The Lord’s Loving Scheme by Lisa Campell

Prologue

Somerset, England

“Arace?” Andrew asked, watching as Lady Violet steered her horse forward. Sitting side saddle on a grey mare that was almost as tall as his own stallion, Lady Violet cut an impressive figure. Andrew pulled his horse up alongside hers, just as he always did, reluctant to let her out of his sight. She may have been a fine rider, but she had fallen off on more than one occasion, and he would always ensure he was the one there to pick her up when it happened.

“Oh, unless you think you cannot win?” Lady Violet said with a teasing tone.

“Ha!” Andrew laughed at the girl next to him. She was often bold in such ways, playfully teasing him where other girls sat quietly behind pianofortes and barely made a sound. “How can I refuse a race now?” he asked as he steered his brown steed forward an inch. She did the same with her horse until they were both inching their horses forward one step at a time.

“If we go all the way up the hill like this, we may be here for some time,” Lady Violet said with a laugh.

“That I do not have a problem with,” Andrew assured her and glanced back over his shoulder, across the estate.

His father’s house, Cloveden, was one of the finest estates in Buckinghamshire with huge acres of estate surrounding it. At this distance, he could just make out the house, tall with yellow bricks and red accents, with so many windows that Andrew could not count them with a single glance. The two wings of the house stretched to the side and curved around a formal knot garden, with borders of flowers and a fountain in the middle. Despite its beauty, Andrew preferred to spend his time in the wilderness of the wider estate, amongst the trees and parkland riding his horse.

The house is my brother’s domain and always will be. This…this is where I am free to be me.

He looked back to Lady Violet who was looking at him a little quizzically.

“I’d say you are reluctant to go home for tea,” she said with a smile. “Our parents will be waiting for us.”

“Let us have that race at least,” he said, eager to prolong the time away for as much as possible. “To the summit of that hill.” He pointed to a hill nearby, cloaked with trees around the base and exposed at the top with open grassland, it offered the perfect view of not just the estate, but the surrounding towns and villages too.

“Very well,” she said, inching her grey mare forward again, when Andrew matched the advance, she giggled. “On the count of three. One…two…three!”

Together, they launched their horses forward. The grey and the chestnut set off with great gallops, matching one another in strength and stride as Andrew and Lady Violet leaned over their horse’s noses, urging them on.

When Lady Violet’s horse began to pull out in front, Andrew urged his horse faster, but it did little use. All the calls for his steed to hurry did little good. Soon, he was trailing behind her, with his horse’s hooves clomping against the undergrowth and the roots around the trees seconds after the grey mare.

Lady Violet steered her horse expertly through the trees, dodging the branches as though it were some sort of practiced dance, avoiding each bough easily, and twisting around old stumps that could upset a less-skilled rider. When she escaped the trees and stretched out across the grassland, the gap between them was growing wider. Andrew still wasn’t out of the trees yet.

Why do I feel like I am always chasing at this girl’s heels?

He didn’t have any longer to answer his question, for he had to bend down beneath a branch to prevent himself an injury. It was the last tree in his path though as he reached the grass and followed her up the last stretch of the hill. When he neared the top, she had clearly already been at the summit for a few minutes, for she cheered her victory and turned around to him with a big smile.

“I think you are a little pleased,” he said, laughing as he brought his horse back to a slow canter.

“If this is a little pleased, then goodness knows how I look when I’m ecstatic.” Her jest brought a laugh from him as the horse came to a stop. “I am merely pleased I have managed to stay in the saddle for once.”

“You are a fine rider,” he pointed out.

“I still frequently fall.”

“That I cannot deny, yet it comes from being so eager to ride faster and harder all the time.”

“I should fall less,” she said, setting her bright green eyes on him.

“I will never mind picking you up when you do fall, Lady Violet.” His words had come out deeper than he had expected. His voice had not long changed, growing deeper and deeper almost every day. She smiled all the more at his words then turned and began to clamber down from the mare.

“Well, for this rare defeat of you in a race, I think I deserve a prize,” she said. “What do you think?”

“What prize would you like?” he asked her, arranging himself to climb down from his horse too.

“A kiss.” Her words surprised him so much that he nearly fell as he jumped off the horse. She giggled at his response. “Well, if you do not want a kiss –”

“I never said that.” His hurried reply made her laugh all the more. He crossed the distance between the two of them, moving closer toward her.

A kiss… The errant idea had slipped into his dreams on occasion, but the real thing… It seemed almost impossible.

“Well, I’ll have to find someone else to kiss me instead,” Lady Violet said, ready to walk away back to her horse to find someone else.

This urge had taken over Andrew. It was a kind of stirring for her, a need that if she wanted a kiss, he should be the boy to offer her one. He reached out, taking her hand in his and pulling her toward him. She collided with him, placing her other hand to his chest as he bent down toward her. The kiss was fast, just a press of lips together, yet it changed everything.

Andrew held the touch of their lips for as long as he could, aware that Lady Violet was kissing him back with the same kind of urgency. The heat of the kiss crawled up his chest and neck, urging him to place his hands gently on her waist, keeping her near him. When they eventually pulled away from each other, her green eyes were wide with a kind of wonder and her lips were parted.

Andrew couldn’t stop touching her, not yet. He lifted a hand and played with one of her golden locks that had fallen out of her updo in the wind. He tangled the golden thread around his finger, indulging in the silkiness as his eyes flitted down to her lips again, wondering what it would be like if they could kiss another time. She seemed to be thinking the same thing, for she bit her lip, and a great blush dappled her cheeks.

“Well, I am glad I won the race,” she had said, her lips spreading into a smile. “Or I may have missed out on such a prize.”