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In her Union of the Rakes series, romance author Eva Leigh glories in traditional rom-com tropes while also using them to tell stories about less well-known aspects of Regency England, much in the way her London Underground series delved into the darker corners of the period to explore the lives of criminals, sex workers and smugglers. Last year’s My Fake Rake dived into the burgeoning world of naturalism and anthropology with a delicious friends-to-lovers-via-makeover romance.

In her latest release, Would I Lie to the Duke, Leigh takes readers to the exciting arena of Regency commerce and industry with the love story of Noel, Duke of Rotherby, and ambitious Jessica McGale, who masquerades as a lady to try and save her family’s soap business. We talked to Leigh about the tricky dynamics of having one half of a couple lie to the other and which ’80s movies inspired her latest romance.


You’ve said that this series, the Union of the Rakes, was inspired by ’80s movies. Which specific movies or tropes from that era inspired Would I Lie to the Duke?
The whole Union of the Rakes series was inspired by The Breakfast Club, and I’ve taken a little creative license with having my five boys meet at Eton for punishment in the library. That wasn’t a typical form of punishment for students at the time, but I figured perhaps the headmaster might make an exception for these guys. We’ve got the brain (whom we met in My Fake Rake), the weird one, the criminal, the jock (his book is the third in the series) and the popular one, who is the titular duke in Would I Lie to the Duke.

For Would I Lie To the Duke, I was mostly inspired by the 1988 film Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver. I also took some inspiration from the 1987 Michael J. Fox movie, The Secret of My Success. Both films have a talented, intelligent outsider creating a fictitious identity to break into the world of high-powered business, and, yep, shenanigans soon follow! I suggest playing Yello’s “Oh Yea” on repeat throughout your reading of the book.

“The tolerances for heroines’ behavior are often much slimmer than for heroes.”

In the acknowledgements at the beginning of this book, you thank your editor Nicole Fischer for helping you write “a romance, and not a thinly-veiled critique of capitalism.” What moments or plotlines did she help you steer away from, and how did you eventually strike the right balance?
Ha! It’s true—I spent a lot of page space talking about the repercussions of capitalist business, including the origins of wealth and power, and the people who are often exploited (and enslaved) in order to create a titled, leisured class. Which may be relevant and important, but going on for chapters about it can take the focus off what this book is supposed to be—a romance. So I scaled back these scenes, but I do hope that what I have included still makes us think about who and what we lionize, and what the human cost is in the making of wealth.

You’ve announced McCameron’s book already, but will Rowe and Curtis, the other two members of the Union of the Rakes, get a love story of their own?
You will be seeing quite a lot of Rowe and Curtis in McCameron’s book! I ultimately opted to include their story as a secondary plot rather than give them their whole book because I myself do not identify as LGBTQIA+ and felt that it would not be appropriate for me to write a POV character from a viewpoint that belongs to someone else, someone whose voice we need more of in historical romance. There are some amazing historical authors writing LGTBQIA+ books, including Cat Sebastian, Olivia Waite and K.J. Charles, to name a few. I hope we get to see more ownvoices historical romance.

 

 

Having one half of the main couple lie to the other can be a very tricky thing to pull off in a romance. When it came to Jess’ masquerade as a noblewoman, were there any actions you knew you could never have her take? How did that aspect of the book complicate her and Noel’s romance?
I knew that Jess could never specifically set out to seduce Noel in order to achieve her aim, yet at the same time, the attraction between them had to be irresistible, so walking that line between “I have to keep lying to you” and “I really, really want you” was definitely on my mind throughout. I also knew that the tolerances for heroines’ behavior are often much slimmer than for heroes, and there might be a quick condemnation of her and her actions, so I had to ground her decision to lie in desperation. She has to keep lying to Noel to save her family, and her family’s business, and the fact that she has to be deceitful is agonizing to her.

Noel is fairly rare among romance heroes in that he enjoys being submissive to Jess in bed, not just on occasion, but for a majority of their sexual encounters. What interested you about writing this aspect of their relationship? Was there anything about Noel and Jess in particular that led you to flip the stereotype of the domineering duke on its head?
I really do enjoy inversion, especially the exploration of gender power dynamics. For many readers of historical romance, dukes have become the byword for desirable heroes, and I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if we took a man who had nearly unlimited privilege and power, and explored what it means to invert that? And wouldn’t it be interesting if the person who had power over him was a woman who was also a commoner? It’s a mutually agreed upon relationship, and evolves as they come to know and trust each other. Everything has to be consensual, too. That’s something I feel strongly about—enthusiastic consent.

Please tell me everything about the moment where a man basically pitches a Regency version of Twitter. How did it come about? Did you ever think it wasn’t going to work?
The funny thing was that, because the book is inspired by ’80s films, I worried that throwing in Regency Twitter was going to confuse things, but in the end, I thought it was just so silly and funny, I couldn’t resist.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Would I Lie to the Duke.


What job do you think Noel would have enjoyed if he hadn’t been born a duke? Would he have been a business owner like Jess?
Noel is pretty but clever, and I think he would have been a pretty awesome event planner, or maybe a theatrical director, at the center of the action, calling the shots, with a bit of showmanship thrown in.

Did you always know that Lady Ferris would be your next heroine? Was she as fun to write as she is to read on the page?
Yes! Lady Farris was always going to be the heroine of the third Union of the Rakes book, which has Major Duncan McCameron as the hero, who is 12 years her junior. The clue to the inspiration for their book is found in their names . . . I did really enjoy writing her, because she’s in her forties, like me, and has given her last fuck, which is an attitude I truly respect.

What’s next for you?
McCameron’s book, Waiting for a Scot Like You, comes out February 23, 2021. There will also be a Union of the Rakes novella that follows a character we meet in Waiting for a Scot Like You, which is inspired by an iconic ’80s film—which I won’t reveal here! Also, I have some other projects in the works, but I can’t say too much about them . . . yet! So long as there’s always more chocolate and coffee, I’ll have more stories.

In her Union of the Rakes series, romance author Eva Leigh glories in traditional rom-com tropes while also using them to tell stories about less well-known aspects of Regency England, much in the way her London Underground series delved into the darker corners of the period to explore the lives of criminals, sex workers and […]
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Lady Charlotte “Lottie” Wentworth hates Ethan Ridley, Viscount Amesbury, for making her a laughingstock back when she was a sheltered debutante. Ethan wants to make amends when they cross paths five years later, but Lottie is single-mindedly pursuing a marriage of convenience to escape her father’s attempt to pawn her off to the man of his choosing. But as it becomes clear that Ethan truly has changed and Lottie begins to value his friendship and support, she wonders if her carefully constructed plans will truly satisfy her.

We spoke with debut author Bethany Bennett about how she finally nailed Any Rogue Will Do’s tricky plot progression, whether she hates mornings as much as Lottie does and what comes next.

There's a really cute running bit in this romance about how Lottie is the farthest thing from a morning person, to the point that Ethan learns to not even interact with her until she's had enough tea. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Every snarky thought Lottie has about mornings I would proudly wear on a T-shirt. When my husband brings me coffee in bed, I fall in love with him all over again.

If I could, I’d be a night owl and not move from my pillow palace until well after 10 a.m. However, life has a way of forcing you to do things you’d rather not. In my case, that means peopling before noon. These days I’ve adapted to life with a young child, so I’ve flipped my natural schedule 180 degrees. In retaliation, my system demands dangerous amounts of caffeine to cope.

Speaking of mornings, if they were suddenly sent to the present day, what types of coffee drinks do you think Ethan and Lottie would love? Or would Lottie never abandon her beloved tea?
I think for their day-to-day wake up routine, they’d stick with tea. But if they were to walk into a modern coffee shop on a date, they’d choose an independently owned espresso joint with fair trade coffee, because they’d be big into the shop local/shop small movement. Lottie would splurge on a mocha with all the trimmings and torment Ethan by licking the whipped cream. Ethan would keep it simple with a breve (espresso with steamed half-and-half). He’d think the foam art on the top of the cup was a waste of time and effort since he planned to ruin it by drinking the thing, but he wouldn’t say so to the barista because Lottie would squeeze his hand in a silent reminder to not growl at strangers. They’d tip big.

Both Lottie and Ethan are devoted landowners and farmers, and they bond over their shared interest in improving their holdings. Where does one go to research how a country estate was run in the Regency?
I disappeared into a research rabbit warren on the internet. None of that information really ended up in the book, but for a while there I got grossed out every day over historical treatments for livestock ailments. Thankfully, there are so many blogs and archives online, compiled by far smarter people than myself who truly know their stuff, so it’s fairly easy to cherry-pick information.

The Regency period was a time of upheaval for agriculture, as factories and industry began to make their imprint on the economic landscape. I wanted Ethan’s goal of opening a local brewery to focus on controlling the supply chain and turning toward a production/retail endeavor, because that was the future of their economy. Ethan could see the way the country was changing, instead of holding onto the way it was always done.

I am extremely curious as to what Cal and Ethan thought of each other when they first met! And why do you think they're such good friends?
This is very much opposites attract, crossing paths with a white-knight complex. At first Ethan was probably intimidated by Cal’s polish, but stayed in his orbit to learn how to deal with society. Ethan could follow along in Cal’s wake as he tried to fit in with the ton. Cal saw someone who needed him and didn’t judge him for the scandals of his father.

I think Ethan appreciates Cal for being a loyal, steady friend who accepts him wherever he’s at, while always encouraging healthy growth. Cal has a knack for recognizing the good in someone, and we know our hero is very much a good guy at his core.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Any Rogue Will Do.


Ethan and Lottie go through such a lovely progression from enemies to friends to lovers. What was structuring that evolution like for you as a writer? Did you move around any events or developments in their relationship while drafting? Or did you realize you had to add certain moments to make those transitions work?
Man, how brilliant would it be if I could say that all flowed like honey and worked from the beginning? I equate my first round of edits to hacking through a jungle with a machete. It wasn’t until I was working with my editor that I was able to match emotional arcs with romantic arcs and then pair everything with that series of tropes.

I wrote each scene on a 3-by-5-inch notecard and shuffled them on my bed until a new progression of events made sense. The end result speaks to my editor’s talent for helping me see how the structure of the story should work. This book was a crash course in so many craft elements. I’m still very new at this, and I’ll never stop learning.

"Basically, if there are people kissing after 1810, sign me up."

When did you first come up with the backstory for Lottie's parents? I thought it was really interesting to read a romance where a couple's overwhelming love for each other was actually a problem and not a perfect and holy thing, forever amen.
With Lottie’s father emotionally paralyzed by grief for years, it made sense that they’d been a love match. From there it developed very organically.

When you delve into child-rearing practices among the upper classes during that period, you see something drastically different from our modern households. My heart always hurts for those children and everything the parents missed out on. I wondered how that kind of emotional-outsider experience could damage a person, especially someone who already knew she was a second-rate citizen because of her gender.

I was delighted to read a romance where the lady does the groveling! Was that always the plan?
Absolutely. I’m a firm believer that everyone in a relationship needs to acknowledge their baggage and apologize for any pain they cause.

Lottie is so entrenched in a certain plan, she misses what’s right in front of her. However, the time period comes into play here. The act of altering her course isn’t just about switching to Plan B. Legally, it meant giving up all control. Because of her father, it had financial repercussions that might not hurt just her, but the man she loved and everyone he cared about. That is not only a change, but taking an enormous risk. For someone we could lovingly refer to as a “control enthusiast,” it would be terrifying.

But the lady certainly can own her stuff when she needs to. Like everything else, she doesn’t apologize by half-measures.

 

Are there any other tropes you'd love to tackle in your writing going forward? Are there any other historical eras you'd love to explore, or do you see yourself happily settled in the Regency for the foreseeable future?
Tropes are an absolute playground for me. The rest of the Misfits of Mayfair series will see us toying around with Girls Wearing Pants, Friends to Lovers, Single Mother, Fake Widow and the evergreen Pirate trope. Except he’s not actually a pirate, it’s just a long-running joke. However, his cave of treasure isn’t compelling evidence against the label.

After the Misfits (currently planned as a trilogy), I have a Victorian series in mind with a runaway bride I’m itching to get to. Regency will probably be the period I return to time and again. That’s the time period that made me fall in love with historical romance, so it just feels right. That said, I’m not ruling out writing a contemporary down the road. Basically, if there are people kissing after 1810, sign me up.

What's next for you?
I’m editing West End Earl, which is Cal’s book—no machete-hack-style edits involved this time, thank God. His story releases summer of 2021. I’m also drafting the third book, All Rogues Lead to London, which is slated for publication the following winter.

 

Author photo by Kristen Lauren Photography.

We spoke with debut author Bethany Bennett about how she finally nailed Any Rogue Will Do’s tricky plot progression, whether she hates mornings as much as Lottie does and what comes next.
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As the various Wildes have found and fallen in love in Eloisa James’ Wildes of Lindow Castle series, their ducal father, Hugo, and his duchess, Ophelia, have been following merrily along, offering advice, commentary and quips along the way. After five delightful romances starring their children and stepchildren, fans were delighted to discover that My Last Duchess would be traveling back in time to tell the story of how Hugo and Ophelia met.

We talked to James about the joys of fashion research, why she would like to go to a Frost Fair and how she made the very tricky trope of instalove work.


Did you always know that you would eventually write Hugo and Ophelia’s love story? And if not, when did the idea come to you?
The idea came to me as the Wilde books were being written; Hugo and Ophelia turned out to be such a lively couple that I wanted to tell their story, not just their children’s.

The other books in the Wildes of Lindow Castle series are set in the later decades of the 18th century. What did you enjoy about going back to the 1760s? Were there any differences you wanted to highlight between this period and the setting of the other Wilde books?
It’s always fun to settle into a new decade. One of my delights is fashion research. For example, Ophelia wears a sack-back hand-painted dress that actually exists. But I couldn’t just drop in a description of the dress; it had to have meaning. So, when Hugo realizes how expensive her dress is, he knows that she has no financial problems, and it takes the edge off his instinctive protective alpha reaction. A fun tidbit: Wilde Child comes out in the spring and takes place over a decade later. My Wilde heroine (Joan) wears a refurbished version of her stepmother’s dress! Many gowns at the time—especially exuberantly expensive ones like this one—were resewn into new fashion. And it’s a nod to Ophelia’s prudent nature, as shown by her rabbit muffs.

“I wanted her to be startled by something new and throw herself into a marriage without forethought.”

As a literature nerd, I had so much fun looking up the books that characters read and discuss in My Last Duchess. Which of those titles was the most interesting to you? Would you recommend any of them to a modern reader?
I love dropping literary nuggets into a story. I can’t say I would recommend picking up The Life and Adventures of Mr. Francis Clive, which Ophelia is reading—but I loved noting the fact that novels were written long before Dickens came along. The plot of Mr. Francis Clive gave me a way to establish Ophelia’s dead husband’s character, which I needed to do before Hugo introduced himself to her.

Hugo basically falls in love with Ophelia at first sight, and her own feelings for him aren’t far behind. Instalove can be such a tricky trope. How do you approach it as a writer? What do you think is needed to make it work?
You’re right about the challenges of instalove. On the one hand, it’s a beloved trope; on the other, it runs the risk of being really boring (two beautiful people instantly fall in love—ho-hum). When I was designing the Wilde family series, I decided that the male Wildes would know immediately that they had just met their future partner or, at least, a person whom they could love dearly. That decision changed the nature of conflict in the novels: I couldn’t include an “alpha who hates marriage,” for example. Here, Ophelia genuinely doesn’t want to be a duchess. And from my research, that was a prudent decision. But, obviously, Hugo won her over.

It was such a delight to see the young Ophelia. What did you enjoy most about writing her in prequel form?
I really enjoy filling in aspects of a character whom I had sketched in previous books—here, Ophelia’s red hair, her temper, her widowhood, her love for Viola and Hugo. It’s so satisfying, like filling in a crossword puzzle. I discovered why she made certain decisions in earlier books; I discovered why Hugo loves her so much. I found out what gives her the backbone to act as duchess-like as she will in Wilde Child!

I really enjoyed the complexity of Ophelia’s first marriage: it wasn’t great love or a passionless union, but something in between. Did you have any specific inspirations for that type of relationship? When did Peter’s character come into focus for you?
I’m glad you liked it! I wasn’t interested in the “terrible first marriage” trope (though I have certainly used that at times). Ophelia’s character suggested that she would have made a reasoned, thoughtful choice. At the same time, I wanted her to be startled by something new and throw herself into a marriage without forethought.

My Last Duchess is our first glimpse of Horatius, Hugo’s sadly deceased firstborn son. Did finally portraying him in all his stuffiness make you feel better or worse about killing him off?
Ahem. I live and write in Romancelandia! Who knows what actually happened to Horatius . . . I’ll just add that if I were so inclined to listen to the desolate readers who have written to offer fantastical ways by which Horatius may have actually survived, I would definitely bring him back as a very different man than he was as a youth. IF. . .


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of My Last Duchess.


The Frost Fair that Ophelia and Hugo both attend is so magical. What activity would you be most excited to do if you could travel back in time to attend it yourself?
I would love to travel by way of Doctor Who’s TARDIS. (Check out Doctor Who’s visit to a Frost Fair!) I’d wear a gorgeous pelisse with a muff. A duke would buy me gingerbread and mulled wine, and then bring me to the dancing enclosure where we would caper about doing country dances. Or, if I could travel to Regency times, a waltz!

What’s next for you?
Wilde Child comes out March 30, 2021! It probably won’t surprise you to hear that my heroine is not only a Wilde, but wild. Lady Joan doesn’t care a fig that she regularly shocks polite society. Joan goes for broke: She cross-dresses in order to play a man’s part on the public stage—risking the Duke of Lindow’s fury and her reputation—and the only thing standing between her and ruin is a very upright young duke.

I had a lot of fun writing this book—and My Last Duchess, for that matter! I hope they both make readers very happy.

We talked to Eloisa James about the joys of fashion research, why she would like to go to a Frost Fair and how she made the very tricky trope of instalove work.
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The couple at the center of Betina Krahn’s new romance, Hero Wanted, are seemingly the opposite of “meant to be.” While on a boating excursion to get to know each other, Lauren Alcott urges her new fiancé Rafe Townsend to save two women whose vessel has overturned. When he dithers, she frustratedly rips off her dress and jumps in to save them herself. Outraged by his seeming cowardice, she promptly breaks their engagement, only to have both of their fathers urge them to try again, given that a merger between their two companies hinges on Rafe and Lauren’s marriage. We talked to Krahn about the real life (and truly disastrous) date that inspired Hero Wanted and how she ultimately brought this mismatched couple together.

You mention in the afterword that Lauren and Rafe’s disastrous boating excursion is based off of something that actually happened to your niece! Can you tell us more about that? 
Yes, well . . . it was a canoe, not a rowboat, and they were certainly not engaged. In fact, it was a first date that the wealthy young man had asked for more than once. She kept expecting him to help the two women floundering, but he just sat, watching them struggle. She finally stripped off her shirt (over a swimsuit) and dove in to help them. He was astonished and declared her “amazing” and a “hero.” She was appalled at his inaction and when she retrieved her car from his driveway, he apologized for not inviting her into his home. He said his lawyer told him never to be alone with a woman in private, for fear she could claim something untoward had happened and try to get money from him. My niece was appalled. Though he tried to ask her out again and again, she refused all approaches. I can’t really blame her. To hear her tell the story is hilarious . . . and also a sad commentary on the effects of sudden wealth on some people.

You’ve written romances set in so many different time periods, from the American Revolution to the late 1800s to the medieval era. What do you enjoy about the Victorian era?
For a long time I avoided the Victorian period because I thought of it as stuffy, restrictive and morally hypocritical. When my sister did a master’s thesis on Lady Audley’s Secret and began researching the era, she showed me personal ads from period newspapers and I was shocked to learn the true nature of English Victorian society. Fascinated by the imbalance of the numbers of men to women (so many men went abroad to seek their fortunes or served in the army or navy at the time that many women had no chance to marry), I began to research it myself. What I learned was astounding and so human and oddly “modern” that I fell in love with the era and began to set stories in it.

"I love that we’re all a little ridiculous at times—it’s a human thing."

I thought Lauren’s Ivanhoe obsession was such an adorable and funny character trait. Who is your favorite hero in fiction? Do you share her love for Ivanhoe?
I do love Ivanhoe, though I confess, I have tried to wade through the book, but find it wordy and tough going. I prefer the movie version made in the heyday of Hollywood and starring a wonderful cast. He is the ultimate heroic figure . . . the quintessential “white knight.”

It’s hard to pick a favorite fictional hero, but Wulfgar in The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss has to be in my top five.

Your website prominently features the phrase, "The only thing the world needs as much as love, is laughter." Why do you think laughter and humor is so important to a love story?
Laughter is found in the wonder and unpredictability of our world and ourselves. It is the balancing factor in our hearts and minds and is the leavening that permits joy in our relationships. In laughter, we find hope, commonality and acceptance. Sharing such things is critical to loving relationships and gives us a foundation for genuine love. I love that we’re all a little ridiculous at times—it’s a human thing. And the ability to laugh at ourselves is one of the most revealing and endearing personality traits a person can have.

At one point, Lauren reveals that she’s learned how to pick locks because the iconic Victorian advice book Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management said that it was a useful skill for a lady of the house to have. Did Mrs. Beeton really recommend learning to pick locks? Have you read her household guide?
I’m afraid that’s my invention. I doubt Mrs. Beeton would have included detailed instructions for such a thing, but I also have no doubt it was necessary at times for household staff to access things that were locked up for safekeeping.

What jobs do you think Lauren and Rafe would have if they lived in our modern world?
Lauren would probably be the daughter of a hedge fund guru and Rafe would be the son of a rival. She would have gone to Vassar and become a crusader for social causes and a proponent of literacy. He would have attended Annapolis in spite of his family’s wishes and ended up in the family firm. Not so different from the book, actually. See what I mean about Victorian society being so similar to ours—and still different enough to be interesting?

What do you think is the biggest obstacle in Lauren and Rafe’s relationship?
Both of them have preconceived notions of the other, which makes them act in ways that didn’t allow intimacy to develop. And a big part of the problem is their sensual attraction to each other. There are layers here. Neither wants to reveal his or her true self because that makes them vulnerable. The face they present is a defense and prevents the other from learning their true selves. And isn’t that what often happens in real life?


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Hero Wanted.


What was the most difficult part of this book to get right?
Bringing Lauren and Rafe together after such a rocky start was harder than I imagined. It took a tête-à-tête in the drawing room (where humor snuck in) for me to believe these two were meant to be together. I confess, I wasn’t sure if Rafe would be the hero or not, at first. He came through with flying colors in that first meeting after the river incident!

What’s next for you?
Another Reluctant Hero book! This one with a different kind of hero—Rafe’s best friend, Barclay Howard. He’s far from society’s darling. He’s big, muscular and imposing . . . with a wolfish grin and a heart of gold. I can’t wait for readers to meet him!

We talked to Betina Krahn about the real life (and truly disastrous) date that inspired her new romance, Hero Wanted.

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