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When Lord Alec Carstairs returns from the Peninsular Wars, hailed as a hero in the midst of the London Season, only Annabelle Layton knows the sort of man that he really is, that the honor everyone praises is illusory.
They’d been close friends once, before a passionate kiss changed everything. But if she’d secretly loved him, those feelings had died one bright summer morning, when a reckless wager left Annabelle with terrifying injuries. Alec had abandoned her without a backwards glance.
Hardly the actions of a hero.
But Alec has never forgotten her, despite his vow to stay away. There is more to that long ago-day than Annabelle knows, and shocking lies have distorted the past. Can he uncover is painful truths, and still keep his distance from the stunning beauty? Can he deny his forbidden desire, even as it flares again between them, hotter than ever
Guest Post from Julie LeMense:
Writing Historical Romance…
Sometimes, I wish I didn’t like the Regency era so much.
Now don’t get me wrong. As a reader, I’ve adored the genre ever since my first Barbara Cartland novel in the sixth grade. All of Ms. Cartland’s heroines–with their impossibly large eyes in piquant faces–had a rare and singular trait…like fluency in Sanskrit even though they’d never left the confines of say, Derby, England. And her heroes were the very best kind…handsome, powerful masters of the universe, each and every one. I’m pretty sure they were all dukes, as well, and therein lies one of the perils of writing Regency-era romance.
Ms. Cartland wrote more than 700 books in her day, and yet, even at the height of their power in the Georgian era, there were only 40 British dukes. So unless they were all serial polygamists, Cartland’s dukes had to be fictitious, and they had to be grounded enough in the manners and habits of their time to be believable.
Facts are facts, and a devoted Regency reader knows the era inside and out. They know exactly who the patronesses of Almack’s were. They know where White’s Gentleman’s club is located (still on St. James Street in London.) They can most likely describe Lord Elgin’s famous marbles. And they know that the Prince Regent struggled with his weight, eventually becoming so obese that he needed a winch to get him into the saddle.
All of this means that as a Regency writer, you’d better know the era too. Every factual error that you make takes your readers out of the world you’ve tried so carefully to craft, which means you’ve got to do your research, and lots of it. Your characters, both real and imagined, need to be firmly placed into the context of the era. And they’d better be wearing the right clothes.
It took me almost a year to write “Once Upon A Wager.” And if I sometimes struggled with the sheer volume of research that I reviewed, it also gave me the chance to bring real history into my piece of fiction. For example, Annabelle Layton, my heroine, lives at Astley Castle in Nuneaton, England. My hero, Alec Carstairs, lives nearby at Arbury Court. Both are real homes in the area, although the Castle is now in ruins. Lord Petersham, who is one of Annabelle’s admirers in London, was a famous eccentric in his day. In order to attract the interest of Mrs. Mary Browne, a widow, he dressed for years in unrelieved brown, and drove a curricle to match. When Annabelle is injured in an accident, Dr. Robert Chessher comes to her aid. He was, in fact, the father of English orthopaedics. And if you have a chance to read the book, you’ll know why Annabelle was a lucky girl indeed.
If I wrote contemporary romance (which I also love,) I wouldn’t have to worry about such things. I wouldn’t need to plumb the past to make my book feel “present.”
At the same time, it’s that chance to revisit the past that has always drawn me to the Regency era. I can’t go back in time, glass of ratafia in hand, to visit all of its landmarks, and spy on the characters that made it so unique. But in a book, I can immerse myself. I can be lulled into pretending I was there. I hope that with my book, other Regency era readers will be lulled too. I hope they’ll be able to close their eyes, and hear the faint strains of a ballroom waltz as their hero approaches.
But he was completely still, like a pillar of salt. His mouth was unyielding, and she suddenly knew that he didn’t share her feelings. He felt none of her longing. He was holding his breath, waiting for her to be done.
Embarrassed, she slowly withdrew, easing her hands away, and then her lips.
Only to have his arms clamp like manacles around her, pulling her flush against him, trapping her there. She could feel the tension in his body, everything about him tight and hard. He angled his head down, capturing her mouth, a rush of wine-scented breath mingling with her own, making her feel lightheaded and needy.
With a low moan, he sucked at her lower lip until she opened her mouth, his tongue slipping in, slick and insistent. Annabelle shuddered with the intimacy of it, desperate to feel more of this new sensation as he gathered her closer. He swept his hands along her waist, over the curve of her hips, and down the swell of her backside, cupping her against something heavy and hot. All the while, he explored her with his mouth, as if she was something sweet and he craved the taste of her. Caught up in her desire, she knew only that she’d never felt this way. She would give him all of herself for the taking, if only he would ask.
But then inexplicably, he stopped. With a muffled curse, he dropped his arms and took several steps back. He crossed his hands behind him, as if to keep them occupied, and watched her, his eyes hooded, his breathing uneven.
How could he control himself so quickly? She still felt dizzy, as if she’d been drugged with laudanum.
“God above, I knew better,” he said. “I should have stayed as far away as possible.”
That cured her dizziness. Had she given him such a disgust of her, then?
“That should never have happened, Annabelle. It was wrong. Please, you need to go back inside.”
“I am sorry.” She could barely speak the words. “I suppose I’ve confirmed all of your worst assumptions.”
“I’m angry at myself, Annabelle, not at you. I took advantage.”
“If anything,” she said, watching him beneath her lashes, “I was the one who took advantage.”
“Do you hear yourself?” His voice was sharp now, even pained. “Can you understand why I have stayed away? You can’t tempt a man like that. I warned you I’m not so honorable.”
“Is it such a bad thing to kiss me? I’ve wanted to kiss you as long as I can remember.”
For several moments, he simply gazed at her, his face inscrutable. “Well, then,” he said quietly. “We have kissed. You have indulged your curiosity with no thought for the consequences. I don’t have that luxury.”
He turned, vanishing into the darkness as she touched a hand to her lips, where she could still feel his kiss.
About the Author:
Julie LeMense has been a Regency romance addict since her first deliciously bad Barbara Cartland novel. Now, she prefers the complex plotting and characterizations of Meredith Duran, Julie Anne Long, Sherry Thomas, and Sarah MacLean. If she’s not busy reading a romance, she’s probably writing one in her haunted Pennsylvania home, where ghosts from the Gilded Age try to sneak their way into her stories.
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