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Something in the Heir
Author: Suzanne Enoch

 

 

PROLOGUE

 


Emmeline Hervey caught her mother by the elbow. “Did I just hear you tell Cousin Penelope that we’re vacating Winnover Hall?”

Lady Anne Hervey nodded. “We have that lovely cottage in Bath now. There’s no reason to keep it a secret.”

“There’s every reason to keep it a secret, Mother, for heaven’s sake,” Emmie whispered, pulling the duke’s daughter further away from the dance floor of the ballroom. “Especially from Penelope. I’ve only been out for three weeks, and you’ve just announced that Winnover Hall is up for grabs.”

“Precisely. I’ve already given you three weeks to plan, without anyone else knowing.”

“Yes, but—”

“They were bound to find out soon enough. I wrote the duke at the beginning of the Season, and you know he can’t keep a secret.”

“Couldn’t he make an exception for me? Winnover is my home. I don’t want to live in Bath.”

“You know he won’t. That’s the way it is with Winnover Hall. It has been, since the third Duke of Welshire acquired it in 1635. Do I need to recite the rules to you?”

“I know them. I’ve lived them. ‘The first Ramsey descendant to wed after Winnover is vacated wins the use of it for five years. If said descendant produces a child within those five years, they may keep Winnover for their lifetime.’”

“Or until they decide to live elsewhere.” Lady Anne peeled Emmie’s hand off her arm. “Consider that if your father and I had kept it until I died, you would be already married and not eligible to live there. We’ve done you a favor, waiting until you turned eighteen and began your Season. You have marriage proposals already.”

“Yes, but I haven’t decided on any of them yet.”

“Well, since your cousin became engaged a week ago, I suggest you do so quickly. Otherwise, Winnover will land in Penelope Ramsey’s hands.”

Penelope. “She would have all the walls smothered in pink wallpaper and use the library to display her bonnets.” Just saying the words left a bad taste in her mouth.

“Then I suggest you seriously consider the three proposals you’ve received, and settle on one of them. Posthaste.” With a swift almost-kiss to her daughter’s cheek, Lady Anne glided away to converse with their hostess.

Emmie stayed where she was, her gaze on the filling dance floor. Despite her protests, she knew it would do no good to appeal to her grandfather, the current Duke of Welshire, to give her Winnover Hall, even though she’d lived there her entire life. Not only was he famously intractable, but he detested most of his own family—which was odd considering his demand that they all procreate in order to receive any kind of boon from him. He wanted his bloodline to continue, he said, in the hope that at least one of his descendants would be worth a damn.

But for heaven’s sake, this was Winnover Hall. Those halls and pastures were the center of her life. Her parents might have given her a few more weeks, at least. By tomorrow every unmarried member of her large, competitive family would know that Winnover was available for the first time in twenty years.

Penelope had a year’s head start on her, and while their age difference hadn’t mattered much previously, it did now. Or rather, it mattered that Penelope had had a year to fish, and that she’d landed Howard Chase, the puffy-faced second son of a viscount. Stupid Howard Chase.

As she digested all of that, a hand slid around her arm. “My condolences,” Penelope Ramsey said, giving her arm a squeeze. “I imagine you’ll find residing in Bath much to your taste, though.”

Taking a breath, Emmie smiled and gave her cousin a kiss on the cheek. She would not be residing in Bath with the wig-wearing set of gray-hairs. Neither was she about to let Penelope know that, though. “I have to say,” she said aloud, “I’m glad we’ve found a situation that agrees with Father’s health. That helps set my mind at ease.”

Penelope narrowed her eyes just a touch. “I expected to see you on the floor and flailing your arms about over vacating Winnover. You can’t be this content about losing it.”

Oh, Penelope. “I’ll miss it horribly, of course. But I can’t ignore the very obvious situation before me. I’ve only been out for three weeks. You are already betrothed. While I wish my mother might have kept our circumstance hidden a while longer, we all know that that was never going to happen.” She sighed. “I intend to be horribly jealous of you, and I hope you will invite me to come visit Winnover—and you, of course—from time to time.”

Giving her arm a last squeeze, her cousin straightened. “Of course, you must come to visit Howard and me at Winnover. But not right away; I already have so many ideas for improvements, and I want you to see it at its finest.”

Emmie allowed her smile to slip. “I don’t know that it needs much improvement, but it will be yours. I wish…” She brushed at one eye. “Well, I wish you all the best, Pen.”

That made her cousin happy. Emmie could see the unabashed avarice in her toothy smile. “Aren’t you a dear,” Penelope cooed. “Oh, and there’s Howard!” She sent him a wave. “I must go tell him the good news.”

With that she twirled away, resplendent in pink silk and taffeta. Emmie watched after her cousin for a moment, then blew out her breath. “Silly thing,” she muttered. And now Penelope and Howard could return to taking their time to plan their glorious wedding and their even more glorious future at Winnover Hall.

Except that Winnover Hall belonged to her. Emmie knew that, felt it, with every bit of blood and bone she possessed. She breathed it and dreamed it and loved it. Penelope couldn’t have it. And that meant she had one course of action. Marriage. And quickly.

She did have three proposals already, and she’d put them all off; that was what a young lady did when she still had most of the Season before her. Now, though, thanks to her chatty mother, she had a deadline.

Squaring her shoulders, she toured the ballroom and neighboring salons. She hadn’t attended two finishing schools and learned three languages to be drummed out of her own home by bad timing—or her very gaudy cousin.

Ten minutes later, though, she had to concede that she wouldn’t be accepting any of her gentlemen tonight, because none of them were in attendance. She could arrange a coincidental meeting with one of them tomorrow, but at any moment Penelope might realize that Emmie would never give up Winnover without a fight. And with a special license she could be Penelope Ramsey Chase three days from that moment.

The trill of a waltz began, and she didn’t even have a partner. And there was Penelope, all smiles and excitement as she dragged Howard onto the floor. Dash it all.

“If someone had wagered me that Emmeline Hervey would be standing at the edge of the dance floor while a waltz played, I would have lost a great deal of money.”

Emmie turned around, smiling despite the distraction. “You don’t wager, Will Pershing.”

William Pershing inclined his head, his mop of dark brown hair falling across one eye and the rest of him looking nearly as disheveled, as if the cravat had been an afterthought and his coat the one that happened to be nearest the door. He even had ink stains on his fingers. “True enough,” he said. “I do dance, however, if you’re willing to risk your toes.”

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