On April 12, 1809, Franklin “Frankie” Courtland, 6th Viscount Rainsleigh, tripped on a root in the bottom of a riverbed and drowned. He was drunk at the time, picnicking with friends on the banks of the River Wylye. According an account later given to the magistrate, his lordship simply fell over, bumped into a fallen log, and sank.
It was there he remained—“enjoying the cool,” or so his friends believed—until he became too heavy, too slippery, and, alas, too dead to revive. But they did dislodge him; and after that, they claimed he floated to the surface, bobbed several times, and then gently glided downstream. He was later found just before sunset, face down and bloated (in life, as also in death), beached on a pebble shoal near Codford.
At the time the elder Courtland was sinking to the bottom of the river, his son and heir, Bryson was hunched over a desk in the offices of his fledgling shipping company, waiting for the very moment his father would die. It had been an exceedingly long, progressively humiliating wait. Years long—nay, decades.
Luckily for Bryson, for his ships and his future, he was capable of doing more things at once than wait, and while his father drank and debauched his way through all respectability and life, Bryson worked.
It was an unthinkable thing for a young heir and nobleman—to “work”—but Bryson was given little choice, considering the impoverished state of the Rainsleigh crest. He was scarcely eleven years of age when he made first foray into labor, and not so many years after, into private enterprise. His life in work had not ceased since. On the rare occasion that he didn’t work, he studied.
With his meager earnings (he began by punting boats on the very river in which his father later drowned), he made meager investments. These investments reaped small gains—first in shares in the punting station; later in property along the water; later still, in other industry up and down the river.
Bryon lived modestly, worked ceaselessly, and spared only enough to pay his way through Cambridge, bring up his brother, and see him educated him, as well. Every guinea earned was reinvested. He repeated the process again and again, a little less meagerly each time ‘round.
By the time the elder viscount’s self-destructive lifestyle wrought his river- and drink-soaked end, Bryson had managed to accrue a small fortune, launch a company that built and sailed ships, and construct an elaborate plan for what he would do when his father finally cocked up his toes and died.
When at last that day came, Bryson had but one complaint: it took fifty-two hours for the constable to find him. He was a viscount for two days before anyone, including himself, even knew it.
But two days was a trifle compared to a lifetime of waiting. And on the day he learned of his inheritance—nay, the very hour—he launched his long awaited plan.
By three o’clock on the fourth day, he’d razed the rotting, reeking east wing of the family estate in Wiltshire to the ground.
Within the week, he’d extracted his mother from the west wing and shipped her and a contingent of discreet caregivers to a villa in Spain.
Within the month, he’d sold every stick of furniture, every remaining fork and dish, every sweat-soaked toga and opium-tinged gown. He burned the drapes, burned the rugs, burned the tapestries. He delivered the half-starved horses and the fighting dogs to an agricultural college and pensioned off the remaining staff.
By the six-week mark, he’d unloaded the London townhome—sold at auction to the highest bidder—and with it, the broken-down carriage, his father’s dusty arsenal, what was left of the wine stores, and all the lurid art.
It was a whirlwind evacuation, a gutting, really, and no one among polite society had ever witnessed a son or heir take such absolute control and haul away so much family or property quite so fast.
But no one among polite society was acquainted with Bryson Anders Courtland, the new Viscount Rainsleigh.
And no one understood that it was not so much an ending as it was an entirely fresh start. Once the tearing down ceased, the rebuilding could begin. New viscountsy, new money, new respect, new life.
It was an enterprise into which Bryson threw himself like no other. Unlike all others, however, he could only do so much, one man, alone. For this, he would require another. A partner. Someone with whom he could work together towards a common goal. A collaborator who emulated his precise, immaculate manner. A matriarch, discreet and pure. A paragon of propriety. A viscountess. A proper, perfect wife.
GUEST POST FROM CHARIS
What Is It About a Virgin?
When I revealed the title of my second book to one of my writing buddies, she wrote back: “Nice. Are virgins like the new dukes?” Apparently I’m not the only one name-checking virgins these days. She’d seen it on several other books, not unlike the proliferation of “dukes” of the last couple of years.
So, what gives? What is it about a virgin?
Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that not everyone loves a virginal heroine. In fact, some readers can’t abide them. Certainly, virgins-as-heroines are not as thick on the ground as they were back in the day, when I read my first romance in the late 1980s. In today's contemporary romance, I’d venture to say that virgins are virtually nonexistent.
But my editor loved the title, The Virgin and the Viscount as soon as I suggested it, and as my friend said, I’m not the only author brandishing the big “V.” So perhaps this means that there are still a few of us virgin enthusiasts out there. Hey, I’ll admit, straight up, that one of my favorite romance tropes is a hero who believes a heroine is not a virgin, only to discover, after he deflowers her, that she is (or was). It’s out-dated and mysoginistic, and even I had to tone down some version of this trope (spoiler alert #1) to make my 1811-set Historical match modern sensibilities (although the resulting scene is still pretty devastating, if I do say so myself).
Regardless of who knows who’s a virgin, I still consider an innocent heroine—so long as she’s full of spunk and enthusiasm and healthy curiosity—to be playful and fun and totally sexy. She certainly offers a lot more interesting fodder for a love scene. Every romance author approaches these scenes a little differently, but for me, they must advance the story and up the stakes for the hero and heroine. In other words, they must be remarkable, worth spelling out in graphic detail. And nothing makes an interlude more worthy of remark or lengthy detail than the first time, especially for my over-the-top characters.
Also, virgins are historically accurate.
Also, we were all (or still may be) virgins, so we can relate.
Also, few sexual experiences are more wildly discussed, lamented, celebrated or (circling back) discussed than anyone’s first time. For better or for worse, we relish dishing about this topic. I defy you to think of your best friend and claim you have not heard the story of her first time.
Also—well, maybe this is more like a “primarily”—if you know me in real life, you know that I’m an old-fashioned kind of gal, and I simply prefer the virgins There, I said it. Or, at least, I prefer my eager, exploratory, and totally in-love virginal heroines. But hey—even if your not usually a fan of the virginal heroine, consider this: the leading lady in The Virgin and the Viscount (spoiler alert #2) does not know whether she is a virgin or not. Either way, I hope you’ll give Lady Elisabeth a try. And just like your best friend, let’s dish. Let me know what you think!
AUTHOR Q & A
1. Tell us about yourself.
Well, I’m a 43-year-old wife and mother who has dreamt of writing romance novels since I read ALMOST HEAVEN by Judith McNaught when I was 16. For better or for worse, I live the dream. I wear puffy dresses that are borderline costumes. I love a good garden party. Castles and cottages are the homes of my dreams. I’m a sucker for any television show, book, or movie with a well-done romance and HEA.
I lived in England for a time but I’m a native Texan and Texan at heart. I love the beach but will never turn down a trip to Disney (in the off season).
2. What three things about you might surprise your readers?
I worked at RWA (Romance Writers of America, the trade group for romance authors) right out of college and promoted authors and romance novels for eight years. Dream job.
I wear small shoulder pads with every single outfit (rounded shoulders, what are you gonna do?).
My fantasy guy is a thug with a heart of gold (think Vin Diesel or Channing Tatum), but I would not be able to stand this person IRL. I’m married to the love of my life, a bald lawyer with three fancy degrees who enjoys napping. Heart of gold? Yes. Thug? Not so much.
3. Is there a genre(s) that you think “I might like to write one of those.”?
You know, I am all-romance/all-the-time. Although if “sub-genres” count, I definitely would eventually like to write contemporary romantic suspense/adventure (remember those thugs with a heart of gold?). I have a completed romantic adventure just sitting there, waiting for its moment in the sun.
4. Tell us about THE VIRGIN AND THE VISCOUNT
This is the story of an incredibly powerful, serious, straight-laced, controlled hero (the viscount) who thinks he wants one thing—a very proper wife—but who falls in love with someone entirely different (the virgin). Slowly, she unravels this man and teaches him the true meaning of nobility and honor. I love a serious hero who loses control, and this one totally loses control.
5. Where did the idea for the storyline come from?
As originally written, the hero discovers a scar on the heroine’s body when they are in bed on their wedding night—and he realizes that she is not who he thinks she is. He’s crushed and angry and just…awful to her. This was originally written more than ten years ago, and I’ve had to revise his reaction and when and where it happens so it’s not so…well, so awful. But the new scene, and how they come back from that horrible place, is so much fun to read. That’s a long way of saying, the idea came from the notion of the hero thinking his new bride is/was a virgin, and then discovering that she might not be. I built the story around that emotional journey.
6. What do you think readers will like/love about Bryson and Elisabeth?
If you like a buttoned-up hero that totally loses control, then you will love Bryson. He’s powerful, in command, dominating, kind of old-school. And then he loses all of that authority because of this woman. You’ve gotta love a man who loses all authority because of a woman! (Or I do.)
The heroine is super capable, plain-spoken, and no-nonsense. But she’s also generous of spirit, kind, and forgiving. I think the typical “unravel-er” of buttoned-up men is portrayed as like a free spirit or a bohemian. Elisaeth is not necessarily this archetype (if free spirit can be considered an archetype). She is not beholden to the social climbing of the haute ton, nor is she interested in doing anything for the sake of appearances. But other than that, she is traditional and confident and hopeful. She falls in love easily. She is curious about sex. She is me or you on our best day.
7. What was your favorite scene from the book?
Oooh, there is a scene in a map room outside a ball where the hero confronts the heroine about when/how they may have met in their pasts, and it is devastating but so much fun. And then when the convene again to rehash it all in the home of the heroine’s aunt? To die for (IMHO)!
8. Who are some of your book boyfriends? What draws you to them?
Is it wrong that I don’t even have to look these up? Lord Dain from “Lord of the Scoundrels.” Any of the Macleod brothers from Shannon McKenna’s Macleod brothers series of romantic suspense, but especially Conner Macleod and Miles Davenport. Captain Asher Flint from “I Kissed an Earl.”
Why? Two words: Tortured and alpha. In that order.
9. If you had to pick a favorite cocktail of choice, what would it be? (It can be non-alcoholic too)
Oh, I’m a margarita girl, all the way. Salt on the rim, if you please. Frozen or on the rocks. Any iteration, from classic to pomegranate. Thank you very much!
10. What’s next for you?
I’m furiously trying to finish the third book in the Bachelor Lords trilogy: One for the Rogue, out December 6th. When you read the Virgin and the Viscount you’ll be able to identify the hero of this book right away. He’s a handful but a lot of fun.
Thank you for the interview! Great questions!
Charis Michaels is thrilled to be making her debut with Avon Impulse. Prior to writing romance, she studied Journalism at Texas A&M and managed PR for a trade association. She has also worked as a tour guide at Disney World, harvested peaches on her family’s farm, and entertained children as the “Story Godmother” at birthday parties. She has lived in Texas, Florida, and London, England. She now makes her home in the Washington, D.C.-metro area. Where to buy THE VIRGIN AND THE VISCOUNT Avon: http://avonromance.com/book/9780062412935/the-virgin- and-the- viscount/ Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016I36EI4/ref=cm_sw_su_dp?tag=avonromancehc-20#navbar Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-virgin- and-the- viscount-charis-michaels/1123479821;jsessionid=9AA3AF7CF6519D410D6E39F80D01F4FD.prodny_store02-atgap08?ean=9780062412935&st=AFF&2sid=HarperCollins%20Publishers%20LLC_7229674_NA&sourceId=AFFHarperCollins%20Publishers%20LLCM000023 Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=9780062412935+&c=books
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