Rivals of Fortune / The Impetuous Heiress

BOOK: Rivals of Fortune / The Impetuous Heiress
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Rivals of Fortune
copyright © 1981 by Jane LeCompte

The Impetuous Heiress
copyright © 1984 by Jane LeCompte

Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Paul Stinson

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

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www.sourcebooks.com

Rivals of Fortune
was originally published in 1981 by Warner Books, Inc., New York

The Impetuous Heiress
was originally published in 1984 by Signet, a division of New American Library, Inc., New York.

Rivals of Fortune
One

Miss Joanna Rowntree sat very straight in the drawing room of her father's house near Oxford, her eyes fixed painfully on the mantel clock. There was nothing in the appearance of this rather handsome timepiece to explain the anxiety in her expression, nor did the room yield a clue. It was an elegant, comfortable apartment, not quite in the first stare of fashion, a Londoner might aver, yet showing taste and the means to command some of life's luxuries. The deep cream of the walls, the dark blue velvet hangings, and the French furniture formed a pleasing contrast to the rolling green fields visible through the long windows.

The slender girl sitting stiffly before the fireplace ignored these familiar surroundings. A diminutive brunette, Miss Rowntree kept her large brown eyes on the clock, which now read six minutes to eleven. Her tightly folded hands had crumpled her pink morning dress, and one of her glossy brown curls had fallen down over her shoulder, but she noticed none of this. It was not until the drawing room door opened and her mother came into the room that Joanna roused a little; but even then, she merely turned her head slightly before going back to gazing at the clock. Her expression became a bit more soulful, perhaps, and her hands twisted in her lap, but she said nothing.

Mrs. Rowntree, also a very attractive brunette who had retained her figure through twenty years of marriage and three children, frowned slightly and watched her only daughter with lips pressed together. She seemed undecided about something, but finally she said, “Joanna,” in a tone calculated to command the girl's immediate attention.

Joanna turned, her eyes growing even larger. “Oh, Mama,” she replied in a soft, languishing voice. “I didn't hear you come in.”

“Did you not indeed?” said her mother. “And I suppose you also forgot that you were to help Mrs. Harwood with the linens this morning? She looked for you for quite half an hour.”

Joanna stared at her in amazement. “Linens? Oh, Mama, it lacks but three minutes to eleven. They are at the church even now, and you talk to me of linens?” She looked down and brought her clasped hands to her bosom.

A spark of sympathy showed in Mrs. Rowntree's eyes, and she sighed. She started to speak, thought better of it, and went to sit down beside her daughter. She took one of Joanna's hands and patted it, but when she spoke, her tone was firm. “Joanna, you are being silly. These die-away airs do no one any good, I promise you. Please do stop. I am going into Longton; come along, and we will see if we can find a new dress length at Quentin's.”

“Longton!” echoed the girl, with a distaste for the neighboring village she had never before exhibited. “Mama, how can you be so unfeeling!” The clock struck eleven, and Joanna started convulsively: “At this moment, Peter is being married, and you wish me to go to Longton and look at dress lengths. Oh, Mama!”

Sympathy showed again in Mrs. Rowntree's face, but she answered only, “Well, well, you were not really engaged to Peter, you know, my dear.”

Joanna raised her head. “Not engaged? But it has been understood since we were children that we would marry. Indeed, he told me before he went to London in March that we would be married when he returned.”

Her mother's lips came together again. “Well, he was very wrong to do so without a word to your father. And you were wrong to listen to him. You see where such behavior leads. A great deal can happen to a young man during a London season, and you would have done better to have told him that you would see about that when you came to town yourself next year.”

“Oh, I shan't go now,” said Joanna, turning to gaze out the window and avoid her mother's censorious glance.

Her diversion was successful. “Not go? Of course we shall. You have been eighteen these two months, Joanna. Naturally, I shall present you in London next season. Indeed, I would take you now if it were not already June.”

“Mama, I
could
not.
He
is there. With his…his wife.”

“Well, I daresay they will both be here very soon, if it comes to that,” responded her mother unencouragingly, “so you had best become accustomed to the idea of meeting them.”

“Here?” cried the girl, horrified.

“Yes, of course. I suppose Peter will wish to show her his house.”

Joanna leaped to her feet. “Oh, what shall I do? You must take me away, Mama.”

“Nonsense. You will meet Peter and his wife calmly and with dignity. Do you wish to set the whole neighborhood talking? Have a little conduct, Joanna, and stop acting a Cheltenham tragedy.”

“But, Mama, I love him!”

Her mother smiled skeptically. “You do not, you know. You have no more idea of love than Frederick does.”

“Frederick! Why he is only a—a grubby little schoolboy.”

Mrs. Rowntree nodded equably, accepting this characterization of her youngest child without demur.

“He—he is a perfect toad,” her daughter went on, nearly inarticulate with outrage. “How can you compare my feelings to his? I do love Peter, I do!” She stamped her foot.

The older woman's lips twitched. “I know you think you do, Joanna, but in a few weeks, you will see that it was all a take-in. Calf love.”

The delightful pink in Joanna's cheeks deepened. She was about to pour out an impassioned defense of her feelings when the drawing-room door opened once more and one of the maids came in. “Excuse me, ma'am,” she said to Mrs. Rowntree, “but a gentleman has brought Mr. Frederick home. Covered with dirt, he is, and he's hurt his ankle.”

“Oh dear,” said her mistress, getting up. “I wonder what he has been at this time.” And leaving her daughter fuming, Mrs. Rowntree walked quickly out of the room.

Joanna stood tapping her foot for a full minute, then curiosity got the better of her anger, and she went out to the landing and looked down into the hall. Her thirteen-year-old brother was indeed covered with dirt, and his face showed that he was in some pain. A footman had just lifted him and was starting up the stairs. Her mother was talking to a stranger in buckskin riding breeches and a brown coat. Joanna wrinkled her nose in disdain. His appearance was so far from being fashionable that she could not imagine where he had purchased his clothes. Even in Oxford, there were tailors who could manage a better cut.

“Do come upstairs,” her mother was saying.

Joanna quickly retreated to the drawing room again.

The others entered soon after. “This is Jonathan Erland, Joanna,” said Mrs. Rowntree. “Only fancy, he is our new neighbor at the Abbey. Mr. Erland, my daughter Joanna.”

The gentleman made a rather awkward bow, his eyes showing clear appreciation of Joanna's petite good looks, and she surveyed him with more interest than before. The Abbey was the largest house in the neighborhood, though sadly run down at present, and since its owner's illness and death last winter, there had been much speculation as to whom it would fall.

Mr. Erland was an open-faced young man, just above middle height. His complexion was ruddy, his hair brown, and his eyes a clear gray. He had none of the airs of a fashionable exquisite, but there was something in his manner that Joanna found unfamiliar, almost foreign. He seemed about five and twenty.

“Tell Mr. Rowntree we have a visitor,” her mother was saying to the maid. “Ask him to come up.” They all sat down, and Mrs. Rowntree continued, “I collect you have only recently arrived in the neighborhood, Mr. Erland. My husband would certainly have called if we had known.”

The gentleman smiled, his rather commonplace countenance lighting charmingly. “Just this week. The news of my uncle's death, and of my cousin's, which I had not previously heard, did not reach me till then. I was rather out of the way.”

Joanna started to ask where he had been, but her mother spoke first. “I thank you again for rescuing Frederick. What a poor introduction to our family you have had.”

“Not at all,” answered Erland. “Frederick seems a very promising lad—full of pluck.”

Mrs. Rowntree shook her head. “He is that.”

“What happened to him?” asked Joanna.

“The tiresome boy took it into his head to trespass at the Abbey. He fell from a crumbling wall in the ruins and sprained his ankle. I've sent Nurse to see to him.” Mrs. Rowntree turned back to their guest. “You mustn't think me unfeeling, Mr. Erland. Frederick comes home injured more often than not. I have concluded he is indestructible.”

The man laughed. “He is certainly durable at any rate. It was quite a fall he took.”

“Well, if he will climb everything he sees, he is certain to fall,” said Joanna severely. “Why did he wish to poke about in the ruins of the Abbey?”

“He tells me there is a rumor going about the neighborhood that my Uncle Thomas buried his fortune somewhere there,” answered Erland. “Would that it were true.”

Mrs. Rowntree smiled. “All boys long for such a chance. It is all nonsense, of course.”

He made a wry face. “I fear you are right, and it is most unfortunate for me. The place has gone to rack and ruin since I saw it ten years ago, and a treasure is clearly required to set it to rights. I wish that my uncle had left one.”

“Oh, but he was such a clutchfist; did he not leave you a fortune?” asked Joanna before she thought. She colored as Erland turned to her.

“Joanna!” said her mother.

“No, no, it's quite all right. I'd rather everyone knew just how I'm placed; I like to have things out in the open. My uncle left me the estate and a competence, nothing more. I would like above all things to renovate the Abbey, but I doubt that it will be possible. I hope the neighborhood will not be disappointed.” He smiled again.

“How funny,” said Joanna. “We always assumed he was excessively rich. How mistaken one can be in people.” This reflection reminded her of her melancholy, and she sank into a brown study.

Her mother was about to speak when the drawing-room door opened slowly and a tall, thin man with pale brown hair and abstracted gray eyes came into the room. “Hello, dear,” said Mrs. Rowntree. “Here is Jonathan Erland, the new resident of the Abbey. Mr. Erland, my husband George Rowntree.”

Mr. Erland stood and bowed.

Mr. Rowntree murmured something unintelligible, standing beside the open door as if puzzled; then his brows drew together, and he struck the palm of one hand with his fist. “Of course,” he said decisively, “sulfate of ammonia.” His eyes lit, and he turned as if to leave the room.

Jonathan Erland cast a perplexed glance at Mrs. Rowntree.

“George,” she said firmly, “come and sit down, dear.”

Mr. Rowntree started and turned again. “Emma,” he said, as if surprised. “I have solved it, the problem I was explaining to you at breakfast. It is sulfate of ammonia. You see…”

“That's wonderful, dear. I'm so pleased. But here is Jonathan Erland to see you. He has just come to live at the Abbey.”

Mr. Rowntree seemed to see their guest for the first time. “The Abbey, is it?” he replied, with no sign of embarrassment over his unconventional welcome. “Splendid. Perhaps we can persuade
you
of the pressing need to document the contents of the ruins there. It is vital, you know, to investigate such sites scientifically. Careless curiosity seekers destroy countless things every day. Even now, much of it is utterly spoiled. One must have method, order, or all is lost. Surely you agree?”

“Why, ah, yes,” said Erland, “but I'm not sure I…”

“Capital! Old Tom Erland would never listen to me. Hidebound and closed-minded, he was. He had one or two ideas, and he held to them, no matter what harm came of it. Inflexible. It's the worst of faults, perhaps.” His gaze shifted. “We can get up a digging party next Thursday. Young Templeton will be overjoyed. And I suppose Carstairs will want to come along, though he's a sloppy thinker.” His voice trailed off as he frowned in concentration.

Mr. Erland was looking a bit lost.

“We are so glad to have you at the Abbey,” put in Mrs. Rowntree. “It will be a pleasant change to have a young man there. Do you have a family?”

Turning to her gratefully, Erland started to speak, but Mr. Rowntree looked up at that moment and exclaimed, “Jonathan Erland. The old man's nephew?”

Their guest nodded, looking slightly apprehensive.

“We have met, have we not?” continued Rowntree. “It's been some ten or fifteen years, I daresay, but you are the young man who was to go to the colonies, aren't you? Or perhaps there was another nephew?”

“No, sir. That was I. I have lived in Canada for nearly ten years.” He turned to smile at Mrs. Rowntree. “I have had no time to think of marrying; too busy trying to make my fortune. Unsuccessfully, I fear, though I had a fine time at it.” He looked back to his host. “We must have met when I stayed at the Abbey just before I sailed, Mr. Rowntree. I was but fifteen when my uncle paraded me about the neighborhood.”

“Of course, of course,” replied Rowntree abstractedly. “Canada, now. That is most interesting, most interesting. In what area did you reside?”

The younger man smiled again. “All parts, at one time or another, sir. Through the good offices of my uncle, I had a position in the eastern settlements for some time. But for the last several years, I have lived in the Northwest Territories.”

Mr. Rowntree leaned forward and put his clasped hands on his knees. “Really! The territories, you say—fascinating. You have been a member of the exploration parties, I take it?”

Erland nodded. “I was with Thompson.”

His host's pale eyes glowed, and he seemed scarcely able to keep his seat. “Thompson! Why, he is one of the greatest explorers now living, and you have traveled with him? You must tell me all about it,
everything
.”

Mr. Erland laughed. “That would take me some time. But I confess I am surprised. Few Englishmen have heard of Thompson, I believe, and fewer still would be interested if they had.”

BOOK: Rivals of Fortune / The Impetuous Heiress
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