This Fall features an abundance of wonderful new novels to capture our attention, most especially the first two installments of author Eva Leigh’s debut series for Avon, The Wicked Quills of London. The first book in the series, Forever Your Earl, was released on September 29 with the second volume, Scandal Takes the Stage, coming soon after on October 27. Both of these stellar novels involve independent female writers forging their success in nineteenth century England. Both heroines, Eleanor Hawke of Forever Your Earl and Maggie Delamere from Scandal Takes the Stage, are excellent examples of strong women who know their own minds (and bodies) – these are not simpering misses or damsels in distress – both ladies learn to accept love and happiness as their due. The men who love them (it’s a challenge to decide which of the gentleman is more swoon worthy) do not try to change the authoresses, but rather Eleanor and Maggie’s talent and independence are integral parts to what earns their love and devotion. The encouragement and support showered on Eleanor and Maggie by Daniel and Cam, respectively, is damn sexy- for any century.
Eleanor Hawke loves a good scandal. And readers of her successful gossip rag live for the exploits of her favorite subject: Daniel Balfour, the notorious Earl of Ashford. So when the earl himself marches into her office one day and invites her to experience his illicit pursuits firsthand, Eleanor is stunned. Gambling hells, phaeton races, masquerades…What more could a scandal writer want than a secret look into the life of this devilishly handsome rake?
Daniel has secrets and if The Hawk’s Eye gets wind of them, a man’s life could be at stake. And what better way to distract a gossip than by feeding her the scandal she desperately craves? But Daniel never expected the sharp mind and biting wit of the beautiful writer, and their desire for each other threatens even his best laid plans.
But when Eleanor learns the truth of his deception, Daniel will do anything to prove a romance between a commoner and an earl could really last forever.
I was hooked from the moment Daniel charged into Eleanor Hawke’s office, never suspecting the newspaperman he sought, E. Hawke, was in fact, a newspaperwoman. Although momentarily taken aback, Daniel did not treat publisher Eleanor, an admitted oddity of the times, with derision or contempt because of her gender. Their banter filled first encounter instantly set the tone for the relationship, as the characters practically crackled with electric energy and sexual tension. I wondered at the necessity of Daniel’s plan to distract Eleanor with his offer of a first hand look into the debauched life of a Rake. By the time a disguised Eleanor entered Daniel’s carriage, I didn’t care why they were off on their adventures, I just wanted more of them. As the novel progressed, Daniel’s motivation made more sense and I was completely on board with the plan.
Neither party expected to find love but once it was discovered there was no dithering or irritating navel gazing. Eleanor and Daniel acted in a mature and loving manner once they decided to enter into a relationship. There were real impediments to cementing a union between them, nothing contrived just for the sake of drama or dragging out the story. These two characters genuinely liked one another, had fun together (the limericks!). Eleanor and Daniel accepted each other for their true selves, not their social status or occupation.
Forever Your Earl is funny and touching, filled with evocative language and an innate sense of hopefulness. A true joy to read.
Forever Your Earl Excerpt
His dark brown hair was fashionably cut and artfully tousled, as if he’d recently risen from a lover’s bed. Given his reputation, that was most likely possible. He had a broad forehead, a coin-clean jawline, thick brows, and eyes that, even with yards between her and him, stunned her with their blue clarity. Naturally, he had a mouth that looked very adept at kissing and…other things.
He moved with a long-limbed ease that betrayed his skill as a sportsman. His ink blue coat fit the broad width of his shoulders, and his cream and gold-embroidered waistcoat defined the shape of his torso—his tailor on Jermyn Street produced excellent work. Snug doeskin breeches were tucked into polished Hessians that came from Bond Street.
Truly, he was quite alarming.
“Miss Hawke?” he asked sharply, coming to stand in front of her paper-cluttered desk. “I wasn’t expecting a female.”
“Neither were my parents,” she answered, “but they learned to adapt. How might I help you, my lord?”
Though she felt an obligation to ask the question, she braced herself for what was sure to be a scorching lecture.
He removed his hat and set it aside. Then he held up an issue of The Hawk’s Eye and began to read.
“’Lord A—d, a figure well-known to our assiduous and genteel readers, was lately seen in the company of a certain Mrs. F—e, whose late husband made his considerable fortune through the manufacture and sale of a woman’s garment we blush to mention in these virtuous pages.’” He tossed one of the issues to the ground. “Wrong.”
“You cannot deny—”
But he wasn’t done. Holding up another issue of the paper, he read again. “’It may or may not stun our honorable readers to learn that the notorious Lord A—d has not amended his ways following the duel over Lady L., from Y—shire, and has been espied with another married lady of questionable character, at the late night revels hosted by the equally rakish Mr. S—n. Yet it was noted by our keen-eyed intelligence that this married lady was not the only female vying for the earl’s favors.’” This paper he also cast to the floor. “Wrong.”
She herself had written those pieces, and while they weren’t matchless examples of English prose, she was still rather proud of them, as she was of all her labors. To have her hard work thrown to the ground like so much garbage was rankling.
“I assure you, my lord,” she said bitingly, “The Hawk’s Eye strives for the greatest of accuracy.” She had a network of sources which she used regularly to provide information. Many members of the aristocracy were in dire need of funds, and they gladly turned on each other in order to maintain the pretense of effortless wealth. Eleanor always paid her informants to keep them returning.
Whether or not they lied to her just to collect payment wasn’t her concern, but she always preferred it if she could validate their statements. Sometimes that meant going out and conducting a few investigations. But she was a very busy woman—writing articles, editing countless others, managing the paper’s finances—and didn’t always have the time.
She had to earn a living, after all. And men like the earl didn’t.
Successful playwright Maggie Delamere has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood. She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness… and vows to rebuff the wildly persistent-and irritatingly handsome-scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist…
For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s brilliant work and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but if it means loosening Maggie’s pen-and her inhibitions-he’ll do exactly that.
But soon Cam’s plans for seduction become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake society believes him to be… and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.
Society assumed the rakish Viscount Marwood frequented the theaters of London seeking debauchery and distraction. Little did they suspect his obsession had less to do with pretty young actresses (not that he was immune to their charms) and much more to do with his love of the magic taking place on stage – especially if the performance was the work of the lady playwright, Mrs. Delamere. Cam is secretly a huge fanboy of Maggie’s work. Meeting Maggie and discovering their mutual friends, Eleanor and Daniel of Forever Your Earl, is a true thrill for him. Discovering his instant visceral attraction for her is just the icing on the cake. Cam set out to seduce the wary widow Delamere, hoping to claim her body but instead losing his heart.
Overcoming a tragic past, Maggie Delamere built a successful career for herself as the resident author of the Imperial Theater. Unfortunately a crippling case of writer’s block jeopardized her future and that of her friends at the Imperial. Cam jumped at the opportunity to help Maggie, both financially and artistically. What began as an infatuation for Cam, quickly evolved into a mutual friendship. The gentle, kind soul behind Cam’s raffish façade could not hide from Maggie, even if she initially didn’t want to look.
The son and heir to a Marquess, Cam was expected to find a ‘suitable’ wife and settle down. Cam always swore marriage was not for him, after all he had a perfectly respectable brother who already produced a male heir. Cam feared the love his parents found together will elude him in marriage, believing it is so rare it could only be found for him in plays and operas on the stage. Maggie’s rise from her fall from grace made her cling to her career, never realizing what it could cost her. Fear crippled both Cam and Maggie, endangering their strong connection. For two people so enamored of make-believe it was tragic that they couldn’t fathom a happily ever after for themselves. Luckily author Eva Leigh could!
The slow burn between Cam and Maggie allowed the depth of their feelings to match the intensity of their attraction. The pacing felt spot-on, neither rushed nor drawn out. Again, as with Forever Your Earl, Ms. Leigh’s evocative and compelling prose raised this novel to new heights.
I’m terribly pleased Forever Your Earl and Scandal Takes the Stage were published close together so I could devour them so quickly. It will seem like an eternity until Book 3, Temptations of a Wallflower, is released in Spring 2016. Fortunately I have no doubt it will be worth the wait.
Scandal Takes the Stage Excerpt
Both Ashford and his wife were elegantly attired for a night out. Lady Ashford, in particular, glowed in blue. Though she was a countess, she prided herself on being a working woman. Yet Cam felt certain that the substantial sapphires around her neck and hanging from her earlobes were placating gestures to her husband. Ashford tried to spoil her at every turn.
The couple stood unfashionably close. Ashford had his hand on the small of his wife’s back.
After kissing Lady Ashford’s gloved knuckles and giving his old friend’s hand a shake, Cam said wryly, “I’m older than I thought, since I’m certain that my eyes are failing. This can’t be Lord and Lady Ashford actually leaving their home. Joining those of us who haven’t found wedded bliss.”
“It’s not our fault that the female population of London considers you an irredeemable rogue,” Ashford said.
His wife smiled warmly. “To women, his reputation acts as a lure, not a deterrent.”
“And yet they’ll find themselves sorely disappointed,” Cam noted, clasping his hands behind his back. “Because this piece of beefsteak is not for sale at Smithfield market.”
Ashford shook his head. “Don’t tell your father. He comes to me almost once a fortnight, despairing of you ever finding a wife.”
Cam rolled his eyes. His father was also Ashford’s godfather, and ever since his friend had married, the efforts to see Cam settled and applying himself to the business of getting an heir had redoubled.
“So much labor,” Cam said with mock sorrow, “and for so little an outcome.”
“You are determined to remain a dedicated bachelor, then?” Lady Ashford pressed, ever the journalist. She used her matching blue fan to cool herself against the oppressive heat in the theater.
“I have a younger brother,” Cam noted. “He has three qualities in his favor that I do not.” Holding up his hand, he enumerated each aspect on his fingers. “One: he has already taken a bride of suitable lineage and fortune. Two: they have produced a child. And third: he has no compunction about assuming the role of Marquess of Allam should anything happen to me.”
Shrugging, Cam said, “There are no obstacles to me continuing to live my life as I so desire it. Free of entanglements.” Free of disappointment.
His parents had a remarkably happy marriage. Whilethey didn’t show affection in public the way the Ashfords did, at home, it was another matter. His mother and father were devoted to each other, brushing hands, exchanging looks, even—God help him—sequestering themselves in the middle of the day in the bedchamber.
It hadn’t been a love match, but it had become one, and Cam knew things like that occurred rarely. What had happened with a seasoned rake like Ashford was the exception, about as common as finding a pearl in an apple.
The only place where love happened consistently was on the stage. It wasn’t meant for the real world. Not meant for him. He’d only find disenchantment if he tried for what couldn’t be.
Which is why he always kept his amorous encounters temporary.
ABOUT AUTHOR EVA LEIGH
EVA LEIGH is the pen name of a RITA® Award-nominated romance author who writes novels chock-full of smart women and sexy men. She enjoys baking, Tweeting about boots, and listening to music from the ‘80s. Eva and her husband live in Central California.