Eleven years ago, Claude Mableau came to Rappard Hall as a stable worker seeking revenge—and fell in love with the noble family's poor relation, Miss Louisa Finch. Now home after making his fortune abroad, he discovers that his youthful infatuation is as strong as ever, as is his body's craving for the beautiful lady. Claude cannot resist her plea to introduce her to the pleasures of lovemaking before her arranged marriage. Yet despite their intense passion, Louisa will always be forbidden to him as a bride….
The Three Soldiers Series (Book 4 – an Undone short story)
Lancashire, England, 1828
…Claude’s insides wrenched, because he knew she would also soon share her husband’s bed.
He could not form another comment. Instead he stared out at the pristine beauty of the stream tumbling over rocks.
Finally she spoke. “When are the races at Ascot?”
“In a week’s time.”
He ought to have known that his time with her would be achingly brief. They’d always been fated to part from each other.
She released a long sigh and glanced toward the dipping sun. “I suppose I should go back.”
Claude stood and reached out a hand to help her up. As he pulled her to her feet she put her arms around him and held him tight. Her body was flush with his and every curve made his senses flare. He hungered for more of her, a taste of her lips, the feel of his fingers on her warm skin. He held her close, controlling his desires, trying to accept that merely holding her was more than he had a right to expect.
“I am so glad you returned here, Claude. I will have much to remember now.” Finally she loosened her embrace and glanced up at him. Her face was pale, and her warm brown eyes searched his face as if she were memorizing every feature.
They returned to the horses and rode slowly back to Rappard Hall, while his very soul ached with the fear that this would be their final goodbye. They did not speak until reaching the ridge where they would have to part. Dismounting, she embraced Claude once more.
But this time he sensed a change in her, a growing strength, an intensifying determination.
She pulled away abruptly and looked him directly in the eye. “Will you do something for me, Claude?” Her expression was unflinching. “If I ask you, will you do something for me?”
“Of course,” he rasped. “Anything.”
Her voice turned low and resolute. “Give me one last adventure. Take me with you to Ascot.”
Horse Racing in Nineteenth Century Tennessee
You might wonder why I sent Claude to America after he left England at the end of Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy, especially because he’d been so proud of being French. And why to Tennessee, of all places?
Post-Napoleonic war France would have held little appeal to Claude, who clung to his father’s belief in the tenets of the French Revolution, liberté, égalité, fraternité. King Louis XVIII was restored to the throne and again the power in the country went to the wealthy, the landowners. If this were not enough, the depressed economy of France didn’t lend itself to developing a racing industry.
Even more than France, Claude loved horses, so he went to where the horses were. And that was Tennessee. The cocky Americans were bent on breeding a better racehorse than the English, an idea that certainly resonated with Leo.
The first official horse race in Tennessee took place in Gallatin. Andrew Jackson ran his horse, Indian Queen, in those races. Jackson was a leading Tennessee horse breeder and racer, even purchasing an interest in another racetrack at Clover Bottom. By 1807 Clover Bottom, Gallatin, and another course at Nashville each had a Jockey Club. By 1839 there were at least ten race tracks and twenty Jockey Clubs. (Look for the names Gallatin and Clover in Claude’s story.) Tennessee was a hotbed of thoroughbred racing.
It stood to reason there would be stud farms in Tennessee where Claude could find employment. His love of horses led to him gaining extensive experience in horse breeding and training.
But Claude was also attracted to America because America’s Revolution had been successful, when, in his eyes, France’s had not. America was a place where a man could advance on merit alone, he idealistically thought, and his skill with horses would allow him to advance to the very pinnacle of his profession.
The horse-breeding country of Tennessee in the early 1800s was not quite the land of equality that Claude expected, however. He painfully learned there were still class differences, especially between landowner and stable employee. Even worse, slavery gave some men and women no freedom at all, merely due to the color of their skin. Men owning men was appalling to Claude.
So it was a disillusioned Claude who left America and sailed across the ocean to Lancashire, England for a long overdue reconciliation with his mother.
Little did he know he would also find love.