To our beloved friends Amy and Scott,
who left us too early
“My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.”
—Edna St. Vincent Millay
West Ravenel’s Favorite Purée of Spring Vegetable Soup
About the Author
By Lisa Kleypas
About the Publisher
Hampshire, England, 1877
Phoebe had never met West Ravenel, but she knew one thing for certain: He was a mean, rotten bully. She had known it since the age of eight, when her best friend, Henry, had started writing to her from boarding school.
West Ravenel had been a frequent subject of Henry’s letters. He was a heartless, hardened case of a boy, but his constant misbehavior had been overlooked, as it would have been in nearly any boarding school. It was seen as inevitable that older boys would dominate and browbeat younger boys, and anyone who tattled would be severely punished.
I thought it would be fun to go to bording school but it’s not. There’s a boy named West who always takes my brekfast roll and he’s already the size of an elefant.
Yesterday it was my job to change the candlestiks. West sneaked trick candles into my basket and last night one of them went off like a rocket and singed Mr. Farthing’s brows. I got my hand caned for it. Mr. Farthing should have known I wouldn’t have done something so obvyus. West isn’t a bit sorry. He said he can’t help it if the teacher is an idyut.
I drew this picture of West for you, so if you ever see him, you will know to run away. I’m bad at drawing, which is why he looks like a pirate clown. He also acts like one.
For four years, West Ravenel had annoyed and plagued poor Henry, Lord Clare, a small and weedy boy with a delicate constitution. Eventually Henry’s family had withdrawn him from school and brought him to Heron’s Point, not far from where Phoebe lived. The mild, healthful climate of the coastal resort town, and its famed seawater bathing, had helped to restore Henry’s health and good spirits. To Phoebe’s delight, Henry had visited her home often, and had even studied with her brothers and their tutor. His intelligence, wit, and endearing eccentricities had made him a favorite with the Challon family.
There had never been a specific moment when Phoebe’s childhood affection for Henry had turned into something new. It had happened gradually, twining all through her like delicate silver vines, blossoming into a jeweled garden until one day she looked at him and felt a thrill of love.
She had needed a husband who could also be a friend, and Henry had always been her best friend in the world. He understood everything about her, just as she did him. They were a perfect match.
Phoebe had been the first one to broach the subject of marriage. She’d been stunned and hurt when Henry had gently tried to dissuade her.
“You know I can’t be with you forever,” he’d said, wrapping his lean arms around her, twining his fingers in the loose curls of her red hair. “Someday I’ll fall too ill to be a proper husband or father. To be of any use at all. That wouldn’t be fair to you or the children. Or even to me.”
“Why are you so resigned?” Phoebe had demanded, frightened by his quiet, fatalistic acceptance of his mysterious ailment. “We’ll find new doctors. We’ll find out whatever it is that’s making you ill, and we’ll find a cure. Why are you giving up the fight before it’s even started?”
“Phoebe,” Henry had said softly, “the fight started long ago. I’ve been tired for most of my life. No matter how much I rest, I scarcely have enough stamina to last through the day.”
“I have stamina for both of us.” Phoebe had rested her head on his shoulder, trembling with the force of her emotions. “I love you, Henry. Let me take care of you. Let me be with you for however long we’ll have together.”
“You deserve more.”
“Do you love me, Henry?”
His large, soft brown eyes had glistened. “As much as any man has ever loved a woman.”
“Then what more is there?”
They had married, the two of them a pair of giggling virgins discovering the mysteries of love with affectionate awkwardness. Their first child, Justin, was a dark-haired and robustly healthy boy who was now four years old.
Henry had gone into his final decline a year ago, just before the birth of their second son, Stephen.
In the months of grief and despair that had followed, Phoebe had gone to live with her family, finding a measure of solace in the loving home of her childhood. But now that the mourning period was over, it was time to start a new life as a young single mother of two boys. A life without Henry. How strange that seemed. Soon she would move back to the Clare estate in Essex—which Justin would inherit when he came of age—and she would try to raise her sons the way their beloved father would have wished.
But first, she had to attend her brother Gabriel’s wedding.
Knots of dread tightened in Phoebe’s stomach as the carriage rolled toward the ancient estate of Eversby Priory. This was the first event outside of her family’s home that she would take part in since Henry’s death. Even knowing she would be among friends and relations, she was nervous. But there was another reason she was so thoroughly unsettled.
The bride’s last name was Ravenel.
Gabriel was betrothed to a lovely and unique girl, Lady Pandora Ravenel, who seemed to adore him every bit as much as he did her. It was easy to like Pandora, who was outspoken and funny, and imaginative in a way that reminded her a little of Henry. Phoebe had also found herself liking the other Ravenels she’d met when they’d come to visit her family’s seaside home. There was Pandora’s twin sister, Cassandra, and their distant cousin Devon Ravenel, who had recently inherited the earldom and was now styled Lord Trenear. His wife, Kathleen, Lady Trenear, was friendly and charming. Had the family stopped there, all would have been well.
But Fate had turned out to have a malicious sense of humor: Devon’s younger brother was none other than West Ravenel.
Phoebe was finally going to have to meet the man who’d made Henry’s years at school so wretched. There was no way to avoid it.
West lived on the estate, no doubt puttering about and pretending to be busy while sponging off his older brother’s inheritance. Recalling Henry’s descriptions of the big, lazy sloth, Phoebe envisioned Ravenel drinking and lying about like a seal on the beach, and leering at the housemaids as they cleaned up after him.
It didn’t seem fair that someone as good and kind as Henry should have been given