From the Timeless Regency Collection, An Evening at Almack's
The Heart's Choice, by Sally Britton
“Do stop dawdling, Matilda.”
One would think, given her sister’s tone, that Mattie was a delinquent child rather than the elder of the two and quite firmly the more responsible sister.
“Stopping to greet our neighbors, especially those of respectable age and rank, is not dawdling,” Mattie corrected, attempting to keep up with her younger sister.
“It is when we have better things to do.” Beatrice sniffed but finally slowed her rather unladylike stride. “And when the person you stop to speak to is that horrid Lady Fenlock. You know she delights in spreading rumors about me.”
Rumors that were, Mattie knew, very well founded. Beatrice had something of a reputation for being a flirt.
“She is also someone we need if we hope to be invited anywhere this Season.” Mattie looked at her younger sister from the corner of her eye, studying the artful way Beatrice’s sun-gold hair escaped her bonnet in playful ringlets. Her sister truly was lovely as Aphrodite and a contrast to Mattie in almost every way.
Mattie was older by four years, and at age twenty-six didn’t mind being considered on the shelf. Her hair was darker, her eyes muddier, and her complexion not so faultlessly pale as her sister’s. Beatrice was tall and willowy, Mattie of an average height and shape. Beatrice could command a room with ease and Mattie much preferred being an observer on the edges of most parties.
“As long as we have vouchers, we will do well enough,” Beatrice argued. “We do not need old gossipy geese to beg us invitations, Matilda. We are attractive young ladies, daughters of nobility.” She narrowed her eyes. “Our family has commanded respect for generations.” Beatrice tilted her nose into the air and walked at a faster clip again.
It took a firm hold on her tongue to keep Mattie from replying to that remark. Managing her family’s estate was far easier than managing Beatrice. The Granthorne barony had meant something for nearly a hundred years, but Mattie knew that in a single generation it could crumble like the ruins of their ancestors’ castle. And should people discover their father’s ailment, Bridget would not even be completely to blame.
Mattie’s steps on the walk slowed as she considered her father’s condition, one for which his doctor could give them no cure. Her heart ached at the thought of losing the man who had been her hero all her life. Her sister didn’t seem to notice when Mattie fell behind.
If Mattie could persuade Beatrice to focus long enough to marry her off, she just might salvage the family name, her father’s dignity, and her mother’s pride. Beatrice must stop being so stubborn about everything to do with marriage. Many of her worthier callers had disappeared after the previous year. Her sister, at twenty-two, didn’t command the devotees she had at eighteen and nineteen. But there was one man who might do.
Mr. Arthur Redhurst, a gentleman of means if not in possession of a title, would make a fine husband for Miss Beatrice Rayment, younger daughter of the sixth Baron Granthorne. They would do well together. Both mothers—and Mattie—thought so.
While Mattie had been thinking, Beatrice walked ahead of her by nearly twenty yards, but Mattie refused to run to catch up. They were on the street of their townhouse, after all, and she could at least see her sister well enough to stop any real trouble from happening. Or so she thought, until she saw a gentleman had stopped on the walk, doffing his hat to speak with Beatrice.
Narrowing her eyes, Mattie maintained her even speed and tried to determine who the man was. He was tall and dark haired, and his words carried to her clearly in the air, in a voice as unexpected as it was familiar.
“Miss Beatrice, good afternoon. It is a pleasure to see you after so long.”
It cannot be. Mattie’s heart lightened, a feeling suspiciously like hope stealing into her heart. But that was ridiculous. Seeing an old acquaintance, even if it was him, ought not cause such sensations.
Beatrice curtsied and Mattie slowed her step, only a few feet away now, waiting for her sister to identify the gentleman.
“Good afternoon,” Beatrice said as she returned to her full height. “Pardon me, but how do you know my name? I do not believe we have met.”
Beatrice raised a hand to her cheek, batting her eyelashes in her most coquettish manner. Mattie ground her teeth together. No. Beatrice must not be allowed to toy with this man’s feelings, innocent flirtation or not.
“Oh, we’ve met, Miss Beatrice. In fact, I’ve known you for years. You do not know me?” He spoke with a lilt to his voice Mattie had always found rather charming. What on earth was he doing here, on their street? And how could Beatrice not recognize the man who had grown up practically on their doorstep?
Beatrice shook her head, tilting her head coyly. “Sir, I would remember meeting someone such as you. I never forget a handsome gentleman, and it is really too bad of you to pretend to know me. We must be properly introduced or there will be gossip.”
The Meet Cute
If you prefer to stay away from spoilers, don't read this post. :-) It's the Meet-Cute from Harry's story, which will be available at the end of this month!
NOTE: This is the scene as it appears now, before edits. A few small things could change.
The future hung before him like a question mark at the end of a page. He needed to move forward with his life, but how did one do that when one couldn’t decide in which direction to go?
“Stop right there, you horrid beast!”
Harry scuffled to a stop and lifted his head, looking around in shock. Had someone been addressing him?
“You know you’re too old and fat to climb any higher, and I am too old and refined to come climbing up after you,” the voice continued, feminine frustration coloring every word. “Come down this instant.”
The voice came from the other side of a hedge, where a birch grew with branches stretching over the bushes to reach toward the trees lining the road. He went that direction, without much thought, and to a narrow break between two leafy shrubs to peer through.
At the base of the tree, half out of sight, he saw a woman in a blue-gray gown. Her head was tilted as she stared up into the tree, and her hands were on her waist.
“I mean it, Jezebel. You come down this instant, or I will leave and you will absolutely starve.”
Glancing up, Harry saw a fat feline perched on a thin branch, perhaps fifteen feet above the ground. The cat was staring balefully down at the woman, tale twitching, as though calling the woman’s bluff.
The woman circled around the tree, out of sight, muttering to herself. He could barely make out the words. “Feline…stubborn…useless….”
The cat remained unimpressed.
The woman came back into view, her back to Harry, her bonnet now dangling down her back from ribbons. He could make out a head full of golden braids and twisting curls escaping above her ears and at the nape of her neck.
Appreciating her lovely hair and shapely figure from behind a bush wasn’t the act of a gentleman, however, especially when the woman he ogled obviously needed assistance. Harry stepped forward, pushing through the bush. The rustling sound brought the woman’s attention to his presence and she whirled around as he approached.
Her blue eyes were wide in surprise, and lovely, too. As was her finely sculpted face. With round cheeks and a narrower chin, her features were almost elfin. Her eyes swept over him as he struggled to emerge from the clinging branches of the hedge.
“Good afternoon, miss,” he said, giving one last lunge in order to stumble out of the bushes. “I couldn’t help but overhear—are you in need of any help?” He looked up into the trees where the fat feline still sat, its attention fixed on him. The furry beast licked its lips and narrowed its eyes.
The woman sighed, a touch dramatically. “Perhaps. But you’ve already fetched this wretched creature down from the trees for me once. It doesn’t seem fair to ask such a thing of you again.” Her eyes sparkled playfully, and then she smiled.
The whole world lit up with that smile. Harry’s heart sped up and warmth crept up the back of his neck.
“I have?” he asked, not daring to look away from her. His mind had turned into a sluggish machine, trying and failing to catch up with his need to understand what the woman meant.
Surely, he’d remember meeting her, let alone rescuing her cat. Where had he seen her before? Studying her more carefully, noting the impish upturn at the end of her nose as well as the blonde lashes framing her lovely eyes, his memory finally heeded his desperate need to know her identity.
“An Ames daughter,” he said at last, rocking back slightly on his heels as he continued to stare at her. The vicar’s children, as young girls, hadn’t exactly been in the same social circles as he, even when he came home on holiday.
Her smile widened. “But which one? My father has three, you must remember.” She turned her eyes up to the cat, finally breaking the spell he’d fallen under the moment their gazes connected. He released a breath, his lungs protesting that he’d held onto it for too long.
“The eldest is in India,” Harry said, thinking aloud. Christine had written him about that exciting happening. “She married a missionary.”
“Mm-hm,” the young woman agreed, stepping away from him to get another view of the cat.
His mind immediately protested the distance between them and he followed her, taking in the speculative tilt to her head and her lowered brows.
“Is now Mrs. Robin.”
He blinked. Was he addressing a married woman, then? If she was married that made him a cad, admiring another man’s wife in such a manner. Harry quickly looked down. Seeing the state of his coat, covered in leaves and twigs. He started brushing off his sleeves to avoid looking like a walking shrubbery.
The young woman glanced sideways at him, narrowing her eyes. “She married a naval captain, actually.”
“She did?” Harry asked, jerking his head up hopefully. “And you are not married to a naval captain?”
“I am not married to anyone,” she stated, appearing unbothered by that fact. “I am too busy taking care of that fat beast in the tree to entertain suitors.” She pointed upward, and when he looked he saw the cat had decided to move up the branch to an even more precarious seat.
“Fat and unintelligent,” she muttered to herself. “Not at all the sweet kitten she was last time you rescued her.”
“Kitten?” Harry said, and then the memory came back to him. Years ago, he could not even remember how far back in the past, he’d come upon Miss Gabriella and the younger sister. What was her name? The vicar’s younger daughters had been beside themselves, as they tried to convince their tiny new kitten to come down from a tree very similar to this one.
What had they called the youngest?
As if she knew his thoughts, the woman took pity on him at last. “I am Miss Augusta Ames.”
Musical Inspiration for a Love Story
I've only recently been introduced to the concept of creating a playlist to go along with a book. I'd seen it done before, mind you, but I never really associated that idea with the way I write. Then my magnificent friend, Arlem Hawks, started asking our writing group what songs we thought matched up to our characters and their love stories. I happened to be starting work on Miss Devon's Choice at the time, and my hero in that novel is a musician. I was struggling to capture him on paper the way he was in my head, so I started listening to violin music. Suddenly, he came to life.
Every time I struggled with a scene in Miss Devon's Choice, I found a song I thought conveyed the emotion of a character or the overall feelings I was trying to create between the two of them. Before I knew it, I had a playlist I listened to every time I started to write about Christian and Rebecca.
Now that a few months have gone by since the book was published, I still find myself listening to that particular list. I'm going to share it here, and I think this will be part of my writing process for all future books, too.
For your reading AND listening pleasure, the Rebecca & Christian Playlist.
There are so many options now that we have the internet. But some sources are better than others!
I love the Regency time period. As I've taken my writing journey into this era, I've come across lots of authors who have said, "I'd love to write Regency, but the research scares me! I wouldn't know where to start." If the research is the only thing holding you back, you should know that there has never been a better time to write about the 19th century than in the 21st century. :-)
We have access to so many amazing documents and sources. I'm happy to share some of the best things I've found in my time writing. Keep in mind, though, that you need to do your best due-diligence. If your story hinges on a historical fact that a blogger mentions, dig a little deeper and confirm your source is correct.
Historical readers, yes, even those who read historical romance, have different expectations than people who read contemporary. They're reading historical for a reason, and one of those reasons is often the desire to know more about that time period and/or to immerse themselves in that period. You will often read, in negative reviews of historicals, that the readers hate it when something "pulls them out" of the story. This can be anything from using titles wrong (a sin of which I'm guilty, and repenting of), to having characters use modern language and slang, to having something show up in the story that hadn't been invented yet.
This isn't meant to scare you at all, but to reinforce how important it is for you to double-check your sources. Find beta-readers, or critique partners, or editors who are familiar with the genre and the time period. They'll help a lot. I can't tell you how many times my critique partners have helped me out by saying, "Um, that word wasn't actually used yet." Or the oh-so-helpful, "That weapon your bad guy is using? Yeah. That was invented forty years after your story."
Do. Your. Research. Please. Poorly researched stories get bad reviews. Simple as that.
One thing you might like to do is Follow my Regency Pinterest Board. I put lots of stuff up there as I find it for my own research, and I find following other authors helpful. Now, on to my list...
The Hero of Miss Devon's Choice Based On a Specific Person
You know, I very rarely cast my characters with actors. I just don't do it. I like them to exist in my head independently of a living person. I've never done it with a female character in any of my published work. Never. I've now done it with males TWICE.
I told lots of people about Lucas, from The Earl and His Lady, being modeled after a young Teddy Spears. That was fine, because I just came across a picture of the actor when he was in his early thirties. I've never even seen the man in anything, though I'm assured he's a lovely actor.
And then I started writing Miss Devon's Choice. This story is so special to me in many ways. It's hard to explain how hard I worked on it, how much I wanted my characters to be true to themselves. I mean, they're made-up people. It can't be THAT hard to make them do whatever I want!
But I struggled with getting Christian on the page. For those who have read the book, you know he's a man who's been deeply wounded in the past. His physical and emotional scars have made him into a man with rigid defenses. And it was just so hard to get in his head and keep the story moving. Honestly, he wanted to walk away from every scene in the book! That's how they all naturally ended the first time I wrote them, with Christian walking away in disgust/anger/defeat. You might be able to get away with that once or twice in a story, but then it just doesn't work! The plot dies!
So I needed help. I made a list of every "broken" male character I love, from books and movies.
Edmund Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo
Sirius Black and Severus Snape, The Harry Potter Series
Kylo Ren, Star Wars
Joquin Phoenix's portrayal of Johnny Cash
Erik, The Phantom of the Opera
Gowan, When Calls the Heart
Captain Wentworth, Persuasion
Lord Death, Katurah and Lord Death
Alejandro Murrieta, The Mask of Zorro
Adam, AKA The Dangerous Duke, Seeking Persephone
My list was even longer with some pretty obscure people on it. So these are all male characters who were hurt or hurting in pretty significant ways. Their scars propelled their reactions to events unfolding around them. With these fictional men in my head, all dark and gloomy sorts, driven by negative emotions, I started figuring out how I could take a guy like that and make him my hero.
Of course, all these guys are also motivated by revenge at one time or another, and I didn't include any of that in Christian's character. :-) But I wanted you to feel like this guy could be dangerous if he chose to be, or tender and gentle.
I chased the tender and gentle aspect of these characters.
And I found Christian. But I really needed his face at this point. I had to figure out what he looked like. And I had these heroes/anti-heroes in my head still. So one day, scrolling through Pinterest, I saw this:
It's Adam Driver, folks, the actor playing Kylo Ren/BEN SOLO (may the Star Wars Storytellers hear my plea!), looking like he'd just stepped out of a historical drama. Look at those cheekbones. Those features that, really, are NOT classically attractive. And yet, that stare. Those eyes! From this image alone, you can believe this guy could play Edmund Dantes, Sirius Black, or Lord Death. You could see him being powerful and dangerous.
But...I wanted GENTLE. *sigh* And then this image showed up:
There you go. That's the money shot, right there. I don't even know what this image is from. But do you see how the hard looking, strangely attractive guy from the first image can melt into this gentle soul holding a baby? I had it. I couldn't unsee it. Christian suddenly had a face, and any time I wrote his scenes, I was picturing Adam Driver in the role.
I've only seen ONE Adam Driver role. His role in Star Wars. And yes. I'm a Star Wars geek. I love the novelizations, the movies, the toys, the metal lunch boxes, the whole of it. Honestly, the storytelling at work in the original trilogy is astounding. Hero cycle at its best. But I digress.
All this to say, if anyone wants to turn this book into a movie, please get Adam Driver to play my heroic lead. Because as soon as I cast him in my head, as soon as I could picture what Christian would look like and sound like when he spoke, how he would move, the words came so much easier. In fact, Christian's perspective makes up more of the story than Rebecca's because it became easy to live in his head.
Christian is one of my favorites. I adore him. And it helps that, in MY head at least, he's played by someone who also stars in one of my favorite movie franchises. ;-)
I write clean and sweet Historical Romance Novels, I live in the desert, I'm a mom of four, madly in love with my husband, and I love to read!