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Authors: Julia London

Tags: #Historical romance, #Fiction

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BOOK: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin
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“That is not precisely the way I intend to go about gaining a husband, Mr. Fish. And I daresay it is not as easy as that. To begin, after Keira’s disastrous turn here, I am hardly in high demand in society.”

Mr. Fish looked at his hands again. He cleared his throat once more. His cheeks were quite dark now. “Madam, forgive me for being forward, but I rather think any man worth his salt would fall in love with you given the slightest encouragement.”

Lily blinked.

“And the ladies in Hadley Green are very fond of matchmaking. Lady Horncastle in particular has connections in London. I am certain she would very much enjoy helping you.” He glanced up.

Lily gaped at him. Mr. Fish was a very clever man indeed. He’d devised a way she might kill two birds with one stone.

“At the very least, you might think on it,” he said.

“Yes,” Lily said, eyeing him closely. “I will think on it. However, I have a different suggestion.”

“Oh?” Mr. Fish asked, looking quite hopeful.

“We find ourselves in hemorrhaging cash because of
him,
do we not?”

“Yes, in part.”

Lily smiled a little crookedly. “Then if we knew what he intended to do before he did it, we might be able to take steps to prevent it.”

Mr. Fish looked confused. “Pardon?”

“Think of it, Mr. Fish,” she said, moving closer. “If we’d known of his offer to the Peterman family before he’d made it, we might have offered them something more attractive. Perhaps a larger share in the yields, for example.”

Mr. Fish’s look of surprise slowly melted into an indulging smile. “But madam . . . how could we possibly know what he intends to do before he does it?”

This part of her plan was a bit tricky. But Lily smiled right back, as if she had it all charted out. “It so happens that on Wednesday, I went into the village, and Louis—the footman, you know him, do you not?”

Mr. Fish nodded.

“Louis accompanied me. As we were walking across the green, I noticed a young man who looked oddly familiar to me. I said as much, and Louis informed me that the young man was Agatha’s brother.” Her smile widened. “Agatha is a chambermaid here.”

Mr. Fish looked puzzled. “And?”

“And,” she said, trying not to sound too terribly eager, “Agatha’s brother serves Lord Eberlin, and he might be persuaded to relay information to us—”

“Lady Ashwood!”

“We would pay him, of course,” she said quickly.

Mr. Fish gaped at her. “Madam . . . are you suggesting that we
spy
on Lord Eberlin?”

“Yes!” Lily cried. “Indeed I am! We must do something before he ruins us!”

“But if you were caught—”

“If,”
Lily said.

Mr. Fish blinked once. And then again. “I cannot advise it,” he said sternly, shaking his head and looking quite appalled.

Lily shrugged. “Unfortunately . . . it might be too late.” She smiled sheepishly. “I may have suggested to Louis . . .”

“Ah, for the love of heaven,” Mr. Fish muttered, and in an uncharacteristic lapse of decorum, he sank onto a chair.

“Now, now, Mr. Fish. It is not as dire as you think,” Lily assured him, taking a seat across from him to tell him what she’d done.

And when Mr. Fish left for the day—not the least bit pleased with her plan, and really, with his head hanging a bit—Lily reasoned that he was not entirely wrong in his objections. She would never have believed herself capable of such machinations and trickery.

But then, she had never run across the likes of Tobin Scott before.

Tobin Scott.
She remembered a fair-haired, serious boy who had not been quick to smile, but when he had, it had been warm and easy. Nothing that she could recall indicated that boy would have grown into this man. Tobin Scott
despised
her. Perhaps even wished her dead. He hated her so much that he’d come back here to see her and Ashwood destroyed.

That was where Lily differed from him—she would never have come back here if she’d not been forced to.

She abruptly stood and walked to the windows. She folded her arms tightly across her against the chill she could feel through the panes and watched the trees in the park behind the mansion dance in the wind. She could see Mr. Bevers, her gamekeeper, at the lake, struggling to cast his line for fish. She could feel his struggle; she felt as if she was struggling every day, trying to cast her line, to find where or what she was supposed to be in this new life of hers.

When she thought of all that had happened in the last year, it made her head ache. This—what, adventure? . . . punishment? . . . dream?—had all begun several months ago, as Lily had been preparing for a long-awaited trip to Italy. She’d been in Ireland, at the home of the Hannigans, on whose charity Lily had lived since she was eight years old. She’d arranged to be the paid companion of Mrs. Canavan, who’d been traveling to Italy in the company of her very handsome son, Conor Canavan. Lily had had precious little else on her mind than a prolonged flirtation with Conor and perhaps some Italian gentlemen, and seeing the art and architecture of Italy.

Then the bloody letter had come to Ireland, announcing that she was the only surviving heir of Lord and Lady Ashwood, and as such, she’d inherited the estate of Ashwood, as well as the title of countess.

Lily had been stunned. Astounded! To think that she, of all people, was a countess! She wasn’t even blood kin to the old earl. Eighteen years ago, when she’d been all of five years old, her parents had died of a fever and someone had shipped her—an unwanted orphan—to one of her mother’s sisters, Althea Kent, the Countess of Ashwood. Aunt Althea had legally adopted Lily at some point, but Lily had been at Ashwood only three years before she’d been shipped off to Ireland and her aunt Lenore, all because she’d had the misfortune to see Joseph Scott riding away from Ashwood late one rainy night.

“Would that I’d gone to bed that night as I ought to have done,” she muttered morosely. She turned from the window and walked to the settee, sitting heavily, her head resting against the back, one arm draped across her middle. She stared up at the cherubs painted on the ceiling. They were looking at her, their fat little arms outstretched, their little sausages of fingers pointing at her.

Lily had such wretched memories of what had followed after that rainy night—the accusations, the trial. The hanging. She’d been sent away from her beloved aunt Althea, who had drowned accidentally in the lake shortly thereafter.

To find out fifteen years later that this estate, and all the awful memories of that summer, were now hers had been almost more than Lily could absorb. So she had begged her cousin Keira—bold, unpredictable Keira,
who was more of a sister than a cousin—to come to Ashwood and tend to whatever needed tending, while Lily went to Italy as she’d planned and tried to prepare herself to return to a place of dark memories.

It had seemed so easy! But Ashwood had been a distant clap of thunder in her mind, slowly moving closer until she’d no longer been able to ignore the storm.

Her journey back to England and Ashwood had been quite hard. They’d sailed through weather so foul that Lily had been certain she would die. Omens, surely, for when she’d arrived, she’d walked into disaster. She’d discovered that Keira had not merely tended to Ashwood’s affairs as Lily had asked but had actually
become
her. Lily and Keira resembled each other enough that when Keira had come to Ashwood, everyone had believed her to be Lily, and Keira had not taken steps to correct their misunderstanding. The foolish girl had assumed Lily’s identity, had signed her name, had been feted around Hadley Green! As if that hadn’t been enough, Keira, who had a good heart beneath all her impetuosity, had taken in the orphan Lucy Taft and tucked her firmly under her wing.

A maelstrom of scandal had followed, for when Lily had arrived, those who had known her as a child had been able to see that they’d made a mistake and had realized they’d been duped. Because of Tobin Scott, authorities had been summoned and Keira had had to flee.

Lily had been left alone to deal with the consequences. She’d walked the halls of Ashwood to see for herself the disrepair, trying to piece together memories as she’d gone. The mansion had once seemed like a palace to her: the fine woodworking of the moldings and wainscoting, the soaring, painted ceilings, the deep windows and brocade draperies, fine English furnishings, Aubusson rugs, Sevres china. Every corridor of the three-story home had been a different adventure, every one of them uniquely furnished with paintings and hothouse flowers and thick carpets.

It was no longer a place of opulence; one had only to look closely to see the ravages of time. The salon, for example, painted green with gold trim, boasted a ceiling with an elaborate scene from heaven. But there was a crack in the wall above one of the deep windows, and the spots where the carpet had been worn down were covered with small tables. Her writing table was propped up with a book beneath one leg.

Yet in every room, fragments of memory came floating back like little snowflakes, landing softly in her, waking sights and smells and sighs that had been buried for many years. Her aunt, whispering to Mr. Scott, the two of them chuckling together. She remembered Aunt Althea’s smile for Mr. Scott, the way she would touch his arm, her fingers touching his. Little things an eight-year-old girl would have never paid much heed but a grown woman saw differently.

And in those early, confusing days after her return to Ashwood, as Lily had tried to sort through her memories and the reality of her new station in life, she’d met the mysterious Count Eberlin.

She’d felt trepidation and anger when Linford had presented her with Eberlin’s calling card. He’d been completely wretched to Keira with the one hundred acres and the mill, and it was he who had summoned the authorities when he’d guessed that Keira was not who she’d claimed to be. Lily could recall thinking tempestuously that afternoon that she would demand to know why he seemed so determined to harm Ashwood and her cousin.

She had expected an older man. Someone small in stature, rotund, with an ugly countenance—in short, someone like the old earl of Ashwood. She’d been completely taken aback by the tall, proud man who’d stridden into the salon. He was handsome, quite strikingly so. He had piercing brown eyes the color of molasses, and wavy, honey-colored hair, with streaks of wheat. Solidly built, with square shoulders and a strong jaw, he was impeccably dressed and carried an aura of power about him, as if he could scoop Ashwood and take it if he so desired.

There also had been something vaguely familiar about him, something that Lily hadn’t quite been able to grasp as he’d come forward to greet her. His voice had been quiet and smooth, and he’d spoken with a
slight accent that had sounded neither English nor European. When she’d inquired as to the nature of his call, he’d looked at her intently, and Lily had been able to feel the heat of his recrimination down to the tips of her toes. “I thought it was time,” he’d said.

“Time?” She’d wondered if he was mad. “Time for what?”

One of his dark brows had risen. “Is it not obvious?”

She’d thought he was toying with her. “On the contrary, my lord, there is nothing obvious about your call or the ill will you hold for Ashwood.” She’d meant to put the man on notice that he spoke to a countess.

But Eberlin had disregarded her regal bearing. He’d disregarded protocol and propriety, too, and had moved closer, studying her face so intently that Lily’s pulse had fluttered.

“You are as beautiful as I knew you would be,” he’d said, shocking her again. Lily’s pulse had quickly gone from fluttering to racing. She’d been able to feel the raw power of seduction in him as his gaze had lingered on her décolletage, on her mouth. “Perhaps even more so.”

Men had flirted with Lily all her adult life, but she’d never felt so . . . exposed, or quite so vulnerable. “I beg your pardon,” she’d said stiffly.

Something had flickered in his eyes, but they’d quickly shuttered. “Do you truly not know who I am?”

A tiny spasm of trepidation had slithered through her.

“Perhaps this will stir your memory. My name is Tobin. Do you recall me now?”

Lily had seen it then, that vaguely familiar thing. It was the face of the boy who had been her companion. She’d not seen him since the day of his father’s trial, when he’d stared daggers at her as she’d testified about what she’d seen.
“Tobin,”
she’d whispered as her brain accepted that the boy was now this handsome, strangely alluring man. “I can scarcely believe it is you.”

“Surprised, are you?” His gaze had turned hard and cold.

“Yes,” she’d answered honestly. “I never knew . . . I never knew where you’d gone. And your name, Eberlin—”

“A title that derives from an estate I own in Denmark.”

“Denmark? But how—”

“I have returned to Hadley Green and Tiber Park with but one goal in mind,” he’d said, interrupting her. “Would you like to know what that is?” With a cold smile, Tobin had carelessly, boldly, caressed her cheek with his knuckle, tracing a line to her mouth. “To destroy Ashwood.” He’d said it low, almost as if he were speaking to a lover.

Lily had gasped and jerked away from his hand.

“I’ll not rest until I have.” With that, he’d walked out of her salon, leaving Lily to stand there, her heart beating with the strength of a thousand wings.

Every time she thought of that afternoon, she felt a strange flutter. He clearly held her responsible in some part for his father’s demise, but she was not going to accept that from him. She had her own demons—she did not intend to adopt his as well.

Nor did she intend to let him win.

THREE

BOOK: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin
4.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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