Wydecombe Manor by Jeannine Van Eperen by Jeannine Van Eperen - Read Online

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Summary

Can star-crossed lovers from another time, undo the heartbreak and tragedy of their past? Does a love so true never die? Or is it just a fantasy played out between two people whose genes were passed down with infinitesimal remembrances of their ancestors' lives? It is as if lightning strikes when Elizabeth sees Jonathan and a blazing flame arises, though the fire keeps the blood simmering, do timelines and loves blur into another realm and can a love denied be allowed to come to fruition? Grays believed in love for eternity, but was denied the woman he chose.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781603132381
List price: $3.99
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Wydecombe Manor - Jeannine Van Eperen

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Jeannine

Chapter 1

The Present

Elizabeth Naunt had recently learned to ride a horse western style. Now, she bravely tried to control the gold-colored gelding beneath her from the small English saddle upon which she perched, so different from the large leather-cradling seat she had been accustomed to. Posting seemed beyond her comprehension. Yesterday had gone well, but Jack and Margaret had been with her then. Today, she rode by herself, preferring not to take in another tennis match. Her friends were avid fans, and arose early to take in Wimbledon, a four-hour drive each way. Elizabeth did not come to England to watch two individuals swat a ball around. A dedicated Anglophile, she enjoyed the British Museum, traipsing through castles and churches, and driving through the green countryside. Nor did she mind being alone today. She was used to it. Her only concern now was controlling Darby. The horse knew her inadequacies and dared her to conquer him, but she was unafraid, headstrong in her desire to ride along the beach.

Six months ago, Elizabeth met Jack and Margaret Siddle while on a cruise. Both brother and sister proved congenial company and since they were the three youngest people on the cruise, they naturally navigated towards each other, including Elizabeth’s widowed aunt in their activities. When they extended an invitation to visit them at their home in England, Elizabeth never really thought she would. Then Aunt Agatha died, leaving her a sizeable windfall. She remembered Jack and Margaret’s kindness to her aunt on the cruise, as well as their invitation. Now, here she was galloping along on a sandy cove in Cornwall.

Invigorated and out-of-breath, she slowed her horse to a sedate walk, happy that she had at last controlled the large animal. She looked up. There on a cliff she saw a large, stately, grey slate mansion, trimmed with white, looming against the dark blue sky. The house drew her, and she began edging her steed up the winding path that led from the beach.

* * * *

Jonathan Dunne turned his car from the narrow hedge-lined road onto a still narrower one, following the muddled directions that Geoffrey Humphrey had given him. He shook his head, wondering why he had allowed his life to be disrupted on the whim of an aged man he met and befriended several years ago. When Leslie Doone walked into his advertising office a bit over two years ago, he naturally thought the man had a product to sell, but the man merely talked and talked leading nowhere, then bid him goodbye. A good two hours wasted. A month later he encountered Doone again. Jonathan had walked into the dining room of a restaurant whose owner wanted his help in promoting their fine cuisine. There sat Leslie Doone who bid him to join him. Having no polite way of refusing and remembering he had enjoyed the old man’s conversation, Jonathan accepted the invitation.

Leslie Doone talked little about himself, but asked many questions of Jonathan. Where was he born? The United States. Had he lived there all his life? His accent was interesting, said Doone. Jonathan enlightened the man. He’d lived in Australia for a large portion of his life. Doone merely nodded his head as if his answers were satisfactory. Jonathan still thought then, Leslie Doone wished to acquire his expertise, and was interviewing him in a roundabout way.

He didn’t see or hear of Doone again until a week ago. Geoffrey Humphrey, an English solicitor, phoned explaining that Mr. Doone was gravely ill and wanted to see Jonathan before he died. An airline ticket and money for the trip had been arranged, and could he leave at once?

Jonathan shook his head, remembering the conversation as he drove along. He had a vacation coming, and why not take advantage of the man’s offer? Curiosity drove him to accept. Besides, a free vacation was, after all, a free vacation. He had little money of his own to spend on world travel. Most of his money he socked into his business. He had a friend in England who quickly checked out the solicitor and found out the offer was a solid one. Why should he not look a gift horse in the eye? His business was doing all right, but he wasn’t setting the advertising world afire, and when his parents died five years ago in an automobile accident, he was left with nothing accept good memories and a hankering to see England. His ancestors were English, though long ago a great-great grandfather settled in Australia. Mostly his family lived there except for the four years at and just after his birth when they resided in San Francisco.

Jonathan returned to the country of his birth, shortly after his parents’ deaths. He felt a change was needed. England or America? He had tossed a coin. The U.S. won. His life was ordinary. Still a bachelor, he worked hard, played hard, and to date never met a woman he wanted for a wife.

Geoffrey Humphrey met Jonathan at Gatwick and then drove him to the Carleton Hotel in London. Humphrey arranged for him to visit Leslie Doone the next morning at St. Luke’s Hospital. Jonathan tried in vain to pump the solicitor for the reason for his summons to no avail. Either the man didn’t know or had given his word not to say.

Jonathan had fallen into bed, glad he’d be spared the hospital visit until the next morning. He had worked until the last minute, had not slept on the plane and was exhausted. His last visit to a hospital was to rush to his parents’ sides after their accident, but he was too late. He did not relish the thought of entering one again. But go, he must do, since he’d accepted the plane ticket and expense money.

Leslie Doone looked surprisingly alert for so ill a man, Jonathan had thought. His curiosity was not at once allayed as the sick man rambled about mundane things.

So glad you came, my boy, Leslie had said. I hope your trip was pleasant. I always hate flying meself.

The trip was fine, Jonathan said, but wished Mr. Doone would come to the point. One could not say that to an old, sick man, however.

I hear it’s hot, even for July.

Yes, sir. Jonathan felt inadequate, sitting there, looking at and talking to the man, and asking himself for the hundredth time, why had he come. He never thought himself capable of taking advantage of an ill person, and that is what he had done. He decided to offer to repay the airline ticket and go home Put in some extra hours and make up for the sum and lost hours. I’ll pay you back, he said.

What?

I’ll pay you back for the ticket.

Nonsense, Leslie said firmly. Rubbish, that’s all young people talk, rubbish, he muttered cantankerously. Looked for you for so long, and I wasn’t sure you’d come.

You looked for me? Jonathan’s eyes opened wide in surprise. He leaned forward in his chair, studying the old man who mistakenly considered him to be a friend.

Umm, yes. The older man stared steadily at Jonathan for a few moments, sighed, and then continued. You see, my son died two years ago. He hadn’t much intelligence, you know, a real twit. Leslie Doone shook his grey-haired head in sorrow. Never wanted him to have Wydecombe. He’d run it into the ground in two years if given a chance.

Leslie looked off into space for a while, and Jonathan thought the old gentleman forgot he was there. Doone seemed so taken with his own thoughts.

Jonathan glanced around the small hospital room, still not enlightened, but he hated to push the old man, who seemed not as spry as he did fifteen minutes ago. The sun no longer streamed into the small window to the left of Doone’s bed, and Jonathan thought he heard the distant rumble of thunder. He heard the sick man inhale and exhale more loudly and turned his attention back to the business at hand, whatever that might be.

Wanted someone strong, Leslie said and wheezed. Takes good sense and money to keep Wydecombe running. Wanted to be sure.

Sure about what, Mr. Doone? The man’s rambling made no sense at all.

About you, young man, about you.

I don’t understand.

No, I suppose you don’t. But you will. You’ll do all right. Come closer so I can take a good look at you. My eyes aren’t so good anymore.

Jonathan drew his chair closer, and the man took his hand in his brown-speckled bony one, and pulled Jonathan even nearer.

Yes, you’ll do. You have the look about you. But take my advice, find a nice rich American woman and marry her. Wydecombe needs money. You’re not engaged, are you? the old man asked, his cloudy blue eyes boring into Jonathan.

Jonathan shook his head. No, sir.

Don’t forget. A rich American. Nothing else’ll do, you understand?

He did not understand, but nodded his head. The man appeared to be satisfied, and was tiring rapidly, and Jonathan had no wish to upset a dying man.

Good head on your shoulders, Leslie said softly, dropped Jonathan’s hand, and waved his own hand weakly as if to shoo Jonathan away.

I’ll visit you later, sir.

Leslie Doone nodded, and Jonathan left.

That evening as Jonathan prepared to leave for the hospital again, Geoffrey Humphrey phoned him. Mr. Doone passed away, Mr. Dunne. He was grateful you went to see him.

Dead? He still didn’t know why the man had sent for him.

Yes. The doctor said Mr. Doone had waited to see you. It was what kept him alive these last couple days, and he rallied a bit today, but his heart gave out.

But why did he want to see me?

You’ll soon know, my boy. Have a good dinner, get some rest, and I’ll call around for you at ten in the morning.

The funeral took place two days later near the village of St. Isaac. There were no close relatives, but a few friends and neighbors showed up at the small country church, whose graveyard bore many stones bearing the name Doone. Jonathan attended the funeral in Cornwall with Geoffrey Humphrey. He still felt in a state of shock. So much had been told to him by the solicitor, and he had yet to convince himself it was all true. But here he was driving up to Wydecombe Manor. He kept telling himself, he’d soon wake up. It was all a dream. But why should he dream of inheriting a large manor house and all that was in it, twenty thousand pounds, a hundred acres, three cars, and five horses?

The tunnel of hedges gave way, and Jonathan came upon a peaceful, green meadow. Sheep grazed contentedly, not knowing they were now the property of one Jonathan Lester Dunne.

He drove beyond a stand of trees, and saw the building for the first time, standing massive; so covered with green vines, he could not tell what color the house actually was. It stood high on a grass-covered mound, stark before the grey-blue sky. He drew his rented tan Renault up the gravel lane that led to the mansion and stopped. He got out of the car. This couldn’t be the place, could it? It was magnificent beyond description. He had never been drawn to a building before, but now, it was love at first sight. He blessed Leslie Doone for singling him out, for tracking him down, finding him even though his part of the family had somehow changed the name from Doone to Dunne generations ago. He was home. He knew it. Whether servants’ eyes peered at him from behind the curtained windows he did not know or care. He had to see the house in its entirety, had to walk around it to see what lay beyond.

A young woman on horseback rose from the path leading away from the house just as Jonathan reached the front of the building. He heard the horse before he actually saw it. He had been engrossed with the building, so different from the other side, no ivy here, just grey slate, trimmed with white, rising majestically, its many chimneys piercing the sky.

Oh! Elizabeth cried as her mount rose on his hind legs, and she tumbled off, hitting the ground with a hard thump. The man she had barely glimpsed, dark brown hair blowing in the wind, jacket flapping out to the side, came to her, and they looked at each other.

It’s you! they both said simultaneously.

Chapter 2

1484

It’s you, Lisbeth said.

What are you doing here? Following me? He frowned looking down at her, as she lay sprawled in a bed of rust leaves. She was the last person he wanted to see. After he learned the news, he had to be alone. With his emotions in a turmoil, seeing her did no good, no good at all. His feigned gruffness left him as he asked, Did you hurt yourself?

Shaking her head, she answered, No, Grays. Just bumped my knee a bit. She brushed her dainty hands against her skirt, and no doubt would have raised the dress to examine the bruise if he had not been there.

You shouldn’t follow me, he said gently, his lips curving in a smile. You’re fifteen now, no longer a child.

I know. She looked down at her hands demurely.

You’re pledged to Leslie. He put out a hand and helped her up. It was a mistake. He should not have touched her. Controlling himself took all of his strength, but he must. He continued in what he hoped was a formal tone, You— We—It isn’t proper for us to be together anymore.

But I don’t love Leslie. I love you.

Don’t say that. You’re still but a child, you don’t know...

You just said I was no longer a child, she pointed out logically, looking at him in a self-possessed manner. Then blurted out in a tone that betrayed her anger. And I’m not. I’m betrothed to your brother!

Grays took a deep breath. He needed to steady himself. All she said was true. Yes, she was indeed betrothed to his older brother. Even if he did care for her, it was of no importance. In the eyes of the church and the law, Lisbeth was as good as married to Leslie. He turned away from her so she could not see his distress, his true feelings. He thought he did love her, but no good could ever come of it.

For a while, his family had considered Matilda Harwick for Leslie and Grays had hoped he might express to his father his own feelings for Lisbeth. Then they learned Matilda had been promised to another, and his father and Lord Wrentham arranged the betrothal of their children, no doubt made with the best of intentions. It had been done months ago, but today was the first Grays heard of it. It wasn’t fair. Leslie had no real feelings for Lisbeth, not like he had, but as the third son, Lord Wrentham might never consider him worthy of Lisbeth.

When he spoke his voice sounded calm, and cold, he hoped. Lisbeth, I could never be considered for your husband. I’m a third son with no prospects except the church or military. Your father would never consent, and Les is a good fellow. He’ll treat you well and he’ll inherit Wydecombe Manor. You’ll be mistress here.

But it is you I love, she persisted. Tell me you don’t care for me.

Don’t ask me to do that.

She walked up to him and put her arm around his waist. It was a most intimate and wanton thing for her to do. Tell me, she whispered softly, seductively.

He felt aflame from her touch. As children they had tussled and touched, but they were no longer children. At eighteen, he felt the very powerful feelings of desire. He ached for her. It was agony to know she belonged to another, even his well-loved brother. His breathing grew shallow though his heart slammed against his ribs.

Tell me. Her breath tingled against his neck.

He turned to her. I can’t. His lips took hers almost without his permission, but once nestled against her soft mouth, he took the sweetness offered. Leslie may have her, but he had her love. I do love you, Grays murmured as he crushed her in an embrace.

The scent of the forest, brown moldering leaves beneath them as well as pungent pine permeated the air around them. Birds twittered, but neither noticed, aware only of each other and the passion they shared.

We can run away, Lisbeth said, her hazel eyes dreamily looking into his as they lay deep within the forest on a carpet of moss and leaves.

We can’t. What kind of a life for you?

I want no other.

You’re to be married in three weeks. The banns will be posted tomorrow. Leslie—

I don’t care about him. Her sweet lips puckered in a pout. She caressed his dark brown tresses lazily as she studied him.

"How can I let you go? But how can I let you ruin your life? If I