N THE SURFACE, Wicked, My Love is a romantic, comedic farce set in the Victorian era. But if you know me any little bit, you know my farce is laden with satire and subversive elements. Perhaps it’s a female, southern thing—the subtle art of humorously saying the opposite of what you mean to make your point with the words “bless your heart” tacked on.
Wicked, My Love is a mashup of what I read or thought about as I was writing, which includes Malcolm Gladwell’s books, The Confidence Code, articles on big data, and studies on women’s confidence and leadership roles in the workplace. At the same time, I was working through my child’s issues with dyslexia.
With such throughput, I created a heroine who possessed an amazing affinity for statistics and investing but was stymied by her sensory issues with a touch of Asperger’s tossed in. She clings to the logical, concrete things she could understand because she struggles with personal context and reading people’s underlying emotions. She prefers to remain tucked safely in her comfort zone of successfully running her late father’s small town bank. But then a series of portentous events occur which threaten her comfortable existence and call her to a higher adventure. The stuff of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
Isabella’s feminist cousin asks Isabella to write a small volume on investment tips for women. Her cousin then takes Isabella’s cut and dried advice and adds what Isabella would consider pandering, sentimental tripe to connect to the readers’ emotions and experiences. The book is a wild success among English ladies. (Note: many women were investing money in the Victorian era, trying to improve their circumstances, but unfortunately not seeing much return on their penny investments. To learn more about Victorian investment scams and other financial fraud, read White-collar Crime in Modern England. My copy resembles a sort of rainbow-colored porcupine because there are so many neon sticky tabs poking out of it.)
Still, Isabella stubbornly resists the call to adventure until finally a partner in her bank—and the man she considered her last marital hope—runs off with the bank’s money in a phony investment scheme. In those days, bankers were considered shady characters; there were very few business regulations, and bank failures were commonplace. If bank customers picked up a mere whiff of trouble, they could quickly run the bank. So with Isabella’s reputation and her father’s legacy at stake, she reluctantly departs on her heroine’s journey with the help of her childhood enemy and bank partner, Lord Randall.
To create the hero, I simply inverted the heroine. I envisioned a charming man with amazing powers of personal intuition and persuasion. He possesses much more keen intelligence for human emotions and motives than cold logic. Here I ran into a bit of a plot snag: how do I create a real sense of pending doom for a man with a title and entailment? I could have him falsely accused of murder or treason, but that seemed a little overdone in my way of thinking. I’m a road-less-taken kind of chick. In the end, I made him a partner in Isabella’s bank and a Tory MP in an election year. Nothing like losing your clients’ money to make them not vote for you. His honor and reputation were on the line. (After I made this decision, I had to look up decisive British election years. The research just keeps going and going…)
Because I was writing a romance, I had to intertwine the story arc so that the plot, character transformations, and love all developed in tandem. Sometimes, these elements are in harmony; sometimes they painfully clash. I like to think of Aaron Copland’s music as an example of how I like my stories (please excuse my lack of musical theory knowledge in my following description). Copland weaves the same phrases through the music, at times creating a dissonance that can be quite painful to hear, but it gives a sense of tension to the music. I can’t stop listening until the dissonance is resolved, the themes united. That tension-to-resolution heightens the pleasure of the experience.
I know I freak out some readers because I inject dissonance into my plot and swerve too close to the dangerous edges. But I’m here for a wild emotional ride that sinks deep to the ugly places but rises higher in resolution. I’m not interested in assuring readers that the world is a sweet, gentle place that smells 24/7 of baking homemade chocolate chip cookies. And that’s not an insult to “comfort food” novels—they are fabulous, much needed creations, but they’re just not what I write.
By the end of the book, I had developed much stronger feelings for my hero’s predicament than for the heroine’s. Let me state the heroine’s arc: she becomes a powerful leader despite her perceived personal obstacles. I bet you didn’t see that coming. Clean and simple character arc stuff. But the hero’s journey was more intriguing, more Zen-like. He craved the fame and attention, which Isabella doesn’t want, but seems to garner without effort as if the universe loves her more than him. He craves it so badly that he is willing to compromise his core beliefs to row his political party’s boat to his prime minster-hood. By the last fourth of the book, Randall realizes that for the greater good, he must subvert his own primitive, selfish desires for success. He recognizes that Isabella possesses something society needs, in this case, the ability to empower downtrodden women. He must use his great talents to help her reach her potential. I think that is such a powerful and selfless realization. I adore the idea of a hero who is an altruistic, compassionate helper. I’m going to give a little spoiler here; in the final scenes, it’s my heroine who faces down the villain. The hero bolsters her confidence and cheers her on.
Please do me a great favor. When you are reading devouring my upcoming book How to Impress a Marquess, at some point in your reading, imagine that the following quotation is spoken by my heroine, Lilith Dahlgren: “No coward soul is mine.” Be sure to attribute the line to Emily Brontë. May I suggest mentally inserting something like:
Lilith could no longer stomach George’s cruel attempts to squash her wild, unfettered heart and, borrowing from Emily Bronte, proclaimed, “No coward soul is mine.”
Allow me to explain.
When I was fleshing out my heroine, I imagined that Lilith adored the written word so much she could readily quote poetry and would carry about a tattered beloved volume of Keats’ poems—a literary security blanket of sorts. I borrowed from some of my favorite Romantic era poems, as well as dug through old poems to find the perfect words Lilith would use to express her emotions to my stodgy, unyielding, and uncreative (or so it would seem) hero George. For example, in the first chapter she tells him:
“What would I do with something as horrid as sense? I want wild, overpowering feeling, passion, zest. ‘More happy love! more happy, happy love! / For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d, / For ever panting, and for ever young; / All breathing human passion far above…’ That’s Keats, dearest,” she said. “I know you wouldn’t recognize it.”
How to Impress A Marquess includes snippets from Keats, Tennyson, Milton, and Whitman (yes, Whitman was read in England in 1879, the time period in which the book is set. I looked it up just for you.)
I thought I had gathered a wonderful collection of public domain poems for the story until I visited the Emily Dickinson Museum during my summer vacation. I had forced my family to stop at the museum as we traveled between New York and Maine, because several years ago I fell in love with the book White Heatby Brenda Wineapple, which is about Dickinson and her professional relationship with her editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson. After you read my book, you must immediately purchase White Heat because it’s all things wonderful.
I ambled through Dickinson’s home, lulling about in a soft mellow high that only a history and literature geek could derive from a preserved home, knowledgeable tour guide, and poetry. The docent led us to a room with an installation about Dickinson’s poetry for that last segment of the tour. I hadn’t considered Dickinson’s poems for my book because the time frame is wrong. Almost all of her poems were published after her death in 1886. However, the installation listed earlier poets who influenced Dickinson, including Emily Brontë. Painted on the museum walls were Brontë’s words: “No Coward Soul Is Mine.” Dickinson had requested that Brontë’s poem be read at her funeral.
When I read Brontë’s line, I sucked in my breath. My heart stilled. I wanted those words in a greedy, rapacious way. Lilith needed to say them. They were her essence. Why, oh why, did I not know about this poem? And I had even referenced the Brontës in my book. I wanted to bang my head on Emily D’s small writing desk, located by the windows where she would lower gingerbread in a basket to the local children.
Brontë’s words —
Had I discovered — their beautiful violence —
In time for revisions!
I would have captured — their substance —
Rebirthed — on my final copy
By now How to Impress A Marquess had been released on Netgalley for review (Review it! Spread your book love around!) I had long passed the point of no return regarding significant revisions to the manuscript. Brontë’s words were perfect, but it was all too late for their gleaming perfection to physically appear on the book’s pages.
But you, gentle reader, have the power of imagination to insert them for me.
So I implore you to mentally sprinkle “No Coward Soul Is Mine” quotes into scenes where you think they would work.
For instance, when George, desperate to improve Lilith’s unruly ways, develops a regime to transform her into a gentle and submissive lady, she might cry out in defiance, “As Bronte said, ‘No coward soul is mine.’”
When George lashes out at Lilith because she has discovered George’s painful secret—that he had been an artist prodigy, but his father had beaten him until he gave up painting—that would also be an excellent time to unleash the quote.
When Lilith takes off her clothes and… Wait, I don’t want to spoil that part for you. But when you get there, you’ll know it.
If you feel the single line “No coward soul is mine” simply isn’t enough to get the meaning across, you might try inserting the entire poem into a scene. It’s included below for your convenience.
No Coward Soul Is Mine
by Emily Brontë
No coward soul is mine No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere I see Heaven’s glories shine And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear
O God within my breast Almighty ever-present Deity Life, that in me hast rest, As I Undying Life, have power in Thee
Vain are the thousand creeds That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain, Worthless as withered weeds Or idlest froth amid the boundless main
To waken doubt in one Holding so fast by thy infinity, So surely anchored on The steadfast rock of Immortality.
With wide-embracing love Thy spirit animates eternal years Pervades and broods above, Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears
Though earth and moon were gone And suns and universes ceased to be And Thou wert left alone Every Existence would exist in thee
There is not room for Death Nor atom that his might could render void Since thou art Being and Breath And what thou art may never be destroyed.
Dukes in Disguise releases today! Just in time for the weekend! Let me tell you a little story about my little story “Duchess of Light” in the anthology.
Grace, Emily, and I thought up our grand novella idea at the RWA conference in New York City. At a tiny table outside the bar, we sketched out the idea of three dukes hiding out in a small town near the Scottish border. We set our draft deadline for December 1st.
In July, December was just an abstract concept. I had just turned in a Victorian romance, was working on a major revision on another Victorian historical. Once that was completed, I had committed to writing some sample chapters for another project. Then I would work on the novella.
Needless to say, time slipped away and December, once abstract, was now very real and barreling toward me. And I hadn’t written a single word on the novella! To make matters worse, Emily and Grace had already finished their rough drafts.
I was going to have to write the fastest I had in my life to make the deadline. I opened my word processor and then disaster struck. The last Regency romance I had written was in 2010. It was like a language I had once spoken but hadn’t practiced in years. Now I was back in Regency land, trying to figure out how to ask where the bathroom was.
I needed help. Fast. Sitting on my bookshelf, collecting dust, was an annotated copy of Pride and Prejudice that I had bought years ago.
Help me, Jane!
I seized the book and dived in with a pen in hand. I noted any distinct Regency turns of phrase on the front pages. By the end, I had filled five pages. I would like to share some of my Jane Austen speak. The illustrations are from The Novels and Letters of Jane Austen, Volume 4.
“She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her.”
“How can you talk so?” said Jane, faintly smiling. “You must know that though I should be exceedingly grieved at their disapprobation, I could not hesitate.”
“Good gracious! Mr. Darcy!—and so it does, I vow. Well, any friend of Mr. Bingley’s will always be welcome here, to be sure; but else I must say that I hate the very sight of him.”
The stupidity with which he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained.
“Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven’s sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces.” AND “Pray do, my dear Miss Lucas,” she added in a melancholy tone, “for nobody is on my side, nobody takes part with me. I am cruelly used, nobody feels for my poor nerves.”
He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful! To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley’s heart were entertained.”
The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.
Elizabeth could not repress a smile at this, but she answered only by a slight inclination of the head. She saw that he wanted to engage her on the old subject of his grievances, and she was in no humour to indulge him. The rest of the evening passed with the appearance, on his side, of usual cheerfulness, but with no further attempt to distinguish Elizabeth; and they parted at last with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire of never meeting again.
“How very ill Miss Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy,” she cried; “I never in my life saw anyone so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again.”
“My dear Jane, make haste and hurry down. He is come—Mr. Bingley is come. He is, indeed. Make haste, make haste. Here, Sarah, come to Miss Bennet this moment, and help her on with her gown. Never mind Miss Lizzy’s hair.”
“We will be down as soon as we can,” said Jane; “but I dare sayKitty is forwarder than either of us, for she went up stairs half an hour ago.”
“Oh! hang Kitty! what has she to do with it? Come be quick, be quick! Where is your sash, my dear?”
“But I can assure you,” she added, “that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set-downs. I quite detest the man.”
“Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”
“But I can guess how it was; everybody says that he is eat up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise.”
“I had once had some thought of fixing in town myself—for I am fond of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain that the air of London would agree with Lady Lucas.”
“But, though Bingley and Jane meet tolerably often, it is never for many hours together; and, as they always see each other in large mixed parties, it is impossible that every moment should be employed in conversing together. Jane should therefore make the most of every half-hour in which she can command his attention. When she is secure of him, there will be more leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses.”
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
“You make me laugh, Charlotte; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.”
Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.
Lady Catherine continued her remarks on Elizabeth’s performance, mixing with them many instructions on execution and taste. Elizabeth received them with all the forbearance of civility, and, at the request of the gentlemen, remained at the instrument till her ladyship’s carriage was ready to take them all home. *Susanna’s note: instrument means piano.
“How can you be so silly,” cried her mother, “as to think of such a thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when you get there.”
“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.”
“If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it would not make them one jot less agreeable.”
“La!” replied Kitty, “it looks just like that man that used to be with him before. Mr. what’s-his-name. That tall, proud man.”
On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”
“Elizabeth Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, “is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”
Seriously, I would have you be on your guard. AND “My dearest sister, now My dearest sister, now be serious. I want to talk very seriously. Let me know every thing that I am to know, without delay.
Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.
The first half-hour was spent in piling up the fire, lest she should suffer from the change of room; and she removed at his desire to the other side of the fireplace, that she might be further from the door.
And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy may hug himself.”
He has also brotherly pride, which, with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister, and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers.”
Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way.
And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection. AND Her eldest daughter endeavoured to give some relief to the violence of these transports, by leading her thoughts to the obligations which Mr. Gardiner’s behaviour laid them all under.
The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised
Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? AND I think it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind.”
“Upon my word,” said her ladyship, “you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age?”
“I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”
After wandering along the lane for two hours, giving way to every variety of thought—re-considering events, determining probabilities, and reconciling herself, as well as she could, to a change so sudden and so important, fatigue, and a recollection of her long absence, made her at length return home; and she entered the house with the wish of appearing cheerful as usual, and the resolution of repressing such reflections as must make her unfit for conversation.
“At last I am able to send you some tidings of my niece, and such as, upon the whole, I hope it will give you satisfaction.”
“They are going to be encamped near Brighton; and I do so want papa to take us all there for the summer! It would be such a delicious scheme; and I dare say would hardly cost anything at all. Mamma would like to go too of all things! Only think what a miserable summer else we shall have!”
“I am sure there is not on his. I will answer for it, he never cared three straws about her—who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?”
“Good gracious! Lord bless me! only think! dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true? Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane’s is nothing to it—nothing at all. I am so pleased—so happy. Such a charming man!—so handsome! so tall!—Oh, my dear Lizzy! pray apologise for my having disliked him so much before. I hope he will overlook it. Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.”
“Good God! what is the matter?”
Dear me! we had such a good piece of fun the other day at Colonel Forster’s… (by the bye, Mrs. Forster and me are such friends!) and so she asked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by herself; and then, what do you think we did? We dressed up Chamberlayne in woman’s clothes on purpose to pass for a lady, only think what fun!… Lord! how I laughed! and so did Mrs. Forster. I thought I should have died.
Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was ecstasy.
“How is such a man to be worked on? How are they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest hope. It is every way horrible!”
Every girl in or near Meryton was out of her senses about him for the first two months; but he never distinguished her by any particular attention; and, consequently, after a moderate period of extravagant and wild admiration, her fancy for him gave way, and others of the regiment, who treated her with more distinction, again became her favourites.”
“This is a most unfortunate affair, and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation.”
It was borne in the latter with decent philosophy. To be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town; or, as the happiest alternative, been secluded from the world, in some distant farmhouse.
From such a connection she could not wonder that he would shrink. The wish of procuring her regard, which she had assured herself of his feeling in Derbyshire, could not in rational expectation survive such a blow as this.
But how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue, she could easily conjecture.
His daughter’s request, for such it might be considered, of being admitted into her family again before she set off for the North, received at first an absolute negative.
“Miss Bennet,” replied her ladyship, in an angry tone, “you ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with…Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you.”
“It ought to be so; it must be so, while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in.”
“Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you last spring? Is nothing due to me on that score? Let us sit down. You are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to submit to any person’s whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment.”
“Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up.”
“Miss Bennet I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede.
I am no stranger to the particulars of your youngest sister’s infamous elopement. I know it all; that the young man’s marrying her was a patched-up business, at the expence of your father and uncles. And is such a girl to be my nephew’s sister? Is her husband, is the son of his late father’s steward, to be his brother? Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”
Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point.”
“I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”
The rest of his letter is only about his dear Charlotte’s situation, and his expectation of a young olive-branch. But, Lizzy, you look as if you did not enjoy it. You are not going to be missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”
“I can easily believe it. You thought me then devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance
About the middle of the next day, as she was in her room getting ready for a walk, a sudden noise below seemed to speak the whole house in confusion; and, after listening a moment, she heard somebody running up stairs in a violent hurry, and calling loudly after her. She opened the door and met Maria in the landing place, who, breathless with agitation, cried out—”Oh, my dear Eliza! pray make haste and come into the dining-room, for there is such a sight to be seen! *Susanna’s note: I don’t believe “afternoon” was used.
She should have known nothing about, if she had not happened to see Mr. Jones’s shop-boy in the street, who had told her that they were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield because the Miss Bennets were come away, when her civility was claimed towards Mr. Collins by Jane’s introduction of him. She received him with her very best politeness, which he returned with as much more, apologising for his intrusion, without any previous acquaintance with her, which he could not help flattering himself, however, might be justified by his relationship to the young ladies who introduced him to her notice. Mrs. Phillips was quite awed by such an excess of good breeding;
“It seems likely to have been a desirable match for Jane,” said she. “I am sorry it went off. But these things happen so often!
The Lucases are very artful people indeed, sister.
I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort
In Lydia’s imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing-place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp—its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once.
But, to be sure, the good lady who showed us his house did give him a most flaming character!
Whatever he might afterwards persuade her to, it was not on her side ascheme of infamy. My poor father! how he must have felt it!”
All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light.
“Take whatever you like, and get away.”
And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection.
I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when he has nothing to do.”
Her character will be fixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made herself or her family ridiculous; a flirt, too, in the worst and meanest degree of flirtation;
At any rate, she cannot grow many degrees worse, without authorising us to lock her up for the rest of her life.”
She was confident of having performed her duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils, or augment them by anxiety, was no part of her disposition.
“It is no such thing.”
“I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way.”
She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
You wanted me, I know, to say ‘Yes,’ that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have, therefore, made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all—and now despise me if you dare.”
Just two more days until the Regency anthologyDukes in Disguise is released! Grace, Emily, and I had a grand time creating this anthology. We hope our readers garner as much fun reading the stories as we had writing them.
Here’s an excerpt fromEmily Greenwood‘s novella “Kiss Me, Your Grace” to whet your appetite.
Here’s the blurb: Rowan, Duke of Starlingham, thinks love is for fools, though when he arrives at his hunting box to find an alluring but puzzlingly uncooperative woman pretending to be his cousin, he realizes he may be a victim of the most absurd malady of all: love at first sight.
Let’s dive in!
“Louisa, I do not need any wine,” Claire Beckett said to her friend Louisa Firth as they sat before a cozy fire. It was late in the evening, and the hearth around which they were relaxing was in the handsome, cozy sitting room at Foxtail, the Duke of Starlingham’s hunting box.
About once an hour since arriving three days before, Claire had reflected on the outrageousness of her being at the lodge. Louisa, whose position as Foxtail’s housekeeper would be in danger should it ever become known that she’d invited Claire to stay, had dismissed Claire’s worries, insisting that no one would ever know since they were as good as alone there. But Claire couldn’t help being concerned.
“Grainger, like you, is an employee here, and his needs are being provided for by the Duke of Starlingham. I have no business being here at all, so I must in all conscience pay for anything I use here on my illicit holiday. Wine would not be a sensible use of my limited funds.”
Claire had had quite a bit more money when she’d set out on her journey, but that was before she decided that she urgently needed to see Louisa.
Louisa, whose handsome features looked eminently respectable in her housekeeper’s attire of plain dark frock and white cap, grinned cheekily and poured wine in a glass, then pushed it toward Claire. “Grainger and I, being the only staff living in, are allowed two glasses of wine on Sunday, and I only want one, so you must have my second glass.”
“It’ll be wasted on me– I never drink more than a sip or two.”
“That’s because your father has ridiculous notions about women being frail and foolish that he imposes on you.”
It was true that Mr. Beckett always said that ladies should never drink more than a thimbleful of wine, lest they risk looking coarse. But Claire knew her father meant well. Or at least, that was what she’d always told herself until a few days ago.
Louisa nudged the glass closer. “Go on. It’s really good wine.”
Oh, why not, Claire thought. A glass of wine was nothing to telling lies and pretending to be what she was not. Claire took the wine and sipped. It was delicious, and she relaxed back against the high, upholstered sides of her chair in a comfortably unladylike slump.
The room was decorated in manly shades of chocolate and midnight, with the obligatory stags’ heads mounted on the walls, though happily as far as Claire was concerned, only three. As the sitting room fire crackled merrily, its light danced amid the mischief in Louisa’s eyes. Though she was unfailingly hardworking and practical, Louisa was also prone to outrageousness. As the daughter of Claire’s father’s estate manager, Louisa had always been able to get away with more than Claire, the daughter of a gentleman. They’d been friends since girlhood, despite the difference in their stations.
“Imagine if your father could see you here,” Louisa said.
Claire groaned. “I’m trying not to think of him, or my mother, or any of my brothers discovering me here. Any moment now, one of the locals is surely going to realize I’m not the Duke of Starlingham’s second cousin and expose me.”
“Nonsense,” Louisa said, leaning forward to select a biscuit from the plate she’d put on the small table between them. “No one around here has seen the man–or a single person from his family– for a good dozen years or more. The duke’s man of affairs is the only person who ever comes here, and he only comes once a year to check on the place. Besides, the neighbors all think it’s wonderful that the duke’s cousin has come to stay.”
“I never would have dreamed that one day I’d be a fraud,” Claire said morosely.
“Have a biscuit,” Louisa urged. “I hear almond biscuits are the very thing to relieve feelings of being a fraud.”
“You are the most outrageous friend,” Claire said, but she took two.
“I simply believe in the value of indulgence in times of uncertainty. From the slim look of you, I expect you’ve hardly enjoyed yourself at all in recent times.”
Maybe, Claire thought, and felt instantly disloyal toward her family. But the biscuits were good, and she sipped her wine, which helped her mind less that she was disloyal and a fraud.
“But what if someone does find out?”
“Phoo,” Louisa scoffed. “You’re a gentleman’s daughter and just the sort of young lady who belongs at Foxtail, and I’d wager, if the old duke ever deigned to grace us with his presence, he’d agree.”
“The poor old duke, who has no idea that a wicked woman is taking advantage of his hospitality in his very own hunting box.”
“Stop worrying about the duke! The man has so many estates he can’t even be bothered to visit them all. You spend too much time being concerned about other people, Claire. Honestly, I don’t know what’s happened to you in recent years–- you’ve become so horribly nice. Do you realize that ‘I’m sorry’ was the first thing you said to me when you arrived the other night?”
Claire only just managed to stop herself from apologizing for that.
“And clearly you’ve become accustomed to doing more than your fair share of tasks — I’m certain you were going to volunteer to wash the dishes for Sally this morning!”
“She’s so busy, and surely my coming here has made more work for her.”
“She’s paid–and quite a bit more than she would make anywhere else in the county—to wash dishes here. You’re not supposed to do her work for her.”
Louisa glared at her meaningfully, and Claire dropped her head into her hands and moaned. “You’re right. I’ve just become so used to being accommodating. I hate disappointing people or making them angry.”
“In the name of all that’s sensible, Claire, you can’t go through life making everybody else’s wishes your command.” Louisa shook her head with affectionate exasperation. “Coming here was the best thing you could have done for yourself.”
Maybe that was true, even if Claire did still feel guilty about the deception she’d perpetrated on her family and the deception she was currently perpetrating at Foxtail. She had become so used to doing whatever it took to forestall one of her father’s tirades that she’d hardly noticed when she’d begun to push her own needs and opinions aside. Until four days before, when her father had told her what her future was going to be, and something in her had snapped. She’d done the only thing she could think to do: escape.
Emily Greenwood has a degree in French and worked for a number of years as a writer, crafting newsletters and fundraising brochures. But she far prefers writing playful love stories set in Regency England, and she thinks romance is the chocolate of literature.
Regency anthology Dukes in Disguise isavailable March 15th 11th!
Grace Burrowes, Emily Greenwood, and Susanna Ives (me) team up to bring you three Regency novellas, each featuring a young, wealthy duke who must spend two weeks masquerading as a commoner in the bucolic backwater of Lesser Puddlebury. Disaster will rain down if their graces’ titled status become public knowledge. Fortunately for our heroes, true love is no respecter of rank.
“His Grace of Lesser Puddlebury” by Grace Burrowes
Connor, Duke of Mowne, has been injured in a most delicate location, and needs a place to heal far from the eyes of Polite Society. When he takes refuge with the independent and impecunious Julianna St. Bellan, he suspects his wound was in truth caused by Cupid’s arrow! Read an excerpt from His Grace of Lesser Puddlebury below.
“Duchess of Light” by Susanna Ives
In a tangle of lies and disguises, a brokenhearted duke and a desperate miss find truth in love.
Read an excerpt from Duchess of Light.
“Kiss Me, Your Grace” by Emily Greenwood
Rowan, Duke of Starlingham, thinks love is for fools, though when he arrives at his hunting box to find an alluring but puzzlingly uncooperative woman pretending to be his cousin, he realizes he may be a victim of the most absurd malady of all: love at first sight.
Read an excerpt from Kiss Me, Your Grace.
“His Grace of Lesser Puddlebury”
Over the clip-clop of the coach horses’ hooves and the incessant throbbing of his arse, Coinneach Callum Amadour Ives St. Bellan, ninth Duke of Mowne, endured that form of affection which—among grown men at least—traveled under the sobriquet of teasing.
More honest company would call it making sport of a fellow in a misguided attempt to cheer him up.
“Mowed down, they’ll say, like so much wheat,” Starlingham quipped. “One stray bullet and the great duke is hors de combat.”
Lucere was not to be outdone. “The moon sets, as it were.”
They went off into whoops, endlessly entertained, as always, by a play on the title Mowne, which was an old Scottish term for the lunar satellite… and thus a cognate for a reference to the human fundament.
“If the Sun and Stars had not tarried with a pair of tavern maids, we would have reached the dueling ground sooner,” Con groused. “This whole imbroglio is your fault, you two.”
There was simply no getting comfortable in a coach after being shot in the arse. No getting comfortable anywhere.
“I would be spared my present indignity,” Con went on, “but for the flirtatious excesses of my oldest and dearest friends. Bear in mind, if the wound festers, the pair of you will be consoling my mother on the loss of her darling baby boy, and Freddy will become the next Duke of Mowne.”
Mention of Mama sobered the Duke of Starlingham and the Duke of Lucere faster than a ballroom full of unbetrothed debutantes in the last week of the Season. Faced with such a prospect, the Sun, Moon, and Stars, as Con and his friends were collectively known, would have closed ranks. They’d often stood figuratively shoulder to shoulder, defending their bachelor freedoms against all perils, most especially the artillery fire of the matchmakers.
In the present situation, Con and his friends would have to split up.
“Where did you say we were going?” Lucere asked.
“Outer Perdition,” Starlingham muttered. “We’re in Yorkshire. Nothing civilized goes on in Yorkshire, where the winters are long and the sheep are notoriously friendly.”
“Starlingham, you will take up residence at your hunting box,” Con said, assuming that handy dwelling yet stood. “Lucere, you and your manservant, should you refuse to part with that worthy, will have to bide at a local inn or boarding house. Send word to either me or Starlingham regarding your choice of accommodations. I can stay with my third cousin, Jules St. Bellan.”
Dear old cousin Jules was one of Mama’s many faithful correspondents, though the relationship was so attenuated as to be more nominal than biological. Nominal and fiscal, for Con had been sending a stipend north to Lesser Puddlebury for years.
“Maybe we’re doing this all a bit too brown,” Lucere said. “Your Uncle Leo might never get word of the duel.”
“Maybe you’re still cup-shot,” Starlingham countered, grabbing for the strap dangling above his head as the coach lumbered through a curve. “If Leo learns we’re taking a week’s repairing lease in Greater Goosepuddle, he’ll suspect Freddy got into another scrape, and then Mowne won’t be allowed so much as a spare farthing.”
Freddy, next in line for the Mowne ducal title, was always getting into scrapes, as were Quinton and Hector, and—not to be outdone by her older brothers—Antigone.
Uncle Leo had decided that Freddy must be taken in hand—by Con—or Con would lose control of the family finances, of which Leo was trustee.
“Which of you will marry Antigone if Leo cuts off my funds?” Con asked, for somebody would have to marry her if she was to be kept in reasonable style. Leo’s views of a wardrobe allowance were parsimonious on a good day.
Only two paths circumnavigated Leo’s threatened penny-pinching when it came to the family finances. The first was for Con to turn five-and-thirty, which fate would not befall him for another six years—assuming he could avoid further incidents of bloodshed. The second means of prying Leo’s fingers off the St. Bellan money pots was to marry. If the Deity were merciful, that duty lay at least a decade in the future.
Con shifted on his pillow. The laudanum was wearing off, and the dilemma caused by Freddy’s dueling loomed ever larger.
“Hearing no volunteers for the honor of marrying my darling sister,” Con said, “we must deceive Uncle Leo in hopes he never learns of Freddy’s latest mis-step. In the alternative, I could take a vow of poverty, which would lead perforce to the cheering vistas of unmitigated chastity and limitless sobriety.”
“It might not be so bad,” Lucere said, an odd comment for a man whom rumor suggested was facing an engagement to a German princess.
“Poverty, chastity, and sobriety?” Starlingham asked.
“No, spending a week in Lower Dingleberry. How many times have these people seen three dukes in the neighborhood at once?”
“They must never see three dukes in the neighborhood at once,” Con retorted. “I shall be Mr. Connor Amadour and swear my cousin to eternal secrecy. He’s a mercenary old soul, and his silence can be bought. You two will not trade on your ducal consequence whatsoever. Be wealthy, be charming, be handsome, but keep your titles to yourselves. The greatest commodity traded up and down the Great North Road is gossip, and three dukes dropping coin and consequence all over some rural bog would reach Leo’s notice by the next full moon, as it were.”
Three young, healthy, single dukes could do nothing without observation and comment by all of society. Freddy enjoyed a little more privacy, but Leo somehow learned of the boy’s every stupid wager and bungled prank nonetheless.
“So… we’re not to be dukes,” Lucere said.
“We’re not to have even a country manor for our accommodations,” Starlingham added.
“But if we can pull this off,” Con said, “I’ll retain control over my portion of the family money, which means nobody need marry Antigone, and I won’t have to call either of you out for landing me in this contretemps. All we’re missing are cold Scottish mornings spent tramping about the grouse moors.”
And the gorgeous scenery, and the fresh air, and a chance to get the stink and noise of London out of a man’s soul.
“Two weeks, then, but we’re also missing good Scottish whisky,” Lucere noted.
“And the Scottish lasses,” Starlingham said, saluting with an imaginary glass.
Con would miss both of those comforts, but in truth, his allowance also paid for Mama’s occasional gambling debt, Antigone’s excesses at the milliner’s, Hector’s charities, Quinton’s experiments, and Freddy’s scrapes.
Con financed it all out of his own allotment, a delicately balanced enterprise that Uncle Leo could easily upset. Leo never interfered with Con’s decisions affecting the ducal finances, but with the personal finances, only Con’s funds stood between his immediate family and utter mortification.
Though what could be more mortifying than getting shot in the arse?
“When you do see the Scottish lasses again,” Lucere said, “you’ll have a fetching scar.”
“Would you like one of your own?” Con drawled. “All you need do is attempt to interrupt Freddy’s next duel, for he’s sure to have another. Stand well clear of the opponents, but position yourself such that Freddy’s bullet bounces just so off a rock and grazes your ducal assets. Along with your fetching scar, you’ll enjoy a significant mess and no little discomfort. I was wearing my favorite riding breeches, for which Freddy will pay.”
“Hurts, does it?” Starlingham asked quietly.
These were Con’s friends. He dared not answer honestly, or they’d pound Freddy to flinders when the poor lad had been trying to delope.
“I did fancy those breeches. Their destruction pains me.” The truth, when Bond Street tailors could beggar a man in a single season.
Lucere passed Con a silver flask. “We’ll drink a toast then, to two weeks of happy ruralizing in Upper Lesser Middle Bog-dingle-shire.”
Con took a swallow of mellow comfort and passed the flask to Starlingham, who did likewise.
“To being a plain mister, and not Your Perishing Grace every moment of the infernal day,” Starlingham said, raising the flask.
Lucere accepted the silver vessel back and studied the unicorn embossed amid the laurel leaves on the side.
“Good-bye to the Sun, Moon, and Stars, and for the next two weeks, here’s to the dukes in disguise.” He tipped up the flask, then tipped it higher, shaking the last drops into his open mouth.
Con’s arse hurt, but to have such friends, well, that made a man’s heart ache a little too. He raised his arm, as they’d been doing since one of them had suffered an adolescent infatuation with the paintings of Jacques-Louis David.
His friends did likewise—the most inane rituals never died—and bumping fists, as one they chanted, “To the dukes in disguise!”
“This is not a tumbledown cottage,” Con muttered as the groom and coachman wrestled his trunks from the boot. “I could swear Her Grace said Cousin Jules resides in a tumbledown cottage, barely more than a shack.”
The dwelling was pretty, in a rural sort of way. Three stories of soft gray fieldstone topped with standing seam tin, the whole flanked with stately oaks and fronted with a wide, covered terrace the width of the house. Red and white roses vined from trellises up onto the terrace roof.
The place gave off a disconcerting air of bucolic welcome, such as a duke in demand by every London hostess ought not to find appealing.
“Will that be all, sir?” John Coachman asked with an exaggerated wink.
“Thank you, yes. I’ll expect to see you again in two weeks, and until then, I expect utmost discretion from you and the grooms. Ut. Most.”
John wasn’t prone to drunkenness, but his groom was young and new to a duke’s service.
“Right, Your Worship. Mind that injury, or Her—your mama will have me out on me arse.”
More winking, and then the coach creaked down the drive, kicking up a plume of dust as Starlingham’s gloved hand fluttered a farewell from the window. Nobody came forth from the cottage to carry in bags, greet the visitor, or otherwise acknowledge company.
“I’m not a stupid man,” Con said, gaze on the bright red front door.
But what did one do without a footman about to knock on the door, pass over a card, and ensure the civilities were observed? How did luggage find its way above stairs before the next rain shower? The knocker was the sort that never came down, but hung permanently by its fittings, so how did one tell if the family was receiving?
Mysteries upon puzzles. How would… Mr. Connor Amadour go on?
Insight struck as thunder rumbled off to the south. This was Yorkshire, and thunder rumbled about a good deal, even when the sun shone brightly.
Also five minutes before a downpour turned the shire to mud.
Con marched—unevenly, given the increasing pain of his wound—up the steps and rapped on the door.
Nothing happened. Why hadn’t Con asked John Coachman and the grooms to pile the luggage under the terrace roof? The roses grew in such profusion as to make the porch cozy. A wide swing hung near one end, a worn rug beneath it, embroidered pillows in each corner of the swing.
Con had recently become an ardent if silent admirer of the comfy pillow.
He banged the knocker again, rather louder than gentility allowed. Perhaps the help was hard of hearing. Perhaps they were all down in the kitchen, scrambling to tuck in their livery because it was half day. Even the legendarily hardworking denizens of Yorkshire would observe the custom of half day.
More thunder, more rapping. Life as Mr. Amadour looked decidedly unappealing. A wind began to tease at the surrounding oaks, while Con’s trunks sat several yards from the foot of the steps, apparently incapable of levitating into the house.
Mr. Amadour was a resourceful fellow, Con decided, and fit, despite his injuries. He fenced, he boxed, he rode great distances in the normal course. He gave a good account of himself on any cricket pitch and was a reputable oarsman.
Apparently, he had latent skills as a porter too, for it took Con a mere fifteen minutes to wrestle three trunks up the steps and pile them beside the door. Even wearing gloves, though, he acquired a scraped knuckle, a set of bruised fingers, and a squashed toe.
And he’d started the wound on his backside to throbbing. He couldn’t very well check to see if it was bleeding again, though he suspected it was. The surgeon had told him to apply pressure directly to the injury to stop any renewed bleeding.
Applying pressure to a bullet wound amounted to self-torture.
Con reconnoitered. He was a duke, a single, wealthy-on-paper, not-bad-looking duke—not that single, wealthy dukes could be bad-looking in the eyes of most. He’d bested matchmakers, debutantes, card sharps, and Uncle Leo. He’d learned the knack of looking pious while napping through a Sunday sermon.
Cousin Jules would come home, for Cousin Jules never traveled to speak of. He was too busy writing to Mama in an endless correspondence of gossip, gratitude for the last bank draft, and importuning for the next one. Perhaps Jules was on a constitutional out among the lovely scenery.
Con determined that he would admire the scenery too, from the comfort of the pillowed swing at the end of the porch. All would remain cozy and dry on the porch despite the fickle weather, Cousin Jules would ramble home, and within the hour, Con would be tucked up before a fire, a glass of brandy in hand. He’d be a welcome, if unexpected, guest whose worst problem would be all the fussing and cooing from the help.
Grace Burrowes grew up in central Pennsylvania and is the sixth out of seven children. She discovered romance novels when in junior high (back when there was a such a thing), and has been reading them voraciously ever since. Grace has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, a Bachelor of Music in Music History, (both from The Pennsylvania State University); a Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University; and a Juris Doctor from The National Law Center at The George Washington University.