Historical Suspense goodness–read the start of the book right here.
I’m changing things up a little. I don’t usually run the first chapter of an upcoming release here on the blog. So let’s see how this goes.
Two weeks before a release, I generally provide the entire first chapter of a book for my readers to check out. The upcoming release, The Rosewater Debutante, is a novelette and doesn’t have chapters, so I’m providing the first major sequence of the story, instead.
EXCERPT FROM THE ROSEWATER DEBUTANTE
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2021
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
John Brown Shipyards, Glasgow, 7th June, 1906.
Adele was quite far away from the front of the crowd of well-dressed people pressing up against the railing. All she could see of the HMS Lusitania between the roof of the observation deck and the heads of the people in front of her was a great black wall of iron and rivets which did not seem to be moving.
Yet everyone cheered madly, clapped and made little hopping motions, as if they really would jump about and squeal if they were not the cream of British society.
Champagne had been smashed against the bow by Mary, the widow of Lord Inverclyde. Inverclyde had hammered home the first rivet on the Lusitania nearly two years ago. Cameras popped, foul-smelling smoke rising from the bright lights held in the hands of the camera operators, only to be whisked away by the fresh breeze.
Adele had not attended a ship launch before, but she suspected that what was meant to happen now was that the ship would slide backward down the slipway into the River Clyde, which twinkled in the bright afternoon sun.
“It’s not moving,” Adele muttered to herself. Her invitation to the launch of the newest of the Cunard transatlantic ships had not extended itself to include a companion, so she stood alone at the back of a group of six hundred guests who had traveled to Scotland to attend the launch, leaving her with only herself to converse with.
As it happened, she knew nearly everyone on the observation deck, and could have worked her way into a conversation with any of them. Since the affair at Balmoral, three months ago, she was a sought-after member of society. Silent and invisible word of the King’s approval of her had moved through the ton. The ignominious exclusion she had been facing because she had dared to marry a commoner had been cancelled because King Edward had a roving eye and an appreciation for a pretty ankle.
Only, she did not wish to converse. She really did not want to be here at all. The launch of the Lusitania was just the last in a long line of events, affairs, intimate gatherings, small dinners for hundreds, balls and soirees she had attended since March. Cream envelopes with seals and embossing and elegant, flourish-filled script slid through the front door of her little house in Mayfair every day. What had been just one or two of the little, almost-square missives had become a pile scattered across the Turkish rug which required two or three trips to the dining table to carry them all.
William Melville surveyed her invitations each morning after breakfast, before she settled in to write acceptances or find a polite way to convey her regrets. It was he who had insisted she travel to Scotland for this latest affair. Adele would much rather have stayed in her little house for several days in a row, or perhaps even a fortnight, with no requirement to speak pleasantly, keep the order of precedence firmly in mind at all times, or keep her back straight.
She could not remember the Season being so draining, when she had been a debutante.
Therefore she lingered at the back of the observation deck, getting in the way of the staff carrying trays of full champagne glasses and little petits fours, her mood dark.
“Oh, the ship is moving, I assure you, my Lady,” a male voice said, from her left and just behind her.
Adele glanced over at the man. He was a stranger to her, but his dress was not that of a servant, or one of the dock workers who climbed up to the deck to speak to the John Brown and Company officials. He wore a very proper grey suit and matching hat, a pristine white collar and his sober tie held not a hint of brown in it, which would have clashed with the suit. His overcoat had a fur collar, nothing elaborate—vicuna, perhaps.
His grey eyes twinkled at he considered her from under the brim of his hat. “The HMS Lusitania weighs over thirty thousand tons. It takes a while for anything that heavy to get moving.”
Adele adjusted the fur stole around her neck, pushing the tail back over her shoulder. “I don’t believe we have met,” she said coldly.
“Because we have not,” the man replied. He didn’t seem at all bothered by the impropriety, either. He swayed slightly toward her, as if he was sharing an intimacy, even though he stood a good three paces away from her, and staff passed between them. “I am not an invited guest,” he added.
Adele drew back, horrified. “You…you just climbed up here?” She reassessed the man swiftly. He was as well dressed as any of the gentlemen on the deck and he was not young, either, for which one might forgive such daring. His cheeks and the corners of his eyes had fine lines and his beard held a great deal of white, while his thick moustache was grey.
The grey eyes were close set on either side of a slightly uneven nose, but they were warm with humor as he gave a soft laugh, displaying even, white teeth. “Oh, I am permitted to be here, my Lady.” He hefted a leather-bound notebook in his left hand. His thumb held a pencil against the spine between open pages. She saw notes and little sketches on the pages. “I work for the Times newspaper. They have asked me to report upon the launch.”
Relief trickled through her. “I see,” she said, keeping her tone cool.
“And look.” He nodded toward the wall of iron, with its gleaming coat of fresh new paint. “There she goes.”
Adele looked back at the ship. It was moving, now, and the cheering and clapping intensified. She watched as the ship slid to her left, the seams of the hull passing by with increasing speed. “It—she, I mean—she seems to be moving away from us. I mean, not just down the slipway, but sideways, too.”
“That is because she is.” The man gestured toward her. “May I?”
“If you do not intend to copy anything I say into that notebook of yours, you may.”
He moved closer, so that they stood together on the deck, but there was still a good foot of space between them. “The Lusitania is nearly eight hundred feet long.”
“I see.” She did not.
“That is nearly three football fields, end to end,” he added.
“Oh…that is long.” She studied the ship sliding past them with even greater interest.
“It is,” he said. “The ship is longer than the river is wide here in Clydeside. They couldn’t back the ship straight into the river the way they might one of their little steamers. The slip was built at an angle, so the ship can slide into the river along its length, rather than its width. That is why it appears to be moving away from us.”
It was quite simple, once one was acquainted with such little facts. “Thank you, that makes a great deal of sense,” Adele admitted.
They watched the ship move majestically down the slip. The prow of the boat, which had looked as sharp as a knife when she had stared at the great ship from the window of her cab when she had arrived at the docks, was actually a rounded edge. The hole where the anchor would sit was empty, for now, and much larger than she had assumed it to be.
Everyone leaned out and looked to their left as the ship moved down the slip. Now Adele could see the edge of the hull beneath the roof of the observation deck. There was little to see above the hull. A deck and the beginnings of superstructure, but there were no funnels yet, and the luxury interiors the Cunard line had promised were yet to be installed.
“She will be rather magnificent, once she is properly finished,” Adele murmured.
“But not the most luxurious,” the man replied. “Have you not heard? Cunard are building a second luxury ship, in Wallsend.” He lifted his notebook. “The HMS Mauretania.”
Adele considered the man. “I would say that you are uncommonly well informed, but I suppose it is part of your work as a journalist to know everything.”
“Oh, not everything. For instance, I do not know who you are, my Lady, and as there is no one I am acquainted with here on the deck, that is a gap in my knowledge which must linger.”
“Yet you speak to me, despite the lack of formal introduction.”
“But that is part of my work, too, you see.” His eyes were twinkling yet again.
“There are five hundred and ninety-nine other guests at this launch. You have spoken to all of them?”
At the front of the deck, the guests leaning against the railing straightened and a great cheer went up.
“She’s fully in the water now,” the journalist guessed, for neither of them could see anything from this far back on the deck.
Adele remained silent, waiting for the man to answer her question.
He had the intelligence to not avoid her question. He closed his notebook with a decisive slap of paper. “The other five hundred and ninety-nine guests are not standing by themselves at the back of the deck where they can see very little. Nor are they looking…disgruntled.”
“Ah.” She grimaced, then said in a rush, “I’m not entirely sure how one goes about introducing themselves.”
“You’ve never had to do it for yourself?”
“Oh, I did it all the time in the Cape Colony, but that is South Africa and things were a little more relaxed there.”
“And how would you introduce yourself to a stranger in the Cape Colony?”
She considered, recalling the many times she had met someone. “I would say to them, ‘I am Lady Adelaide Azalea Margaret de Morville, Mrs. Hugh Becket’.”
“And they would say?”
“They would usually look confused and ask me what they should call me,” she admitted.
He laughed. “I am Phillip Cowden, Esquire.” He bowed his head. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Adelaide.”
A commoner. Not upper class, not if he was employed. Upper middle class, then. Adelaide nodded at him, her hat brim bobbing. “Thank you for your illuminating comments upon the Lusitania, Mr. Cowden.”
“Lady Adelaide! Adele!” The high-pitched voice made Adele swallow a groan, for it was coming closer.
She painted a wide smile upon her face and turned to face Miriam Lynwood. “Miriam, dear, how delightful! I didn’t know you were here.” Since Balmoral, Miriam had acted as though she and Adele had been friends forever, when they had only known each other for a few short years before Adele’s marriage. Royal approval drew leeches.
Miriam Lynwood held her arms out and leaned toward Adele for the empty kiss beside her cheek. They did it carefully, for Miriam’s hat brim was just as wide as Adele’s.
“Isn’t it a simply enormous boat?” Miriam exclaimed. “Maybury wants to book passage upon her for the maiden voyage, but that means actually visiting America.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “New York,” she added in an undertone, her distaste dripping.
Adele barely managed to not roll her eyes. “New York is a very pleasant city, Miriam.”
“Good lord, don’t tell me…you’ve actually been there?” Miriam put her gloved hands to her cheeks. “Oh dear, I do forget. You lived in that dreadful place in Africa. New York would seem heavenly after that, I suppose.”
Cowden cleared his throat. “I must speak to the Chairman of Cunard, Lady Adelaide.” He gave another bow of his head and threaded his way between the guests, who were now moving away from the railing, clumping together for conversation and for more champagne.
Miriam paid no attention to the man, which was proper, for she would not know who he was, either. She turned back to Adele and gripped her wrist. “Come with me, Adele,” she said firmly. “Esther and Mary have been cornered by that dreadful Lady Penryn and her two daughters…you know, the poor dears with the buck teeth. We simply must rescue Esther and Mary.”
Adele very nearly lodged her heels into the temporary boards of the observation deck, a silent scream of protest building in her middle. How had she thought such vapid conversations and intrigues to be so delightful? Yet this had been her life, once.
Adele learns just how ruthless German agents can be.
In Edwardian England, Lady Adelaide Azalea Margaret de Morville, Mrs. Hugh Becket, continues her work for William Melville, spymaster, even though it has left her with no time to live the life she would prefer, which includes spending at least a little time with Daniel Bannister.
When she refuses to travel to Germany to watch over King Edward while he visits the German Emperor to discuss disarmament of their increasingly more competitive navies, Melville gives Adele an alternative, superficial task of watching over a young, sweet debutante, Lady Winnifred.
Adele perseveres with the useless, quite horrid task of trailing an innocent girl through the Season. It puts her in the path of German agents, who demonstrate just how dark and dangerous her new work really is…
This novelette is the second in the Adelaide Becket Edwardian espionage series.
1: The Requisite Courage
2: The Rosewater Debutante
…and more to come.
A historical suspense espionage novelette.
Get your copy a week early
The Rosewater Debutante is currently available for pre-order, and will be released on all retail bookstores on April 8.
You can get a copy a week earlier than that–in other words, next Thursday!–if you pre-order your copy directly from me. Click on the SRP link, below, to jump to the store and get your copy.
Or, if you prefer to buy all your books from one retailer, you can pre-order from any bookstore. Click on the other link to select your preferred store and get your copy.