I’ve been Regency-obsessed since I read my first Jane Austen novel, so it won’t surprise you all to learn one of my favorite things about writing historical romance is the research. I always find some surprising historical tidbit that adds nuance to the story. In MORE OR LESS A MARCHIONESS it was 17th century erotica, and in MORE OR LESS A TEMPTRESS, the final book in the Somerset Sisters series, I learned all about how 19th century card cheats marked playing cards.
But the most fun I’ve ever had with research was when I was writing MORE OR LESS A COUNTESS. My heroine, Violet Somerset, is writing a book about the secret history of London. To get the sketches and material she needs, she sneaks into parts of the city considered improper for genteel ladies. So, while there are no scenes at Almack’s or Bond Street in the book, I did get to explore some of London’s hidden corners, where criminals swing from gibbets, and ghosts haunt the dark streets.
Top Four Favorite Facts from MORE OR LESS A COUNTESS:
- Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds
The first time Violet agrees to go driving with Nick, she insists he take her to Bunhill Fields Burial Ground. There is some historical suggestion that Bunhill Fields was used as a plague pit during the Black Death in the 14th century. Plague victims were interred in shallow lime pits and covered with thin layers of soil. Violet hopes to stumble upon some ancient half-buried skeletal remains while they’re there, but Nick finds that prospect appalling!
- The Ghost of Cockpit Steps
Like most ghosts, the lady who haunts Cockpit Steps came to a tragic end. She was said to have been murdered by her husband, a soldier in the Horse Guards, who ruthlessly beheaded her, then tried to hide her corpse in the lake. This headless lady is rumored to haunt the Cockpit Steps, a narrow passageway between Old Queen Street and Birdcage Walk, where a Royal Cockpit stood until 1816 (the cock pit was demolished, but the steps are still there). The last recorded sighting of the headless ghost was as recent as 1972, so if you go to London and visit the Steps, you just may see her wandering up and down the stairs, searching for her missing head!
- Execution Docks at Wapping Old Stairs
London has had her share of criminals over the centuries, and they’ve got the historic execution sites to prove it, but perhaps the most interesting of these is Execution Dock, at the edge of the Thames River in Wapping. Until 1830, when the gibbet was decommissioned, more than 400 mutineers, pirates and thieves who committed crimes on the High Seas were executed there, including the infamous pirate, Captain Kidd. During high tide, the steps leading to the scaffold are submerged in the Thames, and the bodies were left dangling from the noose until three high tides had passed. Fortunately, there isn’t a bloated corpse floating on the end of a rope when Violet and Nick visit Execution Dock!
- The Hunterian Museum
The Hunterian Museum isn’t a typical London museum, but a macabre collection of skulls and monkey’s heads, human and animal bones, surgical instruments and anatomical curiosities, originally assembled by the famous surgeon John Hunter, who intended it to be a learning museum for his surgical students. In the book, Nick takes Violet there to see the skeleton of the Irish Giant, Charles Byrne, who was rumored to be close to 8 feet tall. At the moment the Hunterian Museum is undergoing restoration, but it’s expected to reopen to the public in 2021. You can find the Hunterian Museum’s website at https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/.
Finding a worthy husband should be simple for three beautiful debutantes in Regency London. But the Somerset sisters have a way of making it delightfully complicated . . .
Violet Somerset has always preferred a library to a ballroom, but to please her grandmother she agreed to one London season. With nothing to show for it but heartbreak, she’s reconciled to spinsterhood. Until a notorious rogue known as the Devil of Dare requests an introduction to her timid, gentle youngest sister, Hyacinth. Violet will do anything to stop the match—even if it means posing as Hyacinth herself . . .
Nicholas Balfour, the Earl of Dare, is enjoying the life of a rake far too much to take a wife. But he must keep his promise to his grandmother. He’ll simply choose the meekest bride he can find, install her at his estate, then carry on as before. Hyacinth sounds perfect—until he discovers that her sweet demeanor hides the tongue of a viper and the mind of a bluestocking…
As Violet’s ruse threatens to unravel, however, she may find the tables turned. Soon she may have no choice but to tolerate her handsome fiancée—or fall in love with him . . .
Quotes For More Or Less A Countess
Love might make fools of everyone else, but it wouldn’t make a fool of Violet.
For a careless, reckless debaucher, Lord Dare had a surprisingly chivalrous turn.
If he was going to court Miss Somerset, there should be no secrets between them. That is, no secrets but his.
Violet had never asked him to be perfect. She’d never asked him to be anyone other than who he was. All she’d ever wanted was him.
She was a bluestocking, and bluestockings had something better than charm, or beauty, or a perfect flirtatious smile. Bluestockings had knowledge.
“Death is rather a good way to escape an English winter, isn’t it? Perhaps I should consider expiring of a consumption while I’m here, or a bilious cough, or some mysterious inflammation of the lungs. Whatever it is one dies of in England. Boredom, perhaps.”
Violet jerked free of his arms and looked up to meet his amused gaze. Lord Dare seemed always to be amused over one thing or another. Violet resented being the source of his unending glee, but she couldn’t deny the glimmer of humor did wonderful things for his eyes.
“That ache inside you, that makes you want my lips on yours? You feel it everywhere, don’t you, Violet? That’s desire, and when it’s like this, it sweeps everything before it.”
Lord Dare was so much more than he appeared to be, and why should that be so surprising? A handsome face, a scarlet waistcoat…such things were no more the whole of him than her sketchbook and pencils were the whole of her.