“Well, we certainly don’t have that problem.” Leo returned his attention to Merripen. “Tell me about our legal issues. And use small words. I don’t like to think at this hour of the morning. It hurts.”

Looking none too happy, Merripen sat at the table. “This house,” he said, “and the parcel of land it stands on—about fourteen acres in total—were not part of the original Ramsay estate. It was added later. In legal terms, it’s a copyhold portion, which is a separate property within the main estate. And unlike the rest of the estate, the copyhold can be mortgaged, bought, or sold at the will of the lord.”

“Good,” Leo said. “Since I’m the lord, and I don’t want to mortgage or sell anything, it’s all fine, isn’t it?”

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“No.”

“No?” Leo scowled. “According to the rules of entailment, the lord always retains his land and manor home. It’s nonpartible. And nothing can change that.”

“That’s right,” Merripen said. “You are entitled to the ancient manor home. The one on the northwest corner of the estate where two streams meet.”

Leo set down his half-filled plate and stared at him blankly. “But that’s a pile of rubble covered with scrub. It was built at the time of Edward the Confessor, for God’s sake.”

“Yes,” Merripen said in a matter-of-fact tone. “That’s your true home.”

Becoming more and more irritated, Leo said, “I don’t want that bloody wreckage, I want this house. Why is there a problem with that?”

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“May I tell him?” Beatrix asked eagerly. “I’ve looked up all the legal words, and I know it better than anyone.” She sat up with her pet ferret Dodger draped around her shoulders. “You see, Leo, the original manor home was left to ruin a few centuries ago. And one of the ancient Lord Ramsays acquired this fourteen-acre parcel and built a new home on it. Ever since then, Ramsay House has been handed down to each new viscount by special custom in the manor. But the last Lord Ramsay—the one just before you—found a way to leave all partible property, including the copyhold, to his widow and daughter. It’s called an award of enfranchisement, and it’s theirs for life. So Ramsay House and the fourteen-acre parcel it stands upon have been left to Countess Ramsay, and her daughter Vanessa Darvin.”

Leo shook his head incredulously. “Why haven’t we learned of this before?”

Amelia answered in a glum tone. “It seems that the widow had no previous interest in the house, because it was a shambles. But now that it’s been restored so beautifully, she has informed our solicitor that she intends to move in and take possession.”

Leo was filled with outrage. “I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone take Ramsay House from the Hathaways. If necessary, I’ll bring this to chancery at Westminster.”

Merripen pinched the corners of his eyes wearily. “Chancery won’t take it.”

“How do you know?”

“Our solicitor has talked to the copyhold specialist at his firm. Unfortunately, there was never an entail placed on Ramsay House, only on the original manor home.”

“What about purchasing the copyhold from the widow?”

“She has already stated that no amount of money would induce her to part from it.”

“Women’s minds are frequently changed,” Leo said. “We’ll make her an offer.”

“Very well. But if she refuses to negotiate, there’s only one way for us to keep this house.”

“I can’t wait to hear this,” Leo said.

“The last Lord Ramsay made a provision that you would retain the copyhold, including the house, if you married and produced legitimate male issue within five years of ennoblement.”

“Why five years?”

Win answered gently. “Because in the last three decades, no Ramsay has managed to live longer than five years after receiving the title. Nor have any of them sired a legitimate son.”

“But the good news, Leo,” Beatrix said brightly, “is that it’s been four years since you became Lord Ramsay. If you can stay alive for just one more year, the family curse will be broken.”

“And furthermore,” Amelia added, “you have to marry and sire a son as soon as possible.”

Leo stared at them all blankly in the expectant silence. A disbelieving laugh escaped him. “You’re all mad if you think I’m going to be forced into a loveless marriage just so the family can continue living at Ramsay House.”

Coming forward with a placating smile, Win handed him a piece of paper. “Of course we would never want to force you into a loveless marriage, dear. But we have put together a list of prospective brides, all of them lovely girls. Won’t you take a glance and see if any of them appeals to you?”

Deciding to humor her, Leo looked down at the list. “Marietta Newbury?”

“Yes,” Amelia said. “What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t like her teeth.”

“What about Isabella Charrington?”

“I don’t like her mother.”

“Lady Blossom Tremaine?”

“I don’t like her name.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Leo, that’s not her fault.”

“I don’t care. I can’t have a wife named Blossom. Every night I would feel as if I were calling in one of the cows.” Leo lifted his gaze heavenward. “I might as well marry the first woman off the street. Why, I’d be better off with Marks.”

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