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Authors: Roberta Gellis

Fortune's Bride

An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Fortune’s Bride

 

ISBN 9781419921209

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Fortune’s Bride Copyright © 1983 Roberta Gellis

 

Cover art by Dar Albert

 

Electronic book Publication June 2009

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are
registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Fortune’s Bride
Roberta Gellis

Dedication

 

This book is dedicated to the memory of Edwin J. Newman,
who, with the greatest kindness and generosity, gave me invaluable source
material and assisted me in the historical research upon which this novel is
based.

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Captain the Honorable Robert Francis Edward Moreton strode
along Harley Street in London quite unmindful of the attention he was
receiving. He was accustomed to creating a stir when he appeared in the
full-dress uniform of the Fourteenth Light Dragoons, the regiment in which he
held his regular commission. Dragoon uniforms were always dressy, and the
Fourteenth, its blue coat trimmed with orange facings, silver lace, and topped
with a fur-edged pelisse, was brighter than most.

Robert had, in fact, never served in the regiment, having
been a staff officer from the beginning of his military career, but he liked
the uniform, especially the Tarleton helmet, which he thought much more
sensible than the busby or the shako. It was one of the reasons he was still
only a captain, for he could well afford to buy a promotion. However, Robert
did not wish to change regiments, and no vacancy had occurred in the Fourteenth
that would permit him to purchase higher rank. He did not mind that. Since he
did not serve in the regiment, he was not subject to the occasionally erratic
orders of its superior officers. Nor did he need the increased stipend of a
higher rank, having a very generous allowance from his father, the Earl of
Moreton, and being a relatively sober young man, free of the vices of excessive
drink and gambling to which so many of his peers were addicted.

In fact, Robert’s character would have been as perfect as
his features, which were better fitted for a Greek god or an idealized painting
than for a young English gentleman, had it not been for an obsession deplored
even by his affectionate family—his fixation on a military career. Nothing his
worried father could offer had been sufficient to blunt this passion, and, in
1798, when Robert was seventeen, Lord Moreton, fearing that his son would join
a line regiment as a volunteer or even be so desperate as to join the ranks,
had agreed to purchase a subaltern’s commission if his son would agree to serve
on Sir John Moore’s staff.

Robert had not been very happy about that. He had been very
eager to fling himself into the war against revolutionary France, but Sir John
was stationed in Ireland. On considering the alternatives, Robert had accepted
the compromise and soon was delighted with his decision. Sir John was an active
and brilliant officer and by 1799 was engaged in a more thrilling campaign in
Holland. In 1800 and 1801 he was in the fighting in the Mediterranean and
Egypt. Robert was delighted, though his family was not, and he came through
both disastrous campaigns in which Moore was wounded five times, twice quite
severely, with no worse damage than a saber cut and a crease from a spent ball.

Neither these minor wounds nor the dreadful mismanagement of
the campaigns by the government and high command had the smallest dampening effect
on Robert’s military ardor. Actually, he developed so strong a taste for action
and for tropical climates that when the Peace of Amiens was signed in 1801 and
Sir John went on inactive status, Robert requested and obtained a
recommendation to transfer to Sir Arthur Wellesley’s staff in India. He did not
inform his family of what he had done until after he was safely aboard ship.

Letters, alternately furious and pleading, followed him, but
Robert ignored them, aside from writing soothing, and often quite false,
reassurances about his health and safety. It had turned out that he need not
have transferred, as Sir John was back on active service the next year.
Nonetheless, Robert never regretted his choice. He succumbed neither to the
weird diseases of the East nor to the desperate battle of Assaye or those that
followed, and he enjoyed the strange culture and developed a deep admiration
for his commanding officer.

Robert had been genuinely sorry when Sir Arthur, who was not
well owing to the climate and some professional disappointments, had decided to
return to England. Being a member of General Wellesley’s personal staff, Robert
had accompanied his commanding officer home. He had given some thought to
requesting yet another transfer, but decided he would not want to serve under
any of the senior officers remaining in India. However, general officers and
staff officers with specific assignments, such as quartermaster general, were
not so fortunate. Their posting was controlled by the Horse Guards, which was
what everyone called the bureaucracy, including the Duke of York, who was
commander in chief, and his staff, who together issued the orders that ran the
army.

Actually, Robert was thinking about the Horse Guards as he
walked away from General Sir Arthur Wellesley’s house at 11 Harley Street. He
was so lost in thought that he was quite unaware of several parties who were
forced to step right off the walk to avoid him. Sir Arthur had just told Robert
that he had new instructions from the government. The plans to invade South
America were to be abandoned, and the force assembled at Cork was to be sent
instead to Spain.

On a personal level the new orders were welcome. Robert had
already been the recipient of a tearful lecture from his mother and an
admonitory one from his eldest sister, both alarmed by the huge losses, largely
from disease, that previous expeditions to South America had suffered. How they
had heard of the proposed, supposedly “secret” invasion, Robert did not bother
to wonder. In Robert’s opinion any spy with a modicum of sense would attend
ton
tea parties rather than skulk around military installations.

His father, who also certainly knew through government
sources about the plans for a new invasion of South America, had made no
remarks, having doubtless come to the conclusion that argument was useless and
that Robert, at twenty-seven, was old enough to manage his own life. But it was
clear that the earl was also worried sick. Thus, Robert, who was as fond of his
family as they were of him, was pleased that his parents and siblings would
have less cause for concern.

He was less pleased about the insecurity of Arthur
Wellesley’s position as his commanding officer. The conservative and elderly
officers of the Horse Guards who surrounded the Duke of York—equally elderly
and conservative—did not like the brash and brilliant Arthur Wellesley. Sir
Arthur had won his knighthood and his promotion, becoming the youngest
lieutenant general in the army, by the brilliance and success of his campaigns
in India. But he had won as much animosity for his stubborn honesty, his
protection of the natives from the rapacity of the Indian and the English
governments, and his fierce, unconcealed ambition. The response of the Horse
Guards was to appoint one of their own favorites, who had seniority, to command
over Sir Arthur’s head.

Robert was sure that it was only because Lord Castlereagh, a
friend and great admirer of Sir Arthur, was now Minister of War that Sir Arthur
had grudgingly been given the appointment to command the expedition to South
America, and then only because no senior general was willing to go. But Spain
was a different kettle of fish. Most of the doddering halfwits on the Duke of
York’s staff would love an appointment to a command in Europe. Castlereagh had
managed to get Sir Arthur the command temporarily on the grounds that only he
and his troops were ready to leave immediately. However, could that last? With
good winds, a fast ship could arrive at Corunna or Vigo in only five to eight
days bringing a new, and probably incapable, commander.

Robert’s lips compressed. He had no very good opinion of any
of the older generals, except Sir John Moore, and Sir John was not much older
than Sir Arthur. Moreover, Sir John was already abroad with an expedition intended
to defend the Swedish against the French and Russians. It had been impossible
for Robert to voice his concern to Sir Arthur, partly because there had been no
time, partly because he did not wish to add any worries to those Sir Arthur
already had, and partly because he knew little beyond the bare fact that they
would be going to Spain rather than to South America.

There was no use going to the Horse Guards for information.
Those willing to speak to him about the probability that Sir Arthur would be
superseded by a senior general would not really know anything. His father was
also unlikely to be able to obtain any reliable information on the intention of
the Horse Guards because he was involved mostly with domestic issues of trade
and agriculture. Robert frowned, but a moment later his brow cleared. His older
brother, Perce, probably could find out through his betrothed’s foster father.
Roger St. Eyre always seemed to know everything.

At the next crossing, Robert turned in the direction of the
Stour mansion. Technically Perce was living in Moreton House, but actually he
was seldom to be found there. All of his free time was spent with Sabrina.
Robert smiled involuntarily. He liked his future sister-in-law, who was as
sensible as she was beautiful. Come to think of it, Sabrina was the widow of a
high-level diplomat, William, Lord Elvan, and had carefully maintained her own
connections with the diplomatic community because Perce was also interested in
entering the diplomatic service. She might know as much as Perce or St. Eyre
about the reason for this change in plans and whether it was a lost cause that
the senior generals would choose to avoid. If that was the case, Robert wasn’t
worried. Sir Arthur had turned more than one forlorn hope into a resounding victory.

At Stour mansion Robert found his brother and Sabrina in
what was to be their sitting room, studying swatches of wallpaper and cloth.
Both looked up and smiled, and Perce lifted his fair brows as he remarked, “I
see there’s been some change of plans.”

“Have you heard already?” Robert asked, astonished.

“No, I haven’t heard anything,” Perce replied, “but I can’t
imagine that you’d be out walking in full regimentals in this heat if you
weren’t running errands for Sir Arthur, or that you wouldn’t have changed
before you came here unless there was something urgent you wanted to talk
about.”

“We aren’t going to South America,” Robert said.

“Thank God for that!” Sabrina exclaimed.

Robert looked at her in some surprise. She hadn’t previously
voiced any concern about the expedition or about him, and neither had Perce. “I
didn’t know you didn’t like the idea.”

Both of them laughed. “Don’t be so thick,” Perce commented.
“How could we like you going into that hell? We’ve lost eighty thousand men
there, as many from fever as from action.”

“There was no sense in nagging at you,” Sabrina said with a
slight shudder. “It was your duty.”

Robert felt surprised again. His mother and sisters,
although quick enough to point out such duties as escorting them to balls,
never seemed to associate his military work with duty. They understood that he
was required to obey the orders of his commanding officer, but they seemed to
feel he should sell his commission and leave the service any time such an order
was dangerous or disagreeable. Sabrina was the first woman of his acquaintance
who had recognized his army career as a patriotic duty, not a form of
amusement.

Perhaps, he thought, if there were more women like Sabrina,
marriage would not be utterly impossible for him. But in the next moment he
dismissed the idea. Marriage would still be impossible. One could not drag a
woman through the hardships of a campaign, and to leave her behind was to
condemn her to constant loneliness and anxiety or, far more likely, to invite
unfaithfulness. These fleeting and not very serious thoughts were scattered by
his brother’s voice.

“Besides,” Perce was saying, “Mama and Mary were at it
hammer and tongs, and Fa was walking around with a face like a corpse. I
thought you were getting enough objections from them without me adding any, but
I’m damned glad it’s off. I knew Wellesley didn’t really approve of the
objectives of the South American mission, and he approved even less of that
Venezuelan general, Miranda. Who are they sending instead? Another old fool
like—”

“No, I’m pretty sure that campaign won’t be undertaken,”
Robert interrupted. “Sir Arthur told me we will be ordered to Spain instead,
but—”

“Spain!” Perce stood up. “You mean there’s been confirmation
of the uprisings against the French?”

“Yes, but that’s about all I
do
know,” Robert said.
“I was supposed to leave for Cork tomorrow with instructions, and Sir Arthur
sent for me to tell me to return to the Horse Guards the papers I was to carry,
but he didn’t have time to say much else. You may be glad South America is off,
but if there’s too good a chance of making headway in Spain, Sir Arthur will be
superseded, and I’m not so sure I like that.”

“Take off your helmet and sit down,” Sabrina suggested.
“Would you like something to drink?”

Robert nodded in reply to her question and not only took off
his helmet but unhooked his pelisse, threw it on a chair, and unbuttoned the
top of his dolman. The removal of the helmet exposed a head of bright gold
curls, flattened and darkened by perspiration, but detracting nothing from his
exceptional good looks. His brow was broad and well shaped. His eyes were
large, and their bright blue was only intensified by the tanning of his
naturally fair skin. A straight nose set over exquisitely curved lips, which
lifted just a trifle at the corners as if always ready to smile, and a rounded
but determined chin made for a countenance that was totally ravishing.

Nor did removal of the pelisse, which for some men disguised
narrow or sloping shoulders, prove in the least detrimental to Robert’s figure.
He was not as tall as his elder brother, but the strong neck exposed by the
loosened dolman and the way the cloth fitted his shoulders without need for
padding hinted at considerable power. If confirmation were needed, it could be
found in the muscular thighs, well exposed by the molding of the tight
breeches.

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