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Authors: Julia London

Tags: #Historical romance, #Fiction

The Revenge of Lord Eberlin (10 page)

BOOK: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin
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They picked their way through a thick copse of
trees, and as they approached a clearing, they could see the men gathered in the center, one of them holding up a dead grouse.

And there, sitting high on a big gray horse, was Tobin.

Lily’s anger soared. She took her empty pistol in hand and spurred her horse hard, sending it careening down the path into the clearing.

Hearing the commotion as Lily broke the tree line, her men behind her, the four poachers wheeled their mounts about. Lily reined up hard and leveled her pistol at Tobin’s chest.

“Bloody hell,” one of his friends said.

Tobin looked surprised, but almost amused. His eyes shone with what almost looked like pleasure. And just like that, all of Lily’s bravado began to leak out of her.
Pick yourself up,
she heard her aunt Lenore say, and she lifted her chin, held her gun in two hands to keep from shaking, and said, “Put your hands in the air.”

Tobin glanced over his shoulder at his companions, then turned back to Lily with a grin. “Is that gun primed to shoot?”

“Do you really care to find out? Please put your hands in the air.”

Tobin chuckled—until Preston cocked his gun and pointed at him. “Kindly do as the lady asks, milord.”

Still chuckling, Tobin lifted his hands. “Gentlemen,” he said casually, his gaze unflinchingly on Lily’s face, “you have before you the Lady Ashwood.”

Lily recognized Mr. Sibley and the dark-headed, handsome fellow with the amused smile who had witnessed Tobin’s impossible offer last night. She did not know the large, beefy gentleman, nor did she wish to.

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” the dark-haired man said in a Scots accent and with a smile. Mr. Sibley nodded curtly but eyed her as if he were facing her in mortal combat. The other gentleman looked entirely disinterested.

“Now that we have dispensed with the niceties, perhaps you might explain why you have brought your guns,” Tobin suggested.

“Well, sir, I hope you are not very disappointed with your efforts at poaching, as the grouse at Ashwood are rather thin this year.”

Tobin laughed. “You may put your gun down, madam. We are not poaching your grouse.”

“Then I suppose that is a fox I see your friend holding?”

Tobin’s mouth spread into a grin of great amusement, the bloody rooster. “Please do put down your gun, Lady Ashwood, before you harm yourself or someone else. We will leave the grouse to you and ride on.”

“I, for one, could eat a full grouse, feathers and all,” the large, disinterested man said.

If Tobin thought he would dismiss her, he was entirely mistaken, for now his gall fueled her. He hunted at Ashwood because he mistakenly believed it was his all but for the taking. She half-cocked her gun;
Tobin’s eyes flew to it. “If you would like permission to hunt game at Ashwood, you may come and apply to me, as do all the gentry in Sussex.”

The dark-haired man laughed heartily at that as he bagged the grouse he was holding.

But Tobin lowered his hands and stacked them on the pommel of his saddle, leaning forward. “And if I do not?”

Now Louis cocked his gun, too, and when he did, the dark-haired man and the large one pulled their guns and pointed them back. Lily’s heart began to pound. She believed in a moment of sheer panic that it was possible they’d all be gunned down.

But Tobin had his gaze locked on hers, and he moved his horse a few steps forward, as if oblivious to the three guns pointed at him.

“Stand back, sir!” Louis said sternly.

Tobin ignored him. “And if I do not?” he asked Lily again.

“If you do not,” Lily said, her voice surprisingly clear and even, “the next time we will not hesitate to shoot you, without warning, as is our right.”

Tobin’s gaze was so intent that she feared he could see her heart beating in her chest. “I have dispensation—”

“Not at Ashwood,” she interjected.

His gaze narrowed; he nodded. “Very well.”

Was that it, then? Had she stopped them from poaching? She slowly lowered her gun. “Then we shall
allow you to pass.” She glanced at Louis. “Will you and Preston please see them to their side of the forest?” She reined her horse around, nodded at the stable boy, and used her crop to urge the horse to go.

She rode hard, almost giddy with relief. She had no idea if she’d won this battle or not, but she’d certainly let him know he could not intimidate her.

She arrived back at Ashwood and hopped down from her mount, smiling as she handed the reins to the boy. “Quite a lot of excitement, was it not?”

“Aye, mu’um,” he said, his eyes glittering.

With her crop in hand, Lily bounced up the steps to the main entrance. She heard a rider and turned around halfway up the stairs, all smiles, prepared to congratulate Preston and Louis on their show of might. But her smile faded.

It was Tobin thundering into her drive.

She watched him throw himself off his horse and come striding forward, his cloak billowing out behind him, worried that he would laugh at her, or worse, humiliate her or demand to ruin her straightaway. She’d even dreamed about it—of him, towering over her in the grand foyer of Tiber Park, demanding she remove her clothes—

Be brave. Above all, do not allow him to see your nerves.
For then he would swoop in for the kill, she was certain of it.

He came to a halt at the bottom of the steps and, with hands on hips, he stared up at her.

“You wished to see me?” she asked politely.

you? What in bloody hell were you doing out there with a gun?” he demanded. “Have you no more care for your life than that?”

“I was protecting what is mine.”

He blinked. “You foolish woman, you might have been killed!” he snapped.

“But I wasn’t,” she said calmly. “You wanted a word?”

He stared at her. “A word,” he repeated, and stepped onto the first step. “It seems to me we’ve had our words, have we not?” He moved up another step.

“I think you left a few words lingering in your foyer, did you not?”

That certainly caught his attention. “Meaning?” He took another step up.

“I want you to stay off my land.”

One corner of his mouth turned up. “And you think your empty gun will stop me?”

She drew a breath and looked him directly in the eye. This gamble would either win or lose Ashwood, but there was no going back now. “No,” she said. “But I have thought about your rather rude offer and have decided to accept it.”

Lily took great satisfaction in the astonishment in Tobin’s maple brown eyes. He peered closely at her as if he thought she was bluffing. “And what offer would that be?” he challenged her.

Oh, but if he thought she’d crumble
now …
you forgotten? I am referring to your terms,” she said, her gaze narrowing, “for leaving Ashwood

Tobin eyed her skeptically, his gaze raking over her. “Do my ears deceive me, madam? Is this your idea of a jest?”

“Was your offer a jest?” she returned pertly.

Tobin looked away from her a moment. He removed his hat from his head and dragged his fingers through his hair, then reseated the hat and glanced at Lily again, his expression now full of curiosity.

She was standing two steps above him, a head taller than he. She gripped her riding crop so tightly that her fingers ached. She wanted to strike him with it, to leave a mark on his face so he would be reminded of her ire every blasted day.

Tobin took the next step up. They were only inches apart now. “How could you
misconstrue my offer?” he asked, as if speaking to a child.

“What makes you believe I have misconstrued anything? You offered to leave Ashwood alone if you could have me. I accept your offer.”

Tobin looked stunned. “Lily,” he said with all seriousness, “do you understand what you are agreeing to? Do you understand that I mean to have your virtue? And by that, I meant to have it in the most intimate way a man might have a woman?”

She flushed. “I understand that you intend to ruin me one way or another. Am I wrong? Or are you afraid of victory?”

She saw one of his hands slowly curl into a fist and realized she had gained the upper hand. Just as she’d guessed, he’d never dreamed she would agree, and now he didn’t quite know what to do with her. “You gave me an ultimatum,” she pressed on, “and I have made my choice.”

He took another step up so that they were now eye to eye. They stood so close that she could see the flecks of green in his rich brown eyes. His gaze roamed over her face as if it puzzled him.

“How do I ask this without offending your tender nature?” he said. “Do you understand
what you are agreeing to? Do you understand that I mean to

Lily was certain her cheeks were flaming now. “Yes,” she said, her voice uncontrollably breathless. “I understand completely.”

One of his brows rose high. He didn’t look surprised any longer; he looked intrigued. “I don’t believe you. This is some attempt to fool me, but it will not work.”

Don’t falter now!
“I am attempting to save Ashwood. Perhaps
are the one who is jesting.”

Something flickered in his eyes. A slow smile spread his lips. “If you mean what you say, prove it.”

Prove it? How was she to prove it? Lily panicked, but she forced a sweet smile. “Shall I offer you my head on a platter? Would that do?”

Tobin grinned, his gaze on her mouth. “Now that
would be a tragic waste of a lovely head. I had in mind something infinitely more pleasurable for us both. Prove that you mean what you say here and now.”

That Lily managed to remain standing was nothing short of a miracle. She couldn’t believe he would insist on this
in front of her home. She thought frantically and, in a moment of genius inspiration, smiled coyly at him. “Now you are taking the fun from it. That hardly seems fair.”

He chuckled. “Fair is not a word generally applied to war,” he said and put his hand on her arm.

She tried not to tense, to keep the smile on her face. “Then we agree—we are at war.”

Tobin ran his hand lightly up her arm, to her neck. “We certainly are not in love.” He touched his lips to her earlobe.

The touch burned through her, and she tried to tamp it down. “If I agree to kiss you, will that appease you for now?”

“Lily, love . . . you will barter with me?” he asked low, and kissed her neck.

God help her, she could feel her body beginning to soften. “Yes,” she said breathlessly. “And besides, my groomsman is just there.”

Tobin lifted his head and frowned in the direction of the boy brushing her horse. “A kiss then,” he said.

“Then we are agreed?”

“Yes, yes, all right,” he said impatiently.

Lily smiled sweetly. He reached for her again, but she planted a hand firmly against his chest.

“What in blazes is it now?” he demanded gruffly.

“I am to kiss
” she reminded him, and with her gaze on his, she put her hands on his arms and slowly slid them up, to his shoulders. She rose up on her tiptoes, cupped his face in her hands, and touched her lips to his so softly that it felt almost as if she whispered against him. The touch was astonishingly exquisite, an ethereal promise of greater pleasure. Lily couldn’t imagine a light kiss could burn as brightly as hers did, and she lingered there a moment, her lips against his, the tip of her tongue touching him.

But as he tried to put his arms around her, Lily returned to her heels and evaporated away from him. “That’s all for now.”

His gaze was blisteringly hot, but he did not argue. And in that moment, Lily realized with a surge of elation that she had won this all-important round between them.

Tobin stepped back. He nodded curtly. “Well played, madam,” he conceded.

“Good day,” she said and started up the steps, intending to race to the safety of her rooms once she got inside. But she hadn’t made it more than two steps when Tobin caught her arm.

“You will dine with me.”

The last thing she wanted was to dine with him!
She could imagine it, forced to make small talk over soup and her grouse. It would be no worse than torture. “Ah—”

“Friday evening.”

Lily smiled.

Tobin looked strangely uneasy. “It is the most civilized way we might begin our arrangement,” he said, his gaze lingering on her mouth.

She had done it. She’d started down the path of either her complete ruination or a very clever ruse. “Very well,” she said pleasantly. “I shall dine with you Friday evening.”

“I will send a coach for you.”

“That won’t be necessary—”

“It is entirely necessary,” he said. His color was returning, but his expression looked odd. “I’ll not have your man lurking about, waiting to save you.”

Lily looked at
mouth a moment. “Do I need saving?” she asked softly.

Tobin took a full, long look at her. “I cannot say. I have not determined if this is some foolish game you are playing. But rest assured that I would show you pleasure unlike anything your maidenly mind has ever imagined. I will not take you against your will . . . unless that is what you prefer. Some enjoy being conquered completely; others prefer to do the conquering. Which, I wonder, is Lily Boudine?”

Lily did not speak. She couldn’t speak. There wasn’t
a thought in her head, nothing but those eyes drawing her in to a very carnal fantasy.

“Ah. You don’t know, do you?” He smiled and brushed her cheek with the back of his knuckles. Tobin’s eyes had softened with a look of desire she had not seen before this moment. “I will allow you to come to that knowledge on your own. But you have made an agreement here today, and if you think to deceive me, it will go much worse for you. Are we clear?”

BOOK: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin
5.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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