Dreaming of Waterloo
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This is the story that was originally in "The Incomparables" boxed set, but now it's out as an independent release.
They called him “Lucky,” but not all injuries are physical ones. Plagued by headaches and living nightmares, Paul, Lord Sherstone returns to London to a wife he doesn’t know and an estate he has to manage. He daren’t let her close, even though he is falling in love with her all over again.
Married and abandoned in a month, Hetty learned to manage a large estate and fend off would-be lovers, but a threat emerges much closer to home and from an unexpected place. In need of help she turns to Paul but since his return he has only shut her out. Refusing to give up on the man she fell in love with five years ago, Hetty has to persuade her husband to let her into his bed—and his heart.
“Have you heard news of Paul?” Lewis asked.
Hetty smiled at her husband’s cousin, but she had to force the expression. A crowded ballroom was not the place to discuss one’s news, or the lack of it. How many other wives of soldiers must be in this case? “Nothing yet,” she said vaguely. “After all, Waterloo was barely a week ago.” It hurt that he had not thought to contact her, but they had not been particularly communicative in the last few years. Why should this be any different?
“Ten days,” Lewis informed her, as if she did not know. She’d forgive him his pedantry, even though it sent a shot of irritation through her. He’d been a good friend to her while her husband was away. He had great knowledge of the estate Paul had abandoned, and she had needed it.
Their gentle stroll to the supper room was taking more time than it should. London was unusually crowded for June, but of course, this was no ordinary June. The escape of Napoleon in March, followed by the hasty regrouping of the army had resulted in a stupendous victory. The Union flag blazed everywhere in the streets. Several decorated the room here tonight, and the flowers on the tables were shades of red, white, and blue.
As the wife of an accredited war hero, Hetty had received more than her share of congratulations, but apart from quiet acceptance, she answered no questions with definite answers. Mainly because she had none. Since the battle she had heard nothing, although she had called on Horse Guards. She didn’t even know if he was alive or dead.
“You know I will always be your friend,” Lewis pressed her hand where it lay on his arm. His gray eyes warmed, as if he meant more than “friend.” This was not the first time. He had not made improper advances to her, but made it clear he would welcome her into his arms.
Not that Hetty would even consider taking a lover, even Lewis. While her husband was alive, nothing else was possible. Her heart ached for both of men, but she could do nothing. Married five years and nothing to show for it, people said.
Devil take them all. She didn’t care any longer. Why should the concerns of other people bother her?
They stared at her now, these other people, but she kept walking and smiling, as she had done for the last five years. Candles flickered, heating the cool June evening, and casting a warm glow over the silks and diamonds glittering everywhere she looked.
“Hetty, I would like to ask you something when we hear the news.”
She was expecting this. Lewis was hoping that Paul was a dead war hero. That would tie everything up so neatly. Paul would be out of place in his role as Earl of Sherstone. Of course nobody wanted Paul dead, but it would provide a solution to a number of problems.
He had inherited the estate when he was already a soldier, and while his relatives had prevailed on him to sell out, he would not do so, saying his duty lay with his country. He’d said the estate could shift for itself, and he trusted his wife implicitly to keep it in good heart. His statement had flattered her, but his eagerness to return to his men had not. She had closed her feelings to him then, but it had done no good. She still cared.
It was a pity that when she thought of him dead, her heart turned to a cold stone in her chest. Despite her efforts to get over him, as he had her, she still cared far too much. Far more than was fashionable, if truth were told.
“Would you care to dance after supper?” Lewis asked her. “You may not have the opportunity for some time.” As a widow, she would not dance.
A commotion at the door made her turn. A number of gentlemen were entering, all dressed in military uniform. The reds, blues, and golds created a dazzling display, especially when seen in close proximity. The green of an Irish regiment flashed into view, the gentleman unknown to Hetty. An officer from the Scots Greys turned to speak to someone else, his white cuffs pristine as he gestured to make a point.
Every member of the ballroom took a collective breath. It was a wonder the candles in the chandeliers and wall sconces weren’t blown out. These men were all from regiments that took the field less than two weeks ago. According to the reports, Waterloo was the bloodiest, most vicious encounter for years, and that was saying something. Yet the men entering the room were smiling and laughing as if they had no cares.
One man looked up and across the room. His gaze met Hetty’s and the smile left his face.
The crowd parted.
They were not dancing, having left off in favor of supper, so Paul walked straight across the room to face her. His gait was loose and easy, but he ate up the ground with no regard to the careful, mincing steps of the fashionable gentleman. His Hussar uniform, one of the most flamboyant in the army, looked as good as any ever did on his broad shoulders, and tall, muscular form. Gold was so heavily laced across the front that the red cloth beneath could hardly be seen. The pelisse that hung from one shoulder, red lined with blue, was equally fine.
Despite the magnificence, the man outshone the uniform, his carefully brushed dark hair and square jaw more than adequate to the task. The grim purpose delineated in every spare line of his form embellished the uniform rather than the other way about.
Hetty drew her hand away from Lewis’s arm, and stood clear of him. Paul bowed to her. “My lady.”
Thus, a year of silence was broken.