The Officer and the Proper Lady

They knew what was right, but war changes everything…

(This novel is Book 7 of the Silk and Scandal continuity of eight books by six authors. It can be read as a stand-alone title but please see the book Series page for details of the entire series)

Major Hal Carlow is a self-confessed rake and is not fit company for the impoverished and proper Miss Julia Tresilian.  But Brussels just before the battle of Waterloo is a social hot-house that throws them together.

Hal is certain that he does not want a wife.  Julia knows she must make a sensible match, not ruin herself with a rake.  And then the battle changes everything for both of them, and exposes them to the danger and scandal that is haunting the entire Carlow family.

Excerpt

‘Bet against Thomas’s mare over that distance?  You must be all about in your head,’ Major Hal Carlow said to the young man at his side who was earnestly explaining the merits of a chestnut gelding belonging to a certain Lieutenant Strong.

Captain Gregory launched into details lost on Hal as he watched the young woman on the upper walk – the apparently respectable young woman who had been staring at him as though she knew him.  He had never seen her before, so far as he knew, although, as she could hardly be described as a diamond of the first water, it was possible she had escaped his attention.  In which case what was so attracting him now?

‘Carlow?’  He ignored his companions, still watching the young woman.  She had been joined by an officer in a scarlet coat.  Foot Guards.  He narrowed his eyes: 92nd Foot and not someone he recognised.  And not someone she wished to recognise either, judging by her averted head and her stiff body.  The man put a hand on her arm.

‘I’ll see you back at the Hôtel de Flandres,’ Hal said abruptly, abandoning  his plans to go and catch up on his sleep.  He took the steps up to the wide lawn at a stride and strode off to intercept the small boy with the ball.  ‘Good morning.’  He hunkered down to eye level, managing the unwieldy length of his sabre without conscious thought.  ‘Is that your governess in the green pelisse?’

‘My sister Julia.’  Big brown eyes stared back solemnly, grubby hands clasped his toy.  ‘Are you in the cavalry, sir?’

‘Yes, 11th Light Dragoons.  My name is Hal Carlow.’  Hal scooped the child up in his arms and began to walk towards the path.  ‘And what is your name?’  He liked children – well enough to ensure his frequent adventures left no by-blows to haunt his somewhat selective conscience.

‘Phillip Tresilian and I’m four.’

‘A big boy like you?  I thought you must be six at least.’  Hal stepped over the strip of marigolds and walked up to the couple on the path.  Close-to he could see the flush on her – Julia’s – cheeks and the distress in her eyes, large and brown like her brother’s.  The other officer still had his hand on her arm.

‘Miss Tresilian!  You must have quite given me up, I do apologise,’ Hal said cheerfully as he came up to them.  Her eyes widened but she did not disown him.  ‘Shall we go on to the pavilion for tea?  I expect Phillip would like an ice as usual.’

‘Not in the morning, sir!  You know he is not allowed ices before luncheon,’ Miss Tresilian said in a rallying tone.

Good girl, he thought, as he extended his free arm for her to rest her hand on, then feigned surprise at seeing the other man was holding her.  He let the good humour ebb from his face and raised one eyebrow.  ‘Major?  I believe I have the prior claim.’  Now what had he said to make her blush like that?

‘Miss Tresilian was walking with me, sir.’   The infantry officer bristled.  He outweighed Hal by about a stone and had a good three inches of height on Hal’s six foot.

Hal met his eyes and allowed the faintest sneer to cross his features. ‘And now, by appointment, she is walking with me.’  The small boy curled an arm around his neck in well-timed confirmation of his friendship with the Tresilians.  ‘I believe I do not have the pleasure of you acquaintance, Major?  Nor, I suspect, have my friends.’  Hal let the slightest emphasis rest on the last word and saw his meaning go home.

The other man released Miss Tresilian’s arm.  ‘Frederick Fellowes, 92nd Foot.’

‘Hal Carlow, 11th Light Dragoons.’  That went home too.  Something of his reputation must have reached the infantry.  ‘Good day to you.’

Miss Tresilian rested her hand on his sleeve.  ‘Good day, Major Fellowes,’  she said with chilly formality.  She waited until they were out of earshot before she said, ‘Please, sir, do put Phillip down, he is covered in dirt.’

Hal put the boy on his feet and threw the ball to the far end of the lawn for him to run after.  ‘Are you all right, Miss Tresilian?’

She looked up at him, her face still flushed beneath the brim of her plain straw bonnet.  He studied  big brown eyes and a nose that had just the suggestion of a tilt to the tip, a firm chin and a neat figure.  No great beauty, but Hal had the sense of a vivid personality, of intelligence and humour.  He felt a desire to make her blush again, she did it so deliciously.

‘I am now, thanks to you, Major.  I do not know what I would have done if you had not rescued me – hit him over the head with my parasol, I expect – and then what a figure I would have made of myself.’  Her eyes crinkled with rueful amusement as he smiled.  ‘And how clever of you to get our names from Phillip.  Did you really mean by that reference to your friends that you might call Major Fellowes out?’

She was quick on the uptake, this young lady.  And lady she was, for all her lack of maid or footman and her simple gown and spencer.

‘Of course.  Fellowes lacks address: it really is not done to persist where one is unwanted, even when a lady is so temptingly pretty.’

She ignored the automatic compliment.  ‘Not with discreditable offers it is not,’ she said with feeling, then blushed again.   ‘Oh dear, I should not have mentioned that, should I?  But I feel I know you, Major Carlow.’

‘Is that why you were looking at me just now?’ he asked ‘I hoped you wanted to make my acquaintance.’

She bit her lip in charming confusion. ‘I really do not know.  It was very brassy of me, but there was something about you I thought I recognised.’  She recovered her composure a little and her chin lifted.  ‘And you stared right back at me.’

‘True.’  Hal stooped to pick up the ball and sent Phillip chasing towards the fountain in its octagonal basin.  ‘But then, I am a rake and we are supposed to stare at ladies and put them to the blush.’

‘You are?  A rake I mean?’

‘Indeed.  I am precisely  the kind of man your mama would warn you about and, now I think on it, you may have leapt from frying pan to fire.  I am absolutely the last man you should be seen walking with in the Parc.’