Returning to Hadley Green after fifteen years, the young Lord Eberlin has but one goal in mind: to avenge the death of his father. But when he is reunited with the beautiful target of his smoldering wrath, his plans take an unexpected turn. . . .
Tobin Scott has not been back to Hadley Green since Lily Boudine's childhood testimony helped send his father to the gallows for stealing the valuable Ashwood jewels. Now a wealthy man, he intends to exact his revenge by destroying Ashwood and its lady. He offers Lily a choice between her life and the livelihoods of the people who depend on the estate. She chooses the former, certain she can hold his dangerous plans at bay.
Lily and Tobin's game of one-upmanship quickly becomes a delicate dance of seduction, and she realizes he is not the cold, heartless man he tries to seem. In fact, she is certain he is right--his father was innocent. Together, they set out to find the jewels that will restore his family's honor, and soon their unbridled passion uncovers a shocking secret that will change their lives forever.
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...