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Windemere Hall

Windemere Hall

Автором Catherine Lloyd

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Windemere Hall

Автором Catherine Lloyd

оценки:
3/5 (4 оценки)
Длина:
355 pages
5 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
May 3, 2017
ISBN:
9781988003290
Формат:
Книге

Описание

Shy, stammering Clara Hamilton is shocked when her father announces her betrothal to a cousin she barely knows. Her uncle’s stepson, Branson Hamilton is handsome, avaricious and rumoured to be unstable. Nineteen-year-old Clara, anxious for her father’s approval, agrees to the union unaware of what is at stake. A sinister family secret surfaces and Clara soon discovers that the master of Windemere Hall has a dark revenge in store when she enters into his power.

Windemere Hall launches Catherine Lloyd’s Victorian Villains Saga. Four villainous men, cursed by their fathers, follow their legacy of greed, murder, lust and pride. Set in 1867 England, the saga is written in the classic gothic romance tradition of Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. The novel contains scenes, language and themes written for a mature audience.

Издатель:
Издано:
May 3, 2017
ISBN:
9781988003290
Формат:
Книге

Об авторе

Catherine Lloyd was born just outside London, England, into a large family of dreamers, artists, and history lovers. She completed her education with a master’s degree in history at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and uses the skills she gained there to research and write her historical mysteries. Catherine currently lives in Hawaii with her husband and four children. Her website is located at www.catherine-lloyd.com.


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Windemere Hall - Catherine Lloyd

HALL

Victorian Villains Saga ~ Book One

Gothic Historical Romance

§

CATHERINE LLOYD

Copyright 2015 Catherine Lloyd

Electronic Edition 2016

Writewood Creations

261 Lac Bernard Road

Alcove, Quebec

Canada J0X 1A0

writewoodcreations@gmail.com

www.writewoodcreations.blogspot.com

ISBN 978-1-988003-29-0

All rights reserved.

This publication remains the copyrighted property

of the author and may not be redistributed for commercial

or non-commercial purposes.

Cover Image by Grape_vein

Cover Design by Writewood Creations

Table of Contents

Title Page

Also by Catherine Lloyd

From the Publisher

WINDEMERE HALL

About the Author

Mandrake Falls Four Seasons Romance

Dark Redeemer Medieval Romance

Victorian Villains Saga

Also by Catherine Lloyd

Mandrake Falls Four Seasons Romance

The Jilting ~ Summer

Lie for Me ~ Autumn

The Way Home ~ Winter

Love Rising ~ Spring

Dark Redeemer Medieval Adventure Romance

Wanton

Wastrel

Traitor

Soldier

Victorian Villains Saga

Windemere Hall

Mark of Caine

The Master of Cliff House

Wracker’s Cove

From the Publisher

"What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh..."

Shy, stammering Clara Hamilton is shocked when her father announces her betrothal to a cousin she barely knows. Her uncle’s stepson, Branson Hamilton is handsome, avaricious and rumoured to be unstable. Nineteen-year-old Clara, anxious for her father’s approval, agrees to the union unaware of what is at stake. A sinister family secret surfaces and Clara soon discovers that the master of Windemere Hall has a dark revenge in store when she enters into his power.

§

Windemere Hall launches Catherine Lloyd’s Victorian Villains Saga. Four villainous men, cursed by their fathers, follow their legacy of greed, murder, lust and pride. Set in 1867 England, the saga is written in the classic gothic romance tradition of Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney.

The heat level in the novel is ‘steamy.’ Windemere Hall contains scenes, language and themes written for a mature audience.

WINDEMERE HALL

§

~ Betrothed ~

Chapter One

St. James Place, London – September 1867

THERE WERE few enough young gentlemen courting Clara Hamilton in the months preceding her father’s financial embarrassment. After the accusations of embezzlement starting pouring in, there were none.

She sat in a straight-backed chair near the window where her father had declared the light was the most flattering, and paid keen attention to Arthur Hamilton’s every word—even though every word was frightening her half to death.

Young ladies must strive for grace, ease, and charm if they are to please their fathers and attract the notice of eligible suitors, Arthur was saying.

It is simply a matter of putting your mind to it.

Clara nodded rapidly. She would keep her hands folded in her lap and not twist them into knots signalling her anxiety. She vowed to remain poised throughout the visit. She would not disappoint. She understood how crucial today was of all days to make a good impression. Her father’s trouble was too pressing to be lightly passed over. Although the scandal had been kept out of the newspapers, Clara was aware if rescue did not come soon, all would be lost.

For this reason—the embarrassment and the blot on the family name—Arthur Hamilton was forced to entertain an offer of marriage from a man he disliked and distrusted.

Clara nodded again. Her hands strained against her control. Calm yourself. Remember Doctor Hargreaves’s solution for when one got into difficulty. Recite the alphabet. A-B-C—

Clara, have you heard a word I’ve said? Specifically, your cousin, Branson desires your hand in marriage and I expect you to comply with my wishes and accept him. The scoundrel is either unaware of your affliction or else he has something up his sleeve. The question is do you think you can manage to get through the interview without breaking out in that infernal stutter?

Arthur was already exasperated and she hadn’t said a word. Clara’s speech impediment drove Papa to distraction. She developed the affliction at the age of twelve and it had proven to be yet another barrier to gaining her father’s love.

Good God, Father, you make this betrothal sound like she’s a housemaid applying for a position. Edgar Hamilton turned his gaze on his sister. I knew Branson in school. Bit of a dark horse. The rumour is he’s unstable. Don’t cross him, that sort of thing. He’s not an easy man to know or to like if I’m honest. But becoming his wife will not be a fate worse than death. Don’t let father frighten you.

She loved her brother dearly but Arthur had already frightened her by springing this suitor on her and then pressing her to accept his offer of marriage. Clara desperately wanted to make her father happy but her estranged cousin coming to London for the purpose of asking for her hand was a heavy trial on her newly recovered nerves.

Branson Reilly-Hamilton.

Branson Hamilton was not a real Hamilton in the sense that he was not related to them by blood. He was the stepson of Arthur’s elder brother, Leonard. The move to make the connection a legal one came after Branson’s mother died when he was sixteen. Ida Reilly had been the love of Leonard Hamilton’s life. The inveterate bachelor fell hard for lovely widow after their first meeting. Mrs. Reilly was a lowly milliner with a son twelve years of age, neither of which deterred Leonard Hamilton from asking for her hand. They were married within the week and mother and son installed at Windemere Hall.

But it was bestowing the ancient family name on his stepson that sent Arthur Hamilton into fits of apoplexy. He strongly objected to a milliner’s son being placed on the same social footing as his son, Edgar. Arthur accused the lad of having ambitions above his station and manipulating his stepfather for his own gain.

The Hamilton brothers had a fierce row about it. Leonard was unable to convince Arthur that he wanted Branson to have his name and Arthur was unable to respect his older brother’s wishes.

They fell out and rarely spoke to each other after that. When Leonard Hamilton died, the London branch of the family was shocked to learn that the family estate, Windemere Hall, had been bequeathed to Branson Reilly-Hamilton.

His name is Branson Reilly. I don’t care what the villain calls himself. The fellow is not a real Hamilton.

Arthur grumbled and paced and wondered how he was going to finesse this meeting to his advantage.

Not the least of my issues is the loss of Windemere Hall. This marriage might be our only chance to recover what is ours from that grasping, avaricious scoundrel. This so-called nephew of mine has inherited the estate, taken possession as master, and lives like a king from the toil of the Hamilton family—who are his betters in every way—and does he acknowledge the debt or repay us with any degree of respect? Arthur thundered. That it has come to this—that I must give away my only daughter for the privilege of using what was mine by right! The Hamilton fortune was to go to Edgar!

Perhaps this b-b-betrothal will bring an end to the animosity between our two families, Clara replied haltingly. Her father’s temper was getting the better of him. She cringed at the thought of Branson walking into a room boiling with resentment and then asking for her hand. If he is willing to marry me, doesn’t that suggest our cousin is desirous to earn your g-g-good opinion, Father?

Yes, yes, perhaps. I would not admit him to the house otherwise. Arthur pulled on his beard and waved abstractedly. The point is how are we to take our property back from the usurper with this marriage? That is what I want to know.

He turned to Clara’s brother with a demand for answers in his face.

Edgar tried to look as though he was seriously considering the problem but her brother had his own axe to grind.

"I do not understand why Uncle Leonard did not name me as next in line. He ought to have done as I was his blood relation and I had done nothing to displease him. I like Branson well enough, in fact, I think I was the only friend he had at Oxford, poor devil—but he is not a gentleman. He hasn’t the native intelligence to manage an estate as lucrative as Windemere. He’ll run the thing into the ground. I would have kept my cousin on as manager if I’d been asked, no difficulty there. Branson would do well with a strong lead. But to be cut out of the will without a word of explanation! I am angry, Father. The last thing I want is for my sister to be wed to the fellow and see him gain even more wealth from our family. You’ll settle her with a yearly allowance—I daresay that’s what Branson has his eye on."

If he does, he’s in for a rude shock. There will be no allowance because there is no money.

Arthur turned away and Clara and Edgar exchanged an uneasy look behind his back.

How can that be, Father? Clara ventured timidly. You are so c-clever in business.

You know the trouble I am in! None of which is my fault. If I’d had the Hamilton fortune to fall back on, I would not have had to resort to extreme measures to keep my daughter in dresses and trips to private doctors for rest cures! He glared at Clara who crimsoned.

The charge of embezzlement is completely false, continued Arthur in a huff. "One does not embezzle from one’s own company—it was a loan. Unfortunately, the board disagreed. As it happens, I need Branson’s backing to keep the chairman from calling the bailiff. I was exceedingly reluctant to accept your cousin’s offer, but if the funds are not restored to the firm’s accounts by the first of October, we will be bankrupt, and worse."

Edgar pounded his fist. "It is Hamilton capital he’ll be using to invest! Can’t you see what he’s doing? Branson has convinced you he is doing you a favour when in fact he is taking your daughter and half your business! You’ll be in his power, Father. From what I hear at the Exchange, my cousin is ruthless when it comes to making money. He’s heavily invested in Britain’s railway boom; his power and wealth grows daily. You’ll be placing the firm in a very precarious position by taking him on as a shareholder."

"I’d agree with you, Edgar, if that is all the villain would be; but as my son-in-law, my interests will be Branson’s interests. Don’t you see? This wedding will keep the devil in check."

Arthur turned to Clara who had been listening to the exchange with mounting anxiety. Her father’s reputation and the future of the firm depended entirely on her betrothal to Branson Hamilton leading to marriage.

This is why her mother had taken to her bed.

In the wake of this financial catastrophe, not even Arthur could induce his wife to leave her room. Clara had little strength herself upon hearing the terrible news. She feared that all the good Dr. Hargreaves had done for her was about to be undone.

"If Branson Reilly seeks to entrench himself in the Hamilton family, I am willing to oblige the fellow on the condition that we are given access to his capital. Quid pro quo. And we must be realistic about Clara’s chances of making a good marriage if left to her own devices. As much as it grieves me to say it, dearest, you are not in a position to turn down offers—even from miscreants such as Mr. Reilly."

Arthur closed his lips tightly and blinked in her direction with a look that suggested she had failed him on purpose.

Clara reddened and fixed her eyes on her hands, willing them to remain still. She was deeply ashamed of her breakdown and subsequent rest cure. Father had gone to great expense to place her in the care of Dr. Hargreaves, a specialist in cures for women suffering from nervous disorders. His methods were successful, but Clara was horrified to discover the financial burden she had placed on her family.

Marrying Branson Reilly was a small price to pay to win her father’s approval. She’d always fallen short of the mark—but not this time.

Father, you mistake me. I do not object to the arrangement. I’ve been a disappointment to you, I know, but I am well now and if we c-c-could be friends again, I should be the happiest of d-d-daughters. A sheen of perspiration collected at her hairline.

Yes, yes, said Arthur impatiently. If you want to make me happy, for God’s sake, don’t start that stammering nonsense around your cousin. You’ll drive him away. It’s best if you don’t say anything at all. Your looks will have to suffice. Such as they are.

She coloured to the roots of her hair and lapsed into silence.

You’re all right, Clara. Edgar winked. Father is a bear with a sore head this morning. Don’t let him frighten you. I expect Branson Reilly has his own reasons for asking for your hand that have little to do with business.

At that moment, the door opened and the downstairs maid entered followed closely by a tall, fine-looking man that Clara scarcely recognized.

Mr. Branson Hamilton, sir.

BRANSON STEPPED boldly into the room and gazed at their astonished faces. His uncle and cousin Edgar gaped. The drawing room of the Hamilton house in London was rather fine, one of the prettiest and brightest in the city despite the recent reversals in Arthur Hamilton’s finances. But there was an air of retrained tension in the three assembled when he walked in.

The men roused themselves to greet him but the young woman seated near the window fixed her gaze on the floor.

Branson groaned inwardly and steeled himself for her disdain. The girl must be his betrothed, his cousin Clara. Seven years had passed since their last meeting and from her chilly greeting he surmised she was less than pleased with the arrangement.

I’m sorry, sir, the maid said. The gentleman would not wait for an invitation but insisted on coming straight in.

That is quite all right, Tilly. Mr. Reilly knows we don’t stand on ceremony here. You may leave us—and close the door, if you please.

Edgar was the first to collect his wits. Hello, Branson. You look well. Did you have a pleasant journey from Somerset?

I had a pleasant journey from Windemere Hall if that’s what you mean. He turned his cold stare on Arthur. My name is Hamilton, sir. Branson Hamilton. Reilly was my mother’s name.

And your father’s presumably, unless you were born out of wedlock. Your mother never said and my brother decided it was none of our business thus preventing inquiry. However, it is all water under the bridge now, eh? My brother gave you our family name so that is how I will address you in future.

You do me honour. Branson bowed stiffly for appearances sake. His manner was polite but utterly lacking in affection or respect.

Branson Hamilton turned to his silent cousin. Shall I wait to be presented to my betrothed or can I rely on your assertion that you do not stand on ceremony and introduce myself? Miss Clara Hamilton.

He gave a short bow. She returned his greeting with a slight nod and looked away. Branson ground his teeth. We are cousins but I hope we shall soon be more to each other.

Her blood rose to her face and it seemed to Branson that Clara Hamilton had to summon great courage to meet his eyes.

It is delightful to make your ac-c-quaintance again, M-m-m—

Oh for God’s sake, spit it out, girl! Arthur exploded. We haven’t got all day.

Branson frowned. He’d heard his cousin was in the care of a private doctor, but he assumed the cause was not serious. Fashionable young ladies were prone to spells that rarely amounted to much. You must call me Branson. I am pleased to make your acquaintance though we have met before. Do you remember?

Branson, she said in a small voice as though trying it out. She smiled a rather pretty smile that animated her features. Her hands relaxed. I remember. You were twelve and I was five and Edgar was thirteen. I wanted to join in your game but Edgar wouldn’t allow it. You kindly tolerated my interference for an hour or more before I was called away by my mother.

You have a wonderful memory. I don’t recall half of that but I am glad I did not make a poor first impression.

There had been another meeting seven years later, when Clara was twelve, but Branson would not risk reminding her of it and show his hand so soon. His nineteen-year-old cousin had not grown to be a great beauty, a factor that worked in his favour. The ease with which his scheme was coming together made it seemed divinely ordered. He turned to his uncle.

I should like to set the wedding day as soon as possible if that is all right with you, Uncle. Within the month is what I had in mind. The ceremony will be held at the chapel on the Windemere estate—with your approval, of course. He nodded, politely.

Arthur responded enthusiastically. That would be most suitable. The older man pulled on his beard. However, there is one small condition: there will be no marriage allowance forthcoming. I should make that clear from the outset. I cannot see my way clear to settling Clara with even a pound note. I trust her social position will be compensation enough.

Branson smiled. This was better than he hoped. While it is desirable for a woman to have an income of her own when entering marriage, it is not necessary. The value of our union will be in the financial stake I’ll have in your firm. I trust you’ll make the announcement at the next meeting of the shareholders?

The sooner, the better. Arthur appeared relieved. The value of our stock continues to plummet; we are in dire need of an injection of capital to keep afloat. I don’t mind telling you, dear boy, these have been trying times.

Then I am glad to be of assistance. I see no reason to delay any longer. Can I be satisfied that Miss Hamilton has accepted my offer?

Clara appeared unable to answer without her father’s approbation. She sat like a sphinx, her hands twisting in her lap until the skin was white with tension.

She has accepted, Branson. No objection there. We’ve been over it and Clara is in agreement. She’s not likely to find another suitor. You’ve found your best match in each other, I should think, given the respective social marks against you. Wouldn’t you agree, Clara?

The tormented girl smiled and nodded. Branson was mildly disgusted with himself for taking advantage of Arthur’s disdain for his daughter—but not enough to prevent him from putting his plan into action. Clara Hamilton deserved what she had coming to her.

Chapter Two

THEN IT is settled, said Branson. My advisor, Mr. Schofield, will bring Miss Hamilton in his carriage to Windemere Hall the third Sunday in September. I’ll make the arrangements with the local vicar to perform the ceremony. There is no need for you or my aunt to attend. We will call on you in December when we have returned from our wedding trip if that will suit you.

Fine! That is fine. Clara’s father had already lost interest in his only daughter’s wedding plans. Arthur had his eye on bigger game. I propose we toast to your investment in the firm, Branson, and to a long and profitable partnership.

Branson crossed the room to Clara. He had it in mind to make a show of gallantry that would convince her of his devotion. He lifted her hand to his lips, a small pale hand that trembled like a bird in his. Branson’s hands were large and brown hands, roughened from toil and riding. He kissed the inside of her wrist lightly and then fixed his cousin with a puzzled stare.

Her skin was warm and a light sheen beaded her brow. A delicate rosy pink crested the nape of her neck.

I hope you will not find it too tedious at Windemere, he murmured. There is little to choose from for society. We shall be quite alone.

I don’t m-m-mind a quiet life, sir. You are k-k-kind to ask.

His betrothed lapsed into silence. The simplest of phrases scrambled on her tongue and halted at the back of her throat. When the girl tried to force them they came out in an embarrassing staccato burst.

Clara turned to her father, clearly begging to be excused. Branson could see by the strain in her face that it would be a painfully laborious exchange for both speaker and listener.

Arthur barked. Oh, good God, if you can’t manage a simple ‘good-day’ without half choking to death you’d better go. Find your mother. Tell her the good news. And then make arrangements with Tilly to get your frocks in order. The new mistress of Windemere Hall cannot be a drudge. Sadly, my dear, you have not the sense of most young women your age to dress becomingly.

Arthur turned away, dismissively.

Clara jumped awkwardly to her feet and in doing so, her elbow made contact with a beautiful porcelain vase sitting on a small end table.

The vase rocked and toppled. Branson reached out his arm and caught it just before it smashed to the floor.

He set it back on the table carefully and turned to Clara who was hovering at his shoulder. She looked about to faint. Thank you, she whispered. The vase is a favourite of my father’s. He would be d-d-devastated to lose it and I have already disappointed him—

What’s that now? Arthur boomed from across the room where he was pouring drinks. What are you two whispering about?

I was enquiring about this lovely vase and my cousin was kind enough to answer.

Fair warning, sir, don’t let her near anything precious or fragile at the Hall. She is as clumsy as can be. Her mother is the personification of grace; I can’t think what happened to Clara.

Father! Edgar protested.

What? I’ve never indulged in false flattery and I’m not going to start now. Arthur handed Branson a tumbler of scotch. Clara’s the odd duck in the family. Her mother is still considered a great beauty and Edgar is always in demand at dinners and salons for his wit. By contrast, my daughter has difficulty making even the smallest conversation. The gentlemen of our acquaintance quickly tired of trying to coax her out of her shell. Perhaps you’ll have better luck with her, eh, nephew?

Branson sipped his scotch and observed his cousin who looked truly miserable. Perhaps.

Oh come now, Clara! There’s no need for tears. I am only teasing. You may go now. Go, for pity’s sake, before you leave a puddle on the floor.

Branson watched her dash from the room like a jackrabbit. From her distress, one would think his cousin had been bullied into accepting his marriage proposal. Though how Arthur could have coerced her was a mystery. Perhaps Clara Hamilton was caught in the same net that he was, a net woven by those who made the rules.

As the door closed behind her, Clara’s father rudely snorted. For the sum I paid to send her to that quack, Hargreaves, I expected the ugly duckling to return a swan. The blessed girl stutters as much as ever. Her mother always paid it too much notice. I swear Clara does it to aggravate me.

I don’t remember the affliction when we were children. How long has she been stammering?

It came on at twelve or thirteen. No reason for it. Does it for show in my opinion. Clara was an introverted, nervous adolescent—jumpy, claimed to have nightmares—utter nonsense, of course. And I’m sorry to say my daughter is not beautiful; I expect the speech impediment is her way of getting male attention. I confess you are doing us a great service by taking her off our hands, Branson. She’s a good girl, make no mistake. You’ll have no problem with her. She knows her place and she’s eager to please. Her shyness will work in your favour. She’ll not nag you as a prettier woman might. You may do as you please and she’ll not object. Scared of her own shadow, she is.

Clara Hamilton was not far enough out of earshot of the drawing room to avoid hearing her father’s booming assessment of her faults. She was cut to the quick by his words but could not defend herself against them.

Frightened of her own shadow—no, she was not. Frightened of the shadows that no one else could see?

Yes. Those were the shadows Clara Hamilton worried about.

§

Somerset County – Late September 1867

THE WHEELS of the carriage rattled down a rarely used forest path to Windemere Hall Chapel, a small parish situated on the estate. Fifty years ago, the chapel was a place of worship for the household and neighbouring gentry.

It’s all but abandoned now, said Mr. Schofield. Left to ruin. A squat stone and timber building. Rather cheerless place for a wedding, I’d say.

Clara appreciated that Mr. Schofield meant well by bringing her down to earth, but she wished he would find something more encouraging to talk about on her wedding day. She was nervous as it was, but she was also keenly anticipating seeing her betrothed again. Branson Hamilton and the sensation of his lips on her wrist had overtaken her thoughts.

Her husband-to-be was not classically handsome as her brother’s friends were, but he possessed a powerful animal magnetism. Edgar said Branson had no end of female admirers who would be delighted to be in Clara’s shoes. Branson Hamilton was an impressive specimen of masculinity; over six feet tall, well-formed in his physique and known for his brilliance in business and science. He had thick blonde hair and piercing sapphire eyes that darkened to indigo at times. She had watched his eyes change colour over the course of his conversation with her father. He interested her. Her cousin did not behave as other men did. He was not unmannerly ... but his manners were not predictable.

Clara had given her betrothed plenty of thought in the past week. She might be jumpy as her father claimed, but she was not delusional. Branson could marry any woman he wanted. His inheritance and business acumen had made him a desirable catch. Why had he settled for her? This was not false modesty; Clara knew her failings. Even now, her stomach was in knots thinking about the wedding vow she

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  • (3/5)
    Very dramatic revenge drama. Clara and Bran are truly amazing.