January 1, 2008…Updated April 2, 2008[/fusion_title][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ layout=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding_top=”” padding_right=”” padding_bottom=”” padding_left=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none” last=”no” hover_type=”none” link=”” border_position=”all”][fusion_text]
You may consider the above to be one of the most sappy epilogues ever, and so do I, but nonetheless I love it, as I do the endings of many musicals from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, which are not exactly the most sophisticated fare. It’s the same with romance novel epilogues; when I love the book, I tend to love the epilogues, no matter how cliche-ridden they are – or how likely they are to send somebody into a diabetic coma.
My reaction to purple prose, however, is vastly different; it’s something nearly always guaranteed (unless written by Elizabeth Lowell) to send me over the edge. Both sappy epilogues and purple prose are romance novel staples, but until now I’ve felt only the latter to be parody worthy. But then I had a thought…why not ask romance writers to pen epilogue parodies to help us celebrate our tenth anniversary? AAR, after all, is all about the good and the bad in romance, both a celebration of why we love to read it, and a recognition of its excesses.
Earlier this year we presented to you, our readers, in celebration of our tenth anniversary online, parody epilogues. Unlike the PPP Contest, these epilogues are not be judged; they are simply for your enjoyment. We posted four epilogues in January and today we add three more. All are grab-the-Depends worthy, and in the case of one author, the parody is not an epilogue at all, but remains LOL funny. Enjoy!
A Princely Epilogue
Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was talk of a sequel . . .
“Dude,” groaned the Leopard Prince as he sipped from his mocha latte, half skim, no whip. “There’s no way Elizabeth Hoyt can do a sequel.”
“Way,” croaked the Raven Prince. He poked his straw in his orange frappuccino morosely. All three princes were at their favorite Starbucks, a place at the corner of Never Never and Just Past Midnight, that drew a rather upscale fairy tale crowd. “She could do the Elephant Prince, the Jellyfish Prince, the Giraffe Prince—“
“The Pillbug Prince,” rasped the Serpent Prince, “the Chickadee Prince, the Wolverine Prince—“
“That’s been done—it’s a comic,” objected Leopard.
“But he isn’t a prince,” said Raven. “And anyway he doesn’t turn into a Wolverine.”
“So why do they call him Wolverine?” asked Leopard. He reached across the table and broke off a corner of the Serpent Prince’s chocolate chip scone. “Doesn’t make sense. He should be, like, Claws, or Blades o’ Death or—”
“Back off my scone, man,” hissed the Serpent Prince. “Listen, the point is the woman is running out of viable ideas on how to end her fairytales. Look at me.”
Both of the other princes winced. The truth was that the S-man had definitely come off the worse for wear of any of the fairy tale princes, what with the enormous stainless steel staples used to reattach his head.
The miniskirt-wearing princesses at the table next to theirs hastily looked away as the Serpent Prince cocked his head at them and hissed.
Leopard cleared his throat. Man, he hated it when the S-man did that head cock thing. Always looked like his head might, y’know, come totally off. Kinda gave him the heebie jeebies. “Anyway, point is, we gotta stop this Hoyt woman.”
“Stop her from what?” Raven croaked. “Writing? I don’t think so. She still has payments on her new AlphaSmart and I hear she’s taken to calling herself La Hoyt—“
“La Hoyt?” Leopard nearly choked. “Sounds like an LA suburb.”
“Or an LA nightclub,” hissed the S-man.
“Whatever.” Raven slurped from his frappuccino. “She’s not going to stop writing any time soon.”
All three princes were quiet for a bit then, listening to the shriek of the espresso machine. The S-man scratched at his neck staples.
“Okay,” Raven finally said. “What if we sent her in another direction?”
“Like south?” Leopard asked.
“No, dude!” the S-man hissed. “Wings means like a different writing direction.”
“Self help books are popular.” Leopard perked up. “She could write Authors Who Love Imaginary Men.”
“Or Authors Who Decapitate Their Heroes,” S-man hissed moodily. “Yeah, I don’t think so. The lady’s not cut out for self help.”
Raven cleared his throat. “What about mysteries?”
“Dude, I dunno,” Leopard objected. “I totally figured out who the murderer was in my book, even with the red herrings.”
“Okay, no mysteries,” Raven mused. “What about a different romance subgenre? Vampires are popular.”
“Oh, hey, and she’s been reading a lot of J.R. Ward, too!” Leopard said.
“J.R. Ward?” The S-man squinted. “How do you know?”
“I just know, my brother, I just know,” Leopard was trying to look mysterious but he was a bit hampered by his mocha latte mustache. “You feel me?”
“What is in that latte? Crack?” hissed the S-man.
“Guys! Guys! We gotta focus,” Raven croaked. “Maybe if she just wrote, y’know, contemporary romances, instead of all this historical stuff.”
“I can see that,” Leopard mused. “Maybe with an FBI agent hero and a librarian heroine who takes a harlequin Great Dane on the run with her in a baby blue ’68 Chevy pick-up. And it could be set somewhere exotic, like Wisconsin.”
Both of the other princes stared at him.
“What?” Leopard said, and then caught sight of his watch. “Oh, man I gotta go. I promised the old lady I’d be home for supper. Her parents are coming. Again.”
Raven winced. “Ouch.”
“Yeah, and every time, they’re always telling her “You could’ve married that young king.” Sheesh.” Leopard drained his latte and lobbed the empty cup at the trash can.
“One benefit to marrying a goat herd girl,” the S-man mused. “No in-laws. ‘Course we do eat a lot of mac and goat cheese . . .”
“Yeah, well, at least your woman isn’t always asking you to do that feather thing in bed,” Raven croaked.
Leopard winced. TMI. “Oookay. Well, it’s been real, guys. Same time next week?”
The S-man made a gun with his thumb and forefinger and shot both Leopard and Raven. “Count on it.” He strolled from the Starbucks.
Raven held the door for Leopard and looked out at the fading sun. He slid on his Oliver Peoples shades and sighed. “Just another happily ever after day in fairy tale land.”
‘Now remember, Charles, be polite. You’re not a brooding rake any more, you’re a reformed character, and this party is special. It’s the Duchess’s tenth anniversary party and she wants to celebrate in style.’
‘I’m always polite,’ he returned. ‘Ever since you discovered that behind my repellent exterior was a frightened little boy who was scarred by the memory of seeing his toy soldier crushed under the wheels of his father’s carriage when he was 3 years old, I’ve never uttered a harsh word.’
She smiled and gave him a kiss. Then they went inside.
‘Susan, Charles, how good of you to come. Let me introduce you to everyone,’ said the Duchess.
She led them over to a young couple, each dandling a baby on their knee, whilst another child crawled at their feet.
‘This is Edward and Sophie. They met when Edward was shipwrecked on an island where Sophie was gathering herbs for her new cookery school. And with them are their three children, Rosemary, Basil and Bouquet Garni.’
‘Over here we have James and Emily. They met in a snowstorm when they were both obliged to shelter in a shepherd’s hut which had only one bed. That was nine months ago and, as you can see, they are shortly expecting a happy event.’
‘Here we have Lucilla and John. Lucilla was scared of men and devoted herself to her garden. John met her whilst pretending to be a gardener in order to catch a gang of smugglers. And with them are their three children Lily, Rose and Tumbleweed.’
‘And over here we have Brett and Laura, with their children Madeline, Luke and Britney. Brett fell through a hole in time and liked it here so much that he decided to stay.’
‘Well, that’s enough introductions for now. Why don’t you go out into the garden and enjoy yourselves?’
‘Thank you,’ said Susan.
They went out into the glorious garden, where other couples milled about.
‘Oh, look, it’s the Braithwaites,’ said Susan. ‘He won her on a hand of cards when her brother gambled her away. She offered to be his housekeeper but, as he already had one, he decided to marry her instead. By all accounts they’re very happy, even though, to begin with, he hated her because he thought she was bound to have affairs, just like his mother. I believe the turning point came when he caught her embracing the estate manager, only to find out that the man was her cousin and she was embracing him because he’d brought her the news of their great uncle’s death.’
‘And then there are the Lancasters. They met each other whilst bell ringing. He was pretending to be a country parson in order to catch a gang of spies and she was pretending to be a schoolmistress because she had grown tired of men proposing to her for her vast fortune instead of her beautiful soul. And those are their children, Belle, Annabelle and Clarabelle.’
They walked on together and Charles fell silent.
‘You’re very quiet,’ said Susan.
‘I was just thinking, Doesn’t it ever strike you as unusual that we don’t know anyone normal? No couples who met at a ball, or who were neighbours, or who had mutual friends. Only people who met in the most peculiar circumstances.’
‘No, not really.’
‘Something’s worrying you,’ she said.
‘Yes, it is,’ he admitted. ‘I’ve been wondering for some time – Susan, do you think we’re real?’
‘Real?’ she asked, taken aback. ‘Of course we are.’
‘I’m not so sure. I’ve been wondering lately whether we might be – well, you know – characters in a book.’
‘Don’t be absurd,’ she said.
‘Only, every now and again, I hear the sound of paper moving, as though a page is turning. Have you ever heard anything similar?’
‘I haven’t heard the sound of paper turning but, now you mention it, I have heard an odd clicking noise every now and again.’
‘As though someone was reading about us on a computer screen?’
‘What’s a computer?’
‘I’m not sure. After all, it’s only 1818. But sometimes, when I look round at our perfect world, where the villains get their comeuppance and the heroes are noble and vulnerable beneath their rakish exteriors; and where the heroines, despite being unattractive and unconventional, always marry the man of their dreams, I just wonder that’s all. Because when we read the newspapers, the outside world doesn’t seem to be like that.’
‘Which is why we’re so lucky to have this place,’ she said, looking round the garden party, where everything was perfect. The roses were in full bloom, throwing their scent out into the air, and not one of them was covered in green fly. There were no dead flowers and no untidy leaves. Doves cooed. Skylarks soared. The sun shone down with just the right degree of warmth. Happy couples strolled everywhere. Even the scowling rake shambling off towards the arbour was likely to meet the woman of his dreams, probably slumped on the floor, weak with starvation after running away from her cruel guardian; or perhaps just hiding there from a crushing bore. ‘Long may it continue.’
‘I’ll drink to that,’ said Charles, helping himself to a glass of champagne. ‘And if this is a book,’ he went on, looking at the sky, ‘I hope someone out there is listening, because I’d like to learn of a new venture tomorrow which, if I invest in it, will make our fortunes within the next three years.’
‘And I’d like to discover a herb in the garden which, when turned into soap, will keep me looking young, so that I look the same at eighty as I did at twenty,’ said Susan. ‘And another herb which will preserve my figure so that, despite having six children and attending picnics and dinner parties every week, I will have the same figure when I’m eighty, too.’
‘Do you think they heard us?’ asked Charles.
‘I hope so,’ said Susan, heading towards the table, which was groaning with food, ‘because I intend to eat three pieces of cake.’
Moonshine and Magnolias
Clutching her heart, Victoria’s breathing grew labored as she slowly backed away from him. When she hit solid rock, she knew there was no escape. Behind her there was nothing but one of the ancient rock formations that comprised Stonehenge. In front of her there was nowhere to run but into the arms of Triston, Lord Stonehenge himself.
The Stud, they called him. The Stud of Stonehenge.
Triston’s nostrils flared as he considered his prey. Would she try to dart to the left or perhaps to the right? His lips slowly curled into a gamine grin. It mattered not. Victoria could not escape him. She would be his. He had learned to become a proficient runner during the years he’d spent as a spy for NATO.
One black eyebrow rose arrogantly. “Going somewhere, my dear?”
Victoria closed her eyes and whimpered. She could not make love with Triston. She could not! What if the things her former lover, Pepe, had said were true? What if Triston was responsible for the stock market crash of ’89? How could she want him, knowing he had destroyed her family?
Victoria tried not to look at him, but the lure was too overwhelming. “No, Triston! No! I will not make love with you! I will not!”
Triston took a step forward, and suddenly Victoria was falling into his heavily muscled arms. He pulled her up against him. She could feel his twelve-inch erection pressing into the soft flesh of her belly. She began to sob in defeat, knowing her reserve of willpower had been depleted.
Triston placed two fingers under Victoria’s chin and drew her face up to meet his gaze. His breathing, she noticed, had grown just as labored as her own. “I want you, Victoria,” he gritted out between clenched teeth. “Come to me.”
“Triston,” she whimpered. “Oh Triston.” Victoria lifted a trembling hand to her neck. “Please don’t do this to me!”
Triston’s nostrils flared. The time was upon them and they both knew it. With a primitive growl, he ripped the shirt from his torso.
Victoria’s sobs grew louder as she beheld the perfection of his well-developed chest. She fell to her knees before him. Her arm flew up to cover her forehead, showing him the palm of her delicate hand. “Oh God, Triston! Oh God!”
He raised a lordly brow. “It’s time, Victoria. It’s time for The Stud of Stonehenge to claim his mate.”
Forty Years & Two Months Later…
Every year on their anniversary Victoria and Triston marked the occasion by going back to the very place where they had first consummated their love so many years ago. For forty years, every year, they had done this. Forty years of marriage, sex, kids, grandkids, and a great-grandchild on the way.
Forty fucking years. Shit.
Victoria’s breathing hitched as she waited for her husband to make his appearance. She knew he was here, the Stud of Stonehenge, hiding in the shadows behind one of the ancient monoliths. Her belly clenched in erotic anticipation, wetness gathering between her thighs.
Perhaps she was already aroused. Perhaps her adult diaper had leaked. She didn’t know which and she didn’t care. The time was upon them.
Her weathered lips parted, revealing a slow, sensual smile. She used her walker to turn around and face her husband. There he was. Wobbling towards her with the agility of an aged cat.
“It’s time, Victoria!” Triston shouted. He tapped at his hearing aid then lowered his voice. “It’s time for the Stud of Stonehenge to claim his mate.”
She licked her dentures.
Triston wobbled toward her faster, his Viagra-induced erection a time-bomb. They had to get down to business while the flag was still flying full mast. Time was always the enemy these days.
He grabbed her, pulling her toward him and whirling her around that her back was to his front. She groaned. Whether from impending pleasure or the dizziness that assaulted her she didn’t know.
“Take me, Triston! Make love to me!”
He fumbled with her dress, pulling it up so he could get to his goodies. He purred, his erection against her back. “Bend over, darling.”
She bent over and clutched the rock before her. A blissful sigh leaked from her lips. A whopper of a fart ripped from her butt cheeks.
“Too much cauliflower at dinner, my dear?”
He took her then, riding her fast and hard. She passed gas with every thrust, both of them too intoxicated with lust to care. She doubted he could hear most of those SBDs anyway.
Triston stuck her like a squealing pig, over and over, again and again and again. They made love for thirty seconds or more, until both of them were too exhausted to go on.
“Well I guess that’s it,” her husband said in a lordly tone. “Until next year.”
“Okie dokie, smokey.”
He zipped up. She pulled her dress back down.
They wobbled home together, oblivious to the group of gawking tourists who stared after them. A teenage boy fainted, the thud of his body hitting dirt not reaching their matured ears.
Triston was still the Stud of Stonehenge. Victoria would always be his mate.
To Hell with Pride
In which Lydia Bennett Wickham meets an early demise only to end up pleading her case with Hades, and falling in love in the process.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged,” Hades thought to himself, casting a glare in the direction of his latest lover, “that a single devil in possession of the silliest Bennett sister must be in want of a mortal soul… so he could kill himself and escape her never-ending prattle.”
It was the first time he’d regretted taking a lover, and he’d slept with actual demons. There was no getting rid of her now that he’d foolishly offered her the choice of becoming a minion over being sent to purgatory to reform her ways. Since Lydia Bennett’s arrival, she’d been giving the devil his due.
“My darling Hades, I’ve always been attracted to bad boys,” Lydia declared boldly. “But to think, I’ve lost my heart to the devil himself! I can’t wait until my sisters get here to see who I’m with now that I’ve escaped that wretched Wickham. Do you know he gambled away all our money so that I could never afford new clothes? The last straw was finding him in bed with my maid, the very one he’d just insisted I let go because we couldn’t afford her wages.”
“Yes, my sweet.” Hades drew in close enough to take her in his arms. True, she annoyed the hell out of him, but she wasn’t half bad-looking, and making love to her was the surest way to shut her up. “He was a wastrel. You’re better off without him, though your method was a bit drastic.”
She clucked her tongue indignantly. “I left a note so that he would have had plenty of time to save me. It was a lovely note, too.”
My Dearest Wickham,
Heartbroken. Have decided to take my life after finding you planting your precious seed in the maid. And to think how you swore that you wouldn’t make a good farmer when the Darcys were so kind as to offer you yet another chance to make a living! Swallowed Laudanum. In case you find me in time and can’t bear the thought of losing me, please stick a finger down my throat to purge the poison.
For lovely always,
Your dearest Lydia
“Who would expect that he would laugh and dance around the room crying “I’m free, I’m free” instead of trying to save me?” Lydia whined. “Besides, I thought half a bottle of laudanum would merely make me ill, not dead. Why doesn’t the apothecary warn of such things?”
Hades smiled. The apothecary had probably been desperate to be rid of her, too. “Perhaps they’ll eventually think of putting labels with warnings right on the bottles.”
“What a fine idea.” Lydia laughed. “Darling Hades, you’re incomparably clever. I can imagine it now: Overdosing may cause immediate death. Think of the people it could save! And with fewer souls hastening to their deaths, you’ll have more time for me.” She clapped her hands, as delighted with herself as a child with a new toy.
Hades made a mental note to hold off on offering divine inspiration to makers of modern pharmaceuticals. The idea of warning labels could be put off for another century, at least. Enough time for him to convince Zeus that Lydia was a worthy enough soul to be taken to Elysium, the true heaven, and out of his realm for eternity. It would take all his pride to beg his brother to take her, but it would be worth it. Anything to free him from this hell of his own making.
The Rose in the Storm
(A Romantic Burlesque)
Dedicated to the rum-soaked Muses (you know who you are)
Once upon a time (actually, it was half past eight on 14 September 1807) in a cold and stormy night (really, really cold) (so cold you thought your butt would freeze off any moment) the mighty, dragon-headed Viking ship sailed down the Pregel in East-Prussia. (You might wonder what a Viking ship was doing in 1807 and in East-Prussia of all places. Well, that’s easy: they had meant to take a shortcut in Scotland and had accidentally fallen through a stone circle. Like that Claire woman in that other book, you know what I’m talking about? Right, only the Vikings fell forward in time instead of backward.) (How did they get the ship to the stone circle in the first place, you ask? Heck, how should I know??? Ever since some hoity-toity people deemed omniscient narrators unfashionable, nobody tells us anything! Anything, do you hear me? So will you please just shut up and sit down and let me tell my tale in peace, eh? — Uhm … where was I? Oh yes …) It was a cold and stormy night when the mighty Viking ship sailed down the Pregel in East-Prussia. They had spent the afternoon terrorizing the good people of Königsberg, but had sailed on because they fancied a roasted pig that night, and Königsberg, alas, had run out of pigs just the day before. So on the fierce Vikings sailed in all their terrible glory. The fiercest and most terrible of them all was Freagar the Dark (friends called him Rafe), whose eyes shone black as the Pit from pole to pole and whose hair flowed like wheat in the wind (because, as you might remember, it was a cold and stormy night). He stood at the prow of the ship, one of his hard hands resting on his mighty sword (Oy, you there, in the last row, will you please take your mind out of the gutter and stop sniggering! I was talking about his sword-sword. The steel thing. The weapon! Not about his other sword. Though that was pretty mighty, too, of course. Or have you ever encountered a romance hero with a small dick? No? See!) So Freagar the Dark stood there at the prow of the ship and let the wind carress his features, which were so perfect they would have made Apollo envious. And then, finally, he spotted a pig. “Pig ahead!” he shouted to his fierce crew and they rowed and sailed even fiercer than before. They dropped the anchor in front of the drive to a manor, where a pig had — unwisely — decided to romp about on the banks of the river, making it an easy prey for the terrible (and hungry) Vikings. Yet just as Freagar the Dark had jumped into the shallow waters of the pregel to make a beeline for the still unsuspecting pig, a flickering light came from the manor down the drive towards the river.
“Psst,” Freagar’s first mate hissed. “There’s somebody coming, boss.”
At that, the pig finally lifted its head and eyed the strangers gruntingly in the manner of the porcine family (even though the pig wasn’t actually a pig, but a cursed prince. But nobody knew this, of course. Not even the pig, poor thing. It had forgotten its human past long ago, and thus it would take a particularly brave woman to discover the man beneath the prickly bristles and kiss the pink snout to chase away the curse — but never fear, redemption was not far away! Read all about the pig prince and the valiant girl who saved him in my next thrilling romantic effusions, called TO KISS A PIG.) (And wasn’t that an ingenious piece of self-promotion? Bookmarks, anyone? Stickers? Magnets? No? What about soap? – Why soap, you ask? Well, the Vikings would have needed it anyway. But we won’t talk about that. Who’d want to know that your romance hero smells like a particularly dirty pigsty?)
“I see that,” the mighty Freagar growled and the sound of his voice was so awful that reeds in the shallow water and the grass on the banks before him shivered in fear (or perhaps it was just because of the wind — if you remember: it was a dark and stormy night). His brows shadowed (’cause it was so dark), he gravely considered his options: snatch the pig and dash away in the manner of a cowardly dog, or stay and fight like the brave Viking hero he was. Forsooth, there was none braver or mightier than him; in all the great halls of the Danes, the Swedes, and whatever other Norsemen abounded up in the cold, dark North, in all their halls the bards sang of his deeds of derring-do (like slaying poor, innocent monsters and nailing their ripped-off arms above the door). (Hey, don’t look at me like that! I didn’t think of this! That’s what these brutish guys did in real life! And when Mother Monster came to talk to them about proper neighbourly behaviour and all that, they chopped off her head as well. That’s conflict management Norseman-style for you.) No, pride and honour demanded that Freagar the Dark should stay and fight — but ah, he was so weary, weary after wandering the seas for many years (and after carrying his boat around and about Scotland, of course; that can really drag a man down, I tell you!) and he longed to rest his weary head (preferably against the soft flesh of a buxom wench, but a nice pillow would do just as well, thank you very much). Thus in a moment of shameful weakness, he turned his back on honourable battle and made to reach for the pig instead.
Yet the pig, realising his intent (as a pig the cursed prince was way cleverer than as a man — he had never seen it coming when that fairy godmother woman had hit him over the head with her dratted wand), squeaked and dashed away towards the flickering light.
Freagar the Dark muttered a most horrid and even viler curse (so vile that I can’t write it down ’cause if you’d read it, the horrid vileness of it would strike you blind in an instant — and it would be all my fault. Can you imagine the outrage this would cause on romance blogs and message boards?).
“Oooh, boss!” his first mate wailed from behind him. “The swine has escaped! We’ll all starve! We’ll all die! We’ll –” The rest ended in uncontrollable sobbing.
Like a dark, wet wave of the stormy ocean, irritation rolled over Freagar. For once in his dreary life (being a mighty hero isn’t as jolly as people generally believe), he had wanted to give in to weakness, but no, it was not to be, the dark gods apparently begrudged him even this! Truly, he was the most wretched of men! His soul torn in shreds (well, what did you expect? Of course, he’s a terribly tortured hero, whose daddy never appreciated him, and all his life he had sought adventure and danger in order to impress the aforementioned daddy with his wondrous deeds, yet all he had ever managed to do was to impress everybody else — hence the songs of the bards), his body weary from travelling, his stomach growling with hunger. At least the latter, though, could be remedied.
And thus Freagar the Dark lunged forward and rose from the shallows of the Pregel like a river god (aka with sodden clothes)to dash after the hapless pig. (See? That’s the reason why it’s preferable to become a frog prince instead of a pig prince: most people don’t necessarily have a culinary yearning for roasted frog.) (Well, of course, there are always the storks to worry about …) His powerful, long legs carried him easily across the expanse of pitch-black (’cause it’s still a dark and stormy night) grass, the wind carressing his face with a lover’s touch. And then, just before he had reached the pig —
“Was fällt Ihnen denn ein?” a woman’s voice, quivering with agitation and outrage, cut through the darkness. It was she, who held the lantern, the flickering light he had seen from afar. Now it was near … so near … but not as near as the pig.
His dinner in sight, Freagar the Dark gave a fearsome chuckle (so fearsome in fact that, if there had been any flower fairies around, they would have keeled over dead as a doornail straight away; but luckily there weren’t any of these dainty creatures around, so nobody can accuse me of cruelty to flower fairies) and pounced.
“Räuber! Mörder!” the woman squealed, and the next moment an awful roar split the night and burning fire seared Freagar’s … um … behind. His eyes crossed, the dark night became even darker, and then he keeled over (though not dead as a doornail, mind you) (of course not! How shocking of you to suggest anything else! Freagar is the hero! He can’t die! What sort of romance would this make if he’d drop dead, hm, hm?) and fell face first into the dirt.
The next time he opened his eyes (see? not dead!), he beheld — an angel. With pale, soft skin, eyes as blue as the woad of a Pictish tattoo, and hair so red that the lantern she held up created a fiery halo around her face. (Okay, okay, I’m cheating here: there are no angels in the Norse mythology, unless you count the valkyries — nah, not really, and even if there had been angels, they would have probably been male anyway) (hmm, now that opens up interesting possibilities, doesn’t it?). “Dem Himmel sei Dank, Sie sind ja doch nicht tot!” the Angel said in a cheerful, bubbly voice and petted his head where it lay in her lap. “Für einen Moment befürchtete ich, ich hätte Sie ernsthaft verletzt.” Soft fingers tunnelled in his raven-black, midnight-dark hair (now unfortunately somewhat muddy).
His brows knitted in a fierce Viking frown, the kind of which had terrorized countless Britons for manyscore years, Freagar stared up at her. “What?” he croaked. (I’m sorry to say he sounded a bit like a frog. You know, one of these really big, fat and ugly ones. But of course, it wouldn’t do to describe the hero of a romance as a frog — unless he is a frog prince, of course, but these are normally small, sweet and pea-green –, so you better forget I’ve said anything.)
“Oooooh,” the angel cooed, “das war aber auch ein schlimmer, schlimmer Sturz. Haben Sie Sich sehr wehgetan?”
Freagar didn’t have a clue what she was talking about (he did speak a little bit of Old High German — mostly swear words he’d picked up from people whose villages he had raided –, but if you remember this was 1807, so all the Old High German in the world wouldn’t have helped him to make sense of the angel’s babbling), and it didn’t really matter to him either because just in this moment he became aware that his poor bottom (and a yummy bottom it was, too, packed with firm muscle) had been cast into all seven hellfires. (Would the stickler to historical accuracy in the seventh row — yes, I mean you there — would you please just sit down again and wipe that indignant scowl off your face? Naturally, Freagar hadn’t been converted to Christianity yet, but he had heard the seven hellfires mentioned often enough. Usually when he and his men raided a monastery and the monks damned them to the aforementioned hellfires when the Vikings loaded their ship with the monastery’s gold and silver. Or when they torched the library. Or just before they killed the monks.) (Well, what did you expect? They were Vikings, after all! You can’t just change the leopard’s spots simply to accomodate the tender sensibilities of your audience! That would be cheating! And we don’t do such things!) (Though Freagar had never liked killing monks, of course. He much preferred an honest battle with a nice, strapping British warrior. To proof his mighty, manly might in such battle — usually by chopping off the other man’s head — was much more heroic. You must remember that the poor man simply didn’t have anything else to do: after all, there was no TV, so he couldn’t watch any soccer and jump up and down on the couch while yelling at the telly.) A groan was wrenched from Freagar’s manly, stoic lips (lips that had such a sinfully sensual curve that the knees of every woman who beheld them turned to jelly, to the softest of puddings, to chocolate mousse even … wonderfully dark, chocolaty chocolate mousse … hmmm … Ooops, sorry, got sidetracked for a moment here — where was I? Oh yes, Freagar’s lips, those kissable, seductive lips. Too bad our heroine couldn’t properly see them: as the fearsome Freagar had fallen flat on his face, his deeply desturbing, erotic lips were now somewhat obscured by mud.). “My arse!” Freagar uttered another of these really, really vile curses (if I had written it down, you would have all fainted from the awfully horrid vileness of it) and one of his hands groped for that part of his anatomy which was on fire. “Oooh! Damn it, woman, what have you done to me?” (Obviously, he didn’t fully appreciate the romantic possibilities of the situation. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? whether he was really the right man to be cast in the role of a romance hero. Another man would have left his butt be and instead enclosed the heroine in the steely strength of his arms to bestow a few punishing kisses on her rosy lips, or something. *sigh* Well, I guess an author can’t be picky and has to work with what she’s been given.)
Her eyes as round as saucers, as wide and vulnerable as those of a doe caught in the headlights of a car (oooops, my mistake again. Of course they hadn’t cars yet in 1807), the young woman stared at him. Her lips moved soundlessly as if she were repeating his words to herself, then her gaze flicked from Freagar (though it was hard to wrench her gaze from him for even caked in mud, he was devilishly handsome) to his ship with its proud dragonhead and his fearsome crew (they had all frozen with fright when the blunderbuss had taken their leader down), then back to Freagar, whose face was twisted with the hellish agony he had to endure, but still he managed to bestow one of these frightful scowls on her. Her face lighting up, she clapped in her hands. “You are a Viking!” she exclaimed. (Why could she suddenly speak Old Norse, you ask? Well, see, it was like this: our heroine had a father, who was a scholar of the Old Germanic languages and of Old Norse. While helping him with his research, she had learnt a bit of those languages as well, though she had, of course, never imagined this knowledge would one day come in so handy.) “How wunnful!” (Well, I’ve never said she spoke the language fluently!) She took Freagar’s large hand and shook it energetically, not caring that her small, delicate hand was devoured by his big, strong, tanned fingers. “Please meeting you!” She beamed at him, and it was a smile of such luminous, fluorescent intensity which was normally only found on the faces of real angels.
Indeed the glorious radiance of it melted Freagar’s horrid scowl away like the potent rays of the spring sun melt a snowman until it’s all turned to water, and the hat, the carrot and the pieces of coal lie in a dirty puddle (as a consequence of which they usually end up in the garbage bin). So powerful was her smile that it blazed into Freagar’s dark and shrivelled heart, brought it back to life, healed all the wounds his uncaring father had inflicted.
It didn’t even matter when the wind picked up again and whipped strands of the heroine’s hair across her face and into her eyes and thus the smile off her lips. “Aua!” (Naturally, she uttered the cry of pain in her native tongue.) She fought hard — and heroically, he thought — to tame the shattered, glossy waves. Finally, she emerged from behind her unruly hair, her cheeks now glowing rosily. “Um … ah … me am Rosa …”
“Rose,” Freagar interrupted her, his voice throbbing with the intensity of his newly found feelings. “My Rose.”
“Oh, well …” Flustered colour rose higher in her face, but then she bestowed another of these heavenly smiles on him and it was in that moment, in that very moment, that Freagar knew with certainty she now held his heart, whole and throbbing with healthy, red blood, in the palm of her hand. She was the one, his soulmate, his true love, the woman whom he could tell his deepest, darkest secret (i.e., he didn’t like sailing about on oceans one bit as he suffered from a terribly case of seasickness),who would take him as he was, love him as he was, cherish him, nourish all those hitherto empty places in his soul and fill them with light and sunshine and the humming of bees and the singing of birds and all that (and naturally the sex with her would be mindblowingly fantastic).
Reverently, he touched her cheek (and smeared dirt all over her face), before his hand cupped the back of her neck, tendrils of her wild, red hair tickling the back of his hand in the most “wunnful” fashion, and drew her head down so their lips could meet and merge and their souls could become one (ha! finally he’s getting his act together!).
With a happy, little sigh Rosa complied and let the moist, dark cavern of her mouth be plundered by her Viking. (And who really cared about a bit of mud? Sure, it would later make funny noises between her teeth, but that’s a small sacrifice to make when you’ve got the chance to kiss such a prime specimen of man as Freagar the Dark, fit, trim, with midnight black hair, and with powerful, rippling muscles … well … everywhere; whose manly arms closed around her and held her masterfully yet tenderly against his wide, powerful chest, which as she would later learn, was sprinkled with the most charming bit of dark, curly body hair.) Her lips, which had naturally never known such brilliant mastery, quivered under his onslaught and got crushed in a rather delightful manner.
She moaned her delight.
He groaned an enthusiastic answer.
His sword rose in appreciation. (And no, I’m not talking about his sword-sword this time!)
“Oh my love!” Freagar gasped, willing and eager to talk about those more tender feelings which now reigned supreme inside him.
“Oh … oh … my –“
At this point their passionate oaths of undying, everlasting love were abruptly cut short by a mighty puff and a loud bang. A big, glittery cloud appeared beside them. With a squeak, Rosa scrambled away from Freagar so his head hit the muddy ground with a thud once more, while Freagar’s crew decided that right this minute would be a good time to lift the anchor and sail on and good luck to their boss. Surely, a man who had fought against so many horrible monsters, giants, not to speak of British and Irish warriors, could be trusted to deal with strange apparitions of the glittery kind just fine. And so on they sailed until the striped sail of the proud Viking ship disappeared into the night and was seen nevermore (well, never say never: those mighty warriors might reappear in a sequel — wink-wink, nudge-nudge — if you know what I mean).
The glittery cloud twinkled for a few moments, before it finally dissolved and revealed a short, plump woman of advanced years, wearing a pointy head and a lavendar-coloured dress. She sneezed, then blinked a little owlishly, before her gaze was drawn to the two distraught lovers. Her expression brightened. “Ah, there you are, my dears,” she chirped.
Groaning, Freagar scrambled to his feet and rubbed the back of his head where a murderous pain had taken up residence.(But what do the movies teach us? Always look at the bright side of life! At least this most horrible of all headaches distracted him from the hellfire-ish pain in his behind.) “Urgh,” he said. And, “Gaaargh!” And then he stumbled down to the river and was sick in the reeds. (My, my, for a renowned monster-killer he surely had a weak constitution!)
The woman in lavendar shot him a look that clearly said she was not impressed, before, all smiles again, she turned to Rosa. “My dear!” she exclaimed. And then she rushed to the girl and enveloped her in a lavendar-colored, lavendar-scented embrace. “How tall you’ve become!”
“Er,” Rosa said, her nose squashed against a big bossom. “Do I know you, gnädige Frau?”
“Of course you do!” The woman’s voice throbbed with notes of indignation. “I am your fairy godmother.”
“My fairy –” Before Rosa could end her sentence, the woman had thrust her away and rose to her full, imposing height(meaning her forehead was level with Rosa’s chin).
“Do you doubt me, young woman?” the woman huffed. The next moment, though, her brow cleared. “Ah, I bet it is because I don’t have my wand, is that right?” She thrust her hands in the hidden pockets of her dress and rummaged around. “Well, where is it? — It must be here somewhere … I’m sure … Ah, here it is!” With this triumphant cry, she brought forth her sparkly wand, at the sight of which the pig (don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the pig! how shocking!) squealed in panic (our poor pig prince no longer trusted women with wands) and dashed away to the house as fast as his cloven hooves would carry him (but never fear: you will hear more about our porcine hero soon, in my masterfully written, fiendishly clever and highly critically acclaimed novel TO KISS A PIG. Preorder it now and be among the first to read this grand piece of literary art that will change the genre of romance forevermore!).
“So,” the fairy godmother said, while she patted Rosa’s arm. “Now that we have renewed our acquaintance, you must call me Godmamma, my dear.”
Still, Rosa eyed her a little suspiciously (which is only understandable, or would you simply trust somebody who has just stepped out of a sparkly, glittery cloud?). “Will you now grant me a wish?” she asked.
“A wish?” Godmamma echoed a little distractedly as she was admiring Freagar’s trim backside while he was leaning down towards the reeds. “A wish? Heavens, no, whatever gave you that idea?” She cocked her head to the side. “I’ve brought you …”
“What?” Rosa asked, her arms now akimbo. After all, the old woman had interrupted her first ever session of hot, passionate snogging.
“What?” Blinking, Godmamma turned to her. “Oh. Oh, that. Well, I’ve brought you a man.” With a sweeping gesture she pointed to Freagar, who tried to scramble up the bank of the river, but stumbled and fell flat on his face. Again. “Oh dear.” Godmamma narrowed her eyes. “Does he do that often? Ah, never mind. I’m sure once he’s had a good scrub in the bathtub he won’t be too sore a sight. He’s an earl, you know. Earls are always most handsome creatures. That’s a rule.”
“But he’s not an earl,” Rosa protested. “He is a Viking!”
More arm-patting ensued. “Not quite, my dear. Not quite. You see, I only wanted the best for you, and an earl, while quite nice in himself, is a bit tame, after all. Anybody can have an earl these days! No, no, that would not do for my goddaughter! But a Viking!” Her face and voice became all dreamy. “Oooh, you won’t find many of these in this day and age!” (And isn’t that the truth!) “So I took the boy and thrust him back into the past.”
Rosa gaped at her. “You –“
Godmamma beamed at her. “Wasn’t that a most ingenious idea? So now you can have an earl and a Viking! At the same time! It’s like a buy-one-get-one-free offer, two men all rolled into one package: noble and handsome, but also wild and ruthless and packed with lots and lots and lots of muscles. All that raiding and killing off monsters certainly gives a man a nice, handsome figure, if you ask me. You don’t get such a body from riding about your estate or getting some fancy fencing lessons, oh no! — Just look at him.”
They both looked at Freagar as he heroically struggled to his feet once more, his face all caked with mud which gave him the appearance of a moor-monster. (Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of moor-monsters! Well, take some healing earth, mix it with water, put it on your face — and look into the mirror.) (But be prepared: a truly horrid sight awaits you!) His eyes, a little wild, fastened on his beloved and held on as if she was his anchor in a stormy night (and it was; a stormy night, that is).
Godmamma watched with satisfaction as a sweet, shy smile lifted Rosa’s lips and the girl’s whole face shone like a Christmas tree full of itty-bitty, little candles (Christmas trees with candles were just coming into fashion). Ah yes, the old woman thought,I did well. I did very well indeed. “What do you say to a wedding next week, my dear? By special license would be most exciting. Or perhaps you could even run away to Gretna Green!”
But Rosa no longer heard her because she was rushing to Freagar, her beloved, her soulmate, and the next moment they clung together, and their lips meshed and their breaths mingled, and the flames of love and passion consumed them wholly.
An ardent sigh. “I love you.”
A heartfelt groan. “I love you. Your are my heart, my soul, you make the whole. Because of you, light has come into my life.”(Which wasn’t quite true as it was still a dark and stormy night and the candle in the lantern had almost burnt down.) “I feel it, yes, deep in my bones, I feel that I will become a better man because of you. And –” Yet before his hot-blooded confessions could continue, the events of the night caught up with poor Freagar and he fainted. (“Blimey,” Godmamma said, “not quite steady on his feet, is he?”)
Rosa’s Viking-earl had to spent the next few days in bed with a severe concussion, but as soon as the excrutiating headache had subsided, they were married with Godmamma as the flower girl, and then they lived happily ever after. In England. On his estate. And it turned out that Freagar the Dark’s real name was Henry Mispleham, Earl of Featheringhow. Yet even as Lord and Lady Featheringhow, they lived happily ever after (and multiplied as all romance heroes and heroines are wont to do).
(But don’t forget the pig prince! Pre-order the wonderful, the marvellous TO KISS A PIG now!)
A Regency Epilogue
Partridge, butler at Brockwith Manor, the Delafont family home in the country, glanced around the dining room to make sure every last little thing was in place and ready for the homecoming celebration. The Delafonts, Sebastien, his wife Emily, and even the twin babies, precocious little darlings at the age of three, were his best friends, treating him more like family than serving staff, and he was intent on making every last little thing quite quite perfect for them.
Samson, the little boy twin, toddled in and lisped, “Partridge, shall we have pheasant for dinner today?”
The butler smiled at the little darling’s perfect enunciation, and watched Samson’s twin sister Delilah toddle in after. “Yes, little master,” he said, “we shall have pheasant and venison and every delicacy from the earl’s grand estate. Cook is even going to prepare a pudding, which as you know is sometimes a sweet dish, containing fruit, flour and nuts, or sometimes a savory dish containing meat, both most typically boiled in a bag with the evening meal, often in very humble households but occasionally served even in elevated estate homes such as Brockwith Manor.”
Silence greeted such a gratuitous dumping of information.
“And we shall have visitors,” Delilah finally piped up.
Partridge took their little hands in his own and walked them out of the drawing room. “Yes, lots of visitors.”
“Uncle Sylvester is coming!” Samson said.
“And Uncle Beverley,” Delilah added, referring to Sylvester Lessington’s life partner.
“Ah, thank you, Delilah, for reminding me!” Partridge said. He must be sure the two gentlemen’s room was provided with the books of poetry and lots of pens and paper, for the two men were working on a play celebrating their affair, and Lady Delafont had been adamant that they have time to work while at Brockwith for this reunion, a gathering of family and friends to celebrate Sylvester’s latest two stage triumphs, a memorial to old King George, who had died in February, just months ago, and a paean to Lord Byron and wish for his long life and successful settlement in the English countryside with his wife and daughter.
“Partridge, have you seen the children?” Emily, Lady Delafont, called.
“They are here, milady,” Partridge said, guiding them into the drawing room where her ladyship sat with her feet up, preggers again, more twins, likely, for her previous years of infertility had apparently been caused only by a mental block.
“I hear carriages, Partridge,” Lord Delafont said, strolling in, his usual sardonic grimace twisting his lips. He strode directly to his wife and kissed her deeply, giving tongue.
Partridge directed the footmen to open the grand doors and await the arrivals.
First was Lord Pierson and his wife Amy, and their twins, Luke and Skywalker. The twins immediately disappeared with Samson and Delilah. Lord Pierson was clearly in a snit. When greeted, all he did was pout, ignore the gathered company, and say, clearly continuing an argument the couple had been having in the carriage on the way there, “I still cannot imagine why all the world preferred Bainbridge and Rowena to you and I, Amy, when I was so clearly the hero of the piece, having been introduced first as a drunken wastrel in need of reforming, when Bainbridge was sickeningly perfect from the get-go. It was my reformation, after all, and to have critics say that Bain and Rowena were far more interesting—”
Amy put up one hand, and with a tired expression on her pretty but careworn face, said, “Enough, Pierson, darling, enough.” She turned away. “Egotistical twit,” she muttered under her breath, wishing she had never seen the drunken jerk and taken pity on him. She went straight to Lady Delafont. “Have Sylvester and Beverley arrived yet? I need to speak to Syl, for I may need to return to my seamstress job in his theater. Pierson, despite his vow to reform, has begun drinking again.” She threw him an accusatory look. “The estate will never recover at this rate!”
Lady Delafont, her belly keeping her on her back in the chair like an overturned tortoise, kept hold of her husband’s hand. “No, he’s not here yet, but will arrive momentarily, I’m sure.”
At that moment, Partridge called out, from the door, “More arrivals!”
Justin and Celestine climbed down out of the carriage, followed by their troop of golden children, every one taking after their handsome father rather than their plain but far more worthy mother. As they entered, Partridge intoned, “Lord Justin and Lady Celestine St. Claire and family.”
Justin sighed and rolled his eyes skyward, to the heavens. “How many times do I have to say it, and even to you, Partridge, who ought to know, being a butler! I am not Lord Justin St. Claire, I cannot be Lord Justin St. Claire, and I never will be Lord Justin St. Claire. My elder brother’s name is…” He trailed off, shaking his head in dismay. “Oh forget it!” He’d never be able to get people to address him correctly, as sore a trial as that was. “However, please do try to remember that ‘Lord St. Claire’ was a name foisted upon me by some woman who ought to have known better. She knows now, but of course it’s far too late!”
Celestine patted his hand. “Don’t worry, darling. Everyone loves you anyway, even if you were saddled for life with the wrong name and title.”
“Thank you, my angel,” he said, brightly, regaining his inevitable good humour.
They strolled together to Lord Delafont, who glared at him. “Justin, you big boob, it’s the same complaint every time I see you. You sound like a broken record. Do you think I like being named wrong? I’m not Lord Delafont, oh no,” he said, crossly. “I’m the bloody Marquess of Sedgely, so I should be Lord Sedgely, but the mistake was discovered too late to keep it out of print, in my case. Just another month or two—”
“Baxter, dear heart, shut your pie hole, will you?” his wife said, wearily. She perked up at the sound of more carriage wheels, though, through the open door where Partridge, the butler, still waited. “Here come the guests of honour,” Lady Delafont cried out in joy, struggling to her feet as another more ornate carriage rolled to a stop. Three people climbed down.
Partridge, handy intoner that he was, intoned, “Mr. Sylvester Lessington, his life partner Lord Beverley Fawley, and the star of our show, Miss Belle Gallant!”
Lady Delafont waddled to the door and hugged Sylvester, while eyeing the lithe and lovely Miss Gallant with something akin to resentment. “And Belle. How wonderful to see you again, my dear,” she said to her husband’s former mistress, who had found great success on stage. She was slim and glowing. After a couple of fake air kisses between the two women, Emily clung to Baxter possessively.
All the men eyed Belle with lusty appreciation, and all the women exchanged glances among themselves. If the young actress walked out of Brockwith alive it would be despite various attempts on her life, none of them committed by Regency spies, saboteurs, miserly guardians, or even cruel fathers.
“Everyone to the drawing room,” Lady Delafont cried, merrily, and waddled ahead of them. There, on the groaning sideboard (she really would have to get that examined, Lady Delafont thought, glancing at it nervously, for it groaned ever more loudly of late), were trays of snacks and goodies and one large silver salver holding bottles of bubbly and champagne flutes. “Come, and toast to all of our good fortune and continuing fecundity. Except for you, Beverley and Sylvester, and Belle, of course,” she said, snidely, “Who will never know the blessing of bearing babies.”
“Yes, and gather together by the hearth, so we can immortalize this moment,” Baxter said, heartily.
“Why?” some of the others chorused.
“How?” cried the others.
“Just do it!” he growled.
And so they gathered together. “Now everyone,” Baxter said, “Hold out your champagne flutes and say ‘cheese’!”
“What was that bright flash?” cried Belle, rubbing her eyes.
“The photographer,” Baxter replied, calmly, pointing to a bearded fellow emerging from under a dark sheet draped over something on a tripod.
“Photographer? What the bloody effing hell is that?” Belle answered, her careful accent slipping back into rawest London vernacular.
“But my lords and ladies, photography won’t be invented for decades yet,” Lord Fawley, Sylvester Lessington’s life partner, drawled.
Everyone stared at him, because he hadn’t said a word, so far, and some were about to tell him to shut up, but then a couple of them realized the man really was good-natured. His title was Viscount Sumter, and so he should have been called Lord Sumter, but no one heard him complaining about being called the wrong name his whole life!
“No one will give a damn about the mistakes if we entertain them enough,” Baxter Delafont said.
“But did we?” Sylvester asked. He glanced around. “Entertain them enough, I mean. It’s a tough crowd out there. I know, being a world famous theatre impresario.”
Emily eased herself into the nearest chair, and said, “We won’t know until the reviews come in, will we?” She frowned. “By the way,” she said, glancing around, “Where did the children go?”
“Everyone knows they always disappear when it is inconvenient that they should be around,” Celestine said, angelically, eyeing Justin, who was flirting with Belle. “I suppose the nanny came and collected them.” She smacked her husband in the back of the head, then regretted it immediately, as her arthritis flared up.
“I suppose,” Emily said, absently, to Celestine’s explanation. “Now what shall we do?”
“We’ll disappear,” Lord Pierson said, wisely, “and wait for a sequel. I have five half-brothers by my wastrel late father, and they have gathered together into a band set to wreak revenge upon wayward lords who strew unwanted babies about the countryside.”
“What do they call themselves?” Baxter asked.
“What do you mean?” Pierson asked.
“Well, they must have a cool name for their club,” the marquess said, emphatically.
“Oh. Never thought about it,” Pierson said, puzzledly.
“How about ‘Brotherhood of Doom!” Belle said, excitedly.
“What on earth does that mean?” Lord Fawley said, wryly. Or he may have said it quizzically.
Baxter looked at his wristwatch. “Okay, I need a real drink. It’s time to end this thing.”
“Some folks just don’t know when to write ‘the end’,” Sylvester said. Fawley hugged him and they began to kiss enthusiastically.
“Let’s all say it together,” Celestine said.
“The End!” they all chorused.
The sound of another carriage outside made Emily moan. “Who is it now?”
Partridge entered, bowed and said, “Miss Eveleen O’Clannahan and her three children, Lawrence, Curly and Moesha.”
“Good grief, the names!” Emily said, distracted. “I suppose I shall have to let her in,” she murmured to her husband.
“We’ve already got a full house, Emily, my dear.”
“Baxter, my darling,” Emily said through her teeth. “I have to let her in! She is a friend of Arabella Swinton’s… you remember that fortune hunting girl who married young and then retired? She is a friend of Truelove, my fourth cousin three times removed who married that gloomy fellow who was so clearly suffering from PTSD brought on by a traumatic incident during his involvement in the Peninsular war.”
“What?” he said, blankly, thinking of cricket scores or something.
“Anyway,” Emily went on, “everyone is always asking what happened to Eveleen, for she just disappeared from London, and it was hinted that she was with child. She was never heard from again.”
“Too much information,” her husband grunted. “I’m going down to the pub. They’re not my friends, you take care of them.”
Emily closed her eyes, one plump hand to her forehead. “No. No, you’re right, Baxter. We said ‘the end’ once, and I think I’ll just let it go at that. It’s done. Over. The End.”
Marianne Stillings (In 2001, Marianne Stillings earned the most votes for her Purple Prose Parody, Parody in Death. As an AAR staffer, she was inelgible to win our prize that year, but her parody of J.D. Robb’s In Death series was such a hit with readers that she reprises the series with Epilogue in Death.)
Epilogue in Death
December 31, 2099 – New Roarke City, Earth
Roarke gazed at his reflection in the holomirror over the fireplace in his study, wrapping the thick NuWool scarf he held in his hand around his neck – twice. Zipping the front of his black ski parka, he pulled a pair of thin InsulaGloves from one of the pockets and tugged them on. He took a moment to finger-comb his long silver hair, then unclipped the MicroKnit cap from the belt of the parka and yanked it on over his head.
There, warm at last.
Next to the holomirror, a flute of champagne sparkled pale and golden in the late afternoon light. Raising the glass to his lips, he let his attention drift to the framed holoportrait of himself and Eve taken on their wedding day over forty years ago. One sip, and he smiled into his own eyes, pleased at the full-bodied flavor of the exquisite ’80 Chateau de Roarkeschild. While there were many many many many many ventures both on-planet and off that bore his name, the vineyards on Tibia and Fibula left him feeling proud right down to the bones.
Somewhere upstairs, the sound of crockery crashing against a wall caught his attention. He winced, stared for a moment at his reflection in the mirror, then tossed back the champagne, downing the remainder in one gulp.
Behind him, a voice, deep and droll, murmured slowly, “She rises.”
In the holomirror, Roarke’s eyes shifted to meet Summerset’s. “I didn’t hear you come in, old friend.”
“It’s this RoarKo ChairE8 5000,” the butler stated, opening his arms as if to embrace the lighter-than-air conveyance in which he sat. “I simply cannot fathom how people used to transport their arthritic limbs about in devices that had wheels on them. Barbaric, and utterly impractical.”
Desperate to avoid the stomping noises coming from upstairs, Roarke lifted his voice above the cacophony. “I began working on the design just before your one hundred and thirtieth birthday last year. Happy to see it fits your needs.” Turning away from the mantel, he flicked a nervous glance at the ceiling. Barely able to keep the tremble from his tone, he went on, “I-I trust you have the air temp set at forty-five?”
Summerset gave a sharp nod. “Indeed I have, sir. It is my fondest wish, after all, to live to see one hundred and thirty-one.”
Overhead, the sound of footsteps thundering across the floor increased, reducing both men to apprehensive silence. Something else hit a wall and broke. On the other side of the study, the windows rattled as a woman began shouting at the top of her lungs.
Roarke eyed his champagne flute, wishing like hell it were full again. “H-Have any of the children arrived yet?”
The butler’s eyes still following the thuds and bumps above them, he whispered, “Your younger son beamed down from Phalanges early this morning.”
“He’s knuckled down to his studies, I trust?”
“Indeed, sir. And your daughter arrived earlier from Philtrum II.”
“She didn’t give you any lip, did she? So much like her mother she is.”
Roarke arched a brow. “And my eldest son. What of him?”
“He sent word that he and his family will be late,” Summerset said. “Though I’m told he hasn’t yet completed his research, the Interplanetary Commission is demanding his findings nonetheless. Apparently the binary blue moons of Scrotum VII are cooling more rapidly than anticipated, so he is offering his dictum today in the hopes of fulfilling their desires.”
“But will a premature explanation satisfy them?”
Summerset shrugged. “He promised he’d try to come later.”
A noise outside the study caught both men’s attention. Quickly turning his floating conveyance toward the opposite end of the room, Summerset whooshed toward the door at the far end.
“If there will be nothing else, sir, I’m getting the hell out of here.”
“Coward!” Roarke accused.
“Indeed, sir!” the butler shouted over his shoulder as the door closed firmly behind him, leaving Roarke to face her alone.
A moment later, Eve stomped into the study wearing nothing but a navy blue NRCPD t-shirt and cut-offs. Fingers curling into fists at her sides, her damp, steel gray hair hanging limply over her ears, she yelled, “Is it hotter than shit in here, or is it just me?”
Glaring at Roarke as though waiting for a logical answer, she wiped her sweaty brow with the towel she clutched in her hand.
“Lieutenant,” Roarke soothed as he huddled deeper into his parka. “If it’s too warm for you, I’d be happy to ship in an iceberg from—”
“Don’t get smart with me!” she snapped, then tugged at the neck of her t-shirt. “Hell. Why can’t that damned butler of yours keep this place at a comfortable temperature!”
“But darling Eve—”
“Don’t you darling Eve me!” She stopped abruptly. A puzzled expression crossed her face. Lifting her gaze, she looked around the study. “I know I came into this room for a reason,” she said softly under her breath. “Let’s see. I . . . I was upstairs, and then I came downstairs to get . . . to get . . . something . . .”
Without warning, she burst into tears and flung herself into Roarke’s arms. “I’m sorry!” she squeaked. “I don’t . . . I can’t . . . I just . . .” Looking up into his eyes, she sniffed. “My feet are hot! My skin is crawling! My heart is racing—”
“I see then that I haven’t lost my touch—”
“Don’t try and get out of this with charm, pal,” she barked, then shoved herself out of his arms. Placing her open palm against her forehead, she whimpered, “Are the kids here yet? Where are the kids? Are they hiding from me? They’re hiding from me, aren’t they? I’m bad. I’m a bad parent. I never should have reproduced. I should have stuck with solving the varied and heinous crimes that plague this city, and left motherhood to Mavis and Peabody and Nadine and all my other really feminine friends who have the maternal instincts I so obviously lack!”
“Look, Eve darling,” Roarke cajoled. “Why don’t we just go upstairs and have a tumble. You know how that always—”
“A tumble!” she screamed. “A tumble? Is that all you ever think about, Tommy Testosterone? Is that your solution to everything? Never mind that I suddenly have the sex-drive of a wooden spoon, or that my vagi-woo-woo is about as moist as a Martian desert! Oh, and my brain. My frickin’ brain functions about as well as a . . . a . . . a something. I forget. What was I going to say? Something about memory something?” She blinked up at him, bewilderment plain to see in the milky brown depths of her eyes. “Are the kids here yet? Did I ask you that already?”
Wiping the frost from his upper lip, Roarke tugged his gloves on more snugly, then approached his wife and put his arms around her.
“Relax, Lieutenant,” he whispered. “You’re retired from law enforcement now and don’t have to remember anything if you don’t want to. Aye, two of the children are about, and the other will hopefully arrive later. In your illustrious career, you solved some of the most disgusting, violent, foul, repugnant, vulgar, icky, yucky crimes of the century, made a name for yourself, bore three beautiful children, are the grandmother of two, live in any number of mansions, can afford to travel to any galaxy you wish on a moment’s notice, and are married to the hottest old man this side of the Crab Nebula.”
Her head came up. “You have crabs?”
“The hearing’s going too, is it?” When she cocked her head and blinked, he shouted, “Crab Nebula!”
“Well you don’t have to yell at me!” she yelled at him. “I’m not deaf!” When she began to cry again, Roarke placed his open palm against the back of Eve’s head and eased it down to his shoulder, turning her face gently away so she wouldn’t suffocate in the thickness of his parka.
“Look, there’s a lovely retirement community on Jupiter that I think you’d really—”
“My boobs sag,” she interrupted with a sorrowful whimper.
“I don’t care.”
“My butt sags, too.”
“Not to me, it doesn’t.”
“I’ve turned into a bitch.”
“Not true, Lieutenant. You’ve always been a bitch.”
“Really?” she said, lifting her head to search his eyes. Stomping her bare foot, she snarled, “Oh, you’re just saying that to make me feel better!”
“I’m not. It’s true. Ask anyone.”
She clung to him. “That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me, Roarke.” Tears trickled from her eyes down her face. She wiped them away and raised her head. “How come men don’t turn into a whole other person when they hit middle age?”
“God is obviously a man, darling Eve.”
She sniffed. “Thank you for putting up with me all these years, Roarke.”
“It’s occasionally been a pleasure, Lieutenant.”
“Roarke,” she said quietly. “Roarke . . .”
He arched a brow. “Something?”
She nodded. “We’ve been married for forty years, had three children together and been through any number incidents that would have killed, or at the very least maimed for life, lesser fictional characters.”
Inhaling a deep breath, she said, “So don’t you think it’s about time you told me your first name?”
“We’ve been over this,” he warned. “Besides, why do you assume Roarke is my last name?”
“Because our children are named Roy Roarke, Rory Roarke, and Dora Roarke, Roarke!” She glared at him, mopped bits of sweat from her neck, then tossed the damp towel at his feet like a gauntlet. “What is your first name? Tell me now, or I swear, I’ll let my over-heated hormones loose, what there are left of them, and . . .”
“. . . I swear to God that if you don’t . . .” Her breath caught. “Joe?” Her lashes fluttered as she absorbed what he’d just said. “Your name is Joe? Joe Roarke?”
“What?” he growled. “I suppose you were expecting something illustrious? Something the likes of Derek or Erik or Brad or Dylan or Reinhold or Cosmo? A name befitting my station in life, my zephamegamuchogigantokatrillions of dollars, my ownership of every building in every city on every planet in the galaxy?”
She shrugged. “Well, yeah, actually. Not too sure about Reinhold, though.” Sliding her arms around him, she laughed somewhat maniacally. “No matter, no matter, no matter.” Heaving a sigh, she said, “So, Joe, it’s almost the new century. We’ve had forty good years together so far. You gonna stick around for the next forty?”
He considered the possibilities. “Aye. If Ms. Robb continues placing our lives at hazard, involving us in interplanetary travel and daily bouts of wild monkey sex, I’m willing to sign on to go the distance.”
Eve tilted her head. “Even if it means doing it in a RoarKo ChairE8 5000?”
He winked at her. “Aye. Say, do you suppose Ms. Robb has any plans for us in our Golden Years?”
“You mean like Pensioned Off In Death?”
He narrowed one eye. “How about Dotage In Death, or maybe Senile In Death.”
“Well, after Menopause In Death, I suppose it would naturally follow.”
Roarke’s mouth flattened. “As long as there’s no Shriveled or Wilted In Death, if you get my meaning, I’ll be content.”
“There’s always Levitra In Death, sweetheart.”
Removing his gloves, Roarke caressed his wife’s damp cheek, then leaned down to plant a kiss on the top of her arctic red nose. “Always the problem solver, eh, Lieutenant?” he observed softly. “Through the hot flashes, fits of temper, shouting, weeping, mood swings, and then when you went into menopause, there’s never been a woman so fine a match for me as you.”
“Nor you for me,” she sniffled. “Promise me, Joe, no matter the title, no matter what perverted kinds of hell Ms. Robb puts us through day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and on and on and on, bestseller after bestseller after bestseller, no matter how old and tired we get—“
“Come to the point here, would you, Lieutenant?”
“Okay, it’s that no matter what, you and I will be together until The End . . . and beyond.”
Roarke nodded. “Even so far as In Death In Death, darling Eve, count me in. Now,” he said, tilting up her chin to gaze deeply into her eyes. “How about that tumble . . .”