Anastasia

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Chapter 6

While Robert and Mr. Campbell galloped across the Avondale manor, Charlotte and Anastasia were content to ride at a much slower pace, as the former was afraid to go any faster than a quick trot and the latter wanted to keep as far away from Mr. Campbell as possible. Though Robert had reassured her that there was no attachment between Charlotte and Mr.Campbell, Anastasia was determined to confirm this for herself. She was trying to find a way of discreetly bringing the subject of Mr. Campbell into their conversation when Charlotte exclaimed-

"Oh, Anna, isn't James such a fine horseman?"

Anastasia, rather confused, asked, "James?"

"Why, Mr. Campbell, of course!"

"Ah," for a moment, that was all Anastasia could say. Were they already so close? The situation was worse than she thought. "You call him by his Christian name, then?"

"Well, we've been spending so much time together - it would be ridiculous not to!"

"So much time? Charlotte, you've known the man less than a week!"

Charlotte blushed. "I know, Anna, but I feel like I've known him for so much longer," she said dreamily. Anastasia groaned. Charlotte was speaking like one of the characters in those silly romance novels her mother liked to read. "Oh look, here they come." Anastasia followed her cousin's gaze until she spotted the two riders trotting towards them from a small wood nearby. Charlotte was right, Campbell was a fine horseman, though she was reluctant to admit it.

"How about a race?" Robert called as soon as they were within hearing distance. Charlotte immediately declined, but Campbell was up for it.

Then so am I, Anastasia thought before agreeing.

"Alright, first to the big oak tree at the end of this stretch? Charlotte you count us down," Robert instructed as they aligned themselves. Anastasia focused her vision on the tree, which seemed so small in the distance. She was conscious of James Campbell doing the same on her right. His beautiful black Arabian was well suited to going fast, but so was her dapple grey thoroughbred. Charlotte called 'Go!' to signal the start of the race and the three of them took off.

Anastasia urged her stallion forward, and for a brief moment she was ahead. To her annoyance, Campbell pulled out next to her a second later. Robert was somewhere behind. She glanced at Mr. Campbell and caught his eye. He smiled smugly and pushed his mare into the lead, a position he held for several seconds. They were nearly at the tree and she realised she wouldn't be able to overtake him. And then she had an idea.

"Ahhh!" she screamed, slowing her horse. Campbell immediately did so too and brought his mount back to her, concern etched across his face.

"Lady Anastasia, are you injured?" he asked. She shook her head, pretending to hold her ankle, and waited until he was beside her before digging her heels into her stallion and racing to the oak tree that marked the finish line.

"No, Mr. Campbell, it seems I only took a slight turn for a moment." She laughed, seeing his bewildered expression. It only lasted a few seconds until he came to realise her trick. He set his jaw, looking determined.

But determined to do what? Anastasia mused.

The two of them dismounted, for their horses were exhausted, and they began to walk back towards Charlotte.

"Where's Robert got to?"

James creased his brow, confused. "He can't have been that far behind. Perhaps he decided not to race."

Anastasia nodded. "He knows he could never outrun me."

Campbell turned to face her, looking sceptical. "You're rather confident."

She shrugged."It's the truth. I must say, you're the only one that has come even close to beating me on horseback."

"Is that so?" He looked thoughtful. "There he is! Grayson! What happened to you?"

Robert and Charlotte approached them, the former guiding his horse who was evidently lame.

"She tripped over a rabbit hole," he explained, indicating towards the mare's leg.

"There are rabbits here? I've never seen them. Come, Robert, we should go look for them!" Anastasia exclaimed, already handing the reins of her mount to Charlotte. Everyone broke into a fit of laughter and Anastasia coloured slightly, remembering Mr. Campbell was there too.

"I'm only joking Anna, it was a stone. I just wanted to see your reaction!" Robert said, gasping a little as he tried not to snort.

"Très amusant, Robert. In any case, we should take the horses to the stables. You'll stay to luncheon?" Anastasia asked, attempting to change the subject.

"What are we having? Rabbit?"


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