- Author: Anne Gracie
Book online «Gallant Waif Anne Gracie (easy to read books for adults list txt) 📖». Author Anne Gracie
ISBN 0-373-29157-4 GALLANT WAIF
First North American Publication 2001 Copyright © 1999 by Anne Gracie
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Kent, England. Late summer, 1812.
”No, no, Papa. I won’t. You cannot make me!”
“Please, my sweet, I beg of you. It will not take long and I fear he will take no notice of me.”
The tall dark-haired man waiting alone in the drawing-room reacted to the voices, which seemed to come from outside. He turned sharply and let out a soft expletive, his face tensed in pain. Moving more cautiously, he flexed his leg carefully, supporting himself with his cane. His sudden pallor gradually disappeared as the pain ebbed slowly away.
He glanced towards the sound of the voices and swallowed, tugging nervously at his cravat, thus ruining the effect that he’d taken hours to achieve. His clothes were of the finest quality, although somewhat out of date; they seemed to have been tailored for a slightly larger gentleman, for the coat that should have fitted snugly was loose everywhere except across the shoulders. The gentleman himself was rather striking to behold as he stood staring blankly out of the window, tall, broad-shouldered and darkly handsome, yet thin, almost to the point of gauntness.
Jack Carstairs had done enough waiting. It had been bad enough being closed up in a carriage for hours upon end to get here…then to be left closeted in the front parlour for almost half an hour was too much for a man who’d spent the last three years out of doors, commanding troops under Wellington on the Peninsula. He opened the French doors on to the terrace and stepped outside into the cool, fresh air, and was immediately rewarded by the sweet, melodic tones of his beloved.
Jack stepped forward impatiently. Three years, and now the waiting was at an end. In just minutes he would hold her in his arms again, and the nightmare would be over. He limped eagerly towards the sound of the voices coming from the open French windows further along the terrace.
“No, Papa, you must tell him. I do not wish to see him.” Julia’s voice was petulant, sulky. Jack had never heard it so before.
“Now, now, my dear, I will speak to him and put him right, never fear, but you must see that it is necessary for you to at least come with me, for you know he will not believe me otherwise.”
Jack froze. He had received a letter full of sweetness and love from Julia, only a month ago, just before he was wounded. It was in the same batch of letters that had told him of his father’s death. Months after the event, as was all mail received on the Peninsula.
The lovely, well-remembered voice became more petulant, almost childish. “I don’t want to see him, I don’t. He’s changed, I know, I saw him from the window.”
Her father’s voice was coaxing. He’d always been wax in the hands of his beautiful daughter, but for once he was standing relatively firm. “Well, now, my dear, you have to expect that. After all, he has been at war and war changes a man.”
Julia made a small sound, which from anyone less exquisite would have been called a snort. “He … he’s ugly now, Papa; his face is ruined.”
Unconsciously Jack fingered the harsh, still livid scar that bisected his cheek from temple to mouth.
“And he can hardly even walk.” Her voice grew soft and coaxing. “Please, Papa, do not make me speak to him. I cannot bear even to look at him, with his leg sticking out in that peculiar-looking way. It would have been better if he had died than to come back like that.”
“My dear!” Her father sounded shocked.
“Oh, I know it seems hard,” Julia continued, “but when I think of my beautiful Jack and how he is now I could weep. No, Papa, it’s just not possible.”
“Are you sure, my dear?”
“Of course I am sure. You told me yourself his father left him nothing. I cannot marry a pauper.” She stamped her foot. “It makes me so angry to think of it—all that time wasted, waiting*. And, in any case, he can barely walk without falling over, so you can be very sure that he will never dance with me again as he used to…”
Her voice tailed off as she recalled the magic moments she had spent on the dance floor, the cynosure of every eye, the envy of every other woman in the room. She stamped her foot again, angry at being deprived of all she had expected.
“No, Papa, it is quite impossible! I am glad now that you would not allow us to announce the betrothal formally, though I thought you monstrous cruel at the time.”
Jack had heard enough. His face white and grim, he drew back the draperies which had concealed him and stepped into the room.
“I think that says it all, does it not?” he said in a soft, deadly voice.
There was a small flurry as the two