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Forbidden to Love the Duke(5)

By:Jillian Hunter

He ambled back through the garden. The bees had disappeared. Rose-tinted shadows enhanced the enduring beauty of the house. Its outward simplicity deceived the unknowing. The Tudor manor represented the essence of England, of what James had fought for, what his younger brother and so many other valiant soldiers were fighting for now.

In the false twilight it didn’t seem to matter that the windows lacked a few panes, or that time had peeled strips from the ornate wood framework.

He had coveted this house for years. He wanted to learn its secrets. He wanted to know about the woman who lived inside. He thought he should explain that he hadn’t meant to frighten her, that he wasn’t a man who went about accosting young ladies on their property.

His arm throbbed, a welcome diversion from finding reason for his behavior. Soon enough Elora would arrive to make him forget all about Tudor houses and reclusive women. He desperately longed to give himself over to a season of pleasure before he settled down and found a wife.

Chapter 2

The soft but protective arms of Ivy Fenwick’s two younger sisters dragged her across the threshold. The door slammed in the stone archway on the face that Ivy had not even seen. His persistence told her all she needed to know about his character. He had shouted to the world what he wanted. Every man who braved the garden had one objective in mind: taking possession of Fenwick Manor.

“Who was that?” her youngest sister, Lilac, whispered. Lilac’s light hair shone in the darkness of the hall. Heavy drapes covered the belowstairs windows. It was too early in the day to waste a candle. The housekeeper kept them on a strict allowance.

The sisters hadn’t always scurried into the house like mice at the approach of male callers. Once the clip-clop of horses paraded across the bridge by hopeful gentlemen had added a measure of excitement to their afternoon tea. With their father the Earl of Arthur’s approval, a young gallant might stroll through the enchanting gardens with one of his lordship’s daughters. All four Fenwick girls had been well dowered and never lacked for company, even though Rosemary tended to sneak off with a book half the time and Lilac had walked with a limp ever since her accident.

But Lilac was fair and intrepid and laughed when her gait slowed her pace. She had fallen in love with a neighborhood boy when she was fifteen. He had never come back from the war; three years ago his parents had died. She insisted that she would be with Terence one day and that she didn’t need a courtship until then.

“Who was that?” Lilac asked now, her voice low with dread. Even Lilac recognized danger when it stood at the door.

“I didn’t stop to ask his name,” Ivy said, disengaging herself from her sisters’ custody. “It’s obvious he came to put a lien on the property.”

“But you said we paid the last of our debts.” Rue Fenwick hadn’t taken her dark blue eyes from the door. She had coal black hair and fair skin, and was bitter to Lilac’s sweet.

“I thought we had,” Ivy said. She bent to put down the puppy squirming against her neck. “Go, you morsel of trouble. You don’t know how close you came to being snatched up by that hawk. Quigley has to fix that hole under the gate.”

Rosemary, the second eldest of the Fenwick sisters, trudged down the stairs. “What is all this commotion?” she asked with a resentful frown.

Ivy assumed Rosemary had been at her desk. Ink stains of various shades smudged her sleeves. Her hair hung in a messy plait over her shoulder. But then the sisters never received callers these days. Why should they dress for company that never appeared?

“I assume it was another land agent hoping we’d sell the house at a pittance to pay off one of Papa’s debts that has just come to notice. I don’t think he was a bailiff.”

Rosemary leaned against the heavily carved balustrade. “He arrived in an expensive carriage for a debt collector.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw it parked on the bridge from the hall upstairs.”

Ivy ran toward the staircase, Lilac at her heels. Rue stayed below to guard the door, although what her delicately boned sister thought she could do to ward off a man of such a determined nature, Ivy didn’t want to speculate.

At the top of the stairs, she and Lilac followed Rosemary through a dark bedchamber into a narrow hall. The watchful stares of ancestors, Welsh and English, followed their progress to a window where the drapes tumbled to the floor in fragile condition. No one dared touch them. The last maid to do so had mummified herself in moldering silk.

Ivy glimpsed a large black carriage disappearing down the road from the bridge.

“That was not a creditor,” Rosemary said. “But he might have been something worse. What did he look like?”