The Reluctant Countess Sample

Kent, April 1766.

Eight-year-old Eleanor Augusta T. Barrett was not by nature a patient child, as everyone continuously reminded her. And yet tonight she overcame her natural tendency and created what she thought to be the perfect imitation of a slumbering child. While her eyes were closed, she conjugated her Latin verbs while she waited for the remainder of the residents of Barrett Hall to drift into deep—and therefore inattentive—sleep. Ego veho—I ride. Ego diligo ut veho meus equus—I love to ride my horse.

The clock in the foyer chimed 2:00 a.m. and she cracked open one eye. Everyone must be asleep by now.

Eleanor crept down the servants’ staircase, wearing the jacket from her oldest riding habit over her night-rail. A green dress sash hung around her neck, and she carried her riding boots in one hand and her new pony’s bridle that she’d hidden in her wardrobe in the other.

She made a quick stop in the pantry before heading down to the stables to visit her best birthday present ever—Sir Gawain, her new Welsh pony.

With a smallish apple stuffed into her jacket pocket for him, and a butter biscuit for herself between her teeth, Eleanor pulled the French door shut at the back of the house. When she heard that final soft click of the latch, she heaved a sigh of relief.

A soft, victorious giggle bubbled up and the biscuit slipped from between her lips. It hit the stones of the terrace and broke in two.

The late spring moon smiled down on Eleanor as she crouched down to inspect the damage. She picked up the two flakey, sweet pieces. “Botheration. Well, Mama shall never know I ate these off the ground, will she?” She brushed the pieces against her night-rail and popped the smallest bit into her mouth and chewed. Mmm. She plunked down on the stony steps leading down to the gardens and devoured the second biscuit piece while shoving her bare feet into her boots.

No one understood her desire to spend the night with her new pony. An image of her father's face when he was angry popped into her head. She hesitated as fear of causing that sort of reaction nibbled away at her resolve and she gazed up at her bedroom window.

“Stuff and nonsense. Sir Gawain is worth any punishment Papa might dole out. Besides, when he roars his displeasure, I’ll make me lower lip quiver and apologize in that tiny voice me older sisters declare quite vomitus.”