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Finalist: Best Historical, National Readers' Choice Awards
Featured Alternate and "Heartthrob of the Month"
for Rhapsody and Doubleday Bookclubs
Lord Next Door
by Gayle Callen
Book 1 of the "Sisters of Willow Pond" trilogy
(The books do not have to be read in order.)
To rescue her family from financial
ruin, lovely Victoria Shelby has no choice but to marry. Her
options for a bridegroom are limited...until she remembers the shy
servant boy next door. Then she discovers that her childhood friend is
actually Viscount Thurlow--ruthless businessman, future earl, and a man
whose family is shrouded in scandal.
After two rejected marriage
proposals, David Thurlow needs a wife who will give him an heir,
someone who will not only overlook his past but also be above reproach.
Victoria is the ideal candidate--quiet, unassuming, and in
desperate need of funds. But even as she strives to be the
perfect wife, David's slow heated lessons in the art of seduction
threaten to transform a "convenient" marriage into a torrid and
Lorraine Heath, USA Today Bestselling author
"Endearing, romantic and
guaranteed to take your breath away."
Christina Dodd, NY Times Bestselling author
(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot
copied or reprinted without permission.)
This is my Private Journal--how dare you spy on me and presume
in it! You may be ten years old, but so am I, and I would never be so
You left the notebook under a bench in your garden where
find it. I live right next door, and from my window, I happened to see
hide it. I didn't come any closer, I promise. Your bonnet hid your
so I didn't see you. My mother always says my curiosity will land me in
and here it has. I do not know much about music (which you seem quite
of from what you wrote about your lessons) but I am certain we could
something in common. My mother is the earl's cook, and I have no father
brothers or sisters. I'm allowed to be tutored sometimes with the
son. Think of me writing to you as a way I can practice my lessons.
we be friends?
I've never had a boy for a friend. I suppose writing to you
no harm. But I can never meet with you. You would get into trouble if
earl discovered that his kitchen boy presumed upon the neighbors. And
father would take my journal away if he thought I was consorting with a
He says we always have to associate with people above us, but since
below them in status, why would they want to associate with us? It's
so very confusing. My father is a banker who invests the money of
people. Even the earl who employs your mother is one of his clients. I
a mother and two sisters named Louisa and Meriel. Louisa is two years
than I, and she has very red hair that my mother says is unfashionable,
which I think is uncommonly pretty. Meriel is four years younger than
and her hair is golden ringlets. My hair is just this pale yellow color
doesn't really look like much of anything.
Don't worry about your hair-it isn't important what a girl
It's what she talks about that matters. Someday I'll convince you to
me so we can have a real discussion. You're lucky to have sisters. You
have someone to play with. What do you do all day? I help my mother in
kitchen but I can play outside as much as I want. I have a secret
place in the attic. It's where I keep all of my most important things,
special rocks from the garden and paper no one wants because only one
is used. I like to hide in there where no one can find me and think
important things, like sailing to India or to one of those islands by
colonies. I'm telling you things I've never told anyone. See, you can
I would never be brave enough to go on a long, dangerous
voyage to India.
But I'm glad you have so much time to think. Little girls have not so
freedom. My father hired a governess so that I can be properly educated
a lady, but I think my sisters like that better than I do. At least
does. French is very hard (and why do we need it if we just finished a
with them not so long ago?). Mathematics make my head spin. Meriel is
She is still allowed to play much of the day. Though thankfully music
needlework are part of my lessons. I also have to learn all about rank,
earls and dukes, and who goes into the dining room first, and who
whom. Really, why do I need to know all about the nobility if they
invite us anywhere? Mama says we have to be prepared, because she wants
make sure my sisters and I marry the right men. Doesn't falling in love
a person the right man? I like that you have a secret place to hide. I
too. I call it Willow Pond, although that is not its real name. But I
tell you where it is right now. It's a secret.
Your tears are getting the notebook all wet and dirty-don't
cry! I keep
telling you to explain to your mother why you don't like to dance.
understand and make that nasty governess stop. No one should have to
But if you need someone to talk to, I could meet you at Willow Pond. I
you only go there with your sisters. You always go on and on about that
being magical, but it's a corner of your garden, Victoria. Why won't
share it with me, too?
I'm not like my sisters. I'm not like any other girls, and
there are days
my father won't look at me because of it. I don't like the things
are supposed to like, like babies and husbands and dresses. I want to
the Piano all day. I hear songs in my head that no one has created yet.
think of designs for my needlework because the pictures intrigue me,
because needlework is what a Lady Should Do.
You've returned from the country! It was such a long three
have such an unusual situation-your mother traveling with an earl. Tell
everything you did, and don't leave anything out-unless it involves the
of a frog. You talk about that too much, and I don't care if you call
scientific research. I may not like the thought of traveling myself,
when you tell me stories, I can imagine it all and live through your
Don't listen to your father. Men like ladies who think. My
the newspaper and thinks a great deal. We have long conversations, but
I'm her only child. She says she appreciates my opinions. Have you
talking to your parents? If they're worried about who you'll marry,
them I will marry you. You don't think about balls and dresses like
silly girls do.
When you marry, I hope you find a lovely woman. But she can't
be me, because
my father would never allow it. That is truly sad, because you
me more than any person in my life, except my sisters. So let us think
the Perfect Wife for you. She would have to be a grand adventuress, of
and not mind riding on elephants in India. You'll probably earn your
there and come back as quite the wealthy gentleman. (Don't scoff! I
you care little for the nobility, but perhaps the gentry will make room
a fine man such as you will become some day.) The Perfect Wife would be
brave, of course, and able to speak passionately about what she
in. She'll read the newspaper, and know about Parliament and wars and
My sisters are very worried about me, but I am not like them.
I will be
content to be our parent's companion as they age. I love nothing better
to be at home with my music and my needlework. You know I hate to
man would want a wife who can't dance?
Father is angry again. Only to you can I complain how unfairly
focuses on me. He punished me again by locking the door to the music
Why won't he tell us what he's angry at? We can never question him. I'm
that Mama knows what it is. Yet certainly she would not keep something
Dearest Tom, my secret friend,
Why haven't you written to me? It's been months, and I know
the earl is
in town, so you must be there somewhere. I heard that the countess
and that must be a terrible strain on the household. I'm so sorry.
your mother was able to keep her position. Yet--you're almost a man now
sixteen. Did you feel the need to look for work? Wouldn't the earl keep
in his household? Or have I offended you? I look back over the past
correspondence, and perhaps I asked for too much pity as I made a fool
myself at the dinners my parents insisted we attend. They have friends
our own class, wealthy people who believe they're the equal of any
of the ton. But I sit there like a silly lump, with nothing to say,
names wrong whenever I speak. Oh Tom, why is it so easy to tell you
I even promise to finally meet you in person, if only you'll
to me. I miss you.
Ten years later…
I pray that you're still next door, that by some miracle after
time you'll come looking for our Journal. My father is dead, and the
circumstances of his death would shock even you. My sisters have left
try to make their way in the world and help Mama and me. But the small
of money they send home is not enough, Tom. Even as I write this, I am
what item I'll next sell to feed us. My mother and I will be on the
in only two months’ time. I'm so desperate. Oh Tom, will you
Victoria Shelby closed her childhood
utterly foolish for writing in it after so many years. As if a servant
help her now, when everything was so bleak. She'd thought of Tom
through the years, wondering if he'd moved away, if he'd married. But
days now, she'd found herself thinking about him frequently, and at the
times. It was growing more and more difficult to banish him from her
And marriage? Desperation must surely be driving her mad.
She looked about her sparse bedchamber,
bare of anything
of value but her simple furniture. It had once been such a magnificent
house, and now it seemed so empty, just like the sedate future she used
imagine for herself.
She'd been a foolish, naive girl.
With a sigh, Victoria smoothed down her
and left her room for the uncertainty of the master suite, where her
now lived alone. She paused in the doorway and met the gaze of Mrs.
their housekeeper and last remaining servant. She wore her usual
of black silk dress, lace collar and close white cap. No matter their
Mrs. Wayneflete could always be counted upon to remain unflappable.
they turned to stare at Victoria's mother, who clutched a vase to her
and stubbornly turned her back on them.
"Victoria, I will not part with this,"
Mama said, her
defiance a hollow, pale sound. Her eyes were now lined with dark
and looked at nothing most of the time. Sadness bent her shoulders and
of gray hair escaped the pins. "Your father gave it to me for our
He brought it from-"
"I remember," Victoria interrupted
gently. "But Father
would understand that we need to eat."
Her mother had a strange tendency to
circumstances, and Victoria found herself growing ever more impatient.
she realize that they had all sacrificed? Victoria had sold her beloved
and Mrs. Wayneflete had taken no wages in many a month. Mama was
for salvation, but there was no one left to save them. Victoria wished
could convince her mother it was better to face the future than wallow
the past. But since Father's death ten months before, her mother's
continued to sink, though Victoria's cheerful letters to her sisters
not dwell on that sad fact. There was no need to worry them any more
Victoria sighed and turned a brisk
smile to her housekeeper.
"Mrs. Wayneflete, do you have another suggestion for an item that will
us in food this week? I do believe that Mr. Tillman quite looks forward
haggling with me over a price."
"You're an easy woman to respect, Miss
Wayneflete said with a fond smile.
"Then there is Mr. Billingsly, the
merchant from Cheapside.
I could pit the two proprietors against one another for a better
Victoria's laughter died when she saw her mother staring at her.
"How can you find amusement in this?"
"Your father is dead."
"Oh, Mama, of course I know that. But
we are not dead,
and we owe it to ourselves to go on living."
Victoria pushed those sad memories
away. Since that terrible
day, she and her mother had seemed to switch places, as her mother
under the knowledge that her own husband had left them penniless. The
overdue mortgage on the town house, their last remaining property, had
bought by a distant cousin, who had agreed to let them remain until he
to England with his family-two months from now. Time was running out.
Her sisters were doing what they could.
But their earnings
barely supported themselves. Meriel had used her logical nature and
education to find a position as a governess. Louisa’s
patience had enabled her to become a companion to an elderly lady.
had thought she was doing her share by keeping their meager household
for she had not her sisters' talents. Lately she'd felt the urge to do
to prove that she was no longer that shy girl who used to think she
so little in life. Had all she ever aspired to be was her mother's
and caretaker? Yes, it once would have given her the chance to immerse
in her beloved musical compositions. But that silly girl had come to
firsthand the harsh realities of life without privilege. And it was
to do something more.
"I do believe there is a clock in
Meriel's room," Mrs.
Wayneflete said. "Quite an old, fancy piece. Would that do?"
"Of course." Victoria nodded briskly,
having long since
accepted that she was the one to make all the family decisions. "Mama,
can have the vase for a while longer."
"Something will happen, Victoria," her
mother said, a
look of shining hope in her dull eyes. "You'll see."
Victoria's thoughts were tinged with
sarcasm that was
uncalled for. It was so easy for her to lose patience with her mother
days, though good breeding kept her from expressing her opinions. Mama
once aspired to the highest reaches of society, as if riches could make
ton forget that Mr. Shelby had been their trusted banker, not their
It had frustrated her mother terribly that wealth had allowed her to
in the same exclusive neighborhood as the nobility, but not to mingle
That unrealistic hope shining from her
made Victoria even more determined. There had to be a solution.
She thought of Tom again, that boy
she'd never met, but
with whom she'd shared the intimacy of her every thought. She had to
such silly daydreaming and get on with the day. She wrote the clock
her household journal, where she kept lists of the items they'd had to
At Tillman and Sons, Mr. Tillman quoted
her a reasonable
price for the clock, and Victoria left feeling a moment's triumph,
by the inevitable worry that never truly went away. As she walked
through the busy city streets, her thoughts dwelled inward, searching
a solution she could not find.
Distractedly, she turned down an alley,
a shortcut from
the shopping district to her wealthy neighborhood. She used it every
yet she was still surprised when she found herself all alone. The sky
overcast with the promise of rain, making the coach houses and stables
either side of her seem full of shadows. She heard a strange crack
her and looked over her shoulder, but there was nothing. She picked up
Before she reached the halfway point of
the alley, she
felt certain she was being followed. She'd left Tillman and Sons with
empty satchel-anyone could figure out that she now carried money with
And she was a woman alone. Why had she chosen the luncheon hour for her
when all the coachmen and grooms were obviously inside enjoying their
She picked up her pace, debating whether a confrontation would deter a
She was only two blocks from home!
So she picked up her skirts and ran.
She heard pounding
steps behind her almost immediately, but she didn't risk looking over
shoulder until she came out on the street. As she made the turn to stay
the pavement, she saw a dirty, skinny little boy, not more than eight,
in ragged clothing. He seemed even more desperate than she was, for he
to follow her. Two men walked a block ahead of her, and she felt safe
to fumble in her reticule. She grabbed the first coin she found-a
threw it over her shoulder. With a glance, she saw the boy fall to his
and scramble for the money.
Only after Victoria had crossed the
street and left him
behind did she allow herself to slow down and catch her breath. A year
she would never have been able to run like that. Helping Mrs.
with the cleaning had obviously improved her stamina.
The little boy had disappeared, and she
hoped he would
buy himself a hot meal. Biting her lip, she couldn't help shuddering.
his life soon be hers?
She passed the home of the Earl of
Banstead, right next
door to hers. The house lived under a cloud of scandal many years old,
one that Victoria had been deemed too young to hear about. She'd given
questioning her housekeeper about the servants' gossip years before.
She couldn't imagine that Tom still
she would have had some word from him.
She came to a stop and stared up at the
huge town house
with its gleaming windows and impressive entranceway. Was the answer to
problems in there?
But she had never been an impulsive
woman, so she resumed
walking home to help Mrs. Wayneflete with dinner-and came up short
she reached her property. The idea rolling around in her mind was so
impulsive that she felt the need to give in to it immediately, before
could change her mind. Her heart pounded, her gloves dampened with
Was Tom the answer to her prayers?
Would he marry her?
Oh, what was she thinking? A kind man
like him, twenty-six
years of age, would surely be married already. That was probably why
stopped writing to her. He'd met a girl and-
But what if he wasn’t
married? She could be a servant's
wife. She'd become quite the frugal housekeeper, and she knew she could
content with Tom. She hadn't wanted to marry. It had been too difficult
flirt with men. Since she loved nothing better than to be alone with
music or her needlework, she had thought that would content her. It had
a relief when her mother had given up on marriage plans for her, when
father's disapproving looks had turned to indifference. He had always
sure Victoria knew it would be difficult to find a husband for her.
But now marriage might be the only
answer. Could this
actually work? Could she save her mother-and herself?
She marched up to the Banstead front
door and knocked
before she could change her mind. Too late, she realized she should
gone around to the servant's entrance in the back. But someone was
opening the door.
An imposing butler, wearing black
livery and a white
wig, bowed to her. "Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon. Forgive my
impertinence, but I am looking
for a manservant who once worked for you-and might still work for you,
The butler stepped aside and she
entered the two-story
entrance hall. A graceful marble staircase curved up one wall, a
led to the rear of the home, and several closed doors hid other rooms.
The butler studied her. "The servant's
"I never knew his last name," she said,
"but his mother
was once the cook here. The boy's name was Tom, and he would be
years old by now."
"Miss, since I have been with the earl
for nearly thirty
years, I can assure you that--"
A door suddenly opened, and a tall man
stepped into the
hall, quite taking her breath away with the power of his presence. He
dressed in somber colors with the most expensive fabric and cut. He had
brown hair, cut close to his head as if to hide wayward curls he
control. Though some might not call him handsome, his face with its
cheekbones and dark, heavy brows was definitely striking. But it was
eyes that had unnerved her. They were the palest blue, frosty with
a winter glance in springtime.
He studied her more intently than any
man had right to
do to a stranger. She lifted her chin and tried to appear calm, when
her every insecurity was bubbling to the surface.
The man turned to his butler. "I'll
"Very good, my lord." After giving a
bow, Smith left
the entrance hall and motioned the footman to leave with him.
This could not be the earl, who
Victoria knew was an
elderly man, so it must be his son. She'd always gotten the impression
Tom that that the young viscount was often away at school, for he
to have not overly influenced the household. Unless he was part of the
"I am Viscount Thurlow. And you
Memories came flooding back of
countless parties where
she stuttered talking to every man, but she forced them away. She
that girl anymore. "Miss Victoria Shelby, my lord. I live next door."
"I know the family name."
"You live next door," he said dryly.
She tried to smile. "Oh yes, of course.
My lord, I am
"A servant named Tom," he interrupted.
"Does he still live here? If not,
perhaps I could speak
with your steward for a forwarding address."
His examination made her feel
uncomfortable and even
"Miss Shelby, there is no other way to
say this except
to be blunt. I'm Tom."
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