When two hearts on either side of the battlefield collide . . . their passion has to remain hidden!
When George Faulks, a young English gentleman in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, is framed for a murder he didn’t commit, he goes on the run and joins the military, to escape the gallows.
But after receiving a musket shot to the shoulder and being saved accidentally by opponent soldiers, he is taken behind enemy lines.
There, wounded and sick, he wakes to see the most angelic creature he’s ever laid eyes on—nurse Lizzie Chaplin.
Trapped in the enemy’s arms, George and Lizzie vow to protect his true identity to save his life. But in such close quarters, they struggle to keep their passionate feelings at bay.
And when they thought they were safe, an enemy from his past returns and now George and Lizzie must ensure his secret is kept at all costs . . .
George Faulks blinked sluggishly through the thick haze of smoke that filled the back room of the member’s club. His head reeled and the world seemed to spin around him as he struggled to sit up in the plush, deep velvet armchair where he sat. A half-empty tumbler of malt whiskey rested on the table ahead of him, the surface sticky from one too many spills throughout the evening. A small orchestra played somewhere in the distance, though the music felt as if it came from all around in a dreamlike whisper of sweet sound. Voices chattered raucously above the simple tune and cries hollered up from the nearby card tables—the different timbres of success and defeat that he had come to know so well.
“Glad to see you back in the land of the living, Faulks.” His old friend, Emmett Barker, peered at him from the neighboring armchair and patted him roughly on the arm. He forced a smile onto his face though his muscles felt stiff and unusual. His mouth was dry despite the copious quantities of liquor he had consumed and his throat seemed thick and constricted.
“How long was I asleep?” George managed to cough up the words.
“Hard to say, old boy. You languished sometime between Harbinson winning at his fifth round of whist and Bellingham announcing that the evening’s whiskey was on him.” Emmett laughed and gave his friend another pat on the shoulder.
George rubbed his eyes in a vain attempt to clear his blurred vision. “What time is it?”
“Gone two, old boy.”
George groaned. “How can it be so late? It was barely seven when I arrived.”
“Perhaps you have slept longer than you thought.” Emmett flashed a wry grin at George whose heart clenched in his chest. He had promised his father that he would not remain in town too late this evening for he had an important engagement in the morning. He could already envision the dispute between them when he finally made it back to their townhouse and he was not looking forward to it.
“How many rounds of whist did I play?” George padded the pockets of his red velvet jacket, newly made by the city’s most renowned modiste, in the hopes of finding some money still ensconced within his money clip. His heart sank like a stone as he removed the clip and found it empty for he knew he had come into the member’s club with a considerable sum.
“Too many, old sport. Fortune did not seem to favor you this evening.”
George shook his head slowly for fear of the world turning topsy-turvy. “No, it did not. I ought to return home before my father calls for the night-watchmen to scour every alley for me.”
“Have you a carriage waiting?”
“Not this evening, Barker. Although, the walk may do me some good.” He rose unsteadily from his chair and scanned the area for anything he might have mislaid. He had a habit of doing that which irked his father all the more. Reckless and irresponsible—those were the words that tumbled from his father’s lips, more often than not and it was a mantle that George was only too happy to bear while youth remained on his side.
“Do you require assistance, Faulks?” Emmett chuckled.
“No… No, I shall do well enough on my own two legs.” He shot his friend a mischievous grin and turned to leave.
Picking his way through the crowded tables of late-night revelers, envying their ability to stay without guilt, he headed for the exit of the member’s club. Using the backs of armchairs and the edges of the tables to keep him upright, he managed to make it into the long corridor that ran through the center of the building. Taking a deep breath, he staggered toward the door at the far end only to halt as a figure emerged from one of the doors that branched off from the hallway and stood in his path.
George squinted. “Excuse me, sir, but you are somewhat in my way.”
Cold, blue eyes turned to him with a smirk. “Faulks, is it not?”
“It is, sir.” He peered at the gentleman before him, but he was not a man that George recognized. Standing over six feet with broad shoulders and a mane of curly blond hair, the gentleman was a complete stranger. And yet, he was staring at George as if he knew him. He wracked his brain in the hopes of putting the pieces together, but his mind was in a current state of foggy incomprehension.
I must not continue to drink whiskey.
“You do not remember me?” the man asked icily.
The man leered. “My name is Lord Harold Grisham and I am the Earl of Hertfordshire if that rings any bells in your stupefied state?”
Grisham? No, I do not recall any Grisham.
“I am afraid I do not recall you, though I may do in the morning.” He smiled politely, eager to reach the doorway before he keeled over in the hall. Again, it would not be the first time he had done so, but he did not wish to add any more black marks to his membership here.
“Perhaps you will recall a Lady Angelica Grisham?” Harold’s words lingered heavily in the air between the two men.
“Your wife, Lord Hertfordshire?”
George frowned. “I do not recall such a lady, my lord. If you seek some form of satisfaction on her behalf, I am afraid you have happened upon the wrong gentleman.”
“And yet you say you are Mr. George Faulks, correct?”
“I am, my lord.” He bowed awkwardly, his knees buckling as his head began to swim.
“But you claim to know nothing of my sister?”
“I do not.”
Harold grimaced sourly. “Well, it would appear that she knows you. I discovered the correspondence between you and I will be satisfied for you have dishonored her with your paltry love notes. Do not attempt to deny it, sir, or you will see yourself in even direr straits.”
George tried to think back to any occasion where he might have encountered such a woman, but he did not frequent Bath’s many balls and soirées and avoided the assembly rooms wherever he could. He was not averse to young ladies, but he found their gossip and toying games rather trying. No, he rather preferred the company of friends and whiskey and card tables where he might find solace away from the responsibilities of his home.
“You are speaking with the wrong gentleman, my lord, I assure you. There has been some misunderstanding for I have never encountered a young lady by your sister’s name nor would I ever deign to send secret letters to her.” He stood taller, forcing his mind to clear in case this gentleman took a swing at him. “I am sure she is pleasant enough, but I am not in the market for a bride nor would I attempt to look so high as to try and woo an earl’s sister.”
George attempted to push past the gentleman, but Harold shoved him backward with a sharp push to the chest. Other gentlemen were starting to appear in the doorway of the member’s club, coming to see what all the fuss was about. They did not seem surprised to discover George at the heart of the dispute for he was known for his unruly ways.
The proprietor came running down the hall wearing an expression of alarm. “Gentlemen, is something the matter?” he asked, skidding to a halt beside them.
Harold put on a polite smile. “Not at all, my good man. I was simply attempting to escort this young man out of the premises before he made a fool of himself.”
Your tune has changed. George glowered at the gentleman but could not get his eyes to focus properly.
“I will see to it that Mr. Faulks finds his way home, my lord. Might I urge you back into one of these rooms? Please consider your evening’s expenditure waivered for the trouble that you have endured with Mr. Faulks here. It would be my pleasure to do so.” The proprietor, a wiry, greyhound-looking fellow named Mr. Foster, bowed and scraped as though he were before the King himself. It made George grin to see the man behaving so for it was not becoming.
Harold sighed. “Very well, Mr. Foster.”
“It is a great honor to have a gentleman such as yourself in our midst, my lord. And please, if there is anything more that my staff can do to aid you, do not hesitate to let them know,” he groveled again.
Harold moved to walk past George, but he leaned in as he went by. “I will not forget this night, Mr. Faulks, nor the dishonor you have brought upon my sister. You may be assured of that.”
With the path ahead clear and Mr. Foster tugging George forcibly by the arm, he made his way toward the exit. However, he could not ignore the words that Harold Grisham had spoken. They lingered in his mind, nagging at his thoughts. He did not know what he had done to gain such ill-favor from the stranger, but the man seemed to have a bitter vendetta against him. No matter how hard he tried to dwell upon the matter, he could not remember a young lady by the name of Angelica, and he had certainly never put ink to paper to send her a love note.
What on Earth is happening here? It is surely a case of mistaken identity? He could not fathom it and was much too merry to let it ruin what had otherwise been a pleasant night. Besides, if Harold was the Earl of Hertfordshire, he would not remain long in Bath. The season was not yet upon the city and there would be no reason for such a gentleman to stay here—vendetta or no vendetta. Still, it did mean that George might have to avoid his favorite pastimes for a while until the confusing dust had settled. That irked him as he made for the door.
“You must be more careful of whom you make enemies, Mr. Faulks,” Mr. Foster warned as they reached the door and the cool air of the wee hours drifted up to embrace George.
“I do not know the gentleman, Mr. Foster.”
“Nevertheless, I would urge you to avoid him at all costs. It is well-known that the Earl of Hertfordshire is a dangerous man and if you have done something to displease him, I—”
“I have done no such thing, Mr. Foster, though the wretch accuses me of all sorts.”
Mr. Foster frowned. “Await my instruction regardless. I will send word when the Earl has departed Bath so that you may rest assured that it is safe for you to return here. You must not find yourself on his bad side whatever you do.”
“And what am I to do in the interim?”
“I shall leave that up to your discretion, Mr. Faulks.” Mr. Foster gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze. Though George often caused trouble within the member’s club, he was one of their most lucrative and frequent guests.
“Goodnight, Mr. Foster.” George took his coat from the cloakroom by the door and pulled it tight around himself. Burying his face into the collar, he stepped out into the brisk night without glancing back. The member’s club was his sanctuary and he did not know what he might do without it—even temporarily.
He had always enjoyed the city of Bath best in the dead of night when no horses thundered along the streets and no carriages rattled along the cobbles. There were very few people around and a blanket of quiet serenity rested across the city and its inhabitants. He looked up at the darkened windows as he walked, knowing that others were sleeping while he made his way home. He wondered who they were and what their stories might be, picturing families and loved ones together sharing in the sweet silence of contented dreams.
In truth, he had not slept well his entire life, not since his mother had died giving birth to him. That guilt had always weighed heavily on his shoulders. Indeed, he sensed that might be why he was the way he was, for he would have done anything to remove that remorse from his soul, if only for a short time. The gaming tables, the endless whiskey and brandy, and the raucous din of his friends were the only things he had discovered that could fulfill such a gargantuan task. The inner peace and quiet never lasted, but the respite was almost enough to keep him from teetering over the edge of consuming grief.
It was made all the worse by the constant disappointment in his father’s eyes. George knew that in the secret depths of his father’s mind, the old man often wished that his son had died instead of his wife. He missed his wife terribly, as much as a son missed the mother he never knew and with every false, unruly step that George took, he guessed his father missed his wife all the more.
His sister, Rachel, was his only solace in the Bath townhouse that they all shared, but he could not look at her without feeling that same pang of guilt for he had taken her mother away from her, too. A daughter without a mother was a terrible thing for there was no female guidance to lead her through the rest of her life and help her navigate the pitfalls of romance and marriage. George hated that he had taken that from her, even though he had been given no choice in the matter. The Lord had wanted their mother back in the arms of heaven and, though it was a bitter pill to swallow, they all had to hope that she was in a better place.
George took a shortcut down one of the narrow snickets that ran between the towering houses. He stopped in the darkness, aware of the sound of footsteps echoing in the alley behind him. He glanced over his shoulders and the shadows themselves seemed to move and shift as if they possessed a sentience all of their own. However, no matter how hard he squinted, he could not make out an assailant within the gloom.
You are imagining things, he told himself as he walked on. So why, even when turning back around and heading for home, did he feel the undeniable burn of eyes watching him intently? For the first time in a long while, he reached up for the St. Christopher hung around his throat, tucked beneath his shirt, and prayed to God that he might make it back home in one piece.
Elizabeth Chaplin hurried toward the sound of men crying out in pain, her skirts flapping behind her as she ducked into the makeshift tent that had been set up on the edge of the battlefield. Shots rang out and terrifying shouts could be heard on the horizon, even here, but she tried not to think about them. There were too many wounded men to contend with to think about the battle that had caused their injuries. Each day, she knew she was taking her life into her own hands by toiling away here, but this was more than work to her.
“Lizzie, there you are,” the field surgeon, Dr. Archibald Greer, called out in relief. The tables were full of groaning men and the crimson of their life’s blood pooled everywhere. It was utter carnage, but it had become the norm for Lizzie.
“I was sleeping, doctor. One of the nurses collapsed in our billet, so I have taken up her duties for today.”
Archibald smiled. “I am glad it is you and I imagine the men will be, too.”
Lizzie was an exceptional nurse though she had never expected to end up in such work as this. When war broke out between the conflicting factions of the Americas – the French, the Spanish, the British, and those who longed to be nothing but American – she had answered the call. When the fighting had reached her town and decimated the young men she had come to know as friends and brothers, there had been no choice but to join the ranks in her own way. A lifelong pacifist, she loathed the act of fighting itself, but if she could lessen the suffering of the soldiers who had been given no choice, then she reasoned it would be worth something.
She ran to the nearest table and raided the chests for bandages, opiates, and anything that could take away the pain these men endured. She tried not to look as Archibald and his assistant, Fred, held down a half-conscious man in order to amputate an arm that lay in useless tatters on the table. The sight no longer turned her stomach, but she did not like to witness such necessities, even now.
His life will never be the same again. I pray to God that he may find strength in his survival and go on to live a long and prosperous life. It was a private prayer that she often spoke within the confines of her mind whenever a young, healthy man lost one of his limbs. She had more for the other men depending upon their circumstances. For even in such trying times, she knew that the Lord was with them, watching over them, and doing His best to welcome every fallen man into the Kingdom of Heaven.
She took up a metal basin of water though the liquid was already tinged with the blood of those who’d come in here before. Getting fresh, clean water was always a Sisyphean task, but at least it cleaned away some of the grime before it could lodge into the wounds and fester. Grabbing a similarly rusted cloth, she began to sponge away the dirt on the chest of the nearby soldier, leaving it clear to bind. The crimson blood swirled with the water and seeped into his filthy shirt, bringing out the pale color of his skin.
With her first task complete, she tore off strip after strip of coarse, starched bandages and began to wrap them tightly about the torso of the young man. She had to lift his upper body to get it properly fastened around him, but the war had made her far stronger than she appeared. As for the soldier, he looked no older than eighteen, his dark hair plastered across his face in damp, sweaty tendrils. She brushed the strands back from his youthful features, almost without thinking, and set to work on fixing him up.
Dripping laudanum between the young man’s lips to ease his pain, she smiled as he blinked awake. His face twisted up in agony and his hand reached out helplessly. Lizzie took his hand in hers and held it tightly, holding his gaze as she continued to add pressure to his chest wound. He’d taken a heavy hit in the shoulder, but he was strong and fit and would pull through if the Lord intended it.
“Am I… in Heaven?” the young man rasped. His tone was panicked.
Lizzie shook her head. “Not today, sir.”
“You are… not an angel?”
She chuckled. “Far from it, sir. Tell me, what is your name?” She found that it relaxed the men to be on less formal terms with the medical personnel. It could often distract them through the worst injuries for they tended to focus on her instead of their suffering.
In truth, she did not think herself particularly beautiful, but the young men she aided often called her so. At a somewhat tall height with a slender figure and auburn locks that were often tucked away beneath her white cap, she thought herself plain. Her green eyes were the only striking feature about her as they were of a bright emerald shade that seemed to catch people off-guard.
“Benjamin… Ben,” he replied.
“Well, Ben, you are in excellent hands. I do not think you shall be visiting Heaven anytime soon for though your wound is deep, it has not struck anything vital.” The white bandage was beginning to turn red beneath her hands, but he had not lost too much blood. Unlike other soldiers who came into this tent, he would not require an emergency transfusion. She was glad of that.
“I did not think… women were allowed so close to the fighting,” he said.
“Women, no. Nurses, yes.” She smoothed back his hair and began to daub the dried blood and dirt from his smooth features. Other nurses had run in shortly after her and they were contending with the other men who lay on the tables.
As she looked into the young man’s eyes, she thought of all those men who did not even make it this far. All those sons, brothers, and fathers, who lay out on the fields of America never to rise again. That was why she did this for she did not know if one of them might be her own father.
She had never known the man who gave her life and it had stuck like a thorn in her side for the entirety of her twenty-one years. She did not hate him as her mother did, but she often wondered why he had abandoned them without thought. Instead, it had instilled a kindness and care in her that could not be snuffed out for though he had left them, she refused to allow anyone to feel alone or abandoned in that same way.
“Where are you from, Ben?” she pressed as he began to notice the pain again.
She nodded. “Me, too. Not far from Wharton’s Landing. Do you know it?”
“I know it well. Me and my brothers used to ride along the riverbanks there when we were younger.”
“Are your brothers fighting, too?”
His eyes turned sad. “They’re dead, ma’am.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” she replied solemnly. “At least I will be able to send one of your mother’s sons back to her.”
“Where do you think they are?” A tear fell from Ben’s eyes.
“They are with the Lord and He shall watch over them as He is watching over you.” She brushed her fingertip against his fevered cheek which brought a small smile to his lips. “We will send you back to Virginia, Ben. I promise you.”
He held tighter to her hand. “I want to go back to the fighting, ma’am.”
“Once you are in better health, you must return home,” she urged. “Even if you can only return for a short while, I am certain it would bring your mother great comfort to see you alive. Then, if you must, you may return to the battlefields of America.”
“Are you sure you are not an angel that my mother has brought to me?”
Lizzie laughed. “I assure you I am not, though I would see her prayers answered regardless.”
It made her think of her own mother back in Wharton’s Landing. Lizzie had spent her life taking care of her sickly mother in the wake of her husband’s departure. Her three little sisters too for they had needed someone to rely upon. Had they not been of an age to take care of themselves, she knew she would never have left to join the medical quarter of the military forces. Even so, she worried about them often. She felt some guilt too that she had left them to care for their mother so that she might travel the country and tend to the wounded men who fought for independence.
One particular moment stuck in her mind. Her uncle, on her mother’s side, had taken up the mantle of looking out for the Chaplin family. He had made things easier and ensured that they were always fed and watered. And then, with little warning, British soldiers had swept through Wharton’s Landing and taken his life without care for what it would mean for the Chaplins. Her uncle had stayed to protect them and he had died because of it. That weighed heavily on her shoulders and always would.
“Make a difference, Lizzie,” he’d choked out in his last moments. She remembered holding his hand until the bitter end, though she had not given up on him easily. If she closed her eyes and allowed herself to contemplate it, she could still feel the thud of his chest beneath her fists and the death rattle of his final breath. She could recall the light going out of his eyes and an expression of peace washing over his face as he had relented, and given up his soul to God.
That had been her deciding factor in coming here. She had been the one who’d tried to save her uncle’s life, beating on his chest to urge breath back into his lungs and movement back into his heart, but she had not been able to. Here in the outskirts of war, she had the chance to make amends for that failure and bring breath back into the lungs of so many who would have otherwise perished.
Of course, men still died and there was nothing she could do about that. But if she could save one, and send them back to their worried families, then that made it worth every loss. Indeed, she felt that this was her way of being tested by the Lord which gave her little choice but to endure.
He will not give me any challenge that I cannot overcome. She firmly believed that, though she often had her moments of doubt. It was impossible not to have concerns with so much chaos going on around her.
“I will go back to her for a short time,” Ben promised.
“That is good to hear.”
Slipping a few more drops of laudanum into his mouth in order to get him to rest, she bound his wound in more bandages and left him to sleep. There were more men who required her attention and though she gave her full focus to every single one, she could only spend so long in their company.
Today will be a good day, she told herself as she moved onto her next patient. He had taken several shards of musket shrapnel to the chest and it would take her a long while to remove every shattered part. Undeterred, she raised a set of long tweezers and returned to her task.
In the distance, the sound of war grew closer. The cannon fire boomed like summer thunder and the muskets barked like rabid dogs, biting into the flesh of young soldiers who could not get out of the way fast enough. She tried not to think of them as she worked, pushing the devastation to the back of her mind as she concentrated on the one life she could change.
Today will be a good day, she repeated in her mind. Today, I will not lose a single soul.
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