Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Deranged Marriage: A Christmas Short Story

I wrote this for a 12 Days of Christmas celebration on Rita and Dani's blogs. My theme was Five Gold Rings ... Stolen by a Highwayman. In case you missed it, here it is again.

Insanity must run in the family. How else to explain her father’s obsession with Mesopotamian antiquities and her own current escapade? Disguising herself as a highwayman and holding up a coach in the December 23rd twilight was hardly a rational act, but Harriet had a good reason: to save herself from a forced marriage to a much older man, a collector even dottier and more ancient than her sire. He probably drooled.
If she had any sense, she’d go home now. Though a little hazy about the laws of marriage, she was pretty sure the bride had to consent. But she wanted her beloved, exasperating father to have the Christmas gift he was expecting, the Assyrian warrior’s ring Lord Ashburn had offered in exchange for a wife forty years his junior. And since Lord Ashburn had proposed this despicable arrangement, she felt little compunction about robbing him.
The sound of hooves told her the visitor to Holton Hall had turned off the main road. A pair of horses, she thought. She cocked her pistol and hoped Ashburn hadn’t bothered with an armed escort for the short drive out of London.
“Let’s go, Argent,” she whispered, and propelled her horse round the laurels into the road. “Stop!” she shouted, in the deepest voice she could manage. It came out a bit croaky, as though she had a sore throat.
The vehicle was a curricle, not what she expected an elderly earl to drive. On the other hand, the fact that the driver was alone, without even a groom, must be an advantage when it came to daylight robbery. She’d have the treasure off him in no time, and gallop home with plenty of time to change into her oldest, plainest evening gown to greet their guest for dinner. Since Ashburn wouldn’t have the ring, her father wouldn’t insist on the marriage. Still, it was safer to make herself as unalluring as possible.
“Stand and deliver!” she cried, which she understood was the correct greeting for a highwayman. “Don’t move or I’ll blow your head off,” she added for good measure, in case the poor man didn’t understand. He might well be weak in the brainbox to have agreed to such a ridiculous marriage contract.
The chestnut pair drew to a halt, snorting breath into the frigid air. “Are you sure you can hit me?” the driver asked. “I’ve never yet encountered a woman who could shoot worth a damn.” Disobeying her order, he leapt down from the bench and Harriet got a good look at him: a tall, powerful figure with windswept black hair, a penetrating pair of dark eyes, and a faint smile on very nicely shaped lips. His face was not much below hers, even when she was mounted on Argent, and he didn’t appear frightened, or even mildly alarmed.
A couple of things became clear. Lord Ashburn, if this was he, was unlikely to suffer any symptoms of senility. He wasn’t old – twenty-five or thirty at a guess. Neither was he weak-minded. He’d penetrated her disguise with insulting ease.
Being held up, in daylight, on the approach to a private manor house in a quiet part of Surrey, seemed delightfully improbable. The fact that his assailant was female greatly improved a dreary journey to a dull visit duty. The highwaywoman (if that was a word) has a good seat on a horse and long graceful legs, revealed by well-fitting breeches. Though she wore a back mask over her eyes, he could tell she was young and pretty.
“I’m an excellent shot,” she said, no longer troubling to disguise her voice. A lady of quality and, if he judged correctly, slightly peeved.
“In that case,” he replied, “I’d better do whatever you ask.” He let his gaze slide down to her bosom, hidden, alas, beneath a heavy riding coat. “I can think of a number of ways I’d be happy to accommodate you.”
Well-shaped red lips pursed in shock at his deliberate leer and suggestive words. She recovered gamely and brandished her weapon. “What you can do is empty your pockets.”
“Don’t wave your gun that like that. Keep it pointed at me. That way, if it goes off by accident you’re bound to miss.”
“You underestimate my shooting.” Definitely peeved now.
Not really wishing to test the truth of her assertion and curious to see where this adventure would lead, Ashburn fished his purse from his pocket and held it out, but she shook her head. “What else do you have?”
“Besides my handkerchief? Only this.”
The reason for his visit, the curious antique ring, five strands of gold intricately braided and topped with a lion’s head, lay on his open palm. The girl would have snatched it, but he closed his gloved fist. “No. I must deliver it to Sir John Holton as my uncle commanded. They were friends and rival collectors and he wanted Sir John to have it. Even a desperate villain like yourself must respect a deathbed promise.”
How typical of her father! No doubt the death of an earl had been reported in the newspapers, but Sir John lived in an extremely distant past. Harriet doubted if the new Lord Ashburn was aware of the agreement his predecessor had made.
She looked at Ashburn again and, with a pang of regret, lowered the pistol. “Take it to him, then. I wouldn’t wish to thwart a man’s last wish.”
“A rogue with a conscience.” He smiled as he replaced the ring in his pocket and she felt an odd tightness in her chest.
“I should go,” she said but their eyes met and she couldn’t bring herself to leave.
Neither did he make any move to return to the curricle and complete his journey. His smile widened. “I had an odd letter from Sir John,” he said. “He offered me his daughter’s hand in marriage in exchange for the ring.”
Her mouth felt dry. “Very odd. He must be quite eccentric.”
“There’s no need for the girl to make such a sacrifice.”
“It would be a sacrifice. A terrible sacrifice.”
“I’d never demand it. I’ll give him the ring anyway.”
“Very noble. The right thing to do.” She tried not to sound disappointed.
“You sound peeved.”
“Why would I?”
“I doubt Miss Holton and I would suit anyway. And besides, I had no desire for a bride.”
Did she imagine the slight emphasis on one word? “Had?”
“Have. I have no desire for a bride. Especially not Miss Harriet Holton who must be an elderly spinster with a face like a cod if she has to get a husband this way.” The blackguard stood with his hands on his hips, laughing at her, and looking impossibly handsome. “Touched in the head, as well, “he continued. “Mad as a march hare. One knife short of a canteen.”
“I’m glad to see you amuse yourself.” She gathered her reins, anxious to get home and change into the new gown she’d been saving for the Twelfth Night assembly. “I must leave.”
“Places to go, people to rob?” he asked, seizing the cheek strap of Argent’s bridle to prevent her escape.
“I must be home for Christmas,” she said
“I doubt I will.” Ashburn unclasped her right hand from the reins and tugged off her riding glove. His lips were warm and his breath hot against her wrist, and then her palm. “I have a sudden desire to spend the feast at Holton Hall.”
Copyright 2011 Miranda Neville

Monday, November 14, 2011

Confessions Has a Cover

Confessions From An Arranged Marriage (coming in the spring) now has a cover. I'll be posting it here soon, but in the meantime you can get a sneak over at The Ballroom Blog. I'm also looking for ideas for future stories involving some of my secondary characters. There are three lades over there, each in need of a hero.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Pair of Noble Volumes

Kate at the RWA Conference
book signing in New York.
Kate Noble is witty, talented, funny, kind, and has naturally curly hair. Because her name begins with "N", I often sit next to her at book signings and that makes me happy. She's a wonderful neighbor. She also writes wonderful books (with beautiful covers) which are definitely not the run of the mill historicals. Her settings and characters will surprise and charm you every time.

Here's the blurb for THE SUMMER OF YOU.
Lady Jane Cummings is certain that her summer is ruined when she is forced to reside at isolated Merrymere Lake with her reckless brother and ailing father. Her fast-paced London society is replaced with a small town grapevine. But one bit of gossip catches Jane’s attention – rumors that the lake’s brooding new resident is also an elusive highwayman.

Jane must face the much discussed mysterioso after he saves her brother from a pub brawl. She immediately recognizes him from London: Byrne Worth, war hero and apparent hermit – who she finds strangely charming. The two build a fast friendship, and soon nothing can keep this Lady away from Merrymere’s most wanted. Convinced of his innocence, Jane is determined to clear Byrne’s name – and maybe have a little fun this summer after all…
I loved this book. And who can resist a hero described as a "mysterioso." Did you notice the "reckless brother." Aha! A reckless brother needs a books of his own and he gets it.

Jason Cummings, Duke of Rayne is feeling the weight of his responsibilities – one of which is to get married. Being the most sought after bachelor in London can be trying, so who can blame him if he seeks refuge from the voracious hordes of young debutantes at the decidedly female-free Historical Society? Female-free, that is, until Winnifred Crane marches up to the door, demanding entrance.

Despite her prowess as a historian, Winn is denied membership to the Society. So she daringly offers an unusual bargain: if she can prove the authenticity of a certain painting, she’ll be granted recognition, fame, and respect. But to do that, she must go abroad. And to go abroad, she must have an escort, even a stubbornly unwilling one…

Jason has no desire to accompany Winn on her adventure across Europe, but even he is not immune to Winn’s passion for her profession. As the journey proves more difficult than planned, they must work together to stay one step ahead of their rivals… and the closer they get to the proof Winn seeks, the closer she and Jason become. But as their adventure turns dangerous, can Jason keep this headstrong bluestocking safe? And what will become of their growing bond when the adventure ends?
A duke and a bluestocking. Sigh.

I have signed copies of both these books to give away. I'll also throw in a signed cover flat of my next book, CONFESSIONS FROM AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE, and a selection of gorgeous bookmarks from other historical authors.

In addition to Kate's other talents, she has a brilliant name. How can you resist a historical written by someone whose name is NOBLE? What would your romance novel name be? Either make a comment here (include your email address) or use my contest entry form. If you have a preference for which book to win, let me know. I’ll select the winner at random on November 18th, no earlier than 8 am EST.

Contest ends November 18, 2011 8 am EST.  Void where prohibited. Sorry, US only, no international entries. No purchase necessary. All my contest subject to these contest rules. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Agonized Confession of Miranda Neville

I awoke in the middle of the night screaming. The Trial of Queen Caroline was in the summer! 

That seminal event of 1820 may have given some people nightmares: the peers who had to spend August listening to scurrilous testimony in the stuffy Lords chamber, instead of relaxing on their country estates. But why did I care? Why did I rush with trembling hands to my history books praying that I’d remembered the date wrong, or the date in my book was wrong, or somebody else was wrong.

The Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter. All my characters missed it.

Alas, no. I was wrong. The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton is set in summer 1820 and a good part of the action takes place at a very grand political house party. In July/August 1820. When the entire English political establishment was stuck in London.

 How did I come to make such a mistake? I’d written the book, revised the book, gone through copy edits and galleys. And it never occurred to me. Ouch.

To be fair, national events don’t impinge on the plot. The story could equally well have been set a year or two sooner, or later. The opening bears the date 1820 because it follows on from two books in the same series, the first of which was set in 1819 for a reason I cannot now remember.

I passed from shock to resentment. Why do we have to put dates in our books anyway? Jane Austen didn’t. Georgette Heyer didn’t. Unless one includes a real event, like the Battle of Waterloo, the exact year doesn’t matter.

I was already working on the next book which has a political setting. Looking at the events of that year I came up with “the great cabinet reshuffle of 1822,” not words to thrill anyone but the most dedicated political history geek. Also, I’d invented a family (loosely based on the dukes of Portland) at the very center of English politics. So I decided to liberate myself from the day to day reality of history and select a few broad themes around which to weave my romance. I didn’t even name the family's political party, though the savvy reader will spot them for Whigs. 

In Anthony Trollope I have an illustrious example. His novels feature a couple of politicians whom contemporary readers certainly identified as Disraeli and Gladstone. No, the Duke of Omnium was never Prime Minister. Heck, Trollope even invented the entire county of Barsetshire.
I’m thinking of omitting dates from future books. Meanwhile, my mistake really irks me.

P.S. The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton was published over three months ago and not a single person has pointed out my mistake.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Elgin Marbles and the Acropolis Museum

I blogged at The Ballroom Blog about the debate over the Pantheon Marbles in the British Museum and whether they should be returned to Greece. A commenter brought up the fact that the new Acropolis Museum in Athens was built over the remains of an ancient building. The excavations are visible and will eventually be accessible to the public. Here's a photo I took from above.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Who's Up Next?

I've made no secret of the fact that Minerva Montrose is the heroine of CONFESSIONS FROM AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE, coming in late March. But who's her hero? His identity is revealed today at The Ballroom Blog where I have convened a special meeting of The Burgundy Club. 

I'm frantically doing final edits on the book now. As soon as I've sent them to my editor, I'll sort out the winner of my current contest, for NEVER RESIST TEMPTATION. I also hope to have news of future projects very soon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Letters: the Ultimate Souvenir

Heather Snowe is a new Regency author whose debut romance, Sweet Enemy, will appear in February 2012. That's one to look forward to: check out her website to learn more. When Heather interviewed me  for her Get Lost in a Story blog, she asked about my former career in rare books and manuscripts and inspired me to ask a question. If you could own a letter written by a famous person, past or present, who would you choose? Jane Austen? Mozart? Johnny Depp? Come on over and tell me. One commenter will win a copy of The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Ballroom Blog: Party On

This week saw the launch of The Ballroom, a new group blog devoted to ...  hmm. What are we devoted to? In a single word, I’d have to say partying. Regency style partying complete with dashing rakes, gorgeous ladies, and lots of gossip. The authors are Katharine Ashe, Sabrina Darby, Tessa Dare, Gaelen Foley, Sarah MacLean, and me.

I cannot tell you how privileged I feel to be in company with such a talented group of historical romance writers. Plus we are all having TOO MUCH FUN. But the true belle of the ball is our hostess, Lady Heliotrope Beaufeatheringstone (pronounced Batman), commonly known as Lady B. She’s outrageous, she’s opinionated, and she has a parrot named Albert who adds his own unique comments to the passing scene.

We will be holding a ball every Monday, Thursday and Saturday but these events go into the wee hours and beyond so stop by anytime. You’ll have fun.

This week, to celebrate our launch, I’m giving away a copy of NINE RULES TO BREAK WHEN ROMANCING A RAKE by the totally fabulous Sarah McLean. This debut historical was one of the best and most talked-about books last year. If you haven’t read it, you need to! And if you have, you need a signed copy. So comment here (with email address), giving me one (or nine) reasons why you'd like to win,  or enter via my contest entry form. I’ll select the winner at random on July 22nd.

Contest ends July 22, 2011. Open to residents of USA and Canada only. Void where prohibited. No purchase required, though certainly appreciated on July 26th when my new book comes out. (With apologies for the shameless self-promotion)

Friday, May 20, 2011

“Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful”

Earlier this week I was a guest at Sarah MacLean’s blog, celebrating the release of her latest book, the wonderful Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart. One of Sarah’s questions was which do I prefer, Wallflower or Belle of the Ball? Just to be different I picked Belle of the Ball. Don’t get me wrong: I love wallflower books (Lisa Kleypas, swoon…) and it’s easy to understand their appeal. We all like to root for the underdog. Got me thinking about whether it’s hard to love a heroine who has it all.

The first book that came to mind was Susan Elizabeth Phillips’Ain't She Sweet?  I’m always talking about this book because it’s one of my all time favorite romances. Sugar Beth Carey grew up as the modern equivalent of the Belle: the high school queen bee. She was beautiful, charismatic, a natural leader ... and a total bitch. Now, years later, she returns to her home town to face all the people she persecuted as a girl. Sugar Beth has some serious groveling to do (and we learn about the things that made her so mean), but I love her anyway.

Belles don’t need to be mean, of course, but if they are nice, as well as beautiful and popular, doesn’t that make for a dull book? There has to be something more. In Georgette Heyer’s Arabella a poor vicar’s daughter comes to London and, through an ill-considered boast, makes everyone think she’s a heiress. She becomes the toast of the season. She is beautiful and kind - she rescues climbing boys and ugly mutts. But there’s that unfortunate lie to get over before she can find her HEA with London’s most eligible bachelor.

Another (genuinely) wealthy beauty hitting Regency London is the heroine of Julia Quinn’s first book, Splendid. So what’s Emma’s problem? Absolutely nothing, except she’s, OMG, American. Never mind, she manages to overcome this appalling obstacle and land her duke.

I searched my pile of giveaway books to find one about a belle and hit pay dirt with Gaelen Foley’s My Wicked Marquess, featuring Daphne Starling, a well born beauty of the ton with a slightly soiled reputation. This book seems particularly apposite if you’ve ever seen a picture of Gaelen: she could be a super model if the writing thing doesn’t work out. No danger of that -  she’s as talented as she is beautiful AND (I’m lucky enough to have met her) a total sweetheart.

What about you? Can you love a heroine who has everything? Or do you prefer the triumph of the underdog? Can you think of a favorite book with a gorgeous Belle of the Ball heroine? What is the obstacle she has to overcome? One commenter will win My Wicked Marquess. If you don’t want to comment you can enter the contest here.

Sorry, only US entrants are eligible to win, though all are welcome to join the discussion. Contest void where prohibited. No purchase necessary. Winner will be chosen at random on May 27th.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ten Lies to Tell an Author

What do you think is the most important thing for an author at a book signing? Apart from a pen that works. (Though I sat through one bookstore event where my pen was never needed, not once). But other than that? Chocolate? Bookmarks? Bottled water? All good things to have. But the best thing is a fun neighbor. Because for most of the two hours that these signings typically last, you will have nothing to do, so you might as well have an enjoyable conversation.

A good seat mate has the added benefit of helping one not to look too desperate as readers pass by one’s table, avoiding eye contact. If you aren’t in the big leagues the readers aren’t exactly lining up for your signature. I don’t even care (much) if no one buys a book, but it’s nice if people stop to chat.

Then I think of it from the point of view of the book buyer. You can’t buy everyone’s book. You don’t want to buy everyone’s book. And you don’t want to get guilt-tripped into spending more than you intended and ending up with an even more out-of-control TBR pile. You’re actually kind of interested in that particular book and you like the cover. If you were alone in a book store you’d pick it up, read the blurb and maybe read a page or two. But the author is sitting in front of you looking pathetic. If you look at the book isn’t it rude not to buy it?

No, it isn’t. As an author I’d rather you looked at my book and put it down again, than scurried by in case you hurt my feelings. Heck, I’d be perfectly happy if you’d stop and talk about the weather. So please, next time you are at a book signing as a buyer, either at a conference or in a bookstore, stop, look, and chat. You don’t need to buy a book. If you cannot bring yourself to leave without saying something, I recommend one of the following lies.


(in descending order of author popularity)

1. I have all your books already and I loved every one of them.
2. I only read electronically. I’ll buy it on my Kindle when I get home
3. I’ve already bought too many books but I’ll get yours next time I’m in Barnes & Noble.
4. I always wait till the last book of the series comes out and then I buy them all.
5. Tell me about your next book. That sounds really interesting. I’ll wait for that.
6. It’s been nice meeting you. I shall follow your career with interest.
7. I’m taking a break from [name your genre] and only reading [name another genre]
8. I never read books with blond heroines.
9. My husband made me swear I wouldn’t bring home any more six-pack covers.
10. Where’s the bathroom?

If you live in the Boston area and wish to practice your lying, later this month I shall be the New England Romance Writers Conference at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, MA. A book fair, with over forty romance writers, will run from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm on Saturday, April 30th. I’d love to have you stop by and tell me a lie. Failing that, tell me one in the comments section.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Mini Excerpt from The Amorous Education

Publication day of The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton is still four months away. I can't even reveal the cover yet, though it's coming soon. But just for fun I decided to post a mini-excerpt.

The door to the humble structure was blocked by a body. The body of a man lying unconscious, wearing nothing but breeches and a pair of riding boots. It had been some years since Celia had seen the bare torso of a grown man, and never a white man. He was pale, as befit a man who was always dressed up to his neck, but the smattering of dark hair, covering the chest and descending in a vee over his flat stomach, didn’t disguise the fact that the skin covered well-formed muscles. This interesting masculine form distracted her only a few seconds from the astonishing fact that she knew him.

And although he was one of several men who had bedeviled her life, she did not actually wish him dead.

Kneeling on the ground she set her fingers to his temple and found a pulse. “Mr. Compton,” she said. “Mr. Compton, wake up. Are you well?”

Nothing. She rested her head on his chest. Judging by the strength of his heartbeat, Mr. Tarquin Compton would live to cause further distress to awkward arrivals on the London marriage mart. She supposed she’d better try to revive him. And much as she detested the creature, she was curious to discover why the ton’s most fashionable gentleman lay half-naked next to a deserted Yorkshire cottage.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The King's Speech

Oscar night is coming up and I’m rooting for The King’s Speech. And not just because I’ve had a major crush on Colin Firth for years. What a terrific movie: great writing and great acting.

The story describes how the George VI overcame his stammer. It's also about the change to the monarchy brought about by modern communications, in this case radio. Suddenly it mattered how the king spoke. For a century or two the British royal family had basically been German and married members of German royal families. Even Edward VII is said to have spoken with a strong German accent. The family changed its name to Windsor from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha during World War I and from then on spoke like members of the British upper classes. But with radio bringing the king and his voice into millions of homes, sounding English wasn’t enough: he had to be articulate too.

Imagine having a disability and needing to overcome it for your job. And not a job you’ve chosen, but one that’s been thrust upon you by birth and circumstances. The hereditary ruling system, which almost everyone now agrees is absurd, could be tough for the rulers too. It didn’t matter what you wanted: if you were next in line you toed the line and did what had to be done. The hero of the book I’m writing now is the heir to a dukedom and has a secret disability that makes him unsuited to his eventual position. He starts out more like David, the elder brother in The King’s Speech who shirks his responsibilities and renounces the throne. But in the end he turns into more of a Bertie and does what has to be done, even though apparently deeply unsuited to the job. Luckily, like George VI whose relationship with his queen is so touchingly depicted, he has a heroine to help him.