A friend from the NYC RWA chapter has a new romance out today, that I wanted to tell you all about. It’s an M/F Regency-era romance from Jess Russell called The Dressmaker’s Duke.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m not into Regency romance because everyone is into Regency romance or because I really love Jane Austen. I’m into Regency romance because I really love Horatio Hornblower and militaria. Which is to say, I am here for the clothes (which is also how I started doing historical dance, specifically Regency-era historical dance. I even performed at a book party for one of Naomi Novik’s Regency-era Napoleanic Wars with dragons books).
So when I say, “this Regency romance is awesome because it knows not just the tropes, but the actual period,” I mean it. Also, I’m a sucker for people who are verbally sharp and dry, and I think the excerpt below really captures how this plays out in the dialogue of the novel.
Rhys Merrick, Duke of Roydan, is determined to be the antitheses of his depraved father, repressing his desires so severely he is dubbed “the Monk” by Society. But when Olivia Weston turns up demanding payment for gowns ordered by his former mistress, Rhys is totally flummoxed and inexplicably smitten. He pays her just to remove her from his house, and mind. But logic be damned; he must have this fiercely independent woman.
Olivia’s greatest fear is becoming a kept woman. She has escaped the role of mistress once and vows never to be owned by any man. Rather than make money in the boudoir, she chooses to clothe the women who do. But when a fire nearly kills her friend and business partner, Olivia’s world goes up in smoke and she is forced to barter with the lofty duke.
As their lives weave together, Olivia unravels the man underneath the Monk, while Rhys desires to expose the lady hiding behind the dressmaker. Will his raw passion fan a long-buried ember of hope within her? Can this mismatched pair be the perfect fit?
“Could you move, please?”
Was it her imagination, or was his voice higher than usual? Then what he actually said registered.
“Yes. Could you move across the room? I find to judge a garment, or anything properly, one must see it in motion.” Her face must have been reflecting the horror she felt, for he hastened on, “You would not expect me to buy a horse simply by looking at its lines would you, Mrs. Weston? I would wish to see it run as well. I’m sure you understand.”
Blast him and his bloody horses. She strode forward, happy to vent some of her anger in movement; however, she realized a split second too late there was nowhere to move. The receiving room was not large and was mostly taken up with the cutting table. The only area with any appreciable room was at the far end of the shop where the huge paneled mirrors stood. He was standing directly in the path that would be her best direction. Consequently, she found herself almost flush up against him.
She knew he was tall. Any fool could see the man was at least two or more inches over six feet, but from this vantage point—directly beneath him—he was so very tall. She could smell the starch of his shirt mixed with a faint whiff of smoke and possibly brandy? She slid her gaze over the shirt and waistcoat to his cravat—a conservatively tied Oriental—to the firm, slightly cleft chin, moving on to the lips, very swiftly past those, and finally resting on his eyes. Pure molten gold. Yes, exactly like those of the Burmese tiger she had seen at a menagerie in Paris. His bearing was just as predatory.
“It would appear, sir, in order for me to move, as you require, you will have to bestir yourself as well.”
She thought she saw one side of his mouth shift ever so slightly upward into what might have been the merest twitch of a smile. She could not be one hundred percent sure because, to do so, she would have to look at his lips. The duke shifted his weight and made a small bow. Her shoulder brushed the superfine of his midnight blue jacket as she hurriedly squeezed past him.
She strode almost to the mirrors before wheeling around and giving him what she hoped was an accusatory look.
“Well, Your Grace. I hope you are satisfied”
“Satisfied, Mrs. Weston?” He raised that infernal eyebrow. “Oh no, madam, I am very far from satisfied. However, I am hopeful I will be, in the not so distant future.” Again his gaze raked over her. “Yes, I do live in hope.”
Jess talks a little bit about this book and her journey to it and being a writer below:
I have had lots of jobs. Wife, mom, (15 year old who is a sophomore at Bronx Science) actress, print/shoe model, acting teacher, professional stager (for selling real estate), award winning batik artist, and designer. (Right now I am in the middle of hand-sewing a Regency gown. I figure, if my heroine can do it, I can do it!)
Obviously I like to make things. I love the notion of creating something out of nothing, or at least things that other folks might think of as worthless. I am always dragging things off the street of New York City where I live now, and “re-purposing” them.
I love power tools. I have remodeled several kitchens, and three bathrooms as well as numerous tiling jobs and even painted faux finishes on furniture and walls. I knew my husband really knew me when he got me a chain saw for my birthday!
I never ever thought I’d be a writer. I am dyslexic. I overcame that fairly early on (thanks, mom) but the idea stuck in my head that I couldn’t write. I have always loved Romance and particularly Historical Romance.
When I turned 50 I wanted a new challenge. One particular scene had been brewing in my head for a long time so I thought I’d write it down. I did. Little by little I got braver. I sent a chapter to my mom to check it for “grammar.” Then I joined the Romance Writers of America and entered some of their writing contests. At first I did not final but got very encouraging feedback. Then I began to final and win. In the end I received three publishing offers for the book.
I still do many other creative things-still make things-now I can add that I’ve made a book! I am working on several other stories. Each one keeps tugging at me, “Write me!” So I feel a bit all over the place.
Why do I write what I do?
When one writes Historicals there are all these parameters that the author must try to write within. The world of a Regency woman is narrow, but she still has all the feelings that a modern day woman has, she just must express them in a more subtle way. This is the challenge for the writer who chooses the historical path; a kind of tightrope. I think the best historical writers embrace these strictures and learn to move gracefully and creatively between the confines of their chosen world.
It is easy to fantasize about the Regency period as being a more courtly and chivalrous time. I love exploring those opportunities for romance. But then realities intrude: no woman’s rights, hygiene, sickness. My current WIP deals with the Hero being shut up in a madhouse—not a pleasant thing. But that’s what I also love about the time in which I write, I love to show the reality and humanity of these people. They are not just witty cardboard cutouts, they are thinking, feeling folk with problems just like you and me.
Lucky Me because I had parents who cared about a child who struggled to read, lucky because I was able to explore my creativity in so many ways, lucky because, with age and experience, I stopped telling myself “no.”
I am a writer now. I am owning that title more and more stepping farther and farther out of my comfort zone to push against the arbitrary walls I put up. Writing has been an incredible journey for me. It has stretched my boundaries from my first tentative scene to, submitting to contests, to finaling in them, and winning them. Being a writer has opened my life up to new friendships and opportunities. But best of all, it has told me new things about myself and what I can achieve.