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About the author:
She has a B.A. in Anthropology and International Studies with a minor in German from Emory University, and a Masters in Heritage Preservation from Georgia State University. She was an exchange student to Finland in high school and studied abroad in Vienna one summer in college.
What inspired you to write your book?
The original germ for this story was wondering who would be cool to meet if I went back in time. I’d originally conceived to go back to Jane Austen’s era, but that idea has been well-trodden. When I came across Ada Lovelace, I had my answer. Born Augusta Ada Byron, she is the only legitimate daughter of the famous poet and bad boy Lord Byron and his wife, Annabella Milbanke. What a tumultuous and intriguing marriage that was! I had a hard time reining in Lady Byron in this story, as my interpretation of her personality is not favorable, and she was just oh-so annoying to me. I had many more scenes with her, as she lent herself easily to being an antagonist, but this story isn’t supposed to be a rant about her and they were cut. Ada had such a sad childhood, and while her adulthood contained many amazing accomplishments, she died unpardonably young at thirty-six from uterine cancer. I think a lot her troubles stemmed from the tyranny of her mother, and in this novel, I took the liberty of giving her an alternate life through meeting Isabelle where she didn’t die of cancer and had a happier life. In the end, this is a work of fiction, and my imagination, and I wanted to give this alternate life to her. I picked 1834 because it was the first year that Ada Byron was ‘out’ (having her Season in public). It was after her second Season that she married her husband William King, becoming Baroness King. In 1838, her husband became the Earl of Lovelace, and so that’s why she’s commonly called Ada Lovelace.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Here’s a sigh to those who love me,
And a smile to those who hate:
And, whatever sky’s above me,
Here’s a heart for every fate.
Lord Byron, To Thomas Moore
A reenactment ball was the perfect setting for romance. Or not.
Isabelle Rochon fidgeted in her oddly-shaped-but-oh-so-accurate ball gown, surrounded by women who’d sacrificed historical authenticity for sex appeal. Red carpet ball gowns in the nineteenth century, really? Once again she was like the dorky kid participating in dress-up day at school when everyone else had magically decided it was lame.
“Gah. I feel like a green robot with strange battle armor.” Isabelle pointed to her dark green dress, the shoulders flaring out almost to a point, exaggerating their width. “What were the fashionistas in 1834 thinking?”
“I have no bloody idea.” Jocelyn squeezed the poof of fabric at her shoulder. “These huge-ass sleeves are ridiculous.”
“Ah, screw it, we’re having fun, right? I’m not going to self-sabotage the ball. Not after all the time I spent obsessing over my costume.”
“And obsessing over the etiquette rules.”
“That too.” Besides, how fun was it to learn Jocelyn shared her obsession with guys in period clothes and bodice-ripper romances?
Isabelle eyed a guy strolling past in tight-fitting, buff-colored pantaloons. She pitched her voice to be heard over the string quartet. “Hmm. How about the clothes on that daring derriere?”
Jocelyn sucked on her olive and plopped the empty stir stick into her martini. “Oh, yes. Definitely a breech-ripper.”
Isabelle choked on her Bellini, the champagne fizz tickling her throat and nose. This was the first opportunity they’d had to socialize outside work, so she treated this moment delicately, afraid to puncture the mood. No need to point out he sported pantaloons, not breeches.
She should ease up on the drink, though. She didn’t want to get plastered at the Thirty-fourth Annual Prancing Through History Reenactment Ball. Especially since her new colleagues would be around. And her boss. She needed to impress him.
“Look lively,” Jocelyn said, her voice low, with a dollop of teasing. “Here comes the office hottie.”
She’d been cultivating a mild crush on Andrew since starting her new job at the British Museum six months ago. The whole situation was perfect. A guy in the same field would respect her interests, wouldn’t expect her to give up her profession for a relationship. He was safe. If it worked out, great, if not, no biggie. She was happy, finally, with how her life was working out.
She’d pictured him in period clothing before, looking resplendent.
“Hi, Andrew.” Her voice came out a little too high. Jeez, could she sound any more like a lovesick fool? She always did this around gorgeous men—went ga-ga as if she couldn’t rub two brain cells together. She gazed around the Duke of Chelmsford’s newly renovated ballroom and pretended as if her breath hadn’t quickened and her body hadn’t heated at the sight of Andrew.
“Hello, Isabelle. Jocelyn.” Andrew nodded. His smile felt like a gift for her alone.
Her pulse throbbed. He’d sought her out. Play it cool. Say something witty. “So, uh, having fun yet?” Having fun yet?
Something, or someone, in the crowd hogged his attention. She followed his gaze until she found it. Or rather him. Their boss at the bar.
Andrew faced her and the remnants of calculation on his hot-as-heck features disappeared behind his over-bright grin.
He leaned closer.
The artificial tang of his cologne drifted her way. She wrinkled her nose.
“Well done on the Whittaker exhibit. Finding that journal was a bit of a coup. It’ll be a fine addition to the exhibit, once it’s built.”
He’d noticed. She’d worked damn hard. “Thank you.” Why couldn’t Brits find her Southern accent as sexy as she found theirs?
“Glad you came across the pond to work with us. That find should put you in the running for the promotion.”
Good. The promotion would mean she could stay in London. Well, it would make staying easier. No matter what, she was determined to remain.
“Of course, you’ll have to beat me out.”
Cold clarity hit her stomach like accidentally gulping a glass of iced gin instead of iced water, jolting her from her usual foray into Incoherent Land around attractive guys. “You’re applying too?” Of course he was.
“Without a doubt. Career changer and all. I’m a shoo-in. Sure you still want to apply?”
Could she scrub the smug look off his face? She settled for the less satisfactory, but more controlled, “Yes.”
Now catching her boss’s attention was more important than ever. Besides wanting to escape into another era, she’d also hoped her costume would impress him. She glanced at the wet bar. Drat. Where had her boss gone?
Andrew slipped his hand around her elbow, pulling her closer. “How about we ditch this party and grab a pint? You and me.” He ignored Jocelyn, who stared back and forth between them.
It all made sense—his sudden interest after dismissing her for months, the calculation she’d caught when he’d turned back—he thought he’d intimidate and charm her into giving up the position.
She yanked her arm free, saying, “Fat chance, you smarmy horndog,” which cut through the room because, of course, the music had just ended.
Jocelyn snorted her drink, eyes watering, and coughed, fighting to catch her breath. For a moment, her coughing was the only sound punctuating the silence.
The curious eyes of the onlookers made Isabelle feel as if a huge moat had sprung up around her. The moat of Beware, All Ye Who Enter—Idiot in the Center. If one of those eyes were her boss…
Andrew trotted out his grin, the one that used to make her insides hum. “Thought we had a connection. No?” He backed away, hands up, eyes locked with hers in a you’re-such-a-fool stare, his heels snapping on the marble floor with each backward step. “Cheers, then, babe. May the best man win.” He nodded and sauntered off.
Jocelyn, bless her, completely ignored the Moat of Embarrassment and stepped to Isabelle’s side. “How had we never noticed what an ass he was?”
“Probably because we were too busy drooling?”
“There is that.”
“Seriously, I should just go pound my head against the nearest vertical object and repeat one hundred times, ‘When will I learn?’”
“Just be careful not to poke out your eye with those lethal shoulder sleeves.”
“Ha.” But Jocelyn’s dry humor softened Isabelle’s mood. “Can’t believe he expects me to just roll over. I have to get the promotion, I need the security. No way am I going to sacrifice my dream to be with a guy, I don’t care how hot he is.”
Never again would she let a jerk encased in good-looking skin influence her life. Been there. Done that. Have the gold-stitched Fool’s cap.
“Let’s get away from the crowd.” Jocelyn pointed to a corner with her glass. “There’s an alcove by the potted palm. Better people-watching.”
“Okay, but keep an eye out for The Boss. Need to schmooze.”
They threaded through the crowd, Isabelle taking a direct hit from a guy eager to reach the bar. Her drink sloshed onto her white glove. She glared, but the effect was wasted on the guy’s back.
Once they reached the snug alcove, Isabelle set her glass on the marble windowsill and tugged off her damp glove. She pushed aside a crumpled paper napkin and laid the glove on the sill. “Is this how you pictured the ball?”
“Pretty much. What did you expect?”
Isabelle sipped her drink. “A real ball…”
“At least the decorations are authentic.” They’d plastered hothouse flowers everywhere, potted palms dotted the perimeter, and white chalk covered the marble floor.
Jocelyn pointed to the silver calling card case dangling by a chain from Isabelle’s wrist. “Which antique shop had that case?”
Isabelle flipped the case into her hand and rubbed her thumb over the initials, EDA, engraved on the front. Reflections from the lights, both candle and electric, winked off its surface. “I discovered it under the floorboards while renovating my house. Same place I found the journal the museum’s using. I think it might be from the mid-1800s.”
She pressed the tiny button on the side and the case clicked open. White cards with her new Guildford address nestled in the faded, lavender silk lining.
Ever since she’d unearthed the case, it had acted like a lodestone for her, harbored secrets. Who had stashed it under the floorboards? And why? It was a quarter inch too small to hold her credit card and her British driver’s license, but she’d wanted to use the case. At last, she had a chance.
“I didn’t think they carried those to balls,” Jocelyn said.
“I know, I know. I’m not being historically accurate, but I couldn’t help it.” She might meet someone and need to give him her card—right? Right. It was weird bringing something so inaccurate, when she’d been so anal about everything else. The case just affected her viscerally. It was imbued with… longing.
Jocelyn nudged her. “Ooh, there’s my crush. Walk with me?”
“Sure―” The double chirrup from her phone interrupted her. Isabelle reached into her small purse and looked at the incoming text. Ah, Katy. “Hang on.”
“No worries. Catch up with me? I don’t want to lose sight of him again. Wish me luck!”
“Good luck! For ‘a single man in possession of a good fortune’―”
“—‘must be in want of a wife!’” Jocelyn smiled, twirled about, and disappeared into the crowd.
Isabelle pulled up her text:
Meeting at The Mad Martini for drinks later. Join us after your ball thing? Bring any hotties u meet. Ha-ha. Love ya girlfriend.
Isabelle winced. Not likely. About the hotties, anyway. But joining her only friend after the ball might be just the familiar haven she needed to kick away the evening’s disappointment. Good Lord, yeah—Katy wouldn’t let her take herself too seriously, or become too obsessed with the promotion.
See you there. No hotties yet.
Men in tails kissed their partners’ hands and bowed, elaborate ball gowns in jewel tones swirled with a rustling of fabric, the quartet played a quadrille, and here she carried a glaring anachronism. She slipped the phone back into her purse—no, her reticule—and pulled it shut.
The quadrille ended, and the musicians left for a break. The dance floor cleared. Where was her boss? She rubbed her bare thumb over the engraving on her calling card case, the action oddly soothing. If only she could have lived back then. Experienced a real ball, not this playacting.
“Wouldn’t that be amazing, to truly be at this ball in 1834?” she whispered. The silver under her thumb flared with heat.
The room spun; the air, colors, and sounds muted, as if she were inside an abstract watercolor painting. Her heart—Oh, God—spun, swirling about to match the room, each beat a slow thunk, stretched.
Shit, the room spun faster. She flung out a hand to steady herself against the wall and met only air.
What the—? She slammed her eyes shut and fought a slug of nausea.