Regan here… Today on the Best of the Regency my guest is Bliss Bennet, author of A Rebel without a Rogue and A Man without a Mistress, named a best book of the year by both the USA Today’s Happily Ever After and the Miss Bates Reads Romance blogs. Both books are part of The Penningtons series, stories of four English siblings negotiating life and love in politically volatile 1820s London.
Be sure to leave a comment with your email as Bliss is offering one lucky commentator an ebook copy of the first Penningtons book, A Rebel without a Rogue.
Bliss’s upcoming release (Valentine’s Day 2017): A Lady Without a Lord
A viscount convinced he’s a failure
For years, Theophilius Pennington has tried to forget his myriad shortcomings by indulging in wine, women, and witty bonhomie. But now that he’s inherited the title of Viscount Saybrook, it’s time to stop ignoring his responsibilities. Finding the perfect husband for his headstrong younger sister seems a good first step. Until, that is, his sister’s dowry goes missing . . .
A lady determined she’ll succeed
Harriot Atherton has a secret: it is she, not her steward father, who maintains the Saybrook account books. But Harry’s precarious balancing act begins to totter when the irresponsible new viscount unexpectedly returns to Lincolnshire, the painfully awkward boy of her childhood now a charming yet vulnerable man. Unfortunately, Theo is also claiming financial malfeasance. Can her father’s wandering wits be responsible for the lost funds? Or is she?
As unlikely attraction flairs between dutiful Harry and playful Theo, each learns there is far more to the other than devoted daughter and happy-go-lucky lord. But if Harry succeeds at protecting her father and discovering the missing money, will she be in danger of failing at something equally important—finding love?
“Miss Atherton,” he said, rising from the chair to cross the room. “An unexpected pleasure. Though none the less welcome for it, I assure you. Please, take a seat.”
“Thank you, my lord, but I’ve no desire to interrupt your work. I simply wished to tell you that my father is in the south field this morning, and will be happy to attend you after the dinner hour, if that suits.”
She curtseyed, clearly expecting a nod of dismissal. But Theo was not inclined to let the one human being he’d encountered all morning with whom he might hold a conversation of more than a few words escape so quickly. Especially since today the comely Miss Atherton was unencumbered by any of those odious account books she’d clutched so tight to her chest yesterday afternoon.
“Ah, a diligent man, your father.” Theo gestured toward a pair of deep leather chairs that faced the library hearth, inviting her to sit. “Not one to use the excuse of a late-rising landlord to idle about himself. Do you follow in your father’s footsteps, Miss Atherton? Busy as the proverbial bee?”
Her eyes cut toward the desk behind which he’d been sitting, which was conspicuously free of any papers or correspondence, then lit on his face, a crooked smile turning up one corner of her mouth. “Yes, of course. They do say idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
Twitting him, was she? Or merely embarrassed on his behalf? He placed a hand on the back of one of the chairs she had ignored, eager to find out.
“And with what do you busy yourself, so the devil always finds you occupied when he comes to call?”
“Why, there is always much to do on an estate the size of Saybrook,” she answered, finally taking his hint and lowering herself decorously into the seat opposite his. “Especially when the family of the house is not in residence. The ill and the elderly require visiting. The indigent need help finding suitable employment. The church’s altar cloths are in need of mending, and funds must be raised for the purchase of Bibles for the new Sunday School—”
“The poor devil,” Theo interrupted, giving a theatrically woeful shake of his head as he took a seat. “Forever doomed to call at Mr. Atherton’s, only find his daughter never to home.”
“You make me sound like a veritably gadfly, my lord,” she replied with some asperity. But even drawn tight, her lips could not mask their underlying lushness. “I assure you, I’m often to be found at home, seeing to my domestic duties and my father’s well-being.”
“Of course, Miss Atherton. I’ve not a doubt of it. But in which of your duties do you find the most pleasure?”
“Yes, pleasure. Surely you would not spend so much time in the service of others if you did not find at least some of your duties to your liking. Or are you one of those self-righteous, sanctimonious young women who can only take joy in dutiful self-sacrifice?”
“If I were, you’d surely not ingratiate yourself to me by so asking.” Miss Atherton’s green-brown eyes alit with something he could not quite make out.
“If you were, I’d not care so much about ingratiating myself to you.” He gifted her with his most engaging smile.
How charmingly she blushed, the merest hint of rose blossoming over the deeper olive tones of her complexion. Had he embarrassed her? Or intrigued her?
Miss Atherton held still until her blush subsided. Then, scooting towards the edge of her seat, she leaned forward, as if she were about to tell him a secret. Her muslin dress was cut low enough to provide a delectable view, if only she’d not tucked that officious fichu into its décolletage.
“And do you care? To ingratiate yourself with me?”
Theo’s stomach drew tight at the sudden smoky depths of her voice. He’d assumed her a virtuous lady, but she had spent some years in fashionable, often decadent Brighton. If she were a woman of some sexual experience, his days—or nights—in Lincolnshire might not prove quite as dull as he had feared . . .
Theo’s hands fell, clutching against the tops of his thighs. “More than I can express,” he whispered.
“Shall I tell you the best way to do so?” Her eyelashes fluttered, quick like a butterfly’s wings.
Theo leaned forward, until his face was mere inches from hers. “Please.”
Miss Atherton stood, the sultry temptress replaced by a stern, unsmiling taskmistress. “Pay some heed to your own duties, my lord, rather than wasting your time on ridiculous gallanting. I assure you, I take no pleasure in your misguided attempts at flirtation.”
The devil. He’d walked straight into that, hadn’t he?
Bliss Bennet writes smart, edgy novels for readers who love history as much as they love romance. Despite being born and bred in New England, Bliss finds herself fascinated by the history of that country across the pond, particularly the politically volatile period known as the English Regency. Though she’s visited Britain several times, Bliss continues to make her home in New England, along with her husband, daughter, and two monstrously fluffy black cats. Bliss’s mild-mannered alter ego, Jackie Horne, writes about the intersection of gender and genre at the Romance Novels for Feminists blog.
And now to the interview:
Why do you write Regency romances?
Jane Austen has always been my favorite writer. And after spending years researching and writing a Ph.D. thesis on British children’s literature of the early 19th century, I knew a lot about the history of the Regency period. So when I started to consider writing fiction, my love of Austen combined with my historical knowledge of the era made the Regency seem like the perfect time and place in which to set my stories.
What was the first story you remember writing?
As a teen, I was an avid Harlequin romance reader. So, one summer during college, when I had a very dull job working by myself in a hotel gift shop, I tried to write (by hand) a Harlequin romance. It was about a secretary whose boss was always enraged with her for not keeping up with her job responsibilities because she kept sneaking off to bail out the drunk her boss assumed was her boyfriend. But of course, he was really her brother, mourning the death of his wife. The boss was angry with himself because he was attracted to the secretary, but took it out on her (especially because he thought she was living in sin with her man—this was the 1980s, after all!). I was ill with mononucleosis that summer, though, and never got much past writing the initial chapters. And after I took some Women’s Studies classes later in college, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up that sexist story ever again.
Where do you read, and how often?
I read anywhere and everywhere: on the couch, at the gym while riding the elliptical, while eating breakfast, on the subway, while waiting for my take-out order, even in the bathroom while brushing my teeth. In fact, when I was a teenager, in the summers I would sometimes slip into an empty bathtub with a book, just to get away from my two younger sisters! And I read every single day. I don’t think I could survive without reading.
When do you write?
I am best at writing creatively in the mornings, so I sit down every weekday morning in front of my computer until lunchtime. My afternoons are spent on more analytical writing: writing reviews and essays for my Romance Novels for Feminists blog; commenting on book proposals for the Children’s Literature Association (I still keep my hand in as a literary scholar); and working on my own academic research. My latest scholarly project is editing a collection of interviews by Madeleine L’Engle. Can you tell that I enjoy using both sides of my brain?
Do you read reviews?
Yes! Since I once worked as a children’s book editor, I’m pretty used to the give and take of feedback. I get such a thrill when a reviewer really gets what I’m trying to do with my story, or when s/he points out something in my book that I didn’t even see myself. I even like the bad reviews, as long as they have something substantive to say; I learn as much from what doesn’t work for a reader as I do from what does.
How did you come up with the idea for your forthcoming book, A Lady without a Lord?
Theo Pennington, Viscount Saybrook, the eldest of the Pennington siblings, had cut a pretty dissolute swath through the first two books in my series. But he was slated to be the hero of book #3. What could I do to make readers like him after he spent most of those books drunk, ignoring his duties to his estate, and trying to break up his younger brother’s romance? I thought about what might make a man avoid his responsibilities, and came up with the motivation of avoiding failure. We’ve had several historical romances with dyslexic heroes, but I can’t remember another one with a protagonist who is struggling with dyscalculia (a brain condition that makes it difficult to make sense of numbers and math concepts). A large part of being an aristocrat was overseeing the finances of your estates; how would a man who suffered with dyscalculia cope? Might he avoid it, to avoid feeling like more of a failure? And thus Theo’s backstory was born…
What’s your favorite holiday movie?
I’ve always loved It’s a Wonderful Life, but think it best enjoyed in a movie theater surrounded by other happy amazonpeople. My favorite Christmas movie to watch by myself is 1940’s Remember the Night, with Fred MacMurray and my favorite actress, Barbara Stanwyck. I have a bootleg copy on DVD; each year I take it out and cross my fingers that it still plays when I pop it in the player!
Thank you, Regan, for allowing me to be a part of the Best of the Regency!
Bliss has a question for readers: My stories tend to walk the line between historical romance and historical fiction. My question to you is: how much history to do want/enjoy in your historical romances?
Comment for a chance to win A Rebel Without a Rogue.
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