It’s been a busy week at Casa Raybourn and Tuesday’s blog obligation passed me by completely! By way of apology, I offer you an excerpt from TWELFTH NIGHT, the Lady Julia digital novella that pubs THIS WEEKEND. Have you pre-ordered, chickens? Because Brisbane is coming…
January 2, 1890
I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking.
Othello, II, iii, 31
“Julia, I shall count to ten. If you aren’t thoroughly awake by then, I am going to dash the contents of this pitcher into your face, and I warn you, I’ve only just cracked the ice on the surface of it.”
My sister’s voice pierced the hush of the bedchamber with all the delicacy of a gong. I reached out one finger to poke my husband’s naked shoulder.
“Brisbane. Portia is here.”
He heaved a sigh into the eiderdown. “You’re dreaming. Portia wouldn’t dare.”
“Wouldn’t I?” she asked. “And Julia, this is the first time I’ve seen your husband entirely unclothed. May I offer my congratulations?”
With a violent oath, Brisbane flung himself under the bedclothes.
“Modest as a virgin, I see,” Portia remarked. “Julia, I’m still counting. Silently. I’ve reached seven. Are you awake yet?”
I flapped a hand at her but didn’t raise my head.
Brisbane’s voice was muffled but distinct. “If you don’t leave this room, Portia, I will toss you out the nearest window. If memory serves, it’s forty feet down and I won’t be gentle.”
Portia clucked her tongue. “How high will you count?”
“I won’t,” he told her flatly.
He sat up, bedclothes pooling about his waist, grim determination etched on his face.
Portia backed up swiftly. “Very well. But do hurry, both of you. You’re terribly late for the Revels rehearsal and two of our sisters have resorted to fisticuffs. Oddly, not the two you would think.”
I sat bolt upright and Portia winced. “For God’s sake, Julia, have a little shame and put your breasts away.”
I scrabbled for a sheet, regarding her through gritted eyes. “We have four days to perfect the Revels for Twelfth Night, and it isn’t as though we’ve never done them before, is it? Thirty times in the last three centuries, Portia. I rather think the family have the hang of it.”
“But Brisbane has never played St. George before, and he is the centrepiece of the entire Revels. Now, get up and put on clothes, you disgusting hedonists, and come down at once. Father’s threatened to come himself if you aren’t there in quarter of an hour.”
She turned on her heel and made for the door. “Oh, and there’s an abandoned baby in the stables. Father expects you to find out from whence it came.”
She slammed the door behind her, and I winced. “What day is it?”
Brisbane’s expression was thoughtful. “Second of January. Do you need the year as well?” he asked sweetly.
I put out my tongue at him. “Surely I wasn’t that intoxicated.”
He snorted. “You started in on your brother’s punch on New Year’s Eve and carried on right through the first. No wonder you’re the worse for it today.”
I turned my head very slowly and blinked as he came in and out of focus. “When did you get a twin?”
His mouth curved into a smile. “Have a wash in cold water and some strong coffee with a big breakfast. You’ll feel right as rain.”
The notion of food made my stomach heave, but I did as he instructed, eating everything my maid, Morag, carried up on a tray. She helped me to wash and dress, slamming hairbrushes and powder boxes with unmistakable relish.
“Morag, you are a fiend from the bowels of hell,” I told her flatly.
She gave me a look of reproof. “And no lady drinks to excess.”
I opened my mouth to retort, but waved a hand at her instead. “Oh, God, I haven’t the strength to argue. Fine. I’m a disgrace. Just make me look presentable so the rest of the family don’t suspect what wretched shape I’m in.”
She did her best, wrestling me into my corset and a pink morning gown that brought a little colour to my bilious cheeks. She rouged me lightly and stepped back. “It’s the best I can do with what I had to work with,” she remarked.
Brisbane, who had washed and dressed himself swiftly was immaculate as ever, beautifully groomed and not a crease to be seen.
I shook my head, regretting it instantly. “It isn’t fair, you know.”
“What?” he asked, shooting his pristine cuffs.
“We drank the same amount and yet you look fresh as a May morning while I–”
“Look like something the cat sicked up,” Morag supplied helpfully.
Brisbane brushed a kiss to my cheek, pitching his voice low so that only I could hear. “You look ravishing. Which reminds me of what I intend to do later.”
I eluded his grasping hand but paused at the door. “Wait, did Portia say there was an abandoned baby in the stables?”
He furrowed his brow. “She might have done. Things were rather muffled once I pulled the eiderdown over my head.”
He slapped my bottom briskly. “On you go, before they send up a search party. I’ve thrown your sister out this morning. I’d rather not have to take on all of your brothers at once.”