Kelli A. Wilkins
Behind the Scenes: Dangerous Indenture (A Historical Mystery-Romance)
This “Behind the Scenes” blog is part of a series examining my romance novels. In each blog, I’ll talk about why I wrote the book, share my thoughts on the plot and/or characters, and reveal what I loved most (or least) about writing the book. Warning: Blogs may contain spoilers.
Imagine this scenario: a young woman moves to a new town to work for a family. She is on her own and has to adjust to her employer’s rules while adapting to life in a new environment. After she arrives, she discovers the job isn’t exactly what she thought it would be and realizes she has gotten herself into a troubling situation. All seems lost until she meets a handsome young man…
This premise could be the basis of any number of romances: a Victorian-era story about a governess moving to a remote estate, a contemporary tale about a physical therapist or teacher relocating across the country, or, in the case of my historical romance, Dangerous Indenture, an Irish indentured servant leaving everything behind to start a new life.
Dangerous Indenture is set in Pennsylvania Colony and blends a sensual romance with mystery and suspense. Right from the start, readers (and the heroine, Shauna) are warned about Stewart House: “It’s got more haunts than the Tower of London.”
Here’s the book summary and links:
Indentured for five years… how long can Shauna resist her master’s son?
Desperate to escape her past in Ireland, Shauna Farrow signs on to become an indentured servant to Joshua Stewart, a wealthy man in Pennsylvania Colony. But a life of servitude quickly turns to drudgery, and Shauna’s hopes for starting over and creating a better life for herself are waning—until she meets her master’s roguish son, Ashton.
Ashton needs to redeem himself in his father’s eyes and earn the respect he has always longed for. Meeting Shauna turns his life around, and he sets out to win her heart. Torn between propriety and passion, Shauna struggles against her growing attraction to Ashton as long as she can.
But amidst their flirting, something dark stirs. Shauna soon discovers why no other servants wanted to work for the strange Stewart family.
Stewart House has an unsavory reputation: a previous servant died there under mysterious circumstances. When another servant goes missing in the middle of the night, Shauna is convinced that a member of the family is responsible.
Shauna’s investigation leads her close to the truth, and yet, she’s not sure who she can trust. Events take a deadly turn when she confronts the murderer and discovers the mystery of the Stewart family.
Will Shauna be rescued before time runs out, or will she meet with the same fate as the other servants?
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When I wrote the book, I wanted to evoke a sense of danger and mystery around every corner. This wasn’t going to be a typical romance with the hero and heroine from different classes falling in love and having a forbidden affair. Nope.
The romance is almost a sub-plot of the book, and when the story begins, finding love is the last thing on Shauna’s mind. She’s more concerned about doing a good job than getting involved with Ashton (even if he is handsome).
I liked creating the incredibly dysfunctional members of the Stewart family. They all have secrets and practically have dual personalities. Joshua (the patriarch) is a big bear of a man who comes across as gruff and insensitive, yet at times can be caring. Colin (Joshua’s son) appears to be a respectable married businessman, but underneath his proper exterior lurks a dark and dangerous manipulator (among other things).
Colin’s beleaguered wife, Minerva, is mentally unstable and trapped in a terrible marriage. Readers and the other characters in the story aren’t sure if she’s truly mad or not. And she might be a murderess…
Our hero, Ashton Bailey, is flawed and has a lot of problems to overcome. For starters, he’s the black sheep of the family and has been sent home in disgrace. He drinks too much, womanizes too much, and has nearly given up on life. He’s a failure in his father’s eyes and wants to redeem himself, but isn’t sure how. Ashton knows that Stewart House is a terrible place and vows to protect Shauna while she’s working there.
This cast of characters and their interactions (fighting, name-calling, secrets, and lies) carry the plot. Everyone has an agenda, and readers learn that not everyone is telling the truth… or is exactly what they seem. Ashton wants to become respectable, Colin wants him disowned, Minerva wants Shauna gone, Shauna wants to stay out of trouble, and Joshua just wants some peace.
Writing the twists and turns of the mystery was a lot of fun. When the new servant, Lila, goes missing in the middle of the night, Shauna is convinced someone in the house killed her. But who? Shauna is a clever amateur sleuth, and when she starts to solve the mystery, she realizes that she’s in danger.
The book has a “Dark Shadows” feel to it. A mysterious house, a strange family, everyone has secrets… In fact, several of the character names in the book (Colin, Joshua, and Minerva) appeared in the original “Dark Shadows” series.
Like many of my historical heroines, Shauna is ahead of her time. She’s intelligent, independent, has a strong sense of self, and is not afraid to start a new life on her own. But she wasn’t always this way.
The original version of the book was 120,000 words (more of a mini-series than a novel), and very different. The plot was drawn-out and had several backstories. Shauna was a virgin, less self-confident, and suffered harsh treatment at the hands of Joshua Stewart.
Ashton had even more emotional baggage and bad habits, and I explored his difficult relationship with Joshua. I even wrote a long backstory about Ashton’s mother, her paintings, and the garden.
I’m happy to say I changed all that. Major cutting, revising, and rewriting tightened the story and made it a much better book. Readers loved it, too. Here are a few kind words:
“5 stars! This novel will keep you riveted from start to finish! I was hooked from page one and did not put it down until I finished it. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this novel. If you love romance with mystery then pick up a copy of this one today and get lost in the story. I certainly did. It’s perfectly written to keep you turning page after page, and I promise, you won’t be able to guess the ending! If you’re looking for a great romance story with a whole lot of action, drama, and mystery then this is your book!!! Definitely a MUST READ!” - April P., Reviewer, My Book Addiction & More
“Combining mystery with romance, this novel keeps the pages turning. Shauna and Ashton are well-developed characters readers can root for. Overall, a great beach read.” - Emily Thompson, SUNY-Oswego, Library Journal
“Kelli A. Wilkins delivers a colonial-era mystery that will appeal to mystery and romance readers alike.” - Lisa Marie Wilkinson, author.
"4 stars! This book was a thrill a minute! No leisurely stroll through the gardens in this romance, but non-stop danger and drama. A flawed hero and heroine fight for their lives and their relationship to get to their HEA." - Paula, Amazon Reviewer
I can’t add anything to that! I hope you enjoyed this look at the making of Dangerous Indenture. I welcome comments and questions from readers. Be sure to follow my blog for the latest updates and visit me on social media. I also made a Facebook page for my historical romances: https://www.facebook.com/Historical-Romances-by-Kelli-A-Wilkins-1703805359922371/