Contest: fourpack of signed books!

Hi everyone! Every year at RWA I buy signed books to give away. Well, RWA is next week, and somehow I’ve got four books left. So! This month’s winner gets all four!

book cover, beautiful dark-haired woman in a red dress holding a dagger with a castle behind herAssassin’s Gambit by Amy Raby. I have heard really great things about this book!

Vitala Salonius, champion of the warlike game of Caturanga, is as deadly as she is beautiful. She’s a trained assassin for the resistance, and her true play is for ultimate power. Using her charm and wit, she plans to seduce her way into the emperor’s bed and deal him one final, fatal blow, sparking a battle of succession that could change the face of the empire.

As the ruler of a country on the brink of war and the son of a deposed emperor, Lucien must constantly be wary of an attempt on his life. But he’s drawn to the stunning Caturanga player visiting the palace. Vitala may be able to distract him from his woes for a while—and fulfill other needs, as well.

Lucien’s quick mind and considerable skills awaken unexpected desires in Vitala, weakening her resolve to finish her mission. An assassin cannot fall for her prey, but Vitala’s gut is telling her to protect this sexy, sensitive man. Now she must decide where her heart and loyalties lie and navigate the dangerous war of politics before her gambit causes her to lose both Lucien and her heart for good.

***

book cover, a Regency woman flees across a field at nightA Night Like This by Julia Quinn. I love the Smythe-Smiths!

Anne Wynter might not be who she says she is…

But she’s managing quite well as a governess to three highborn young ladies. Her job can be a challenge—in a single week she finds herself hiding in a closet full of tubas, playing an evil queen in a play that might be a tragedy (or might be a comedy—no one is sure), and tending to the wounds of the oh-so-dashing Earl of Winstead. After years of dodging unwanted advances, he’s the first man who has truly tempted her, and it’s getting harder and harder to remind herself that a governess has no business flirting with a nobleman.

Daniel Smythe-Smith might be in mortal danger…

But that’s not going to stop the young earl from falling in love. And when he spies a mysterious woman at his family’s annual musicale, he vows to pursue her, even if that means spending his days with a ten-year-old who thinks she’s a unicorn. But Daniel has an enemy, one who has vowed to see him dead. And when Anne is thrown into peril, he will stop at nothing to ensure their happy ending…

***

book cover, a redhead in green satin embraces a shirtless man in a kiltThe Duke’s Perfect Wife by Jennifer Ashley. I haven’t read this one yet, but The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is on my keeper shelf.

Lady Eleanor Ramsay is the only one who knows the truth about Hart Mackenzie. Once his fiancee, she is the sole woman to whom he could ever pour out his heart.

Hart has it all—a dukedom, wealth, power, influence, whatever he desires. Every woman wants him—his seductive skills are legendary. But Hart has sacrificed much to keep his brothers safe, first from their brutal father, and then from the world. He’s also suffered loss—his wife, his infant son, and the woman he loved with all his heart though he realized it too late.

Now, Eleanor has reappeared on Hart’s doorstep, with scandalous nude photographs of Hart taken long ago. Intrigued by the challenge in her blue eyes—and aroused by her charming, no-nonsense determination—Hart wonders if his young love has come to ruin him…or save him.

***

A blond woman in a red dress smiles at the reader, her arm around a shirtless guy who looks kind of like Paul Rudd

A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant. It is no secret that Cecilia Grant is one of my favorite Regency authors. You can read my gushing rec of this book at my Booklikes.

Kate Westbrook has dreams far bigger than romance. Love won’t get her into London’s most consequential parties, nor prevent her sisters from being snubbed and looked down upon—all because their besotted father unadvisedly married an actress. But a noble husband for Kate would deliver a future most suited to the granddaughter of an earl. Armed with ingenuity, breathtaking beauty, and the help of an idle aunt with connections, Kate is poised to make her dreams come true. Unfortunately, a familiar face—albeit a maddeningly handsome one—appears bent on upsetting her scheme.

Implored by Kate’s worried father to fend off the rogues eager to exploit his daughter’s charms, Nick Blackshear has set aside the torch he’s carried for Kate in order to do right by his friend. Anyway, she made quite clear that his feelings were not returned—though policing her won’t abate Nick’s desire. Reckless passion leads to love’s awakening, but time is running out. Kate must see for herself that the charms of high society are nothing compared to the infinite sweet pleasures demanded by the heart.

Any requests for who I should get books signed by this year? Take a look at this humongous list of authors participating in the RWA Literacy Autographing and let me know!

Just comment on this post to enter. As always, if you want to be alerted when a new contest goes up, I recommend signing up for my newsletter.

US and Canada only. Sorry guys! I promise I will start shipping international again as soon as I can.

NB: I got these books signed at a conference. The authors aren’t involved in the giveaway and the books aren’t personalized.

New cover for True Pretenses!

EEEEE, the cover’s been finalized for True Pretenses (Lively St. Lemeston #2, coming in January 2015)!

A redheaded woman pushes a dark-haired man's shirt open, fading into a snowy scene with an English country house

I love it SO MUCH OMG OMG OMG. And doesn’t that guy remind you a little of David Duchovny?

Never steal a heart unless you can afford to lose your own.

Through sheer force of will, Ash Cohen raised himself and his younger brother from the London slums to become the best of confidence men. He’s heartbroken to learn Rafe wants out of the life, but determined to grant his brother his wish.

It seems simple: find a lonely, wealthy woman. If he can get her to fall in love with Rafe, his brother will be set. There’s just one problem—Ash can’t take his eyes off her.

Heiress Lydia Reeve is immediately drawn to the kind, unassuming stranger who asks to tour her family’s portrait gallery. And if she married, she could use the money from her dowry for her philanthropic schemes. The attraction seems mutual and oh so serendipitous—until she realizes Ash is determined to matchmake for his younger brother.

When Lydia’s passionate kiss puts Rafe’s future at risk, Ash is forced to reveal a terrible family secret. Rafe disappears, and Lydia asks Ash to marry her instead. Leaving Ash to wonder—did he choose the perfect woman for his brother, or for himself?

Warning: Contains secrets and pies.

Spoiler-friendly “In for a Penny” discussion post

new In for a Penny coverHi everyone! This is a spoiler-friendly discussion and questions post for In for a Penny. I’d love to hear anything you have to say about the book! And if there’s anything you want to ask me (about the book, about writing the book, about characters in the book, about what happens next, anything really), go for it.

Thank you all for giving what I do meaning—a book isn’t REALLY finished until someone reads it.

New contest: IN FOR A PENNY e-books, and a gift basket!

ETA: This contest is closed. Taliahale is the winner of the gift basket. E-book winners are Jackie, elizs, Jennie, azteclady, and Maureen. Congratulations!

My debut In for a Penny re-releases on June 3rd!

new In for a Penny coverLord Nevinstoke revels in acting the young wastrel, until his father is killed in a drunken duel. Never one to do anything halfway, Nev throws off his wild ways to shoulder a mountain of responsibility—and debt—vowing to marry a rich girl and act the respectable lord of the manor. Manufacturing heiress Penelope Brown seems the perfect choice for a wife. She’s pretty, proper, and looking for a husband.

Determined to rise above her common birth, Penelope prides herself on her impeccable behavior and good sense. Grand Passion? Vulgar and melodramatic. Yes, agreeing to marry Nev was a rare moment of impulse, yet she’s sure they can build a good marriage based on companionship and mutual esteem.

But when they arrive at the manor, they’re overwhelmed with half-starved tenants, a menacing neighbor, and the family propensity for scandal. As the situation deteriorates, the newlyweds have nowhere to turn but to each other. To Penelope’s surprise, she begins to fervently hope that her first taste of Grand Passion in her husband’s arms won’t be her last.

You can read the first chapter here.

The book has been out of print since Dorchester’s tailspin, and I’m very excited that it will be available again. To celebrate, I’m giving away 5 PENNY e-books and a super awesome gift basket (not literally. There is no actual basket)!

The gift basket includes:

1. A copy of the e-book in the format of your choice.

2. A signed promotional postcard.

3. Two In for a Penny bookmarks.

4. A real Regency penny! Dated 1806, this penny has clearly been extensively handled. ANYONE could have touched this penny. (Well, anyone living in England in the relevant timeframe.)

5. 4 grass-scented votive candles from Kittredge Candles. These just came in the mail and they smell amazing! The smell of summer in the country is a huge part of this book for me.

6. Dangerous Examples, Diane Dugaw’s collection of ballads about cross-dressing sailor and soldier maids. Includes “Mary Ambree” and “The Bristol Bridegroom,” both mentioned in Penny, and I’m sure Penelope knew many of these.

7. Dr. Arne at Vauxhall Gardens, featuring singers Emma Kirkby and Richard Morton backed by the Parley of Instruments. Who knows, one of these very songs could have been in the background when Nev saw Penelope at Vauxhall in chapter one! This CD is used but it plays perfectly.

8. A deck of reproduction historical playing cards. The cards are based on a 1750 deck, but design didn’t change much until the Victorian era, and the decks Nev and his friends used would have looked very similar.

9. Hogarth on High Life: The Marriage à la Mode Series. The product description from Amazon: “For the first time in more than 35 years, this edition of the Commentaries on Hogarth’s Marriage à la Mode series brings one of the most entertaining and perceptive art texts of the 18th century back in print. Lichtenberg, a genial Anglophile, physicist, and colleague of Goethe, brought all the scabrous and mordant detail of Hogarth’s masterpieces to life. The brilliant translation by Arthur Wensinger is accompanied by an introduction and thorough notes, and by two other important early texts: Rouquet’s commentaries, which were authorized by Hogarth, and a hudibrastic verse explanation published in 1746. The very full illustration includes the Riephenhausen engravings from which Lichtenberg worked, Hogarth’s own engravings, and extensive details.” How cool is that? If you’ve read the book, you know why it’s relevant.

Since Penelope likes lists with 9 items, I will end it there!

Here are 9 ways you can enter to win (N.B.: all require leaving a comment on this post):

1. Read a post from my original blog tour. Leave a comment on the post here.

The History Hoydens. I talk about class attitudes in Regency England and their effect on my nouveau-riche heroine.
The Book Smugglers. My inspirations and influences, including but not limited to Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and my own family history. This one comes complete with old snapshots of bold fashion choices made by four generations of women in my family.
The Season. A list of costume drama monster movies I’d like to see, such as vampire Crusaders, Cowboys vs. the Blob, and Lieutenant Hornblower and the Kraken.
Romantically Speaking podcast. Danielle Monsch and I chat about research, romance, geek TV, the East Coast/West Coast divide, and of course the big one: Kirk vs. Picard.
MuseTracks. This was a tough one to write. My mom died of cancer when I was partway through writing In for a Penny, and I talk about that here.
The Chatelaines. In this Q&A with Gerri Russell, I talk about getting The Call from my editor, my very first attempts at Regency romance, and a bunch of other stuff.
Book Binge. The hero and heroine of my book love Le Morte d’Arthur. In this post I talk about one of my favorite things about it: its lack of authorial judginess. I also talk about the good person/bad person divide in English literature generally, and there’s a great discussion in the comments about sympathetic villains and the difference between justice and revenge.

2. Post a photo of yourself with your copy of In for a Penny (original printing or Samhain) on twitter, facebook, instagram, tumblr, or similar. Leave a comment here linking me to the picture.

3. Write a recommendation or review of the book in the forum of your choice. This review should be HONEST, it does NOT have to be positive. Leave a comment here linking me to the rec/review.

4. Read a review of In for a Penny (either one of the ones linked here, or find one on your own). Leave a comment here telling me which review you picked and something that intrigued you about it.

5. Look at the dream casting I did for Penny and tell me why you agree or disagree with one of my choices. Who would you suggest instead?

6. Read the first chapter of In for a Penny and tell me your favorite moment in it.

7. Leave me a prompt for a short story set in the world or featuring the characters of Sweet Disorder. Don’t forget to also comment here to let me know you did and you want to be entered!

8. Tell me about your favorite Star Trek episode and why it’s your favorite. 100 words minimum. Screencaps encouraged but not required.

9. Read one of my In for a Penny character interviews and tell me your favorite answer.

The rules:

1. To be entered you MUST leave a comment on THIS post.
2. The e-book giveaways are open internationally but due to postage costs, I will only ship the gift basket to the US or Canada.
3. Contest is open until June 15th.
4. You may enter up to 5 times! Leave each entry in a separate comment.
5. The winners will be chosen at random using random.org. No purchase is necessary to enter. Void where prohibited.
6. No spoilers in the comments please!

Blog trade with Heather Rose Jones! “Roadblocks to Romance: Writing in Dialogue with Austen and Heyer”

To celebrate reaching 100 Twitter followers, Heather Rose Jones offered a choice of blog topic to the 99th and 100th. One of the winners, Ursula W., noting that two of her friends both wrote Regency-era romances, requested a blog trade. When Heather suggested each discussing how our stories interact with Heyer, especially in regards to how we use class difference to create conflict in our books, I was sold! My post is up at Heather’s blog if you’d like to read it. An excerpt:

My relationship with Heyer is complicated. In some ways, I relate to her like a critical mother. Her work has influenced my genre and my writing so heavily, she’s written some of my very favorite romances, and yet…I know she wouldn’t approve of me (apart from anything else, I’m Jewish!). I’m unable to simply set aside the places we disagree. Instead, they inspire in me frustrated stomach churnings if I think too much about it.

Because here’s the thing about Georgette Heyer and class issues as a roadblock to romance:

In Georgette Heyer, real class difference is an insuperable barrier to romance.

DaughterMysteryCOVERHeather’s debut novel Daughter of Mystery (Bella Books) is concisely described as a “Ruritanian Regency lesbian romance with magic and swashbuckling” (okay, I clearly need to check this out) and features Margerit Sovitre, an aspiring scholar who unexpectedly inherits a fortune…and a bodyguard named Barbara.

Here’s Heather’s post!

***

A romance author’s most important task is to keep her protagonists apart. Seriously. Without roadblocks to the romance, you may have a happy couple undergoing adventures together, but you don’t have a romance novel. One of the attractions of historic romance is exploring the palette of roadblocks specific and appropriate to the time and place of the setting. And one of the classic failures of historic romance is overlooking barriers rooted in your novel’s era in favor of more modern motivations and attitudes.

Any Anglophone romance novel set around the turn of the 19th century will inevitably find itself in dialog with both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Austen, because she gives us a boots-on-the-ground view of the attitudes, assumptions, goals, and aspirations of the time. Heyer, though she’s less bound by historic realities, because she essentially invented the concept of the Regency romance and mapped out an amazingly prolific array of character types, plots, tropes, and resolutions that form the basis for the genre. One may follow their lead or consciously write in contrast to them, but one cannot ignore them.

My novel Daughter of Mystery aimed, in part, for the look-and-feel of a Heyer romance, though differing significantly in the details. (It has fantasy elements, is set in the invented country of Alpennia rather than England, and concerns a same-sex romantic couple.) So I found it interesting to see how my characters’ problems compare to Austen and Heyer’s use of class, economics, social attitudes, and gender as romantic roadblocks.

Read the rest of this entry »

SWEET DISORDER short story: taking suggestions!

Hi everyone! When my first book, In for a Penny, was released, I asked for suggestions from readers for a free short story set in the world of the book. The result was this fun “five times” story (contains spoilers for the book!).

When A Lily Among Thorns came out, I did the same thing—but then Dorchester imploded and the book went out of print and I never actually wrote it. However, I’m going to! I have the story all planned (based on Steph Burgis’s request for a story about Solomon’s little sister and her stuffy fiancé—spoiler, they are virgins who DON’T immediately get the hang of it and need to figure some things out) and it will go up when Lily is rereleased in September.

And now it’s time for me to take reader suggestions for a Sweet Disorder short story! This one will go up when True Pretenses, the second Lively St. Lemeston book, comes out early next year.

I’ll take suggestions of any kind, in any format, as detailed or vague as you like. What ifs, alternate universes, missing scenes, backstory, and future scenes are all fair game. Feel free to treat your comment like a mini-brainstorming session if you want!

Legal stuff: by submitting a comment on this post, you permit Rose Lerner to develop your story idea without any expectation of financial compensation or remuneration. The resulting story will be available to readers free of charge.

Some suggestions to get the ball rolling:

1. Modern-day AU: Nick is a rentboy and Phoebe is a hardworking kindergarten teacher looking for an escape from her predictable life.
2. Ada and Sukey are trapped in a wardrobe together and things get sexy!
3. Nick and Phoebe interacting when his family is in town for Christmas when they’re both children.
4. Mr. Gilchrist and Jack Sparks accidentally swap bodies.
5. Toogood is secretly a spy!

Comment section is SPOILER-FRIENDLY!

DFH Interview #7: Courtney Milan

As part of my blog tour for Sweet Disorder, I wrote a guest post at Heroes and Heartbreakers about the tradition of widows and dead first husbands in historical romance. For that post, I interviewed the authors of some of my favorite historicals with widow heroines, and I got back such awesome, detailed answers that I wanted to share the complete interviews with you.

Here’s what Courtney Milan had to say about her heartwrenching, amazing The Countess Conspiracy.

Two warnings: this post contains mentions of rape and abuse, and there is a major spoiler for the series in the upcoming back cover copy.

tcc-smallSebastian Malheur is the most dangerous sort of rake: an educated one. When he’s not scandalizing ladies in the bedchamber, he’s outraging proper society with his scientific theories. He’s desired, reviled, acclaimed, and despised—and he laughs through it all.

Violet Waterfield, the widowed Countess of Cambury, on the other hand, is entirely respectable, and she’d like to stay that way. But Violet has a secret that is beyond ruinous, one that ties her irrevocably to England’s most infamous scoundrel: Sebastian’s theories aren’t his. They’re hers.

So when Sebastian threatens to dissolve their years-long conspiracy, she’ll do anything to save their partnership…even if it means opening her vulnerable heart to the rake who could destroy it for good.

“Dead first husband” is hereafter abbreviated DFH.

RL: DFHs fall on a spectrum between evil abusive assholes and great guys the heroine could have been with forever if they’d lived. Where do you see Lord Cambury as falling, and did you know from the start where you wanted Lord Cambury to land?

CM: Lord Cambury absolutely falls on the “abusive asshole” end of the spectrum, with the caveat that his behavior at the time would not have been seen as particularly abusive. I don’t want to say more because spoilers, but while I think his behavior is awful and unforgivable, it’s also something that wouldn’t have been seen as anything other than aggressive at the time. You can find tales of that kind of thing happening to all kinds of degrees back then.

I’d planned for him to be a Not Great Guy from the beginning. The exact details shifted over time, though.

RL: DFHs mean something a little different in Regency- and Victorian-set historicals since divorce wasn’t widely available. Like, if the heroine is married to someone other than the hero, he has to die for her to marry the hero. How do you think that affected your story?

CM: I don’t think it did.

I think the story is more affected by other powers that a husband has over a wife in that time period. For instance, they refer to sexual intercourse between a husband and his wife as the man’s “marital rights”—something that if you really think about it, is kind of gross, because it erases the notion of the wife being able to refuse sexual intercourse with her husband.

[RL's note: Depressingly enough, marital rape did not start to become a crime in the U.S. until the mid-1970s.]

RL: How do you think Violet’s experience of marriage affects how she’s been living the rest of her life—not just practically, but emotionally, and in what she expects and doesn’t let herself expect? (This is a really basic question, I guess, since that’s so central to the story, but we also didn’t see Violet before her marriage, when she was already living by her mother’s rules. I basically would read ALL the backstory fic in the world about what she was like as a girl, and in the first months of her marriage when she thought things were going to turn out well.)

CM: Violet’s mother gave her girls a pretty good grounding in proper behavior, and society did the rest. Women are supposed to defer to their husbands. They’re taught to do that, taught that men know best, taught that men are the ones that will keep them safe. So when things don’t go down that way—when the things that everyone has been telling her don’t quite turn out that way—I think it’s hard for her not to blame herself. As the book starts, Violet has internalized a lot of her husband’s criticism. It may not be rational, but I think it’s pretty normal.

Read the rest of this entry »

DFH interview #6: Lauren Willig

As part of my blog tour for Sweet Disorder, I wrote a guest post at Heroes and Heartbreakers about the tradition of widows and dead first husbands in historical romance. For that post, I interviewed the authors of some of my favorite historicals with widow heroines, and I got back such awesome, detailed answers that I wanted to share the complete interviews with you.

Lauren Willig’s The Betrayal of the Blood Lily is one of my very favorite dead first husband stories because Penelope and Freddy are still married at the beginning of the book, so we get to see their relationship (which is mostly bad, but not all bad) and we get to see her grieve for him, too.

bloodlily_pbEveryone warned Miss Penelope Deveraux that her unruly behavior would land her in disgrace someday. She never imagined she’d be whisked off to India to give the scandal of her hasty marriage time to die down. As Lady Frederick Staines, Penelope plunges into the treacherous waters of the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, where no one is quite what they seem—even her own husband. In a strange country where elaborate court dress masks even more elaborate intrigues and a spy called the Marigold leaves cobras as his calling card, there is only one person Penelope can trust…

Captain Alex Reid has better things to do than play nursemaid to a pair of aristocrats. He knows what their kind is like. Or so he thinks—until Lady Frederick Staines out-shoots, out-rides, and out-swims every man in the camp. She also has an uncanny ability to draw out the deadly plans of the Marigold and put herself in harm’s way. With danger looming from local warlords, treacherous court officials, and French spies, Alex realizes that an alliance with Lady Frederick just might be the only thing standing in the way of a plot designed to rock the very foundations of the British Empire.

“Dead first husband” is hereafter abbreviated DFH.

RL: DFHs fall on a spectrum between evil abusive assholes and great guys the heroine could have been with forever if they’d lived. How did you decide where on the spectrum you wanted Freddy to land? (And let me just pause for a second here to talk about how much I LOVE Freddy and Penelope’s relationship. Because they had an awful marriage but she also kind of loved him? And I also loved that their problems weren’t sexual. Also I just have a soft spot for Freddy’s type of jerkness. But seriously, <333.)

LW: I was frustrated with the trope of the first husband who is old, cold, and, for, bonus points, evil with a capital E. When I was writing The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, I wanted to address the question of: what happens when the heroine marries the wrong guy? Not a parentally arranged marriage to a much older man, not a nightmare marriage to an incurable sadist, but just your fairly typical specimen of slightly debauched aristocratic manhood, no better and no worse than many of his fellows. When I imagined Freddy, I saw him as a frat boy in Regency clothing, with an elaborately tied cravat rather than a baseball cap, and a decanter of claret rather than a keg of beer. It’s not that Freddy is evil; he’s just entirely the wrong person for Penelope, who is much more complicated than her public persona of daredevil debutante would suggest. They bring out the worst in each other, while, at the same time, being very physically attracted to each other—which is what got them into their mismatch in the first place.

Having them be physically attracted to each other, even in the worst of their troubles, was very important to me. For one, because without that attraction they would never be forced into their marriage of inconvenience, but also because I have less than fond memories of all of the romances I read during the 90s in which the heroine’s first husband was invariably impotent, deviant, inept, or just plain not interested in women. Penelope is a very passionate woman. I wanted the sexual chemistry to be the one thing in Penelope and Freddy’s relationship that did work.

On the other end of the spectrum from the evil first husband, you have what I think of as the Sainted First Husband trope: the one who was so wonderful that the heroine Can Never Get Over Him To Love Again (that is, until she meets the hero). This is one I played with in another book, The Garden Intrigue, in which my heroine, Emma Morris, ran off with a much older Frenchman, Paul Delagardie, when she was only fifteen. When we meet Emma a decade later, she’s grappling with her husband’s death—not because he was perfect, but because she had only just learned to love him for his imperfections. When sixtee-year-old Emma realized her husband wasn’t the romantic swain of her imaginings—after alienating her important family by eloping with him—she went off in a sulk. Over time, though, she and her husband had arrived at their own peace, and his death of a fever years later, just when they were truly beginning to understand each other not for their early romantic imaginings, but for who they really are, throws her for a loop and makes her curl up like a hedgehog. Read the rest of this entry »

DFH interview #5: Tessa Dare

As part of my blog tour for Sweet Disorder, I wrote a guest post at Heroes and Heartbreakers about the tradition of widows and dead first husbands in historical romance. For that post, I interviewed the authors of some of my favorite historicals with widow heroines, and I got back such awesome, detailed answers that I wanted to share the complete interviews with you.

Here’s what Tessa Dare had to say about Twice Tempted by a Rogue, possibly still my favorite of her books (although it has a lot of competition!).

ttbar-cover-250x410Luck is a double-edged sword for brooding war hero Rhys St. Maur. His death wish went unanswered on the battlefield, while fate allowed the murder of his friend in the elite gentlemen’s society known as the Stud Club. Out of options, Rhys returns to his ancestral home on the moors of Devonshire, expecting anything but a chance at redemption in the arms of a beautiful innkeeper, who dares him to take on the demons of his past—and the sweet temptation of a woman’s love.

Meredith Maddox believes in hard work, not fate, and romance isn’t part of her plan. But when Rhys returns, battle-scarred, world-weary, and more dangerously attractive than ever, the lovely widow is torn between determination and desire. As a deep mystery and dangerous smugglers threaten much more than their passionate reckoning, Meredith discovers that she must trust everything to a wager her heart placed long ago.

Dead first husband is hereafter abbreviated DFH.

RL: DFHs fall on a spectrum between evil abusive assholes and great guys the heroine could have been with forever if they’d lived. How did you decide where on the spectrum you wanted Mr. Maddox to land?

TD: Maddox falls somewhere in between, I think. He wasn’t a villain, but they didn’t have a passionate love affair, either. Theirs was a marriage of convenience in the truest sense. He was kind to Meredith, she worked faithfully alongside him, and he left her the business (an inn) when he died. Neither of them went into it hoping for anything more, so I think they were content together, if not wildly in love.

RL: DFHs mean something a little different in Regency-set historicals since divorce wasn’t widely available, and because women gave up so many property rights by marrying. How do you think that affected your story?

TD: I don’t think Meredith would have ever contemplated divorcing Maddox. They were life and business partners. She was the one who actually proposed marriage, not him!

RL: One of the cool things about widow stories is the contrast between the decision the heroine took to be with the dead first husband and the decision she takes at the end of the story to be with the hero—and because she’s been married before, she knows what it means to compromise her autonomy in that way. Widow stories are often about learning to balance love and practicality, if that makes sense? Like a lot of times the heroine married her first husband either entirely out of love without thinking about whether it was a good decision, or else she married him for practical reasons without loving him at all. How does Meredith’s first marriage shape the course of her romance with Rhys? And how do you think that applies to how she lives the rest of her life, and what she expects and doesn’t let herself expect?

TD: Meredith is a very pragmatic woman, by necessity. Her father was disabled in a fire and she had to support them both, while living in a small village with few employment opportunities. So her first marriage was very much a business decision. She needed security for her and her father both, and neither love nor attraction factored into the equation.

Her attraction to Rhys, on the other hand, is anything but practical. Here’s this handsome, sexy, wounded man who was the object of all her adolescent infatuations and quite a few of her grown-up fantasies. Now he’s suddenly come back home, after a decade of absence—and within a day, he’s decided that the two of them are destined to marry. It’s like a dream come true—and that’s exactly why she doesn’t trust it. She’s afraid that if she lets herself give into the romantic fantasy, she’ll lose what ground she’s managed to hold for herself and her community. Read the rest of this entry »

DFH interview #4: Cecilia Grant

As part of my blog tour for Sweet Disorder, I wrote a guest post at Heroes and Heartbreakers about the tradition of widows and dead first husbands in historical romance. For that post, I interviewed the authors of some of my favorite historicals with widow heroines, and I got back such awesome, detailed answers that I wanted to share the complete interviews with you.

Here’s what Cecilia Grant had to say about her stunning debut, A Lady Awakened.

lady-225Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate—and housemaids—from a predatory brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes…for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all…love?

Dead first husband is hereafter abbreviated DFH.

RL: DFHs fall on a spectrum between evil abusive assholes and great guys the heroine could have been with forever if they’d lived. Where do you think Mr. Russell falls on the spectrum, and how did you decide where you wanted him to fall?

CG: I hope Mr. Russell falls where I wanted him, which is in the absolute neutral middle.

For story purposes I obviously needed Martha to have had a first husband, but I wanted him to take up as little of the reader’s emotional energy as possible. I didn’t want the reader to actively dislike him, so I made sure he had some good qualities—disapproval of his villainous brother, affection for his first wife—but I also didn’t want the reader spending a lot of time feeling sorry for him for having been married to such a cold fish as Martha. I tried to make it clear that the marriage had been a pragmatic, unsentimental match on both sides: she wanted a grown-up life with an estate to be mistress of, he wanted an heir, and neither one had thought much further into it than that.

I also decided to give Mr. Russell a quiet over-dependence on drink. Drinking to excess was so common in that time period, and I think it must have been an issue in many marriages – sometimes manifesting in towering rages and abusive behavior (think of Helen’s marriage in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which takes place only a few years later), and sometimes carving a less dramatic, ever-present rift between husband and wife. It makes Martha’s distance from him a little more relatable, I hope, than if it had all been due to her cold-fishery.

RL: The DFH (and dead first wife) interests me in particular in historicals because divorce wasn’t widely available. Writing a hero or heroine who was married and isn’t anymore requires a dead first spouse, whereas in contemporaries I think bad breakups are more common as backstory. I realize that the entire plot of ALA hinges on Mr. R being dead since Martha is trying to conceive an heir, so I don’t really have a specific question for you about that, but if you have thoughts I’d love to hear them!

CG: Yes, it’s fascinating to read about how people navigated marriage, especially unhappy marriage, in a time when divorce wasn’t really a possibility. There were plenty of people trapped and miserable in ill-advised unions, but there were also people who managed to find at least partial escape.

Among the upper classes there were separations, and marriages where both parties took lovers with the other’s tacit consent, and mistresses who had almost as much security and social standing as wives. Among the lower classes there might be wife-selling (not so common by this time, but it did happen) or people simply dissolving their marriages and taking new partners without legal or church sanction.

I don’t know how palatable any of these scenarios would be to modern readers, though. An HEA with the love of your life, when you’re still legally married to someone else, is probably a bit too messy for our present-day sensibilities. Thus, widow and widower stories. Read the rest of this entry »