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To Swoon and to Spar
Author: Martha Waters



Trethwick Abbey, Cornwall, April 1818

It was a dark and stormy night—or, rather, it should have been.

In reality, it was a sunny, breezy afternoon—one of those mild April days that truly felt as though summer were properly on its way. It had been a wet, cold winter, and Penvale had more than once wondered why, precisely, he’d thought it wise to leave London to return to Cornwall in January, of all months.

Today, however, he could not help thinking that the atmosphere would be well served by some of the bleak, stormy weather for which his ancestral home was so famed. Because he—Peter Bourne, seventh Viscount Penvale, owner of one of the oldest stately homes in all of England—was ghost-hunting.

Penvale didn’t really believe in ghosts, of course. He was a practical man, not given to flights of fancy. There was simply no chance that a house—and certainly not his house—could be haunted.

And yet here he was.

“Did you hear that?” his wife asked.

Penvale turned slowly, surveying their surroundings. “I did,” he said, squinting into the gloom. It might have been a sunny afternoon, but they were in one of the unused bedrooms on the third floor, the curtains drawn to prevent any light from entering, the furniture still covered to ward off dust, and this all lent an eerie, lonely mood to their activities.

The household staff was in the process of airing out these rooms in preparation for a house party they would be hosting in a couple of weeks’ time. Penvale’s sister and brother-in-law and closest friends would be staying with them for a fortnight, taking in the sea air, enjoying long walks along the scenic cliffs atop which Trethwick Abbey was perched, and generally savoring all the comforts the estate had to offer.

Penvale thought a haunting might cast a bit of a pallor on the proceedings.

“I think it came from the wardrobe,” his wife continued uncertainly, her large blue-violet eyes mirroring some of his own unease.

A moment of silence.

“The wardrobe,” Penvale repeated, casting a wary glance at the piece of furniture in question, a hulking presence in one corner. “Well, I suppose I should check inside.”

“Yes,” his wife agreed.

Neither one moved.

“Penvale?” she prompted.

“Yes, of course,” he said, taking a few steps toward the wardrobe; no sooner had he made it halfway across the room, however, than there was another ominous thump, this one coming from the opposite wall.

Penvale paused. “That,” he pronounced with great certainty, “did not come from the wardrobe.” He turned back to his wife, noticing that she’d gone paler.

“No?” she ventured, her voice more hesitant than he’d ever heard it.

“No,” he said more firmly, advancing on her slowly. Her eyes were fixed on his face as he approached, close enough that he could detect the fresh citrus scent that always clung to her skin.

Then, without warning, the silence between them was shattered by an earsplitting, unearthly scream.

And the candle in his wife’s hand flickered out.



Chapter One

London, three months earlier

Penvale had known nothing good could possibly come from his butler’s appearance at the study door before the man even opened his mouth.

To begin with, it was not yet noon, and Penvale’s friends weren’t the sort to call on him this early. Some—his sister, for one—had adopted the fashionable practice of sleeping late, and the others were so smugly, happily married that there was little temptation to stray far from home until considerably later in the day. Penvale was in the habit of morning exercise—a swim in the warmer months, a walk or a ride in the winter—and then a couple of hours spent in his study, with a general understanding between him and his staff that he was not to be disturbed. But the wary look on his butler’s face informed him that whatever was about to come out of Smithers’s mouth was not likely to improve his morning.

“My lord, your uncle is here to see you.”

Penvale swore. His uncle was his father’s younger—and only—brother, but the two men had been estranged for years prior to Penvale’s father’s death, and every interaction Penvale had ever had with his uncle had led him to believe the man an utter ass.

“Thank you, Smithers,” he said wearily, resisting the temptation to allow his head to drop to his desk. “You may show him in.”

In actuality, where he would have liked to have Smithers show his uncle was to the nearest pigsty, but he somehow thought that even the most obedient of butlers would balk at this request. Mud was terribly difficult to scrub out of fabric, after all.

A moment later, his uncle walked into the room. It had been a few years since Penvale had last seen John Bourne in the flesh, but he still looked largely the same: brown hair liberally streaked with gray, hazel eyes that matched Penvale’s own, and a rather diminutive frame that did nothing to lessen the cunning, canny look in his eyes.

“Uncle,” Penvale said calmly, determinedly not rising. “How unexpected.”

“Peter,” his uncle replied, nodding in acknowledgment, and Penvale immediately stiffened. No one—not his friends, not even his own sister—called him by his given name. He’d inherited the viscountcy at such a young age that he’d grown used to being addressed as Penvale, the title becoming as worn and comfortable as an old pair of shoes. He had memories of his parents calling him Peter, and of Diana doing so in the squeaky voice of a young child, but no one else had done so since then, and to hear the name now, on his uncle’s lips, caused a visceral thrill of distaste.

“Penvale will do fine,” he said shortly. “Please, sit.” He didn’t think he’d allowed his hostility to come through in his voice, and he had an excellent poker face.

His uncle took a seat opposite him, surveying his surroundings as he did so. Penvale could practically see him calculating the probable worth of every object in the room. Not that Penvale was in a position to judge, considering he’d done the same as soon as he’d moved into the house, which had been the London residence of the viscounts Penvale for generations.

Penvale leaned back in his chair, refusing to be the first to speak; he wasn’t the one who’d shown up unannounced and uninvited. The role of haughty nobleman was not one that came naturally to him—possessing a title without its accompanying estate did tend to keep a man humble—but his desire to make his uncle uncomfortable proved to be excellent motivation.

He took a sip of tea from the blue-and-white china teacup sitting to the left of his elbow. It had gone lukewarm, but he bravely carried on, pointedly declining any display of hospitality toward his uncle. As an Englishman, Penvale didn’t ordinarily like to suffer the horrors of lukewarm tea, but sacrifices must be made for the sake of rather pettily sending a message, et cetera.

“I’ll not beat around the bush,” his uncle said after a moment, and Penvale mentally awarded himself the first point. “I’m prepared to sell Trethwick Abbey to you at last.”

Penvale froze for a moment before leaning back in his seat. Trethwick Abbey had been the country seat of the viscountcy and was also the rare estate that was unentailed from the title, meaning that when Penvale’s father had died and there were steep death duties to be paid, with the estate already in debt, there had been little choice but to sell it. And his uncle, who had made a fortune with the East India Company, had immediately presented himself as a willing buyer.

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