A Mistress for Major Bartlett (Mills & Boon Large Print Historical)

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9780263255676: A Mistress for Major Bartlett (Mills & Boon Large Print Historical)

Major Tom Bartlett is shocked to discover that the angel who nursed his battle wounds is darling of the ton Lady Sarah Latymor. One taste of her threatens both her impeccable reputation and his career!

An honourable man would ask for her hand, but Bartlett is considered an unrepentant rake by polite society - sweet Sarah would be spurned as his mistress and even as his wife. He demands she leave, but Sarah is just as determined to stay...by his side and in his bed!

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About the Author:

Annie Burrows love of stories meant that when she was old enough to go to university, she chose to do English literature. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do beyond that, but one day, when her youngest child was at senior school, she began to wonder if all those daydreams that had kept her mind occupied whilst carrying out mundane chores, would provide similar pleasure to other women. She was right... and Annie hasn't looked back since!

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Sunday, 18th June—1815

Limber up, fast as you can!' Colonel Randall rode up to Major Bartlett and pointed to a spot to the rear. 'We are heading to the ridge up yonder. You will recall we came in that way yesterday, past a place—what was it called?—Hougoumont. The French are massing their heavy cavalry between the château and the Charleroi road. Take up your position between the two infantry squares up there. And be quick about it! '

Major Bartlett kept his face impassive as he saluted. Quick? That was going to be a relative term given the sodden state of the ground.

'Right, lads,' he said, turning to his men. 'You heard the Colonel. At the double!'

The speed at which they turned the gun carriages and started ploughing their way across the field had much more to do with the shells exploding all around them, spraying them with mud, than willingness to obey their commanding officer. The sooner they got to higher ground, the sooner they could start inflicting some damage on the Frenchmen currently trying to blow them to kingdom come. Not that Major Bartlett had any complaints. He had a rather elastic attitude to obeying orders himself. In any other unit his tendency to interpret orders to suit himself would have got him up on a charge—indeed, had done so on several occasions. Only Colonel Randall had appreciated that his ability to think on his feet, rather than dumbly obeying orders, could be an advantage, taking him into his unit and giving him promotion.

Still, when he glanced across the ridge, and saw that his team had beaten Major Flint's to reach their designated position, he felt a twinge of pride in his men. They'd worked with a swiftness and efficiency he'd drilled into them, even if, at this moment, they'd worked the way they had because their hides depended on it.

Flint's guns were ready to fire mere seconds after his own. Even Rawlins, who'd only been promoted a matter of days before, had his guns in position not long after. And just as well. The French cavalry were approaching at the trot.

The first salvo his men fired mowed down the leaders. But they kept coming. Big bastards. On big horses.

'Dear lord, they'll charge right over us!'

Major Bartlett whirled round. Had one of his own men dared say that?

'Not Randall's Rogues, they won't,' he snarled. 'Remember our motto—always victorious!' By any means. Particularly when sent behind enemy lines, where his, and his men's, talents for causing mayhem had so often been given free rein.

'Aye,' roared Randall, drawing his sword and holding it aloft. 'Semper Laurifer! Ready, Rogues... Fire!'

The guns roared again. Horses and men fell. Smoke swirled round the scene, blotting out the sight of the dead and dying, though Bartlett could still hear their screams and groans.

And then he heard cheering. From the infantry squares behind him. The cavalry charge was over. This one, anyway. He cast a quick, appraising glance over his men. All of them steadily reloading, preparing for the next attack, not wasting their time cheering, or capering about and having to be pushed back into position.

At this point, between cavalry charges, their orders had been to retreat into the infantry squares for cover. But his men, seasoned veterans, knew as well as he did that if they didn't stay right where they were, the squares would break and scatter. They'd seen it happen elsewhere already today. The infantry—with little or no experience—were watching the way the Rogues calmly went about their business as though those huge French horses were no more than skittles to knock down. Their staunch disregard of danger was probably the only thing giving them any hope.

Hope—hah! It was the one thing neither he, nor his men, had felt for a very long time. They were the damned. Doomed to death, one way or another. They just preferred to take as many of the murdering French to hell with them as they could. At least they could die like men, if they did so in defence of their country, instead of dancing on the end of a rope.

'Here they come again, lads,' he heard Randall shout.

And then came the thunder of hooves. The roar of the guns. The smoke, and the screams, and the mud, and the carnage.

And his men reloaded and fired. And loaded and fired.

And still there was no end to the French.

The next morning

Lady Sarah Latymor rubbed her eyes and peered up at the manger above her head. Could she really make out wisps of straw sticking through the grating, or was it just wishful thinking?

In the stall next to hers, she could hear Castor shuffling about, lipping at whatever provender Pieter had placed in his own manger. She reached out her hand and laid the palm against the partition. Being able to hear her horse, Gideon's last gift to her, moving about in his stall during the night, had been all that had kept her flayed nerves from giving way altogether. But it looked as though the worst day of her life was over now. She could, at last, make out the pale rectangle of her hand against the planking. Dawn was definitely breaking. And Brussels was quiet. Though Madame le Brun had warned her that French troops might overrun the city during the night, they'd never come. Which meant the Allies must have won. She could come out of hiding.

And continue her quest.

To find out what had really happened to Gideon.

He couldn't be dead. He was her twin. If his soul had really departed this earth, she would feel it, wouldn't she? Her stomach twisted and dropped, just as it had when her brother-in-law Lord Blanchards had broken the news. While her sister Gussie had broken down and wept, Sarah had stood there, shaking her head. Grown more and more angry at the way they both just accepted it.

Blanchards had brushed aside her refusal to believe that the hastily scrawled note he held in his hand could possibly be delivering news of that magnitude. He'd practically ordered her to her room, where he no doubt expected her to weep decorously, out of sight, so that he could concentrate on comforting and supporting his wife.

Well, she hadn't wept. She'd been too angry to weep. That anger had simmered all night and driven her, on Sunday morning, all the way to Brussels, the only place where she was likely to be able to find out what had really happened to Gideon. Had driven her about half a mile along the road to the Forest of Soignes before she'd been beaten back by a troop of Hussars, claiming the French had won the battle, and were right on their heels.

Hussars, she snorted, sitting up and pushing a hank of hair off her face. What did they know?

As if in agreement, Ben, the dog she'd teamed up with in the wake of the Hussars' cowardly scramble to safety, sat up, stretched and yawned.

'Did you have a lovely sleep, Ben?' she asked as the dog came to swipe his tongue over her face in morning greeting. 'Yes, you did. You marvellous, fierce creature,' she added, ruffling his ears. 'I could feel you lying at my feet all night long and knew that if any Frenchman dared to set one toe inside this stable, you'd bite him with those great big teeth of yours.' She'd felt safer with him to guard her than she would have done had she had a loaded pistol in her hand.

'Woof,' Ben agreed, settling back to give his ear a vigorous scratch with one hind paw.

'Well, I may not have had a wink of sleep,' she informed him as she flung her blanket aside, 'but at least I didn't waste all those sleepless hours. I have,' she said, reaching for the jacket of her riding habit, which she'd rolled up and used for a pillow, 'come up with a plan. We're going to find Justin.'

She frowned at the jacket. Pale blue velvet was not the ideal material for rolling up and pillowing a lady's head. Especially not a lady who'd taken refuge in a stable. She shook it, brushed off the straw and slid her arms into the sleeves.

Ben stopped scratching, and gave her a hard stare.

'It's no use telling me that now the battle is over, I should go to the authorities and ask them for details,' she informed him testily. 'They would simply order me to go home, like a good girl, and wait for official notification. Which would get sent to Blanchards. Well,' she huffed as she went to rummage in her saddlebag—which she'd draped over the stall door in case she needed it in a hurry—and came up with a comb, 'they did send notification to Blanchards, didn't they? And much good it did me.'

She raised a hand to her head, discovered that most of her braids were still more or less intact and promptly thought better of attempting anything much in the way of grooming.

'And anyway,' she said, shoving the comb back into the saddlebag, 'if I walked into headquarters, unescorted, they'd want to know what I was doing in Brussels on my own. And don't say how would they know I'd come here on my own, Ben, it's obvious. If Blanchards had come to Brussels with me, he would be the one at headquarters asking the questions. See?'

Ben shuffled forward a little and licked his lips hopefully.

'Yes, I do have more sausage in here,' she told him, dipping her hand once more into the saddlebag. 'You may as well have it,' she said, breaking off a piece and tossing it to the straw at his feet. Her stomach was still coiled into the hard knot that had made eating virtually impossible since the moment Blanchards had told her Gideon was dead. Though she'd still packed plenty of provisions when she'd run away from Antwerp, thinking it might take her a day or so to locate Gideon, or his commanding officer, Colonel Bennington Ffog.

She wrinkled her nose as Ben disposed of the sausage in a few gulps. Why she'd thought, however briefly, that Bennington Ffog might be of any use, she couldn't imagine. It would be far better to find her oldest brother, Justin.

'Now, Justin might be cross with me,' she said as she pushed open the stall door and ventured into the aisle, 'but he won't send me back to Antwerp without telling me what I need to know first. He might be the stuffiest, most arrogant, obnoxious man,' she said, peering out into the stable yard to make sure nobody was about. 'He may give me a thundering scold for leaving the safety of Antwerp, against his explicit orders, but he does at least understand what Gideon means to me.'

With Ben trotting at her heels, Sarah made her way to the pump, where she quickly rinsed her face and hands. Ben took the opportunity to relieve himself and have a good sniff round.

When she made for the stable again, though, he was right beside her.

'Good boy,' she said, pausing to pat his head, before reaching for her riding hat, which she'd set on one of the doorposts.

'The only problem is,' she said, holding her hat in place with one hand, while thrusting as much of her hair as she could under it, 'I'm not entirely sure where to find him. However,' she added, deftly securing everything in place with a hatpin, 'Mary Endacott will.'

Ben dropped down on to his haunches, tilting his head to one side.

'Yes, I know. She doesn't like me. And I don't blame her. But you have to admit, since she's lived in Brussels for years, and knows everyone, she's bound to know who we can ask for his direction if she doesn't already have it. And what's more,' she added, when he didn't look convinced, 'she's the one person who is likely to want to know it just as much as I do, since the poor girl is in love with him.'

She lowered her head to fumble the buttons of her jacket closed as her mind dwelt on the last time she'd seen Mary, when Justin had been ordering her to leave Brussels, too. If she'd done as he'd told her...

No. Mary wouldn't have left, not even had they still been betrothed. The school she ran was her livelihood. And Justin had forfeited any authority he might have thought he had over her the minute he broke off their relationship in such a brutal fashion.

Besides, she wasn't the sort of woman to give up hope and sit about weeping, any more than Sarah was. Even after Justin had said all those horrid things, Mary would want to make sure he'd survived the battle, even if he didn't want to have anything more to do with her.

She lifted her head, squared her shoulders and strode out of the stall on her way back to the water pump. This time she saw Pieter shambling across the yard, rubbing his eyes sleepily.

'Be so good as to saddle my horse,' she said.

He hesitated for a moment, only tugging at his cap and making for the stable once he saw Ben come trotting out and joining Lady Sarah at the pump, where she was now filling her water bottle.

'I'm so glad I found you yesterday,' she said, bending down to stroke Ben's head as he lapped up the water splashing to the cobbles. 'At first I just thought stumbling across the regimental mascot was a sign I was in exactly the right place, at the right time. But today I'm thankful that having you with me means I won't have to face Mary alone.' It wasn't going to be easy. Mary had no reason to greet her warmly. Yet what was the worst Mary could do? Show her the door? Or not even let her inside? What was that, compared to what had already happened? If Gideon really was dead.

Which she wasn't going to believe until somebody gave her some solid proof

She mounted Castor and, with Ben trotting at her side, that determination carried her as far as the Rue Haute, where Mary's school stood. But then doubts started assailing her from all sides. If Mary wouldn't speak to her, then who else could she turn to?

'At least I won't have to knock on the front door and beg for permission to speak to her,' she observed, drawing Castor to a halt. For Mary was standing outside alongside a horse, talking to a group of bedraggled-looking men who stood with their mounts.

But even though this meant she'd overcome the first hurdle she'd imagined, Sarah's spirits sank. For Mary was, as always, looking neat as a pin.

Whereas she must look exactly as though—well, as though she was still wearing the same gown in which she'd spent a whole day on horseback, fighting her way against a tide of refugees fleeing the very place she wanted to reach more than anywhere on earth. And crawled through the mud to rescue Ben, and ended by sleeping in a stable because the landlady, upon whose compassion she'd relied, refused point blank to permit a muddy, fierce dog inside her house.

No, you couldn't feel your best in a gown you'd been wearing for two days, especially when you'd put it through all that. Besides which, women like Mary, petite, pretty women with pert little noses, always did make her feel like a gangly, beaky beanpole.

It was Ben who came to her rescue, for at least the second time in as many days, by letting out a series ofjoyful barks and bounding right into the group of men milling about on the front path. Because she'd been staring at Mary and wondering how on earth she was to persuade her to help, she hadn't been paying the men much heed. But now she noticed, as they bent to ruffle Ben's shaggy head rather than scattering in terror, that they were wearing the distinctive blue jackets of artillerymen. The blue jackets...

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