“Sound the assembly! The Sun’s up, and time’s awasting.”
Charles Wallace stood in his stirrups, long, equestrian-hardened legs raising his tall frame high above the restless conglomeration of horses and riders, milling about the glade in front of the gray granite mansion-house.
The Earl of Devonshire’s nostrils flared, savoring the pungent orders of trampled, dew-laden grass and fresh droppings. He tugged at the cuffs of his taupe doeskin riding gloves, massaging palms together, as a shiver tiptoed across his spine. Anticipation, not the chilled morn air, was its author.
Tis a glorious day, full of promise! Puffs of cottony clouds spilled across a rich, aquamarine sky. Flexing broad shoulders, Wallace twisted in his saddle, scanning the melee.
What a bloody good turnout. Few local gentry dared miss the Earl’s first spring foxhunt. Nobles and wealthy landowners converged from across southern England for this new, prestigious sporting event. Every guest room in his rambling country estate was filled, as were the stalls in his stables. Even George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, who recently popularized this sport, was hard pressed to compete.
Wallace’s topaz eyes raked the crowd, all mounted and eager to be off. Sixty horse at least, edgily mincing and prancing in place, awaiting the blare of the hunting horn. Still, he scoured the sea of bobbing black and tan caps and flowered bonnets.
Ah! There—the copper-haired French seraph. He visualized her delectably curved long legs below full hips, cinched by a petite waist. Her heart-shaped face was illuminated by incandescent emerald eyes, hovering above a slender, tipped up nose. Arched cheeks bracketed Cupid’s-bow-shaped lips. So deceptively feminine, slender and delicate she seemed upon her muscular white gelding.
Charles knew otherwise.
Victoria Chevalier was a passionate, willful maid, plainly disenchanted with her marriage to an effeminate dandy twenty years her senior.
When first he saw her, the young Countess du Beaujolais’ sensuality swept over him, sucking away his breath and setting his heart thundering like the hooves of this very stallion he sat astride. Thick-limbed, masculine Clarice, his acidic, passionless wife, had never ignited lust in his heart… or his loins.
But this nymph, Victoria, was God-sent. During the week as his guest, they were drawn together, as bees seek succulent clover. Sharp-witted and charged with life, she was full of sport. Quick dexterity with a 16 gauge brought three flushed grouse to hand… just one less than he… while her effete spouse was knocked ass over heels by his 12 gauge gun. Clarice had stayed abed.
And Victoria must have otter in her blood, out swimming him, crossing the river in swim garb much too brief for local customs. Long arms and strong legs sliced the water with astonishing ease.
He felt stirring, despite his tight britches, at the memory of his arms around her, teaching her to cast a fly for trout. Her soft chuckle hinted at greater expertise with the long rod than she admitted. ‘Twas sport neither of which their partners show interest.
Victoria Chevalier was truly akin in spirit, far different from either of their mates. This French beauty would be his that very day. His starving soul demanded it, boding a liaison far more intense than just a quick tumble in the grass.
How is it she was even wed to this foppish count? Arranged marriages! Bah! Neither Chevalier, nor the earl’s icy wife will offer any real obstacle to their desires. Charles and Victoria had slyly courted for the entire week, and now was their chance to fulfill those promises silently made.
He smiled as she wound her horse through the mob. As she edged nearer, her devilish grin and sly wink snatched the breath from his lungs.
“We go,” his strong tenor carrying to the page, standing atop a small stone wall. “Sound the horn, God blast it!”
The brass trumpet echoed three times over the glade, and then trice again.
Shouting riders urged their steeds ahead, each vying for a place directly behind the Earl, a sea of horses, sleekly muscled hunters, surging into the lightly wooded countryside. The drum of hooves and the echo of lusty shouts echoed through the trees like rolling thunder.
Immediately, a stone wall bordering a creek loomed as the first challenges, and two riders were quickly down. The hounds had drawn far ahead, hurdling through the underbrush, noses close to the ground, seeking fresh scent. It wouldn’t be long. The Earl had spied several fox in the area just last week.
A movement at his right drew his glance, as the copper-tressed angel closed to his side. A few light strokes from her crop urged her steed ahead. She grinned, a playful challenge in her eyes, tossing her head, loosening burnished bronze locks from beneath her flowered hat.
They were swiftly upon a huge downed oak, vaulted by both animals with little trouble. Just as they landed, a hound let forth a melodious wail, and charged off to the south, head high, the call ringing from his throat, joined in full harmony by his brethren. A familiar wave of goose bumps skipped down his spine.
“Tallyho! Tallyho!” Wallace yelled, as he urged his dappled mount hard after the quickly disappearing dogs.
“Tallyho!” the two-legged vixen riding beside him howled gleefully, putting her crop to her snow-white steed. The cry echoed behind him again and again, as the others, strung out over a thousand yards, strove to follow. None could match the abandon of their host and his reckless female companion as they surged even farther ahead.
Ten minutes of hard riding, spiced by arduous jumps, had brought them within a few hundred yards of the hounds, their calls saying the fox was not yet bayed. Much of the party had fallen prey to the many obstacles they had crossed in their pell-mell charge after the dogs.
The countess’ fearless attack of the hunt had kept her slightly to the front. Charles happily hung back, watching her with an ever-escalating appreciation. She was magnificent! Never had he known such a wild and exciting creature, so fully invested in all he held dear. He could barely wait to gather her in his arms.
The hounds were clearly visible ahead, just beyond a low, stone wall. The riders vaulted it, almost as one, and as they landed on the far side, Victoria began slowing her mount, pulling off to the side.
“What’s amiss,” he asked, slewing to a stop beside her.
“Fa! This foolish beast has come up lame. I’m unable to continue.”
“Damn the luck. We were hot on the little bastard’s trail.” Turning to Count Armand, surging to a skidding halt with several other riders, Charles pointed south.
“Her horse has gone lame. Finish the hunt without us. I’ll see the Countess safely back to the manor house.” The mud-spattered Frenchman nodded, tapping his cap with his crop, and charge off in pursuit of the fast disappearing dogs.
He may be an effete dandy, who can’t shoot and doesn’t fish, but the bugger can ride. Charles watched them vanish into the woods.
Dismounting, he took the lady’s reins, starting back from whence they came. After a bit they found themselves in a shaded meadow, a small brook tumbling cheerfully along one side. Cottonwoods lined its banks, their flowers in full bloom, perfuming the air with a heady scent.
“Come, m’lady. We’ll take our ease here for a time before we continue. ‘Tis been a hot, thirsty chase.”
“Ah, truly said, m’lord. Your every wish is my command.”
His lust-filled eyes caressed her every curve, lingering over each erotic swell. He licked parched lips, smiling up at her.
“An interesting proposition. You’ll accede to anything I ask of you?”
She gave a throaty laugh, as he plucked her from her sidesaddle mount… and into his arms. Once there, he had not the will to release her. The scent of lilies and musk sent him spinning.
She tilted her face, crimson lips slightly parted, eyes green pools of fire. The sweet smell of her hair laid waste to his senses. His manhood, trapped in the confinement of skin-tight jodhpurs, struggled to attention.
“You are but to ask, m’lord,” she whispered, panting softly. “I am willing–nay, eager–to heed your every desire.”
He crushed her to him, hungry lips entangling, tongues darting vipers, his breath snatched away by the heat of her response. The fire of her kiss consumed him in delicious flames. They grappled with sweaty garments, and luckily, riding habit was infinitely less complicated than the normal fashions of court.
Welded as one, they slid down upon the soft grass, moist with dew. There was only sweetness in the salty taste of their skin. In a moment’s time they were lost in wonder, soaring high above even Heaven’s Gate.
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Genre – Romantic Suspense
Rating – PG13