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A.E. Bennett (she/her) lives in Washington, D.C.

​She is originally from North Carolina.

She told a lie. He confirmed it. Now they’re secretly betrothed against their families’ wishes…

Lady Octavia Dorchester is the most desired young lady in the Realm. Now that she has twenty years behind her, society has deemed her ready to marry. Although she’s not enthusiastic, she promises to act like a proper lady and look for a good husband—just like her powerful father Lord Roman Dorchester wants.

Lord Gerald Verte has been painfully shy his entire life. He’s never been comfortable in society and lives in the shadow of his older brother, the imposing Lord Tristian Verte. Despite his desires to remain indoors and away from people, he promises his older brother that he won’t shame the family name, no matter how much his anxiety threatens to overwhelm him.

After sharing a dance at a ball held in Octavia’s honor, both she and Gerald know what no one else believes—it’s love at first sight.

When their respective family members object to the match, Octavia lies about their betrothal and Gerald corroborates her story. Raising the ire of both Lords Dorchester and Verte, Octavia and Gerald are torn apart and kept from one another until tragedy strikes.

This high-heat romance with a guaranteed HEA is a prequel to Gathering of the Four: Book One of the Serrulata Saga but can be read as a standalone.

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Excerpt

Octavia Dorchester blinked at her reflection in the mirror and breathed in and out of her nose deeply. Her chest, bound by an uncomfortably tight corset, heaved. The blue jewels around her neck glittered in brilliant candlelight that flooded the room. Her cobalt dress hugged her tightly until it reached her waist and then flowed elegantly out and around her long legs. She raised a slender hand to the smooth, dark skin of her cheek, and she whispered to herself forcefully, “You can do this!”

 

“Of course, you can!”

 

The confident, merry voice of her older sister standing in the doorway of her inner chambers made Octavia startle so badly that she almost fell off the backless, cushioned chair on which she perched. “Damnation, Selma!”

 

“I’d get out of the habit of using such coarse language.” Selma sailed into the room, her amber skirts swishing around her ankles, “Father doesn’t like it, and neither will any gentleman worth any decent amount of coin.”

 

Octavia grimaced and turned back to her reflection to give herself a final once-over, wishing the words her sister spoke seemingly without care didn’t carry an immense amount of truth behind them. She was a lady of the Realm who had recently reached her twentieth year—the age of majority— and now it was time for her to find a suitable husband.

 

Age of majority. Octavia had always sniffed at the term.

 

For men of the Realm, gentry and peasant and servant alike, the words meant that they were legally able to control any assets they might possess. For women, it merely meant they were supposedly ready to pass from the protective care of their fathers to that of a husband. No woman in the Realm, no matter her status, was legally able to own or control anything without a guardian, even her own body.

 

She resisted the urge to shiver as her sister held out her hand and offered to help her stand. “I don’t think I’m ready for this.”

 

Selma smoothed her hands over her sister’s shoulders. “I didn’t think I was ready, either. And now look at me—engaged!”

 

Octavia locked her deep brown eyes onto her sister’s in their reflection in the mirror. She gulped against the lump in her throat, angry that her nerves were suddenly getting the better of her. She was a lady—and a Dorchester. Dorchesters never showed weakness! It was a mantra their father had drilled into them since they were young children.

 

“It took you more than one season to finalize your agreement,” Octavia huffed, teasing Selma in order to quell her anxiety. “I’ll wager I leave the ball tonight a taken woman.”

 

Selma laughed heartily. She was two years older than Octavia, but Octavia had always been considered the more studious and serious of the two Dorchester children. She leaned over and placed an affectionate kiss on her sister’s cheek. “Always the overachiever.”

 

“Don’t you know it,” Octavia snorted.

 

Selma gave her a knowing look as she turned to face her sister.

 

Octavia threw up her hands and fluttered her eyelashes dramatically. “That’s the last un-ladylike thing I do tonight, promise!”

 

Selma offered her arm to her younger sister and smiled. “Come along. It won’t do to be late to your own debut!”

Q&A with A.E. Bennett

Q: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you became an author?

​A: I actually came up with the idea - or, well, the initial iteration of the idea for The Serrulata Saga way back in 1997, which was when the Hale-Bopp comet came our way. I wrote a short story about a girl who gets magic powers from a mysterious comet. She, of course, would later become Leora. Over the years, I wrote various versions of the story, but it wasn’t until around 2018 that I actually thought about getting my work published. I knew very little about self-publishing then, but a few friends helped me learn more about it. I also joined Twitter and made a lot of great connections with the writing community there. In 2021, I self-published my first book, Gathering of the Four. After it was released, I had a few readers express how much they loved Octavia and Gerald so I decided they needed their own novella.

   

Q: What is your writing process like?

A: I have an overall idea of where I want The Serrulata Saga to go, but it does take a lot of planning. For each book, I write out an overall outline - what I need to happen in each chapter. I then write the first draft (which can take months). I then send it out to critique partners who have been excellent in terms of telling me what does and doesn’t work. After they give me their feedback, I make initial edits - and then the manuscript goes to my editor. After they’re through, I make more edits based on their feedback and send it back to them for a final look. Then I send my manuscript off to a proofreader. Then I format and distribute. It’s a lot of work!

Q: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

​A: I enjoy running, eating out at restaurants I’ve never been to before, and exploring parks with my husband and our dog.

Q: How do you celebrate when you are finished writing a book?

​A: Bottle of sparkling wine and pizza!

Q: How do you celebrate when your books are released?

​A: Honestly, same as above.
 

Q: Are any of your characters similar to real-life friends or family?

​A: In terms of names, yes, but not when it comes to personalities. There is a little bit of me in each of my four main characters, though. Octavia and Gerald evolved on their own.

Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

​A: Getting comfortable knowing that there was a possibility my parents would get ahold of this book and read the steamy scenes. Haha!

Q: What part of writing this book was the most fun for you?

​A: Expanding on Octavia and Gerald. In several early versions of my first book, Gathering of the Four, most of my side characters weren’t very interesting. One of my critique partners made the comment that a lot of my side characters were wooden and needed to be more well-rounded. I always had an affinity for Octavia and Gerald and gave them more personality. Doing this not only made the story better, but helped me improve as a writer. 

Q: What Authors or other Books have inspired you to write this book?

​A: I don’t think there was one author necessarily but reading more romance in general made me want to try writing in the genre. Don’t worry - this is not the last romance in The Serrulata Saga. I’m currently working on another one!  

Q: What is your favorite passage from this book?

​A: I really enjoyed writing the scenes when Octavia stands up to her father and Gerald confronts his brother. I think my favorite passage, though, is when Octavia and Gerald say the title of the book to each other; I’m kind of a sucker for that kind of thing.

Q: If you could meet any of your characters, who would it be and what would you say to them?

​A: Honestly, I think if most of my characters met me, they’d yell at me. I’m not nice to most of them - especially in the second book of The Serrulata Saga, which is coming out this fall. I think if I met any of them, I’d want to apologize for making things so tough. Sorry to everyone in The Serrulata Saga world!