Extract: Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

We're creeping towards the end of the year which means dark evenings and frosty nights. But don't worry! We've got the perfect thing to help heat you up!

Read our extract from Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz and fall headfirst for the epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

Beloved by you, I can be happy in any situation, and can struggle with every embarrassment of fortune with patience and firmness. I cannot however forbear entreating you to realize our union on the dark side and satisfy, without deceiving yourself, how far your affection for me can make you happy in a privation of those elegancies to which you have been accustomed. If fortune should smile upon us, it will do us no harm to have been prepared for adversity; if she frowns upon us, by being prepared, we shall encounter it without the chagrin of disappointment. Your future rank in life is a perfect lottery; you may move in an exalted you may move in a very humble sphere; the last is most probable; examine well your heart.
Letter from Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, August 1780
PROLOGUE: Mansion on the Hill
Albany, New York
November 1777
Like a latter-day Greek temple, the Schuyler family mansion sat atop a softly rounded hill outside Albany. Just over a decade old, the magnificent estate, called the Pastures, was already known as one of the finest houses of the New York state capital by dint of its exquisite furnishings and trimmings. The pièce de résistance was The Ruins of Rome, a set of hand-painted grisaille wallpapers decorating the home’s second-floor ballroom, which Philip Schuyler had brought back from a year-long trip to England in 1762.
The local gentry was impressed by the mansion’s square footage and elegant appointments, but they were more taken with the general’s and Mrs. Schuyler’s impressive pedigrees: Philip was descended from the Schuylers and the Van Cortlandts, two of the oldest and most prestigious families in New York, while his wife, Catherine, was a Van Rensselaer, the single most prominent family in the northern half of the state, whose tenure stretched all the way back to the Dutch days of the early 1600s. Rensselaerwyck, as their estate was known, encompassed more than half a million acres, an unimaginably vast parcel, rivaled only by that of the Livingston family, who controlled what Catherine derisively referred to as “the bottom half” of the state. As a married woman, Catherine wasn’t entitled to any claim on the Van Rensselaer properties (or, for that matter, her husband’s), but rumor had it that her sizable dowry had paid for construction of their Albany mansion, as well as the Schuylers’ country estate outside Saratoga.
Just shy of his forty-fourth birthday, General Philip Schuyler was a handsome man, tall and fit, with a military bearing and a full head of hair that, like George Washington, he wore powdered and softly curled, rarely resorting to the elegant (but rather itchy) affectation of a periwig. As a commander in Washington’s Continental army, Schuyler had organized a brilliant campaign against the British forces at Québec in 1775, only to be forced to resign his commission in June of this year, after Fort Ticonderoga fell while under his command. The defeat had been a double tragedy for Philip. Not only had the British taken the fort, they’d also seized his aforementioned Saratoga estate. Though not as grand as the Albany property, the Schuylers’ second home was still sumptuous enough that John Burgoyne, commander of the British forces, chose it for his personal residence. But the coup de grâce came when the Continental army retook Saratoga in October, and a spiteful Burgoyne set fire to the house and fields during his retreat. General Schuyler had all but depleted his wife’s inheritance building the house and bringing the land under tillage, which was expected to provide much of the family’s income. The loss put a serious dent in the family’s finances and cast an ominous shadow over their future.
Not that an observer would know it. Unused to idleness, General Schuyler had spent the past four months striding about the Pastures, laying out new beds in the formal gardens, regimenting the orchard harvest with military precision, supervising the construction of gazebos and guest houses and servant cottages, and generally getting in everyone’s way, servant and family member alike. In a magnanimous gesture that indicated just how chivalrous he was—and how bored—Schuyler had even offered to put up the captured John Burgoyne before the British general was shipped back to England. Thus, did Schuyler’s one-time rival and his entourage, some twenty strong, “occupy” the Albany mansion for a full month, and even if they didn’t burn it down when they left, they still managed to eat a good-size hole into the family’s provisions, comestible and otherwise.
Catherine Schuyler, one year younger than her husband, had been known as a “handsome woman” in her youth, but thirteen pregnancies in twenty years had taken their toll on her waistline. Practical, strong-willed, and stoic, she had buried no fewer than six of her children, including a set of triplets who hadn’t lived long enough to be baptized. If the pregnancies had stolen her figure, the deaths had taken her smile, and watching her husband fritter away her financial assets had done little to improve her spirits.
Mrs. Schuyler’s love for the seven children who remained to her was evident in the care she took of them, from the wet nurses and nannies she handpicked to raise them, to the tutors she hired to educate them, to the cooks she employed to keep them well fed. And somehow in the midst of the numbing cycle of births and deaths, declarations and proclamations, sieges and seasons, the Schuylers’ three eldest girls had all reached marrying age.
Angelica, the oldest, was a whip-smart, mischievous brunette, with glittering eyes, her pretty lips set in a perpetual smirk. Peggy, the youngest, was a waifish beauty, with a waist so tiny that she rarely bothered with a corset, and alabaster skin set off by a mass of lustrous dark hair that was simply too gorgeous to powder or bury under a wig (no matter what Marie Antoinette was covering her head with at Versailles).
Eliza, the middle daughter, was as clever as Angelica and as beautiful as Peggy. She was also the most sensible, more interested in books than fashion, and, much to her mother’s consternation, more devoted to the revolutionary cause and the mantle of abolition than to marrying one of its well-off colonels.
Her mother really didn’t know what she was going to do with her.
Three daughters, each a prize in her own way (though Eliza would need a strong man to match her spirit). Under normal circumstances, marrying them off would be a feat of sustained diplomacy in which the first families of New York bound their blood and fortunes together like European aristocracy. But New York’s respectable families were few in number, and word traveled quickly. It would be only a matter of time before people found out just how much the Schuylers had lost at Saratoga, at which point the girls would become damaged goods. It was imperative, then—both to their futures and the family’s—that they married well.
But it was even more important that they married fast.
And so, Mrs. Schuyler resorted to a strategy that had served her own mother well in times of need.
She was throwing a ball.
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