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Secrets of a Proper Countess started out as a fun book to write over the summer of 2008, something to keep me busy while waiting for my children at music lessons. It was also, I must admit, meant to practice my writerly wiles and improve the way I wrote sex scenes. Secrets of a Proper Countess was supposed to be steamy and fun, and not much else.
But somewhere along the way, I fell in love with my characters. Phineas went from just a rake to a man with a far more interesting, serious reason for wanting to find the unknown lady he’d seduced at a masked ball. And Isobel had reasons of her own for keeping her identity a secret. Like true secrets, I realized this book needed layers—action, intrigue, a touch of danger, an element of mystery, great secondary characters, a bit of humor, a passionate hero and heroine, true love, and of course, glorious sex.
I often use fairy tales as a theme in my stories, and Isobel made a perfect Cinderella—her late husband’s will dictates that her behavior must be impeccable, or she’ll lose her son. Her wicked mother-in-law enforces the rules, which include dressing in dull mourning long after her husband is dead. Her in-laws control her son, her fortune, and her social life. But what mother wouldn’t endure anything for the sake of her child?
Then, at a masquerade ball, anonymous behind her mask, Isobel lets a harmless flirtation with London’s most notorious rake turn into the passion she’s been missing. Realizing what such an encounter could cost her if she were caught, Isobel flees before he can learn who she is.
But Phineas is more than just a rake. He ferrets out secrets for the Crown, and keeps a watchful eye out for spies, plotters and all manner of danger. Who better to whisper a secret in front of than a drunken rake? Phineas wants more out of life, though. He wants to be part of his own family again. He wants a life of honor without subterfuge. And he wants the mysterious lover he met in a dark garden, and he means to find her.
The intrigue plot in the book is based on real historical events. Louis XVIII escaped from France after the French Revolution and lived in exile in England. His existence was a threat to Napoleon, giving royalists a symbol to cling to. Although there is no evidence of a plot against Louis while he was in England, I created a threat that launches Phineas into action to prevent a royal kidnapping. The French king lived at Hartwell House in Aylesbury, England, which is now a hotel. Oddly enough, while I was researching ‘Secrets’, I happened to be staying at Hartwell’s sister hotel in York, and discovered the connection between the two estates by accident. And our hotel, Middlethorpe Hall, was once owned by another historical figure I was researching for yet another book. Destiny, perhaps?
I love stories that make it impossible to guess the ending (well, aside from knowing it will be happy, of course). Secrets of a Proper Countess offers readers plenty of twists and surprises!
- Lecia Cornwall
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