DUCK CHAT: Share Some History with Nicola Cornick

Tuesday, August 4, 2009 10:00
Posted in category Excerpt, Guests and Events

Duck ChatWelcome back to Duck Chat!You’re in for a treat today – Nicola Cornick is with us!

Nicola has a terrific backlist of books, but it’s her latest Brides of Fortune trilogy that has her excited nowadays, and she’d like to tell you about them, along with having some fun with all of you. The trilogy actually starts with a prequel, The Secrets of a Courtesan, which is in ebook only from eHarlequin. Then The Confessions of a Duchess, The Scandals of an Innocent, and finally The Undoing of a Lady round out the series. Nicola tells us all about them today.

Nicola started her writing career in 1998 when she was first published by Mills & Boon.  She’ has a passion for history, studied Medieval history, and her dissertation was on heroes, which she knows a little bit about! She is married, lives in the countryside of Oxfordshire, England with her husband and their many pets. Geneology is a favorite pasttime, and she works for the National Trust for the famed Ashdown House, which has been the inspiration for a couple of her books.

So if you love to read Regency romance, you need to talk to Nicola today. Be sure to leave that meaningful comment because she’s giving away one complete set of her Brides of Fortune trilogy. Now let’s chat!

Nicola CornickDUCK CHAT: Nicola, let’s talk about your latest releases, your Brides of Fortune trilogy. Tell us first about the series as a whole, where the idea for it came from, did it evolve as you envisioned when you first started writing, and anything else you’d like to tell us about it.

NICOLA CORNICK: Even though I write historical fiction, I get a lot of my ideas from contemporary newspapers and magazines. A couple of years ago I read about a village in England where someone had bought the title of Lord of the Manor and then discovered that he could impose lots of ancient taxes on the villagers. He started to charge them for walking their dogs on the village green and for parking their cars when they went shopping. Naturally there was uproar with the villagers rebelling. I thought this would be great idea to explore in a Regency series and so the Brides of Fortune trilogy was born! Sir Montague Fortune imposes an ancient tax on the villagers that means that every lady has to marry or lose half of her dowry. Penniless gentlemen come flocking to the village and so Fortune’s Folly becomes the marriage mart of England!

The series didn’t really evolve as I had planned it because my books never do. Although I had ideas about the underlying murder mystery I had no notion who the murderer was going to be or how that sub-plot would develop. And although I had a rough outline for each story, they all surprised me with the way that they grew and changed in the writing.

DC: The first book in the trilogy is The Confessions of a Duchess and it’s about Laura, the Duchess of Cole, and Dexter Anstruther, both of whom we met in Unmasked. Please tell our readers about them and their story.

NC: After Unmasked came out I had so many emails from readers asking for Laura’s story that I couldn’t resist. Confessions of a Duchess is set four years after Unmasked and Laura has retired to live quietly in the country with her young daughter Hattie. Then her former lover, Dexter Anstruther, comes back into Laura’s life and turns everything upside down. Dexter and Laura parted on bad terms and now he has to marry a rich heiress to save his family but despite knowing that he has to marry for duty, Dexter finds it hard to resist his attraction to Laura. There are so many secrets keeping them apart and so many reasons why they cannot be together, not least that Laura is eight years Dexter’s senior and she thinks that to have a toy boy lover is totally scandalous!

The Confessions of a Duchess

Excerpt from Confessions of a Duchess:

He heard a knock and a step in the doorway and turned to find Laura there, her arms full of clothes. She was staring at his naked torso and a deep pink colour stained her cheeks. There was confusion and shock in her eyes. The clothes slipped from her hands and she made a grab for

them even whilst her gaze was still riveted on him.

“I’ve brought… Um… Did you…”

Dexter was surprised that she was acting like a startled virgin when she was an experienced woman, a widow with a child. Surely there was no need for any pretence between them after all that had happened? And surely she did not possess an ounce of modesty? In bed with him four years previously she had been open and generous, warm and wanton. Her sweet, seductive shamelessness had been one of the reasons that he had fallen so disastrously in love with her. It had seemed so honest and unguarded at the time.

But she had put him right quickly enough on that score. She had no use for him and his devotion, so she had said. And when she had had him in her bed once it seemed that she had no further use for him in that respect either.

“It would be best for you to leave now,” she had said in the morning, with a cool, aristocratic disdain that had made him feel utterly insignificant. “I would not wish the servants to find you here…”

Yet now it seemed that she had forgotten her indifference to him, since she was staring like a woman who had never seen a half-naked man before and looking flustered and more than a little intrigued. Her glance stirred something sensual in Dexter, reviving the fire he had only just managed to damp down.

Somewhere at the back of his mind a voice was cautioning him that to take this any further would be dangerous and irresponsible. He ignored it. He wanted to know if what he had experienced before with Laura had been no more than vivid imagining. He needed to know. Once he had exorcised the power she had over him, once he had proved that there was nothing special about Laura at all, he would be free of the past and this curious hold she seemed to have over him. And this time he could control his feelings. This was not like the time four years before when he had been an inexperienced youth. He was at no risk of falling in love with Laura Cole all over again.

Very deliberately he bent down and eased off his boots. When he straightened up Laura was still staring. With calculated intent he started to unfasten his trousers.

“Did you want me to take these off as well?” His voice had a rough edge to it.

Laura’s eyes met his and there was a confused and heated expression in them that made the lust slam through him, tightening its grip on him even as he cautioned himself not to lose control.

“Stop! No!” Laura seemed to wake from a trance. She thrust the pile of clothes down on the table and glared at him. “What are you doing?”

“I am removing my wet clothes,” Dexter said. He allowed his gaze to drift over her appraisingly. “You should do the same, your grace. You look,” his voice dropped, “most dishevelled.”

He saw Laura swallow hard. Her hazel eyes darkened further and the unconscious desire in them sent another jolt of lust through him. The warmth of the room, the intimacy of the small space, the heady scent of lavender and his semi-nakedness were a powerful blend. Dexter took a step towards her.

He had not intended this when first they had met. He had certainly not meant to provoke Laura or tease her or make love to her. Such a course of action was completely irrational. But she was standing there with her hair tumbled about her shoulders and the damned gown still clinging to every curve and he wanted her. He wanted her with all the raw longing he had known four years before. And he wanted to prove that he could master that longing and take one kiss and that it would mean absolutely nothing.

He took another step towards Laura. She took a step back so that she was trapped between his body and the warming room door. She was clutching the pile of garments to her breast now like armour.

“Mr Anstruther,” Laura’s voice was a thread of sound, “this is most improper.”

“You were swift enough to help me out of my clothes the last time we met,” Dexter said, “and you know that your concessions to propriety are only for outward show.”

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

NC: “When are you going to write a proper book?”
I prefer writing the improper ones.

DC: The Scandals of an Innocent is the next book where we meet Alice and Miles. Can you give us a look inside their book?

NC: Alice is a former housemaid who inherited her late employer’s money so she is struggling with the snobbish attitudes of some members of society towards her – they look down on her socially, even though they’d quite like to have her fortune! One of Fortune Folly’s penniless adventurers, Miles Vickery, decides to blackmail Alice into marriage and sets out to seduce her. Miles is an out and out rake, a real scoundrel, but Alice is determined to reform him so it is a battle of hearts. I have to confess that Miles is probably my favorite of the trilogy heroes! Although I love heroes who have integrity and a strong code of honor, I am a total sucker for rake heroes and Miles is a very, very bad boy indeed. He totally does not want to reform and fights really hard against it but Alice is no pampered society miss, she’s got a tough background, and she’s not going to just let Miles walk in and take what he wants.

The Scandals of an Innocent

Excerpt from The Scandals of an Innocent:

The Village of Fortune’s Folly Yorkshire, February 1810

Alice Lister was not cut out for a life of crime.

She had not even committed the robbery yet and already her palms were damp with anxiety and her heart was beating light and fast.

This, Alice thought, as she tried to calm her breath, is a very big mistake.

There was no going back. That was the coward’s way. Bravely she raised her lantern to illuminate the interior of the darkened gown shop. She had broken into the workroom at the back of the premises. There was a long table with piles of fabric heaped up on one end. A half-finished gown was draped across a stool, the pale silk glimmering in the light. Paper patterns rustled and fluttered in the draft from the open window. Ribbons uncurled on the floor. Sprays of artificial flowers wilted in a corner. Lace trimmings wafted their ghostly fingers against Alice’s cheek, making her jump. The whole place with its unnatural silence and its darkness made her think of a sinister fairy story in which the gowns would come to life and dance in front of her—and she would run screaming from the shop straight into the arms of the night watch. Yes indeed, burgling Madame Claudine’s gown shop was not for the fainthearted.

Not that this was theft, precisely. Alice reminded herself that the wedding gown she was hunting had been bought and paid for. It would have been delivered in the normal manner had Madame Claudine not gone out of business so abruptly and shut up her shop in the face of all inquiries from her anxious clientele. The modiste had disappeared one night, leaving nothing but a pile of debts and bitter words for those of her aristocratic customers who lived on credit. The contents of Madame Claudine’s gown shop had been declared the property of the moneylenders, and all the stock impounded. This was particularly unfair to Alice’s friend Mary Wheeler, for Mary’s father had paid the bill already with the same promptness he had paid a gentleman to marry Mary. Sir James Wheeler had been one of many to take advantage of the Dames’ Tax, the wholly outrageous edict leveled the previous year by the squire of Fortune’s Folly, Sir Montague Fortune. Sir Monty had discovered an ancient tax that had entitled him to half the dowry of every unmarried woman who lived in the village of Fortune’s Folly— unless they wed within a twelvemonth. Sir James Wheeler had been only one of many fathers who had seen this as an opportunity to get his daughter off the shelf and off his hands, parceled away to the first fortune hunter who asked.

Mary Wheeler had been distraught to hear of the gown shop’s closure. In the months of her betrothal she had managed to persuade herself that hers was a love match despite the fact that her ghastly fiancé, Lord Armitage, had returned to London and was carousing in much the same way as he had before their betrothal. With the wedding date only a matter of weeks away, Mary had taken the whole thing as a bad omen. And to be fair, Alice thought, marrying Lord Armitage was a poor enough proposition without getting off on the wrong foot….

“Alice? Have you found it yet?” The urgent whisper brought Alice back to the present and she raised the lantern again, scanning the piles of clothing hopelessly, for there were so many gowns and they were as tumbled as though a wintry gale had blown through the shop.

“Not yet, Lizzie.” Alice tiptoed across to the open window where her coconspirator, Lady Elizabeth Scarlet, was keeping watch in the passage at the side of the shop. This whole venture had been Elizabeth’s idea, of course. It was she who had thought it the most marvelous scheme to go to Madame Claudine’s shop and simply take Mary’s wedding gown. After all, Lizzie had reasoned, the gown belonged to Mary and she had set her heart on wearing it at the wedding, and even if they had to break in to take it, no one would know and right was on their side.

It had been another of Lady Elizabeth’s astound-ingly bad ideas. Alice shook her head to have been so easily led. Naturally, once they had reached the shop it became apparent that Lizzie was too tall to squeeze through the window and it was Alice who was the one who had to break in.

“What is keeping you?” Lizzie sounded decidedly testy, and Alice felt her temper prick in response.

“I’m doing my best,” she whispered crossly. “There is a mountain of gowns in here.”

“You are looking for one in white silk with silver lace and silver ribbons,” Lizzie reminded her. “Surely it cannot be so hard to find? How many gowns are there, anyway?”

“Only about two hundred. This is a gown shop, Lizzie. The clue is in the name….”

Sighing, Alice grabbed the next pile of dresses and hurriedly sorted through them. Silver with pink trimmings. White with green embroidery…golden gauze…that was pretty…white and silver with silver ribbons— Alice snatched up the wedding gown even as Lizzie’s agonized whisper floated up to her.

“Alice! Quick! Someone is coming!”

With a muttered and very unladylike curse, Alice ran for the window, squeezed through the gap at the bottom of the sash and struggled to climb out and down into the street. It was only a drop of about four feet, and she was wearing boy’s britches, borrowed from the wardrobe of her brother, Lowell, which made movement a great deal freer and easier. But as she tried to ease her leg over the sill the britches caught on something and stuck fast.

“Alice!” Lizzie’s hissing held a note of panic now. “Come on! Someone is almost upon us!” She caught Alice’s arms and tugged hard. Alice heard the material of the britches rip. She wriggled free for a few painful inches and then stuck fast again. She was not a slender girl and every one of her curves currently felt as though it was squashed into too small a space. The edge of the windowsill dug painfully into her hip. She dangled there helplessly, one leg out of the window, the other on the sill. She could hear footsteps coming ever closer, their measured tread loud on the cobbles of the road.

“He will see us,” Lizzie groaned.

“He will certainly hear you,” Alice said crossly. Lizzie’s idea of being quiet seemed to equate to behaving like a bull in a china shop. “If you will cease that pulling and pushing and keep still and quiet for a moment, he will pass by the end of the alley. And put the lantern out!” she added fiercely.

It was too late.

She heard the footsteps stop. There was quiet for a moment; quiet in which Alice’s breathing seemed loud in her own ears and the window ledge creaked in protest beneath her weight. She lay still like a hunted animal. Instinct told her that the man, too, was watching and waiting….

“Run, Lizzie!” Alice gasped. “I am right behind you!” She gave her friend a shove that sent Lady Elizabeth stumbling off down the passage even as everything seemed to explode into noise and movement around her. A man came running out of the darkness, and Alice wrenched herself free of the ledge and tumbled headlong on top of him, wrapping them both in the silky, voluminous folds of the wedding gown as they fell to the ground. As an ambush it could scarcely have been more effective had she tried.

Alice scrambled up, lost her footing on the slippery folds of material and fell to her knees. The man was quicker. His arms went about her, scooping her up and then holding her fast against him, so that all her kicking and pummeling was quite in vain. His grip was too tight to break, as taut as steel bands about her waist and back. Her struggles were embarrassingly puny against such quiet, almost casual, strength.

“Hold still, urchin,” he said. His voice was mellow and deep, and he sounded carelessly amused, but there was nothing careless in the way that he held her. Alice could tell she was not going to be able to break his grip. She also sensed by instinct that this was no drunken lord returning home after a night’s entertainment at the Morris Clown Inn. There was something too powerful and purposeful about him—something too dangerous to dismiss easily.

She was in deep trouble.

Fear clawed at her chest as she frantically tried to think of a way to escape him. Her whole body was shaking with fear and panic and a desperate need to flee. She stopped struggling and went limp in his arms in an attempt to trick him into loosening his grip, but he was evidently too old a hand to fall for the ruse, for he simply laughed.

“So docile all of a sudden? Listen, boy—” He stopped.

Held so close to him, Alice could feel the hard muscles of his body tense against her own and she recognized the precise moment that he realized, despite the evidence of her attire, that she was not a boy at all.

“Well, well…” The amusement was still in his voice, but it had a different quality to it now. He shifted, his chest unyielding against the betraying softness of her breasts, his hand moving intimately over the curve of her bottom where the rip in her britches exposed rather more bare skin than she would have wanted. His grip on her slackened, not much, but enough for Alice to wrench herself from his arms and turn to run.

It was the treacherous wedding dress that foiled her again. Wrapping itself about her ankles, it tripped her so that she staggered and almost fell. The man caught her arm in a savage grip, spinning her around so that her back was against the rough brick wall of the alley. Alice gasped as the pain jolted through her, and gasped again as he deliberately brought his body into closer contact with hers, holding her pinned against the wall with his hips, his hands braced on either side of her head. She was trapped, caged. A long shiver went down her spine that was neither fear nor cold.

The man took her chin in his hand and turned her toward the pale light of the lantern. His face was only inches away from hers, the harsh lines and planes shadowed in the darkness. She could feel the beat of his heart against her breast, feel his breath against her skin and the press of his lower body, lean and…

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?

NC: One of the joys of writing is when your story takes off in a direction you haven’t foreseen or dialogue pops into your head and you can’t pin down the source but you like it! My characters constantly surprise me. It’s one of the reasons that I love them. As I get to know them better and they become real to me they start to act very independently.

DC: Lastly is The Undoing of a Lady to complete the series. Lizzie is a bit of an unconventional heroine for her time, but she complements Nat quite nicely. Would you tell us about them?

NC: I love Lizzie because she is truly outrageous and unconventional. In part this springs from the fact that she is unhappy but also because she has the wealth and freedom to behave as she pleases so in that she is spoilt. She has a lot of growing up to do. Lizzie and Nat are childhood friends and she has always taken his presence and support for granted until he tells her he is about to marry. Her possessiveness can’t take it – she’s always seen Nat as her property – and so she kidnaps him on the night before his wedding to prevent him from going through with it.

Superficially Lizzie and Nat don’t seem to be well suited because they are so different but she needs the stability and reliability that he brings to her life. Nat is honorable and steady as a rock and everyone else has always let Lizzie down. Nat is the only one she feels she can trust.

Lizzie and I are very, very different characters but I drew on a lot of personal experience for this book. Like Lizzie I had a very unstable childhood, I was an only child and I “lived in my head” a lot and felt I could only rely on myself. I think all of that went into the book in one way or another.

The Undoing of a Lady

Excerpt from The Undoing of a Lady:

The Folly, Fortune Hall, Yorkshire—June 1810 A little before midnight

It was a beautiful night for an abduction.

The moon sailed high and bright in a starlit sky. The warm breeze sighed in the treetops, stirring the scents of pine and hot grass. Deep in the heart of the wood an owl called, a long, throaty hoot that hung on the night air.

Lady Elizabeth Scarlet sat by the window, watching for the shadow, waiting to hear the step on the path outside. She knew Nat Waterhouse would come. He always came when she called. He would be annoyed of course—what man would not be irritated to be called away from his carousing on the night before his wedding—but he would still be there. He was so responsible; he would not ignore her cry for help. She knew exactly how he would respond. She knew him so well.

Her fingertips beat an impatient tattoo on the stone window ledge. She checked the watch she had purloined earlier from her brother. It felt as though she had been waiting for hours but she was surprised to see that it was only eight minutes since she had last looked. She felt nervous, which surprised her. She knew Nat would be angry but she was acting for his own good. The wedding had to be stopped. He would thank her for it one day.

From across the fields came the faint chime of the church bell. Midnight. There was the crunch of footsteps on the path. He was precisely on time. Of course he would be.

She sat still as a mouse as he opened the door of the folly. She had left the hallway in darkness but there was a candle burning in the room above. If she had calculated correctly he would go up the spiral stair and into the chamber, giving her time to lock the outer door behind him and hide the key. There was no other way out. Her half brother, Sir Montague Fortune, had had the folly built to the design of a miniature fort with arrow slits and windows too small to allow a man to pass. He had thought it a great joke to build a folly in a village called Fortune’s Folly. That, Lizzie thought, was Monty’s idea of amusement, that and dreaming up new taxes with which to torment the populace.

“Lizzie!”

She jumped. Nat was right outside the door of the guardroom. He sounded impatient. She held her breath.

“Lizzie? Where are you?”

He took the spiral stair two steps at a time and she slid like a wraith out of the tiny guardroom to turn the key in the heavy oaken door. Her fingers were shaking and slipped on the cold iron. She knew what her friend Alice Vickery would say if she were here now:

“Not another of your harebrained schemes, Lizzie! Stop now, before it is too late!”

But it was already too late. She could not allow herself time to think about this or she would lose her nerve. She ran back into the guardroom and stole a hand through one of the arrow slits. There was a nail on the wall outside. The key clinked softly against the stone. There. Nat could not escape until she willed it. She smiled to herself, well pleased. She had known there was no need to involve anyone else in the plan. She could handle an abduction unaided. It was easy.

She went out into the hall. Nat was standing at the top of the stairs, the candle in his hand. The flickering light threw a tall shadow. He looked huge, menacing and angry.

Actually, Lizzie thought, he was huge, menacing and angry, but he would never hurt her. Nat would never, ever hurt her. She knew exactly how he would behave. She knew him like a brother.

“Lizzie? What the hell’s going on?”

He was drunk as well, Lizzie thought. Not drunk enough to be even remotely incapacitated but enough to swear in front of a lady, which was something that Nat would normally never do. But then, if she were marrying Miss Flora Minchin the next morning, she would be swearing, too. And she would have drunk herself into a stupor. Which brought her back to the point. For Nat would not be marrying Miss Minchin. Not in the morning. Not ever. She was here to make sure of it. She was here to save him.

“Good evening, Nat,” Lizzie said brightly, and saw him scowl. “I trust you have had an enjoyable time on your last night of freedom?”

“Cut the pleasantries, Lizzie,” Nat said. “I’m not in the mood.” He held the candle a little higher so that the light fell on her face. His eyes were black, narrowed and hard. “What could possibly be so urgent that you had to talk to me in secret on the night before my wedding?”

Lizzie did not answer immediately. She caught the hem of her gown up in one hand and made her careful way up the stone stair. She felt Nat’s gaze on her face every moment even though she did not look at him. He stood aside to allow her to enter the chamber at the top. It was tiny, furnished only with a table, a chair and a couch. Monty Fortune, having created his miniature fort, had not really known what to do with it.

When she was standing on the rug in the center of the little round turret room Lizzie turned to face Nat. Now that she could see him properly she could see that his black hair was tousled and his elegant clothes looked slightly less than pristine. His jacket hung open and his cravat was undone. Stubble darkened his lean cheek and the hard line of his jaw. There was a smoky air of the alehouse about him. His eyes glittered with impatience and irritation.

“I’m waiting,” he said.

Lizzie spread her hands wide in an innocent gesture. “I asked you here to try to persuade you not to go through with the wedding,” she said. She looked at him in appeal. “You know she will bore you within five minutes, Nat. No,” she corrected herself. “You are already bored with her, aren’t you, and you are not even wed yet. And you don’t give a rush for her, either. You are making a terrible mistake.”

Nat’s mouth set in a thin line. He raked a hand through his hair. “Lizzie, we’ve spoken about this—”

“I know,” Lizzie said. Her heart hammered in her throat. “Which is why I had to do this, Nat. It’s for your own good.”

Fury was fast replacing the irritation in his eyes. “Do what?” he said. Then, as she did not reply: “Do what, Lizzie?”

“I’ve locked you in,” Lizzie said rapidly. “I promise that I will release you tomorrow—when the hour of the wedding is past. I doubt that Flora or her parents will forgive you the slight of standing her up at the altar.”

She had never previously thought the Earl of Wa-terhouse a man who made a display of his emotions. She had always thought he had a good face for games of chance, showing no feeling, giving nothing away. Now, though, it was all too easy to read him. His first reaction was stupefaction. His second was grim certainty. He did not even stop to question the truth of what she had said. If she knew him well, then the reverse was also the case.

“Lizzie,” he said, “you little hellcat.”

He turned and crashed angrily down the spiral stair, taking the candle, leaving her in darkness but for the faint moonlight that slid through the arrow slits in the wall. Lizzie let her breath out in a long, shaky sigh. She had only a moment to compose herself, for once he realized that there really was no escape he would be back. And this time he would be beyond mere fury.

She heard him try the thick oak door—and swear when it would not even give an inch. She saw the candle flame dance across the walls as he checked the guardroom and the passageway for potential exits. The swearing became more colorful as he acknowledged what she already knew—there was no way out. The tiny water closet opened onto the equally miniature moat and was far too small for a six foot man to squeeze through. The room in which she stood had a trapdoor that led up to the pretend battlements but she had locked it earlier and hidden the key in a hollow tree outside. She had wanted to make no mistakes.

He was back and she had been correct—he looked enraged. A muscle pulsed in his lean cheek. Every line of his body was rigid with fury.

When he spoke, however, his voice was deceptively gentle. Lizzie found it more disconcerting than if he had shouted at her.

“Why are you doing this, Lizzie?” he said.

Lizzie wiped the palms of her hands surreptitiously down the side of her gown. She wished she could stop shaking. She knew she was doing the right thing. She simply had not anticipated that it would be quite so frightening.

“I told you,” she said, tilting her chin up defiantly. “I’m saving you from yourself.”

Nat gave a harsh laugh. “No. You are denying me the chance to gain the fifty thousand pounds I so desperately need. You know how important this is to me, Lizzie.”

“It isn’t worth it for a lifetime of boredom.”

“That is my choice.”

“You’ve made the wrong choice. I’m here to save you from it.” Lizzie kept her voice absolutely level despite the pounding of her blood. “You have always cared for me and tried to protect me. Now it is my turn. I’m doing this because you are my friend and I care for you.”

She saw the contemptuous flicker in his eyes that said he did not believe her. Lizzie’s temper smoldered. She had always been hot-blooded, or perhaps just plain belligerent depending upon whose opinion one sought. It seemed damnably unfair of Nat to judge her when she had his best interests at heart. He should be thanking her for saving him from this ghastly match.

Nat put the candle down on the little wooden table beside the door and took a very deliberate step toward her. He was tall—over six-foot—broad and muscular. Lizzie tried not to feel intimidated and failed.

“Give me the key, Lizzie,” he said gently.

“No.” Lizzie swallowed hard. He was very close now, his physical presence powerful, threatening, in direct contradiction to the softness of his tone. But she was not afraid of Nat. In the nine years of their acquaintance he had never given her any reason to fear him.

“Where is it?”

“Hidden somewhere you won’t find it.”

Nat gave an exasperated sigh. He flung out an arm. “This isn’t a game, Lizzie,” he said. She could tell he was trying to suppress his anger, trying to be reasonable. Nat Waterhouse was, above all, a reasonable man, a rational man, and a responsible…

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

NC: Yes, I do. My characters always win because it’s their story. I’m a very instinctive author, a pantser not a planner, and so if my characters go off in a particular direction and it feels right then my instinct is to follow that rather than try to change it. I think this just goes to prove there’s no right or wrong way of writing!

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

NC: My Labrador, Monty, who will bring me toys because he wants to play!

DC: You took a trip to Scotland last year. What was your favorite part of the trip? Favorite part of Scotland that you saw? Will you be writing a book with a Scottish backdrop inspired by your trip?

NC: I’m lucky enough to visit Scotland every year because my husband’s family is Scots and we go to stay with them. We usually have a week in a cottage in the West Highlands and then choose a different place to visit for a second week. Last year we went to Cromarty, which is a wonderful little town on the East Coast. It was definitely my favorite part of the trip. We stayed in an ancient hotel with creaking floors and four-poster beds – it felt like being part of an Agatha Christie mystery! The town of Cromarty itself is fascinating because so many of the Georgian streets and buildings are intact. It was like stepping back in time.

I’ve written one book with a Scottish backdrop – Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress – and I would definitely like to set more books against that background.

DC: What has been your favorite book cover from all of your releases and why?

NC: I was blown away when I saw the covers for The Brides of Fortune. I love Laura’s gown on the cover of book 1 and the rich green and purple covers of books 2 and 3 are really lush. The cover goddess was definitely smiling on me when HQN went for those!

Lord Greville’s Captive

DC: How about your least favorite? Why?

NC: That’s an easy one! I had the most appalling cover for the UK edition of Lord Greville’s Captive. Even my editor admitted that it looked as though it had been stuck in a cupboard since the 1970s! The hero is carrying the heroine and she is wearing what looks like a see-through nightgown and her legs are in a strange scissor position and his hands appear to be in a very intimate place… It was simply dreadful.

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?

NC: What an interesting question! I haven’t consciously changed my approach because I have always enjoyed writing strong female characters and my readers seem to enjoy them too. I think it’s true to say for both my heroes and heroines that I explore their emotions, motivations and conflicts in greater depth now than when I started writing. My books used to be lighter in tone. Now they are a lot darker and more emotional, though still witty and humorous, I hope.

DC: I’m so curious about the different covers for some of your books between America and the UK. Deceived, Lord of Scandal and Unmasked are great examples you show on your web site. The UK covers depict more of a Regency feel than their American counterparts. I’m assuming that’s because it’s what UK readers like and look for; they sell better for the publisher? Or is it something else?

NC: They are very different, aren’t they? The UK team is using contemporary Georgian paintings for my covers at the moment. Although I think that reader taste in Regency historicals has come closer together in the UK and the US over the past decade, the covers remain very different with more of an emphasis on the Georgette Heyer Regency style in the UK. Apparently market research suggests that this is what appeals to readers here. That said, I LOVE my US covers and I always have done.

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

NC: I’m itching to try historical fiction and also time slip and “gentle” paranormal.

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

NC: Writing wise, I would tell myself to apply myself more. It took me 15 years to get my first book published because I kept stopping and starting, re-writing the beginning and not finishing it, and going off and doing other things for months on end. And I would advise myself to join a writing organization like RWA or RNA for all the marvelous help and support that they can give.

DC: If you were a book, what would your blurb be?

NC: Ooh, great question! Tea-addicted UK author with a double life as historian and romance writer struggles to balance pets, family, writing, chocolate éclairs and a passion for history.

DC: What would be your “voice’s” tagline?

NC: Wittily historical and wickedly sensual.

DC: You have an upcoming book set in London and the Arctic. How’s that coming along? Can you give us a little sneak peek?

NC: It’s coming on very well, thank you! It doesn’t have a title yet, but I’m just finishing the revisions and the book will be the first in a new series due out next summer. It was fascinating setting a book in the Arctic, but it did require a great deal more research than usual. The hero is an explorer and adventurer and the heroine is the widow of his best friend, a frivolous society butterfly who thinks that all explorers are vain, arrogant and only interested in their own glory.

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

NC: I think I would be pursuing one of my other passions and would work in the heritage industry running a stately home for the National Trust. Or perhaps I would have opened a bookstore.

DC: Who’s your favorite author?

NC: There are lots of authors whose books I love, but Mary Stewart probably tops my list.

DC: What’s on the horizon for Nicola Cornick?

NC: I have a novella a month out for the next few months! In September there is The Elopement, a brand new short story in the anthology Love Me, Loves Me Not, which is being published by MIRA to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Then in October I am thrilled to have a reprint of The Season for Suitors in a book with exciting new HQN author Courtney Milan and the wonderful Mary Balogh. Finally in December there is the first print publication of my e-book The Unmasking of Lady Loveless, which is a very hot, sexy and sweet Regency short story.

Lightning Round:

- dark or milk chocolate?    – Dark
- smooth or chunky peanut butter?     – Chunky
- heels or flats?    – Heels
- coffee or tea?    – Always tea
- summer or winter?    – Winter, but only just!
- mountains or beach?    – Both!
- mustard or mayonnaise?   – Mayonnaise
- flowers or candy?   – Flowers
- pockets or purse?    – Purse
- Pepsi or Coke?    – Neither
- ebook or print?     – Print. I love holding a book in my hand.

And because we never seem to get tired of them:

1. What is your favorite word?    – So difficult to choose… Malfeasance
2. What is your least favorite word?    – Death
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?    – Music and nature
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?     – Bad news
5. What sound or noise do you love?    – My dog snoring and the wind and rain outside when I’m tucked up in bed.
6. What sound or noise do you hate?    – Fingernails on a blackboard
7. What is your favorite curse word?    – Can I really say this? Fuck.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?   – Air traffic controller
9. What profession would you not like to do?    – North Sea Fisherman
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?     – “You did your best. Well done.”

DC: Nicola, we’re so glad you spent the day with us. Thank you!

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