Apr 5 2011 11:00am
“Emily & Colin’s Wedding”: A Tears of Pearl Prequel Story by Tasha Alexander
Tears of Pearl: Looking forward to the joys of connubial bliss, newlyweds Lady Emily and Colin Hargreaves set out toward Turkey for an exotic honeymoon. But on their first night in the city, a harem girl is found murdered—strangled in the courtyard of the Sultan’s lavish Topkapi Palace. Sir Richard St. Clare, an Englishman who works at the embassy in Constantinople, is present and recognizes the girl as his own daughter who was kidnapped twenty years earlier. Emily and Colin promise the heartbroken father they’ll find her killer.
As a woman, Emily is given access to the forbidden world of the harem and quickly discovers that its mysterious, sheltered walls offer no protection from a ruthless murderer. Soon, the Valide (mother to the Sultan) is found strangled with a silken bowstring and the head Eunuch is brutally slain.
When the killer strikes again, kidnapping a concubine and threatening to kill her unless Emily agrees to meet him in secret, she cannot wait for Colin or the authorities to come to her rescue. In a heart-stopping finale, Emily must rely on her own sharp wits if she is to stop a killer bent on taking revenge no matter how many innocent lives he leaves in his wake.
Check out Tasha Alexander's Tears of Pearl prequel story “Emily & Colin's Wedding” from the the Lady Emily Mysteries series.
Emily and Colin’s Wedding
by Tasha Alexander
Merrily rose the bridal strain,
With the pipe of reed and the wild harp ringing,
With the Libyan flute, and the dancers’ train,
And the bright-haired Muses singing.
–Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis
I’d never given the slightest consideration to the implications of being a drenched, mud-splattered bride. The rain, cold and heartless, had not daunted us in the least. Its contrast to the warmth of our urgent kisses only increased the bliss that surged through my trembling body after I agreed to abandon convention (as well as my mother’s—and Queen Victoria’s—carefully orchestrated plans for a grand society wedding) and marry my dashing fiancé, Colin Hargreaves, at once, as we stood on the cliff path on the Greek island of Santorini.
I had assumed, in the moment, that we’d take our vows rain-covered and rumpled, though I’d not worked out the mechanics of how such a ceremony would be managed. Logistics rarely have a place at such times. What could be more jarring than to worry about details in the midst of a grand romantic gesture? Colin told me he had a license; the rest could only be trifles. If Buckingham Palace relied on him as one of its finest agents, capable of bringing any mission to a satisfactory conclusion, I had no need for concern. I slipped my arm around his waist and nestled my head below his shoulder as he pulled me close. We turned away from the Aegean Sea, its foamy grey waves crashing into the rocks far below us.
“I’ve a priest on a retainer,” Colin said, slowing his pace so I could keep up with his long strides. We’d had a tumultuous few weeks. I’d traveled to Vienna to investigate a murder and clear from suspicion the husband of one of my dearest friends. Colin was there on palace business, charged with stopping anarchists from hatching a nefarious scheme to assassinate the Kaiser. While the release of our friend from prison was cause for much celebration, our joy was tempered with mourning. Colin’s former mistress, a woman of grace and sophistication—who treated me with utter contempt—had lost her life trying to help him when she thought the group was poised to detonate a bomb in the city.
It had been a terrible blow to him, and though I hate to admit it, it was difficult to watch him mourn. I accepted Colin had loved her once, years ago before we’d met, and I understood all too well the pain of grieving. Nonetheless, I’d felt some anxiety coming to meet him in Greece, where we’d agreed to rendezvous at my villa after he’d had time to contemplate his loss.“A priest on a retainer? I didn’t know such a thing was possible. Are we converting to the Orthodox faith?” I asked, my eyebrow jutting high, a lightness that had been absent for too long returning to my chest.
“I’m willing to risk exposure to a certain amount of your mother’s wrath, Emily, but well know where to draw the line. He’s from St. Paul’s in Athens. An Anglican.”
“Is anything beyond your reach?”
“Nothing that matters,” he said.
The rain was pounding on us, falling in sheets. He took my hand and together we ran towards the house, where Mrs. Katevatis, my Greek cook, stood beaming as the sound of singing and the crashing of a tambourine echoed from the direction of the kitchen. She crossed to me at once and took me in her strong arms, squeezing me hard enough to send a stream of water flowing to the floor from my gown.
“Lady Ashton, we have gathered the entire village, and I apologize to say the ouzo has been opened,” she said. “I told them no celebration until the ceremony is complete. They do not listen.”
“That’s perfectly all right,” Colin said. “So long as they haven’t touched the champagne.”
“Champagne? How did you manage that? You’ve planned more than you let on,” I said.
He grinned. “Perhaps. But I can’t take the credit in this case. A dear friend of yours sorted it out directly with Moët.”
“But how—” I was interrupted by Meg, my maid, clattering down the stone steps, the smile on her face replaced with a look of abject horror when she saw the state of my hair and dress.
“Mud, madam?” Her voice strained. “And you’re positively soaked.”
“We will take care of that,” Mrs. Katevatis said, nodding at my fiancé. “We have everything prepared just as you asked.”
Colin squeezed my hand and kissed my cheek before releasing me to them. I started up the steps, which had been strewn with dark red rose petals that marked the way to my chamber. Inside, more roses, orchids, cuttings of bougainvillea, and bouquets of bright wildflowers filled vases on every surface. The scene was all gorgeous perfection until an overpowering scent of sulfur wafted towards me.
“Your bath is ready,” Mrs. Katevatis said. I’d converted half of what had been an excessively large dressing room into a modern bathroom, complete with a deep soaking tub, and it was from there that came the malodorous cloud.
Meg crinkled her nose. “It’s awful.”
I was tempted to agree, but the blaze of shining pride emanating from Mrs. Katevatis’ black eyes stopped me.
“My own Adelphos helped row to Palea Kameni and gather water from the hot spring. It is a very special place, you see.”
“And Mr. Hargreaves left this for you.” Meg handed me a crisp linen envelope. “I’m to let you read it and then get you in the bath.” Mrs. Katevatis excused herself and started back to the kitchen, where I hoped she was making baklava. Meg ducked into the bathroom, giving me a measure of privacy. I leaned my elbows on the wide sill of the window shut fast against the rain and opened Colin’s letter.
In ancient Greece, brides bathed in waters brought from sacred streams to prepare for their weddings. You, more beautiful than Helen, must be equally pampered…
Steam hung heavy in the bathroom; they must have reheated the water after its journey across the caldera. After Meg helped me out of my devastated dress (making no attempt to conceal her disdain for its condition), I slipped into the tub, closing my eyes as she rubbed soap mercilessly through my tangled hair. Helen, I hoped, was treated in a gentler manner.
The minerals in the water may have not have smelled pleasant, but they worked on my tired muscles like a tonic. I’d never before had such a relaxing bath. Soon, however, I needed to turn my attention to the question of what to wear. I’d brought a handful of evening gowns, enough only to satisfy social requirements on the boat from Southampton, and something less formal did not seem appropriate for the occasion. As I considered the options before me, I was drawn to a dress of pale blue damask that matched my eyes. It was one of my favorites, and in my estimation, one of the finest ever made by Mr. Worth.Garlands of tulle draped across the low-cut bodice, creating elegant curves above a tightly cinched waist. A layer of the most delicate Venetian lace hung over the umbrella skirt on a diagonal line formed by more garlands in the front while falling longer in the back as a modest train. The dress sparkled with lustrous pearls and shimmering crystals sewn into the cloth.
Once she’d helped me into the dress, Meg began to shape my still damp hair into long ringlets that framed my face and cascaded down my back. I’d patently refused to wait for it to dry. She could force it into fashionable submission some other day. I was beyond eager and could not get down to Colin quickly enough.
Looking me over to ensure I was properly groomed, Meg gave a satisfied smile and pulled from her apron pocket a slim parcel wrapped in thin tissue. “Madame du Lac sent this,” she said.
Cécile du Lac and I had been friends for some years now, bonding over the deaths of our husbands—my first, her only. We’d each been widowed soon after our weddings, and she’d sworn off matrimony entirely since. When we met, neither of us felt grieved at finding ourselves alone, and to have a companion who understood the pain of pretending to mourn was invaluable. Later, when I’d come to better appreciate my late husband’s character and fell in love with him, too late, she remained a close confidante, never judging me for having changed my mind or for having been guilty of not trying to know him better when he was alive.
With care, I pulled apart the package, revealing a long panel of the most delicate Brussels lace, its fine linen rich with flowers and elaborate scrollwork. I was so taken with it I hardly noticed Meg had opened the door until I heard a familiar voice.“I wouldn’t be so crass as to give you the veil I wore at my own wedding,” Cécile said, embracing me and kissing my cheeks. “To do so would without question curse you endlessly, given the example of my own marriage. This belonged to my sister, whose connubial bliss is at once inspirational and repulsive.” Cécile’s relationship with her husband, a man chosen by her parents against her wishes, had lacked even the barest hint of affection. She’d told me once the only useful thing he’d ever done was to teach her to shoot and that her only regret was that he died of cholera and not at her own hand.
I laughed, delighted to find her here. “This is a most wonderful surprise. But how—”
“Monsieur Hargreaves informed me he was confident you would agree to elope, and I was not about to be left out of the plans. I set off from Paris as soon as possible. But not before I’d arranged to have champagne delivered to you. A day without champagne is a mistake. A wedding without it, a tragedy.” With that, she opened the door, where a servant stood waiting with a bottle of Moët and two glasses. Taking the tray from him, she shooed him away.
“I wish you endless happiness.” She raised her glass and we drank. I delighted in the explosion of starry bubbles in my mouth. Before pouring more, Cécile draped the veil over my head, making small adjustments until she was content with its position.
“I am told,” she continued, “that ancient brides were swathed in veils, their faces not to be seen by the groom until after the wedding. I think, though, Monsieur Hargreaves would be disappointed if he had to wait so long.”
“I’d be worried if he wasn’t,” I said. “The rituals that greeted them at their new husband’s home were the same used to mark the arrival of a slave.” I paused. “You do think I’m doing the right thing, don’t you?”
Cécile erupted in laughter. “Chérie, if I did not, I would be dragging you off the island at this very moment. I’d marry Monsieur Hargreaves myself if I could. A man that handsome should never be dismissed. Come now, we’ve kept him waiting long enough.”
A darker than usual twilight had enveloped Imerovigli, the small village near Fira. The Aegean below us was blue again—more midnight than sapphire—and the clouds had started to thin, producing only a fine mist. Candles lit our way as we walked to the small chapel my first husband, Philip, Viscount Ashton, had attached to the villa he left me upon his death nearly four years ago. It was bittersweet to think of him now, as I prepared to marry the man who’d been his best friend.
All hints of melancholy raced away from me the instant I saw Colin, devastatingly handsome in evening kit, white tie gleaming against his crisp shirt as he stood at the small stone altar. A robed priest was next to him on one side, Aristo Papadakos, a woodworker whom Cécile had befriended when we first started coming to Santorini, on the other. Beyond that, the chapel was empty. My arm still looped through Cécile’s, I started towards them tentatively, surprised to find myself shaky with nerves. My friend kissed me on both cheeks when we reached the prayer rail, and I reached for Colin.
I felt his hand, warm and strong, on mine as we four stood in front of the holy man. I heard myself uttering words about honoring and loving and keeping in sickness and health, heard Colin promise the same to me, but the things most real to me were the warmth in his dark eyes and the overwhelming sensation of heat and joy and rapturous bliss building inside me. My hand trembled with pleasure as I felt a cool band of gold slide onto my finger. Then, kneeling next to each other, he leaned his head against mine as the priest recited a prayer before pronouncing us man and wife.
It is simply impossible to believe, even for an instant, that two happier people have ever walked the earth. Standing now, we faced each other, and my husband took my face gently in his hands and brought his lips to mine, leaving a tantalizing promise of more kisses to come. Almost at once, Cécile stepped forward, pulling both of us into her arms.
“My heart, Monsieur Hargreaves, breaks a little to see you married,” she said. “But I forgive you so long as you keep her happy.” Mr. Papadakos, grinning, shook our hands with violent enthusiasm. Then, turning on his heel, he gave a bright shout and flung open the chapel doors, where all our friends from the village had gathered. Their boisterous mood suggested there was little, if any, ouzo remaining.
“I thought a private ceremony was in order,” my husband—my husband!—said. “But to deny them a share in the celebration seemed cruel, to you as well as them. I know how you adore Mrs. Katevatis’ feasts.”
The scene that greeted us in the long, whitewashed dining room was nothing short of spectacular. Spanikopita and kreatopitakia were only the start. Along with the spinach and meat pies, there were piles of herbed chicken and spicy lamb, dolmades, and platter after platter of pastries dripping with honey: baklava and kadaifi, galaktoboureko and loukoumathes. Jubilant strains of Greek folk music filled the villa.
“One more delicious than the next,” Colin said, breaking the crispy end off a triangular tyropitakia, the tangy cheese filling peeking through the phyllo crust. I agreed, but found myself rather too excited and nervous to eat much, and refused even a glass of champagne, focusing instead on the music and a large group dancing in the sitting room across the corridor. They’d pushed all the furniture to the walls, leaving plenty of open space for them to circle and jump. Cécile had joined them, completely disinterested in the fact the dance was supposed to be only for men.
“You’re not hungry?” Colin asked, looking at the full plate in front of me.
“No….yes…I…” I met his eyes then quickly looked at the floor.
“You’re stunning, you know,” he said. “I nearly keeled over when you walked into the chapel. I can’t believe…” His voice trailed and he touched my arm, looking intently into my eyes. “It’s awfully late, isn’t it?”
My skin glowed, prickly with anticipation. “I’m beginning to see the wisdom of requiring that weddings take place before noon.”
“Yes. Unfortunate that our special license removed such provisions. However…” He studied our guests and with a confident grin rose to his feet. “I think we’ve stayed long enough to be forgiven.” He leapt on top of his chair and clapped his hand, commanding the immediate attention of everyone within earshot.
Cheers greeted him, but he silenced them quickly, his words translated into Greek by Mrs. Katevatis’s son. “We are, of course, immensely grateful that you’ve all shared in our happiness tonight. But now we must beg your leave. Unlike his ancient counterparts, this groom plans to unveil his bride in private.”
This drew more shouts of delight and several bawdy songs, but before long we managed to make our way to the stairs and up to the room Colin had taken as his own. He started to turn the doorknob, then slowed.
“I’ve more traditional gifts for you back in England, but wanted to give you this tonight.” He pushed the door open and I gasped at the sight of a spectacular object on a round table. It was a vase—Greek, a pelike or storage jar, red-figure, probably fourth century, and standing nearly twenty inches high. Two slender handles supported its wide top, the form of the pottery a perfect complement to the elegant figures covering it. “I’m well aware that you’re not a supporter of Achilles, but I think you should give careful consideration to his parents.”
“Peleus and Thetis?” I asked, entering the room and heading straight for the table.
“Yes,” he said. “Thetis was a Nereid, a sea nymph.”
“And a shape shifter.”
“Quite right. And stunningly beautiful, which drew the attention of Zeus, who was desperate for her until he heard news of a prophecy that said her son would be stronger than his father.”
“An outcome of horrifying possibility for the king of the gods,” I said.
“Zeus abandoned his suit and decided she should marry a mortal.”
“Fortunate girl.” I stepped closer to him.
He lifted my chin and kissed me. “You approve of mortal husbands?”
“So far I’d say they’re more than satisfactory,” I said, returning his kiss.
“Thetis was less easy to convince. Peleus, who had seen her and fallen in love, could hardly keep up with her. Every time he tried to persuade her to marry him, she changed shape.”
“Is this when Chiron the centaur intervened?”
“Yes. Chiron implored him to cling to her as she shifted from form to form—that if he still held her when she returned to her true nature, she would be his.” He kissed me again. “Which reminds me something of the girl standing before me now, who would only agree to marry me when she was confident I’d accept her true nature. Accept and never try to hinder or alter it.”
“Was I too awful?”
“Not at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t love you so well if you were different in the slightest.”
“And Peleus?” I asked, smiling.
“Held tight to the object of his affection as she changed from fire to water to beast until at last she was once again a nymph. She gazed into his loving eyes and agreed to make him the happiest of men.”
“Somehow I doubt it was so romantic.”
“You’ll allow me some leeway tonight, I hope.”
“How could I not?”
“They were married on Mount Pelion, where all the gods and goddesses joined them to celebrate.”
“Their baklava couldn’t have been nearly so good as ours,” I said. Gingerly, I picked up the vase. “This is beyond exquisite. How can I ever thank you?” Thetis crouched, wrenching her body to avoid Peleus’ grasp as a sea monster twisted around his leg. The artist had painted her body white, a stark contrast to the other red figures. Around the couple, nymphs fled, drawn with such deft grace I half believed them capable of springing off the surface.
“I thought a Greek vase would remind you of the early days of our courtship.” He took the piece from me and returned it to the table.
“When I thought you’d killed my husband?” I sat on the edge of the bed.
“It was not, perhaps, your finest moment,” he said, laughter in his voice as he crossed to me. “I’m thankful you came to your senses.”
“And I’m thankful you have. We’ve avoided society madness and a wedding at Windsor. I’d begun to give up hope I’d ever be able to persuade you to act against the Queen’s wishes.”
“There will be, I’m certain, some difficulties to be faced as a result. But, my dear wife, you are irresistible. I could wait no longer.” He sat next to me, took my hands in his, and kissed them each in turn.
“Is it worth Her Majesty’s wrath?” I asked.
“Worth the wrath of Genghis Khan. Nothing could keep me from you a moment longer.”
“I wouldn’t wish Genghis on you. You’ve had it hard enough already.”
“But easier than Peleus,” he said. “You’ve never turned to fire in my arms.”
“Not yet,” I said, a delicious feeling of wickedness taking me by surprise and making me bold. “But I think, if you try hard enough, that might change tonight.”
It did not, in fact, require much effort at all.
This story originally appeared at She Loves Hot Reads.
Tasha Alexander attended the University of Notre Dame, where she signed on as an English major in order to have a legitimate excuse for spending all her time reading. She lived in Amsterdam, London, Wyoming, Vermont, Connecticut, and Tennessee before settling in Chicago.