Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The Cocoa Conspiracy
by Lady Arianna Hadley, now the Countess of Saybrook
from THE COCOA CONSPIRACY, by Andrea Penrose
I was looking forward to a quiet, peaceful autumn, really I was. My recent marriage to the Earl of Saybrook had, for the first time in my early childhood, afforded me a measure of stability in life. No more flitting from one rowdy, rum-drenched Caribbean harbor to another, trying to eek out living through my wits—and my cooking skills. And most of all, no more seeking revenge on the unscrupulous highborn gentlemen who had murdered my father to protect their business interests. Saybrook and I had become reluctant allies in bringing them to justice. We each had vastly different reasons for our actions, but to our mutual surprise, we worked together quite well. I suppose it was rather like cooking—when one is bold enough to combine unlikely ingredients, the result can be . . . delicious.
But I digress. How we came to be married—admittedly a marriage of convenience—is a whole other story. The fact is, despite our many differences, we have much in common. We both love the intellectual challenge of solving conundrums (and despite the fact that I honed my wits on the hardscrabble streets of the slums while Saybrook studied the classic and botany at Oxford, we both are rather good at it.) We also both prefer to pursue our own eccentric interests rather than attend the glittering parties of Polite Society. And we both have a fascination for Theobroma cacao—more commonly known as chocolate.
It’s all because of the chocolate book that my plans went up in smoke. I spotted the book of rare engravings at a fancy bookshop in London—the ones that I can now afford to patronize—and thought it the perfect birthday gift for Saybrook, who is writing a scholarly history of the plant. I, too, have literary aspirations concerning chocolate, for I’m translating his Spanish grandmother’s diaries and recipes.
So as you see, a lengthy interlude of sweet solitude was what we both were craving. Sugar and spice . . . But hidden inside the binding of the chocolate book was a shocking secret. And before butter could melt in my mouth, we found ourselves journeying to Austria, where amid the pomp and splendor of the Congress of Vienna—where the rulers of Europe reveled in the decadent pleasures and sinful excesses of the city—we needed to uncover a cunning conspiracy, armed only with our wits. And our expertise in chocolate.
How about you? Has chocolate ever gotten you into unexpected trouble?
You can learn more about Lady Arianna in THE COCOA CONSPIRACY, available in stores everywhere. And to read an excerpt and learn more about the history of Regency England, please visit Andrea’s website: www.andreapenrose.com