Happy Birthday, Janga! Wishing you sunshine, smiles, and happily ever afters today and always.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Today's Special - - Leigh LaValle


I had the pleasure of meeting Leigh LaValle at the RWA National Conference last year.  She's a warm, friendly, talented woman who just happens to have written a terrific Regency romance that releases today!  Leigh lives in the Pacific Northwest and, as her website bio says, "When I am not writing, mommying, or reading, I am rarely seen cleaning, and more often found hiking or, when I am really lucky, in the white powder of the ski slopes."  (That cleaning comment alone would have made me a fan!)  She's also a yoga instructor, holds an honor's degree in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing and is a published poet.  Please join me in giving debut author, Leigh LaValle a warm welcome to The Romance Dish! ~PJ





Thank you for having me here at The Romance Dish! I am excited to share my release day with you all. THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS is a book that I will always hold close to my heart. Not only is it my debut novel, it is also inspired by a romance that colors my entire life- my parents' marriage.

My mom was a die-hard Democrat and my dad a card-carrying Republican. This made for many interesting discussions at the dinner table. As the wine flowed, so did the heated opinions. I soon realized that, while my parents might spar over the evening news, they were never actually angry at each other. They agreed to disagree, even if they still argued about it. In other moments, there was much laughter and joy shared between them. Their life was full of sailing and skiing adventures, dinner-and-a-movie nights and enjoying the peace of their garden.

As the US descended into bickering and battle lines during the 2008 presidential elections, I decided I wanted to write a story that demonstrated how two sides of an issue could both be right. I chose the Robin Hood legend as my theme, and the Regency as my backdrop. The hero, the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, is a firm believer in the law; rules are meant to be followed. The heroine is an accomplice to the famed highwayman who steals from the rich to give to the poor. As the two spar and cajole and test each other, I tried to show how both sides of the issue have merit, how both characters have sympathetic reasons for their beliefs. And how those on opposing sides could still fall deeply, madly, passionately in love with each other.

During the time I was writing THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She, who unwittingly introduced me to romance novels, really wanted to read my book. I printed out copies of the chapters and she read them with a pencil in hand. My early reactions to her critique were typical to any daughter- I was upset, defensive and felt misunderstood. But, after I put aside my pride, I realized my mom had some really good points. Her main comment? She asked me if my heroine had stomach problems. “Her stomach is up, it is down, it is churning. Does she have gastrointestinal issues? Is this part of the plot? Do you think this is a wise choice?” At first I thought my mom was joking. She was not. When I went back and read that early version of my first chapters, I discovered I had used ‘her stomach flipped’ or some such description 17 times. (I’m actually not sure of this number, I have blocked the truth from memory. ;) I still have those pages my mom marked in pencil. I will treasure them always.

My mom did not finish reading my book. She died on March 8, 2010. I think it is a beautiful karma that my release day, far from my control, was set as March 6.

On March 25, 2010 I sat by my phone and awaited a call from RWA. They were announcing the Golden Heart finalists, and I was certain I would be one. I had just buried my mother, I was sick with pneumonia, sick with grief, and felt like life owed me something. I never did get a call that day. I cried through a box of tissues and swore I would never write again. The business was too hard, and life was hard enough. I don’t know what did it—I credit my writing partners and my memories of my mom who had a fighting spirit—but I did sit down at my computer, I did revise those chapters for the hundredth time, and I did final in the Golden Heart in 2011. And I did sell my book.

Even though my mom is not here to celebrate with me today, I feel her everywhere. I know she would be proud of me. She appreciated romance novels and women’s freedom of expression in all realms. While she was in Hospice, I have a strong memory of sitting by her side, holding her hand and reading a light contemporary. Something in the story made me laugh, a sound that echoed in the sorrow and deep mystery surrounding the room. At once, I felt guilty. Perhaps this was not appropriate, perhaps I should not be laughing. But, I decided my mom would appreciate it. She was a woman who knew how to laugh. And the next twenty-three hours of that day would be spent shouldering a grief that was too big for me to bear. For that hour, I held my mom’s hand, and we shared the power of romance novels.  We laughed one last time.

My parents were married almost forty years. In the last year of their time together, they taught me what true romance means. My father, the suit-clad, rule-abiding lawyer laid himself at my mother’s feet and served her with unbounded love. He gave her everything while he still could. And my mom, she passed away moments after my father came into the room and gave her a good-morning kiss. We all know she was waiting for that. Waiting for one last kiss.

As Mazie and Trent step out into the world today, I hope they bring with them the spirit of a romance that can never die. For that is the beauty of story, it lasts forever. And love, it lasts even longer.


How about you, dear reader, has a romance novel saved your day? Has a story surprised you with laughter or tears during one of life’s impossible moments? I’d love to hear your story! One commenter will win a digital copy of THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS.


Her heart longs for justice, but her body clamors for sin. 

Once the darling of high society, Mazie Chetwyn knows firsthand how quickly the rich and powerful turn their backs on the less fortunate. Orphaned, penniless and determined to defy their ruthless whims, she joins forces with a local highwayman who steals from the rich to give to the poor.

Then the pawn broker snitches, and Mazie is captured by the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. A man who is far too handsome, far too observant…and surely as corrupt as his father once was.

Sensible, rule-driven Trent Carthwick, twelfth Earl of Radford, is certain the threat of the gallows will prompt the villagers’ beloved Angel of Kindness to reveal the highwayman’s identity. But his bewitching captive volunteers nothing—except a sultry, bewildering kiss.

And so the games begin. Trent feints, Mazie parries. He threatens, she pretends nonchalance. He cajoles, she rebuffs. Thwarted at every turn, Trent probes deep into her one vulnerability—her past. There he finds the leverage he needs and a searing truth that challenges all he believes about right and wrong. 




64 comments:

  1. Please don't enter me in the giveaway as I've already ordered this for my Kindle, but I just wanted to stop by to say...

    Congrats, Leigh, on your debut!!!

    This blog made me cry, and I know your mom is definitely cheering you today. Your mom sounds like an amazing woman. And I know how hard it is to get published and keep the faith, but I'm so glad you persevered and that everyone can read THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS.

    Congrats again! xo

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    1. Ely, thanks for stopping by!

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    2. Hi Ely- Thanks so much! I am so grateful to all the dreamers out there who never gave up. We all need each other!

      Leigh

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  2. This sounds like a must have to me. Romances have gotten me through 3 divorces and the loss of my mother. There are some things you just can't get away from, not physically anyway, you have to stay and do what must be done but short jaunts into another place and time can ease the hurt just a little. Enough to get your spine straight and shoulders level so you can do the necessary and go on.

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    1. Dianna, I highly recommend THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS!

      You said, "short jaunts into another place and time can ease the hurt just a little. Enough to get your spine straight and shoulders level so you can do the necessary and go on."

      I agree! How fortunate we are to have so many wonderful romances to help us do just that.

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    2. Hi Dianna- You sound very much like a romance heroine, straightening your spine and facing life once more. I agree that this is the power of story- we get to read about another's strength and vulnerability and recharge our own.

      Thanks for stopping by! Leigh

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  3. Good Morning, Leigh! Happy Release Day! We're so happy to have you join us to celebrate THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS. It's a story I read in one day. Trent and Mazie captured my attention in the first five pages and kept me riveted to their adventure until the very end.

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    1. Thanks PJ! I am so excited to be here- I appreciate your having me. I'm so glad you enjoyed THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS!

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  4. I'm excited about your debut release of THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS. I know you miss your mom, but you were truly blessed with a wonderful, loving relationship. Your memories will always keep her alive in your heart.
    Trent and Mazie 's roller coaster ride of events sounds enjoyable!

    Romances always take me away from everyday ups and downs. I discovered romances on a vacation and I've never stopped reading them. I read while I wait for my husband. They saved me while waiting for my children as I picked them up from after school activities. I would definitely rather read than watch TV.

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    1. Laurie G, I always smile when I look around at the moms waiting in school car lines and see all the romances being read. :)

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    2. Good morning Laurie G- I would rather read than watch TV as well. The tricky part is making myself go to bed on time! Thanks for your comments about my mom. :)

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  5. Leigh, what a beautiful tribute to your parents and the love they shared. Your mom may not be here to celebrate with you today but I have no doubt that she's been with you in spirit every step of the way.

    I was my late husband's caregiver for five years. Romance books, historicals in particular, were my escape from the emotional roller coaster of doctor visits, hospital stays, treatments, hair raising ambulance rides and a five week coma. In the weeks and months following my husband's death they brought me comfort and hope in a way nothing else could.

    I volunteer at my local hospital and always carry an extra romance in my bag for someone who looks like they need a respite from their reality.

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    1. PJ- In the year my mom was sick I found a lot of solace in writing as well as reading. I tried to carve out a little time everyday when I could close the door, turn off the phone, and visit with Mazie and Trent. I puposefully left my worry and sadness behind and enjoyed stepping into their story. I was always grateful to have the opportunity and felt renewed afterward.

      I think hospital volunteers and nurses are a special kind of angel.

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  6. Leigh, this post was beautiful. Absolutely your mother is with you; her pride in you must be some of the happiness filling your heart today.

    I did the opposite last year; abandoned writing and most reading in the long months caring for my FIL. When he passed away, the hole in my life was cavernous. Writing and reading brought the balance back, and I won't stop again.

    Congratulations on your release, enjoy every minute!!!

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    1. Gillian, I'm glad reading and writing were there for you following your FIL's death and helped bring joy back into your life again.

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    2. Hi Gillian- It's interesting how we all deal with challenge differently. Thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad you are writing again!

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  7. Hi Leigh! Lovely to see you here at the Dish! Your post brought tears to my eyes!

    One of the themes that immediately struck me while reading Runaway Countess is how predominant the gray area is when you're talking about morality, ethics, right and wrong, and how even the best of intentions can go wildy astray. There are almost always two sides if not more to any story. This was definitely a story where the Robin Hood mythology gets totally turned on its head! You have written a very deep and complex story and I'm almost at the finish line, and can't wait! :) (And I have gotten over the part where I just want them to stop being stubborn so they can get to the happy ever after part, lol)


    The story of your parents made me think of Mary Matalin and James Carville-two well known political operatives from opposite sides of the aisle who are married with kids.I can only imagine the debates in that household! lol

    And romance novels save the day for me all the time! It's the perfect pick-me-up when I've had a bad day!

    P.S. No need to enter me in the giveaway as I already have an e-ARC courtesy of you and Tessa Dare! :)

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    1. Lisa, I also thought of the Matalin/Carville marriage while reading Leigh's blog. A very lively household indeed! :)

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    2. Hi Lisa- I'm so glad you are enjoying The Runaway Countess. Mazie and Trent were stubborn for a while, weren't they ;) I didn't set out to turn the Robin Hood mythology on it's head. It continually surprised me as I wrote deeper into the book that my loyalties were shifting back-and-forth so much. I truly enjoyed writing it. Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. Congratulations on your debut, Leigh! The Runaway Countess is already on my Kindle. I'm even more eager to read it after reading your post here.

    Your tribute to your mother is lovely, and I'm sure her spirit is with you today. I too found comfort in romance novels as I sat through weeks in a hospice room with my mother and, five years later, with my dad. Much earlier, reading romances kept me believing in HEAs when life was insisting they were lies. Romance readers are blessed to have stories like yours to give us joy and hope when our rainbows turn gray.

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    1. "Romance readers are blessed to have stories like yours to give us joy and hope when our rainbows turn gray."

      Beautifully said.

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    2. So sweet, Janga. Thank you. As I wrote this blog I tried so hard to remember which book it was that made me laugh. The title is lost... but in many ways I prefer that. I like to think it was the collective romance community that was supporting me, not one particular writer.

      I think hospice is such a great organization. When my kids are older, I hope to have time to volunteer as a massage therapist for hospice patients and families.

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  9. Congratulations on your book! It must be amazing to see your name on a beautiful cover - You did it! I'm a book a day kinda reader - when I'm not reading something new, I always go back and re-read my favorites. I just read 3 books from Eileen Dreyer and each of those had such amazing woman- I cried reading each one. I look forward to reading your debut.

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    1. Hi Christy P- A woman after my own heart! I don't have time to read a book a day right now, I'm more like 2/3 books a week, but I try :). My husband always teases me about this. I have to say, my kindle has been great. I no longer have towering stacks of books cramming every corner of my house. And I can access any book I want at any time.

      It IS a thrill to see my name on my first cover :) Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. Congratulations and Happy Release Day! Very touching story about your mother, father and you and the love you all shared. I have romance books I re-read when I've had a bad or sad day, anything by Shelley Laurenston because she makes me laugh and takes me out of a sad book but I don't know if I can honestly say that one has "saved" the day so to speak but I can say that romance novels are my go to books all the time. The Runaway Countess sounds like a really good book...Good Luck and I hope you get lots and lots of sales!

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    1. Hi Maria- I also have books I re-read, and even specific parts of books I like to re-read, when I'm having a bad day. Or a good day! :) All I wanted for my birthday this year was a cappuccino and my dog-eared copy of Jo Bourne's The Spymaster's Lady. Thanks for all the good wishes.

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  11. Congrats on your release. Beautiful cover.

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    1. Thanks, Rebekah! The artist (Kim Killion) did a lovely job with the cover. I can't wait to see it in Trade Paperback (releases @ 10 months from now.) Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Congrats on your release, Leigh! We're so pleased you are with us today. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. My mother passed away April 12, 2010, so I understand your pain---she was in Hospice, too. We, too, shared a love of romance (my MIL was a huge romance fan as well---she passed in 2006). Many times when I am reading a book, or re-reading an old favorite, it will make me smile thinking of these special women in my life and how much they loved the written word.

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    1. Gannon, I'm so sorry to hear about your mom. The first year really is the hardest. I still catch myself every now and then and have a good cry, but I don't feel the heavy, heavy weight like I used to. My mom used to forward me the 'Poem of the Day' when it caught her eye. Now my dad does. It is sweet, how words bring loved ones to mind.

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  13. I am never without my kindle loaded with romance books, so I am constantly finding myself smiling, giggling or sniffling at the most inopportune times. Most recently it was while my father was on a ventilator in the ICU unit while my mother was one floor up in recovery from breast cancer surgery and there I am in the waiting room with a smile a mile wide reading Sarah Macleans's newest release when the doctor came out to give me an update and wasn't sure which of us was awaiting news...oops...I personally cannot imagine not being able to get through most days without the comfort of books, and the ability to escape reality even if just for a little while.

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    1. Wendy P- I am smiling reading your story. Thanks for sharing it!

      Your post makes me think of smile therapy- a hokey name, I know. But neuroscience shows that smiling and laughing changes our brain chemistry and reduces stress. It sounds like you were doing a great job of taking care of yourself during a supremely difficult time.

      I hope your parents are doing well.

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  14. Congratulations on your debut. That was a lovely tribute to your mother. It sounds like this book was a project that you could share with her during a very difficult time.

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    1. Kim- What a nice comment. You're right, my book was something I could share with my mom. Of all her three kids, I think she worried about me the most. The starving artist and all... I think it made her feel better to read my writing, gastrointestinal issues notwithstanding :)

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  15. Romance can really make the world go round and when you find the right one well you can almost say you're set for life. That's what I like about romance stories is being able to meet so many couples and each of their story is different. Welcome to the romance world and I hope you reach many readers. Your mother and father's story is so sweet and I admire mine as well.

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    1. Na- I love finding new authors and new favorite books for all the reasons you mentioned above. It's a huge gift that only other readers could fully understand. Thanks for saying hi!

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  16. Big congrats Leigh on your debut! Your story of your parents was very touching in a way only real life romance can be. When I need a pick-me-up I turn to Anna Campbell's or Lisa Kleypas' books to immerse myself in aching romance. Always seems to perk me up, even though the heroes are tortured!
    All the best for your release!

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    1. Karyn- Tortured hearts love other tortured hearts, don't they :) I am a big fan of both those authors as well. AND a big fan of 'aching romance' (I love that adjective). I particularly like the recent Hollywood version of P+P. Mr. Darcy is soooo tortured by his emotions, rather than simply proud and cold.

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  17. Thank you for sharing the story behind your novel. When you were waiting for the call from RWA that didn't come, I loved that you went forward, didn't give up and revised your book.

    Congratulations on the release of your debut novel!

    (And thank you for the chance to win it through this giveaway!)

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    1. Tin- Oh, that day of waiting for the call that never came... it was so hard. But it made getting 'the call' 365 days later all that much sweeter. I think romance heroine's are so strong because we writers have to be so strong! Thanks for the congrats.

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  18. Welcome to The Romance Dish, Leigh! And congrats on the release of your debut novel. How exciting for you!!

    Thank you for sharing such touching memories with us. Your post was so moving. It sounds like your parents had a love of a lifetime. I have to admit that I did giggle when I read that your parents sat on opposite sides of the political aisle. See my grandparents were the same way and I was witness to many lively discussions, some of which I probably shouldn't have been in the room for - LOL!

    I remember reading a Lisa Kleypas book soon after having a miscarriage. It really was the only thing that brought a smile to my face during that time. A good romance novel is like a worm quilt wrapping me in security and comfort.

    I wish you lots of success in your writing career. And I can't wait to read this book.

    Oh, by the way, that cover is just gorgeous!

    Has your dad read your book?

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    1. Buffie- I laughed reading about your grandparents lively discussions. :) Thanks for sharing your story. "A good romance novel is like a worn quilt", very sweet.

      As for my dad, he has not read my book yet. He did come down to NYC last summer as my date to the Golden Heart Awards. He was very impressed by the professionalism of the romance community. He is old fashioned and wants to wait until my book is published in Trade Paperback (late 2012.) I'll have to go through his copy with a razor blade first and cut out all the love scenes! Just the thought makes me blush.

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    2. Leigh, I can just imagine trying to hide those scenes from you dad ;-). How sweet that your dad was your date. Such a sweet memory to have.

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  19. Thank you Liegh and PJ for a terrific blog today, and please accept my congratulations on the release of "The Runaway Countess." I'll have to say that reading it had a part in making my day today. I love reading Romance in any form and in all of it's sub genres. I used to carry a book in my purse all the time for those frequent doctor appiontments where waiting are unavoidable. Now I still carry books with me, but on my iPhone. I find it so much more convienent; I have to have a phone on me anyway so now I get the bonus of eBooks without the extra weight in my purse or the fear of loosing my book!

    To answer your question, books, especially Romance are an escape for me everyday. I suffer from several issues that cause me a tremendous amount of chronic pain. A well written book with a HEA is often better at taking my mind of the pain than the use of pain killing medications, and it's a great deal healthier!

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    1. fsbuchler- I love having books available on my iPhone as well. Now, I am never without one! I'm sorry to hear you suffer from chronic pain. I imagine that to be tremendously difficult on many levels. I am so glad you have found some relief in reading! I'll remember your story next time I question the usefulness of being a writer rather than a teacher or doctor. Thanks for sharing it with me.

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  20. Welcome to the blog, Leigh! And congrats on your debut! It sounds like something I'd love to read.

    Wow, what a sweet and touching post! Your parents' marriage is a tremendous example to all. My parents celebrate 40 years this year and my husband and I are lucky to have them as our example. :)

    As for your question... In June of 2009, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I read Anne Mallory's SEVEN SECRETS OF SEDUCTION (*awesome* book!) while she was in surgery and it really helped take my mind off of worrying.

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    1. Andrea- I hope your family has a lovely 40th Anniversary celebration! What a beautiful and happy time for all.

      SEVEN SECRETS OF SEDUCTION is on my 'too read' list on Goodreads. I'll have to bump it up to the top.

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  21. Congratulations on your new book! This was a very touching post. Reading a good book with a happy ending always makes my day.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  22. Hi Leigh! Congrats on your debut! It sounds like a wonderful book.

    Thanks for sharing this moving post! Reading definitely helps keep my mind clear when I'm going through any rough patches.

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    1. Trisha- I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Sometimes it's harder to be real than funny. When you say "Reading definitely helps keep my mind clear" it makes me think of meditation. The point is to not circle and circle around our thoughts all the time. Reading does help us to step away and get a new perspective.

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  23. I'm so excited for your release! Congrats!
    My cousin asked me if one of my characters had breathing problems because she was always gasping. lol.

    The thing I love about romances is that they give the reader hope. Hope in happily ever after, or at least close to it. So every time I read a romance, they leaving me smiling.

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    1. Lori- That is so funny about your characters having breathing problems! lol. I'm not the only one...

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  24. Congrats on your new book! Love the cover and it sounds like a wonderful read. Can't wait to reade it

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    1. Thanks for the congrats, Quilt Lady! I hope you enjoy the book.

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  25. Leigh, thanks so much for being with us today. We wish you all the best with THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS!

    I have a question about the highwayman. Any chance he'll get a book? I'd love to read his story!

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    1. He will get a novella soon. So will Cat. :) I am expecting a baby in September and I really want to get Roane and Cat's stories out into the world before that time. So, novellas rather than full-length novels. I am having fun writing them! Roane's story is a Regency 'Western' in which he and the heroine ride horses across the length of the Pennines. Lots of fun and adventure ensues :)

      Thanks for having me, PJ! It was a wonderful way to share my release day.

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    2. Congratulations on the new baby on the way! September is a wonderful birth month (mine). ;-)

      Thank you for writing stories for both Cat and Roane! (Novellas are fine. I ♥ novellas!) Bouncing up and down with glee here! :)

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  26. Leigh, my heart goes out to you and your family. Thank you for sharing the story behind The Runaway Countess. So glad that you kept at it, and now The Runaway Countess is being released! Congratulations!

    Please don't enter me in the giveaway as I already received an ARC. I just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the story from start to finish. It rendered me speechless, and took me hours before I could form coherent sentences to write a review.

    In regards to the question whether a romance novel saved the day, yours certainly did! I had to do something to distract myself after my dog passed away, and luckily enough, I had just received a copy of your novel, and what a treat it was. Though my heart ached for my beloved dog, reading The Runaway Countess allowed me to escape to a a world filled with hope and love. Just what I needed. Thank you for writing such a moving novel and saving my day!

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    1. ((((Carrie)))) I'm so sorry about the passing of your dog. Losing a family pet is like losing a piece of our heart. I'm glad Leigh's story was there to bring you a bit of comfort in your time of grief.

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    2. Aww, Carrie, I'm sorry to hear about your dog. Pets have such a special place in our hearts. I'm glad you found distraction in my book. And thanks for your sweet review. I'm going to keep it forever :)

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    3. Awww thank you for your kind words, PJ and Leigh! I'm actually trying to contain my excitement that you both replied. :) It was tough losing a pet that I had for seven years, but I know that letting go is a part of life and that she is resting in peace.

      Leigh, I'm so glad that you saw my review on goodroods. Honestly, I wanted to say so much more, but I feel that no matter how much I say, it wouldn't be enough XD

      Thank you, looking forward to your future works :)

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  27. Hi Leigh,

    Hope it's not too late to join this party! Just found RD while reading Elise Rome's March Madness! Funny how good spots just pop up in front you like that! Good sounding books too. I have seen your book on the Romance Reviews Anniversary Party contest going on right now. And I've been reading a bit about it...so another new author goes on my books-to-buy list! How great is that?

    My heart went out to you when you were talking about your mom. My mom died December 26, 1993 and though it has been nearly 19 years since her passing, I still miss her, her smile, her humor and dry wit. The pain of her death is gone, but her light lives on in my heart.

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    1. Hi Karen- Aww, your post is very sweet. Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you found us too!

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