Read an Excerpt
James Montford slowed his horse to a walk as he took in the view of Mariah Griffin trotting her prize black mare. The woman’s lush curves and fearless nature called to him.
When she looked over her shoulder for him, she pulled up and turned to trot in his direction. “Are you tired, my lord?” Her breasts bounced as she brought her horse to a stop. The dress was in no way revealing, but James had an active imagination.
“Not at all. Simply enjoying the view of your uncle’s estate.” He knew she’d never believe it, which was precisely why he’d said it.
“If you’re bored, please do not continue on my account. Alice’s headache ruined your afternoon of riding with her. I simply needed to get some air, and on my uncle’s estate I can ride alone with no impropriety. You need not feel obligated.” She walked her horse around his, circling him like a vulture.
“I enjoy riding as well, Miss Griffin. Your company only adds to the view.” James had no designs on Alice, Mariah’s cousin, but her parents wanted him for a son-in-law. With neighbouring estates, the socialisation was inevitable. Until Mariah’s arrival, part chaperone and all friend for Alice, James had not spent much time here.
He and Mariah spoke rather openly to one another but stayed away from any topics of significance. That suited him well. He was in no haste to marry. The institution made most people he knew miserable. Mariah didn’t pressure him about Alice or any other attachment.
“View?” She looked down with a grin. “My mare is not for sale, my lord.”
He chuckled. She rebuffed his compliment and yet a touch of pink glowed in her cheeks. “I’m not shopping for horses. I have a well-stocked stable.”
“So I hear. My aunt wanted me to invite you to dinner. Hopefully, Alice’s headache has passed.” Mariah’s face turned serious as she nodded to the sky. “Rain is coming. We should go back.”
“Eager to escape me?” He glanced up and saw her assessment was accurate. Annoyance boiled in his veins. Nature plotted to keep him from some relaxing time alone with Mariah. His desire for her fought his need to remain unattached.
Mariah made him feel things no other woman had. But she was a lady, the daughter of a rich man. Innocent and honourable in all things. Yet they had a connection. He was an earl, worthy of her, but if she knew his true nature, he suspected she’d run.
He knew she had three brothers. Perhaps if he treated her like a little sister, the lust would pass. “Shall we race?” he asked.
She nodded. Few men would suggest such a thing to a grown woman, but they’d begun a habit of teasing one another already. He wanted to watch her best him. It’d provide interesting dinner conversation.
“One, two, three.” He took off, and she didn’t sprint past him. Her lighter body and sleeker horse should’ve overtaken him at the average pace he’d set his mount. James wondered if she was now taking in the view? He felt lightheaded for a moment as his stomach ached in confusion and desire. To possess her was a dream, but dreams were false and easy. Reality hurt people, and he had no wish to upset anyone. He’d created a quiet life he could tolerate.
He pulled up at the stable and entered. Dismounting, he looked about for the stable boy and heard rustling in the hay. Defiling a chamber maid was no excuse for neglecting duty. James rounded the stall to chastise the couple. He stopped in his tracks and wanted to use his riding crop in a multitude of ways. Alice’s headache had apparently been cured by the affections of the vicar.
“Edmund?” James levelled a challenging glance at the man.
The vicar stepped in front of the dishevelled young woman. “Forgive me, my lord.”
“Your lordship.” Alice tried to cover herself.
“You’ve won, my lord. The rain is starting. Where is everyone?” Mariah followed James’ path, and her jaw dropped as she took in the scene.
James helped her off her horse, relishing the feel of her firm body beneath his hands. She barely gave him a nod as she glared at her cousin. The play of the race and the weather no longer proved of interest to either of them.
“Alice!” Mariah grabbed her cousin and pulled her away from Edmund’s arms. “What are you doing?”