Spoiled, stylish, socially connected Emma Lee Maxwell has spent her life in the idlest of pursuits—attending debutante balls, organizing sorority mixers, and acting as Charleston’s unofficial Gossip Queen. But when her family’s fortune suddenly dwindles, Emma Lee realizes her days as a Lowcountry Princess are numbered.
When she discovers that she’s inherited her aunt’s cottage in the Cotswolds, she hightails it to England, nurturing fantasies of polo matches and jaunts to London. All that social organizing is going to come in handy—Emma Lee plans to take after her namesake and put her people-pleasing ways to good use by becoming the village’s very own matchmaker! And she’ll start with three local brothers . . .
There’s just one skeptical, handsome, charming challenge: the oldest brother, Knightley, is stubbornly insisting Emma Lee abandon her well-meaning ways and focus on making a match of her own—with him . . .
Praise for Leah Marie Brown’s Novels
“Humor, heat, and a sexy Frenchman… Brown’s nod to Daphne du Maurier’s classic is a winner!” —#1 New York Times bestseller Helen Hardt on Dreaming of Manderley
“Leah Marie Brown has a wily way of bringing her stories to life with sharp dialogue and
drop-dead sexy characters.” —National Bestselling Author Cindy Miles on Faking It
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Read an Excerpt
Emma Lee Maxwell's Facebook Update:
Did you know Seal proposed to Heidi Klum (Queen) in an igloo he had built in a remote part of the Canadian Rockies? Epic, right?
It's official: I am a crap best friend. Not just moderately crappy, but fantastically crappy. Yep. That's me. Emma Lee Maxwell, Charlestonian by birth, Clemson grad, unemployed, aspiring matchmaker, craptastic best friend.
I am stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Meeting Street and my best friend's engagement party starts in ten minutes and I am supposed to be giving the opening toast.
"Pardon me" — I say, leaning forward and tapping the taxi driver's shoulder — "are you fixing to hang a left on Charlotte Street?"
He squints into the rearview mirror, fixing me with a weary, yellow-eyed gaze.
"You going to the Gadsden House, right?"
"Meeting to Calhoun to Bay Street."
"Would you mind taking Charlotte to Alexander to Calhoun instead?" I hold his gaze and smile a big, toothy smile, the same smile that won me a place on Clemson's All Girl Cheerleading Team. "I'm due at my best friend's engagement party in nine minutes and I can't be late. I just can't."
His gaze softens.
"I gotchu, girl. Trust in old Charles."
"Thank you, Mr. Charles," I say. "I sure do —"
The car behind us beeps its horn and old Charles takes off like a pony at a polo match. We are flying down Meeting Street, whizzing past John Street, Charlotte Street, Henrietta Street ... and then the car in front of us comes to a sudden, violent stop, crashing into a truck. Old Charles hits the brakes with surprisingly quick reflexes and we lurch to a stop.
The box on the seat beside me — a gift-wrapped silver picture frame I found at George C. Birlant antiques — falls to the ground with a sickening thud. I pick up the box, tears pricking the corners of my eyes when I hear the rattle of broken glass, and check the analog clock on the dashboard.
Lexi is counting on me. I can't let her down.
Traffic has stopped moving in both directions. I lean forward in my seat and look down Calhoun. Traffic isn't moving on Calhoun either.
"I am sorry, girlie," Charles says, frowning. "There are more cars than palmetto bugs at a picnic."
"The Gadsden House is only a ten-minute walk from here. If I run, I might-could make it. What do you think, Mr. Charles?"
"What do I think? I think you should go."
I reach into my purse, pull out the full taxi fare and tip, and hand it to old Charles. Then, I grab my purse and my gift box. I climb out of the car and start walking briskly toward Calhoun.
Mr. Charles beeps his horn and I look back.
"Run, girlie. Run like a scalded haint!"
For a moment, I wonder what Miss Belle would say if she could see me running through downtown Charleston like an ill-bred chicken with her head cut off. Miss Belle Watling taught comportment and etiquette at Rutledge Hall, the private all-girls academy I attended for the first seventeen years of my life. Poor Miss Belle passed when I was at Clemson. She was having lunch at The Grill, excused herself, and was discovered a quarter of an hour later, dead on the lavatory, her orthopedic hose around her ankles. A most undignified ending for a stickler for Southern morals and manners, even if she did expire wearing her polka-dot-lined picture hat and double strand pearls.
I best stop thinking about what Miss Belle would do if she saw me hightailing it in heels and start thinking about what Miss Lexi will do if I am a no-show at her engagement party. After all, I introduced my best friend to her fiancé, Cash William Aiken III. It was my first official foray into the highly pleasing world of matchmaking. Just thinking about my success sends a double-espresso-strength shot of adrenaline surging through my veins, and I start running down Calhoun Street, past the old Episcopal church and the Charleston County Public Library.
I clutch my purse and Lexi's gift and run like I'm a scalded haint — whatever that is — until I reach the Saffron Bakery, where the scent of buttery Florentine cookies hangs heavy in the humid evening air. By the light of a flickering gas lantern, I tuck my hair behind my ear and dab the dew from my brow; according to Miss Belle, Southern ladies never perspire. We glisten with dew.
My iPhone was vibrating all the way down Calhoun, so I pull it out of my purse to quickly check my texts.
Text from Madison Van Doren:
Cash's brother is hot — in a Southern Charm meets Duck Dynasty kind of way. Will you introduce me? Do you think he would consider shaving the sideburns and putting on a pair of socks? Where are you, btw? You're late.
Text from Roberta Hearst:
Procreation is highly overrated. Fatigue, nausea, constipation, hairy nipples (WTH?). Give Lexi my love and tell her I would rather be at her engagement party than stuck at home on bed rest. Text me all the deets. I want to know everything.
After typing my responses, I walk the short distance from the bakery to the Gadsden House, a magnificent eighteenth-century carriage house with a brick façade and wide, inviting side porches. It was the perfect setting for an engagement party, which is why I'd suggested it when Lexi's momma phoned asking for my help. Lexi and her people are from Virginia, but Cash is Charleston born and bred.
Ravenel. Calhoun. Middleton. Aiken. Maxwell. Pinckney. Ashley. Barton. Some names have cachet in Charleston, and Aiken is one of them. I know what you must be thinking: You best pray for good weather, Emma Lee Maxwell, because you've got your nose so high in the air you would drown in a rainstorm.
I swear on my Kappa Kappa Gamma key I didn't mean that in a highfalutin, snobby way. It's not about strutting around town thinking your sh*t tastes like sherbet. It's about having roots that go deep into Charleston's sandy soil. It's about the pride that comes from flipping through the pages of Colonial South Carolina: A History and seeing your ancestor listed as a founding father, someone who helped shape your hometown in a significant, lasting way.
I get the same warm-all-over, puffed-up-with-pride feeling when I imagine myself ten years from now, a successful matchmaker, with stacks of leather-bound albums bulging with photographs of perfectly matched couples. Couples I brought together — same as I brought Lexi and Cash together.
Some might argue that being a matchmaker isn't as important as helping to write the Constitution of South Carolina, but I strenuously disagree. No disrespect to my nine-times great-granddaddy, Benjamin Josiah Maxwell, but connecting soul mates is as significant an accomplishment as drafting a state's governing document. Love Matters. Maybe if the world spent more time focusing on the heart and less time focusing on the hate, we wouldn't be in this school shootings/terrorist attacks/gender divide /racial divide/North Korean Missile Scare meltdown. All's I'm Sayin'. Hashtag that.
I walk through the open wrought-iron gates into the courtyard, lit by strands of fairy lights strung overhead and crowded with guests already clutching glasses of champagne. Round tables covered with crisp white linen tablecloths and decorated with bouquets of ivory patience garden roses, white peonies, and white hydrangea in mercury glass containers have been arranged beneath the oak trees. A string quartet is playing Debussy's "Clair de Lune" from their perch on the upper porch, the soft, sweet notes falling gently like morning rain, mixing with the tinkling laughter and clinking glasses.
I deposit my present on the gifts table and pause to take it all in — the candles glowing in hurricane lanterns, the cicadas chirping in the trees, the scent of magnolias perfuming the air — and my heart aches with the sublime perfection of this moment. It literally aches, y'all. Tears flood my eyes. If I don't get a handle on my emotions, I am going to be doing one of those ugly, mascara-running, just-watched-a-Hallmark-Christmas-movie cries.
Cash and Lexi suddenly appear on the white-painted porch and I just about die. Die! My best friend is wearing an ivory fit-and-flare cocktail gown with a sweetheart neckline. The dress is perfection in lace. Per-fec-shun! I'm serious, y'all. It looks like something Reese Witherspoon — Hail, Queen — would wear in a rom-com about a warmhearted big-city girl who finds love with a wisecracking, small-town boy.
Lexi notices me staring at her and squeals the way best friends do when they haven't seen each other for years — or several hours. She presses a kiss to Cash's cheek and walks across the porch, her heels tapping an excited staccato on the wood floor. We meet at the bottom of the stairs and throw our arms around each other. A thick lump forms in my throat, my eyes fill with tears, and I wonder if this is how thousands of mommas feel each September when they drop their children off for their first day of school. Joy and loss commingling until you don't know whether to laugh or cry. I give her an extra squeeze, blink back my tears, and let her go.
"You look amazing." I reach for the chiffon overskirt of her gown. "Is this lace or embroidery?"
"Appliqué," she says, beaming. "It's a Miiko Sashiko. Can you believe it took three petites mains over two hundred and fifty hours to apply the flowers? Can you imagine being stuck in an atelier for that long, sewing a thousand fabric cherry blossoms?"
"Stuck in Miiko Sashiko's atelier? To dream."
Miiko Sashiko won Project Runway four years ago. Since then, she has become the golden child of couture, launching her own label and a line of bespoke leather handbags. She even designed the ethereal gown Hailee Steinfeld wore in her "LoveStruck" music video.
Lexi looks over at Cash.
"You don't think it makes me look like a Disney Princess?"
"What's wrong with looking like a Disney Princess?" Lexi nibbles on her bottom lip and looks down at her feet.
"Cash said I look like I should be sitting on a parade float, waving at the people on Main Street U.S.A."
"Is that a bad thing?" I scrunch my nose and look at her through narrowed eyes. "Who wouldn't want to be compared to a Disney Princess?"
"Who would you be? If you could be a Disney Princess, which princess would you want to be?" Lexi opens her mouth to speak. "Wait!" I cry, holding up my hand. "Let's answer at the same time. Okay?"
"Okay." She laughs.
"One ... two ... three."
Of course. Princess Rapunzel is spirited, social, and loyal. She fills her time with art and music and friends — and she has magical blond hair that's always snatch.
We laugh and hug again.
"We both know there's only one reason you chose Rapunzel," I say, pulling a face. "Flynn Rider." Lexi sighs and looks at me through dreamy, lovesick eyes.
"It's true. Flynn is boyfriend goals."
"Alexandria Armistead, you can't have boyfriend goals. You have a fiancé now."
"Fine," she says, laughing. "The animated hottie is yours."
"Animated hotties are the best," I say. "They're heroic and dependable, and they never break your heart. Put that on a T-shirt."
"That's so sad," Lexi says, drawing the last word out. "Don't be sad, Emma Lee. You're going to meet your live-action hottie soon. I just know it. Ooo! Maybe over in England."
"I am not going to England to meet a man, Lex."
"What if he has Kit Harington's hair, Tom Hardy's voice, and Daniel Craig's Bond bod?"
Kristen Carmichael, Savannah Warren, and Madison Van Doren, three of our Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters, join us, and more squealing and hugging ensues.
"Did someone say Daniel Craig?" Kristen asks.
Kristen is working to get her doctorate in Sports Psychology. She's athletic, competitive, a total guys-girl, with a dirty sense of humor and Jennifer Lawrence's beauty.
"I was saying to Ems she might meet her dream man in England. A guy with Kit Harington's hair, Tom Hardy's voice, and Daniel Craig's body, circa Casino Royale."
"If we are building our dream man" — Kristen wiggles her eyebrows, and I know what she is going to say before she says it — "can he have Orlando Bloom's —"
"Kristen Anne Carmichael!" Lexi cries. "Don't you dare finish that sentence."
Kristen has been obsessed with Orlando's bloom ever since the paparazzi released pictures of him paddleboarding stark-nekked. Orlando Bloom. Nekked as baby Jesus in the manger. I can't unsee that. Ever.
"Don't Kristen me. If Orlando Bloom walked into this courtyard right now and asked you to go paddle-boarding with him, you know you would."
"I am engaged. To be married."
Kristen rolls her eyes.
Kristen doesn't believe in matrimony. It's my goal to match her with her forever mate after I have a few more successful matches under my belt.
"Daniel Craig and Tom Hardy disdain politics, but Orlando Bloom works with Global Cool to raise awareness about greenhouse gas emissions," Savannah says, flipping her long, sandy-blond hair off her slender shoulder. "I will keep Orlando, and trade Daniel and Tom for Leonardo DiCaprio."
Savannah Warren looks fragile, like one of the Olsen twins, but she's sharp and scrappy. Her granddaddy was a senator and her daddy created the Warren Institute, one of the most influential think tanks in the country. Not surprisingly, Savannah is passionate about politics, especially equality, climate change, and LGBTQ+ rights. When she gets too preachy, I remind her of the time she got crazy drunk on Irish Car Bombs and created her alter ego, Sugar Bush, George W. Bush's secret illegitimate daughter, who works as a stripper while she puts herself through college. Savannah couldn't dance her way out of a wet paper sack ... neither could Sugar.
"Enough about Orlando Bloom!" Maddie says, rolling her eyes. "Can we please talk about Cash's brother? A little manscaping and he could join my BOMC."
Madison Van Doren, Maddie, grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. She's the sixth child of Winston Van Doren IV, heir to the Van Doren chemical and glass fortune. In college, she changed her major more times than her hairstyle. Eastern Asian Art History, Automotive Engineering, Economics, Anthropology. She dated a bunch of random guys and even flirted with lesbianism, which she confessed to me one Wine Wednesday, after Rosé and Real Housewives. Maddie's living in New York City and working as a barista in a coffee shop/tattoo parlor while she studies international education at NYU.
"BOMC?" Lexi asks.
"Boff of the Month Club." Maddie dips her chin, staring at Lexi through the thick black fringe of her blunt-cut bangs. "A new guy every month for twelve months. No obligations. Keep the ones I like, send the rest back."
"Maddie!" I cry, fanning my flushed cheeks with my hand.
"Madison Rose Van Doren!" Lexi hisses. "You best hush your mouth before my momma hears. Boff of the Month Club!"
Maddie laughs, a wicked little laugh that has me mentally making the sign of the cross for her naughty soul. I swear, y'all, Maddie is not a ratchet girl. She's just a little lost. Maddie's mom was the second Mrs. Van Doren. Maddie's story is tragically cliché: her billionaire father had been married to his first wife for twenty-five years when he met Maddie's mom, a stunning, five-foot-ten Black Irish model nearly thirty years his junior. Mr. and Mrs. Van Doren (the first) battled it out in divorce court, spending millions in litigation and generating dozens of sensational tabloid headlines. The children from Mr. Van Doren's first marriage, Maddie's half siblings, are successful captains of industry and philanthropy, movers and shakers from Manhattan to Malibu, who look down on Maddie. They consider Maddie to be the unfortunate product of their father's midlife crisis. Maddie's dad is too old to notice. Her mom is too self-involved to care. I swear, it breaks my heart.
"How about it, Ems?" Maddie fixes her bright gaze on me. "Will you introduce me to Cash's brother?"
I look from Maddie to Lexi. Lexi keeps her expression blank, a vacant, I'm-not-involved look in her eyes. What would Patti Stanger, Millionaire Matchmaker, do? Patti would advise Maddie to make a nonnegotiable list of the things she absolutely wants in a mate. I am not even sure Maddie knows what she wants in a man (or woman, just saying). How could she identify what she wants in a mate when she can't even settle on an identity for herself? One week she's the preppy WASP in summer-weight plaids and J.Crew twinsets; the next week she's Malibu Barbie, saying things like, Yoga isn't really yoga unless you're wearing Lululemon Wunder Under Crop leggings. This week, she's Beatnik Bettie writing slam poetry and musing about social injustice. God bless her heart.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Badly Done, Emma Lee"
Copyright © 2018 Leah Marie Brown.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I think it must be a signature of Brown’s – to write characters that are self-absorbed and unusually naïve as to the ways of the real world, for the early pages of this book were eerily similar in feel for me to the one other title I’d read from this author. But, despite the Emma references (my least favorite Austen title) and the cheerleader-esque approach to life, this Emma Lee did have a heart, a sense of her place in the world and a true desire to make people feel better – like a cute little puppy turning circles and posing in ‘cute’ mode. It wasn’t a wearing sort of cute though: Emma Lee truly believes in her ability to make friends and be a flash of sunshine for others, seeing her friends finding happiness does truly make her shine, even as she is afraid of allowing anyone too close to her. See, with her father’s death after losing her mother as a baby, and the subsequent loss of everything else to unpaid taxes, she’s moved from spoilt princess waiting for the next big thing to a young woman who must find her own way in the world, apart from her go-getting elder sisters and her friends. An unexpected bequest left her a house in the Cotswolds, and after her coup de grace of an engagement and wedding for one of her best friends, she believes that matchmaking is her particular gift – and taking her meager savings, a pair of shiny new red wellies and a suitcase full of hopes, she heads off to England to grab her dream. In England, she is met by Kingsley, the son of her mother and aunt’s best friend, with his two younger brothers, stately home and abbey ruins, the people of the village: a germaphobe pharmacist and neighbor, the organic farmer with her half-sister, a model she doesn’t get on with, the candy shop owner and manager, a young woman with a Victorian obsession and a mother who is manipulating and dependent on her. Instantly believing she needs to match Kingsley and his brothers with women, and that she could be the spark that sees everyone matched out: she’s ignoring (or trying to ) the connection between she and Kingsley, and missing EVERY literary reference made from near everywhere. C’mon .. popsugar is the last thing she read? Fortunately her mother’s friend is able to share books, family secrets and hope with Emma Lee, and throughout the book Emma never really loses her ability to make people smile, even as she is horrible at matching. Lighthearted and quick to read, this was a wonderful fun and easy read that fit the bill for some quiet hours of entertainment and laughs with a unique and ultimately sweet character. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was nor compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Spoiled, stylish, socially connected Emma Lee Maxwell has spent her life in the idlest of pursuits—attending debutante balls, organizing sorority mixers, and acting as Charleston’s unofficial Gossip Queen. But when her family’s fortune suddenly dwindles, Emma Lee realizes her days as a Lowcountry Princess are numbered. This was an ok read. The story started with Emma Lee as the kind of person I really don’t like. She got a little better as the story went on, but meh. **I voluntarily read and reviewed this book
Emma Lee Maxwell, 24, was always loved by her father. Sadly, Emma’s mother died giving birth to her. Although Emma Lee is a beautiful and intelligent young woman, she is not without faults, one of the worst being vane. Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, Emma Lee attended a private girls’ school that stressed manners and proper deportment. One thing she enjoys is playing matchmaker with her friends. Today, thanks to heavy traffic, Emma Lee is going to be late to her best friend’s engagement party. She was the one who played matchmaker for the couple and she’s expected to give a speech congratulating the couple. Having grown up pampered by her wealthy father, Emma Lee was shocked when he died suddenly and she found that his debts far exceeded his assets. Thus, Emma Lee has decided to move to the Cotswolds in England and start a matchmaking business. Her aunt Patricia had left her a cottage called Wood House so she will have a place to live in the Cotswolds. Upon arrival in London, Emma Lee is met by Knightley Nickerson, son of her aunt Patricia’s friend who has been looking after Wood House. Knightley’s mother had also been a very good friend of Emma Lee’s mother so she takes Emma Lee “under her wing” and introduces her to the area. Emma Lee also meets a number of people in her village and immediately bonds with them. Knightly is so handsome, wealthy, and solicitous of her that she can’t help but be drawn to him. This is a book that encompasses many things Jane Austen, so followers of her will be delighted to read this. While I have read Jane Austen’s works, I don’t call myself a reader who is fascinated by “everything Jane.” There is a lot of humor here and is a light comedic read. I smiled and chuckled through much of it. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.