The Incomparables – an excerpt of Lynne Connolly’s story

Lynne Connolly’s story in The Incomparables box set is called Dreaming of Waterloo. Enjoy!

Dreaming of Waterloo, by Lynne Connolly

waterloo-authorThey called him “Lucky,” but not all injuries are physical ones. Plagued by headaches and living nightmares, Paul, Lord Sherstone returns to London to a wife he doesn’t know and an estate he has to manage. He daren’t let her close, even though he is falling in love with her all over again.

Married and abandoned in a month, Hetty learned to manage a large estate and fend off would-be lovers, but a threat emerges much closer to home and from an unexpected place. In need of help she turns to Paul but since his return he has only shut her out. Refusing to give up on the man she fell in love with five years ago, Hetty has to persuade her husband to let her into his bed—and his heart.

Excerpt (Copyright 2015 Lynne Connolly, all rights reserved)

The crowd parted.

They were not dancing, having left off in favor of supper, so Paul walked straight across the room to face Hetty. His gait was loose and easy, but he ate up the ground with no regard to the careful, mincing steps of the fashionable gentleman. His Hussar uniform, one of the most flamboyant in the army, looked as good as any ever did on his broad shoulders, and tall, muscular form. Gold was so heavily laced across the front that the red cloth beneath could hardly be seen. The pelisse that hung from one shoulder, red lined with blue, was equally fine.

Despite the magnificence, the man outshone the uniform, his carefully brushed dark hair and square jaw more than adequate to the task. The grim purpose delineated in every spare line of his form embellished the uniform rather than the other way about.

Hetty drew her hand away from Lewis’s arm, and stood clear of him. Paul bowed to her. “My lady.”

“My lord.”

Thus, a year of silence was broken.

She held out her gloved hand, proud that it did not waver, even though her pulses throbbed and her throat had tightened so she could scarcely breathe.

He took it and bowed over it in the approved manner. Then he glanced at his cousin. “Lewis.”

“Welcome home, Sherstone,” Lewis said, his voice slightly higher than usual.

“Thank you.” Straightening, his eyes met hers again, and once more he transfixed her.

Her mind flashed back to the first time they had met. Like this, in a ballroom, before she knew he was to be her husband.

But of course, this was nothing like that time. He was a soldier, but not a major, as he was now. He didn’t have that hard expression in his eyes then, either.

Five years had passed between that day and this, and a wealth of experience. Not to mention heartbreak, on her side at least.

Because of the woman she was now, not the one she had been once, Hetty put on her practiced society face of mild interest, allowing her lips to tilt upwards very slightly. “I had not known you were coming.”

“My arrival was somewhat confused, my lady. I was prepared to accompany Wellington to Vienna, but he had other plans. So I climbed on to one of the many ships transporting the wounded to England instead.” His lip curled in a self-deprecating sneer. “I was assured I was not taking the place of someone who needed it more than I did.”

For this was the hero, the talisman of the army. “I see you are not hurt, sir. Or is some part of you damaged beyond repair?”

The sneer turned to a smile and his dark eyes lit with amusement. Eyes that dark caught every spark of light that passed by, reflecting it with an adamantine glitter. Hetty had never been sure if she imagined the volatile moods that shaded them, or whether it was the light affecting them. But this was unmistakable. “I am never wounded. I thought you knew that.”

“Yes.” She wet her lips and watched his gaze settle there before lifting once more to encompass her face. “You have that reputation.”

“I do seem to, do I not?” His nickname of ‘Lucky’ had never been bestowed on a worthier candidate. He had been at the heart of every battle Wellington had sent him into. Men fell around him, but Major Lord Paul Sherstone remained upright and unscathed. Men strove to join his company, which had fewer casualties than others. Prints were made of him standing in bloody battlefields, staring at the carnage going on around him. Handsome and tall, the picture of a perfect officer, Paul had captivated the popular imagination.

He was doing the same now. Around them, a hush was barely broken. People watched him, most of them with awe or smiling. He ignored them all in favor of his wife and cousin, but Hetty was painfully aware of all of them. Usually she moved around society as one of many, as part of it, but not standing out. Just the way she liked it. Suddenly she was the center of attention. “I—I went to Horse Guards. They wouldn’t tell me where you were.”

He shrugged. “They probably had no idea. I told them I was selling out. My superior officer should have told the authorities.” He frowned. “You mean you did not know if I was alive or dead?”

“Exactly.” Good of him to put it so succinctly.

Fire sparked in the depths of his eyes. “That is not acceptable. It’s been ten days since the battle. I wrote to you. Did you not receive my letter?”

She shook her head. “But you are here now, my lord.” His words eased her somewhat. Before, she had imagined that she was of little importance in his scheme of things, but it appeared he had made efforts to contact her.

“And you are not one to sit before the fire, wringing your hands, are you?” A steely tone had entered his voice.

Did he expect as much? Once she might have done just that, but these days Hetty was more inclined to take her fate into her own hands. “I will find out more here than at home, waiting for something to happen.”

He gave a brief, terse nod. “True enough.”

He glanced around. “You were heading for the supper room? Allow me to escort you.”

After a nod to his cousin, Paul took Lewis’s place. He offered her his arm and she laid her hand on it. Now she trembled. Heat rose from his body through the unblemished cloth to her hand. Like this, Paul appeared as nothing more than a dandy, dressed more flamboyantly than anyone with a dozen fobs to his waistcoat. Underneath, his body was honed and sharpened to a killing edge.

As they moved away, leaving Lewis behind, chatter rose up once more.

Paul let out a long breath. “Well that was difficult.”

She felt cold, numb with shock.

“I had no idea you didn’t know I was alive.” He cast a glance over his shoulder to where Lewis was standing. “I regret you had to discover it in such a way. I suggest I find you something to drink, and then we may sit and try to appear unobtrusive.”

There was an edge of wildness to her laughter. “You? Unobtrusive?”

His mouth tightened in a mirthless grin. “I try. I should have more success soon.”

He said no more until he had procured wine for them both. After she refused food, he took her to a seat by the side of the room. “Let us hope that our reunion deters people from approaching us.”

But that was not to be. First one person then another offered him their felicitations and expressed their admiration of his prowess. Paul greeted them all with a smile, reminded them that his wife was with him, so they had to get to their feet and bow and curtsey.

“This will not do,” Paul said. “I wish to speak to you privately. We have much to discuss, my lady.”

She wished he wouldn’t call her that. She was Hetty. Henrietta if he had to, but not “my lady.”

“May I call on you tomorrow?” he asked her.

Startled, all she could do was blink at him. “I had thought—”

“I arrived far too late last night to disturb you, so I went to the club.”

“You’re staying at White’s?”

“No, at the Incomparable, farther along St. James’s Street.”

She frowned. “I don’t recall the name.”

He nodded. “It used to be the Classical. We’ve revived it. It’s now a club for people who fought at Waterloo.”

If she was not on her best behavior, she might have whistled. “So fast?”

“We had to move quickly, or the building would have sold elsewhere.”

“We?”

“We formed a committee. We have yet to meet and discuss the details of the club, but we felt the need to ensure we remembered the battle.”

“I see,” she said. She did indeed. Battle was an essentially masculine affair, and like turkey-cocks, they would want to strut their achievements. “To relive its glories.”

His lips twisted and he shook his head. “Not in that way. We need somewhere we feel safe.” Abruptly, he stopped looked away. He finished his wine before putting it aside on a table next to the sofa they shared. “We have bedrooms, so I used one last night. I will stay there tonight, and come to you in the morning.”

“At what time?”

“Does a man need permission to enter his own house?”

That made Hetty guilty. She was so used to having the house to herself but of course, that was at an end now. “Of course not. I merely wanted to ensure everything was ready.”

He lowered his voice and leaned closer. “That phrase could mean something entirely different in certain quarters.” Leaning back, he observed her discomfiture.

A flush rose to her cheeks. “Then I apologize.” She would be up with the dawn tomorrow. She had no desire for him to find her still abed.

He still disturbed her, still made her want—things. Their marriage had not been marked with passion, except right at the beginning. Sometimes she considered those heady days as the only truly happy ones of her life. That was foolish, of course it was, but in her more melancholy moments, she remembered them.

She would never get them back. They had gone on and their union had become something completely different.

“My cousin seemed very thick with you,” he said, leaning back.

She breathed in relief, as if he’d taken all the air when he’d moved closer to her. “He’s been of great help with the estate. It is in good heart.”

He frowned. “But you take the decisions, do you not?”

“Yes.” She had ensured that. Working with the men of business, the estate managers, the lawyers and other professional people she had managed to keep her finger on the pulse of his estate. Not that Paul had cared much, or so it seemed. He was not the first son of his parents, but had inherited the earldom when his brother had died unexpectedly shortly after Paul had joined the army. He could not be reached for some time, and when he finally returned home, he was an earl. Wellington had demanded his return. The earldom could wait, Wellington had said, and so it had.

Now it would not. “Your men of business will be anxious to talk to you,” she said.

“It appears that they talk to Lewis far more than to me.” He shrugged, his shoulders moving powerfully under the fabric of his uniform. “I have a new skill to learn.” He got to his feet and held out his hand.

After only a moment’s hesitation, she took it and let him help her to her feet. “You look weary,” he said softly. “I won’t tax you with my presence tonight. Go home and get some sleep.”

“Yes, I believe I shall.” She smiled brightly, forcing back the shadows.

Perhaps they would do better this time, after all. This time as friends and colleagues, not passionate lovers. That chapter had ended a long time ago, and she should not regret it.

And yet she did.

*****

About Lynne Connolly

Lynne grew up in a haunted house in Leicester, England, and got used to telling the ghosts to shut up! She has lived a variety of lives, moving from the rock music world to the business world, and then to writing.

She has won awards and written best-selling books, although the writing is always her greatest reward. As Lynne Connolly she writes historical romance, and as L.M. Connolly spicy contemporary and paranormal romance.

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