Bought for Revenge(8)

By: Sarah Mallory

‘Miss Havenham is the belle of our local circle,’ offered Mrs Kensley, following his glance.

‘Is she?’

The widow tittered at his cool response. ‘Oh, she is not as pretty as Miss Rishworth, nor Miss Scanlon, but she is Miss Havenham of Oakenroyd.’

‘You mean it is only her fortune that makes her so appealing.’

Mrs Kensley gave an arch laugh. ‘Oh, Mr Monserrat, that is very wicked of you, of course I do not mean any such thing! Miss Havenham is a very good sort of girl. She has been a little spoiled perhaps, but then her papa quite dotes on her. Although that is no wonder, Miss Havenham being his only surviving child. However, for my part, I find her manners a little too forward for one so young.’

‘And how old is she?’ he enquired, helping the widow to another slice of lemon tart.

‘Not yet one-and-twenty, although she rides around on that big horse of hers as if she were lady of the manor.’ Mrs Kensley stopped, her knife and fork poised in mid-air. ‘But of course that will have to end now, won’t it, sir, since you are now the owner of Morwood Manor.’ She gave another of her irritating titters. ‘Unless, that is, you are tempted to offer for her? I warn you, Mr Keighley is there before you.’

Lucas smiled vaguely and sipped at his wine. The young people at the other end of the table were enjoying a lively conversation, with Annabelle Havenham at their centre. Mrs Kensley was right, the two other young ladies would be considered more beautiful than Annabelle Havenham. Her figure was good, but no better than others he had seen, her features were regular and her soft brown hair was simply dressed. Celia Rishworth’s vivacity made her dark curls dance about her head and Miss Scanlon’s fair prettiness was set off by an over-decorated gown that must have cost her father a pretty penny, but there was something about Miss Havenham’s quiet elegance that caught the attention. He remembered she had looked magnificent when riding and it was hard to forget the disconcertingly direct gaze of her grey eyes.

His own gaze moved on around the table until it reached James Keighley. A widower, he had been informed. They had been introduced earlier and Lucas had summed up Keighley as a country gentleman of comfortable means, some years older than himself. Was there an understanding between the man and Miss Havenham? Keighley had brought the Oakenroyd party in his own carriage, but Lucas had noticed no special attention between the pair since then. If he had been enamoured of the lady, or if he had been a hot-headed young suitor then he might have been a nuisance, but Lucas did not think Keighley’s interest in Miss Havenham was likely to affect his own plans.

When the ladies withdrew, their host gave a signal to the butler.

‘Now we can be comfortable.’ He leaned forwards to address Lucas. ‘I know you were a military man, Monserrat, but I hope you won’t think us unpatriotic to bring French brandy to the table now that the emperor has finally been defeated.’

‘Not at all,’ returned Lucas, pushing his glass out to be filled. ‘I am pleased to see you are supporting the new regime.’

‘We are, sir,’ declared Mr Scanlon, ‘and since Sir John is magistrate for these parts you can be sure that the duty has been paid on the brandy, too!’

There was general laughter at this.

‘So you were in the army, Mr Monserrat,’ remarked Mr Keighley. ‘What is it brings you to Stanton, sir?’

‘Have you not heard?’ said Scanlon. ‘He has purchased Morwood Manor and means to restore it. Ain’t that right, sir?’

‘It is,’ averred Lucas.

‘Well, now you are here,’ said Rishworth, ‘perhaps you would be interested in investing locally.’

‘That depends upon the investment.’

Sir John Rishworth sat back in his chair, preparing to expound upon what was clearly a favourite theme.

‘Our new toll road, for example. A number of us subscribed to the venture two years ago, to build a new road running around Dyke’s Ridge. The old road, you see, dips down very steeply past Oldroyd Farm to cross the ford, but the valley bottom is almost a bog. In winter the road is well nigh impassable. We hope the new road will improve trade to the town.’

‘Unfortunately it has not done so yet,’ observed Mr Keighley.

‘No,’ agreed Sir John. ‘Last year’s bad harvest means trade in Stanton has been very poor and we have not yet recovered our costs.’

Samuel Havenham sighed. ‘I had hoped we would have turned a profit by now.’

‘You could always sell your share in the venture,’ suggested Lucas.

Havenham shook his head. ‘No, no, we shall come about. Besides, the subscription was not so much an investment for me as for my daughter. A little something for her when I am gone.’

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