ROPING THE COWBOY EXCERPT -
The Cowboy, His Countess, and her
by Suz deMello
The Cowboy, His Countess, and Her Companion:
Leonore Wingate turned to her bosom-bow, Amelia Haddon, bending slightly so the smaller woman could hear over the music and chatter. “Can you see that fellow? He’s new.”
Amelia blinked. “Really?”
“Yes, and he’s coming toward us.”
Leonore grinned. “What shall we tell this one?” They had been inventing stories to explain their unusual closeness since they'd met at boarding school. Their most innocuous story was that she was Amelia’s hired companion, which was fairly close to the truth. They enjoyed telling others that they were engaged in the study of Sapphic poetry; in the main, their peers had no idea to what they were referring.
Amelia eyed the stranger. “Intuition tells me that this one might not be easily fobbed off. You do remember that Madame Esperanza told me that my intuitive powers are usually great.”
Leonore withheld a sarcastic retort, but rolled her eyes.
Amelia continued, “Perhaps we should encourage his suit.”
Shocked, Leonore lost her breath and therefore her voice for several seconds. Then she managed to say, “But-but-”
“You have not yet heard my news.”
“That letter you received from your father?”
“Yes. He threatens to cut me off should I fail to marry before my next birthday.”
“But you can’t marry! You can’t!” Heads turned at the vehemence of her tone, and she lowered her voice. “Why?”
“Of course I do not wish to marry, but what else can we do?”
Leonore pressed her lips together. “I’ll not leave you.”
Amelia touched Leonore’s hand briefly, so quickly that she was sure no one else saw. “Of course not. We shall maintain the fiction that you are my paid companion.”
“But what about at night? You can’t, Amelia! It would kill you!”
Amelia drew a determined breath. “We all must do what we must. And I will have to bear his attentions, at least some nights.”
“You’ll lie quietly and think of crown and country? Ha! I’ll not allow it!”
“We don’t have a choice. I shall have to bear his attentions, at least on some nights. Many men keep mistresses for such...activities.”
Leonore paused, thinking. “Hm. You are right. Without your funds, we are left with only my tiny portion.” Her birth was impeccable but her fortune small, her parents having inconveniently wasted the Wingate estate before dying in a carriage accident.
She looked at Amelia. Amelia looked back. They sighed in unison.
“Good evening, ladies.” The stranger sketched a clumsy bow.
Leonore raised her brows as Amelia raised her fan. The stranger was so untutored in the social graces that he did not realize that he ought not address ladies to whom he had not yet been introduced. But...
“Your accent is not English,” Leonore said.
“No, I’m from Texas.” He smiled.
“In America?” Amelia sounded excited, and Leonore felt a spark of hope. Perhaps this foreigner would be different than other men. Perhaps he would not demand what Amelia couldn’t comfortably give.
“Yeah. From the good ol’ U.S. of A.”
Leonore winced at his speech. He seemed like a nice fellow, but...
Amelia said, “And what brings you to our shores?”
“I’ve inherited an estate that is in poor shape, and I’m here to claim it and find a wife to help me get it to where it should be,” the man explained in a rush.
Given the accent, Leonore understood perhaps half of what he said. She exchanged glances with Amelia, then said, “Umm, with all respect, sir, we have yet to be properly introduced.”
“Oh, sorry, miss. I’m Nate Fortune.”
“Of the Darlingside Fortunes?” Amelia asked, closing her fan.
If Leonore raised her brows more, she was certain they’d disappear into her hairline. She controlled herself. “You must be the new Earl Darlingside.”
“Yeah. And you?”
She and Amelia again exchanged glances. Despite the social solecism, Amelia responded. “I’m Amelia Haddon, and this is my...companion, Leonore Wingate.” She hooked her arm through Leonore’s elbow.
He eyed their linked arms and raised his brows. “Your...companion?”
“Yes,” Leonore said with emphasis. “We are quite inseparable.”
Now the stranger-Darlingside?-raised his brows. “That’s good.”
Leonore stared at him.
“Well, it would be very hard to choose between you. You are both such lovely ladies.”
“Flatterer,” Amelia said flirtatiously. She rapped his knuckles with her fan.
“Ow!” Darlingside made a show of rubbing his hand, as though he’d actually been hurt.
Amelia giggled while Leonore smiled.
He smiled back. “So the only question is, which one of you will I marry?”