Today it is my pleasure to Welcome author Rebecca Thomas to HJ!
Hi Rebecca and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, The Earl’s Wager!
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to share a deleted scene with you!
Will Sutton, the Earl of Grandleigh, believes he will be more accepted amongst English society’s upper crust by owning expensive things, like a racehorse. But good racehorses come with a hefty price tag. His brother-in-law owns a stable and offers him a deal: tutor his American ward in proper English customs, so she’ll be marriage material, and Will can have one of his horses.
The Wager seems simple until he meets Georgia for the first time. She’s disguised as a jockey, covered in racetrack dust, and she’s just run in a race!
Will Sutton is a secondary character in my Christmas novella, The Earl’s Christmas Colt. This book was so well received, I had to continue the Sutton family story. He is your typical staid and very proper English Earl. The rules and traditions of the English ways of doing things is very important to him.
Georgia Duvall is a carefree spunky American who’s been placed with her last remaining family member in England and she has to marry in order to receive her inheritance.
This is an opposites attract and fish-out-of-water story with many humorous moments. Some of my reviews have compared the story to My Fair Lady and I couldn’t be more thrilled because I did think about that story several times while writing The Earl’s Wager.
In my proposal, this was the original first scene of the book, so there is really no set-up to explain. My editor thought the next scene in the book, where Will and Oliver are discussing the race and setting up the terms of the wager as a more compelling way to start the book. I didn’t disagree, but I’ve always loved this beginning so I’m happy to share it with you today.
Edits Unleashed Excerpt:
Georgia Duvall emerged from the carriage sliding her gloves over quivering fingers. Her stomach in knots, she patted down the turquoise and yellow silks of her jockey clothes and made sure her cap secured every strand of her hair. When her cousin, Oliver Westwyck, the Earl of Marsdale, found out she’d locked their trainer in the tack room and lied to the groom after their jockey had taken ill she’d be in big trouble.
Trouble didn’t even begin to cover it, but if she won the race, none of that mattered. She’d take the consequences. There wasn’t time to find a replacement and it wasn’t fair to Perseus not to race. He was ready for this, just like she was. Whatever punishment Oliver doled out, she’d take, because winning the biggest race day in all of England was the most important thing.
She’d been allowed to ride Perseus in training sessions at their stables. She should be allowed to ride him in a race. Besides Perseus ran best for her, not the jockeys who knew nothing about him. If there was any chance of ever being forgiven, she had to win.
Stepping inside the stall, Georgia patted Perseus’ black velvet nose before she moved her hands expertly down each leg feeling for any warm spots or swollen joints. Their trainer, Harland, had them on a rigorous training schedule and while Perseus was always eager, the risk of injury always existed.
“Are you ready boy?” She secured his bridle and walked him to the mounting block. She glanced around for the young groom who she’d sent on a goose chase of an errand. Her heart sped up with excitement. She hadn’t been caught yet. She would make it to the starting line. Today she and Perseus would run as one. One heart, one belief, one will.
She threw her leg over his back and secured her feet in the stirrups. Perseus lunged onto the track with the other horses. After all this time Georgia was still amazed by the sheer power beneath her legs. She pulled back hard on the reins insisting that his neck arc in submission to her. He tossed his head and reared. “Oh no, you don’t. Settle down, boy.”
She squeezed her legs and tightened her grip on the reins. She refused to let Perseus feel any inkling of her anxiety. Finally, she got him settled into a steady jog in line with the other horses. She leaned down and whispered to him. “We’ve done this many times before.” He twitched his ears. “The only difference now is more people watching us.”
Perseus settled down into a walk. He knew his job, just as she did. Except riding at home without this crowd and without the other riders, did make this experience completely different. Georgia took a moment to glance at faces amongst the crowd. Smiling, eager faces, all of them. Everyone loved race day. As they approached the starting post the noise became deafening as shouts of encouragement poured out from hundreds of people.
The starting post in sight, Perseus lunged beneath her. She nearly lost her seat. Her arms already ached and she had a tiny quiver of doubt leaking into her thoughts. Was she being foolhardy? But Harland had said they would have to cancel and she couldn’t allow them to do that. They’d trained too hard. It wasn’t fair to Perseus. He wanted to win every bit as much as she did. She was doing this for Autumn Ridge stables and racing farm.
Georgia wanted to look for Oliver, for reassurance, but she didn’t dare. If she was being completely honest maybe she wanted him to realize her scheme and pull her from Perseus’ back before the race began. He might recognize her even in jockey clothes, a cap, and googles. A small part of her was quite frightened, but she pushed the thoughts away.
Nothing mattered except this race. This was Perseus’ race to win. Damn the consequences. She had to win, not only for Perseus, but for the pride of Autumn Ridge stables.
Focusing on Perseus, she pulled up to the starting post. She glanced at the other jockeys and tried to act as confident as they did. She knew exactly what she was doing. At least that is what she’d keep telling herself. She must focus and pretend this was another training run at home. No crowd, no noise, no other horses. Just her and her horse. She raised her hips, so only the balls of her feet balanced her in the stirrups. She leaned onto Perseus’s withers and breathed in the scent of his mane and whispered, “This is our race to win.”
The gunshot sounded!
Perseus surged out of the starting gate. Georgia thought she was ready, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t riding, she was merely hanging on. Balance, it’s all about balance. Focus on the muscled beautiful beast beneath you and nothing else. She could hear Harland’s gentle coaching, but panic still laced along the outskirts of her thoughts.
Her gloved hands gripped the reins along with Perseus’ mane. Just concentrate on him and nothing else. Let him run, just like at home. Give him his head and let him do what he was born to do.
Georgia looked up past Perseus’ head. They were toward the front of the pack. Only three horses in front of them. They passed a chestnut and a gray. A splash of green and blue silks flashed as she sped by them. Perseus was doing this. They were doing this. She was riding in a race and so far, she’d managed to stay on.
They passed the marker for one mile remaining and Perseus continued to give everything he had. Mud spattered her goggles, only the wind and Perseus’s mane slapped at her face. His hoofs beat the ground hard and steady. They passed one more horse, a tall bay stallion by the name of Leo, the favorite. Now they led the pack!
A whole mile left to go at this ambitious pace could prove impossible. In her mind, she heard Harland’s scolding from their training sessions. He can’t go all out at the beginning or he won’t have enough left for the end. She’d forgotten all that training advice since she’d only thought about staying on.
She leaned low and tried to pull back on the reins. Lather covered his neck, his breathing wheezed in and out in perfect rhythm with his hoofs pounding the ground. For one instant, their two heartbeats were one. Her legs, and back and arms ached. Even her fingers ached. Suddenly, she knew she had gone too far, this pace and this distance was too much. She leaned back ever so slightly in an attempt to slow his pace.
Lifting her arm, she looked under to see the bay gaining on them. The finish line only a mere quarter mile away, the roar of the crowds pushed Perseus even harder. Every ounce of his will and his strength was spent, but again he gave more. He gave more because Georgia asked it of him. Even though his heart might explode…still he pushed on.
The bay, Leo, was a half-length behind them now. The jockey in red silks slapped at his mount’s hindquarters and he coursed beside Georgia and Perseus. The deafening roar of the crowd drowned out the thumping hoofs on the track. They were neck and neck, side by side, nose to nose when they crossed the finish line.
Georgia pulled up on the reins and immediately collapsed across Perseus’s neck. He snorted, then bobbed his head up and down. She listened to her own heartbeat thud inside her ears. Tears pricked her eyes. Gasping for breath, she looked up to see if they’d won or not. Harland approached her. His red face contorted, he asked, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Did we win?” Georgia asked between breaths.
“Dismount this instant, Miss Duvall,” Harland hissed under his breath and grabbed Perseus’ reins. “I will lose my job over this.”
So much for her disguise working. Somehow she found the strength to pull her leg over Perseus’s rump and slide off till her feet hit the ground. Her knees buckled. She grabbed the stirrup to steady herself before turning to Harland. “Why? Because we didn’t win?”
“No, because I let you take the place of our jockey. I should have known you’d pull something like this.” He grabbed her arm to help steady her. “Never in all my wildest imaginings did I think you’d do such a thing.”
“We couldn’t not race,” she cried. “That isn’t fair to Perseus.”
“I was working on finding a replacement jockey.”
“There was no time and you know it. Phillipe didn’t give us enough notice that he couldn’t ride. He should be fired, not you. Everyone thinks I’m Phillipe,” she leaned into Perseus and whispered. “We have to go with it. Get Phillipe out here to accept the trophy and tell him to keep his mouth shut.”
“We will be disqualified Miss Duvall.” Harland looked as though he might strangle her. She’d never seen him so angry.
“We will not be disqualified. Not unless you tell someone who I am.” Her heart pounded so hard her chest hurt. Harland would not take this win away from Perseus or from her.
“Harland, listen to me. We are about to be converged upon. I cannot be found out. We will not be disqualified. We must move forward as though I am Phillipe. What would we be normally doing right now?”
“If we won, we’d go to the winners circle,” he growled.
“Didn’t we win?” She couldn’t believe it. She knew it was close.
The look in Harland’s eyes said everything she needed to know. They had lost. They took second place. “No,” he said, “you lost by a nose.”
Those words struck her hard and she bowed her head. She wanted to cry, but she wouldn’t.
“But it’s for the best,” he said quickly. “If you’re not found out. All the better.”
Finally, she had some hope that Harland would help to hide her identity.
“What should we do now?” she asked.
“Walk him out and return to the stable.”
“Then that’s what we need to do.”
“Are you steady enough to walk, Miss Duvall?”
“Of course.” Although she really wasn’t certain that her quivering legs would hold up without the support of Perseus.
“Then we’ll move on from here just as though you are Phillipe. I’ll walk ahead of you, then you need to find a place to get out of those jockey’s clothes.” Harland marched ahead of her and Georgia struggled to keep up.
Every muscle of her body ached but she kept moving forward. Harland and Perseus disappeared inside the stable, then into their stall. She finally caught up and breathed a heavy sigh. “You will not lose your job, Harland. I promise you.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep Miss Duvall,” he grunted as he removed the saddle. “I said, you need to get out of those clothes and disappear.”
“Nobody knows who I am,” she looked down the length of the stable corridor. People and horses filed in. She lowered her voice, “They all think I’m the jockey, so if you’ll just be quiet. We can go back home and no one will be the wiser.”
“Did it ever occur to you that the jockey we hired might have something to say about that?” He moved his hands expertly down each of Perseus’ legs and began to wipe him down.
In all honesty, no, she hadn’t considered the jockey. All she knew is she needed to give Perseus the opportunity to win, but she’d failed. “Phillipe had better not breathe a word of this to anyone. If he does, no one will ever hire him again. You can’t decide minutes before a race that you’re not well enough to ride.”
“I would have found a replacement if you hadn’t locked me in the tack room. I was working on acquiring another jockey,” he said.
“There wasn’t time and I knew you wouldn’t let me ride, so I took it upon myself to make the decision. I made the decision, not you. Therefore, Oliver won’t dismiss you. I won’t let him.”
Harland harrumphed and continued with his work of rubbing Perseus down.
“I’m sorry we didn’t win,” she sighed. “It was so close I couldn’t tell.” Perseus had done everything she’d asked of him. “Perseus ran as fast as he could. You know he only runs that fast for me. If that idiot jockey you hired rode him you would have been in last place.”
That was a bit of a stretch, but she didn’t care. Harland knew Perseus ran the best for her. He’d said as much during their training runs and that’s what gave her the idea to ride him in the race in the first place. Harland didn’t argue the point which only confirmed what she already knew. He wouldn’t make eye contact with her when he said, “I won’t even get a letter of recommendation from the Earl over this stunt. No one will hire a racehorse trainer who allowed a woman to ride in a race on Derby day.”
“Don’t you worry about Oliver. I’ll manage him. You won’t be looking for another job. You’ll stay at Autumn Ridge, just like always. It’s not your fault I took his place. How could you have known?”
“Being locked in the tack room was a pretty good indicator that something wasn’t right. Although I didn’t know for sure until I saw the race myself.” His voice sounded gruff, but there was a slight bit of hesitation as well, as though he might say something else.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“But you’re right,” Harland said between brush strokes. “He ran as hard as he could and we almost won because of you. I’m glad I got out of the tack room soon enough to see most of the race.”
Instead of slumping against the stable gate, she stood a little straighter. If Harland would support her cause, even a little bit, maybe Oliver’s wrath wouldn’t be so bad.
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Giveaway: Paperback copy of The Earl’s Wager (US only)
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One headstrong miss. One stuffy lord. One friendly wager. What could go wrong?
Will Sutton, the Earl of Grandleigh, believes he can save the family’s impoverished estate by investing in a racehorse, but the price is too steep. His brother-in-law offers him a deal: tutor his American ward in proper English customs, so she’ll be marriage material, and Will can have one of his horses. Maybe Miss Georgia Duvall prefers being a jockey, is obstinate and high spirited, but once she’s cleaned up and presentable, he’ll have no trouble finding her a quality suitor. She might even be quite pretty beneath the racetrack dust.
The last thing Georgia Duvall wants is to be married off to an English peer. But she won’t defy her father’s wishes, and sets her cap for the oldest lord she can find—a man who’ll die quickly and leave her alone to manage her inheritance. The Earl of Grandleigh might think he’ll teach her manners and marry her off to someone younger than eighty, but there hasn’t been an obstacle yet Georgia can’t overcome. Including a stuffy, overbearing English lord.
I enjoy a love-hate relationship with Alaska. I live there with my husband and sons. When I’m not reading, writing, or playing board games, I can be found taking long walks in the woods dreaming up my next story.
A reluctant reader as a child, I didn’t become interested in books until my teen years when I discovered historical romance. Now I love all sub-genres of romance and can’t decide which one is my favorite.
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