Authors: Jennifer Haymore
The last time Lady Claire Campbell saw her husband, she told him she hated him and she never wanted to lay eyes on him again. But now he’s gone off to fight against Napoleon, and soon it may be too late for her to say she’s sorry.
Major Sir Robert Campbell never expected to see his beautiful English wife ever again. So when she appears on the battlefield after the bloody conflict at Waterloo, he’s sure he’s seen an angel.
After the battle, Rob is ordered to return to London on business of the Crown. Claire follows him, desperate to find a way to mend their broken marriage. But some wounds go deeper than the concussion Rob suffered on the battlefield. And some wounds can never be healed.
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June 19, 1815
The Waterloo Battlefield
Sunlight pierced through Robert Campbell’s eyelids. He peeled his eyes open and struggled to focus through the grit. The thick, misty air smelled of blood and smoke and gunpowder and flesh. Of death.
It was quiet—so unlike the noisy barracks or the jovial atmosphere at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball a few nights ago. The only sounds were soft rustling and scuffling noises, like rats in a basement.
His body hurt. Every single inch of it cried out in pain with even the slightest movement. His legs felt as if a horse had trampled them. Knots had twisted in his guts. His chest was so tight, he couldn’t draw in a deep breath. His arms felt like they had been injected with a ton of lead. And the contents of his head felt far too large for his skull, the pressure nearly unbearable.
Something weighted down his legs. He struggled up on his elbows to see what it was.
A man—a dead man—was draped over his thighs. A dead Frenchman, judging by the blue of his coat.
Rob’s breath caught in his throat as he stared at the body. It was facedown in the dirt, the chest over Rob’s thighs. There was so much blood…and an utterly stiff stillness that made Rob’s own blood run cold.
He blinked, looking around. It had to be only early morning. Mist wet his face and mixed with the smoke of gunpowder and cannon to create thick, soupy air that pressed in on him on all sides. He could only see a few yards all around him.
A sea of bodies—both man and horse—surrounded him, as far as the eye could see. They were so still…so rigid, draped over one another in undulating waves of red—bright red coats and the deep burgundy of dried blood, splashed with brown mud and blue French coats. Upright figures dotted the scene, dark-clothed people picking their way through the destruction, shoulders hunched. A horse stood dazedly not too far away.
He gasped, his throat closing. It took several minutes for him to regain control of his breathing, and during that time, the memories flooded back.
Battle. Swords swinging, the boom of cannon, the crack of gunshots, and the shout that tore from his throat: “Ninety-second, now is your time! Charge!”
The cries of “Scotland forever!” erupting all around him. Riding forward, mud spitting at him like stinging darts and sucking at his horse’s hooves as if he were riding through thick syrup.
And the fighting. It had gone on and on. He’d fought for his life, aware of men falling around him but unable to stop the flood of Frenchmen determined to kill them.
men. He’d seen a frog-eater coming at Sergeant Mackenzie from behind and had cut him down before Mackenzie even knew he was in danger. He’d fought with his horse alongside Camden McLeod’s for a while, both of them taking on the enemy as one until they were separated by a surge of French infantry. Rob hadn’t seen his friend since. And God knew how Stirling, on the right flank of the Highland regiment, had fared.
As he regained his breath, Rob focused on the people picking through the sea of bodies. Looters, certainly. At least some of them. None of them ventured close enough for him to recognize, but some of them appeared to be allies—soldiers dressed in red coats and several women scattered throughout. There were no standing blue-coated men to be seen. Did that mean Wellington had won?
He needed to take stock of the situation. Take control. Ensure the safety of his men. He forced himself to stand, but couldn’t move for a long minute as dizziness spun his head and his weight wavered over rubbery legs.
Finally he gained power over his body and forced himself forward, careful to place his feet on the rare blotches of mud and not on some unsuspecting corpse’s outstretched limb.
The pervasive stench assaulted his senses and seemed to sink into his pores…then deeper, into his bones. He looked desperately for the Gordon tartan, for any man from the 92nd Regiment of Foot—the Gordon Highlanders.
He searched for what felt like forever, moving only a few feet as he carefully studied the bodies to ensure none of his men lay in this bloodbath. Then he saw it. The telltale green-and-blue kilt shot through with a yellow stripe. He dropped to his knees beside the still form. The lad’s face was caked so heavily with mud and blood he was unrecognizable.
He was dead—his chest slashed open. Only God could save this lad now.
Even so, Rob needed to know who he was. He dug into the soldier’s sporran and found nothing but a bit of gunpowder, some tobacco, and a penny. Gently, he wiped at the lad’s cheeks, moving away the mud to get a better view of his skin and bone structure.
He pressed his thumb over the stiff lips, and when the dried crust of mud flecked away, recognition hit him like a blow to the solar plexus. The lips belonged to Archie MacNab, a sixteen-year-old ensign.
Rob sucked in a breath and closed his eyes, sending up a quick prayer begging God to watch over Archie, who’d been so friendly and eager to please. The battle of Quatre Bras three days ago had left the Gordon Highlanders furious after a French bullet had killed their Colonel Cameron. Yesterday, before the battle, Rob had heard the lad calling for vengeance. “This is for our colonel, ye frog-eating bastards!” Archie had shouted.
When he looked up at the sea of death once more, his hand cupping Archie’s stiff, mud-caked arm, Rob had never felt lonelier.
And then he saw her. The angel. Moving among the dead slowly, her expression grim but her bearing straight. Slender and petite, she wore a dress and a bonnet of the purest white, so bright it hurt his eyes to look at her contrasted among the darker earthy colors of mud and flesh and blood.
She’d come for him. For him and Archie, to spirit them away to heaven.
Dizziness rushed through him, but he rose anyway, wanting to greet her, to tell her he wouldn’t go anywhere unless Archie could come with them.
She saw him. Raising her chin and hurrying her steps, she picked up her skirts and drew ever closer, her features coming into sharpening focus with each step.
And then Major Sir Robert Campbell recognized her and knew without a doubt that he’d died, because the face was one he never expected to see again.
It was the bonny, untouchable face of his wife.
* * *
Two months earlier
When the footman held out the silver salver, Claire Campbell snatched the letter up greedily. Finally. A letter from her husband. It had been months since she’d heard from him. To be fair, it had been months since he’d heard from her too. The silence was equally deafening in both directions.
“You may go, Thomas.”
“My lady.” Thomas bowed and backed out of the room, closing the door with a gentle
She eyed the folded sheet warily, turning it over in her hands. It wasn’t heavy—clearly not pages and pages proclaiming his true love. As much as she might hope and dream of hearing such declarations from him.
She swallowed hard, broke the seal, and unfolded the single piece of paper.
15th April, 1815
My dear wife,
I should like to inform you that the regiment received orders yesterday to depart to the Cove of Cork, where ships to Ostend await us. Our colonel intends to have us on the transports by May Day, and we will soon thereafter join Wellington’s army on the Continent.
I shall send you a letter from there if I am able. Please send my affectionate regards to your father and sister.
In hopes that I shall see you soon, believe me,
Claire studied the letter hard. She read it again…and again.
Beyond the basic information it conveyed, she had no idea what it meant. It was succinct, to the point, and written in a hand that revealed none of the rolling Scottish brogue of her husband’s speaking voice, that voice she’d found so intriguing and seductive at the beginning of their acquaintance.
My dear wife.
Should she read some deeper meaning behind the greeting? Perhaps not, for how else could a man address a letter to his wife? It likely didn’t mean he truly thought of her as his dear.
But what about the closing line?
In hopes that I shall see you soon, believe me…
she believe him? Did he really hope to see her soon? Could that possibly be true?
But then again, that was a traditional closing to a letter. How else could he have finished it?
God, this was going to drive her mad. She wished she could dig her hand into Rob’s mind, yank out his thoughts and emotions, and study them under a quizzing glass. He was so closed, so firm and unyielding. So masculine and earthy—so
compared to her delicate and genteel English-rose upbringing. His gruff, masculine traits had intrigued and captivated her in the beginning but had ultimately confounded her. And broken her heart.
She sank back into her chair, letter clutched in her hand, tilting her head up to the fresco painted on the ceiling of a Roman battle.
Rob would be going into battle. She knew, as did every single other British soul over the age of three years old, that Napoleon was free and on a rampage across the Continent. Rob’s regiment could only be heading there to confront him. There would be a battle. An enormous one. Many men would die.
Rob might die.
And she’d never had the chance to tell him she was sorry.
Claire closed her eyes. Tears pressed behind her lids, but she didn’t set them free. She never did.
She would endure, as always. Lonely and bereft, missing the man who was so far out of her reach, she wasn’t sure she’d ever see him again…even if he did survive this war.
A rustling at the door heralded the entrance of her older sister, Grace. A year apart in age, the sisters’ faces were of a similar oval shape. Both of them had high cheekbones, straight noses, and plump lips. Their hair was the same shade of blonde, and their eyes the same shade of dark blue. After a single glance, people always knew they were sisters, and had often thought they were twins when they were younger. Their one noticeable physical difference was that Grace was tall and willowy, while Claire had always been petite.
Their personalities were quite a contrast, however. Claire had always been spirited, and when she was younger, more than one adult had called her an unabashed hoyden. She’d learned since then how to handle herself with feminine poise and charm in social situations.