This morning I have an interview with Lady Wilhelmina from Compromising Willa by Diana Quincy, as well as a few excerpts from the book and a giveaway for you to enter. Enjoy!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Lady Wilhelmina! Do you mind if I call you Willa? Can you describe yourself in five words or less.
[Willa] Good morning! It’s lovely to visit with you although I must confess I have no earthly idea what a Manga Maniac is! But, no matter, let’s have a cup of my special tea and I’ll happily answer your questions. Let’s see, five words to describe me? I’m a bit wary, I’m afraid, because I was badly used by a man I thought was a gentleman I could trust. Unfortunately, I was very wrong and my naiveté sort of ruined my reputation. I’m also curious because I’ve just come to London and there is so much to learn here. Now that I’ve decided to never marry, I’ll have plenty of time to explore everything the metropolis has to offer. Mother tells me I’m too intelligent for my own good, as if that’s possible. I’ve also been called stubborn and headstrong but, honestly, I don’t see it.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share a typical day in the life of Lady Wilhelmina Stanhope?
[Willa] I love to start my days concocting just the right tea blend. All of my mother’s acquaintances clamor for my special teas, which makes me feel as though I am doing something useful. I spend many days at home reading or discussing the right of women to have an education with visiting friends and family. I often tell Mother that I am attending a gathering of the Ladies Reading Society, which is true, but what she doesn’t know is that the Society secretly supports a coffee house that employs poor women and children. My special teas are sold there, but please don’t tell anyone because if the ton finds out I am involved in trade, I’ll be ruined. Again.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words come to mind when you think of the Duke of Hartwell?
[Willa] He is arrogant, devilishly charming and oh so appealing. But don’t tell him I said that. He can be a bit full of himself.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you find most exasperating about him?
[Willa] He’s honorable to a fault, even when telling me the truth would be to his advantage. It’s so frustrating! He insists on keeping a long-ago promise to a friend regarding a murky situation that makes me suspicious about his intentions toward me. If he would just tell me the truth about what happened, all would be well, but he won’t budge.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share your feelings for the Earl of Bellingham?
[Willa] I thought I loved him, truly I did. But after what he did to me at the inn—and afterwards — I now cannot fathom how I could have been so naïve. Not only is Bellingham not a gentleman, but there is a true blackness in his heart. I’ve heard he does unspeakable things to servant girls, but since I am a gently-bred maiden, no one will tell me exactly what that means.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could change one thing you’ve done in your life, what would it be?
[Willa] Bellingham. I should never have trusted him. He almost ruined my life. But, then again, his machinations have inadvertently led me to Hart, and I’ve never met a more intriguing man than the Duke of Hartwell…
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
[Willa] My lady’s maid. Every time I leave home without her, I end up ruined, compromised or attacked by a footpad!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share your dreams for the future in five words or less.
[Willa] More Hart and more coffee houses. (Sorry, that’s six words!)
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!
About the book:
Lady Wilhelmina Stanhope is ruined and everyone knows it. Back in Town for the first season since her downfall, Willa plans to remain firmly on the shelf, assuming only fortune hunters will want her now. Instead she focuses on her unique tea blends, secretly supporting a coffee house which employs poor women and children. If her clandestine involvement in trade is discovered, she’ll be ruined. Again.
No one is more shocked by Willa’s lack of quality suitors than the newly minted Duke of Hartwell. Having just returned from India, the dark duke is instantly attracted to the mysterious wallflower. His pursuit is hampered by the ruthless Earl of Bellingham, who once jilted Willa and is now determined to reclaim her.
Caught between the clash of two powerful men, a furious Willa refuses to concede her independence to save her reputation. But will she compromise her heart?
Hartwell frowned. “I scarcely see how Lady Wilhelmina can belong to Bellingham if there is no betrothal.”
“There is certain talk no gentleman would ever repeat.” Heenan reached for his mother-of-pearl snuffbox. “Some say it is why the lady has kept herself away from Town for so long.”
“And this is commonly discussed in society?”
“It is not the kind of thing one hears in Mayfair’s drawing rooms,” Selwyn answered in halting tones.
“But most gentlemen about Town eventually hear the talk,” Garrick added with a lascivious smirk.
Heenan leaned over and inhaled snuff into his nose. “Not that anyone dares to cut her in public.” Leaning back in his chair with a satisfied sigh, he used a handkerchief to wipe remnants of the powdery substance from his upper lip. “Impeccable family lines and all. The family carries on as though nothing has happened. She is under the protection of her cousin, the Marquess of Camryn, who is quite influential in the Lords. No one dares risk his wrath.”
“I don’t follow.”
Garrick leaned forward. “They say the chit is compromised. Utterly and completely, if you get my meaning.” He winked at Hart. “But she still acts the frigid princess, all high and mighty. Otherwise, who wouldn’t want to toss up those skirts and give her a good hard—”
Something in his head snapped loose, blinding him to anything but the desire to crush the drunken whoreson beneath his boot heel. He bolted to his feet and shoved the table back with a loud clatter. Towering over Garrick, he grabbed the man’s cravat with one hand and drew back his fist with the other. Garrick shrank back in his chair, wide-eyed, his face pinched with fear. Action at the other gaming tables screeched to a halt. Silence descended; all eyes were riveted on Hartwell.
Selwyn jumped up and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “Now Hartwell,” he said, partially positioning himself between the two men. “This is just a friendly misunderstanding among gentlemen.”
His neck burned. It was a lie. It had to be. “It is hardly the act of a gentleman to insult a lady’s honor in the most grievous way possible.”
Willa did not appear surprised to find herself sitting next to Hartwell at supper. Nor did she seem to mind.
“I find I have the best seat at the table,” he said as they took their places.
“Are you certain the air won’t be too brisk for you?”
He grinned. “Why Lady Wilhelmina, in your own Arctic way, I do believe you are flirting with me.”
“You are our guest,” she answered in smooth tones. “Pray don’t mistake polite discourse for something that it is not.”
“Ouch.” He touched his heart in dramatic fashion. Sitting next to her, he’d have no need of dessert. She was like a Gunter’s lemon ice—tangy, tart, and delectably frosty.
She curved those pillowed lips into a smile, a reluctant one, but he still counted that a victory. “Surely you are not so easily wounded, Your Grace.”
“Actually, as a second son, I have heard far worse. One is not as popular when he is not in line to inherit a dukedom, or at least a vast fortune. As fate would have it, I am now in possession of both.”
“Clearly modesty is not something you are in possession of.”
Hart gave a mischievous smile. “Usually a title and deep pockets are sufficient to attract the attention of a lovely creature such as yourself.” He sipped his wine. “Otherwise, I shall have to win you over with my equally deep reservoirs of charm and good looks.”
Her closed mouth wobbled with laughter until she managed to wrangle it into submission. “I should like to know when you decide to begin employing those qualities.”
Hart shot her a surprised look. She was teasing him again. Promising. He softened his tone. “Oh, believe me, my lady, I intend to make you well aware of my charms.”
Cam regarded Willa with weary resignation. “Your reputation cannot survive another scandal.”
“We shall marry,” Hart said in decisive tones, certain of the inherent rightness of his decision. “It is the only answer.”
Willa’s arms crossed under her chest, drawing his eye to her abundant, softly quivering bosom. One that would soon be his to cherish—along with the rest of this heavenly woman. The thought of it triggered a surprising burst of gladness in him.
But she didn’t seem to be reacting with the same equanimity. “You two and your misplaced sense of honor are not going to force me into marriage with a man who has made his disdain for me quite clear.”
A glancing pain stung Hart’s chest. “Do you find the idea of marriage to me so abhorrent?”
“I won’t consent,” she said stubbornly to Cam. “My reputation be gone. I won’t be forced into a silly charade of a marriage for no good reason. I won’t do it.”
“I cannot force you.” Sadness weighted Cam’s voice. Willa exhaled with obvious relief, but then Cam turned to Hart. “She leaves me no alternative. I demand satisfaction.”
“What! Are you cracked?” Willa blurted. “Don’t be a fool. There is not going to be any duel!”
Tension snaked into every muscle in Hart’s body. “Name your seconds, Camryn.”
Willa whipped around to Hart. “Don’t be so beetle brained,” she cried. “Cam’s a perfect shot. He’ll kill you.”
“So be it.” A sense of calm infused him. “Your honor has to be avenged.”
“Avenged?” Willa’s voice rose in panic. “What of your mother? You would leave her alone in this world? She has already lost one son. You would condemn her to a life without either of her children?”
“It is not ideal, but I have little choice in the matter.” Heaviness settled in his heart. His mother’s grief would be unimaginable. “Name your seconds, Camryn.”
“Not ideal? Aren’t you the last of your line?” she asked in a voice gone shrill with a rising sense of panic.
He nodded in assent without taking his eyes off Cam’s stony expression. “What will it be, old friend, bullet or blade?”
“Wait!” Desperation edged her voice. “You must give me time to consider this. If marrying Hartwell is the only alternative to you two killing each other, I should at least have a few days to consider it.”
“No.” Cam’s impenetrable stare moved from Hart to Willa. “I will have your consent now.”
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Diana Quincy is an award-winning former television journalist who decided she’d rather make up stories where a happy ending is always guaranteed. Growing up as a foreign service brat, Diana visited many countries and is now settled in Virginia with her husband and two sons. When not bent over her laptop or trying to keep up with laundry, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family and dreams of traveling much more than her current schedule (and budget) allows.
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