Margaret McPhee


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The Captain's Forbidden Miss

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Excerpt


Josie had just finished lacing the bodice of the dress.

‘Excusez-moi, mademoiselle.’ The voice at the other side of the tent flap was unmistakably that of Captain Dammartin.

She looked down at just how much that the neckline of Rosa’s chemise revealed, and winced.

‘A moment, please.’ She glanced around the tent in panic, scanning for something with which she could preserve her modesty. There was nothing save the wet clothes spread across the floor or the covers of the makeshift bed.

She nipped over to her makeshift bed, whipped off the top blanket and hastily pulled it around her shoulders.

‘Mademoiselle Mallington?’ he said again and, without waiting further, let himself in through the tent flap.

‘Captain Dammartin.’ She spun to face him, ensuring that the blanket was firmly in place.

He was no longer wearing his greatcoat, but just his green jacket with its decorated brass buttons. His head was bare, and his dark hair had been slicked back from his face. ‘Your dinner.’

Her eyes dropped from his face, lower, to the tray that he held between his hands and the mess tin and half-skin of wine and tumbler upon it.

He sat the tray upon the table.

‘Thank you, Captain,’ she said, and darted him a glance, suspicious that he had brought the food himself.
He gestured to the table.

She sat down on one of the chairs.

Dammartin sat down in the other.

Josie’s heart began to beat a warning tattoo. ‘You have news of my portmanteau?’ she said slowly.

‘Unfortunately, no.’

She waited.

He unstoppered the wine skin and filled the pewter tumbler that sat by its side, clearly intent on staying. ‘Eat…’ he gestured to the mess tin ‘…before it grows cold.’

Josie gave a nod and, lifting the spoon, began to eat the watery stew.

She saw his gaze sweep down over the blanket around her shoulders to the full red-and-black skirt covering her legs. ‘Rosa brought you the dress, then.’

Another nod.

Dammartin’s scar stood prominent and dark against the pallor of his skin. His eyes were dark, but showed nothing of either his intent or his mood. A strange tension sat around him, a stillness almost, as if he were poised, as if he were waiting, and her stomach fluttered with anticipation. She wondered why he was here and what this undercurrent was that flowed between them.

She focused her gaze upon her dinner as her spoon scraped against the tin, the noise seemingly too loud in the silence that filled the tent. ‘I will return the clothes as soon as I can.’

‘There is no need,’ he said. ‘Rosa has been recompensed for her loss.’

‘So I have been told.’ Josie looked up at him then, and in her ear whispered the beautiful dark-haired woman’s words seemingly taunting her naivety. For the first time she saw him not as the French captain who had stormed the monastery at Telemos, nor an officer of Bonaparte’s army, not even as her enemy – but just as a man.

She realized she knew scarcely anything of Dammartin, other than the story of his father. Whether he was married. Whether he had children. Whether he took the beautiful Rosa to his bed at night. Josie did not know why she found the thought of him with the Spanish woman so discomforting. It should not have mattered one iota to her, but, as she sat there in Rosa’s dress, she knew that it did matter, very much. She did not want to think of Rosa.

She took a swig of wine. ‘Are you married, Captain Dammartin?’

Surprise registered in his eyes. He hesitated before answering. ‘I am not married,
mademoiselle.’

Her heart beat a little faster. She fortified herself with some more wine. ‘Rosa is not a prisoner of the French.’

A single dark eyebrow raised at that. ‘No, she is no prisoner.’ And he looked at her with that too-perceptive gaze.

Silence, and the tension within the tent seemed to tighten a notch.

Josie regretted her impulsiveness. He was the enemy. She was his prisoner. What did it matter what he did? Why was he even here in the tent with her?

‘Rosa is Sergeant Lamont’s woman,’ said Dammartin.

Another silence. Awkward. Tense.

‘I just thought…’ Josie sipped at the wine and started again. ‘I am surprised, that is all, given that she is Spanish.’

‘Lamont saved her from being raped and flogged by a group of Spanish guerrillas near her village.’

Josie felt her stomach tighten with shock and the memory of her own experience at the bandit’s hands. She pushed the thought away, forced herself to concentrate on Rosa. ‘Why would her own people do that to her?’

‘They thought she was fraternizing with the enemy.’

‘And was she…fraternizing?’

‘She was innocent of the charges, but passions run high when it comes to our army in Spain. She would have been killed had she returned to her village.’

‘So she has travelled with your army ever since.’

‘She follows Lamont, and only Lamont,’ he said.

‘Because he saved her.’ And the breath was shaky in her throat as she looked into his eyes.

‘Yes.’

They stared at one another knowing that the subject had come much closer to something that touched them both.

It was Josie that looked away.

‘Thank you for bringing me the dinner,’ she said, moving the empty mess tin upon the tray. She stood up, hoping that Dammartin would take the hint and leave.

Dammartin lifted the wine skin and refilled the tumbler.

‘It has been a long day, sir. I am tired and –’

‘Sit down,
mademoiselle,’ he said quietly.

Despite the flair of alarm in Mademoiselle Mallington’s eyes, Dammartin knew he could defer his questions no longer. She had eaten, they were both tired…and he had to know for sure.

‘You were most distressed by the loss of your portmanteau.’

‘I was,’ she admitted, but he could hear the note of caution in her voice.

‘Clothes can be replaced.’ His eyes dropped to the thick, grey blanket draped around her shoulders, knowing that it hid the low-cut Spanish dress beneath.

A slight nod as her gaze wandered over the empty mess tin, the cup and the tray.

‘I find myself wondering over your reaction to your missing baggage.’ He watched her very carefully.

‘I do not understand what you mean, sir.’ Still she did not look at him, but her fingers began to toy with the spoon.

‘You were distraught, panicked, afraid.’

She forced a dismissive smile. ‘I was cold and wet, and I had just learned that all of my possessions had been stolen. What reaction did you expect, Captain?’

‘For how long have you followed your father, Mademoiselle Mallington?’

‘Most of my life.’ He could see she was trying to fathom his line of questioning.

‘How many years have you,
mademoiselle?

‘’I am two and twenty years old,’ she replied. Her fingers played against the spoon’s handle.

So young, Dammartin thought. Too damn young to be caught up in this situation. He thought again of Lieutenant Colonel Mallington’s utter selfishness. ‘Then you know well the rigours of campaign life?’

‘Yes, but…’ She frowned. ‘…I do not understand what this has to do with my missing portmanteau.’

‘I ask myself why Mademoiselle Mallington, who has shown such bravery, such resilience, should be so very upset by a few missing clothes.’

She sat very still.

‘And the thought comes to me that perhaps the lady has within her portmanteau something more precious than clothes.’

The colour drained from her cheeks.

‘Something that she wishes very much not to fall into French hands.’

Her grip tightened around the spoon.

‘Might that be the case,
mademoiselle?’

Her gaze stayed on the spoon, and he saw how white her knuckles shone.

He let the silence stretch, increasing the tension that was already wound taught between them.

‘I begin to think of what is most precious to Mademoiselle Mallington.’

Her breath held.

‘And I find the answer is her father.’

There was the slightest widening of her eyes.

He leaned forward, bringing his face closer to hers. ‘Lieutenant Colonel Mallington’s journals were within your portmanteau.’

The spoon dropped with a clatter. Her gaze swung to his, showing all of her shock and her hurt and her anger. ‘It was you!’ she whispered, and then she was on her feet, the chair falling over behind her.‘You stole my portmanteau!’

‘Mademoiselle Mallington.’ He rose.

But she backed away, increasing the space between them, staring at him with outrage blatant upon her face. ‘And now that you cannot find what you seek, you come back to me to discover…’ She touched her knuckles to her mouth, as if to stopper the words and her breath came in loud ragged gasps.

He moved towards her.

But she trod back farther, shaking her head, warning him away. ‘Not once did I think that it might have been you.’

He stepped closer. ‘
Mademoiselle.

‘Leave me alone,’ she said, and her face was powder white.

His arms closed around her, pulling her against him.

She tried to push away but he just held her closer, aware of the tremble though her body.

‘Listen to me.’

‘No.’ She shook her head and pushed harder at his chest. ‘Leave me!’

‘Josephine.’ He gazed down into her eyes, needing to reach her, needing to make her understand. ‘I did not steal your portmanteau. What need had I to do such a thing? Had I wanted to search it, do you not think that I would have come in here and done just that?’

Josie looked up into Dammartin’s eyes, and his words permeated the mist that had clouded her brain. The air she had been holding tight and still within her lungs escaped in a single fast breath. He was right. Dammartin would have emptied her whole portmanteau before her very eyes without the slightest compunction.

‘I…’ She shook her head, unwilling to betray her father further by admitting the existence of the journals. Dammartin was still French. He was still her enemy. ‘You are mistaken, Captain, there were no journals within my portmanteau.’

‘Perhaps,’ he said, but she knew that he was not convinced.

‘I would just like to have my possessions returned to me, that is all.’

He looked deep into her eyes. ‘A portmanteau is not so easy to hide on the war trail. If it is here, then it shall be found. I will discover who is behind this,
mademoiselle.’

He
was French. He was her enemy. But in that moment she believed what he said. And now that the panic had gone she became aware that she was still standing in the French Captain’s arms, and that he was staring down at her with an intensity that made her shiver.

‘You are cold,’ he said quietly.

‘No,’ she whispered, conscious that she was trembling. She should have pulled herself free for the grip of his hands had gentled. But Josie just stood there.

His hands moved up and she felt the stroke of his thumb against her mouth and her lips burned where he touched.

There was only the sound of their breath between them.


‘Mademoiselle,’ he whispered, and not once did the intensity of his gaze falter. His eyes had darkened to a smoulder that held her so completely that she could not look away. It seemed as if she were transfixed by him, unable to move, unaware of anything save him, and the strange tension that seemed to bind them together.

Her eyes flickered over the harsh, lean angles of his face, over the straightness of his nose, over the dark line of his scar, down to his lips. And she was acutely conscious of the hardness of his chest and hip and, against her, the long length of his legs. The breath wavered in her throat, and she was sure that he would hear its loud raggedness.

‘Josephine,’ he said and she could hear the harsh strain within his voice. ‘God help me, but you tempt me to lose my very soul.’

His hand moved round to cradle her head. His face lowered towards hers, and she knew that he was going to kiss her. Slowly Josie tilted her face up in response, and the blanket slipped from shoulders to fall upon the groundsheet.”

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