Jilted in January

Jilted in January by Kate Pearce

Book: Jilted in January by Kate Pearce Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kate Pearce
Tags: Historical Romance
Chapter One
    January 1816
    The Duke of Beckworth’s Estate
    Beckworth Park
    “Devil take it, what on earth am I supposed to do now?”
    Colin Ford stood with his back against the door and surveyed the inner sanctum of the land agent’s office. The desk was piled high with official-looking documents and discarded ledgers. Every drawer was open—the contents spilling out onto the floor—and the shelves bearing leather-bound estate books dating back for the last one hundred years had been ransacked.
    With a groan, Colin picked his way through the debris and came around to the rear of the enormous desk. On top of a lopsided pile of books, there was a single sheet of paper anchored under an open silver inkstand. Reaching forward, Colin took the paper and read the scrawled words out loud.
    “I resign. Yours, Archibald Morehouse.”
    Colin took another deep, shuddering breath. Mr. Morehouse was supposed to have been teaching him how to manage a large estate. In the months he’d spent at Beckworth Park, all he’d learned was how to keep out of the drunken land agent’s way. His offers to help had been rebuffed, and now he could see why.
    As soon as the London solicitors confirmed the tidings of the Duke of Beckworth’s death and wanted more information about the principal estate, Mr. Morehouse had bolted. It had taken Colin a month to find the spare key to the estate office and get inside. Now he wished he hadn’t bothered.
    Crouching down, he spotted the strongbox that was supposed to hold monies needed for the everyday expenses of the estate. It was open, and a single farthing glinted in the black depths. With a curse, Colin sank to the floor and held his head in his hands. There was no money to pay the outdoor staff their quarterly wages. Archibald Morehouse had absconded with the lot.
    As the assistant land agent, would he be held responsible for his predecessor’s crimes? He damn well hoped not. Perhaps it was time to write to his father and ask for help. Even the thought of putting pen to paper and exposing his deficiencies to his irascible sire made him feel nauseated.
    After a while, a persistent tapping had him looking back at the closed door. He shot to his feet.
    “Come in?”
    He was relieved to see that it was only the housekeeper, Mrs. Pemberley, and not the butler, who could be rather intimidating. She was a kind woman who had made him welcome at the estate and continued to treat him like a favorite son.
    “Good Lord!” Mrs. Pemberley covered her mouth with her hand. “What on earth did Mr. Morehouse do?”
    Colin made a hopeless gesture. “Stole all the available coin, for one. I haven’t even attempted to investigate the rest of it yet.”
    “Dear me. I never liked the man, but what possessed him to run away like a thief in the night?”
    “I won’t know until I’ve straightened everything out.” Colin pushed his unruly hair out of his face. “Is it possible that one of the maids could be spared to help me set this place to rights?”
    “I’ll see what I can do, Mr. Ford.” Mrs. Pemberley smoothed her apron down over her black dress. “We are rather shorthanded at the moment, as you know.”
    He couldn’t decide whether the recently widowed duchess’s absence was a blessing or a curse. At least she wasn’t here to see the disastrous state of the books, and she’d taken some of the servants to London, meaning there were fewer to pay.
    “There is one more thing.” He cleared his throat. “All the ready cash has been taken. I have no coin to pay the outdoor staff their wages this quarter or to settle with the local tradesmen.”
    Mrs. Pemberley tutted and shook her head. “I have some coin set by for the servants’ wages. We can use that if necessary, although luckily the last quarter has only just passed. I will apply to the duke’s solicitors in London for more funds. They seem to be quite accommodating, and they are well aware that some difficulties will arise due to the absence

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