To Win a Widow - Alexa Aston

Chapter One

London—May 1795

Rhys Armistead mounted the horse and turned it in the direction of Hyde Park, which was only a few blocks away from Viscount Mowbray’s London townhouse. The horse happily cantered along until they reached Rotten Row, where all the lords and ladies of Polite Society preferred to ride. Of course, the likes of them had only gone to bed an hour or two ago since the Season was in full swing. He had been awakened from where he slept in the stable’s loft when the viscount’s carriage returned from the previous night’s ball. Rhys had risen and gone straight to the kitchens, where Cook had placed out bread and cold meat for his breakfast, and then he began his daily round of exercising the various horses in his employer’s stables.

If he were the viscount, he would sell most of the animals off, leaving only the carriage horses and a mount for Lady Rebecca to ride. Viscount Mowbray suffered from gout, which flared up from time to time. He had given up riding several years ago but still kept horses to ride both at his country estate and here in London. Rhys exercised and groomed the viscount’s horses and had even taught Lady Rebecca to ride two years ago. The daughter of the household had fallen from a horse when she was only six, breaking her leg, and she had never attempted to ride after that. As Lady Rebecca approached the age of her come-out, though, her father had insisted that she take up the sport again since riding apparently was one of the ways gentlemen courted ladies of the ton during the London Season.

Rhys was currently fifteen but he was known for his patience with both horses and people. He had made a good rider of Lady Rebecca within a few short weeks and she now sat a horse comfortably. She had enjoyed several outings to Rotten Row with various suitors during the past month. Once she married, as she undoubtedly was expected to do once the Season concluded, Rhys didn’t see the point of keeping any horseflesh beyond those which would transport the viscount around London or back to his country estate. That was the difference between him and the rich, though. He had a pragmatic nature and would never be wasteful, as he saw so often in regard to the viscount. All the rich acted entitled. The laws of England certainly gave them advantages far beyond what they deserved, in his opinion.

As he reached Rotten Row, he heard the chime of a distant clock ring five times. Dawn would break in the next handful of minutes. For now, the park was deserted. He gave the horse its head and let it charge at full speed down the path, reveling in the wind blowing through his hair, exhilaration filling him. He reined in the horse, turning it and letting it gallop again back along the direction they had come before he eased into a canter and returned the horse to its stall. A sleepy stable lad rubbed his eyes and then took the reins.

“You know what to do,” he told the young boy before going to a different stall and retrieving the next horse.

Rhys worked his way through the five horses over the next two hours and then personally rubbed down the final one he’d returned to the stables. He had just finished grooming the mount and feeding it when a voice called out to him. Rhys turned and anxiety filled him when he saw it was a footman from the house. He did everything he could to do his job to the best of his ability and not call attention to himself. A house servant calling his name did not bode well.

“You’re needed at the house,” the footman said abruptly, his eyes sweeping over Rhys’ appearance and obviously finding it lacking.

“What for?” he asked, dread saturating him.

He needed this job, one he had held for three years. His mother couldn’t work anymore. She had a weak heart and depended upon Rhys to pay the small monthly rent on her room, as well as the food she ate. The same weak heart had killed his sister when she was only eight and Rhys ten. By then, he’d already been the man of the house for two years, his father having been killed in an accident at the shipyard where he worked.

“Dunno,” the footman said, shrugging his shoulders. “They just said to fetch you fast. Come along.”

“Let me at