She is called the Devil’s Heiress. Burdened with the wealth of a man she despised, Clarissa Greystone is a fortune-hunter’s dream.
No one needs a fortune more than Major George Hawkinville. Fresh from the battlefields of Waterloo, he embarks on a campaign to win Clarissa’s money.
To protect his family’s good name, Hawk must ignore the hunger in his heart. But nothing can prepare him for the truths that come to lightor the passion that igniteswhen Clarissa boldly steps into his trap….
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 22, 1947
Place of Birth:Morecambe, Lancashire, UK
Education:Degrees in English and American Studies, Keele University, Staffs, 1970
Read an Excerpt
June 1816, Sussex
It had been a word without much meaning, but today, with his village en fête for his friend's wedding, the contact, the bone-deep belonging, was like a cannonball for Major George Hawkinvilleone slamming into earth far too close and knocking the wind out of him.
Following Van and Maria out of the church into the midst of the bouncing, cheering crowd, he felt almost dazed by the familiarthe ancient green ringed by buildings new and old, the row of ramshackle cottages down by the river, the walled and thatched house at the end of the row ...
Hawkinville Manor, his personal hell, but now, it would seem, his essential heaven.
"Welcome home, sir!"
He pulled himself together and shook hands with beaming Aaron Hooker. And with the next man, and the next. Soon women were kissing him, not all decorously. Hawk grinned and accepted the kisses.
This was Van's wedding, but Con was introducing his bride, Susan, here, too. Clearly the villagers were making it into return festivity for three of them.
The plaguey imps.
The gallant soldiers.
It wasn't the time to be wry about that, so he kissed and shook hands and accepted backslaps from men used to slapping oxen. In the end, he caught up to the blushing new bride and the very recent bride, and claimed kisses of his own.
"Hawk," said Susan Amleigh, Con's wife, her eyes brilliant, "have I told you how much I love Hawk in the Vale?"
"Once or twice, I think."
She just laughed at his dry tone. "How lucky you all are to have grown up here. I don't know how you could bear to leave it."
Because a tubful of sweet posset could be soured by a spoonful of gall, but Hawk didn't let his smile twist. He'd been desperate to leave here at sixteen, and didn't regret it now, but he did regret dragging Van and Con along. Not that he'd have been able to stop them if their families couldn't. The Georges had always done nearly everything together.
What was done was donewisdom, of a trite sortand they'd all survived. Now, in part because of these wonderful women, Con and Van were even happy.
Happy. He rolled that in his mind like a foreign food, uncertain whether it was palatable or not. Whichever it was, it wasn't on his plate. He was hardly the type for sweethearts and orange blossoms, and he would bring no one he cared for to share Hawkinville Manor with himself and his father. He had only returned there because the squire was crippled by a seizure.
If only he'd died of it.
He put that aside and let a buxom woman drag him into a country dance. Astonishing to realize that it was shy Elsie Dadswell, Elsie Manktelow now, with three children, a boy and two girls, and no trace of shyness that he could see. She was also clearly well on-the way to a new baby.
Somewhat alarmed, he asked if she should be dancing so vigorously, but she laughed, linked arms, and nearly swung him off his feet. He laughed too and ricocheted down the line off strong, working-women's arms.
His people. His to take care of, even if he had to fight his father to do it. Some of the cottages needed repairs and the riverbank needed work, but prizing money out of the squire's hands these days was like getting a corpse to release a sword.
A blushing girl missing two front teeth asked him to dance next, so he did, glad to escape mundane concerns. He'd dealt with mass army movements over mountainous terrain, through killing storms. Surely the squire and Hawk in the vale couldn't defeat him. He flirted with the girl, disconcerted to discover that she was Will Ashbee's daughter. Will was only a year older than he was.
Will had spent his life here, growing children and working through the cycles of the seasons. Hawk had lived in the death cycle of war. Marching, waiting, squabbling, fighting, then dealing with the broken and burying the dead.
How many men had he known who were now dead? It was not a tally he wanted to make. God had been good, and he, Van, and Con were all home.
The fiddles and whistles came to the end of their piece, and he passed his partner to a red-faced lad not much older than she was.
Love. For some it seemed as natural as the birds in spring. Perhaps some birds never quite got the hang of it, either.
He saw that a cricket match had started on the quiet side of the green. That was much less likely to stir maudlin thoughts, so he strolled over to watch and applaud.
The batter said, "Want a go, Major?"
Hawk was about to say no, but then he saw the glow in many eyes. Damnable as it was, he was a hero to most of these people. He and Van and Con were all heroes. They were all veterans, but most important, they had all been at the great battle of Waterloo a year ago.
So he shrugged out of his jacket and give it to Bill AshbeeWill's fatherto hold, then went to take the home-carved bat. It was part of his role here to take part. As son of the squire and the future squire himself, he was an important part of village life.
He wished he weren't their hero, however. Two years after taking up a cornetcy in the cavalry, he'd been seconded to the Quartermaster General's Department, and thus most of his war had been spent out of active fighting. The heroes were the men like Con and Van, who'd breathed the enemy's breath and waded through blood. Or even Lord Darius Debenham, Con's friend and an enthusiastic volunteer at Waterloo who'd died there.
But he was the major, while Con and Van had made only captain, and he knew the Duke of Wellington. Rather better than he'd wanted to at times. He took the bat and faced the bowler, who looked to be about fourteen and admirably determined to bowl him out if he could. Hawk hoped he could.
The first bowl went wide, but Hawk leaned forward and stopped it so it bumped across the rough grass into a fielder's hands. He'd played plenty of cricket during the lazy times in the army. Surely he could manage this so as to please everyone.
He hit another ball a bit harder to make one run, leaving the other batter up. The bowler bowled that man out. Disconcerting not to be able to put a name to him. After a little while, Hawk was facing the determined bowler again, and this time the ball hurtled straight for the wicket. A slight twist of the bat allowed the ball to knock the bails flying, raising a great cheer from the onlookers and a mighty whoop of triumph from the young bowler.
Hawk grinned and went over to slap him on the back, then retrieved his coat.
Ashbee helped him on with it, but then stepped back with him out of the group around the game. "How's the squire today, sir?"
"Improving. He's out watching the festivities from a chair near the manor."
Sitting in state, more likely, but Hawk kept his tone bland. The villagers didn't need to feel a spill of bile from the Hawkinville family's affairs.
"Good health to him, sir," said Ashbee, in the same tone. Folly to think that the villagers didn't know how things were, with the servants in the manor all village people except the squire's valet.
And after all, men like Bill Ashbee could remember when handsome Captain John Gaspard arrived in the village to woo Miss Sophronia Hawkinville, the old squire's only child, and wed her, agreeing to take the family name. They would also remember the lady's bitter disillusion when her father's death turned suitor into indifferent husband. After all, Hawk's mother had not suffered in silence. But she'd suffered. What choice did she have?
And now she was dead, dead more than year ago of the influenza that had swept through this area. Hawk hoped she had found peace elsewhere, and he regretted that he could not truly grieve. She had been the wronged party, but she had also been so absorbed in her own ill-usage that she'd had no time for her one child except to occasionally fight his father over him.
He realized that Ashbee was hovering because he wanted to say something.
Ashbee cleared his throat. "I was wondering if you'd heard anything about changes down along the river, sir."
"You mean repairs." Damn the squire. "I know there's work needs doing"
"No, sir, not that. But there was some men poking around the other day. When Granny Muggridge asked their business, they didn't seem to want to say, but she heard them mention foundations and water levels."
Hawk managed not to swear. What the devil was the squire up to now? He claimed there was no money to spare, which Hawk couldn't understand, and now he was planning some improvement to the manor?
"I don't know, Ashbee. I'll ask my father."
"Thank you, sir," the man said, but he did not look markedly satisfied. "Thing is, sir, later on Jack Smithers from the Peregrine said he saw them talking to that Slade. The men had stabled horses at the Peregrine, you see, and Slade walked them from his house to the inn."
Slade. Josiah Slade was a Birmingham ironfounder who'd made a fortune casting cannons for the war. For some devil-inspired reason he'd retired here in Hawk in the Vale a year ago and become a crony of the squire's. How, Hawk couldn't imagine. The squire came from an aristocratic family and despised trade.
But somehow Slade had persuaded the squire to permit him to build a stuccoed monstrosity of a house on the west side of the green. It would not have been so out of place on the Marine Parade in Brighton, but in Hawk in the Vale it was like a tombstone in a garden. The squire had brushed off questions rather shiftily.
All was not right in Hawk in the Vale. Hawk had come home hoping never to have to dig in the dirt again, but it seemed it wasn't to be so easy.
"I'll look into it," he said, adding, "Thank you."
Ashbee nodded, mission complete.
Hawk headed back into the crowd, looking for Slade. The trouble here was that he was damnably impotent. In the army he'd had rank, authority, and the backing of his department. Here, he could do nothing without his father's consent.
By his parents' marriage contract, his father had complete control over the Hawkinville estate for life. He'd heard that his mother had been mad to have dashing Captain Gervase, and had been the indulged apple of her father's eye, but he wished they'd fought for better terms.
It was all a pointed lesson in the folly that could come from imagining oneself in love.
He saw Van and Maria dancing together, looking as if stars shone in each other's eyes. Perhaps sometimes, for some people, love was real. He smiled at Con and Susan too, but caught Con in a contemplative mood, a somberness marking him that would have been alien a year ago, before Waterloo.
No, he'd been changed before Waterloo, changed by months at home, out of the army, thinking peace had come. That change, that gentling, was why the battle had hit him so hard. That and Lord Darius's death. Amid so many deaths one more or less shouldn't matter, but it didn't work like that. He could remember weeping on and off for days over the loss of one friend at Badajoz.
He wished he could have found Dare's body for Con. He'd done his damnedest.
He saw Susan touch Con's arm, and could tell that the dark mood fled. Con would be all right.
He spotted Slade over by a beer barrel, holding court. There were always some willing to toady to a man of wealth, though Hawk was pleased to see that not many of the villagers fell into that category. Colonel Napier was there, and the new doctor. Scott. Outsiders.
Hawk had to admit that Slade was a trim man for his age, but he fit into the village as poorly as his house did. His clothes were perfect country clothestoday, a brown jacket, buff breeches, and gleaming top boots. The trouble was that they were too perfect, too newas real as a masquerade shepherdess.
Hawk had heard Jack Smithers commenting on the horseflesh Slade kept stabled at the Peregrine. Top-class horses, but the man was afraid of them and when he went out riding he sat like a sack of potatoes. Slade clearly wanted to exchange his money for the life of a country gentleman, but why, in the name of heaven, here?
And what new monstrosity did he have planned?
Replace the old humpbacked bridge over the river with a copy in miniature of the Westminster one?
He strolled over and accepted a tankard, and a kiss, from Bill Ashbee's wife.
"A grand affair, Major," declared Slade, smiling, though Hawk had noted before that the man's smiles to him were false. He had no idea why. Van and Con had both complained of the way Slade beamed at them, obviously trying to insinuate himself with the two local peers. A mere Hawkinville wasn't worth toadying to?
"Perhaps we should have more such fêtes," Hawk said, simply to make conversation.
"That will be for the squire to say, will it not, sir?"
Hawk ran that through his mind, wondering what it meant. It clearly meant something more than the obvious.
"I doubt my father will object as long as he doesn't have to foot the bill."
"But he won't be squire forever," said Slade.
Hawk took a drink of ale, puzzled. And alert. He knew when people were running a subtext for their own amusement. "I won't object either, Slade, on the same terms."
"If that should arise, Major, you must apply to me for a loan. I assure you, I will always be happy to support the innocent celebrations of my rustic neighbors."
Hawk glanced at the "rustic neighbors" nearby, and saw some rolled eyes and twitching lips. Slade was a figure of fun here, but Hawk's deep, dark, well-tuned instincts were registering a very different message.
He toasted Slade with his tankard. "We rustic neighbors will always be suitably appreciative, sir!" He drained the ale, hearing a few suppressed chuckles and seeing Slade's smile become fixed.
But not truly dimmed. No, the man still thought he had a winning hand. What the devil was the game, though?
Hawk turned to work his way through the crowd to where his father sat near the manor's gates, his valet hovering. A few other people had brought out chairs to keep him companynewer village residents who doubtless saw themselves as too good to romp with their "rustic neighbors," even for a lord's wedding.
Hawk put that thought out of mind. They were harmless people. The spinsterish Misses Weatherby, whose only weapon was gossiping tongues. The vicar and his wife, who probably would prefer to be in the merriment but perhaps felt obliged by charity to sit with the invalid. That Mrs. Rowland, who claimed her husband was a distant relative of the squire's. She was a sallow, dismal woman who dressed in drooping black, but he shouldn't be uncharitable. Her husband still suffered from a Waterloo injury and she was in desperate need of charity.
The squire had given her free tenancy of some rooms at the back part of the corn factor's, and freedom of produce from the home farm. In return, the woman was a frequent visitor, and she did seem to raise his father's spirits, heaven knows why. Perhaps they talked of past Gaspard glory.
Hawk remembered that he'd meant to look in on Lieutenant Rowland to see if anything could be done for his health. No one in the village had so much as seen him. Another duty on a long list.
At the moment he was more interested in Slade. There was something amiss there.
So badly amiss that Hawk changed his mind and turned back to the celebration. He didn't want to confront his father in public, but confront him he would, and squeeze the truth out of him if necessary. Whatever Slade was up to could be blocked. All the land in the village was owned by the manor.
He'd learned to put aside pending problems and grasp whatever pleasure the moment held, so he joined a laughing group of young men, who had once been lads of his own age to play with or fight with.
He kept an eye on the squire, however, and when his father was finally carried back into the Hawkinville Manor, Hawk eased away from the revels and followed. He crossed the green and the road that circled it, and went through the tall gates that always stood open these days. Once those gates and the high encircling wall, had been practical defenses. A tall stone tower still stood at one corner of the house, remnant of an even sterner medieval home of the Hawkinvilles. He was aware of a strange instinct to close the gates and man the walls.
The door opened and Mrs. Rowland came out, a basket on her arm. "Good evening, Major Hawkinville," she said, as if good was an effort of optimism. She was a Belgian and spoke with an accent. "A pleasant wedding, was it not?"
"Delightful. How is your husband, Mrs. Rowland?"
She sighed. "Perhaps he grows a little stronger."
"I must come and visit him soon."
"How very kind. He has some days better than others. I hope it will be possible." She curtsied and left with a nunlike step that made him wonder how she'd produced two children.
A very strange woman.
He shook his head and crossed the courtyard, eveningfull of rose perfume and bird-twitter. The hounds greeted him at the door, still not entirely used to him. Only old Galahad dated from his boyhood. Hawk had named him, in fact, to his father's disgust at the romantical name.
The squire called him Gally.
Perhaps it was a miracle that his father's dogs didn't bite him on sight.
When he walked in through the oak door his boots rapped on the flagstoned corridor. Strange the things that a person remembers. When he'd returned here two weeks ago, that soundhis boots on the floor along with the slight jingle of his spurshad been a trigger for explosive memories, both good and bad.
There were other triggers. The smell of wax polish, which this close to the door blended with the roses in the courtyard. There had always been, as now, roses in the pottery bowl on the table near the door. In the winter, it was rose potpourri.
Hawkinville's roses had perhaps been his mother's savior. Over the years she had abandoned everything to her husband except her rose garden. Wryly, he could remember being jealous of roses.
When he was young. When he was very, very young.
He had always been practical, and had soon learned to do without family fondness. Anyway, he'd had the families of his friends to fill any void.
It would be different now. Perhaps that was what had tinged the day with slight melancholy. By some miracle, the close friendship of the Georges seemed to have survived, but it could never be the same, not now that Van and Con had another special person in their lives. Soon, no doubt, there would be children.
But it was still there, the rare and precious friendship. As close as brothers. As close as triplets, perhaps.
Perhaps that was the tug of Hawk in the Vale. It was the home of his closest friends. But here, in the entrance hall of the house in which he had been born, he knew it was more than that.
The Hawkinvilles had been here far longer than the house, but even so his family had worn tracks in these flagstones for four hundred years, and doubtless cursed the damp that rose from them when heavy rain soaked the earth beneath.
Perhaps his older ancestors hadn't needed to duck beneath some of the dark oak lintels, though at least one had held the nickname Longshanks. Hawkinvilles had made marks in the paneling and woodwork, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. There was a pistol ball embedded in the parlor wainscoting from an unfortunate disagreement between brothers during the Civil War.
He'd thought he didn't care. Over the years in the army, he could not remember experiencing homesickness. A fierce desire at times to be away from war, a longing for peace and England, but not homesickness for this place.
It was a shock, therefore, to be falling in love like this. No, not falling. It was as if an unrecognized love had leaped from the shadows and sunk in fangs.
Hawk in the Vale. Hawkinville Manor. He reached out to lay his hand on the oak doorjamb around the front parlor door. The wood felt warm, almost alive, beneath his hand.
My God, he could be happy here.
If not for his father.
He pulled his hand away. Bad luck to wish for a death, and he didn't actively do so. But he couldn't escape the fact that his dreams depended on stepping into a dead man's shoes. There'd be no happiness for him here as long as the squire lived.
He went up the stairstoo narrow for a gentleman, his father had always grumbledand rapped on his father's door.
The valet, Fellows, opened it. "The squire is preparing for bed, sir."
"Nevertheless, I must have a word with him."
With a long-suffering look, Fellows let him in. God knows what the squire told his man, but Fellows had no high opinion of him.
"What now?" the squire demanded, his slightly twisted mouth still making the words clearly enough. Perhaps it was the damaged mouth that made him seem to sneer. But no, he'd sneered at Hawk all his life.
The seizure had affected his right arm and leg, too, and he still had little strength in either, but at a glance he did not appear much touched. He was still a handsome man in his late fifties, with blond hair touched with silver and the fine-boned features he'd given to Hawk. He kept to the old style, and wore his hair tied back in a queue. On formal occasions he even powdered it. He was sitting in a chair in his shirtsleeves now, however his feet in slippers. Not particular elegant.