently Julien has worked for Carfax for some time."
God." The color drained from Hortense's face. "So Carfax knows about
me? About the baby?"
as she wanted to deny it, Mélanie knew she had to be honest. "I'm not
sure. I don't think so. Julien says he's still loyal to you and your
you believe him?"
saw the white gleam of Julien's smile and the hard brilliance of his gaze at
their last meeting in Hyde Park. "Yes, actually. Julien's always had a
code of sorts, difficult as it is to decipher. But he says Flahaut stopped
being off-limits when he left you."
shoulders snapped straight. "He didn't leave me. We—"
I told Julien. Julien asked if I thought you'd have made the choice on your
reached for her coffee and tossed down a swallow. "We have to warn Flahaut."
left Britain. I don't think he's a threat for the moment."
"For the moment—"
all learned to live with risk."
isn't an agent. And you aren't in Britain to protect him."
I still have friends there. If Julien shows his face again, if it seems we need
to warn Flahaut, we can. Meanwhile, you're right. He's not trained at
dissembling. Better for him not to know."
shook her head as though her world had tilted on its axis. "Has Julien
always worked for this Carfax? He was my mother's lover. Did Carfax arrange
God. To have such an intimate relationship be controlled by a spymaster—"
drew in her breath. "Quite."
gaze shot to her face. "I didn't mean—"
an apt comparison. In some ways there isn't much to choose between Julien and
be absurd." Hortense returned her cup to its saucer with a crisp click.
"You couldn't be like Julien if you tried."
reached for her coffee. "Carfax has some hold on Julien, but Julien hasn't
worked for him exclusively. And to the extent Julien has feelings at all, he
had them for your mother."
gave a harsh laugh. "Even my mother didn't trust him entirely, though I
think she trusted him more than she should have done. Was it Julien who
betrayed you to Carfax?"
says not, and he seems to have been telling the truth."
nodded. "If there's one person I'd have expected him not to betray, it's
fingers jerked, spattering coffee on her rose-and-ivory-striped sarcenet skirt.
was half in love with you on that journey into Switzerland."
cup clattered against the saucer in her nerveless fingers. "Hortense,
more than half."
snatched up a napkin and blotted the spilled coffee on her skirt. "Julien
isn't the sort to fall in love with anyone."
just said his feelings for my mother were real."
I think you were right, in a way. He was certainly loyal to her, and because of
that I think he's loyal to me. At least to a degree. But you fascinated
gave a short laugh, Julien's mocking voice ringing in her memory. "Perhaps
because he couldn't get me back into bed after that first mission."
know perfectly well it was more than that." Hortense sat back against the
cushions and regarded Mélanie. "I always thought he wasn't sure what to
make of his feelings for you. That you were a challenge to the way he views the
folded the stained napkin into neat quarters. "You always had a weakness
for novels, Hortense."
are insights to be found in novels. Not that I think Julien wanted to run off
with you and live in a rose-covered cottage—"
should hope not. We'd have killed each other inside a week."
I doubt the way he felt about you has changed, either. There's something oddly
steadfast about Julien."
true when it comes to your mother and you." And yet Julien's voice echoed
in her memory. In the right
circumstances. With the right woman. You could come close. She'd dismissed
his words a few weeks ago. She still dismissed them. And yet, for an
unaccountable reason, a chill ran through her.
Labels: Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine Bonaparte, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, Mission for a Queen, Teresa Grant, Tracy Grant