"Sherri Browning writes her clever Edwardian tales with a gentle, loving touch."—Fresh Fiction, Fresh Pick
Lady Alice Emerson has been matched with every suitable bachelor invited to Thornbrook Park, but Alice only has eyes for the completely unsuitable and mysterious estate manager, Logan Winthrop.
Lady Alice Emerson is entirely unsatisfied with the endless stream of boring suitors her family finds appropriate. She wants something more. Something daring. Something real. Each tiresome new suitor only serves to further inflame Lady Alice's combustible attraction to Thornbrook Park's rugged, manly estate manager, Logan Winthrop. Despite Logan's stubborn attempts to avoid her, Lady Alice is irresistible, and so is the forbidden desire exploding between them.
If you're a fan of Downton Abbey, don't miss the fascinating Edwardian world of Thornbrook Park.
Thornbrook Park series:
Thornbrook Park (Book 1)
An Affair Downstairs (Book 2)
The Great Estate (Book 3)
Praise for Thornbrook Park:
"A wounded hero and bold heroine who defy the conventions of society...Readers will enjoy their visit to Thornbrook Park." —RT Book Reviews
"A sweet, natural chemistry." —Publishers Weekly
"Written beautifully with an obvious eye to the social and political changes of the time period." —Bookworm 2 Bookworm
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Lady Alice Emerson knew exactly what she wanted, and it wasn't a husband. She had a whole list of things she longed to accomplish in life, all on her own with no one to hold her back or tie her down.
Her plan had been years in the making, the first step being to get out from under her parents' control. Once Alice's maiden aunt, Agatha, and her father had found themselves more frequently at odds, it had been child's play to convince Mother that accompanying Agatha on an extended visit to Thornbrook Park would be best for everyone, saving Father's health before being around Agatha could make him apoplectic. Had it been anywhere else, Mother might have hesitated, but she had full confidence in placing Agatha and Alice in the capable hands of Alice's older sister Sophia, the Countess of Averford.
Alice knew that her mother expected Sophia to find her a husband, and her sister had been more than up to the task. In her nearly two years at Thornbrook Park, Alice had dissuaded two of her sister's candidates from proposing, and she had faith that she could survive a few more attempts before Agatha was comfortably settled, all Sophia's responsibility, and Alice could announce her intention to depart. Who could stop her once she turned five and twenty, when she would come into the money her grandmother had left her? Just three more years.
On her great list of things to accomplish, Alice had lofty dreams: to travel the world, to climb a mountain, to ride a camel, to captain a pirate ship. And she had simpler goals that she could start on right away, like cornering the fox in a hunt, getting drunk on whiskey, and having a wild affair. She should know love at least once, even if she never planned on marrying. And she had just the man in mind, the same man who could teach her to hunt and to shoot, and who enjoyed a good whiskey-her brother-in-law's estate manager, Mr. Logan Winthrop.
Mr. Winthrop would be no easy conquest. To begin with, he didn't seem to really like people, choosing to keep to himself as much as possible. When he did find himself in company, he maintained a cool, all-business demeanor. Most of the time. Alice had managed to break through his icy exterior once or twice, enough to fuel her hope that she could manage a seduction.
There were rumors that he'd killed a man, a rival for a woman's affections, and had come to Thornbrook Park to escape his dangerous past. Rumors didn't deter Alice. All men had pasts, and rumors were often far from fact. What made him the perfect candidate, besides his soulful eyes and god-like physique, was precisely that he was not the sort to form emotional attachments. There would be no pining after her or rushing into a commitment.
An estate manager's income wouldn't come close to supporting an earl's daughter in the style to which she'd become accustomed, or so he would believe. He would never expect her to marry him, even if she managed to seduce him. Once she could convince Logan Winthrop to let his guard down again, she would take the opportunity to kiss him.
She'd hoped to run into him that morning when she left the Dower House to breakfast with her sister at Thornbrook Park. The gardeners were preparing the grounds for winter, and it was rare that Winthrop wouldn't be out with the groundskeeper overseeing the efforts. Unfortunately, Winthrop hadn't been in sight. She stood outside the breakfast room, hand poised to turn the beveled-glass knob, when she heard his voice inside.
"Lemon trees? So many of them?" His voice had that raspy edge that signaled his displeasure. Alice knew it from the many times he had told her to stop asking questions and leave him to his work. She smiled. "I don't know much about the care of exotic fruit trees, but I will research the subject."
"Four trees. I can't imagine what the woman was thinking, as usual." Her sister wasn't delighted by the prospect either, apparently. "It's practically an orchard."
Sophia had a tendency toward exaggeration.
"Mother means well. Likely she feared a few might not make the journey safely. She wants you to have lemonade, not exactly a sinister sentiment behind the gift. You could try to be more grateful." The rumpling of a newspaper followed Lord Averford's explanation. Typical. He tended to hide behind the news once he'd had his fill of morning pleasantries, or unpleasantries, as it were.
"It's not that I'm ungrateful. I'll send her a letter as soon as they arrive, of course."
The old Dowager Countess was sending lemon trees to Thornbrook Park from Italy, where she had taken up residence these last few years? Alice, thinking of the hours she could spend in the warm conservatory with Mr. Winthrop, couldn't muster any disappointment. There were roses, sweet peas, and lemon trees on the way. What an ideal setting for a kiss!
"You know who has some experience with lemon trees?" Lord Averford asked, not really expecting an answer. "The Marquess of Brumley. I remember his wife had several trees, oranges and lemons. Perhaps I should invite him to come offer you a hand, Winthrop."
"I wouldn't mind some advice." Winthrop seemed to be none too sure. He might have meant the opposite, that he would mind very much indeed.
"Brumley?" The sound of her sister's teacup clinking in the saucer made Alice jump. "The widower Brumley? Your brother's former classmate, the one with the ancient wife who recently passed away?"
"The very one. Eleanor died last year, though, not so recent. He's-"
"Out of mourning." Alice could picture her sister clasping her hands in glee. "And a marquess. I'm sure he's lonely. We should invite him. For an extended stay."
Alice felt the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. A widower. Her sister's next candidate to win Alice over to the idea of marriage. Not again. If the aroma of cinnamon toast had tempted her to enter the room, the idea of a marquess being pushed at her changed her mind. She backed slowly away from the door. Perhaps she would break her fast with Aunt Agatha in the Dower House after all. She turned and had begun to walk quietly down the hall when the housekeeper, Mrs. Hoyle, sprung on her from out of nowhere.
"Good morning, Lady Alice. Have you come for breakfast?"
"I thought I left a pair of gloves behind last night. I just had a quick look in the drawing room. No gloves. I'll be on my way."
"But I've just come from the drawing room. I didn't see you come in." The infernal woman cocked an accusing brow. "Perhaps one of the maids picked them up. Come along to the kitchen and we'll have a look."
Alice couldn't imagine a way to decline gracefully, and at least the kitchen wasn't the breakfast room. She would manage to avoid her sister's attempts to present the Marquess of Brumley, undoubtedly a toad, as a charming fairy-tale prince. "Thank you, Mrs. Hoyle."
She followed the old hen to the kitchen, where the few maids at the table jumped to attention to greet her, causing Alice to blush and mutter an apology for interrupting them. The three maids all ran off to attend to duties elsewhere in the house despite Alice's protestations to stay put, and Mrs. Hoyle excused herself to ask Mr. Finch about the gloves, leaving Alice to stand alone next to the great table where the servants took their meals.
Off in the adjoining room, she could see Mrs. Mallows covered in flour as she rolled out dough and occasionally cursed at Sally, the kitchen maid. A footman rushed right by Alice with a tray, not even noticing her in his haste to fetch what he was after and get back to the breakfast room. Glad to go unnoticed, Alice stepped into a shadowy corner to wait for Mrs. Hoyle's inevitable return with the news that her gloves were not to be found.
"Looking for your next victim, Lady Alice?"
"Mr. Winthrop." He hadn't failed to notice her. His voice ran over her like one of the velvet gloves she claimed to be missing, causing her heart to beat faster. She turned and stepped back into the light. "I'm not sure I know what you mean. I'm waiting for Mrs. Hoyle to confirm if she could find something I've lost."
"Oh, is that the ruse? You've lost something. Meanwhile, you're deciding which of the servants to trail after all day asking questions to the point of vexation." He laughed. Laughed! What a rare occasion. Never mind that he was laughing at her, she was entranced by the way his eyes lightened ever so slightly from black to cobalt with his mirth. So dark were his eyes, so normally inscrutable, that she'd had no idea that they were actually a very deep blue and not brown at all. Or maybe they simply appeared cobalt in the light, drawing from the dark blue of his coat.
Forgetting herself, she took a step closer to examine them. He seemed to hesitate an extra second, staring back at her, but he didn't move away. "Naturally, Mrs. Hoyle will come along any moment now to report that she was unable to find the item, for you've lost nothing at all. What really brings you to Thornbrook Park?"
"Why, you, Logan. I've come to deliver this, just for you," was what she said in her mind, as she placed a hand to the silk plum waistcoat covering his solid chest and leaned in. In actuality, she stammered like a fool and clenched her hands at her sides. "Wh-why on earth would you suspect me of having an ulterior motive?"
She had lost something after all. She'd lost her nerve. She'd had the perfect opportunity to completely surprise him with a kiss, and she hadn't been able to manage it.
"Why do you do anything, my lady? Because you can. Forgive my impertinence." He cleared his throat. "I've come to fetch a set of keys from Mr. Finch. I'll leave you to your search."
He stepped back, obviously deciding that whatever course he'd been taking with her was the wrong one to follow. Flirting? Could she conclude that he'd been flirting with her? And if so, what had she done to frighten him away? He turned on his heel.
Quick! She had to say something to bring him back. "Mr. Winthrop?"
"Yes?" He turned to face her again. She released the breath that she'd been holding.
"Do I really vex you?" She didn't attempt to hide the concern in her voice.
He sighed. "No, Lady Alice. You do not. I'm sorry to have upset you."
"Oh, I'm not upset." She hazarded a step closer to him, and another one. "I was simply making sure before I tell you that I actually know a little about the care of citrus trees. Mother kept oranges in our conservatory back home. I might be of some assistance to you when they arrive, if you'll allow me."
He quirked a dark brow. "Oranges? Lady Averford didn't mention it."
Alice nibbled her lip. She knew very little about trees, citrus or otherwise. Certainly she would have time to read up on the subject and try to appear knowledgeable. "She wouldn't. She didn't notice. My sister is so often in her own world."
"I see." He stroked his jaw as if considering. "And how do you know about the fruit trees, seeing as the news only came at breakfast and I don't recall you at the table when Lord Averford opened the letter in front of me?"
"You've got me there." Alice blushed. "I was listening at the door. Eavesdropping, can you imagine? What a terrible habit. I didn't mean to, of course. I was about to join my sister for breakfast and then I heard-"
"The mention of Lord Brumley?" He nodded, and his lips curved up in a smile. "The countess enjoys a bit of matchmaking. Before you came along, she tried to pair me with her maid."
"Mrs. Jenks?" She wrinkled her nose at the idea. Jenks was a mousy slip of a woman, no match for a robust, vigorous man like Winthrop.
"No, the one before her. Mrs. Bowles."
"Dear, no." Worse than Jenks, Bowles was a snip-nosed shrew and certainly far too old for Mr. Winthrop. "I'm sorry. Sophia clearly has no talent for making matches."
"Perhaps not. You were wise to run away instead of sitting through another conversation about yet another bachelor. I don't blame you a bit."
"You-you don't?" Ah, a man of sense. She knew she could rely on his sound judgment, at least. And she appreciated it, though it would make seducing him more of a challenge.
"Any pretty girl in her right mind dreams of a dashing suitor to sweep her away, doesn't she? Alas, Lady Averford's only suitable choice for you so far had eyes for another."
"Captain Thorne." Alice rolled her eyes. "He's better off with Eve Kendal. They're perfectly suited. I didn't care for him much myself, if you must know."
"I mustn't." He shrugged. "It's none of my affair."
Alice bit the inside of her cheek. How she wanted it to be his affair. "There isn't a suitable choice. I'll never marry."
"Don't despair, Lady Alice. There's someone out there for you. Your sister simply hasn't found him yet."
"It's not despair." Defensive, she crossed her arms. "I've no interest in marriage. None."
His eyes narrowed as if he tried to peer inside her soul. "I shouldn't have said anything. You might like Lord Brumley. I must go."
"No." She reached out, eager to stop him, and ended up with her hand on his sleeve, over the thick muscles of his upper arm that she had seen in full daylight, bared to the sun, when he'd removed his coat, undid his collar, and rolled up his sleeves while out raking the early autumn leaves. "Please, tell me about Brumley. You know him?"
His gaze went to her hand and trailed back to her face. "We were at Harrow together. I believe he made Lord Averford's acquaintance later, at Oxford. He might have changed considerably in so many years."
"Fourteen years?" She did the math. "If you're the same age as the earl, then it has been fourteen years since you were at Harrow."
"In fourteen years, a man can go through remarkable changes in his life." His full lips drew to a grim line. "In our youth, Brumley was a bit of an oaf. To be fair, I've no idea what kind of man he has become."
"I suppose we're about to find out. Sophia is probably already making out the invitation. But just in case, our mission should be to see the lemon trees replanted and thriving as soon as possible to send him on his way." Our mission. She liked the idea of them sharing in something. It was a start.
"Agreed, Lady Alice, on that point. I'm not looking forward to seeing the man any more than you are, I suspect. Perhaps much less."
"No sign of gloves, I'm afraid." Mrs. Hoyle interrupted. Alice had no idea how long the woman had been standing there watching them together. Not long, most likely. Mrs. Hoyle wasn't the sort to wait to be heard. "Will that be all, Lady Alice? There's still time to join your sister at breakfast, I believe."
"I suppose I will take a moment to say hello. Thank you, Mrs. Hoyle. Mr. Winthrop." As much as she hated to pull herself away from him, it wouldn't do to stand in conversation with the estate manager now that Mrs. Hoyle had reappeared. "I look forward to the arrival of the lemon trees. Good day." She delivered a brief nod in parting and willed her feet to walk away.
He'd made a new life for himself at Thornbrook Park. No longer was he a gentleman's son, free to court gentlemen's daughters. Lady Alice made him want to forget, but it wouldn't do to allow himself the liberties he wanted to take with her, a breath of fresh air in his otherwise dreary life. He'd failed to grasp happiness when fate might have allowed it, and now it was beyond his reach.
Alice deserved a young man of fortune and good standing, someone who could give her the kind of life befitting her station, not an estate manager with a tarnished past. But sometimes, when she stood close and studied him with that look of awe in her eyes, he wanted to take her in his arms and remember what it was to be young and in love. He was entirely wrong for her, and he dreaded the day he would have to make it clear to her by behaving in a manner that would frighten her off for good.
For now, he sensed she needed a friend, and it didn't hurt to lend her an ear. How she did prattle on sometimes, drifting from one topic to the next. It made his work go faster when she was near, like a symphony playing on the wind. And when he had a chance to stop and really listen to her, she had some remarkable things to say. The girl had good sense. Perhaps he needn't have worried that she seemed to be developing an inadvisable interest in him.
It was entirely possible that he flattered himself, imagining that a strong-willed young beauty could be falling in love with him. Likely, her real interest was horticulture, just as she'd often claimed when she appeared at his side as he supervised the trimming of roses, the planting of seedlings, or the tilling of the soil. An estate manager needn't dirty his hands, but working the land helped Logan feel some little bit of hope restored, that he could control what grew from the earth, what flourished, and what faded, after so much time spent out of control in his own world. His old world. The life that came before, that he'd struggled to put behind him.
"Are you all right, Mr. Winthrop? You look a little pale." Mrs. Hoyle appeared with a cup and saucer in her hand. He'd been standing in the kitchen where Alice had left him, frozen in place after watching her walk away. "Something to refresh you?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Hoyle. I am a little tired." He didn't want the tea, but he accepted it, drank it down in one gulp, and handed her the empty cup. That he'd been up since dawn without stopping for a meal might have been the real reason for his mental ramblings. "You're very kind to think of me."
"Nonsense, Mr. Winthrop." A blush? From Mrs. Hoyle? "We must look out for one another. If one of us falls ill, who is to look after our family?"
"Our family? Oh yes." She meant Lord and Lady Averford of Thornbrook Park. Their "family." "Must keep up our strength. I'm off to get some keys from Mr. Finch. Good day, Mrs. Hoyle."
"And a good one to you, Mr. Winthrop." She turned to bring his cup to the sink.
With family on his mind, he set off to find the butler, Finch. Logan had a family that was not the Averfords. Logan's father had been the Baron Emsbury, as his older brother had become upon their father's death. Logan hadn't seen his brother much since what they all referred to as "the incident," but he exchanged letters with him and his wife, Ellen, and with Mrs. Leenders, Grace's governess, who assured him that the girl was happy and thriving in the care of Logan's brother and his wife. Grace would be nearly a young woman now, twelve years old, the same age her mother had been when Logan first kissed her.
"Mr. Finch." He turned the corner, glad to find the butler at his desk going over an inventory list so that Logan could put thoughts of family behind him and delve back into his work. "I wonder if you have the keys for the equipment shed. I seem to have mislaid mine."
"Mislaid your keys? How unlike you, Mr. Winthrop."
"I believe I simply left them on my table at the cottage, nothing to fret over. I thought perhaps to borrow yours instead of going all the way back. Not that it's all that far, of course, but I'm eager to bring a few things over to the farm. Tilly Meadow is in need of some new shovels that can handle deep snow. Their current set is ancient, likely to snap under significant weight."
"Snow shovels, good old reliable implements." Mr. Finch nodded approvingly. "I expected you were about to inform me that we've a newfangled steam thingamabob to melt away the snow as it falls. I'm glad to know that some things haven't changed as fast as others."
He gestured to the telephone hanging behind him. They'd had it for more than a year, but Finch was still adapting to the idea of placing and receiving calls through a box on the wall.
"I don't know, Mr. Finch. That steam thingamabob sounds very handy. Perhaps it will come along soon. Mr. Sturridge says it's going to be a stormy season." Winthrop trusted the groundskeeper's instincts in such matters as precipitation. Sturridge had an uncanny sense for predicting what was in store for the upcoming season, as well as detecting oncoming storms before they hit.
"Ah, well, Sturridge is seldom wrong about such things. I should warn Mrs. Hoyle to be prepared."
"Knowing Mrs. Hoyle, she needs no warning. I would be surprised if she hasn't already stocked enough to survive two consecutive winters trapped in this great house."
Mr. Finch laughed. "True enough."
"Thank you for the keys. I'll return them when I'm done." After leaving Mr. Finch, Logan walked the corridor that would lead him up and past the breakfast room instead of going out the back door, in case he might run into Lady Alice again along the way.