Title: Thornbrook Park, book 1 of the Thornbrook Park Series
Author: Sherri Browning
Genre: Edwardian Historical Romance
Story Setting: London, Thornbrook Park, 1906
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (June 3, 2014)
Pages: 381 pages
About the Story: Eve Kendal, a well-educated woman, returned home to London just about penniless after losing her husband, Ben, to an earthquake. He had been an army captain, stationed in India, not the earl her parents had wanted her to marry. But she had married for love. Now she was an army widow.
Once returning to England, she needed to meet with her late husband’s solicitor to get her finances in order. Ben had said he had invested their savings, but she had always left that part their marriage to him. Now she was feeling the pinch. No children after six years of marriage and now no Ben and very little money.
Luckily, she had continued correspondence with her girlhood friend, Sophia. Sophia had offered for Eve to stay at the Dower House at Thornbrook Park, the seat of the Earl of Averford which Eve readily accepted the kind offer, knowing that once she had her finances in order she would look for a little place for herself.
Life looked bleak for Eve. Her family had disowned her, or at least her father, while her mother had to obey his orders. Eve, however, was committed to stand on her own two feet.
Captain Marcus Thorn has just returned from war, working at disabling box mines in South Africa during the Second Boer War. He has demons that haunt him and has uncontrollable bouts of black rage. He found that he works through these bouts if he uses his fits and hits anything. So he’s taken up using his fists at the Hog and Hound, fighting and if lucky makes some money. His demons include feeling responsible for his best friend, Lieutenant William Cooper’s death. He had to find a way to take care of his widow and children.
He also has issues with his brother Gabriel, the Earl. They fight constantly.
As chance or destiny draws its course, Marcus Thorn was staying at the Averford House. Eve was to spend a night at the house before traveling to Thornbrook Park the following morning. She came late and took her supper in her room, not seeing Captain Thorn, but knew that he, too, was staying at the house.
Here is a partial scene of what happened after Marcus quelled his black rage at Hog and Hound. He somehow had made it home, terribly drunk.
Sometime later, a noise awakened her, a crashing sound followed by some cursing and scrambling.
“Blast it, lemme go, Sutton,” a big, deep voice said. “I’m perflecty well.”
“Sir, if you please, sir. I only want to open the door for you. There. Now—“ another boom. “Oh, not again.”
What the devil was going on? Eve got out of bed, reached for her wrapper, peeked out her door. A man was sprawled in the middle of the corridor, Sutton learning over him.
“I apologize for disturbing you, Mrs. Kendal.” Sutton, in slippers and a robe over his nightclothes, stood and delivered a curt bow. “I have everything under control. Please go back to bed.”
“Captain Thorne, I presume?” Eve stepped out. Sutton’s eyes went round with alarm. “Do not worry, Mr. Sutton, I’ve seen plenty of snozzled men in my time, officers serving with my husband in India. I’m not at all shocked. Let me help you.”
Sutton looked positively mortified. He paused, as if considering which was worse: allowing a female guest to help him remove the Earl of Averford’s intoxicated brother from the entryway, or being incapable of doing it himself. Captain Thorne was six feet of solid muscle, by the look of him. The man had removed his jacket and undone his shirt nearly to the waist of his trousers, exposing a taut, rippled abdomen and the solid planes of his chest rising and falling with each breath. Eve’s gaze lingered on that chest. “Just give me a hand getting him to bed, then,’ Sutton said, clearly against his better judgment, snapping Eve to attention. “The others are all asleep and I hate to disturb them.” Eve suspected that what he would actually hate was for another member of the staff to witness his inability to handle the situation on his own. Thought it was highly improper, Eve was already awake and might as well assist him.
“His face is bruised,” she noticed, leaning over Thorne. “Did he run into the doorjamb?”
“No. I believe he was fighting.”
“In the ring. Since his return from the war, he has taken to occasional participation in prize fights.”
“A prize fighter?” Eve, unfazed at his state of inebriation, expressed some surprise now. “I’ve never met a prizefighter. Fascinating.”
Thorne, apparently more aware than they knew, cracked one eye open, propped himself up on an elbow, and offered a hand. “Catpin Marcus Thorne, at your service.”
“Oh, indeed.” Eve couldn’t stifle her laugh at his attempt at a proper introduction. Still, she took his hand. “Mrs. Eve Kendal, at your service, Captain. Shall we try to stand up? Come on, then.”
This is their first meeting. The scene continues and gets increasingly interesting and amusing. In the morning his footman came into his bedroom carrying a tray.
“Ah, Captain Thorne. How are you this morning, sir?”
“Recovering, I suppose.”
“Yes, sir, I imagine so.” He set the tray down on the table next to the desk.
“The darnedest thing, Sutton. Last night, I seem to remember a woman tending me. Blue eyes. Startling blue. What was her name?”
“Her name, sir?” Sutton fidgeted as if uncomfortable. “A woman, you say?”
“Soft creatures, like men, but with longer hair, notable differences in the er, chest area…”
“Yes, sir, I am familiar with women.” If Sutton felt any inclination to smile, he held it back well. “But there was no woman here. Unless one of the maids checked on you when I was not aware?”
“Not one of the maids. This one was unfamiliar to me, fair hair, bright blue eyes? Unless we’ve hired a new maid whom I’ve yet to meet.”
“Perhaps you dreamed her. You were quite out of sorts, though I hate to point it out.” Sutton cleared his throat and went to fetch the tray. “Sit up now. I suggest you eat something.”
My Thoughts: One of the things that drew me to this book is the fact the setting is Edwardian. I read so much in Regency and Victorian settings that this was a nice change. It takes place when our conveniences of today were just in their infancy – motor cars, chauffeurs, and telephones. As a reader, I was able to identify more closely with the environment around the hero and heroine.
Sherri Browning is also a new author to me and I was pleasantly surprised at her writing and her style. It was polished, moving at a good clip with humorous scenes and some paranormal moments along with interesting layers of conflict for both the hero and heroine and some of the other characters which I’m sure we’ll get to know more in further sequels. There’s a story behind Sophia and Gabriel and of course Lady Alice.
I thoroughly enjoyed her description of the aristocratic surroundings of Thornbrook Park and the modern conveniences of the time. With the Edwardian era, people still deal with the problem of what society demands of its people, but the environment is much less rigid. Women didn’t absolutely have to have a chaperone and they were better educated. The rules during the Edwardian period are changing for women.
Marcus is a complicated and deeply hurt individual with a good heart and a hot temper. He can’t seem to hold his tongue when his brother tries to push his buttons. So, the tension between the brothers adds another layer to the story. Thornbrook Park is Marcus’s home. How can he live there when he’s at such odds with his brother?
Sophia, Gabriel’s wife, is eager to have Marcus marry her sister, Lady Alice. We find out later in the story why, and why Marcus is considering doing just that. How else can he get his brother to help him make amends for letting his good friend die?
But Eve interests him. I enjoyed the sizzling attraction that Eve and Marcus have. Neither of them intending to have a ‘relationship’. They considered themselves friends. But friendship leads to deeper friendship, leads to caring, leads to …. You get the picture.
Sophia’s Aunt Agatha, a rather endearing character and very knowing, staying temporarily with Sophia, claimed to communicate with spirits, those who have passed away and also has a touch of second sight. Her predictions tend to come true. She comically blurts out things that just aren’t said in polite company. I definitely enjoyed her role. It adds a bit of the paranormal.
About the Author: Sherri Browning Erwin, best known for critically acclaimed classic mash-ups Jane Slayre and Grave Expectations, also writes paranormal romance and historical romance as Sherri Browning. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sherri has lived in Massachusetts and Michigan, but is now settled with her family in Simsbury, Connecticut. Watch for her return to historical romance with the upcoming Thornbrook Park series.
Her books have been mentioned in People magazine, USA Today, Seventeen, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal blog, UK’s Telegraph and Argus, and once, as the subject of a New York Times cartoon. She remains a diehard Patriots fan, a proud member of Red Sox Nation, an adventurous eater, avid traveler, and a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World.
An Affair Downstairs, the second of the sequel for Thornbrook Park will be out January, 2015. It is available for pre-order at Amazon.com now