I am thrilled and delighted to host the lovely Leigh LaValle, whose debut book THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS comes out tomorrow! COUNTESS has already earned great early acclaim, including:
- 4 stars from Romantic Times: “LaValle’s debut is exciting and action packed, with a hero and heroine who play well off each other.”
- A blurb to die for from Tessa Dare: “Leigh LaValle weaves an enthralling tale of passion and deception, laced with charm and wit…a captivating new voice in historical romance.”
- Another blurb to die for from Courtney Milan: “an enchanting debut, full of passion, angst, danger, and the promise of true love.”
If that’s not reason enough to send a footman to preorder the book, then ring for a glass of ratafia and read on. Duchess Leigh will share all sorts of tidbits about her writing, including a scorching excerpt. And one commenter on today’s blog will win an ebook of THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS!
Leigh LaValle: Thanks, Sara! I feel so many conflicting emotions today. Mostly, I am tired (I haven’t been able to sleep the last few nights), excited (Wow, I mean, wow! It’s happening!) and nervous (What if everyone hates my book! ;-))
Duchess Sara: Pish – everyone will love it! And if they don’t, I will smack them with my reticule. But tell us a little bit about THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS. Who is the runaway countess, and what is the story about?
Leigh: The runaway countess is the heroine, Mazie, who is not actually a countess as the book opens, but she is a runaway. She is an accomplice to the highwayman known as The Midnight Rider and has committed crimes of mercy to help the less fortunate. Though she is captured as the book opens, she is spirited and stubborn and gives the poor hero a run for his money.
Our hero, Trent, is the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire and charged with keeping order in the county. To his chagrin, no matter what tactics he employs, he cannot convince Mazie to reveal the highwayman’s identity. Trent feints, Mazie parries. He threatens, she pretends nonchalance. He cajoles, she rebuffs. She volunteers nothing—except a sultry, bewildering kiss.
Indeed, Mazie thwarts Trent at every turn, and challenges all he though the knew about love (which, admittedly, wasn’t much), and the law (which was everything).
Duchess Sara: I do so love a good twist on a Robin Hood tale. What inspired you to write this book?
Leigh: I was inspired by the 2008 Presidential race. I know, what could be less romantic or sexy than politics But, truly, I was considering the huge ideological rift in our country and I kept thinking that, if we could only take time to understand each other’s backgrounds and the reasons for our opinions, there would be a lot less animosity amongst fellow Americans. It’s a great lesson for today’s climate as well.
I chose the Robin Hood tale because 1. I love it and 2. I thought it provided a great opportunity to juxtapose conflicting viewpoints. Truly, stealing is not the answer, no matter how justified the reasons. But neither is oppression. As the book opens, the hero and heroine are stuck on their respective sides. She thinks he is a selfish, power hungry politician, he thinks she is a criminal. Throughout the book, they (and the reader) explore the pros and cons to each side.
Duchess Sara: What messages or themes do you hope readers pick up on from this book?
Leigh: I hope I challenge some of the readers’ pre-conceived ideas about justice, and the way we determine right and wrong. I know I surprised myself as I wrote the book and came to side with the law more than I ever anticipated. Ever.
I hope readers come to see that everyone has a perspective and a reason for their choices that often stems from wanting to do good. Certainly there are people whose motives are selfish or greedy, but I think we tend to judge each other too harshly. Understanding creates harmony even when we still have differing opinions.
Duchess Sara: Not that duchesses should be interested in such prurient details, but I must know – what’s your favorite kiss in the book?
Leigh: My favorite kiss is their third kiss, the first two having been more of a challenge to each other than pure passion. With the third kiss, Trent and Mazie simply cannot help themselves, and part of their soul is bared to the other: “It was a kiss born of thunderstorms and the wild loneliness of night. It was hot, fierce and needy.”
Duchess Sara: That does sound delightful! When you’re not writing or spending time with your family, you’re also a yoga teacher and practitioner. I am, quite simply, in awe of what you can do. Is there any relation between your yoga practice and your writing?
Leigh: The biggest lesson I take from my yoga practice is surrender. This applies to everything in my life, including my writing. We truly are not in control. My teacher has a great quote “Relax! Nothing is under control.” This relates both to my creative process and my professional career. I can’t force anything to happen. I can do my best, but beyond that, I can only open my hands and let go. What is, is. There is no point in fighting it.
The other lesson I take from yoga is the benefit of losing face and letting go of the ego. The more I want to gain something because it will make me feel special, or good, or worthy, the more suffering it causes. Nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, can ultimately make us feel special, or good or worthy. Any sense is an illusion. The truth is, we are already happy, our lives are already full simply by breathing and feeling and being alive. The rest is just play, like waves in the ocean.
That’s not to say I didn’t celebrate when I finaled in the Golden Heart, or feel disappointed when I got the ubiquitous rejection letters. But, these things passed, and the next wave rose and fell away, then the next. Like breath.
(I am coming back to add that, while the above lessons are beautiful and truly beyond worth, they are hard. I do not mean to give the impression that I am a wandering yogi of happiness. I simply try to remember these teachings as best as I can.)
Duchess Sara: That’s all so very wise, Duchess Leigh. I feel like I should dig my yoga mat out of the closet and leave right now for the studio, since I’m a chronic stress case — but I’ll finish the interview first. What are you working on now, and what can readers expect from you next?
Leigh: Right now I am working on an anthology that will release in the spring. THREE WEDDINGS AND A MURDER is a fun project I put together with Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan and Carey Baldwin to raise money for breast cancer research. My novella in the anthology features Lady Catherine, a secondary character in THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS.
I am also working on a story about Roane, The Midnight Rider. This will be a novella as well. (I am in a hurry to get Cat and Roane’s stories told before my baby arrives in September!)
AND I am also working on a full length historical featuring a lady spy and the rogue who thwarts her. I hope to release this story in 2013.
Mazie took another sip of the liquor, more to stall than anything else. “I have decided upon a proposition which may be of interest to you.”
His body froze at the word proposition. Trent stared at her, his gaze almost aggressive. His eyes dipped down to her lips and, for a moment, he looked like he wanted to kiss her. No, not kiss her, devour her. He put down his glass, as if the moment she invited his advances he would grab her.
Heat flashed across her skin. She floundered inside her own heartbeat. “I have some things that you want, and you have some things that I want. Can we not come to an agreement?”
“What is your offer?” His voice carried the slow burn of whisky.
She moderated her tone to be calm despite her quick breaths. “I will tell you everything I know about the Midnight Rider.”
Trent scowled and she held up her hand. “I have disclosed much of what I know, but we should ride out, as you proposed, and I will show you where I met with him. I will write down the confession of my good deeds—”
“And I will work with you to regain the good will of the villagers. I have their ear, as you are aware, and can spread rumors of your generosity and kindness.”
“And my side of this bargain?” Displeasure creased between his brows.
“You will allow me use of the house and immediate grounds. I will no longer be locked in my chamber.” She would have her freedom, or some semblance of it. Enough that escape would be possible.
“Under supervision, I assume.”
With an ambiguous wave of assent, Mazie handed him her glass and watched him put it down. She refused to give him a verbal agreement. Taking a breath, she plunged into the heart of the matter. “Once the Midnight Rider is found you will let me go. Free.”
He straightened to his full height and studied her with that gaze again, the one that revealed the magnetism between them, the deep current moving swiftly, inevitably, toward dangerous seas. “One week.”
“You have one week to provide me with his location. If you wish to stay here, rather than gaol, you must prove your use.”
“But I do not know his location.” One week was not enough time. She needed to supply Trent with misleading information, monitor the guards and devise an escape plan in case Roane did not get to her first. “One month,” she countered.
“One month.” Trent raised his brows, his grey eyes glittering. “You will remain under my control, and do as I say.”
“Yes, my lord.”
He frowned at the sarcasm she did not bother to hide. “And you will no longer seek to deceive me, either by artifice or by silence. I do not enjoy surprises, Lady Margaret.” He took a step toward her and she had to tilt her head back to hold his gaze. “If I discover your continued duplicity, I shall consider our agreement forfeit and send you to Harrington.”
“Agreed,” she acquiesced as if she had nothing to hide, though she felt as if she were seated atop a runaway horse. “Do we have a bargain?”
She pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth, binding her relief into a tiny ball that he would not see. “I am glad we could come to an understanding.”
“Tomorrow we will ride out early.”
“Of course.” She silently congratulated herself. She need only outwit him for four weeks and she would be free. Trent was a gentleman who loved to talk of honor. He could be trusted to uphold his side of the bargain. She, however, had no intention of keeping their agreement. What did that make her?
Duchess Sara: Isn’t that yummy? Thanks so much for sharing, Leigh! And congratulations again!
Please join me in congratulating Leigh in the comments! One lucky commenter will win an ebook of THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS!
Sara Ramsey’s debut book, HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE, is out now. Her next book, SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES, will be out at the end of March. When she’s not writing, Sara can be found on the streets of San Francisco looking to score her next caffeine fix. She should probably reread Leigh’s thoughts on yoga.