‘The Sinning Hour’ by Elise Rome

Mel’s Author Recommendation: Today I’d like to jump in myself and tell you about this author I discovered a couple of years ago. Her name, then, was Ashley March

I honestly don’t know how we got introduced to each other [we never met in person] but from the start, we hit it off. It was like we’ve known each other forever. I remember being scared to pick one of her books to review because I was dreading it being bad!

In the end, I was so glad I started to read them. 

Have you ever read a book that grabbed you from the first sentence? The opening scene? Well, that’s Elise Rome aka Ashley March. Her stories are character driven by heroes and heroines breathing life to the story she’s telling. Her plots are fun and entertaining. 

When I asked her if she’d like to stop by and be featured this month, she politely declined as the book she is writing now has yet to be finished. That, however, didn’t stop her to offer to push her fellow author Carrie Lofty. She recently read ‘His Very Own Girl’ and was blown away by the story and wanted to spread the word to all of us bookworms out there. What a class act this woman is!

Ashley March will have her new book, under her brand new name of Elise Rome, out probably some time next year and I for one will be here to welcome her under that name.

And as we all are waiting for it, I thought why not give you a taste of her prose? Now, get a cup of coffee, tea or whatever poison it’s the closest to you, and enjoy this short excerpt.

Clicking on the cover, you’ll find a two chapter excerpt. For further information about Elise, please click on her photo or the links provided.

EXCERPT:

“Miranda wrapped the shawl around her shoulders then returned the bonnet to her head, carefully tying the ribbons in a bow. Shadows edged her vision as she watched Mr. Astley stride back to his chair.

Envy curled in her chest at the way he moved: no tucking of the chin or stooping of the shoulders for him. No hurrying as if through dank and filthy lanes, constantly looking to the salvation of the next alley. No fear of being preyed upon inside this grand hulking town house, where servants guarded his every step and power made his words both currency and weapon.

Her gaze flew to the plate of food on his desk. The tower of food. Pastries stacked so thick and high, with golden, flaky crusts, and he ignored them all. Hadn’t even spared them a glance while toying with her earlier, moving his books into their own sturdy little tower.

Cherry. They would be cherry tarts, she was certain. The sauce sweet and voluptuous, juice exploding from the bits of fruit and gushing over her tongue. A buttery shell, so soft and moist as it crumbled against the roof of her mouth—

God. Saliva ran slick over the insides of her cheeks. Her stomach clenched with greedy fervor.

Wicked, her father had called her, for daring to seek work from a nude portraitist. Wicked, he’d said she would become, warning that her duties in such a depraved household would likely be the same as a harlot’s.

Perhaps he’d been right, Miranda thought, swaying a little. She’d stood in Astley’s house for less than an hour and already felt quite wicked. Envy and greed and taking the Lord’s name in vain. Soon she would succumb to the sins of theft and gluttony. Lust, presumably, could not be very far behind.

Astley had hired her. Hired, when everyone else had threatened to fetch the constable or sneered in her face. And all she could think about was snatching the plate of pastries and scurrying away like the mouse he’d likened her to, hunkering down in the nearest corner as she shoveled the tarts into her mouth—one, two, three…there would never be enough to calm the gnawing inside.

“Miss Post?” Suddenly he was there, in front of her again, his hand cupping her elbow.

How she resented him—for his casual disregard of the pastries, for knowing he need only ring the servants’ bell to summon more food from his kitchens. He should have emptied the plate as soon as it was delivered; the contents should now be stretching and warming his stomach rather than lying there untouched, taunting her.

He probably knew nothing of the sour taste of hunger, of these awful black shadows that dimmed sight, of the cold and numbness and hollowing inside. He’d likely dripped with sweat under the summer sun, when even at noon in August she’d been forced to wear a shawl and her thickest stockings in a futile attempt to keep warm.

Indeed, he was hotter than the sun now: the fingers he wrapped around her arm sent heat sinking into her skin, through her flesh, to her very bones. Miranda fought the instinct to lean into him, to climb up and wrap her body around his. She could steal his food and all of his heat and not have to worry about becoming hungry or cold again until the next day.

Hired. The word whispered again in her mind. She’d not yet settled her faith on it, though. It sounded like a promise. A very nice promise, but then she knew how transient promises could be. And this one wasn’t nearly as substantial as the endless ache she woke to and fell asleep with each day.

“Miss Post?” he repeated, neither altering the inquiry’s volume or tone. He seemed to employ patience like some men used a blade; it made her wary. “You denied illness yet appear as if you might collapse at any moment. And retrieving you from the floor would be very inconvenient. The mud, you see.”

The whores across from the tenement would have crawled all over themselves for a chance at Mr. Simon Astley, so kind and chivalrous was he.

“Come now,” he coaxed. She wondered whether he was conscious of stroking the inside of her elbow with his thumb, whether a caress—like patience—was just another of his preferred tools in extracting information. She wondered whether he realized there was mud at her elbow, too. “We’re not strangers anymore, are we? You may tell me the truth.”

She hadn’t said it in nearly two months. She’d rather have stolen the pastries, but his grip was too tight for her to escape. She darted another covetous glance at the plate and immediately felt her pulse throb with regret. Foolish. Foolish. Confessing her weakness in such a way.”

 

FEATURED AUTHOR:  Elise Rome [aka Ashley March]

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Why Infidelity?

Thanks so much to bookworm2bookworm (Melanie) for having me on the blog today as I continue the celebration of my latest release, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS!

When Melanie invited me to write a post for the blog, she suggested the topic of infidelity. Specifically, why do I write about it, as it seems that each of my currently published works (SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, ROMANCING LADY CECILY, and ROMANCING THE COUNTESS) each feature infidelity in some way.

In SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, the story starts with the Duke of Rutherford abducting his wife, Charlotte, in an attempt to woo her back to loving him. However, the story behind the story is that he married her for revenge and they’ve been leading separate lives (although still living in the same house) for three years. He had a mistress before he realized he loved her, and she’s rumored to have had at least a dozen lovers in that time period.

In ROMANCING LADY CECILY, Cecily is engaged to a man she’s never met—for an arranged marriage set up by her father—and yet she can’t stay away from Baron Sedgwick, a man who seduces her heart and teaches her about her body’s desires. As a result, she is both emotionally and physically unfaithful to her betrothed.

In ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, both Leah and Sebastian are victims of their respective spouses’ affair. Although Leah knew of the affair for nearly a year and hid it from everyone, Sebastian doesn’t find out until the night their spouses die. Their love story unfolds as they each try to move on with their lives in different ways, but still find themselves draw them together.

First, a few things you must know.

1) I have never cheated on my spouse, nor has my husband cheated on me.

2) As far as I know my parents never cheated on each other. (Thankfully on both accounts, and by which I mean to say, there is no psychological basis for writing about infidelity.)

3) What has been published so far are stories that were proposed to my publisher and accepted. I have had at least 3 other stories that had nothing to do with infidelity that were pitched but rejected. And in fact, my third book from NAL Penguin, MY LADY RIVAL (which releases 5/1/12), does not feature the topic of infidelity.

But obviously, I touched on infidelity in each of these three stories. What was the reason behind this and why do I seem to be drawn to telling such stories?

Let me say that when I began writing SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, I was a new-ish writer. Yes, I’ve read romance for many years, but only after I became published did I become aware of infidelity as a taboo subject in Romancelandia. Apparently, the topic is a sensitive one not only because it doesn’t seem to fit in well with the HEA, but also because many romance readers have themselves been the victim of infidelity in the past. When I began writing SD, I knew none of this; I was only interested in one thing: how could I redeem a man who seemed to the outside eye thoroughly unlikable? I’ve always liked challenges, and this seemed a terrific challenge. To be honest, the fact that Philip had a mistress during part of the three years (he dismissed her after he realized he was in love with Charlotte) didn’t seem that big of a deal to me.

1) He wasn’t in love with her when he had a mistress, so he wasn’t being emotionally careless;

2) Most men who could afford them had mistresses.

The subject of infidelity came up in Charlotte’s storyline because she was trying to force Philip’s hand in petitioning for a divorce, and she was certain that he wouldn’t be able to stand the embarrassment of a wife who had taken dozens of lovers. But in truth, these were just part of the story to me. The biggest concern was how Philip ruthlessly made Charlotte fall in love with him, married her, and then broke her heart by telling her the truth the day after their wedding. (Again, the story actually starts out three years after the wedding, so these aren’t really spoilers.) How could he win back the love of his wife after acting like such a bastard? And did he truly deserve her love? And how much had he changed? Would she truly be able to ever forgive him? These were the subjects of interest to me in SEDUCING THE DUCHESS.

In ROMANCING LADY CECILY (which is a digital short story of 15,000 words), I explored the heroine’s internal conflict of choosing the man she desires most and the man her father (whom she loves) has arranged for her to marry as a means of saving his reputation. Does she choose love or family? To me, the conflict wouldn’t have been as powerful if I didn’t show how strong of a hold the Baron Sedgwick actually held over her. I can tell you this, though: no matter whom she might have chosen, Cecily would never have cheated on her husband after their marriage, even if she didn’t love him. (Fortunately, she does have a splendid happy-ever-after.)

The idea for ROMANCING THE COUNTESS actually came to me at least a year before I started writing StD. And the idea didn’t so much as focus on the topic of infidelity as much as how the widow and widower of these unfaithful spouses would have their own romance, and whether they would try to be proper in their mourning or not care at all since they’d been betrayed and felt it their right to behave however they wished. I never got any further with the idea than this basic concept, though, and only three years later did I finally figure out where I wanted the story to go.

As you can see, it’s not that I wished to write about infidelity with each of these works; it’s only that infidelity became part of the background storyline. With that being said, I can tell you that I believe that writing and reading about infidelity has its place in romance novels, and here’s why: I believe in hope. And I believe that love gives us hope. One of the main reasons romance readers cite for reading romance (myself included) is that they want the escape and they want the HEAs. Some people believe that infidelity has no place in a romance novel, but in my opinion (and this is only my opinion), I think it does because I like to read and write about people whose emotions and conflicts could be real.

I DO think that a married couple that deals with infidelity can forgive and move on and have a wonderful HEA (though this isn’t really what StD is about).

I DO think that people are able to make mistakes (such as Cecily’s weakness for the baron in RLC) and are able to recover from those mistakes and have a great HEA.

I DO believe that love is powerful enough to help those who have been victims of infidelity to move on—and yes, perhaps one day forgive—so that they are able to find a new HEA with someone else (note, in RtC, the spouses of the hero and heroine died).

I could also tell you that while I believe in hope, and I believe in love, and I believe in forgiveness, I will also never write a romance where the hero or heroine is or has been in love with the other and then is unfaithful simply because they lust after someone else. Certainly, I believe this can happen in real life and I believe this, too, can be forgiven and the relationship repaired, but even in my mind this is not something I’m willing to write about. As powerful as love is, I also believe in its sanctity. If a hero or heroine pledges their love, it is not something to be dealt with lightly. Some readers have refused to read SEDUCING THE DUCHESS because they heard that the duke was unfaithful to the duchess. And while I realize I walk a thin line here, the most important part of this to me was that he didn’t love her. As soon as he realized he loved her, he dismissed his mistress and was faithful to her from that day on.

Will I write more romances that include infidelity—in one way or another—in the future? Perhaps. I don’t have any in my head right now, but it’s certainly a topic that is relevant to our culture today (unfortunately) and a topic which immediately involves a depth of emotion and conflict, which account for a huge romance fave: angst.

But the most important thing to me—always, no matter what sort of love story I write—is that in the end, love wins. As the tag on my website says: Choose to love. Hope in love. Believe in love. 

I promise there is no right or wrong answer, for everyone deserves an opinion.

What place (if any) do you think infidelity has in a romance novel?

One random commenter will be chosen to win a copy of my newest book, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS (open internationally)! Also, find out how to win the ROMANCING THE COUNTESS Book Tour Grand Prize of 50+ romance novels by visiting www.ashleymarch.com!  

Ashley, I’ve been looking forward to your visit for quite some time now, and I’m so glad you stopped by. As always, you’ve been such a Lady and I’ve been Blessed to have ‘met’ you! 

 Ashley March in her own words:

“I was born and raised in East Texas, moved to Colorado after getting married eight years ago, and have been craving snow-free winters ever since. I have a husband who just keeps getting better and better over time and two beautiful daughters. Life is simply…fantastic.”

“Romancing the Countess” by Ashley March

STORY: Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Wriothesly, thought he’d married the perfect woman-until a fatal accident revealed her betrayal with his best friend. After their deaths, Sebastian is determined to avoid a scandal for the sake of his son. But his best friend’s widow is just as determined to cast her mourning veil aside by hosting a party that will surely destroy both their reputations and expose all of his carefully kept secrets…

Leah George has carried the painful knowledge of her husband’s affair for almost a year. All she wants now is to enjoy her independence and make a new life for herself-even if that means being ostracized by the Society whose rules she was raised to obey. Now that the rumors are flying, there’s only one thing left for Sebastian to do: silence the scandal by enticing the improper widow into becoming a proper wife. But when it comes to matters of the heart, neither Sebastian nor Leah is prepared for the passion they discover in each other’s arms….

REVIEW: The above blurb does a wonderful job in teasing the brain and getting my ‘reader juices’ bubbling with a question about how do you get two people with so much baggage to accept the wrong done to them, grieve for the loss and fall in love within 302 pages?!

And the answer is to trust this young, new and upcoming author, Ashley March, who seems to know her characters and trust them to guide her hand in penning their story.

Leah George has always done the right and proper thing. She married a man chosen for her, and she did her best to make her parents and her husband proud of her, so after witnessing her husband’s infidelity, she yet again does what’s proper. She keeps a ‘stiff upper lip’, walls off her true feelings, and pretends a happy marriage. Until the day her husband dies.

After a year of private grief that infidelity of her husband brought to her, the loss of his life brought on a feeling of a relief. She is free. Free to say, do or be who she truly is and that is something she was never allowed to be.

Sebastian, Earl of Wriothesly, had a perfect marriage. He adored his wife and son; he lived a happy and contented life. His perfect world came crashing down with his beloved wife’s death and with the knowledge that she took his best friend for a lover and left him behind to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the carriage accident.

This is Ms. Ashley’s second book and in both she deals with an issue that is not much popular with either the authors or readers of romance genre. The big “I” word. Infidelity.

In the case of her first book “Seducing the Duchess” our hero was unfaithful to his heroine for six years, before he realized that he adored his wife, but was blinded by his pride and revenge to see it for what it is.

In this case, both hero and heroine were forced to deal with the betrayal of their spouses and Ms. March has done her characters proud in both cases. It would have been so easy to ‘paint’ Ian and Angela as uncaring, uncouth and lust crazy adulterers, yet she left that ‘painting’ to be in the ‘eye of the beholder’, in this case the reader. She has taken the issue seriously, making no judgements on a subject that is neither ‘black or white’. Now, that takes guts!

While Leah had a year to accept the betrayal, Sebastian’s acceptance was still fresh and the hurt was deep. What a treat this character driven story was! I was most intrigued by our hero and heroine and the way they went about accepting and dealing with their emotions towards not just their cheating spouses but with their emotions towards each other. After years of knowing each other, their attraction wasn’t instantaneous, yet the sparks between Sebastian and Leah kept igniting. Great care was given in developing and establishing a real relationship, albeit strenuous at times, between these two, so when their passion takes over we’re happy for them.

There are so many moments that touched my heart but the first one that brought tears to my eyes was on page 8, in which Sebastian’s mind is numb as he reads the note of his wife’s accident, and in it he finds out that Ian was with her. There are so many things running through his mind, and then the last thought: “She hadn’t been lonely, after all.” I mean, just two pages earlier, he was so anxious to go see her, be with her, love her, and then-BOOM! She really didn’t need him, after all. WOW! That must have hurt…

I’m very impressed with this new author and her writing is clear, crisp and fresh. She infused her characters with depth and intelligence, yet still gave them flaws so that they felt real to me. Her ability to convey human emotion is very well written and the pace of the story just right. Not too fast and not so slow that you’d be bored by it. The story was engaging from the beginning, and kept my interest ‘till the last page. For that I give credit to the author that created the characters who were well-rounded and believable. After reading “Romancing the Countess” I loved it so much I bought “Seducing the Duchess” and “Romancing Lady Cecily” which I read and highly recommend as well.

So, in the end all I have to say is: Watch out Romance World! Ashley March has arrived!