Mistress of His RevengeBy: Chantelle Shaw
THE HONOURABLE HUGO FFAULKS—with two Fs—was drunk and being sick into a vase. Not just any vase, Sabrina noted, her lips tightening with annoyance. The vase was a fine example of early eighteenth-century English porcelain and had been valued at fifteen hundred pounds by an auction house that had recently catalogued the antiques at Eversleigh Hall.
Compared to the value of the hall’s art collection, which included two Gainsboroughs and a portrait by Joshua Reynolds, fifteen hundred pounds was not a vast sum, but in Sabrina’s current financial crisis she needed every penny she could lay her hands on and selling the vase would at least allow her to pay the staff’s wages and the farrier’s bill.
A frown crossed her smooth brow. If only horses did not need shoeing every six weeks. The cost of the farrier, plus vet’s bills, feed and hay meant that Monty was becoming an expense she simply could not justify. She had spoken to a reputable horse dealer who had assured her that she should get a good price for a seven-year-old thoroughbred, but the thought of selling Monty was unbearable.
She turned her attention to Hugo, who was now leaning on one of the other party guests and trying to stagger in the direction of the bar.
‘Take him to the kitchen and get some black coffee into him,’ Sabrina instructed Hugo’s friend. She wished she could phone Brigadier Ffaulks and ask him to come and collect his son, but Hugo’s parents had paid her a sizeable fee to organise a twenty-first birthday party at Eversleigh Hall. Hugo and fifty of his friends had arrived the previous evening and would be staying at the hall for the weekend. Tomorrow after breakfast—if any of them could face a full English breakfast—they would be able to enjoy clay-pigeon shooting on the estate and fishing in the private lake.
Opening up Eversleigh Hall for weddings and parties was the only way that Sabrina could afford the huge running costs of the estate until her father returned. If he ever returned. She quickly pushed her fears about the earl to the back of her mind with the rest of her worries and smiled at the elderly butler who was walking stiffly across the drawing room.
‘I’d better fetch a mop and clear up the mess, Miss Sabrina.’
‘I’ll do it, John. I don’t expect you to clear up after my guests.’ She could not disguise the rueful note in her voice. The butler was well aware that she hated seeing Eversleigh Hall being treated carelessly by the likes of Hugo and his friends, who seemed to think that having money, and in some cases aristocratic titles, gave them the right to behave like animals. And that was an insult to animals, Sabrina thought when she caught sight of a female guest lighting up a cigarette.
‘How many times must I repeat the “no smoking in the house” rule?’ she muttered.
‘I’ll escort the young lady out to the garden,’ John murmured. ‘You have a visitor, Miss Sabrina. A Mr Delgado arrived a few minutes ago.’
She stiffened. ‘Delgado—are you sure that was the name he gave?’
The butler looked affronted. ‘Quite sure. I would hazard that he is a foreign gentleman. He said he wishes to discuss Earl Bancroft.’
‘My father!’ Sabrina’s heart missed another beat. She took a deep breath and groped for her common sense. Just because the unexpected visitor’s name was Delgado did not automatically mean that it was Cruz. In fact the likelihood was zero, she reassured herself. It was ten years since she had last seen him. The date their relationship had ended and the date a week earlier when she had suffered a miscarriage and lost their baby were ingrained on her memory. Every year, she found April a poignant month, with lambs in the fields and birds busy building nests, the countryside bursting with new life while she quietly mourned her child who had never lived in the world.
‘I asked Mr Delgado to wait in the library.’
‘Thank you, John.’ Sabrina forced her mind away from painful memories. As she walked across the entrance hall, past the portraits of her illustrious ancestors, she tried to mentally compose herself. It was likely that the mystery visitor was a journalist sniffing around for information about Earl Bancroft. Or perhaps Delgado was one of her father’s creditors—heaven knew there were enough of them. But in either case she was unable to help.