Lord Maxwell Brandon is a flawed man. He lives daily with the ugly memories of the death and destruction he witnessed during England’s war with Napoleon. He has become a recluse, avoids people as much as he can, knowing anything can trigger the anxiety attacks that debilitate him. His only solace is the controversial column he writes anonymously for his brother’s newspaper, and the occasional glimpse of his enchanting neighbor, Lilliana.
Lilliana Staplehurst is about to be evicted. Having lost her parents in a horrible accident six months earlier, she knows the man set to inherit will be arriving any day to boot her from her home. The only distraction from her woes is her weekly correspondence with a mystery man who writes for the local newspaper. When he suggests they meet, she jumps at the chance to put the egotistical man in his place.
The two neighbors realize quickly they are destined to be together. Although they accept their feelings for one another and allow their love to grow, soon the memories from Maxwell’s past threaten what should be a happily-ever-after. Lilliana will have to be strong enough for both of them, to help him move beyond the past and embrace their future happiness.
Targeted Age Group:: 16 and older
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
With so many wounded warriors returning from service in the middle east, I began to wonder what those in the army and navy went through after defeating Napoleon. The main character is a man who saw front line service, and the horrors he witnessed remained long after Napoleon was banished.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I like tortured heros and the creating woman to soothe them. Lily, my heroine, was able to help Maxwell through his nightmares to find dreams of happiness, not horror.
“Oh, for pity’s sake! Read this one, Aunt Bea. My word! This man knows no bounds.” Lilliana Staplehurst tossed the recently delivered Shire Sentinel newspaper to her widowed aunt.
“You needn’t throw the paper, dear.” After giving Lily a look of censure, Beatrice, Lady Waltham, a lovely woman of fifty odd years, situated her small, round spectacles on the edge of her nose and focused her gaze on the paper she’d retrieved from the floor at her feet.
Lily waited as her devoted companion studied the article Lily had just finished reading. The weekly Shire Sentinel came complete with the much-anticipated commentary provided by a mysterious writer known only as Baron Von Macken. As usual, his acerbic opinions relating to the inferiority of women incited Bea, and soon the elderly woman wadded the newspaper into a large ball and threw it into the dormant fireplace.
Lily laughed. “You needn’t throw the paper, Aunt.”
A very unladylike snort escaped Bea’s lips. “This man knows no bounds, is right! How dare he compare women to dogs that must abide their master?” Bea snorted indignantly once again. “Gracious me!”
“You’ve said it before, but I must agree with your belief that this gentleman is most certainly not married. What woman in her right mind would align herself with such a fellow?”
Lily retrieved the newspaper from the fireplace and attempted to smooth out the crinkles. She saved the articles, although she couldn’t say why. They angered her each and every time she read them.
“I think that must be how you answer him this time, Lily. Tell him how saddened you are that he likely roams the planet alone and unloved.”
Lily laughed. She had turned this into a game. Lily wrote the exasperating Baron Von Macken a letter in response to each of his ridiculous columns. Over the course of the past few months, he’d begun to answers her letters, his long responses filled with his special brand of absurdity.
“I wish we knew who this man was,” Bea said. “Surely he must be someone local? Who else would endeavor to write for a small, family-run press? If he were from London, he would more likely write to the Times.”
“That’s it!” Lily clapped.
“What?” Bea looked up, brows furrowed.
“What if it’s Mr. Brandon, himself? Remember the one article when he referred to his siblings? He said he had two brothers and a sister. Just like the Brandon family of Fallgate!”
Thomas Brandon, third son of the seventh Earl of Fallgate, owned and operated the Shire Sentinel. Thomas, along with his two elder brothers and sister, grew up on the neighboring estate, Fallgate Manor. After graduating from Cambridge three years earlier, Thomas received a gift from his father—a building and a gently used Koenig steam-operated press, which Thomas used to create his weekly newspaper.
“Oh! Do you think so? I do remember that article, and I even remember thinking that perhaps it was indeed your neighbor!” Bea frowned. “However, Mr. Brandon never struck me as a condescending fool, and this Baron Von Macken clearly is.” Her frown deepened. “The dead Lord Fallgate was a lovely gentleman.” She bowed her
head and whispered, “God rest his soul.”
Lily nodded. The former Lord Fallgate had been a very pleasant man, one of her father’s dearest friends. The current Lord Fallgate, Maxwell Brandon was equally agreeable; however, since his return from the war, Maxwell had become a recluse, rarely seen or heard.
In his younger, carefree days as a viscount, Maxwell attended all the assemblies in town. He danced with every woman within his reach, played cards and laughed until dawn. Oh, how Lily had loved his laugh! Although he was eight years her senior, she’d had a certain attraction to him for as long as she could recall. Recently, his two younger brothers—Thomas, the newspaper owner, and Edward, their middle brother—had each approached Lily about courting. Although both men were considered quite eligible and fine catches by the standards of the London marriage mart, Lily had eyes only for the eldest Brandon, and not because he was an earl, but just because of…him.
They had much in common, Lily and Maxwell, especially a love of literature and the life sciences. Before he’d gone to the continent to fight Napoleon, she had liked to fish with him and often tagged along without official invitation, packing a picnic lunch and enjoying lovely days in his company. She wondered if he’d ever realized her attraction, or simply saw her as a neighbor, the only daughter of his father’s best friend.
“Lily? Are you listening to me?”
“I’m sorry, Bea.” Lily shook her head to clear the thoughts. “What were you saying?”
“I said… Of the three Brandon brothers, I would think Edward the only one capable of writing such things about women. In fact, I think some of his recent sermons have been very critical of our sex and a woman’s role in the home.”
Edward was the vicar at their parish, having just finished his curate training. Although he’d grown up in the neighborhood, in many ways he no longer reflected the beliefs and ideas of their community. He’d come back to the area quite pious, with some conceit and arrogance he previously had not demonstrated.
“Now that you mention it, I have noticed that, as well.” Lily had also observed that Maxwell rarely attended his brother’s services.
“I think perhaps he is our culprit,” Bea said. “The articles are well-written, despite their disagreeable content, and they clearly indicate a man with a fine education.”
Lily previously asked Thomas who the mysterious Baron Von Macken was and how she might personally contact him to share her thoughts. Thomas simply said the writer wished to remain anonymous, but he did graciously offer to deliver the letters she wrote the secretive man. Writing to him wasn’t as satisfying as giving him a verbal tongue-lashing, but her letters did reach their intended target. She always received a personal response from Von Macken. The trick was, she never signed her real name, just in case the writer was a local man who knew her. Instead, she signed the letters as Henny Happenstance. Only Aunt Bea knew she wrote letters to the man.
“Your theory seems logical. The article does have a rather preachy tone, as if a clergyman might be writing them. Hmm.” Lily pondered the idea, imagining Edward, just five years older than she was, having such a cynical vision of woman. “Perhaps if I ask Edward directly, he might admit it is he—or his brother, rather—writing the articles?”
“What if you simply ask in your next letter for the man to identify himself to you? Or, better yet, just call him out and ask which Brandon he is?”
“Well, that is a thought.” Lily nodded, warming to the idea. She refilled her chilled teacup resting on the table near her aunt. “However, he surely knows there is no such person as Henny Happenstance, so I fear he’ll not reveal himself unless I do.”
“What’s the harm for you to do so?”
“Only my reputation, Aunt!” Women of breeding did not write to unknown men, much less state their opinions in such blunt terms, as Lily had in all her letters.
“Ach!” Bea scoffed. “A true gentleman would hardly reveal your secret. If it is one of the Brandon brothers, as we suppose, do you care what they think of you? They have known you your whole life!”
At twenty, Lily realized she needed to marry soon than later or be effectively placed on the shelf to collect dust. A spinster. The mere thought made her cringe. Add to that, her concern about Papa’s heir’s impending arrival and her ultimate eviction from Staplehurst Hall… Well, she realized her choices were becoming quite limited, and she really did care what the Brandon brothers thought of her, most especially the eldest, the current Lord Fallgate.
“Yes, I do care, Aunt.” She sighed. She was always honest with Bea. Always.
“Once my mourning period has ended, I must wed. It is well beyond time. Papa was gracious to allow me to wait until I felt ready, but now that he and Mama are gone…” She shrugged before adjusting the skirts of her black dress, which she still wore in remembrance of her dear parents’ deaths nearly six months earlier.
“They should never have gone on that trip to Paris.” Bea filled her teacup. “Who travels in the winter?”
“Mama wished to be in Paris for Christmas,” Lily whispered. It had been her mother’s fondest wish, something Mama dreamed about for many years before Father finally capitulated.
For Lily, however, it had been the worst Christmas holiday. Days before their scheduled trip, she had contracted some sort of stomach ailment, and the doctor declared her too weak to travel with her parents. Unwilling to stay home, her mother insisted on going ahead with their plans, leaving Lily home with Mama’s sister—Aunt Bea.
Word came on the evening before Christmas that their ship, the African Waters, had never arrived in port. Effectively lost at sea, they were never found or heard from again. Christmas would have been miserable without her parents, but in the end, it was catastrophic. Such a quick voyage across the channel had turned into tragedy. Soon after that, on a night she couldn’t sleep due to tears and sadness and worry, she’d picked up an issue of the Shire Sentinel, a paper she’d barely ever glanced at before. That was the first time she’d read the ramblings of Baron von Macken. The man’s ideas were so diametrically opposed to her own, had caused such anger and frustration within her, she had determined she must respond to them. Although hardly his intention, the mysterious writer gave Lily something to look forward to, something that had nothing to do with her great loss and mourning.
“Well, if we could go back in time, surely your mother would have done things differently. Now, however, we must focus on your future.” Aunt Bea sipped on her tea, glancing at Lily over the edge of her cup. “You will answer this latest article, will you not?”
“Yes.” Lily nodded. She faithfully responded to each article.
“You are still planning to stay with my father for the season?” Bea asked.
“Yes.” Unless circumstances changed, and she managed to attract the attention of a certain earl living at the estate next door.
“Very well. I shall send that in my next letter to Father in London.” Bea patted her thighs and then stood up. “I’m off to visit Lady Stilton. I shall give her your best.”
She bent and kissed Lily’s head. “I love you, my girl. I so wish to see you smile again. Life is very short. It is quite past time that you enjoy it.” She lightly patted Lily’s shoulder before walking from the sitting room, leaving Lily alone.
Lily stood and walked to her escritoire, determined to write not one but two missives. The first would be a response to the ridiculous article in the Shire Sentinel. The man had to be an insane loon; there could hardly be a different explanation for his ridiculous statements. The second letter would be an invitation to Lord Fallgate to visit at his convenience. Lily was finally ready to wed, and it was now time to grab that illusive man’s attention.
Maxwell Brandon, the eighth Earl of Fallgate, glanced up from his ledgers as his steward delivered Maxwell’s daily correspondence on the usual silver salver. The stuffy, stoic, elderly man held out the small platter and waited wordlessly.
“Thank you, Fredrick.” Maxwell reached and plucked the small stack of missives from the salver. “Might I have a fresh pot of coffee?”
“Yes, sir.” Frederick bowed and then exited the room.
Once the door was shut, Maxwell removed his spectacles and tossed them haphazardly onto the pile of papers on his desk. On days such as this, Maxwell felt much older than eight and twenty. The quantity of decisions to be made daily, and the people who relied upon him for their employment and well-being was often overwhelming. Some days were easier for him than others. Today was not an easy day. There were only two letters to sort through. The thick one came from his brother, Thomas; he recognized the penmanship. The other, addressed to him in flowery handwriting, was far more intriguing.
He tore open that one first, knowing Thomas’ envelope likely contained the usual comments and criticisms on the weekly article Maxwell wrote for the Shire Sentinel. The smell of roses scented the air as he unfolded the fine paper.
Dear Lord Fallgate:
It has been some time since I have had the pleasure of seeing you, sir.
I do hope all is well at Fallgate.
Since my parents’ passing, I have been sorting through things and recently came across
some documents in the attic that appear to have belonged to your father.
I thought, perhaps, you might wish to visit and see if the documents have any
significance or may be destroyed.
You are welcome whenever it would be convenient for you.
The image of the beautiful girl next door filtered into his mind. He had known her since she was born. He smiled, remembering her as a little girl with bouncy, auburn-colored curls, running through the trees between Fallgate and her home, Staplehurst Hall. Being so much older than her, Maxwell had watched from a distance as she had developed into a perfectly lovely, intelligent, exceedingly pleasing woman. He swallowed and set aside her letter.
When Lily turned eighteen, Maxwell, then a highly decorated war hero, freshly back from France, worked up the courage to ask Mr. Staplehurst if he might give consent for Maxwell to court the only Staplehurst child. Maxwell thought he best do it properly, ask her father and then her. Unexpectedly, her father had said no, that he wasn’t ready to give her up yet, and he thought Maxwell needed time to settle into the estate and recover from his time in the military before considering marriage. Disappointment was a mild description for Maxwell’s reaction, but he had accepted Staplehurst’s decision.
Soon after, the nightmares had begun, and his need for solitude and privacy had intensified. The experiences from the war, along with the new responsibilities as the Earl of Fallgate, had quickly taken their toll on him. Fear and nerves virtually paralyzed him. Now, nearly three years later, he usually had a firm hold on his emotions, but at times, he still allowed the worry and trauma from his war days to creep back in to his mind and take control, preventing his happiness.
Soon after the old earl had passed, Maxwell’s youngest brother, Thomas, now a budding printing businessman, expressed great admiration for Miss Staplehurst and sought Maxwell’s blessing to court her. Maxwell had consented, of course, but felt keen disappointment. He knew Mr. Staplehurst would not grant leave to Maxwell to have
Lily, but he was not certain how Staplehurst would react to Thomas. When she rejected his brother’s offer, Maxwell had secretly been pleased. Then, when she also turned down his other brother, Edward, Maxwell began to wonder what
Lily might be looking for in a husband. Both of his brothers were well-educated, charming, well-connected men, but she hadn’t been interested in more than friendship with either of them; or so she’d told them both.
A certain level of guilt assaulted him when, upon hearing Lily’s father passed away, the first thought he’d had was that she was finally able to make her own decision regarding his suit. He wasn’t certain he had anything different to offer from his brothers, except a title, which for most women would be sufficient. Lily, however, was not most women. And because of that, he was hopeful she would be amenable to his request for courtship. He’d not approached her yet, having decided to wait out the prescribed mourning period. The six month anniversary of the Staplehursts’ deaths was now just weeks away, followed by her twenty-first birthday.
He glanced back down at the letter and decided he would answer her immediately. He’d been wrapped around the woman’s finger for years, effectively tied in knots. Just catching sight of her as she passed his estate in her barouche was enough to make his heart race. She was the most remarkable woman he’d ever known, and given the chance to have her, he would risk his pride and face possible rejection.
Frederick arrived as soon as Maxwell rang the bell, spiriting the letter away to be delivered to Staplehurst immediately. The woman need only snap her fingers, and he would be there. He was hardly desperate for a woman; quite the contrary. However, long ago, he had decided he would share his life with Lily or he wouldn’t marry at all.
After Fredrick’s departure, Maxwell shifted his attention to the thick packet from Thomas. With a sigh, Max slit it open and pulled forth the contents. His brother had written a short note and pinned it to an envelope resting inside.
You’ve done a marvelous job with your last article.
You’ve never quite ruffled this many feathers before.
I cannot thank you sufficiently for making this so sensational, especially when I know
you do not personally believe what you write. By being so horrible, you are creating such a lovely
stir, and thus an increased following for the newspaper and adding to my coffers!
Perhaps I should begin to compensate you?
Jesting, of course,
There was only one note he looked for each week in Thomas’ correspondence. A woman calling herself Henny Happenstance wrote scathing responses to each of Maxwell’s articles, had been doing so since the beginning of the new year. Many days, he wrote an article with her in mind, specifically, and attempted to irritate her as much as he could. The more he spoke out about the legitimacy of the continued inequality of the sexes and classes, the angrier she would get. Her letters were exceptionally well written.
He had asked once that she reveal her name or perhaps give him a hint as to her identity. She’d fired back that she’d only do so once he did the same. And so, that is how it progressed between them, neither giving an inch. He wondered often what she would do when—if—she learned it was all a farce, and he had even considered tipping his hat in one of their personal correspondences. He worried, however, she would reveal his secret, and then the paper would suffer from the scandal.
Instead, he had suggested to Thomas he offer Henny the opportunity to write her own column, wherein she might specifically refute Maxwell’s arguments. Thus far, that had not occurred, but Maxwell certainly hoped one day to encounter the opinionated Henny.
He slid open one of the many envelopes with feminine writing and saw similar to what he generally received in terms of commentary from his articles. Women who wrote him tended to call Baron Von Macken all sorts of creative, albeit ugly names. Most he laughed off. None of them knew him personally, few people really did. As he picked through the epistles, he found the one he looked for each week. He easily recognized the mysterious Henny’s handwriting. He read her letters repeatedly, even weeks after receiving them. Her penmanship was almost as familiar to him as his own.
“Oh my hell!”
Maxwell slapped his hand on his desk, suddenly realizing why Lily’s handwriting had looked so familiar.
“Oh my hell,” he said again and sat back hard in his chair.
Could it be? He picked up Henny’s letter and compared the writing on Lily’s invitation. She made her “Ls” in an unmistakable way. Just as Henny did.
Could it be?
He got to his feet and stalked from his desk to the window, where he could see just a bit of her home in the distance. Lily is Henny. He shook his head in shock. “I’ll be damned.”
Lord, he was in trouble now that he knew the truth. He was rather enamored with the outspoken and honest Henny, perhaps as much as he was taken with Lily herself. Since the women were one in the same, it merely completed the package for him. What in the world would she do when she learned he was Baron Van Macken, the man whose views she hated with a passion?
“Oh my hell,” he repeated, yet again.
He rubbed his face with his hands. This would be a hard thing to talk his way out of. Maybe talking wouldn’t be necessary if he suddenly changed his responses to her letters. Maybe if he were to soften them or leave little clues to his identity, she would figure it out? But, she would likely still be unhappy with him.
He reached for a clean sheet of paper and began writing out the response to Henny. His letters were always directed toward Henny Happenstance at the post office in Smythfield, a neighboring village. He shook his head, still overcome with disbelief. Had he not received an invitation from Lily on the same day he’d received one of Henny’s missives, he never would have guessed they were the same woman.
“Perhaps it is the Fates at work?”
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