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 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.
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.