Keeper’s Pledge is the sequel to J.L. Merrow’s Poacher’s Fall, Book 1 in the Midwinter Manor series, and it is set four years later in 1926. In the intervening years, we find Danny and Phillip have lived a satisfying life together.
Danny is now the manor’s gamekeeper while the charming and aristocratic Phillip has shed his reclusive behavior and both are happy. Their “home” has become the gamekeeper’s cottage where they retreat to live there as a couple, sheltered by Phillip’s loyal staff. As Christmas approaches, both men are forced to take stock of their relationship, wishing for more than secrets and trysts for the other and that is the core of the looming problems for their relationship.
When Danny learns a former lover has been run out of town for “committing unnatural acts,” he becomes concerned that his and Phillip’s life together may be compromised. Danny knows the gossips in town will remember how close he and the disgraced blacksmith were at one time and may draw conclusions about his current relationship with Phillip. This is exacerbated by his brother Toby’s accusations and surly attitude toward the couple.
Once Danny updates Phillip, both men realize they need to put distance between them to avoid the chance of discovery. Phillip is expecting his cousin and heir Frederick, Frederick’s wife Millie and brother Matthew, and Millie’s sister Lucy to visit for the holidays. Phillip confirms the visit in hopes that being seen with family, especially female visitors, will head off gossip about Danny and himself. Of course, things never run that smoothly.
The specter of pernicious whisperings, a full house of quirky guests and holiday events force the men apart far more than either had anticipated. During that time, Phillip is approached by two of the visitors — including his young flamboyant gay cousin who reminds Phillip of his dead lover — for intimate relationships. Danny just broods, deciding that Phillip will favor someone of his own class, while he tries to manage Toby’s unwieldy behavior.
One misunderstanding after the other plagues the lovers, including Toby’s dalliance with a housemaid that has the potential to forever change Danny’s life. It almost sounds like a comedy of errors, but it’s heartbreaking as the twists and turns gather full speed and Danny and Phillip face permanent separation.
I loved meeting Phillip’s family, including the perfect 1920s modern Miss Lucy and cousin Matthew who is witness to an interlude between Daniel and Phillip that underscores the fear the two are living with. The secondary storyline with Danny and his brother Toby ratcheted up the tension in this sumptuous tale of manners, cultures and classes. It also deals with the true-to-the-times consequences to each man should their love affair become common knowledge.
I enjoyed this book, the characters and J.L. Merrow’s writing. The book is just so well written that it’s easy to miss the fact that the main characters are rarely together in this sequel. I missed the middle of the story of them: How they became the established couple we welcome back at the beginning of this one. So, I’m hoping there will be a third book. Well, it never hurts to ask when you find characters you really like and discover a new-to-you author you enjoy because J.L. Merrow is a wonderful writer. That’s all there is to that.
Carli's review also is posted at Live Your Life, Buy The Book