Home > A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(9)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(9)
Author: Tessa Dare

Susanna choked on her tea. “What? Lord Rycliff? But that title is extinct. There hasn’t been an Earl of Rycliff since . . .”

“Since 1354. Precisely. The title has lain dormant for nearly five centuries. When I wrote to him emphasizing Bramwell’s contributions, the Prince Regent was glad of my suggestion to revive it.”

A powder blast in the Red Salon could not have stunned Susanna more. Her gaze darted to the officer in question. For a man elevated to the peerage, he didn’t look happy about it, either.

“Good God,” Payne remarked. “An earl? This can’t be borne. As if it weren’t bad enough that he controls my fortune, my cousin now outranks me. Just what does this earldom include, anyhow?”

“Not much besides the honor of the title. No real lands to speak of, except for the—”

“The castle,” Susanna finished, her voice remote.

Her castle.

Of course, Rycliff Castle didn’t belong to her, but she’d always felt possessive of it. No one else seemed to want the pile of ruins, after all. And when they’d first taken this house and she’d been so weakened from fever, Papa had called it hers. You must get well, Susanna Jane, he’d said to her. You have your very own castle to explore.

“Susanna, show them all the model.” Her father looked pointedly at a high shelf on the room’s southern wall.

“Papa, I’m sure the lieutenant colonel wouldn’t be interested in—”

“He’s Lord Rycliff now. Of course he’ll be interested. It’s his castle.”

His castle. She couldn’t believe it. Why hadn’t her father told her anything about this?

“The model, dear,” her father prompted. “I’d fetch the thing on my own, but you know you’re the only one tall enough to reach that shelf.”

With a quiet sigh, Susanna dutifully rose from her chair and crossed the room to retrieve the clay model she’d made of Rycliff Castle more than a decade ago. Sometimes life could be astonishingly efficient in dispensing mortifications. In the space of a minute, she would be exposed before three male visitors to be both freakishly tall and an abominably poor sculptor. What would come next? Perhaps her father would invite the men to count her freckles, one by one. They’d be here until moonrise.

Suddenly, Bramwell was at her side.

“This?” he asked, touching a finger to the model’s edge.

She cringed, wishing she could deny it. “Yes, thank you.”

As he retrieved the model from the shelf, she stole glances at him out of the corner of her eye. She had to admit, the Rycliff title suited him. Give the man a mace and a chain mail vest, and she could easily have mistaken him for a medieval warrior, squeezed through some rocky gap in the centuries to emerge in modern day. From the sheer size of him, large and solid all over, to that squared jaw, shadowed with a day’s or more growth of whiskers. He moved with more power than grace, and he wore his dark hair long, tied back at his nape with a bit of leather cord. And the way he’d looked at her just before that kiss—as though he would devour her, and she would enjoy it—was straight from the Dark Ages.

As he presented the crumbling mess of sun-dried clay and pasted-on moss, Susanna fought the urge to blow dust off the thing. Evidently the maids couldn’t reach this shelf, either.

“Isn’t it clever?” Her father took the model from Bramwell’s hands and held it up. “Susanna made this when she was fifteen years old.”

“Fourteen,” she corrected, cursing herself a moment later. Because “fourteen” somehow made it better?

With a flourish, her father placed the model on a table in the center of the room. The men reluctantly gathered around it. Bramwell glowered at the lumpy gray diorama.

“It may not look like much,” her father said, “but Rycliff Castle’s history is legend. Built by William the Conqueror himself, then enlarged by Henry the Eighth. It’s situated on a bluff, right on the sea’s edge. Below is the cove, see?” He pointed. “And the water’s a lovely color in truth, not this murky gray.”

Susanna touched her ear. “There was blue paint, once. It’s flaked away.”

Sir Lewis went on, “The cove was a bustling medieval port. Then, in the thirteenth century, there was a terrific landslide. The result of storms, erosion. No one knows. Half of the original castle fell into the sea, and what’s left is in ruins. But come along, Bramwell.” Sir Lewis prodded the officer. “Look happy. Haven’t you always wanted a castle?”

At his side, Susanna watched the man’s massive hand gather into a fist. She heard knuckles crack.

“Sir Lewis, I’m honored, and I appreciate your recommendation, but this”—he waved at the model—“is not what I had in mind. I’m not interested in playing at knights and dragons.”

Ignoring him, Sir Lewis jabbed his forefinger on the table’s lacquered surface, to what would have been the castle’s western side. “The village would be just about here, down in the valley. Charming little place.” Then he turned and squinted at the far corner of the room. “And just about where that jade medallion is displayed”—he pointed—“would be Cherbourg, on the northern coast of France.”

Bramwell glanced toward the jade, then looked back at Sir Lewis. His brow rose in silent question.

Sir Lewis clapped a hand on the officer’s shoulder. “You did want a command, Bramwell. Well, you’ve just been granted a castle on England’s southern coast, not fifty miles distant from the enemy. As the new lord, you’ll raise a militia to defend it.”

“What?” Susanna blurted out. “A militia, here?”

She must have misheard, or misunderstood. These men were meant to take tea—perhaps a nice dinner—and then leave. Never to be seen again. She could not become neighbors with the sheep-bomber. And heavens . . . a militia? What would become of the ladies and Mrs. Nichols’s rooming house? There were no men like these in Spindle Cove. The absence of rakes and officers was the village’s primary attraction.

“Papa, please stop jesting,” she said lightly. “We don’t want to waste the gentlemen’s time. You know very well, a militia would be useless here.”

“Useless?” Bramwell cut her a look. “Militias aren’t useless. To the contrary, they’re essential. In case you were unaware, Miss Finch, England is at war.”

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology