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.
There were a lot of different requests when I asked readers what they wanted from me, but most of them came down to one BIG suggestion: MORE Behind the Scenes features. Readers want character casting, you want to know what I'm reading, what I'm working on, and you LOVE photos of my dog.
I obviously can't include everything all at once, but I can sure give everyone updates!
First of all, I AM putting up my personal favorite reads all the time on my Instagram account. If that's no fun for you though, know that I'll try to include more via the blog, too.
Second, IZZIE. She's had a great week. She spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the countryside running around on a multi-acre lot. She chased horses down the fence line, met a new dog, and tried to babysit some chicks. Honestly, that was the cutest. She kept sticking her head in their little box and looking at us with this big puppy grin. We introduced to the chicks to her carefully and used all our "gentle" training words so she'd be kind. Worked like a charm. She adored them. (Pic below of her hanging with her horse buddies.)
Third, ME. Okay. What's new with me? I'm in the middle of working on my next Regency romance... A Companion for the Count. And while the story is coming along well, I'm still nervous about getting all my chicks, er, ducks in a row with this one. Over one thousand people have pre-ordered this second book in my Clairvoir Castle series. That's a wee bit of pressure. But I'm sure it'll be great. Right? Right!
Fourth, ARTISTS. Did you know that I'm always on the lookout for artists taking commissions? Especially if the artists have shown interest in historical fiction or historical drawing techniques. Maybe you've seen the drawings on Instagram or received a postcard from me. I absolutely LOVE working with artists to visualize scenes from my books. Incidentally, if you or someone you know might be interested, drop me a line. I'll be sharing more artwork in a blog post very soon. If you want to see a couple of the works I've commissioned, click here for two scenes from Engaging Sir Isaac. Sneaky fact: If you order a paperback of this book, these two illustrations are actually in the book!
That's about it for sharing today. But there will be more.
Thank you for being here! Feel free to respond to this post with questions and comments. I LOVE THEM.
That's the title page for my book, just above this text. Isn't it fun and lovely and evocative of the American West? I'm so thankful for a wonderful friend who helped me find just the right design for this new series. Because my first Western, Silver Dollar Duke, is the first in a SERIES. At the moment, I have three glorious Western romances planned. I'm hoping the writing and releasing of the others won't be as nerve-wracking as this first release. It's been a bit crazy of a trip to get this done....
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.
There's a lot coming up
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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