Excerpt from Major Wycliff's Campaign


     "If you are ill, I shall send for a doctor at once."
     He forestalled her words with a low chuckle. "My ailment cannot be cured by any doctor." He set aside an empty brandy snifter. "Do you wish to know of what I was thinking?"
     She did not answer. His voice had trapped her, mixing with the moonlight to weave a spell of dark magic around her.
     He leaned forward, pulling himself out of the shadows. "Of Spain and war," he murmured. "Of death and angels of mercy. Of you."
     She shivered, drawn to him even as she kept a firm grip on the edges of her chair. She closed her eyes, determined to end his strange hold on her, but that only made the memories more clear, the pain more real.
     "Do you know what I remember?" she rasped. "I remember sitting like this—in the dark—when you were in the hospital. I told my mother I was going to a musical soiree, but instead I went to you." She stood up, needing to pace away her agitation, but there was nowhere for her to go. So she simply stood, staring into the dark shadows near his shoulders, her words continuing without her willing them. "I remember the smell of blood in the air, the coppery taste of it and the moans from the nearby beds. But mostly, I remember you. I remember listening for your breath, holding my own until I heard yours." She felt a tear slip down her cheek. "Do you know how guilty I felt? Each time you drew breath, I thanked God you were still alive, and yet I knew I was only prolonging your suffering. I knew you would die. We all did."
     "But I did not," he said firmly. Loudly. And there was power in each word, enough to ease the ache in her chest, but not take away the fear that it would happen again, the terror that another fever would claim him, that another wound might kill him. Then he stood, his body large and whole before her. "Do not think of it, Sophia," he said. "It is over."
     She shook her head, knowing that it would never be over for her, despite his new found strength. She would always remember those days by his side. That last night in the dark. "I had to leave the hospital," she continued. "I could not be out all night." How she wished she had defied convention. How she wished she had ignored the risk of scandal and spent the night by his side. Then she would have known he lived. But she hadn't. "In the morning, they told me you were dead."
     "Tis over," he repeated. He touched her then. He reached out and stroked her chin, lifting it until she met his dark gaze. "Think of something else," he urged as he stepped closer. "Think of last night. Of how we kissed."
     He made to pull her into his arms, but she shied away, just as she shied away from those memories. She had been drunk, her reason gone, but the experience remained burned in her thoughts. His caresses had seared her skin. His kisses had set her blood afire. And all her resistance had melted away. "I remember that you left," she snapped, using the words to cool the heat he created. "You said I disgusted you, and then you left."
     Again he reached for her, and she turned away, choosing to look out the window. Her gaze roved the moonlit night, but her senses focused behind her. On him.
     "I have not left," he said. "I am here." He set his hands on her shoulders, and she tensed, half in fear, half in desire. "I want to have children with you, Sophia."
     She bit her lip, startled by his sudden shift in topic and distracted by the strange longing his words produced. When she had decided to take the life of a spinster, she had mourned only one thing—that she would never have any children. It was still an ache, one that caught her unawares at times.
     "I want to many you," he continued. "I want to make you my wife and bring you to my bed. I want to spread your golden hair across my pillow and kiss you until your skin glows with passion." Her body tensed with a new hunger, one she could not recall having experienced before. His words were as frightening as they were exciting, and she did not know what she should do or how she should respond.
     "You—you should not speak so to me," she stammered.
     "Then go, for I will not stop."
     Sophia pressed her palms flat against the cool windowpane, using it to steady herself. But, before the temperature could do more than sensitize her hands, he pulled her back against him, pressing her intimately against his broad chest.
     "You are different," she said. "You seem..." She hesitated, searching for the right words.
     "Determined? Forceful?"
     "Stronger," she corrected, her body growing inebriated by the word. He seemed so powerful that despite her determination to resist him, she wondered what it would be like to lie in his arms. To feel his force surrounding her body, holding it, invading it.
     "I am tired, Sophia. I have played at butler long enough." His words were almost harsh, but his caress was sensual, warming her, molding her to his will. "I should return to London to see if my new post has been approved. But I will not leave without you."
     She could not answer. Not with him touching her, her back pressed intimately against his broad chest. She could not think other than to turn to face him, shifting so she could feel the width of his shoulders and brush her fingers along the rough cut of his jaw.
     "Sophia?" His voice deepened, sounding unsteady as he caught her hand, holding it in his firm grasp. She could not respond except to rise up on her toes, seeking his kiss.


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