We have Starbucks. In the 1920s, they had Fuller’s.
Fuller’s might not have been quite as ubiquitous as Starbucks (when I was living in London several years ago, there was a cartoon in The Spectator in which a pedestrian seeking directions was advised to pass the Starbucks, turn left at the Starbucks, and it would be right past the Starbucks), but it signified the same regular reliability. There was the same walnut cake, the same white tea cups and saucers with “Fuller’s” stamped in red, the same waitresses in their black uniforms and white pinnies. They were the epitome of respectability, and just the sort of place I needed for my heroine’s first, fraught tete a tete with the mysterious Mr. Simon Montfort.
You can imagine how thrilled I was, just about this time last year, when I stumbled on a period picture of the exact Oxford Fuller’s I was using in The Other Daughter. (For any Oxfordians out there, if you’ve been to the Burger King on Cornmarket, that’s the same building that once housed the Fuller’s.)
And here, for your amusement, is the scene from Chapter Four of The Other Daughter in which Mr. Montfort inveigles Rachel into joining him there….
“Hullo.” Mr. Montfort clambered down the stairs. “Miss . . . Woodley, is it?”
Rachel resolutely resumed her progress. “Mr. Montfort.”
She didn’t look at him, but Mr. Montfort was looking at her, cataloging her features with a thoroughness that amounted to rudeness. “So you’re Ardmore’s daughter.”
Her father had another daughter, an official daughter, a daughter with fashionably marcelled blond hair and gowns that shimmered in the flash of the camera.
No, not her father. The man who had fathered her. Her real father, the man who had held her, had played with her, had soothed her childish fears, was dead, dead twenty-three years ago.
“No,” said Rachel woodenly. “Lady Olivia Standish is the Earl of Ardmore’s daughter.”
“His other daughter, then.” Mr. Montfort reached the door to the quad ahead of her, holding it open with a flourish. “His unacknowledged daughter.”
“Why sugarcoat it?” retorted Rachel, stung into response. “Why not just say illegitimate and have done?”
“Because I’m not done.” Sauntering beside her, his hands in his pockets, Mr. Montfort subjected her to a long, thorough scrutiny. “You don’t look like him—”
“Thank you!” said Rachel furiously.
“Except about the eyes. Those are Standish eyes. You’d best not go gazing into anyone’s or they’ll spot you right off. Unless, of course,” he added casually, “that’s what you want.”
Rachel’s shoulders were painfully stiff beneath her good wool jacket. The mist was rapidly turning to mizzle, stinging her eyes and damping the shoulders of her suit. “What makes you think I want anything to do with him?”
Mr. Montfort regarded her with something like pity. “You are bursting for revenge. The most casual observer could see it.”
The worst of it was that it was true. “I didn’t invite you to observe.”
“Of course not,” said Mr. Montfort imperturbably. “If I waited to be invited, I would never go anywhere at all. I’ve been asked to give you a cup of tea.”
“Consider your duty discharged.” Rachel raised a hand to Suggs, who was enjoying his afternoon smoke by the door of the lodge and eyeing a party of undergraduates in commoner’s gowns in a rather forbidding fashion. “Good day, Mr. Suggs.”
“Miss Rachel.” The porter nodded respectfully to Mr. Montfort, saying, “Good to see your face back here, sir.”
“Likewise, Suggs, likewise.” Montfort adjusted his stride to Rachel’s, hands in his pockets, shoulders back, face lifted to the slate-gray sky. “Let me guess. You intend to go storming off to Ardles and challenge the earl with the fact of your existence. There will be a tearful scene—his, not yours—after which he will repent and declare you his joy, his treasure, and his sole heiress.”
Rachel turned her heel on an uneven piece of paving. “That’s nonsense.”
“Yes, it is. Arrant nonsense. More likely, the butler won’t let you past the door.”
“There’s no need to be cruel.” Resolutely, Rachel turned up the collar of her jacket, wishing she had had the forethought to wear a mackintosh.
The mizzle had made up its mind to be rain, turning to a hard drizzle that dripped down her cheeks like tears and made her hair stick in wet half curls against her ears. She had, she realized, left her umbrella in Cousin David’s rooms, but nothing could induce her to go back and retrieve it, even without Mr. Montfort hovering over her like an ill wish.
“It’s not cruel, it’s honest.” Mr. Montfort produced his umbrella. “You appear to be in want of one of these.”
“Such gallantry,” said Rachel sarcastically. “There’s a puddle. Would you like to drape yourself over it?”
Mr. Montfort obligingly held the umbrella closer, stepping next to her so that they were both sheltered beneath its brim. “Not even for your dainty foot. I rather like this suit. And this isn’t pure chivalry. I owe your cousin a debt.”
Both Mr. Montfort and Cousin David could go directly to a hot place populated with pitchforks. “Find some other way to discharge it. There must be dragon to be slain somewhere.”
“I’m fresh out of dragons and phoenix feathers.” Mr. Montfort placed a hand beneath her elbow. “I refuse to argue with you in the middle of St. Giles. Come have a cup of tea.”
“Then don’t argue with me at all.” Rachel shook off his hand, speeding her step on the rain-slick flagstones. “I don’t want tea.”
“Would you rather have gin?”
“Tea it is, then,” said Mr. Montfort conversationally, “and here is a Fuller’s conveniently to hand. They will, as I understand, purvey brown liquid in a pot.”
Rachel swung to face him. “You mean you’re to keep me from storming off to bother—” She’d nearly said my father. “The Earl of Ardmore.”
Mr. Montfort’s eyes met hers. His were black, true black, so dark that there was no distinction between pupil and iris. “I don’t give a damn about the comfort and convenience of the Earl of Ardmore. But I did promise your cousin I’d make sure you didn’t walk in front of a train.”
The rain was seeping down through Rachel’s collar. Inside, the Fuller’s looked bright and inviting, the windows steaming with warmth.
And even the company of Mr. Montfort was preferable to being left alone with her own thoughts.
“Oh, all right,” Rachel said disagreeably. “It’s too much bother to fight with you.”
“Many people have said the same.” With a mocking half bow, Mr. Montfort gestured for her to precede him through the door of Fuller’s.
The Other Daughter hits the shelves on July 21.
You can find it for pre-order at Amazon, B&N, Books-A-Million, Indiebound, Powell’s, and wherever else books are sold; in e-form for Kindle or Nook; or on audio CD, read by Nicola Barber. (It will also be available for audio download, but I don’t have the links for that just yet.)