Hello everyone! Thank you for inviting me to be your guest today. I hope that wherever you are, spring is showing up a little early as it is here in California. My daffodils and hyacinths are poking their heads through the cold soil, and my wisteria vines are sprouting velvet buds that will soon blossom. As you might have guessed, gardening is what I enjoy doing when I'm not writing.
I've published twenty-three historical romances and one novella. Writing can be like bungee jumping—one minute you're up, the next you're hurtling down, and then you’re back up again. The journey I’ve traveled since publication has been a climb. The thrill and fear I felt when I first started aren't quite as intense, but I've made an effort to keep myself balanced to avoid burning out. My advice to aspiring writers is to remain focused on your goals, read as widely as you can, work hard, and write even when you feel uninspired. Self- doubt sabotages you. Fight it. And don't give up. I know it's hard. But you can't publish what you haven’t written.
The book I'm currently writing is Sir Colin Boscastle's story. Colin is Gabriel and Sebastian's older brother, one of the main family's country cousins. He has returned to England for revenge against the man he believes killed his father. Before he fulfills his quest, however, he finds romance in an unlikely place, a son he had not known existed, and the first woman he loved in the bed of his mortal enemy.
The following excerpt is from my current book, The Duchess Diaries. The story opens on the night of the annual graduation ball honoring the Scarfield Academy for Young Ladies in London. Miss Charlotte Boscastle, the lead schoolmistress, is proud of the academy's success and wistful at turns.
Success means marriage. One of Charlotte’s graduates receives a marriage proposal at the ball, but Charlotte's own prospects seem to diminish with each season that passes. It isn't that she is immune to romance. She is secretly infatuated with the Duke of Wynfield, perhaps the last man on earth a lady should desire.
It isn't as if Charlotte’s impending spinsterhood is a secret, however. Her entire family reminds her that marriage is eluding her moment by moment. Her brothers have even rallied to the cause and are racing to London with an unsuitable suitor to save her.
In the following scene, Charlotte's cousin, Devon Boscastle, a reformed and happily married rake, is doing his best to convince the Duke of Wynfield to dance with Charlotte. Devin is unaware that Gideon is the duke of Charlotte's dreams, and that his good deed will end that evening in social disaster.
The Duchess Diaries
©Jillian Hunter (Signet Select, February 2012)
Devon walked Gideon around the ballroom, inundating him with so many last-minute instructions that he wasn’t surprised Charlotte lacked admirers. Who would be brave enough to break the Boscastle guard to approach her? Who could remember the endless rules?
“One more word,” he muttered. “One more warning, and I am going to do you a violent injury.”
“You are trustworthy, Wynfield, aren’t you?”
“I’m a man.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I am human. I have failings like any other man. If you’re afraid that I will do or say anything to dishonor your cousin, then come out and say it. Or do not introduce us.”
“The thought never entered my mind,” Devon said, then hesitated. “Did it enter yours?”
Devon scrutinized him in silence. “On second thought, maybe this isn’t one of my brighter ideas. I’ll find someone harmless, instead. There might be an earl hiding in here somewhere who isn’t a walking scandal.”
Devon held up a hand. “It’s all right. I understand. You don’t want to do me the only favor I have ever asked of you in the all years of our friendship.”
Gideon glanced at Charlotte’s willowy figure. From where he stood she looked as if she were captured in the candlelight prisms. “Oh, hell, fine. I suppose it won’t kill me. But if this is one of your pranks, I promise you, I will pay you back in spades.”
“Me, a model of dignity and reform? Would I play a trick on a duke who has studied under a swordmaster such as Fenton?”
“What do you expect me to say to her?”
“Haven’t you paid court to enough women to write a book on the subject?”
“Only when I was hoping for something in return.”
Devon’s eyes darkened. “Can I give you one suggestion?”
“Try not to use language like that in front of the young ladies or you’re liable to be slapped witless by a dozen or so fans.”
Charlotte’s throat constricted. She couldn’t swallow as she observed the swath the duke cut through the ballroom. She glanced about, seeking a reasonable means of escape, a group of guests to hide her, any excuse not to face the man whom her cousin had clearly sent to bedevil her.
And yet she waited. She hoped. What would she do for the chance to know him as she had imagined in her diary? What if when he reached her he announced in a masterful voice, “This ball is a waste of our time. You belong with me. Alone. In my arms. I am taking you again, and this time I will not let you elude me.”
She shivered with forbidden, foolish anticipation. How wicked she could be in her thoughts. Then, suddenly, the duke stood before her. She lifted her gaze.
Thought ceased to matter.
Her mind went into anarchy.
Sensation reigned, wild and undisciplined.
She’d only caught a few glimpses of him about town. His profile in a passing carriage. A stolen look at his broad-shouldered figure at an exhibition. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to stare down the duke in the emporium. Heaven forbid that one of his strumpets had made a snide remark that the younger girls of the academy had overheard.
Or that Charlotte herself had broken her perfect record of propriety and given the tart a piece of her mind. One glance at him that day had been sufficient to confirm her prior beliefs. He was an insufferably attractive man who radiated the charm of an authentic rogue.
And she was only asking for trouble by allowing her infatuation to grow.
Perhaps this meeting would dampen her interest in him once and for all. Perhaps he would reveal how crude and conceited he was at heart. She would be content to prove to herself that he was handsome on the outside and hollow within.
“May I introduce myself?” he asked.
She nodded her head in the affirmative.
He said something.
For the life of her she could not force her mind to function.
Had he just asked her to dance?
“I’m sorry. I can’t.”
Good for her. Her manners, her good sense, came to her rescue when it seemed mayhem had won.
“Are you enjoying the party, Your Grace?”
His dark saturnine smile swept her into another panic. “Not particularly.”
“I’m glad to hear—”
What had he said?
This initial meeting was not unfolding as it had in her fantasies. She wasn’t supposed to become tongue-tied in his presence. She was supposed to charm him with her wit, with the dialogue that flowed effortlessly when written, but words abandoned her now that she needed to voice them.
This was humiliation.
How awful of Devon, leaning against the wall to watch her embarrassment deepen.
The duke did not appear pleased about the situation, either.
He stood beside her as they made a few more attempts at polite conversation until finally something inside her gave up. The Duke of Wynfield might be the man of her dreams, but it was obvious he had been dragged unwillingly into her company. And that he did not share her hope for a romance between them.
Unfortunately that dismal fact did not subdue her attraction to him at all. Under different circumstances she could have stared at his beautifully sculpted face for hours. But she couldn’t keep chattering on forever.
“Devon made you ask me to dance, didn’t he?” she asked, refusing to embarrass either of them any longer. “I understand. He’s done this before.”
“Not to me.” His dark eyes suddenly connected with hers, and she felt her heart give a wistful flutter for what might have been.
But there wasn’t a reason to keep pretending that he had any romantic motives in mind.
“I saw your handsome heads together. I know you were discussing me. And I know Devon and his antics too.”
“Nonsense,” Gideon said firmly. “We were talking about political events.”
“Nothing I could repeat in refined company. Distressful subjects and . . . such.”
“I see.” What she really saw was that he wielded a charm as deftly as she did her fan. “I never knew that Devon took an interest in politics.”
“He might not have wanted to offend delicate ears with . . .”
“Distressful subjects and such?”
“Exactly.” And then to her surprise he edged in a little closer to her instead of running off gratefully into the night as he had every right to do. “I’m curious about something. Do you typically put other gentlemen through a grueling interrogation before you agree to a dance?”
“Only the ones I suspect are paying me court because my cousins have talked them into it.”
“Don’t you want to dance with me?” he asked with a disarming smile.
She smiled back, stealing another look at him over her laced-edged fan. “Are you trying to corrupt me?
“No. Corruption comes after the dance, which will apparently be over before this conversation is.”
She closed her fan, sighing deeply. “I think I should pay attention to the young ladies who are graduating. This is their night, not mine.”
He bowed. “Then I am disappointed.”
“You are not disappointed, and we both know it. It’s a relief. Tell Devon you did your duty, and I released you from it. He can be quite persuasive.”
“So can I when given the chance.”
“I hope he didn’t hold some dire threat over your head. If so, I apologize. He’s incorrigible.”
“I beg your pardon, Miss Boscastle, but I never do anything unless it pleases me. If you knew more about me, you would understand that.”
And if you knew more about me, Charlotte thought, you would understand that—that what? That she was infatuated with a man who had to be threatened into talking to her? She turned her face toward the dancers weaving like ribbons across the floor. Why did he have to be so persistent? Why didn’t he leave her alone to feel sorry for herself? The diabolical man was determined to wear her down.
“No, I’m dreadfully sorry. I have to keep my eye on my girls.”
“It must be a difficult job.”
“It is,” she replied in a clipped voice, not looking at him. “Especially at times like this.”
“Why are they called the ‘Lionesses of London’ after they graduate?” he asked, and she could feel him staring through her skin. “Do you teach them to catch gentlemen between their jaws?”
She glanced up at him again, caught unaware by the unbridled sensuality of his smile. “The reference has nothing to do with our predatory skills.”
“Oh. What a shame.”
“It refers to the academy’s original foundress, Viscountess Lyons.”
“So there’s no truth at all to the nickname?” he asked in an undertone.
“If there was,” she said, biting off each word, “this would certainly be the time to prove it.”
She swung around. “The dance is over, you— It is intermission, Your Grace.” she managed in a dignified voice.
He looked up. “Well, so it is.” He gave her a gallant nod. “I was so engrossed in our conversation I didn’t notice.”
Charlotte groaned inwardly, too exhausted to argue. She could only imagine how difficult he would be to resist in a private setting. Or if he truly had his heart set on seduction.
Not that she would ever have to worry about such a scandalous fate befalling her. They were complete opposites. He was a raging bonfire to her timid flame. A devil-may-care challenge to her conscientious soul. It wasn’t his fault that she’d built a romance between them that had never existed. Or that he was so gorgeous she could weep on his wonderfully masculine chest.
But at least he had tried to be kind. Charlotte had to admire him for that, even if she was going to pinch Devon’s head off for making her an object of pity.
“Miss Boscastle?” the duke said in a deep, irresistible voice. “Am I forgiven?”
She stirred. “For what?”
He looked at her for a long time. “I was rather obvious, wasn’t I?”
“Well, now that the truth is out, would you give me the next dance?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Perhaps in the future?”
“Yes, yes, yes.” She forced herself to turn away.
She felt him withdraw a step. And not a moment too soon. From the corner of her eye she glimpsed two of her students drifting toward the French doors. Three young gentlemen were following in their wake. She gripped her rose-scented fan, steeling herself to thwart a scandal in the making. Duke of her secret desires or not, she would not tolerate any mischief under her guard. Nor would she give Lady Clipstone any tidbits to feed the gossipmongers.
“Another time, Your Grace,” she murmured, dismissing him with finality.
“I look forward to it.”
He bowed again. She gave him credit for hiding his relief. She had no doubt he would forget her the moment they parted company. And she would force herself to forget him too, until the moment she sat at her desk and poured out her thoughts in her diary.
She decided that it would be the last reference she ever made about the duke. Her imaginary affair with him had to come to an end . . . even if he were more desirable in person than she had dreamed.
One night alone in his company would ruin her forever. Would the memories be worth disgrace? She was afraid to admit to herself that they might be. And that was sufficient evidence that she had allowed herself to go too far with the silly fantasies about the charismatic duke. Still, any chance of a romance between them seemed as remote as the planet Venus.