New York Times Best Selling Author
April 28, 2014
In advance of the release of The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride I sent out four newsletters with excerpts and background info. Now I’ve put everything into one post so you don’t have to move from page to page. This is more or less the story behind the writing of the Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride.
Scandalous Adventures is the story of Delilah, Lady Hargate, who has always been very proper and respectable. Until one night in the Murray Hill Hotel with handsome American entrepreneur Samuel Russell. One unforgettable night.
Delilah is in New York to chaperone her sister Camille and Camille’s fiancé Grayson. But she’s also a little ripe for adventure. Probably why she wore a Dresden shepherdess costume to a masquerade ball in the first place. It does seem that Lady Hargate’s costume was a bit more daring than that described in the 1887 edition of Fancy Dresses Described or What to Wear at Fancy Balls by Adeen Holt:
DRESDEN SHEPHERDESS Crimson petticoat, three plaited flounces: top flounce, pale yellow: second, pale pink: third, pale green: white overskirt, with brocaded bouquets in blue and crimson: elbow sleeves, with broad band and ruffles round stiff square bodice: pale green apron, lined with pink: hair powdered: flat shepherdess hat slung on arm: Watteau bow round throat: high heeled shoes.
This illustration is from the 1896 edition.
And Lady Hargate apparently wore it quite well as she was reminded in this excerpt when Sam, her mistake, shows up at Millworth Manor for her sister’s wedding . . .
There was something about the way he said her name that was at once sensual and irritating. And unnerving. She tugged again at her hand.
“There were a number of Dresden shepherdesses as well,” he added. “And yet I’m fairly sure I remember you.”
“A shepherdess?” Teddy’s eyes widened with disbelief. “Dee?”
“I can’t imagine anyone not remembering.” Grayson chuckled.
“It wasn’t the sort of thing I ever imagined my younger sister wearing. Beryl perhaps but not Delilah.” Camille leaned toward Teddy and lowered her voice. “I daresay there were gentlemen who, upon seeing Delilah as a shepherdess, would have willingly volunteered to be sheep.”
Delilah gasped. “Camille!”
“The bodice was exceptionally low in cut and the hem scandalously high,” Camille said to Teddy. “Why, one could see her ankles.”
“It was a costume.” Delilah yanked her hand from Mr. Russell’s. It wasn’t bad enough that her mistake had appeared from out of nowhere but now her sister had to chastise her as well for her choice of costume. This day was not getting any better.
Oh, but I haven’t mentioned Delilah’s mistake yet. Well, that brings us back to the Murray Hill Hotel. With eight stories and six hundred rooms the hotel on Park Avenue between 40th & 41th Streets was quite the place to stay in 1887. Mark Twain stayed here as did P.T. Barnum, Diamond Jim Brady and Presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley.
The hotel opened in 1884 with two restaurants (offering diners a choice of European or American service), marble stairway, electric chandeliers and even an ice making machine. Very 1880’s high tech!
This was the site of the masquerade ball where Delilah fell to Samuel’s charms and he fell every bit as hard for hers. But then what Dresden shepherdess wouldn’t succumb to a dashing pirate? And what pirate could ever resist the well-turned ankles of a shepherdess?
Of course a masked ball is one thing. The next morning is something else entirely . . .
“Do hurry with that.” Delilah, Lady Hargate, cringed at the sharp note in her voice.
She did so hate to be rude especially after, well, after everything but she wasn’t used to being in this position. She’d certainly never been in this position before, never imagined she would, and really had no idea how she now found herself here. Nor did she have any idea how to gracefully extricate herself although she suspected graceful was no longer possible.
“If you would be so good,” she added as politely as she could, even while knowing that minor attempt to atone for her impatience made no difference.
Behind her, he chuckled but thankfully continued to lace her corset. “Eager to be away are you?”
Courtesy battled with honesty although perhaps this was not the time to be polite.
“Well, yes, I am. It is almost dawn and . . .well . . .” Slipping out of his room in the fashionable Murray Hill Hotel and back to her own rooms without notice would be even more difficult once the sun was up. Not that it wasn’t going to be awkward now. Still, the sooner she left, the better her chances of avoiding detection. “I do need to get back before my absence is noted.”
“Of course,” he murmured. “We wouldn’t want that.”
“No, we would not.” Her jaw tightened. Discovery was the last thing she wanted.
Before I started writing fiction, I thought it was easy. I thought because I wrote news (I used to be a television reporter) and because I was a voracious reader, fiction would be a piece of cake. Well, at least I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong.
I do a lot of research. In the Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride—set in 1887—the very respectable, proper, and oh so traditional Delilah, Lady Hargate, finds herself pitted against Samuel Russell—a self-made, new money, extremely progressive American entrepreneur. Aside from one glorious night in a New York City hotel room, which Delilah thinks would be best forgotten, she wants nothing to do with the dashing American. Pity then that he showes up at Millworth Manor for the wedding of her sister Camille to Grayson Elliott.
In addition to all the other reasons why Delilah thinks she and Sam are wrong for each other, Sam is investing in horseless carriages. He’s actually bought a motorwagon from Karl Benz and brought it to Millworth Manor. Oh and horseless carriages wouldn’t be called automobiles until about the mid 1890’s.
This is a scale model of a 1886 Benz motorwagon.
But as much as Sam thinks motorwagons are the way of the future, Delilah thinks they’re ridiculous.
And when the conversation at dinner turns to motorwagons, well, Delilah does try to keep her opinions to herself . . .
“Horseless carriages.” Samuel’s tone was casual but an underlying current of excitement edged his words, as if he were announcing the way to salvation or the path to Nirvana or something equally preposterous. “Very possibly the way of the future.”
Delilah stared for a moment then swallowed a laugh. Laughing would be rude.
“Really? How fascinating.” Teddy fluttered her lashes at him but in the flickering candlelight Delilah might have been mistaken.
“Do you truly think they could ever replace horses?” Camille asked.
Better to keep her mouth shut entirely. Yes, that was an excellent plan.
Samuel nodded. “I do.”
Surely he wasn’t serious?
“That’s rather farfetched isn’t it?” Teddy’s brow furrowed.
“Not at all.” Samuel paused while a footman removed his empty plate.
How on earth did he become so successful? Was the man mad? He was so obviously wrong.
“Ultimately, I think a horseless carriage would be much more efficient than a horse,” he continued.
Absolutely, completely and without a doubt wrong.
“The cost of maintaining a horseless carriage would certainly be far less than that of a horse.”
Someone should tell him how very wrong he was. Delilah glanced around the table. Teddy and Camille were staring with rapt attention and Grayson was studying his friend with approval. Good Lord, they were all mad! As well as wrong.
“And a horseless carriage can always be repaired.” Samuel shrugged. “In theory, it can be repaired forever.”
“That’s absurd,” Delilah said without thinking. “You can’t possibly be serious.”
He studied her. “Oh but I am.”
“The way of the future?” The words were out of Delilah’s mouth before she could stop them. Apparently there was a fine line between rude and honest. “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.”
Samuel studied her. “Why?”
She scoffed. “What do you mean why?”
Samuel’s eyes narrowed no more than a fraction. “Why do you think it’s ridiculous?”
“I don’t think it’s ridiculous,” Camille said quickly. “I think it sounds most exciting.”
Delilah ignored her. “I don’t think it’s ridiculous either. It is ridiculous.”
“Why?” Samuel asked again.
“We’ve all seen horseless carriages, at exhibitions and the like. Each and every one of us.” Delilah gestured at the rest of the group. “Why, on occasion, one even sees one of those devices attempting to sputter its way down a road, at great inconvenience to the rest of us I might add.”
“One would hate to see you inconvenienced,” Camille murmured.
“They’re nothing more than toys,” Delilah continued without pause. “Playthings for men who refuse to give up being little boys.”
A cool note sounded in Samuel’s voice. “Then I gather you have not been impressed?”
“I think they’re most impressive.” Teddy cast the group a bright smile.
“Impressed?” Delilah snorted. “Hardly. They’ll never be practical. They’re noisy. They’re messy. They spew great fumes. They’re not the least bit reliable. They look extraordinarily uncomfortable—”
“Have you ever ridden in one?” Samuel asked in a clipped tone.
“Absolutely not!” She scoffed. “Nor do I ever intend to.”
“You’ll get your chance soon enough,” Grayson said under his breath.
“Admittedly, there is still work to be done.” Sam’s words were measured. “This is the beginning of an entirely new mode of transportation.”
“Actually, Mr. Russell—Sam, it’s not the beginning is it?” Delilah asked.
Samuel’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“As far back as Leonardo da Vinci, man has been trying to develop a vehicle that would move under its own power. That was some four hundred years ago. Indeed, history is full of failed attempts to develop horseless carriages.” Delilah reached for her wine. “I should think if someone was going to invent a vehicle that actually worked they would have done so by now.”
Camille stared at her sister. “How did you know that?”
“I do read more than romantic novels, Camille.” Apparently Camille not only thought her sister was unable to comport herself in polite society but she considered her uninformed as well. “I keep up on current events, politics and the like, even if I find some of it quite dull. And I am well versed in history.”
“We had some very progressive instructors at Miss Bicklesham’s,” Teddy said in a confidential manner. “One in particular was fascinated by mankind’s history of invention.”
“I should have attended Miss Bicklesham’s,” Camille murmured.
“And even that instructor accepted the basic fact that man will never be able to replace horses.” Delilah smiled in triumph and sipped her wine.
“Until now,” Sam said coolly.
“Horses are dependable, loyal, intelligent creatures,” she said. “They have served man well for eons and will continue to do so far into the future.”
“I’m not questioning the basic nature of the horse,” Samuel said sharply. Obviously she was beginning to annoy him as much as he annoyed her. Good. “But I would much rather depend on something I control rather than something that has a mind of its own.”
“Perhaps the fault lies in you for not being able to control a horse,” Delilah said with a smug smile.
“I have no particular difficulties controlling horses.” His manner was matter-of-fact but his hands flexed on the table. Apparently, Sam had no difficulties controlling himself as well. “I simply have more confidence in my own abilities than that of a dumb animal.”
“I daresay, most of the horses I know are far more intelligent than their riders,” Delilah said pointedly.
Samuel smiled. “Friends of yours?”
“Sam has just come from meeting with a gentleman in Germany.” Grayson said. “A Mr. Benz who has made remarkable progress in the development of what he calls motorwagons.”
“Motorwagons?” Delilah’s brow rose. “What a silly word.”
“No more so than telephone or photograph, when one thinks about it,” Teddy said pleasantly.
“It doesn’t matter what you call it.” Samuel drummed his fingers on the table. “The fact of the matter is, given the progress being made in the development of new propulsion methods, the motorwagon is here to stay.”
Delilah met his gaze directly. “Utter, complete and total nonsense. A waste of time, money, effort and energy.”
Samuel’s gaze didn’t waver from hers. “I suspect the same thing was probably said about steam locomotives. History has proven those skeptics wrong. Today, we wouldn’t think of a world without trains.”
“That’s an entirely different matter.” Delilah adopted a lofty tone although he did have a point.
“And time will prove those short-sighted cynics wrong as well.” Samuel smiled. She wanted to smack him but settled for returning his smug smile. “Or, more likely, their refusal to be seduced by the lure of the impossible will be shown to be most intelligent.”
“It’s overcoming the impossible that has driven man since he first discovered the secret of fire.” Samuel leaned forward slightly. “Mankind’s greatest discoveries have come about in spite of nay-sayers who couldn’t see past the nose on their faces. Impossible, Delilah, is merely improbable not yet accomplished.”
For an endless moment, Samuel’s gaze locked with hers. Silence fell around the table. The oddest thought struck Delilah that this man was as exciting as he was annoying. She’d forgotten that or perhaps simply ignored it.
“I’m so glad she apologized before dinner,” Camille murmured.
Camille wasn’t alone of course. As late as 1903, a Michigan banker advised Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company saying, “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” Rackham invested anyway, borrowing $5000 to buy stock. He sold it 16 years later for $12.5 million.
In the course of researching for a book, you often stumble across fascinating real life stories.
Meet Bertha Benz, Karl Benz’s wife and a true heroine. In 1888, she became the first person to complete a long distance trip by automobile. In an effort to support and publicize her husband’s work and without telling him (she left him a letter) or the authorities, she took her two sons and drove the motorwagon 66 miles through Germany to visit her mother. Along the way she unclogged a fuel pipe with a hatpin and used a garter to repair the ignition. By the time she returned home she had driven over 120 miles. Today, motorists can travel the path of her historic trip on the Bertha Benz Memorial route. Honestly, you can’t make stuff like this up.
By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve had a hero involved with horseless carriages. In The Princess and the Pea, the hero—a down on his luck earl—was working on his own automobile. That was set in 1895 and the world of horseless carriage had come a long way for 1887. By the way—a new print edition of The Princess and the Pea comes out in September!
If you’re visiting Millworth Manor in advance of something like, oh, say a wedding you’re going to be in for a number of other events, gatherings and parties including at least one garden party. But at Millworth in 1887 that also means croquet and tennis.
I’ve always liked playing tennis even if I’ve never played well. But then I never had to play in a long skirt with a bustle. Too bad, it would have given me a great excuse. In 1887, that’s exactly how women played.
These clippings are fron the 1880’s.
And of course, under the bustles and long skirts, one did need the proper corset. But do we really believing that this advertised corset permits full expansion of lungs and perfect freedom of movement? Yeah, right.
This is John Lavery’s A Rally painted in 1885. Beautiful dress. Looks a bit hot . . .
In case you think I’m making all this up with a few etchings and a painting, here are some 1880’s photographs of lady tennis players.
It takes a fierce competitor to do well under these conditions and Delilah, Lady Hargate, has always played to win. In this excerpt from The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride, Delilah has just torn some garden party guests away from perusal of Sam’s motorwagon and is steering them toward the tennis courts. . .
Goodness, it was like herding recalcitrant sheep. Delilah was tempted to smack Camille’s bustled backside with her racquet to get them all to walk a bit quicker.
“I hope you’re a good player.” Sam caught up to Delilah.
“I am.” She cast him a smug smile.
“Good.” He chuckled. “As I requested you be my partner.”
She stopped in mid-stride and stared at him. “Why on earth would you do that?”
“Because I am no fool, Delilah.” He hooked his arm though hers and started after the others. “I am not stupid enough to allow you to be on the opposite side of the net with something as potentially lethal as a tennis ball at your disposal.”
She tried and failed to stifle an amused smile. “Frightened are you?”
“There are any number of emotions you invoke in me, my dear.” Amusement curved his lips. “Fear is not one of them.”
“Perhaps then you’re not as clever as you think.”
“Perhaps.” He chuckled. “Besides, if we are attempting to act as if we have never met before, I don’t think playing against one another is wise. Your irritation at my very existence is already proving harder to disguise than you expected.” He glanced at her. “Or am I wrong?”
“No.” She sighed. “You’re right. It is hard to keep my feelings entirely to myself.”
They walked on in silence for a few minutes.
“Why are you so angry with me?”
“I’m not . . .” Why deny it? He wouldn’t believe her anyway. “Well, yes, I suppose I am.”
“Why? What have I done?”
“Nothing, really. Nothing specific that is. It’s just . . .” She stopped and glared at him. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
He frowned. “Are you going to stamp your foot?”
“Of course not. That would be childish.” Although she had come very close to doing exactly that.
“Delilah.” His voice softened and again he took her arm and they started after the others. “I am here and I don’t intend to leave. I am sorry if that upsets your plans but we will both have to make the best of it.”
“Now, you’re being reasonable.”
“You find it annoying don’t you?”
“Of course I do.” She paused. “But then you know that.”
“I do.” He chuckled.
She sighed. “I do wish you wouldn’t find everything I say quite so amusing.”
“It’s annoying isn’t it?”
“You know full well it is.” She blew a long breath. “You probably wanted to be my partner because it would easier to annoy me.”
“Not at all.” He paused. “Although it’s not a bad reason.”
“But aside from the fact that I didn’t think it was a good idea to be on opposing sides, you strike me as a competitive type of woman.”
She glanced at him. “I’m not sure if that is a compliment or a criticism.”
He shrugged. “I suppose it depends on how you look at it.
“I simply think if one is going to play a game, one should play to win.”
“My sentiments exactly.” He grinned. “And that, my dear Lady Hargate, is why I wanted you as my partner.”
“Because you like to win.”
“Because I too play to win.” A wicked smile quirked his lips. “And I never accept defeat.”
There’s nothing like a wedding at Millworth Manor! And the 1887 wedding of Camille and Grayson will be an affair to remember—in more ways than one for her sister. Delilah feels the unforgettable night she and Sam spent together in New York is best, well, forgotten. Not an easy task when Sam shows up at Millworth for the wedding and discovers there was more to the lovely widow than he had thought. . .
“As much as that look might strike fear into the heart of any man, I’m not the least bit worried, Delilah.” He snapped the book closed. “Or should I say Mrs. Hargate?”
She had the good grace to blush. “That was a mistaken assumption on your part.”
“On my part?” He snorted. “That’s not how I remember it. I remember you distinctly said you were Mrs. Hargate.”
“I might, possibly, have given you the impression . . .”
“There’s no possibly about it.” He replaced the book on the shelf. “If I recall correctly, and I have an excellent memory, you led me to believe you were someone, or something, other than who and what you are.”
“No more so than you led me to believe you were someone or something other than who you are.”
Apparently, Delilah subscribed to the classic philosophy that the best defense was a good offence. Again, he stifled a smile. The woman might well be just as interesting when she was annoyed as when she was flirtatious. Although she had been delightful.
“That was indeed a mistake and might I add it was a mistake on your part.” He shook his head. “I never said I was anyone other than who I am. I’m certainly not to blame for your incorrect assumption.”
“It seems I made any number of mistakes when I was in New York.” She paused. “I would prefer to forget them.”
“All of them?”
“Yes, of course, all of them.”
“Then we may have a problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
“Whereas you may have made a mistake when last we met, I don’t consider anything that passed between us a mistake.”
“Come now, Mr. Russell—”
He held up his hand to stop her. “Although admittedly, the moment I realized you thought I was an employee of Mr. Moore’s and not the other way around, I should have corrected you.”
“Yes,” she said in a haughty manner. “You most certainly should have.”
“Would it have made a difference?”
“I don’t know. It might have, given your friendship with Grayson.” She thought for a moment then sighed. “But probably not.”
“Another mistake then?”
“A momentary error in judgment,” she said firmly.
“A mistake,” he said just as firmly.
“Yes, yes.” She waved off his comment. “In hindsight, yes. But my intentions were noble.”
“Pretending to be someone you’re not is noble?” He scoffed. “Explain that logic to me.”
“It really needs no explanation.” She stared at him at if he were entirely too stupid to understand. “As I had incorrectly assumed that you were an employee of an associate of Grayson’s, I thought you might be, well, intimidated—”
She glared. “What do you find so amusing?”
“That you thought I would be intimidated.” He chuckled. “By what? By Lady Hargate rather than Mrs. Hargate?”
Her eyes narrowed.
“You’re a snob, aren’t you, Lady Hargate?”
“I most certainly . . .” Her lips curved upwards in a superior smile. “I simply know my place in the world. Do you?”
“I always have,” he said in a mild manner he suspected might drive her mad. Her smile wavered a bit. He was right. “I don’t need a title to prove it. We don’t have titles in America.”
She sniffed. “Pity.”
But this isn’t the first wedding to be held at Millworth and it certainly won’t be the last. Take a look at the Millworth Manor scrapbook of bridal fashions through the years.
In the Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride, Camille’s wedding dress was based on this fabulous blue gown from an 1886 edition of the French ladies’ magazine Le Croquet. Of course Camille’s dress is a Worth creation and the only info I have about this gown is in French and all I retained from high school and college French is “Où est la bibliothèque.”
Camille and her twin sister Beryl have never been close with their younger sister, Delilha. But they are working on it. And when Camille tries on her gown, well, it’s a special moment for the sisters . . .
A scant half an hour later, Camille stood in the sitting room all three sisters had shared in their youth. A tall mirror had been brought in from a dressing room and reflected Camille in the gown she would wear when she promised to share Grayson’s life forever. The seamstress and her assistant stood off to one side beaming. Teddy and Delilah perched on a settee and stared.
The gown fit like a kid glove and the overall effect was one of perfection itself.
Mr. Worth had outdone himself. The gown was magnificent, trimmed with ecru colored lace and edged with tiny pearls. Peach colored satin rosettes, as perfectly crafted as if they were real roses, were gathered on either side of the waist and trailed down the back of the gown. As a widow, Camille would never wear white but the blue silk was perfect for her. The color was a pale version of the blue of Camille’s eyes. A small diamond broach that Mother had worn when she had married Father was pinned to the center of the bodice. With the fair color of Camille’s hair and the deep blue of her eyes, her sister was every bit as magnificent as the gown.
“Well?” Camille studied herself in the mirror. “What do you think?”
“It’s quite simply stunning.” Teddy stared. “It’s perfect, Camille. Absolutely perfect.”
“Delilah?” Camille pulled her gaze from the mirror and glanced at her sister. “Will it do, do you think?”
For a moment, Delilah was again a young girl staring at an beautiful older sister in a glorious ball gown who, on those rare occasions, didn’t mind the presence of a younger sister. Then she never would have cared what Delilah thought. Now, well, now was different.
A lump lodged in Delilah’s throat and she swallowed hard. “You look like a princess in a fairy tale.”
“I do, don’t I?” Camille laughed with delight and her gaze met her sister’s. “Thank you.”
Delilah cleared her throat. “Thank you for . . . for letting me be part of this.”
“You’re my only younger sister and you should be part of my life. That you haven’t been in the past is nearly unforgiveable. This is long overdue and I am so sorry.”
Delilah nodded and choked back what felt suspiciously like a tear.
“Goodness, I’ve never seen the two of you being at all sentimental,” Teddy said in a teasing manner then sobered. “I need to apologize as well.”
Camille’s brow rose. “Oh? Do you too have a younger sister you treated abominably in the past?”
“No, I don’t have sisters, but . . .” Teddy blew a long breath. “Dee has been my dearest friend for much of my life. I must confess I have always resented the way you treated her.”
“You have been a good, true friend to her.” Camille studied the younger woman. “She was lucky to have you.”
“And I was lucky to have her,” Teddy said firmly. “And, while I admit I was skeptical when she told me you and Beryl and she had agreed to be better sisters to one another, this time spent with both of you has shown me that I was wrong to doubt you.”
“Thank you, Teddy.” Camille paused. “So are we friends as well now?”
“I’d like that.” Teddy smiled.
“Apparently, there’s nothing like an exquisite, expensive Paris gown to bring sisters and friends together,” Delilah said wryly.
So there you have it—some of the background that went into writing The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride. All of this went out in newsletters in advance of the release of the book and I then posted it here. I’m going to try very hard to send out a monthly newsletter with excerpts and bits of research, talking about writing or anything that strikes me as moderately interesting starting in April 2014. You can sign up for the newsletter on my home page.
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If you haven’t read the prologue for The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister, well, you should.
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Thanks for reading! See ya soon!