Excerpt: When I Fall In Love

Kent, August 1815

Sylvie Devereaux sat in her usual place on the brown sofa with the worn spots on both arms while her grandparents occupied the wooden chairs on either side of the fireplace, where a small fire burned to try to combat the unusual chill. The low, red light filtering through the windows wasn’t quite bright enough to see by anymore, so Sylvie had lit the oil lamp her grandparents had brought with them when they immigrated from France, hoping to get some mending done before she went to bed.

“How does the field look, Grandpère?”

It was a topic they had discussed at least once per day, usually like this around the fireplace or while they ate supper, during the growing season for as long as Sylvie could remember. Grandpère would inevitably talk about the height of the wheat, the color and strength of the stalks, or a myriad of other tiny but important details that signaled the health of their crop.

But this season had been different. This weather had been different.

His silence stretched out so long that Sylvie put down her needle and looked up at her grandfather. His eyes had met his wife’s, his mouth turned down into a hard frown that didn’t ease when he finally answered.

“Not good, ma chérie. We may not have much of a crop this year.”

Not a surprise and yet wholly surprising all at the same time. Sylvie had been half-expecting this bit of news for the past several weeks now, but to hear her grandfather say it aloud was like a blow to her chest.

“Still too wet,” her grandmother added, breaking eye contact to return to her own sewing. “The kitchen garden has been struggling all summer, too.”

Sylvie had noted the lack of production in the kitchen garden herself, trying to find enough produce to eat with each meal. There was never enough, and what was growing was undersized and slow to ripen.

Grandpère nodded. “And too cold. Wheat doesn’t like a lot of heat, but it needs some warmth.”

“And sun.” Sylvie pressed her lips together, recalling the abnormally high number of dark, rainy days they’d had this year. “Do you think we’ll be able to pay rent this quarter?”

He sighed heavily. “For the first time since you were a little girl, I don’t know. If we get enough sun in the next few weeks, there may be something to harvest. But if the rain keeps falling…”

He didn’t have to finish his sentence. If the rain kept falling, any wheat that had managed to grow in their field despite the conditions would rot at the root and there would be no harvest. Sylvie also didn’t need to ask if he’d thought of borrowing money—her parents might have a little to spare, but likely not enough to cover rent for the farm. And they were in France with no way to send money or to return to England themselves. A bank loan might be a possibility, but without a crop to use as collateral…

“Try not to worry,” Grandmère said, turning in her chair to meet Sylvie’s gaze, her face partially cloaked in shadows. “There is still time to figure something out.”

There was a measure of comfort in her words, but Sylvie was too practical to be swayed very much by them. If Grandpère said things were looking dismal, then there was reason to worry.

“There are always my animals.”

In addition to the three people and the wheat fields, the farm housed a flock of geese, a few goats, some laying hens, and a milch cow, all of whom would need to be fed through the winter. They weren’t truly hers, but Sylvie had taken over caring for the farm’s livestock as an adolescent and had raised many of the current goats and geese herself. As a result, Grandpère had taken to calling them hers.

He raised a hand to object, but she held up her own to stop him. “Not Goose, of course.” She suppressed a shudder at the thought of sending her special pet, a goose that she’d hand raised from an abandoned egg, off to someone’s dinner table. “But the others should fetch a good price. That is why we keep them, and if it means keeping our home…”

Grandmère sent her a sympathetic look, then sighed herself. “Hopefully it won’t come to that.”

“But if we need to,” Sylvie continued, turning their options over in her mind, “it wouldn’t be that different from other years. We’ve sold animals before.”

“Yes, when we run out of room for them,” Grandpère answered gruffly. “I will go talk to His Grace myself before we sell off your entire collection.”

Sylvie was certain Grandpère wouldn’t even know what their landlord, the Duke of Alston, looked like, let alone find the wherewithal to go and speak to the man, but she kept that to herself. She also noted the red creeping into Grandpère’s cheeks that couldn’t all be attributed to the fire and turned the conversation to a new topic. “Perhaps I can take in some mending, then, or do some cooking for the neighbors. Mr. Mathison next door is a bachelor, and so is Mr. Ross across the way—I could speak to them both tomorrow.”

Grandpère nodded, his face returning to its normal color. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to inquire. And if we do end up with enough wheat to pay the rent, you’ll have a little money put by for your future.”

Her future. Sylvie suppressed a shiver and tried to focus on her needle going in and out of the fabric she held. When Grandpère died, her father would likely be allowed to take over the lease on the farm if he chose to, but there was no telling when he and her mother would return, or if they’d even want to take up farming again. What if they decided to stay in France? They had a comfortable home there now with her mother’s parents. What was there to come back to here except unending hard work and rain?

Sylvie gave up on her mending and said goodnight to her grandparents, trudging slowly up the stairs to the bedchamber she’d occupied all her life. How much longer would it be hers?

What would she do when it wasn’t?


Cold water dripped onto Kit Mathison’s face, occasionally scattered about by a chilly breeze. He pulled the blanket up over his face to block it out, but was met with sopping fabric that threatened to drown him before he could rise from his bed.

“Thomas, you’ve left the tent flap open again,” he said with a yawn, his eyes squeezed tightly shut to keep the water out of them. “It must have rained last night.”

He felt about for a patch of dry cloth to wipe his face with and found part of his nightshirt that was unaffected. Rolling over onto his side, he pushed the blanket off and struggled to a sitting position as the dripping continued to wet his hair and clothes. “Thomas?”

Kit opened his eyes to find that he was not, in fact, in a tent behind the house with his younger brother, but alone in the big bed in the master’s chamber.

“What the devil is going on?”

He jumped out of bed and darted across the room, holding his hands out, palms up. Yes, it was definitely raining inside the house.

His house.

And there was a very large hole in his roof.

He stood in the corner of the room for a moment, unmoving except to blink, staring dumbly at the raindrops falling through the ceiling. How did this happen?

How much would it cost to fix?

Kit shook himself and set about dressing in dry clothes, thankful that the rain hadn’t gotten to his wardrobe…yet. He stopped in the kitchen to butter a piece of bread, shifting the bread from one hand to the other as he put on his coat and hat.

“All right, let’s see how bad it is.”

The rain had lightened and the bread was reduced to crumbs by the time Kit stepped out the front door, and he managed to wrestle the big ladder and a large tarpaulin out of the barn with the help of one of the farm hands. When the two of them propped the ladder against the house as close as they could get to Kit’s bedchamber, Kit climbed resolutely to the top with the tarpaulin while the farm hand held the bottom steady. The ladder was just tall enough to reach the second story of the house, forcing Kit to scramble up onto the roof to survey the damage.

“How does it look?” the farm hand called?

Kit stayed low, crawling from the edge of the roof toward the hole, his eyes growing wider as he drew nearer.

“Oh no.”

A large portion of the roof had collapsed into the attic space some time ago, judging by the weathering of the timbers poking out. And each time rain fell from the sky during this very wet summer, it had collected in the newly bared attic—he could see the water stains on the attic floor—weakening the structure.

The rain this morning was merely falling through a ceiling that had been rotting away for weeks.

Kit sighed wearily. “How could I have missed this?”

He spent a few more minutes surveying the damage and securing the tarpaulin over the gaping hole, trying to commit the details of the damage to memory so he could sketch it later. A careful check of the other parts of the roof he could reach yielded even more information—three other places where shingles were loose or mushy, and water was likely already getting in.

When Kit reached the ground again, his farm hand wasn’t the only one waiting for him.

“Goose! Have you come to swim in my bedchamber?”

The big white bird looked up at Kit and turned sideways, asking to be scratched the way Kit’s childhood dog had done once upon a time. Both Kit and the farm hand obliged before hefting the ladder once again and hauling it back to the barn, with Goose waddling alongside them.

Once the ladder was stowed, the farm hand went back to his usual work and Kit headed back to the house, walking slowly around the perimeter looking for other issues.

“The roof was damaged, you see,” Kit explained to the goose as they circled the house, “and I didn’t realize it until just today. It’s made a terrible mess inside the house, and I fear it’s going to take a long time to fix.”

A gust of wind blew through, ruffling Goose’s feathers. He resettled his wings with a little shake.


Kit made note of a couple of places under the eaves that were showing early signs of water damage with another sigh. “Do you want to come in while I write these all down? Or shall I walk you home first?”

The first few times Kit had met Goose, he’d felt rather silly talking to an animal that most people would make into Christmas dinner. But the bird’s owner, his next door neighbor, had insisted that Goose had a personality and enjoyed conversation, and Goose had begun wandering over to Kit’s farm on his own from time to time.

Apparently he liked the company here. And the scratches. But he never seemed to be able to find his way back without a human escort.

Goose looked around, then met Kit’s eyes and huffed a sigh.

“Home it is then, lad.”

Kit started off toward the Devereaux place, with Goose shuffling along beside him.