The Countess's Groom
 
    Prologue
    OCTOBER 2, 1762
    Will Fenmore, horses’ groom to Rose Quayle, Countess of Malmstoke, watched his mistress as Creed Hall came into view on the hilltop. It jutted from the dark trees, a grim building of gray stone.
    The Countess’s horse halted as its rider’s hands tightened on the reins. Will stopped, too. He saw tension in the Countess’s shoulders, in the stiffness of her jaw. One more night , he told her silently. You can do it.
    The Countess didn’t move. The seconds lengthened into a minute.
    Will wanted to reach out and touch her arm, to give reassurance. He curled his hands into fists to stop himself.
    Another minute passed, and still the Countess sat motionless, staring at Creed Hall.
    Is this it? Will she break today? The gelding he rode shifted restlessly, sensing his disquiet.
    “He’ll be gone tomorrow,” Will blurted.
    The Countess turned her head to stare at him.
    Will didn’t look away, as a servant should. Instead, he met her gaze. You can do it, Countess .
    “Yes,” she said. “He will be gone.” She urged the mare into a trot.
    At the great iron-studded door he dismounted and helped the Countess to alight. She took a deep breath, lifted her chin, and entered Creed Hall.
    Will watched the heavy door swing shut. Someone needs to rescue you, my lady.

    Will was saddling the Countess’s black mare, Dancer, when his ears caught the clatter of hooves and coach wheels. He knew what it was: the traveling carriage departing, bearing Henry Quayle, fifth Earl of Malmstoke, south to Portsmouth.
    For a moment he saw Quayle in his mind’s eye: the pomaded wig, the plump and dimpled cheeks, the full-lipped, pouting mouth, the brown eyes framed by lashes as long as a girl’s. A cherubic face—until one saw the cruelty in the soft mouth, in the large and liquid eyes.
    The sound of the carriage faded. “Good riddance,” Will said. They could all breathe more easily now with the Earl on his way to the West Indies. Especially the Countess.
    Dancer flicked an ear at him. She was a beautiful creature, as lovely and slender-limbed as her rider.
    Will’s heart seemed to lift in his chest as he settled the sidesaddle on Dancer’s back. “You’re a fool, Fenmore,” he said under his breath. “She’s a Countess, you’re a servant. Remember that.”
    “Fenmore.”
    He turned. A footman stood behind him in a powdered wig and velvet livery. “The Countess won’t be riding today.”
    Will knew what that meant. “He hurt her?”
    “Worse ’n usual. Don’t look for her this week. She’ll send word when Dancer is needed.”
    Will nodded. When the footman had gone, he turned to the mare. “I hope Quayle gets the fever,” he told Dancer fiercely. “I hope he dies .”
    …
    The riding crop had left deep cuts on Rose’s back. It took nearly a fortnight for the wounds to close over and heal. She spent most of that time asleep, safe in the knowledge that Henry was gone. She hadn’t slept so well or so deeply since her marriage, eight months ago.
    When she was well enough to leave her bed, she had the servants move her belongings to a room at the side of the house. It was small and dark, but it felt safe. To her knowledge, Henry had never entered this room. Rose slept even more soundly after that.
     

 
    Chapter One
    APRIL 4, 1763
    Rose stood in front of the mirror while her maid, Boyle, dressed her in a cherry-red riding habit. She averted her gaze from Boyle’s reflection—the broad, ruddy cheeks, the pale eyes, the grim-lipped mouth—and stood stiffly as the woman twitched the riding jacket into place over her shoulders. “My hat and gloves, Boyle.”
    Her maid handed them to her.
    Not my maid , Rose corrected herself. My jailer. Guarding her these past six months while Henry had been in the West Indies.
    Rose placed the three-cornered hat on her head, pulled on her gloves, and headed downstairs, along the echoing Long Gallery with its portraits of Quayle ancestors, down the staircase

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