A duchess disguised as a lady’s maid; a gentleman parading as a highwayman.
She’s on the run from a murderer, he’s in pursuit of one…
In a remote Norfolk manor, Phoebe, Lady Cavanaugh is wrongfully accused by her servants of her brutal husband’s murder.
There’s little sympathy in the district for the duchess who’s taken a lover and made clear she despised her husband. The local magistrate has also vowed revenge since Lady Cavanaugh rebuffed his advances.
When Phoebe is discovered in the forest wearing only a chemise stained with the blood of her murdered husband, she persuades the noble ‘highwayman’ who rescues her that she is Lady Cavanaugh’s maidservant.
Hugh Redding has his own reasons for hunting down the man who would have Phoebe tried and hanged for murder. He plans to turn ‘the maidservant with aspirations above her station’ into the ‘lady’ who might testify against the very villain who would see Phoebe dead.
But despite the fierce attraction between Phoebe and the ‘highwayman’, Phoebe is not in a position to admit she’s the ‘murderous duchess’ hunted across the land.
Seizing an opportunity to strike at the social and financial standing of the man who has profited by her distress, Phoebe is drawn into a dangerous intrigue.
But when disaster strikes, she fears Hugh will lack the sympathy or understanding of her unusual predicament to even want to save her a second time.
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It was an evening like any other: dull with a hint of menace and tension so thick Phoebe imagined slicing a neat hole in it and disappearing magically into a new life.
Any would do.
The company had retired to the dim, close drawing room, gentlemen included, following a gluttonous dinner. By the fireplace Phoebe worked at her embroidery, glad to be ignored though she knew that wouldn’t last for long.
The reprieve was even briefer than she’d anticipated. Brutus exhaled on a shuddering snore truncated by a yelp as he chased rabbits in his dreams; this caused James the footman, who was stooping over Ulrick in the act of offering his master a drink, to jump in fright and deposit a snifter of brandy upon her husband’s waistcoat. Not that it would concern Ulrick who was snoring more loudly than Brutus and whose waistcoat was already stained with drool.
The footman cast the mistress a sideways glance as he unwound his lordship’s stock and dabbed at the sticky mess but Phoebe held her tongue and made do with a dispassionate look. She’d never liked James. She was certain he’d conspired with Ulrick on more than a few occasions to put her on the back foot and to tarnish her name below stairs. Despite her obvious disdain, she was afraid of the power he wielded.
“That will be all, James.” She rose with a dismissive wave and the rustle of silken skirts. “I’ll attend to my husband. Please see Mr Barnaby and Sir Roderick out.”
Sir Roderick, that most unwelcome of neighbours, appeared before her, bony and wraithlike; malevolent as ever. “I believe your dog that needs more attention than Lord Cavanaugh.” His thin mouth turned up in a parody of amusement as he wafted a fastidious hand about his nose, indicating Brutus’s greater guilt than his master’s snoring.
Phoebe offered Sir Roderick a cold smile. On the other side of the room Ulrick’s two other guests conversed in low voices by the window.
She inclined her head as she ignored his attempt at levity. “Good night, Sir Roderick.”
Sir Roderick straightened his spare, weedy frame, which she saw trembled with supressed outrage at being so summarily dismissed by the lady of the house.
Phoebe refused to turn away from his challenging gaze. Sir Roderick was another who couldn’t wait until the doors of Blinley Manor were closed against her the moment Ulrick breathed his last. She’d offended his honour, having bitten his lip and kneed him in the groin six months before when he’d accosted her in a dimly lit corridor and suggested in lewd terms how he might assist in the creation of an heir for the already ailing Ulrick. An heir that would ensure Phoebe kept a roof over her head.
How would you describe The Duchess and the Highwayman in only three words?
Murder, mystery, romance
Do you listen to music while you write?
No, I love silence. With two kids, that’s a rare commodity so when I write it’s all about creating my characters in a vacuum of silence.
What are some tunes on your playlist?
I do love Norwegian band A-ha’s 1980s hit ‘Take on Me’. My husband is Norwegian and he’s not fond of them but one of my music scene highlights was when the lead singer, Morten Harket, put his hands on my shoulders to move me out of the way in the midst of a crowd when I was in Oslo seeing a live Pink Floyd concert. That was probably my own fan girl moment.
What scene from The Duchess and the Highwayman was the most fun to write?
I liked the dialogue where my hero Hugh assumes he’d addressing a lady’s maid whom he thinks is putting on tremendous airs and graces and trying to ape her betters when in fact my heroine, Phoebe, is a duchess.
How did The Duchess and the Highwayman come to be? What was your inspiration to write the book?
I live opposite a massively grand Gothic insane asylum just north of Melbourne, Australia, and I did a lot of gazing out of my study window at the high walls and crazy Victorian architecture dreaming up the storyline. So many women were locked away in that insane asylum purely because they were an encumbrance or inconvenience to their husbands or fathers so The Duchess and the Highwayman is influenced by the helplessness of women – in this case a normally timid woman who has to be daring to save her own life.
What do you hope readers take away from your work?
Essentially the feeling that life is good and that happy endings can happen when you least expect them; but also a real understanding of how difficult it was for women to forge happiness when they were so dominated by the men in their lives. In Australia, it wasn’t until 1969 that women were allowed to work in the public service following marriage so the independence we enjoy today is relatively recent.
What are you reading right now?
Why Spencer Perceval had to Die by Andro Linklater. It’s about the shooting murder in the UK House of Commons in 1812 of the then Prime Minister, an ancestor of mine. All the boys in my family are called Spencer and when I stumbled upon this ‘true crime’ investigation that links Perceval’s death with his anti-slavery quest, I had to read it. As many of my stories are set around this time, I also thought it would be great research.
What writing advice would you give a fellow author?
Don’t give up if because you’ll never know if success was just round the corner.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Two years – mostly because of a disastrous ‘find and replace’ error which I couldn’t undo and which riddled my manuscript with double quotations marks everywhere!
Jeans or sweats?
Jeans – though, like my heroines, I love dressing up and have a roomful of historical costumes I’ve made.
Coffee or Tea?
Chocolate or Chips?
Boxers, briefs or commando?
Boxers or commando, depending on the mood and circumstances.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Either, depending on the mood and quality.
Thank you so much for having me!