Jul 20 2014 11:00am
Read & Win: Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter
Get a sneak peek of Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter (available July 29, 2014), with an exclusive excerpt!
One grand-prize winner will receive a copy of the book, Fortune Hunter, notecards, and a puzzle depicting the Empress Elizabeth of Austria! Click here to enter for a chance to win the sweepstakes.*
Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as “Sisi,” is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.
Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that threatens the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and all of their futures.
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A PURCHASE DOES NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING. You must be 18 or older and a legal resident of the 50 United States or D.C., or non-Quebec Terriroties of Canada to enter. Promotion begins March 5, 2014 at 12 pm ET, and ends March 19, 2014, 11:59 am ET. Void in Puerto Rico and wherever prohibited by law. Click here for details and official rules.
And now for a special excerpt of a selected scene from The Fortune Hunter...
The stable clock started to chime, it was ten o’clock already. Bay thought of the hired chaise and wondered how long he would have to wait. The excitement he had felt on receiving her summons, boosted by Nopsca’s schnapps, had now began to subside into a feeling of giddy unease.
When, at last, he heard her voice behind him, Bay hesitated a moment before turning round. He wanted to see her face and yet he wondered what he would see there.
The Empress was smiling. She was wearing a velvet cloak with an ermine-trimmed hood over her evening dress. As he turned to look at her, she pushed back the hood and he saw the diamond stars, shining in the chestnut mass of her hair. Behind her was the Countess, sniffing audibly, her nose red from the cold.
‘I have kept you waiting.’ This was not an apology, but a statement of fact.
Bay bowed, he could think of nothing to say. The Empress turned to Countess Festetics. ‘Captain Middleton must be cold. Can you ask Nopsca to bring us something warm to drink?’ The Countess looked at her for a second and then left the stables.
The Empress looked around her for a moment and then waved a white hand towards the horses in their stalls.
‘Do you really think I need new horses, Captain Middleton?’
Bay swallowed. ‘I think, Ma’am, that you need ones that are worthy of you.’
‘Worthy? But these are the best horses in Austria.’
‘Perhaps, but they are still not good enough for you.’ Bay moved a step towards her. ‘You are the finest horsewoman I have ever seen. You should have the best.’
She moved a little to her left to stroke a horse’s muzzle, and the light from one of the stable’s sconces fell across her face and made the diamonds in her hair sparkle. She put her hand under the horse’s mouth and let the animal nuzzle at her fingers.
‘Does it matter so much? These are good horses. Perhaps I should be content with what I have.’
‘Perhaps, Ma’am. We should all be content with what we have. But you deserve perfection.’
She shook her head faintly. ‘You sound like a courtier, Captain Middleton.’
Bay felt the sting of this.
‘But I am not flattering you for the sake of some advancement. I speak the truth as I perceive it. If you dismiss what I say as flattery, then I am sorry for your sake, not mine.’
She looked up at this, pleased.
‘Well, no one from Vienna would speak to me like that. But if you are not a courtier, then why are you here?’
Bay said very quietly, ‘I think you know why.’
‘Because I am the finest horsewoman you have ever seen?’ she said.
‘I came because you asked me to.’
She smiled. ‘How very obedient. My sister would be surprised.’
Bay looked down at the straw at his feet. The two things he fancied he knew in life were horses and women. If any other woman in the world had asked to meet him in the stables, alone, at night, he would have been in no doubt as to what was expected of him. At some point he would put his hand on the woman’s waist and it would begin. Here, though, any such action seemed impossible. The Empress was not like any other woman. There was her position, of course, her husband the Emperor, as well as the cavalieri serventi, but it was not just her rank and status that made him uncertain. He had not seen that slackening, the wide-eyed stare that told him when a woman wanted to be touched.
‘Tell me something,’ the Empress said. ‘Why do they call you Bay?’
He looked up. ‘It was the name of a Grand National winner that came in at odds of a hundred to one. After the race my friends started calling me Bay. I suppose they think I am a lucky man.’
‘And are you?’
‘Sometimes. With a good horse and a clear field I feel as lucky as any man in the kingdom.’
‘And now? Are you lucky now, Bay Middleton?’
She was looking straight at him and Bay stared at her, searching for permission in her face for what he wanted to do. She was standing just out of arm’s length. To kiss her he would need to step forward. But to move towards her now would make his intentions quite clear – if she recoiled he would not be able to pretend that he had meant nothing by his actions. He wanted to act, to end the uncertainty, to bring that cool, pale face next to his, and yet he knew that if he did, he was lost.
‘Lucky and unlucky,' he said slowly.
She shook her head. ‘That is a courtier’s answer. I want to know, what does Bay Middleton make of his current situation?’
As she spoke, the horse behind her gave an enormous snort and flicked its tail out of the box, swiping the Empress’s sleeve. She started forward in surprise and Bay put out his hand to steady her. His hand touched the smooth white skin of her shoulder and before he could think about what he was doing, he was putting his hands behind her head and pressing his mouth to hers. For a moment she was rigid and then he felt her hand on the back of his neck. Her kiss was like a sigh. Bay could smell violets, brandy and the faint musk of her hair. Her head felt heavy in his hands. Behind them the horse whinnied.
At last she pulled away and turned her head to the side. Bay could not see the expression on her face. He took one of her hands in his and said in a low, urgent voice, ‘I have taken a liberty. You must forgive me. It was a moment’s madness. You are so beautiful and so near. I could not resist.’
She smiled and put a finger against his lips.
‘There is nothing to say . . .'
For more Fortune Hunter, listen to a special clip from the chapter “On the Chocolate Side”:
Copyright © 2014 by Daisy Goodwin.
Learn more about or order a copy of The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin, available July 29, 2014:
DAISY GOODWIN, a Harkness scholar who attended Columbia University’s film school after earning a degree in history at Cambridge University, is a leading television producer in the United Kingdom. She is also a book reviewer for London's The Times and was chair of the judging panel of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. The Fortune Hunter is Daisy's second novel, following the New York Times bestseller The American Heiress.