Authors: Christi Caldwell
Seduced By a Lady’s Heart
Copyright © 2015 by Christi Caldwell
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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My beautiful boy. With the Lords of Honor series being about heroes and soldiers, there is no one who deserves this dedication more than you—my strong, courageous warrior in all things. You inspire me with your strength and humble me with your beautiful spirit, in the face of great challenges.
are my hero.
Table of Contents
Thank you for wanting to read Lieutenant Jones’ story as much as I wanted to tell it. I connected with Jones from the moment he was staring blankly out the window during Lady Emmaline’s visit in “Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride”.
The day I came onto Facebook and read your post asking to know his story, was a wonderful day!
n all of Lady Eloise Yardley, the Countess of Sherborne’s, twenty-eight years she could likely place the underhanded, questionable things she’d done on one hand. And that unimpressive list of sins included stealing another girl’s peppermints when she’d been a girl of seven.
Her palms dampened under the unease churning in her belly, and to still her trembling fingers she dusted her palms along the sides of her silver, satin skirts. Staring at the modest, marble foyer of London Hospital, Eloise acknowledged that this disloyal act was far worse than stealing peppermints.
“My lady, if you’d rather not visit, it is more than understandable,” the older nurse’s words snapped into her musings.
Startled into movement, Eloise slapped a hand to her chest. “Er, no. I’m quite all right,” she lied. She cleared her throat. “I’m merely…”
Terrified. Nauseous. Panicked
. And every emotion in between at the prospect of striding down those corridors and entering the sterile rooms of the hospital.
The gentle light in the woman’s eyes indicated she’d detected the lie.
Eloise sighed. “Shall we?”
The nurse’s white eyebrows shot to her hairline in apparent surprise and then an approving glint replaced her earlier concern. She gave a brief nod. “If you’ll follow me,” she murmured.
The older woman didn’t attempt to fill the awkward pall of silence, for which Eloise was grateful. She didn’t imagine she could muster a single, coherent thought. She furrowed her brow. A matter she’d have to rectify if this carefully orchestrated visit went to plan. She eyed the dreary, white walls, the hard plaster devoid of cheer and life. Then, life had taught her early on that nothing ever truly went to plan.
“I am always so grateful to see ladies such as yourself taking time to visit the wounded soldiers,” Nurse Maitland said.
Their footsteps fell into a synchronized rhythm.
Guilt stabbed at Eloise. She’d never felt more ashamed than she did in that moment. For it was not strictly altruistic reasons that brought her into this feared place. Just the opposite, really. Remorse kept her silent.
“Lady Drake, the Marchioness of Drake, has long visited the hospital.”
She’d, of course, known that. “Has she?” Eloise’s voice emerged as a high-pitched squeak, which earned a sideways glance from the woman.
“Indeed. In fact, she is here even n—oh, my! Are you all right, my lady?”
Eloise stumbled and, unfortunately for the older nurse, caught herself using the woman’s tall, narrow frame. “Yes,” she replied, lamely. Mortified heat burned her cheeks. However, the thrill of excitement coursed through her, more powerful than any small emotion of embarrassment. So, the marchioness was here. She quickly yanked her hands back from Nurse Maitland’s narrow, but seemingly capable, shoulders. “Pardon me,” she said belatedly.
The woman passed a concerned glance over her face and then resumed walking. Eloise kept pace alongside her. With each step drawing her closer to those dreaded hospital rooms, panic pounded in her chest. It flared hot and strong until the familiar buzzing filled her ears and she blinked back the black dots that flecked her vision.
Nurse Maitland said something, her words lost to the memories churning at an agonizingly quick pace through her mind. The older woman looked to Eloise with a smile, her unheard words clearly merited a like response and so she told her mind to tell her lips to move. She mustered a weak, clearly sufficient smile for the woman continued on.
Since the dark days, as she’d come to refer to them, she’d detested any and all things pertaining to illness—hospitals, doctors, the color white, the heat of a fever. All of it. It was irrational and insensible and she’d never been accused of being either irrational or insensible. But there you had it.
“Ah, here we are,” the nurse murmured.
And here she was. The last place in the world she cared to be. Feet twitching with the urge to flee, Eloise swallowed past the enormous swell of fear in her throat and stared at the double doors. Yet a place she had come…
Finding strength in the memory of him, even as that was all he lived as—a fleeting memory of her past—she drew in a steadying breath.
Nurse Maitland, unaware of Eloise’s inner turmoil, opened a door and motioned her forward.
Eloise hesitated and craned her head inside the doorway and blinked. The cheerful room with rows of beds was nothing one would conjure when they imagined the dreary walls of a lonely hospital. Extravagant blooms in generous vases lent a merry feel to the room. Which was ludicrous, of course. There could never truly be anything joyous in this room, filled with men who’d sacrificed so much, received so little, and, no doubt, forgotten by all. Nay, not all. Most. She swallowed hard at the sight of the men confined to these beds.
Again, guilt pricked her conscience. For her reason in being here was not the honorable, admirable sort.
He had been one of them.
Why didn’t I know?
Why didn’t you tell me?
She would have braved the horrors she’d carried all these years just to step through the doors and see him.
Because you never mattered
, a silent voice reminded her, pragmatic and sincere.
“Ahem.” Eloise forced her legs to move forward as the nurse discreetly cleared her throat. She stepped inside, not knowing what she expected. The room to suddenly burn with the heat of bodies ablaze with fever? The scent of vomit and sweat that even the mere memory of caused bile to build in her throat? She swallowed it forcibly back and walked alongside Nurse Maitland.
She glanced about at the soldiers, still confined to these beds. Many eyed her with blank, empty stares. Others with a modicum of curiosity in their bored gazes. Eloise managed a smile and then continued surveying the room.
And then found
. She froze.
The young woman, a diminutive, smallish figure with brown hair the color of chocolate sat beside a gentleman, her head bent over a book as she read. Forgetting all the rules of propriety drilled into her from early on, Eloise studied the Marchioness of Drake.
Nurse Maitland continued on and then realized Eloise no longer fell into step beside her, for she turned back with a frown. She followed her gaze fixed on the young lady. “Ah, forgive me. Are you acquainted with Her Ladyship?”
“No,” Eloise’s response was instantaneous. After all, she couldn’t very well admit that she’d never really been welcomed into the same social circles as the respectable marchioness, daughter of a duke. Unlike Eloise who’d been a mere knight’s daughter, who’d captured the notice of the Earl of Sherborne. In truth, however, Eloise well knew she could have coordinated a meeting with the woman at a place other than London Hospital. But it was a need to know not only this woman, but more importantly this place.
As though feeling her stare, the marchioness glanced up from her reading and looked about. Her gaze collided with Eloise. A wide smile wreathed the woman’s face and she lifted a hand in greeting.
Some of the anxiety went out of Eloise as she managed her first real smile and she returned the gesture.
“Please, allow me to introduce you.”
For the first time in so very long, excitement stirred to life inside her as, with each passing step, her fear of this room, of her plans, of simply being here slipped away. Oh, they didn’t disappear altogether, but rather remained muted by the hope in her heart.
“Lady Drake,” the nurse said with far more familiarity than Eloise expected as they drew to a stop beside a gentleman’s bed.
Eloise glanced down and, for a fleeting moment, her reasons for seeking out the marchioness faded when paired with the extreme starkness in the blond-haired, blue-eyed gentleman’s empty eyes.
“Nurse Maitland,” the marchioness returned.
The remainder of her words was lost as Eloise rudely met the gaze of a stranger who stared boldly back. Pain tightened her belly while she replaced this stranger’s face with another. Is this what Lucien had become? She’d never imagined the gentle, polite young boy she’d considered a friend anything but full of laughter and cheer.
Then, if he were still that laughing, cheerful man wouldn’t he have returned?
a voice needled.
“This is Lady Sherborne.” Nurse Maitland’s greeting jerked her back.
She flushed. “M-my lady,” she stammered and dropped a belated curtsy.
The marchioness rose in a flurry of skirts. She waved a hand breezily about. “Oh, please, there is no need for such formality,” she assured. “Emmaline will suffice.” She smiled, again a grin teeming with warmth and sincerity. “We do so enjoy the addition of new, pleasant guests, isn’t that correct, Lieutenant Forbes?”
His lips quirked up in half a grin. “Aye.” For a moment Eloise wondered if she’d merely imagined his earlier coolness. Then he shifted his attention to her and the wary mistrust replaced all hint of warmth.
Eloise shifted upon her feet, feeling like an interloper in this world. In all worlds, really. But for the meadows of Kent, she’d never really felt a kindred connection to any place.
“…Just showing Lady Sherborne about…”
She wet her lips, torn with the purpose that had brought her here and this sudden need to see the men who called this hospital home. Lucien was once one of them. Agony twisted her belly into knots. With a slow nod she said, “It was a pleasure meeting you, my…Emmaline,” she quickly amended at the gentle reproach in the marchioness’ eyes.