I recently took a poll in my reader group on Facebook (join here if you'd like) and asked which of my leading men my readers would like to know MORE about. The winner was Lord Neil Duncan, who has an interesting background and a lot of trials to get through before he finds his happily ever after. I'm going to share all about him today...
Where do I even BEGIN with this gentleman? And WHY are so many of you interested? It’s worth noting that the runner up in the poll on Facebook is Silas - Neil’s nemesis for a few of the books in the Inglewood series.
The first time Neil appeared on the page, as sly as a fox and slippery as a snake with charm, I adored him. I’m not sure what that says about me. I had to get to know him fairly quickly. “What kind of a man would make Silas angry merely by existing? What kind of a man would risk Esther’s reputation with a flirtation?”
These are the questions authors have to ask. I needed a man born to privilege, but Silas’s opposite. Charming instead of aloof. All smiles rather than stone. Subtle. Or at least THINKS he’s subtle. Because if he outright propositioned Esther, he’d be rejected, and he knows this. He’s trying to woo her on those first pages - at first because he hates Silas who has everything Neil always wanted. (More on that in a second.) And then, as he gets to see more and more of Esther, he genuinely comes to admire her. To the point that he threatens Millie in Saving Sir Isaac. Because he thinks Millie and his sister Olivia are going to do something that hurts Esther either emotionally or through her reputation.
He’s a nice guy. Deep down. “Exceedingly deep down,” Silas would say.
But he’s a product of his Society and rank. All his life, his father has treated him as useless (a third son, and his father has always suspected Neil isn’t his biological child). His elder brothers took their cue from their father.
Neil’s only real friend growing up was his sister, Olivia. A sister who began sweet, but quickly wrapped herself up in vanity and selfishness as a protection AND weapon. What choice did he have, but to harden himself, too? Except he chose charm as his armor, and wit as his shield, and cutting remarks as his sword.
Of course, when the Earl of Inglewood started spending more time at Inglewood’s estate - a child several years younger than Neil - he took note. He paid attention to this boy, alone in the world except for an over-bearing grandmother, and even felt a little sorry for young Silas. Here, Neil thought, was someone worse off than himself.
Except Silas, despite a somewhat stoic nature even as a boy, was friendly. He attracted the other children, younger and older than himself, into the circle of his friendship. They came, eagerly, to his side. Soon the child-Earl had a close circle of friends. And Neil? A little too old for their games, and uncertain how to even try to belong, couldn’t think what to do except mock them. His lonely heart turning to envy, because he didn’t know what else to do. How else to behave.
Ever the honorable, heroic boy, Silas though Neil a villain, and thus was he branded. Because youths really don’t know much about the world or what makes people the way they are.
Coming forward a few years, Neil entered the world of adulthood with bright eyes and a hope for something to change. Anything to change. Getting far away from his family’s influence and standing on his own, he falls in love. At least, he’s pretty sure it’s love. A pretty heiress, only a generation or two removed from trade, has taken an interest in him. He’s the son of a marquess, after all. Well-connected. Noble. And he’s besotted by her.
The lady uses Neil to find more favorable introductions to the finest balls, teas, and then…she meets a man destined to inherit a title. So much better for her than the third son of anyone of note. She leaves a heart-sore Neil behind.
Feeling sorry for him yet? Can you believe I created this entire backstory for the man from the first line I gave him in Rescuing Lord Inglewood?
With his dependence on his father’s favor and an allowance that makes him comfortable, Neil slinks back to his family’s country home. Yes, he appears in London now and then. But the city holds no joy for him. It is the scene of his greatest hurt. He’s tired of caring about anything or anyone. So he just…stops. He stops caring. He makes mischief when it amuses him. Escorts his sister where she wishes to go - because he remembers what she was like before, when they were younger and more hopeful of the world doing them a kindness.
Then Neil meets Esther. And rather than fall into his arms after her husband seemingly abandons her, Esther keeps him at arm’s length. Yet she never says an unkind word. Never seeks to humiliate him. In fact, despite her disinterest (which makes him wonder what Silas ever did to deserve such loyalty), she’s kind.
Neil is so starved for kindness, even in this most unexpected place, that he can’t let her go. Not until Silas returns and forces the issue. Though Neil knows his neighbor and nemesis will think him a coward, he bows out and away.
“Silly me,” Neil thinks to himself, all alone in his room. “To think I could ever have someone that gentle in my life.” But Esther has won his devotion merely for being DECENT to him. When the Season comes again, and Neil goes to town, he speaks highly of the new countess whenever he hears her name mentioned. It isn’t much. But maybe it helped.
During the events of Discovering Grace and Saving Miss Everly, Neil has a bit of a shock. When the cart his sister is racing against the Everly sisters overturns, Neil breaks his arm. He has to pull his unconscious sister from the wreckage. He faces his mortality in a way he hadn’t before. This makes him…thoughtful. Then he learns that Grace and Hope switched places in order to get their way - and it’s the most amusing thing. And inspiring thing. Despite being women, despite knowing they would face repercussions for their act, they did something bold. He wants to find a way to acknowledge that. To show his admiration. All he can think to do is slip off one day and tell Grace he harbors no ill will toward her or Hope for the part they played in the racing accident. While Grace dismisses his behavior as strange, it’s something that stays with Neil for a long time.
In Engaging Sir Isaac, Neil meets Millicent Wedgewood. A villainess in the making, thanks to his sister. And he likes her. She’s witty. Intelligent. Despite Olivia’s ill-treatment, Millie is also kind. He senses that she’s acting out of some sense of desperation and—knowing what Olivia is like—he wants to help Millie. If she continues on her path, he knows that misery awaits her. He’s watched the Silver Birch Society (ridiculous name, he scoffed on more than one occasion) his whole life. He’s beginning to understand what makes the members of that Society happy. And it isn’t any of the things his father, mother, brothers, or sister have pursued.
In fact, he’s fairly certain Millie would be happiest with the one-armed Sir Isaac. When he finds the note to prove it in his care? It’s quite easy to make sure it gets into Isaac’s hands. And Neil slips away. Content, for once in his life. Because of a simple good deed.
You all know what happens next, if you’ve read Reforming Lord Neil. And you’ll find out what happens AFTER Neil’s “happily ever after” in the first book in my Return to Inglewood series. Cover and summary reveal coming soon.
Affiliate Links Used In Posts
Sally Britton's books on Goodreads
His Bluestocking Bride (Branches of Love #3)
ratings: 1062 (avg rating 4.21)
The Earl and His Lady (Branches of Love #4)
ratings: 1008 (avg rating 4.36)
The Gentleman Physician (Branches of Love #2)
ratings: 680 (avg rating 4.20)
The Social Tutor (Branches of Love #1)
ratings: 656 (avg rating 4.11)
Miss Devon's Choice (Branches of Love #5)
ratings: 517 (avg rating 4.45)