Miss Spencer Rides Astride, the first in my Heroines on Horseback romance, is a sweet, funny trip to Regency-era Ireland.
Miss Grainne Spencer is a young lady with a very serious problem: her father has just remembered she is a Female Person. Utterly content to spend her days riding hunters and training young horses, Grainne is ready to do whatever it takes to avoid being married off to a gentleman who will insist that she behave in a more respectable fashion. Whatever it takes — even plotting to run away with a gypsy who promises he will show her the world from the back of a horse.
William Archwood is an earl’s son with a most alarming problem: a fianceé he can’t even stand sharing a ball-room with, let alone the thought of a marriage. When his imperious father refuses to allow him to break off the engagement, he does the only logical thing a wealthy young gentleman with his wits about him could possibly choose to do: he runs away and hides.
When the talented horseman Mr. Archer arrives at the stables, Grainne is certain it can mean only one thing: her father has hired her replacement. She’s determined to escape, but that pesky Mr. Archer always seems to be underfoot, and his presence is decidedly disconcerting. He looks very well on a horse, of course, but it’s more than that… something about this English stranger is most… attractive.
William only came to Ireland to lie low and worry his father into allowing him to dissolve his unwanted engagement. He certainly didn’t mean to upset his new boss’s mad daughter and send the whole hunting yard spiraling into chaos. But there’s something fascinating about that secretive young lady, and he can’t help but send his horse after her every time she decides to melt into the countryside.
Amidst horses, hunting, and the allure of the Irish countryside, Miss Spencer Rides Astride is the rollicking story of two misfits trying to make their own way, fighting the fates with everything they’ve got, and perhaps, just by accident, falling in love.
Want to read the prologue? Here it is!
“The next man who pinches my arse will find my knife at his throat,” Grainne declared stoutly. “Do I hear any takers amongst you, lads?”
The little crowd of men slowly melted away, their faces hangdog, whispering to their friends as they went. It was well known in the county that Grainne Spencer never, ever joked about putting knives to men’s throats. Seamus Kelleher had a scar yet, and he’d show you if you asked. Seamus had been unlucky enough to reach in for a bit of grab while she’d been handling an unruly filly. When the young horse shifted, so had her knife.
Still the daughter of the Big House’s master of hounds was always a favorite attraction at the horse fair. Sure, she always had the very best horses in her care: no one could match the old lord for breeding horseflesh, not even a true-born Irishmen, the lads would mutter, kicking the dirt. And just as no one could match Mr. Spencer for his pack of hounds, no one could match his mad daughter, Miss Grainne Spencer, for bringing on the hunting horses.
“Grainne, you always know how to send them packing,” an old gentleman said appreciatively, picking his way through the mud in a pair of boots more scarred than polished.
“Mr. Lark,” Grainne said, unabashed. “I have the grey here to show you.” She wriggled the reins of the big hunter she’d been waiting with. “Every bit the horse you are looking for. Sure-footed, brave, and always first to the kill.”
They would make a perfect match on the field, she thought, watching the gentleman run his hands down the hunter’s legs. The Honorable Jeremiah Lark was not a young man, but he still wanted to cut a figure on the hunting field, and he had a good enough seat that he could ride something a little flashy without getting over-horsed. When he had written her father to let him know that he’d be buying at the next fair, she had taken on the challenge of choosing which of the Earl of Kilreilly’s hunters ought to be sold on, and which one of those would be right for Mr. Lark.
She had agonized over the horses in the yard, trying to decide which one would be flashy and spirited enough, yet tractable and reliable enough, to keep the old fellow safe through ditch and forest and five-barred gate. Magyar, the steady dappled grey cob she had been hunting for two seasons, seemed perfect, though she’d miss him. In the end, Grainne had decided that Mr. Lark’s safety was more important than keeping Magyar for herself. She had dozens of horses to hunt. It would be selfish to hold on to such a steady animal when she was perfectly capable of riding a hellion.
She jiggled the reins a bit more and snapped her fingers in the air. Magyar pricked his ears and picked up his head, showing off his great curving neck and the clean lines of his shoulders. He was a powerful, exceptional beast.
“Well, well,” Mr. Lark said, peering through his spectacles not at the horse, but at the shapely young woman who stood at his head. “He is a beauty. Why don’t you put him through his paces for me, my dear.”
“Who is that bad-tempered young woman?” William Archwood nudged his companion in the ribs, perhaps harder than he realized.
“Oh, that one. I’ve heard of some mad girl who rides astride… must be her. You’ll want to stay away,” his friend griped, rubbing at his chest beneath its vest of grey wool. “And keep your elbows out of my side. You forget I’m not one of your barmy hunters. I’m a man of flesh and blood, Willie!”
“Flesh and blood and utter nonsense,” William snapped back, but he was smiling. “Tell me about her. She looks…” William trailed off for a moment as the girl swung lithely into the saddle of a spectacular dappled grey and put the big horse into a trot, circling a prospective buyer without even bothering to pull her skirts over her boot-tops. “She looks like a handful,” he finished finally, conceding Peregrin’s point. “Perhaps you’re right.”
“Believe me, I’m right!” Peregrin put a kid-skinned glove on William’s arm and squeezed gently. “If I’m going to leave you here in this God-forsaken valley, I want to at least know that you shan’t be eaten by the natives.”
William laughed. “Oh, no fear of that! What a pack of provincials. Such accents! I fear I shall have to bite my tongue or I shall give myself away so quickly I’ll be back in London and married to Violetta before Boxing Day.”
“St. Stephen’s Day, the provincials call it,” Peregrin corrected. “You won’t be in the manor house, you know, you’ll be out in the muck with the Irish. Better learn their words, though you’ll never hide your accent. You’ll just have to make up for it by riding them all into the ground.” His eyes wandered to an attractive dark horse, long-legged and bright-eyed, that was stepping out in high fashion from some hidey-hole behind a festively painted gypsy caravan. “My God, what a looker! I’m half-tempted to take that beast home to London with me. Although I suppose there’s no telling what’s wrong with it; those gypsies are notorious for covering up every manner of fault in a horse.”
William was eyeing not the horse, but the man on its back, instead: a dark-haired and dark-eyed fellow of no remarkable height or face, but whose piercing gaze was utterly fixed on some object beyond William’s shoulder. William turned, bemused, and saw again the ill-tempered young woman on the dappled grey. She was slipping easily down from the saddle, haggling good-naturedly with the buyer as she did so. Before she could take the reins over the beast’s ears, the dandy was doffing his top hat and holding out his hand to seal the bargain. William saw the horsewoman gaze past the buyer then, throwing a look of victory and joy at the gypsy on the dark horse, and he thought he understood.
“The gypsy and the harridan are in some sort of arrangement,” he murmured in Peregrin’s ear.
“Confound it, man, stop tickling my ear!” Peregrin swiped at William. “What’s that, now? You’re mad. All right, all right, I know her. She’s a gentleman’s daughter, even if she does ride like a pagan. That’s Grainne Spencer, daughter of the Master of the Hounds. That’s right,” he continued, taking relish in his friend’s sudden horror. “You can call her ‘the boss’s daughter.’”