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A Countess by Chance

By:Kate McKinley

A Countess by Chance


Kate McKinley


          Chapter One



He’d come.

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.

“Well, well.”

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.”

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