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Authors: Julia London

Tags: #Historical romance, #Fiction

The Revenge of Lord Eberlin (3 page)

BOOK: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin
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In the spring of 1802, Tobin had rescued Charity from a life of cleaning the piss from rich people’s pots. She was now mistress of his grand Mayfair town home. He lavished her with gowns and jewels, and while Charity appreciated his efforts, they’d come too late for her. She’d borne a daughter out of wedlock, and society discounted her because of her humble beginnings, her mean occupation, and her bastard child. There was no amount of money that could remove the censure society heaped on women like Charity.

The only thing that might have redeemed his sister had been to lend her some legitimacy. If Tobin had had a title, he’d believed it would have given her entry into at least some quarter of society. Obtaining a title might have seemed impossible to any other man, but he’d been determined that society would never dictate the course of their future again.

So he’d gone out and bought a title.

In truth, it had fallen into his lap. A minor Danish count, Lord Eberlin, had arranged for Tobin to bring him enough guns to equip a small army but had not been able to pay. Tobin had been infuriated. He’d delivered the arms at considerable risk to himself and his company, and he would not be hoodwinked.

As it had happened, the people of Denmark had
been in the throes of internal turmoil. Old acts of entitlement had been giving way to the popular will of the people and a desire for serfs to be landowners in their own right—just like the French had done a generation before. Tobin had seized on that knowledge and had assured Eberlin he could make his life quite difficult. And then he’d made him an offer he hadn’t possibly been able to refuse—a generous payment for his estate and his title.

The former Count Eberlin had taken what money he’d had and decamped to Barbados. It had taken only a generous endowment to the courts in Copenhagen to turn a blind eye to the deal and transfer Count Eberlin’s small estate and title to Tobin. He’d kept dissension among the tenants to a minimum by giving arable parcels outright to the serfs who had tilled the count’s land for decades. As a result, the estate was now little more than forest and manor.

Tobin didn’t care about the estate; what mattered to him was England. He was now a count in an English society that was rather sensitive to titles and entitlements. He’d accomplished the impossible—he’d become one of them.

In the winter of 1807, the newly minted Count Eberlin had returned to London to spend Christmas with his sister. Over dinner one evening, she’d told him that the old earl of Ashwood had died.

“Good riddance,” Tobin had scoffed, and gestured for a liveried footman to fill his wineglass.

“He left no heir, you know,” Charity had said.

Tobin had shrugged.

“Miss Lily Boudine is now his closest kin, so she has been named countess and inherits the whole of Ashwood.”

That had gained Tobin’s undivided attention. He’d looked up from the goose that graced the Limoges china plates.

“Imagine,” Charity had said as she’d picked up her wineglass, “that she, of all people, should find herself a countess after all these years.”

The news had made Tobin’s blood run cold. He’d thought of the injustices she’d heaped on him with her lie, a lie that still festered in him like a septic wound. And he’d come back to Hadley Green to right that wrong, once and for all.

The memories kept Tobin so lost in thought that he didn’t realize where he was until Tiber Park rose up majestically before him. He reined up for a long look at the place. It was as he recalled it—a monolith, too big for anyone but a king to maintain, abandoned for the want of cash.

Sometimes it seemed to Tobin that God had all but divined him here. It was a fluke that he should have remembered this place at all, but quite by coincidence, Tobin had hired an Irishman to breed a premier racehorse for him. When his agent had told him that the Irishman would breed the mare at Kitridge Lodge in West Sussex, it had almost been as if the heavens had
set the stage for him. Of course Tobin knew of Kitridge Lodge; his father had worked there when Tobin was a boy. It had reminded Tobin that there were several mansions in West Sussex, and he’d wondered …

As soon as he’d completed the purchase of Tiber Park, work had begun on the estate. He was pleased to see the progress thus far. The white stone had been cleaned of grime and soot, and construction was under way on two new wings that, appended to the existing house, would form a square around the lush gardens. He’d ordered European rugs and furnishings for it, had bought generations of art collections from estate auctions. He’d bartered for Sèvres porcelain fixtures and Gobelins tapestries, and even eighteenth-century French furnishings from a displaced member of the French aristocracy trying desperately to maintain his life of privilege in England. Tobin had ordered orange trees from Spain to fill the orangery, and had retained a head gardener who subscribed to the philosophy and techniques of the late but notable Capability Brown. No expense would be spared in building Tiber Park into the jewel of West Sussex.

As the power of the Ashwood wealth and name had destroyed his family fifteen years ago, Tobin would use the power of his wealth and name to destroy Ashwood and its new countess, Lily Boudine.



Autumn 1808

gust of wind rattled the windows of Ashwood. Lily glanced up from the mess she’d made of the wall in the salon to see autumn leaves scudding past the window in small clusters of red and gold. Dark clouds were accumulating on the horizon, seeping in over the golden landscape. Lily could hear Linford, the old Ashwood butler, shouting at the chambermaids to close the windows ahead of the rain that would surely fall.

He might shut the windows, but he couldn’t stop the leaks around the old window frames. Or patch this hole she’d made. In a moment of mad frustration, Lily had taken it upon herself to remove the wallpapering. It had begun with a frayed corner, and she’d seen paneling beneath it and she’d thought, how difficult can it be to remove the paper? She’d ripped off a strip. And then another. And several more with varying degrees
of success. It seemed that the paste held quite well in some places, and not in others.

Her inability to do something as simple as remove the papering made her anger soar. She wished the rain would fall so hard that it washed away Tiber Park. She pictured it; the grand Georgian estate sweeping down the river, colliding with the construction of Tiber Park’s new mill, and both being churned to pieces.

“Have a care in your wishing, lass,” she muttered, and gave the paper a hearty tug. Two small pieces came off in her hands. “Blasted wall!” Given her luck of late, it was far more likely that Ashwood would wash away. In fact, she was rather surprised that Tobin Scott hadn’t ordered it up. Oh, what delight he’d take in seeing Ashwood wash away and Lily Boudine turning head over heels down the river with it!

With a sigh, she let the torn paper flutter onto the pile she’d made as Linford hobbled in.

“Oh dear, does your knee pain you, Linford?” Lily asked.

“A bit,” the old man agreed with a slight grimace. “Foul weather is coming. Mr. Fish has come, mu’um. I took the liberty of ringing for tea.”

They might be poor, but they were quite rich when it came to decorum. “Thank you. Please ask Mr. Fish to come in.”

A moment later, a stern-looking Mr. Fish, who stood two inches shorter than Lily in his boots, entered. He
slowed his efficient step when he saw the mess Lily had made and gave her a questioning look.

With the back of her hand, Lily pushed a dark lock of hair from her brow. “You look rather glum, sir.”

His frown deepened. “Five tenants have notified the estate that they intend to farm greener pastures.”

Lily’s pulse ratcheted. She folded her arms. “I suppose you mean Tiber Park.”


There was no end to it! Since she’d come back to Hadley Green, Lily had suffered through a slew of letters, all from Mr. Sibley on behalf of Tiber Park, all demanding one thing or another. One letter informed her that Tobin had offered her tenants a lucrative share of the harvested crop at Tiber Park in exchange for their tenancy. Another letter reported that he’d lured men away from the mill she was building at Ashwood in the hopes of generating some income, to build his bigger and better mill upstream. She’d lost three footmen to Tiber Park, as well as a groom.

And of course, there was the one hundred of her most profitable acres, against which he’d filed a suit, claiming they rightfully belonged to Tiber Park. Mr. Fish and Mr. Goodwin, Ashwood’s solicitor, had assured Lily that he would be successful in his suit, and that at a hearing on the morrow, Eberlin—
Honestly, not Tobin Scott, but
Count Eberlin
of all things!—would receive the acreage, all because of some
arcane, ridiculous glitch in the laws of inheritance and entailments.

Lily had argued that her standing as the new,
countess of Ashwood might work in her favor. The estate and titles had been ordained by none other than King Henry VIII himself, when, in giving the gift of Ashwood to the first earl, had set out the permissions of inheritance: to wit, any heir, male or female, had title to the land that was Ashwood, and claim to the title! Any
heir, any
heir, any heir at all!

But Tobin had found some tiny keyhole in the law that allowed him to take her acreage. “It would take a miracle of biblical proportions for the ruling to go in your favor, I fear,” Mr. Goodwin had said apologetically.

And now five tenants were leaving.

“What did he offer?” Lily asked.

“I cannot say precisely,” Mr. Fish said. “But apparently, new cottages have been constructed and fields that have lain fallow for years have been harrowed. They will sow them in the spring.”

Honestly, if Lily had had a cannon, she’d have pointed the thing at Tiber Park and lit it herself. “Which tenants?”

“The Peterman family. There are five crofters with that name, all related by marriage, all farming on the east end, and all convinced of the prosperity at Tiber Park,” Mr. Fish said.

The east end was the opposite end of the one hundred acres and, naturally, the next most productive, profitable bit of land at Ashwood. “He is awfully determined, is he not?” she snapped as Linford hobbled lopsidedly into the room carrying a tea service. “As if destroying Ashwood will bring his father back,” she added angrily. She whirled around to the window.

“As we have discussed, you are suffering from years of poor fiscal management here at Ashwood, and he is a master at preying on estates such as this. And yet, there is more,” Mr. Fish said.

“More!” she exclaimed and turned around.

Mr. Fish looked thoughtfully at his hand. He squared his shoulders.

“What is it, Mr. Fish?” Lily prodded him. “Please speak plainly, as I find myself desperately short on patience today.”

Mr. Fish cleared his throat. “I have been studying our ledgers. My fear is that if we do not stabilize the income of Ashwood over the winter, we stand to be bankrupt by summer.”

Lily could feel her blood rush from her face. “You must explain what that means.”

“That we’d go the way of some other estates. That is to say, sold in parcels to satisfy creditors. The house turned into a museum. Your title . . .” He glanced at Lily. “The title stays with the estate, of course.”

Lily couldn’t bring herself to speak for a moment. Her mind was full of conflicting, jumbled thoughts.
“That is his plan, isn’t it? He intends to see us parceled out.” She began to pace, her mind racing, trying to think of something, anything, they might do. “We must do whatever it takes to avoid it,” she said to Mr. Fish. “Have you any idea how we might do that?”

“A few,” he said. “First, we must conserve cash. We will look for any way that we might profit as we sow our winter crops. But Lady Ashwood, we cannot sow without crofters.”

“Perhaps we might reduce the rents to attract them,” she suggested. “Or sell things. Furnishings. Anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.”

“I daresay it will take more than a few furnishings to save the estate.”

There was something else that might save them: the missing jewels, wherever they were, but no one had managed to find them in fifteen years.

“I have one suggestion,” Mr. Fish said, and surprisingly, his cheeks colored.

Lily paused in her pacing and looked at him curiously. “What suggestion?”

“You might actively seek a husband.”

Lily’s brows shot up.

“Madam, forgive me,” he said quickly, “but the original decree states that any female heir must marry a titled man or forfeit the estate and title upon her death.” At Lily’s look of surprise, he explained, “It was a way of protecting the property. No . . . ruffian could seduce his way into this holding. Your estate is your
dower. You simply choose a titled man who is not entailed to his neck and has cash.”

BOOK: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin
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