Elisabeth Fairchild
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Sugarplum Surprises

by Elisabeth Fairchild
Signet Books
ISBN #0-451-20421-2
November 2001

2002 GOLDEN QUILL AWARD Best Regency Novel

ROMANTIC TIMES Best Regency Novel of 2001

What the critics say:

5 STARS --
"Definitely a sugarplum surprise! This rich, frothy, and funny book is just the thing to read before trimming trees and sipping eggnog. Wonderful!""

4 1/2 STARS -- "This book is a diamond of the first water and a perfect example of the best the Regency genre has to offer its devoted fans. Ms. Fairchild's SUGARPLUM SURPRISES shines a joyous light on the Regency era and transports readers into the heart of the bon ton."

"SUGARPLUM SURPRISES is not a book to be raced through--neither the subtle growth of the romance, nor the fresh glimpses of Bath's local color. For a gentle (for the most part) holiday tale told with humor and poignancy, you can't go wrong with SUGARPLUM SURPRISES."

Chapter One

Dear Reader,
Sugarplum Surprises was inspired by my profound belief that out of our darkest moments come silver surprises of courage, awareness, resolve, hope, and love.

Bath, 1819

Fanny Fowler, an accredited beauty, one of Bath's bon ton, slated to be the most feted bride of the Christmas season, was not in her best looks when she burst through the door of Madame Nicolette's millinery shop, on a very wet December afternoon right before closing. The violent jingle of the bell drew the attention of everyone present. And yet, so red and puffy were Fanny's eyes, so mottled her fair complexion, so rain soaked her golden tresses, she was almost unrecognizable.

"Madame Nicolette!" she gasped, noble chin wobbling, sylvan voice uneven. Bloodshot blue eyes streamed tears that sparkled upon swollen cheeks almost as much as the raindrops that trickled from her guinea gold hair. "It is all over. Finished."

Madam Nicolette's elaborate lace edged mob cap tipped at an angle, along with Madame's head. The heavily rouged spots on her heavily powdered cheeks added unusual emphasis to the puzzled purse of her mouth. She spoke in hasty French to her assistant, Marie, shooing her, and the only customer in the shop, into the dressing room.

Then, clasping the trembling hand of this, her best customer, she led her to a quiet corner, near the plate glass window that looked out over the busy, weather drenched corner of Milsom and Green Street.

"Fini, cheri?" she asked gently, taking in the looming impression of the Fowler coach waiting without, the horses sleek with rain, their harness decked with jingling bells to celebrate the season. Gay Christmas ribbon had been tied to the coach lamps. It danced in the wind.

"The wedding is canceled!" Fanny wailed, no attempt to lower her voice. "He has jilted me. Says that nothing could induce him to marry me now. Ever."

The distraught young woman fell upon the matronly shoulder weeping copiously. Madame Nicolette, green eyes widening in alarm, patted the girl's back. "Vraiment! The cad. Abominable behavior. Why should he do this?"

"Because I told the truth when I could have lied." Fanny gazed past madame with a sudden look of fury. "I should have lied. Might so easily have lied. Any other female would have lied."

She burst into tears again, and wept without interruption, face buried in the handkerchief in her hands, shoulders heaving.

Madame offered up her own handkerchief, for Fanny's was completely sodden. "What of the trousseau?" Madame asked, for of course this was the matter that concerned her most.

Fanny wept the harder, which brought a look of concern to Madame's eyes, far greater than that generated by all previous tears.

"Papa . . ." Fanny choked out. "Papa is in an awful temper. He refuses to p-p-pay." This last bit came out in a most dreadful wail, and while Madame continued to croon comfortingly, and pat the young woman's back, her lips thinned, and her brows settled in a grim line.

"And your fiance'? Surely he will defrayer expenses."

"Perhaps." Fanny made every effort to collect herself. "I do not know," she said with a sniff. "All I know is that he intends to leave Bath tomorrow morning. Now, I must go. Papa waits."

"Allow me to escorter you to the coach," Madame solicitously followed her to the door.

"But it is raining," Fanny wielded both sodden handkerchiefs in limp protest." And papa is in such a mood."

Madame insisted, and so the two women ran together to the coach, under cover of madame's large black umbrella, and madame greeted Lord Fowler, his wife, and younger daughter standing beneath her dripping shield just outside the fulsome gutter. "An infamous turn of events," she called to them.

"Blasted nuisance," my lord shouted from the coach. "Frippery female has gone and lost herself a Duke do you hear!"

"Fourth Duke of Chandrose, and Fourth Marquess of Carnevon," Lady Fowler's voice could barely be heard above the pelter of the rain that soaked Madame's hem, but as the door was swung wider to allow Fanny entrance her voice came clearer. "A fortune slips through her fingers."

"Silly chit," her father shouted as Fanny climbed in cringing. "I credited you with far too much sense."

Fanny's sister kept her head bowed, her eyes darting in a frightened manner from parent to parent.

Fanny resorted to her handkerchief as she plopped down into her seat.

"Do you know what she has done to alienate him?" Lord Fowler demanded of Madame Nicolette as if she should know, as if he were the only one in Bath who was not privy to his daughter's thinking.

Madame shook her head, and gave a very French shrug as she leaned into the doorway of the coach. "My dear monsieur, madam, I sympathize most completely in this trying moment, and while I understand you have no wish to pay for the trousseau that has taken six months work to assembler, the trousseau Miss Fanny will not be wearing, I wonder, will you be so good . . ."

Lord Fowler sat forward abruptly, chest thrust forth, shaking his walking stick at her with ferocity, the sway of his jowls echoing the movement. "Not a penny will I spend on this stupid girl. Not one penny, do you hear? More than a hundred thousand pounds a year she might have had with his grace. Not a farthing's worth shall she have now." Like a Christmas turkey he looked, his face gone very red, his eyes bulging, his extra set of chins wobbling.

"I comprehend your ire, my lord," Madame persisted calmly. "But surely you intend to offer some compensation for my efforts, my mate'rial?"

His lordship's face took on a plum pudding hue. "Not a single grote. Do you understand? Not one. Make the Duke pay." He thumped the silver head of his cane against the ceiling, the whole coach shaking. "Jilting my daughter." Thump. "Disgracing the family name." Thump. "Two weeks before the wedding, mind you." Thump-thump. "Bloody cheek."

With that, he thumped his cane so briskly it broke clean through the leather top so that rain leaked in upon his head, and in a strangled voice, the veins at his temples bulging, he ordered his coachman, "Drive on. Damn you. Drive on. Can you not hear me thumping down here?"

The horses leapt into motion with an inappropriately cheerful jingle, and Madame Nicolette Fieullet leapt back from the wheels.

"Fiddlesticks," she muttered in very English annoyance as the coach churned up dirty water from the gutter in a hem drenching wave. She took shelter in the shop's doorway to shake the rain from her umbrella.

The wreath on the door seemed suddenly too merry, the jingle of the door's bell a mockery. Christmas. Dear Lord. Christmas meant balls and assemblies, and dresses ordered at the last minute, and she must have fabric and lace and trim at the ready. But how was she to pay for Christmas supplies now that so much of her capital was tied up in Fanny's trousseau?

"Madame! You are soaked." her assistant Marie cried out as she entered.

"Oui. Je suis tout trempe." Madame kept her skirt high, that she might not drip, her voice low, that their customer might not hear. "You will give Mrs. Bower my excuses while I change ?"

Marie followed her, a worried look in her deep brown eyes. "Is it true, madame? He refuses to pay?"


"Mon dieu! The mate'rial arrives tomorrow. However will we pay?"

"I shall think of something. Do not torment yourself." Madame sounded confident. She looked completely self-assured, until she locked herself in the back room, pressed her back to the door, and sinking to the floor, wept piteously at sight of Fanny's finished dresses.

More than a dozen beautiful garments had been made up to Miss Fowler's specific measurements, in peacock colors to flatter Fanny's sky blue eyes and guinea gold hair. Thousands of careful stitches, hundreds of careful cuts, and darts. How many times had she pricked her fingers in the making of them? How many times had she ripped seams that they might fit Fanny's form more perfectly? It was heartbreaking just to look at them. Tears burned in Madame's eyes. Her breath caught in her throat.

The masterpieces were, of course, the wedding dress, and two ball gowns, one in the colors of Christmas, an evergreen satin bodice, van-dyke trimmed in gold satin cord, Spanish slashed sleeves that had taken several days to sew, a deeply gored skirt of deeper green velvet, with a magnificent border of gold quilling, and twisted rolls of satin cord that had taken weeks worth of stitching.

"Fanny must have something entirely unique," her mother had insisted. "Something worthy of a Duchess."

The results were exquisite. Madame's best work yet. They were the sort of dresses every young woman dreamed of. Head turning dresses, and yet in the best of taste, the perfect foil for youth and beauty. They were the sort of dresses she had once worn, herself, in her younger days. Gowns to catch a man's eye without raising a mother's eyebrows. Gowns to lift a young woman's spirits and self esteem as she donned them. She had hoped these dresses would be the making of her name, of her reputation.

Now they were worthless. Completely worthless. Indeed, a terrible drain upon her purse.

Defeat weighed heavy upon Madame's shoulders. Tears burned in her eyes. Sobs pressed hard against her chest, her gut, the back of her throat. What to do? Panic rose, intensifying her feelings of anger and regret.

She had believed the future secure, the holiday fruitful, her worries behind her at last.

But no! Life surprised her most mean-spiritedly, at Christmas time, always at Christmas time.

The tears would not remain confined to her eyes. It had been long since she had allowed them to fall. They broke forth now in an unstoppable deluge.

She clutched her hand over her mouth stifling her sobs, choking on them. But they would not be stopped. Disappointment surged from the innermost depths of her in a knee-weakening wave. She was a child again, unable to contain her emotions. She thought of her mother, lying pale and wan in her bed, the familiar swell of her stomach deflated, the strength of her voice almost gone.

"My dear Jane," mother had whispered, cupping the crown of Jane's head, stroking the silk of her hair. She could still feel the weight of that hand, the heat. "I had thought to bring you a baby brother for Chr-Christmas." Her mother's voice had caught, trembled. She had given Jane's hand a weak squeeze, her hand hot, so very hot. "But, life never unfolds as one expects, pet."

Jane had been frightened by her mother's tone, by the strangled noises of distress her father made from the doorway. She had not understood it was the last time she would have to speak to mama. She had patted the feverish hand, and held it to her cheek, and said, "Do not cry, mother. If you have lost my little brother, papa will buy you another for Christmas. Won't you papa?"

Her father had made choking noises and stumbled from the room.

"Jane!" Miss Godwin, her governess, had sounded cross as she snatched her up from the side of the bed.

But Jane had clung to her mother's fingers, the strength of her grasp lifting her mother's arm from the bed. Something was wrong, terribly wrong.

Her mother's clasp was as desperate as hers. "Cherish what is, my pet, not what you imagined," she said, the words urgent, the look in her eyes unforgettable. And as Miss Godwin had gently pried their hands apart, she had said with an even greater urgency, "Promise me, Jane, my love. Promise me you will not allow regret to swallow you whole."

Jane had nodded, not knowing what she promised, looking back over Miss Godwin's shoulder--a five-year-old's conviction despite an incomplete comprehension of the words. Promising was easy. Honoring that promise was not.

"Look for the silver surprises, my love, in the plum pudding at Christmas, and know that I put them there for you." Her mother said.

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