Everything Old is New Again

Yesterday, I shared a post about Esmeralda Ballantyne’s visit to my office last winter. She persuaded me to begin a project, which I’ll talk more about today.

About fifteen years ago, in 2006, I was looking for a new publisher for my historical romances. Then, as now, Regency romances sold better than medieval romances, so my agent suggested I come up with a Regency romance trilogy. I did. It was called The Ladies’ Academy and I really liked it. A mysterious lady named Olivia Mickelthorpe arrived in London and proceeded to secretly offer instruction to respectable ladies and wives in the amorous arts. She mingled in society disguised as an older woman called Mrs. Oliver, who was grumpy and outspoken (no filter there) and just too much fun. There was a dark and dangerous duke, Lucien deVries, determined to put an end to Olivia’s scandalous efforts. Their enemies-to-lovers romance arched over the trilogy, with the final book being their story.

There was one editor interested in the proposal and I did some revisions for her but we didn’t come to an agreement. In hindsight, I suspect this was because there was a paranormal element in the original version: Olivia found new clients via her younger sister’s psychic gifts. The sister dreamed of women in need of her older sister’s advice, which is admittedly a bit thin. Paranormal historical romances always perform less well than non-paranormal ones, so that might have been the proverbial kiss of death.

Still, I liked Olivia and Mrs. Oliver and kept all of my printed files of the various versions. (This is good because Word can’t open any of them anymore.)

Esmeralda Ballantyne dug out this old file when she took up residency in my office late last year. Broken-hearted after the marriage of Sebastian Montgomery in A Most Inconvenient Earl and in need of a new distraction, Esmeralda loved the notion of teaching respectable ladies what no one else would. I still liked elements of the story, too, so played around with it to create a new series which will launch this month. No surprise that there are no paranormal elements in this one!

The Ladies’ Essential Guide to the Art of Seduction is the new series and also the name of the book Esmeralda is writing in that series. (In The Ladies Academy, Olivia held classes in secret, which would be a much more complicated matter to arrange.) Like many books-in-progress, passages from Esmeralda’s growing volume are circulated among ladies in the know. There are excerpts from the book in each story in this new series. Just as in The Ladies’ Academy, Esmeralda disguises herself as Mrs. Oliver, and also, there is a dark and dangerous duke determined to put a stop to the whole thing. He is now Damien de Vries, Duke of Haynesdale, which links him to two of my medieval romance series. (Haynesdale is Bartholomew’s home estate in The Crusader’s Kiss, while The Wolf & the Witch is Maximilian de Vries’ book.) To eliminate the paranormal element, new clients or patrons are discovered by word-of-mouth, beginning with Eurydice, who did get a book from Esmeralda in A Most Inconvenient Earl.

The series begins with The Christmas Conquest, in which Eurydice tries to help an acquaintance, with Esmeralda’s assistance. I’m enjoying how surprised Rhys is by his formerly-innocent wife’s newfound knowledge, and also how enticing he finds the change. These books are proving to be a lot of fun to write. They’re also shorter, so I’ll be able to publish them more frequently. They will be in wide distribution, not KU.

The pre-order for The Christmas Conquest is available now.

The Christmas Conquest, a Regency romance novella by Claire Delacroix

Love was not part of the plan when this marriage was arranged…

Rhys Bettencourt, Baron Trevelaine, had every intention of avoiding his family’s curse. An arranged marriage to a plain bluestocking of fortune should have ensured her survival in childbirth and the provision of at least one heir. But practical Catherine undermined her betrothed’s scheme by unexpectedly capturing his heart. The sole way for Rhys to protect her is to deny them both physical satisfaction—until he learns of her plan to leave him and knows he has to act.

Two years into her arranged marriage, Catherine despairs of ever bearing a child. She flees to Rockmorton Manor for Christmas, only to find Rhys waiting for her, determined to convince her to stay with him. Does he want Catherine or her fortune? Confused and uncertain, Catherine discovers pages of sensual advice left in her chamber, which provide hope that her marriage might be saved.

Armed with information and with little to lose, Catherine embarks upon a campaign of seduction that Rhys finds himself powerless to resist—even as he fears for Catherine’s fate if he succumbs. Caught between love and the wretched curse, can Rhys find a way to keep his cherished wife safely by his side?

Coming July 26, 2022

Miss Esmeralda Ballantyne Calls

It is February and I am cleaning my office after the completion of another book. I’m well aware of the line of shadowy characters waiting in the hall, but I’ve told them that I have to clean up and organize my thoughts before starting another story. I’ve emptied the bookshelves this time and am doing an early spring clean when a swish of silk alerts me to her arrival.

She sweeps into the office, resplendent in peridot silk and pearls, and looks around with barely concealed disdain. “I expected better,” she says, after verifying that I am the author she seeks. “I like the house but you have no butler.” This is clearly a horrifying detail to her.

“I prefer quiet,” I say, emphasizing the last word. “Miss Esmeralda Ballantyne.”

She is a vision of loveliness, with her raven-black hair and glittering green eyes. It is her confidence that I find most interesting, though really, the female characters are easy to refuse. I choose to let her remain and ignore her as well as I can. She doesn’t make it easy. She circles the room, picking up items and putting them down again, peering at my posted schedule, walking around piles of books. She pokes, like a bored child, and I’m glad my computer is off. The slim silver laptop completely evades her interest.

“The very same,” she says as she wanders. “I’m gratified that you remember me.”

“I could hardly forget you. You were a secondary character in a book I finished just months ago.”

“Secondary,” she repeats grimly and pokes at a stack of books, sending them tumbling to the floor. I hurry to pick them up, checking that the corners aren’t bashed. I’m protective of my research books, which evidently amuses her. She laughs lightly, then fans through a pad of Post-it notes with her gloved fingers.

“Why are you called Miss Ballantyne, anyway?” I ask.

“Because I have never married, of course.”

“Don’t courtesans call themselves Mrs. whether they’ve been married before or not? Like housekeepers?”

She wrinkles her nose at the implication that she might have anything in common with a housekeeper. “I have little interest in convention. I thought authors were supposed to be perceptive. Shouldn’t you know that?”

I don’t answer that and begin shelving books again instead.

She doesn’t give it up. “And I thought a lack of regard for convention was something we had in common.”

“Maybe.” It’s possible that ignoring her will persuade her to leave. She seems to be craving attention.

“No chair for a guest,” she notes finally.

“By design. I prefer solitude when working.”

“You need a housemaid. Mine would have this tidy in no time.”

My patience is thinning. Clearly she wants something and just as clearly, she’s not going to leave me alone until she makes her request and argued in its favor. I’ve already decided that whatever she wants, it’s out of the question. “Is there some reason why you’re here?”

“Of course.” She grants me a beguiling smile. “I want you to tell a story.”

“I tell stories all the time.”

“This story. My story.”

I indicate the line of characters outside the office door. The knights from Rogues & Angels are playing draughts. Raphael is watching Miss Ballantyne with avid interest while Ceara pretends not to have noticed. Wynter is checking her phone, studiously ignoring her fated mate, Arach, who hovers on the cusp of shifting to his dragon form. “You have to wait your turn.” I go to the door with an armload of books to indicate the line, gathered before I first encountered Miss Ballantyne, and hear the silk rustle. Sure enough, when I turn around she has claimed my desk chair.

“He has a secret,” she whispers, spinning in the chair. She nods toward Arach.

“He’s a dragon shifter,” I reply. “I know about that.”

“Oh, that’s not the only one,” she says, eyes sparkling. “His real secret is much more interesting.” She lifts her brows.

I turn to look but Arach is trying to get Wynter’s attention. Then I realize what’s wrong. “Where are Thom and Annika?”

“Oh! One of the ferrets escaped. Inconvenient, really.” She widens her eyes as if innocent of any involvement but I know better. “I would welcome a cup of tea.”

I return to the middle of my office, ignoring this comment, and put down the books. “Where are Aidan and Merry?”

“Something wrong at the warehouse, I understand.” She picks up a book on medieval castle construction, winces and tosses it aside. I snatch it up and replace it in the proper pile. Her elegantly booted foot is swinging and she continues to spin in the chair, my chair.

“How did you get past the vampire?”

“Sebastian? What an alluring name.” She shivers with delight and smiles.

I know she has a tendre for Sebastian Montgomery but it seems rude to remind her. On the other hand, she is intruding.

“He’s boring everyone to tears with the tale of his days and nights in Constantinople. My memories are much more interesting.”

“You’ve been to Constantinople?”

“Lived there with my father. Venice, as well.”

I blink at this unexpected—and interesting—confession.

She yawns, perhaps aware that she’s caught my interest. “It was easy to slip past that part of the line. He would say his audience was dazzled, but I believe they were asleep. I do know something about performances.” She laughs lightly. “One of the dragon shifters said that’s the trouble with immortals—they think everyone has all the time in the world.”

I look toward the door again, tempted. “Sebastian is finally telling his story?”

“Dark and dreary past, lots of blood and violence. A quest and a vendetta from the part I heard, and, of course”—she yawns—”a love to defy the ages. What can you expect from a vampire? I myself prefer some banter, a little sizzle of attraction, even a marriage of inconvenience.”

“I’m not tempted by your story. I have a schedule.”

Her hand vanishes into her purse and she removes a small framed portrait. I like miniatures and am drawn closer against my will. It’s a painting of a well-dressed Regency couple, standing formally together. The woman is fair, her spectacles making it difficult to discern how pretty she is. She holds a book, as if she would hide behind it, and seems to be reserved. The gentleman is very handsome, perhaps more so in the flesh, and there is something—maybe his half-smile, maybe the slight angle to his hat—that makes me think him confident and even raffish. They seem to be an unlikely couple.

“They look respectable,” I say, knowing that my guest expects more speculation than that. I’m already wondering why they’re a couple. Neither look like the partner the other would choose. Is this the marriage of inconvenience?

“Oh, they are. That’s just the trouble. A respectable couple need an heir, but little progress is being made in that arena.” Esmeralda drops her voice conspiratorially. “I’m going to…intervene. it will be both gratifying and amusing.”

I stare at her. “I can’t see how seducing him is going to ensure they conceive an heir.”

She laughs at me. “Oh, you misunderstand. I’m going to tutor her.”

“Isn’t that improper?” My gaze trails to the miniature again. It seems unlikely that anyone, even Esmeralda, could turn this woman into a temptress. It would be fun to see his reaction, though.

Esmeralda coughs delicately. “That’s precisely why the suggestion appeals. You must write the story. I insist.” She settles into my chair, her expression resolute. “I will not leave this…hovel until you agree.”

Before I can argue this plan, I become aware then of a brooding presence behind me and turn to find another character has jumped the queue. He’s a tall and imposing gentleman in period dress and he’s glaring at Esmeralda, exuding disapproval. His hair is as dark as midnight and a bit too long; his eyes are dark and burn like banked fires. He leans upon his elegant cane as if he needs it and he exudes a power that can’t be denied. He’s dark and dangerous and…fascinating. Esmeralda is doing her best to ignore him, riffling through the pens and office supplies on my desk, and obviously failing.

That is interesting. I look between them, well aware that my presence isn’t necessary.

“Who’s that?” I ask her and to my surprise, Esmeralda flushes a little.

“What difference? He has no right to dictate my choices.” Her voice has risen a little, and I know he does have some ability to challenge her, whoever he is. “Will you do it or not?”

I look back at the man filling the doorway and know my decision is made. He flicks the barest of glances at me, then locks his attention upon Esmeralda again. The air crackles between them and I’m officially intrigued. I won’t take on this project for Esmeralda, but he is definitely worth my knowing better.

More on this new project tomorrow…