The Countess by Catherine Coulter

The Countess

Catherine Coulter

The Countess

Catherine Coulter


Chapter One

Of course I didn’t know who he was the first time I saw him. Nor did I really

care who he was?not at first. It was only three weeks after I’d buried my

grandfather. My cousin Peter, who had miraculously survived Waterloo unscathed,

except for his soul, he wrote me, had been unable to come home from Paris until

the French, who, he always said, lived in a constant state of overwrought

emotion, had accepted Louis XVIII, their rightful, albeit idiot, of a king.

At the moment, unlike the French, I didn’t feel much of anything.

Until I saw him.

I was in the park walking George?my Dandie Dinmont terrier, whom some people

believed to be ugly as a devil’s familiar on a bad day?oblivious of all the

beautifully dressed people driving around in their landaus, riding their prime

horseflesh, or simply walking, as I was. George and I were both silent, George

out of habit, as there had been little else but silence since Grandfather had

died. He was silent even when I picked up a small tree branch and threw it a

good twenty feet away for him to fetch, an activity that usually sent him

barking hysterically, leaping and bounding about until he clamped his jaws

around the wild prey he’d captured and wrestled it to the ground. He was silent

in his chase. He managed to get the branch, but it was at a cost.

The man beat him to it, picking up the branch, eyeing George, then giving my dog

a blinding smile even as he threw it a good thirty feet. He stood there, hands

on hips, watching George, again silent, run so fast his runty legs were a blur.

Instead of bringing his beloved mistress?namely me?the branch, George trotted

back to the man, tail high and wagging as steady as a metronome, and deposited

the branch at his booted feet.

“George,” I said, too loudly, “come away now. You know that you are the king of

dogs. You have the silkiest topknot in creation. God looks down upon you daily

and is very pleased. Come along. I don’t want anyone to steal you.”

“It’s true he is a magnificent animal,” the man called out, and I knew sarcasm

when it punched me in the nose. “Yes, he is blessed with an amazing presence,

but I swear I am not thinking of his abduction for a possible ransom. You know,

though, there may be some people, dolts naturally, who just might say that with

all that mustard and red hair, someone would steal him in order to blind an


“He doesn’t have mustard and red hair. Mustard on a dog is ridiculous. It’s more

a fawn and a lovely reddish-brown sort of color.” I walked to where the man

stood with my terrier. I thought George’s colors, particularly the fawn, even

though one could per haps call it, unkindly, sickly yellow, was splendid. At

least there wasn’t all that much of it, since George wasn’t even twelve inches

high and weighed only a bit over a stone. I frowned as I looked at him. His coat,

a crispy mixture of both hard and soft hairs, needed a good brushing. I hadn’t

groomed him for nearly a week. I’d been sunk too deep inside myself. I felt

guilty for ignoring him.

As for George, the little traitor looked besotted. I came down on my knees and

patted his large domed head, peeled back his silky hair, and looked him straight

in his very large and intelligent eyes. “Listen to me, you miniature ingrate. I’m

the one who feeds you, who walks you, who puts up with your snoring when you’ve

eaten too much of Cook’s rabbit stew at night. I am going to walk away now, and

I want you to come with me. Do you understand, George?”

George cocked his head at me, then turned to the man who had come down on his

knees beside me, his damned eyes all fluid and adoring. The man said, as he

tried for a disarming shrug, “Try not to be upset. You see, animals adore me. I

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