Monday, June 21, 2010
a dandy comes to call, part 2
He tugged at his waistcoat, the brocade too bright, the buttons too large and brassy. "Ghastly, isn't it? Effective, though. Priscilla was taken in as well."
Deep in the bath water, my hands clenched into fists. If he had purposely misled my heroine, I didn't want to hear any more. "So you're a walking lie."
Alston jerked to his feet, every line of his body stiff. "Duty and honor are my life." The corners of his mouth sagged, weighing down his shoulders. "I just never dreamed that fulfilling one would force me to abandon the other." He slumped back down onto the side of the tub, and I wondered which he had chosen. "It is far more difficult than I supposed to be a spy."
A spy? At last his claim that "I am not at all what I seem" made sense. "You're a Union spy, working undercover in the South!"
He nodded, and the misery on his face quickly erased my elation at having learned his secret. "That's why I'm here," he said. "I need your help. I'm hoping you can write me out of the mess I've made."
I studied him for a moment. He might just be playing to my writer's vanity. But if this was an act, it was a good one. "It sounds as if we have a great deal to discuss."
The light came back into his eyes. "You'll write it?"
"No promises until I hear what you have to say. Perhaps you wouldn't mind waiting somewhere else...my bath water is growing cold."
"Of course," he said, and promptly disappeared.
I dried off and dressed in record time, then eased open the bathroom door. Raising one of the candles high overhead, I peeked into the bedroom. "Mr. Buchanan?" No sign of the dashing gentleman in the garish waistcoat. My gut twisted. What if he had departed, never to return?
I tiptoed through the darkened house, finding him at last in the kitchen. "Thank you," he said, gesturing to the candle as I set it down in front of him on the butcher block tabletop. "The light sources of your period are difficult on the eyes. That's why I waited to speak until you were in your bath. It's the only time you light candles."
I pulled out a chair and sat down across from him. "Before I agree to do this, there's something I must know." His gaze met mine, level and unblinking. "If you want to set the record straight, why aren't you talking to Julianne MacLean, or Linda Howard, or...or...Nora Roberts? They could write you out of anything, and people would be certain to read your story. Why me?"
He swiped the back of one hand across his eyes. "You're Southern, and as stubborn as my Priscilla. If anyone can convince her to forgive me, you can." He paused. "But above all, I know how much you value honor."
Realization dawned. "And you sacrificed honor to duty." Alston's head dipped once, slowly. I stood and slid my laptop off the kitchen counter. "In my time, this machine is how a writer takes notes. Do you mind?" He motioned me back to my seat. I raised the lid of my MacBook, clicked on Word, and opened a new file. "So, how did you become a spy?"
Alston's face twisted in the computer screen's glow. He pulled a flask from an inside pocket of his jacket and downed a long swig. "It all began eighteen months before I met Priscilla, when my father betrayed me in the worst way imaginable. I was so desperate for revenge, never thinking where it might lead..."
He talked late into the night. Long before he finished, I knew he was right. So what if a Civil War romance would be a tough sale, perhaps an impossible one? His was a story that had to be told, and I wanted to be the one to tell it.
Little did I know that in helping Alston find his answers, I would find so many of my own.
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