I’m so excited! Only one week until A Countess by Chance releases! Woot! And to celebrate, I’m posting the first chapter here!
A COUNTESS BY CHANCE
A gambler’s daughter, Sophia Weatherby knows her way around a deck of cards. So when her family estate becomes threatened, she has no choice but to use her skills at the gaming tables to save herself from ruin. A lavish house party affords her the perfect opportunity-until the newly minted Earl of Huntington arrives. Adam Greyson has never forgotten the day Sophia rejected his proposal. Now to even the score, he challenges her to a shocking wager-his two thousand pounds against the one valuable commodity she has left: her virtue.
Against all of Olivia Dewhurst’s hopes for a quiet, peaceful visit to her cousins’ country estate, Adam Rycroft, newly minted Earl of Huntington, had arrived last night.
It was inconsiderate, really. This was her cousin’s house party, after all, and Huntington had no conceivable reason to invade it with his dashing good looks and roguish charm. Indeed, every woman present had nearly swooned before he’d even dismounted from his horse.
All night, she’d imagined the clever things she would say when they finally spoke. In every scenario she was completely at ease, exuding charm, wit, and effortless poise. She was grace itself.
When the sun finally rose, she joined the rest of the ladies for their morning ride. She’d dressed in a pale green riding habit and mounted a chocolate-colored horse, cleverly named Chocolate, which the stable hand assured her was unusually gentle.
Yes, well, “gentle” translated to slow and lazy, apparently. Chocolate refused to move unless Olivia swatted her on the rump with such vigor that the creature was forced to acknowledge her presence.
The other ladies were tolerant for a long while, but by the end of the first hour, their patience had given way to thinly veiled annoyance. Their loud exhalations and pointed glares were like needles to her pride. If a hole had opened up right then, she would have gladly climbed into it.
“You don’t mind if we go on ahead, do you, Miss Dewhurst?” Annabelle Wood said with an edge of censure in her voice. The others smiled atop their horses and said nothing, poised to ride off the moment she gave her consent. Her cousin Margaret, ever the incompetent hostess, had already wandered ahead of the group, unknowing or uncaring if the rest followed.
“No, not at all,” Olivia lied. Anxiety swamped her, but she’d die before she let it show. “Please, go on ahead. I’ll be along shortly.”
The words had hardly left her mouth before they were off, leaving her completely alone with the beastly horse in the middle of a muddy field. Meanwhile, Chocolate had found a patch of freshly sprouted grass, and was munching away happily, with no inclination to move whatsoever. Not even a swift kick to the flank could inspire movement.
Olivia was sitting, looking out over the field, then looking back at the house, now just a white speck in the distance, when a strong, male voice rang out somewhere to her left.
She twisted to see Lord Huntington approach, and her heart instantly leapt into her throat. Mortification swept over her, and she wished were anywhere but here. She’d wanted him to see her strong, in control, confident…not stuck on the back of a horse, helpless.
He rode a grey, sleek-looking mount with the agility of a true horseman, his body swaying gracefully with each movement, strong and in control.
He sidled up to her. “Miss Dewhurst.”
Her eyes met his. Her cheeks flamed, and for a moment, her breath held. He was just as handsome as she remembered, with dark, wavy hair and chocolate brown eyes that flicked over her with interest.
It’d been two long years since she’d seen him last—since the night she’d jilted him. He was much the same—authoritative with a hint of devilish charm. Only his outward appearance had altered. No longer did he wear the crisp, serviceable attire of a tradesman. This morning, he wore a blue coat of the finest quality, tan breeches and a pair of Hessians that were a stark reminder of his new, elevated station.
His smile was slow and lazy, as though he sensed her unease and relished it.
Her heart thudded wildly against her ribs. She closed her eyes and tipped her head up casually, as if enjoying the sunshine. “Hello, my lord. Beautiful morning, isn’t it?”
“You appear to be having difficulties.”
If she had any sense at all, she’d ask him to help her dismount and drag the plodding beast back to the stables. Instead, she lifted her chin a notch. “No, indeed. Chocolate and I are just enjoying the sunshine.”
“In a muddy field?”
“As you see.” She spared a quick glance at him. He was looking down at her suspiciously. “What’s wrong with a muddy field?”
He shrugged his broad shoulders. “If you ever wish to return to the house, that horse won’t do.”
Chocolate’s ears twitched, as though she sensed the criticism, and she moved to another patch of grass, taking Olivia right along with her, as though she were nothing more than a flea on her back.
“She’s a bit stubborn,” Olivia admitted. “I think she may have issues with authority.”
“She just needs a strong hand, like most females.”
Olivia pursed her lips. She remembered his strong, capable hands, and the wicked things he’d done to her. While she was still strictly a virgin, they’d stretched the definition of the word to its very limits.
“A strong hand.” She rolled her eyes. “What a masculine thing to say.”
He didn’t even have the decency to flinch at her comment. “Why on earth would you consent to such an outing when you clearly have no talent for riding? You would have done better to stay home.”
She stiffened, indignant. “I ride exceptionally well, thank you kindly.”
He smiled, flashing that damnable dimple in the side of his cheek. “I think we both know you can ride only marginally well. I wouldn’t even venture to call your skills on a horse sufficient. Certainly not well enough to be traipsing through muddy fields alone.”
Her cheeks heated. How dare he! The truth of his statement was of little consequence. Her pride flared, and before she could think better of it, she said, “My skills can hardly be measured while riding such an impossible creature. This horse is unnaturally ornery. I venture to say that even you, my lord, couldn’t command her.”
“You are wrong about that, Miss Dewhurst. I can be quite persuasive when the mood strikes.” His hot gaze raked down her body, briefly stopping at her breasts, then meandering down to the V between her thighs. His lips twisted into a delicious, knowing smile. “Or don’t you remember?”
Heat surged through her like a cresting wave. Of course she remembered. One didn’t easily forget passion so potent, so unyieldingly intense.
Swallowing, she glanced away. “You seem quite sure of yourself.”
He shrugged. “I’m capable enough.”
She licked her lips. “In that case, how about a little friendly wager?”
Her father, a retired gambler, had taught his only child a great many things. First among them, strike quickly when you have the advantage. Huntington would be fortunate to get Chocolate to move, let alone run.
His lips twisted into that arrogant smirk that had never failed to annoy her. “That all depends on the prize, Miss Dewhurst.”
“Two hundred pounds says you cannot outrun me with this horse.”
With his sleek gelding, she was sure to win. And two hundred pounds would be enough to pay for her father’s medicine, and a little extra besides. She smiled sweetly.
He leaned in, his big, imposing body impossibly close. “Two thousand.”
Her breath caught. She had no hope of paying him two hundred pounds if she lost, let alone two thousand. “You know I don’t have two thousand pounds.”
It was no secret. While she and her father struggled to conceal the true desperation of their situation, all of England knew the money—everything—was gone. Only the family estate remained, derelict and neglected, but untouched by creditors.
Boldly, he reached out and traced her lips with the tip of his finger, a barely there touch that sent shivers of awareness skipping down her spine. She should push him away. It was the proper thing to do. Instead, her eyelids fluttered closed as she absorbed his touch. It took every drop of self-control not to reach out and pull him into a deep, delicious kiss. She still remembered the feel of his lips against hers, the fierce, unrelenting need that followed in the wake of his touch.
“As it happens, you do have something I want.” His voice was low, seductive, and it reminded her of the warm afternoons they’d spent together, talking, laughing, kissing…
His hand fell away and she opened her eyes, blinking. That she had something he wanted seemed impossible. She was destitute, on the brink of ruin. She had nothing.
He leaned in closer, his warm breath brushing over her cheek, and whispered in her ear. “Two thousand pounds if you win.”
She swallowed. “And if I lose?”
“I get you.”