From a battlefield to a devil’s bargain…
Book One of the Transformation of the Shelley Sisters series
(This may be read as a stand-alone novel or as part of the series. For more about the Shelley Sisters please go to the Book Series page)
Meg Shelley believed she was eloping from a tyrannical father to true love when she ran away from home to marry Lieutenant James Halgate and follow the drum with him through the Peninsula. But the end of the war finds her widowed, alone and desperate in Bordeaux and her only way home is to seek the protection of injured, brooding Ross Brandon. The sensual spark between them is immediate, but Ross is returning to a life of bitter duty and Meg hides a shameful secret. Can two wounded souls find love without sacrificing principle and honour?
A group of people were coming along the quayside making for the England-bound ship moored further along. She put her shoulders back and her chin up. It was important to look respectable, competent and not at all needy. One of them, surely, would welcome a willing pair of hands to help on the voyage in return for her passage? That did not seem a very certain plan, but it was the only one she had now.
A tall gentleman with a lady on his arm, a valet and maid, a stack of baggage: they most certainly had no need of her. A plainly dressed middle aged man with a valise in one hand, a clerk at his elbow. A businessman no doubt. Then more luggage. The porters shoved a loaded cart to one side to reveal another passenger and shock had her stepping back in superstitious dread.
Death was striding – no, limping – along the quayside in the bright Spring sunlight. For goodness sake! Meg took a grip on her nerves. He was a flesh and blood human being, of course he was. Just a man. But very much a man. He seemed to dominate the long quayside until there was nowhere else to look.
Tall and strongly built, clad in the dark green of the Rifle Brigade uniform, he was bare-headed, his sword at his side. His red officer’s sash was stained and blackened and, unusually for an officer, a rifle was slung over his shoulder. The right leg of his trousers had been slashed to allow for the bulge of a bandage just above his knee and flapped around the long black boot with each stride.
His hair was crow-black, a stubble beard shadowed his jaw and his dark eyes squinted against the sun beneath heavy brows as he scanned the quay with the intensity of a man expecting enemy sniper fire.
His scrutiny found Meg. She forced herself to look back indifferently, letting her glance slide across him. Her experience had taught her to size men up fast, a habit that was no longer one of life and death and which perhaps she should lose. Not that she had ever had to assess anyone who looked quite this dangerous.
Not only was this dishevelled officer big, dirty and obviously wounded, even cleaned up he would not be a handsome man. His big nose had been broken, his jaw was brutally strong, his expression grim and those dark eyes had a slant to them that was positively devilish under the thick brows. No wonder she had thought of Death when she first saw him.
Then he was past her, a porter following with a trunk and a few battered bags stacked on his barrow. Meg had heard yesterday that now that Napoleon had surrendered they were sending part of the Rifle Brigade straight off to America. But this man was obviously not fit for the rigours of that war: like her he was heading back home.
To England, she corrected herself. Was that home? It was so long since she had seen it that it felt more alien than Spain. But it was where her sisters were and she had to find them.