Read an Excerpt
'Damn you, Harry,' Lord Beverley said and glared at his son. 'I should have thought that you would want to do your duty by the estate now that your brother is dead ' Pain showed briefly in the father's eyes, for the death of his elder son coming on top of their estrangement was hard to bear. 'You have hardly been in this house since you left the army, sir. I demand that you spend more time here learning about the way the estate is run. It will come hard to you when I am gone and it is all on your shoulders.'
Hal bit back the angry words that rose to his lips. A part of him wanted to tell his father exactly why he had no time to waste languishing at the estate, but he knew that his mission would not find favour in Lord Beverley's eyes. If he knew that Hal was searching for Matt's wife he would quite probably forbid him to go onand it was impossible to tell him about his suspicions that Matt's death had not been an accident. As yet he had no proof, just a feeling that there had to be some other reason for an excellent horseman like Matt to die in a fall from his horse that and some small inconsistencies in the stories that had been told him when he first learned of his brother's death. It had left a shadow hanging over him in all he did, though none would have guessed it, for outwardly he was the smiling carefree young man he had always been.
Lord Beverley's health was not all it should be and Hal was too dutifulindeed, too fonda son to cause his father unnecessary suffering, even if he did not agree with the way that he had treated Hal's brother and his wife. He shrugged, hiding his true feelings behind a careless manner.
'As to that, sir, I doubt you intend popping off just yet, which means I have plenty of time to learn. Besides, we have a very capable agent to run things at the estate and several good men who know their job.' He grinned engagingly. 'If I were to interfere with anything, you would soon send me packing. And I have arranged to meet some fellows at Newmarket. You wouldn't have me break my word?' He had no intention of going to Newmarket, but better that his father believed he was wasting his time and money on the horses than that he should know the truth.
'You imagine that everything is a joke,' his enraged father said. 'I sometimes think that you will laugh as they put you into your grave, sir!'
'It is something I picked up in the army, Father. We all learned to laugh at life, otherwise we should have cracked up.'
'You should never have been in the army at all,' Lord Beverley said. 'It was bad enough that your brother defied meand as for marrying that girl!' He shook his head. 'He could have done much better than that, Harry. Her father is a rogue and a fool! I want your promise that you will find yourself a decent girl and marry her before six months is out. We need an heir for the estate.'
'Yes, Father. I am aware of your feelings on that matter. I can only say that I will do my best to oblige you if it is at all possible.'
'Surely you can pick a suitable girl from all those you must meet in the best drawing rooms in London?' his father said, clearly displeased with his answer. 'Your brother defied me and married a girl I could not welcome into the family. I disowned him. Don't make me do the same to you, Harry.'
'What you did to Matt was your own affair, sir,' Hal said, meeting his father's eyes with a challenge of equal determination. 'If you can live with your conscience then do so, but I should have thought you had learned a serious lesson.'
Ignoring the spluttering anger coming from his father, he turned and walked from the library, which was often the warmest room in this cold and sometimes bleak house. Hal had his own smaller estate, which had been left to him by his rather notorious grandmother, whom he had adored. It was a modern, comfortable house and was by far his favourite. He had never expected to inherit Beverley House or the estate, for he was the younger son and it should all have gone to his brother, Matthew. Matt would never have been in the army at all, except for the quarrel with his father. Matt had fallen in love with Ellen Rowley, the daughter of a wealthy wool merchant, and, as such, beneath his notice, according to Lord Beverley. He had advised his son to bed her and forget her, or keep her as his mistress and marry a girl from the right kind of family. Matt had ignored his father, marrying the girl he loved and taking her with him when he joined the army.
Ellen had become a camp follower, going wherever Matt went and accepting all the hardships of the campaign as if they were a natural part of a woman's life. Hal had liked her. Had he been there when Matt had died, he would have taken her under his guardianship and looked after her. He had a useful income of his own, and was not financially reliant on his father. He could have afforded to see that she was able to live decently. However, he had been in England on leave when Matt had been killed in a riding accident. By the time he could get back to Spain, his brother had been buried and his sister-in-law had disappeared.
Hal had been looking for her ever since. He knew that she had a little money, for she had sold various possessions of her husband's, and he had been told that it was her intention to return to Englandbut where she had gone since then, he had not been able to discover. He had been to her parents' home, but her father had disowned her when she ran away with Matt Beverley. He had been equally as opposed to the marriage as Lord Beverley, and told Hal that they would not accept her if she returned home. He knew that she had not approached her father-in-lawand that meant she was trying to support herself by her own efforts. That might not have been so difficult, for Ellen was an attractive, intelligent womanbut Hal had been told that she was carrying a child.
The thought that his brother's beloved wife was alone, perhaps in trouble, had given Hal many sleepless nights. He knew that he was running the risk of being disinherited if he continued to spend all his time searching for Ellen, but at this moment he didn't care. He had already made up his mind that he would marry a suitable girl for the sake of the heir that his father so desperately wanted, but felt that it was more important to discover Ellen's whereabouts first. And there was also the matter of his brother's death. He had been broken-hearted when he discovered what had happened, and the suspicion that his brother's death had been no accident had been gnawing at him for a while now. He must do what he could to discover the truth.
He had heard something from a friend of Matt's, which had led him to hope that Ellen might be living in Bath. If that were the case, he might be able to kill two birds with one stone, because Chloe Marsham had just gone down to Bath with her mother and aunt.
Hal had almost decided that he would speak to Chloe. He wasn't in love with her, but he liked her. She seemed to be a good-natured girl with a nice smile, and she liked horses. Since it was Hal's hope to breed race horses once he had settled, either at his own estate or his father's, having a wife who enjoyed riding and would not complain too much if he smelled of the stables sometimes would clearly be an advantage.
Matt had been head over heels in love with Ellen. Hal asked him once why he had thrown everything away for the sake of the girl he loved. Matt had just smiled in that easy way of his.
'If you're ever lucky enough to find the right girl for you, Hal, you will understand. Love isn't something you chooseit comes along and knocks you for six and there's nothing you can do about it. Father thought that I should have chosen to put my duty above my feelings for Ellen, but I couldn't. That damned house he is so proud of is an empty barn as far as I'm concerned. I know it has been in the family for centuries, but if I had my way I would pull it down and build something newer. Without Ellen, I should have nothing to live for. She is my life, Hal, and I am hers.'
And now Matt was dead and Ellen had lost all that she lovedunless it was true that she was carrying Matt's child. Hal was thoughtful as he went out to his curricle, where his groom was waiting. If the child was a boy, he would be the rightful heir, and he was welcome to the house and the estate for all Hal cared. It would be difficult to make Lord Beverley accept it, but Ellen had the papers to prove that she was Matt's wife and in law he would be forced to accept her child as his heirand that would cause one hell of a row.
Hal would face that when it came to it. First of all, he had to find Ellen and make sure that she was well and had sufficient money to live on. Everything else could wait.
Jo Horne kissed her mother's cheek and then hugged her sister, Lucy. Mama smiled and told her to be a good girl, but Lucy had tears in her eyes and was reluctant to let her go.
'I shall miss you dreadfully,' Lucy said and blew her nose on the handkerchief her mama handed her. 'But I do hope you have a lovely time in Bath, Joand write to me often, please, to tell me what is happening in your story?'
'Yes, of course I shall,' Jo promised, 'and when I come home I shall read you all the new chapters I've written for my novel.' She glanced over her shoulder, knowing that her Aunt Wainwright was impatient for her to join her in the carriage. 'Goodbye, Aunt Bertha. Thank you for having me hereand please take care of Mama and Lucy for me.'
'Of course I shall, Jo,' Lady Edgeworthy said, though in truth she knew that Mrs Horne was taking care of her. She pressed a little purse of money into the girl's hand and closed her fingers over it as Jo protested. 'Write to all of us as often as you can. Have a wonderful time with Lady Wainwright, and come home to us whenever you wish.'
'Thank you,' Jo said and kissed her cheek. 'You are so generous, but I must go now. Aunt Wainwright has called for me twice.'
She walked to where the heavy travelling coach stood ready, turning for one last look at her family lined up in front of the house. A brave smile in place, she waved and then climbed into the coach. Lady Wainwright gave her a sour look, her harsh features bearing the stamp of irritation.
'So you are ready at last, Josephine! I thought you would never make up your mind to leave. I hope this isn't a sample of what I may expect from you in Bath. I think I deserve some consideration from you!'
'Yes, of course, Aunt,' Jo said. 'Forgive me if I kept you waiting, but Lucy did not want to let me go. She has lost both her sisters now that Marianne is married, and it has upset her. She will have no one to share her pastimes.'
'No doubt you will be returning at the end of a few weeks,' Lady Wainwright said with a sniff of disapproval. 'It will do her good to learn to be alone for a while. She is no longer a child, and must learn to employ her time usefully rather than playing foolish games.'
Jo was tempted to retaliate, for she did not like to hear Lady Wainwright speak so harshly of Lucy, but remembering what her elder sister had said to her before she married, about not quarrelling with their aunt, she held her tongue. It was to have been Marianne who was taken to Bath by Lady Wainwright, for she was the beauty of the family. Instead, Marianne had come down to Cornwall to be with Great-aunt Bertha, and by being there had saved her from a rogue who had tried to cheat her out of her estate and might have murdered her. Lady Edgeworthy had been so grateful that she had asked Marianne's whole family to come and live with her. Now Marianne was married to her marquis and Jo was the one to accompany Aunt Wainwright to Bath.
Jo was under no illusions that her aunt was satisfied with the arrangement. She would have much preferred to take Marianne, but Jo's beautiful sister had made an excellent marriage with no help from anyone. Jo suspected that Aunt Wainwright was a little annoyed about that, because she had told them that, as Marianne had no dowry, she would be lucky to marry a baronet, but might do so if her aunt introduced her into society. It had piqued her to know that Marianne had made an even better marriage than her daughter Annette, and her uncertain temper seemed sharper than ever.
'Well, has the cat got your tongue?'
Jo looked at her aunt, considering her reply carefully. 'I was just wondering where Marianne and Lord Marlbeck are now. I believe they were to travel to his estate for a few days before going on board the ship.'
'Yes, I dare say,' Lady Wainwright said and sniffed again disapprovingly. 'In my day we did not bother with long honeymoons. Your uncle took me to Devon for two weeks and then we returned to his estate. I do not think that I should care to be jolted over foreign roads.'
'It would be exciting to see Italy. I have seen pictures of various treasures of art and architecture, of course, but to visit them to see Venice would be wonderful.'