The lives of Sir Bartlett Crosby and Hannah Chandler have been marked by fierce competition between their elite families…the perfect breeding ground for a mutual attraction neither can deny.
Bart hopes to conquer “the turf” through victory in a much-touted match. Should his heavily-favored colt win, the Crosby reputation and fortunes would be revived. Bart’s plan seems poised for success until the lovely Hannah Chandler, daughter of a noted rival trainer, turns up claiming ownership of the colt. When Hannah insists on claiming her purchase, the prize colt disappears from Bart’s stable. Theft or treachery? As Hannah and Bart rush to solve the mystery before race time, they uncover a scandalous truth about their families’ pasts-a truth that has the potential to either destroy both their futures, or to guide them to a love they never imagined.
The Sport of Baronets is the introductory novella to Theresa Roman’s forthcoming Romance of the Turf series, and it most definitely gets the series out of the paddock and up to the starting gate in fine style. (I’m sorry – I couldn’t resist it!). I tend to be quite picky when it comes to novellas, as it’s the rare author who can construct one that is as strongly characterised and plotted as a full-length novel – but Ms Romain has risen to that challenge, not only establishing the background for future books, but also telling a self-contained, engaging story in which the characters are fully-rounded and the principals are allowed to spend time getting to know each other.
The Crosbys and the Chandlers have been at odds for… more years than anyone living can seem to remember and for reasons that are equally vague. Both families have been in the business of breeding and training thoroughbreds for years and are fiercely competitive rivals in the field. Unfortunately, the Crosby family fortunes have taken a recent downturn, thanks to some unwise decisions made by the late baronet and the expensive gambling habits of the invalid baroness. Sir Bart Crosby is pinning his hopes for rebuilding his fortune on his prize colt Golden Barb, planning to race him in the Two Thousand Guineas Stakes in a week’s time.
But Bart’s plans seem destined to unravel when, out of the blue, the lovely Hannah Chandler arrives at his stables claiming ownership the colt as the result of a past agreement entered into by her father and Bart’s mother. In spite of Bart’s insistence that the animal was not his mother’s to sell, Hannah will not be gainsaid – but their bickering comes to a sudden halt when they discover one of the grooms knocked unconscious and the horse and jockey missing. Foul play is suspected – and Bart and Hannah have to set aside their differences in order to retrieve it and discover who is behind the theft.
Ms Romain has clearly researched her subject well, because the level of background detail – about horse racing, betting, and breeding – is used to excellent effect and is pleasantly informative without coming across like a lesson in Horsebreeding 101. Bart is a sweet beta-hero who usually gets tongue tied around women, but who nonetheless gives the spirited Hannah as good as she gets. There are a couple of times Hannah comes across as rather too strident, but when I got to know her and realised why she behaved in that way, I found her easier to like. Both Bart and Hannah are attractive people who have found themselves on opposite sides of a family feud without quite knowing why, and who discover that they have more in common than they had previously believed. Their romance is, of necessity, quite fast-paced, but it isn’t of the “blink and you’ll miss it” type – it develops over a matter of days, but it has depth and the attraction they feel for each other is obviously very strong. The single love scene is a bit strange – involving one of those weighing machines used by the jockeys to weigh-in – and I spent far too long trying to work out the logistics before I gave up!
Apart from that, however, The Sport of Baronets is a thoroughly engaging and intelligently written novella and I’m looking forward to reading the first full-length book in the series early in 2016.