A few weeks ago on this blog, I mentioned that the first chapter of Son of a Duke may not have been as I originally wrote it. So I share today the original first chapter of the first book of the Spy Series. I share this hoping that it will help readers to see how many revisions a story undertakes before venturing beyond the word processing document. And I also share it for writers. Sometimes the hardest thing a writer does is to press control + X. This was an entire chapter that I cut. And Nora and Nathan’s story was all the better for it.
Dear readers, I give you Jane as she first appeared in my head.
The Original First Chapter of Son of a Duke
Oh, she was much too fat to be wearing that. What on earth was Lady Dendrigeshire thinking? Her arse barely fit through her carriage door, and she expected it to fit into something that was anything other than a tent? Some people were really just too stupid for their own safety.
Oh, pardon my manners, I’ve failed to introduce myself. I’m Jane Smith, Dowager Countess of Doring. I know what you’re thinking, but I was born Jane Featherbottom so Jane Smith really is a vast improvement. And as for the dowager, I’m not ancient by any means, but I am too damn old to have to bear the sight of Lady Dendrigeshire squeezing her fat arse into that awful gown.
Anyway, just call me Jane, everyone else does.
It’s Lady Gregenden’s ball tonight and Midge’s ball tomorrow. That’s the Mrs. Midge. Yes, I really am so well acquainted with her that I just call her Midge and totally forget about the missus, and well the the part as well. I guess that gives you an idea about where I sit in this God awful, boring world known as the ton. But really for as boring as it all is, there is quite a lot of excitement going on if you know where to look.
Allow me to take you around the room.
See over there, by that hideous potted fern that looks like it’s just begging for death, is Niles Turning. Yes, I mean that footman with the tray of champagne. Excitement is not only limited to the upper tiers of society. There is a whole other world beneath the glitter and glamour of Lady Dendrigeshire’s fat arse in a tent that’s just waiting to be discovered. But really, some people would rather it not be discovered after all. Like that whelp Niles Turning. You see God gave him a little gift, well it’s not so little really or else Lord Thumburn’s wife wouldn’t enjoy it so much. Now poor Turning can’t keep the ghastly woman away from him. Why do you think he’s out here in the boiling ballroom when he could be below stairs tupping with the chambermaids? If he stays in plain sight of the whole population of London, which probably is in attendance tonight, Lady Thumburn will stay away from him. But if he is somewhere without so many eyes watching, well then he would be in trouble. Lady Thumburn would sneak up on him like…
Well, like Lord Norving has taken to sneaking up on the Dowager Lady Fullerton. Oh, but that really is just too disgusting to go into so you’ll have to find out about that one from someone else. I’m not repeating that carriage accident.
And there’s Mr. Charles Bonning who has lost his entire fortune in a bet and doesn’t have the bullocks to tell his wife. Come to think of it, I shouldn’t pick on him for that. The woman scares the hell out of me, too. And there’s Lord Redding who is sleeping with Lady Fielding while Lord Fielding sleeps with little girls at Madame Hort’s House of Leisure, bastard that he is. And then there’s the widow Grant, who being fifty years younger than the man who wed her, gave the old man a heart attack on their wedding night in their wedding bed. Rather unfortunate, I must say.
There is the maid of our story. And I literally mean maid. She’s Lady Gregenden’s housekeeper. The simple Miss Eleanora Quinton. Yes, I don’t know why her parents named her Eleanora, but they did. Miss Quinton is from some obscure town in the Lake District, but its name really has no significance in our story, so we’ll just move past that. What Eleanora was or did before she came to London is all a bit of mystery even to someone as enlightened as me. But I’m sure one day her skeletons will come parading out of the closets. All skeletons eventually do.
Miss Quinton is quite a name here in Town even though she is only a housekeeper. She plans all of Lady Grengenden’s balls, teas, musicales, etcetera, etcetera. And Lady Gregenden’s functions are always the crushes with even that old bird Davies coming up out of her dungeon she calls home in Wales. Silly, old twit. Why she would want to stand here, jostled at every turn, dripping with sweat- well, alright, ladies don’t sweat, we glisten, but really I think I have moved way past glistening and probably even dripping but- the point is Lady Gregenden’s ballroom was sure to make any one faint, not to mention a haggard old lady whose heart really should have given up a long, long time ago. But Miss Quinton was what packed them in. She was never one to follow the current fashion, but rather one to really set the fashion. That’s rare here in Town as seen by all the young ladies wearing their hair in tight chignons at the back of their heads so their faces looked like their skin was stretched so tightly it was just going to snap right off. But that is fashion, and they will follow fashion till their death. And if fashions keep along their current trends, I may be more literal than I intended.
Right now, Miss Quinton looks as if all she wants to do is go below stairs to her quiet little room and put her feet up on a stool in front of a nice, warm, charming fire. Unfortunately, Miss Quinton will not be seeing her cozy little fire for quite some time. Even more time than she thinks. For about midnight there’s going to be a little ruckus that’s going to lead to someone’s death, and Lady Gregenden is going to faint and Lord Gregenden is going to vomit into someone’s hat which will leave Miss Quinton the only one in charge to see to the little problem of murder. Yes, that’s right, murder. I’m telling you now, in case you’re one of those squeamish types who can’t handle the sight of a little blood. And a bullet in the chest causes a bit more than a ‘little blood.’
But I am getting ahead of myself. You must really know Eleanora Quinton before she encounters Nathan Black, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Lofton, now spy for the War Office. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about him too, just give me time. Because you see, once Miss Quinton meets Mr. Black she is quite simply never the same again. And I know that is a horribly over used romantic line, but there really is no other way to put it. Nathan Black complicates the hell out of Miss Quinton’s life, and I believe she enjoys it very, very much.
Miss Quinton started out as an upstairs maid in Grengenden House (yes, the family really is that unoriginal) when she was ten and six and talked Lord Grengenden out of going into Lady Gregenden’s bedchamber while Lady Gregenden was entertaining a guest. A male guest. Lady Gregenden put Miss Quinton in charge of the upstairs maids as a little reward.
Then there was the whole fiasco of Lady Gregenden’s birthday bash. She said it was her thirty first birthday bash but we all knew it was more like her forty eighth one, but of course, no one actually said that to her face.
Oh wait, I might have done.
Doesn’t matter, moving on.
Lady Gregenden had hired a professional to design her ball, and she knew (well, more like demanded) that it would be the crush of the Season. She wanted to go with the ever popular Egyptian theme with real sarcophagi and make all of her maids and footmen wear appropriate, authentic headdresses. Well, as you can imagine, the servants weren’t too keen on wearing a great big wallop on their heads the entire evening. It was hard enough to serve people who thought they had descended directly from God and the Queen and all that, without balancing an enormous gold snake on one’s head. Not to mention how horribly stupid that would look.
So naturally they turned to Miss Quinton and nominated her to talk to Lady Gregenden.
Now, Miss Quinton was about four and twenty by this time. Somewhere between ten and six and four and twenty she had grown outrageously fat only to become sickeningly skinny. If it were any other maid, I would have said she had gone prancing in the wrong flowerbed and gotten pricked by the poison ivy. But Miss Quinton wasn’t that type. So I still haven’t figured out what happened there. But now, she looks more like a walking zombie than a human being most of the time. Her cheeks are hollow, the bones of her face too pronounced, pressing what skin there is to its limits. Her quiet brown eyes dull and lifeless, watching the crowd only for a problem in the party’s happenings, not in any sign of engagement or interest. Her hands, clapped militarily behind her back, tucked under the crisp, starched white bow of her serviceable apron, have the boniness of too much scrubbing and not enough care or attention. But when I look at Miss Quinton what I notice most is the set of her lips. For all the dead like quality about her, her lips never turn down. The corners are forever pinned up, a hidden smile for which only she knows the reason. She’s the damn Mona Lisa come to life.
And three years ago she took her mysterious smile right to Lady Gregenden and stated very firmly that the servants refused to wear such ridiculous garb in the interest of Lady Gregenden’s reputation. Now, worded such as it was, Lady Gregenden was quite simply confused. I never said she was the brightest poppy in the patch. Miss Quinton had to say the same thing about four different ways before Lady Gregenden had a clue what she was saying. But finally it clicked in her muddled mind.
And boy was she ever, well, there’s simply no other word for it except ‘pissed.’ And yes I know ladies aren’t supposed to say that word, but I think I’m old enough to get away with it.
And then Miss Quinton explained that those of a more refined and dignified stature such as Lady Gregenden and her acquaintances should not be subjected to such obnoxious reminders of the presence of such low members of society at such a grand function as Lady Gregenden’s birthday gala. Well, of course, Lady Gregenden was astonished that she had not seen the error of her ways and praised Miss Quinton for her insight. Or something along those lines. I’m not so certain Lady Gregenden knows many words of praise. Or even what praise is.
But any matter, Miss Quinton was promptly promoted to housekeeper and head function planner if such a role exists. Lady Gregenden began to go to Miss Quinton for all matters regarding her social entertaining in the hopes of preventing any social blunders that could only be seen by one as sharp as Miss Quinton.
Now, at seven and twenty, Miss Quinton was firmly established as the housekeeper of a very respected household with her name on the tongue of anyone who was anyone in this Town. Especially tonight. Miss Quinton had really outdone herself. Not that she had ever done that before. Tonight’s ball had no real theme at all which was in itself the boldest step ever taken by any hostess in Town history. And I’m pretty old, so I’ve been around for quite a bit of that history and can be an authority on the subject.
There were drapes of shimmering fabric of the palest blue that accentuated the supremely designed ballroom’s finely carved trims and balustrades, and great ferns, not all as suicidal looking as the one by Niles Turning, spread throughout the room which blended with the blues and ethereal yellow of a million candles blinking in no apparent rhythm to create a sense of the natural world. And as stupid as the ton is, bits of green stuck in a pot are quite enough to give them the notion that they are in the natural world, although safely three quarters of them have never seen a natural green thing in their life.
No one ever thanked Miss Quinton for such a splendid evening of the same entertainment one endured almost every single night of the Season. So why shouldn’t I be the first to do so?
I saw the skin tighten around her eyes, if that was even physically possible. But her lips never twitched as she turned toward me.
“Yes, my lady?”
“Your presentation tonight is quite lovely as always. Wherever did you get the idea?”
Not a muscle moved on Miss Quinton’s face as she calmly replied, “I beg your pardon, my lady, but an artist never reveals her secrets.”
Well said, indeed. Miss Quinton was not one to face any sign of degradation. Even if it was coming from someone so highly respected as me.
“I see then.” I swirled the champagne in my glass, catching it with the light so that it reflected directly at Miss Quinton’s eyes.
“Why are you doing that?” Miss Quinton asked, her voice never fluctuating from its low monotone cadence.
“To see if you flinch.”
“Oh bother, you still haven’t given up on that?” her voice changed then, slightly softer and mischievous. Something flashed then in her eyes, and I knew I had relieved her of some boredom at least for a moment.
Then a great bloke of a gentleman smashed into her backside and sent her directly at me. Me being old, as I have mentioned often before, did not have the strength to catch her, and it sent us both flying.
Directly into the Earl of Stryden.
The earl caught us both quite neatly, tipping me back up gently with a quick grab, but holding onto Miss Quinton’s shoulders a slight touch longer than may have been appropriate. I doubt anyone else noticed the entire affair, but I did a quick check of those around us. They all looked ready to impale themselves with the nearest frond from one of the ghastly potted ferns. I returned my attention to the little scene before me.
“Are you alright, Miss Quinton?” the Earl of Stryden was asking her.
“Quite, thank you.” She was straightening the ties of her apron when the earl stepped behind her and very simply spun around the bloke who had knocked into her.
The startled man looked absolutely bewildered at the dark look on the earl’s face. Of course the stupid man had to look up about a foot to see the look, which made it all the more intimidating.
“I believe you owe the lady an apology.” Stryden said, ever so softly and deadly.
Trust me, it did sound deadly. Even I shivered.
The bloke stammered, “My apologies, my lady.” He bowed slightly toward me, shaking too much to bend any more than he did.
“Not that lady.” I do believe the earl growled that, if a gentleman can growl.
The man looked around him, his gaze moving swiftly past Miss Quinton as if she weren’t there.
I cleared my throat a little and batted my eyelashes at Miss Quinton just to give the man a hint. He was up against Stryden, and well, he was definitely dim-witted which meant he had a very large disadvantage. I had to help a little. I’m not that mean.
Miss Quinton, however, remained quiet as ever looking straight ahead with her lips curving at the tips, jaw square and chin up.
The man stammered some more, “I do beg your pardon, my lord, but I do not see any other lady around whom I might have bumped.”
Sweat was starting to pool along the ridge of his collar, streaming down to his intricately knotted cravat. He was tugging nervously on the lapels of jacket, leaving the fabric, an awful coral color, all wrinkled and stained with the cold sweat from his beefy palms.
“Miss Quinton nearly fell to the ground from your clumsiness. I would not call that a bump.” Stryden stepped between the man and Miss Quinton before the bloke could form even a stammer. “See that it doesn’t happen again.”
I sipped my champagne in silent salute. Stryden had the man simpering without even a threat of fatal violence to the man’s bloated body. Well done, indeed.
Stryden turned his back on the man and bent to look at Miss Quinton. “I am terribly sorry about that, miss. Some members of the ton were simply born to their status and did not earn their titles. Are you sure you are all right?”
She gave a quick nod. “Yes, my lord, quite all right. I do thank you for your trouble.”
“It was no trouble.” He bowed to me. “Jane, I hope you are all right as well?”
“Fine, thanks, lad.” I saw his lips tighten at that. Oh, how I did love to call him lad still.
Now, I told you he was the Earl of Stryden, but I did not tell you that someday he will be the Duke of Lofton. Yes, that’s right. You are a smart one I see. Stryden is the son of the Duke of Lofton but not the duke’s first born son. That privilege goes to Mr. Black, the hero of our tale. Except its not much of a privilege because Mr. Black was born on the wrong side of the sheets. Do not worry, though, this is not one of those stories where the bastard son meets the legitimate son and wants to duel it out in revenge against the gods. Mr. Black knows all about Stryden and vice versa. They grew up together on the Lofton estate just north of York. The Duke of Lofton is not one to shirk his responsibilities. He got Mr. Black’s mother with child, and when she died in the childbed, he took his son to raise just as if it were nothing unusual in the world.
You should probably get a real good look at the earl before Mr. Black appears because the resemblance is strong. You may not be able to tell the two apart. (Which by the way, has come in handy with all the work those two do for the War Office.) The earl is tall and broad shouldered just like his brother, with the same gleaming black, straight hair. It even falls across his brow in the same direction and manner as his brother’s hair. The same strong jaw and stubborn chin with the same angled cheek bones make up Mr. Black’s face as well. But the eyes are what give them away. Mr. Black’s are quite blue, like his mother’s eyes. And the earl’s are an intense green, exactly like his mother’s eyes. So there you go. Now you can tell them apart. Although, Mr. Black is going to enter the scene in a rather more debonair way than his brother which you may find distracting, and then you’ll totally forget about looking at the eyes to tell them apart.
Oh, you think the earl entered in a rather gallant manner?
Wait until you see his brother.
The earl must have asked me a question while I was telling you about him, because he was giving me that look young people give when they think the old person has gone absolutely daft. I gave a polite burp behind my hand and said, “What was that, dear? Champagne’s gone to my head.”
He smiled slightly before replying, “I assume you are having a lovely time tonight?”
“Oh yes, quite lovely. Except for that fat-“
“Oh yes, I’m sure there’s something fat around that displeases you, Jane. But let’s not share it with the world, shall we?”
I had to hide my smile. It was so fun to annoy the boy. “I wasn’t planning on telling the world, just you, Alec.” I cocked my head and pursed my lips.
He laughed right in my face. He was the only one who ever did. Even Mr. Black wouldn’t laugh in my face. Oh, I’m sure he would want to laugh in my face, but I’m not sure he really has the guts to do it.
“Miss Quinton, the décor is quite lovely this evening. You have outdone yourself yet again.” Alec smiled that smile that had made a thousand women swoon, often right into his bed. But Miss Quinton did not flinch…again. The chit was getting annoying herself.
“Thank you, my lord. I’m pleased you’re enjoying your evening.”
“Oh, I never said I was enjoying my evening. Just your décor.”
Miss Quinton actually wet her lips. It was a habit; she did it when she was hiding a smile. The Earl of Stryden had made her smile? I could probably safely die now, because I believe I have seen it all.
“Perhaps you will find more pleasure in the gaming rooms, my lord.” Miss Quinton pointed discreetly in the direction of the parlors that had been set up with tables of whist or some other such barbarous game.
“Perhaps. Unfortunately, I must do my civic duty and mingle in the society into which I was born.” He winked at her.
Oh dear, I should have warned him. A wink might give Miss Quinton heart pains. I’m certain she wouldn’t swoon though. She wasn’t the type, really.
And then Miss Quinton smiled, and I started feeling chest pains. Given my substantial age, I did begin to worry a bit. But they soon passed when a screeching voice- Oh dear, ‘screeching’ really does not do it justice. You know the sound that comes from running your knife in the wrong direction against your plate? Yes, that is exactly the sound that was produced when this creature opened her mouth.
“Stryden! You silly, silly man. I’ve been looking every where for you.”
Stryden turned his shoulder so only Miss Quinton could see his face. And what he did then I have no idea, but it made Miss Quinton blush. The damn chit blushed! I snapped open my fan and started swinging it violently through the air. It wasn’t cooling me any, but I felt the need to release some recent onslaught of energy. Bursts of energy are rare at my age, so I really should be doing something more productive than swinging my fan. But what was there really to do?
“May I have this dance, my lady?”
My fan fell out of my hand. Thank God it was attached to my wrist.
I turned around to see the face that went with the voice I knew so well. Richard Black, the Duke of Lofton. Now, you see where the boys get their devilish good looks. It has been thirty two years since I saw this man for the fist time, and my knees still shake every time I see him. Yes, he really is that astonishing.
“Lofton, I did not know you were here tonight.” I smiled pleasantly and bowed my head in his direction. I was much too old for curtsying any more.
He dropped his voice to a purr, “Don’t lie, you wicked minx.”
My knees would have buckled if he hadn’t taken my elbow to lead me onto the dance floor.
I looked quickly back at Miss Quinton and the earl. The earl had been stolen away by the brightly obnoxious (and fat) Lady Dendrigeshire. Poor man. And Miss Quinton had gone back to her post of surveying the happenings, her hands clasped once more behind her back, her lips curved up at the corners. Only now the remainders of a slight blush graced her cheeks.
Richard pulled me around and into a waltz, snapping my head in the opposite direction of where I was looking. The movement was so abrupt it made me bump into him. Which I must say felt rather good. Perhaps I could maneuver that again.
“Now, now, dear. Save that for later when the whole damn population of the ton isn’t breathing down our necks.” His voice passed in a whisper touch across my ear, and I shivered. Yes, I’m capable of shivering. Shivering responses do not shut down after forty.
“And there will be a ‘later’ tonight, my lady.” He was smirking at me.
Well, my dear, this is where we must part ways. I’m not one to share the intimates of my doddering years. But do not fear, I have told you everything you need to know to continue on just rightly from here. But do try to keep up. It’s going to get very exciting soon. And I’m not just talking about what Richard and I plan to do ‘later.’
Remember I told you someone was going to be murdered, didn’t I? Well, I always keep my word. Oh and stay away from that spot there. That’s where the body’s going to land when it falls off the balcony.