“I will love you all my life and even beyond that.”
Even at fifteen, Jeanne, the privileged daughter of a royalist émigré, knew what she liked: Englishman Robert Blake, bastard son of a marquess. Yet his questionable birth rendered him forbidden. Forced to part, they were still young enough to believe in tomorrow. But as time passed, that brief ephemeral flirtation at Haddington Hall faded into memory.
Eleven years later in Portugal, during the Peninsular Wars, they meet again, both of them spies, and destined to be working on opposing sides. He is now a captain with the British army. She is the widowed Marquesa das Minas—sometimes going by the name Joana da Fonte. However for only one of them does the flicker of recognition still burn.
Amid the fury of war and in the shadow of secrets, passion flares once again. But for Joana and Robert, each entrusted to a dangerous mission that demands deception, falling in love could be the most dangerous risk of all.
|Edition description:||Large Print|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Beyond the Sunrise, first published in 1992, is very special to me. I had already written almost thirty Regency romances, character-driven comedies of manners, all set in England. I was comfortable in the genre. But then I had an idea for something a bit different, something that would involve the Napoleonic Wars. I had been doing research into the Peninsular Wars in Spain and Portugal, and I was hooked.
The story is set in the same era as most of my others, and it begins in England when the hero and heroine first meet as young teenagers and enjoy a sweet romance before they are forced apart—she is the daughter of an exiled French count while he is the illegitimate son of an earl. But the story then moves to Portugal a number of years later. Robert Blake is now a tough, seasoned captain of an infantry regiment and an occasional spy under direct orders from the future Duke of Wellington. Joana da Fonte (formerly Jeanne Morisette) is the widow of a Portuguese nobleman and also a spy—something for which her French background makes her a prime candidate.
The story involves spying, intrigue, revenge, and betrayal, and it is the most action-packed of my books. I absolutely loved writing it, even though it took me well outside my comfort zone. It is character-driven and tells a passionate love story, just as all my books do, but it is a great deal more than just that, and I am delighted to see it being published again so many years later.
I do hope you will enjoy reading it in this lovely new edition, whether it be for the first time or as a reread from many years ago.
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF MARY BALOGH
ALSO BY MARY BALOGH
THE entertainment in progress at Haddington Hall in Sussex, country seat of the Marquess of Quesnay, could not exactly be dignified by the name of ball, though there was dancing, and the sounds of music and gaiety were wafting from the open windows of the main drawing room. It was a country entertainment and the numbers not large, there being only two guests staying at the house at that particular time to swell the ranks of the local gentry.
It was not a ball, but the boy sitting out of sight of the house on the seat surrounding the great marble fountain below the terrace wished that he was inside and a part of it all. He wished that reality could be suspended and that he could be there dancing with her, the dark-haired, dark-eyed young daughter of his father’s guest. Or at least looking at her and perhaps talking with her. Perhaps fetching her a glass of lemonade. He wished . . . oh, he wished for the moon, as he always did. A dreamer—that was what his mother had often called him.
But there were two insurmountable reasons for his exclusion from the assembly: he was only seventeen years old, and he was the marquess’s illegitimate son. That last fact had had particular meaning to him only during the past year and a half, since the sudden death of his mother. Through his childhood and much of his boyhood, it had seemed a normal way of life to have a father who visited him and his mother frequently but did not live with them, and a father who had a wife in the big house though no other children but him.
It was only in the year and a half since his mother’s death that the reality of his situation had become fully apparent to him. He had been a fifteen-year-old boy without a home and with a father who had financed his mother’s home but had never been a permanent part of it. His father had taken him to live in the big house. But he had felt all the awkwardness of his situation since moving there. He was not a member of the family—his father’s wife, the marchioness, hated him and ignored his presence whenever she was forced to be in it. But he was not one of the servants either, of course.
It was only in the past year and a half that his father had begun to talk about his future and that the boy had realized that his illegitimacy made of that future a tricky business. The marquess would buy him a commission in the army when he was eighteen, he had decided, but it would have to be with a line regiment and not with the cavalry—certainly not with the Guards. That would never do when the ranks of the Guards were filled with the sons of the nobility and upper gentry. The legitimate sons, that was.
He was his father’s only son, but illegitimate.
“You are not at the ball?” a softlittle voice asked him suddenly, and he looked up to see the very reason why he had so wished to be in the drawing room—Jeanne Morisette, daughter of the Comte de Levisse, a royalist émigré who had fled from France during the Reign of Terror and lived in England ever since.
He felt his heart thump. He had never been close to her before, had never exchanged a word with her. He shrugged. “I don’t want to be,” he said. “It is not a ball anyway.”
She sat down beside him, slender in a light-colored flimsy gown—he could not see the exact color in the darkness—her hair in myriad ringlets about her head, her eyes large and luminous in the moonlight. “But I wish I could be there even so,” she said. “I thought I might be allowed to attend since it is just a country entertainment. But Papa said no. He said that fifteen is too young to be dancing with gentlemen. It is tiresome being young, is it not?”
Ah. So she had not been with the company after all. He had tortured himself for nothing. He shrugged again. “I am not so young,” he said. “I am seventeen.”
She sighed. “When I am seventeen,” she said, “I shall dance every night and go to the theater and on picnics. I shall do just whatever I please when I am grown up.”
Her face was bright and eager and she was prettier than any other girl he had seen. He had taken every opportunity during the past week to catch glimpses of her. She was like a bright little jewel, quite beyond his reach, of course, but lovely to look at and to dream of.
“Papa is going to take me back to France as soon as it is safe to go,” she said with a sigh. “Everything seems to be settling down under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte. If it continues so, perhaps we will be able to return, Papa says. He says there is no point in continuing to dream of the return of a king.”
“So you may do your dancing in Paris,” he said.
“Yes.” Her eyes were dreamy. “But I would just as soon stay in London. I know England better than I know France. I even speak English better than I speak French. I would prefer to belong here.”
But there was a trace of a French accent in her voice. It was one more attractive feature about her. He liked to listen to her talk.
“You are the marquess’s son, are you not?” she asked him. “But you do not have his name?”
“I have my mother’s name,” he said. “She died the winter before last.”
“Ah,” she said, “that is sad. My mother is dead too, but I do not remember her. I have always been with Papa for as long as I recall. What is your name?”
“Robert,” he said.
“Robert.” She gave his name its French intonation and then smiled and said it again with its English pronunciation. “Robert, dance with me. Do you dance?”
“My mother taught me,” he said. “Out here? How can we dance out here?”
“Easily,” she said, jumping lightly to her feet and stretching out a slim hand to him. “The music is quite loud enough.”
“But you will hurt your feet on the stones,” he said, looking down at her thin silk slippers as she led the way up onto the terrace.
She laughed. “I think, Robert, that you are looking for excuses,” she said. “I think that your mother did not teach you at all, or that if she did, you were unteachable. I think perhaps you have two left feet.” She laughed again.
“That is not so,” he said indignantly. “If you wish to dance, then dance we will.”
“That is a very grudging acceptance,” she said. “You are supposed to be thrilled to dance with me. You are supposed to make me feel that there is nothing you wish for more in life than to dance with me. But no matter. Let us dance.”
He knew very little about women’s teasing. It was true that Mollie Lumsden, one of his father’s undermaids, frequently put herself in his way and showed herself to him in provocative poses, most frequently bent over his bed as she made it up in the mornings. It was true too that on the one occasion when he had tried to steal a kiss she had whisked herself off with a toss of the head and an assurance that her favors did not come free. But there was a world of difference between the buxom Mollie and Jeanne Morisette.
They danced a minuet, the moon bathing the cobbles of the terrace in a mellow light, both of them silent and concentrating on the distant music and their steps—although his attention was not entirely on just those two things either. His eyes were on the slender moonlit form of the girl with whom he danced. Her hand in his was warm and slim and soft. He thought that life might never have a finer moment to offer him.
“You are very tall,” she said as the music drew to an end.
He was close to six feet in height. Unfortunately his growing had all been done upward. To say that he was thin would be to understate the case. He hated to look at himself in a looking glass. He longed to be a handsome, muscular man and wondered if he ever would be anything more than gangly and ugly.
“And you have lovely blond hair,” she said. “I have noticed you all week and wished that I had hair that waved like yours.” She laughed lightly. “I am glad you do not wear it short. It would be such a waste.”
He was dazzled. He was still holding her soft little hand in his.
“I am supposed to be in my room,” she said. “Papa would have forty fits if he knew I was out here.”
“You are quite safe,” he said. “I shall see that no harm comes to you.”
She looked up at him from beneath her lashes, an imp of mischief in her eyes. “You may kiss me if you wish,” she said.
His eyes widened. What Mollie had denied, Jeanne Morisette would grant? But how could he kiss her? He knew nothing about kissing.
“Of course,” she said, “if you do not wish to, I shall return to the house. Perhaps you are afraid.”
He was. Mortally afraid. “Of course I am not afraid,” he said scornfully. And he set his hands at her waist— they almost met about it—and lowered his head and kissed her. He kissed her as he had always kissed his mother on the cheek—though he kissed Jeanne on the lips—briefly and with a smacking sound.
She was all softness and subtle fragrance. And her hands were on his shoulders, her thumbs against the skin of his neck. Her dark eyes looked inquiringly into his. He swallowed and knew that his bobbing Adam’s apple would reveal his nervousness.
“And of course I wish to,” he said, and he lowered his head and laid his lips against hers again, keeping them there for a few self-indulgent moments and noting with shock the unfamiliar effects of the embrace on his body— the breathlessness, the rush of heat, the tightening in his groin. He lifted his head.
“Oh, Robert,” she said with a sigh, “you can have no idea how tiresome it is to be fifteen. Or can you? Do you remember what it was like? Though it is entirely different for a boy, of course. I am still expected to behave like a child, when I am not a child. I must be quiet and prim, and welcome the company of your father and mother—no, the marchioness is not your mother, is she?—and of my own papa. And I am to be denied the company of the young people who are at present dancing and enjoying themselves in the drawing room. How will I endure it here for another whole week?”
He wished he could pluck some stars from the sky and lay them at her feet. He wished that the music would continue for a week so that he could dance with her and kiss her and help see her to the end of the boredom of an unwelcome visit to the country.
“I will be here too,” he said with a shrug,
She looked up at him eagerly—the top of her head reached barely to his shoulder. “Yes,” she said. “I shall steal away and spend time with you, Robert. It will be fun and my maid is very easy to escape. She is lazy, but I never complain to Papa because sometimes it is an advantage to have a lazy maid.” She laughed her light infectious laugh. “You are very handsome. Will you take me to the ruins tomorrow? We went there two days ago, but the marchioness would not let me explore them lest I hurt myself. All I could do was look and listen to your father tell the history of the old castle.”
“I will take you,” he said. But he noted the fact that she had spoken of stealing awayto be with him. And of course she was right. It was not at all the thing for the two of them even to have met. They certainly should never have talked or danced. Or kissed. There would be all hell to pay if he were caught taking her to the ruins. He should explain that to her more clearly. But he was seventeen years old, and the realities of life were new to him. He still thought it possible to fight against them, or at least to ignore them.
“Will you?” she asked eagerly, clasping her hands to her slender, budding bosom. “After luncheon? I shall go to my room for a rest, as the marchioness is always urging me to do. Where shall I meet you?”
“The other side of the stables,” he said, pointing. “It is almost a mile to the ruins. Will you be able to walk that far?”
“Of course I can walk there,” she said scornfully. “And climb. I want to climb up the tower.”
“It is dangerous,” he said. “Some of the stairs have crumbled away.”
“But you have climbed it, have you not?” she said.
“Then I shall climb it too,” she said. “Is there a good view from the top?”
“You can see to the village and beyond,” he said.
The music was playing a quadrille in the drawing room.
“Tomorrow,” she said. “After luncheon. At last there will be a day to look forward to. Good night, Robert.”
She held out one slim hand to him. He took it and realized in some confusion that she meant him to kiss it. He raised it to his lips and felt foolish and flattered and wonderful.
“Good night, Miss Morisette,” he said.
She laughed up at him. “You are a courtier after all,” she said. “You have just made me feel at least eighteen years old. It is Jeanne, Robert. Jeanne the French way and Robert the English way.”
“Good night, Jeanne,” he said, and he was glad of the darkness, which hid his blushes.
She turned and tripped lightly over the cobbles of the terrace and around to the side of the house. She had, he realized, come out through the servants’ entrance and was returning the same way. He wondered if she had come out merely for the fresh air or if she had seen him from an upstairs window. The window of her bedchamber overlooked the terrace and the fountain.
He liked to believe that it was his presence out there that had drawn her. She had called him tall. She had not commented on his thinness, only on his height. And she had called the blondness of his hair lovely and had approved of the fact that he liked to wear it overlong. She had called him handsome—very handsome. And she had asked him to kiss her. She had asked him to take her to the ruins the next day. She had said that at last there would be a day to look forward to.
He was no longer merely attracted to her slim dark beauty, he realized, the sounds of music and gaiety from the drawing room forgotten. He was deeply, irrevocably in love with Jeanne Morisette.
* * *
She had caught sight of him several times since her arrival at Haddington Hall, though she had not been formally introduced to him, of course. Her father had explained to her that he was the bastard son of the marquess and that really it was not at all respectable for him to be living at the house. It must be very distressing for the marchioness, her papa had said, especially since the poor woman was apparently barren and had been unable to present the marquess with any legitimate heirs or even any daughters.
Jeanne did not care about the fact that he should not be there at the house. She was glad that he was, and only sorry that it was not possible to be openly friendly with him. She had not met many boys or young men during her life, having had a sheltered upbringing with her father and having been sent to a school where she and her fellow pupils were kept strictly from the wicked male world beyond their walls.
In her boredom and loneliness at Haddington Hall, she had watched him covertly whenever she had had a chance, most notably from the window of her bedchamber. And she had quite fallen in love with his lean and boyish figure and his longish blond hair.
On the night of the ball—though both her father and the marchioness had tried to console her by assuring her that it was not really a ball—she had stood moodily at the window of her room and seen him, at first on the terrace and then disappearing to the far side of the fountain and not reappearing. He must be sitting on the seat there. She had already dismissed her maid for the night. Her breath had come fast and excitement had bubbled in her as she felt the temptation to slip downstairs and outdoors unseen to talk with him.
She had given in to temptation.
She had been dazzled. She had not realized quite how tall he was or how handsome his face with its aquiline nose and firm jaw and very direct eyes. He was seventeen years old, a young man, not the boy she had at first taken him for.
He was the first man she had danced with apart from her dancing master at school, and he was the first man to kiss her, not just that first time in the way her father might have kissed her, but the second time, when his lips had lingered on hers and she had felt delightfully wicked right down to her toes.
She was in love with him before she had finished running lightly upstairs to her room and before she had closed her door behind her and leaned back against it, her eyes closed, and tried to remember just exactly how his mouth had felt. And then she opened her eyes and raced to the window and drew back again half behind the heavy velvet curtains so that she could watch him wander up and down the terrace without herself being seen. But she need not have worried—he did not look up.
She was in love with him—with a tall and slender blond god who was all of seventeen years old. And who had the added attraction of being forbidden fruit.
They had four days together—four afternoons when she was dutifully resting in her room as far as her father and the marquess and marchioness knew. They went to the ruined castle on the first day and he climbed the winding stone stairs of the tower ahead of her, turning frequently to point out to her a chipped or crumbled stair where she would have to set her feet carefully. She was more frightened than she would admit and almost squealed with terror when they came out into daylight at the top and she discovered that the parapet had quite fallen away so that there was nothing to protect them from the seemingly endless drop to the grass and ruins below. But she merely shook out her hair—she had disdained to wear a bonnet—and looked boldly about her.
“It is magnificent,” she said, stretching out her arms to the sides. “How wonderful it must have been, Robert, to be the lady of such a castle and to have watched from the battlements for her knight to come riding home.”
“After an absence of seven years or more, doubtless,” he said.
She laughed. “What an unromantic thing to say,” she said. “Anyway, I would not have let him go alone. I would have ridden with him and shared all the discomforts and dangers of the military life with him.”
“You would not have been able to do it,” he said. “You are a woman.”
“Because it would not have been allowed?” she said. “Or because I would not be able to stand the hardships? I would too. I would not care about having to sleep on the hard ground and all that. And as to not being allowed, I should cut off my hair and ride out as my knight’s squire. No one would even know that I was a woman. I would not complain, you see.”
He laughed and she discovered that white teeth and merry blue eyes made him even more handsome in the daylight than he had been in the moonlight the evening before.
She invited him to kiss her again when they reached the bottom. Indeed, she had found coming down to be a far greater ordeal than going up had been. She was glad of an excuse to lean back against a solid wall and to rest her arms along his reassuringly sturdy shoulders. He felt strong despite his leanness.
His arms slid about her waist as his lips rested against hers and her arms wrapped themselves about his neck. She tried pouting her lips against his and felt their pressure increase. She was being kissed by a man, she told herself, by a tall and handsome young man. And she was in love with him. It felt wonderful to be in love.
“I will have to go back,” she said, “or they will be sending up to my room to see why I am sleeping so long.”
“Yes,” he said making no attempt to delay her. “I will take you back as far as the stables.”
For the three afternoons following, they walked—across fields, among the woods, beside the lake a mile distant from the house in the opposite direction from the old castle. The weather was their friend. The sun shone each day from a blue sky, and if there were any clouds, they were small and white and fluffy and merely brought brief moments of welcome shade. They walked with fingers entwined and they talked to each other, sharing thoughts and dreams they had confided to no one before.
His father wanted to buy him a commission in the army when he was eighteen, he told her. But it was not a life he looked forward to. For as long as he had lived with his mother he had assumed that he would always live quietly in the country. It was the kind of life he loved. But he must do something. He realized that. He could not continue to live at Haddington Hall indefinitely, and he was not, of course, his father’s heir.
“But I have no wish to be an officer,” he told her. “I don’t think I could stomach killing anyone.”
She told him that her mother had been English, that her grandparents, the Viscount and Viscountess Kingsley, still lived in Yorkshire. But her papa had allowed her to visit them only twice in all the years they had been in England. Her father wanted her to be French and to live in France. But she wanted to be English and to live in England, she told Robert with a sigh. She wished she did not belong to two countries. It made life complicated.
She told him again of her dream of being old enough to attend balls and theater parties, of meeting and mingling with other young people. Except that the dream did not seem quite so important during those days. She was living a dream more wonderful than any she had ever imagined.
They lay side by side on a shaded bank of the lake during the fourth afternoon, their arms about each other, kissing, smiling at each other, gazing into each other’s eyes. He touched her small breasts lightly and she felt her cheeks flaming, though she did not withdraw her eyes from his or make any protest. His hand felt good there, and right. And then he rested his hand against her waist. It felt warm through the cotton of her chess.
“Robert,” she said, “I love you.”
And she loved the way he had of smiling with his eyes before the smile touched his lips.
“Do you love me?” she asked him. “Tell me that you do.”
“I love you,” he said.
“I am going to marry you,” she said. “Papa will not like it, I know, but if he will not give his consent, I will elope with you.”
He smiled slowly again. “It can never be, Jeanne. You know that,” he said gently. “Let’s not spoil these few days by dreaming of the impossible. Let’s enjoy them.”
“It can be,” she said, wrapping her arm about his lean waist and moving closer against him. “Oh, not yet, of course. I am too young. But when I am seventeen or eighteen and have not changed my mind, Papa will see that I can be happy with no one but you and he will give his consent. And if he does not, then I shall follow the drum with you. I shall ride to war with my knight.”
“Jeanne,” he said, kissing her mouth and her eyes one by one. “Jeanne.”
“Say you will marry me,” she said. “Say you want to. You do want to marry me, Robert?”
“I will love you all my life and even beyond that,” he said. “You will always be my only love.”
“But that is not what I asked you,” she said.
“Sh.” He kissed her again. “We must go back home. We have been away longer than usual. I don’t want you to be missed.”
“Tomorrow,” she said, smiling at him as he got to his feet and reached down a hand to help her up. “Tomorrow I shall get you to admit it, Robert. I always get what I want, you know.”
“Always?” he said.
“Always.” She brushed the grass from her dress and peeped up at him from beneath her eyelashes. He looked adorably handsome with his hair disheveled from the ground.
“I shall come for you on a white charger on your eighteenth birthday, then,” he said, “and we will ride off into the sunset—no, the sunrise; the sunrise would be better—and marry and have a dozen children and live happily ever after. Are you satisfied now?”
She stood on tiptoe, kissed his cheek, and smiled dazzlingly at him. “Utterly,” she said. “I have heard what I want to hear. I told you that I always get what I want, you see.” She laughed merrily. She thought that she had never been so happy in her life, though she knew it was a happiness for the present only. She knew as well as he that they would never marry, that after that particular week was past they would probably never meet again.
But she would always love him, she believed with all the passion of her fifteen years. He was her first love and he would be her last. She would never love another man as she loved Robert.
JEANNE’S happiness lasted for an even shorter time than she had expected. She had hoped for three more days. Three more brief days out of eternity. But she was granted only half an hour longer. Her father was waiting for her in her bedchamber when she returned.
“Jeanne? Where have you been?” he asked her in the French he always spoke when they were alone.
She switched to his language. “Out walking,” she said, smiling at him. “It is such a beautiful afternoon.”
“Alone?” he asked.
Her smile broadened. “Madge does not like walking,” she said. “I did not insist that she accompany me.”
“Three would have been a crowd,” he said, not returning her smile.
She looked at him warily.
“He is a bastard, Jeanne,” her father said sternly. “He should not even be housed beneath the same roof as decent people. I would have thought twice about accepting the marquess’s invitation here had I known that you would be subjected to such an indignity. I believe he keeps the boy here only to taunt his wife with her barrenness. You have been meeting him every afternoon while you have been ‘resting’?”
“Yes,” she admitted defiantly. “He is fun to be with, Papa, and there are no other young people here for me. You would not allow me to attend the assembly although I am fifteen years old.”
“Has he touched you?” the count asked, his voice cold and tight.
Jeanne could feel the color drain from her cheeks as she remembered the kisses she had shared with Robert on several occasions and his touching her breasts that afternoon.
“Has he touched you?” her father repeated harshly.
“He has kissed me,” she admitted.
“Kissed you? Is that all? Tell me!” The count took her none too gently by one arm.
“Yes,” she said, feeling guilty about the lie. “That is all.” How could she tell her father that Robert had touched her where no one had touched her since she had begun to blossom into a woman?
He shook her roughly by the one arm. “Fool!” he said. “Madge must go, I see. I must find someone else to look to your virtue, since you cannot seem to look to it yourself. Do you not realize how he must be gloating, girl? Do you not realize how he must be laughing with the servants at his conquest of you?”
She shook her head. “No, Papa,” she said. “He loves me. He is not like that.”
“And I suppose you love him too and have told him so,” he said.
“Yes.” Her chin rose stubbornly. “And I have told him that I will marry him when I am eighteen.”
Her father laughed harshly. “Then I will have to be in my grave first,” he said. “You will not be marrying anyone’s bastard, Jeanne. Or anyone English if I can help it. And if you must know the truth, then I will tell you that I learned of your movements for the past afternoons from a stablehand to whom the bastard has been boasting of his conquests and of his plans to completely ruin you before you leave here.”
“No,” she said. “You are making that up, Papa. That is not true. Robert would not do that.”
“You call me a liar, then?” he said coldly. “He would take your honor and then laugh in the face of the French bitch who thought herself so much better than he—his very words, Jeanne, spoken to the stablehand and doubtless to all the other servants too. His very words—the French bitch.”
“No.” She shook her head.
“Who first mentioned marriage?” he asked. “Which one of you?”
“I did,” she said. “I wanted him to know that I was willing to marry him no matter what.”
“And he agreed?” her father asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Eventually.”
“Ah,” he said. “Eventually. And did he tell you he loved you before you told him?”
“No,” she said, “but he said it immediately after me.”
“Jeanne,” he said harshly, “you are a green girl. Love and marriage have no part in the plans of such a man. Only revenge on those more respectable than he. You are ‘the French bitch’ to him. Do you think I will ever forget or forgive those words? I would thrash him within an inch of his life if I were not a guest in his father’s house. As it is, I will have a word with the marquess. Respectable people are not safe around such a boy.”
“No,” she said. “Please, Papa, say nothing. I would not wish to get him into trouble.”
“You will stay in this room,” he said. “I shall say you are indisposed. You are not to leave under any circumstances without my permission. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Papa,” she said.
But she would not believe any of those things he had said, she thought after he had left. He had said them to turn her against Robert, whom he would of course consider ineligible. She would believe none of it. Robert loved her. Robert wished to marry her even if he had realized all along, as she had, that they would never be able to marry. She would not believe her father.
But in the silence of her room during the ensuing hours she could not help remembering that he had not said that he loved her until she had said the words first and begged him to say them too, and that he had avoided several times telling her that he wished to marry her. She remembered the fact that his kisses had become more prolonged and more ardent each day and that he had touched her breasts that afternoon.
How much further had he planned to go in the three remaining days before she and her father were to leave Haddington Hall? If he had planned ahead, of course. Or had all his words and actions been spontaneous, as she had believed all along? But she recalled his saying that they should not think of impossibilities but enjoy the days that remained to them. Enjoy? How?
And those words stuck in her mind, the words by which he had reputedly described her to a stablehand. The French bitch. Was it possible? But would Papa have made up such words? Or would the stablehand have made them up and repeated them to her father if they were not true?
Doubt and anguish and youth gnawed at her through the endless remainder of the day and the sleepless night that followed. Mostly it was youth. She was fifteen years old, she reminded herself. She knew nothing about men, except for the fact that the teachers at her school had always emphasized their wickedness and their eagerness to prey upon a young lady’s innocence. Papa, on the other hand, had lived in several different countries and had been a diplomat for years before fleeing to England during the Terror. Papa knew far more about life than she. And he loved her. He had always told her that, and she had no reason to doubt him.
She had been made a fool of—because she was fifteen and eager to be a woman and to be loved and appreciated.
Robert was seventeen, a man already. How he must have been laughing at her. How he must have been enjoying the free favors she had been handing him. How he must have been looking forward to the remaining three days, when distress over their impending parting would have made her a great deal freer with her favors. Oh, yes, he would have enjoyed those days.
And how she hated him!
Perhaps she was only fifteen, she thought finally. But she had done a deal of growing up within a few hours. She would never fall in love again. She would never allow any man to have any power whatsoever over her again. She would learn how to have that power herself, and how to wield it too. If there were any more fools to be made, it would be the men in her life who would be at the receiving end.
* * *
Robert loved the early morning. Most days, unless it was raining too hard, he rode for miles, enjoying the sense of freedom and solitude. He did not like being at the house, where there was always the chance that he would come face-to-face with his father’s wife. Even his father’s company made him uncomfortable now that they no longer met in the familiar surroundings of his mother’s cottage just beyond the boundaries of Haddington. His father no longer seemed like the same cheerful and indulgent papa who had used to bring him presents and play with him and sit sometimes talking with him while Mama sat on his lap.
Robert was returning from his morning ride the day after he had kissed Jeanne at the lake and promised to ride off with her on a white charger on her eighteenth birthday. He smiled at the memory, though the smile was somewhat rueful. There were only three afternoons left and then he would see her no more. He would love her all his life, but he would never see her again once she left Haddington. Her father was talking about returning to France when they could, she had said. And even if that were not so, there was no possibility of a future for them. None whatsoever.
Once again the reality of his situation as an illegitimate son stabbed home. And yet he was growing to manhood. Reality had to be faced and accepted. There was no point in raging against it.
There was a carriage drawn up on the terrace before the house, he saw as he neared the stables. The Comte de Levisse’s carriage. He frowned as he swung down from the saddle and hailed a passing groom.
“The count is going somewhere?” he asked.
“Leaving,” the groom said. “Grumbling, his coachman was about it, Master Robert. Likes the tavern at the village here, he does. But the orders were given last night.”
Leaving! The bottom felt rather as if it had fallen out of Robert’s stomach as he handed the reins of his horse absently to the groom—he usually looked after his own mount—and strode in the direction of the terrace.
But he halted at the corner of the house. Both his father and the marchioness were outside bidding farewell to the count and Jeanne. The latter was dressed in a dark green traveling dress and bonnet and looked slender and very young in company with the three adults. And very beautiful. He knew now that her dark hair was more brown than black, that her dark eyes were gray, not brown. He knew a great deal more about her than he had known the night of the ball.
But though he stood quite still and was some distance away, she saw him as she turned toward the open door of the carriage. She hesitated for a moment and then hurried toward him. Her father stretched out a hand toward her but then dropped it to his side and watched.
Robert said nothing. Why ask her if she was leaving? Obviously she was leaving. He looked at her in anguish. Even a private good-bye was to be denied them.
“Robert.” She smiled brightly. “How glad I am that I have seen you before I leave. I wish to say good-bye.”
He swallowed. Unlike her, he did not have his back to the three watching adults and the servants. He felt very exposed to public view.
“I want to thank you for four lovely afternoons and for the dance on the terrace,” she said, her voice light and teasing. She was looking up at him from beneath her lashes.
“I need no thanks,” he said. He found it difficult to get the words beyond his teeth. “Jeanne.” He whispered her name.
“Oh, but you do.” She smiled dazzlingly. “The days would have been so very dull if I could not have amused myself with you.”
She was out of earshot of the people on the terrace and she had her back to them. She did not need to act a part.
“Jeanne,” he said again.
“Why are you looking so sad?” she asked. “We are leaving early, is that it? But I asked Papa to take me back to London because life is so dull here. Oh, Robert, you are not feeling sad, are you? You did not take those kisses seriously, and all that foolish talk about love and marriage?”
He looked at her and swallowed again.
“Oh, poor Robert.” Her eyes fell to his Adam’s apple, and he felt overtall and gangly again. She laughed merrily. “You did, did you not? How foolish and rustic of you. You did not think I would seriously fall in love and consider marriage with a bastard, did you? Did you, Robert?”
He merely looked at her as her eyes swept up to meet his again.
“Oh, poor Robert,” she said again, and her laugh tinkled about him like broken glass. “How droll. The bastard and the daughter of a French count. It would make a wonderful farce, don’t you think? Papa is waiting. Good-bye.” She held out a gloved hand to him.
He ignored it. He did not even see it. He did not see her even though he looked directly into her eyes. He felt only the blinding hurt of a reality that he had thought he was growing accustomed to.
She shrugged and turned from him. And two minutes later her father’s carriage was bearing her away from Haddington Hall. Robert had not moved. He had not noticed the approach of one of his father’s servants.
“His lordship would have you wait upon him in the library immediately, Master Robert,” the servant said.
Robert looked at the man and made no reply. But he began to move along the now-deserted terrace.
* * *
“And so you see why they decided to cut their visit short by three days,” the marquess was saying to his son. He was reclining in a deep leather chair behind the oak desk in the library, his elbows on the arms, his fingers steepled beneath his chin. His son was standing before the desk. “It is an embarrassment to me and a disappointment to her ladyship.”
Robert said nothing. He looked steadily back.
“She is a pretty and alluring little thing,” the marquess said with a laugh. “I can hardly blame you for having an eye to her, boy. And she must be a hot little piece to go off secretly with you as she did for several afternoons. French, you know. They are usually hot to handle. But she is not for the likes of you, Robert.”
No, obviously not. He had not needed to be told that.
“You are seventeen,” the marquess said with a chuckle. “Ready for a woman, are you, boy? It would be strange if you were not. You haven’t had one yet? No rolls in the hay with a willing wench? I have been neglecting your education, it seems. Name the wench you want and I shall buy her for you. But there are limits, Robert.” He laughed heartily. “You cannot aspire to a respectable woman, you know. Not above a certain class, anyway. You are my bastard, after all. That must not be forgotten, lad, despite who I am.”
No, he would not forget it.
“Your mother was my mistress, not my wife,” the marquess said. “You understand the difference, boy?”
“Yes.” It was one of the few words he had spoken during the interview.
“I loved her,” the marquess said, his joviality deserting him for a moment. “She was a good woman, boy, and don’t you forget it even is she was a fallen woman.”
She was his mother. He had loved her too. And he had never doubted her goodness. Or thought about the fact that she was not respectable.
“But I had to marry within my own class,” the marquess said with a shrug. “And so you were born a bastard. My only child. Fate can deal strange tricks, eh? Now, what woman do you fancy?”
“I don’t,” Robert said. “I don’t want a woman.”
His father threw back his head and laughed. “Then you must be no son of mine,” he said. “Did your mother play me false after all? Come now, lad, you are not going to be moping over a little bit of French skirt, are you?”
“No,” Robert said.
“Well.” His father shrugged. “When you are hot for a wench, boy, come and tell me. Though you are a handsome enough lad, or will be when you have a little meat on your bones. Perhaps you can entice your own wenches into the hay. You are a restless boy, aren’t you? Out riding or walking at all hours of the day.”
“I like the outdoors,” Robert said.
“Perhaps you need more to occupy you,” the marquess said. “Perhaps I should purchase that commission for you before your eighteenth birthday. What do you say? Her ladyship would be glad enough to be rid of you.” He chuckled again. “The sight of you is a constant reproach to her. And no one would be able to say that I had not done handsomely by my bastard, would they now?”
“I have never shirked responsibility for you anyway, lad,” his father said heartily. “Even though you look as unlike me as you could. It is a good thing that your mother had your blond and wavy hair and blue eyes, is it not? But I never denied you, Robert, and I’ll not do it now. You can boast to all your regiment that the Marquess of Quesnay is your father. I’ll not try to impose silence on you.”
Robert said nothing.
“Run along, then,” the marquess said. “You had better stay in your room for, ah, the rest of today and the next three days. I promised her ladyship that I would punish you harshly for your presumption in lifting your eyes to a lady. Wives must be humored, Robert. It seems a small matter to me, though you must learn for your own good to keep to your station in your wenching. I suppose I had better impose bread and water as well. Yes, that will please her ladyship. I shall tell her that I thrashed you too. She won’t know the truth since she is unlikely to go to your room to check the evidence for herself.” He laughed heartily. “Away you go, then. I shall do something about that commission as soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir,” Robert said, and turned away.
* * *
That same night Robert packed a few belongings—no more than he could carry in a small bundle—and left both his room and his home to seek his own way in the world.
Two days later, in a town not twenty miles distant from Haddington Hall, he listened to the persuasions of a recruiting sergeant and enlisted as a private soldier in the Ninety-fifth Rifles infantry regiment.
Three months passed before his father discovered him. It was less than a week before new recruits to the regiment, Private Robert Blake among them, were to embark for service in India.
Robert refused the marquess’s urgings that he be allowed to buy a commission for his son. He took leave of his father with a stony face and no visible emotion at all.
If he was a nobody, he had decided—and clearly he was—then he would prefer to enter adult life with no label at all. Not son of the Marquess of Quesnay. Not bastard. He was Private Robert Blake of the Ninety-fifth. That was all. He would make his own way in the world—if there was a way to be made—by his own efforts or not at all.
And he would know his place in the world for the rest of his life. His place was at the bottom—in the line of an infantry regiment as a private soldier.
From now on, he decided, he needed no one—man or woman. Only himself. He would make a success or a failure of life alone, without help and without emotional ties.
He would never love again, he decided. Love had died with his mother and innocence.
PORTUGAL AND SPAIN,
NO one standing invisible in the ballroom at the Lisbon home of the Count of Angeja would have guessed that there was a war in progress. No one would have known that the British troops sent to Portugal under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley to defend that country from occupation by the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte and to help free Spain of their domination had been pushed back in ignominious retreat the previous summer despite their magnificent victory over the French at Talavera on the road to Madrid.
No one would have guessed that it was generally believed in both Portugal and England that once the summer campaign of 1810 began and the French armies then poised beyond the border with Spain finally made the expected advance, the Viscount Wellington’s army—Sir Arthur had acquired his new title as a reward for Talavera—would be pushed into the sea, leaving Lisbon to the mercy of the enemy.
No one would have guessed it despite the fact that the silken and gaily colored gowns of the ladies were quite overshadowed by the splendor of the gorgeous military uniforms of the majority of the gentlemen. For one thing, most of the divisions of the English and Portuguese armies were not stationed at Lisbon or anywhere near it. They were in the hills of central Portugal, awaiting the expected attack along the northern road to Lisbon, past the Spanish fort of Ciudad Rodrigo and the Portuguese fort of Almeida. Only a relatively small detachment had been posted closer to Lisbon on the chance that the French would choose the southern road past the more formidable Spanish fort of Badajoz and the Portuguese Elvas.
For another thing, the general mood of the dancers and revelers, gentlemen and ladies alike, was gay and carefree. War and the possibility of disaster seemed the furthest topics from anyone’s mind. Perhaps many of the gentlemen were rejoicing in the fact that they were alive at all. Although some of the officers—and all the military gentlemen who had received invitations to the ball were officers—were in Lisbon on legitimate business, many of them were convalescents from the military hospitals there. Some were quite content to remain convalescent for as long as they could. Others chafed to be back with their regiments, back in the world where their duty lay.
Such a man was the one who stood in a shadowed corner of the ballroom, a glass of wine in his hand, a look on his face that might have seemed morose to an uninformed observer but was in fact merely uncomfortable. He hated such entertainments and had been dragged protesting to this one by laughing comrades who had refused to take no for an answer. He felt utterly out of his depth, out of his milieu. Though the ballroom was crowded beyond comfort and though his corner was relatively secluded, he felt conspicuous. He looked determinedly and defiantly about him from time to time as if to confront those who were staring at him, only to find that no one was.
It was the men at whom he glared. Had he looked at the ladies, he might have found that several were in fact giving him covert glances even if good breeding forbade them from staring. He was the sort of man at whom women often looked twice, though it would be difficult perhaps to explain why it was so.
His uniform was without a doubt the least gorgeous at the ball. It had none of the bright facings and gold and silver lace that abounded on the uniforms about him. It did not even have the advantage of being scarlet. It was dark green and unadorned. Although clean and carefully brushed, it had seen better days. Most men would not deign to be buried in it, Major John Campion had told him earlier with a hearty laugh and a friendly slap on the back.
“But we all know that wild horses would not separate you from it, Bob,” he had added. “You riflemen are all the same, so bloody proud of your regiment that you would even prefer to look veritable dowds rather than transfer to another.”
It was the man inside the green coat, it seemed, then, who was the attraction. He was tall, broad-shouldered, muscular, not an ounce of spare fat on his body. And yet he was not an obviously handsome man. His blond wavy hair, perhaps his best feature, was close-cropped. His face was hard and looked as if it rarely smiled, the jaw-line pronounced and stubborn. His aquiline nose had been broken at some time in his life and was no longer quite straight. An old battle scar began in the middle of one cheek, climbed over the bridge of the nose, and ended just where the other cheek started. His face was weathered brown, his blue eyes looking startingly pale in contrast.
He was not a handsome man, perhaps. He was something better than that, the woman with whom he was whiling away the tedious months in Lisbon had told him several weeks before, propped on one elbow on the bed beside him while she traced the line of his jaw with one long-nailed finger. He was quite irresistibly attractive.
Captain Robert Blake had laughed shortly and reached up with one powerful arm to draw her head down to his.
“If it is more of this you want, Beatriz,” he had said to her in her own language, “you have only to ask. The flattery is unnecessary.”
The dancing had ended and the captain stepped back farther into the shadows. But he was not left to his own thoughts. Three of the officers from the hospital who had insisted that he attend this and several other entertainments over the past few weeks, when he was no longer bedridden with his wounds, were bearing down upon him, Lieutenant João Freire of the Portuguese skirmishers—the cacadores—with a curly-haired young lady on his arm.
“Bob,” he said, “why are you not dancing? Never tell me that you cannot.”
Captain Blake shrugged.
“Sophia wishes to dance with you,” the lieutenant said. “Don’t you, my love?”
He grinned down at the girl, who looked blankly at him and at Captain Blake.
“It would help if you talked Portuguese to the poor girl,” Major Campion said. “I suppose she speaks not a word of English, João?”
The lieutenant continued to grin at her. “She is hot for me,” he said, still in heavily accented English. “Now, if I could just separate her from her chaperone and her mother and father, perhaps . . .” He raised the girl’s hand to his lips. “You want to dance with her, Bob? I daresay I will not be permitted the next.”
“No,” the captain said shortly.
“Bob, Bob,” Captain Lord Ravenhill said with a sigh, reaching up with a finger and thumb to smooth the outer edges of his mustache, “what are we to do with you? You have none of the social graces.”
“And have never craved any of them,” Captain Blake said, nettled despite the fact that he knew his friends’ teasing to be good-natured.
“If you could dance as well as you fight,” the major said, “the rest of us might take ourselves back to our beds while the ladies flocked to you, Bob. From private to captain in how many years?”
“A little over ten,” the captain said, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. He did not particularly enjoy being reminded that he had taken the almost insurmountable step up from the ranks to a commission without the aid of either influence or purchase. It was easier, he had found since being promoted from sergeant to ensign in India, to do the deed of exceptional bravery that had made possible the promotion than to live with the fact that his place was now with officers rather than the enlisted men. Socially he did not belong. “I was fortunate. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Lord Ravenhill slapped him on the back and bellowed with laughter. “You have been in more right places at more right times than anyone else in the army, if I have heard the facts correctly,” he said. “Come out of the corner, Bob. There are doubtless people here who would be fascinated to converse with a genuine hero. Let me introduce you to some of them.”
“I am going home,” Captain Blake said.
“Home being the hospital or the arms of the delectable Beatriz?” Lord Ravenhill asked. “No, really, Bob, it won’t do, old chap. The marquesa is supposed to be coming tonight. She has been in Lisbon for a few days already. If you think your Beatriz lovely, you must stay and gaze upon true beauty.”
“The marquesa?” Captain Blake frowned. “Who in hell is she?”
“In heaven, my boy, in heaven,” Lord Ravenhill said, kissing two fingers. “The Marquesa das Minas, the toast of Lisbon. The streets are strewn with her slain admirers—slain by one glance from her dark eyes, that is. And you ask ‘Who in hell is she?’ Stay and you will see for yourself.”
“I am leaving,” the captain said firmly. “I agreed to an hour and have been here an hour and ten minutes.” He downed the wine that remained in his glass.
“Too late, Bob,” the major said with a laugh. “That extra buzz and excitement at the door is the signal that she has arrived. One glance will root you to the spot for another hour and ten minutes at the very least, take my word on it.”
“And how,” Lieutenant Freire said in English, smiling pleasantly down at the girl on his arm, “am I to divest myself of this encumbrance so that I may fall at the feet of the marquesa and pay my homage?”
“You return her to her chaperone and sigh over the fact that propriety does not permit you to dance the next set with her,” the major said.
“Ah,” the lieutenant said, “of course. Come, my dear,” he said to the girl in Portuguese, “I shall return you to your chaperone. It would not do, alas, for me to sully the reputation of so delicate a flower by keeping you with me one moment longer. But the memory of this half-hour will sustain me through a lonely night.”
Lord Ravenhill snorted. “It would serve him right if the girl were a secret student of languages,” he said. “I suppose he was taking his leave with protestations of undying love for the girl. Was he, Bob?”
“Something like that,” the captain said.
But his attention had been distracted. Ravenhill had not exaggerated—not much, anyway. It was as if the crowds had parted and the Queen of Portugal—or of England—had entered the room. Not that all the noise or activity had ceased. Conversations continued and gentlemen were choosing their partners for the next set of dances. But somehow the focus of general attention had suddenly centered on the new arrival.
She was dressed rather simply in a white gown. And her hair, dark and glossy, and yet a shade lighter than that of most Portuguese women, was not elaborately dressed. It was combed back smoothly from her face and her ears and dressed in curls at the back of her head. Her gloves and fan and slippers were all white. It was difficult at first glance to understand why her presence commanded such attention. But there were several reasons, he realized as he continued to gaze at her across almost the entire length of the large ballroom.
She was dressed all in white. Amid the rich and glorious colors of the gentlemen’s uniforms and the lesser brightness of the ladies’ gowns, she was as startlingly noticeable as the first snowdrop of winter. And the contrast of her dark hair and the creaminess of her skin—there was plenty of it visible about her shoulders and bosom—made the whiteness of her clothing all the more dazzling.
He could not tell if her face was beautiful. She was too far away. But she had an exquisite figure, slim but curved lavishly in all the right places. It was the sort of figure that could make a man’s loins ache without even a glance at the face above it.
But it was not just her appearance or her figure that accounted for the disproportionate amount of male attention she was attracting. There were other women in the room who were perhaps almost as beautiful—almost if not quite. Captain Blake watched her through narrowed eyes. There was a presence about her, a sense of pride in the lifted chin and the curve of her spine, an expectation of homage.
And homage was what she was getting. There were copious amounts of scarlet regimentals and gold lace about her, their owners dancing attendance on her, taking her shawl, fetching her a glass of wine or champagne, taking her hand, kissing it, being tapped on the arm with her white fan.
“One would willingly spend eternity in hell in exchange for one night—just one night, eh?” Lord Ravenhill said, reminding Captain Blake that he had been staring at the woman and that he had not taken himself off home after all.
“I daresay the body between the sheets and in the darkness would give no more pleasure than that of a willing whore,” he said, watching the woman smile as both she and the small court who had gathered about her ignored the fact that the dancing was beginning again.
Both the major and Lord Ravenhill laughed. “I don’t think you believe that any more than we do, Bob,” Major Campion said. “Just the thought of my hand in the small of that little back is enough to send me in search of a pail of cold water. Has anyone seen one anywhere?”
The marquesa was looking about her while her court danced attendance on her. Captain Blake felt an unreasonable resentment growing in him. She was everything that was exquisite and expensive—and beyond his reach. Not that he ever hankered a great deal after what he could not have. He could have had more had he wanted. He could have started his military career in the ranks of the officers instead of having to claw his way upward the hard and almost impossible way. He might have been a major or a lieutenant colonel by now. And he might have been known as the son of the Marquess of Quesnay. The illegitimate son, it was true, but still the son. The only son.
He had never regretted what he had done. And having tasted the life of a soldier and found that after all it suited him admirably, he had no wish for the soft life of an aristocrat. He did not crave money, which was just as well, since the English government was notoriously slow in sending the wherewithal to pay its soldiers. It did not bother him that he could not afford the fancy dress uniforms that he saw about him in the ballroom. It did not even bother him that he could not renew the rather shabby plain one that he was wearing.
He was satisfied with his station in life and with the incidentals of that life. Except sometimes. Oh, just sometimes when he saw something beyond his grasp—something like the Marquesa das Minas—then he felt the stirrings of envy and jealousy and even hatred. He hated the woman as her glance swept over him from across the room and back again as if she had noticed for the merest moment the strange abnormality of his shabby appearance.
He hated her because she was beautiful and privileged and expensive. Because she was the Marquesa das Minas, a grand title for such a small lady. And because he wanted her.
He turned abruptly to the major, who unlike Lord Ravenhill had not gone wandering off to choose himself another dancing partner.
“I am leaving, sir,” he said. “I have put in my hour and more.”
The major chuckled. “And will be at the surgeon again tomorrow, doubtless,” he said, “threatening him with torture and death and worse if he will not send you back to your regiment. When will you ever learn to relax, Bob, and enjoy the moment?”
“I will enjoy the moment when I see my sergeant’s ugly face and listen to the profane greetings of the men of my company,” Captain Blake said. “I miss them. Good night.”
The major shook his head and laughed again. “Just be sure to thank him before you leave,” he said. “The surgeon, I mean. You were within a whisker of death for a long time.”
“So I was told,” the captain said. “I seem to remember the old sawbones telling me it was a shame a chest and shoulder could not be amputated. If only the ball had lodged in my arm instead of above my heart, he said, he could have had it off in a twinkling and all the inflammation and the rest of it would have been avoided. I believe I was still too weak at the time to spit in his eye.” He turned to skirt the edge of the ballroom with purposeful strides. He did not glance at the marquesa or the officers surrounding her as he drew closer.
But one of the latter—Major Hanbridge, an engineering officer with whom the captain had had some dealings, stepped away from the group as he would have passed behind it and set a lace-covered hand on his arm.
“Not sneaking out, are you, Bob?” he asked. “A foolish question, of course. Certainly you are sneaking out. The only wonder is that you came at all. Were you dragged by the heels?” He grinned.
“I was invited, sir,” Captain Blake said. “But I have another commitment.”
Major Hanbridge raised his eyebrows. “A pretty one, I have no doubt,” he said. “The marquesa wishes to be presented to you.”
“To me?” the captain said foolishly. “I think there must be some mistake.”
But the officers around the marquesa had stepped to one side and she had turned to look at him.
“She is tired of meeting only gentlemen pretending to be soldiers,” Major Hanbridge said with another grin. “She wishes to meet the real thing. Captain Robert Blake, Joana. A bona fide hero, I do assure you. The scar is real, as are the others you cannot see—all of them courtesy of various French soldiers. Bob, may I present Joana da Fonte, the Marquesa das Minas?”
He felt like a gauche boy and wished more than anything that he had stayed in his safe corner. He inclined his head curtly and then realized that he should have made a more courtly bow, though with so many interested spectators he would doubtless have made an utter idiot of himself. He took the gloved hand she offered and shook it once and then was thankful that he was past the age of blushing. Obviously he should have raised the hand to his lips.
“Ma’am?” he said, looking into her face for the first time. It was as lovely and as flawless as the rest of her person. Her eyes were large and dark—but gray, not brown, as he had expected—and thick-lashed.
“Captain Blake.” Her voice was low and sweet. “You were wounded at Talavera?” Her English was flawless and only slightly accented.
“No, ma’am,” he said. “My regiment arrived there one day too late, after a forced march. I am afraid I was no hero of that battle. I was wounded in a rearguard action during the retreat that followed it.”
“Ah,” she said.
“He makes it sound quite ignoble, does he not?” Major Hanbridge said. “Shot in the back as he was running away? He just happened at the time to be holding back a surprise attack across a bridge almost single-handedly until his bellowings—and mighty profane ones at that, from all accounts—brought the whole of his company and others running. Several battalions might have been cut to pieces if he had run in fright as any normal mortal would have done.”
“Ah,” she said, “you are a genuine hero after all, then, Captain.”
How could one reply to such a comment? He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“You were leaving,” she said. “Do not let me detain you. I have invited some friends to a reception at my home two evenings from now. You will attend?”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, “but I am hoping to be allowed to return to the front within the week. I am well-recovered from my wounds.”
“I am happy to hear it,” she said. “But you will not be leaving within two days, surely? I shall expect you.”
He bowed a little more deeply than he had done initially, and she turned away to make some comment to a colonel of dragoons who had hovered at her elbow since her arrival. He was dismissed, Captain Blake assumed. He left the ballroom and the house without further delay.
He had watched her from across the room for surely fifteen minutes, he thought. Of course, the distance had been great and the crowds milling. But even when he had been close to her he had looked into her face and not immediately recognized her. She was so very changed—a mature and assured woman. He had recognized her only gradually—something in her gestures and facial expressions, perhaps.
She had not recognized him. She had talked to him as to a stranger—a stranger who she assumed had come to pay homage to her beauty. A stranger whom she had invited to an entertainment he had no intention of attending, under the assumption that he would be only too eager to join her court of devoted admirers.
Joana da Fonte, Major Hanbridge had called her. Jeanne Morisette when he had known her.
Jesus, he thought as he strode uphill to a less-aristocratic part of Lisbon, where Beatriz awaited him. Sweet Jesus, she was French!
* * *
Joana da Fonte, the Marquesa das Minas, tapped Colonel Lord Wyman on the arm with her fan.
“Another glass of champagne, if you please, Duncan,” she said. She turned to another of her admirers as the colonel hurried away to do her bidding. “You may dance the next set with me, Michael.”
There was a chorus of protests from a half dozen male voices.
“Unfair, Joana,” one young man said. “I made a point of being at the door in order to be the first to ask you.”
“You must wait your turn, William,” she said. “Michael had the forethought to call upon me this afternoon.”
The protests receded to grumbles and reproachful glances at the wily lieutenant who had given himself an unfair advantage in a manner they all wished they had thought of.
He would come, Joana thought. He had appeared unexpectedly reluctant, it was true, and she would wager on it that at that particular moment he was convinced that he would not come. But he would. She knew enough about men to have recognized that particular look in his eyes.
He was not at all as she had expected, although she had been warned that he was a soldier rather than an officer—sometimes there was quite a distinction between the two terms, she knew. But even so she had expected a gentleman soldier, not a tough-looking man with a hard war- and weather-beaten face and very direct blue—startingly blue—eyes. He had seemed totally unconcerned by the near-shabbiness of his green jacket.
And yet, she thought, tapping one foot in time to the music and allowing her mind to wander—as it frequently did—away from the shallow and somewhat foolish conversation flowing about her, gentlemen and soldiers aside, Captain Robert Blake had looked all man.
She had not met many men in her life, she thought, although she was surrounded now, as she usually was when she was out in society, by males. Of course, there were Duarte and his band, but they were a different matter.
She had had the feeling on her first close look at Captain Robert Blake that she had met him before. It would not have been surprising. She had met a large number of British officers before. But she would not have forgotten such a man, she thought. She would not have forgotten either the shabbiness of his appearance or the toughness of his face and figure. Or the battered attractiveness of his face. No, she had not met him before.
She wafted a careless hand toward the colonel as he returned with her champagne. “You may hold it for me, if you please, Duncan,” she said, “while I dance with Michael.”
“What?” he said. “Young Bristow has solicited your hand when I was not here to argue, Joana? I shall call him out at dawn tomorrow.”
“Duelists are forever banished from my presence,” she said carelessly, laying one gloved hand lightly along the lieutenant’s scarlet sleeve. “Have a care, do, Duncan.”
“It will be my pleasure and my privilege to hold your glass until you return,” Colonel Lord Wyman said, bowing elegantly without spilling a drop of the liquid.
He had moved up from the ranks, she had learned since arriving in Lisbon. She had not been told that before. He must indeed be a brave man. Not many enlisted men ever became officers. It was fortunate that she had met him so easily without having to make any overt move to do so. She had been looking for green jackets for three days. There were not many in Lisbon, most of the riflemen being stationed with the rest of the Light Division on the Coa River close to the border between Spain and central Portugal, protecting the army from sudden attack and preventing the French from obtaining any information about what was happening in Portugal.
It was fortunate that he had been at the ball. Her attention had been drawn first to the green jacket and then to the man inside it. He had looked an unlikely candidate at first. But perhaps not. A man with a facility with languages was not necessarily a thin, ascetic-looking scholar—certainly not if he was a captain with the famed Ninety-fifth Rifles. And this man, she knew, had done reconnaissance work before. He must be a man of some daring.
Yes, she had thought, he could quite possibly be her man. And discreet inquiries had drawn the information she had hoped for from Jack Hanbridge.
He would come, she thought again, smiling at Michael Bristow as they began to dance. She remembered the rough awkwardness of his manners, the faint hostility in his voice, the overwhelming masculinity of his person.
And she remembered his eyes—his blue eyes—and the look of awareness in them. An unwilling awareness, she was sure. He had not looked at her with open appreciation. He had made no attempt to flirt with her, and never would, she suspected. But the awareness had been there nonetheless. And she had been more intrigued by it than she had been by all the flattery and adulation of his more elegant peers.
Yes, he would come.
JOANA da Fonte, the Marquesa das Minas, had no particular business in Lisbon apart from the opportunity being there gave her to become acquainted with Captain Robert Blake more at her leisure than would have been the case if she had stayed at Viseu until he came. And when she had suggested her plan to Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington, he had thought it a good idea.
Excerpted from "Beyond the Sunrise"
Copyright © 2015 Mary Balogh.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This historical romance is truly historic, with a ton of history of one part of the Napoleonic wars as the basis, and carefully detailed. The characters were good, though somewhat detrimental. She so often acted against her best interest because she couldn't ignore a challenge, real or imagined, and as a result seemed to be the reason it takes soooo long to get to the end.
Loved the historical setting, events. Hero was true to type for period, & likable. Heroine was tougher to like, although her lines are the best in the story. Liked the storyline & plot. The Resolution of the love story's problem seemed a little too rushed, but considering this particular heroine, very plausible.
Mary B. Is a wonderful writer. This book is not your usual historical romance, it is so much more. True, the heroine is hard to like at times because she is so stubborn and strong willed and determined to have her way no matter the cost. She is very much like Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With The Wind - you admire her strength but she is flawed, not the perfect little woman, sweet and selfless. Nevertheless, this is not a formula romance, it is a true love story and there is more adventure and action than usual, but it is not predictable or contrived. I highly recommend!!!
I think the story was good and gave a lot of backgrond on the peninsular wars. The male lead character was strongly developed, but I have to say that I felt sorry for him most of the way through the story. The female lead was a giant pain - very selfish and unlikeable. Most of the way through the book I wanted to wring her neck. That really affected my enjoyment of this book.