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The Master of Cliff House

The Master of Cliff House

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The Master of Cliff House

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334 pages
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Dec 4, 2017
ISBN:
9781988003375
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Carte

Descriere

Jenny Raine, the bookish 19-year-old widow of Sir Richard Raine, is shattered to learn that a distant cousin, Jackson Zephyr, has inherited Cliff House. Jenny was engaged as Sir Richard’s secretary before their marriage and will be homeless if she is evicted from the estate. But the handsome new master is unmoved by her plight. Zephyr is a career thief who has his eye on one prize: stolen gold from a long-ago heist that was hidden on the property. When his predecessor’s beautiful, strange widow thwarts his plans, Jackson applies pressure to break Jenny’s will and she is forced to reveal a shameful secret. The knowledge gives him power over the young woman until a sinister threat arises that pushes them into a passionate alliance.

The Master of Cliff House is the third novel in Catherine Lloyd’s Victorian Villains Saga. Four villainous fathers drowned at sea curse their four sons with greed, murder, lust and pride. Set in Victorian England, this steamy, suspenseful saga is written in the classic gothic romance tradition of Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney.

Lansat:
Dec 4, 2017
ISBN:
9781988003375
Format:
Carte

Despre autor

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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The Master of Cliff House - Catherine Lloyd

The Master of Cliff House

Victorian Villains Saga

Book Three

§

Victorian Gothic Romance

CATHERINE LLOYD

Copyright 2016 Catherine Lloyd

Electronic Edition 2016

Writewood Creations

261 Lac Bernard Road

Alcove, Quebec

Canada J0X 1A0

writewoodcreations@gmail.com

www.writewoodcreations.blogspot.com

ISBN 978-1-988003-37-5

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

Copyright

Also by Catherine Lloyd

From the Publisher

THE MASTER OF CLIFF HOUSE

Book One ~ Love Torn

Book Two ~ Love Lost

Book Three ~ Love Conquered

About the Author

Victorian Villains Saga

Mandrake Falls Four Seasons Romance

Dark Redeemer Medieval Adventure Romance

Sneak Peek at The Pirate Lord

Also by Catherine Lloyd

Mandrake Falls Comedy Romance

The Jilting ~ Summer

Lie for Me ~ Autumn

The Way Home ~ Winter

Love Rising ~ Spring

Dark Redeemer Medieval Romance

Wanton

Wastrel

Traitor

Soldier

Victorian Villains Saga

Windemere Hall

Mark of Caine

Wracker’s Cove

High Seas Historical Romance

The Pirate Lord

From the Publisher

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

Jenny Raine, the bookish 19-year-old widow of Sir Richard Raine, is shattered to learn that a distant cousin, Jackson Zephyr, has inherited Cliff House. Jenny was engaged as Sir Richard’s secretary before their marriage and will be homeless if she is evicted from the estate. But the handsome new master is unmoved by her plight. Zephyr is a career thief who has his eye on one prize: stolen gold from a long-ago heist that was hidden on the property. When his predecessor’s beautiful, strange widow thwarts his plans, Jackson applies pressure to break Jenny’s will and she is forced to reveal a shameful secret. The knowledge gives him power over the young woman until a sinister threat arises that pushes them into a passionate alliance.

§

The Master of Cliff House is the third novel in Catherine Lloyd’s Victorian Villains Saga. Four villainous fathers drowned at sea curse their four sons with greed, murder, lust and pride. Set in 1867 England, this steamy, suspenseful saga is written in the classic gothic romance tradition of Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. The Master of Cliff House contains scenes, language and themes written for a mature audience.

Victorian Villains Saga

THE MASTER OF CLIFF HOUSE

Book One ~ Love Torn

§

Chapter One

November 1868 ~ Cliff House, Dorset

INCLEMENT WEATHER had prevented Sir Richard Raine from leaving the house for several days. Consequently, Jenny Raine’s nerves were on edge that night even without the constant howling of the wind. With dinner out of the way, it appeared she would be left in peace. Her husband had disappeared and Flint had lit a fire on the hearth in the library. Jenny sought sanctuary among the books.

She perused the leather spines, looking for one reference tome in particular that would help her identify her latest find. Beginning to relax in the confidence that the master of Cliff House had had enough of dull evenings at home and gone in search of a game of cards in town, Jenny’s spirits lifted.

The library door swung open and Richard entered. Her stomach instantly tightened. Jenny fixed her unseeing eyes on the shelves, striving to appear untroubled. Richard often told her that it was her jumpy odd manner that enraged him. Everything she said and did was the source of his distraction and troubles of late.

Jenny forced a smile and turned to her husband. Will you be going out for the evening?

His lips compressed into a solemn frown. Before our marriage, I engaged you to be my secretary did I not?

Light perspiration broke out on her neck. Yes, Sir Richard.

I plucked you from that dung heap of a workhouse, dressed you in fine clothes and gave you employment and respectability as my wife. As a husband, my demands were few and you failed to meet them. Since you have failed me as a wife, I expect you to do better as my secretary. Have you examined the maps of this region as I requested?

Large maps of the coastline and cliffs were spread out on the polished oak table. Richard’s black leather notebook was buried beneath. She had been cross-referencing the strange notations in the book against the map coordinates until her head pounded. Her husband was looking for something but he would not say what it was.

Yes, she replied quickly to keep him in good humour, and I’ve come across a cave that is not on any of the maps. It was either unnoticed by the mapmaker or it was unreported. The mouth of the cave is only half a mile west. I found it while looking for fossils but did not go inside as the tide was coming in. I believe it might hold some interesting specimens.

Sir Richard’s eyes glowed with an unhealthy mania. Show me.

Sir, the hour is late and the weather is against us. The mouth of the cave is at sea level. If the tide turns while we are inside, it could prove dangerous. Postpone your exploration to the morning, Sir Richard. I should be glad to show you then.

You know how important this work is to me, Jenny. That you did not mention this cave earlier is concerning. I hope you know that I have been more than patient with you and yet you continue to object to performing the simplest of requests!

Jenny flinched. She dropped her eyes as his voice rose in volume. He was becoming angry again. She tried to think what she had said to upset him this time so she could repair her mistake. Her mind was a blank. Richard, I know I have been a disappointment to you. I want to help—I do. Only tell what to do and I will do it, and gladly.

"I have only just told you—show me the cave! Are you a simpleton? I shall need a lantern and a rope to be tethered to safety if the tide comes in. Is that beyond your comprehension? You ought to have suggested it yourself instead of wasting my time with pointless objections. He strode to the door. Gather the supplies and change your clothes. I shall wait for you in the foyer."

What he meant to do was madness, but Jenny did as he asked even if it meant his obsession would be the death of them both.

§

THE STONE steps leading down to the beach were lightly frosted with snow but her boots were sturdy with thick rubber soles. She scampered down and ran over the black sand and pebbles, keeping close to the edge of the water. Richard followed close behind. The cave was tucked around a bend that funnelled into a narrows. Summer bathers and fishermen would have avoided this spot for its rough swells.

Perhaps that’s why it was never discovered, she called back. The wind was rising. Only at low tide is it possible to reach the mouth of the cave and explore the interior.

She was wearing trousers, a woollen vest and thick coat she’d pinched from the greenhouse when she was first engaged as Sir Richard Raine’s secretary. Searching the beach and the black rock of the cliffs for fossils had been one of her chief joys when she came to Cliff House. What had began as Richard’s work soon became a fascination for Jenny as well. Her more interesting finds were brought to Professor Morrow in Lyme. Two had proven valuable enough to sell to the museum. Sir Richard claimed credit for the discoveries and then asked her to marry him. Jenny had thought she was the luckiest girl in England that day.

How much further is it?

The rope dug into her narrow shoulder, slung across her body. She lifted the lantern. The surf pounded in her ears. Here, she shouted. Do you see it? The opening is not large but the tide is out. You should be able to get a look inside if you are quick.

Richard pushed past her, nearly knocking her down in his haste to reach the entrance. This is it! he crowed. It must be! I’ve found it—bring the light, Jenny—and the rope!

She darted to his side, handing him the equipment. What are you looking for, Richard? It would help if I knew.

He fastened the rope around his waist. You would like that, wouldn’t you? And then you could come here yourself and cheat me out of what is mine. His eyes held a fire of madness that she had seen when he’d return from a night of cards and drinking. I married you with the objective of fathering an heir, but I was fool to do so. You are not worthy. I do not apologize for this sentiment—any thinking man would agree with me. Your purpose has been served tonight; the question for tomorrow is how will I dispose of you?

The wind was loud in her ear. Jenny believed she had not heard him correctly. She nodded as he seemed to expect her agreement and helped him tighten the rope around his waist. Richard tied the other end to a pillar of rock. The tide was a safe distance out when Richard entered the cave.

He was gone from view for ten minutes when the wind rose to a bellow and the swells in the narrows grew to tidal waves. Jenny was pulled off her feet when one crashed against the shore.

She struggled to the mouth of the cave and screamed for Richard. A winter storm had broken and the tide had turned very quickly. They would be caught against the cliffs and pulled out to sea if Richard did not hurry.

Jenny was near to panic when he did not return and a wall of icy seawater crashed against her legs. Richard! Richard—hurry! We have to get out of here! The tide is coming in!

The next wave reached over the pillar of rock and loosed the rope. Jenny watched in horror as it was caught by the surf and flung out of reach at a rapid pace. She tried to move after it but her feet remained rooted to the rocky beach. Her legs and fingers were numb with cold. The wind and surf sounded like a train going through a tunnel and the sky was black with storm.

Jenny fastened her eyes on the rope so as not to lose sight of it. With the smallest effort, she could grasp the end, drag it back to the rock pillar and secure it. Richard would be making his way back now hand over hand along the rope; he would feel the slack and know that she had allowed it to become untied.

There was still time. She could yet save him.

The question is how will I dispose of you?

A strange buzzing sounded in her ears. Jenny remained fixed in place as if she had turned to stone. Suddenly, the end of the rope was caught in a whirlpool of foaming surf and dragged away. The sea was coming in too rapidly. If she did not leave now, she would be pulled under by the incoming tide, but if she did not try to secure the rope Sir Richard would surely drown.

She looked back at the way they had come. The tide had reached eight foot swells that hammered the beach. If she ran now she could make it back to the jetty ahead of the sea.

The rope swirled into view, taunting her to make a choice.

Jenny flung herself down the pebbled beach, pushing her frozen legs to fight the sucking tide. She clung to the cliff face with numb fingers, gripping with all her strength as the waves hit the shore and then took off at a hard run when they withdrew. At last she reached the jetty and dragged up the stairs, clutching the stone with her fingernails to hold on against the Channel tide.

Jenny knew what she had done. It was murder not to help a drowning man. She sprawled across the steps of the jetty, too weak to move. She stared up at the fearsome sky and wept.

§

One month later ~ London

JACKSON ZEPHYR left Tanner Caine’s lodgings and walked quickly through the streets to meet Braddock. Honeywell’s letter was in his pocket, detailing the sudden drowning death of his cousin, Sir Richard Raine. Assuming possession of Cliff House was not as simple as once believed. There was a widow apparently. Richard neglected to mention that he had married. That in itself was suspicious. However, Honeywell’s letter assured Jackson the law of primogeniture entailed the estate to him as the only surviving male in the Raine lineage.

Jackson was not taking any chances. He solicited Tanner Caine’s assistance in the event the widow put up a fight. He had a great deal of ground to cover in a short period of time and was in no mood to placate irrational women.

Well? said Braddock when Jack caught up with him in a tavern near the wharf. What did the infamous Mr. Caine have to say?

He turned me down flat. It is just as well. Caine has lost his edge. He seemed to think I should reform as he and Branson Hamilton have done. We three have a shared history. Our fathers sailed together. Jackson kept it to himself the cryptic remark the professional assassin made as Jack was leaving. Something about finding what he was looking for—a riddle Jack did not have patience to solve at the moment.

Suits me. I never thought we needed Caine in the first place, groused Braddock. You’re the master of the bloody place. Evict the widow and that’s the end of it. I never trusted Sir Richard from the start. You took a risk with that one. What did he mean by marrying in secret?

My guess is he planned to sire an heir and the sea took him first.

Braddock rolled a cigarette. It’s not like the hard-as-nails Jack Zephyr to go easy on a deadbeat. Maybe Tanner Caine is not the only villainous son-of-a-bitch to lose his edge.

"I’m a man of business, Braddock. When another man has something of value to me, I can be patient. Sir Richard had Cliff House and I had my father’s journal entry. The gold is hidden somewhere on the estate, therefore covering my cousin’s debts to save the estate from foreclosure was just good business. Honeywell assures me his widow has no legal recourse. The title is clear. I am the master of Cliff House."

Braddock squinted through the tobacco smoke. Then permit a humble seaman to ask, why the fuck are we still here? Victor’s stake in this enterprise has been substantial and he has a way of removing a man’s limbs when he gets tired of waiting for repayment. We’ve already lost a month tracking down Caine and winter is coming on fast. What do ye say, Jackie? Do you have the stomach to kick a widow out her home in a January gale?

Jack had to stop thinking like a thief. Cliff House did not belong to his cousin’s widow and neither did the estate—he was master now. He’d risked everything he had to get this far and he’d strike down any man or woman who got in his way now.

He had been cursed with a curse and unlike the sons of his father’s companions, Jackson celebrated his legacy. The day he learned he’d been cursed by his father into a life of thievery, Jackson was liberated from trying to be what he knew he was not—a good man.

Good men be damned, he thought. Jack was going to hell anyway; he would go a rich man.

Do I have the stomach, Braddock? Just watch me.

Chapter Two

January 1869 ~ Cliff House, Dorset

THE HOUSE sat poised on the edge of a cliff in a remote area of Dorset. Lyme Regis was the closest habitation and even that humble place was a goodly distance off. It was a beautiful, wild location for a house built to defend the coastline and it might have been glorious in its heyday. Jackson Zephyr eyed the stone façade. The wood work was in need of paint, the mortar was crumbling and the slates on the roof ought to be replaced.

The gardens were not much better, overgrown and abandoned to the elements. The cliff itself was black fossilized rock, jagged and lethal facing a wild slate-coloured sea. A low stone wall ran hard along its sharp precipice, its chief function to keep strollers from accidentally plunging off the cliff.

A gap revealed stone steps that led down to the narrow strip of rocky beach. At high tide, the lower steps would be underwater. Thick iron rings were driven into the stone wall bordering the steps indicating this was a jetty but there was no sign of a boat.

Jackson smoothed his brown hair off his brow and resettled his hat on his head. The fur collar of his cloak was pulled up around his ears against the bitter wind and snow that had been falling intermittently.

He turned his attention back to the house. Cliff House was a medieval construction, asymmetrical and not attractive or architecturally noteworthy. Grinning stone gargoyles were poised on the gables high above, presumably standing guard. A coat-of-arms was carved over the doorway. Windows of mullioned glass winked in the January sun.

A shadow passed into view in a gable window high above. Jackson lifted his hand to his eyes to screen the sun. A man was watching his arrival from an attic room. Clad in black, his features were unrecognisable at this distance.

Jack lowered his eyes briefly and when he looked back, the apparition was gone.

Who might she be? Is that the widow Raine? Braddock came up behind him, hauling the luggage. At first Jackson thought he meant the vision at the window but then he saw Braddock was squinting in the direction of the cliff.

The small form of a dark-haired woman in a black cloak was walking the cliff path.

Jackson Zephyr watched her, spell-bound as the wind caught her hair and pulled it free of its pins. It lifted and swirled like a glossy black wave behind her. Glimpses of her shape came when her cloak followed the direction of the wind and flew back. Her dress was plain but her figure was slender, perhaps too slender to be called womanly. He could not see her face for she kept it fixed on the slate-blue sea.

A shiver of presentiment passed through him. This woman would be the death of him.

Jackson squashed the idea before it could come to life. Sailors were a bloody superstitious lot and he still had his father’s love for the sea in his veins. Or maybe it was Caine’s prediction that was preying on his nerves. Whatever was causing his uneasiness, if the girl was Lady Raine, she would be removed. This was just business.

No time like the present, he muttered. Braddock, see that our trunks are brought inside before the storm breaks. I shall introduce myself to the lady. He strode toward the cliff path.

§

LADY RAINE, he called.

There was no response. Whoever she was, she was lost in a world of her own.

Excuse me, but are you Lady Raine? I am Jackson Zephyr.

She turned and Jack was presented with a girl who could not be above twenty. She was pretty. Exceedingly pretty. He might even call her beautiful if she would look a man square in the eye. Instead, the girl seemed to be watching something on an inner horizon. Jackson felt he had to compete with this inner vision to get her attention and no man enjoys that.

A slant of winter light fell across her face. Her dress was blue-black, widow’s weeds that suited her well with her black hair and pale snow-white skin. Her eyes were blue, almost violet in the uncertain light of the winter afternoon.

A storm was building on the horizon and moving in fast. Jackson’s baritone voice cut through the whine of the wind. Are you Lady Raine?

Yes. I’m sorry I did not answer you before. I’m not used to being called by my title. It seems wrong to take it now. Everyone addresses me as Jenny. Forgive me—who are you again?

My name is Jackson Zephyr. I doubt you’ve heard of me. I am your husband’s cousin several times removed. Our connection is a distant one.

Her eyes put him in mind of amethysts. Amethysts were Jackson’s favourite stone to steal. Rarer than the other gemstones, they fetched a good price. Her lips were full and sensual but unsmiling. Jack sensed that for all her youth and sexual allure, Lady Raine was deeply reserved. Her manner was odd. She seemed not to have the basic social graces. She was staring at him like he had dropped from the heavens.

I didn’t know Sir Richard had a cousin. He died in November and his stepmother made no mention of an extended family.

Since her ladyship did not offer her hand as she ought to have done upon introduction, Jackson took it without ceremony. Her fingers were long and pale, tapering to nails that had been cut short. He pressed his lips to her skin, inhaling the scent of the sea that seemed part of her. He lingered over her hand longer than was politely necessary and then slowly withdrew, caressing her fingers before releasing them.

Jenny Raine’s ivory complexion warmed to crimson. She cradled her hand awkwardly as if it had been burned. Neither of them could find the words to break the silence. The sea did it for them with a crash of white surf against the rocky beach below.

I am pleased to meet you, sir, but I’m afraid I cannot offer you lodging. There are only two servants in the house, Mrs. Denby, the cook, and Flint who acts as butler and general manservant. You may stay for dinner if you like. I expect you’ve come to offer your condolences to Lady Francine. She was married to Richard’s father, Sir Douglas, and brought Richard up from boyhood. Do you have your own horse? We do not keep horses at Cliff House. The cost became prohibitive. But the stables are in good condition if you do have a horse.

His eyes flicked to the horizon. I am not here as a guest, Lady Raine. Perhaps we should go inside to continue this conversation. You look cold and the weather is growing foul.

The girl lifted her hand to her throat. I would rather hear what you have to say here, sir. Have you come from the police?

The wind caught Jackson’s hat and tugged it from his head. Pellets of snow stung his cheeks. The sea roared in his ears. He inhaled deeply but could not dispel the tight breathlessness in his chest. The presentiment that with the next words he spoke, Jackson would be sealing his fate was strong.

I am not from the police, no. I’ve told you. Upon the death of Sir Richard Raine, under the law of primogeniture, I have inherited the title and the estate. He deliberately fixed his expression to one of pure business. I am surprised your solicitor, Mr. Honeywell, did not inform you of this eventuality.

"He might have done. A letter came in December but I do not know what it said. Lady Francine and her niece Blanche were aware of its contents. Forgive me—what eventuality are you referring to? What is happening?"

I’ve come to take possession, madam. You will be expected to leave within the week.

§

JENNY LIFTED her hand to her eyes. Bright light broke into her field of vision like sparks. She touched her cold hand to her cheek and tried to speak. Her stomach rolled. Abruptly, her legs lost strength and she felt herself falling back.

From the vague watery recesses of consciousness, Jenny heard Jackson Zephyr yell out a curse. Strong arms caught her up in time to save her from tumbling over the edge of the cliff.

Storm clouds broke over their heads. Needles of rain and sleet lashed her face but it was not enough to revive her. She was a coward but then bravery was not valued where she grew up. Keeping your head down and your mouth shut were the attributes that kept a child alive at the Orphans’ Welfare Workhouse.

There was no future for her away from Cliff House. No place to go save the street and she could not live that life. She would throw herself into the sea if it came to that.

Jackson Zephyr carried her up the path toward the house. She tried to hold onto his neck but it felt like too much effort. Jenny’s eyes fluttered open as she tried to remain conscious. Mr. Zephyr had removed his hat or perhaps it had blown off. His hair was shining bronze in colour and thick, and from this angle his jaw appeared to be well-shaped. He had the ruddy complexion of a man who grew up on the sea. Tall and broad in the shoulders, he cradled her easily in his strong arms. She remembered his approach on the cliff path and seeing his long legs and sharply defined thigh muscles under his tight riding breeches. He wore black boots and a dark blue cloak with a fur collar.

Jackson Zephyr looked down and saw her watching him. In that moment, their eyes locked. His were brown, the colour of chestnut, glittering and intelligent. Zephyr held her gaze in a look of puzzled concentration.

Her breath caught. Her heart pounded and she felt dizzy. Zephyr’s arms tightened around her as though in response and they were both in danger of falling.

Jenny pretended to lose consciousness. The gentleman was young and attractive but he had a hard wary look in his eyes that did not invite familiarity. In any case, his looks had no bearing on her survival one way or the other. It did her no good to be affected by them. Jackson Zephyr was a thoroughly masculine force of nature, as destructive and unthinking as the winter storm he blew in on.

Jenny Raine had no idea how to deal with him.

§

"JACKIE-BOY, what

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