Description: Summerset abbey: a bloom in winter
File name: Summerset abbey: a bloom in winter
This book is dedicated with all my love and gratitude to Dr. Colin Cave and Dr. Katie Deming and their teams—amazing doctors and extraordinary people.
It is during a major crisis that you come to realize just how incredibly blessed you are to have a support system, and the health crisis that occurred during the writing of the Summerset Series was no different. Beyond the incredible people in the publishing industry who made this book happen—my agent, Molly Glick, and my editors, Lauren McKenna, and Alexandra Lewis—there were many people in my other life who showed me kindnesses and support, both large and small.
First and foremost, I wish to thank my family, Alan, Ethan, and Megan. You make everything worthwhile.
Next, I give props to my tribe, who fetched and carried and, most importantly, made me laugh. Billy, Vickie, Jeff, Jasmine, Anita, Dave—I love you guys!
More thanks to my bestie, Ann Marie, and her husband, Chris—we can always count on you.
I want to thank Bill and Debbie, neighbors extraordinaire—surely sharing a fence has never been so fun.
Then there were my awesome local writer peeps who propped me up in so many different ways: Amy Pike Danicic, April Henry, Delilah Marvell, Jessie Smith, and Amber Keyser. No one gets writers like writers.
Love you all.
Victoria paced the length of Summerset Abbey’s Great Hall, impatience rippling through her body. In London the mail had come at the same time every day, like clockwork. But at the sprawling country estate that she now called home, the mail’s arrival remained frustratingly unpredictable and entirely dependent on her uncle’s will. When he was away from Summerset Abbey, it was even more haphazard, unless her ladyship needed something posted or was expecting an important invitation.
When she reached the end of the hall, Victoria doubled back, marching furiously forward, ignoring the light from the circular skylight, which danced and sparkled off the marble columns lining the room. Even the breathtaking frescoes depicting angels floating above battle scenes that covered the domed ceiling, which normally captured her gaze when she entered this hallway, remained hazy on the fringes of her tunnel vision. And all because of an inept mail delivery system that harkened back to the bloody Dark Ages. She’d be waiting outside on the drive if she weren’t afraid of the suspicion that would raise, especially after learning that Aunt Charlotte, or Lady Summerset Ambrosia Huxley Buxton, noticed everything that happened at Summerset.
Well, almost everything. Victoria smiled. Her aunt didn’t know how often she snuck away to her secret room in the unused portion of the manor to practice her typing and shorthand, study botany, or craft her own articles on plants and plant lore. She didn’t know that her own daughter, Elaine, could mix up a mean gin sling, or that Victoria’s older sister, Rowena, had gone flying in a plane and had kissed a pilot. So maybe her forbidding aunt Charlotte wasn’t so infallible after all.
But Aunt Charlotte had known how to get rid of Prudence. Victoria frowned, a familiar ache twisting in her stomach.
She heard a car in the front drive and she flew to the servants’ door behind the stairwell, not caring whether the servants resented her intrusion on their domain. The mail would be taken to Mr. Cairns, who would sort it out in his office, and then presented to Aunt Charlotte, to Uncle Conrad, or to whomever it was addressed. Victoria, however, couldn’t stand by and wait for her letter to eventually find its way into her hands. She’d counted the days carefully and knew in her bones she would receive an answer today.
The servants bobbed their heads as she rushed past them. No doubt Aunt Charlotte had already heard of her sudden obsession with the mail. If asked, Victoria would just tell her she was awaiting a letter from a friend and then whine about being bored out here in the country. Aunt Charlotte deplored whining.
She stuck her head around the doorjamb of Cairns’s office. “Did I get anything, Cairns?”
The man jumped and Victoria hid a grin. Very little ever surprised this supremely self-contained man, but Victoria had long ago made it her mission to try. She’d spent almost every summer vacation since she was a small child trying to ruffle Cairns, who had no outstanding features except his unflappable composure. She knew he could barely stand her, and the girls used to find it funny.
Now, of course, it would be better if Cairns were on her side, but old habits were hard to break.
His mouth tightened. “I’m just going through it now, Miss Victoria.”
She waited, almost screaming with impatience as he deliberately took his time going through the post and sorting it into different piles. She knew he had found her letter by the quivering of his nostrils. He held it out and she snatched it from his hands as if worried he was about to change his mind.
“Thank you, Cairns!” She whisked out of the servants’ quarters and up to her room, praying she wouldn’t run into her cousin, wanting to break up the boredom by sneaking down to play billiards and smoke cigarettes, or Rowena, wanting to go riding or walking or whatever she could to chase away the guilt she felt over Prudence. Victoria felt bad for both her sister and her cousin, but right now, she had more important things to do.
Once in her room, she put the letter on her white and gold empire dressing table and stared at it, half-afraid to open it. She’d been waiting for it for so long—now that it was actually here, she was terrified it wouldn’t contain the news she wanted. Finally she picked it up, crossed the soft Axminster rug, and settled down upon one of the two blue-and-white-striped chaise lounges that sat before a small white fireplace.
Inspired by Nanny Iris, a remarkable herbalist and Victoria’s friend and mentor, she’d written an article on the health benefits of Althea officinalis, or mallow, and the history of its uses among the healing women who worked with the poor. She had sent it to one of her favorite botany magazines and to her surprise, the editor had written back, telling her he enjoyed the article, and gave her some advice on how to improve the writing. He had asked her to resubmit after she’d revised it. She’d rewritten it ten times, typing it carefully on the brand-new typewriter she had hidden in her secret room. Then she’d sent it back, praying it would be good enough to publish.
Her stomach churned. And here was her answer. Unable to take it any longer, she went to her desk and rifled through the drawers until she found her letter opener. Something fluttered to the ground when she opened it and she stared at the slip of paper, unbelieving. It was a check.