Chapter 1

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25 March, 1821
Rome, Italy

Jacob was lounging on a chair and Mrs. Valentina  Lombardi, the most sought after courtesan in Rome was sprawled on his lap, her lush body pressed to his as she tried to coax a reaction out of him. He knew all the other men watching him envied him. But for the life of him, he couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the act.

Instead of finding her perfume enticing, he found it cloying. The smoke from the cigars made him feel suffocated.

What was ironical was that Jacob had made this his life. He'd thrived in the darkness of this club, on all the temptations it offered. This lifestyle had numbed his feelings, his hurt. In fact, he often wondered if there was any compassion left in his blackened heart.

There wasn't.

"Not today," he murmured. The courtesan pulled back, pouting her disappointment. She knew it was pointless to try and move him now.

"I'm sorry, I'm sure one of those men would be more than happy to take my place," he said, kissing the back of her hand and signalled to the group of lads ogling her from the tables.

"They're hardly even out of shortpants," she huffed, but smiled hesitantly. "I suppose they'll have to do then," she said and got up from his lap. Jacob grinned at her usage of 'they' as she sashayed towards the eager lads.

But the smile on his face didn't last long. He got up and left the club, deciding to walk to his apartments.

He was so bloody angry. And confused.

His uncle-Viscount Townshend had written to him asking for his presence in England-he was dying. Under normal circumstances, Jacob wouldn't have hesitated to go, he'd always loved his uncle.

Had.

At least until he'd banished him seven years ago. He'd been twenty three then, barely a man.

Jacob lost his parents when he was a child. His uncle, having no children himself had raised him despite his aunt's disapproval. And then, it was all taken away from him. The comfort of his home, the love of his uncle, his friends–hell his entire life.

Why? Because his aunt had finally gotten into her husband's head.

Jacob had come to Italy almost penniless and friendless. He'd spent his first few months drowning his sorrow in whiskey, not understanding what he'd done wrong. But then he'd slowly built a life here and now he ran a successful ship building company with his associate. His uncle had sent him money and numerous letters every year and Jacob had returned the envelopes unopened. He didn't need anybody's charity.

He'd finally put his life in England behind him. He'd done everything that he had to do to succeed, not even stopping at blackmail. Now he had power, a fortune and independence, never mind that it had come at the expense of his soul.

His friends here often joked saying Jacob had sold his soul to the Devil when he'd come here. He quite agreed with them. He had no morals and no shame. He took what he wanted without any remorse and that was exactly why he was rolling in money and sin today.

Which was why this summon from his uncle bothered him. He had written to Jacob's solicitor this time, knowing he wouldn't even open the old man's letter.

This could only mean one thing. He was to inherit his uncle's viscountcy. No matter how much his uncle had hurt him, the thought of him dying did strange things to him-it made him feel. And Jacob had little time or patience for feelings in his life. Also, he didn't know if he wanted this viscountcy.

But it meant going back home.

He was disgusted by the direction of his thoughts, by his fickleness. This is my home now, he said to himself stubbornly. All his uncle had to do was to dangle the hope of going back to England in front of his eyes and Jacob forgot about all that he'd built here.

He'd made up his mind by the time he reached his apartments.

He would go to England and meet his uncle, hear him out. And if he was going to inherit the bloody viscountcy, he would bloody well make the best out of it. Jacob might have learnt to live without a conscience, but the sense of duty in him still prevailed. Anyhow, the damned viscountcy would probably die with him because he had no intention of marrying. Ever. And he could always manage the lands from here by hiring a good steward.
Tons of nobs did it.

"Marcel!"

"Yes, signore?" emerged his Italian valet. His deferential tone didn't fool Jacob for a second. His valet was as cheeky a bastard as they came.

"Pack my trunks."

"If I may be so bold, where are we going, signore?"

"England."

"About time," Marcel muttered under his breath. Marcel had always showed his disapproval with Jacob's treatment of his uncle's letters. Strongly.

"What was that?" Jacob shot him a look.

"I know you heard me the first time," he replied, leaving Jacob to do his bidding.

"I might just have to throw you out for your impertinence one of these days," Jacob growled.

"You're too fond of my impertinence to do such a thing," he called from within Jacob's closet. 

Jacob chuckled, he was right.

***

1 April, 1821
Raynham, Norfolk
England

As much as he hated admitting it to himself, Jacob was happy to be home. The sprawling green lands and the familiar stone manor reminded him of how much he'd missed this place.

When he entered Raynham manor, he was greeted by Freddie, their butler.

"It's wonderful to see you again, master Jacob. You look so different now," the man said, his usually stoic face teary. Well, 'different' was putting it mildly. Jacob's lean body had broadened and his skin had darkened. He'd even grown out a beard. It must all be too much for the butler's delicate English sensibilities, Jacob thought amused.

"It's good to see you too, Freddie. How is your son?"  Jacob asked, as Marcel handed over his trunks to a footman.

"Dan is well, he's a barrister now," Freddie's eyes shone with pride. Jacob smiled and nodded indulgently. The boy had been bright as a lad.

"God's tooth, is that you master Jacob?" came a rather feminine screech from above the stairwell. Jacob looked up.

Miss Parsons.

That explained the screech. Miss Parsons was their housekeeper and had loved Jacob very much. The portly old woman practically barrelled down the stairs.

"You haven't aged at all," Jacob grinned, kissing her cheek when she reached him.

"And you are charming as ever, master Jacob," she blushed and swatted his arm. Freddie and some of the newer maids laughed at her but she silenced them with one stern glance.

When she turned to look at him again, her eyes were moist. "We've missed you, master Jacob," she murmured.

"Aye, that we have, the house wasn't the same after you left. And in spite of the viscount feeling so poorly, we were afraid you might not turn up," Freddie said.

A knot formed in Jacob's chest.

"Where's my uncle?" He asked, remembering his purpose.

"Up in his chamber, he's been expecting you. But he couldn't make it down the stairs."

Jacob nodded mechanically before he raced up. He opened the door without knocking.

"Hello there, uncle."

***

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