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Lord Iverbrook's Heir

Lord Iverbrook's Heir by Carola Dunn
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On his return from Jamaica, Viscount Iverbrook learns that his sister-in-law, Selena Whitton, has been made guardian of his brother’s son. With every intention of restoring the child to the family estate, Iverbrook appears at Milford Manor where Selena, her mother, sister and young Peter compose a delightful household. Would it be fair to remove the child—and why has Iverbrook grown so fond of pretty, outspoken Selena.

Regency Romance by Carola Dunn

Belgrave House; March 1987
182 pages; ISBN 9780446343312
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Lord Iverbrook's Heir
Author: Carola Dunn
 
Excerpt

“Whitton? Who the devil is Miss Whitton?” cried Lord Iverbrook in exasperation. He ran one hand through already dishevelled brown hair.

The lawyer looked at him in mild surprise, peering through gold-rimmed pince-nez that seemed as dusty as everything else in the gloomy office.

“Your late brother’s sister-in-law, my lord,” he explained.

“Gil’s sister-in-law? Of course. I’d forgot he married a Whitton.”

“Indeed, my lord. If I may continue, it is to Miss Whitton that the guardianship of your nephew has been entrusted.”

“Not merely my nephew, dammit, Hubble. The child’s my heir and ought to be under my protection. That’s why I came to see you as soon as I reached England. Not to be raked down for freeing my slaves. Of all the cork-brained, ramshackle notions, to make my heir the ward of a female! Who put that into Gil’s head, I’d like to know?”

"He is your heir presumptive only,” reminded Mr. Hubble, “and your lordship was absent at the time. Mr. Carrick had the will drawn up several months after your departure for the West Indies. There was no knowing when you intended to return, quite apart from the risks inher­ent in a lengthy ocean voyage and a protracted sojourn in foreign climes.”

“Gil might have guessed I should return as soon as the news of his death reached me. I suppose the will can be contested?”

Behind the opaque lenses, the lawyer’s eyes gleamed. How many of his brethren had made their fortunes from contested wills! With luck and good management the case might be drawn out for years, decades even, and Hugh Carrick, Viscount Iverbrook, was a plump pigeon for the plucking.

“Certainly, my lord,” he said quickly. “I shall enter a suit in Chancery at once.”

“Not so fast, man! I’ll call on this Whitton woman and I daresay she will see reason. After all, it cannot be pleasant for a hubble-bubble female to be saddled with such a burden.”

“I understand the lady to be of a serious turn of mind, my lord.”

“Bluestocking, is she?”

“No, my lord...”

“No matter. All women are the same. They’re all out to get what they want, one way or another, and I’ve never met one yet who wanted responsibility!”

Mr. Hubble held his peace. It was not his place to point out that his lordship’s career up until this, his twenty-ninth, year had been singularly lacking in evidence of any desire on his own part to accept responsibility. “Miss Whitton resides near Abingdon, in Berkshire, my lord,” he said, his bland voice offering no hint of his thoughts. “My clerk will give you her precise direction.”

Lord Iverbrook stood up, his tall, loose-limbed form filling the cluttered room. His movement disturbed motes of dust dancing golden in an errant sunbeam which, having mistakenly entered at the grimy window, was unable to find a way out. His lordship had no such difficulty. Retrieving his hat from a pile of mildewed documents, he flung a casual “You’ll hear from me” at his lawyer and was gone before that worthy could rise to bow humbly and declare his everlasting servitude.

In the copying room, into which no sunbeam ever strayed, three depressed-looking clerks perched on high stools at a long desk. They all glanced up from their work as the viscount emerged from the inner office. He addressed the youngest, a pallid youth whose rusty black coat failed to conceal his patched shirt.

“Miss Whitton’s direction, if you please.”

“At once, my lord.”

The clerk slipped down from his stool and trotted into a dark corner to consult a huge, leather-bound tome. Lord Iverbrook noticed that his boots, though well polished, were cracking at the ankles; he dropped a half-crown back into his pocket and fished for a sovereign.

“Milford Manor, my lord,” announced the young man. "Kings Milford, near Abingdon, Berkshire.” He flushed with pleasure as he caught the gold coin. “Thank you, my lord. Is there anything else I can do for your lordship?”

The viscount smiled and shook his head. The elderly clerk nearest the door hurried to open it for him, and crossing the dingy lobby, Iverbrook stepped into the street with a feeling of relief, to stand blinking in the brilliant July sunshine.

“Lawyers!” he muttered. “Damn the whole tribe!”

A high-perch phaeton rattling over the cobbles drew his attention. Its occupant was peering at him, hand raised to shade against the glare. It pulled up with a jerk beside him.

“Hugh! It is you then. Thought I couldn’t mistake that gangling figure. My dear fellow, when did you return?”

Lord Iverbrook looked up into the plump, welcoming face of Mr. Lennox Hastings.

“Hullo, Hasty. That’s a neatish bay you have there. What are you doing in town at this time of year?”

“Pockets to let,” admitted Mr. Hastings sheepishly. “Can’t afford Brighton. This nag’s the only thing I’ve won these six weeks and more. The devil’s in the bones.”

“Been playing hazard, have you? You ought to stick to faro and piquet. You always were unlucky at dice.”

“Promised old Crowe I’d stay away from the tables till my next quarter’s allowance is due. He’s a Friday-faced old proser but he’s kept me from drowning in the River Tick so far. I say, my dear fellow, can I give you a lift? Going to see Schultz to order a new coat. Always cheers me up after seeing my man of business.” He cast a critical glance over his lordship’s apparel as his friend climbed into the carriage. “Looks as if you could do with one yourself, Hugh. Daresay there ain't such a thing as a first-rate snyder in Jamaica, eh?”

Mr. Hastings was, as always, immaculately dressed after the discreet style of Beau Brummell, from the snowy Mathematical perfection of his cravat to the high gloss of his top boots. Hugh regarded him with the tolerant amusement of one to whom clothes are a means of keeping warm and appearing decent in public.

“You’re the very man I need,” he decided as the phaeton moved on. “Dimbury still with you?”

“Yes, and you can’t have him.”

“I don’t want him. Wouldn’t suit me at all. The thing is, I brought a fellow back from Jamaica with me. You don’t have anything against blacks, do you?”

“Against mourning? Lord no, not in its proper place!”

“No, not mourning. Blacks, negroes, Africans, whatever you like to call ‘em.”

“My dear fellow, you mean you’ve brought one of your slaves home with you?”

“Joshua’s no slave, and I don’t own any. Freed the lot a month after I reached Kingston. Hasty, you wouldn’t believe . . ."

“Daresay I wouldn’t, and I don’t care to hear it,” interrupted Mr. Hastings firmly. “I’ll have Dimbury help this man of yours tog himself out decently, if that’s what you want, but I can see you’ve got a bee in your bonnet about slavery, Hugh, and you’re not dragging me out to Clapham with you!”

“Clapham? Why the devil should I want to go to Clapham?”

“I suppose you will want to join forces with Wilberforce? Fellow who abolished the slave trade? Well, from all I hear he’s not so bad himself, but the rest of the Clapham Sect are a bunch of canting evangelicals. Steer clear of ‘em, my dear boy, steer clear.”

For the next few minutes, Mr. Hastings was himself occupied in steering clear. A brewer’s dray, overloaded with empty hogsheads, rattled out of an alley and a flock of sheep on their way to Smithfield Market scattered across the street in bleating confusion. Narrowly missing a black and tan sheepdog, Hasty swung his carriage around the dray just as the first barrel crashed to the ground, and emerged unscathed, looking pleased with himself. He rather expected congratulations from his friend, but Lord Iverbrook was lost in thought and seemed not to have noticed how brilliantly his friend had handled the ribbons.

His memory nudged by the recent mention of mourning, Mr. Hastings recalled the sad event that had brought the viscount home. “I say, my dear fellow,” he said with quick sympathy, “I’m most frightfully sorry about Gil and his wife. Went to the funeral you know. Shouldn’t have mentioned Clapham.”

“Don’t tell me Gil and Phoebe had joined the Clapham Sect!” exclaimed Hugh.

“No, no, no. Shouldn’t think so for a minute. But prison visiting, you know, same line of business. Pretty little thing, too, your sister-in-law, Mrs. Carrick. Nothing of the puritan about her. Pity!”

“What do you mean?”

“Stands to reason. If she hadn’t been to Bridewell, she wouldn’t have taken the gaol fever.”

“Gaol fever! Good God! Hubble made no mention of such a thing.”

“Just a rumour,” Hasty disclaimed. “Beg pardon, my dear fellow. You know what a rattle-tongued clothhead I am. Always was and I daresay always will be. Don’t suppose for a moment there’s any truth in it.”

“No, I can believe it. Phoebe was used to spend much of her time in charity work and Gil approved, helped her even. Puritan or no, he was always a trifle straitlaced. Both of them frowned on the way I lived.”

“What’s wrong with the way you live?” demanded Mr. Hastings defensively. “Way I live, way lots of people live!”

“Oh, gambling and drinking and opera-dancers and . . . Devil take it! I’ll wager that’s why they left the boy away from me!”

“Huh?”

“Hubble said it was because of my absence.” Hugh noticed his friend’s bemused look. “Gil left his son to Miss Whitton’s guardianship. My heir! I’ll get the child back if it’s the last thing I do!”

“Got another bee in your bonnet,” mourned Hasty. “You always was one to get bees in your bonnet. Only it used to be about harmless things like curricle races to Newmarket or riding your nag up the steps of St. Paul’s. Who the devil is Miss Whitton?”

“Phoebe's sister. Gil’s sister-in-law. What does it matter who she is? My nephew’s my responsibility.”

“Ah, yes. Met her at the funeral. Two of ‘em, come to think of it, both towheads like Mrs. Carrick. Which one is it, the pretty one?”

“I’ve no idea. I suppose I must have met them, at Gil’s wedding if nowhere else, but I’ve no recollection of it.”

“Can’t be the pretty one; too young. All the same, my dear fellow, you’d better marry her.” Beaming with delight at his brilliant solution to the problem, Hasty turned up Bond Street.

“Marry her? Zounds, man, why should I marry her?” Hugh demanded, astonished, then added suspiciously, “Hasty, you’re not disguised, are you?”

“Nothing but a mug of porter for breakfast. If you married her—not the pretty one, t’other one — the child would be your ward too. Easy!”

“But I don’t wish to get married!”

“Daresay you soon will, with a child on your hands.”

Mr. Hastings obviously had more to say upon the matter, but a crush of carriages forced him to rein in his bay and for a few minutes he was busy shouting imprecations at the homespun-clad driver of a whisky which threatened to lock wheels with his phaeton.

Lord Iverbrook listened admiringly to Hasty’s disquisition on the morals of the other driver’s family, while looking around at the bustling crowds. The West Indies had been beautiful and fascinating, but it was good to be home. Several of Bond Street’s expensive and exclusive shops had put up their shutters: the season was past and the haut ton had dispersed to country estates and watering places. Yet the pavement still was crowded with shoppers. Cits aping the gentry, perhaps. The men in their high, stiff collars and top hats were red-faced and sweating. Their wives and daughters, bearing parasols of a hundred different hues, made lavish use of their fans as they stood gossiping with acquaintances or passed in and out of those modish establishments which had chosen to remain open.

A figure caught his lordship’s eye. And what a figure! He would have recognised it anywhere. Standing near the door of a fashionable milliner’s, as if uncertain whether to enter, Mrs. Parcott was undoubtedly eye-catching in a rose pink promenade dress cut to flatter her voluptuous shape. A matching parasol framed luxuriant dark hair and cast its blushing shade on an exquisite profile, turned now towards the gentle­man at her side.

“Amabel!” exclaimed Lord Iverbrook. “Hasty, is Mrs. P. still free?”

“The Merry Widow? Lord, yes, free and easy as ever, and still casting out lures at every likely prospect, especially those with titles. You had a narrow escape there, my dear fellow. Wouldn't get mixed up again, if I were you."

“Bel and I are good friends. She knows I’m not hanging out for a wife. Not that I’d marry her if I were. It don’t do to marry your mistress, Hasty. Bad ton.”

“If that don’t beat all!” said Hasty indignantly. “Anyone’d think I’d advised you to tie the knot, not warned you to stay out of the harpy’s clutches! Fact is, Mrs. P. was quite put out of countenance when you left without a word. I’m not the only one who thought she’d snare you in the end.”

“She won’t,” promised his lordship, “but all the same, I must make my bow. Pull up here, Hasty, and let me down. Tell you what, why don’t you come and dine with me in Dover Street this evening?”

“Happy to, my dear fellow.” Mr. Hastings drew up his phaeton and Lord Iverbrook sprang down with a farewell wave.

Seeing his quarry step towards the open door of the shop, his lordship called out, imperatively, “Bel!“

Mrs. Parcott, a frown marring her smooth brow, turned to see who dared thus rudely accost her in the street. Annoyance changed to delight. “Iverbrook!” she cried, letting go the arm of her companion and greeting the viscount with both hands.

“Beautiful as ever, Bel,” approved Lord Iverbrook, taking her hands, looking her up and down for a moment, then kissing her cheek.

The stout, middle-aged gentleman on whose arm she had been leaning coughed disapprovingly. Reminded of his presence, Mrs. Parcott presented him.

“Iverbrook, allow me to make known to you Sir Alfred Bagley. Sir Alfred, Lord Iverbrook is a very old friend . . ." her sultry voice paused “. . . of my late husband’s.”

His lordship, whose acquaintance with the deceased was limited to the occasional reminiscences of his widow, absorbed this without a blink and returned Sir Alfred’s bow. He noted with amusement the suspicious look in the gentleman’s eye.

“Your servant, sir,” he said, politely if untruthfully.

“And yours, my lord,” growled the other. “Amabel, we were about to . . ."

“La, Sir Alfred, if I have not quite forgot what it was I wished to purchase! And you were saying, not five minutes since, I vow, that you have an appointment at the Cocoa Tree. Upon my word, sir, you need not scruple to leave me in Lord Iverbrook’s care. I daresay he will be so good as to procure me a hackney carriage, for poor Mr. Parcott’s sake.”

“Certainly, ma’am. For poor Mr. Parcott’s sake, I will even engage to accompany you to your door. Good day, Sir Alfred.”

Leaving her bewildered escort fuming, the lady permitted Iverbrook to hand her into an expertly summoned hackney and take his seat beside her.

“So easily consoled!” he said provocatively.

“Hugh, he is nothing to me! But when you left without a word and were gone so long!”

“Is he rich?”

“You know perfectly well that Mr. Parcott left me in very easy circumstances. I wish you will not tease. Only I cannot live without a man to take care of me. Why did you go so suddenly?”

“There was the duel . . ."

“Fustian! You did not even kill your man. Indeed, it was commonly said that you both deloped.”

“True, it was a friendly match. But then, my agent in Jamaica dying at just that moment . . .”

“As though you could not have hired another without going there in person. Tell me truly, Hugh, why did you leave?”

“I was bored.”

“You are complimentary!”

“Oh, not with you, Bel.”

“With what, then?”

“With everything. With my life,” he said lightly.

“You were the envy of all your friends. Wealth enough to gratify every whim, and your stepfather running your estate so that you need never concern yourself with where it came from.”

“That was not by my choice.” His voice was tinged with unwonted bitterness, but seeing her puzzled frown he smiled. “Never mind, Bel, I don’t expect you to understand. That is long past now; I feel sure I should find farming a dead bore and am grateful to Mr. Ffinch-Smythe for his efforts on my behalf. So, I had plenty of the ready, a beautiful mistress, and not a care in the world, and was not satisfied. Unnatural, ain’t it? Come, give me a kiss for old times’ sake.”

In the course of the afternoon, Mrs. Parcott was persuaded to give my lord a great deal more than a kiss for old times’ sake. When at last he tore himself from her embrace, church bells were striking six all over the city.

“Let’s go to Brighton,” he proposed, “or Tunbridge, if you prefer. I have to fetch my nephew from his aunt first, and take him to Iver Place, but that shouldn’t take more than a few days.”

“Your nephew? The poor little orphan! A mother’s care is what he needs, I vow.”

“He’ll manage very well without.” Lord Iverbrook had issued his warning: if the Merry Widow chose to disregard it, that was her own affair.

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9780446343312