Have Yourself a Slow Burn little Christmas...
I think readers who savor slow-burn, exquisitely tense romances savor them for the same reasons we traditionally disguise our holiday gifts in shiny paper and ribbon: We instinctively understand that anticipation and the element of surprise heighten pleasure and amplify that ultimate delicious payoff—whether we're unwrapping a brand new air fryer, or, for instance, a smolderingly stern duke. And it's why advent calendars are such a fun tradition—no matter how old we are, we all get an undeniably pleasant little charge in discovering what's behind each little door of the calendar, right up until the big day.
I like to think of The Grand Palace on the Thames—the boarding house near the London docks at the nexus of of Palace of Rogues series— as a sort of Romance Advent Calendar. After all, there's a reason why Dot—former worst lady's maid in the world, current valued (if exasperatedly) staff member—loves answering the door more than any of her other responsibilities: it's that element of surprise. Who will it be? What story will be set in motion the minute a new person steps into the boarding house foyer? And the series premise is delicious for me, too, because it affords me so many opportunities to surprise myself, my readers and my characters. Why, anyone could show up at the door at any time for any reason! For instance, a coldly brilliant, battle-hardened legend and the man who literally wrote the book on honor, General James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, might need a quiet place to stay while his townhouse is undergoing repairs, because he's working on his memoirs. After all, at the age of forty-three, what else could be left for a legend to achieve? Or like Mariana Wylde, a cobbler's daughter turned opera diva, whose rising fortunes are shattered by a scandal that sends her fleeing from an angry mob on a stormy night—right to door of The Grand Palace on the Thames.
A boardinghouse on the docks (and in the pages of AFTER DARK WITH THE DUKE) might in fact be the only place in the world England's greatest hero and England's greatest pariah would cross paths. These two (seeming) opposites of course mightily clash, compelling our boarding house proprietresses, Mrs. Angelique Durand and Mrs. Delilah Hardy, to impose a sort of half-punishment, half detente: they compel the duke to give Mariana daily Italian lessons.
Which brings us to another kind of metaphorical advent calendar: day by day, Mariana and James uncover stunning little surprises and truths about each other and themselves. Until those lessons culminate in something neither of them anticipates: a passion for the ages. And a love that could be the ruination of them both.
Here's hoping you, too, unwrap some glorious surprises this holiday season—even if (perhaps especially if) they're between the pages of a book.