A Madison Lake Novel
Time jumps ahead two decades in the final book of this fanciful trilogy.
Lavinia Rose, daughter of Henley Hornbrook III and his gypsy wife, Rosetta, has just finished her education abroad. After being away for four years, she returns to her home in the forest hamlet where she finds that her childhood friend, Oliver, is not only all grown-up but is strikingly handsome. What she forgets is that she too has blossomed.
During her season back home, a terrifying accident rouses intimate emotions, and temptation, lust, and disloyalty taunt the young woman through the many male suitors who come to call. When rumour circulates about whether the dark haired beauty’s innocence has remained intact, more than just the family demand answers.
Full of youthful innocence tinged with sensual exploration, Willow Wisp touches on the angst of sexual awakening during turn of the century England, and moves forward with more than a glimpse into future generations and the legacies left behind by the prominent Hornbrook family. If you’ve read the first book, A Cloud of Hawthorne, followed by Where Daffodils Grow Wild, you’ll want to follow these familiar characters as adventures continue in their unconventional lifestyle deep within the wooded Shire.
* * *
Chapter 1 – HOMECOMING
Lavinia Rose was beyond excitement. It had been four full years since she had felt the forest floor beneath her feet, taken in the fresh scent of oak, pine and hawthorne, breathed the damp earth, and seen her family—all twelve of them. Although most people had a mother and father, perhaps a brother and/ or sister, Lavinia’s situation was quite different, and they were all she had ever known as family.
It began when Lavinia’s father met and fell in love with her mother, the gypsy healer who lived in the forest glen. Her father, Henley Hornbrook III, had chosen Rosetta to be his one and only. Although Henley’s mother, Edith, the matriarch of the estate, disowned him for his choice, he never looked back, nor did his manservant, Beckworth, Randolph the house butler, his favourite cousin Wesley, and Wesley’s lover, Dorrington. A short time later their long time friend, Proberta, reappeared with her new companions, Crow and Kate, and the love of her life, Brawn. The extended family grew. Kate had her baby, Catherine, and Rosetta was pregnant with Lavinia
Rose. Soon after, Oliver was born to Proberta and Brawn, and later Kate and Crow added Leaf and Leandra to the brood.
Lavinia had had a good life growing up in the forest hamlet they had created, and she, Catherine and Oliver were inseparable. But she longed for a more. She wanted to become a doctor. School had been just a dream, but when she was of age, her father informed her that there was more than enough money left in the Hornbrook estate to pay for her education and her longtime aspirations became a reality. In addition, she obtained a scholarship so the family funds could pay for the many expenses required for a young single woman to be educated and live abroad.
As it was, Lavinia led a simple life at school in New York City, much like her father had done when he attended college in London. Being in America was an exciting change for Lavinia, but she spent most of her time studying. When her nose wasn’t in her books, she was at one of the two jobs she held; one as the university’s part time librarian, the other as a part time nanny. She had many friends, both male and female, who were all studying to be doctors and lawyers, and who in their spare time played crocket or swam at the beach in Long Island, a ferry ride away. It was on one of their beach outings that Lavinia met Ralph, another medical student traveling abroad from London. Smart, witty and handsome, Lavinia was immediately attracted to him, as were many of the young women at school. But being an exotic beauty like her mother, Rosetta, and smart as a whip, Lavinia was Ralph’s choice and the two were soon looked upon as ‘the perfect couple’.
Both Ralph and Lavinia were star pupils so their relationship didn’t interfere with their studies. As the semester neared an end however, Lavinia felt more and more pressure from Ralph to consummate, as he put it, their commitment. He claimed that since they were to go their separate ways and would be apart for several months, he wanted to ensure their devotion to one another. Lavinia was not convinced. She functioned well under pressure for the most part but did not like this kind of pressure. She felt like she was being cornered. So when Ralph saw her off on the RMS Olympic at the end of May, and they said their goodbyes for the four months of spring and summer break before returning for their medical practicums, Ralph got down on one knee and proposed. Lavinia was so taken aback she didn’t know what to say. It was unexpected, which baffled Ralph.
“Why Lavinia,” he had said wistfully. “I thought you felt the same way. We’re a perfect match. Everyone says so.” Ralph was a serious fellow. Always the leader, in the classroom and out. With his motivational skills and extracurricular campus activities, his classmates knew he was destined for success. However, once again he found himself trying to take the lead with Lavinia who was a spirited lass and had a mind of her own. It was no big surprise that Lavinia was not easily led. This personality trait annoyed and titillated Ralph. It aroused a certain passion (not just emotional) and made him want her all the more. So that afternoon, as Ralph saw Lavinia Rose off, he made an oath to himself: he would woo her until she realized her good fortune and agree to be his wife. By year’s end she would be his.
Two weeks later, Lavinia arrived in London. It was a Monday and at ten in the morning there was plenty of time to catch an early train home. As the train rattled along the slick tracks into the station at Leeds, rain pelted down. For the first time since she left school, Lavinia felt the flutter of excitement in the pit of her stomach but the rain and watching the familiar English countryside roll past calmed her nerves like a security blanket. The train screeched into the station and Lavinia recognized two figures standing on the platform under one very large umbrella. It was her uncles, Wesley and Dorrington. Nearly breathless with excitement, Lavinia leapt out of her seat and headed for the door before the train had come to a complete halt. Four soggy but loving arms welcomed her as she disembarked.
“Goodness gracious,” Dorrington exclaimed, as he stood back to take a better look at the girl turned young woman. “What a few years does to a person is beyond words.”
“Well, Dorry, let’s save those precious words for the car. This poor thing is getting drenched.” Wesley wrapped a loving arm around his niece and began to scurry toward the car, followed by Dorrington and a porter with Lavinia’s trunks.
“You have a car?” asked Lavinia, clearly surprised as well as delighted. “What about the horses?”
“Oh, we still have those,” answered Dorrington. “Your father would never get rid of the horses, but everyone has a car these days.” Dorrington drew out the words to emphasize his meaning. “You were in the city, sweetie, you should know.”
“Oh, here she is. She’s a beaut, isn’t she?” Wesley, clearly proud of the new acquisition, presented the Aeroford that the family had purchased together. “Now, in you go dear or you’ll catch a frightful chill. Goodness, I’ll bet you didn’t miss this rain in New York City.”
The drive took almost as long as riding horseback and was equally as bumpy, but Lavinia was happy to be dry and out of the rain. They had to walk to the forest huts for the last quarter mile where the road ended and a sparse trail began. The familiar smells of pine and damp earth awakened emotion and a longing she had safely tucked away. Now the floodgates opened and she cried for joy. Oh, how she’d missed her family, her home. Rosetta was running out of the hut to greet her as soon as the trio came into view, Dorrington and Wesley pulling up the rear with her belongings. Her father, Henley, and Aunt Proberta, joined in the hoopla so by the time they got to her they nearly knocked the poor girl over. There were hugs and kisses and a barrage of questions asked until finally sensible Rosetta suggested they go indoors to continue the inquisition. Being inside the hut of her family home—the home she grew up in—with the aroma of herbs drying by the hearth and rabbit stew simmering on the stove, made Lavinia feel safe and warm inside and out. She was home. After questions and answers, remarks about how well she looked and how proud of her accomplishments they all were; after news from the city and updates from the forest glen and the surrounding Burroughs, Lavinia sat back in her chair and took a sip of hot tea.
“Where is everybody?”
“Aren’t we everybody?” Proberta said. “Who else could you possibly want to see?” A slight smirk crossed Proberta’s face.
“Well, Catherine for one. And what about Leaf and Leandra? They must be in middle school by now.” She paused and a flush ran to her cheeks. “What about Ollie? Is Oliver still around?”
“There, there my love,” said Rosetta in her usual soothing voice. “All your brothers and sisters are here, or at least they still live here. They knew you were coming home but nobody was quite sure when until this morning, and the children had already gone off to school and to work. We’ve had some terrible storms lately. Communication was knocked out for the entire week.” She looked out the window at the sky that had turned a soft crimson. “They should be strolling in any time now.”
Sure enough the twins, Leaf and Leandra, were the first to arrive. As soon as they saw who it was sitting at the long wooden table they dropped their satchels, squealed and jumped on Lavinia’s lap. All the noise and commotion caused Kate and Crow to come looking after their children, fearing something might have happened. Even Beckworth and Randolph came running. The excitement rose to such a pitch that Rosetta finally had to call the room to order. Just then, Lavinia’s best friend, Catherine, walked in and that was the end of that.
The early evening was spent with the group gathered around the table drinking tea and snacking on biscuits while they shared stories from the past four years. Lavinia’s father, Henley, could hardly contain himself. He hadn’t left his daughter’s side since the moment he saw her walking down the forest path. He was astonished at the changes she’d made while away at school. Not only was she more poised and self assured, but she was wonderfully well spoken. She spoke of the politics in the United States of America and the opportunities there. Her maturity from girlhood to womanhood was remarkable, but then he was a man and never really had understood women until he met Rosetta. He gazed at his daughter in awe. She had become a woman—overnight it seemed. Her hair was raven black, like her mother’s, and her skin was a smooth, silky bronze, again from Rosetta’s gypsy blood. He felt proud and overwhelmed at the same time. How could I be such a fortunate man? he thought. At that moment the door swung open and in walked Brawn, his long bow slung over his shoulders like it often was, his bushy mane loose and wild around his handsome face. Behind him was his son, Oliver.
“Well, look who the cat dragged in!” Brawn dropped his heavy leather satchel and bow, kicked off his muddy boots and lunged toward Lavinia, who he swept up in his burly arms and squeezed tight. “Oh, we’ve missed you ‘round here, m’darlin’,” he gushed. “Oliver, look who’s home. It’s Lavinia, and she’s all grown up.” Oliver stood in the doorway, almost filling the frame. He too had grown, from a small, gangly youth to a full grown, muscular man. He was taller than his father by at least four centimetres, but just as solidly built. His shoulders were broad and his chest sturdy, and he had the same head of unruly curls like Brawn. He was of course ruggedly handsome. In fact, Lavinia thought he was the most gorgeous man she had ever seen, and she had seen many in New York City. She didn’t know whether it was because he was so familiar to her, whether it was because of his ruddy, natural appearance (as opposed to the preppy look of the lads at school), or whether he really was as handsome as she thought.
“Hello Lavinia,” Oliver said, somewhat shyly. He remained in the doorway until Rosetta walked over, took his coat and hat and guided him inside. The room came to life again, abuzz with chatter and excitement. Oliver looked dazed, as if he’d seen a ghost. Lavinia also appeared slightly stunned. No one seemed to take much notice that the energy in the room had changed, that is, no one but Rosetta and Proberta. A subtle tension was present. Despite what seemed like a normal, albeit rowdy, family gathering, now hinted that love was afoot.