The Way to a Gentleman’s Heart

Romance of the Turf book 2.5
Original anthology publication: September 2018
Self-published reissue: June 30, 2020

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A Regency lady begins a new life as a cook—but her first love wants a second chance.

Eight years ago, Marianne Redfern fled her country home when her first love, Jack Grahame, was forced to wed another. At a mysterious London girls’ school with secret classes, she learned the arts of cookery and self-defense. But she has no defense against Jack’s unexpected arrival two weeks before an event that will secure the academy’s fortunes.

Now a wealthy widower, Jack still has a wicked twinkle in his eye and a place in Marianne’s heart. When she gives him a second chance, he’s at her side in the kitchen all day and the bedchamber all night. But forgiveness doesn’t come together as easily as a sauce, and the wounds of the past will either destroy the academy’s fortunes or ruin Jack and Marianne’s chance at a future…

This novella was previously published in Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.

Story elements:
First love, second chance at love, workplace romance, foodie romance

Content Notes
References to spousal death


“So authentic, I could picture myself being there. …Extraordinary character growth.”
—Fresh Fiction

“Full of hooks that snag the heart. …I just about swooned myself into a puddle on the floor.”
—Seattle Review of Books

About the Book

  • Because Marianne is a cook in London in the 1810s, I needed to know what foods would be available to her. With a story set in April and May, this British seasonality table was a great help. (And finally, all those cooking shows I like to watch have paid off!)
  • The English custom of “telling the bees” plays a role in The Way to a Gentleman’s Heart. The tradition was that bees on one’s property needed to be told of big life events–marriages, deaths, births–or they’d get distraught about being excluded and would leave the hives or stop making honey.
  • Marianne and Jack are all-new characters, so The Way to A Gentleman’s Heart can easily be read as a stand-alone story. But this novella is also part of my Romance of the Turf series because of Mrs. Brodie. She’s really Anne Jones, alias Janet Ahearn– the villainess (or is she?) of the first two Romance of the Turf novels. She and her school are a big part of the final book in that series, His Wayward Bride.
  • Mrs. Brodie’s pseudonym is a hat tip to Deacon Brodie, an 18th century tradesman who maintained a secret life as a housebreaker. I thought she’d appreciate the association with someone who was not what he seemed.
  • In this novella, readers get the first look at the heroine of His Wayward Bride: Mrs. Chalmers. Like Mrs. Brodie, her name is a false one. She’s really Jonah Chandler’s missing bride, Irene.
  • Do you remember the name Grahame from any of my other books? It’s the surname of the irrepressible Lady Irving from the Holiday Pleasures series. Hers is the rich and titled branch of the family to which Jack refers.
  • For the visual inspiration behind characters, objects, and settings in The Way to a Gentleman’s Heart, check out the book’s Pinterest board.


From Chapter One

April 1819


“Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,” chanted Marianne Redfern as she kneaded dough for the next day’s bread. “Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf of the ravined salt-sea shark…”

She trailed off when she noticed her assistant, Sally White, looking at her with some alarm. “Did you…are you making a new kind of bread, Mrs. Redfern?”

Mrs. The honorific always made Marianne smile. She’d never been wed in her life, but as cook at the exclusive Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies—and a young cook in addition, at age twenty-eight—she was due the status and protection of a fictional husband.

“Just amusing myself, Sally,” she reassured the girl. “Shakespeare’s got the right rhythm for kneading, but you won’t see me feeding our girls any of those ingredients.”

She liked the wayward sisters of Macbeth, the three prophetesses who drew a king’s notice when they predicted his rise—then his doom. There was a certain man whose face she liked to imagine in the dough when she punched it. She didn’t want to bring Jack Grahame to his doom, exactly, but when a woman had once had a lover’s notice, it was difficult to be cast aside.

Since then, she’d become a bit wayward herself. Though she had no magic but that created by a stove or an oven, carried out with grains and meats and vegetables. Bespelling only for the length of a bite or a meal.

It was enough. It had become enough.

Satisfied with her dough, she turned the worked mass over to Sally. “Divide this part into rolls for the second rising, this into loaves, and cover it all. Put it in the larder so it will proof slowly. It’ll be ready for baking in the morning, and the young ladies can have fresh rolls for breakfast.” At Sally’s nod, Marianne patted her on the shoulder. “Very good. I’ll be on to the sauces.”

Sally had been cook’s assistant in the kitchen of Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for only a week, having moved up from the post of kitchenmaid when Marianne’s previous assistant married the butcher’s son. Marianne could teach any girl who wanted to learn, and indeed Sally did, for she had dreams of heading her own kitchen someday. Katie before her had been a fair worker, but her heart hadn’t been in cookery. She’d wanted the kitchen post only because she was in love with the boy who brought the meat. For three weeks they’d called the banns, yet Katie had said nothing to Marianne of her plans to marry. As soon as the parish register was signed, she sent for her things—and that was that, with no notice.

Love, love. It made people so deceptive. Yes, it was a good match for the girl; as wife to a butcher’s son, she’d never go hungry. But even better than making a good match was knowing a body could take care of herself, come what might.

That was the purpose behind Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, and it applied to everyone, from the headmistress herself to the youngest scullery maid. Along with the usual French and drawing, the students learned forgery and how to hold their own in a fistfight and God knew what else. The servants were welcome to take the same instruction after their daily work was done, if a teacher would agree to it. And for a little extra pay—no one could accuse Mrs. Brodie of being an ungenerous employer—most of the teachers were willing indeed.

Marianne had arrived here eight years before, new from the country and without even rudimentary skills in the kitchen. She’d worked as kitchenmaid and then assistant under a fine cook, Mrs. Patchett, until that good lady had retired to Devon to live with her son and grandchildren on a family farm. From Mrs. Patchett, Marianne had learned how to use and care for knives, how to clean and chop produce, how to choose the best fish and fowl and meat, and above all, how to provide three meals a day for seventy-five teachers and students, plus the army of servants who kept the school running smoothly.

It was difficult work, and hot, and physical, and sometimes dull. And Marianne would do it forever rather than return to Lincolnshire. After eight years here, two as the head of the kitchen, she had never been stronger, faster, more skilled. She could split a sheep’s head, knee a presumptuous man, and stir a sauce of stock and cream to keep it from splitting—all at once and without turning a hair.

She had made something quite fine of herself, though the Miss Redfern who had first come to London might not have been so impressed. That young woman knew nothing but silk and song and embroidery and manners.

Marianne glanced at the clock that beamed from the corner. Eleven o’clock already, and most of the preparations were finally done for dinner at six. That was the main meal for the students; their midday repast was a simple one of breads and meats and cheeses, eaten between their lessons. She and Sally could assemble that in another hour, and the footmen would arrange platters for the young ladies in the refectory.

There was just enough time to begin a pastry for tarts before Marianne started the slow-simmering sauces. Tarts would be more special than a simple dessert of fruit and cream, and the young ladies deserved a treat now that they were nearly done with their spring term. The early apricots Marianne had bought that morning were fine and sweet; she could make do with them. It still smarted that she’d failed to win the first strawberries of the season from a greengrocer who’d wanted to charge the earth. Not that they’d have made tarts enough for all the students, but she had a weakness for strawberries.

“Sally,” she called. “I need you to work with the apricots once you’ve stowed the bread.”

When the answer yes’m came in reply through the open door of the larder, Marianne turned to her book of receipts and looked up her favorite ingredients for a tart pastry. How much flour ought she to remove, substituting almonds? One part ground almonds to ten parts flour might do the trick, enriching the delicate flavor of the apricots with melting sweetness.

She peered into the canister where she kept the nuts, pounded to powder and ready for use. Almost empty! She cursed. It was one of Sally’s tasks to keep a good supply of pounded almonds, but if Marianne didn’t direct her, the younger woman couldn’t be expected to remember every detail of their stocks. They needed another kitchenmaid to fill Sally’s old role, and soon. Mrs. Brodie’s annual Donor Dinner—Marianne couldn’t help but think of it in capital letters—was in a fortnight, after the term ended, and there was no way a single cook and assistant could prepare two formal courses and assorted desserts for one hundred people.

Well. She’d recruit the scullery maids to chop and peel if she had to, and she’d jug and stone and jar and press as much ahead of time as she could. And for today’s tarts, butter alone it would be in the pastry, and that would keep the cost of today’s meals down too. Mrs. Brodie was never mean with her kitchen staff, allowing Marianne all the budget she liked. Even so, the gentleman’s daughter who’d once spent several pounds on a single bonnet now measured out ground almonds in cautious spoonfuls and haggled to the ha’penny over the price of lettuce or fish. When it wasn’t her own money she was spending, she was more responsible with it.

Again, the face of Jack Grahame came to mind, and she wondered fleetingly if he’d felt the same about his father’s money. The money that had been needed, and that she’d had none of, and that had split them apart.

Money. Money. Money. This time, there was no dough for her to punch.

So she turned her thoughts to the tasks before her, the ones she did every day. She checked the joints slowly roasting in the ovens, confirming that the coal held out. She pulled out the ingredients for the sauces she’d make for dinner; she sifted shelled peas in her hand and approved the amount. These could be cooked shortly before the dinner service. They’d boil in a flash and be finished with fresh cream and…something else. Something surprising and flavorful. Chopped shallots maybe, fried crisp in lard and scattered like beads over the top. Yes, that would do well.

Now back to the tarts. Sally had finished with the bread, and at the other end of the long worktable, she was settled with a great pile of apricots. Clean, cleave, discard the stone, set aside. The halved fruits went into a huge bowl, piling up quickly.

“You’ve a good rhythm for that work,” Marianne told the younger woman. “Thinking of Shakespeare? Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf?”

Sally blushed. “Little Boy Blue. It’s a nice old rhyme, that. My mum taught it to me and my sisters.”

Marianne smiled as she dug her hands into the flour and butter, now coming together smoothly. “I have sisters too. Haven’t seen them in a long while, but I remember learning those old rhymes with them.”

But where is the boy who looks after the sheep?

He’s back in Lincolnshire. Do not weep…

No, that wasn’t right. That wasn’t right at all.

A knock sounded then on the door to the tradesmen’s entrance. The kitchen was a few rooms away, but the servants’ quarters were quiet at the moment. The footmen were likely upstairs, while Mrs. Hobbes, the housekeeper, would be making the rounds of the students’ chambers as the maids were cleaning them. She’d a keen eye and would come down hard on any maid who hadn’t done her work well. Her husband, the old butler, had grown hard of hearing in recent years. If he were polishing silver in his pantry with the door closed, he wouldn’t hear a Catherine wheel going off two feet away.

“Are we expecting another delivery, ma’am?” Sally asked with mild curiosity.

“Of kitchen goods? Not until I do tomorrow’s shopping.” Marianne eyed her butter-covered hands, then the pile of apricots her assistant had left to split and prepare. “I’ll answer that door. Back in a moment, Sally.”

She wiped her hands on her apron and wound her way past the servants’ stairs, their hall, and the housekeeper’s room. Unfastening the door to the area, she lifted her brows, prepared to scold a lost delivery boy for interrupting her work.

But it wasn’t a delivery boy at all.

Her startled brain took a moment to understand the sight before her. The thoughts went like this:

Oh! It’s a man.

A handsome man.

He looks familiar. Does he work for the fishmonger?

No, he’s not holding fish. Strawberries! He got those strawberries I wanted of the greengrocer. Look at him holding them, juicy and red, in that little basket. Does he work for the greengrocer?

Of course not. I’d have noticed him there.

No, he looks like…like…

And then she knit all the pieces together, and her jaw dropped.

“Jack,” she said faintly. “Jack Grahame. Why are you here?”

“Marianne. I brought you strawberries,” said the man she’d loved and hoped never to see again.

When he held out the little basket, she took it, bemused. She looked from the strawberries to the face of her first lover, her only lover, dressed as fine as ever and handsome enough to be in a painting. Then back at the basket. And then she remembered that her hands were greasy from butter, her apron had a bit of everything she’d cooked today upon it, and her hair—her long dark brown hair that he’d once run his fingers through, lovingly—was sloppily confined under a cook’s cap, and her cheeks were flushed from the heat of the ovens.

Ah, hell. If one’s long-ago love showed up unexpectedly at one’s door, it ought to be at a time when one looked one’s best. But Marianne was a cook now, and a cook was what she looked like.

She lifted her chin. Closed her hands around the basket of strawberries. Did he remember she liked them, after all this time? Bright as rubies, and she’d rather have them than gemstones.

“Well. Thank you,” she said with as much dignity as she could manage. “Is that all? As you’re here, you know I’m working as a cook. And since you were always a bright fellow, you must guess I’ve got to get back to work.”

“Since you asked, I’d like to come in and speak to you. Do the strawberries win me a little of your time?” His brows were puckish, his mobile mouth always at the edge of a grin.

So he did remember. “Time enough for you to say you’re sorry for keeping away so long.” She tried not to sound as soft as she felt, but her own words betrayed her.

The humor on his face melted. He looked at her with grave gray eyes and said, “I’m not here to apologize, Marianne. But I do want your forgiveness.”

* * *

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