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Authors: Maureen Driscoll

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Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid

BOOK: Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid
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NEVER A MISTRESS, NO LONGER A MAID

 

by

Maureen Driscoll

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2011, by Maureen Driscoll

Cover design by Jennifer Omner, ALLpublications.com

Author photo by JBC Images, JBCimages.com

 

All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced
in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author,
excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

This is a work of fiction.  Any similarities to persons
living or dead, business establishments, events or locales are strictly coincidental.

 

 

 

 

To my mom.

The greatest woman I know.

 

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

I owe a great deal to the amazing Lucy Carson, who
fought for this project and, through her unending patience and excellent
editing, made it a much better book.  Thank you also to Danielle Fishel, Janice
Minsberg, Carrie Weiner, Maggie Walsh and Rich Nurse whose invaluable notes and
enthusiasm are much appreciated.

A special note of undying thanks to my DC friends: 
Mario Correa, Tara Gans, Andrew Goldberg, Morgana Lark, Betsy Lawton, Christos
Nikolis and Adam and Allison Rak.  You were there when I needed you most. 

And I’m so blessed you still are.

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belgium, June 1815

Ned Kellington had awakened to worse headaches, but couldn’t
for the life of him remember when.  Surely, as the second son of one of
England’s most infamous families, he’d indulged in his share of activities that
would result in the type of relentless pounding currently plaguing his skull. 
But in this case, there’d been no pleasant prelude of drinking or gambling. 
And there’d certainly been no evening spent in the company of either an
unhappily married lady of the
ton
or a perfectly contented member of the
demimonde.
                                                                               

Ned opened his eyes slowly, avoiding the glare of what
appeared to be the mid-afternoon sun, shining through a canopy of trees.  Lying
on his back, he slowly turned his head to the right and looked directly into
the eyes of a member of Napoleon’s army, also lying on his back.  Ned started,
which sent a fresh assault of pain through his head, then fumbled for his
knife.  As he pulled himself to a seated position, he realized his head was
only one source of agony.  Judging from the pain shooting through his right
thigh, avoiding death at the hands of his enemy would certainly be an
improvement on his day, but wouldn’t mark the end of his problems.

The man, who looked to be an infantryman, wasn’t moving.  As
Ned drew closer, he recognized the blank look in the man’s eyes.  He’d seen
death too many times to mistake it.  He looked around to ensure they were
alone, then tried to remember how he came to be there.

He had a vague recollection of encountering the man while returning
to the British line from his latest mission.  He and the soldier had been
equally surprised to see each other.  The Frenchman was in uniform, but, given
his lone state, most likely a deserter.  As a spy, Ned wore no uniform, but
with their proximity to the front the Frenchman would’ve known few civilians
would be on horseback in that part of the woods.  A brief, but vicious fight
had ensued and had the Frenchman’s aim been better, Ned would likely have bled
to death from the wound in his thigh.

Now, it simply throbbed with each beat of his pulse.  Ned
looked at the tourniquet he’d applied before losing consciousness.  A
surprisingly neat piece of work that.  It would one day be part of a good
story, if he lived to tell it.  But he’d likely omit the part about passing out
from the pain.

Ned knew he had to get out of the woods, but saw no sign of
his horse.  He carefully stood, almost fainting once more from the damned pain
in his leg, which had temporarily diverted attention from his aching head.  He
limped over to a tree, where he broke off a sturdy branch for use as a crutch.

It was then that Ned became aware of his thirst.  A quick
and painful search of his surroundings revealed his canteen, complete with the bullet
hole that had drained its contents.  Ned eyed the Frenchman, then searched his
belongings.  The man had neither water nor food, and had probably been in
search of both when they’d happened upon each other.

Ned stood again, wobbled precariously, then tried to
formulate a plan based not on the hasty training he’d received when signing up
for the Guards, but culled from the quite excellent experience he’d acquired
through years of growing up in the wilds of Lynwood Manor.  And it was at that
moment that he recognized quite possibly the nicest sound he’d ever heard – a
nearby river.

*                    *                   *

Jane Wetherby knew she might have only a short time left to
live.  And it was all the river’s fault.  She’d been returning to the Allied
lines after nursing a company of men on the western flank who’d been too
injured to be moved to the hospital tents.  After three long days, she was on
her way back to the main lines in preparation for what she was told would be
the defining battle of the war. 

Dressed in men’s clothing, she’d been on her way back to
camp, when she heard the river.  With little access to clean water, and with
what little there was given to the injured men, Jane was faint from the heat. 
A quick stop at the river was a necessity if she hoped to make it back to camp.

But as she approached the river, she realized too late that she
wasn’t alone.  A filthy man wearing the tattered remnants of a French uniform
looked up at her.  Before Jane could turn her horse and retreat, she was pulled
off by another French soldier and thrown to the ground.

As she lay on her back with the wind knocked out of her,
Jane prayed the men would simply take the horse and leave.  She was grateful
she’d had the foresight to disguise herself as a man.


Bon soir, ma’moiselle
,” said the first of the two
soldiers.  “What a treat to find you here, however curiously attired in the
clothes of a boy,” he continued on in French.

Perhaps Jane’s disguise wasn’t as good as she’d thought.

“A treat, indeed,” said his friend.  “One good enough to be
shared.”

“You may wish to run along, gentlemen,” she said in French,
as she rose.  “My brothers will be here any moment and they won’t approve of my
conversing with strangers.” 

“Ah, you’re British,” said the first soldier, switching to
English.  “How delightful that your dear brothers would come all this way in
the middle of a battle to watch over their sister.”

“It warms a man’s heart,” said the second man, also in
English.  “I would like to meet these devoted brothers, wouldn’t you, Henri?”


Bien sur
,” Henri said, taking a step closer to
Jane.  “And until they arrive I should like to get to know their sister a bit
more.”     

“Stop right there!” said Jane with all the authority she
could muster.  “My brothers will be angry.”

“I’m sure they will, if they ever hear what happened to
their baby
soeur
.  But I doubt very much they will ever learn what
happened in a forest in Belgium.”

With that, Henri grabbed Jane and pulled her to him, while
his friend laughed.  Jane used all her strength to break his grip.  She managed
to run for a few steps until Henri grabbed her again from behind.  With one arm
around her waist in an iron-clad hold, he roughly grabbed one of her breasts,
while grinding himself into her bottom. 

“Let go of me!”

“This one has some life to her,
n’est pas
?” said the
other soldier.  He walked toward them with a leer on his face.  Jane’s disgust
turned to fear as she noticed him unbuttoning his trousers.

“Albert, fair is fair.  I caught her.  I should go first.” 
Then Jane felt Henri unfasten his breeches behind her.

Knowing her very survival was at stake, Jane flung her head
backward, hitting Henri on the nose and startling him enough to let go of her.  Jane
bolted away from him, but had only gone a few steps, when she was felled to the
ground by one of them.

“So, the bitch thinks she can run.  More pity for her.” 
Henri turned her to face him.  “You’re going to watch me, English whore.”

Jane tried to bring her knee up, but was pinned to the
ground.  Thinking quickly, she reached up and tried to bite him.  Then just as
quickly, he was no longer on top of her.

“Run!” said a third man in unaccented English.  He was in
civilian clothes and brandishing a knife at the two soldiers.

Jane found a good-sized rock and ran toward the fight.  She
approached Albert from behind, then with all her strength slammed the rock into
his temple.  At the same time, she heard a blood-curdling cry and the sickening
sound of a knife stuck into Henri’s chest.   

Albert turned and staggered toward her, furious.  But before
he could hurt her, the Englishman grabbed his arm, then reached around and slit
Albert’s throat.  The Frenchman fell to his knees then hit the ground, dead.  A
quick perusal of his friend confirmed his death, as well.

 Jane looked at the Englishman, who was holding a bloody
knife.  He was tall, with broad shoulders and a muscled body that had seen its
share of hard work.  He had long, dark brown hair and what appeared to be
emerald green eyes, bright with the beginnings of fever.  If he were an angel
come to rescue her, she wasn’t sure who had sent him.  He looked too sinful to
have come from above.

“Did those bastards hurt you, madam?”

Madam?  Was no one fooled by her disguise?

“No, you arrived just in…”

“I told you to run!” he said, suddenly angry she’d disobeyed
him.

“I couldn’t leave you to die.”

“So you risked your own life, instead.”  He said it as if he
were disgusted, rather than grateful for her intervention.

Insufferable man.

“Of course,” she said.  “It was only right to do so.”

The man shook his head, muttering to himself, then turned
from her and climbed down the shallow bank to the river.

“Don’t drink that!” she said, as his hand neared the water.

He looked at her as if she had suddenly sprouted horns and a
tail. 

“Madam, I am having what can only be described as an extremely
unfortunate day.  Water is almost never my first choice of drink, but today it
will have to suffice.”

“It’s unclean.”

“I have no fear of a little dirt,” he said as he lowered his
hand into the water.

Jane immediately dropped to his side, and then pulled on his
hand to keep it away from his mouth.  She was acutely aware of his nearness and
strength.  While she was able to stay the hand, she had no doubt it was only because
he allowed her to do so.

“There are spirits of disease in the water.  If you drink it
without boiling it first, you’ll become ill.”

“Madam, I’ve been drinking from rivers since I was in short
pants, surely longer than you’ve been on this earth.  I am, as you can see,
alive and healthy, with the exception of a leg that has been gravely insulted
by a bullet and a head that feels as if a blacksmith has used it in place of an
anvil.  I will risk your ‘spirits of disease.’”

He easily pulled his hand away from Jane’s, then lifted it
toward his lips.  It was only inches away when he felt a sudden jolt to his
already aching head.  And as he lost consciousness for the second time that day,
he had the most curious idea that the jolt had been delivered by a dainty fist
to the side of his head.

*                    *                    *                                     

Ned Kellington opened his eyes slowly and noticed two
things.  One was that his head, which hurt even more than it had earlier, was
being cradled in a very soft lap.  The other was that two perfect breasts were
tantalizingly close to his mouth.  He’d noticed her shape earlier, despite the
ridiculous attempt to hide her curves in men’s attire.  She had blonde hair
pulled under a cap and light brown eyes that showed flecks of amber.  It was a
pity he wasn’t in any kind of shape to do something about it.

“Are you all right?”

He looked up into the amber eyes that were filled with
concern.  Then she worried her bottom lip and Ned was struck with the highly understandable,
yet, at the moment, quite impractical desire to take that lip between his own
teeth.

“Can you walk?” she asked.  “We really must find shelter
before someone comes.  I found a small cave on the other side of the hill. 
It’s where my horse is tethered.”

“Can’t we just ride your horse back to camp?”

“You won’t make it, sir.  I need to see to your leg.”

“While normally I would accommodate all such requests from a
lady, I have a feeling from that scowl on your face that you mean you’d like to
see to it medically.  But what use can a lady be in those circumstances?”

“You, sir, are about to find out.”

While that sounded more than vaguely threatening, Ned was
able to stumble to his feet.  She wrapped her arm around his waist to help keep
him upright.  The pain in his leg was greater than earlier, which diverted his
attention from the feel of her breasts pressed into him as they walked. 
Diverted it to a point, at least.

“Am I slipping into delirium, or did you strike me earlier?”

The girl – how old was she? – had the grace to be
embarrassed.

“I couldn’t let you become ill.”

“So you decided to knock me senseless instead, possibly
concussing my brain.  I believe I would’ve preferred to take my chances with
the river.  What’s your name?”

The question seemed to take her aback, because they stumbled
and nearly fell.

“Iris.  Iris Johnston.”

“Well, Miss Johnston, what brings you to the middle of a
war?”

“I’m tending the wounded,” she said defensively, as if finding
her near a battlefield were the most natural thing in the world.

Ned glanced at the girl as he forced his legs to take him up
the hill.  Her answer surprised him.  Most female nurses were prostitutes.  She
didn’t look like a camp follower, or at least her attire wasn’t one that a
lightskirt would ever consider wearing.  But her body was certainly delectable
enough.  Her speech was that of a lady, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d
met a fallen woman who’d once been respectable.  And it wouldn’t be the first
time he’d taken advantage of one, either.  He pulled her closer.

“Are you feeling weak?” she asked with even greater
concern.  She had a wrinkle between her brows when she frowned that was worthy
of kisses.  Or at least Ned thought there was a wrinkle between her brows.  At
the moment, she seemed to have four of them.  He would have to rest his eyes as
soon as possible.

When they finally reached their destination, Ned was
relieved to see there was a shallow cave in the hill, hidden from the path
they’d just travelled.  With any luck, they’d be safe until he could recover
his strength.

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