Winner in the All About Romance Reader Poll 2009 for Best Couple and Best Heroine, and runner-up for Best Romance, Best Historical Set in the UK, and Best Love Scenes! Rachel at AAR gives BBYT a straight A, praising the "sizzling sexual tension" and urging those who “have been wallowing in romance novel ennui [to] go out and pick this one up.” Jane at Dear Author calls it "a great love story... a book in which I would find new layers and meaning each time I read it." The Book Smugglers' verdict? "Sophisticated, beautifully written and utterly romantic."
In the water closet, candles cast a flickering light across the marble washbasin and maroon wallpaper. Lydia splashed cold water onto her throat and wrists, and then pressed her face into a soft towel. Heavens, but she knew better than this. It was one thing to defend herself against the rascal, and quite another to make a spectacle of herself while doing it. Why hadn’t she simply ignored the Viscount? This was a terribly poor example to set for her sisters.
His looks had addled her, perhaps. Formal blacks suited his tall, lean build. Sitting across from him, she had grown a little dizzy in the effort not to stare. The severe knot of his tie accentuated the planes of his face—-the high cheekbones and firm lips, the precise line of his jaw. The light from the chandeliers had picked out the gold highlights in his light brown hair; his long eyelashes threw shadows as he looked to his plate.
But his form was not a painting, to be admired for its looks. She must remember that. There was a man behind that face, one who probably used his beauty to achieve all manner of disreputable ends. Indeed, if any meaning was to be drawn from his looks, it
was that the world knew no justice—-or else the philosophers had it wrong, and beauty evidenced a black heart. For Lydia feared that the Devil himself would not outshine the Viscount Sanburne.
She drew a breath and lowered the towel. Sanburne's arrival had been spectacular, outrageous; that would be the first story the other guests told. In comparison to his shenanigans, her remarks must seem very tame—barely worth mentioning, really. Who was she, after all? Nobody. An aging spinster who “dabbled” in science-—who'd been invited as a courtesy to her brother-in-law. She knew where she stood in polite society: the only females more irrelevant than poor spinsters were the maids. Besides, it would not surprise anyone that she nursed strong opinions. They would expect it from a so-called bluestocking.
She pushed off the counter. Too many minutes had passed now. The best way to crush talk was to proceed to the drawing-room as though nothing remarkable had occurred. Giving a tug to her lace gloves, she opened the door and stepped out.
Sanburne leaned against the wall a few paces away. His smile looked benign. "I hope you will forgive my manner at the table," he said. "I am simply agog at your powers of classification. Why, you spotted that forgery so easily, one might think your own father made it."
Her jaw dropped. This was slander, and the worst kind: phrased it in such a way that she could not respond without suggesting that she considered him serious. Do not give him the satisfaction, she told herself, and forced out a laugh. "What rubbish, sir. You were the one to buy the forgery. I wish you will not punish me for it."
He shrugged. "I confess, the idea of punishment generally leaves me cold. But I do find it remarkable, in this case—that a man so admired, so respected, would risk his good name and career by trading in fraudulent pieces."
A chill moved through her. "You cannot mean that."
His extraordinary eyes opened very wide. A three year old caught playing in the mud could look no less cherubic. "But I do, Miss Boyce."
Horrified, she darted a glance down the hall. It was dangerous to linger here and risk being spotted, but she could not walk away from his accusation. He might repeat it elsewhere, and suspicion was the worst sort of weed: it
grew in any soil, no matter how pure. "I beg your pardon," she said icily. "You've cast a very serious slur on my father's name. I will ask you to explain yourself, or to apologize at once."
"Oh," he murmured. "What a wicked tone you take with me. Quite a fierce little tigress, when it looks like your game is up."
"I think you know it."
"I certainly do not know it." Her voice was rising; she could not help it. "You are raving!"
His soft laugh disconcerted her. "Yes, of course I am, darling. Madness runs in the family-—or didn't you know?"
The remark effectively robbed her of speech. Of course everyone knew about it. The papers had talked of nothing else, three years ago. His sister had stabbed her husband to death, and been sent to the madhouse for it. The Durhams generally had been counted lucky: had she been born to some other man-—a man of humbler station—-she would have hanged. But for him to allude to the matter!
He pushed off the wall and strolled toward her—-hands in pockets, all tall, smiling, golden good cheer. "Tell the truth," he said, his manner playful, inviting, as if she were one of his glittering friends, those laughing, flashy peacocks who traded together in jokes about the less beautiful and misfortunate. "Did he put you up to it?"
She shook her head dumbly. "Who? Who put me up to what?"
"Why, my father. Did he put you up to decrying the stela? I will give you the benefit of the doubt as to how it came into my possession—-but surely he must have known you'd recognize your father's work."
Shock prickled across her body. He thought her to be in some conspiracy with the Earl of Moreland? "My father has nothing to do with forgeries." He was still coming toward her; she found herself backing up against the door. "He is a scholar, a revered one. If you spread any rumors to harm him—-"
"What?" He simply kept coming. He was going to walk right into her. She
caught her breath as he braced his arms at either side of her head. He leaned in so closely that his breath ghosted across her lips. His gaze roamed over her face for a moment, and then lifted to her eyes. Very softly, he said, "You will do what, Miss Boyce?"
She held herself perfectly still. Her heart was stuttering within her chest. She could not comprehend this. His breath smelled like mint, and his body was warm where it pressed against hers. He was tall, and surprisingly muscled; he had her pinned like a hare. "I will do something," she said unsteadily, "that you won't like at all."
"Oh, yes?" He reached up and laid a finger to her cheek. "Will you look away
very coldly when we encounter one another? Will you tell your friends I'm a bad, bad man?" His voice dropped. "Will you badmouth me, darling?" He drew his finger down, slowly, until it touched the edge of her mouth. Some horrible, nervous impulse made her lick her lips, and to her mortification, she accidentally tasted him—-the tip of his finger, the salt of his skin.
Holding her eyes, he lifted away his finger, and very deliberately put it to his own lips. He was tasting the spot her tongue had touched, as his gray eyes held hers, mocking, teasing. A flush of heat moved through her. Anger, she told herself. Rage, that was all.
His mouth made a little sucking noise as he released his finger. "Lovely," he murmured. "Doesn't taste at all like a flustered, prickly, deceitful little spinster. Why, with a little coaxing, I might let you kiss me into forgiveness."
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When it came time to submit an outline to Pocket Books for this novel, I found myself completely unable to write a nice, normal, functional synopsis. It took several brainstorming exercises to produce one, including the following. Certain details obviously changed from the time I wrote this to the time I completed BBYT -- starting with the year the story takes place (in the final version, the drama unfolds in 1884). But this was the first piece I wrote that began to capture the dynamic between Lydia and James, even if their biographies weren’t yet entirely clear to me. (Oh, and by the way -- no, there weren’t actually personal ads like this one in The Times of London in 1886. Like I said, the synopsis kept turning strange on me! However, personal ads did exist during this period -- for real examples, check out this extremely entertaining blog).
Personals -- Times of London - April 1886
SWM FOR SWF: Artisan of indolence with a studied inability to take anything seriously seeks object of amusement to spice up seasonal events and country weekends. Lady must be sharp-tongued, socially awkward, easily ruffled, overly credulous. If she is misguided enough to believe that there is a rhyme and reason to the boresome rituals of high society (or, for that matter, to simultaneously resent and be fascinated by a man whose effortless and “undeserved” popularity offends her sense of justice), then these faults must be balanced by: 1) an offbeat sense of humor; 2) a surprising amount of imagination, including inappropriate curiosity and a hidden inclination to dreaminess; 3) an unnerving degree of insight into the motivations of those who profess, even to themselves, not to have any. Actually, scratch that last; I don’t need someone poking about in my brain. Anyway, antagonistic disposition a plus; bonus points if in possession of an Achilles' heel of a sister. Finally, and most importantly: the lady should enjoy a proximity to the Earl of Moreland which disposes her to be the perfect go-between in an ongoing game of wits between the heroic, freedom-fighting, oh-so-misunderstood son and his swinish murderous Napoleonic bastard of a father. Send unaddressed note studded with spectacular insults to: Earl of Moreland, Mayfair. I shall hear of it.
SWF FOR SWM: Twice-jilted (or, more accurately, one-and-a-half-times-jilted) spinster in increasingly untenable living arrangement seeks gentleman socialite with the ability to make anyone feel interesting and appreciated and included—even those who always manage to say just the wrong thing at just the wrong time. Gentleman should be fiercely loyal to those he cares about; there will be no question of his being the sort of man who would run off when a lady makes an ungraceful remark, or fails to nurture his ego (or, for that matter, utterly destroys his ego by presenting a strictly objective, scientific paper on his social circle’s structure and customs). If he takes an interest in the emerging science of ethnography, so much the better. Above all, he should esteem conversation and wit rather than other, more base attributes and inclinations—inclinations which, alas!, the lady might be misunderstood to possess due to an Unfortunate Event which the lady’s sister will not let her live down. Send flowers and other gentlemanly extensions of regard to: c/o Baroness Strickland, Booker Street. True, my sister may throw them out before passing them on to me, but at least they’ll annoy that hypocritical cad she’s got for a husband.
Shallow, self-destructive blackguards; men of an empty and dangerous charm; irresponsible rakehells who would encourage a respectably married woman, such as the lady’s sister, to kick up her heels like a cancan dancer at scandalous soirees; and those who aid or abet, whether knowingly or not, the forgery of antiquities.
Oh, P.S. If any person can arrange for the lady to make a name as a consultant in regard to antiquary items, so that she may support herself in future without the help of fickle men (both kin and non-), all the better. However, said position should not embroil her in an ongoing political fiasco to do with the Irish question, and it certainly should not manage to threaten her own father’s professional reputation!
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Aristocracy in England, by Adam Badeau. Published in 1886, this firsthand account of London high society is intended for the foreign reader. Badeau, who seems to have been a diplomat or some other highly-placed person (he recounts anecdotal conversations with some of the most famous noblemen of the period), does not appear to have been impressed with the aristocracy. In a tangential screed about the privileges of birth, he informs his readers, "A duke may be a boor or a clown, a duchess may be illiterate or drunken or immoral -— and there have been instances of all this within the last twenty years... There are men of the highest rank who turn palaces into dog-kennels and consort with pugilists and yet marry into ducal families; and I have seen tipsy duchesses dance after dinner with shawls and castanets before ambassadors and Prime Ministers, when but for their rank they would not have been tolerated."
World of London, by Count Vasili. Published in 1885, this is another firsthand account of English high society, viewed through marginally kinder eyes. The author, commenting on the widespread animosity in England for the landed classes, predicts the coming abolishment of the aristocracy, to be preceded only by the imminent demise of the House of Lords: "If the days of the House of Lords are not yet numbered, its years most decidedly are. It is an ancient edifice that rests only upon the shifting sands of privilege and of class interests; and as slight storms have already made it shake and tremble, a tempest will completely overthrow it." The author is also thoroughly unimpressed with musicales: "As for the piano, it is understood to be a machine to set people talking, and as soon as the first notes are heard, conversation begins on all sides, and is only checked by the last chord. I heard a lady say to another after an artist had played very brilliantly, 'She made such a noise we couldn't hear ourselves speak.'"
Sidelights on English Society, by EC Grenville Murray, published in 1881. Murray is much obsessed with the figure of the fashionable flirt, devoting an entire volume of his opus to detailing her canny ways: "At Ascot and Goodwood, the Eton and Harrow Match at Lord’s, the parties fines at the Orleans Club, and the cotillons at balls…she studies men for hours at a time. During Ascot week, for instance, the chaperon probably hires a lodge near the course, goes to witness four days’ racing, and gives little dinners every evening to pleasant acquaintances whom she has met in the Grand Strand. Some of these inveigle the Flirt into betting. It used to be the custom for girls to bet gloves, but this has grown tame, and a girl now wagers hard money, or ‘discretions’ —which mean jewelry or a private settlement of a long milliner’s bill. Men do not like a betting-girl, and many a smart miss has thrown a good matrimonial chance away by unguardedly taking a bet which has been offered to prove her."
The Annual Register, published in 1885. Gives a fantastic (if dense) overview of the political, social, and artistic events of the preceding year in England.
And I think I’ll spare everyone the rest -- including the numerous archaeological journals I browsed through, published variously by the British Archaeological Association, the Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland... for starters.
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