A Little More From A Seduction In Silk"Writing with her signature sense of grace and wit, RITA Award winner Beverly presents readers with another deliciously entertaining, exquisitely sensual entry in her popular Malloren World series." John Charles Booklist
The main order of business was to read the will, identify the poisons, and find antidotes. Perriam Manor must pass into his father’s eager hands, and he wasn’t marrying the Mallow girl, whoever she might be.
He walked briskly along a paneled corridor to the massive dark oak staircase and descended to the oak-paneled hall. Even the floor was the same—oak planks darkened by the centuries.
Oh for pale tiling and light-colored walls.
And windows that weren’t overhung by ivy.
A footman stood on duty.
“Where’s Lord Raymore?” Perry asked him.
“In the library, sir.” After a moment the man realized this meant nothing and led the way across the hall.
“Thank you. Have bedchambers prepared for both of us, and something to eat. And bring some drink in here immediately.” Considering the will in his hand, Perry added, “Brandy.”
He entered a modest room which had scantily filled shelves and a musty smell. Unsurprisingly, Giles had not been a book lover. There were two good-sized windows of small lozenge-shaped panes, but they too were curtained with ivy. Perry’s friend Lord Raymore, seated at the long oaken table, had had to light a branch of candles in order to read a slim tome.
His friend’s name in full was Major Lord Raymore, but also Lord Cynric Malloren. To his friends he was Cyn.
Their friendship was recent and had come about when they’d been harnessed in a task by Cyn’s brother the Marquess of Rothgar. In many ways they were different, for Cyn had lived a military life and Perry’s field of action had been court and politics, but they’d liked each other from the first, and enjoyed each other’s company.
Despite his success as a soldier, Cyn was deceptively slight of build and pleasant of feature. As he also had curling russet hair, he could almost be called pretty, but men paid dearly if they said it to his face. Perry was not of much larger build, but his looks were more clearly masculine and his hair dark, so he didn’t have to deal with that problem.
Cyn had been with Perry when he’d received Giles’s letter and insisted on accompanying him. Now he put aside the book.
“How is he, and has he explained his whimsy?”
Perry tossed the papers on the table. “He’s dead and it’s not whimsy. It’s a thicket of spite.”
The footman returned with a tray holding a decanter of brandy and two glasses.
“Requiring strong drink, I see.” Cyn took charge of pouring. Once the footman had closed the door, he said, “Tell me all. That’s why I’m here.”
Perry took the brandy and wandered the room as he gave an account of the deathbed conversation.
“Curses, conditions, and conundrums,” Cyn said. “The will must clarify all.”
Perry glared at it. “I cling to the illogical feeling that until read, any problems it contains don’t yet exist.”
Cyn merely raised a brow, so Perry sat and untied the black ribbon that held all together. It loosed two sets of folded papers, and he glanced at the contents of each.
“The will and a document in Giles’s scrawl. Which to read first?”
“Direct and to the point.” Perry smoothed the three sheets flat but looked first at the end of the last one. “Signed only two days ago. I wonder what any previous one contained.”
“Irrelevant. Stop delaying.”
Perry shot Cyn a look, but he scanned the first page. “The usual preamble . . . Ah. ‘Lacking a son to inherit, I am compelled to fulfill an old family pact and pass Perriam Manor along with all its contents and lands to the senior branch of the Perriam family, that of the Earl of Hernescroft. Thus I name as heir Peregrine Charles Perriam, youngest son of the said earl.’ I hope the devil’s toasting him.”
“Why? An estate like this is hardly a burden.”
“No? The restoration of Perriam Manor to the earldom has been a holy quest for two centuries, passed along with a Perriam’s first milk.”
“So now all is right.”
“Don’t be dense. My owning it is merely a new schism.”
“My apologies for my denseness, but I don’t understand any of this.”
Perry ran a hand through his hair. “No, I apologize. Of course you don’t. Let me try to make it simple. Back in the reign of Henry the Eighth, the Lord Perriam of the time had no sons, so his two daughters were set to inherit.”
“Ah, I know something of that. I was reading A History of Perriam Manor, which was prominently displayed in the center of the table.”
“The Beatrician side of the story.”
“The two sisters. Cecily the older, and Beatrice the younger. The Cecilian line and the Beatrician.”
“Can the two accounts be different?” Cyn asked.
“Immeasurably so, I suspect. Beatrice wanted the Perriam properties to be equally divided, but Cecily objected, insisting that the future Lord Perriam’s estates should not be diminished. Their father had already petitioned the king and gained agreement that the title of Lord Perriam could pass through one or the other of his daughters, going in order of age. Cecily was the older and already had a son.”
“Who would be the next baron. Demanding all was somewhat greedy.”
“So Beatrice thought. The fighting went on until the king intervened. Beatrice could have only one of the four estates involved, but she could choose which.”
“Almost Solomon-like,” Cyn said. “I assume she chose this one. Why should it create such bitterness? It was the richest?”
“No. The Worcestershire property was already larger and more productive, but this is the oldest. It was built in the late fifteenth century, but on the site of one dating to the thirteenth. This is the Perriam birthplace.”
Cyn whistled. “Clever Beatrice.”
“If that’s how you choose to see it. Cecily was furious, but all she and her advisers could do was try to limit the damage. A pact was agreed that if Beatrice’s line failed to provide a direct male heir, the estate would return to the whole. I presume the document is among these papers. I’ve never read it. At that point, Beatrice had three daughters and was close to the end of her childbearing years, so Cecily must have hoped for a rapid correction. However, the needed son arrived, and the line has continued to provide a direct male heir for two hundred and forty-one years. Until now.”
“So the moment of restoration is at hand, but your inheriting won’t be considered complete restoration?”
“It won’t be considered any restoration at all. Consider, a Perriam has owned the place for centuries, but not the right Perriam. My father will have an apoplexy when he finds out. It certainly won’t increase his fondness for me. Not that I care,” Perry said quickly, “but we’re an ill-humored family at the best of times.”
“Then give him this place,” Cyn said.
“Apparently it won’t be so easy. Giles said he’d provided for that.”
Perry picked up the will to seek the clause, aware that he hadn’t yet told Cyn about the marriage threat. He skimmed over the words until he found the part. “‘If Peregrine Perriam sells or passes on the estate before death, any such sale or gift will be negated and the whole will pass to Viscount Nethercote.’ Damn him to Hades!”
“Explain why Nethercote is a particular problem. Bear in mind that I’ve spent most of my adult life out of the country, and certainly out of the beau monde.”
“Nethercote and my father have been at odds for years over some property that’s rich in coal, and recently my father won. Nethercote wouldn’t sell Perriam Manor to my father for a king’s ransom.”
“What a family you are for quarrels.”
“I can’t deny it, and Giles has exploited that.” He tapped the will. “This, my friend, is a carefully planned dagger, and he’s had time to hone it to perfection.”
“Surely you’ll be able to will Perriam Manor to whom you wish?”
“I assume so, but may I hope that won’t come into force for many decades?”
“Your father won’t be willing to wait? Ah, of course. Not in his lifetime.”
“Quite. And he’s expecting to celebrate soon. In fact, within weeks.”
“He can’t shoot you.”
Perry grimaced. “I wouldn’t be too sure.”
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