Diversity within historical romance has been a heated topic lately covered in major media. The controversy with RWA has stirred up a lot of emotional discussions, and hopefully positive change toward including a wider range of authors and characters of ethnic and sexual orientation in the romance genre.
A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby is a big step in the right direction and I am happy to shine a spotlight on it and its author Vanessa Riley today. She is a very talented novelist who has been writing historical romance with diverse characters for several years. Her research is impressive, and her plots and characters are compelling and “swoothy” (swoon-worthy).
Here is an exclusive excerpt from A Duke, the Lady, and A Baby, the first book in her Rogues and Remarkable Women series which is receiving rave reviews and prominent media coverage. I am thrilled to share that the book lives up to the hype. Enjoy!
Created by a shrewd countess, The Widow’s Grace is a secret society with a mission: to help ill-treated widows regain their status, their families, and even find true love again—or perhaps for the very first time . . .
When headstrong West Indian heiress Patience Jordan questioned her English husband’s mysterious suicide, she lost everything: her newborn son, Lionel, her fortune—and her freedom. Falsely imprisoned, she risks her life to be near her child—until The Widow’s Grace gets her hired as her own son’s nanny. But working for his unsuspecting new guardian, Busick Strathmore, Duke of Repington, has perils of its own. Especially when Patience discovers his military strictness belies an ex-rake of unswerving honor—and unexpected passion . . .
A wounded military hero, Busick is determined to resolve his dead cousin’s dangerous financial dealings for Lionel’s sake. But his investigation is a minor skirmish compared to dealing with the forthright, courageous, and alluring Patience. Somehow, she’s breaking his rules, and sweeping past his defenses. Soon, between formidable enemies and obstacles, they form a fragile trust—but will it be enough to save the future they long to dare together?
When I lifted my gaze to the countess, I felt fifteen years old, gaping at the paled countenance of another disapproving lady, one too tired from sickness to say all the ways her tomboy daughter had brought shame to her door. Mama’s ebony eyes possessed the same sadness as Lady Shrewsbury’s sherry ones.
The countess came closer. “I want to help you, but you continue to break the rules. Are your circumstances worse than any other widow here? Has your father’s wealth made you think you’re too good for our rules?”
I never was “too good” or special. I was different and discouraged and alone except for Jemina. Tears welled, but I couldn’t swallow more grief. I was about to burst. “I am awful and terrible, but I’m a mother. That doesn’t make me better than anyone here, just more desperate.”
The countess dropped her arms by her side, her gold rings showing beneath her lacy sleeves, one for each of her three husbands. “Are your circumstances more desperate than the widow whose family dumped her onto the streets with no widow’s portion or the means for a roof over her head? Or the mother whose husband’s aunt has taken her sons, eight and ten, who won’t answer her letters? Or the lady whose daughters have been sent out of the country? I have sensible rules for your protection, Mrs. Jordan. You jeopardize the safety of the group when you break them.”
“Rules. I’m dying from rules.” I lowered my wet face into my gloves. The thin wool couldn’t mop up my sorrow. “Since stepping upon these shores, I followed rules, did as everyone said. I was a good wife. My mama would’ve been proud of the home I kept.”
I wiped and wiped. Ashy powder caked on my gloves, my sleeves. “And you, a peer of this land, don’t you like how well I’ve conformed? I’ve even practiced and practiced until most of my Demeraran accent has fled. But see my reward, ma’am? My son still gets taken away. Rules don’t help.”
I smeared the cosmetic from my stinging eyes. I wished I couldn’t see, but I could. The countess’s countenance had that blank look, Mama’s look.
The grief of it, the memories of her weighed too much. Swoosh. My knees buckled. My livery ballooned out like a ship’s sail as I dropped to the countess’s feet. Grabbing at Lady Shrewsbury’s legs, I held tight, like they were Mama’s skirts.
I couldn’t let go.
I needed forgiveness.
I needed it now.
My repeated sorries garbled, and I wept upon the hem of the woman’s garment. “I don’t know how many times my Lionel’s been fed. His bottom is so red and pimpled from not being attended. I left him tonight to lay on soiled sheets. Soiled sheets! I don’t want to disappoint you, Countess. But how can I be away and let him suffer?”
Lady Shrewsbury bent to me, and I tensed for a slap, but the woman put her arms about me and drew me into the tightest embrace.
Not earned. Not negotiated. Not even spoken, but felt through and through, that’s what Lady Shrewsbury’s arms offered. I clung to her, baptized in her rosewater and kindness.
“It will be well, Patience. You’re headstrong but good. Remember that.”
How long I lingered in this woman’s bosom I didn’t know, but the embrace felt like love, like hope. Tonight, that was enough to pull some of my broken pieces together.
The countess tossed away my wig and mussed my frizzy curls. She took a lacy cloth and wiped my face free of the remaining cosmetic. “You are special, Patience. Each of my widows is. But to right wrongs, we have to be smarter. You take too many risks. Tonight, you could’ve ruined any chance to regain custody.”
I straightened and swiped at my cheeks. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have to wonder if Lionel ate tonight. For that, I’ll never be sorry.”
The countess looped her arm through mine and tugged me forward to the kitchen table. The huge walnut furnishing with sturdy benches along its sides centered the Widow’s Grace. It was the hallowed place where the women congregated to encourage one another and plot.
“Lionel doesn’t like pap milk, Patience. My widow, Mrs. Kelly, tells me she struggles to get him to drink.”
I had to touch my jaw to see if it remained attached. The countess had a spy in Hamlin. “You—”
“Sit, Patience. Now is the time for you to know all.”
Lady Shrewsbury moved to the stylish klismos chair at the end, one with the harp back like the ones in Hamlin’s drawing room.
I shuddered, my head forming an image of Colin brooding in that room, doing his business, wanting no disturbances, needing distance. His comings and goings throughout our marriage stayed with me as did my many regrets.
Lady Shrewsbury’s snow-white Angora, the kitty she kept at her side, wagged her head at me. Athena’s one green eye, one blue eye saw everything, I was sure of it. She knew I cringed, fearing what her mistress would disclose.
“Mrs. Kelly has been thwarting Mr. Markham’s advances, even the rudeness of the current staff, to care for your baby. But all is in place for us to act.”
Stunned, barely able to suppress the rapid beating of my chest, I collapsed onto the bench. I didn’t know what to think except that all-knowing Shrewsbury was an English version of Erzulie- Ge-Rouge, the red-eyed goddess of revenge. With the cat minion, her klismos throne, and imperial robes, she could be her, if gods wore curl papers.
My brow scrunched, and I clutched the worn wood of the table. “Spy? Markham? What’s in place, ma’am?”
“Tea is one of those civilized English things. I think we should make some and then discuss my plans to secure your future with Lionel.”
“I don’t want tea. I want facts. Do you know that a duke has overtaken Hamlin Hall?”
“I do. I sent for him.”
My ears must have stopped working. I twiddled the lobe, more ashy cosmetic coming off on my thumbs. “What?”
“I’ve been waiting for Repington. This is part of my plan. I pray you haven’t ruined it.”
This wasn’t right.
Lady Shrewsbury lifted Athena and went toward the scullery. Her face held a broad smile, her lips pursed with an I-know-something-you-don’t arch.
Fire and nerves exploded in my middle. I trusted the countess, and she solicited armed soldiers to surround my baby. Clasping the table, I tried to make sense of it all, but the one thing I was sure of, my ability to detect good people from bad ones was surely broken.
Chapter 4, pages 31-34
- “Smart and witty . . . the perfect historical read.”—Julia Quinn, #1 New York Times bestselling author
- “One of the best historicals I’ve read in years.”—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author
- “Vanessa Riley at her finest.”—Sarah MacLean, New York Times bestselling author
- “Expertly crafted romance.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
Vanessa Riley writes Regency Romances and Historical Fiction of dazzling multi-culture communities with powerful persons of color. Vanessa writes for historical romance readers who admire and acquire books that showcase women who find joy in sweeping kisses and strong sisterhoods. Even in the darkness, she promises to give you laughs and to show you how light always prevails and how love always, always wins.
Vanessa juggles mothering a teen, cooking for her military-man husband, and speaking at women’s and STEM events. She’s known for her sweeping romances and humorous delivery of poignant truths. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her southern porch with a cup of Earl Grey tea.
A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby (Rogues and Remarkable Women Book 1), by Vanessa Riley
Zebra Books (June 30, 2020)
Trade paperback & eBook (320) pages
Cover image, book description, and excerpt compliments of Zebra © 2020; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2020, Austenprose.com