The second book in a back-to-back publication in the "superbly entertaining" (Booklist) new Regency historical series from New York Times bestselling author Julia London.
Tobin Scott, otherwise known as Count Eberlin of Denmark, has returned to Hadley Green, the site of his father's hanging for thievery fifteen years ago. He has but one goal in mind, and that is to avenge his father, who he believes was innocent of stealing the Countess of Ashwood jewels. Now a wealthy man, Tobin intends to exact his revenge by destroying the Ashwood estate and the Countess of Ashwood, who as a young girl testified against his father.
Lily Boudine has become the Countess of Ashwood through a very surprising twist of fate. She is even more surprised when a vaguely familiar looking man calls and tells her he is Tobin Scott, whom she knew as a boy, and that he intends to destroy her or Ashwood. He leaves the choice to her. Because so many people depend on Ashwood, Lily chooses herself, thinking that she can hold him at bay long enough to remove Ashwood from his clutches. But as they play the game of seduction, and she slowly discovers that he is not the cold, heartless man he would like to present to her, she also believes that Tobin is right--his father did not steal the jewels. And if she can find them, she can help restore his family's honor--but not before she discovers another shocking secret.
Hadley Green, West Sussex
Count Eberlin left London like a man with the world firmly in his grasp. His town home was in the fashionable Mayfair district and his horse was a sturdy gray Arabian he'd had delivered from Spain. He wore a coat of the finest Belgian wool, a silk shirt and neckcloth made by a renowned Italian tailor, Scottish buckskins, and Hessian boots fashioned in soft French leather. Confident and wealthy, he sat his horse like a king commanding an army.
Five hours later, he crested the hill on the main road through West Sussex. The village of Hadley Green nestled prettily in the valley below, with her thatched roof cottages, vibrantly colorful gardens, and a High Street bustling with commerce. And, very clearly, a village green.
His chest tightened painfully. He suddenly felt clammy, his skin flushed and damp, and he was strangely light-headed. Fearing he would topple right off his horse, he reigned up hard.
He'd believed the memory of what had happened there to be dead to him, but now he struggled to catch his breath as he watched children play on the green where his father had been hanged for thievery fifteen years ago.
Count Eberlin--or Tobin Scott as he'd been known then, son of Joseph Scott, the wood-carver--hadn't traveled this road since his father's death. He'd forgotten the lay of it and had not expected to see the green like this. He certainly hadn't expected such a visceral reaction. He could feel the crank of rusted and disintegrated feelings awakening, though he'd believed himself to be dead inside, incapable of any sort of passion, dark or light.
As he stared at the green he was amazed that his head and his heart could trick him so. He could almost see the scaffold, could nearly smell the mutton and ale that had been sold the morning his father was executed. It was as if the carts still lined the streets beside the gallows.
A child raced across the green into the arms of a man who lifted her up and swung her high overhead.
There had been children at his father's execution, too, playing around the edges of the green. The adults had been the spectators, come early to drink their ale and eat their mutton. Only thirteen years old at the time, Tobin hadn't known how absurdly festive an execution could be. When his father was led across the green, the crowd, warmed by their ale, had cheerfully shouted, "Thief, bloody thief!" before taking another swig from their tankards.
He thought he'd buried the image of his father standing on that scaffold with his gaze turned toward the heavens and resigned to his fate; buried it deep in the black mud inside him, from which nothing could grow. But he saw the image again this summer day with vivid clarity. He pulled at his neckcloth, seeking relief from his sudden breathlessness.
He wasn't supposed to have seen his father hang, naturally, for who would subject a man's son to such horror? But precisely because he'd been thirteen, he'd disguised himself and gone to see it. Nothing could have kept him from his father's last moments on this earth--not his grieving mother, not his despondent younger siblings. Not the reverend, who'd sought in vain to assure him that Joseph Scott would receive his forgiveness and comfort in heaven. A boy standing on the cusp of manhood, impotent in his rage, Tobin had been propelled by a primal need to be there, to witness the injustice, to have it scored into his mind's eye and into his soul so that he would never forget, never forgive.
But until this moment, he'd thought he was irrevocably numb to it.
He dismounted and crouched down, and concentrated on...