A young woman banished from the splendor of Elizabethan society is swept into dangerous passions and hidden agendas at a powerful nobleman’s estate in the first novel of Jo Ann Ferguson’s spellbinding Foxbridge Legacy series
Disgraced and penniless after her father’s death, Sybill Hampton leaves London for the wild northwest coast to become the ward of a man she barely knows. When she arrives at Foxbridge Cloister, it isn’t her guardian who greets her, but a darkly handsome stranger who infuriates her with his assumption that she is a fortune hunter.
The enigmatic overseer of the isolated estate, Trevor Breton, shares an uneasy relationship with his employer, the mercurial Owen Wythe, Lord Foxbridge, and a tantalizing one with Sybill, who at her guardian’s request takes over the housekeeping duties. Sybill begins to fall under Trevor’s seductive spell, unaware that a plan is being set in motion—a cunningly orchestrated scheme that may force her to wed one man while losing her heart to another.
Sybill is the 1st book in the Foxbridge Legacy, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The Foxbridge Legacy, Book One
By Jo Ann Ferguson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Jo Ann Ferguson
All rights reserved.
"Sybill! Sybill Hampton!"
The young woman sitting on a rock by a small brook half frozen by the unseasonably cold weather glanced over her shoulder. Trying to ignore the shrill voice, she put her gloved hands over her ears. The motion loosened the dark hat perched at an angle on her ebony curls. As she grasped to keep it from rolling down the bank into the creek, the bushes in front of her parted.
Her blue eyes looked steadily at the sheepish face of the man clambering through the hedgerow. Tartly, she demanded, "What did Kate do to convince you to seek through the underbrush for me? I can hear that screech of hers from miles away. If I had wanted to answer her, I would have."
She picked up a small pebble and tossed it at the creamy white wafer of ice. The sound of its cracking was sharp in the wintry air that was persisting into the normal months of spring. That this horrible weather existed in the north should not have surprised her. Everything was disgusting in this heathen wilderness. A wave of homesickness left her adrift as she thought of her warm fire in London.
The man grinned, his elderly face wrinkling more as his lips turned up in his habitual expression of good spirits. Miss Sybill never attempted to hold her tongue with the ones she trusted. Even tragedy had not dulled her razor wit.
"Now, Miss Sybill, you know Kate worries about you. With your father gone and all—"
"By all the saints!" Sybill rose and brushed off her beaver hat. The fur was filthy with bits of leaves. Without looking at the man, she said softly, "Excuse me, Wilson. I didn't mean to take out my anger on you. It is just ..."
When she did not continue, he said nothing. It had not been two weeks since the reading of Alfred Hampton's will. From the time of the funeral less than a month ago, the young woman had been harried by creditors she had not known her father owed. Through it all, she had remained strong. She had not winced even when the pompous barrister informed her that the house had been sold to settle her father's debts and she had less than a fortnight to vacate what had been her home all her life.
Her desperate letters to her father's friends brought no answers. Now that the last of the Hampton family was penniless and shamed, nobody among those who once had been guests at the fine home wanted to offer sanctuary to a homeless maiden. If it had not been for the missive from Lord Foxbridge ...
Sybill pushed past her driver to go to the wagon, interrupting his thoughts. As thorns caught on the silk of her gown, she knew Kate would reprimand her for her thoughtless action. She did not care what Kate had to say. The opinions of her personal maid did not matter when she was being sentenced to living at the far edges of civilization with the one friend of her father who remembered her after Alfred Hampton's death.
More than once she asked herself why it had to be Lord Foxbridge who came to her aid. If it could have been Countess Grewley or the Viscountess ... any of her father's friends, but this one who invited her to come to his home on the northwest coast of England. Only the barbaric highlands of Scotland were farther from London than this estate.
She had delayed as long as possible. Even when threatened with eviction, she had pretended to be busy making arrangements to go to Foxbridge. Instead she had been praying for a miracle.
She thought Lady Beamus would offer her a home. At the last minute, the woman sent a message via a stolid servant that Sybill Hampton would not be welcome at Beamus Court. No explanation. No apology. Nothing.
As she climbed the hillside, she recalled the few offers she had received. Several young men called before her father's body was cold in his pauper's grave. What they said had shocked her deeply. The first made no secret he wanted her as his mistress. When she refused and had the butler throw him into the street, she had seen his expression of astonishment.
One after another, the parade of eager courtiers came to ask her the same question, some more subtly than others. She wondered what caused them to think she would be interested in such an arrangement. She was the well brought up daughter of a father received at Queen Elizabeth's court. Her values had not changed simply because she was penniless.
"Where were you hiding, Miss Sybill?" came the demand that cut through her reverie.
Sybill sighed deeply. She did not feel like being scolded by Kate. "I wanted fresh air and a chance to think."
The plump woman stuck her gloved hand over the side of the wagon. Wagging it at her young charge, she stated, "You think too much! Too much about the wrong things! Here we are in the middle of this moor, and you wander off when we could be warm in Foxbridge."
"Thank you," Sybill said automatically as Wilson aided her into the vehicle. As she settled her gown on the seat they had rigged in the back, she pulled her cape tighter. The air was more damp than cold, and she wondered if this was what they would have to suffer so close to the sea.
She looked at her maid's rage. Kate considered herself more than an employee. Through the whole disgraceful series of events surrounding Alfred Hampton's death, the woman remained steadfastly at Sybill's side. Of all the servants who lived in the fashionable house along the Strand, only these two were left to her. Even Wilson would be gone when they reached their destination. With her recommendation, he had found a position with one of her admirers who had wanted to find her a place in his country home as well.
Kate relented when she saw Miss Sybill was in no mood to argue. Tucking her graying hair under her cap, she brushed imaginary dust from her black cape. Like the younger woman, she was dressed totally in ebony and dark purple. Unlike Miss Sybill, she was hypocritical for wearing mourning for Alfred Hampton. Kate could not be sorry he was dead.
With her eyes on the unchanging scene of the countryside, which seemed as lifeless as her father, Sybill twisted her fingers in the cord tied to her waist. The nervous motion was becoming habitual. Once she lived in a house where the finest of the queen's court came for entertainment, talk, or cards. That would be her life no more. She was condemned to these wilds where she would molder away in boredom.
When they entered a small settlement where a handful of houses huddled together against the strong winds from the sea, she knew they had only a few miles to go to the place that would be her home. From the directions sent by Lord Foxbridge, she knew this was the village called Foxbridge. The Cloister was not far.
The scent of the sea became stronger. Any sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs hidden by windbreaks of tall trees was lost beneath the clatter of the wheels on the frozen road. Sybill closed her eyes and wished herself anywhere else.
"Miss Sybill, stay awake," came Kate's voice. "We are nearly there."
She bit back her annoyance. "I'm aware of that. I'm not falling asleep, although after this trip, I am exhausted."
"Thank the Lord, we had the use of this wagon. Even if it got mired a dozen times a day, it would have been intolerable to make this journey on horseback."
"Yes," she answered slowly.
Her fingers touched the rough wood of the seat beneath her. Like everything the Hamptons had owned, except for Sybill's personal belongings and a few jewels she had hidden from the avarice of the creditors, this vehicle would be sold to settle debts. If it did not pay the debts completely, they would have to chase her to Foxbridge Cloister to collect. How she would pay, she had no idea, but she was not going to concern herself with that today. She had no idea who her father's creditors were. The barrister had refused to tell her, stating icily they did not wish to be bothered by the pleas of a desperate woman.
Sybill's mouth tightened. No one had to worry about her going on bended knee to beg for clemency. Whatever else she had lost in the horror of her father's death, she retained the Hampton pride as her shield against the world.
The wagon rolled to a stop before the walls of the country home. She listened as Wilson told the gatekeeper the identity of those arriving at Foxbridge Cloister. At last they were here. She feared there would be no escape.
The gates were swung open on hinges kept in perfect order. As they turned along the road, Sybill was treated to a splendid view of her new home. Even deep in her misery, the magnificence of the house awed her.
Bits of the day's last light were eye-achingly bright on the tall windows. All the way to the third floor, there was a multitude of glass. This was nothing like the houses in London where small windows allowed for privacy. Here there was no need to worry about passersby. The house stood all alone on the edges of the marshes.
A century before, Foxbridge Cloister had been a monastery. When Good King Hal dissolved the houses of the church and took the property for his own, he had made money for his gold starved coffers by selling it to loyal followers. Sybill recalled her father telling her that the father of the present Lord Foxbridge had been able to buy this estate to match his title. That peerage had been granted for loyal service when Henry Tudor assumed his throne after the end of the War of the Roses over two centuries ago.
The old parts of the original building were easily distinguishable from the new construction. The recent additions of light gray stone had not been weathered by the sea breezes blowing unceasingly across the salt marshes.
"What a fine house!" gushed Kate. "Just like I imagined it would be."
Sybill's frown deepened. Trust Kate to see only the exterior and not think of the life they would live behind the stone walls. She did not want to be someone's poverty-stricken ward.
She detested the word and the very idea she had to rely on someone to take care of her. A man she barely knew would control her life from this point forward. More than any parent, Lord Foxbridge would rule her. Never could she quibble with his most menial command, for, like a slave, she depended on him for her food and shelter.
With a shiver, she rubbed her gloved hands together. From the time the letter arrived from this far-off estate, she had experienced an overwhelming sense of dread. She had never had a prescience like this one. Even as she read the note, she knew it was an invitation to disaster. If she had had any other choice, she would have refused Lord Foxbridge's offer. She did not want to live out in the wilds with a man older than her father.
The fear she felt roiling within her like a pot left too long over the heat did not show as she stepped from the wagon. She faced a staircase that led to the front door of the house. In comparison with the elaborate design of stained glass and diamond-shaped mullions in the windows, the door, with its simple, raised panels, was extremely plain.
She did not turn to see if Kate managed to get down. The door of the Cloister opened, and a man in pale green livery emerged. In the latest style of London, he wore his sleeves slashed to show the fine linen beneath the velvet. His breeches were tapered to fit into the top of his stockings of pale cream.
"I am Sybill Hampton," she answered wearily. Now that she had arrived, she felt too fatigued to go through the process of greeting her host.
He bowed his head. His light brown hair seemed to take life from the setting sun. "Welcome to Foxbridge Cloister, Miss Hampton. We have been anxious for your arrival. I am Marshall, Lord Foxbridge's butler. Please come into the house. I fear we shall have rain soon."
"You may be correct." She had no interest in the weather, but she knew he was hoping to make her feel more comfortable in this strange house. Nothing would do that.
Lifting her full, black skirt and the dull petticoats beneath it, Sybill followed him up the steep stairs. When he offered to take her cape, she untied it. He asked her to wait in the drawing room while he announced her arrival. Nodding, Sybill went into the room he indicated. She was glad he closed the doors behind her, for her gasp of astonishment would have been embarrassing.
This was no primitive, country hideaway. The furniture was of the finest design and construction. Beneath her feet was the richness of a pale green carpet. Her eyes rose to see the pattern of plaster emblems on the ceiling. The one in the center of the huge expanse matched one carved into the oak mantel of the fireplace. She guessed it was the Foxbridge family crest.
Going to the hearth, she held out her hands to the warmth. They were stiff from the cold ride, which had commenced before dawn. She looked at the painting above her. It was of a woman dressed in the style of two decades before. She was a striking woman, although not classically beautiful. Her nose was too long and her eyes a bit too feline. The smile on her lips suggested secrets she would not reveal.
Sybill recalled Lord Foxbridge was a widower. This may have been his wife. Searching her memory, she tried to think of what her father might have said about children. She could remember nothing. Her father had had little interest in his friends' domestic arrangements. His conversation had consisted primarily of the gossip of the court.
Noise came from beyond the door. She listened as Kate talked to the butler. From the time the invitation arrived, her maid had been enthusiastic. Why, Sybill could not guess.
When she saw the latch lift, she pasted a false smile on her lips. Her fingers played nervously with the cord at her waist. Realizing what she was doing, she dropped it. She must not show how upset she was by the changes in her life.
"Miss Hampton?" asked a strange man as he entered the room. "Welcome to Foxbridge Cloister."
Despite herself, she stared at him. This was not Lord Foxbridge. The man was decades younger than the lord. She wondered if he was a son. His clothes were of finer quality than those the butler wore and of a vibrant blue.
From the polite smile framed by his neatly trimmed beard and mustache, her eyes rose to his. They were the darkest eyes she had ever seen and were filled with an expression she had learned to recognize and despise.
It was pity.
Rage filled her. She had not grown accustomed to pity from those who had no intention of speaking to her again as an equal. When the men acted as if they were doing her a favor by asking her to be their mistress, she discovered she was an outcast from the society which once welcomed her. From a stranger, it was even more degrading to be shown that everyone knew she was begging for the roof over her head.
When she did not reply, he walked toward where she stood. As she remained stubbornly silent, his ebony eyebrows twitched with what she feared was amusement. She had thought pity was the worst thing she could see in a man's eyes. She had been wrong.
Taking her fingers, he bowed over them correctly. He did not raise them to his lips. The black hair near her face was so sable it glowed in the candlelight with blue highlights.
"Miss Hampton, I am Trevor Breton, his lordship's aide and overseer of the estate. He asked me to greet you."
Instantly, she gasped, "He is ill?"
His smile faded at her reaction. Sharply he demanded, "Do you act so worried because of compassion for a man you have not met in years or because you have no place else to go but into service?"
Sybill pulled her fingers from his. Until now, as she regarded the raven fire in his eyes, she had not noticed he continued to hold her hand. She went to the hearth. Putting her hands out to the fire once more, she tried to rub some feeling back into them. Even with her back to him, she could feel his furious glare at a point directly between her shoulder blades. Why would this man react so crudely to a simple question? He was a servant. She was a guest. He had no cause to treat her like this. Perhaps if she ignored him, he would recall his place and apologize.
"I do not think I owe you an explanation," she said turning to face him.
Excerpted from Sybill by Jo Ann Ferguson. Copyright © 1988 Jo Ann Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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