Published by Avon Impulse on August 21, 2018
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Self-made shipping magnate Joseph Chance never planned on falling in love. He simply needed financing for a new business venture and a marriage of convenience provides it. Then he meets Tessa St. Croix, his future bride, and is instantly smitten. But when the angelic beauty reveals a life-changing secret on their wedding night, Joseph thinks maybe some dreams shouldn’t come true. He leaves England, reconciling himself to a detached, convenient marriage after all.
Eleven months later, Tessa Chance has built a new life for herself in the heart of London. She’s learned her new husband's business and is determined to support herself and her responsibilities. When Joseph returns to London unexpectedly, nothing is as he imagined. His estranged wife has become the one person who can help him secure his company’s future, and her allure can tempt him still. Determined and hopeful, Tessa jumps at the chance to prove herself and justify the secret that tore them apart.
Although bruised pride and broken hearts lie between them, Joseph and Tessa realize the love they once felt has never truly left. If they can learn to forgive each other, they’ll soon discover the truest love can heal all wounds.
Tessa St. Croix was not a natural-born liar.
She was a charmer, perhaps. A flirt. A minx-y, chattery coquette. A reckless taker of risks. But a liar? A natural liar?
Not particularly. Not smoothly or boldly or effectively. Not without feeling as if the acid of the lie was burning a hole through the underside of her heart and her spirit was slowly leaking out.
Lying was a challenge for Tessa, perhaps because of her parents, who had always given her everything her heart desired, and her four brothers, who had doted on her since birth. Hers was a charmed existence, simple and expected and fun. On what occasion did she have to lie, considering all this?
The lies (or rather the failed lies) began in the October of 1830, when a trio of marriages swept the village of Pixham in Surrey like a crisp autumn wind. Tessa was one of three local girls, all friends, all with dowries well over £10,000, who sprinted down the aisle in less than six weeks’ time.
“And married to who?” the gossips had asked. Because the men rode into Pixham, bold as you please, made the acquaintance of Tessa and her friends, and before anyone could say, “And from where do you hail, sir?” they were betrothed to the girls, then married, then . . . gone.
The girls’ immediate removal from Surrey was perhaps the most alarming bit. The brides were uprooted after their weddings and installed in a townhome in London, in the posh new neighborhood of Belgravia, while the three grooms sailed out of the country. The friends made a life for themselves together in London, the so-called Brides of Belgravia, while the men pursued a foreign venture that promised to make them richer than their wildest dreams.
The first girl to marry and leave Surrey was Miss Sabine Noble, Pixham’s great beauty. Sabine had always been sharp-tongued and proud and in the scheme of things, her hasty marriage caused the least alarm. It was said that she had not been the same since her father died, and when a domineering uncle moved in to look after Sabine and her mother, no one expected her to remain in Surrey for long.
The next friend to marry was Lady Wilhelmina Hunnicut, the daughter of Pixham’s highest-ranking peer. As such, Lady Willow married the only titled gentleman of the lot, an earl from Yorkshire, with a castle and ancient ruins and mines of coal. Despite the speed of their union, a young earl marrying the daughter of a peer was not so very odd, after all.
But the last of the friends to marry was our own failed liar, Miss Tessa St. Croix, and the gossips of Surrey struggled with the whys and hows of this marriage for years to come.
Some said Tessa had grown weary of courting country gentlemen, of their hunting and horses and dogs. Some said she cast one glance on her handsome groom-to-be and fell in love at first sight. Others said her father influenced the match, because the young man she married was a London shipping merchant with grand plans, and Tessa’s father was a lucrative shareholder in the West India Docks.
But the real reason Tessa St. Croix married a man she barely knew (and the reason the gossips would never learn) was that she was ten weeks pregnant on the day she walked down the aisle.
Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say Tessa assumed she was ten weeks pregnant. Ten weeks was her most prudent guess. In truth, she was vague about the date. Vagueness was, in fact, the pervading view of her pregnancy overall. She could no more understand the schedule of her changing body than she could explain how the pregnancy came about. One moment she had been up against a tree, kissing Captain Neil Marking, handsome and charming and newly garrisoned in Surrey; and in the next, her skirts were hitched up and the kiss had gone sloppy and toothy and she was trying to find the breath to cry out.
By the time she found her voice, it had been altogether too late. The captain was beyond hearing. Her attempts to push him away were as futile as pushing away the tree. Five minutes later, he had whispered what a good girl she had been and how happy she had made him.
The irony of those affirmations had been Tessa’s clearest memory. Because six weeks later, when she sought him out to inform him of the baby, he had said the opposite.
“You’re a very bad girl, aren’t you?” he said. “And I’m very disappointed. Why, you’re just like all the other very bad, very disappointing girls, Miss St. Croix.”
After that, he had bowed briskly, backed away carelessly, and softly closed the door in her face. Three days later, his regiment left Surrey for the Isle of Wight.
In Tessa’s estimation, the conception of the child plus Captain Marking’s rejection had taken, all told, ten minutes. In the months that followed, as Tessa’s petite body had swelled into pregnancy, she could not really say what had happened—not during that strange mix of fear and shame against the tree, and not in the cold, breathless shock of the garrison stoop.
The only thing she knew for sure was that the man she married two months later was not the father of baby, and that he knew nothing of her condition.
And that had felt like a very great shame—a larger shame, perhaps, than the troubling predicament of the captain and the tree and the baby. It was a shame because she had ended up liking her new husband, Mr. Joseph Chance, very much.
The notion that Mr. Chance might want Tessa and another man’s baby had not even crossed her mind. In this, Captain Marking had taught her the lesson she would never forget. No one, Tessa thought, could know of her pregnancy. Not Joseph Chance, not her parents, not the doctor who had been summoned to treat the unexplained nausea that plagued the early days. And so she endeavored to lie. And if Tessa had been able to sustain the lie of her unborn baby—if she were a natural-born liar—her new husband never would have known.
But Tessa St. Croix was not a natural-born liar.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Well, I can tell you something that trapped me when I was aspiring. I was too stubborn about doing things my own way. The notion of “rules are meant to be broken” did not serve me well. I suspect that would have been published far sooner if I had simply followed some basic rules that, for whatever reason, I justified away or hedged or simply ignored.
For example, if a publisher lists 75,000-words as their desired word count, do not submit a 160,000-word book. If the spec sheet says they want a central love story between two main characters, do not submit a book with two or three sets of lovers all falling in love in sideline sub-plots (just to name two things that I did repeatedly out of stubbornness and misplaced confidence that my book would be the exception to these rules.)
Even now, I have to purposefully steer myself towards the tone and subject matter in Regency Historicals that readers consider to be tried-and-true. My natural tendency seems to ignore “what people want” for what I want—or, more specifically, what I feel makes sturdy conflict. I remind myself a lot that, just because (for example) a bloody carriage accident may help keep the H/h apart, most people do not read romance novels for scenes like this.
When your goal is to succeed in commercial fiction, ignoring what is popular is a little like shooting yourself in the foot. Romance fiction works very well when it is what I call “dessert in book form.” Keep it decadent and rich and beautiful and a little bit bad for you (in the best way). Leave reality and bloody carriage accidents for the kale smoothies of literary fiction.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
The thing that stops my writing in its tracks is not knowing where the story is going or making a wrong turn in the plot.
If I find myself avoiding work, it is almost always because I’m stuck. The solution is to call a writing buddy to talk over how/why I’m stuck and troubleshoot the issue, to change the point-of-view of the scene, or outline the next three chapters until I have clear direction.
The answer is never, ever, to continue to write in circles, not advancing the page count and wasting time, or to stop writing. Remember Nora Roberts always says, “I can fix a bad page, but I can’t fix a blank page.”
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
My writing friends are essential! My best buddies are Lenora Bell, Marie Tremayne, Christy Carlyle, and Cheri Allan.
I reach out to these ladies when I am stuck in a scene, discouraged, confused about marketing or an issue with my publisher, to brainstorm and plot, or simply to trade pages.
I did not anticipate was how collaborative fiction writing can be but it is truly one of my favorite parts of being a novelist. No one understands the mechanics of what makes a romance novel work (or not work) like a fellow romance novelist. No one but a romance writer understands how a potential book title can positively sing in your own head, but fall flat on your editor’s ears. And no one can make you feel better about a bad cover or review like a fellow writer.
The great irony is that writing fiction should probably be very competitive; in theory, jealousy should come into play. But I have never seen this among my friends. They are my support, my adjunct brain, my inspiration, and the answer to my mental quagmires. I legitimately do not think I could do it without them.
Best of all, beta-reading their pages or helping them plot or get “un-stuck” is truly one of my favorite things to do.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I joke that I spent all of my Botox money on my website. CharisMicheals.com was a significant investment up front, but it was important to me that my online presence be easy to find, clear, professional, and that it represent the “brand” I am trying to build.
My books are cheerful, hopeful, funny and bright, and my web designer did a great job, I believe, infusing this vibe into my website. She is also very focused on every link working every time, the content transferring seamlessly from computer to phone, and every other technological detail that was out of my area of expertise (or interest!).
I think the lasting impact of so-called “swag” is debatable—the same for advertising—but I know my website is always out there, looking slick and representing who I am and what my books offer.
What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
I give a workshop with Lenora Bell about devising irresistible trilogies. Highlights include having a great hook-plus-elevator pitch, putting a new spin on tried-and-true tropes, and tapping into the current zeitgeist (i.e. infusing what’s “hot” into whatever you’re writing).
One of our big recommendations is to subscribe to pop-culture magazines such as ‘Entertainment Weekly,’ ‘People,’ or even ‘Us Weekly’ to understand what the country is talking about and watching. These are guiding ideas for over-arching themes and broad strokes. “Something about a prince marrying an American actress.” “Something about flipping houses.” “Something about a famous actor who becomes a single dad.”
And for finer plot points and conflict, I always say, read the big-city newspaper nearest to you. Scan the Metro section every day, the obituaries (if nothing else, for great names), the Sunday weddings/anniversary section, and the advice columns. I have a “what would happen if…?” moment at least once a week, just from reading the local pages and Style section of Washington Post.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Probably The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes. The world went crazy over The Me Before You, but in One Plus One, Ms. Moyes wrote a hilarious Cinderella story + road-trip book with a modern twist. It’s the story of a disgraced tech titan/genius, his cleaning lady, and the maid’s prodigy daughter, who must get to a math competition on the other side of England. Hilarious and heart-felt with a great HEA (and no euthanasia!).
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I am nearly 100% on Audible now (as a reader)! I “read” while I am driving to pick my kids up from all the places they go, when I unload the dishwasher, and when I do my speed walk workouts. Audiobooks have, no lie, changed my life. I’m not sure what I did without them!
To celebrate the release of ALL DRESSED IN WHITE by Charis Michaels,
Avon Romance is giving away two Brides of Belgravia prize bundles,
each including a paperback copy of All Dressed in White and an ebook copy of Any Groom Will Do!
~~Reviewed by Monique~~
Tessa St. Croix, and her friends Sabine and Willow, had posted an advertisement for husbands. They had their personal reasons and Tessa, once the town’s most scintillating jewel, was desperate to marry any man who would have her. Joseph Chance had been interested in the advert as it gave him more money for his business venture, but he didn’t actually want to get married. As he was leisurely looking around, he happened to hear then see the most glorious female specimen he had ever laid his eyes on, and lo and behold, that golden goddess could be his future bride; she was as delightful as she was beautiful. Tessa nearly swooned at the divinely handsome man before her, and he was as enchanting as he was good-looking. Maybe it would all work out. Maybe she could wait a little while until she told him her terrible secret.
From the very first page, I was entirely under Charis Michaels’ spell, and I wondered how I would avoid making an utter fool of myself when writing this review, because ALL DRESSED IN WHITE is just so perfect! I was completely emotionally invested in the relationship, and it was love at first sight with the characters – as it was for Joseph and Tessa – because they are so alive, so enticing, so wonderfully real, totally irresistible. And when the moment of truth happened, it was handled astonishingly well by Ms. Michaels; the first of several literary tours de force from the author. I soon became a sobbing mess, as I read completely enthralled. I was stunned at the briskness of the pace, I had expected some segments to drag, but instead Joseph and Tessa – who were wonderfully complex characters to begin with– undergo a tremendous amount of growth, and the story takes us in many unexpected directions.
ALL DRESSED IN WHITE is a monument of carefully crafted storytelling, of characters who handle their anger, shame, love, mistakes the way human beings ought to. This is a story told from the heart from an author who does not insult her readers’ intelligence, who leaves nothing to chance and takes us on an incredibly rewarding voyage. From the incandescent murmurs of love at the beginning to the perilous climb back from the abyss, I believed in Tessa and Joseph’s every word, every gesture; I also understood why they acted the way they did, and I could empathise with both of them.
I also loved the attention to historical details on the import/export business of the 1830s, on taking care of a baby, on the unfortunate fate of women in eras past, and I adored the fabulous Perry, Tessa’s maid, whose story I dream of reading maybe one day. I have unfortunately not read the first instalment, Any Groom Will Do, and I plan to read it as soon as I can, not because elements are missing, but because I was so extraordinarily impressed with ALL DRESSED IN WHITE (I still don’t understand the title though). The writing is splendid and effortlessly elegant; the dialogues are marvels of wit and intelligence; and Tessa and Joseph are characters of incredible depth brought to life by this exceptionally gifted author; there are few characters of whom I can honestly say that I admired, respected, and loved both of them, even when they are at fault? I turned the last page with reluctance because I had to leave the world of The Brides of Belgravia; what a truly marvellous book.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.