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Chapter 4


The funeral service ended and the crowd of mourners gathered at the grave site dispersed, trudging through the wet ground back to the manor. Jeremy squinted up at the looming stone structure that had served as the country seat of the Earl of Thornton, the weak rays of the sun struggling to penetrate the thick mist that clung to the air warming his face as he studied the massive construction of stone and brick that had stood since the time of his great great great grandfather.

This was his home now, he thought wearily, feeling the entire weight of the new responsibility on his shoulders. God knew he was sorely unprepared to shoulder the burden of running two massive estates - Thornton Manor and Coleridge House with a large number of servants, tenants and dependents, all looking to Jeremy for their livelihood. Jeremy was well aware that a number of these people expected him to fail dismally at this herculean task, after all, he had been absent for three years, a foreigner by most of their standards. But their expectations only fueled his desire to succeed at the task, he would prove them wrong in this...exile or no. His lips twisted as he recalled the conversation yesterday with his father's solicitors, the doubt that had been clearly stamped on their faces as they had outlined all Jeremy had inherited.

He allowed his gaze to wander over to where his mother stood surrounded by her close friends, moving over to his sister Caroline, walking slightly apart from the rest of the group, her eyes fixed on something in the distance that seemed to hold her attention and then to Trevor who walked beside him, head bowed in deep contemplation. As if sensing Jeremy's gaze, Trevor glanced up, sorrow clearly written on his youthful face and sighed.

"So that's over then." Trevor said quietly, glancing back at the mound of earth which marked the former earl's final resting place. Jeremy followed his gaze, an ache in his chest as he remembered once more that his father had died without a chance at reconciliation, something which pained Jeremy more than anything else. Not for the first time, he felt bile rise up within him as a picture of the very vixen that had ruined his life swam rose up in his mind's eye.

"Yes." He replied, forcing the single word past the lump that had formed in his throat. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. It would not do for him to dwell on Katherine Farnsworth right now. He would deal with her later...much later when things where under control.

Jeremy allowed his gaze to wander once more, this time over to the clump of trees at one end of the estate. A flash of movement between the trees caught his attention and he frowned, steps coming to a halt as he scrutinized the spot. The thick fog made it difficult to make anything out clearly, but he could have sworn there was something yellow or someone wearing a yellow garment lurking there.

"What the devil?" He muttered, moving towards the clump of trees to investigate. Another flurry of movement and Jeremy could just make out the figure moving away until there was nothing.

"Jerry!" Trevor's call distracted him and Jeremy turned to his brother. Trevor was pointing at something towards the manor and following his brother's pointing finger, he could see a gathering of some sort waiting by the entrance. He cast another glance towards the trees but there was nothing there anymore so he retraced his footsteps back.

As they approached the manor, Jeremy recognized the group as the tenants living on Thornton land...his land come to pay their respects to the bereaved family and acknowledge the new earl. He sighed and straightened his shoulders, assuming an air of confident command, for the next few minutes were crucial in establishing a lasting impression that he was more than capable of handling his duties as earl. When he neared the group, a short balding man detached himself from the group and came towards Jeremy, bowing deeply.

"Good morn My lord." the man's voice had a rasping quality Jeremy recognized as the result of inhaling too much tobacco smoke. "Horace Lansing, estate manager at your service sir. Permit me to offer my deepest condolences on your loss, the earl was a good man...God rest his soul." The rest of the group murmured assent, adding words of condolence to Horace's words.

Jeremy nodded, accepting their condolences while he mentally filed away the man's identity for future use. "Thank you."

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