HISTORY, ROMANCE AND...CATS!
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a vet by day and author of intelligent historical fiction by night. Grace is an avid reader and believes that smart people need to read romance - as an antidote to the modern world!
Grace is also obsessed by all things feline.
The ringmaster’s daughter,
Henrietta Hart, was born and raised around the stables of Foxhall
Gardens. Now her father is gravely ill, and their livelihood in danger. The
Harts' only hope is to convince Foxhall’s new manager, Mr Wolfson, to let Hetty
wield the ringmaster’s whip. Hetty finds herself drawn to the arrogant Wolfson
but, despite their mutual attraction, he gives her an ultimatum: entertain as
never before – or leave Foxhall.
When the winsome Hetty defies
society and performs in breeches, Wolfson’s stony heart is in danger. Loath as
he is to admit it, Hetty has a way with horses…and men. Her audacity and
determination awaken emotions long since suppressed.
But Hetty’s success in the ring
threatens her future when she attracts the eye of the lascivious Lord Fordyce.
The duke is determined, by fair means or foul, to possess Hetty as his mistress
– and, as Wolfson’s feelings for Henrietta grow, disaster looms.
CHAPTER ONE (excerpt)
So far that morning, Tobias Wolfson, the new manager
of Foxhall Pleasure Gardens, had watched an overweight acrobat, an arthritic
contortionist and a ballad singer who was so out of tune that she made his
teeth ache. Small wonder the gardens were losing money, he reflected, if these
were Foxhall’s best entertainments. And given that the next act was late, his
mood showed no sign of improving as he stared across the deserted stable yard.
“Perchance Mr Hart does not value
his job?” Wolfson said.
At his side, a florid man in a
periwig, smiled nervously. “He should be here, I told him myself.”
“Where is he, Mr Uglow? Answer me
Mr Uglow’s shoulders drooped.
“Happen Mr Hart has been detained.”
“Hart’s Performing Horses,” Wolfson
murmured, making a mental note to strike the act from the list of those retained.
“Perhaps he’s inside.” Uglow’s plump
hand gestured towards the large stone barn.
Wolfson studied the two-story building. Evidently the
stables and a tack room were on the ground floor, while the upper housed both a
hayloft and some cramped accommodation. He nodded toward the loft.
“Mr Hart and
his daughter live up there. Anyone else?”
“No. There was a groom, but he was let go.”
“A quick look
and if Hart’s not there, it’s his loss.”
With a grunt, Wolfson marched toward the tack room but,
as he passed through the open door, he felt a disturbance in the air and — before
he could shout a warning — a young woman cannoned into the wall of his chest.
She hit with such force, he heard the breath knocked from her lungs as she
rebounded and tumbled backwards. By sheer reflex, Wolfson grabbed her upper
arms to steady her. Instead of seeming grateful for his help, the girl glared
back, her dark eyes fizzing angry as a wasp’s nest poked with a stick.
Raising a brow, he studied this whirlwind. She had an
oval-shaped face, her complexion glowed with health and hair, the color of ripe
chestnuts, fell in a thick plait down to her bottom. She was dressed in working
clothes, an apron covering a plain woolen skirt, a chemise and a shawl. She
was, he realized, a young woman rather than a girl – with a curvaceous figure
to match. His interest peeked.
me!” She jerked a shoulder.
With a start, Wolfson found he still gripped her
surprisingly muscular upper arms. “Apologies, madam.” He let go and couldn’t
help inspecting his hands, puzzled by the tingle of static on his palms.
Bemused, he looked up to find her staring back, her mouth softly parted in
question. Feeling an unwanted tug of attraction, Wolfson scowled.
Composing herself, the woman stood hands on hips, her
brow furrowed in challenge. “What are you doing in my yard?”
Bold as a lioness, she held her head high, and
something jumped inside Wolfson as he returned her stare. Even standing still,
she exuded energy — and the faint smell of lavender and horses. Perhaps it was
the vivacity behind those dark eyes — so dark as to be almost black — or that determined expression, but her spirit
excited Wolfson and his brow rose further.
“Your yard?” he
said, faintly amused.
Mr Uglow coughed politely. “Ah, this
is Mr Hart’s daughter, Henrietta — she may know what has detained her father.”
For the first time, the young woman faltered. “You
“Indeed, I would be most grateful,”
Wolfson continued, “unless he has more important matters to attend to than keeping
Miss Hart eyed him suspiciously.
“And you are?”
With an ironic smile, Wolfson tipped
his tricorn hat. “Mr Wolfson, new manager of the Foxhall Pleasure Gardens.”
Miss Hart hesitated, her gaze flicked to the stout man
by his side. “The gossip is true — Mr
Uglow isn’t running things anymore?”
smoothly, “Mr Uglow continues as a valuable asset to the gardens, but now I am
here to ease his workload and provide fresh insight during the renovations.”
“Mr Wolfson and I will be working
together.” Uglow’s tight lips suggested he disliked the arrangement.
“Oh, I see,” her dark eyes widened and deepened to black. “And
you wanted Pa because…?”
“To decide the act’s future.”
Was his imagination or had Miss Hart just trembled? Beside
him, Mr Uglow shuffled his feet. With effort, Wolfson marshaled his thoughts
back to the task in hand.
“Miss Hart, will your father be
honoring us with his presence?”
Being fitted for a new costume. Not expected back afore late afternoon.” She
held his gaze, but Wolfson’s skin prickled as it did when he was being lied to.
“Is that right?”
Miss Hart licked her lips. “I just said so.”
Wolfson arched a brow at her impertinence but let the
disagreement go, for he would get to the bottom of matters in his own time. He
folded his arms across his chest, tapping a manicured finger against the
“I understand your father has performed at Foxhall for
“Yes, sir. He started when I was a babe in arms. There
was a time when Hart’s Performing Horses were the star attraction,” she added
hastily. “Of course the act is still very popular.”
Wolfson inclined his head toward Mr Uglow. “What are
the gate receipts like?”
The ruddy-faced man waved his hands in exasperation.
“I’m far too busy running the gardens to keep track of every little detail.”
Wolfson hid his irritation behind a genial smile. “But
you can find out?”
“I suppose so. There will be ledgers
“Have them sent to my office as a
matter of priority. And Miss Hart,” he faced those devastating dark eyes – that
he decided were a deep hazel, bordering on brown. “Please explain why last
night’s performance was cancelled.”
Her skin, lightly tanned from time
spent outdoors, paled slightly. “The lead horse, Stardust, he went lame.”
There it was again, the skin
prickling sensation. For some reason Miss Hart was lying, but he nodded as if
sympathetic. “I trust he will be fit for tonight.”
“Oh yes, sir.” She smiled, but her
lip quivered. Clearly something was troubling her.
“Even so, I would like to speak with
Mr Hart urgently.”
“I can pass on a message.”
“Very well. Tell your father that
tonight I will be in the audience deciding whether or not to re-commission the
act. Nothing I have seen or heard to date inspires confidence. I suggest he
gives the performance of his life.”
For the first time, Miss Hart seemed
dumb-founded. “Of course, Mr Wolfson, I will tell him.”
“Good,” he sighed. “Next on my list are
the giant tortoise and his handler. Lead on, Mr Uglow, lead on.”
Aware of Miss Hart’s eyes burning into his back, he
left the stable yard with the niggling impression that Miss Hart was as an
uncut diamond amongst coals.