After three years of marriage, Adelaide has fallen in love with the handsome, honourable husband who nurtured her through her darkest hours. Now Adelaide’s former lover, the passionate poet from whose arms she was torn by her family during their illicit liaison in Milan four years previously has returned, a celebrity due to the success of his book The Maid of Milan. High society is as desperate to discover the identity of his ‘muse’ as Adelaide is to protect her newfound love and her husband’s political career.
Author Beverley Eikli talks a little about her inspiration and the concept behind Maid of Milan
Thank you so much for letting me talk a little about my book, The Maid of Milan. I was very interested in exploring the concept of forgiveness. My heroine was once the archetypal ‘Regency party-girl’ but after making a terrible error of judgement she’s a very different person when she’s pressured by her mother into a respectable marriage. The decent, honourable man who marries her has no idea of the secret his young wife has been forced to keep; he’d no doubt have forgiven her if she’d been allowed to confess, as she’d wished, but the intense manipulation she endures means she compounds her first lie with even more lies.
And so begins a web of deceit with very unexpected consequences. In terms of striving for an atmosphere of distrust and subtle manipulation I was influenced by the 1950’s black and white movie, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, as well as personal experience. But at the heart of this book is the question: ‘How far does forgiveness stretch? And do we have different cut-off points?’
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It was not the name by which she knew him. Since inheriting the title, he’d won celebrity as a poet and become the darling of the gossip columnists. Adelaide’s mother couldn’t keep those snippets of the real world from her, though she tried.
James. Fifth Viscount Dewhurst. Adelaide closed her eyes against the afternoon sun and tried to block her last memory of him: desperate, pleading. Not the James she knew – the irrepressible charmer who knew no woman could resist him, least of all Adelaide.
Tristan must have misinterpreted her shocked silence for memory failure, for he squeezed her hand and repeated, ‘Lord Dewhurst. I’m talking about my old friend, James.’ Very gently he added, ‘He and his wife were very good to you, if you remember.’
If you remember… Her husband’s reference to her previous life was almost more painful than the reference to James, though panic quickly succeeded shock at his next remark. ‘James is coming to visit us? Here?’ She gripped Tristan’s arm tighter and concentrated on the path. One foot in front
of the other, head down so she didn’t stumble on the stones that bordered the hydrangeas from the neat gravel walkway.
Tristan continued to talk in the measured, comforting tone he used when her equilibrium was unsettled. In the past he’d sought her reassurances that she was comfortable with his plans; that there was nothing he’d neglected to facilitate her comfort. Always Tristan put Adelaide’s feelings first. Not today. Tristan was too excited at the prospect of seeing his boyhood friend to recognise her horror, assuming Adelaide would be delighted to play hostess since she’d foolishly voiced the desire just last week to entertain more often.
She remained silent as she walked at his side, contemplating her own strategy if this visit was a fait accompli. She just needed to know when, so she could prepare.
‘At the end of the week!’ She repeated Tristan’s calmly delivered answer to her question in the tone Black Jack, the South American parrot she’d owned in Vienna, used to mimic the death throes of a man at the end of the gallows.
A good thing her husband considered Adelaide an invalid, that he’d misconstrue the flare in her eyes, the gasp as she pressed against the pain in her side – her heart?
‘Adelaide, you are discomposed. Perhaps I should not have invited James without consulting you, but I thought since…’ Concern clouded his kind blue eyes as he trailed off.
‘He was very good to me.’ She whispered the old litany. It’s what Tristan liked to believe.
‘He was. Shall we go back to the house?’ He stooped to cup her face in his hands, as tender with her as if she were another of his rare hothouse blooms. As if she might wilt at the suggestion of anything beyond the ordinary, the mindnumbingly mundane.
And yet today she more than wilted as she stumbled on the smooth, carefully raked gravel path. Her heart was in danger of tearing in half. James. Here, at Deer Park …?
She pushed away the fear, straightening of her own accord. Adelaide could be a good deal stronger than Tristan believed her. Than her mother painted her.
‘So silly of me,’ she murmured, smiling as she tucked her hand once more into the crook of her husband’s arm, firming her step, indicating with a nod that they continue their usual morning walk. Minutely managed and predictable. Around the path that bordered the maze, over the little bridge and across the lawn, skirting the deer park beyond the iron gated border to the dower house where her mother would be waiting. Keeping up the pretence of recovery in response to his troubled gaze, she added, ‘Really, I’m perfectly fine.’
How many times had she made similar reassurances? Of course, she hadn’t been fine when Tristan had made her mistress of Deer Park three years before; a marriage offer she’d only accepted because she believed she’d be dead of grief within the twelvemonth. And if not dead, then at least free of her mother. Neither had happened.
‘So James has left Milan.’ She forced herself to say his name. It came out as a faint thread of sound.
James. He needed to stay far across sea and land if she were to have any peace in this life.
‘James’s father died three months ago so of course he must return from the Continent and take up his responsibilities at Dingley Hall.’ Tristan stopped and put his hands on her shoulders to study her more closely. ‘Darling, you’re very pale. Perhaps we should call Dr Stanhope—’
‘No!’ She truncated the hysteria in her response, adding with commendable calm, ‘Please, let us carry on.’
Tristan was clearly not convinced by her assurances, but he returned to his commentary as they walked sedately through Deer Park’s beautiful gardens. ‘James’s standing has changed with his father’s death, and now that his book has become a sensation so have his fortunes. He’ll be able to put to rights all that his father almost destroyed through his love of gaming.’ He gave a half laugh. ‘I’m told my old friend is nearly as famous as those fellows up in the Lakes. I daresay I should read The Maid of Milan before he arrives. Perhaps you’d enjoy it, Addy.’
The Maid of Milan. Dear God! An image of herself and James, naked limbs entwined upon a vast expanse of white linen tablecloth in the Villa Cosi after the guests had gone, seared her brain.
No, she was getting beyond herself. James had continued living in Milan with Hortense, the wife he despised. Of course there’d have been other women after Adelaide had been dragged, screaming, from James’s arms. Adelaide could not be James’s Maid of Milan. Not after the terrible finale to their affair. In three years Adelaide had heard nothing from him. Nothing, except that one terrible, terrible letter …
TO WIN A COPY OF MAID OF MILAN, ANSWER THE QUESTION IN COMMENTS AND ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER:
In the book, what is the first name of the Poet who wrote ‘The Maid of Milan’?
About the Author
Beverley Eikli is the award-winning author of eight historical romances, laced with mystery and intrigue. She has worked as a journalist, magazine editor, a safari lodge manager in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and an airborne geophysical survey operator on contracts around the world. Beverley loves exploring complex issues such as the consequences faced by characters who make errors of judgement in a punitive society. Her own experiences have provided rich fodder for her books, the highlight of her tumultuous past being the handsome Norwegian bush pilot she met around a camp fire in Botswana and married after a whirlwind romance, twenty years ago. Beverley teaches in the Department of Professional Writing & Editing at Victoria University. She lives with her husband, two daughters and their Rhodesian Ridgeback, in a pretty country town near Melbourne, Australia.
You can visit her website at: www.beverleyeikli.com and her blog at: http//:www.beverleyeikli.blogspot.com.au or follow her on Twitter: @BeverleyOakley