From Chapter One
One never expected to find the son of a marquess at a pub of questionable reputation, which explained the exact reason Evan A. Rounsevell occupied a stool at the Llandoger Trow. Evan had no wish to be found.
Especially with his knowledge that the marquess—his father— had arrived in London with the express purpose of forcing Evan to take up family responsibilities.
Without raising his eyes from the amber liquid in his glass, Evan put more coins on the slick and greasy counter to pay for his drink.
A shine of one particular silver coin caught his eye. Evan snatched the coin up again, his heart thudding against his chest, just before the barkeep scooped the rest of the money into his apron pocket.
With a single careless action, he’d almost parted with his most prized possession. He clutched the coin tightly in his palm, feeling its edge press into his skin. Slowly he opened his hand and studied the glimmering silver. The head of Lady Liberty faced upward, the year 1879 stamped just below her.
What a remarkable year that had been.
Although he hadn’t been as tall then as he was at present, Evan had the same features in place. Angular chin, sharp nose, dark hair, and copper-green eyes. He’d been a strapping youth, well-practiced in every art an English nobleman’s son ought to master. Which was why he had pleaded to go to the performance the Americans had put on for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, the moment he’d heard of it. Evan could shoot as well and any Englishman—but he’d heard the Americans did it better.
Evan turned the coin over to the side bearing the eagle, its wings widespread, talons clutching arrows and olive branches alike. Americans made strong, bold statements with everything, even their coinage. He smiled to himself as he remembered the day he had received the coin, eight years previous, from a man wearing more leather than one found at a tanner’s booth.
The man who had wrestled Indians, fought in a war, rode wild horses, and could shoot a gun and throw hatchets with equal skill. A man who challenged everything Evan knew about the world simply by existing.
A hand landed upon Evan’s shoulder, startling him into clutching the coin tightly lest he drop it. He looked up, ready to give a set-down to whoever dared disturb him, when he met the shrewd eyes of his elder brother.
William D. Rounsevell, heir to their father’s title as Marquess of Whittenbury, smirked down at him before perching on the stool beside Evan. “Thought I’d find you here. You always have preferred the more interesting pubs.” His eyes lingered on the dusty glasses on the shelves, his nose wrinkled with distaste.
“Perhaps.” Evan hastily tucked away the coin, having no wish to give his brother reason to mock him. The family thought Evan’s interest in the American West no more than a sign of eccentricity, and a shameful one, at that.
Of course, the marquess would send William after him. William was the least annoying member of the family, which consisted of his father, an uncle and aunt, his brother, and a handful of first cousins.
Although William was not a bad sort, he tended to share their father’s views on Evan’s behavior. So it was no surprise he immediately took up their father’s cause. “You need to come home, Evan. Father has a particular interest in speaking with you about your responsibility for the Shropshire estate. You know he wishes you to show some interest in family matters, but if you continue to neglect it—”
“I know.” Evan rubbed at his forehead before taking hold of the drink in front of him. “But I have no wish to settle on that land and look after sheep until the end of my days.”
“Father thinks if you marry you will settle.” William folded his arms, eyeing the barkeep suspiciously when the man came forward to offer William a drink. “Have you a brandy worth more than a few pennies?” he asked loftily.
The barkeep bowed and went in search of a bottle and glass.
Evan encircled his glass in his hands but did no more than stare into it. If only one could divine the future in the bottom of a cup.
“I have no intention of marrying. What is the point to a union for me? Even if I tend to the Shropshire estate, it goes to your heirs, not mine. Why spend my life toiling on another man’s property like a blasted tenant farmer?” He snorted into his cup before taking one last sip of the drink. He much preferred a strong cup of tea but trying to get that sort of drink at a pub as rough around the edges as the one in which they sat would only get him laughed out of the building.
William accepted a glass of his own and turned a bored sort of smile onto Evan. “It is the way things are. If you marry well, your wife’s funds will see to any children you may have. It is not as though I will turn them out into the cold the moment you die.”
“But if you go first, your son might.” Evan tapped his fingers on the smooth wood, worn down from years of patrons sitting in his exact spot. “Or if I irritate you. Or if I die, what will happen to a widow and children too young to have chosen their paths? The situation is intolerable, William.”
“Second sons have braved such circumstances for centuries.” William eyed his drink dubiously before taking a small sip. He winced and put it back onto the counter, pushing it away from himself with enough force to make the liquid slosh over the brim.
“Not in America,” Evan muttered, his eyes on the swirls in the woodgrain.
A deep laugh made him jump in his seat, his gaze coming up to see his brother’s head thrown back as he roared. Others in the pub turned to look, some appearing annoyed that the quiet, smoky atmosphere had been disturbed.
Finally, with a last guffaw, William reached out to clap Evan on the arm. “Your sense of humor does you credit, Evan. America.” William snorted and picked up his glass, but he must have remembered he held the liquid inside in contempt, for he lowered it again. “Land of the self-made man. More like land of illiterate, unwashed, uncultured upstarts.”
Saying nothing was safer than arguing. And less likely to get him laughed at again.
“Come home. Father wishes to speak to you.” William scattered coins upon the bar without regard to denomination then stood. “It is time to accept your responsibilities, little brother, and to stop living in a fantasy of cowboys and outlaws. You are a man of ancient and noble blood. Our family line comes first.” Then he saluted with two fingers and strode leisurely out of the pub.
Blood always came first. The family honor held more value for the marquess than the wealth of his estates combined.
Lord Whittenbury, their father, would not rest until Evan came to him, bowing and scraping, accepting his meager inheritance and responsibility for one of the family’s lesser estates. Evan’s only hope to escape managing his father’s Shropshire estate was to take up the practice of law, which he had no interest in, or marry an heiress, which he desired to do even less.
The silver dollar in his pocket reminded him of yet another option. The so-called fantasy his brother mocked. The American West, where fortunes were won or lost in a night, where a man could work to accomplish what he wished, and where expectations and futures were self-made.
Without familial support, he couldn’t afford a ticket to cross the Atlantic. Everything he had belonged to his father. Everything—no. Not everything.
Evan pulled out his gold pocket-watch and examined it. Worth a small fortune. A gift from an uncle. The stickpin in his cravat, his cuff-links, all real jewels. All his to do with as he pleased.
The idea that had been no more than the seed of a dream his whole life sprouted and grew like climbing vines upon his mind.
A slow smile stretched across Evan’s face as he took out the silver dollar, a gift to him from none other than Buffalo Bill himself.
An electric thrill ran up his spine, and a slow grin spread across his face.
Despite the faint light in the pub, Lady Liberty seemed to wink at him.
It wouldn’t be forever. But it would be something that was his and his alone. Not his father’s, not a responsibility, but a dream the likes of which few could ever attain. An escape from his title, his duty to his family, and the chance for a real adventure.
He left the pub, his pulse thrumming with the cadence of a galloping horse, and he didn’t look back.
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. ;-)
Name inspiration comes from crazy places, and I find names I love EVERYWHERE. I actually have a spreadsheet with something like 200 first and last names from the Regency period. I've used that list a lot for characters. But sometimes, a name just falls out of the sky...
Or at least falls open in your lap.
My family loves used books. I recently found all the Lemony Snicket books for my oldest daughter to read. While paging through a used copy of The Carnivorous Carnival, I happened to look at the front page. There, in sweet little boy handwriting, was the most perfect name for a Regency hero...
I knew at once I must use it. I messaged my critique partners with the name. They all agreed it was perfect, but for WHO? One of them even threatened to steal the name of I didn't use it soon! (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Joanna!)
Then I started thinking about Rebecca Devon and her love story. Who would be perfect for Rebecca? What sort of man would fall for her?
Of course, it would be Christian Hundley, Lord Easton. A viscount. And suddenly, he burst into my mind. :-) I think everyone is going to love him!
What are some of the best names you've heard? What names would you use in a novel?
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!
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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)