Bought for Revenge(4)

By: Sarah Mallory

And in the end he had let her go. Well, there was little else he could do. A poor start to his ownership if he was to ravish his neighbour’s daughter at the outset. She wondered if he planned to settle at Morwood Manor. As its name suggested, it had once been the major property in the area. Her father had a watercolour of the house as it had been before the fire, a substantial stone building dating back to the time of the Tudors. The wealth of its owners had declined since then, and the last owner, Jonas Blackstone, was said to have been a poor landlord. That was well before Annabelle had been born, however. Her father had bought the manor lands soon after the fire, but although he had looked after the tenant farmers, he had never done anything with the house and grounds. Morwood had remained unused and untended, and Annabelle had grown up roaming freely through the woods and the ruins. They had been her playground, but that of course was ended now. She would avoid the manor and its odious owner in future.

Annabelle stabled her horse and went indoors. She decided not to tell her father of her meeting with their new neighbour. Papa was not yet sixty, but a serious illness a few years ago had aged him considerably and she felt very protective towards him. He had always been so much more than just a father to her. Annabelle had never known Mama, who had died giving birth to her, and the loss of her only brother ten years ago had brought her much closer to her one remaining relative. Papa was the very kindest of men and had always been both her mentor and confidant. She could not lie to him and details of her encounter with Mr Monserrat would grieve him deeply, so it was best not to speak of it at all. Besides, the man had acknowledged that he had acted improperly, had he not? So she would not dwell upon it, although she would make sure he never had the opportunity to repeat his outlandish behaviour.

Annabelle found her father in the morning room, reading beside the crackling fire.

‘Ah, Belle, my love.’ He put down his book. ‘You have been a long time, I was beginning to worry.’

She glanced at the clock as she crossed the room, stripping off her gloves.

‘I beg your pardon, Papa. But it has not been so very long, certainly no longer than usual.’

‘I wish you would take Clegg with you, my dear. I am always afraid you might meet with some accident.’

Annabelle’s thoughts flew back to her encounter with Mr Monserrat. Could her groom have prevented that outrageous kiss?

‘Mayhap I will then, in future.’ Her eyes fell upon the little table beside his chair. ‘I see you have been playing chess. Have you had a visitor?’

‘Yes, Mr Keighley called and stayed to play a game.’ He chuckled. ‘I think his real purpose was to see you, but he bore your absence very well.’

‘And so he might, since it gave him the opportunity to play with one of the finest chess players in the county,’ she returned, smiling.

James Keighley was a widower and good friend to her father. Lately he had shown more of an interest in Annabelle and she suspected that he might be thinking of making her an offer. She was not sure how she felt about this, since he was on the shady side of forty and she had not yet reached one-and-twenty.

However, she knew the match would make her father happy. Mr Keighley’s fortune was not inconsiderable and he owned a substantial property some five miles away from Oakenroyd. As his wife she would have every comfort. Except one.

Annabelle might despise the lachrymose heroines of romantic novels, but she had not set herself against the idea of marrying for love. She knew it was unlikely that a strong, handsome hero would appear to sweep her off her feet or save her from some hideous fate, but she still cherished the hope that she would meet a man for whom she could feel more than a tepid affection.

Unbidden, the image of their new neighbour rose up in her mind. There was no doubt of his strength. She recalled quite clearly the powerful thighs encased in buckskins, and the wide shoulders made even broader by the billowing shirt sleeves, but in no way could she think of him as handsome. His rugged features, raven hair and coal-black eyes belonged more to a villain.

‘…my dear, you are not listening to me.’

She gave a start at her father’s gentle admonition. ‘I beg your pardon, Papa, I was daydreaming.’

‘I said Keighley has offered to take us up in his carriage when we go to dine with the Rishworths next week.’

‘How kind of him. I confess I had hoped he would offer to bring us home, even if we had to walk to Rishworth Lodge.’

Her father tutted. ‘But it should not be necessary to call upon anyone to drive us.’

‘Now, Papa, you know we agreed it is an expense we can well do without.’ She sank down beside him. ‘The cost of the coachman, plus the horses eating their heads off in the stable, was far too much, especially when we rarely go farther than Stanton these days.’

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