"A brilliant premise executed with dazzling flair!"
Reviewed by Monique Daoust
Posted August 30, 2018
What a pleasure to see two of my favorite historical romance
authors team up once again. I was eagerly anticipating MRS.
BRODIE'S ACADEMY FOR EXCEPTIONAL YOUNG LADIES and the
anthology exceeded my expectations tenfold. The authors'
vastly different styles mesh seamlessly as they both
illustrate the two facets of Mrs. Brodie's Academy. Theresa
Romain whose dreamy lyricism and gorgeously descriptive
prose know few equals in historical romance tackles the more
gentle side of things, while Shana Galen's edgy and dynamic
writing demonstrates clearly why she is the queen of Regency
The Way to a Gentleman's Heart by Theresa Romain
sets the scene for the anthology, explaining smoothly the
mission of the academy, while briskly introducing several
characters. This story takes place mainly in the kitchen, as
Marianne Redfern is head cook, and where we are privy to
what it entailed. But Marianne also teaches self-defense,
which leads to a very entertaining episode. Ms. Romain takes
us on a shopping expedition in Regency London which felt so
authentic, I could picture myself being there. There is a
startling plot twist that I never expected, and which I had
despaired of ever seeing, which made the reunion between
Jack Grahame and Marianne so much sweeter and leads to
extraordinary character growth.
Counterfeit Scandal from Shana Galen gives us the
other side of the Academy where Bridget Lavery teaches art
and counterfeiting, and the way she came about it was not at
all how I had imagined. There's plenty of action and drama,
as Bridget tries to find Jimmy, the son she had to leave in
an orphanage when she was sent to debtors prison. Ms. Galen
provides some fascinating details on Regency counterfeiting
and the gritty and dangerous London where Bridget searches
for her son. She is a fierce and loving mother, determined
to do anything to get Jimmy back. Counterfeit Scandal
is all stark realism, and passion; if Bridget's past is
heartbreaking, Caleb's backstory is positively riveting.
They had loved each other passionately, and the steam these
two generate is palpable. Counterfeit Scandal is
fraught with peril and I wondered if Bridget would ever find
her son, and her happily ever after with Caleb; it all
seemed so dangerous and hopeless. I loved how it all came
together in the end, but it was a very close call!
I hope the authors are conscious of the monster they have
created with MRS. BRODIE'S ACADEMY FOR EXCEPTIONAL YOUNG
LADIES: readers are going to clamor for more because this
anthology is filled with so many wonderful characters that
are begging for their own stories to be told.
Mrs. Brodie's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies
appears exclusive and respectable, a place for daughters
of the gentry to glean the accomplishments that will win
them suitable husbands.
But the academy is not what it seems. It's more.
Alongside every lesson in French or dancing or
mathematics, the students learn the skills they’ll need
to survive in a man’s world. They forge; they fight; they
change their accents to blend into a world apart. And the
staff at the academy find a haven from their pasts…and
lose their hearts.
ExcerptBridget Lavery moved among her students, observing their
penmanship. It was her last class of the day and comprised
of about twelve girls ages eight to ten. Officially, she
taught art, reading, and penmanship.
Unofficially, she taught counterfeiting.
What was counterfeiting currency but the melding of art and
penmanship? These pupils were too young to try their hand
at actual counterfeiting, but they were learning to copy
the styles of writing on various bank notes issued by
England, as well as other countries.
“That’s very good, Susan,” she said as she peered over the
shoulder of a thin blond girl. Most of the work in this
class looked rough and unrefined, but Susan’s hand was
exceptionally steady, and she had a good eye for her age.
“Thank you, Mrs. Lavery,” Susan said, smiling up at her.
The little girl had blue eyes, and whenever Bridget looked
into them, her chest tightened. Susan’s eyes were almost
the same blue as James’s. He would be the same age as the
youngest girls in the room too. Just eight.
When Bridget looked at Susan’s blond hair, she wondered if
James’s hair was still blond, or whether it had turned
darker like her own.
Bridget forced herself to keep moving, to continue nodding
and smiling at the girls’ work, but her mind was elsewhere,
lost in memories of a smiling toddler, arms out as he
wobbled toward her on unsteady legs.
Bridget blinked and glanced quickly at Abigail, whose hand
was raised. “It’s past four o’clock. May we be dismissed?”
Bridget looked at the small clock on her desk. It was
indeed almost five minutes past the hour. How careless of
her! She had made the girls late to their pickpocketing
class with Mrs. Chalmers.
“Of course. I am so sorry. Gather your materials, and we
will continue with this practice next time we meet.”
Efficient as always, the girls were filing out the door
within moments, a sea of blue in their school dresses. As
soon as the last girl filed out, Bridget gathered her
personal items and rushed to follow. This was the worst
possible day to be caught daydreaming. She had an
appointment at half past four near Covent Garden, and she
did not want to be late. She stopped by the room she shared
with Mademoiselle Valérie Gagne—who taught French and
accent modification—pulled on gloves and a hat, and rushed
down the stairs, past a ballroom filled with older girls
practicing sharp kicks to hay targets, and out the front
A few minutes later, she was jostling among the crowds on
Piccadilly, wary of pickpockets, ignoring the cries of
hawkers, and trying to stay clear of carriages with
overzealous drivers. The boarding house was farther than
she would have liked, but she couldn’t afford any of the
rooms in Marylebone. She’d investigated every vacancy. She
located the street she sought, turned right, and slowed.
The street was not as busy as many of the others and not at
all what she would call safe. People sat in doorways and
watched her pass. As she was dressed little better than
they, though her clothes were cleaner, they mostly ignored
Bridget carried a knife in her pocket just in case. She’d
never had to use it. On occasion, she’d had to pull it out,
whereby the lad—almost always a young boy or boys—accosting
her decided she wasn’t worth the trouble. Usually, she
never brought blunt with her when walking alone. Today, she
had a shilling tucked in her glove. The rest of her savings
was safely hidden back at Mrs. Brodie’s Academy. Bridget
doubted even Valérie could have found it, not that Valérie
would ever steal from her.
But Bridget didn’t trust anyone.
Yesterday, when Valérie had been teaching and Bridget had
an hour’s break, she’d locked their door, pried up the
floorboard, taken the money out, and counted it. She had
twelve shillings and six pence saved. It wasn’t much,
considering, but she hoped it would be enough to rent a
small room in a boarding house. Once she had a room, she
could claim James again—if she could find him.
She studied the numbers printed on the buildings until she
found the one she sought. A Mrs. Jacobs had advertised
“clean, furnished rooms at affordable prices.”
Bridget tapped on the door and waited until a woman with
messy brown hair and a dirty apron pulled it open. “What do
“I’m looking for Mrs. Jacobs. I sent a note inquiring about
the room for rent and was told to come at half past four.”
The woman’s eyes slid down Bridget and back up again. “And
who are you?”
“Bridget Lavery. Are you Mrs. Jacobs?”
“I am. Do you have a husband?” Mrs. Jacob’s eyes narrowed.
“I’m not running a bawdy house.”
Bridget felt her cheeks color. “My husband is dead. I teach
at Mrs. Brodie’s Academy in Manchester Square. You may
speak to Mrs. Brodie if you’d like a reference or proof I’m
not a harlot.”
Bridget hoped the headmistress was in London at the moment.
She often traveled, and she hadn’t seen her for a few days.
Mrs. Jacobs opened the door wider, nodding. “The school
don’t give you a room?”
“It does, but I have a young son, and the academy is for
young ladies. If I want him to live with me, I must procure
my own lodging.”
The door inched closed again. “Boys can be trouble.”
“This one won’t be.”
The two women eyed each other for a long moment, and then
Mrs. Jacobs stepped back. “Come in, Mrs. Lavery. I’ll show
you the room.”
Mrs. Jacobs led her through a dark common room and up a
staircase with worn carpet. The subtle scent of mold and
cooked onions lingered in the air. At the landing, Mrs.
Jacobs continued to the second floor. Bridget frowned. She
had been hoping for a room on the first floor, as the top
floor would be hot in summer and cold in winter.
“The men’s rooms are on the first floor,” Mrs. Jacobs said,
as though reading her mind. “The women are up here.”
The second floor was dark, and Bridget squinted as Mrs.
Jacobs led her to the end of the corridor, pulled out a
large keyring, selected a key, and opened the door.
She motioned Bridget inside, and Bridget walked in
cautiously. The room was small and dingy. It had a bed, a
table with one chair, and a basin with a pitcher. “I
thought the advertisement said the room was furnished.”
“This is furnished,” Mrs. Jacobs countered. “What more do
you need?” She blew out a breath. “You even have curtains
on the windows. Sewed them myself.”
Bridget crossed to the window at the other end of the room,
all of six steps, and opened the curtains. The window
looked out on another building and down into an alleyway.
She closed the curtains again.
“One shilling and two pence a week.”
It was reasonable, though she’d hoped for better. “Is coal
“What about meals?”
She could take meals at the school, but James needed to
“There’s a well in the yard. Help yourself.”
“I’ll give you a shilling a week for it.”
“It’s a shilling and two pence, and I won’t take less.”
Mrs. Jacobs folded her arms over her chest with finality.
Bridget would not be deterred, however. For almost two
years, she had been working toward the goal of reclaiming
James. She had a plan, and obtaining a room was the last
step before she sought James. She needed this room, dingy
as it was.
“I’ll pay a shilling and two pence if that price includes a
pail of coal a week.”
Mrs. Jacobs hesitated, then began to shake her head.
“I will give you one shilling now.”
The landlady considered. She could continue to haggle, but
then she risked the chance of having the room remain
vacant. No tenant meant no blunt. She held out her hand.
“I’ll agree, provided that Mrs. Brodie vouches for you.”
Bridget nodded, removed her glove, and placed the shilling
in Mrs. Jacobs’s palm. It was gone in an instant.
“I’ll speak to Mrs. Brodie first thing in the morning. If
she says you’re a good girl, you and the boy can move in
“Very good. It will just be me for now.”
“Why is that? Where is the boy living?”
“It will take me time to send for him,” she said, keeping
her answer vague.
Mrs. Jacobs nodded. “As long as he doesn’t cause trouble.”
“He won’t.” Of course, she couldn’t know that. She hadn’t
seen James since he was barely three. She didn’t know what
sort of boy he’d grown into in the intervening years. And
yet, she was well-versed in dealing with unruly children.
She could handle her own son, and she would.
She just had to find him first. She’d gone to the orphanage
where she’d left James before she’d been sent to Fleet
Prison with Robbie, but the St. Dismas Home for Wayward
Youth had burned down, and no one seemed to know what had
happened to the boys who’d lived there.
She hadn’t known how to go about discovering more. She
considered hiring an investigator to look into the matter,
but she feared the expense would be too dear.
Mrs. Jacobs, evidently convinced she’d shown the new tenant
enough of the room, motioned her out and locked the door
again. She began what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech
about meals and noise and visitors as she led Bridget back
down the stairs. Bridget made sounds of assent, but she was
looking at the cracked paint on the walls and wondering
what James would think of their new home. What would he
think of her? Could he ever forgive her for abandoning him?
Finally at the front door, the two ladies said their
goodbyes, and Mrs. Jacobs opened the door for Bridget just
as a man was opening it from the outside.
“Pardon me, ladies,” he said when he saw that he had
blocked their way.
Bridget began to say something along the lines of, It is
nothing, sir, but then she looked up and into his face.
Those eyes. She knew of only two people in the world with
that exact shade of blue. One was James and the other his
Caleb Harris felt his smile fade. There had only ever been
a few times in his life where he hadn’t known what to do.
Seeing her again was one of those rare times. He’d known it
might happen when he was sent back to England and then to
London. He’d prepared several speeches in the unlikely
event that he saw her.
But looking at her now, her golden-brown eyes riveted to
his face, her expression like that of a person who had seen
a ghost, he couldn’t think of a single word.
They stared at each other for what seemed like hours,
though it was probably only a few seconds. It was long
enough for Mrs. Jacobs to clear her throat conspicuously.
“Do you two know each other?”
“Yes,” he said at the same time that she said, “No.”
Mrs. Jacobs looked from one to the other.
He was a bloody idiot. Why had he said yes? At least
Bridget still had her wits about her. “I misspoke.” Caleb
removed his hat politely. “I’m afraid I have not had the
pleasure of making this lady’s acquaintance.”
“Mrs. Lavery, this is Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith, Mrs. Lavery.”
He nodded. “A pleasure, Mrs. Lavery.” She hadn’t been
Bridget Lavery when he’d known her. Nor had she been
married. Of course, he hadn’t been Smith back then either.
“Mr. Smith.” She nodded right back. He’d thought it
impossible for her warm, golden eyes to ever look icy, but
she managed it now. “If you’ll excuse me.”
He stepped quickly aside as she moved toward the door. Once
in the doorway, she turned back to Mrs. Jacobs. “Thank you,
madam. I will see you tomorrow.”
So she was returning? Could she be renting a room here? He
watched as she walked away until that view was obscured
when Mrs. Jacobs closed the door. The landlady turned to
him, but before she could speak, he started for the stairs.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Jacobs. No time to talk now.”
He took the steps two at a time, withdrew his key from his
pocket, and had it ready at the door to his room. Once
inside, he leaped over the traps he’d laid and made
straight for the window. He pulled the curtains apart and
looked out on the street. She was there, just now at the
end of the lane. He could still catch her.
He yanked the window up, put one leg over, grasped a
clothesline, and swung out. One hand on the clothesline, he
reached for the drainpipe with the other, then shimmied
down and ran to catch up with Bridget.
He shouldered past people, earning a few deserved curses,
until he caught sight of her plain blue dress and white
bonnet in the crowd. With a last burst of speed, he caught
up to her, matching his pace to hers and walking beside
She looked over at him as though seeing him beside her, out
of breath and hatless, did not surprise her at all.
“I thought you were dead,” she said.
“That was what everyone was made to think. It was the only
way to ensure my survival across enemy lines.”
“The Foreign Office.” Her voice held enough contempt to
fill a sea. “I should have known they lied. I expect that
of them.” She glanced at him, her eyes still cold. “I
didn’t expect it of you.”
“I couldn’t tell you.” He had to twist sideways to avoid
bumping into two men walking side by side. “I couldn’t tell
anyone. I didn’t even know I’d been reassigned until the
day before I was to leave.”
“So you did have time to tell me.”
“I was ordered to tell no one.”
She stopped so suddenly that he walked on for two or three
steps before he realized she wasn’t beside him. He turned
and walked back to her.
“And what are your orders now, Mr. Smith? Surely not to
speak to me.”
She wasn’t wrong. The last thing he should have been doing
at the moment was speaking to anyone who had known him
before. Unless he had a death wish. Which he didn’t.
She nodded with understanding. “Well, then you had better
not be seen with me, and since I am moving into Mrs.
Jacobs’s boarding house and have already paid a shilling I
can ill afford to lose for the privilege, you had better
“Mrs. Lavery. You’re not the only one with a different
“I’m sorry I missed the wedding.”
“You missed much more than that. Good day, Mr. Smith.”
She turned and marched away, leaving him wondering and
wishing things might have been different.
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