A Highlander's Heart: A Sexy Regency Romance (Highland Knights Book 1) (5 page)

BOOK: A Highlander's Heart: A Sexy Regency Romance (Highland Knights Book 1)
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She rose, and, noting there was new water in the pitcher as well as in a basin on the table, she washed her face and cleaned her teeth before opening her valise, where she’d kept her two extra dresses. She called in her maid, and with Mary’s help, she donned a sturdy white muslin with a modest blue trim. Mary tied the blue ribbon sash, then combed Claire’s hair and wrapped it into a chignon using the pins she’d taken out when she’d been sitting at Rob’s bedside last night.

When she was ready, she walked out into the main living area of the house, passing the room where Grace had slept the night before and glancing in at the neatly made cot. Mary had told her that Grace had left early to help with the wounded.

The house was quiet, so Claire let herself out into a sunny morning. The two men stationed at the door snapped to attention.

“Good morning,” she greeted them, recognizing them both from last evening, and wondering if soldiers ever really slept.

“Good morning, milady,” they responded in unison.

Claire took stock of the cobbled main road that bisected the village of Waterloo. The area was crammed with men—indeed, the noisy racket of carts and carriages and horses going in every direction hadn’t subsided throughout the night.

“Do you have any idea where I might find my husband?” she asked the soldiers.

Sergeant Fraser, a very dashing Scot with thick brown hair and chocolate eyes, said, “I couldna say, milady.”

Claire sighed. She’d try the battlefield, though God knew she didn’t savor the idea of stepping foot on that accursed ground again.

Deep in thought, she was halfway down the street before she realized the two guards were following her. She stopped and turned, hands on her hips, brows raised in question. Sergeant Fraser looked chagrined. “Orders from the major, ma’am. We’re to stay close and ensure your safety.”

“Well, are you prepared to walk? Because I am going to the battlefield.”

Sergeant Fraser nodded, then gestured toward the road. “After you, milady.”

The outlying areas of Waterloo were pretty this morning. The air had finally cleared, and while the foliage at the edges of the road had been trampled into the mud, in the distance summer flowers bloomed, and the recent rains gave the green a jewellike appearance. But as Claire neared the battlefield and carts filled with the dead began to join the unending flow of traffic, her stomach began to twist.

She found Captain Stirling near a long, low building half in ruins from cannon fire. He was talking with several men who appeared to be from other Highland regiments. She didn’t hear much, but it was clear they were speaking of the remaining troops’ final withdrawal from the area. When he saw her, Stirling snapped to attention. “Good morning, milady.”

“Good morning, Captain. Have you seen my husband?”

“Ahh…well, Major Campbell has gone back to the field.” He didn’t meet her eyes. “He’s…er…” He shrugged. “Well, he said he had to return once before we left tomorrow.”

She nodded, her throat growing tight. “Of course.”

“And I saw Lady Grace earlier. She is working the field hospital at Mont-St-Jean. She has been quite a help, and—” He cut himself off suddenly, catching himself from saying something.

Claire frowned. “And…what?”

Stirling winced, then sighed. “Well, she seems to’ve developed an affinity for one Highlander in particular.”

“Really?” Well, that was new. Grace wasn’t known for paying much attention to the male population. She had always seemed to Claire to be above the base human feelings of attraction and desire.

Claire had always been the exact opposite. The moment she’d first seen Rob, she’d wanted to touch him. All over. Even as innocent as she’d been back then, her body had known very well what it wanted.

A flush warmed her cheeks as she turned away from Stirling.

She picked her way through the Highlanders—it seemed they knew of her now, at least, and they doffed their hats politely when she passed. In her limited time with the Scots—particularly Highland Scots—she’d discovered that their manners, though at times rough and untamed, were more genuine and hence more impeccable than any British aristocrat’s.

The ground in the area where she’d found Rob yesterday was no longer covered with bodies, but death was a dark, pervasive presence. It was impossible that all the death would ever erode away from this place.

She wandered around, looking for her husband. A few people—both men and women—speckled the field, some milling about, others seeming to roam aimlessly. But while destruction still riddled the field, she was relieved to see the bodies that had been there yesterday were all gone. She hoped the wounded were well cared for and the dead would be given a proper burial.

Asking her guards to rest at the bottom, Claire climbed up a low, scrubby hill at the edge of the mostly flat field, rough twigs grasping at her stockings. At the top, she turned to look back. The enormous battlefield was spread out before her, smudged and muddied, all the vegetation and remnants of carts and fires mashed into the earth as if giant horse’s hooves had crushed the vast area.

As she rounded a thick tree trunk, she saw Rob. He must have had the same idea in coming up here.

He stood under a low-hanging bough, staring out over the field, tension radiating from his every muscle. He didn’t notice her right away, and she took a moment to study him. He looked so tall and proud—so handsome—in his Gordon plaid kilt and red coat. He’d removed his hat, and it sat on the ground beside him. The breeze ruffled his thick russet hair, and she itched to run her fingers through it as she had so many times before. What seemed like a lifetime ago.

His expression was grim and stony, his eyes icy and hard as he gazed down at the scene of desolation.

She wondered what it had been like for him. The battle. Had he killed many men?

She closed her eyes in a long blink, straightened her shoulders, and went to him, wedging herself between him and the tree.

He didn’t note her presence until she was beside him. He glanced at her, then turned his gaze back to the field.

Silence reigned for long moments. Finally, she murmured, “How is your head?”

“Better.” One word, bitten out as if it annoyed him to answer.

She took a deep, calming breath. “Good.”

Silence again.

Finally, Rob turned his head to look at her. “Why’re you here?”

“This is the third time you’ve asked me that question.”

“You havena answered it, though.”

“Not to your satisfaction.”

“Aye.”

She laid her hand on his arm. His muscles grew tense under her palm, but she steeled herself. “I told you I was here for you. That’s true. But also, I
wanted
to be here for you.”

“Why?” He scowled. “I canna fathom why you’d want to be in this godforsaken place.”

He was right—she hadn’t given him a satisfactory answer. Words like “for you” and “I wanted to be here” were trite and insufficient.

Even when she’d traveled across the English Channel for a singular purpose, her pride still fought against telling him the whole truth. Her pride, that was,
and
her fear of rejection.

Now that she knew the war was over and he’d lived, wasn’t that enough?

No, it wasn’t.

She must do this. She’d waited long enough. Now, she simply needed to be brave and tell him.

“I came here to apologize.”

“For what?”

She gazed downward, winding the blue ribbon of her sash around her finger, curling it around and around. “For the way I behaved when you last came to Norsey House.”

He was quiet, and she risked a look up at him from under her lashes to see his frown had grown even deeper.

“You crossed an ocean and risked a bloody battle to apologize for a few words spoken in anger a year ago?”

“Ten months ago,” she said softly.

He made an incredulous noise. “A letter would’ve sufficed!”

She dropped the ribbon and clenched her hands into fists. “No, it wouldn’t have. I needed to see you in person. I thought I’d have the time so I could arrive before the battle, but I…but I…” Her throat tightened. “I wasn’t able to be here in time. If you had—if I’d lost you before I could say sorry…”

“Claire—”

“No, let me finish, please,” she ground out, holding up her hand to stop him but still not able to look at him. “I was sorry for saying those things. I
am
sorry. Not a day has passed that I haven’t regretted those words. I ought to have told you sooner—I ought to have written you. But I’m stubborn and silly and muttonheaded and…and…” She swallowed hard. Dear God, she sounded like such a fool!

“Claire, look at me.”

His thick, calloused fingers grasped her chin and turned her face to him. She gazed at him, blinking furiously. The smallest of smiles quirked his lips, and he moved his hand up to cup her cheek. His palm was so rough. She’d always loved that about him—his roughness.

“There’s naught to forgive,” he said softly.

“Yes, there is.”

“There’s my Claire,” he murmured. “Stubborn as ever.” He pressed the gentlest kiss to her lips, then pulled back.

She gazed at him, recognizing the flare of hunger in his expression, though she hadn’t seen it in so long. She’d never forget it. It was the way he’d looked at her so many times before, after that first soft press of their lips.

Arousal. Desire.
His eyes had darkened, and his lips were slightly parted. A dark flush bloomed in slashes across his cheeks.

Now, Claire.
Now or never.

She surged forward and crushed her lips to his. Startled, he began to pull back, but that only lasted a split second before he took over. With a low growl, he wrapped his arms around her and pushed her back against the tree trunk, kissing her with hard certainty, as if nothing in the world was more important than thoroughly plundering her mouth.

She plundered back, wanting more, wrapping her arms around him and up his back until she clutched his epaulets, pulling him ever closer against her.

It felt so
good
to be kissing him again, she moaned aloud. She’d never experienced anything more delicious than her husband’s mouth. It was so firm, so unyielding, but his lips were warm and soft, and his tongue was a wicked instrument of pleasure.

He used that tongue now, touching it to her lips, then dipping inside her mouth. She shuddered, a sweet, erotic roll that pulsed from her toes to her ears.

The kiss went on and on, and when Rob finally drew back, they were both panting. Claire shook with arousal, her skin prickling, her core warm and needy.

Rob stared at her, his chest heaving. She stared back.

Finally, he blinked and looked away, pushing rough fingers through his hair. Claire couldn’t be sure, but she thought his hand trembled. “Bloody hell.”

If the tree trunk hadn’t already been pressing into her back, she would have reeled backward. Rob had always been careful never to curse in her presence.

His eyes slid toward her as he ground his teeth. “Now it’ll be my turn to apologize. Forgive me.” He bit out the words.

“For…cursing?”

“Nay. For touching ye like a goddamn boor out in the open. Where people could see us. For forgetting you’re a lady.”

“And you’re a gentleman.”

He snorted. “Only on paper. Never in truth.”

“I kissed you,” she said tightly. “I initiated it.”

“I shouldna allowed it.”

It was her turn to grind her teeth. “You’ve always treated me as if I’m made of glass. As if I’ll break if you don’t constantly remind yourself of how delicate I am.”

His eyes narrowed. “You
are
delicate.”

“Stop it. Just stop.” She reeled around to look out over the battlefield again, crossing her arms over her chest. “I walked through this place yesterday. I saw a scene of horror and destruction I never thought possible. I was up to my ankles in blood. And here I stand. I went through it to find you. Yet you say I am made of glass.” She huffed. “I didn’t wilt, or shrivel up and die, or shatter. I searched for
you
, while dead men stared at me and while I stepped on their stiffened limbs. I am
not
weak, Rob.”

He eyed her warily, and he was right to do so. She’d proven herself to be weak a year ago when she’d fallen into a pit of despair. But that had been different. That had been a piece of her soul ripping out of her. She hadn’t had a choice. Anyone would be weak in that situation.

Except Rob.

The familiar bitterness welled inside her, but she battled it back. No. There would be none of that. She was putting it all behind her. She needed to be done with blame and anger.

“I’m not weak,” she repeated in a rasping whisper. “I am here, and I am strong.”

He bowed his head. “Aye. Perhaps you are.” He sounded weary. He was still injured, and probably in pain. “I didna want ye here, Claire. This is ugly business.”

“That’s exactly why I wanted to be here. To share this burden with you. As your wife.”

“You told me ye no longer had an interest in being my wife.”

“Being your wife has never been easy,” she admitted, speaking carefully. “But is that not the case with all army wives? You were gone so much…and I missed you so much…and then when…” She faltered. She couldn’t talk about this with him. It was what had caused the nasty explosion last time. “I will always be your wife,” she finished awkwardly.

“By law.”

“And by choice,” she murmured.

His eyes met hers and held them. She felt exposed, as if his gaze could dive into her and see all her deepest desires and hopes. But she wasn’t ready for that. She tried to keep some impassivity in her expression. It was too early to bare herself to him completely. Her connection with him was still too fragile, too uncertain.

Things were not even close to being resolved between them. But, she reminded herself, it was the small steps. The kiss… Even if he regretted it, it was a start.

Whatever he saw evidently appeased him, because he touched her hand—just a small, light touch—and said, “Well, then. I’m glad you’re here.”

Chapter Five

They left Waterloo the following day for Ostend. Per the instructions that had come from the Duke of Wellington, Rob was to join his friends Captains Stirling and McLeod, along with two lieutenants, Andrew Innes and Ewan Ross, and two sergeants of their choice. For the sergeants, Rob was told to choose loyal, intelligent men with officer potential. The seven of them were to report to the War Office upon arrival in London to receive their orders.

BOOK: A Highlander's Heart: A Sexy Regency Romance (Highland Knights Book 1)
3.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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