Winning the Gentleman (Hearts on the Heath #2) - Kristi Ann Hunter Page 0,1

he dropped his head back to look at the lightening sky. “Why would you agree to a challenge without asking me? Especially since we’ve several races on the books already with the upcoming October Meetings.”

“Davers was rather adamant.”

Aaron’s head jerked hard enough to strain the muscles in his shoulder. The challenge was with Lord Davers? Aaron’s relationship with the Newmarket horse owners was tenuous but decent. Except with Davers. The other man had never liked that Aaron was allowed to sully his presence simply because he had an excellent touch with horses and a few decent connections.

Oliver knew that. Why would he have anything to do with—

“And Brimsbane was there,” Oliver admitted with a sigh, once again shifting his gaze to avoid looking Aaron in the eye.

For as long as Aaron had known Oliver, the man had gotten on well with everyone. Now, for a reason even Oliver probably didn’t know, he had formed a one-sided rivalry with his future brother-in-law.

With a sigh, Aaron reached out and buried his hand in Shadow’s mane, drawing comfort from the warmth of the horse’s neck. “You have the girl’s affection, her father’s agreement, and a wedding date set in a month. What does it matter if her brother thinks you a cod’s head?”

Oliver snapped his attention back to Aaron and frowned. “Brimsbane thinks me a cod’s head?”

No, but Aaron was on the verge of it. “To my knowledge, Brimsbane doesn’t think of you at all beyond your ability to make Lady Rebecca happy. You’ve known the chap for years.”

“I know.” Oliver began to pace, the dressing gown he’d been wearing when he rushed from the house to catch Aaron flapping about his knees. Pacing was a sure sign his grip on practical reality was sliding into panic based on some illogical conclusion only he could understand. “Did you see him at the training yards last week?”

“Brimsbane?” Why were they still talking about him? The challenge with Davers was far more pressing. They had one day to find a solution.

Aaron took a deep breath and counted to three. Oliver wouldn’t move back to the original conversation until this new one was completed. “Yes, I saw him. When he’s in town, he checks his horses’ training at least twice a week.”

“Exactly.” Oliver swung his arms wide as he continued to pace.

Aaron waited, but nothing more came. “Exactly what?”

“Brimsbane knows his horses.” Oliver stopped and pointed at Aaron. “Did you know he asked me why my horses ran without blankets, and I didn’t even know what he was talking about?”

“I don’t care for sweating the horses.” Aaron lifted one shoulder and let it drop. “Wearing a winter traveling coat doesn’t make a man faster. Why would a horse be any different?”

Many of the methods he used on the horses in his charge were different from the normal ones, and both the stables he managed—including Oliver’s father’s—had shown increased success because of it. The care of horses and advancements in their training had long been a passion of Aaron’s.

Despite his closeness with Aaron, Oliver attended very few races and never expressed interest in his father’s racing stable. Before he’d fallen in love with the daughter of an avid horseman, Oliver had cared only that his horse looked good and was fit enough to carry him wherever he wanted to go.

Perhaps it was love that had finally sent Oliver over the edge of reasonableness. It had certainly wreaked havoc in Aaron’s life, and he wasn’t even the one experiencing it, thank goodness.

Aaron didn’t have anything to offer a woman. At best he dallied on the fringes of polite society. At worst he was an outcast. Far better for Aaron to keep his circle of friends small and tight so his situation affected as few people as possible.

If only those few people would stop falling in love and expanding the circle. Each and every one of them had gone through a period of acting a complete fool because of their love-addled brains.

None had recovered from the malady with sanity intact.

“Forget about Brimsbane, at least for the moment.” Hopefully forever. “Let’s discuss the agreement with Davers.”

Oliver winced and blew out a long breath before relaying to Aaron the details of the challenge. “Might he agree to a postponement?”

“Oh, most assuredly,” Aaron said dryly, “but not before ensuring that everyone in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, and Essex knew you’d reneged.”

It was possible that had been Davers’s plan all along. The man had a history of trying to tap a weakness in Aaron’s employers