Tuesday, 12 November 2013
A small taste of my new short Regency
A Bride for the Wicked Earl/Linda Sole
On sale at kindle 97p
‘Damn him to hell!’ Julian, newly created Earl of Larchester on his father’s death, swore softly as he heard the terms of the late earl’s will. ‘It’s where he deserves to burn for eternity for this.’
The young woman sitting just behind him, in the large drawing room, drew her breath sharply, causing Julian to turn and look at her, a mocking gaze in his cool blue eyes. He was a handsome devil, spoiled from birth by his doting mother and accustomed to having his own way, his dark hair softly waving back from a patrician forehead, his mouth deceptively soft and generous, but above all sensuous.
‘Don’t worry, Cressy,’ he drawled. ‘I have no intention of bowing to this iniquitous document. It cannot be legal. I am heir to Larchester and all that it entails, and even my father cannot stop me inheriting both the title and the estate.’
The elderly lawyer cleared his throat and looked uncomfortable as he peered over his gold-framed spectacles. ‘Forgive me, my lord,’ he said in a voice that trembled slightly. ‘The terms of your late father’s will apply to his personal fortune – and that he is at liberty to withhold if you refuse his last request.’
Julian scowled at the lawyer, his mouth becoming a thin line of anger. ‘How can this be? Are you telling me that all the money was his personal fortune? His fortune must have come from the estate. He has no right to withhold it from his heir.’
‘Forgive me, my lord,’ Mr Bartlet said. ‘I begged him to reconsider what he was doing but he would not. He said that you had defied him in life but would not do so in death. His money came from…I hate having to disclose this to you, my lord – but your father invested heavily in…textile mills in the north of the country, and that is where he made his money…’
‘He must have used money from the estate to begin the business and thus in law, the mills must form part of the estate…’
‘No, my lord. Your father more than repaid to the estate any money he may have used to set up his business empire – but he told me that it came from the prize money he received when he left the army after your grandfather’s death. As you may know, the estate was then on the brink of collapse; it was your father’s hard work that rescued it and due entirely to his efforts that you still have…’ Mr Bartlet’s words died on his lips as the new earl gave him a slaying look. ‘Forgive me. I know this is hard to accept, but you must marry within six months or your father’s personal fortune goes to his ward, Miss Cressida Harding.’
‘What if I refuse to accept it, or choose to give it to Julian?’ Cressy asked from behind him.
‘If you refuse the bequest it passes to a distant cousin of the late earl. You cannot pass the money to Lord Julian…unless you become his wife within the six months, of course.’
Julian cursed, stood up and moved to look out of the window. Without turning his head, he said, ‘That isn’t going to happen. Cressy wouldn’t have me – it would be a match made in hell for both of us. This is iniquitous!’ He turned to glare at the unfortunate lawyer. ‘Is there no way this can be broken, sir?’
‘I regret, none.’
‘Damn him to hell!’
Julian sent one of his father’s favourite Chinese porcelain vases smashing to the floor in his rage. How dare his father make such an outrageous will? They had quarrelled frequently in the years before Julian had left home to take up a life in the army. The late earl had cancelled his allowance, forcing him to manage on his pay as an officer and the competence left to him by his maternal grandfather. The late Lord Henry Larchester had vowed that he would bring his heir to heel, after Julian’s scandalous affair with the young wife of the late earl’s friend.
He could recall the mocking look in his father’s eyes the day they had parted.
‘You will be sorry for the disrespectful way you have behaved to me, Julian. Lord Brock was my oldest and dearest friend. You knew that – and yet you seduced his wife and made him look a fool…’
‘He managed that all by himself,’ Julian had drawled in reply.
He had not even tried to tell his father of the young bride’s despair at being forced into marriage with a man old enough to be her grandfather…of the unkindness she’d received at her husband’s hands, or the way she had cast herself into his arms in tears. None of it would have mattered or been listened to by the man who thought himself so righteous that only his opinion was worth consideration. No, Julian would not bend to a man who had caused such misery to the mother he’d adored…the woman who had died when Julian was no more than ten of a broken heart. The late Lord Henry was a cold bitter man, and Julian would have none of him when he reached the age where his maternal grandfather’s legacy made him independent.
Casting aside the painful memories, Julian turned to look at the lawyer, who was shuffling his papers.
‘Forgive me, sir,’ he said in the cool polite tones the world expected of him. ‘I should not have inflicted my temper on you and the present company…’ His servants had melted away after hearing of their own small bequests, leaving only the three of them. ‘Cressy, my apologies.’
‘I do not blame you,’ she said, her soft brown eyes looking at him with sympathy. ‘I would give you the money if I could, Julian.’
‘No, why should you?’ he said, a wintry smile flitting across his face. ‘Would you mind leaving us alone for a while? I must discover just how I stand.’
‘Certainly. Will you come to me in the parlour later, Julian? I should like to speak to you too.’
‘Of course.’ He inclined his head, watching as she left the room, her rich silk gown swaying as she moved gracefully, her head held proudly. Cressy was no beauty, but he’d always liked her, thinking of her as the sister he’d never had. ‘Now, sir…’ Julian turned to Mr Bartlet. ‘Please explain to me how I stand exactly…’
‘The house and estate are both yours,’ the lawyer said. ‘Your father took out a mortgage of ten thousand pounds last year, but with interest it has accrued to nearer twelve. He made no attempt to either pay the interest or repay the loan…’
‘No doubt deliberately,’ Julian frowned. ‘Can I not reclaim that sum from his private fortune?’
‘I fear not, my lord. The loan was made to the estate – it was to buy some one thousand acres of land…’ Mr Bartlet cleared his throat. ‘It is not arable land, my lord, or indeed much use for grazing. It lies up north somewhere in the region of your father’s mills. I do not know what he planned for it. My investigations appear to show that it is a wasteland of gorse and unfit for anything as far as I can see. I cannot see what possessed him to borrow money to buy it…’
‘Can you not?’ Julian’s mouth hardened, his eyes like chips of ice. ‘I see his reasoning perfectly. ‘Had the estate not been encumbered by debt I might have easily managed to turn things around here, despite his deliberate neglect of the past ten years or more.’
‘My lord, I must protest…’ Mr Bartlet’s eyes fell under Julian’s angry stare. ‘If such a thing could be proved in law…deliberate malice against his own heir…what kind of man would do such a thing?’
‘My father,’ Julian said, a cool smile on his mouth. ‘He hated me, sir. My father thought me evil, a vain spendthrift who would waste his fortune – a hardened rake who seduces innocent young women…’
‘Surely, my lord…’ the lawyer could not meet his eyes. ‘I do not believe his lordship hated you.’
‘Do you not, sir?’ Julian laughed softly. ‘Have you not heard the stories? I am sure Society abounds with them. I am a gambler and a rake – and I break hearts. Come, surely you have heard the stories.’
‘Well, yes, my lord. I have heard them but I do not…I have never truly believed them, for I remembered you as a kind and generous young man.’
‘That was before I changed,’ Julian murmured. ‘Before I quarrelled with my father and understood just why he hated me so much…’
‘I do not understand, sir – why did your father hate you? What had you done that was so terrible?’
‘I was born,’ Julian drawled. ‘I think that was sin enough for my father.’
Turning away, Julian thought about that last quarrel with his father – the revelation that had made him vow never to set foot in this house until the late earl was dead. The dreadful words that had passed between them, the wicked accusation made about his mother, would never leave him, nor would the burning hatred those words had instilled in him be forgotten.
‘I hardly think…’ Mr Bartlet faltered unable to continue. ‘This is terrible for you, sir. I wish I might help you – but a rich bride is all I can suggest…’
‘Marry an innocent woman for her money, as my father did?’ Julian’s eyes flashed with temper. ‘Lord Henry took my mother’s inheritance and used it for this estate – and that is the only reason I want it, because her son is owed…if it were not for that I would let it be sold to the first buyer…’
‘Sir…it is usual for a woman’s fortune to pass to her husband…’
‘Be that as it may, for him to claim that his fortune was founded on prize money is a lie. I’ve known about the mills for years – my mother knew about them and she told me before she died that he had used most of her fortune to buy the first two, though after that he did indeed make his fortune. He has no right to deny to me what my mother’s fortune brought him. Had it not been so I should simply have walked away from this damned house and all it stands for…’
‘Can you prove this, sir?’
‘He made sure that I could not. All records of how her fortune was spent were destroyed long since. There is no proof – no, the money must go to Cressy, as the late earl’s will provides. I hope there is an income for her in the meantime?’
‘Yes, my lord. I mentioned that if you complied with the terms of the will, Miss Cressida will receive only the income from a trust fund, which is two thousand pounds a year.’
‘Had he no decency?’ Julian demanded. ‘A paltry two thousand a year after all she did for him! Had she not cared for him during his illness, he would surely have died in distress for left to the mercy of servants…’ He tossed his head. ‘The man was a fool and a wretch to dangle a fortune before her and then serve her such a turn. If the money were mine I should have made sure she lived in the comfort she is accustomed to.’
‘Could you not bring yourself to…?’ Mr Bartlet’s breath left him as he saw the storm in Julian’s eyes. ‘What will you do, sir?’
‘At the moment I have no idea,’ Julian confessed. ‘I must speak to the bank, inquire if they will allow the mortgage to run for a while…but how I am to repay it I have not thought as yet.’
‘I am certain the loan will be extended for at least the next six months,’ the lawyer said, ‘though after that…if you still refuse to accept…’
‘Yes, I see.’ Julian looked murderous. ‘No doubt they are acquainted with this iniquitous document. Well, I must try to bring my fortunes about somehow – perhaps this land in the north is not as worthless as you believe it. Could it be that my father had a purpose for it?’
‘None that I know of,’ Mr Bartlet said on a sigh. ‘It seems to me that it is good for nothing…yet perhaps it would fetch something, if not all that it cost.’
‘Cut my losses and move on?’ Julian frowned. ‘I should then spend years of my life paying off the mortgage – even if the bank was prepared to allow it. No, I think it must be all or nothing, sir. Indeed, I care little for this house or its heritage. Had I the choice, I would live within my means on the estate my maternal grandfather left me – and make a career of raising horses.’
‘Is that what you had hoped to do here?’
Julian looked at him thoughtfully. ‘I expected him to live a few years yet. I had considered selling my commission, buying more land and setting up a racing stable in Newmarket, which is where my own estate lies. This house holds memories of my mother, and, as I told you, her fortune went into restoring it to what it now is – for that reason alone I would keep it if I could. Yet there are memories here that I would prefer to forget.’
‘You might sell it all, my lord,’ the lawyer told him unexpectedly. ‘I had an offer for the estate only last week, after your father’s death was announced. You were away and did not return in time for the funeral – and I have not yet answered the gentleman’s inquiry.’
‘Would the price offered cover the mortgage?’
‘Yes, my lord. It was generous – and would give you a surplus of perhaps ten thousand pounds.’
‘Indeed?’ Julian frowned. ‘I should not have thought it worth so much. Who was the offer from?’
‘A gentleman who prefers to remain anonymous for the moment,’ Mr Bartlet replied. ‘I understand that he is a nabob, recently returned from India with a fortune made from trading. He wants to set up a home for his family here.’
‘I might wish him joy of it yet,’ Julian said. ‘Will you write to him, Mr Bartlet? Ask him to give me two months in which to make up my mind.’
‘Would you truly consider selling, my lord?’
‘In truth it means little to me personally,’ Julian said. He turned back to the window, looking out at the green lawns, beautifully kept borders and the fields stretching as far as the eye could see. ‘If it were not for the memories of my mother…’
A sigh left him, for he could almost see the lovely woman and the eager young boy he had been at her side, playing games on those immaculate lawns. He had been happy then, before his mother died…before he learned to hate the man who had taken all she had to give and destroyed her with his coldness.
‘I think I shall go to London in the morning,’ Julian said. ‘I have business to take care of – and then…then I shall journey north to see this land my father squandered his money on…’
‘I shall speak to the prospective buyer,’ Mr Bartlet replied. ‘I could make discreet inquiries, sir, for I dare say others might be interested in a house like this…especially with such a good acreage…’
‘Do whatever you think necessary,’ Julian said. ‘And now I should go and speak to Cressy before she gives up on me…’
Posted by Linda Sole at 06:03