The Valentine Legacy
An Excerpt From
The Valentine Legacy
NEAR BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

MARCH 1822

SLAUGHTER COUNTY COURSE: SATURDAY RACES,

LAST RACE, ONE-HALF MILE

HE WAS GOING to lose. He didn’t want to lose, dammit,

particularly to Jessie Warfield, that obnoxious brat. He could

feel Rialto just behind him: hooves pounding firm and

steady on the black dirt, head stretched long, muscles hard

and bunched. He looked over his left shoulder. Rialto was

coming on faster than a man escaping from a woman’s bedchamber

before her husband come through the door, and the

damned five-year-old had more endurance than an energetic

man with four demanding wives.

James stretched as far as he could and pressed his face

as close as he could to Tinpin’s ear. He always talked to his

horses before and during a race to gauge their moods. Goodnatured

Tinpin was always open to James. Tinpin, like most

of his racehorses, was a fierce competitor; he had great

heart. The horse wanted to win as much as James did. The

only time he was distracted from victory was when a jockey

had slammed his riding crop on his side, sending him into

a rage. He’d nearly killed that damned jockey and lost the

race in the process.

James felt old Tinpin’s labored breathing beneath him.

The horse was more a quarter-mile sprinter than a half-miler

so Rialto had the advantage there, in both ability and ex-

perience. This was only Tinpin’s second half-mile race.

James kicked his sides, telling Tinpin over and over that he

could do it, that he could keep the lead over that miserable

little chestnut, that he could kick Rialto—named after a silly

Venetian bridge—in the dirt. He had to make his move now

or it would be too late. James promised Tinpin an extra

bucket of oats, a dollop of champagne in his water. The

horse gave a final burst of speed, but it wasn’t enough.

He lost—by only a length. Tinpin’s sides were heaving.

He was blowing hard, his neck lathered. James walked him

around, listening to the groans and cheers of the crowd. He

stroked Tinpin’s wet neck, telling him he was a brave

fighter, that he would have won if James hadn’t been riding

him. And he probably would have won, dammit, despite

James’s reputed magic with his horses. Some claimed that

James as good as carried some to his horses over the finish

line himself. Well, he hadn’t carried any horse anywhere

this day.

Actually he hadn’t even come in second after Rialto. He’d

placed third, behind another chestnut thoroughbred from the

Warfield Stables, a four-year-old named Pearl Diver who

had nosed past Tinpin at the last moment, his tail flicking

over James’s leg.

Tinpin didn’t have much bottom, but then again this

hadn’t been a four-mile flat race, it had just been a half-mile

and bottom shouldn’t have mattered. What had mattered had

been James’s extra weight. With a lighter rider on his back,

Tinpin would have won. James cursed, slapping his riding

crop against his boot.

‘‘Hey, James, you lost me ten dollars. Curse you!’’

James was leading Tinpin back to his stable lad, his head

down. He sloughed off his depression and smiled toward his

brother-in-law, Gifford Poppleton, striding toward him like

a civilized bull—short, powerful, but not an ounce of fat on

him. He liked Giff and had approved his marriage to his

sister, Ursula, the year before. ‘‘You can well afford it,

Giff,’’ he shouted back.

‘‘I can, but that’s not the point.’’ Gifford dropped into a

long, lazy stride beside him. ‘‘You tried, James, but you’re

just too damned big to be a jockey. Those other jockeys

weigh four stone less than you do. Fifty-something extra

pounds make a lot of difference.’’

‘‘Bloody damn, Giff, you’re brilliant,’’ James said, striking

a pose. ‘‘I wish I’d known. And here I thought only the

experts knew that.’’

‘‘Well, I know a lot of things,’’ Giff said, striking a pose.

‘‘I wish I’d known. And here I thought only the experts

knew that.’’

‘‘The brat weighs even less,’’ James said.

‘‘The brat? Oh, Jessie Warfield. That she does. Too bad

about poor Redcoat breaking his leg in the second race. Now

there’s a jockey. You trained him well. What does he

weigh? One hundred pounds?’’

‘‘Ninety pounds on a sunny day. Do you know how he

broke his leg? Another jockey ran him into a tree.’’

‘‘It hurt me to see it. You know, James, someone needs

to make some rules about racing. All this mayhem is ridiculous.

I read about a race in Virginia where the favored

horse was poisoned the night before the race.’’

‘‘It might be ridiculous,’’ James said, ‘‘and it might be

occasionally dangerous, but it’s fun, Giff. Leave things be.

Just be careful whom you bet with.’’

‘‘As if you cared. Hey, Oslow, how are you doing?’’

Oslow Penny was the head of James’s breeding farm. On

race days, though, he was the head stable lad who oversaw

the handling of all the horses to race at the meet. He was a

walking oral history, at least that’s what James called him.

The Maryland Jockey Club was beginning to agree. Oslow

knew the direct line back, or the tail-male, of every horse

that ran from South Carolina to New York. He also knew

every current sire and every dam and every get from every

racehorse in America and Britain.

Oslow approached them, muttering under his breath, and

gently removed Tinpin’s reins from James’s hand. He was

bowlegged, scrawny-looking, and had the most powerful

hands James had ever seen. His face was weathered and

seamed, his brown eyes as powerful with intelligence as his

hands were with strength.

He squinted through the bright afternoon sun up at Gifford’s

face. ‘‘Good afternoon, sir. I’m doing as fine as Lilly

Lou did at the Virginia High Ebb races just last week. Better

than Mr. James, that’s for sure. Aye, and how are you doin’,

boy? Winded, are you? Well, you did your best, did better

than Dour Keg, that knock-kneed creature old Wiggins still

persists in racing. Hell, I don’t even remember who his sire

was, that’s how bad he is.’’

‘‘Did you bet on Mr. James, Oslow?’’

‘‘Not I, Mr. Poppleton,’’ Oslow said, stroking a gnarled,

veiny hand over Tinpin’s neck. ‘‘I would have if Redcoat

had ridden him, poor lad, but not Mr. James. Mr. James has

just growed too big, just like Little Nell, who ate her head

off four years ago and couldn’t barely shuffle over the finish

line at the Dickey races in North Carolina, clean in last

place.’’

Gifford laughed. ‘‘You think I could have done better

than Mr. James?’’

Oslow spat just beyond Tinpin’s shoulder. ‘‘Not with that

pair of hands you got, Mr. Poppleton. Sorry, sir, but you’ve

got ham-hands, not like Mr. James, who has magic running

out the ends of his fingers into the horses.’’

‘‘Thank you, Oslow, for something,’’ James said. ‘‘Now,

Gifford, let’s go see Ursula. I don’t suppose you brought

Catherine Coulter 450

our mother with you?’’ He patted Tinpin’s neck as he

moved away.

‘‘No, thank God. She tried to talk Ursula out of coming

to this godless place.’’

James laughed. He was still grinning when he saw the

Warfield brat striding toward him, looking just like a boy,

still wearing a riding hat with her violent red hair shoved

up under it. Her face was red from the hot sun. A line of

freckles bloomed across her nose.

He didn’t want to stop, but he did. It was hard. He’d just

as soon ignore her for the rest of his days, but he was a

gentleman, dammit.

‘‘Congratulations,’’ he said, trying to unclench his teeth.

She’d beaten him often since she was knock-kneed kid of

fourteen, but he still hated it. He never got used to it.

Jessie Warfield paid no attention to Gifford Poppleton,

president of the Union Bank of Baltimore, as she came toeto-

toe with James and said, ‘‘You tried to shove me into

that ditch on the second lap.’’

A dark blond eyebrow went up. ‘‘Did I now?’’

She came up onto her tiptoes, her nose an inch from his.

‘‘You know you did. Don’t even consider lying, James. It

was close. If I weren’t such a bloody good rider, I would

have gone over the edge. But I didn’t. I came back and beat

you—beat you but good.’’

‘‘You certainly did,’’ he said easily, wanting to smack

her. Some sportsmanship. She was a female. If she were a

male, she’d know it wasn’t right to rub the loser’s nose in

his defeat. Although, he thought, when he next beat her, he

was going to rub her entire face in the dirt.

‘‘Do you know your lips are chapped? Do you know I

can count your freckles from this distance?’’ he said, then

‘‘one, two, three—goodness, there are so damned many of

them it would take me a week.’’

She backed up fast. ‘‘Don’t try it again, or I’ll take my

riding crop to you.’’ She licked her chapped lips, shook the

crop in his face, nodded to Giff, and strode off.

Gifford said, ‘‘It looked to me like you did nudge Tinpin

into her horse, James.’’

‘‘Yes, but not hard enough. I just wanted to get her attention.

It was nothing compared to what she did to me last

year at the June races in Hacklesford.’’

‘‘Well, what did she do, this fearsome girl?’’

‘‘I was crowding her just a bit, just to teach her a lesson.

She knows every dirty maneuver there is. Anyway, she

pulled her horse away just enough so she could kick out at

me. She got me directly on the leg and sent me sprawling.’’

Gifford laughed, thinking that James sure made the War-

field girl bristle something fierce. He asked even as he

watched Jessie Warfield striding away from them, her riding

crop flicking up and down, up and down, ‘‘Did she win the

race?’’

‘‘No, she came in last place. She lost her own balance

when she kicked me and reeled into another horse. The two

of them went off in a tangle. It would have been funny if I

hadn’t been rolled into a ball on the ground, trying to protect

my head from running horses.

‘‘Just look at her, Giff. She’s taller than any woman I

know, she looks men straight in the eye, and I wouldn’t

know she was a female watching her walk.’’

Giff wasn’t so sure about that, but he could understand

James’s ire. He said mildly, ‘‘She rides very well.’’

‘‘To give the brat her due, she does, dammit.’’

‘‘Who’s that with Ursula?’’

‘‘It’s another Warfield daughter. There are three in all.

The eldest and the youngest are neither one a thing like the

brat. Both of them are beautiful, stylish, and ladies, well,

perhaps not entirely, but close enough for descriptive purposes.

That’s Nelda, the eldest. She’s married to Bramen

Carlysle, the shipping baron. Come along, you can meet her.

I guess you haven’t met her because both daughters were in

Philadelphia with an aunt until just two months ago. Hell,

you were in Boston until last fall until the end of the January.’’

‘‘Bramen Carlysle? Good God, James, Carlysle’s older

than Fort McHenry. He fought in the Revolution. He was

present at Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown. He’s older

than dust. How old is this Nelda?’’

‘‘Maybe twenty-two.’’

Gifford just snorted.

Ursula wasn’t happy. She sent a look toward her husband

that offered substantial marital rewards if he would get rid

of Nelda Carlysle.

Gifford, with all the aplomb of a rich banker, which he

was, gallantly swept his hat from his head. ‘‘Mrs. Carlysle,

it’s a pleasure, ma’am, to finally meet you.’’

‘‘And you, Mr. Poppleton. Ah, James. I’m so sorry about

that last race. Jessie won but she didn’t deserve to, all the

ladies around me agreed. She’s an abomination. I’m sure

Father will speak to her about it. So unladylike of her, so

embarrassing for the rest of us.’’

‘‘I’m sure your father will speak to her, Nelda. He’ll

probably toast her with his best champagne. Ah, don’t be

embarrassed, she’s damned good. You should be singing her

praises.’’ God, he was a perverse bastard.

‘‘Surely not.’’ Nelda sighed, looking down at the toes of

her slippers. ‘‘She shouldn’t be good at such a manly pursuit.

A jockey!’’ She actually shuddered. ‘‘I vow I can’t go

to a ladies’ tea without—’’

James, who privately thought Jessie should be flogged,

said, even more perversely, ‘‘She’s an excellent horsewoman.

Surely you can be a bit more tolerant, Nelda. She’s

just different, that’s all.’’

‘‘Perhaps,’’ Nelda said, lightly touching her gloved fingers

to his forearm. ‘‘You did well in the race.’’

‘‘Not as well as two of your father’s other racehorses.’’

‘‘It’s just because you’re such a big man, James. You

haven’t come to visit me. Now that I’m an old married lady,

I am perhaps freer than I was when I wasn’t married.’’

Ursula cleared her throat. ‘‘Well, Nelda, do say hello to

Bramen. We must return home ourselves now. My mother

is staying with us until Monday.’’

His mother-in-law. Gifford would have preferred to remain

out until midnight. His mother-in-law, Wilhelmina,

knew no equal. James, in deference to his own sanity, had

moved his mother out of his house at Marathon and into a

charming redbrick town house in German Square near the

center of Baltimore some two years before. She visited Ursula

and Gifford at their home not a mile away in the elegant

four-story terrace on St. Paul Street, claiming that her own

tiny dwelling depressed her spirits from time to time. However,

she complained every minute she was in her daughter’s

house.

Nelda showed no signs of moving on. She edged closer

to James. ‘‘Surely dear Wilhelmina can wait for just a bit

longer. James, my dear husband tells me you’re going to

stay in Baltimore forever now.’’

‘‘I have no plans to return to England anytime this year,’’

James said. ‘‘Candlethorpe, my stud farm in Yorkshire, is

in good hands. Marathon, on the other hand, needs a lot of

work and attention.’’

‘‘Marathon?’’

‘‘I named my stud farm in honor of that ancient Greek

who ran his heart out getting to Athens to tell of their victory

Catherine Coulter 454

at Marathon against the Persians. If he’d only had one of

my horses, he wouldn’t have fallen down dead after he’d

given his news.’’

‘‘Oh,’’ Nelda said. ‘‘You should pick another name,

James, perhaps something more stately, more easily recognized.

Marathon sounds foreign.’’

‘‘It is foreign,’’ Ursula said. ‘‘Perhaps even nasty.’’

‘‘Oh,’’ Nelda said suddenly, waving. ‘‘There’re Alice and

Allen Belmonde. Over here, Alice!’’

James stiffened. He looked at Giff, who winked at him,

saying, ‘‘Good day, Alice. You’re looking lovely. Belmonde,’’

he added, nodding to the man who had married

Alice for her money and was now trying to spend as much

of it as Alice’s father would release, which, thankfully,

wasn’t all that much a year. He wanted to make money

racing, something, James knew, that was just about as tough

as marrying a rich girl, which he had managed to do. He’d

had one horse race today. The thoroughbred had come in

sixth out of a field of ten. He looked up when Allen Belmonde

said to him, ‘‘I want Sober John to cover one of my

mares, Sweet Susie. Your price is stiff, Wyndham, but perhaps

it’s worth it.’’

‘‘p to you,’’ James said easily, then said to Alice, ‘‘I

like your bonnet. Pink becomes you.’’

She flushed, something that she managed to do as if on

command. It quite amazed him. But he wanted to tell her it

wasn’t all that effective, at least on him. But he liked Alice,

had known her since she was born. So he just smiled when

she said, ‘‘You’re so nice to me, James, and I’m sorry you

lost, but I’m glad Jessie won. Isn’t she wonderful? I was

just telling Nelda how very much I admire Jessie. She does

exactly what she wants without being bound by all the endless

rules.’’

‘‘Rules are to keep ladies protected,’’ Allen Belmonde

said as he patted his wife’s shoulder. It wasn’t all that gentle

a pat, James saw when Alice winced. ‘‘Ladies shouldn’t

complain about rules.’’

‘‘Yes, well, Jessie will do as she pleases,’’ Ursula said.

‘‘Come along, James, we really must be leaving now. Nelda,

our regards to your husband. Alice, you and Allen enjoy the

rest of the day. We will see you in church tomorrow.’’

James grinned down at Nelda, who’d taken a step closer

to him. ‘‘I smell like a horse, so you’d best keep your distance.

If you see your father, tell him I’ll be at his stables

tonight with a bottle of his favorite claret, though I’m sure

he’s already counting on it. He can gloat all he wants.’’

‘‘You and my father still drink together?’’

‘‘Whenever I beat him, he rides to Marathon, bringing

me champagne.’’

‘‘Why then,’’ Alice said, ‘‘you should bring the claret to

Jessie. She’s the one who beat you, not her father.’’

‘‘It’s his stable,’’ James said, wishing the brat were here

so he could count her freckles again. That got her mouth

shut quickly enough.

‘‘I’ll tell my mother,’’ Nelda said. ‘‘I don’t often see Father

anymore. As for Jessie, well, why would I want to see

her? She’s so very odd, you know. I do disagree with Alice,

but she doesn’t mind that I do. Ladies need rules. It makes

civilization, well, more civilized. We do need you charming

gentlemen to protect us, to guide us, to tell us how to go

on, to—’’

‘‘That’s really enough of a list,’’ Ursula said, squeezing

her husband’s arm in impatience.

James, who thought Jessie that most unnatural of females,

said quickly, ‘‘She’s not at all odd, Nelda. And she’s your

sister.’’ He turned to Giff. ‘‘I’ll see both of you tomorrow.’’

‘‘You’ll see Mother, too,’’ Ursula said, her voice as grave

as a nun’s, her eyes as wicked as a sinner’s.

‘‘There is that,’’ James said, then gave them all a cocky

smile, and strode off through the dwindling crowd.

‘‘Well,’’ Nelda Carlysle said, all bright as the afternoon

sun overhead, ‘‘I’ll be off, then. Ursula, I do hope to see

you again soon now that we’re both married ladies. Perhaps

I can visit you in town? I’ve finally convinced Mr. Carlysle

that a nice town house on George Street would be ever so

convenient. That’s quite near to you, isn’t it?’’

‘‘Quite near,’’ Ursula said, and thought, I’ll move to Fells

Point if you come to town, Nelda. You could also be a bit

more delicate about your overtures to my poor brother. Oh

dear, that would certainly be a brangle if Nelda managed

to get her hooks into James. No, my brother would never

poach on a husband’s preserves.

Ursula and Giff watched Nelda lean down to speak to

Alice, who was just a little bit of a thing, hand on her sleeve,

then give her a brief nod. She smiled up at Allen Belmonde,

nodding pleasantly, though to Ursula’s knowledge, Nelda

couldn’t stand him.

‘‘What are you thinking, Urs?’’

‘‘What? Oh, just that Fells Point is a lovely spot.’’

‘‘Have you been there lately?’’

‘‘No, but it doesn’t matter, just believe me.’’

The Valentine Legacy

The Valentine Legacy