Read Beneath the Major's Scars Online

Authors: Sarah Mallory

Beneath the Major's Scars

WHEN A TAINTED BEAUTY...

After being shamelessly seduced by a married man, Zelah
Pentewan finds her reputation is in tatters. Determined to rise above the
gossipmongers, Zelah knows she can rely on no one but herself.

...MEETS A FORMIDABLE BEAST!

But her independence takes a knock when a terrifying stranger
must come to her aid. Major Dominic Coale’s formidable manner is notorious, but
Zelah shows no signs of fear. She doesn’t cower at his touch as she begins to
get a glimpse of the man behind the scars....

THE NOTORIOUS COALE BROTHERS

They are the talk of the
Ton!

Twin brothers Dominic and Jasper Coale set Society’s tongues
wagging with their disreputable behavior.

Get to know the real men behind the scandalous reputations in
this deliciously wicked duet from Sarah Mallory!

Major Dominic Coale

He’s locked away in his castle in the woods, with only his
tormenting memories for company, until governess Zelah Pentewan crosses the
threshold…

BENEATH THE MAJOR’S SCARS
December 2012

Jasper Coale, Viscount Markham

Used to having his own way where women are concerned, Jasper
would bet his fortune
o
n being
able to seduce beautiful Susannah Prentess—but she proves stubbornly
resistant to his charms!

BEHIND THE RAKE’S WICKED WAGER
January 2013

Author Note

Identical twins—fascinating, aren’t they? And they have been
used very often in plots—by Shakespeare and Georgette Heyer, amongst others.

I have identical twin boys myself, and they came as a bit of
a shock. It was only after the birth that I learned there were twins on my
mother’s side of the family, and as she and I were both born under the star sign
of Gemini—the twins—perhaps I should have been more prepared! However, I know
from experience that twins are individuals, so when I decided to write about
Jasper and Dominic Coale I wanted to give them very different stories. I began
with Dominic, the younger brother. This is his story.

It was common practice amongst the English aristocracy for
younger sons to join the army, and so it is with Dominic. He goes off to fight
in the Peninsular War, but after suffering terrible injuries he finds his life
takes a very different turn from that of his twin.

When Zelah (and the reader) first meet Dominic he has
retired to Rooks Tower, an isolated house on Exmoor. He is irascible and a
confirmed recluse, but Zelah’s young nephew Nicky has seen beyond his defensive
shell and considers Dominic a firm friend. It is through Nicky that Zelah and
Dominic meet and discover a mutual attraction, although they are both reluctant
to acknowledge it. Zelah has been hurt before, and is determined upon an
independent life, while Dominic believes his scarred face and body must repel
every woman. They both have lessons to learn if they are to achieve
happiness.

Some time ago I wrote a Christmas story—
Snowbound with the Notorious Rake—
which is set on Exmoor, the
beautiful wild moors in the southwest of England. Ever since, I have wanted to
use Exmoor again, so this is where Dominic buys his property, Rooks Tower, and
it is here that Zelah falls in love with the proud man behind the horrific
scars.

I really enjoyed writing Dominic and Zelah’s story, and I
hope you have as much pleasure reading it.

Beneath the Major’s Scars

Sarah Mallory

Available from Harlequin®
Historical and SARAH MALLORY

More Than a Governess
#233
The Wicked Baron
#257
The
Earl’s Runaway Bride
#284
*
Wicked Captain,
Wayward Wife
#293
To Catch a Husband…
#307
*
The Dangerous Lord Darrington
#315
Snowbound with the Notorious Rake
#321

Beneath the Major’s Scars
#345

Look for Sarah Mallory’s


Behind the Rake’s
Wicked Wager
#348

in January 2013
and

The Illegitimate Montague

part of Castonbury Park Regency miniseries

*Linked by
character
†The Notorious Coale Brothers

For P and S, my own twin heroes.

SARAH MALLORY

was born in Bristol, and now lives in an old farmhouse on
the edge of the Pennines with her husband and family. She left grammar school at
sixteen to work in companies as varied as stockbrokers, marine engineers,
insurance brokers, biscuit manufacturers and even a quarrying company. Her first
book was published shortly after the birth of her daughter. She has published
more than a dozen books under the pen name of Melinda Hammond, winning a
Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2005 from Singletitles.com for
Dance for a Diamond
and a Historical Novel Society’s Editors’ Choice
in November 2006 for
Gentlemen in Question.

Prologue

Cornwall—1808

T
he room was
very quiet. The screams and cries, the frantic
exertions of the past twelve hours were over. The bloodied cloths and the tiny,
lifeless body had been removed and the girl lay between clean sheets, only the
glow of firelight illuminating the room. Through the window a single star
twinkled in the night sky. She did not seek it out, she had no energy for such
conscious effort, but it was in her line of vision and it was easier to fix her
eyes on that single point of light than to move her head.

Her body felt like a dead weight, exhausted by the struggle she
had endured. Part of her wondered why she was still alive, when it would be so
much better for everyone if she had been allowed to die with her baby.

She heard the soft click of the opening door and closed her
eyes, not wishing to hear the midwife’s brisk advice or her aunt’s
heart-wrenching sympathy.

‘Poor lamb.’ Aunt Wilson’s voice was hardly more than a sigh.
‘Will she survive, do you think?’

‘Ah, she’ll live, she’s a strong ’un.’ From beneath her lashes
the girl could see the midwife standing at the foot of the bed, wiping her hands
on her bloody apron. ‘Although it might be better if she didn’t.’

‘Ah, don’t say that!’ Aunt Wilson’s voice cracked. ‘She is
still God’s creature, even though she has sinned.’

The midwife sniffed.

‘Then the Lord had better look out for her, poor dearie, for
her life is proper blighted and that’s for sure. No man will want her to wife
now.’

‘She must find some way to support herself. I cannot keep her
indefinitely, and my poor brother and his wife have little enough: the parish of
Cardinham is one of the poorest in Cornwall.’

There was a pause, then the midwife said, ‘She ain’t cut out to
be a bal maiden.’

‘To work in the mines? Never! She is too well bred for
that.’

‘Not too well bred to open her legs for a man—’

Aunt Wilson gasped in outrage.

‘You have said quite enough, Mrs Nore. Your work is finished
here, I will look after my niece from now on. Come downstairs and I will pay you
for your trouble...’

The rustle of skirts, a soft click of the door and silence. She
was alone again.

It was useless to wish she had died with her baby. She had not,
and the future seemed very bleak, nothing but hard work and drudgery. That was
her punishment for falling in love. She would face that, and she would survive,
but she would never put her trust in any man again. She opened her eyes and
looked at that tiny, twinkling orb.

‘You shall be my witness,’ she whispered, her lips painfully
dry and her throat aching with the effort. ‘No man shall ever do this to me
again.’

Her eyes began to close and she knew now that whenever she saw
that star in the evening sky, she would remember the child she had lost.

Chapter One

Exmoor—1811

‘N
icky, Nicky! wait for me—oh!’

Zelah gave a little cry of frustration as her skirts caught on
the thorny branches of an encroaching bush. She was obliged to give up her
pursuit of her little nephew while she disentangled herself. How she wished now
that she had put on her old dimity robe, but she had been expecting to amuse
Nicky in the garden, not to be chasing him through the woods; only Nurse had
come out to tell them that they must not make too much noise since the mistress
was trying to get some sleep before Baby woke again and demanded to be fed.

As she carefully eased the primrose muslin off the ensnaring
thorns, Zelah pondered on her sister’s determination to feed the new baby
herself. She could quite understand it, of course: Reginald’s first wife had
died in childbirth and a number of wet nurses had been employed for Nicky, but
each one had proved more unreliable than the last so it was a wonder that the
little boy had survived at all. The thought of her sister’s stepson made Zelah
smile. He had not only survived, but grown into a very lively eight-year-old,
who was even now leading her in a merry dance.

She had allowed him to take her ‘exploring’ in the wildly
neglected woodland on the northern boundary of West Barton and now realised her
mistake. Not only was Nicky familiar with the overgrown tracks that led through
the woods, he was unhampered by
skirts
. Free at
last, she pulled the folds of muslin close as she set off in search of her
nephew. She had only gone a few steps when she heard him cry out, such distress
and alarm in his voice that she set off at a run in the direction of his call,
all concerns for snagging her gown forgotten.

The light through the trees indicated that there was a clearing
ahead. She pushed her way through the remaining low tree branches and found
herself standing on the lip of a steep slope. The land dropped away to form a
natural bowl and the ground between the trees was dotted with early spring
flowers, but it was not the beauty of the scene that made Zelah catch her
breath, it was the sight of Nicky’s lifeless body stretched out at the very
bottom of the dell, a red stain spreading over one leg of his nankeen pantaloons
and a menacing figure bending over him.

Her first, wild thought was that it was some kind of animal
attacking Nicky, but as her vision cleared she realised it was a man. A thick
black beard covered his face and his shaggy hair reached to the shoulders of his
dark coat. A long-handled axe lay on the ground beside him, its blade glinting
wickedly in the spring sunlight.

Zelah did not hesitate. She scrambled down the bank.

‘Leave him alone!’ The man straightened. As he turned towards
her she saw that beneath the shaggy mane of hair surrounding his face he had an
ugly scar cutting through his left eyebrow and cheek. She picked up a stick.
‘Get away from him, you beast!’

‘Beast, is it?’ he growled.

‘Zelah—’

‘Don’t worry, Nicky, he won’t hurt you again.’ She kept her
gaze fixed on the menacing figure. ‘How dare you attack an innocent boy, you
monster!’

‘Beast, monster—’ His teeth flashed white through the beard as
he stepped over the boy and came towards her, his halting, ungainly stride
adding to the menace.

Zelah raised the stick. With a savage laugh he reached out and
twisted the bough effortlessly out of her grasp, then caught her wrists as she
launched herself at him. She struggled against his iron grip and her assailant
hissed as she kicked his shin. ‘For heaven’s sake, I am not your villain. The
boy tripped and fell.’ With a muttered oath he forced her hands down and behind
her, so that she found herself pressed against his hard body. The rough wool of
his jacket rubbed her cheek and her senses reeled as she breathed in the smell
of him. It was not the sour odour of sweat and dirt she was expecting, but a
mixture of wool and sandalwood and lemony spices combined with the earthy,
masculine scent of the man himself. It was intoxicating.

He spoke again, his voice a deep rumble on her skin, for he was
still holding her tight against his broad chest. ‘He tripped and fell. Do you
understand me?’

He is speaking as if to an
imbecile!
was Zelah’s first thought, then the meaning of his words
registered in her brain and she raised her head to meet his fierce eyes. She
stopped struggling.

‘That’s better.’ He released his iron grip but kept his hard
eyes fixed upon her. ‘Now, shall we take a look at the boy?’

Zelah stepped away, not sure if she trusted the man enough to
turn her back on him, but a groan from Nicky decided it. Everything else was
forgotten as she fell to her knees beside him.

‘Oh, love, what have you done?’

She put her hand on his forehead, avoiding the angry red mark
on his temple. His skin was very hot and his eyes had a glazed, wild look in
them.

The man dropped down beside her.

‘We’ve been clearing the land, so there are several ragged tree
stumps. He must have caught his leg on one when he tumbled down the bank. It’s a
nasty cut, but I don’t think the bone is broken.’

‘How would you know?’ demanded Zelah, carefully lifting away
the torn material and gazing in horror at the bloody mess beneath.

‘My time in the army has given me considerable experience of
injuries.’ He untied his neckcloth. ‘I have sent my keeper to fetch help. I’ll
bind up his leg, then we will carry him back to the house on a hurdle.’

‘Whose house?’ she asked suspiciously. ‘He should be taken to
West Barton.’

‘Pray allow me to know what is best to be done!’

‘Please do not talk to me as if I were a child,’ she retorted.
‘I am quite capable of making a decision.’

He frowned, making the scar on his forehead even more ragged.
He looked positively ferocious, but she refused to be intimidated and met his
gaze squarely. He seemed to be struggling to contain his anger and after a
moment he raised his hand to point towards a narrow path leading away through
the trees. He said curtly, ‘Rooks Tower is half a mile in that direction; West
Barton is at least five miles by carriage, maybe two if you go back on the
footpath, the way you came.’

Zelah bit her lip. It would be impossible to carry Nicky
through the dense undergrowth of the forest without causing him a great deal of
pain. The boy stirred and she took his hand.

‘I d-don’t like it, it hurts!’

The plaintive cry tore at her heart.

‘Then it must be Rooks Tower,’ she said. ‘Let us hope your
people get here soon.’

‘They will be here as soon as they can.’ He pulled the muslin
cravat from his neck. ‘In the meantime I must stop the bleeding.’ His hard eyes
flickered over her. ‘It will mean moving his leg.’

She nodded and squeezed Nicky’s hand.

‘You must be very brave, love, while we bind you up. Can you do
that?’

‘I’ll try, Aunty.’

‘Your aunt, Nicky? She’s more of an Amazon, I think!’

‘Well, she is not really my aunt, sir,’ explained Nicky
gravely. ‘She is my stepmama’s sister.’

Zelah stared, momentarily diverted.

‘You know each other?’

The man flicked a sardonic look towards her.

‘Of course, do you think I allow strange brats to run wild in
my woods? Introduce us, Nicky.’

‘This is Major Coale.’ The boy’s voice wavered a little and his
lip trembled as the major deftly wrapped the neckcloth around his leg. ‘And
this, sir, is my aunt, Zelah.’

‘Celia?’

‘Zee-lah,’ she corrected him haughtily. ‘Miss Pentewan to
you.’

‘Dear me, Nicholas, you should have warned me that your aunt is
a veritable dragon.’

The scar cutting through his eyebrow gave him a permanent
frown, but she heard the amusement in his voice. Nicky, clinging to Zelah’s hand
and trying hard not to cry, managed a little chuckle.

‘There, all done.’ The major sat back, putting his hand on
Nicky’s shoulder. ‘You were very brave, my boy.’

‘As brave as a soldier, sir?’

‘Braver. I’ve known men go to pieces over the veriest
scratch.’

Zelah stared at the untidy, shaggy-haired figure in front of
her. His tone was that of a man used to command, but beneath that faded jacket
and all that hair, could he really be a soldier? She realised he was watching
her and quickly returned her attention to her nephew.

‘What happened, love? How did you fall?’

‘I t-tripped at the top of the bank. There’s a lot of loose
branches lying around.’

‘Aye. I’ve left them. Firewood for the villagers,’ explained
the major. ‘We have been clearing the undergrowth.’

‘And about time too,’ she responded. ‘These woods have been
seriously neglected.’

‘My apologies, madam, if they are not to your liking.’

Was he laughing at her? His face—the little she could see that
was not covered by hair—was impassive.

‘My criticism is not aimed at you, Major. I believe Rooks Tower
was only sold last winter.’

‘Yes, and I have not had time yet to make all the improvements
I would wish.’

‘You are the
owner
?’

Zelah could not keep the astonishment out of her voice. Surely
this ragged individual could not be rich enough to buy such a property?

‘I am. Appearances can be deceptive, Miss Pentewan.’

She flushed, knowing she deserved the coldness of his
response.

‘I beg your pardon, that is, I—I am sure there is a vast amount
to be done.’

‘There is, and one of my first tasks is to improve the road to
the house and make it suitable for carriages again. I have men working on it
now, but until that is done everything has to come in and out by packhorse.’

‘Major Coale’s books had to be brought here by pack-pony,’ put
in Nicky. ‘Dozens of boxes of them. She likes books,’ he explained to the major,
whose right eyebrow had risen in enquiry.

‘We have an extensive library at home,’ added Zelah.

‘And where is that?’

‘Cornwall.’

‘I guessed that much from your name.
Where
in Cornwall?’

A smile tugged at her mouth, but she responded seriously.

‘My father is rector at Cardinham, near Bodmin.’

Zelah looked up as a number of men arrived carrying a willow
hurdle.

She scrambled to her feet and stepped back. The major handed
his axe to one of the men before directing the delicate operation of lifting
Nicky on to the hurdle. When they were ready to move off she fell into step
beside the major, aware of his ungainly, limping stride as they followed the
hurdle and its precious burden through the woods.

‘I can see you have some experience of command, Major.’

‘I was several years in the army.’

Zelah glanced at him. He had been careful to keep to the left
of the path so only the right side of his face was visible to her. Whether he
was protecting her sensibilities or his own she did not know.

‘And now you plan to settle at Rooks Tower?’

‘Yes.’

‘It is a little isolated,’ she remarked. ‘Even more so than
West Barton.’

‘That is why I bought it. I have no wish for company.’

Zelah lapsed into silence. His curt tone made the meaning of
his words quite clear. He might as well have said
I have no
wish for conversation
. Very well, she had no desire to intrude upon
his privacy. She would not speak again unless it was absolutely necessary.

* * *

Finally they emerged from the trees and Zelah had her
first glimpse of Rooks Tower. There was a great sweep of lawn at the front of
the house, enclosed by a weed-strewn drive. At the far side of the lawn stood a
small orangery, but years of neglect had dulled the white lime-wash and many of
its windows were broken. Zelah turned away from this forlorn object to study the
main house. At its centre was an ancient stone building with an imposing arched
entrance, but it had obviously been extended over the centuries and two
brick-and-stone wings had been added. Everything was arranged over two floors
save for a square stone tower on the south-eastern corner that soared above the
main buildings.

‘Monstrosity, isn’t it?’ drawled the major. ‘The house was
remodelled in Tudor times, when the owner added the tower that gives the house
its name, so that his guests could watch the hunt. It has a viewing platform on
the roof, but we never use it now.’

She looked again at the house. There had been many alterations
over the years, but it retained its leaded lights and stone mullions. Rooks
Tower fell short of the current fashion for order and symmetry, but its very
awkwardness held a certain charm.

‘The views from the tower must be magnificent.’ She cast an
anxious look at him. ‘You will not change it?’

He gave a savage laugh.

‘Of course not. It is as deformed as I!’

She heard the bitterness in his tone, but could not think of a
suitable response. The path had widened and she moved forwards to walk beside
Nicky, reaching out to take his hand. It was hot and clammy. Zelah hid her
dismay beneath a reassuring smile.

‘Nearly there, love. We shall soon make you more
comfortable.’

The major strode on ahead, his lameness barely noticeable as he
led the way into the great hall where an iron-haired woman in a black-stuff gown
was waiting for them. She bobbed a curtsy.

‘I have prepared the yellow room for the young master, sir, and
popped a warm brick between the sheets.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Graddon.’ He did not break his stride as he
answered her, crossing the hall and taking the stairs two at a time, only
pausing to turn on the half-landing. ‘This way, but be careful not to tilt the
litter!’

* * *

Dominic waited only to see the boy laid on the bed that
had been prepared for him before striding off to his own apartments to change
out of his working clothes. It was a damnable nuisance, having strangers in the
house, but the boy was hurt, what else could he do? He did not object to having
Nicky in the house. He was fond of the boy and would do all he could to help
him, but it would mean having doctors and servants running to and fro. He could
leave everything to Graddon and his wife, of course, and the aunt would look
after the boy until Buckland could send someone.

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