Jul 13 2014 12:00pm
Like Sitting Down with Old Friends: Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily Series
Today we're thrilled to host Tasha Alexander on the site. Tasha is the author of the Lady Emily historical mystery series. Despite the focus of the series being around the cases Lady Emily finds herself involved with, there is also a strong romantic tie for Emily. Tasha is here to talk about that relationship and finding the precarious balance between “Will they” or “won't they?” Thanks, Tasha!
One of my earliest memories is of the moment I realized I knew how to read. My mother was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods aloud to me and all of a sudden, as I was following along, I saw that I was further ahead of her on the page. You didn’t need a grown-up for books! From that instant, I greedily tore through everything I could: books, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, whatever was at hand. And like all of us possessed with the Insatiable Reader Gene, I soon started to discover what I liked best in books. I have always gravitated to historicals, and I like stories that include a strong relationship, particularly when that relationship develops over the course of a series. I tend to read quickly, and that means I finish books I love far too fast, so there’s little I love more than a long-running series. I want to keep revisiting characters I love.
When I started writing And Only to Deceive, the first book in the Emily series, I knew I wanted to give my heroine a love interest, someone who could match her intellect and wit, and who would appreciate the struggles of a woman who finds the bonds of Victorian society increasingly constricting. At the same time, I had to be true to the mores of the time—even an enlightened Victorian gentleman is still a Victorian gentleman. I also needed to have just the right balance when it came to Will They/Won’t They. We all like a little tug of war, so to speak, but it drives me crazy if it goes on for too long.
Over the course of the series, I have tried to depict a strong marriage, where the tension in the novels is not dependent on manufactured problems between the main characters. Good relationships don’t have to be boring—they can be unpredictable, challenging, and full of fire. For me, reading the latest book in a favorite series is like sitting down with old friends and catching up over a bottle of great wine. There’s comfort and familiarity, but always something new happening as well, that propels the narrative—and the relationship—along. If you love a series like I do, I hope you’ll give Emily a try. She’s rather fond of a bottle of great wine. Or, as you’ll find out if you read, port…
Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily Series
|1. And Only to Deceive|
|2. A Poisoned Season|
|3. A Fatal Waltz|
|4. Tears of Pearls|
|5. Dangerous to Know|
|6. A Crimson Warning|
|7. Death in the Floating City|
|8. Behind the Shattered Glass|
|9. The Counterfit Heiress (out 10/14)|
For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was an easy way to escape her overbearing mother, who was set on a grand society match. So when Emily's dashing husband died on safari soon after their wedding, she felt little grief. After all, she barely knew him. Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different man from the one she had married so cavalierly. His journals reveal him to have been a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who, to her surprise, was deeply in love with his wife. Emily becomes fascinated with this new image of her dead husband and she immerses herself in all things ancient and begins to study Greek.
Emily's intellectual pursuits and her desire to learn more about Philip take her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, one of her husband's favorite places. There, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, dangerous secret involving stolen artifacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. And to complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. As she sets out to solve the crime, her search leads to more surprises about Philip and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated.
Get a sneak peek of the first book in Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series with an excerpt of Chapter 1 from And Only to Decieve. Then catch up with the series before the latest installment releases on October 14, 2014. Happy Reading!
Few people would look kindly on my reasons for marrying Philip; neither love nor money nor his title induced me to accept his proposal. Yet, as I look across the spans of Aegean Sea ﬁlling the view from my villa’s balcony, I cannot doubt that it was a surprisingly good decision.
The Viscount Ashton seemed an unlikely candidate to bring anyone much happiness, at least according to my standards. His fortune, moderate good looks, and impeccable manners guaranteed that hapless females would constantly ﬂing themselves at him in the hope of winning his affection. They missed his deﬁning characteristic, ensuring that he would never pay them more than the slightest polite attention: Philip was a hunter.
I mean this, of course, literally. Hunting possessed him. He spent as much time as his fortune would permit pursuing wild beasts. The digniﬁed (although I would not choose to describe it as so) English hunt amused him, but he preferred big game and passed much of his time stalking his quarry on the plains of Africa. He could be found in London only brieﬂy, at the height of the Season, when he limited his prey to potential brides. The image he presented could be described as striking, I suppose. He played the part of daring adventurer well.
My encounter with the dashing viscount began as such things typically do, at a soirée. I found the conversation lacking and longed to return home to the novel that had engrossed me all morning. Philip differed little from other men I met, and I had no interest in continuing the acquaintance. No interest, that is, until I decided to accept the inevitable and agree to marry.
My mother and I do not particularly enjoy each other’s company. From the day the queen kissed me during my presentation at court in Buckingham Palace, I heard from Mother constant reminders that my looks would soon fade, and she admonished me to do my best to catch a husband immediately. That I had refused several good offers continued to vex her, and I will not bore the reader with the details of these trivial events. Sufﬁce it to say that I had little interest in marriage. I cannot claim that this was due to lofty ideals of love or outrage at the submission demanded by many husbands of their wives. Frankly, I considered the proposition of matrimony immensely boring. Married women I knew did scarcely more than bear children and order around their servants. Their time consumed by mundane details, the most excitement for which they could hope was some social event at which they could meet one another and complain about said children and servants. I preferred my life at home. At least as a single woman, I had time to pursue my own interests, read voraciously, and travel when opportunity presented.
Did I marry Philip, then, because of his keen sense of adventure? Did I long to travel to darkest Africa with him? Hardly. I married him because he happened to propose at a moment when accepting him seemed a simple way out of an increasingly unbearable situation.
As the months following my debut progressed, my mother became more and more desperate, her dearest wish having always been to see me make a brilliant match before the end of my ﬁrst Season. She lamented continually; it was nearly impossible to converse with her on any other topic. Any topic, that is, other than the proposals being accepted by the daughters of her friends. She began to point out the slightest wrinkles and imperfections on my face, bemoaning what she considered to be the beginning of the end of my wasted beauty. She cut my allowance, telling me I must learn to live on a pittance if I were determined to be a spinster. The ﬁnal affront came one morning when she entered my room with a dressmaker’s tape. She wanted to measure my waist to see how quickly I was becoming old and fat. I could bear it no longer.
That same afternoon Philip called and asked me to do him the honor of becoming his wife. This came as a complete surprise; I had rarely conversed with him, though we saw each other frequently at social gatherings. Having no interest in hunting or in his superﬁcial charm, I tended to avoid him. I did not realize that the hunter always prefers the quarry that is difﬁcult to catch. He claimed to love me endlessly and said all the pretty words we expect to hear on such an occasion. They meant nothing to me. Living with him could not be worse than continued subjection to my mother’s ranting. I accepted his proposal immediately.
The wedding took place as soon as my trousseau could be assembled. Six months later I found myself a widow. I had known my husband barely long enough for his name to stop sounding foreign on my lips. When I read the telegram, a feeling of relief and freedom swept through my body, causing me to tremble. The butler reached toward me, assuming I would faint. I never faint. Fainting is a result of affectation or too-tight stays; I will succumb to neither.
I felt no grief for the loss of Philip. I hardly knew him. As the astute reader will already have guessed, the hunter rarely has much interest in his quarry once it is caught, except as a trophy. After a brief wedding trip, my new husband returned to Africa, where he spent the months prior to his death hunting with his friends. We exchanged civil, impersonal letters. Then the prescribed period of mourning began. For twelve months I would have to wear nothing but black crepe and avoid nearly all social events. After that I would be allowed silk, but in dull grays and black stripes. Not until two years had passed would I be able to return to an ordinary existence.
Philip settled irrevocably upon me a large fortune, and, much to my surprise, I now had at my disposal not only the London town house but also my husband’s country manor, a place I had yet to see. Although the property was, of course, entailed, Philip’s family insisted that I did not need to ﬁnd a new home. Because we had no children, Philip’s heir was his sister’s son. The boy, called Alexander, was three years old and quitecomfortably ensconced in his parents’ house. He did not yet need to relocate to the family seat.
For more than a year, I stayed in London, left for dead as all good widows are. Relief came unexpectedly in the form of my husband’s friend, Colin Hargreaves.
I spent my afternoons in Philip’s walnut-paneled library, loving the feeling of being surrounded by books. Like the rest of the house, it was elegantly decorated, with a spectacular curved ceiling and the
ﬁnest English Axminster carpets. Some previous viscount had selected the furniture with as much of an eye for comfort as for appearance, making the room a place where one could relax with ease in the most luxurious surroundings. It was here that Mr. Hargreaves interrupted my reading on a warm summer day. He strode across the room and nodded at me as he reached for my hand, raising it gently to his lips.
“Odd to be in this room without him,” he said, glancing about. “Your husband and I planned all of our trips from here.” He sat on a large leather chair. “I’m dreadfully sorry, Lady Ashton. I shouldn’t speak of such painful things.” Devoid of sentimental attachment to my deceased mate, I felt distinctly uncomfortable in the company of his closest friend.
“Never mind. Would you like some tea?” I reached for the bell. “No, don’t trouble yourself. I am here on business.”
“Then perhaps you should see my solicitor.”
“I’ve just come from his ofﬁce. You are aware, of course, of your husband’s love of Greece and the Aegean?” he asked, looking directly into my eyes.
“Greece?” I asked, not wanting to reveal more ignorance of my husband’s interests than absolutely necessary.
“As I’m sure you know, he spent months there every year. While he was ill in Africa . . .” Mr. Hargreaves paused, looking at me questioningly.
“Please go on.”
“He so looked forward to taking you to Greece and showing you the villa.”
“The villa?” I had vague memories of my solicitor’s mentioning such a place, but he had not given me any details, assuming I was too overcome by grief to concern myself with such things.
“It was not part of the family property. He owned it himself and wanted you to have it. It’s a magniﬁcent place, sweeping views of the Aegean. You’ll love it. I think he intended to surprise you by taking you there.” He paused again. “When he was sick, it was a subject to which he continually returned: ‘Kallista must go to the villa.’ I promised to arrange the trip for you.”
“You must pardon my confusion,” I said, shaking my head. “Who is
Mr. Hargreaves smiled. “I believe that is what he called you in”—again the pause—“private.”
My eyebrows lifted in amazement. “He never called me Kallista.” I didn’t mention that the form of address he used most frequently was, in fact, Lady Ashton, albeit in a somewhat ironic tone.
“It is how he always referred to you,” Mr. Hargreaves said quietly. “I assumed it was a pet name. Excuse my impertinence, but I believe he preferred it to Emily.”
“I see. And the villa?”
“It’s on Santorini, one of the islands in the Aegean. I suggest you go in the spring, when the weather is ﬁne, although Ashton always considered winter there a vast improvement over England.” He stood up and walked toward me. “I must apologize again. I can only imagine how difﬁcult it is for you to be reminded of him. Using his familiar name for you was thoughtless of me.”
“On the contrary, it doesn’t bother me at all,” I said, still not sure what to make of this habit of my husband’s. “For all I care, you may call me Kallista if you prefer it to Emily.” I looked directly at Mr. Hargreaves and smiled. He was quite handsome, his dark, wavy hair tousled, contrasting with the perfect elegance of both his clothing and manner. “That is, of course, should our acquaintance become familiar enough to merit the use of Christian names.”
“You are as spirited as Ashton described you,” he said, ﬂashing a smile. “I shall leave now. Your solicitor has all the papers concerning the villa. As I said, I promised your husband I would ensure that you see it. When you are ready to make the trip, I shall take care of all your arrangements.”
I gave him my hand, which he kissed quickly. I watched from the window seat as he sauntered down the steps to the street and across Berkeley Square.
As always after meeting any of Philip’s family or friends, I felt overwhelmed. I could not share their grief; I did not know the man. Yet here Colin Hargreaves stood and suggested that Philip actually talked about me. What on earth could he possibly have had to say? My mind reeled. Kallista? Greece? As far as I knew, Philip had few, if any, interests beyond hunting. I had little reason to doubt Mr. Hargreaves, who had stood as best man at my wedding. He and Philip were friends from their early days at school, and Philip always spoke highly of his integrity. Before I could think further on the subject, the butler interrupted me again. My parents awaited me in the drawing room.
“My dear, you really must keep the curtains drawn in the front of the house,” my mother scolded, true to her new mission of attempting to reestablish dominance over me.
“Philip has been dead for more than a year and a half, Mother. I can hardly live without natural light indeﬁnitely.”
“Prince Albert left this life nearly thirty years ago, and our queen still respects his memory. You would do well to follow her example.” My mother, quite possibly Queen Victoria’s staunchest supporter, looked critically around the room. “I know Philip was a bit eccentric, but now that he’s gone, you surely could update this room. It is as if it is only partially furnished.”
Philip had no taste for the cluttered excess currently in favor and had furnished his house accordingly. After our wedding he was delighted to learn that I shared his opinion on the subject. He obligingly removed several of the larger mounted animal heads from the public rooms, and
I agreed to leave the remainder of the house untouched.
“In one breath you tell her to mourn the man, in the next to change his house. Really, Catherine, I think you should leave the child alone.” My father, whom I had always considered a silent ally, smiled at me reassuringly. “I don’t like to be unpleasant, but it is insupportable to me that she should have to be in mourning longer than she knew Ashton.”
My mother gasped. “I will pretend that I never heard you say that. You must think of her future. She’s young and very rich, not to mention the daughter of an earl. After a suitable period of mourning, she will be able to make an excellent marriage.” My mother looked at me. “I have already heard your name mentioned by the mothers of some of the most eligible peers.”
“I’d rather not lose my money to the upkeep of someone else’s family estate,” I said with a sigh. “Besides, why should I marry again? I rather like widowhood.” My father laughed until he caught my mother’s withering glare.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course it’s much too soon to think of such things. Your heart is still breaking.” My mother rang the bell. “You need some tea.” I suffered through a cup of the over-sweetened beverage she forced on me and avoided any conversation that might prolong their stay. At last I bade my parents farewell, cringing as my mother ordered the butler to have the drapes on the front windows closed. Davis, a consummate professional, gave her a reassuring nod but did nothing without ﬁrst consulting his mistress. I instructed him to leave them open.
“Very good, madam. If I may?” He continued as soon as I nodded permission. “I must inform you that I’ve had to let one of the footmen go. A parlor maid, entering the library to dust, saw him riﬂing through the viscount’s desk.”
“When did this happen?”
“Yesterday afternoon, madam. The maid was reluctant to come forward. Apparently the man was looking for something he could sell to repay gaming debts. I have searched his room and found nothing. Perhaps you could check to see if anything is missing?”
“Thank you, Davis. I shall check the contents of the desk right away,” I said, knowing full well that I had no idea what ought to be in it.
I returned to the library, where, after a cursory glance through the unremarkable contents of the desk, I started searching the shelves for books about Greece and found volume upon volume: histories and classical literature in both the ancient language and translation. Until now I had assumed that these were vestiges of Philip’s studies at Eton and Cambridge. I ﬂipped through several of them, not knowing what I wanted to
ﬁnd. Frustrated with my complete lack of direction, I picked up a guide to the British Museum. The book fell open to a page that held a carefully folded note written in a hand I did not recognize. “Your present course of action has placed you in grave danger.” The page it marked described a vase on which there was a painting of the great hero Achilles killing the queen of the Amazons. Grave danger indeed.
I examined the note closely. The paper was heavy, the type that an artist might use in his sketchbook, but it bore no indication of the identity of either sender or recipient. Very odd. I sighed, unsure of what to do. After rereading it I placed it in Philip’s desk, where I sat, suddenly overcome by a feeling of ominous unease. I rang for tea, hoping the genial beverage (without my mother’s too-liberal use of sugar) would soothe my nerves. It was some time before I was able to turn my attention back to the book from which the note had fallen, but eventually I found myself engrossed in its descriptions of the museum’s magniﬁcent artifacts. Suddenly, on a whim, I summoned my carriage. I wanted to see them myself.
Naturally I had not mentioned Greece or the villa to my parents, and I smiled as I approached Great Russell Street, wondering what my mother would think if I were to set up house in Santorini for the rest of my years. How long would I have to wear half mourning there? I ﬂuffed my black striped skirts and entered the museum, immediately asking if someone could show me the Greek antiquities. A wealthy widow quickly learns that great institutions long for her money; knowing this, I anticipated a thorough and enjoyable tour.
As I waited for what I hoped would be a knowledgeable guide, I looked around the hall, wondering why I hadn’t visited the museum in so long. My father had taken me periodically when I was a girl, but once my education transferred to the hands of my mother and a legion of governesses, I was limited to pursuing those things considered essential by society matrons. Consequently I became ﬂuent in French and Italian and able to speak passably in German. I could sing and play the pianoforte, though not well. In the visual arts, I excelled at drawing, though I never moved to watercolors, preferring the feel of pencils to that of the artist’s brushes. Embroidery, etiquette, and household management became second nature, but my mother did not want me to receive anything that could be construed as a classical education. A good wife, she believed, should not think too much for herself. Before I could mull further on the shortcomings of my schooling, a distinguished-looking middle-aged gentleman interrupted my reverie.
“Lady Ashton, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am Alexander Murray, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities. My colleagues inform me that you are interested in viewing our collection.” I gave him my hand and murmured something appropriate.
“Please allow me to express my condolences on the death of your excellent husband,” he continued. “He visited us frequently; the entire department was shocked to learn of his demise. We are immeasurably grateful for the artifacts he donated to us during his lifetime. I presume you would like to see those pieces ﬁrst?”
I hardly knew what to say. I had never known Philip to set foot in the museum, but I realized that fact in itself to be meaningless. Clearly I knew even less about the man than I suspected. As Mr. Murray led me through gallery after gallery, my thoughts divided between my husband and the wondrous objects I viewed. Philip had given the museum several stunning Greek vases. One in particular struck me: a large vase showing three women standing before a young man who held an apple.
“That is a calyx-krater, so called because the shape of the handles brings to mind a ﬂower’s calyx,” Mr. Murray told me. “It would have been used in antiquity as a vessel in which one would mix water with wine. I believe it was Lord Ashton’s favorite. He had a difﬁcult time parting with it but felt strongly that it belonged where others could study it. It is a ﬁne example of red-ﬁgure vase painting.”
“The detail is exquisite,” I exclaimed, leaning closer to the object. “Even the eyelashes are visible on the man’s proﬁle.”
“The red-ﬁgure technique allows for more realism than black-ﬁgure because the details are painted onto the unglazed ﬁgures. This artist is known for his attention to such things. Note how he shows individual strands of hair and the way he has shaded the folds of fabric on each cloak.”
“There is something in it that brings to mind the Parthenon friezes.” “A keen observation, Lady Ashton. The style is very similar to those
ﬁgures found at the Parthenon. This vase painter is credited with being the most classical of all his colleagues.”
“Who was he?”
“I’m afraid we do not know his name, but his work is recognized on hundreds of vases.”
“No. Black-ﬁgure and white-ground lekythoi, too. If you’ll come this way, I’ll show you one of the lekythoi. They are the ones for which he is best known.”
I did not respond immediately to Mr. Murray but continued to examine the piece before me. “Look how graceful his hand is holding the apple. Whom do the ﬁgures represent?” I asked.
Mr. Murray moved closer to the case. “Those are the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. They have just attended a wedding ruined by Eris, or Discord. Furious not to have been invited to the celebration, she determined to cause a scene and dropped a golden apple among the guests.”
“They argued over who would keep the gold?”
“In a sense, yes. Têkallistê—‘To the fairest’ was engraved on the apple. The goddesses each argued that she was the most beautiful and should have the apple. Zeus realized that no judgment would be acceptable to all three and decided it would be best to stay out of the mix.”
“Wise,” I said, smiling.
“He gave the task of choosing who would receive the apple to Paris, an unfortunate shepherd.” He pointed to one of the ﬁgures on the vase.
“Whom did he choose?”
“I’m afraid he found Aphrodite most irresistible, especially when she promised that he would have for a wife the most beautiful of all mortal women.”
“Hera and Athena were not pleased, I imagine.”
“Far from it. They were his sworn enemies from that day forward.” “And Paris’s wife?”
“A lovely girl called Helen, unfortunately already married to the king of Sparta, Menelaus. With Aphrodite’s help, Paris convinced Helen to leave Menelaus and come with him to Troy, giving rise, of course, to the great Trojan War.”
I remained silent for a moment, certain that I should know more of this story than I did, and resolved to read about it that very evening. Something Mr. Murray said had caught my attention, and I had to inquire further.
“Could you tell me again what was written on the apple?”
“Tê kallistê. Kallista in Greek means ‘most beautiful.’ ”
And thus I learned that Philip had considered me beautiful. I blushed uncontrollably and allowed Mr. Murray to continue his tour, although I must confess that my attention to his thoughtful commentary was less than it ought to have been.
Copyright © 2006 by Tasha Alexander.
Catch up on all the mysteries solved, and love found in the Lady Emily series before The Counterfeit Countess comes out on October 14, 2014.
Tasha Alexander is the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Emily series and the novel ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she studied English and Medieval History. Her work has been nominated for numerous awards and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, divide their time between Chicago and the UK.