Both Shafter and Beneath the Mask came into being as standalone novels. They were never meant to be the start of a series, but one of my talents is creating a whole world around my characters. My readers enjoy these worlds enough not to want to leave, a beautiful thing even though it put a wrench in my original publishing plans. Even my short stories often get those reactions, not that they fail to provide a full story, but because there are many other stories evident in the telling that have yet to see the light.
Beneath the Mask, the start of my indie career, was the first case of this. I’d released the book thinking it completely self-contained, so much so that when a reader asked for the next book, I was floored. I even asked that reader whom she saw as needing a story still, blind to the teasers my characters put on the page. I can’t remember at this point whether she pointed to Aubrey or whether my blinders came off, but there he was, demanding his own happily ever after as he told Jasper how foolish his friend was being in giving over his happiness to his mother’s aspirations.
You’d think the story sprung from that moment, and Aubrey’s side of it did for sure, but until I realized a story idea I’d written down some time ago was the framework for his tale, it didn’t come clear. That makes sense, I suppose, because this is a romance, and it’s impossible to have only one main character in those.
The story idea drew on the same Gothic romance theme another (as of yet unpublished) novel I’ve written used, that of a tragic love dragged through all sorts of miseries before coming together…or not. Both were inspired by folk songs, the first The Great Selkie and the second the Scottish Barbara Allen, which if you know the songs, are far darker than the feel of Uncommon Lords and Ladies.
This didn’t stop Barbara one bit. She tweaked and turned the idea until she’d made it her own, starting with a huge crush on Aubrey from a distance that had as little to do with the whole man as his impression of her matched her own character. It took overhearing his thoughts to wake Barbara up, but she woke to the worst possible answer, seeing his words as a challenge to prove him right.
Now, this is a romance, so you know everything came out fine in the end, but I enjoyed both Barbara’s trickster ways and discovering her comeuppance. Don’t think Aubrey remained a perfect paragon of virtue either. He might have believed his interest would guide his marriage prospects, but where in the first book Daphne cared little for the obligations of her position, Aubrey, as his father’s heir, is all too aware of the expectations he is obliged to meet.
A Country Masquerade is a very different story than Beneath the Mask for all they are set in the same world. Barbara is more conventional than Daphne ever was, and yet she has her own desires that fail to match those expected of the female kind. She’s strong-willed, bull-headed, and determined to make people pay while blind to her own misbehaviors until confronted. There were times when I wondered if Aubrey deserved a better mate than Barbara turned out to be, but then, maybe he needed this brush with reality as much as Jasper had to face his own conflicting desires.
One of the fun aspects of writing a series linked based on familial or friend relationships rather than an overarching story is the introduction of new characters and stories with each book. Sure, there are some common aspects, especially with the constraints of Regency society, but each character brings their own nature to the fore, sometimes throwing those conventions out the window…with the risk of significant consequences. If you haven’t yet given my sweet Regency series a try, know there is some level of interconnectedness between them, especially with Books 2 and 3. They can, however, be read in any order as it is the particulars rather than the endings that make them a delight. Still, if you were hoping to see Jasper and Daphne again, they do play a role in A Country Masquerade as a somewhat settled, married couple.