Q. Where did you get the idea for Unveiled?
A. I’m going to let Tessa Dare explain that.
Courtney Milan: We’re going to tell the story of how Courtney, that’s me, got the idea for Unveiled by arguing with Tessa Dare.
Tessa Dare: That’s me.
Courtney Milan: About a scene in her book One Dance with a Duke.
Tessa Dare: So if you’ve read One Dance with a Duke, there is a scene where the hero and the heroine get married, and two people come in halfway through the wedding, and there’s a bit of discussion, and at the end of the wedding, one of those people who intruded on the scene signs the witness register. So when I sent the scene to Courtney for her feedback as a critique partner, she replied that it really bothered her that these people came in halfway through the wedding, and then still signed as witnesses, because technically they were not there for all of the ceremony, did not witness it, and if that were ever found out, the marriage would be invalid, the hero and heroine’s children would be bastards, and she couldn’t believe in the happily ever after if I left the scene the way it was, and it would ruin the book for her.
Courtney Milan: Think of the children.
Tessa Dare: And I said. Yeah, think of the children. And I said sorry.
Courtney Milan: She told me basically I was wrong. Okay, if you might not have noticed this before now, sometimes I can get hung up on really trivial things, and this was a case where I got really hung up on something that was pretty trivial.
Tessa Dare: And no one else ever complained.
Courtney Milan: Correct. But what did I get from it? Every time you say “Oh my goodness, think of the poor children”, what that tells you, it’s a great thing to do to your next heroine. And that is where the idea for Unveiled came from.
I used Montacute House in Somerset as my guide for Parford Manor. In particular, I described Parford Manor as being built with stone from the same quarry—a gorgeous honey gold stone that shines in the sunlight.
You can view a picture of Montacute House on the National Trust website here.
The Long Gallery
In Parford Manor, there’s a gallery mentioned—a long room where portraits hang. I modeled this after the long gallery in Montacute—it takes up much of the top floor.
You can view a picture of the long gallery on the National Trust website here.
I mentioned that I modeled Parford Manor after Montacute house. I’d always imagined that Parford Manor had more extensive gardens than the one at Montacute house, but there are some parts in back where roses mix with garden paths and adorable little structures.
You can view a picture of the gardens at Montacute on the National Trust website here.
Question & Answers
Q. How exactly did Ash make all that money?
A. Ash made the first part of his fortune—a few thousand pounds—in India. He built the rest of his empire once he got back with that seed money.
The only thing I say in the book itself is that he traded rubies. I always imagined that Ash built his empire by learning to speak the local languages and getting a reputation for trading fairly… Which I very quickly figured out was my attempt to sanitize the getting of his wealth as much as I could. How fairly can you trade with people when your fellow countrymen are forcibly occupying their territory? Doesn’t matter how nice you are about it. It’s still money made on someone else’s spilled blood.
There are very few ways to make money in the nineteenth century that aren’t plain horrible in some fashion. Anyone who made money in international dealings was exploiting imperial positions and/or the slave trade. (Even if they didn’t traffic in slaves personally, trading indigo, sugar, rum, cotton…anything created by slave labor, really, would be problematic.)
Making money against the backdrop of the British Empire—however you sanitize it—almost certainly involved some degree of highly problematic behavior.
So the answer to the question is that Ash made money the way many of his countrymen did. He was nice about it, and never personally killed anyone, but he doesn’t deserve cookies for that.
Q. When Margaret tells Ash to leave her alone and he does, it goes against the common romance trope in which masculine persistence is expected to wear down feminine resistance. Did you deliberately intend to meet that trope head-on?
A. Nope. I definitely did not intend that.
When I first got the idea for Unveiled, I had planned that Ash was going to be a very typical alpha male.
I have proof: I write books out of order, see, so one of the very first things I wrote (sometime in 2008) was a scene (not in the book any longer, for obvious reasons) where Ash kisses Margaret. Here it is:
She gathered that preternatural calm about herself. Despite her pale beauty, it descended on her like a cloak of darkness. And he wanted to crack it, to shake it up, to make her respond with something other than the mere hint of a whisper.
He strode forward until he bracketed her against the wall. Her calm slipped, just a tad. Ash reached down and touched her face. Her cheek was warm and soft in his hand, and her lips parted just a fraction. She said not a word, though—just looked up at him.
“Please,” she said. “Don’t—”
But he did. He wanted her, and by damn, he was going to kiss her. He caught up her words before she could finish her sentence—before she could thrust him from her company, with another perfectly cutting speech. He tasted her lips against his. And she did not hold back; instead, she kissed him back, her body molding itself to his instantly, her hands on his shoulders. She tasted of sweet pleasure and perfect harmony. His hand drifted down her face, down the line of her jaw, to dabble in the hollow of her neck. He could feel her pulse slamming against his fingers, and he dared to move it lower, to play with the scalloped neckline of her gown. Lower, still, to ease the fabric down over the bud of her nipple, to feel it harden as he drank her desire from her mouth—
She set her hands against his chest and shoved him, hard. “Don’t,” she gasped. And before he could open his mouth to argue—before he could say a single word—she finished the sentence he’d interrupted with his kiss. “Don’t make me feel. I can’t bear it.”
So that’s Ash as I initially planned him.
And then someone (@redrobinreader) on Twitter complained that she was annoyed that in every historical romance, the hero tells the heroine how turned on he is by her pale, white skin.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with pale, white skin. But when it’s the only color that gets praised, that’s messed up. And…you notice that line above about pale beauty? Guilty as charged. That one comment made me take a step back and look at myself. I started writing a conversation between Ash and Margaret where he tells her to take off her hat if she doesn’t like it, and when she complains about how she’ll brown, he tells her this:
Do you know why my peers want their brides to have pale skin?… They want a woman who is a canvas, white and empty. Standing still, existing for no other purpose than to serve as a mute object onto which they can paint their own hopes and desires. They want their brides veiled. They want a demure, blank space they can fill with whatever they desire.
I hadn’t expected to write that. I hadn’t planned to write it. But when I did, it felt right in a way that nothing I had ever written before had. Writing those words changed Ash, changed the book, changed what I write about, and changed who I am as a writer.
I didn’t subvert the trope. The anti-trope subverted me.
Q. Mark chooses Nequam quidem sumus as the family motto. What does this mean?
A. I asked my brother-in-law to translate “We’re up to no good” into Latin. There wasn’t a direct translation, and so we settled on something that means something like, “We are totally worthless.” Said tongue in cheek, it still seemed appropriate.
Q. Is Ash’s rejection of class because of his bad experience with Parford, something influenced by his travels, or something else?
A. I think it’s just bemusement on his part. He’d been treated poorly when people thought he was just a grunt to be used for mindless labor. He’s been treated well when people think he’s a duke’s rightful heir. He knows that he’s still the same person.
It’s not that Ash rejects class; he knows that it exists and that it shapes peoples’ lives. Obviously he has seen that happen himself.
But he thinks it’s a collective delusion held by people, simply because he’s been classified at both the high and the low end of things. When people start kissing his butt, he thinks they’re crazy.
Q. Why is the Duke of Parford such a big jerk?
A. At base, the Duke of Parford has never wanted, and rarely needed, to care about anyone other than himself, and it shows.
A few things have aggravated his mean tendencies. He was in love (such as these things are) with his first wife and he was bitter about his parents shipping her off. He spent decades mourning her (and also being pissed off that he didn’t get to win). In the end, when he married a second time, he felt even more bitter about the woman he ended up marrying.
But he’s particularly a jerk—and almost childishly so in Unveiled—because of his medical history. Throughout the book, he’s having an ongoing series of transient ischemic attacks (sometimes called mini-strokes). Some of the things that he does—like when Margaret accuses him of making faces at the maids—are involuntary reactions on his part. He’s not making faces; he has temporarily lost control over his facial muscles. His refusal to fess up to this is entirely fear-based. He has little enough control over his life; he’s not about to admit that he’s not in control all the time.
In addition, the initial stroke that he had messed up his brain, resulting in some fairly severe personality changes. He’s petulant and childish because sometimes that happens to people who have strokes. We all have elements of our personality that are not very nice, but we’ve also learned to moderate those impulses and not go with our first, most selfish responses. The part of Parford’s brain that allows him to moderate exactly how much of a jerk he is has been damaged.
Q. What made you decide to give Ash dyslexia?
For Unveiled, the biggest surprise that I had came when I wrote the where Margaret comes on Ash trying to read a book. I had originally intended that Ash would feel uneducated, un-book-learned compared to his brothers, and that that would be a wedge that stood between them. But when I got to that scene, and I had Margaret start talking to Ash, what Ash replied was not “I’ve never been educated”, but “I can’t read.” I hadn’t been planning to write that line – I wrote it down, I don’t know where it came from. I looked at it and I said “No way, no way, that can’t happen”, and I immediately crossed it off. That line bothered me for weeks. I kept going back to that scene and looking at what I had written and asking myself “Is this right?” Finally, I just said to myself “Look, I’m just going to go through the rest of the book and see how impossible it would be to make it so that Ash can’t read.” I had already written about half of it.
When I went through the scenes that I had, I found that there was one paragraph that I had to change. One. That’s it. It was like I had written the whole book with the thought that Ash couldn’t read in my mind already. Go subconscious.
Q. Margaret thinks about how prior to being named a bastard she had assumed everything in life was her due. Did she undergo a huge ideological shift or was it more that she had never thought about it before at all?
A. She had never thought about it before.
If everyone told you from birth that you were awesome and the greatest and the best, it would be hard to question it and say, “You know, maybe I am not one hundred percent awesome!”
Margaret undergoes the exact opposite experience that Ash does—transforming from a duke’s treasured offspring to a menial servant. Suddenly, all the super-judgey things that she has ever thought about people of her station (and she’d thought a lot of them) apply to her.
Being judgey about herself is not fun for her.
Q. Ash is extremely perceptive and yet seems completely out to sea with regard to his brothers. Is it only guilt causing this blind spot or something else?
A. I think sibling blindness is really, really common. You grow up with someone. You think you know them. You do know them, because you have that grounding of common experience…but that means that you can sometimes just be unaware of how they’ve changed. It’s really hard to see who your siblings have become as adults.
I know a lot of really perceptive people who fundamentally cannot figure out their brothers and sisters.
With Ash, this is a double problem, because while he’s their brother, he also basically stepped into the role of parent. He has a really hard time letting go of that role as protector. He has a hard time stepping back and being a friend and a brother—and admitting that he needs protection, too.
Q. In many romances, the Big Reveal of a deception causes feelings of betrayal between the couple, but here the conflict is mostly external even after Margaret reveals her true identity. Why did you make that choice?
A. Can you imagine Ash admitting he was wrong about Margaret?
Yeah, neither can I.
I just can’t see Ash being Ash and also getting angry with Margaret.
Q. Have Ash’s instincts ever led him truly and fully astray?
A. Of course they have. He’s not magic.
Ash probably wouldn’t admit that this has happened, though. He’s fairly invested in his view of himself, and he’s right a huge percentage of the time, but not always. Usually, when he’s wrong, it’s because he fails to notice that the world does not revolve around him.
For instance, he totally misunderstands that what is going on between Smite and Richard has almost nothing to do with the family feud, and everything to do with their personal history.
He also imagines Smite’s actions are rejections of him, but if you read Unraveled, you’ll see that the things that Smite does in this book—not spend Ash’s money, refusing to go on a walk next to a river—are things Smite would avoid independently for reasons that Ash doesn’t understand. Smite’s choices have nothing to do with Ash.
Q. Margaret is extremely forgiving of her brothers’ faults. Was there a time when you wanted her to say, “Screw them!” and leave them entirely out in the cold?
A. Not really. And I don’t think she’s that forgiving, actually.
I mean, Edmund is a jackass, but Richard isn’t and wasn’t. Richard is stuck up (but so was Margaret, and so she understands that). And they’re both afraid—really afraid—something that Margaret understands because she feels the same things. Richard’s biggest faults are that he doesn’t write to her and doesn’t remember her birthday while he’s engaged in a struggle for his future (and hers, for that matter). What kind of sister turns on her brother under those circumstances?
We see things enough from Ash’s point of view that we don’t think highly of Richard, but Richard is neither a horrible person nor even a horrible brother.
From his perspective, even at the end he thinks he’s doing what is best for Margaret (and also for himself). He thinks Ash is using her. If he’s right, when Ash wins, Margaret will have nothing but a broken heart. If Richard’s only way to win is to keep Margaret a bastard, well…at least that way, Richard will have the means to take care of her.
Richard doesn’t have the benefit of knowing that Ash is sincere.
Q. Is there some meaning to the ring and the Parford coat of arms?
A. Why, yes, there is! The Parford family coat of arms is described as having a stylized sword figuring heavily in it. This shows up in two particular places: first, in the master key that Ash is given, and second, carved into the stone on Parford’s signet ring.
You might wonder why the coat of arms is dominated by a sword, when so many coats of arms sport animals. The answer is because Unveiled (and the entire Turner series) was written as a riff off of Arthurian legend. I won’t call it a retelling—I don’t adhere closely enough to any version of the story for it to be a retelling. Also, Arthurian legend is very much a tragedy as far as romance is concerned, and I wanted to write a romantic triumph.
But this is how it basically runs in this book: Margaret is King Arthur. She was conceived under conditions that might otherwise cast doubt on her legitimacy. The two instances of the sword—the master key and the signet ring—parallel Arthurian legend. The signet ring… Well, it’s not an accident that the ring is a sword carved in a stone. It’s an actual sword. In a stone. Ash idly tries to put it on earlier in the book and fails. Richard tries to put it on and fails. The only one who passes the sword in the stone test is Margaret.
Richard Dalrymple, Margaret’s brother, parallels Sir Kay: He attempts at first to betray Arthur (Margaret), and thus take credit and the Kingdom (dukedom). But he is, at heart, a good guy, and he eventually does the right thing.
So, if Margaret is Arthur, does that make Ash Guinevere? Nope. I think the Arthur/Guinevere match sucked to start with. I do not ship them. I’ve already told you who Ash is: He’s the one who gives Margaret Excalibur. Which, depending on which legend you adopt, makes Ash the Lady of the Lake. (By the way, when you read Unclaimed, you’ll see that Mark ships Arthur/Lady of the Lake, too.)
The only book in the series that explicitly discusses Arthurian legend is Unclaimed. You might think that the chaste Sir Mark is Galahad. But there is another knight who—in some retellings of Arthurian legend—was a virgin. That knight is more famous for the manner in which he lost his virginity, and so people rarely think of him as chaste. I mean, of course, Lancelot.
Q. What does Ash think about Mark’s chastity after they come to an understanding?
A. There was a scene between Mark and Ash that was eventually deleted, mostly because I’d have to stop all the forward motion on the romance to drop it into the end of the story. So here it is now.
Ash put his hands in his pockets. “But you don’t want—”
Mark waited expectantly. “I don’t want what?”
Ash didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to put it without offending his younger brother. You don’t want to live. Mark didn’t want to grab life, to see new things, to experience. He’d hidden himself inside his own protective shell, and Ash had never been able to coax him out from it.
“You don’t want to want,” Ash finished lamely.
Mark slowly pushed himself to his feet. Ash had always thought of him as so damned young—as if twenty years later, that fragile, ethereal child burning up with fever was still at the forefront of his vision. But as Mark walked over to Ash, Ash realized that at some point in the intervening years, his brother had grown up. He wasn’t fevered. He wasn’t small and sickly any longer. He was whip-cord thin, but muscled. He was blond, but not pale. In those years when he’d been gone—and even in the years thereafter, when he’d been working to make a life for his brothers—Mark had grown up. He walked toward Ash now, his stride strong and steady. His eyes burned with an intensity that in any other man, Ash might have thought lethal. But this was Mark. Innocent Mark, gentle Mark.
When Mark stood a pace away, he drew himself up and put his hands on his hips. “You think I don’t want?” His voice was a growl.
He couldn’t be angry—Mark never got angry. Ash scowled. “No. Of course not. You have…ambitions. And…and goals. And such like.” He just didn’t have regular human desires, at least not the messy complicated things that Ash felt, deep in his gut. He didn’t look at his brothers and tremble deep inside, fearing that they would never find happiness. He didn’t think of Margaret and have his hands shake, knowing she could never look at him as he looked at her. He was unspoiled by any baser emotions like revenge or lust, and Ash loved him for it. Mark was special.
But it also meant…well, it meant he didn’t want. Not in the normal human way. And so Ash had to want for him. He had to give Mark the things he didn’t know he wanted, the things his soul desired deep down, but that he’d forgotten to feel after all those years of abstemious living. Mark had been taught not to desire, to give himself up in service of others. He did it so admirably.
Mark was looking him up and down. His lips were pressed together. Another man in his position might have been angry. But Mark looked at him with…well, with pity. It was damnably unnerving.
“You think I don’t have desires?” he asked.
Ash couldn’t answer. His mouth went dry with desperation.
“You’re daft,” Mark said.
It was the most uncharitable thing that Ash had ever heard his brother say, and his mouth dropped open.
“You’re completely daft,” Mark continued. “I believe in chastity, not celibacy. And if you think that translates into a lack of want, you are an idiot. I want. I want very, very badly.”
But he spoke matter-of-factly, as if he were discussing the price of corn.
“If I let myself sink into my wanting, trust me, I would wallow as much as you do. If I let myself sink into the experience of wanting…well, I would never get my mind off the scent of a woman when I pass her on the street, or the rounding of her curves.” He flexed his hands almost unconsciously, as if he could feel those curves against the palms of his hand. “Just because I can interpose my will between my wanting and my actions doesn’t mean I feel no desire.”
Ash had been going to say, But you can’t really understand what you’re wanting until you experience it.
But Mark shook his head. “I’m a virgin,” he said. “Not an innocent. Nor even an ignoramus. I know precisely what I’m missing, and trust me, I want it.”
“If you want so badly, why haven’t you married?”
Surely it was not for lack of choice. Women flocked to Mark—his blond hair, that air of innocence coupled with strength. With Ash’s wealth behind him, with his own fortune established, he was as eligible as ever.
“Why haven’t you married?” Mark asked. “You’re thirty-four.”
Because he’d always been able to slake his wants elsewhere. Until Margaret, when the wanting had begun to run deeper. “I am—I have—that is to say—”
“Of course not. You wouldn’t marry just anyone. Not for money. Not for convenience. Not for position or power. You’re afraid of the virtuous maidens who so kindly disclaim all their own wants and desires. You want a woman who wants, too, someone who will never, ever neglect your children. You won’t marry until you are certain that whoever you pick will be as far from our mother as you could possibly get. And I don’t blame you. Is it any surprise I’m doing the same?”
They had never talked about their mother. Mark had always been so…well, so damned good, believing in charity and chastity. Ash had wondered sometimes if his brother had even noticed how deranged their mother had become, or if he’d simply accepted her edicts as right.
“I didn’t realize you had noticed Mother was…off.” he said lamely.
“I’m a virgin,” Mark repeated. “Not an idiot.” He rubbed his palms together and looked into the distance. “Mother was a complicated woman. The damnable thing about her was, she was right. She was always right, about everything. One should succor the poor and the needy. One should do good. But…” Mark sighed. “But one should not do so at the expense of one’s loved ones. Too right can be just as bad as too wrong.”
It almost hurt to look at his brother. He seemed almost incandescent.
“And so, yes. I remain chaste. Yes, I want a wife. But I want a true helpmeet, a woman who I know will stand by my side. I want a lioness.”
Ash felt a lump in his throat. He would never have called Margaret a lioness; she was far too cultivated to be compared with any wild creature. But she defended the ones she loved with a ferocity that he yearned for. Even when he’d pressed her she had not once backed down.
“I want,” Mark said simply. “And when I find the woman I want—when I find my lioness—trust me. I wouldn’t waste my time arguing with you, if I could be out winning her.”