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Fortune's Wheel -- enter Michel

Another few hundred words to introduce one of the main characters of Elza's story, Michel. Every time I work the book again (and I've done it a good many times since I began it in 1992) something different strikes me. This time it's how much I like Michel. And I hope you will too.

This is the beginning of the scene in which Elza meets him, a Directory party in the spring of 1798, and my event planning bug shows! :)

We had planned an afternoon reception for one of the Decades, the tenth day of rest that replaced Sunday in the new calendar. Unexpectedly, the day was warm and the sun was bright. The huge pots of forced fuchsia tulips that I had placed all over the downstairs of Victor’s house were lovely in alabaster urns, and the buffet table was simply gorgeous. Silver gleamed on cloths of magenta and aqua silk embroidered with gold thread on the tables, and purple and aqua fringed shawls were thrown over Victor’s very neutral furniture. The chandeliers had been hung with fuchsia and aqua beads. Candles glowed everywhere.

My dress was aqua silk gauze, fashioned almost like a classical chiton, with brooches on my shoulders in the shape of flowers. A gold chain belt caught the dress just below my breasts, and between them a long gold chain held a single lacquered white rose.

As the party began I stood with Victor at the door. We had more than a hundred people invited – all the government types, all the Directors, a good smattering of finance, and a bunch of officers Victor had served with to underline his experience and his good reputation. I couldn’t stay at the door forever. To begin with, it was clear that the buffet line was backing up and that the footmen weren’t retrieving used glasses fast enough.

I found the nearest one who was standing like a rock against the wall. “Go round and pick up all the glassware,” I said. “I shouldn’t have to tell you not to leave dirty dishes sitting about.”

Another footman had a tray full of champagne and was circulating with it. He was mobbed in an instant and the glasses were gone while some guests were still empty handed. We needed two footmen doing that.

I nipped back in the kitchen. “More champagne,” I said. “We need two men with trays. Gustave, put down those canapés and take the champagne around. Drinks first, then food. Marcel, straighten out your cravat.” The first footman came in with a tray of dirty glasses. “Get these rinsed out and back out with champagne. Hurry.”

I went back outside. The party was in full swing. Victor was talking to Barras and Josephine Bonaparte across the room. The buffet table had been thoroughly raided and the crowd around it had died down. Nothing looked too terribly depleted.

He was standing by the buffet.

I had only seen him once, but I knew him in a glance. He wore white trousers and waistcoat with the dark blue coat of the Army of the Republic. A general’s tricolor sash was around his waist, and the knotting of it did not disguise the hilt of the saber at this side. It wasn’t a dress sword. It was a heavy cavalry saber in a battered scabbard, and he wore boots instead of dress shoes. A poor man’s compromise, I thought. His hair was red and still pulled back in an old fashioned tail, but he had giant mutton chop sideburns that almost seemed to meet under his chin. He held a plate in one hand and was looking at the patés with great suspicion.

He looked up as I approached. His eyes were as blue as I knew they would be.

“Wondering which is which?” I asked.

He looked down at me with his head to the side. I was a tall woman, but the top of my head only came to his chin. “Yes,” he said.

“That one is duck with chestnuts,” I said, pointing, “And that one is pork with truffles.”

“I’ll try the duck then,” he said, picking up the serving knife.

I handed him the basket of bread with a smile. “You will like that, General Ney.”

He took a few slices. “I’m at a loss,” he said. “Do I know you?” His eyes were very keen, light blue, like clear water.

“No,” I said. “Madame St. Elme. We’ve never met.”

There was an awkward moment as he tried to figure out how to bend over my hand with a plate and a paté knife in his hands. I took the paté knife and put it back on the table. He leaned over quite correctly. “I am enchanted,” he said. “You must be our hostess. But how in the world do you know me?”

“I saw you a number of years ago,” I said. “And I am acquainted with a friend of yours, Colonel Meynier.”

“Ah.” He straightened up, looking at me again. “You wouldn’t be Meynier’s runaway bride, would you?”

“Colonel Meynier was the soul of gallantry,” I said. “He promised me he would not talk of it.”

“He didn’t,” Ney said. “At least not your name or anything. But he said….” For a moment he looked embarrassed. “He said you were the most beautiful woman in the world, with eyes like the sea and the face of an angel.”

I stared at him. The conventional pleasantries deserted me. “I don’t look like an angel,” I said. “I am too hard.”

Ney smiled, a wonderful gentle smile that could have lit the room and banished February forever. “How do you know?” he asked. “Have you ever seen an angel?”


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 19th, 2011 01:19 pm (UTC)

What can I say? This is lovely. And so Michel, at least as I see him. Directness combined with honesty and a good measure of romanticism. Thank you for bringing him on.
Aug. 19th, 2011 05:03 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you like it! This time through he's the thing that's sticking out to me -- direct and honest and at the same time with secrets, or as he says, "Not as wholesome as I look." (Also my editor says he's very, very sexy....)
Aug. 19th, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the continued appetizers from this book. I absolutely cannot wait for it (and its sequels) to come out!
Aug. 19th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I really love this book and I hope you do too. Michel is absolutely my favorite version of him, and my editor said he came off very sexy!
Aug. 20th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
Please, please tell me they will eventually become lovers, preferrably in this book...please?

He is so incredibly awesome, and clearly respects her so very much; he doesn't try to overwhelm her with flattery; his compliments have such an...honesty to them. He's not saying these things because he is supposed too, but because she deserves them.

And...gentle smile that banished February from the room...that will stay with me for a long time. And it's so whimsical coming after all her practicalities that it shows he will take her to very special places, expose parts of herself she wasn't really aware of, no matter what capacity he is in her life as.

Also, I love the way she acknowledges his class without it becoming a barrier.

I've always loved your couples, but these two, these two are going to be something special. I suppose a consumation scene would be too spoilery? *grin*
Aug. 21st, 2011 12:23 am (UTC)
Oh thank you for the wonderful comment! It made me smile and smile!

Yes, they will become lovers, and yes, in this book! I utterly adore Michel. He's kind of quirky and contradictory, the big tough guy who plays the flute, the country boy Boy Scout who has some serious kinks. But he's dear.

I'm afraid the consummation scene would be too spoilery, but I'll look around for something that isn't, just for you.

Thank you so much!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )