Tempt Me with Diamonds – Jane Feather

Rupert Lacey, as was his habit, moved from sleep to wakefulness in a matter of seconds. He opened his eyes abruptly, aware of the faint gray light of dawn showing between a gap in the curtains and the unmistakable sense that something was happening in the house. There was nothing specific to give him this feeling, no particular sound, just a stirring of the air, a sense of motion. He sat up, reaching for the bellpull on the wall beside him. It was answered within minutes. Davis, his batman, came into the bedroom carrying a tea tray. “Good morning, Colonel.” He set the tray by the bed and went to draw back the curtains. “Seems we have a visitor, sir,” Davis continued, imperturbable as always. “Miss Sommerville arrived a short while ago . with her household, it appears.” “Oh, did she indeed?” Rupert took a fortifying gulp of the strong morning brew that his years in South Africa had made a morning necessity, swung his long legs out of bed and rose to his feet. He slept naked as always, another habit acquired during the hot African summer nights.

He stood for a moment, holding his teacup with one hand, stroking his chin with the other. Then he drained his cup and said briskly, “Pass me my dressing gown, Davis?” He would have preferred to greet Diana fully dressed but there was no time now for such niceties. He had wondered how she was going to react, and when. He had expected her to bring the fight to him one way or another. Diana had never been able to resist a challenge or a battle of wills. But what if her arrival had nothing to do with the will? What if she didn’t know about the will as yet? Dear God, he hoped she did. Either way, all hell was about to break loose. He shrugged into the robe Davis held for him and made for the door, tying the belt securely. He stepped out onto the wide gallery that ran along either side of the horseshoe staircase that rose from the marble-floored hall of the elegant Cavendish Square mansion. He hung back in the shadows for a moment, looking down into the hall at the invasion below. Steamer trunks and hatboxes were piled high, and in the midst of them Diana Sommerville stood, stripping off her gloves, issuing crisp orders to two servants. On either side of her sat two magnificent South African Ridgebacks, the original lion hunters.

They appeared placid enough, gazing around them with their sharp, intelligent eyes, their long, sleekly muscled bodies poised for instant movement. “Barlow, would you organize the library and yellow parlor for my immediate use? I doubt we’ll have callers for a few days, but just in case, we should have the drawing room fit for visitors as soon as possible. Mrs. Harris, would you go to the kitchen and create order there? I expect it will take some work to put the house to rights again.” A dazzling, conspiratorial smile accompanied her words, and the two retainers returned the smile with understanding nods. “I’ll have it all back to normal in no time, ma’am,” Mrs. Harris declared. “I daresay the Trimballs have done their best to keep the house in good shape, but . ” She gave an eloquent shrug. Caretakers could not be expected to keep an empty house up to snuff.

“Come, Izzy, I shall need your help if Mr. Barlow can do without you for the moment.” She swept away in her black bombazine dress, a small parlormaid trotting at her heels. Rupert hadn’t known how he would react when he saw her again, but now he knew that nothing had changed. He had wanted to punish her for the hurt and disappointment she had inflicted upon him, but all he could see now was that Diana was as wonderful as ever, and he responded as ever to the imperious, arrogant set of her small head, the richly luxuriant coffee-colored hair curled fashionably into a fat chignon at the nape of her long neck, the tall, slender frame that seemed to throb with energy, the pleats in her rich silk skirt moving gently, hinting at the restlessness of the long legs beneath. Such wonderful legs. For a moment, he was distracted by a memory of her naked body hovering above him, her legs scissoring his thighs. He stepped forward out of the shadows. “Good morning, Diana.” He rested his elbows on the gilded railing as he looked down.

Diana Sommerville’s head jerked upward. She stared at the figure standing on the galleried landing. “You? What in the devil’s name are you doing in my house?” Her eyes were purple fire, her complexion ashen as she stared in bewildered fury at the man she had hoped never to encounter again. He was wearing a brocade dressing gown, the tie accentuating the slim waist and his copper curls fell in that familiar, unruly tangle on his brow. He had just got out of bed. In her house. It made no sense. He couldn’t possibly be here, the man she had sworn never to speak to again. And yet he was. Just as if time had slipped away and it was as it always had been in the days when Rupert Lacey was as welcome on Sommerville property as the Sommerville children themselves.

“Get out,” she demanded. “Now.” But to her frustrated bewilderment, she could hear the futility of the demand. She was no physical match for him, and if he wouldn’t go, she couldn’t wrestle him out of the door. But why was he here? Rupert cursed silently. So she didn’t know what had happened. How the hell was he to handle this? “I said, get out of my house,” Diana repeated, ignoring the sense of futility even as she wondered why he wasn’t saying anything. If anything, he looked vaguely discomfited, not an expression she would ordinarily associate with Colonel Lacey. “I have no idea how you got in, or why you’re here, but you are trespassing.” Rupert sighed.

Explaining this situation to Diana in full combat mode was not something he wanted to do. “As it happens, Diana, I am not trespassing. I assume you have not yet visited Muldoon?” “Muldoon? The solicitor?” She looked even more bemused. “What has he to do with your breaking and entering my house?” “A great deal, as it happens,” he said dryly, beginning to descend the stairs. “Not that I did either of those things.” The two dogs, who had been sitting alert but quiet at Diana’s heels, growled in unison, a deep and threatening sound. Rupert blinked in surprise. He and the dogs were old friends. Nevertheless, he took a step back to the gallery. Diana’s hostility was enough to provoke their instincts to defend her even against someone they had known since they were puppies.

Diana laid a hand on each dog’s head, saying softly, “Hera, Hercules.” They subsided, but their eyes never left Rupert and the muscles rippled beneath their sleek coats, their long bodies still very much on the alert. Rupert decided to take the coward’s way out and let a professional handle the situation. Sometimes discretion was indeed the better part of valor. “When did you arrive in England, Diana?” “Yesterday evening, as it happens. But I fail to see what that has to do with your illegal presence in my house.” Her eyes challenged him in a way that was achingly familiar, but he resisted his usual response to meet and match the challenge. This was neither the time nor the occasion for the old ways. There’d be opportunity enough later, he was sure of it. “Muldoon will explain it to you, Diana.

I suggest you visit him at once. I know you won’t listen to me, but you will listen to him.” Diana turned away from him, her gaze sweeping the mountain of luggage as if somehow its very presence could make sense of this impossible, unbelievable situation. Her butler and personal maid were trying not to look fascinated by the scene being played out before them. They had known Colonel Lacey since he was a lad at boarding school with a penchant for mischievous adventures. And they knew the present state of affairs between Miss Sommerville and the colonel. Diana made up her mind. She couldn’t unravel this craziness alone, and if Muldoon could offer some kind of explanation, she needed to hear it at once. She hated to leave the house with Rupert still in possession, but it seemed the only way, because he clearly had no intention of going anywhere. “Barlow, would you see if the hackney is still outside?” The butler bowed and hurried to the still-open door.

Two hackney carriages stood at the door. Both drivers were wrestling with the last few pieces of baggage fastened on the roofs. “Still here, Miss Diana. Still unloading.” He stepped aside as one of the men staggered past with a heavy steamer trunk, setting it down with a sigh of relief. “Then please tell one of the cabbies I need to be taken to Chancery Lane.” “Right, ma’am.” He turned back to the still-open front door and sent a piercing whistle through the early morning air. “One of you needs to take Miss Sommerville on to Chancery Lane.” “Should I accompany you, Miss Diana?” asked a thin, angular woman, who had been standing to one side, her sharp gaze moving between her mistress and the man on the gallery as if she were watching a tennis match.

“No, thank you, Agnes,” Diana replied. She didn’t need a chaperone, and her personal maid had better things to do in the next hour. Resolutely, she kept her back to Rupert, as if by ignoring him she could convince herself he wasn’t there. “Would you see to the unpacking? I’d like to settle in as soon as possible.” “Indeed, ma’am. Izzy can help me once Mrs. Harris doesn’t need her.” Diana nodded, drawing on her gloves again. She felt very strange, disoriented, bewildered and not really in control of anything, however much she tried to give an impression of imperturbable command. Muldoon, the family solicitor, would restore that control.

He’d make damn sure Rupert Lacey left her house in short order. “The cabbie’s ready, ma’am.” “Thank you, Barlow.” She inhaled deeply and walked to the open door, her head high and back straight, telling herself that she was not leaving Rupert in possession of the field. When she returned she would come armed. Chapter Two Half an hour later, Diana stepped out of the hackney carriage on Chancery Lane and stood for a moment savoring the soft warmth of the English summer morning as she gathered her thoughts. It was still early, barely nine o’clock, but she had been so anxious to get installed in Cavendish Square that she’d left Brown’s Hotel, where she’d spent the previous night, after her arrival on the White Star liner from South Africa at soon after seven thirty. It had been the beginning of the South African winter when she’d left Cape Town for the monthlong voyage home, the dawn mornings bitter when she’d ridden out to watch Kimberley Diamond training on the racetrack. The cold air had seemed to suit the racehorse. How would the filly respond to her new home in the English countryside? But there were more pressing matters at the moment than the well-being of a racehorse, however important she was.

Diana walked up the shallow steps to the front door where a brass plate proclaimed the offices of Messrs. Muldoon and Muldoon, Esq., Solicitors. She pressed the bell and the door was opened almost immediately by an elderly frock-coat clad clerk. He blinked in surprise at his unexpected visitor. “Why, Miss Sommerville, how delightful to see you. We didn’t realize you were back in the country. A letter was sent to you in South Africa only last month.” “I had left by then,” she said, managing a slightly shaky smile. “I arrived in Portsmouth only yesterday, Mr.

Bates. Would it be possible for me to see Mr. Muldoon?” “Yes, yes, of course. I’ll tell him you’re here. He’ll be so pleased to see you.” The clerk held the door wide. “Please, step inside, Miss Sommerville.” “Thank you.” She stepped past him into the cramped foyer from which rose a narrow flight of stairs. The air was stuffy and smelled dusty, a smell she remembered from past visits to the family lawyers.

An attic smell of ancient books and piles of parchment. It was oddly comforting in its familiarity, as was Mr. Muldoon, who came hurrying down the stairs, rosy-cheeked and rotund as ever. He bowed with old-fashioned courtesy and kissed her hand. “My dear Miss Sommerville . Diana . I wrote to you just last month. I wish I had known you were coming home.” “After my father’s death so soon after my brother’s, I found it difficult to stay in South Africa.” She smiled the same shaky little smile.

“Yes, yes, I understand.” His clasp on her hand tightened. “I cannot tell you how sorry we are, both at Sir Geoffrey’s death and at your brother’s. To die so young, fighting for his country, such a brave and honorable death, but I know that can’t really be a comfort.” “Not really, no,” she agreed. Her anger rose again with the upsurge of grief, never far from the surface these days. “Pointless to die in a war over diamonds and gold.” Mr. Muldoon inclined his head in acknowledgment but after a pause said with a slight note of reproof, “Those gold and diamond mines, Diana, are responsible for your family’s considerable wealth.” Diana flushed with annoyance.

The solicitor was presuming on the years of his firm’s service to the Sommerville family. She said sharply, “Maybe so, Mr. Muldoon, but my brother’s life was not worth that fortune, however pleasant it is to possess it.” The solicitor reared back, like a tortoise withdrawing his head. He’d forgotten about the Sommerville eyes, the deep purple of sloes. Alight with that flash of anger, they burned like purple fireworks. Diana instantly regretted her spark of temper. She had to watch her tongue; it had always been her downfall . speaking her mind without a tactful pause, that vital moment of reflection. Jem had had a similar problem, but he controlled the impulse better than his younger sister.

Rupert, of course, had never pulled his punches, except when it was in his interests to do so. But of course, Rupert Lacey was not a Sommerville, for all that he acted as if he were. Which brought her to the point of this visit. But before she could say anything further, Muldoon said, “I’m very glad to see you, my dear. As you would not have received my letter with a full explanation of your circumstances, I must explain matters to you in person. Please come into my office.” Diana felt the first tremors of apprehension. Her circumstances were surely perfectly straightforward. She followed him into a dusty chamber, littered with papers and books, its paned windows grimy with the city’s heavy air, thick with the stench of sea coal and the smoke from the barges plying the river. She took the chair he pulled out for her and waited as he took a thick file of papers from a drawer in an overflowing cabinet and sat down on the opposite side of the big desk.

He spent a few minutes riffling the papers, patting them into alignment, before finally folding his hands on top of the pile and regarding Diana gravely through his pince-nez. Her apprehension now was running riot as she waited, breathless, for him to speak. “As you’re aware, Diana, your father, Sir Geoffrey Sommerville, stipulated that upon the death of himself and Lady Sommerville, his estate be divided equally between your brother, Jeremy, and yourself. The estate comprises Deerfield Court and its lands and home farm in Kent, the London house on Cavendish Square and the property, gold and diamond mines in Kimberley, South Africa.” He paused, and Diana looked at him expectantly. “Yes indeed, I understand that, Mr. Muldoon. And because my brother predeceased our father, the entire estate now passes to me. Is that not so?” The solicitor cleared his throat. “It’s not quite so simple, I’m afraid.

” Something monstrous was beginning to take shape in Diana’s head. She sat bolt upright, her gaze fixed upon him. “How so? Jem had no heirs.” “Your brother, Jeremy Sommerville, made his own will, leaving his half of the estate to Colonel Rupert Lacey, a close friend from childhood and a fellow officer, I understand.” And the monster was now roaring, fully formed. She was white as a ghost, her eyes strangely blank as she stared at him, for a moment unable to speak. Muldoon looked at her anxiously. “Can I get you a glass of water? Perhaps a cup of tea . ” Diana declined with a gesture, her hand pressed to her lips as she gazed blankly into space. “It’s not possible,” she murmured, so softly he could barely hear her.

“It’s not possible that Jem would do that to me.” She shook her head vigorously. “You must be mistaken, Mr. Muldoon.” But she knew he was not. Muldoon did not make mistakes, and certainly none of this magnitude. And Rupert had warned her, after all, although he hadn’t had the courage to tell her himself. “I’m afraid not, my dear.” He slid a sheet of paper from the pile across the desk to her. “This is a copy of your brother’s will.

It is signed and witnessed, quite incontestable.” Diana picked it up with nerveless fingers and forced herself to read it carefully. And then she read it again. It was in Jem’s handwriting and it was signed by him and witnessed by two of his fellow officers. Jem was nothing if not thorough when he set his mind to something. But why would he do this? Oh, she knew he and Rupert were close, and remained so even after the debacle between his sister and his best friend, but never in her worst imaginings could she have believed he would betray her in such a fashion. Half of everything, even Kimberley Diamond, the racehorse they had bought together, trained, whose racing career they had planned. Their joint project over which brother and sister had spent hours of time together. She handed the paper back. “Nothing can be done?” He shook his head.

“Of course, you might be able to come to some amicable negotiated agreement with Colonel Lacey . a division of the various properties, or perhaps the sale of some of them and a division of the proceeds. I would be more than happy to facilitate such negotiations and draw up the necessary agreements. In any way I can be of service, my dear. I have served the Sommerville family for over twenty years.”

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