For her excerpt this month, Kate Stradling offers a scene from her novel, Tournament of Ruses (2014). Our heroine, Flora Dalton, plays third wheel in a spying expedition, while her arch-nemesis plays coy in an interview.
As an item of trivia, this scene, from Chapter 21, did not exist in the first draft of the novel. The narrative moved straight from Flora’s interview to the next phase of the tournament instead. When the editing/revision process revealed a gap, however, Kate used it to expand characterization and to have a bit of fun.
Eavesdropping on an Interview
They descended the dark stairs to the hidden nook. True to Will’s assertion, Viola already waited within. She motioned them to keep quiet as they entered.
“Are we too late?” Will whispered as he settled next to her.
“She just came in,” Viola whispered back.
Flora sat on her other side and peered down into the room. Georgiana Winthrop exuded grace and confidence as she sat before the committee. Lord Winthrop, her father, reviewed her file.
“Miss Winthrop,” he began, a note of indulgence in his voice, “I see here that you claim many friends among the noble families of Lenore. Do you find that those friendships have wavered at all during this competition so far?”
Flora could not totally contain her scoff. Where was the criminal interrogation of precious Georgiana? But then, had she really expected such a thing?
“No, not one whit,” Georgiana replied. “We’ve all been very encouraging of each other. It’s not a matter of competition really, for whomever the Prince chooses must remember her friends, and her friends must support her in return. It’s a matter of loyalty, to country and to one another.”
“Hear that?” the Prince whispered in Viola’s ear. “You have to remember Flora.”
She shoved him away with a smothered laugh. Flora contemplated whether Georgiana’s interview was worth the price of sharing space with a pair of lovebirds.
“Miss Winthrop,” said one of the lords below, “if the Eternal Prince were to choose you as his consort, what would you foresee as your role in that office?”
Flora had received a similar question in her interview. She perked with interest to hear Georgiana’s response.
“Naturally, the consort will become a jewel of the nation, someone for the women of Lenore to emulate, much like the Prime Minister’s wife.”
Mrs. Moreland looked up from her notes, a blank expression on her face. Georgiana favored her with a simpering smile.
“That was a mistake,” said Viola. “Mother hates it when people put her on a pedestal because of who she married.”
“She deserves a pedestal,” Will replied. “Your father’s a menace.”
Viola elbowed him. Flora pointedly focused on Georgiana.
“Do you feel qualified to have the women of Lenore emulate you?” asked one of the interviewers curiously.
Georgiana’s eyelashes fluttered demurely. “I try to be a good example. Refinement is evidence of a noble character. And I must say, my influence among my peers has been positive. Why, just recently, I took a newcomer under my wing and nursed her in the ways of society. I do not need to say her name, for you have already met with her, but she has gained great favor with the town, and even with the Prince himself, from what I’ve heard. I won’t claim total credit, of course, but I did polish her from quite a dowdy thing.”
“Is she talking about me?” Flora asked in a dangerous voice.
Viola saw her rising wrath and quickly laid a comforting hand on her arm. “Pay her remarks no heed, Flora.”
“I think that one’s made your mother angry, too, Viola,” said Will.
This observation snapped Flora from her rage. She had been close to screaming, which would have been a disaster. As she inspected Mrs. Moreland now, though, she could see no evidence of anger on that woman’s face, but only her customary impassiveness.
It was Elizabeth Moreland’s turn to ask a question. “Miss Winthrop,” she said. Her fellow committee members slouched.
Georgiana straightened in anticipation. “Yes?”
“In the event of an invasion from the Empire of Melanthos, how would you as consort assist with the Lenorean resistance?”
Silence blanketed the room. Georgiana blinked and faltered. “Wh-what?”
“What sort of a question is that?” Lord Winthrop interjected. “You’re supposed to ask about her favorite dessert!”
“You advised me to vary my questions, did you not?” Mrs. Moreland replied innocently.
He puffed up like a bullfrog. “At this point in the interviews? We have only a handful left! Mrs. Moreland, if you are singling out my daughter—”
“It’s a legitimate question, Lord Winthrop,” Mrs. Moreland interrupted, “and much more substantive than asking a candidate’s opinion on the strength of her friendships, or whether she deems herself a good example. But if you think it unfair, or if Miss Winthrop does not feel up to answering, I will withdraw it.”
Lord Winthrop glared daggers.
“I—” said Georgiana haltingly.
“Miss Winthrop, what is your favorite dessert?” asked Mrs. Moreland with a falsely sweet tone of voice.
“I—” Georgiana said again, and she looked to her father appealingly.
“I take it back,” Will whispered to Viola. “Your mother doesn’t deserve a pedestal. She’s a menace too!”