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Диксон Хелен

The Property of a Gentleman

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«The Property of a Gentleman» - Хелен Диксон

SHE WAS NO MAN'S PROPERTY!To the dismay of his daughter Eve, Lord Somerville bequeathed his property to his business partner, Marcus Fitzalan. However, Marcus will only inherit it on one condition–he must marry Eve. Eve can hardly believe her father has sold her into the arms of a man she despises, a man who ruined her reputation three years ago! But the attraction between Eve and Marcus cannot be denied, and soon Marcus convinces Eve to agree to a marriage of convenience for the sake of the inheritance. Will their marriage-in-name-only ever blossom to one of love?
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“We cannot leave matters like this,” Marcus commanded.

“We cannot leave matters like this,” Marcus commanded.

“This has come as a shock to you, I can see,” he said.

“Yes, I am shocked and disappointed. I cannot imagine what prompted my father to do this,” she said, trying to keep a stranglehold on her emotions. “The last thing I want right now, Mr. Fitzalan, is a husband—and when I do I would prefer to choose my own.”

“And I have no more need of a wife than you a husband, Miss Somerville.” His voice carried anger. “However, if we want to hold on to the mine, then we have no choice but to heed your father’s wishes and make the best of it.”

“How do you know what it is I want? How can you possibly know? Marriage to me is important, and it is hardly flattering to know you would only be marrying me for what I could bring, Mr. Fitzalan.”

“The same could be said of yourself, Miss Somerville.”

The Property of a Gentleman

Helen Dickson


was born and still lives in south Yorkshire, with her husband, on a busy arable farm where she combines writing with keeping a chaotic farmhouse. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure, owing much of her inspiration to the beauty of the surrounding countryside. She enjoys reading and music. History has always captivated her, and she likes travel and visiting ancient buildings.


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter One


B orn into the private establishment of privilege and exclusivity, Eve Somerville was every bit as beautiful as she was rich.

She was passionate and feckless and subject to all the moods and contradictions of a high-spirited girl. The only daughter of parents who adored her and cosseted and indulged her every whim, she knew exactly what the future would be. She would marry well and be happy and secure for the rest of her life.

But when she was seventeen years old she discovered that nothing is that certain, for when her mother died from consumption, her father was also struck down by a terrible illness—the doctors he consulted telling him he could not hope to live beyond the next three years. Sadly, he did not even have that because he was killed in a carriage accident shortly after Eve’s twentieth birthday.

The funeral of Sir John Somerville was attended by a few distant relatives, friends and acquaintances, having come from north and south, east and west to the steadily thriving, coalmining market town of Atwood in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a manor in the ancient and extensive parish of Leeds. It was attractively situated in an area of contrasts, with beautiful hills and valleys lying between Atwood and the pleasant and equally prosperous market town of Netherley five miles to the north.

The narrow, tree-shaded lane from Burntwood Hall to the church, set away from the town and adjacent to the grounds of the great house, with its beautiful slender cream spire soaring high above the trees, was fringed with a silent line of estate workers and coal miners alike—men and women who, like their ancestors before them, had helped make the Somervilles what they were today.

The estate, which, unfortunately for Eve, was entailed in default of male heirs—the next in line being a cousin of her father’s, Gerald Somerville—was causing some speculation as to what would happen to it when the new owner took up residence, and to Eve, although it was certain she would be well taken care of.

The cortège was quite magnificent: the elegant carriages carrying the many mourners leaving Burntwood Hall, the splendour of the black hearse which was drawn by six plumed black horses with their coats highly polished, carrying Sir John Somerville’s coffin, depicting everything he had attained in life.

Shrouded in black silk with a black lace veil attached to her bonnet and covering her pale face, Eve sat beside her maternal grandmother, the formidable Lady Abigail Pemberton, both in the carriage and in the church, taking strength from the older woman’s stiff, straightbacked figure, whose gloved hand clutched the gold knob of her walking cane so hard that her knuckles stood out sharply.

Her face behind her veil was grim, her thin mouth pressed in a hard line as she looked straight ahead, giving no indication of her thoughts or emotions, for she had been brought up in an age and society that had taught her it was not done to show one’s feelings in public, not even grief for the death of a dear son-in-law. Eve accepted the condolences of those who came to pay their respects graciously, sadly contemplating on what her future would be like without her father.

When the funeral was over they returned to Burntwood Hall, a large, stately Tudor manor house set in a wooded hamlet on the south side of Atwood, a prosperous and populous township where the Somervilles had lived from the sixteenth century. The mining of coal was anciently established in the area, the Somervilles one of several families dominating its production.

Apart from Mr Alex Soames, Eve’s father’s lawyer, sitting at the big, highly polished table, his elderly grey head bowed over her father’s last will and testament, few people were present for the reading, just a few important members of the household, Gerald Somerville, her grandmother and herself—and Mr Marcus Fitzalan from Netherley.

Marcus Fitzalan was tall and lean with strong muscled shoulders. His sharp, distinguished good looks and bearing demanded a second look—and, indeed, with his reputation for being an astute businessman with an inbred iron toughness, he was not a man who could be ignored. There was an authoritative, brisk, no-nonsense air about him and he had an easy, confident way of moving and a haughty way of holding his head. His hair, thick and jet black, was brushed back from his forehead, his cheek bones high and angular, making his face look severe.

Thirty years old, he was a striking-looking man with an enormous presence—a man Eve had met three years ago and had not seen since. It was an encounter which had been most unpleasant, one she did not wish to recall, for anger and the humiliation she had suffered at his hands still festered like a raw wound deep inside her. It was an encounter that had left a stain on her reputation and lost her the man she might have married.

From the moment Eve had seen Marcus Fitzalan in the church she had been unprepared for the uncontrollable tremor that shot through her. During the three years since she had last laid eyes on him, she thought she had remembered exactly what he looked like, but now she realised she was mistaken as her eyes refused to tear themselves away from the sheer male beauty of him.

He seemed to radiate a compelling magnetism, everything about him exuding a ruthless sensuality. He had a straight, aquiline nose which suggested arrogance, and his firm lips, which she knew to her cost, could be cynical or sensuous.

His stark black brows were slashed across his forehead and his eyes were compelling, pale blue and clear. Hidden deep in their depths was humour, but also a watchfulness that made one wary. Eve found it hard to believe this was the same man who had kissed her so seductively and passionately three years ago.

When he had taken his seat across from her at the other side of the church in one of the tall box pews, he seemed to sense her watching him and had turned slowly. As their eyes met his dark brows lifted in bland enquiry. Eve caught her breath and felt heat scorch through her body before hastily looking away, ashamed that his look made her legs begin to quake and her treacherous heart to race, as it had on that other occasion when he had kissed her so devastatingly and sent her young, innocent heart soaring heavenwards.

His presence made her feel uneasy and she did her best to evade him, having no desire to come face to face with the man for whom she felt resentment heavy in her breast.

But her grandmother, always keen to meet the local gentry and, unlike her granddaughter, impressed by Mr Fitzalan’s importance and air of distinction, lost no time in acquainting herself once they were back at the house. She made sure that her granddaughter was introduced afterwards, ignorant of the fact that he was the man responsible for her ruin and disgrace, even though her father had packed Eve off to Cumbria to stay with her immediately after the unfortunate affair, the explanation being that a visit to her grandmother was long overdue.

Fortunately, her reputation had not been ruined beyond recall, the incident had soon passed over and she had returned home, but Marcus Fitzalan’s conduct towards her had left her with a deep sense of loathing and bitter humiliation.

He had left for a lengthy stay in London the following day, blissfully unaware of the furore he had left behind, thinking her nothing more than a promiscuous little flirt whom he had taught a harsh, yet valuable, lesson in life, and she had been too proud to let him think anything else—and it was that same pride that refused to let him see how deeply his callous behaviour towards her had hurt her.

‘Let me take you over to meet Mr Fitzalan, Eve. I find it difficult to believe you have never been properly introduced, considering he and your father were such good friends and partners in several business concerns,’ said her grandmother.

Panic gripped Eve as her grandmother began steering her in Mr Fitzalan’s direction. ‘I would really rather not, Grandmother. Besides—see—he is engaged in conversation with Mr and Mrs Lister. I would not wish to interrupt.’

Unfortunately, her grandmother was not to be put off. ‘Nonsense, Eve. Come along. Mr Fitzalan will not eat you, you know.’

Marcus turned as they approached, Mr and Mrs Lister moving on to speak to someone else. With Eve’s veil turned back over her bonnet, Marcus was able to look down into her white face, framed by hair of sable blackness, and their eyes met, frozen by time and memory. He thought how young she looked, more beautiful than he remembered, and he noticed how her soft lips trembled as she tilted her head back a little to look up at him.

With a warmth flooding and throbbing through his veins he remembered how it had felt to hold her, how soft and yielding her lips had been when she had kissed him with such tender passion, and how her body had moulded itself innocently into his own. He was seized by the same uncontrollable compulsion to repeat the pleasurable incident that had left a deep and lasting impression on him three years ago when she had sought him out at Atwood Fair.

A poignant memory came back to him of that time, of a bewitchingly beautiful young girl who had brazenly approached him and foolishly made an immature and improper attempt to seduce him—he later discovered for some mischievous prank concocted by her and her friends for their own amusement. But it was unfortunate that the man she had hoped to marry had found out about her indiscretion and spurned her because of it.

At the time he had regarded the incident with amusement, remembering how surprised she had been when he had turned the tables on her with an expert subtlety and started to play her at her own game. Because of her inexperience and ignorance of the rules of nature he had soon had her at his mercy. In no time at all she had been unable to prevent herself from becoming his victim—and he retained a poignant memory of how willingly she had melted in his arms.

But the incident had not turned out as either of them had intended, for he had continued to think of her. For a long time afterwards he had been unable to get her out of his mind. She had done something to him, aroused feelings he had not experienced before.

‘Mr Fitzalan, I would like to introduce you to my granddaughter, Eve Somerville—although I have just been saying to her how odd it is that the two of you have not been formaly introduced before, considering your close friendship with Sir John.’

Bowing his dark head slightly, Marcus looked at Eve with a gaze that seemed to look straight into her heart, seeing that her lovely eyes were shuttered, giving no insight as to what her feelings might be. With the exception of a muscle that tightened at the corner of his mouth his expression was impassive, his voice coolly polite when he spoke.

‘On the contrary, Lady Pemberton, we have met briefly, several years ago—although we were not properly introduced at the time,’ he said, without any hint of implications, for he was gravely conscious of the solemnity of the occasion and had no wish to embarrass Eve or cause any constraint between them. But Eve knew exactly to what he was referring. It was a meeting she would prefer to forget and she was angry that he had the audacity to allude to it now.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you again, Miss Somerville,’ he continued. ‘However, had it not been for your father’s untimely death, I believe he was about to bring you over to Brooklands shortly,’ he told her, referring to his home. Taking her hand, he felt it tremble slightly. ‘May I offer you my condolences. What happened to your father was a tragedy. He will be sadly missed.’

With cool disdain she lifted her chin and smiled politely, trying to ignore the tightness at the base of her throat. ‘Thank you.’

‘Your grandmother has only recently returned from London, I believe,’ he said by way of conversation, as the aforesaid lady turned to speak to an acquaintance.

‘Yes,’ she replied stiffly, wishing he would go away and speak to someone else—anyone, just so long as she did not have to suffer his odious presence.

‘She has been visiting my Aunt Shona—my mother’s sister who lives in Bloomsbury with her family. She is travelling back to her home in Cumbria and thought she would break her journey to spend some time with me and my father here at Burntwood Hall. Sadly, it has not turned out as she expected. I am only thankful she arrived to see my father before the terrible accident happened.’

‘I am surprised you did not travel with her to London to visit your aunt.’

‘Had my father been in better health I might have—but as it was I did not wish to be away from home in—in case…’

‘I understand,’ he said quietly when she faltered, her tight façade of dignity slipping slightly, and for a brief moment she looked like a forlorn child. ‘Your father spoke of you often. Indeed, he told me so much about you that I feel I have known you all my life.’

‘Really!’ she retorted crisply, the shutters up once more. ‘You surprise me, Mr Fitzalan. So much of my father’s time was spent away from home, despite his illness, that I am flattered to learn he could find the time even to think of me, let alone to discuss me with a total stranger.’

‘Your father and I were hardly strangers, Miss Somerville. And,’ he said with a gentle lift to his eyebrows, holding her gaze steadily, ‘neither are we, come to think of it.’

‘Despite what took place between us on our previous encounter you are to me,’ Eve replied directly, her voice cool, finding it difficult to conceal her dislike. ‘However, when he was at home it may interest you to know that he always spoke of you a great deal, too, Mr Fitzalan,’ she said pointedly. ‘In fact, there was never a day went by when he did not sing your praises.’ Her voice held a faint trace of sarcasm and was cold, which she knew was reflected in her eyes.

‘I myself would hardly deem our meeting a pleasure,’ she continued, the impressionable, ignorant girl she had been when he had last seen her having fled away, although the remembrance of their encounter and the resulting chaos knifed through her as it had then.

Marcus frowned. ‘What happened between us was a long time ago. Surely now—especially at this time with your father so recently laid to rest—we can at least be friends.’

‘I doubt we can be friends now or in the future, Mr Fitzalan. After today it is most unlikely that our paths will cross again.’

His eyes became probing, penetrating hers like dagger thrusts, his face a hard, expressionless mask. ‘Don’t be too sure about that, Miss Somerville,’ he said quietly. ‘Atwood and Netherley are not so far apart—and your father and I were business partners as well as friends. I would say it is inevitable that we meet at some social event or other.’

‘We do not mix in the same society, Mr Fitzalan, but if we do chance to meet you will forgive me if I seem to avoid you.’

‘Come now, you were not so ill disposed towards me the last time we met,’ he said, his tone silky, easy, his eyes regarding her with fascinated amusement. ‘In fact, you were rather amiable, as I remember.’

‘You remember too much,’ Eve snapped, two sparks of anger showing briefly beneath her lowered lids. ‘It was an incident which I have had cause to reproach myself for many times.’

Undeterred by her show of anger Marcus chuckled softly, a glint of white teeth showing from between his parted lips. ‘I recall how you went off in an extremely disagreeable mood.’

‘I am still disagreeable and will remain so while ever I am in your company, Mr Fitzalan. Now you must excuse me. There are several people I must speak to before they depart.’

Before Marcus could reply and uncaring that her words might have given offence, Eve turned from him, seeing her friend Emma Parkinson moving towards her. Quickly she moved on, leaving her grandmother to carry on the conversation, determined not to give Mr Fitzalan another thought.

But it was not possible for her to dismiss a man of Marcus Fitzalan’s calibre from her mind—in fact, she thought with bitter irony, she doubted that anyone would be able to. Once met, he was not the kind of man who could be forgotten. When he had taken her hand he had kept it far too long in his hard grasp for her liking, and the fact that she had to look up at him had annoyed her, causing fresh resentment to flare up inside her, but she had been unable to take her eyes off his handsome features, which had caused him to arch his clearly defined eyebrows and a half-smile to curve his infuriatingly arrogant lips.

When he spoke, his voice was of a depth and timbre that was like a caress, causing a faint stroke of colour to sweep over her creamy skin, bringing a smile to his lips, for he knew exactly the effect he was having on her.

Despite the solemnity of the occasion, as she moved among the mourners who congregated at Burntwood Hall after the funeral, she was conscious of Marcus Fitzalan’s presence throughout, becoming annoyed with herself as she found her eyes unconsciously seeking him out, and she would find herself studying him when she thought he was not looking. But several times their eyes would meet and he made no attempt to hide the gleam of interest that entered his eyes as she felt herself undergoing the selfsame scrutiny.

Eve was not used to men of the world like Marcus Fitzalan, and for the first time in her life realised she was in danger of stepping out of her depth. He had a reputation as being one for the ladies, although he was always discreet in his affairs. By all accounts he was arrogant, conceited and ruthless—in fact, he was everything Eve hated. She had every reason to dislike him and, seeing him again for the first time in three years, she was determined that nothing would sway her from her opinion.

Waiting for Mr Soames to begin reading the will, Eve could feel Marcus’s eyes on her yet again, vibrant, alarmingly alive, assessing her in a way she found offensive as he stood by the window, looking for all the world as if he owned the place.

He was a neighbour and an associate in several of her father’s business concerns, a man her father had been extremely fond of, as well as being a wealthy land and mine owner in his own right, so there was nothing unusual about his presence for the reading of the will.

The Fitzalans had had to struggle to achieve prosperity as opposed to the Somervilles, who were rich not only in wealth but also in lineage. Marcus’s grandfather had been an astute, self-made man, seizing on the opportunities to be achieved by the mining of coal, knowing it was fuel for a whole range of industrial processes and for the new generation of industrial workers—and also knowing there was no shortage of it beneath the soil of Britain.

Reaching some degree of financial ability, he had bought fifty acres of land adjacent to the Somerville estate and opened his own mine—Atwood Mine. Coal had enabled him to sink more mines and given him the means to build Brooklands—a house to be envied and admired—but after a series of serious mishaps Atwood Mine had fallen into the hands of John Somerville.

Marcus’s handsome eyes raked the face of the girl sitting primly at the table across the room without her bonnet. His eyes dwelt on her hair, as ebony black and shiny like his own, her eyebrows arched and sleek, her neck rising graceful and swanlike from her slender shoulders. There was a creamy smoothness to her skin with a soft blush on her angular cheeks, giving a slant to her large and mysterious violet-coloured eyes that held his like magnets. Her lips were luscious, her chin pert with a stubborn thrust, and all these attractive features were encompassed in a perfect, heart-shaped face.

She was beautiful, slim and vibrant, the gentle curve of her young breasts straining beneath the bodice of her black dress. She still had the looks of a child, but there was something bold and defiant in the way her eyes locked on to his, which told him she was no innocent and that she possessed a spirit as strong and rebellious as his own, giving him the feeling that in this seemingly fragile girl he might have met his match.

After Mr Soames had read out the generous bequests Sir John Somerville had made to his loyal retainers and they had quietly left the room, everyone waited for him to continue as he licked his lips nervously, focusing his gaze on Eve.

With growing impatience Gerald Somerville was sitting with bated breath for Sir John’s will to be read out, finding it difficult to control his excitement. It was like finding a treasure chest just waiting to be opened. His hooded eyes were transfixed on Mr Soames, knowing he was about to inherit the title and complete control over his cousin’s property, which would elevate him at last from the penury and insecurity that had bedevilled him for far too long. It was a moment he had waited for, a moment which had come sooner rather than later owing to the tragic, but fortuitous, carriage accident which had killed Sir John.

Always the poor relation, all his life Gerald had hated poverty and dreamed of being rich and enjoying all that money could buy. He had loathed his respectable home and his parents’ dull existence. Aware that he was heir to Sir John’s estate he was impatient, knowing that it could be years before he came into his inheritance, but on learning of his cousin’s increasing ill health he had quietly rubbed his hands with hopeful anticipation, suspecting he would not have too long to wait after all. He bided his time, enjoying the adventures and excitement in the gaming rooms of London, which had become his haunts on the death of his parents, seeing gambling as a chance to become rich and powerful, which he craved.

‘What I am about to disclose will come as something of a shock, Eve, and you must understand that the will was written at a very difficult time of your father’s life,’ said Mr Soames gently, looking at her in a kind and sympathetic way, having known her from birth.

Her parents had spoilt and cosseted her to excess from the moment she was born, sheltering and allowing her to go her own wilful way—until three years ago, when, by her own foolishness, she had suffered a lapse from grace and her mother had died, causing her much grief. Her sorrow had increased in intensity when Sir John had become ill soon afterwards with a cancer that had slowly begun to eat its way through his wretched body.

Sitting perched on the edge of her seat as if her backbone was made of hard steel, Eve tried to fight off her growing alarm. Until now she had believed that the reading of the will was to be a mere formality, confident that she knew exactly what it contained and having no reason to be concerned—that even though the estate was in entailment and that no part of it could be sold to provide for her, her father would have seen to it that she would be well taken care of.

But suddenly she felt herself grow tense and anxious, sensing instinctively by the tone of Mr Soames’s voice that all was not as it should be. Her throat went dry and she spoke with difficulty.

‘A shock? But why should it be a shock? What precisely do you mean, Mr Soames? My father has left me well taken care of, hasn’t he?’

‘Yes—that is so, but it may not be what you are expecting.’ He focused his eyes on Gerald, who was watching him intently, every muscle in his face tense. ‘The entire estate—that is, the land, the house and other properties—both here and in London, are to go to you, sir.’

Eve waited, going colder by the second, trying not to look at Gerald as he tried to conceal his triumph, knowing there was little left to come her way but expecting her father to have made a substantial sum over to her.

‘You, Eve,’ Mr Soames went on, shifting his gaze once more to her, ‘are to receive an annuity in the sum of two thousand pounds a year.’

When he fell silent she waited in expectant anticipation, expecting him to continue, to tell her there was more, until she realised there was nothing more. Her heart rose up to choke her and she stared at him in absolute confusion and astonishment.

‘But—but that’s not possible. There must be some mistake. There has to be. My father’s assets—he—he was an extremely wealthy man. It has to be more than this.’

‘There is no mistake,’ he said quietly, his voice penetrating the mist of Eve’s bemused senses. ‘His main assets are private matters and have nothing to do with the estate—namely, his shares in several coal mines and interests in various industrial concerns and so forth, several of them in which he and Mr Fitzalan were partners and which he made over to him before he died.’

All the colour drained out of Eve’s face and her hand rose and clasped the collar of her black mourning dress. She was stunned, unable to believe what he had told her. A silence fell upon the room which seemed to last an age, the small assembly around her becoming shadowy, faceless figures, all staring at her, until Gerald, acknowledging his good fortune in inheriting the estate—and yet beginning to feel a trifle perplexed that not all Sir John’s property had passed on to him as he had expected it would—began talking animatedly to Mr Soames about what it would mean to him, with little regard for the pain and disappointment that was tearing Eve apart.

The still, quiet figure of Lady Pemberton sat rigidly on her chair towards the back of the room, neither shock nor surprise disturbing the marble severity of her face, but her eyes and ears missed nothing. Only the hand cupping the gold knob of her cane gave any indication of the way she felt, for it gripped the knob hard, so hard that her knuckle bones nearly punctured the thin white skin covering them.

Only Marcus seemed to be aware of the pain Eve was suffering. She was young and unable to deal with the dilemma in which she found herself. As he looked at her his gaze was secretive and seemed to probe beneath the surface, but he could see by the terror in her eyes, how her face had become drained of blood and the way her fingers clutched her throat, that this unexpected blow from her father had hit her hard.

From what Sir John had told him he knew she was a strong-minded girl who would know how to take care of herself well enough, but it was only a girl who was behind the artificial ageing of bereavement, and it would not be easy for her to get over something like this.

Something in the region of his heart softened and he wanted to go to her and offer some words of comfort, wishing he could erase the sad, stricken look from her face, but he knew by the cold hostility she had not attempted to conceal when they had been introduced after the funeral, and in her eyes when she looked at him, that by his own fault she would not welcome his sympathy.

‘Is that it? Am I to get nothing else?’ she asked, her voice surprisingly calm, but so quiet Mr Soames had difficulty hearing her. ‘With all his wealth, did my father make no other financial provision for me? Am I to be reduced to such dire straits that I must starve?’

Mr Soames was beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable before Eve’s hard gaze and his eyes wavered as he looked down at the papers in front of him, coughing nervously. ‘No—it is not quite as bad as that.’

‘Then please tell me. And where am I to live?’

‘Perhaps when I have explained everything to you it will be much clearer. Your father did not leave you as destitute as it would seem—for, as you know, he always had your best interests at heart. But there are certain conditions to be adhered to—certain clauses that may seem strange to you.’

‘Conditions? What kind of conditions?’

‘That you and Mr Marcus Fitzalan marry within six months of his death.’

Eve was so stunned she was unable to speak.

‘Should this be agreeable to you both,’ Mr Soames went on hurriedly, wanting to get this unpleasant part of reading the will over and done with as quickly as possible, ‘Atwood Mine—of which your father was the sole owner—will become yours jointly.’

The words came as a shattering blow to Gerald, whose face became as white as his frothing lace cravat, bringing an angry exclamation to his lips and jolting him to his feet, causing all heads to turn in his direction. ‘No, sir. It will not do. This I cannot accept. Atwood Mine is Sir John’s main asset and is surely entailed with the rest of his estate.’

‘That is not the case. Sir John purchased the lease, not the land. As everyone is aware Atwood Mine—which is the largest and most profitable mine in the area—was sunk by Mr Fitzalan’s grandfather and the lease sold by Mrs Fitzalan to Sir John privately on the death of her husband. The lease has another fifteen years to run—with the rent arranged annually on a scale related to the amount of coal mined. You are correct in saying it was Sir John’s greatest asset, and it was his wish that the lease be returned to the Fitzalan family—providing Mr Marcus Fitzalan marries his daughter Eve.’

Eve looked at Gerald properly for the first time that day. Both his parents were dead, and his home, where his younger brother Matthew—a quiet, gentle young man whom she knew well and had a strong liking for—still lived, was three miles from Burntwood Hall, but for most of the time he resided in London and she had not seen him for several months.

He had been a frequent visitor to Burntwood Hall in the past, and both she and her father had shared a very low opinion of him. On his last visit she noticed how changed he was towards her, as if he noticed for the first time that she was no longer a child but a young woman. She hadn’t liked the way he looked at her—too long and too hard, and not in the least like a relation who should know better than to lust after his cousin’s daughter.

Seeing him now, she liked him even less. At one time she had thought him to be as handsome as a Greek god, with hair the colour of spun gold and looks that made every woman he came into contact with swoon and fall at his feet. He was more corpulent than when she had last seen him, but he was a handsome figure still, though soft living and overindulgence had blurred him somewhat and there was a seediness creeping through.

At twenty-eight he had been spoilt by an adoring mother and fawned over and adored by countless women. He thought he had only to wink an eye to have any one of them tumble into his bed; if all the stories about him were to be believed, then there was an army of women he had enjoyed and then grown tired of, casting them aside as one would discard a worn-out toy. In the past he had been involved in one scandal after another, causing her father acute embarrassment.

As her gaze focused on his face she saw his expression was closed as he watched, his brown eyes, glittering with menace, darting from her to Marcus Fitzalan. They were filled with such hatred that her heart skipped a beat. His slack lips were set in a slight smile that was not pleasant; in fact, there was something about him that reminded her of something sinister and evil.

Her eyes shifted from Gerald and travelled across the room to meet the cold, pale-blue implacable stare of Marcus Fitzalan, where he still stood with what she could only describe as lounging insolence. He seemed so cool, so self-assured, while she felt as if she were falling apart.


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