My Dearest Enemy

My Dearest Enemy

by Connie Brockway

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Overview

Breathtakingly romantic, startlingly original, Connie Brockway's novels have captured the hearts of readers and the raves of critics everywhere.  Now she brings you a unique and unforgettable love story that begins with a series of letters between a world-weary adventurer and the woman whose love brings him home.

Dear Mr.  Thorne,

        I give you fair warning.  I intend to do whatever I must to abide by your late uncle's will and win Mill House.  Though I know he never expected me to succeed, and for whatever reasons is using me to shame you, I accept his challenge.  For the next five years, I will profitably manage this estate.  I will deliver to you an allowance and I will prove that women are just as capable as men.  And at the end, I shall accept Mill House as my reward.

Sincerely,
Lillian Bede


My Dear Miss Bede,

        Forgive me if I fail to shudder.  Pray, do whatever you bloody well want, can, or must.  I shall look forward to making your acquaintance in my lawyer's office five years hence, when I take possession of Mill House.

Avery Thorne

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440223757
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/28/1998
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 3.89(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author

Connie Brockway lives in Edina, Minnesota, with her husband and their daughter.  She has written three other historical romances for Dell, A Dangerous Man, As You Desire, which is a finalist for the Romance Writers of America's 1998 RITA Award for Best Long Historical Romance, and All Through the Night, as well as a short story for Dell's Outlaw Love anthology.

Read an Excerpt

The news of Horatio Algernon Thorne's death came accompanied by a letter from him.


March 1, 1887
Avery James Thorne
Bloomsbury, London

Avery,

My physicians tell me I haven't long to live and that I should put my affairs in order. This I intend to do. By ensuring this letter arrives in your hand before the reading of my will I do you the favor of forewarning you of its contents. You may thank my sense of familial obligation for this courtesy, a sensibility with which you apparently have little experience.

You have probably assumed that upon my death and as your cousin Bernard's only living male relative you would become his guardian. You are mistaken and I will now tell you why.

First and foremost, you are too like your father. In spite of my best efforts to correct your temperamental similarity to him, you have remained irresponsible as well as willful, and combative. These last two qualities may have stood you in good stead had you been robust and hearty, as I was in my youth, and might have made you a leader of men. But physically you are a poor specimen and no man willingly takes orders from a weakling.

I judge you would be a dangerous example to Bernard, particularly at this point in his life when he shows the same unfortunate inclination toward physical feebleness. Do not think I do not remember the many times you used your illness as an excuse to lie abed in the school's infirmary, or the letters you had your tutors write asking that you be released early from terms on account of your wretched weakness. You would be too likely to molly-coddle Bernard and as the heir to a great fortune he must overcome thistendency.

Thus, in your stead, I have appointed bank trustees whom I have known personally for many years to act as Bernard's guardian.

Now, as to you, Avery. As I have said, I am conscious of my familial duty. For the next five years you will receive a reasonable monthly allowance either from these same bank trustees or from one Miss Lillian Bede who, upon my death, has been offered the management of Mill House and who will, at the end of five years, inherit the estate should it demonstrably profit under her management. If she does not show a profit, you shall inherit.

Why I have made this proviso is no concern of yours. Mill House is mine to bestow as and where I see fit.

However, should you recall that I once suggested you might one day own the estate, I feel obliged as a gentleman to inform you that I have not forgotten that which you may have construed as a promise. I am still perfectly confident you still shall do so. Miss Bede is, after all, a nineteen-year-old female and if this pricks your manly pride, so much the better.

Consider your inheritance on hiatus while you, hopefully, become worthy of it. Not that I expect you shall spend much time regretting the loss of such a responsibility. Indeed, you are probably happy to be given this reprieve. You seem as indifferent toward your inheritance as you are toward your cousin.

At the end of five years you shall be appointed Bernard's legal guardian. In the interim I commend you from my grave to commit yourself to humility, thrift, and your family obligations.

Horatio Algernon Thorne


"And I commend you to a fiery hell." Avery pushed himself away from the battered desk occupying one wall of his rented apartments. His gaze traveled over the few mismatched furnishings that came with the let, other people's castoffs, endurable only because he'd known that someday he would have something of his own. Someday he would have Mill House.

Fifteen years ago, a week after an influenza epidemic had taken both his parents, he'd arrived in Devon to meet his guardian, his uncle Horatio. He'd been seven.

He remembered coming onto the shell drive from the cypress-lined lane. He'd stuck his head out the window, taken one look at the stone manor house glowing like  amber on a bed of summer green, and fallen passionately in love.

Horatio, amused by Avery's wide-eyed infatuation and as yet unacquainted with Avery's "intolerable wheezing," had yielded to an uncharacteristic whim and promised it to him. Well could Horatio afford such munificence. Mill House meant nothing to Horatio; it was simply another house he owned that had come with the acreage to a farm purchased by his father.

Even allowing for Avery's infrequent visits thereafter—two rare Christmas holidays, a few weeks during one incomparable autumn—he'd held the image of Mill House firmly in his mind's eye. And during those lengthy convalescence periods that he'd spent in Harrow's infirmary, he'd fled his pain by mentally walking Mill House's halls.

He'd waited for it most of his life. Like the most devoted suitor he'd admired and wanted, never revealing the extent of his passion lest it be used against him. And now that careful indifference would appear to be his undoing. His house was being offered to some nineteen-year-old suffragist!

His fingers closed tighter on the envelope and his lips curled in a bitter smile. Long ago, as a matter of survival, he'd developed a tough spirit to make up for his physical frailty. He'd become adept at taking it like a man, like the gentleman he'd determined to become. Whatever blows dealt him, both physical and emotional, whether from the fates, his guardian, or other lads, he'd accepted with fierce dignity and a biting quip. It had earned him the respect and admiration of the other lads, if no one else.

Indeed, he'd often pleaded with the schoolmasters not to write Horatio regarding any downward turn in his physical condition. He knew full well it would only disgust his guardian. Gauging from Horatio's letter, his wishes had not always been heeded.

All he'd ever owned had been a keen mind, his status as a gentleman, and the promise of a house. And now that was being "put on hiatus" while it went to this . . . Lillian Bede.

He was vaguely familiar with the name. He remembered seeing an artist's rendition of her in one of the newspapers. A tall, black-browed gypsy-looking girl, the darling of the suffragists.

How had this little baggage wormed her way into Horatio's good graces and why would she accept such an insane challenge?  Certainly what Horatio had said was true: no slip of a girl could for five years manage an estate like Mill House. Not successfully.

Five years. Avery dropped his head against the back of the swivel chair. He spun slowly around in a circle, forcing himself to think, but no matter how he abjured himself to be calm, the anger continued to boil within him. Five damn years.

He was sick to death of taking it. Carefully, he ripped the letter into little pieces. Pride was a costly commodity but in this case it was the only commodity he owned. He opened his thin hand, watched the scraps flutter to the floor, and knew what he had to do.


The dark walnut door to the hushed innermost office of Gilchrist and Goode, Solicitors, banged open and Lily Bede burst unceremoniously from the interior. She held up the envelope in her hand. A thin layer of sweat coated her palms and bled from her fingertips into the thick vellum.

She looked around. No one followed her out into the anteroom, not the lovely widow, the spindly little boy, or the handsome, middle-aged daughter. Doubtless they were still sitting around the solicitors' table, mouths agape. Only one person affected by the terms of Horatio Algernon Thorne's will had been absent for its reading: Avery Thorne, the presumed heir to Mill House and, should she decide to accept the terms of this bizarre will, her . . . ward?  Charge?

At the thought, Lily's legs began to tremble.

She spotted a small bench beneath an open window and lurched gratefully to it, sinking down on the hard surface. This morning she'd been searching for some way to pay the rent on her mean little attic room. This afternoon she was being offered a manor.

And what amounted to the guardianship of a grown man.

Her light-headedness returned. Who could have foreseen this?  She'd met Horatio Thorne only once, three years ago, after her parents' untimely deaths. A tight-lipped, fierce-looking old man, he'd come, so he said, out of respect for his dear departed wife—her aunt—to offer Lily financial aid.

Penniless, Lily had swallowed her pride and used his money to go to one of the new women's colleges. Upon completing her education she'd discovered that a superior education did not necessarily translate into superior employment. In fact, she hadn't any employment at all. When she'd received the surprising request to attend the reading of Horatio's will, she'd been pitifully relieved.

She'd hoped for a small bequest; instead she'd been offered a tiger's tail. She looked down at the envelope she clutched. Why?  She ripped it open and withdrew several sheets of paper.


March 1, 1887

Miss Bede,

As you know, I disapproved of my wife's brother-in-law, your father. He should have legalized his relationship with your mother by marrying her and thus legitimized you. Out of respect for my wife I attempted to alleviate this wrong by assisting you financially.

Imagine my shock and disappointment when I saw your name printed in a newspaper!  The article—about this so-called Women's Movement—quoted you lambasting the institution of "legalized slavery called marriage."

Considering your own situation, I would think that you, of all people, would support the sacred institution that protects women. As for your claim that women are capable of doing whatever a man does, only better—balderdash!  Alas, I know full well the uselessness of preaching to young, headstrong people. So I will offer you instead a lesson through experience.

I offer you the chance to prove your claim by making Mill House a going concern. If, at the end of five years, you succeed you shall inherit it and all its assets. You will have achieved your ambition and can live completely independent of masculine influence. And you will have the redoubtable pleasure of proving a dead man wrong. But, should you fail, the house will go to my nephew, Avery Thorne.

Avery Thorne is currently as little capable of managing the estate as you, though he, at least ostensibly, possesses the masculine qualities necessary to do so. Unfortunately he has not yet demonstrated these qualities. Hence the two-fold nature of my proposition.

Avery is in need of self-discipline and humility. By making you responsible for his financial maintenance, I hope to provide the groundwork for both.

Of course, should you already see the error of your ways you may cry off. Avery will inherit Mill House and you, upon your public concession that a woman's place is in the home under the care of a man, shall be awarded a handsome yearly stipend. But, should your name ever again be associated with those suffragist creatures, you will be immediately dispossessed.

Respectfully,

Horatio Algernon Thorne


Lily crumpled the letter into a tight little ball, taking savage delight in the process. The interfering, self-important . . . !  Her lips flattened, heat rose in her cheeks. How dare he make judgments about her family?

She may have been a bastard but her parents had at least sheltered her from pious snobs like Horatio Thorne. As for marriage—marriage was no guarantee of security, safety, or happiness. Marriage only guaranteed that a woman was legal chattel, subject to the whims and brutality of a man. Even her children became his legal property. Why, her own brother and sister—she shied away from the hurtful thought, returning to the matter at hand.

She couldn't possibly accept Horatio's proposal. She was amazed the old fox had managed to make the conditions of such a will legal. Surely someone would contest it. Horatio's daughter?  The widowed daughter-in-law?  Certainly this Avery Thorne.

But, she thought, her stomach once more coiling in apprehension and hope, if no one did contest it and she were to oversee the estate and do it successfully . . . The concept tantalized. She would not have to worry about when she would next eat, if she could pay the rent. Even more incredibly, she might meet people with the same ideas and convictions that she had. Perhaps she would even meet a soul mate, a man who would not take her heart and offer her slavery.

Her slight smile faded from her lips. She was being nonsensical. Of course someone would contest the will.

A shadow fell across the sheet of paper she clutched. The scent of lilacs filled her nostrils. She looked up.

Horatio's daughter-in-law, Evelyn Thorne, stood silently before her in the sunlight shining through the window. Her lightly clasped hands trembled. The sun washed the color from her skin and bleached her fair hair, giving her the appearance of a noontide specter, too timid to haunt the night.

"You'll want to collect your things," Evelyn said in her soft, hesitant voice. "You might send for the driver. That is, if you think that's right."

Lily gazed at her without understanding.

A tentative smile flickered over Evelyn's face. "You are going to come to Mill House, aren't you?" She paused. "It seems a waste to maintain two separate establishments."

Her friendliness when Lily had expected only resentment was irresistible. She returned Evelyn's smile with a rueful one of her own. "No one could possibly call my rented room an 'establishment,' Mrs. Thorne."

Evelyn's cheeks grew pink.

"Forgive me," Lily said, rising to her feet. She stood a head taller than Evelyn and now, this close, one could discern the finest net of lines at the corners of her lovely gray eyes, a delicate crepe on her slender neck. She was older than Lily had first surmised, nearer thirty-five than twenty-five.

Lily stuffed the letter into her skirt pocket. "I have been set up for failure, Mrs. Thorne. I can't possibly fulfill the terms of your father-in-law's will. I have no idea how to begin handling an estate."

"I understand," Evelyn concurred. "I would not dream of interfering but should I hazard a guess, I would assume Mill House must have certain systems in place to keep it running." She swallowed.

Lily studied Evelyn thoughtfully. She was right. Presumably, the operations at Mill House hadn't come grinding to a halt since Horatio's death. If she just had the time to figure out how things worked . . .

"But what about Mr. Thorne's daughter?  She looks a formidable sort of woman. Won't she resent a stranger's coming into her home and taking over the management, especially someone as inexperienced as I?"

"Francesca?" Evelyn's eyes widened. "She's never used it as more than a temporary home. I assure you, Francesca doesn't care who lives in the house or handles the estate. Besides, Horatio has provided her, as well as my son and I, with ample means."

"Well, there's still the matter of Mr. Avery Thorne," Lily said. "Mill House could be his. He will doubtless contest the will." She warmed to her subject. "He'll only need to appear in court to have the judicial system deem him right, regardless of the issue, by virtue of his gender alone. He—"

"He has left for Africa, Miss Bede," Evelyn cut in gently. "This past Friday."

"What?"

"We had a letter from h

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My Dearest Enemy 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Catherine331 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was charmed by this book. I had my share of problems with it, but overall it was wonderful. I'll be putting it on my keeper shelf for a future reread.The letter exchange that Lily and Avery participated in was so perfect. Their back and forth banter was one of my favorite parts of the story. I really loved the feel of the scenes when Avery would pull out the newest letter and read it aloud to his friends. Being able to see a little of his interaction with his friends in that setting really helped add insight to Avery too.I loved that Avery kept bellowing that he was a gentleman. It cracked me up. His ability to ignore or insist on his gentlemanly qualities as the situation warranted was cute. I really found his character endearing. The scene where he comes in and bellows for Francesca really illustrates his personality.I didn't warm to Lily as much as I did to Avery. I thought she was a little hypocritical. I loved the scene where Avery acted like he felt violated because she had forced her attentions on him. I really felt like she got what she deserved then. I didn't enjoy her reasons for not wanting to marry. I thought wanting to be with Avery but only her way was selfish. I really respected Avery when he refused to have children with her if they did things her way. Bravo for him.I found Francesca more interesting than Lily and couldn't help but want to know more about her. I really felt that she stole the show whenever she was in a scene with one of the other characters.This was my first Connie Brockway book, but I'll be on the lookout for more.
theshadowknows on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A brilliant book. A wonderful romance. And one of the reasons Connie Brockway is one of my favorite authors. I was laughing and crying and loving every minute of My Dearest Enemy. It's a book to reread and delight in over and over again. There won't be much more besides delirious gushing in this review, and I'm ok with that. The romance is beautiful. It develops over time and encompasses a growing friendship and sizzling chemistry. Besides two wonderful lead protagonists, the secondary characters were also great. They were interesting and human in their own right and didn't distract from the romance but rather enhanced it.I was taken by surprise by the rather tragic bent the book eventually took. Not that I don't like troubled or difficult romances as much as I enjoy light frothy ones ¿ when it¿s done well I¿m a sucker for all the angst and high blown, larger than life emotions swirling around when love is doomed and forbidden but still can¿t be denied. My Dearest Enemy is a skillful blend of both kinds. Maybe the tragic aspect just seemed more intense because of the light heartedness and fun that preceded all the weightier, darker emotions surfacing later on. Avery Thorne and Lillian Bede are placed in opposition to each other, not only by virtue of the fact that they are competing for the same inheritance: the estate of Mill House. They are also separated by some fundamental beliefs concerning marriage and children. This barrier to their happily ever after really put me through the wringer - and it puts poor Avery though hell. So much so that I started to get really fed up with Lily for her prolonged blindness and lack of trust. Her issues are understandable and sympathetically explored, and it's not that I'm siding against her and with Avery on the issue of marriage. But, with the way things pan out, it comes down to her being about to throw away a chance at love. How could she even think of throwing away someone like Avery? Ugh! But it's a testament to how great a writer Brockway is that I didn't end up hating the book because of this difficulty, which, in the interests of true love, is eventually resolved satisfactorily - even if my response to Lily's ultimate capitulation/awakening is "It's about damn time." (Too bad it has to be a kind of capitulation though...) And even if it takes some contrived circumstances to bring about her revelation. I still love the book. I still love Avery - one of the best heroes ever. The power of his love, his yearning for Lily takes your breath away. My Dearest Enemy has me happily melting into an incoherent puddle of mush with every word, ever encounter between Lily and Avery, every twist and turn of the story. And don¿t think I¿m exaggerating! It's everything a romance should be, and I can't sing its praises enough.
wyvernfriend on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of LIllian Bede who is trying to make a success of Mill House, she has five years to do this or the house goes to Avery Thorne. Avery was a sickly child and as an adult is determined not to let this to get in the way of his adventuring. He decides to leave England while she works. The two of them correspond by letter throughout the period.It's a fun read with two very opinionated characters.
crashingwaves38 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of Lillian and Avery, whose love begins with a series of biting letters that cross continents and oceans to reach one another. Their lives are pushed together when Avery's uncle dies and leaves what should be Avery's property to Lillian, with the caveat that if after five years of managing the property she hasn't made a profit, the property turns over to Avery. Rather than stay in England and slowly go insane waiting for "his" property, Avery leaves and starts adventuring across Africa. Over the next 4.5 years, the two gather together a hodge-podge of people to them who become their surrogate families; Avery, in the form of other adventuring men from around the globe, and Lily, in the form of Avery's extended family, suffragists, and young unmarried pregnant women. The letters become something of a game between Lily and Avery, and their writings amuse all of their companions. Indeed, by the time Avery finally returns home a few months before the five years has ended, their chosen families know that they love each other, even if they can't see it themselves.Hilarity ensues as the two circle each other like two tomcats attempting to mark their territory, though the serious side of the story is prevalent as mishaps threaten Lily's meager profit. I laughed out loud at several different parts of this story. If there's one thing that Brockway excels at in this novel, it's the witty repartee between Avery and Lily. Her writing flows, it's descriptive, and it draws you in. The only reason that this didn't get 5 stars from me is because I feel like the male/female battle lines and the misunderstandings that ensue between Lily and Avery are overdone. I know that both of them are social outcasts, but it's still cringe-worthy stuff.Overall, a great book, and I recommend it to anyone who likes more intellectual romances.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. I simply could not put it down. Very entertaining.
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This book had an interesting premise, and interesting characters, decent storyline, but a poor ending.
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curlyloulou More than 1 year ago
I liked the banter of this book but it wasn't too terribly involving. Good easy quick read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was positively fascinating. Don't read this book if you intend to put it down :).