It's a rare delight to find an author with a wide tonal range. Frequently, I can pick up a book by a beloved author and know that I'll find something light and fun. When I want something a little darker, with a bit more angst, I'll reach for another author. But occasionally an author can handle both ends of the spectrum with style and grace. Connie Brockway is one such author. She has written some of my favorite light-hearted Historicals and has also written the deeply angsty All Through the Night. She pretty much covers the range in between but today I'd like to talk about the extremes.
All Through the Night, published in 1997, is a dark historical romance (quite literally, as much of it takes place after sundown). The hero, Col. Jack Seward, was rescued from a workhouse by his mentor and trained to be a weapon, doing his mentor's bidding in service of the government. The heroine, Anne Wilder, while the widow of a nobleman, was the daughter of a thief and learned well at her father's knee.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have The Bridal Season, published in 2001. Our hero in this is Elliot March, a war hero who is now the local magistrate in the small town of Little Bidewell where the heroine, Letty Potts, a music hall entertainer and former con artist, arrives impersonating Lady Agatha, a Victorian wedding planner who has been hired to manage the wedding of a local girl to a marquess.
Let's compare some scenes.
The First Meeting:
Jack accosts Anne in her Wrexhall's Wraith persona as she searches a room for something worth stealing.
“I believe I will, at that,” Seward murmured, pulling the black wool-clad figure against his hard chest and securing both wrists. Quickly and efficiently he swept his free hand down over the thief's shoulders and flanks, hips, thighs and legs. He moved back up, his touch passing lightly over the thief's chest.
He stopped, pale eyes gleaming with sudden intensity and quickly jerked the slight body forward by the belt. His hand dipped down, clamping hard on the juncture between the legs in touch both violently intimate and absolutely impersonal.
Elliot meets Letty as she arrives at the train station as Lady Agatha.
He raised his head and met the red-haired woman's gaze. Her eyes widened, as though in startled recognition. They were the oddest shade of brown. Rich, intoxicating, like tawny port.
“My pleasure,” he heard himself say as if from far off.
“Sir.” She sounded breathless.
“Sir Elliot's been kind enough to offer to drive us to the house since our own driver is indisposed.”
“Gout,” Angela announced. “Suffers terribly for it.”
The lovely young woman reluctantly looked away from him toward Angela. “In my experience, people with the gout are given to drink. My maid drank. She nodded sagely. ”Like a fish.“
The First Kiss
Interestingly, Jack and Anne's first kiss takes place while she is still disguised at the Wraith and before Jack knows who she is.
It was as if she embraced a razor-sharp blade, rigid, superbly balanced, lethal. With shivering fingers she combed back the clean, silky hair at the nape of his neck and guided his head to hers. He resisted. She arched up, standing on tiptoe to find his lips and opening her mouth over his.
Warm, hard. For three heartbeats he did not respond. And then it was as if something within him, something so long denied its existence had been forgotten, something waiting for release, abruptly found liberation. His passion spilled like acid over her body, bright, burning. He reacted instinctively, drawing her tight against his body, holding her to him by the belt he still clenched in his fist.
As you might expect, Elliot and Letty are a bit more light-hearted.
He laughed against her mouth. Laughed! Gently. Like his kiss. Tantalizingly. Like his Kiss.
He swung her lightly around, supporting her with his arm, bending her backward and following. He teased her with his gentleness, while the same gentleness taunted her with wicked promises. He cupped her chin with his free hand and brushed his thumb lightly over her lower lip while nibbling along the edge of her jaw, working his way inexorably toward her lips. Then he touched the very corner of her mouth with th tip of his tongue. …
Her resolve to be ladylike shimmered like mist, insubstantial and weak and fast-fading.
Sex and Love
Which comes first, the sex or the admission of love? The fact that these events are in a different order in each book says something about the style.
Sex permeates most of Anne and Jack's interactions. Even before Jack is aware that Anne is Wrexhall's Wraith, he has a complicated relationship with both of her personae. And Anne is equally torn. She takes the opportunity of a second encounter between Jack and the thief to extract a little satisfaction.
He squeezed his eyes shut. The back of her fingers brushed against his swollen member. He round his teeth together, refusing to give her the victory of his gasped pleasure, and then her hand closed over him with white-hot delicacy. A sound of pleasure rose from his throat. His neck arched, his hips lifted.
Desire burned to a cinder all of his plots and strategies and tomorrows. One thought drowned him with its imperative: He wanted what she alone offered – she alone of all the women he'd ever known offered: an end to longing.
Elliot, on the other hand begins with love.
”Damn it, Letty, there is no woman like you,“ he said, suddenly savage. ”How am I to follow some template of behavior when everything in me urges me to act from the heart? Do you know,“ his gaze speared her where she stood, ”that since I have loved you, I have not regretted one word, one glance, one touch? And I am so certain in loving you, so sure of it, of us, that I cannot conceive that you regret any of these things either.“
I think that Jack Seward's proposal to Anne Wilder is a classic of its kind. He tells her that he wants her to marry him after he has caught her in the act of stealing and exposed her as the Wraith. Not exactly a proposal. More of an ultimatum.
”You can't mean to do this, force me to marry you.“
His voice hardened. ”But I do.“
”Why?“ she pleaded helplessly. ”I don't understand. Why would you want to marry me?“
”I hunted you. I tracked you. I trapped you. And now, by God, I'm going to keep you.“
I suppose, in its way, this is a declaration of love.
Elliot, on the other hand,
”I want you cool and regal, earthy and impertinent, spoiling for a fight and abashed by your own temper. I want you flushed with exertion and rosy with sleep. I want you teasing and provocative, somber and thoughtful. I want every emotion, every mood, every year in a lifetime to come. I want you beside me, Letty, to encourage and argue with me, to help me and to let me help you. I want to be your companion and lover, your mentor and student.“
Happily Every After
Anne and Jack's HEA takes them far away from the scene of their first meeting, from Jack's difficult position and Anne's nefarious past. It is a fresh start, as all HEAs should be.
He tilted her chin up to see her. Beautiful Anne. His thief. His wife.
His arms tightened around her. ”Take one last look then, Anne. Say good-bye to all you hold dear.“
But she looked instead at him, because in him she saw all and everything she held dear. She gazed at him long and faithfully. Filled with the singing sweetness of loving as well as being loved, she did not notice the fog finally enveloping them.
And when a chance breeze blew it away, they were gone.
For Letty and Elliot, it happens on stage during one of Letty's performances.
Abruptly, as though he could not stand his torment a second longer, in front of eight hundred audience members, Baron Mach swept the rising musical star Letty Potts up in his arms.
”You must marry me. You must, my darling, beautiful, audacious Letty,“ he said, his voice softening to a low rumble that only she could hear. ”Now, quickly, before I kiss you and embarrass you in front of all these people, say you will.“
”She grinned, delighted and triumphant and dizzy with happiness, raining kisses on his chin and cheeks and throat and mouth.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Yes and yes and yes.”
Letty Potts was no fool.
If you haven't experienced the several shades of Connie Brockway, I hope this will convince you to give her a read. She is well worth your time.
Myretta is a founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta.