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Seduced by the Soldier

Written by Marguerite Kaye

Chapter Eight

Isla's desperate plea for clemency fell on deaf ears. Indeed it seemed to amuse her brother-in-law.

'Don't lower yourself,' Andrew said quietly. 'I would not have you make the situation worse for yourself on my behalf. I am sorry, Isla.'

She threw back her head then, and met his gaze with a determined smile. 'I am not,' she said, before turning on Ferdie. 'But you will be, if it takes me to the end of my days, you will regret this.'

Her words earned her a mocking round of applause from the other officers. She thought to appeal to their better nature, but even as she turned to them, Ferdie was making a play of drawing his sword and calling for them to form an escort, and she knew they would close ranks.

Her heart sank as they marched Andrew off. She was at a loss to know what to do. By daybreak, after a sleepless night, Isla was no further forward. The coach, which was to take her from Brussels was due to leave in an hour. It would be madness to allow it to leave without her, utter insanity to contemplate showing her face on the make-shift parade ground where Andrew would be whipped. They would most likely drag her away. She would cause a spectacle. Her presence would make it incontrovertibly clear just what she and Andrew had been doing. Her ruin would be public long before any letter of Ferdie's reached her father.

'So be it,' Isla thought, pulling a shawl from the cupboard. 'I will not let him face this ordeal alone.' She paused in the act of jamming a bonnet onto her head. The lash was a vicious instrument, potentially fatal if wielded long enough and hard enough. Andrew would not wish her to witness his suffering. She shuddered, just thinking of the leather ripping open his back, opening up those thirteen-year-old wounds. Was it a mistake to go? Would her presence make it harder for him to bear and not easier?

'I don't know,' she shouted at the mirror. 'Give me strength, what should I do?' Her reflection knew no better than she. She dithered. She tied the ribbons of her bonnet in a very bad bow. She untied them. Then it hit her, the real reason why she needed to go, not to witness the whipping, but to be there afterwards, for long afterwards, if he would have her. It hit her there, the word for what it was she felt, and it refused to go away. She loved Andrew. She loved him, and if he loved her back, just a tithe as much as she loved him, that was all that mattered.

She re-tied her bonnet strings as she ran down the stairs. She heard the daily maid shouting after her as she closed the front door behind her. She heard the cat call of a coach driver as she picked up her skirts and ran, and she did not stop until the sentry at the parade ground barred her way. She would have fought him with her bare fists if she had to, but she did not.

'What the de'il is going on?'

The man addressing her had just descended from a carriage. He wore the kilt. He had bright blue eyes, and auburn hair almost the same colour as her own. He was a fine looking man, an attractive man, but the only thing Isla cared about were the insignia on his jacket. 'Major?'

'Finlay Urquhart,' he said, making a brief bow. 'Major of the 92nd Foot. I can tell from that accent that you are a fellow Highlander.'

Isla grabbed his arm. 'One of your men is about to be whipped. Please, you have to stop it. Please,' she said, dragging him towards the gate, 'please.'

'My men are all at camp, which I left only a few hours ago, lass, and besides there is none here with the authority to order a lashing of my men even if…'

'Sergeant Andrew Raeburn, and the authority was one of the Life Guards, Captain Burke. He is…'

'Burke is a little sh—' Major Urquhart broke off. 'Begging your pardon lass, but you'll excuse me.'

Without further ado, the major strode off. Pushing the sentry aside, Isla ran after him. Andrew was already tied to the tripod by his wrists, stripped to the waist. There were but three officers to bear witness. 'Cut him down at once,' Major Urquhart said to the fourth man, who was wielding the lash, in a voice which brooked no argument. 'Ach get out the way, I'll do it myself!'

Suiting action to words, the Highlander drew his sabre and freed Andrew.

'Sir. Major Urquhart, I…'

'Haud your wheesht man, I'll deal with you later. I don't know what you've done to deserve this, but you've clearly got on the wrong side of Burke, which is something to be admired. Now get that lass out of here.'

Major Urquhart turned on Ferdie and his comrades. 'If anyone is going to whip one of my men, it will be me. You, my fine lads, have some explaining to do,' he said, 'but I think we'll continue the discussion somewhere a mite more private.'

'Isla.' Andrew stepped towards her, then noticing the interested gaze of the guardsman with the whip, collected himself. 'Madame, I fear you have lost your way.'

'Andrew, I have only just found my way.'

For answer, he glared at the guardsman so fiercely that the man reluctantly turned away. 'Isla, you shouldn't have come.'

'You have taken one whipping for me, I was not about to let you take another without at least trying to prevent it.' She looked at the tripod, at the severed bonds, and her knees trembled. 'Oh God, Andrew, if I had not met Major Urquhart at the gate, they would have… The sentry tried to stop me. I truly think I would have shot him if I'd had a gun.'

'You shouldn't have come, Isla. You know that. Your brother-in-law is nothing but a braggart. He'd have had me whipped all right, but he would have kept his mouth shut about you, and he'd have made sure his friends did too. He'd have realised, when he'd had the chance to sleep on it, that in spreading muck about you, a little of it may stick to him. You were supposed to be under his protection after all. It would not paint him in a favourable light. Only now—but it may not be too late yet to salvage your reputation. I will speak to Major Urquhart. I will ask him—tell him—to make sure…'

'Andrew, I don't care.' Isla grabbed his arm and gave him a shake. 'I don't give adamn what anyone thinks, save you.' She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. 'I came because I love you. I came to tell you that I am in love with you, and if you'll have me, then I am all yours.'

'Isla!'

Once again he took a step towards her, then he stopped, but the light in his eyes gave her the courage to continue. 'Andrew, you told me that you'd never ask me to choose you over my family, but I'm choosing all the same. You've told me you've nothing to offer, but you have, the one and only and most important thing in the world, and if you offer that, then we can let the rest take care of itself. That is, if you feel the same way?' she faltered.

'How could you doubt it!' Finally, he closed the gap between them. 'I love you. Dear heavens, you can have no idea how much I love you, you gorgeous, brave woman. I can't believe you came here. It is not the notion of your riding to my rescue that tears my heart in two, it's the thought of you finding the courage to watch me be flogged so I would not have to face it alone.'

'I am not so sure that I would have managed.'

'What matters is that you tried.' Andrew wiped the tears from her cheeks with his thumb. 'Nothing felt so right as yesterday. Nothing felt so wrong as leaving you. I was already planning to come after you, you know. To ask you to wait for me.'

'I have been waiting these last thirteen years, Andrew. I don't want to wait any longer.'

He smiled at her, and her heart did the strangest little leap. 'Nor do I, lass,' he said, 'nor do I.' As his lips met hers, a roar went up from the barracks, but oblivious to everything except each other, neither of them heard it.

THE END

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About the author

I was born and raised in Scotland, the eldest of a large family &ndash...

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Marguerite Kaye

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