XXIII. Taking Tea With Violet

I fell in love in June of 2001. It was a hot, humid afternoon, the kind where a blanket of haze obscures the tree line and gives the city the appearance of having a fine film of grime settling from above; a typical late afternoon in Richmond, Virginia. I was still on the fringes of the embroidery business, in sales to be precise, and had some time to kill between appointments. I was on the side of town that didn’t have a Starbucks, heaven forbid, the side of town that didn’t have much of anything. These were the dark ages before texting and tweeting by phone became my source of wait-time amusement. I was bored, so I pulled into a CVS drug store and went inside in search of something to read.

I am not a big fan of television. Through the years certain series have held my attention for a season or two but usually lose me to a good read instead. Notable exceptions: I adored Ally McBeal, especially with the arrival of Robert Downey Jr., and was captivated by Grey’s Anatomy for a short while but eventually lost interest as characters died off and plots became implausible. My source of entertainment has always been books. I had a good education and read the classics through my formative years. During college I was particularly enamored of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Irving. As the pattern of my life settled into working mother and wife, I escaped into the world of historical romance, partly for ease of reading, partly for a glimpse into another reality. A world of ball gowns, gloves that button to the elbow and handsome gentlemen on horseback.

With the tendency in this country of branding, where Kleenex means any tissue and Tupperware means any plastic container, I was often branded a reader of Harlequins. In fact, I had not read Harlequins in over twenty years. If I were to brand myself, I would have to say I was an Avon reader: All of my favorite authors were published by Avon. I noticed that one day when I was arranging a new book shelf in my office. The authors were alphabetical (sorry) and with the spines all lined up the Avon symbol was quite an obvious occurrence. I do, however, have one shelf particularly set aside that does not pay homage to Avon, it is the final resting spot for the works of Jasmine Cresswell, published by Harlequin and Mira. Jasmine is my brother-in-law’s mother, and I would read her no matter who published her. Her historical time travel romance Timeless is one of my favorites; escapism at its best.

In case you are wondering, I did not meet the Boy at CVS that day. I stood in front of a meager paperback book section perusing the titles and spotted one with a bit of wit: An Offer From A Gentleman by Julia Quinn. Nice title but I wasn’t familiar with the author. I picked it up, read the back, read the first page, and then looked at the spine: Avon. I bought the book and never made it to my appointment. Instead, I sat in my car in the parking lot for two hours reading then drove to Barnes and Noble where I purchased everything they had by Julia Quinn. I didn’t leave the house much for the next week or so. I had fallen head over heels in love with Julia Quinn and the Bridgerton Family.

In the event that you are among the ignorant, the Bridgerton family, headed by matriarch Violet, consists of eight children in need of spouses. Each year Quinn spins a tale of one the children’s quest for matrimonial bliss. I cherished her characters and her delicious dialogue and freely admit to being addicted to her writing.

What does any of this have to do with falling in love last summer? Every June Avon releases another Julia Quinn novel, and for eight of the last nine years I have awaited the publication with the fervor of a zealot. I have gone so far as to make Barnes and Noble employees go into the stockroom and find the case of books that should have hit the shelves that morning. Again, the retail manager in me knows no mercy. Last June the publication date came and went. I was so busy falling in love myself I had forgotten about Quinn. It was the middle of July when I was packing for the trip to New York and looking for reading material that I remembered.

I had a conversation with my eldest sister about this some time ago. She is much like me in her love of the garden, a beautiful home and an elegantly laid table and manages to have those things despite a very stressful job. More so than anyone else in our family, she and I would have loved to grace the parlors of Mayfair for a currant scone and a cup of Darjeeling tea with the Bridgertons. For years she and I had swapped books to read. I can remember occasions when we would both exclaim we had found a good read and each pull the same book out of a bag! She got a Kindle for her birthday year before last and book swapping came to an end. My sister had had two unhappy marriages, and like me, had encased herself in steel and just dealt with it; until she started living her happily-ever-after and stopped reading about someone else’s.

It was through her job that she met her Prince. You may have noticed we use few names in our story, most of the titles are obvious but as much as this one seems to be, I chose it for another reason. My Grandmother never met him but without a doubt, if she had, she would have raised her veined Italian hands in the air and exclaimed: “He’s a Prince among men!” And she would be right.

My sister tells me the day she fell in love with the Prince she had to board a plane for home and had brought the requisite reading material: a romance novel. When she arrived home the binding had been cracked but she had only read the first page over and over. She couldn’t concentrate. She had found that elusive love she had read about for years. The books had become superfluous. She kept that copy of It’s In His Kiss, unread, as a reminder of a life changing day.

I owe Julia Quinn an apology. For years she kept my heart primed and ready, just waiting for that little bit of magic that might save me. Much to my chagrin I cast her shamelessly aside when the thunderbolt struck last June. That beautiful blue eyed Boy had come along and made her superfluous.

If you suspect that I am stalling, that I have promised a story about falling in love and have not delivered, you are correct. I so fear getting it wrong, that words will fail me and you will not fall in love with him as readily as I did. I so want you to.


  1. Love this story! I'm going to send the URL to Julia... she'll love it too. cheers, Eloisa James (aka Avon Author) *g*

  2. It could have just as easily been an apology to you! I'm a James junkie too, especially loved the Essex sisters. Thank you for introducing me to the Earl of Mayne, he was a lovely distraction while I waited for The Boy.
    Enjoy Paris,

  3. Loved this post! Julia and Eloisa (among others) have kept my [blackened] heart alive.

  4. My 'others' include: Lisa Kleypas, Mary Balough and fellow Richmonder Cathy Maxwell. Someday I expect to include Maurita Mason.;)

  5. Blaming this on my looming old age: I forgot Karen Hawkins and Suzanne Enoch! Sorry, Husband still in possession of the bookshelves. I need visual aides.

  6. I am of the ignorant. The Bridgertons who? No matter. I love the post and I am ready to be educated, but I need some help. What do you suggest I read first?

    The last novels I read were High Fidelity and Juliet Naked both by Nick Hornby. Would these fall under romance? They are both about relationships, but from a male perspective, and more about how loser guys mess everything up. Not that romantic, come to think of it.