A Bloom in Winter (Summerset Abbey Series #2)by T. J. Brown
As the icy chill of winter, 1914, settles on the magnificent country estate of Summerset Abbey, three young women seek comfort and warmth in the smiles of friends, the/b>/i>/i>
The highly anticipated second installment in the Summerset Abbey series “that will clearly appeal to fans of PBS’s Downton Abbey” (New York Journal of Books).
As the icy chill of winter, 1914, settles on the magnificent country estate of Summerset Abbey, three young women seek comfort and warmth in the smiles of friends, the fire in their hearts, and the promise of spring…
With her delicate constitution but strong, unflappable spirit, Victoria has never followed societal conventions, the rules of fashion, or the pursuit of a husband. Instead, she finds herself drawn into the controversial—and dangerous—fight for women’s suffrage. But her dream is compromised, and her heart divided, when her struggle for equal rights collides with unexpected love.
After yearning to no avail for a certain young pilot to fly back into her life, Rowena fears her chances for happiness have been jeopardized by recklessness and scandal. Burdened with guilt for bringing her sister Prudence to Summerset Abbey as a lady’s maid while she herself led a life of privilege, Rowena hopes to one day make amends. But her desire to set things right is complicated by her passion for flight and a sudden engagement…to the wrong man.
Raised like a sister to Victoria and Rowena, then banished to the servants’ quarters when their father passed away, Prudence has seen both sides of life, upstairs and down. But once the truth about her parentage was revealed, Prudence forged a new life for herself, married to a penniless veterinary student. Living in poverty in a shabby London flat, she wonders if she’s made a terrible mistake—and there’s no turning back…
Read an Excerpt
Summerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winter
Prudence looked around their flat, wondering yet again how she was supposed to live in two and a half rooms and a single water closet. Then she berated herself. They were lucky to have the WC and even luckier to be out of the flea-ridden boardinghouse where they had been living since they had arrived in London over a month ago.
She wasn’t sure what she’d thought they would do when they’d first stepped off the train from Summerset. She was so used to having someone else in charge that it took her a few moments to realize that her new husband, so confident around motors and animals, was completely out of his element in the teeming mass of people that made up Camden Town, London. It was up to her to collect their luggage and find a boardinghouse, up to her to find a flat near the Royal Veterinary College, and to find out what the requirements of attendance were.
Andrew had almost quit right then. “We don’t have that much money!” he’d cried out. “That’s a bloody fortune.”
Quietly, she let him know that she had enough money, and if they lived frugally and brought in some extra money here and there, they would be able to make it work.
“I’d be living off my wife,” he scoffed, and Prudence couldn’t help but agree.
“But then for the rest of our lives, you’ll be a veterinarian and I’ll be living off you,” she told him briskly, and he’d relented, seeing her logic. He didn’t much like it and Prudence knew it would rankle, but she would be careful not to make an issue of it. Besides, she thought with the new, hard practicality she was developing, they really had very little choice.
Now Mrs. Tannin stood with her hands on her hips and sniffed. “Sir Philip wouldn’t like this at all,” she said.
Prudence had known bringing the housekeeper here from her old home would be a mistake. This entire flat would fit in Sir Philip’s study in the Mayfair mansion, but Prudence was no longer Sir Philip’s daughter and mansions were no longer a part of her present. Or her future, for that matter.
“Sir Philip is gone and my husband and I have to live within our means.”
“But surely Miss Rowena and Miss Victoria wouldn’t want you living in squalor . . . ”
“Mrs. Tannin!” Hurt, Prudence drew herself up to her full height. It wasn’t much, but she towered over Mrs. Tannin, who was as small as Victoria. “Pray remember that this is my home now, and it isn’t squalid or dirty. It’s clean and bright and very close to the Royal Veterinary College, where my husband will be attending. It’s just small is all.” She didn’t mention that it was one of four flats situated above a greengrocer. The ever-present earthy scent of potatoes told that tale.
Mrs. Tannin subsided. Had Prudence been able to retrieve all of her things from her old home without help, she would have done so. Carl, the footman, was there to carry some of the heavier items, but she wanted Mrs. Tannin to supervise just to make it plain that Prudence hadn’t taken anything that wasn’t hers. She didn’t want the Earl of Summerset to accuse her of stealing. She had been lucky to get inside and retrieve some of her belongings before the new family took over the house and perhaps denied her access to them.
“My apologies,” the older woman finally said. “It’s just that I don’t understand any of this. Sir Philip dies, the family moves away to the estate, and you return a scant three months later, married to a man who, excuse me, isn’t a good match for you, and living in a flat in Camden Town. It’s hard for a body to get her arms around, that’s all.”
Prudence took a deep breath, fighting to keep down her rising temper. She reminded herself how kind this woman had been to her mother.
“Mrs. Tannin. I believe it’s your high regard for me that makes you say such things, but remember that my mother was a governess. I have no inheritance, no title, and no blood ties to aristocracy.” Prudence’s lips tightened for a moment as she remembered that she did indeed have illegitimate ties to the family that had brought her up, but she firmly put that out of her mind. “I was taken to Summerset as a lady’s maid and was made to feel as though my presence was a contamination. I have done the very best I can considering the circumstances.”
“Not by the girls, surely?” Mrs. Tannin cried, her hand at her heart. Mrs. Tannin looked upon the motherless Buxton girls as beyond reproach, and Prudence decided not to tell her that Rowena was responsible for a good many of her troubles.
“Of course not,” she said tersely. “Now can you help me move this table over by the stove? It may fit if we put it cross-ways.”
After Mrs. Tannin had gone, Prudence looked at the trunks and pieces of furniture with dismay. She’d thought she had only brought a few personal items that were given to her especially, but in her small living area, they looked incongruous, not only for their size but for their quality. She had brought a small card table to use as a dining table, but even though it looked tiny at the Mayfair home, it barely fit in the small room that served as the kitchen, dining room, and main living area of the family. The bedroom, oddly enough, was the same size as the kitchen and living area. It was located at the back of the flat, behind the kitchen, and in the front, a small half-room made up the sitting room. Because they lived in a corner flat, the kitchen/living area had two large windows along one wall, and the small sitting room had three windows with a window seat that occupied half the room. There was barely space for her small wing-backed rose-print chair. After spreading a pink and white shawl over a trunk for a table and placing the gaudy standing lamp left by the previous tenant in the corner, almost every available square inch of the sitting room was taken.
She picked up a tablecloth and flicked it over the card table. A piece of paper fluttered from out of the folds. Prudence’s heart caught. Victoria’s letter. She picked it up and scanned the lines again. At first, she had been undecided as to whether to answer it or not. Clearly, she couldn’t tell anyone at Summerset about her present living conditions. In spite of her bravado with Mrs. Tannin, her new home was cramped, confining, and common, and she didn’t want either Vic or Ro to know of her exact circumstances. She set the letter on the mantel behind the coal stove. Later. She would figure that out later. She had enough on her mind.
She pushed the other trunks into the back bedroom, trying not to look at her bed as she did so. She and Mrs. Tannin had hired two men off the street to unload it and haul it up the narrow stairs for them. It was large enough for two, but the fine virginal white and blue feather quilts looked strangely out of place in this plain bedroom. Maybe because the quilts had belonged to another life, one that would be ending tonight.
Her husband had been curiously reluctant to start their married life on the narrow bed provided at the boardinghouse. Not that Prudence disagreed with him—indeed, she was grateful for his scruples. To accommodate the crush of people coming in from the country to work in the city, tiny rooms had been further split up by sheets acting as makeshift walls, strung between beds. They were put into a room with two other married couples, one of whom had no qualms about committing the physical act of marriage with other people within spitting distance.
Her face flamed upon remembrance of the unfamiliar noises issuing from the other side of the sheet. She understood from Andrew’s stillness next to her that he, too, had heard and interpreted the sounds. She lay beside him for several weeks, disconcertingly conscious of the way his strong form pressed next to hers and how the hair on his arm felt against her cheek as he held her. Her face flushed. She’d only felt that butter melting in the center of her middle once before and as it wasn’t with her husband, it shamed her to think of it. It also shamed her that the man in question didn’t have to touch her to make her feel that way.
Prudence had always wondered what would come next. She and Rowena had held a few whispered conversations after a trip to a farm to buy a new horse for Sir Philip, but these had always ended in embarrassed giggles. For all Sir Philip’s liberal ideas, sex education for his daughters was not one of them.
She pressed her hands against her heated cheeks. Tonight, she would be sharing this bed with Andrew and there would be no one to stop the inevitable. The thought left her both thrilled and anxious. How would she know what to do?
She jumped guiltily when she heard the key in the lock. Was it that time already?
She hurried into the main room just as Andrew stepped through the open door. He filled up the doorway and the room with his height, one of the reasons he had been selected to be a footman at Summerset Abbey. His hazel eyes crinkled into a tired smile when he saw her. They might not have consummated their marriage yet, but she had no doubts about his love for her. She only hoped that in time she would grow to feel the same way.
He caught her with one arm around her waist and pulled her close and she gave him a shy kiss. At first, she’d been taken aback by his easy physical affection with her. She knew the Buxtons loved one another deeply, but it wasn’t in them to be that demonstrative. Somehow in that mean little farmhouse where he’d grown up, he’d learned to give and receive love more easily than the aristocrats in their Mayfair mansions. After her initial shock, she grew to rather like it. He never failed to make her feel special.
“Where did you work today?” she asked him. Andrew had found a place that hired workers on a daily basis. He was picking up some extra work a few days a week when he wasn’t studying.
“Down at the docks.”
She looked in dismay at his dirty clothing. She had learned this morning that the laundry had to be done belowstairs and then hung to dry either out the back window or on a line in the cellar. She didn’t want to admit to him that she’d never done washing before and didn’t have the first idea of how to go about it. At the boardinghouse, they had just paid to have it done, as there were no facilities. He had been aghast at her insistence upon changing clothes every day, and she soon realized that she would spend all their money on washing if she continued that habit. Reluctantly, she had begun wearing her blouses and skirts for several days at a time and found that it really didn’t make much of a difference. She wondered how many other trappings of her former life she’d discover to be completely frivolous.
His eyes swept their small apartment. “You’ve done a nice job. It looks very different.” The neutral sound of his voice stung.
“I know it’s a bit crowded, but I just wanted to get as many of my things as I could before the new tenants moved in.” Her voice sounded apologetic to her own ears, which was silly. Why wouldn’t she want to save her own possessions?
“I thought everything had been taken to Summerset?” He took off his jacket and handed it to her.
She hung it up on a peg next to the door and answered him quietly. “Nothing of mine. I suppose Lord Summerset never intended for me to stay for any length of time.” She paused a moment to absorb the hurt and then continued. “I left several trunks of clothing in the attic that I supposed I wouldn’t need right away. I can send for them later.”
“Righto. It’s not like we’ll be invited to any balls anytime soon.”
His voice was light, but Prudence detected a bitterness underneath. “It’s just as well,” she answered, trying to keep the hurt out of her voice. “I can’t imagine trying to puzzle out how to press an evening jacket anyway. Would you like some tea?”
“Aye.” He squeezed her arm lightly as she moved past him, and she knew he was sorry for his remark. She couldn’t help wondering, though, whether this was to be a part of their marriage from here on out, this envious contempt of her old life. Well, she wasn’t going to apologize for it.
“I’m famished, too. Did you have a chance to bring in any groceries?”
She put the teakettle on and flushed. “I haven’t had a moment. I was busy getting everything packed up and then moved over here and then unpacked again. I thought I could run down to the pub and pick up some cottage pie. Just for tonight,” she added quickly at the look on his face. She knew he thought she was a spendthrift, and she really was trying to be thrifty. It was just a whole different way of managing things. Plus, this would buy her one more day before she had to confess to him that she didn’t even begin to know how to cook. She cringed as she imagined the disappointment on his face when she eventually revealed her complete lack of skills as a homemaker. A few weeks into their marriage and she was already scrambling to cover up her shortcomings as a wife.
He sat in a small, dainty satin tufted chair that had once sat in front of the fireplace in her bedroom. She had thought it perfect near the stove, but it looked ridiculous now with her husband’s long body draped over it.
“Oh, Lord. I forgot how tall you are. I’m sorry. Let’s move the old chair out of the bedroom and put it next to the stove.”
He glanced down at himself with a wry grin. “It is rather small,” he agreed as he carried it through the kitchen to the bedroom to exchange it for the old club chair that had been in the flat when they arrived. “This isn’t really good for much of anything but looking pretty.”
“Kind of like your wife,” Prudence said under her breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing.” Prudence took him his tea as he made himself comfortable in the club chair.
He handed her the money he had made that day and she stared at it blankly. “My ma always kept the money in a cracked cup in the cupboard. Maybe we should do something like that with the money that doesn’t go in the bank.”
She nodded and stuck the coins into a white glass vase that sat on their dining room table. A fire engine went clanging past them and Andrew jumped. “Not sure if I’ll ever get used to that.”
“You will.” She sat down at the dining room table, tea in hand, and tried hard to think of something to say to him. She’d married him because he was one of the kindest people she’d met during a time when nearly everyone treated her cruelly. She firmed her chin. This would work. Perhaps her marriage had been impetuous, but she hadn’t gone into it blindly. She’d chosen him for his thoughtfulness and because he had once fought for her publicly, damning the consequences to himself. “Tomorrow I’m going to go and get some provisions. I set up my dressing table in the corner of the bedroom by the windows. Maybe you could study there? That is, if you don’t mind studying at a white and gold desk with pink flowers on it.”
She grinned at him and he laughed, dispelling some of the tension in the room. “I think I’ll manage. As far as I know, Euclid and Virgil don’t care a whit about where they are studied, as long as they are studied.”
One of Prudence’s biggest surprises was how educated the farm boy turned footman actually was. He’d grown up working the land but had snuck away often to help the local animal doctor, who had mentored him and lent him books. Prudence had a wider knowledge in some things, such as politics, current events, and English literature, but in science, mathematics, and geography, he left her far behind. On Sundays, they had taken to going to a tea shop, reading the newspaper together and dissecting every article, one by one.
Perhaps while she was out tomorrow she might find a cookbook that would rescue her, she thought while waiting for their cottage pie. The pub was just down the street from their flat, and Prudence sat in the back room next to a door discreetly marked Ladies’ Entrance. The large mirror behind the bar was cracked in several places and the red velvet stools showed tufts of white cotton through the worn spots. She had given her order to the tired-looking woman who worked the ladies’ area. Prudence looked around with interest. The male half of the bar bustled with men getting off work, while in the small back room only a few “working” women were in attendance.
A group of young women about Prudence’s age pushed through the ladies’ door, giggling and chatting. All were dressed in plain dark skirts that came to the ankle, and white blouses under their winter coats, which they soon removed in the heated pub. All wore their hair pinned back neatly, with no-nonsense hats sitting straight on their heads. Prudence tried not to stare at them as they called for ale. The tired servingwoman picked up a bit when they came in. “You’ll be the death of me, you gaggle of geese,” she teased. “You should all be home taking care of your mas instead of wearing out my feet.”
“Ah, you love us, Mary, admit it,” a lilting voice teased.
Prudence sat up. She knew that voice . . . She turned and stared at the table they had taken, trying to see who it was.
Suddenly a skinny redheaded girl detached herself from the group and ran toward Prudence. The girl wrapped her arms around her in a quick hug before jumping back. “Oh, I’m sorry, miss!” she said, her face turning red beneath her freckles. “I was just so surprised to see you.”
“Katie! What are you doing here? Mrs. Tannin said you had left and gotten a job in an office.”
The girl smiled proudly. “Yes. Thanks to Sir Philip, I was able to get through secretarial school and got a fine office job.”
The girls behind her hooted. “Katie still thinks it’s a fine job,” one of them said, laughing.
“That’s because she’s still new,” another one said.
“Well, it’s better than wiping posh arses all day, if you ask me,” one of them said, giving Prudence a bold stare.
Prudence flushed, feeling as if she were back in the servants’ hall at Summerset, being ridiculed for her high-class upbringing. Bugger that. She’d probably had a happier childhood than most of these women had even dreamed of having. She’d not regret it just because her privileged childhood meant she now fit in nowhere. She straightened her shoulders and looked down her nose at the woman with the black eyes until the busybody looked away. She turned back to Katie. “So you like your job? Do you live near here?” She hugged Katie back, tears stinging her eyes. She had always been friendly with Katie. Unlike at Summerset, servants were treated as beloved and respected employees in Sir Philip’s home. Prudence wasn’t close with them the way Victoria was, but suddenly she was gladder to see Katie than she could possibly say.
Katie nodded. “I moved here with my mother after I got the new job so I could be closer to work. Mum was finally able to give up working, so now she keeps house for me and my girlfriends who rent rooms from us. It’s a good deal all the way around. But what about you? What are you doing in Camden Town, or here for that matter?” Katie suddenly seemed aware of her surroundings and was shocked to find Miss Prudence here, even if she and her friends frequented such a place.
“My husband is going to be attending the Royal Veterinary College as soon as he passes the examinations. We are in Camden because it’s close to his school.” She didn’t add that here her husband could pick up odd jobs when they needed them. It was deeply instilled in her that as a lady she should never talk about money except with her husband.
The server handed Katie a mug of beer on her way to the table behind her and Katie took a drink. “Fancy that! How quickly things change, eh, miss? I’d have never figured you for a Camden Town housewife . . . no offense, miss.”
Prudence laughed and wondered why there were tears under the laughter. “None taken, Katie. I actually don’t know the first thing about being a housewife in Camden Town or anywhere else for that matter. I can’t cook, or sew, or even do laundry.”
Katie’s eyes widened. “I never thought of that. You’re like a babe, aren’t you? Tell you what, I’ll send you to my mum and she’ll take care of you. Teach you all that stuff.”
Relief of the load pressing down on her lightened her so much that she felt as if she were going to float away. “Would she, really?”
“Yes, I think she gets bored by herself all day.”
The servingwoman handed Prudence the cottage pie in the big bowl Prudence had brought for it.
“Mary, can I get a pencil and paper?” Katie wrote the address down and gave it to her. “You drop by tomorrow and see how happy my mum is to help. I believe she thinks I’m a lost cause.”
“Thank you so much, Katie.”
As Prudence hurried back to the flat, she wondered how to confess to Andrew about her need for housewifery lessons. Her stomach began to tie in knots as once again she imagined how the conversation would unfold as Andrew realized that his new bride had never even made a simple meat pie, that she was just as uppity as the other servants at Summerset purported her to be. Perhaps she could delay revealing those shortcomings to him for now . . . After all, he was already fulfilling his promise to her to support them while pursuing his studies, and she couldn’t bear the thought of letting him down so early in their marriage.
Andrew had bathed while she was out and wore a soft, loose-fitting white cotton shirt and trousers. His feet were bare and his hair, which he always wore a bit longer than most men, but not as long as an aesthete might, curled damply around his neck. He stood in front of her, his hazel eyes warm and caressing. Wordlessly, she handed him the bowl of cottage pie and moved to take down the dishes. He ate with gusto, seemingly absorbed in his food.
“This is good,” she finally remarked, desperate to break the silence.
“Yes.” His eyes met hers and then shifted away.
He’s as nervous about tonight as I am, she thought in surprise. The realization eased some of her anxiety. “Would you like another helping?”
He shook his head and she put the leftover pie in the icebox. Silently, she cleared the table and washed their plates while he added more coal to the stove. They did their nightly chores even though it was too early to go to bed. When there was nothing left to do, Prudence grabbed her nightdress and darted into the water closet. Her face flamed in embarrassment, but she would not, could not, change in the bedroom. What if he came in?
She took her hair down and brushed it until it hung like dark silk down her back. When she could think of no other reason to linger, she opened the door and stepped into her bedroom. Andrew had diffused the gaslight until it cast a soft glow over the room. She blinked and her pulse raced as she saw him standing next to the bed. He had removed his shirt and even in the low lighting she could see the muscles in his chest and arms, deeply etched from a lifetime of labor.
Her mouth went dry.
Then, still silent, Andrew held out his arms. She only hesitated for a moment. More than anything else, Andrew made her feel safe, as if he were a harbor at which she could moor to escape the unexpectedly stormy seas of her life. I can do this. He scooped her up into his arms and held her close for a moment before gently laying her on the bed. As he bent over her, Sebastian’s face floated to her mind for a fraction of a second before she banished it. She’d made her choice. She ignored the sound of her own heart hammering in her ears and reached up to touch his face. “Andrew,” she said softly. “Andrew.”
Meet the Author
T.J. Brown begins a sweeping trilogy set in Edwardian England with Summerset Abbey, her historical fiction debut. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit the author at TJBrownBooks.com.
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Summerset abbey A bloom in winter by T.J Brown A Bloom in Winter is an interesting and standalone sequel to Summerset abbey. Victoria and Rowena Buxton have adapted to life without their charismatic father. Although both sisters would hardly believe that they could have adapted so quickly. Prudence has been banished being the illegitimate daughter of the sisters’ uncle has caused her whole life to change. She has dropped down in society from the cream of the crop socialite lady, with two sisters, and an adoring father to a housewife to a young ambitious man who is trying to learn a trade to support them. The heart strings of all three young women have found them pulled in various ways. Victoria wants to be a writer, but finds that because of her sex she is not allowed to pursue writing in botany as she would like to has found herself intimately involved in the Suffrage movement. Rowena falls for the young second son of the scandalous neighboring family and has created a ruse to allow them to continue to see each other when she is nearly caught. Prudence is left to learn the trade of a housewife without any formal training. Although she attempts to find it on her own, she is scandalized by Rowena’s ruse. All three young women have a lot to learn, and an unforgiving society to more within.
The 3 books in this series flow great. I like to read them one after another but did not do that with these, however I did not feel like I did not know what had happened to each character without having to think. The flow from one to the other is great.
Part two of the Summerset Abbey Trilogy finds the three women, Prudence, Victoria and Rowena in very different stages of their lives. One is married, one becomes engaged and one is jailed. A Bloom in Winter continues the story of the Buxton clan in the early 1900's London, England. Each of the women has a secret. Each suffer loss as they mature and lose their innocence. T.J. Brown has allowed this to become a little romantic without it turning into the "damsel in distress" historical romance. Although love is found in the novel it is also lost. The marriage of convenience turns into a real marriage of love and respect. The one engaged to cover her love of another end up staying engaged. The one jailed learns than she has been much too trusting and innocent at the hands of those she wished to emulate. Many changes took place for all of the Buxton clan as the Lord and Lady Buxton admit to mistakes and strive to make changes in the 'modern' world in which the women live. I enjoyed all the action and changes in the lives of these women, even if I was cheering for other relationships to work. I would like to see more development of cousin Elaine. Perhaps she will learn from her cousins' examples and become a more mature modern woman as well. Perhaps she will even find some romance in her life or maybe just a purpose. T.J. Brown also includes more information of the suffragette movements in London and their activities, legal and otherwise. The only drawback of this book? It ended much to quickly and I am ready for number three!!!