Short Story: Shadow Duet

Note: This story should only be read AFTER reading Masks and Shadows.

It’s been eighteen months since Baroness Charlotte von Steinbeck stepped into a carriage with the most famous castrato singer in Europe, leaving her family and her reputation behind for the sake of true love. What she and Carlo found waiting for them at the end of their first journey, though, was nothing like what they had hoped. Now they’re hoping to begin a new life together in cosmopolitan London…but will they really be able to continue their forbidden duet, or will society’s disapproval doom them forever?

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“So you’re the one.” Laughter glittered at the edges of Lady Bramwell’s voice as she looked Baroness Charlotte von Steinbeck up and down, from Charlotte’s smoothly upswept and powdered hair to her sedate dark blue silk gown, trimmed with silver. “Signor Morelli’s…dear friend.”

Charlotte bit her tongue hard enough to burn as she forced a polite smile for her hostess. She had hoped to stay secluded for now in this darkened corner of the crowded salon, but Lady Bramwell had unexpectedly sought her out, accompanied by a far younger gentleman, dripping in diamond rings and lace, who appeared to be hanging on his hostess’s every word. “Your Ladyship,” Charlotte said, dipping a curtsey. “How kind of you to invite me.”

“Oh, well…” More bright jewels flashed on Lady Bramwell’s fingers, catching the candlelight as she waved one languid hand. “They say the Signor accepts no invitations which don’t include you, so…” She traded a knowing glance with her companion. “We could hardly invite one without the other, could we, Laurington?”

Historical Notes (to be read after reading the short story)

Angelika Kauffman, Antonio Zucchi, and Thomas Gainsborough were all real artists who lived and worked in London in this time period, and I’ve kept as close to historical reality as possible in my fictional presentation of them. The horrible Lady Bramwell, on the other hand, is fictional but plausible for the period, much like Carlo and Charlotte.

Likewise, Angelika Kauffman’s student in this story, Miss Bigelow, is a fictional character but perfectly representative of the many young women training and working as professional artists during this time period – and in a very nice correlation, the top painting on the front cover of this book is actually a self-portrait of Élisabeth Vigée LeBrun, another famously successful woman artist working in this time period. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to include her as a character in this story, since she was living in France at the time, but I was very happy to get to include her in the cover art! So perfect for the story.

(And thank you so much to Patrick Samphire for that wonderful cover design!)