A Lady's Formula for Love

A Lady's Formula for Love

by Elizabeth Everett

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

A combination of historical romance along with a dash of rom-com in an awesome love story about female empowerment and science. And, of course, a love story. What’s not to love here? This debut, along with the historical romances of Evie Dunmore and Suzanne Allain’s Mr. Malcom’s List, gives us a refreshing tweak to the genre.

What is a Victorian lady's formula for love? Mix one brilliant noblewoman and her enigmatic protection officer. Add in a measure of danger and attraction. Heat over the warmth of humor and friendship, and the result is more than simple chemistry--it's elemental.

Lady Violet is keeping secrets. First, she founded a clandestine sanctuary for England's most brilliant female scientists. Second, she is using her genius on a confidential mission for the Crown. But the biggest secret of all? Her feelings for protection officer Arthur Kneland.

Solitary and reserved, Arthur learned the hard way to put duty first. But the more time he spends in the company of Violet and the eccentric club members, the more his best intentions go up in flames. Literally.

When a shadowy threat infiltrates Violet's laboratories, endangering her life and her work, scientist and bodyguard will find all their theories put to the test--and learn that the most important discoveries are those of the heart.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593200636
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Series: The Secret Scientists of London , #1
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,766
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Elizabeth Everett lives in upstate New York with her family. She likes going for long walks or (very) short runs to nearby sites that figure prominently in the history of civil rights and women's suffrage. A Lady's Formula for Love is her first novel, inspired by her admiration for rule breakers and belief in the power of love to change the world.

Read an Excerpt

1

 

London, 1842

 

Only after the second explosion did Violet start to worry.

 

Having retired for the night, rung for her maid, and poured herself a glass of brandy, Violet Hughes, or Lady Greycliff, decided to ignore the first blast. She tried to ignore the second one as well until she considered her housekeeper's reaction.

 

Violet paid Mrs. Sweet a small fortune to clean an astonishing variety of chemical compounds out of the walls, floors, and furniture of

her home, Beacon House, and its adjoining property. She had neither the time nor the inclination to search the British Isles for another housekeeper who could remove scorch marks from damask.

 

The third explosion, however, sent Violet scurrying from her bedchamber and down the back staircase.

 

Linked to Beacon House, what once had been a series of outbuildings was now part of one structure with a front entrance the next street over. After sinking most of her funds into the construction of this addition, Violet had created London's first social club for ladies, Athena's Retreat. Even more dear to her heart was the club within the club. The public believed the Retreat to be a gathering place for ladies with a passing interest in the natural sciences. Behind closed doors, though, those same ladies were making discoveries advancing the fields of mathematics, biology, and chemistry, to name a few.

 

Loud, smoke-filled discoveries.

 

Before her, the thick oak door to the connecting hall stood open, revealing the club's first floor of hidden laboratories. An odor of sulfur and cheese hung in the air, along with an unsettling amount of green smoke.

 

"No cause for alarm," cried a hoarse voice, followed by a round of coughing. "Made a slight miscalculation. Nothing to worry over."

 

Violet cursed her luck as Mildred Thornton and her partner, Wilhelmina Smythe, emerged from a room where the smoke was thickest. The two ladies, affectionately known as Milly and Willy, had sworn they were no longer experimenting with unstable compound liquids.

 

"You told me you were investigating the properties of powders," Violet cried. "How did you manage to create an explosion from talc?"

 

"Whoops. Did we say talc powder? Apologies," rasped Milly. A fine veil of soot darkened her silver hair and settled like black beads in her eyebrows.

 

"All sorts of powders, dear," Willy chimed in. A foot taller than Milly and half as wide, she shook a cloud of ash from her skirts. "Talc powder, rice powder . . ." She lowered her voice and found something interesting to examine in the vicinity of her shoes. "Gunpowder . . ."

 

Violet helped Milly bat out a few smoldering embers on the mancheron trimming of her left sleeve. "Either way, what were you thinking?" she moaned.

 

"We were thinking how far ahead those insufferable Italians at the University of Turin are in the development of pyroglycerin," Milly said. "Although we cannot share our work with the world, a few men are privy to our research and take us seriously. England cannot afford to fall behind in this area."

 

Mrs. Sweet's voice could now be heard above the din, her lilting West Indian accent softening the severity of her shouted evacuation orders. Doors opened along the corridor as women emerged from their labs in various states of excitement. Many wore canvas aprons over their dresses, and some sported thick, padded gloves.

 

"Must we leave? My work is at a delicate stage," complained a fine-boned woman dressed in a modest, though expertly tailored, blue wool dress. "Who was it this time?"

 

"Letty," Violet greeted the petite mathematician. "Help me get everyone out of the laboratories and into the public rooms so we can decide what to do."

 

Miss Letitia Fenley, club secretary for Athena's Retreat, set about her duties at once, and Violet sent a prayer of thanks heavenward for her efficiency.

 

Twenty minutes later, Violet stood in the club's common area. Its decor echoed those in the men's clubs of St. James's Street. While oak wainscoting lined the lower half of the walls, the upper half had been painted a cheerful cranberry. At one end of the room, a fire blazed in a large hearth framed by a mantel of speckled marble.

 

"If I might have your attention," Violet called out.

 

Twenty or so women, ranging in age from eighteen to eighty-five, turned their faces to Violet. Despite the circumstances, her pride and joy in what they'd created here buoyed her spirits. These members of the true Athena's Retreat were sworn to secrecy-bound by a set of rules that encouraged the sharing of knowledge and the protection of one another.

 

Violet's bubble of happiness punctured at the sight of Mrs. Sweet, arms folded and lips pursed in a disapproving moue. Violet ventured a tentative wave in the housekeeper's direction.

 

Mrs. Sweet did not wave back.

 

Drat.

 

"We had a small accident this evening," Violet announced.

 

"You mean Milly and Willy were at it again." A dry, cultured voice cut through the amused murmuring.

 

"Ahem." Violet shot a warning glance at the commentator, Lady Phoebe Hunt. Violet had hoped to avoid a discussion of Milly and Willy's propensity for damage. "A benefit of Athena's Retreat connecting to my home, Beacon House, is the ability to pass off some of the phenomena that occur here as coming from my kitchen."

 

"Your cook is not going to like it," Letty noted.

 

"Thank you, Miss Fenley, for the reminder," Violet said. "As club president, I delegate it to you to figure out an alternate explanation for the noise and record the explanation in our club diary."

 

Letty blinked in consternation, but Violet had other concerns.

 

"We must cut our activities short tonight," she continued. "Otherwise, we risk exposing the truth of what happens behind the public rooms."

 

"Is the threat of explosion over?" Lady Phoebe leaned back and kicked one expensive boot onto a stool, flipping a hand in Milly's direction. "I don't want my work burned to a crisp because these two reckless-"

 

"Reckless? Brilliant, rather," Willy said. "Someday, our work will change the economy of the whole of Britain." The flapping of her cap, which hung from the side of her topknot like a singed flag, offset Willy's indignation as she waved her arms to make a point. "You, on the other hand, would rather feature in the gossip papers than finish your work. I haven't seen hide nor hair of any advances in the so-called process of electrolysis."

 

Violet interrupted this conversation before it turned into a protracted row. "Either way, can we call a halt to any experiments posing the threat of explosion? Please, remember we host our first public event in a month. Miss Fenley has advertised it as An Evening of Education and Elucidation."

 

"How appallingly alliterative," said Phoebe.

 

"It's An Evening of Edification and Entertainment," Letty reminded Violet.

 

"That's even worse," Milly whispered.

 

Violet took a moment to smooth her features into a ladylike blandness. "There is much to be gained by recruiting more members to our club, and everything to lose if we become a subject of ridicule. For tonight, a discreet exit would be best. Will you begin, Lady Phoebe?"

 

"Discreet may not be in the cards, my lady," Letty said. "It seems a handful of reporters have been waiting outside to speak with Lady Phoebe. Something about a wager with Lord Henderson?"

 

"He was tormenting Althea Dertlinger," Phoebe said with mock innocence. "All I did was wager I could fit my entire boot in his-"

 

"They were so noisy the neighbors alerted the watch," Letty said, addressing Violet. "When I asked Winthram to call us hackneys, he reported that a crowd had gathered at the entrance. Among them is your stepson, Lord Greycliff."

 

Double drat.

 

Dozens of women surrounded Violet as she ushered them to the cloakroom, where Winthram, the doorman, helped them with their coats and bonnets. Outside the club entrance, the throng of reporters waited for her and Phoebe to appear. Once the events of the night were finished, more bodies would envelop her as servants prepared her for bed.

 

Yet amid all these people, Violet Hughes had never felt so alone.

 

 

Arthur Kneland wanted to be alone.

 

In his line of work, a crowd was the ultimate enemy. The gaslight on this small street off Knightsbridge barely illuminated the wooden walkway below. Shadows large and squat wove between the writhing mass of figures around him.

 

Wafts of brimstone-scented air came from the town house as a procession of ladies exited the building.

 

"Not how you envisioned your first night of private employment, is it? You've gone from protecting heads of state to looking after my stepmother."

 

William Hughes, or Viscount Greycliff-Grey to his friends-stabbed the walkway with his gold-topped cane while he spoke. One might assume the cane an affectation. From experience, Arthur knew that Grey carried a dagger hidden in that cane and could use it.

 

They'd both worked for a small sub-rosa group run out of the prime minister's office tasked with carrying out sensitive operations. In situations where it would have been impolitic for the British government to officially be involved, Grey had played the part of an indolent nobleman while gathering information.

 

Arthur rarely worked with other agents. The exception, one god-awful night in Brussels with Grey-which had included the poisoning of an aide to the Grand Duke William, the rescue of two whores locked in the personal carriage of Prince Frederick, a gunfight, and a serious drinking session with the orchestra of the ThŽ‰tre Royal-had resulted in the closest Arthur ever came to friendship.

 

"Protecting a little widow is indeed a change of pace," Arthur said, thinking of those whores and the copious amount of terrible wine they could drink.

 

Silence met his observation. Grey was distracted by a petite blonde taking charge of the departing ladies.

 

"Funny how chaos seems to follow behind certain women," Grey muttered.

 

Chaos indeed. "I did mention how I'm anticipating a quieter life, didn't I?" Arthur said.

 

Grey pulled a face. "Tonight is an exception. Besides, it pays four times what you would have made as an employee of Her Majesty's government for a similar job. You're the last person I'd expect to finish out his years rusticating in the countryside, but if you want to buy that farm you've always talked about, you'll need a nice lump sum. Look, it isn't so bad as the year the PM sent you to America."

 

Arthur shuddered.

 

Americans. Loud, partial to superlatives, and friendly to an uncomfortable degree. Arthur had no use for such easy camaraderie. It didn't make sense to have friends in a profession where someone was always either being shot at or shooting someone else.

 

"You are the best bodyguard we have," Grey continued, "and I mean to wring the most out of you before you disappear into the wilds of the Highlands forever. I'll pay you enough to start your new life if you do this one small favor for me."

 

A new life. The words unnerved Arthur. "New" life meant better, didn't it? Yes, he'd always wanted to live out his days on a farm. He'd said the words so many times they'd disentangled themselves from reality.

 

Time to make them real.

 

Until then, Arthur considered the scene before them. "You're certain you want me to do this job? It's the first time I've been back in England in twenty years. People have a long memory for scandal. What happens if someone recognizes me? Seems like it might be more trouble than it's worth."

 

As he spoke, Arthur studied the crowd. Something was off.

 

"You worry too much. I'll be finished up north within a month, then you're free to go. Besides, the scandal is two decades old. Since then, you've guarded some of the most influential and powerful men in the world." Grey clapped a hand on Arthur's shoulder, his cool demeanor thawing. "Lady Greycliff is especially dear to me. I couldn't leave her with anyone else. I trust you."

 

Arthur slipped free of the casual touch, hoping he was worthy of Grey's trust. At forty years old, he had dozens of assignments under his belt, and he'd failed only once.

 

One time too many.

 

The door to the town house opened, and the viscountess emerged, drawing the reporters' attention. He couldn't make out the details of her features from where he stood, yet he knew she was lovely the same way he knew the reporter closest to her had consumption, the disheveled and singed ladies who left in a hackney would return home to share the same bed, and the doorman seeing her out was not all he seemed.

 

"I am too old for this," he muttered, more to himself than to Grey. "After this commission, I am finished."

 

Arthur took a step forward as the lady made her way down the stairs, laughing at something one of the men in front of her had said. Beneath her voluminous shawl, she'd a well-rounded figure-sweetly curved hips and a generous bosom-and her curls were mussed as if she'd just risen from bed. The image took him aback.

 

"I promise, Arthur," Grey said, "this will be the easiest assignment you've ever taken. You won't even know you're working. In fact-"

 

Arthur never learned what Grey would have said. He was running straight toward the lady, who was now standing on the walkway beneath a first-floor window.

 

Barreling through the crowd of reporters, Arthur could finally see her face. Long, thick black lashes opened and closed, revealing dark brown eyes the color of coffee. Smaller than the men surrounding her, she had to tilt her perfect little chin up as she traded jokes. Her lips were the color of ripe plums and prompted a surprising stir of lust.

 

The world was full of women more beautiful than Violet Hughes. Arthur had met some of them, slept with some of them, and taken a massive head wound from one of them. None had called forth such an instantaneous, primal attraction.

 

At that moment, an explosion sent the second-floor windows shattering outward, and Arthur leaped the two-foot distance separating them. Estimating the amount of force necessary, he shielded her body without hurting her as they toppled to the ground.

 

What he hadn't counted on was the stupendously ugly armchair flying out the window, smashing to pieces inches from his face and sending splinters flying. Chaos broke out around them.

 

Rustication couldn't come soon enough.

 

2

 

After Violet's nightly ritual of brandy and a bath followed by a journey to her empty bed, she concluded her routine with one final step. She would imagine someone climbing into the bed from the opposite side, blowing out the candle, and taking her into their arms before falling asleep.

 

These nighttime visitors remained firmly in her head. Violet's late husband had insisted that a woman with a physical appetite was both unladylike and distasteful. Although she suspected this might not always be the case, she'd never searched out a real-life lover to prove him wrong. Her reputation was too important to the future of Athena's Retreat.

Reading Group Guide

Readers Guide
A Lady’s Formula for Love by Elizabeth Everett
Discussion Questions

1. In the book, Violet draws a great deal of strength and solace from her friends. At the same time, she feels removed from them when they make light of her insecurities. Do you have friends with whom you have complicated or ambivalent relationships? How do Letty and Lady Phoebe push Violet to be a better person, and what does she give to them?

2. While many people associate the Victorian era with the movement for women’s suffrage, the first few years of Victoria’s reign were socially conservative, a reaction against the excesses of the Regency period and the economic instability following the Napoleonic wars. In addition, with the rise of the middle class, women’s roles as keepers of hearth and home became romanticized, and society had less tolerance for outliers. Do you think the secret scientists at Athena’s Retreat would have been accepted for their pioneering discoveries, or was anonymity their only choice? How much did their financial and social circumstances come into play? What about women today? What commonalties do successful women share in our time?

3. Even though Violet did not have children, and had enough wealth that she could hire servants, she still could not manage to juggle her study of chemistry and the running of a large household. Which role do you think she should have prioritized? How many women do you think gave up the pursuit of their passions to focus on their familial duties? How much has this changed in almost two hundred years, and how much has stayed the same for women?

4. Class still mattered in early Victorian England. Do you think Arthur and Violet will continue to face apprehension about their relationship from people of Violet’s aristocratic class? Do shared values trump shared backgrounds?

5. There are no straightforward villains in this book. Even Adam Winters has multiple layers to him. For example, even though he doesn’t support Winthram’s transition, he still loves and misses him. Do you prefer ambivalence in your villains, or do you want a traditional “bad guy” in your books?

6. One theme running throughout the book is the importance of self-love. Both Violet and Arthur must come to some peace with their internal conflicts before they can fully love each other. How do the other characters in this book inspire this journey? What are some impediments to self-love that women still face today?

7. Violet’s late husband found female desire to be distasteful, and throughout history, women have been made to feel ashamed of their sexuality. How much has this changed over time?

8. Lady Phoebe’s experiences illustrate the phenomenon of the silencing of the female voice in society. While many women accepted that their ideas and opinions could be talked over and ignored because of their gender, Phoebe raged against this practice. Ultimately, she believed that women were justified in using fear and violence to gain attention. Violet disagreed, calling for collaborative advocacy. Does Phoebe have any of your sympathy? Are some marginalized women facing the same choices today?

9. Athena’s Retreat is loosely based on the women’s social clubs that sprang up in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some were modeled after the gentlemen’s clubs, others devoted to politics and education. One was even named for Mary Somerville, the Scottish mathematician. Do you think the tradition of single-sex clubs and schools is beneficial? Would you have belonged to one?

10. In A Lady’s Formula for Love, there are explosive (pun intended) results to the silencing of the female voice by society. Have you had instances in your personal or professional life where you struggled to be heard because of your gender? Today there is controversy over the role of scientists in public discourse. Can you draw parallels between the necessity for secret scientists in the novel and the role of scientists today?

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