The Juvenilia Files: Blackburn’s Bride

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What ho, nostalgia-teers! This week is a deep dive back into the whirling petticoats of REGENCY LONDON. For reasons I cannot remember, I decided that I was dunzo writing contemporary after my brief flirtation with “Untitled Remodeling-Centric YA” and showed up the next November to put down some words about RAKES and BALLS and SEDUCTION and stuff. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a 19-year-old writer in want of a truly good idea will probably just go with the idea that involves the most frippery.

AND SO: Blackburn’s Bride, which, if I may say so myself, is not too crappy of a title. It certainly fulfills genre expectations. As did the rest of the book! Kind of!

Setting: England, sometime in The Past. I think it was January.

            “For god’s sake, Beau, give it a rest.” Lord Tristan Blackburn shot a practiced look of concern at his friend, who was currently pacing the length of the library and running his hands through his untidy crop of sandy hair.

“She was elegant,” Lord Henry Beaufort said, finally settling on the proper adjective. His brow furrowed. “But not in the untouchably perfect way. More of a…relaxed elegance. A natural candor. An inborn charm…” He trailed off, eyes aglow, and Tristan gave a small smirk as he drew in another sip of brandy. He’d been the guest of Lord Beaufort for the last few weeks of the winter, and had watched his best friend fall head over heels with a number of local ladies–how many was it now? Easily more than seven. The poor chap was incurably infatuatable.

It is another truth universally acknowledged that I adore writing the male point of view. In real life, nothing could be more uninteresting to me than bros being bros and bro-ing out, but in fiction, I can show all kinds of TENDER FRIENDSHIPPY FEELINGS between the two guys.

Also, I love that these guys are fretting over adjectives in a chunk of narrative prose that is LOUSY with them. (“Practiced concern,” “an untidy crop of sandy hair,” good Lord). But worrying about precise descriptors is a total waste of time, BECAUSE

“Did you manage to get her name this time?” Blackburn asked. Beaufort wrinkled his brow.

“Ah…her name.” He tapped a long finger against his chin. “No. Not a one. Can’t recall.”

Nameless! Blast and damn. Whatever shall these Ye Olde bros do?!

“Well,” Blackburn said, “that shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance. We could get pamphlets printed up for distribution in Wellingshire: ‘Seeking a young lady encountered at last Saturday’s country ball. Elegant, possessed of natural candor–”

“Golden hair,” Beaufort added eagerly. “A kind of honey color. Or perhaps more like wheat.”

Blackburn resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Flowing flaxen locks, eyes like two limpid pools by moonlight…”

Wellingshire is not a real place. It’s so not real that it sounds not only fictional but like it was made up by an America teenager 200 years in the future.

And okay, I know I wrote this myself when I was a 19-year-old idiot, but I kind of like Blackburn. Outwardly unsentimental but secretly harbors eternal feelings of kindness for his hapless friend. I probably just should’ve called this book BLACKBURN’S HUSBAND and let them get married.

Except, of course, Blackburn is NOT ABOUT MARRIAGE, because this is Regency England of Indeterminate Year, dammit!

            Marriage. It took all the fun out of things. Blackburn was certainly not averse to the company of women, yet even at 30 years of age he had no desire to put his freewheeling bachelor ways behind him just yet.

“Well,” Blackburn said with a belabored sigh, “I’d be willing to fund that pamphlet campaign, though I daresay such a public search effort might frighten the poor woman off.”

“No, no, that would be useless” Beaufort said, missing the sarcasm entirely. “She’s probably on her way back to London for the Season by now anyway.”

I’ll tell you what: I still have only the vaguest idea what the Season is. I know it describes a time of year when everyone (or, okay, everyone of the ton, which is a French word that means “everyone, except the poor people, who are too busy toiling to go to balls”) goes to London to dance minuets and attempt to Make A Good Match. My research for this fact is entirely based on reading other Regency romances published between 1999 and 2008, with an occasional Wikipedia-ing for good measure.

But I didn’t write my book IN the Season, I started it vaguely beforehand, for some reason! And since I end chapter one with Blackburn grinding his teeth over how much he hates marriage, the reader may safely expect that I open chapter two with a sophisticated scene jump to a lovely marriageable young woman.

Tea. Viola St. George thought, hiking her skirts against the sleet as she plodded down the muddy roadway. Cold rain slapped against her face, and she let out a frustrated puff of air, quickening her pace. A good, steaming pot of tea, that’s all I need. And perhaps a plate of madeleines. She made a note to ask Jenkins to have Cook send up a tray as soon as she got back to Alston.

Viola St. George is about as cliched a name for a Regency heroine as Jenkins is for a butler. And speaking of cliches, guess who’s about to have the cutest meet cute this side of the Napoleonic wars?!

“I’m sorry,” she said, turning to face whoever it was that braced her, “but I don’t think this is really–” Her words caught in her throat. She was looking directly into a deep pair of brown eyes, some strange man’s brown eyes, no less. She blushed, in spite of herself. The face she stared into was unmistakably handsome, with dark hair and brows that were turned in an unmistakable expression of mirth. She squared her shoulders, but whoever it was did not loosen his grip.

“Necessary?” he ventured.

“–necessary,” she finished, then realized he had preempted her. She gave her head a small shake. Compose yourself, she thought. “I’ll be quite fine to walk back to Alston, thank you, Mr…” she trailed off. “Who are you, anyway?”

“Tristan, Lord Blackburn,” he said, his mouth still turned in a half-smile. “And how do you propose to get yourself back to your home? It’s hardly fit weather for crawling.”

Yeah, Blackburn nearly RUNS HER OVER in his carriage and she’s like, ugh, NBD, go away. Also of note: disembodied eyes, “blushed in spite of herself,” “unmistakable expression of mirth,” gag gag gag. Let’s just get them back to Alston, wherever that is.

            “Miss Viola!” Jenkins gasped as he stood in the open doorway. The butler’s ruddy face was creased with alarm.

THE BUTLER’S RUDDY FACE WAS CREASED WITH ALARM. Because butlers in Regency romance exist SOLELY to act as a stiff-upper-lip foil for the antics of the main characters, which they express by means of their faces, ruddy or otherwise!

I should point out that the lion’s share of the flirtatious banter in this book is about Latin etymology. (Is this sexy? Hell if I know. I’m just some dingus Classics major who can’t even legally buy a bottle of brandy yet.) Viz. this scene where Viola is attempting to get to dinner:

“I would offer further assistance, Miss Viola, but I fear for my safety should you rebuke me.”

She gave him a withering look. “Begging your pardon, Lord Blackburn,” she said, padding down another step, “but I believe most gentlemen possess adequate temerity not to fear for their lives at the hands of a woman with a twisted ankle.”

“Begging pardon as well, Miss Viola, but I believe you are hardly like most women, functioning ankles notwithstanding.”

Thud. Viola couldn’t tell if the sound came from her feet finally hitting the floor of the first floor or from her heart banging against her ribcage. What does he mean by that? Her mind raced, unable to read his expression. Blackburn’s eyes were dark, his face serious. She darted her eyes nervously about the hallway, empty except for a servant bearing a platter of roast duck, the heady smell hanging in the air after it. Viola took a deep breath, determined not to let her inner panic show through.

“I do try to show more determination in my ambulatory abilities, if that’s what you mean,” she said rather breathlessly. Oh, for the love of God. What was she babbling about? A flicker of amusement crossed Blackburn’s face.

“It shows. But that’s not exactly what I meant.”

“Oh?” A strange part of Viola’s mind was stirring, eager for him to speak more about her. Bring her near him. Press her to his chest. Kiss her, even…

No. She squelched the impulse immediately.

“We…should get to dinner,” she said. She was suddenly struck with how alone they were in the front hallway. Where have Claire and Lord Beaufort gone? Blackburn was close to her, his eyes burning dark. Viola realized she’d been gripping his arm rather tightly, and she dropped it as if it had scalded her.

Blackburn opened his mouth as if to say something, then paused, as if reconsidering what he had heard before. “Ambulatory abilities?” he said, chuckling. “Quite an impressive etymology behind that one, I’m sure.” Viola felt her cheeks grow hot.

“Well, yes,” she snapped. “You know, from ambulare, the Latin meaning to walk. Which I intend to do right now.” She turned on her heel, intending to storm down the hallway towards the dining room. Bother. She took a determined step and instantly regretted it. Pain lanced through her left ankle, and she felt a jolt in her chest as her leg gave out beneath her. She flung out an arm, grabbing emptily. Her fingers closed around the lip of a marble column by the doorway. She straightened, sending the delicate vase atop the column into a precipitous wobble.

You know what? As banter goes, it’s not unbearable. I think I liked writing Regencies because you could say things like “adequate temerity” and no one would whine things like but I don’t know what that meeeeeans because Regency readers are EXCELLENT VOCABULISTS.

Anyway, Viola and Blackburn have dinner with her sister Claire, and Beaufort, who’s there for some reason because SURPRISE, the mystery woman Beaufort loves is Claire, isn’t that convenient, and everything rolls along merrily with Viola doing plenty of scowling until we get to that holy of holies in Regency romances: the flirtatious library scene.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all good Regency romances have a banter-laden—or even ~actually sexy~—scene that takes place in a library. Why? Because our heroine is a reader, because our reader is a reader. It’s, like, relatability 101. Ergo:

“So then, Lord Blackburn,” she said, perhaps too quickly, making her way from the corner, along the bookshelf, out of his reach. No need to let him get overly complimentary for no reason. “What do you enjoy reading?”

“You being so well-versed will find it utterly shameful, I am sure,” Lord Blackburn said, “but I was always a poor student of language in school. I have never had talent for any beyond my native tongue.”

“Hm.” Viola kept her back to him, a small sting of regret poking at her. She didn’t want him to think she had been boasting. “We can’t all be good at everything. For that matter, I find Greek unbearably tiresome.”

“Add Latin and French to that list and you mirror my sentiments exactly.”

She turned slowly, an inkling of suspicion taking root in her mind. Lord Blackburn stood back by the corner, behind an armchair. He looked…not amused as he regarded her, but some expression with that irksome spark in his eye that seemed to indicate he was sizing her up. Viola crossed her arms.

“If you don’t enjoy languages, why ever did you want to see our library a second time?”

Lord Blackburn raised his dark eyebrows. “Language in and of itself bores me. But books are a different story.” She stared at him, and he gave an exaggerated wince. “If you’ll pardon the pun.”

“So you do read.”

“Frequently. I find it makes handling the affairs of my estate infinitely easier.”

“Read books, I meant.”

“Ah. Those as well, I suppose.”

This part is okay! The next part is bad!

And,” Lord Blackburn said, “you should know that there is no shame in being admired for your beauty as well as your mind.” With that, he closed the distance between them, one strong arm around her waist, pulling her into his chest. Viola’s heart beat in quadruple time, every nerve singing. Before she could act on her impulse to run, tear herself, get away somehow, Lord Blackburn had crushed his mouth to hers, and every last thought was wiped from her mind.

Heat, fiery and irresistible, glowed within her belly. Her cries of protest died stillborn in her throat as she felt herself respond, arch towards him, desiring more. She felt his hands skim her waist as her lips parted involuntarily, inviting him, urging him. Her skin felt like it was alive, humming with nervousness as Lord Blackburn moved his hands higher, twining his fingers in her hair, pulling her face towards his. She moaned, a low sound of pleasure loosed from somewhere unknown within her, as she felt hairpins tumbling about her shoulders, her waves flowing free about her shoulders.

“Heat, fiery and irresistable” and “cries of protest dying stillborn” and “hands skimming her waist” and “lips parting involuntarily” and “a low sound of pleasure loosed from somewhere unknown to her”: excuse me while I throw up into my coffee. This is the worst. It reads like word salad created by an off-brand textual-analysis AI whose battery is dying.

So, surprising no one, Viola immediately hates herself and Blackburn for kissing him, and they part ways. Then there’s a whole bunch of CRAZY BACKSTORY: Claire her sister was married but got dumped by a jerk (who I named Elias after my friend Eli asked if he could be in the book) and Viola, being very protective, takes it upon her younger-sister shoulders to marry well and save the family (oh, because they’re orphans, duh). Blackburn needs to get married to get his nosy cousin off his back while he pries into her husband’s vaguely-defined illegal activities. Oh, and I started rewriting the whole thing about 25,000 words in because I decided it needed to take place during the Season after all. (I got so confused and muddled with the logical order of events that after this point chapters become “Chapter Something,” “Chapter Next,” “Chapter After,” etc.)

Viola does adorably show up on Blackburn’s doorstep, for some reason:

“Miss Viola,” Tristan said, his voice deep and foreboding. Viola cleared her throat.

“Yes,” she said, rather more squeakily than she had hoped. Tristan gave a small smile.

“I’m afraid if you are seeking any kind of conjugal consummation, I shall have to ask you to come back after we are actually wed.”

Teehee! Anyway, after lots of plot summary that I didn’t bother fleshing out into actual scenes, there’s a happy ending:

            Viola’s heart skidded up tempo. He loves you! her mind screamed at her. But it’s a trick, she reminded herself. He’s lied before. He can lie again. She pulled herself away from him once more and crossed her arms.

“I don’t believe you.”

Tristan laughed again, and Viola felt herself blush.

“You don’t believe me. Of course you don’t believe me.” He shook his head, and Viola tipped her chin up belligerently.

“You’ve hardly proven yourself trustworthy,” she said.

“Fair point,” Tristan said. “How can I prove this to you, Viola? What can I do?” He stepped towards her, too close for her liking. She could sense him in the space next to her, smell him, almost feel his body against hers again. “I will never lie to you again. You will be my partner and my confidante for as long as God gives me on this earth.” He stopped, his serious tone dropping away. “And, if it makes any difference, it was a complete accident. I didn’t expect you to be willing to take on a man in a fistfight at a party. I didn’t think a beautiful, intelligent woman like you would ever deign to give yourself to me.” He paused. “Actually, I’m surprised it took me so long to fall in love with you.” Viola struggled to keep the frown on her face, fought to keep herself strong, but she was losing, and she could feel it. “Let me love you, Viola. For the rest of our lives.” He moved his hand to her face, and she yielded. Gently, he leaned into her and pressed his lips to hers in a kiss.

“I will,” she murmured into him. “I will, I will, I will.”

She had to. She couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

And fin. 

The overarching observation on this one is that I liked writing dialogue and hated writing anything involving actual plot mechanics, logic, or research. Had I revised this, who knows? But I was too busy failing Accelerated Introduction to Attic Greek and applying to study abroad in France to rewrite any dumb novel. I didn’t even think I’d write a novel the next year, if I was going to be in Paris.

But I did. Or I tried to. Several times.

NEXT TIME: A Victorian YA spy novel about a girl who pretends to be a governess!

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