“I will be honored to assist you in resettling the entail, my lord,” Fogg said.
“That won’t be necessary.”
Both the estate manager and solicitor looked perturbed at Devon’s reply.
“My lord,” Totthill said, “I can assure you of Mr. Fogg’s competence in such matters. He has twice assisted in resettling the entail for the Ravenels.”
“I don’t doubt his competence.” Relaxing back in his chair, Devon propped his booted feet on the desk. “However, I don’t want to be limited by an entail, since I intend to sell the estate.”
A shocked silence greeted his pronouncement.
“What portion of it?” Totthill dared to ask.
“All, including the house.”
Aghast, the two men burst out with protests… Eversby Priory was a historic inheritance, won through the service and sacrifice of his ancestors… Devon would have no respectable position without retaining at least a fragment of the estate… Surely he could not mean to disgrace his future offspring by leaving them a landless title.
Exasperated, Devon gestured for the pair to be silent. “Trying to preserve Eversby Priory would involve far more effort than it’s worth,” he said flatly. “No rational man would conclude otherwise. As for my future offspring, there won’t be any, since I have no intention of marrying.”
The estate manager cast an imploring glance at West. “Mr. Ravenel, you cannot support your brother in this folly.”
West extended his hands as if they were a set of weighing scales, and compared invisible counterbalances. “On one hand, he has a lifetime of responsibility, debt, and drudgery. On the other, he has freedom and pleasure. Is there really a choice?”
Before the elderly men could respond, Devon spoke briskly. “The course is set. To begin with, I want a list of investments, deeds, and interests, as well as a complete inventory of every item in the London house and the estate. That includes paintings, tapestries, rugs, furniture, bronzes, marbles, silverware, and the contents of the glasshouses, the stables, and the carriage house.”
Totthill asked dully, “Will you want an estimate of all the livestock, my lord?”
“Not my horse.” A new voice entered the conversation. All four men looked to the doorway, where Kathleen stood as straight and rigid as a blade. She stared at Devon with open loathing. “The Arabian belongs to me.”
Everyone rose to his feet except for Devon, who remained seated at the desk. “Do you ever enter a room the ordinary way?” he asked curtly, “or is it your usual habit to slink past the threshold and pop up like a jack-in-the-box?”
“I only want to make it clear that while you’re tallying the spoils, you will remove my horse from the list.”
“Lady Trenear,” Mr. Fogg interceded, “I regret to say that on your wedding day, you relinquished all rights to your movable property.”
Kathleen’s eyes narrowed. “I’m entitled to keep my jointure and all the possessions I brought to the marriage.”
“Your jointure,” Totthill agreed, “but not your possessions. I assure you that no court in England will regard a married woman as a separate legal being. The horse was your husband’s, and now it belongs to Lord Trenear.”
Kathleen’s face went skull-white, and then red. “Lord Trenear is stripping the estate like a jackal with a rotting carcass. Why must he be given a horse that my father gave to me?”
Infuriated that Kathleen would show him so little deference in front of the others, Devon stood from the desk and approached her in a few strides. To her credit, she didn’t cower, even though he was twice her size. “Devil take you,” he snapped, “none of this is my fault.”
“Of course it is. You’ll seize on any excuse to sell Eversby Priory because you don’t want to take on a challenge.”
“It’s only a challenge when there’s some small hope of success. This is a debacle. The list of creditors is longer than my bloody arm, the coffers are empty, and the annual yields have been cut in half.”
“I don’t believe you. You’re planning to sell the estate to settle personal debts that have nothing to do with Eversby Priory.”
Devon’s hands knotted with the urge to destroy something. His rising bloodlust would only be satisfied with the sound of shattering objects. He had never faced a situation like this, and there was no one to give him trustworthy advice, no kindly aristocratic relation, no knowledgeable friends in the peerage. And this woman could only accuse and insult him.
“I had no debt,” he growled, “until I inherited this mess. God’s bollocks, did your idiot husband never explain any of the estate’s issues to you? Were you completely ignorant of how dire the situation was when you married him? No matter – someone has to face reality, and Christ help us all, it seems to be me.” He turned his back on her and returned to the desk. “Your presence isn’t wanted,” he said without looking back. “You will leave now.”
“Eversby Priory has survived four hundred years of revolutions and foreign wars,” he heard Kathleen say contemptuously, “and now it will take but one self-serving rake to bring it all to ruins.”
As if he were entirely to blame for the situation. As if he alone would be accountable for the estate’s demise. Damn her to hell.
With effort, Devon swallowed back his outrage. Deliberately he stretched out his legs with relaxed indolence and glanced at his brother. “West, are we quite certain that Cousin Theo perished in a fall?” he asked coolly. “It seems far more likely that he froze to death in the marital bed.”