The Dark Side of the Earl – Ella Edon

They stared at each other. Nathan had been planning on small talk, to get to know the woman across from him more. But there was something more pressing on his mind. “You know, when you first walked out onto the terrace, I could have sworn you looked at me like you knew me.” Eleanor blinked and stared at him. She licked her lips, and Nathan found himself looking at her mouth. He looked away and focused again on her eyes. Hazel eyes with slight flecks of green. Lovely eyes. Stop! “Maybe it was my mind playing tricks, Captain.” Eleanor cleared her throat. “I bumped into someone who looked a lot like you not too long ago. He seemed a kind, courteous man. But, of course, it couldn’t have been you. You were in France.

” She managed a slight smile and shrugged. “And it was dark, so I could have been mistaken.” Another one who thought he was someone else. Now Nathan really wanted to know what was going on. It was like everyone was going mad. “If it were just you who’s said that to me in the last week, I would have agreed.” “What do you mean by that?” “My servants have been acting very odd since I returned from France. Every time I come into a room, they look at me with such fear for a split second before they realize that it’s me. Then there’s a lot of embarrassing mumbles and everyone runs away. Even my valet Knoth does it and he won’t talk to me about why.

” Nathan rubbed the back of his neck. “If I was a different kind of man, I could develop a complex and think they feared me. But I’ve never raised my hand to them, and I’ve barely raised my voice. Not that I’ve been around to raise my voice.” “Because you’ve been busy with the war.” Eleanor murmured. She frowned. “That is unusual, I’ll agree. Maybe they had word about something regarding you and it’s scaring them.” “You think so?” “It’s possible.

Misinformation and rumours can colour a person’s judgement. Even when the truth is placed in front of them, they can still be suspicious.” Nathan stared at her. Any other woman would have laughed it off, saying it was nothing and telling him to not be so suspicious himself. Nothing to cause drama where it wouldn’t benefit them. Eleanor hadn’t done that. That raised his level of respect for her. “It’s possible, but I’m still not sure. I’ll get answers out of them soon.” “Are your household staff good people?” “Good? I would certainly recommend them to anyone.

Hard workers and loyal. Barely a complaint from them.” Nathan paused. “They will be able to look after you once we’re married.” “That’s a rel… I beg your pardon?” Eleanor frowned. “They’ll look after me? I thought it was the duty of the husband to look after their wife?” “I’m sure you know this is merely an arrangement. Marriage on paper only. I’ll stay around long enough to obtain an heir, and then I’ll go back to France where I’m needed.” Nathan bit back a grimace. That had come out far colder than he anticipated.

It was the truth, but it didn’t make it any better. Eleanor was staring at him like he had just hit her over the head. “I see.” Her voice was clip. “Your war with the French is more important than being with your new wife.” “You didn’t think this was a marriage of love, did you?” “I know what it is, but it doesn’t make your comment any better.” Eleanor sat forward. Her expression was steely, her eyes hardening as she glowered at him. “Do you think I don’t need to be shown how things are as a Countess? If we’re going to be able to back each other up, at the very least. Be a partnership.

I don’t want to be treated like a stranger in my house by my own husband.” “M CHAPTERONE y lady?” Vanity Reynolds, Dowager Countess of Brixton, looked up to see her maid standing in the doorway. She looked very nervous, shuffling from foot to foot. “What is it, Desiree?” Vanity put her sewing aside and rose to her feet. “You look pale.” “There’s a Mr. Eric Bateman here to see you, Lady Brixton.” Vanity froze. Oh, no. Not him.

Her mouth went dry and she felt nauseous. Why couldn’t he stay away? She had done what he asked…no, demanded. He didn’t need to come back. “Do you want me to send him away, my lady?” Desiree asked. She looked almost eager to do that. She could be formidable when she wanted to be. But not against Eric Bateman. She wouldn’t stand a chance. “No, don’t send him away.” Taking a deep breath, Vanity folded her hands in front of her.

“Let him in.” “Very good, my lady.” Desiree didn’t look convinced, but she stepped aside to allow the tall man into the room. Vanity had to keep back the gasp that always lodged in her throat every time she saw him. He looked so much like his father, it was scary. What was scarier was how much he looked like her son. The son she didn’t ignore, the one she raised and the one who had become a good man. Not like the man before her, standing there with a lazy smirk on his face. He looked every bit as arrogant as the man who had raised him. Why did the stupid woman have to take him to the one-person Vanity would want to keep him away from? “Do you need me for anything, Lady Brixton?” Desiree was still hovering in the doorway.

“Do you want Jonathan to stand by?” Jonathan. One of her footmen. He was big, a former soldier, and he was young and strong. But still he was no match for Eric Bateman. Not with what Eric had. Vanity swallowed hard and shook her head. “No, thank you, Desiree. We’ll be fine. That will be all.” “Very good, my lady.

” Desiree curtsied, gave Eric a harsh glare, and left. Vanity wished her maid could stay. They shared everything, many secrets passing between the two of them since Desiree started working for her fifteen years ago. But she didn’t know the biggest secret. She didn’t know about Eric. She only knew that he had a more than passing resemblance to the dowager countess’ son. The door closed behind her maid. Eric was still watching Vanity with that lazy smirk of his that Vanity had come to hate. “Did you send the letter yet?” “I did. The day after you told me to.

It should be at his barracks by now.” “Will they let him come home?” Vanity hoped so. Her relationship with Nathan wasn’t the best. They didn’t get along now. If Nathan came back, it would be nothing short of a miracle. “It’ll take a bit of time to get the leave granted, but if they know that I’m dying and possibly on my deathbed, they’ll make sure he gets it as soon as possible.” She clenched her hand in the other, biting back the wince at the pain. “If that’s the case, he’ll be back in London in the middle of next week at the very earliest.” “Good.” Eric prowled towards her.

“See, Vanity. Everything is going to plan because you’re being a good girl and following the rules.” He stopped before her. Vanity wanted to move, but she couldn’t as he reached up and brushed his fingers across her cheek. “I know how you like to stick to the rules.” “Don’t touch me,” Vanity hissed. Eric chuckled. It was not a nice sound. “Why shouldn’t I? Like you couldn’t touch me? Couldn’t look at me?” He grabbed her chin and lifted it, making her look at him. “I know you refused to hold me when you thought I was dead.

Now you can’t bear to look at me.” He had to remind her every single time he saw her. Vanity hated those moments, but she forced herself to look at him. “I did a bad thing all those years ago. And I regret it, Eric. But you can’t expect me to turn on my motherly affection just like that.” Eric sniggered. His eyes were so dark, so cold. Far too familiar. “Maybe not, but you will have to soon.

” He released her chin hard and stepped back. “Once the son you kept is dead and I’m in his place.” Vanity felt a chill slide down her spine. Ever since Eric had walked back into her life three weeks ago and told her that he could make everything she held dear disappear in the blink of an eye if she didn’t do as he asked, she lived in fear. There was so much hate in him, and he was willing to do it if he didn’t get what he wanted. It meant sacrificing Nathan to keep the secret. Nathan. “You’re really going to kill him?” she whispered. “Yes.” There was no hesitation, just stated as a cold hard fact.

“I will kill him, because he has what should have been mine. I’m going to make sure that I get what is my birth right.” Vanity could feel her fingers digging hard into her hand. She was sure her nails were drawing blood. But it was either that or lash out at him. Her reputation versus Nathan’s life had her at a quandary. She didn’t want him to die, but she didn’t want people to know the mistake she had made either. “Nathan isn’t stupid, Eric.” She squared her shoulders. “He’s going to know that something’s wrong.

He’ll make sure you don’t get the title.” Eric barked out a laugh, sauntering around the room like he owned the place and touching everything like he owned it. “You overestimate his abilities, Vanity. Just because he’s a captain in the army, the Duke of Wellington’s best soldier, doesn’t mean that he’s going to find out what’s happening. He’s not going to know, because you’re not going to tell him.” “You think I won’t?” He gave her a pointed look. Vanity gritted her teeth. “I know you won’t,” Eric said softly. “Not unless you want to tell him that he shouldn’t have been the Earl in the first place.” “Why wait until now?” Eric’s eyes darkened.

He looked dangerous. Frightening. Vanity wanted to cry. She couldn’t stand to be near him. “I waited until now because the man I called my father was dying. He told me everything with his last breath, showed me the letters. I was denied it my whole life. Now, I want my birth right.” He chuckled. “Maybe I should have been named Esau instead of Eric.

Far more appropriate.” Vanity was shaking. She wasn’t going to hold on for much longer. She wasn’t about to lose her composure in front of this…she didn’t know how to call him. “Please, just go. I’ve done what you asked.” “For now.” Eric was still smirking as he headed for the door. “But once I’m the Earl of Brixton, you won’t be able to get me to leave.” With a final wink in her direction, he left, shutting the door behind him.

It was only then that Vanity collapsed, slumping to a chair before she fell to the floor. Her heart would not stop racing.

.

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