Hello, Riskies, what a pleasure to be here today to share a little about my debut novel, A Dead Man’s Debt, and the inspiration behind the story. Believe it or not, a painting of the young Emma Hart (who married Lord Hamilton and was Horatio Nelson’s mistress) was the catalyst behind my novel. The painting by George Romney shows an innocent yet lush young woman, scantily clad with a hint of bosom, brazenly staring out of the canvas with an allure that is quite hypnotic. It struck me as sensational for an 18th century work, that the sitter was not prim, proper, straight-backed and starchy. It must have been scandalous at the time. But who would be bold enough to commission such a portrait? (As it happened Emma was ahead of her time and loved to flout convention–but that’s another story!)
What a delicious idea for a story! What if the woman in the painting wanted to shock? What if, years later, this rebellious streak threatened to disgrace her family? What if only the son she despises can save her reputation–but at the price of his secret love? Thus the stage was set for a story of blackmail, sacrifice, and redeeming love. This excerpt from A Dead Man’s Debt shows the young Lady Sophia Cadnum revealing the shocking portrait of her friend:
With a swoosh the drape hissed to the ground. Georgiana’s eyes widened, and she flushed crimson as a hand covered her mouth. “Oh my!” The oil showed Sophia Cadnum stripped of her satins and silks with her natural beauty shining like an exotic flower. In just a gossamer shift, with a rope of pearls wound round a swan-like neck, she reclined in a woodland clearing, happy as a nymph. Ringlets of rich raven hair, unpowdered and unrestrained, tumbling over her shoulder to provide a modesty not offered by the transparent gown. On closer inspection, the male viewer would be enchanted to discover the ghost of a nipple peeping between ringlets. Sophia smiled happily. “Isn’t it wonderful?” Georgiana grew quiet, nervously averting her eyes. “I speak as your dear friend and only with your interests at heart, but is it quite…” she glanced at Sophia then steeled herself. “…appropriate?” Black thunder darkened Sophia’s pretty face. “And by that you mean?” Georgiana took a deep breath. “Well, what with your being a mother now, something less…provocative…might be more correct?” Sophia scowled. “But that’s precisely the point. Producing a son was my duty…and I won’t be made into a dowdy matron because of it. I need to feel alive and have my heart race for joy. Heaven knows already the Duke talks of producing another brat for the nursery.” Comprehension dawning, Georgiana gulped. “Was it so very awful giving birth?” Sophia closed her eyes. “Hateful, from start to finish.” Silence stilled the air. Georgiana cleared her throat. “Has the Duke seen the painting?” “In truth I don’t think he cares enough to have an opinion. As long as I serve my purpose as mother to his heirs, he won’t object.” She stroked her tightly laced stomacher, resting a hand on the barely perceptible dome of her belly. The light went from her eyes as she whispered, “Please God grant me respite from my duty.”
Like ripples on a pond, the consequences of this scandalous portrait are felt years later, when Lady Cadnum’s offspring are all grown up. It is resentment over the children she bore that expresses itself in her son Ranulf’s sullen moods and coolness. But being a Regency romance, the latter is like a red rag to a bull for our heroine, Celeste Armitage, who is determined to break through Ranulf’s reserve and uncover the passionate man beneath.
And all this from one portrait of Emma Hart! Phew—I’m saving my energy for a trip to the National Portrait Gallery in London, heaven only knows what inspiration will strike there…
About the Author: Grace Elliott leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of sensual historic romance by night, and firmly believes that intelligent people need to read romance as an antidote to the modern world.
A Dead Man’s Debt is available from most ebook retailers and on Amazon Kindle, and at the publisher’s site. If you’d like to read more excerpts or learn more about what makes Grace Elliott tick, please visit her website