May 1813 – Bridget
“Oh, Bridget, another one? How many strays have you brought back home now? I can only imagine what your poor mother and father must think.” Though the words were chiding, they were spoken with a light, teasing humour that made Miss Bridget Dean, daughter of Baron Thrussel, grin at her cousin and dear friend, Miss Sarah Grant.
The two were seated together on the edge of the crowd milling about the garden party they were attending.
With a chuckle, Bridget replied, “You should have seen him, Sarah. He was so small and sad-looking. I couldn’t just leave him out in the cold.”
Sarah shook her head and gave Bridget a look of mock admonishment. “You are too softhearted for your own good. You are too eager to rescue every unfortunate little creature that gives you the barest of pitiful looks. If you are not careful, you will turn your family’s estate into a menagerie.”
Though Bridget knew her cousin was jesting, it was not the first time someone had chided her similarly. Bridget could not bear to see an animal suffer. She had been that way since a child and had been rescuing creatures she deemed in need of help for as long as she could remember. Her mother and father had long given up trying to stop her and begrudgingly accepted the fact that their estate would always be a safe haven for her little beasts for as long as she resided there.
She waved her hand as though pushing away her cousin’s words.
“You are in no position to chide me about my softheartedness, cousin,” Bridget said with a grin. “Not when you are so easily lost in fanciful ideas of romance and the like. Tell me truly, do you even now have one of your books of poetry on your person? Just in case this event had proven dull?”
Sarah’s cheeks pinkened, and she let out a guilty, bashful chuckle.
“My interest in romance is not so odd,” Sarah defended herself. “Many young ladies indulge in such novels and poetry. Besides, why shouldn’t I wish for love and strive to find a gentleman who will cherish me?”
Bridget reached over and patted her cousin’s hand. “You have every right to strive for that, my dear. As you said, many young ladies indulge in such hopes.”
“Except for you,” Sarah sighed.
“That is not necessarily true,” Bridget corrected. “It is just that I have … other pursuits occupying my mind.”
Pursuits that most of polite society would find rather distasteful for a lady. Pursuits that, most would argue, were best left to gentlemen.
Bridget quickly pushed the thoughts from her mind before they intensified, not wishing to put herself in a foul mood that day.
“Let us talk of something else,” Sarah chirped. “Have you decided on your costume for the masquerade ball? I must admit, I am quite excited about the event. It will undoubtedly be the highlight of the Season!”
Bridget nodded and opened her mouth to respond, but movement on the opposite side of the garden caught her attention. To her frustration, it appeared as if a shift in her temper was unavoidable, for at that moment, she spotted four individuals, two gentlemen and two ladies, stroll into the garden. She recognised them instantly, and her hands clenched instinctively.
Sarah spotted the four individuals as well, and she did not make a secret of her own displeasure at their presence when she hissed, “What are they doing here?”
Bridget clenched her jaw. “We must attempt to remain civil, cousin. We do not want to upset our host by causing a scene at his party.”
Sarah nodded sharply. “You are right. Of course, you are. Still, I cannot help being a bit annoyed that they would be invited at all. Everyone knows very well of the bad blood between our families.”
“Indeed, most of the Ton does,” Bridget agreed. “However, we must remember that the issues between us do not extend to the rest of the families we socialise with. This is not the first time we have had to deal with them in a public setting, and it will not likely be the last.”
“I know,” Sarah huffed. “Still, I do not enjoy having to be near them. It is rather aggravating.”
“Just pretend you do not see them. If we simply ignore them, I doubt we will have to deal with them.”
When one of the ladies suddenly glanced their way, however, Bridget knew instantly that such an outcome to their day was hopeless. Lady Philippa Atwater, the wife of Viscount Atwater, was never one to miss an opportunity to stir the ever-bubbling pot between Bridget’s family and her own. The rivalry between the Deans and the Hanleys was long and bitter, and there were some far more dedicated to it than others. Lady Atwater was one such individual.
Bridget watched as the handsome brunette turned to her female companion, whom she recognised as Miss Hester Eaton. Though she was not a member of the Hanley family herself, her loyalty to her friendship with Lady Atwater made her a significant nuisance whenever Bridget had the misfortune to encounter her out and about.
The two ladies glanced back towards Bridget and Sarah, and a smirk curled Lady Atwater’s lip. Bridget could see that a confrontation of some sort was going to be unavoidable. Lady Atwater and Miss Eaton began to saunter across the garden towards them. Their gentleman companions, Lady Atwater’s two brothers, trailed behind the ladies.
Bridget lifted her chin and forced a calm and cool expression as she waited for the ladies to reach her. She could sense that Sarah was having a more difficult time keeping her temper in check, and she reached over and gripped her cousin’s hand. Sarah squeezed her fingers but maintained her emotions, which Bridget was grateful for. If there was an outburst, it wouldn’t be from their family.
Lady Atwater and Miss Eaton acted as though they weren’t heading straight for the cousins, likely to keep from making a large scene themselves, but anyone paying attention to their pathway could tell their intended destination.
When they reached Bridget and Sarah, Lady Atwater and Miss Eaton stopped and gave them wide smiles that held no true humour and dripped instead with malice. Bridget did not bother to smile back. She would be courteous, to an extent, but she would not even attempt to be friendly.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” Lady Atwater’s voice was haughty, and her nose tilted upwards. “I had not expected you lot to be invited to such a pleasant party. It puts quite a damper on the day, do you not think so, Miss Eaton?”
Miss Eaton tilted her head to the side, her golden blonde curls brushing against her smooth cheeks. Her bright blue eyes sparkled, and she was undeniably beautiful. The problem with Miss Eaton, however, was that she knew her own appeal and it made her rather vain. It also made her prone to jealousy when another lady received more attention and praise than she did … which was yet another reason she seemed to dislike Bridget so thoroughly.
“I agree wholeheartedly, My Lady,” Miss Eaton replied. “We must endeavour not to let them ruin our afternoon, however. That would be giving them far too much influence in our lives.”
Bridget released an irritated sigh. “Must you two act so childishly? Can’t we simply ignore each other and go about our days as if our paths never crossed?”
“Oh, but how can anyone ignore you, Miss Bridget?” Lady Atwater declared, tone dripping with sarcasm. “It seems no matter where one goes, the beautiful Miss Bridget is all anyone cares to talk about. You have made quite an impression in your very first season, haven’t you madam? Not only a favourite at court, but you have secured yourself a respectable suitor as well. How delightful for you.”
The lady’s jealousy was painfully obvious, and Bridget was embarrassed for her. Curious gazes were turning their way, as the rivalry between their families was by no means a secret among the Ton. The two gentlemen with Miss Eaton and Lady Atwater glanced around, their expressions giving away how uncomfortable they were with the scenario in which they found themselves.
Bridget found she could not stop stealing glances at one of the gentlemen in particular. Mr Walter Hanley was the eldest of the Hanley children, and she had seen him out and about at society events but had never interacted with him directly. The same could be said for his younger brother, Mr Frederick Hanley, though for some reason, he was not stealing her attention quite so much as the elder Mr Hanley.
Maybe it was his thoughtful brown eyes or the way he subtly flinched as his sister and her friend spoke, but something about the gentleman roused a small curiosity in her that she could not quite explain. Realising that she was almost staring at Mr Hanley, she tore her gaze away from him and focused back on the ladies he accompanied, silently admonishing herself.
What if someone had caught her looking at him? She could only imagine the terrible rumours that would blossom from even a simple stray glance.
“Lady Atwater, perhaps if you spent more of your time improving yourself and less of it obsessing over the accomplishments of others, you would find yourself more popular among the Ton,” Sarah said in a voice as sweet as acid. Bridget barely managed to suppress a surprised chuckle at the well-placed barb.
Lady Atwater’s expression dropped, and her brow furrowed in clear agitation.
“You should mind your tongue,” she snapped, “and respect those of a better and higher station than you.”
Bridget nearly rolled her eyes but managed to control the urge.
“My Lady, if there is nothing else you wish to talk about, I think it is best that you move along,” she said in an even tone.
Lady Atwater’s eyes flashed, and Bridget could see she was struggling to maintain her temper.
“You may enjoy the favour of society now, Miss Bridget,” she hissed, “but I would advise you to be careful of whom you cross. Even a popular lady such as yourself has little value to the Ton if you remain unmarried.”
“Your concern is appreciated but unwarranted.” Bridget sighed. “As you said yourself, I have a respectable suitor who is very likely to propose before the end of the Season. I know you have certainly enjoyed wedded bliss, and I look forward to doing so as well.”
It was a slight jab, as Bridget had heard tell that the marriage between the Viscount and Viscountess of Atwater was not necessarily a happy one. Still, that hardly mattered in the eyes of the Ton. Lady Atwater was married and settled, which somehow made her a tad more respectable, though not any more liked. It was something she enjoyed holding over Bridget’s head whenever she had the chance, however. If Lord Cantrell proposed, as she suspected he would, Bridget would be among those lucky young ladies who had managed to snag a husband in her first season.
“Well, you are not betrothed as of yet,” Lady Atwater replied sharply. “Lord Cantrell may yet change his mind about you.”
That comment pricked so badly at Bridget’s pride and temper that she felt her control over herself begin to slip. She opened her mouth to offer a scathing response, but to her surprise, Mr Hanley stepped forward and took hold of his sister’s elbow.
“Ah, look there, I see Lord and Lady Otweiller are in attendance,” he said, directing Lady Atwater’s attention to the other side of the party. “They are close to Father, as you might recall. We should go and greet them, lest they think us rude and inform Father of the slight.”
Lady Atwater resisted her brother’s urgings for a long moment, but at length, she released a frustrated sigh.
“Very well, I suppose you are right,” she admitted through gritted teeth. “We do have more important business to attend to than to waste our time with this lot.”
Bridget did not bother to point out that Lady Atwater and Miss Eaton had initially approached them and started this encounter in the first place. Instead, she calmly watched as Mr Hanley managed to steer his sister away, practically dragging her across the garden.
She could not help taking notice of how handsome he was. His brown hair was tousled, not overly styled like some other gentlemen believed most fashionable. His build was lean, and he reminded her of a jockey, which actually made quite a bit of sense given their families’ horse racing backgrounds.
“It appears as though Mr Hanley has recovered from his accident,” Sarah commented, her tone much more casual and relaxed now that their intruders had moved along.
Bridget furrowed her brow and turned her gaze to her cousin. “Accident? What accident is that?”
Sarah’s brows shot up in surprise. “You did not hear? Well, in February, Mr Hanley participated in an impromptu race when your father and his made a spur-of-the-moment wager. Though I hear he was a very talented rider, something seemed to startle his horse during the race, and it shied and slipped on ice. Mr Hanley was thrown and knocked unconscious. I believe he also dislocated a shoulder and broke a leg. I must admit, I am rather impressed he is walking without a discernible limp. He must have healed well.”
Bridget was rather stunned, not only by the story itself but by the fact that she had not heard of the incident before. Mr Hanley was the eldest son and heir of Baron Styrne, and the fact that he was hurt because of some silly wager between their fathers should have been rather big news within both their families. Had her father deliberately kept it from her or had he simply wanted to act as though the incident was not as important as it truly was?
Either way, it left a sour taste in Bridget’s mouth.
“This foolish rivalry is going to get someone killed,” she murmured.
“I must admit, some days, I do wonder at the intensity of our family’s dislike for the Hanleys,” Sarah replied. “Still, I suppose fierce competition breeds such conflicts, and there are few among the Ton as fiercely competitive as your father and Baron Styrne.”
Bridget nodded, her stomach twisting with anxiety. “I fear it will only get worse during the upcoming Ascot racing season. It always seems to when we are in direct competition with each other.”
The Deans and the Hanleys were both renowned for their horse racing enterprises, and the two families were constantly at odds as they vied to be the best in the sport. There was more to their rivalry than the simple stakes of a horse race, but that was the arena in which they let their aggressions have free rein against each other.
“Agreed,” Sarah said. “As much as I do love the races, the nastiness that can ensue from the Hanleys does tend to steal the fun from the season.”
Bridget nodded as she unfurled her hand fan to wave it gently and give her hands something to do. The encounter with the Hanleys had left her agitated, and she briefly wondered if she and Sarah should perhaps take their leave of the party to avoid further confrontation.
“Sarah, dear, I think I have had quite enough sun for one day,” she began. “Mayhap we should think about making our goodbyes …”
“Oh, I hope you are not really thinking of leaving so soon,” a deep voice spoke from behind her, startling her. “Not when I have only just made my way over to you.”
Sarah scowled, and Bridget turned to find their host, Viscount Cantrell, standing behind her.
“Good day, My Lord,” Bridget said with a smile. “I must confess, I had been considering taking my leave, but now that you have graced us with your presence, I find I have renewed interest in staying.”
The viscount offered her a grin. He was a rather handsome gentleman, with his light brown hair, blue eyes, and pouty lips she found so charming. His appearance was much more tended to and fashion-forward than that of Mr Hanley.
Why am I comparing Cantrell to that man? Why am I thinking of him at all?
She quickly shoved the image of Mr Hanley from her mind and focused on the gentleman standing before her. The one she fully expected to propose to her before the Season finished.
His smile widened. “I am quite delighted to hear that, madam. You two appear as though you need some refreshment. Please, allow me to escort you.”
He offered Bridget his arm, and she stood without hesitation to take it. When she looked back to Sarah, it appeared her cousin was not so eager to take their host up on his offer. She remained seated and wore a cool expression.
“You must have been very busy with your hosting duties to neglect my poor cousin until now,” she said in a voice that matched her expression. “She has so been looking forward to seeing you today.”
Bridget furrowed her brow. She knew Sarah did not particularly care for the viscount, but to be so blatantly rude was rather surprising, even if she attempted to hide her cutting words in a polite voice.
If the viscount noticed Sarah’s clear dislike of him, however, he made no mention of it.
“You are right, Miss Sarah. I really must apologise that it has taken me so long to make my way over here.” He looked down at Bridget as he continued, “Truth be told, I had not expected to be so occupied. I intended to find you much sooner than now.”
“There is no need to apologise,” Bridget insisted. “I understand completely. Your duties as a host are quite important.”
Glancing back to Sarah, the viscount said, “You are lucky to have such a loyal cousin who cares so thoroughly for your happiness.”
Bridget released a small breath of relief, glad that he did not appear offended.
“Indeed,” she replied. “I am quite blessed.”
As the viscount began to lead her in the direction of the refreshment table, she cast a look of warning back at Sarah. Her cousin shrugged her shoulders, looking a picture of innocence as she followed them.
As Bridget dragged her gaze away from her cousin, something in her drove her to seek out Mr Hanley once more. She spotted him speaking to Miss Eaton near a blooming rosebush. His brother and sister were off socialising with other partygoers, and the pair looked almost cosy speaking together. However, as Bridget studied them, she noticed a certain flicker of discomfort in Mr Hanley’s eye as Miss Eaton smiled up at him flirtatiously.
It was there and gone so quickly, however, that Bridget thought she had perhaps imagined it. Still, there was something about the sight of Mr Hanley and Miss Eaton together that she did not particularly like. She could not say for certain what that something was or why it affected her so, but it poked at her like a bothersome thorn.
“Are you enjoying the afternoon, Miss Bridget?” The viscount’s voice suddenly broke through her scrambled musings, jerking her attention away from Mr Hanley.
Bridget tried to act as though nothing were amiss, though she was mortified to realise she had been staring at the bothersome gentleman for a much longer time than she had meant to.
Offering the viscount the brightest smile she could muster, she answered, “I am enjoying myself very much, My Lord. It was very kind of you to invite us.”
“Of course I would invite you, My Lady, and whatever escort you would require in order to maintain propriety.”
Bridget heard Sarah let out a huff of annoyance. Not everyone was particularly keen on the viscount’s humour. Bridget had to admit that it could come off as mean-spirited now and again, but she knew he never meant to offend. Unlike her cousin, Bridget could see past the somewhat pompous exterior of the gentleman and was quite confident a good and caring soul lay beneath.
“I can assure you that my cousin is happy to be here as well,” Bridget said. When Sarah let out a squeak of protest, Bridget quickly continued, “I heard tell you were considering entering a horse into the upcoming racing season, My Lord. Is that so?”
The viscount chuckled and shook his head. “I am afraid I am not. I did consider it for a time, but I have no racers nearly so fine as your father’s, and I would hate to make a fool of myself in front of him at this moment in time.”
Bridget’s heart sped up. “I am sure you would not make a fool of yourself, My Lord. I am curious, though. Why … why is this particular moment and time so noteworthy? At least in regards to my father’s favour?”
He gave her a teasing smirk. “Curiosity certainly becomes you, My Lady, but I should not give anything away lest I call bad fortune upon myself. I can promise you, however, that all will be made clear presently.”
He had to be referring to a proposal. That was the only thing she could think of that would make any kind of sense, but she tried not to make her eagerness too obvious as she knew that was considered unbecoming.
However, with her excitement at the prospect of an engagement came a small fissure of anxiety. She would only admit to herself that a part of her had always dreamed of being in love with the gentleman she married, and while she liked the viscount well enough, she could not say she was in love with him.
She supposed every young lady must experience some hesitancy at the prospect of marriage, however. Unlike Sarah, who still hung onto the rather impractical idea of love and romance in marriage, Bridget knew it was her duty to find a respectable husband and please her mother and father. Her sisters had not made the most advantageous marriages, and so all their parents’ hopes and wishes for advancement fell on her shoulders.
Viscount Cantrell already had her mother and father’s approval, whether he knew it or not. He was a wealthy lord with a good reputation, and they were both eager for her to secure the match. The fact of the matter was, Bridget had no good reason not to be quite content as the wife of the viscount.
When they reached a collection of tables near the refreshments, the viscount led her to one towards the edge of the crowd and pulled out her chair for her. She sat with a grateful look towards him. He then moved to pull the chair opposite Bridget out for Sarah. Her cousin sank into the seat, casting the viscount a curt word of thanks while giving him a look out of the corner of her eye.
“You ladies relax here a moment, and I will have refreshments fetched for you,” he said, continuing to ignore Sarah’s icy attitude.
“Thank you, My Lord,” Bridget cheerily replied. She watched as he moved away from them, and when she was sure he was out of earshot, she turned back to Sarah to scold her. “Must you be so rude? He has been nothing but courteous to us.”
Sarah scowled. “I do not like him, Bridget. I do not like being around him.”
“I cannot understand why.” Bridget sighed with a shake of her head. “He is pleasant and charming. Very well-mannered. What has he done to make you dislike him so?”
At that, Sarah looked down at her hands resting in her lap and gave a dainty shrug. “In truth, cousin, I cannot say for certain what it is about the gentleman. I just have this feeling … this unease whenever I am around him.”
“I wish you would find some way to move past that unease,” Bridget spoke softly and gently. “If all goes well, I will very likely marry him, and he will be your family.”
Sarah wrinkled up her nose at this as if she were smelling something particularly foul.
Laying one hand on the table between them, she leaned closer to Bridget and hissed, “I know you do not love him, cousin. Admit it. Admit you do not love Cantrell.”
Bridget could not help the chuckle that slipped past her lips. Was this not what she had been thinking mere moments ago? Such whimsical notions sounded truly far-fetched when spoken out loud.
“My darling cousin, I am sorry to say, but the kind of love you read about in your stories and poems is a fairy tale. You will not find happiness waiting around for such a thing to happen to you. I will be satisfied with a husband who will allow me to raise horses and go riding in peace. A quiet life doing what I enjoy is all I wish for.”
Bridget thought her words were rather reasonable, but the look that Sarah gave her was one of stunned disbelief.
“But … Bridget … if there is no love in life, is it really worth living?”
Bridget frowned, but it was not the question that struck her as troubling.
It was the fact that she had no real response she could offer to counter her cousin’s point.
“A Rivals’ Passionate Race” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Bridget Dean’s wild spirit, much like the horses she adores, can not be easily tamed. When her father’s demands to see her marry collide with her dream to contribute to her family’s racing legacy, her world will be shaken. However, an unexpected encounter with a mysterious Harlequin might be the key to her freedom and unbridled passion.
If only she knew that this seductive man was her father’s most hated rival…
Walter Hanley, a romantic heart, refuses to marry unless he finds the one true love. Yet, finding a bride is the least of his worries, as the racing season can risk his most hated secret to being exposed: his fear of riding horses after a terrible accident. What will happen when the fiery daughter of his family arch enemy offers to help him?
Walter’s secret partnership with the enemy may lead to so much more…
When Bridget and Walter realise each other’s real identity, they will try to tame their growing feelings. Even though they know that their forbidden affair could ruin them both, lust keeps pulling them together like a magnet. Torn between love and hatred, can their love survive a family rivalry that wishes to tear them apart? Will the two find a way to overcome all that stands in their way and pursue their sizzling romance?
“A Rivals’ Passionate Race” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
One thought on “A Rivals’ Passionate Race (Preview)”
Hello there, my dearest readers! I hope you enjoyed this little treat! I will be waiting for your comments here. Thank you 😊