An original novella introducing Romance of the Turf, Theresa Romain's exciting new Regency romance series
The lives of Sir Bartlett Crosby and Hannah Chandler have been marked by fierce competition between their elite families...the perfect breeding ground for a mutual attraction neither can deny.
Bart hopes to conquer "the turf" through victory in a much-touted match. Should his heavily-favored colt win, the Crosby reputation and fortunes would be revived. Bart's plan seems poised for success until the lovely Hannah Chandler, daughter of a noted rival trainer, turns up claiming ownership of the colt. When Hannah insists on claiming her purchase, the prize colt disappears from Bart's stable. Theft or treachery? As Hannah and Bart rush to solve the mystery before race time, they uncover a scandalous truth about their families' pasts-a truth that has the potential to either destroy both their futures, or to guide them to a love they never imagined.
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The Sport of Baronets
By THERESA ROMAIN
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Theresa St. Romain
All rights reserved.
Late April, 1817
"I am here for the colt, Crosby." The female voice addressing Bart was clipped and unfamiliar.
Despite his preoccupation, the speaker's femininity was enough to trigger a mannerly response. As Bart crouched on the damp turf of the stable yard, trailing his fingers down Golden Barb's cannon bone, he spoke over his shoulder. "It's Sir Bartlett, please. I'll be with you in one moment."
His wiry groom swung down from the bay colt's back as Bart finished his examination of Golden Barb's foreleg. The colt's tendons felt sound, but the week before the Two Thousand Guineas Stakes was no time to make assumptions. Bart squinted up at his groom. "You say he favored the leg during his gallop, Northrup. What about during the walk back?"
"His walk seemed all right, Sir Bartlett. But walkin' won't serve him in the race, if ye pardon me sayin' so."
"Of course." Bart studied the colt's black-stockinged legs for another long moment as Golden Barb shifted his weight. Like so many mincing ladies of the ton, the horse hated to get his feet wet. Perhaps the soggy ground, dampened by a persistent spring drizzle, had caused him to break stride today.
Bart could only hope.
"Goin' to hurt the odds on him if he doesn't get a good run," observed the groom. "Bookmakers — they've an eye out for ever'thing like this."
"My first concern must be for the colt, not the bookmakers." Bart stood. "Cover him with a light blanket and walk him around the yard slowly until he has cooled. Take a stable boy with you, and if the colt favors his foreleg at all, send the boy to find me."
As he spoke, Bart rummaged through the capacious pockets of the old gray coat he wore at the stables. Finding a small apple, he split it over the nearest stall door and extended it on a flat palm, one half at a time, to Golden Barb. The horse's ears pricked forward, and fixing Bart with a warm brown eye, he lipped up the apple. His stub of a docked tail swished, sending an insect careening away. Lucky colt, to dismiss unpleasantness so easily. He seemed wholly unbothered that a week hence, he was to carry not only Northrup as jockey, but also the fortune and reputation of the Crosby family.
It was a dreadful weight to bear, and Bart felt every bit of it on his own shoulders. As the day of the race grew closer, the burden only grew heavier and more taxing. Northrup seemed to unsaddle Golden Barb far too slowly, and Bart bit back the urge to hurry the groom along.
Instead, he prepared to respond to the woman who had addressed him a few minutes before. How may I help you? was almost on his lips as he turned toward her.
"Damnation," he blurted instead. "Hannah Chandler."
If one were a Crosby, damnation and Chandler were practically synonyms.
He hadn't seen her in years, but there was no mistaking that freckled nose or stubborn chin. The dark gold hair that used to fall straight and thick as reaped wheat was now pinned up beneath the black moss-silk of her round hat, but nothing could hide the triumphant sparkle in her hazel eyes.
"Damnation Chandler? Dear me, those years in London have stripped away your manners. That ought to be Miss Chandler, Sir Bartlett." This time, she deigned to use his honorific correctly. Cursed woman; she knew perfectly well that Bart was a baronet, and she certainly knew how a baronet ought to be addressed. Her own father had been granted a baronetcy for outfitting cavalry regiments during the recent wars against France.
"Why are you in my stable yard, Miss Chandler? Is this some sort of subterfuge?" Usually the sight of a pretty young woman sent Bart's tongue into a tangle, but Hannah Chandler was first and foremost a rival.
"As I said, I am here to retrieve my colt."
"Of what colt are you speaking?"
"Golden Barb, of course. Your mother sold him to my father on my behalf yesterday, and I've come with a groom to take him back to the Chandler stables." From a pocket in the long, green skirt of her riding habit, she took a folded paper and shoved it into Bart's hand. "I've the bill of sale, if you wish to examine it."
Bart's fist closed on the paper, its corners biting his palm. "My mother would rather expire than do business with your family."
"Unless she passed on to the afterlife this morning, that seems not to be true. The bill was drawn up by a solicitor and signed by all parties. It is quite binding."
"With the small but significant exception that Golden Barb is not my mother's to sell."
Miss Chandler's jaw hardened. "I assure you, the bill of sale —"
"You can assure me until your head falls off. None of my horses are for sale now, and I certainly have sold none to your family."
"That is not the impression held by anyone else involved in the transaction." Again, her hazel eyes held a wicked sparkle — almost as though she were enjoying Bart's discomfiture.
Almost? There was no almost about the matter.
He wiped his expression blank, then unfolded and smoothed the paper.
As a condition of the sale of Nottingham (chestnut) to Margery, Lady Crosby, in January 1801, Sir William Chandler claims his right to purchase any colt sired by that stallion ...
Nottingham, that stalwart old chestnut, had indeed sired Golden Barb — along with many other colts and fillies in the years since his triumphant retirement from the turf. If this bill were true, conditions had been placed on the horse's purchase about which Bart had never known.
Dense lines of legal-looking language — surely far more than there ought to be? — were followed by the scrawling wreck that had become Lady Crosby's signature. Below that, Hannah's signature was tidy, and the engraving-sharp lines of Sir William Chandler's name seemed smug and superior.
Why had his mother ever — in the distant past, and especially now — trusted a Chandler in any matter of business? Just as Bart's parents had taught him how to train a colt to obey without fear, they had taught him to be wary of the treacherous Chandlers. The two families had been racing and training Thoroughbreds for decades, just as long as they had been undermining one another. Poaching staff with promises of higher salaries. Tampering with bookmakers' odds. Bribing jockeys.
The Chandlers had begun the offensive; everyone knew that. The Crosbys had to retaliate in kind for their own protection. Kill or be killed. Cheat or be cheated.
Win, or be lost.
Bart passed a weary hand over his eyes. The strain of the past year — of his mother's illness, of their ebbing fortunes — was telling on him. Every week brought some unforeseen complication, some dip in the race back to solvency.
When he met Hannah's gaze, she arched a brow. "Are you satisfied, sir?"
No. Never, until the race is won. His sigh ran as deep as his marrow.
Bart craned his neck to check on Golden Barb's progress around the yard, which was bounded on three sides by stables of light gray-brown brick. A few curious equines poked their heads over the lower halves of white-painted wooden stall doors.
Fewer horses than in past years. Far too few.
But all they needed was one colt. One champion, and the two thousand guineas he would soon win, if all went well. If all went as it ought to.
The paper was sharp-edged in his hand as he tried to summon a cutting reply. But the only phrase that came to mind was, "Let us speak in my office."
* * *
Jerking her chin toward her groom — stay here, do as we'd planned — Hannah then followed Sir Bartlett Crosby down the row of stables.
The baronet walking ahead of her hardly appeared to be the frivolous dandy about whom Hannah's father had often complained. Though she had glimpsed the edge of a brightly checked waistcoat, Sir Bartlett's worn coat was the color of gravel and cut with unfashionably large pockets. He wore no hat, and the misty spring sun traced a few silver strands in his near-black hair. His stride was quick and determined, and had Hannah's not been equally so, she would have had difficulty keeping up with him.
That young Crosby is not the horsewoman his mother was, not by a long shot, Sir William had often said as he gazed from Chandler Hall's windows toward the stables of Newmarket. His hands are too careful.
Hannah knew better than to interrupt such reveries with I doubt he is a horsewoman at all, though the idea of such a response always made her smile.
Bart Crosby was only three years older than her twenty-five, but for more than a decade she had seen him in Newmarket only rarely. The turn of the seasons had drawn him away to Eton, to Oxford. To London to dance through the city's lavish ballrooms, and sometimes to his country estate and tenants in Lincolnshire.
Now that Hannah was able to observe him closely, she was not sure her father was right to belittle careful hands. The baronet had handled the Thoroughbred with calm and confidence, and the horse responded in kind.
A man who could win the trust of a horse might not be completely worthless.
Might not. But it did not matter, did it? She was here for the colt. That was all.
Working open a lock, the baronet shoved at a stall door at one end of the angular U of stables. "Come in and sit, Miss Chandler." He held the door ajar with one shoulder, allowing her to pass.
As she squeezed by him, holding up the long skirts of her habit, she brushed against his body. Solid as the door itself, and pleasantly straw-scented. "I beg your pardon." She ducked her head, grateful for the brim of her modish little hat, which shadowed her rosy features.
"Not at all." He sounded distracted. As soon as the door closed behind him, he asked, "Why are you here, Miss Chandler?"
He swiped at one chair seat with a handkerchief, then motioned for Hannah to sit.
She did so warily, taking in the rough surroundings with quick, curious glances. While her father's stable office was smooth of floor and wide of doorway to accommodate his wheelchair, Crosby's was a walled-in loose box set at one corner of the stable. The chairs and table were as plain as though they'd been pilfered from a tack room. A broken bridle lay across the table, weighting a haphazard stack of papers. The stall floor was the same packed dirt the horses' hooves knew so well, though without cushioning straw, and Hannah's sturdy black boots quickly picked up dust.
She drew back her feet and squared her shoulders. "I am here to claim ownership of Golden Barb."
"You mistake my meaning, Miss Chandler." He eased into a chair facing hers across the rough table. "Why are you here, rather than ..."
Someone better. She narrowed her eyes, daring him to finish the sentence, but he simply watched her with an unflinching mahogany-dark gaze.
He was not aware, then, that there was no one else. Sir William had not conducted business in the field since falling ill with palsy more than a decade before.
Following the disappearance of his bride several years before, Hannah's eldest brother, Jonah, had abandoned human interaction in favor of overseeing the Chandler stud farm several miles north of Newmarket.
Jonah's widowed twin, Abigail, lived in Ireland with her children.
Brother Nathaniel, roguish and charming, was frequently in London to keep an eye on Tattersalls — and probably a few lusty widows as well.
"There is no one better than me, Crosby," Hannah replied into the weighty silence. "In my brother Nathaniel's temporary absence, you may consider me to be my father's right hand."
His brows drew together. "I will not consider any communication in which your father has a hand. Not right, nor left. Nor even underhanded, which it is likely to be."
So it was to be a battle? Very well. "Is this how you speak to ladies in London? If so, I do not wonder that you are still a bachelor."
"I might not always know how to speak elegantly to ladies. But you? First and foremost, you're a Chandler. And I know exactly how Chandlers ought to be treated."
There was neither sneer nor frown in his voice. Just a firm chill, as when one laid one's hand against untouched stone.
Hannah clasped her hands tightly in her lap. They were protected by gloves of York tan, smooth and elegant, their stitching almost invisible from the outside. "I hope," she replied, "that you are able to set aside your irrelevant personal feelings long enough to transact a matter of business. Will you do me the simple courtesy of reading the bill of sale in its entirety?"
Something closed in his expression, though he did not shift his proud posture by a whit. He unfolded the paper, smoothing it. "Golden Barb is my colt," he stated as his eyes skimmed the densely written lines. "But I will do you the courtesy of admitting that this reference to his sire's sale in 1801 indicates some shared obligation between our parents."
"You want to add, 'I cannot imagine why,' do you not? Only you are wondering if you have already been impolite enough for one conversation."
He fumbled the paper, a flush staining his high cheekbones. "Would it be more impolite for me to contradict or to agree with you?"
Aha, a crack in his stony reception. "Both responses would be more impolite."
This nonsensical reply, spoken with a haughty lift of the chin, caused his gaze to flick upward from the paper and catch hers. "You allow me no chance to win, Miss Chandler?"
"Did you expect that I would? Surely not. If you know how to treat Chandlers, I know how to treat Crosbys."
He examined her with the same close scrutiny he had granted to his colt's foreleg: jaw set, eyes searching, searching.
He would find the sore and tender places if she let him study her much longer. He would notice how green she was, how untried, how unsure of her footing.
She must remember that she had nothing to prove to this man, and everything to gain through success in this matter. "You appear to be staring, sir. Are you confused by some point in the bill of sale? Do you wish me to offer clarification?"
"Yes." Those expressive brows furrowed. "But not only about the bill of sale. This whole situation is terribly improper. When did someone from your household — that is, your father's household — meet with my mother? She has received no callers since —" Frowning, he cut himself off. "She has not received callers for some time."
Hannah knew that Lady Crosby had lost her mind. All of Newmarket knew it. But if Sir Bartlett wanted to pretend that wasn't the case, she would allow him his fiction.
She certainly allowed herself fictions enough. Most recently, the fiction that this transaction would be carried out smoothly.
The young baronet was staring again, and she kicked out. Figuratively. "See anything you like?"
"Not particularly," he said. "To maintain the rules of polite discourse, I ought to ask you the same, but I already know your answer. Tell me, Miss Chandler, what did you expect me to do about this? Surely you did not think I would transfer a prize colt into your keeping."
"If you are a man of honor, I expect exactly that. Is your hesitation because I am a woman, or because I am a Chandler?"
He looked down at the bill of sale. "It's because I did not agree to sell my damned colt." His face flushed, highlighting the strong lines of his cheekbones. "I beg your pardon, Miss Chandler. I should not have used such language in your presence."
An indignant reply was ready to trip from Hannah's tongue — but when her gaze caught his, it fell back. Because his apology meant he had recalled she was a woman. And his consciousness of her femininity made her suddenly aware of it too. Of her stays molding the curves of her figure. The wool of her habit seemed far too warm, the collar too scratchy on the sensitive skin of her throat.
They were alone, male and female, and the door was latched.
"This whole situation is terribly improper." She tried to offer a cool, flippant echo of his statement, but her tone sounded more like a croak.
He seemed to follow the line of her thoughts, because he shook his head. "It can't be improper for a Chandler and a Crosby to speak in private, can it? Nothing more scandalous could occur than — oh, I don't know. The annihilation of the world."
"Or, what is worse, of my reputation."
"How you do threaten a fellow," he said mildly. Drawing the document toward him, he muttered, "I shall need some time to review this."
She was dismissed then, with the blush still lingering on her cheeks.
She could not permit a failure. Even a delay was too much to risk, with the race only a week away.
Excerpted from The Sport of Baronets by THERESA ROMAIN. Copyright © 2015 Theresa St. Romain. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked the story of this novella, and the characters I loved. The only bad thing is this is to hard to read, half of the words I had to look the meaning up to understand. If you know about horse racing then this is the book for you. The writer went into so much detail on the subject I would have to read pages twice. I couldn't picture it in my head like other books. I did like the book I just wish I knew more about the sport. I will research it before I buy the next book. I recommend this book even tho I didn't know all about the subject.
There's nothing in this book that would induce one to imagine that it was set in early 1800. There's so much filler material about horses and stables that one's inclined to skim through it. Lastly, one sex scene is thrown in the midst for good measure. Historical romance this book is certainly not! What it is ; is a waste of time.
This is a good read with one little touch of a sex scene. I enjoyed it, but the next book in the series is a little rich for my blood at over $7. 104 pages
Wonderful beginning to a series! Cant wait.
The Sport of Baronets was entertaining, but even though I enjoyed it there just wasn't enough character build-up, which I like reading. BUT..this is a novella so I won’t hold it against the author! It just means that I will certainly be reading more from Theresa and I will probably fall in love with her full length novels! This reminded me very much of Romeo and Juliet, but I still thought it was a very sweet love story. I absolutely LOVE the banter between Hannah and Bart, it helped form a very awesome relationship. Such a great couple! Very easy read and very enjoyable! The short snippet of the next book wasn’t enough for me though and I can’t wait to read it!! *I received a complimentary copy of the book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.*
Are you looking for an historical romance starring witty characters and a charming plot? Then look no further than The Sport of Baronets by Theresa Romain. The Chandlers and Crosbys have been in a rivalry for years. Neither Bartlett nor Hannah knows exactly what had happened. But, they do both believe that they own the colt Golden Barb and before they can come to an agreement as to who the true owner is he is kidnapped. And they have to work together to find him. I received this copy of The Sport of Baronets by Theresa Romain from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
This is book 1 in the Romance of the Turf series. Sir Bartlett Crosby is determined to turn his family's finances around by winning races with his colt. But that is all about to change when Hannah Chandler claims to have purchased the horse from his mother. It gets even worse with the colt is stolen. Now Bartlett and Hannah must work together to find the horse, but can members of two families that have been rivals for years get past that history to the benefit of both? I did enjoy this novella, but it is definitely not my favorite of the stories I've read by Romain. I know it was short, but I feel like everything was rushed. There was not enough time for the H/H to get to know each other and therefore I didn't feel the chemistry between them like I did when reading the Matchmaker Trilogy by Romain. The next book in the series comes out in February. I'm hoping it will be more like the other books by Romain that I have read and loved. Thanks go out to Sourcebooks via NetGalley for a copy of the book in exchange of an honest review.
This was a sweet Regency story set in the world of horse racing. It was a great beginning to the author's new 'Romance of the Turf' series.
I love Bart and Hannah. Their families have been feuding for years, but they have a love of horses in common. The problem is that Bart owns a horse that Hannah says she bought. While they are arguing over the horse, it is stolen. They work together to discover what happened to the horse and they uncover some family secrets.
THE SPORTS OF BARONETS is Theresa Romain at her absolute best! This book is a splendid introduction to the author’s new Romance of the Turf series, which promises to be most impressive. A week before the Two Thousand Guineas Stakes, Sir Bartlett “Bart” Crosby notices that something seems wrong with Golden Barb’s foreleg, the colt that will race. Bart desperately needs to win this race, his reputation and fortune depend on it. The family finances are in a dire state, and as if things couldn’t get any worse, Miss Hannah Chandler pays him a visit. Hannah, whom Bart hadn’t seen in years, is the bearer of bad news: it appears that Bart’s mother sold Golden Barb to Hannah’s father the day before. Unfortunately for Bart, the document appears in order; the Chandlers and the Crosbys have been racing rivals for decades, and this will not improve matters between the two families. A commotion interrupts Hannah and Bart’s heated argument: Golden Barb has vanished along with Bart’s groom, and two men have been injured. Hannah is as determined as Bart to win this race, and even though they don’t see eye to eye, they will search for the missing horse together. THE SPORTS OF BARONETS is an original concept, and while I have been a fan of Ms. Romain for a while, this book surpasses anything she has ever written, in my opinion. The book is meticulously researched, and I was totally captivated by the whole racing angle, whether the vivid descriptions of the stables, and the bookmakers’ shenanigans. The story is riveting, the plot twists are most unpredictable, the pacing is impeccable, and the prose absolutely exquisite. The dialogues are brilliant; Hannah and Bart begin by trading insults in the most creative manner, which turns to candid conversations after a while, and the flirting is sinfully delightful. THE SPORTS OF BARONETS is a novella that reads like a full-length novel; Romance of the Turf will be an extraordinary series, and I already cannot wait for the next instalment! I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.