Hint of Seduction by Amelia Grey
Seeking: A Cad of a Father
The ton believes Miss Catherine Reynolds has come to London to find a husband. They would be surprised to know her real purpose, or that it was Catherine herself who stole the horse of the dashing Earl of Chatwin practically out from under him (it was an emergency, of course). Catherine has learned that her real father—the scoundrel who broke her mother's heart—is still out there somewhere, and she intends to find him.
Found: An Enchanting Earl
Irritated, intrigued, and highly eligible, John Fines, Earl of Chatwin, finds his name on the tongues of half the ton as they speculate about his mysterious lady horse-thief. Catherine needs to help to uncover the secrets of her birth, but if he becomes embroiled in her quest, he may be in danger of losing not only his horse and his reputation as a charmer, but also his heart.
"Oh, for a horse with wings," that I might fly from one party to another as the Season is upon us. This column shall continue to fill your lovely heads with nothing but delicious gossip from our most popular and our most notorious members of the ton. Should we begin with the blithe Lord Chatwin, who has let it be known again this year that he is not looking to make a match? But what about the other half of the Terrible Twosome? Is Lord Dugdale looking?
-Lord Truefitt, Society's Daily Column
"Merciful heavens, Catherine, it's not only dark as midnight here in the park, it's freezing cold, too. It's simply uncivilized to be out before daybreak."
Catherine Reynolds looked over at her widowed half sister who rode beside her on a temperamental mare. In the months Catherine had been in London, she'd ceased to be shocked by Victoria Goosetree's constant complaining. Though the older woman would never breathe an improper word in public, she was more than ready to speak her mind in private.
"You'll warm up soon, Vickie. I think just before dawn is the most beautiful time to be outside on a horse."
"The devil it is," Victoria grumbled as her mare snorted. "I can't see a thing and I don't think it's safe."
"You can't see anything because you're not looking, and with Mills riding behind us we are perfectly safe," Catherine said.
She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the crisp mist of air that wafted across their path. She caught the scent of wet foliage and sighed as it reminded her of home. Their groom remained quiet as he rode behind them, and when Victoria wasn't talking Catherine could relax and enjoy the peaceful early morning sounds of Hyde Park.
"How much longer are we going to ride?" Victoria asked.
Catherine smiled to herself, remaining patient. Her mare nickered and shook her head as puffs of warm breath snorted from her nostrils. "We've been on the horses less than fifteen minutes."
"Feels like hours to me. I allowed you to talk me into this for today, but I don't think I should like to do it again."
Catherine laughed but not loud enough that her petulant companion could hear. It was cold, but that didn't bother Catherine. Having grown up near the northern coast, she was used to a climate where the chilling dampness never seemed completely to go away.
"You're the one who insisted that I shouldn't ride during the day when it is much warmer," Catherine felt compelled to say.
Vickie snorted louder than the horse she was riding. "I was only trying to impress upon you that young ladies who are looking to make an excellent match shouldn't sit a horse in any park during the Season."
This was yet another reminder of her half sister's belief in doing one thing in public and another in private.
"You should only be seen riding in an open carriage with a viscount, an earl, or perhaps a handsome marquis by your side. I don't know why I allowed you to talk me into riding before daybreak. My feet are numb."
Hyde Park was beautiful dressed in the magical misty-gray of predawn. Shadowed sky light filtered through tree branches and shone down on them. Shards of pink, gray, and dark blue were about to be born on the horizon, and Catherine looked forward to enjoying the birth of sunrise.
She had been in London over three months, and it seemed as if she had done nothing but be fitted for ball gowns and more ball gowns. She considered the amount of clothing ridiculous Victoria insisted she have for the start of the Season. And gowns were only the half of it. A lady had to select just the right gloves, bonnets, fans, and handkerchiefs, too. No one needed that many things to wear.
"Perhaps if we rode a little faster you'd warm up," Catherine said, hoping to find a way Victoria could enjoy the outing. "How about it? Are you ready to let the horses trot?"
"I'm not sure I can. This horse doesn't seem to be well schooled."
Vickie's mount nickered and stomped as if agreeing with her comment.
Catherine reached down and patted the warm, firm neck of the spirited animal she rode. Her mount needed no prodding. Vickie was right that the hacks Mills had hired at a nearby livery weren't well trained for riders.
Vickie's mare was old and cranky, constantly fighting the bit, while Catherine's mount pranced restlessly beneath her like a young filly not saddle worn. But to Catherine, any horse was better than not riding at all.
"Perhaps your horse senses that you are unsure with her, and she's taking advantage," Catherine suggested. "You need to take control. A canter will take some of the wind out of her. Tighten up on your reins like this and let's ride."
"Very well," Victoria mumbled. "I'll try anything to warm up."
"Good. That's the spirit." Catherine gently urged her mount to pick up the pace. She turned back to Mills and motioned for him to follow.
Catherine had an excellent seat, having ridden since she was a young girl. She'd been forced to leave her favorite horse at her home when she made the trip to London by private coach.
Victoria was sixteen years Catherine's senior, and with no close male relative, it was Victoria's job to see that Catherine made an acceptable match before the Season's end. But what Victoria didn't know was that Catherine hadn't come to London in search of a husband; she had come in search of her father.
Her real father.
She had three clues. The names of three men. She knew one of them was her father, and she intended to find out which one had refused to marry her mother more than twenty years before.
After the man whom she and everyone else always believed was her father, Sir Patrick Reynolds, passed away a year ago, Catherine had found her mother's journal among a box of books in the attic. The diary was in deplorable condition. Over the years dampness had eroded and smeared the ink in many of the entries and rodents had chewed up some of the pages.
But through the readable passages of the neglected diary, Catherine had come to know her mother's deepest secret: The man she had married was not the father of the child she was carrying.
And that child was Catherine.
Lost in thought about her true mission to London, Catherine hadn't realized that Victoria and Mills had fallen behind her until she heard a cry of help. Catherine had a difficult time reining in her horse but finally slowed the animal. She turned the mare around and headed back to find out why Victoria had stopped.
"What's wrong?" Catherine asked as she halted her mount beside her sister. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine, but something has happened to Mills."
A moment of concern flashed through Catherine. She didn't see Mills behind them, so she immediately headed back the way they'd come.
"Over here," she heard the groom call out.
It was difficult to make out much of anything in the darkness, but Catherine could see that Mills was not on his mare. He was lying on the ground. She and Victoria stopped their horses. Dismounting from a sidesaddle was difficult, but Catherine managed to kick free of her stirrup and jump down from her mount.
She hurried over to the man and asked, "Are you injured?"
"My horse stepped in a hole and we went down. I think I broke my leg."
"Sweet mercies," she whispered. This was all her fault. "Just lie still. We'll take care of everything."
Victoria knelt down beside Catherine and asked the groom, "How badly are you hurt? Can you ride?"
"I don't think so. I can't move my leg and my horse is limping, too."
Catherine had to come up with a plan of action fast. She looked at Victoria and said, "You stay here with Mills, and I'll ride back and get the carriage for him."
"I can't let you ride alone in the park!" Victoria protested. "Not only is it too dangerous, it would be scandalous."
"Nonsense," Catherine said. "This is not the time to worry about either of those things. Mills is hurt. Besides, it's no longer pitch dark. I'm a much better and faster rider than you. I know exactly how to get back to the carriage. I can return in half the time it would take you."
Catherine watched Victoria's brown gaze look down at the injured groom.
"I must have your promise that you will not stop for anyone or anything until you get to the carriage."
"You have it," Catherine said without hesitation.
"Then be off. Ride fast but be careful. It won't do for you to be seen riding in the park unescorted even for a short time or for so worthy a cause."
"I promise to be careful. Now come help me mount."
With Victoria's help Catherine managed to climb back onto her horse and head to the stable where they had left the carriage. She often rode alone on the hills and countryside where she'd grown up, and she had learned early to always be aware of her surroundings so that she could find her way home.
Catherine let the mare have her head and galloped through the fading darkness. The chilling wind stung her cheeks and watered her eyes, but she kept up the fast, exhilarating pace, feeling free for the first time since coming to London. The ribbons of her riding bonnet loosened and the wind blew it to the back of her shoulders. For a moment she felt as if she were back in her village on her favorite horse chasing the dawn.
Suddenly another horse and rider shot out of a side path right in front of her.
Catherine tugged hard on the reins, jerking up her horse's head. The mare reared in panic. Catherine lost her stirrup, and the leather went slack in her hands as the frightened animal came down hard, and then reared again.
She felt herself falling backward. She tried to grab hold of the horse's neck, her mane, anything to try and calm her mount, but the animal was too frantic.
One moment Catherine was tumbling down, and the next she sprawled on the cold ground flat on her back.
Catherine didn't know if she was breathing. She knew her eyes were open, because she saw the gray...
Amelia Grey (aka Gloria Dale Skinner) grew up in a small town in the Florida Panhandle. She has been happily married to her high school sweetheart for over twenty-five years. She has lived in Alabama, Connecticut, New Hampshire and now lives in Florida.
Amelia has won the coveted Romantic Times award for Love and Laughter, the prestigious Maggie award for best historical and Affaire de Coeur's best American historical award. She has been a finalist for the Golden Heart and the Holt Medallion awards which are given by Romance Writers of America and numerous other awards. Her books have been sold to many countries in Europe, Russia and China.
Amelia likes flowers, candlelight, sweet smiles, gentle laughter and sunshine.