DUCK CHAT: Jennifer Ashley Is At It Again!

Thursday, April 2, 2009 10:00

Duck ChatReady for another round of Duck Chat? Welcome!

Today Jennifer Ashley is here to talk about her newest series, Highland Pleasures, which centers around four Mackenzie brothers.The first book, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, is due out next month. This is a very special book, one that will take you through a gamut of emotions, one that you should definitely read. Each brother will have his own book, so we’re destined for one heck of a journey with these Highlanders. Be sure to read my review that was posted just several days ago.

If you’re feeling lucky, be sure to leave a comment of substance because Dorchester is donating four — count’em, four! — ARCs of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie for a giveaway during our talk with Jennifer this week. So good luck!

Let’s chat with Jennifer!

Jennifer AshleyDUCK CHAT: My goodness, Jennifer, I just finished The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie and what a wonderful book you’ve got here. Let’s talk about the new series as a whole first, and then we’ll get to Ian. Would you share with us where the idea came from and how it eventually evolved.

JENNIFER ASHLEY: Thank you! The idea for Ian’s story came to me several years ago—I was pondering how difficult it must have been to have even a mild mental disability before psychology and psychiatry became household words (not that it’s easy now). But what was it like to have something like Asperger’s Syndrome in the past, before anyone knew what it was?

I’m also intrigued by bad boys, and I wanted to write a family of the most decadent, sinful, non-PC men I possibly could. These are not nice guys. The Mackenzie family, four brothers, each one dark and dangerous in his own way, took seed in my imagination.

I’ve “written” the Mackenzie stories in my head for years, and I’m thrilled to at last open the valve and let them out.

DC: If you could retire any question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.

JA: “Why do you write under so many pseudonyms?” LOL. I get asked that all the time.

The answer is—I didn’t set out to. I sold my first romances and mysteries on top of each other, and the publishers asked me to take two different names (Jennifer Ashley and Ashley Gardner).

When I wanted to try my hand at erotic romance, I became Allyson James, so I could play with that style of writing without alienating the audience I was already building. But readers liked Allyson’s stories, and I was surprised to find myself with yet another career on my hands.

The Laurien Gardner name was a one-time shot—Berkley invented an author name for their wives of Henry VIII series, and I wrote one of those books with that pseudonym (and won a RITA—wow.)

I’ve kind of streamlined to Jennifer and Allyson, but I haven’t given up hope that I can write more Ashley Gardner mysteries.

DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?

JA: Oh, yes. When I write the rough draft, I sit back and let the characters talk and let the story go where it needs to. I have ideas and plans and visions, but that’s a very different thing from constructing a story on paper. So I let the characters take over and tell me who they really are and where they want to go. I don’t outline very much–notes so I don’t lose track of things, but that’s about it. I let it happen, and then I fix it.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

DC: Ian Mackenzie. He’s such a tragic, terrific hero. First tell our readers a little about him. Why did you choose him to begin the series with instead of one of the other Mackenzie brothers?

JA: Lord Ian Mackenzie is the youngest of four sons of the Scottish Duke of Kilmorgan (note, the year is 1881). Ian’s father, for reasons that are revealed in the book, had Ian declared mad when he was ten and committed to an asylum. Ian stayed in the asylum for ten years, being released by his oldest brother Hart on the day their father died.

Ian has this amazing memory—he’s able to learn strings of numbers or pieces of music after hearing them only once. Hart uses him as kind of a human recorder, to remember conversations Hart has with political allies or rivals; Ian is also great with accounts.

Ian knows he’s not “normal,” but he’s rich enough that he can live his own life with help from his brothers and his loyal valet. He collects Ming bowls (never vases, and never any period but Ming), and he loves beautiful women (and they adore him).

My plan for the series is to start with Ian (the youngest) and work my way up to Hart (the oldest). Each brother has his own darkness, and as Ian observes in the book, they’re all a little bit obsessed; Ian’s madness is just the most obvious. Mac is a genius artist dealing with a broken marriage, Cameron is a genius horseman and a notorious womanizer, and Hart is a genius politician with some dark sexual inclinations.

I chose Ian, not only because of the youngest to oldest scheme, but also because his story was the first to leap into my head. The other brothers developed out of him.

Special, special treat – excerpt of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

Chapter One

London, 1881

“I find that a Ming bowl is like a woman’s breast,” Sir Lyndon Mather said to Ian Mackenzie, who held the bowl in question between his fingertips. “The swelling curve, the creamy pallor. Don’t you agree?”

Ian couldn’t think of a woman who would be flattered to have her breast compared to a bowl, so he didn’t bother to nod.

The delicate vessel was from the early Ming period, the porcelain barely flushed with green, the sides so thin Ian could see light through them. Three gray-green dragons chased one another across the outside, and four chrysanthemums seemed to float across the bottom.

The little vessel might just cup a small rounded breast, but that was as far as Ian was willing to go.

“One thousand guineas,” he said.

Mather’s smile turned sickly. “Now, my lord, I thought we were friends.”

Ian wondered where Mather had got that idea. “The bowl is worth one thousand guineas.” He fingered the slightly chipped rim, the base worn from centuries of handling.

Mather looked taken aback, blue eyes glittering in his overly handsome face.

“I paid fifteen hundred for it. Explain yourself.”

There was nothing to explain. Ian’s rapidly calculating mind had taken in every asset and flaw in ten seconds flat. If Mather couldn’t tell the value of his pieces, he had no business collecting porcelain. There were at least five fakes in the glass case on the other side of Mather’s collection room, and Ian wagered Mather had no idea.

Ian put his nose to the glaze, liking the clean scent that had survived the heavy cigar smoke of Mather’s house. The bowl was genuine, it was beautiful, and he wanted it.

“At least give me what I paid for it,” Mather said in a panicked voice. “The man told me I had it at a bargain.”

“One thousand guineas,” Ian repeated.

“Damn it, man, I’m getting married.”

Ian recalled the announcement in the Times——verbatim, because he recalled everything verbatim: Sir Lyndon Mather of St. Aubrey’s, Suffolk, announces his betrothal to Mrs. Thomas Ackerley, a widow. The wedding to be held on the twenty-seventh of June of this year in St. Aubrey’s at ten o’clock in the morning.

“My felicitations,” Ian said.

“I wish to buy my beloved a gift with what I get for the bowl.”

Ian kept his gaze on the vessel. “Why not give her the bowl itself?”

Mather’s hearty laugh filled the room. “My dear fellow, women don’t know the first thing about porcelain. She’ll want a carriage and a matched team and a string of servants to carry all the fripperies she buys. I’ll give her that. She’s a fine-looking woman, daughter of some froggie aristo, for all she’s long in the tooth and a widow.”

Ian didn’t answer. He touched the tip of his tongue to the bowl, reflecting that it was far better than ten carriages with matched teams. Any woman who didn’t see the poetry in it was a fool.

Mather wrinkled his nose as Ian tasted the bowl, but Ian had learned to test the genuineness of the glaze that way. Mather wouldn’t be able to tell a genuine glaze if someone painted him with it.

“She’s got a bloody fortune of her own,” Mather went on, “inherited from that Barrington woman, a rich old lady who didn’t keep her opinions to herself. Mrs. Ackerley, her quiet companion, copped the lot.”

Then why is she marrying you? Ian turned the bowl over in his hands as he speculated, but if Mrs. Ackerley wanted to make her bed with Lyndon Mather, she could lie in it. Of course, she might find the bed a little crowded. Mather kept a secret house for his mistress and several other women to cater to his needs, which he loved to boast about to Ian’s brothers. I’m as decadent as you lot, he was trying to say. But in Ian’s opinion, Mather understood pleasures of the flesh about as well as he understood Ming porcelain.

“Bet you’re surprised a dedicated bachelor like myself is for the chop, eh?” Mather went on. “If you’re wondering whether I’m giving up my bit of the other, the answer is no. You are welcome to come ’round and join in anytime, you know. I’ve extended the invitation to you, and your brothers as well.”

Ian had met Mather’s ladies, vacant-eyed women willing to put up with Mather’s proclivities for the money he gave them.

Mather reached for a cigar. “I say, we’re at Covent Garden Opera tonight. Come meet my fiancée. I’d like your opinion. Everyone knows you have as exquisite taste in females as you do in porcelain.” He chuckled.

Ian didn’t answer. He had to rescue the bowl from this philistine. “One thousand guineas.”

“You’re a hard man, Mackenzie.”

“One thousand guineas, and I’ll see you at the opera.”

“Oh, very well, though you’re ruining me.”

He’d ruined himself. “Your widow has a fortune. You’ll recover.”

Mather laughed, his handsome face lighting. Ian had seen women of every age blush or flutter fans when Mather smiled. Mather was the master of the double life.

“True, and she’s lovely to boot. I’m a lucky man.”

Mather rang for his butler and Ian’s valet, Curry. Curry produced a wooden box lined with straw, into which Ian carefully placed the dragon bowl.

Ian hated to cover up such beauty. He touched it one last time, his gaze fixed on it until Curry broke his concentration by placing the lid on the box.

He looked up to find that Mather had ordered the butler to pour brandy. Ian accepted a glass and sat down in front of the bankbook Curry had placed on Mather’s desk for him.

Ian set aside the brandy and dipped his pen in the ink. He bent down to write and caught sight of the droplet of black ink hanging on the nib in a perfect, round sphere.

He stared at the droplet, something inside him singing at the perfection of the ball of ink, the glistening viscosity that held it suspended from the nib. The sphere was perfect, shining, a wonder.

He wished he could savor its perfection forever, but he knew that in a second it would fall from the pen and be lost. If his brother Mac could paint something this exquisite, this beautiful, Ian would treasure it.

He had no idea how long he’d sat there studying the droplet of ink until he heard Mather say, “Damnation, he really is mad, isn’t he?”

The droplet fell down, down, down to splash on the page, gone to its death in a splatter of black ink.

“I’ll write it out for you, then, m’lord?”

Ian looked into the homely face of his manservant, a young Cockney who’d spent his boyhood pickpocketing his way across London.

Ian nodded and relinquished the pen. Curry turned the bankbook toward him and wrote the draft in careful capitals. He dipped the pen again and handed it back to Ian, holding the nib down so Ian wouldn’t see the ink.

Ian signed his name painstakingly, feeling the weight of Mather’s stare.

“Does he do that often?” Mather asked as Ian rose, leaving Curry to blot the paper.

Curry’s cheekbones stained red. “No ’arm done, sir.”

Ian lifted his glass and swiftly drank down the brandy, then took up the box. “I will see you at the opera.”

He didn’t shake hands on his way out. Mather frowned, but gave Ian a nod. Lord Ian Mackenzie, brother to the Duke of Kilmorgan, socially outranked him, and Mather was acutely aware of social rank.

Once in his carriage, Ian set the box beside him. He could feel the bowl inside, round and perfect, filling a niche in himself.

“I know it ain’t me place to say,” Curry said from the opposite seat as the carriage jerked forward into the rainy streets. “But the man’s a right bastard. Not fit for you to wipe your boots on. Why even have truck with him?”

Ian caressed the box. “I wanted this piece.”

“You do have a way of getting what you want, no mistake, m’lord. Are we really meeting him at the opera?”

“I’ll sit in Hart’s box.” Ian flicked his gaze over Curry’s baby-innocent face and focused safely on the carriage’s velvet wall. “Find out everything you can about a Mrs. Ackerley, a widow now betrothed to Sir Lyndon Mather. Tell me about it tonight.”

“Oh, aye? Why are we so interested in the right bastard’s fiancée?”

Ian ran his fingertips lightly over the box again. “I want to know if she’s exquisite porcelain or a fake.”

Curry winked. “Right ye are, guv. I’ll see what I can dig up.”

#

Lyndon Mather was all that was handsome and charming, and heads turned when Beth Ackerley walked by on his arm at Covent Garden Opera House.

Mather had a pure profile, a slim, athletic body, and a head of golden hair that ladies longed to run their fingers through. His manners were impeccable, and he charmed everyone he met. He had a substantial income, a lavish house on Park Lane, and he was received by the highest of the high. An excellent choice for a lady of unexpected fortune looking for a second husband.

Even a lady of unexpected fortune tires of being alone,Beth thought as she entered Mather’s luxurious box behind his elderly aunt and companion. She’d known Mather for several years, his aunt and her employer being fast friends. He wasn’t the most exciting of gentlemen, but Beth didn’t want exciting. No drama, she promised herself. She’d had enough drama to last a lifetime.

Now Beth wanted comfort; she’d learned how to run a houseful of servants, and she’d perhaps have the chance to have the children she’d always longed for. Her first marriage nine years ago had produced none, but then, poor Thomas had died barely a year after they’d taken their vows. He’d been so ill, he hadn’t even been able to say good-bye.

The opera had begun by the time they settled into Sir Lyndon’s box. The young woman onstage had a beautiful soprano voice and an ample body with which to project it. Beth was soon lost in the rapture of the music. Mather left the box ten minutes after they’d entered, as he usually did. He liked to spend his nights at the theatre seeing everyone of importance and being seen with them. Beth didn’t mind. She’d grown used to sitting with elderly matrons and preferred it to exchanging inanities with glittering society ladies. Oh, darling did you hear? Lady Marmaduke had three inches of lace on her dress instead of two. Can you imagine anything more vulgar? And her pleats were limp, my darling, absolutely limp. Such important information.

Beth fanned herself and enjoyed the music while Mather’s aunt and her companion tried to make sense of the plot of La Traviata. Beth reflected that they thought nothing of an outing to the theatre, but to a girl growing up in the East End, it was anything but ordinary. Beth loved music, and imbibed it any way she could, though she thought herself only a mediocre musician. No matter, she could listen to others play and enjoy it just fine. Mather liked to go to the theatre, to the opera, to musicales, so Beth’s new life would have much music in it.

Her enjoyment was interrupted by Mather’s noisy return to the box. “My dear,” he said in a loud voice, “I’ve brought you my very close friend Lord Ian Mackenzie. Give him your hand, darling. His brother is the Duke of Kilmorgan, you know.”

Beth looked past Mather at the tall man who’d entered the box behind him, and her entire world stopped.

Lord Ian was a big man, his body solid muscle, the hand that reached to hers huge in a kid leather glove. His shoulders were wide, his chest broad, and the dim light touched his dark hair with red. His face was as hard as his body, but his eyes set Ian Mackenzie apart from every other person Beth had ever met.

She at first thought his eyes were light brown, but when Mather almost shoved him down into the chair at Beth’s side, she saw that they were golden. Not hazel, but amber like brandy, flecked with gold as though the sun danced on them.

“This is my Mrs. Ackerley,” Mather was saying. “What do you think, eh? I told you she was the best-looking woman in London.”

Lord Ian ran a quick glance over Beth’s face, then fixed his gaze at a point somewhere beyond the box. He still held her hand, his grip firm, the pressure of his fingers just shy of painful.

He didn’t agree or disagree with Mather, a bit rudely, Beth thought. Even if Lord Ian didn’t clutch his breast and declare Beth the most beautiful woman since Elaine of Camelot, he ought to at least give some polite answer.

Instead he sat in stony silence. He still held Beth’s hand, and his thumb traced the pattern of stitching on the back of her glove. Over and over the thumb moved, hot, quick patterns, the pressure pulsing heat through her limbs.

“If he told you I was the most beautiful woman in London, I fear you were much deceived,” Beth said rapidly. “I apologize if he misled you.”

Lord Ian’s gaze flicked over her, a small frown on his face, as though he had no idea what she was talking about.

“Don’t crush the poor woman, Mackenzie,” Mather said jovially. “She’s fragile, like one of your Ming bowls.”

“Oh, do you have an interest in porcelain, my lord?” Beth grasped at something to say. “Sir Lyndon has shown me his collection.”

“Mackenzie is one of the foremost authorities,” Mather said with a trace of envy.

“Are you?” Beth asked.

Lord Ian flicked another glance over her. “Yes.”

He sat no closer to her than Mather did, but Beth’s awareness of him screamed at her. She could feel his hard knee against her skirts, the firm pressure of his thumb on her hand, the weight of his not-stare.

A woman wouldn’t be comfortable with this man, she thought with a shiver. There would be drama aplenty. She sensed that in the restlessness of his body, the large, warm hand that gripped her own, the eyes that wouldn’t quite meet hers. Should she pity the woman those eyes finally rested on? Or envy her?

Beth’s tongue tripped along. “Sir Lyndon has lovely things. When I touch a piece that an emperor held hundreds of years ago, I feel … I’m not sure. Close to him, I think. Quite privileged.”

Sparks of gold flashed as Ian looked at her a bare instant. “You must come view my collection.” He had a slight Scots accent, his voice low and gravel-rough.

“Love to, old chap,” Mather said. “I’ll see when we are free.”

Mather lifted his opera glasses to study the large-bosomed soprano, and Lord Ian’s gaze moved to him. The disgust and intense dislike in Lord Ian’s unguarded expression startled Beth. Before she could speak, Lord Ian leaned to her. The heat of his body touched her like a sharp wave, bringing with it the scent of shaving soap and male spice. She’d forgotten how heady was the scent of a man. Mather always covered himself with cologne.

“Read it out of his sight.”

Lord Ian’s breath grazed Beth’s ear, warming things inside her that hadn’t been touched in nine long years. His fingers slid beneath the opening of her glove above her elbow, and she felt the folded edge of paper scrape her bare arm. She stared at Lord Ian’s golden eyes so near hers, watching his pupils widen before he flicked his gaze away again.

He sat up, his face smooth and expressionless. Mather turned to Ian with a comment about the singer, noticing nothing.

Lord Ian abruptly rose. The warm pressure left Beth’s hand, and she realized he’d been holding it the entire time.

“Going already, old chap?” Mather asked in surprise.

“My brother is waiting.”

Mather’s eyes gleamed. “The duke?”

“My brother Cameron and his son.”

“Oh.” Mather looked disappointed, but he stood and renewed the promise to bring Beth to see Ian’s collection.

Without saying good night, Ian moved past the empty chairs and out of the box. Beth’s gaze wouldn’t leave Lord Ian’s back until the blank door closed behind him. She was very aware of the folded paper pressing the inside of her arm and the trickle of sweat forming under it.

Mather sat down next to Beth and blew out his breath. “There, my dear, goes an eccentric.”

Beth curled her fingers in her gray taffeta skirt, her hand cold without Lord Ian’s around it. “An eccentric?”

“Mad as a hatter. Poor chap lived in a private asylum most of his life, and he runs free now only because his brother the duke let him out again. But don’t worry.” Mather took Beth’s hand. “You won’t have to see him without me present. The entire family is scandalous. Never speak to any of them without me, my dear, all right?”

Beth murmured something noncommittal. She had at least heard of the Mackenzie family, the hereditary Dukes of Kilmorgan, because old Mrs. Barrington had adored gossip about the aristocracy. The Mackenzies had featured in many of the scandal sheets that Beth read out to Mrs. Barrington on rainy nights.

Lord Ian hadn’t seemed entirely mad to her, although he certainly was like no man she’d ever met. Mather’s hand in hers felt limp and cool, while the hard pressure of Lord Ian’s had heated her in a way she hadn’t felt in a long time. Beth missed the intimacy she’d felt with Thomas, the long, warm nights in bed with him. She knew she’d share a bed with Mather, but the thought had never stirred her blood. She reasoned that what she’d had with Thomas was special and magical, and she couldn’t expect to feel it with any other man. So why had her breath quickened when Lord Ian’s lilting whisper had touched her ear; why had her heart beat faster when he’d moved his thumb over the back of her hand?

No. Lord Ian was drama, Mather, safety. She would choose safety. She had to.

Mather managed to stay still for five minutes, then rose again. “Must pay my respects to Lord and Lady Beresford. You don’t mind, do you, m’dear?”

“Of course not,” Beth said automatically.

“You are a treasure, my darling. I always told dear Mrs. Barrington how sweet and polite you were.” Mather kissed Beth’s hand, then left the box.

The soprano began an aria, the notes filling every space of the opera house. Behind her, Mather’s aunt and her companion put their heads together behind fans, whispering, whispering.

Beth worked her fingers under the edge of her long glove and pulled out the piece of paper. She put her back squarely to the elderly ladies and quietly unfolded the note.

Mrs. Ackerley, it began in a careful, neat hand.

I make bold to warn you of the true character of Sir Lyndon Mather, with whom my brother the Duke of Kilmorgan is well acquainted. I wish to tell you that Mather keeps a house just off the Strand near Temple Bar, where he has women meet him, several at a time. He calls the women his “sweeties” and begs them to use him as their slave. They are not regular courtesans but women who need the money enough to put up with him. I have listed five of the women he regularly meets, should you wish to have them questioned, or I can arrange for you to speak to the duke.

I remain,

Yours faithfully,

Ian Mackenzie

The soprano flung open her arms, building the last note of the aria to a wild crescendo, until it was lost in a burst of applause.

Beth stared at the letter, the noise in the opera house smothering. The words on the page didn’t change, remaining painfully black against stark white.

Her breath poured back into her lungs, sharp and hot. She glanced quickly at Mather’s aunt, but the old lady and her companion were applauding and shouting, “Brava! Brava!”

Beth rose, shoving the paper back into her glove. The small box with its cushioned chairs and tea tables seemed to tilt as she groped her way to the door.

Mather’s aunt glanced at her in surprise. “Are you all right, my dear?”

“I just need some air. It’s close in here.”

Mather’s aunt began to fumble among her things. “Do you need smelling salts? Alice, do help me.”

“No, no.” Beth opened the door and hurried out as Mather’s aunt began to chastise her companion. “I shall be quite all right.”

The gallery outside was deserted, thank heavens. The soprano was a popular one, and most of the attendees were fixed to their chairs, avidly watching her.

Beth hurried along the gallery, hearing the singer start up again. Her vision blurred, and the paper in her glove burned her arm.

What did Lord Ian mean by writing her such a letter? He was an eccentric, Mather had said—was that the explanation? But if the accusations in the letter were the ravings of a madman, why would Lord Ian offer to arrange for Beth to meet with his brother? The Duke of Kilmorgan was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Britain—he was the Duke of Kilmorgan in the peerage of Scotland, which went back to 1300-something, and his father had been made Duke of Kilmorgan in the peerage of England by Queen Victoria herself.

Why should such a lofty man care about nobodies like Beth Ackerley and Lyndon Mather? Surely both she and Mather were far beneath a duke’s notice.

No, the letter was too bizarre. It had to be a lie, an invention.

And yet … Beth thought of times she’d caught Mather looking at her as though he’d done something clever. Growing up in the East End, having the father she’d had, had given Beth the ability to spot a confidence trickster at ten paces. Had the signs been there with Sir Lyndon Mather, and she’d simply chosen to ignore them?

But, no, it couldn’t be true. She’d come to know Mather well when she’d been companion to elderly Mrs. Barrington. She and Mrs. Barrington had ridden with Mather in his carriage, visited him and his aunt at his Park Lane house, had him escort them to musicales. He’d never behaved toward Beth with anything but politeness due a rich old lady’s companion, and after Mrs. Barrington’s death, he’d proposed to Beth.

After I inherited Mrs. Barrington’s fortune, a cynical voice reminded her.

What did Lord Ian mean by sweeties? He begs them to use him as their slave.

Beth’s whalebone corset was too tight, cutting off the breath she sorely needed. Black spots swam before her eyes, and she put her hand out to steady herself.

A strong grip closed around her elbow. “Careful,” a Scottish voice grated in her ear. “Come with me.”

DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?

JA: I argue, but I let them win. I have to say that Ian was very difficult to pin down. I wrote eight different openings (sometime reaching 100 pages before I threw them away) until I figured out how to tell Ian’s story.

DC: Of course, there has to be a special heroine for such a hero as Ian. Beth Ackerley is perfect for him. Please tell us about her.

JA: Beth Ackerley’s mother was the daughter of a respectable country gentleman. Beth’s father was a roguish French conman (who told everyone he was a viscount). Beth’s mother was disowned by her family when she eloped with him.

Beth, half-French, had a love-hate relationship with her father, who was an alcoholic. He died, leaving Beth and her mother destitute. They found themselves in a workhouse, where Beth’s mother too died. Beth got work as a teacher in the East End, where she met and married a cheerful vicar of the local parish.

But alas, poor Beth—the husband she loved quickly died, and she was penniless again. But a rich old lady she’d met through her charity work liked her and hired Beth as a companion. The eccentric old Mrs. Barrington had no heirs and she willed her entire (substantial) fortune to Beth.

At the beginning of the book, Beth finds herself with money and freedom. She misses her husband terribly (including the physical joys of the marriage bed). She at first thinks she wants to marry again but then decides to travel instead,for reasons explained in the book—Ian is a big reason!

Anyway, it took me a long time to find Beth, but I really like her. She’s been through the wringer, but she’s ready to embrace life. She’s kind, but at the same time, she doesn’t let the decadent, powerful, uber-alpha Mackenzie men walk all over her.

DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?

JA: So many things! The pile of books I have beckoning me to read them. DVDs of cool TV shows. My cats up to something… Someone asking me out to lunch. Surfing the Net. The great need to organize my sock drawer. I am so easily distracted.

DC: Let’s talk about Ian’s “madness.” With the description of his symptoms throughout the book, I wasn’t sure if his problem was perhaps OCD or maybe even autism, even with the little bit of research I did. He seemed to have symptoms of both. What is his madness and why did you choose to give him such an affliction?

JA: Ian has Asperger’s Syndrome. According to the NINDS, Asperger’s is a an “autism spectrum disorder,” and it shares some symptoms with OCD. AS can present differently in different people—there aren’t hard and fast symptoms that occur in every person. Some symptoms are: inability to make eye contact, obsession with details while ignoring overall concepts, obsession with routine, inability to read non-verbal cues, and not understanding subtext (e.g., sarcasm, jokes, or teasing). Some AS people might be just fine at making eye contact but have trouble speaking with inflection.

Writing a character who can’t make eye contact and who speaks in non sequiturs was a challenge, let me tell you!

DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?

JA: Funnily enough, my heroines have come full circle. When I was trying to get published, I wrote Regencies and Georgians about courtesans. The advice I got at the time (about 10 years ago), was “No!! You can’t write that!!! Aaahhh!!!! I believed them, dumped my courtesans and learned how to write proper young ladies.

Well, now look around—see all the courtesan books? I call that so unfair.*g* (My fault for listening.) Anyway, I never have been able to write completely “good” girls. Most of my heroines are sexually aware and sexually curious whether or not they’re experienced.

I’m happy to see that romance heroines in general have evolved. Heroines no longer have to fear sex or be so innocent they’re surprised men have dangly bits. They can be interested in sex and the pleasure of it, even if they’ve never experienced it firsthand.

I love unconventional heroines (unconventional characters in general), and the heroines for the Mackenzie books are not your average heroines. Plus they have to be strong enough to take the Mackenzies. I’m enjoying this!

That said, yes, I do believe my heroines have evolved. The proper young ladies have kicked off their shackles.

DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?

JA: I’ve not done romantic suspense, though I cheated and did it somewhat in Immortals: The Redeeming. I would like to return to straight mystery/thrillers and do a police detective series. But for now I’m enjoying what I’m writing.

DC: I really enjoyed how Ian’s brothers loved and protected him. Can you tell us a bit about Hart, Cameron, and Mac and what we can expect to see concerning them in the future of the series?

JA: I plan the books as follows:

Book 2. Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage (Mac)
Book 3. The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Cam)
Book 4. The Duke Takes a Wife (Hart)

Mac and Isabella will struggle back together in Mac’s book (very intense journey there). Cameron will find himself aiding a married woman he thought he hated (you’ll meet her in Mac’s book).

Hart, who is very powerful in politics, decides that if he’s going to become Prime Minister, he needs a respectable wife, one of whom Queen Victoria will approve. Lady Eleanor Ramsay jilted Hart years ago, not liking his sexual proclivities, but she’s the perfect woman to be his duchess. And Hart has reformed… hasn’t he?

All the brothers play a part in each other’s books. There’s an underlying love between the four of them that endures through their hardships.

DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?

JA: Don’t be afraid to take chances. Life is short—do it now.

DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?

JA: Good question! Either I’d be in a cubicle job trying to get a raise, or, if I was daring, chuck it all and try to sell miniatures and dollhouses (my obsessive hobby). Or I’d concentrate on my music skills and try to be a professional musician. Maybe. My whole life has been so geared to being a professional writer that I’m not sure what else I would do.

Lightning Round:

- dark or milk chocolate?
Dark!!!!
- smooth or chunky peanut butter?
Smooth. I don’t like chunks.
- heels or flats?
Flats. I love heels, but they hurt!
- coffee or tea?
Tea. Iced. Loose leaf. Not instant.
- summer or winter?
Summer—love the heat!
- mountains or beach?
Beach. Because of the heat.
- mustard or mayonnaise?
Hard one. Mmmmmmm. Can I have honey mustard?
- flowers or candy?
Flowers. Pretty.
- pockets or purse?
I like pockets so I don’t have to keep track of a purse. But purses can carry books and iPods.
- Pepsi or Coke?
Neither. Iced tea. Sweet drinks, bleck.
- ebook or print?
Love them both

And just because they’re fun:

1. What is your favorite word?
Indubitably

2. What is your least favorite word?
Rueful/Ruefully

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Good music

4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Bad music

5. What sound or noise do you love?
Ocean

6. What sound or noise do you hate?
^@&$ ice cream trucks that go through my neighborhood 365 days a year.

7. What is your favorite curse word?
F*ck. Usually followed by “you.”

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Musician

9. What profession would you not like to do?
Accounting. I’d stink at it.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you
arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“What took you so long?”

JA: Thanks for the interview!!

DC:  Thank you, Jennifer!  It was a joy talking to you.

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