Chapter One "An independent, stubborn woman is surely God's revenge upon an unsuspecting mankind. L. Effington
Spring 1821 "Do you see them yet?" Miss Cassandra Effington shielded her eyes against the late morning sun and gazed into the distance.
"No." Anthony, Viscount St. Stephens, shook his head. "Any minute now, I should think. As I understand it, the course is not overly long."
"And did you wager a great deal on the outcome?" his wife, the former Miss Philadelphia Effington -- Delia to her closest friends -- said coolly.
"Not a great deal." He chuckled and slanted her an amused glance. "Did you?"
"Nothing of significance." Delia grinned. "And only with Cassie, so it scarcely counts."
"It most certainly does count," Cassie said firmly. "I fully expect you to pay promptly when you lose."
St. Stephens laughed. "Dare I ask which of you wagered on your brother and which chose Lord Berkley?"
"I, for one, would never wager against a member of the family." Delia's voice was firm. "Beyond that, Christian is an excellent rider with a fine eye for horseflesh."
"Christian is overly arrogant, although I daresay no more so than Leo or Drew." Cassie rolled her gaze toward the heavens. "It's a common trait among Effington males and among our brothers in particular."
St. Stephens raised a brow. "So you wagered on Berkley then?"
"Most certainly." Cassie nodded. "It will do Christian a world of good to lose at something, anything. Besides, from what I have heard of this Lord Berkley, he is rash and reckless and something of a rake. While those are not qualities I particularly look for, it seems to me, if one is wagering on a contest of this nature, those unsavoryattributes would be most beneficial."
"Christian is rash and reckless and something of a rake," Delia murmured.
"Yes, but I am well acquainted with Christian and cannot bear the thought of how much more swaggering his step will be should he win. As I have never met Lord Berkley, I don't give a fig as to the effect of victory on his character."
St. Stephens laughed. "Well said."
Delia's brows drew together. "If you feel that way, Tony, why did you wager on Christian?"
"You're making assumptions now, my love." St. Stephens's grin widened.
"I see. You too are lacking in family loyalty. Very well then." Delia's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps you would care to place another wager on the outcome?"
"I should indeed." A wicked light flashed in his eye. "If I can set the stakes."
Delia gazed up at her husband with a wicked smile of her own and Cassie sighed to herself, discreetly edging away from the couple. Not that they would notice. At these moments Delia and St. Stephens stepped firmly into a world of their own.
It was at once charming and most annoying. Cassie was delighted that her sister had found love, but did she have to be so very much in love? Delia and St. Stephens had been married nearly a year, after all. Indeed, they were here, at least in part, to serve as Cassie's chaperone, and those longing, yearning, wicked looks the couple continuously traded were not at all proper, although Cassie admitted her own reaction could well be simple jealousy. After all, of the two sisters, Delia had never especially sought marriage, yet here she was: married, in love, and blissfully happy.
While her twin was four-and-twenty, edging perilously closer to afirm position on the shelf with not a real possibility for a match in sight.
Cassie wandered a few steps farther away, ignoring her sister's peal of laughter and ignoring as well the intriguing thought of precisely what stakes St. Stephens had proposed. As much as Cassie hated to admit it, she was indeed jealous. Oh, she would never wish any of Delia's happiness taken away. Cassie simply wanted it too. Not that there was any chance of that at the moment.
Perhaps it was time to lower her standards.
Cassie idly scanned the crowd gathered on a rise overlooking the road. The assembly chatted with anticipation and excitement and strained for the first glimpse of the riders. It was an interesting gathering of the ton's younger members -- in truth, a set considered rather fast. Still, the majority of those present were married couples ostensibly acting as chaperone for those as yet unwed among them. It was all very proper even if there wasn't an elderly, disapproving matron in sight, and therefore a slight, distinct undercurrent of forbidden adventure lingered about it all.
The race and accompanying wager between Christian and Lord Berkley had become quite the topic of interest in the past two weeks. So much so that Lord Warren had arranged both the contest and a festive outing on his estate on the outskirts of London. His lordship had also made a specific point of inviting Cassie to the event, not that she'd had the least intention of missing it.
Her gaze drifted to Lord Warren, chatting with a small group and obviously charming every lady present. She couldn't help but wonder how many of those ladies had also received personal invitations. The man was unquestionablyattractive, with an excellent title and a tidy fortune. He was witty and dashing with a reputation for excess in all matters, including women. Not at all to Cassie's taste. Lord Warren might well be interested in her, but she hadn't the least bit of interest in him. Rather a shame, really. He was an excellent catch.
"Perhaps it's time you lowered your standards," the wry voice of her oldest brother, Leo, sounded behind her.
"I was just thinking the same thing, although I daresay you're not the one who should be giving advice in matters of this nature," Cassie said mildly and turned toward her brother. "I don't see you racing headlong toward the altar."
Leopold Effington grinned down at her with the engaging smile that had turned any number of young ladies' heads ...
“Delightful...a charmingly told tale that illustrates that perfection isnt all good manners and a beautiful face.” Oakland Press
Victoria Alexander was an award-winning television reporter until she discovered fiction was much more fun than real life. She turned to writing full time and has never looked back. Victoria grew up traveling the country as an Air Force brat and is now settled in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two teenaged children, and a bearded collie named Sam. She firmly believes housework is a four-letter word, there are no calories in anything eaten standing up, procrastination is an art form, and it's never too soon to panic.