A blade of mid-morning light cutting through the velvet draperies finally rouses me from sleep. Normally, I am not an indolent soul, but rise quite early, and after a simple breakfast of hot chocolate and toast, get to work on my various projects. But dancing until dawn—not to speak of drinking fine champagne and Tokay wine—does take its toll, and so when a glance at the clock on the mantel shows it to be nearly noon, I cannot pretend to be surprised.
I rise and throw on a silk wrapper before padding to the kitchen of our rented quarters near the Minoritenplatz in Vienna. My lady’s maid is knows to let me fix my own repast—among the many unorthodox skills that I’ve honed over the years is a talent for cooking. (Society has very strict rules on what a titled lady can and can’t do. But I’ve never been very good suffering fools gladly. I am fortunate that my husband, the Earl of Saybrook, is equally eccentric.)
Today I decide on making an omelette aux champignons for both of us. I need not only to fortify myself for a grueling afternoon and evening, but also to get myself in the mood for French cuisine. It is not that I am obsessed with food—I am actually quite slender—however, it so happens that in a few hours I will be heading to the Kaunitz Palace to cross cooking spoons with the most celebrated chef in all of Europe. Antoine Careme is, as you know, serving as personal cook to the French Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice Talleyrand, who is here in this fabled city to attend the Congress of Vienna, a glittering gathering of Royals and diplomats who are looking to reorder up Europe now that Napoleon has been banished to the isle of Elba.
Now what, you may be asking, has cooking and chocolate to do with pomp and pageantry of world politics? In a word—treason. England knows that a traitor is cooking up a deadly conspiracy to assassinate one of the world leaders and so my husband and I have been sent here to Austria on a secret mission to uncover the plot. So while Saybrook works to decoded a series of cryptic dispatches that we’ve intercepted, I am to spy on the French delegation. I have been hired to assist Careme several nights a week (I play that role dressed as man, for theatrical skills are also part of my repertoire) and today I am scheduled to appear in the kitchens at 4 pm.
It is now 2 pm, so I must begin to dress. Paint and padding take some time to do right. Plus I must lay out my ballgown and jewels, for at midnight, I must make a quick change and appear as the Countess of Saybrook at the Russian Tsar’s private soiree. Alexander loves to party (I am sure that you, too, have heard the rumors that he sent to St. Petersburg for a whole new wardrobe because he had gained so much weight eating and drinking here.) I shall have to stay sharp to avoid his roving hands, for he like women as much as he likes wine. But luckily I have a lot of practice in dodging gasping men.
Then it is on to the Duchess of Sagan’s salon, where Prince Metternich, the Austrian Foreign Minister, may come to blows with the lady’s current swain. (Did I mention that the leaders have come here to make love as well as make peace?) I vow, it is quite exhausting trying to keep track of all the amorous affairs as well as the political alliances. It calls for great stamina . . . which is why I always have a stash of my chocolate confections tucked away in reserve. They have proved useful on a number of occasions.
With luck, I will dance home sometime close to dawn. And I hope to be several steps closer to unmasking our cunning enemy. For if Saybrook and I don’t move quickly enough, all hopes for peace in Europe may go up in smoke . . .
You can read more about Lady Arianna in THE COCOA CONSPIRACY, the second book in the “Lady Arianna” Regency Mystery series. The first book in the series is SWEET REVENGE.
Andrea Penrose made her debut into the world of historical mystery this spring with Sweet Revenge, the first book in a Regency-set series featuring two unconventional aristocrats as amateur sleuths. She also writes historical romance under the pen name Cara Elliott. A graduate of Yale, she has an MFA in Graphic Design from the Yale Art School, and resides in Connecticut. You can learn more about Andrea and her books at her website: www.andreapenrose.com. She also blogs with The Word Wenches: www.wordwenches.typepad.com
** Thanks to the author, I have one (1) copy of THE COCOA CONSPIRACY to give away. Contest open to residents of the US only. Contest ends December 24th. Leave a valid-email address with your comment. Book will be shipped directly from the author. **
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