A powerful and successful businessman, Mick Trewlove is also the bastard son of a duke. Enraged by his father’s refusal to acknowledge him, Mick sets out to ruin the reputation of both the duke’s legitimate son and his ward, Lady Aslyn Hastings. But when Mick meets the sheltered, kind Aslyn at the beginning of Lorraine Heath’s Beyond Scandal and Desire, he becomes torn between holding fast to his original plan and changing his scheme to free her from an engagement that will doom her to a life of boredom and subservience.
We talked to Heath about gendered double standards, Valentine’s Day reading recommendations—and how her research led her to discover the tradition of “baby farming.”
Describe your latest novel in a sentence.
The illegitimate son of a duke seeks revenge by ruining the duke’s ward, only to find himself falling for her instead.
I was really struck by the beginning of this book, which opens with a man leaving a bastard child with Ettie Trewlove, despite being tormented by the morality his decision. Why did you decide to start the book this way?
When I first envisioned this series, I saw each story opening with a scene that showed how the main character had come to be in Ettie Trewlove’s care. It’s such a pivotal moment in each of their lives. For Mick’s story in particular, to understand what happens later, I felt it was important to see the initial anguish brought on by the decision made.
Tell us more about baby farming—was that really the term they used? When did you first learn about it?
I have a copy of the 1869 book The Seven Curses of London by James Greenwood. In that book is a chapter entitled “Baby-Farming,” and it refers to the women who took in babies as baby farmers. As I understand it, James Greenwood worked to bring a lot of injustices to light.
I originally ran across baby farming quite by accident when I was writing The Earl Takes All. I didn’t want my heroine to be nursing the baby she’d recently delivered when she slept with the hero for the first time. Knowing she wasn’t the sort to not nurse her own child, I decided to come up with a reason why the baby would need to be placed on baby formula—which meant researching when baby formula or other substitutes for mother’s milk might have become commonplace and what those substitutes were. One of those searches brought up a link to “Victorian Baby Farming,” and I thought, “Oh, that sounds interesting. I wonder what that’s referring to.”
And I quickly fell down a research rabbit hole that both stunned and fascinated me.
Baby farming was the practice of people handing over their children (mostly illegitimate) to women who were supposed to care for them for a fee. More often than not, the children died. Because the infant mortality rate was naturally high, it was difficult to prove the children hadn’t died of natural causes. But over time, some cases involving murder were proven, and laws were eventually enacted to better protect children. I think the practice may have even become licensed as a means to control it—I’d read that people were trying to see that come to pass, but I haven’t researched further to see if it did.
You wrote a fantastic NPR article a few years ago where you compared dukes to movie stars. What would Mick Trewlove, businessman with a whiff of scandal, be?
He would still be an A-list celebrity. A man with money, power and confidence, he definitely could hold his own as if he were a duke. He is also a handsome devil. I think if paparazzi had existed back then, they’d have followed him everywhere.
Aslyn is stifled by her life and excited by Mick’s accomplishments and industry. What sort of life do you think Aslyn would have if she could be anything?
That’s an interesting question. I think Aslyn would have been a social reformer, and I suspect later in life she takes on a good many causes. While she is fascinated that Mick is a self-made man, she is very much aware of the inequality that surrounds him. He is judged by his birth, and she comes to realize people shouldn’t be judged by circumstances over which they have no control. I suspect she would be speaking out for all sorts of equality.
Is there a redemption and maybe a love story for Aslyn’s ex-fiancé Kip in the cards (apologies for the pun)?
That’s cute. I’m not sure about Kip. I’ll admit that originally, I had envisioned Fancy leading him to redemption, but now I think there is someone else in her future. Although, it is fun—and challenging—to redeem a character that on the surface might appear unredeemable, so Kip may yet get a story.
One of my favorite parts of Beyond Scandal and Desire was Aslyn’s discoveries of all the double standards that govern her life as a woman—are there any modern ones that annoy you?
When it comes to modern double standards for women, pay inequality is one I’ve never understood. In a similar vein, I think there is still inequality when it comes to promoting women. Often, what a woman can accomplish is underestimated, although I’m optimistic we’re on the cusp of change.
Since it’s February and Valentine’s Day is around the corner, what would you recommend for seasonal reading or watching?
I highly recommend Julie Anne Long’s The First Time at Firelight Falls or A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase. February is a good time for curling up with a delightful romance and a box of chocolates.
What’s next for you?
When a Duke Loves a Woman, which is Gillie’s story. She discovers a man being attacked behind her tavern, rescues him and takes him to her lodgings where she nurses him back to health, only to discover he’s the Duke of Thornley. Thorne is searching for the woman who left him at the altar and asks Gillie for help, which turns her world upside down. I’ve really enjoyed working with these characters. Gillie is strong but has a vulnerable side, and Thorne believes he’s incapable of love—until he meets the tavern owner who captures his heart.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Beyond Scandal and Desire.