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A Soldier’s Heart

By:Sherrill Bodine


BOOK ONE





The Meeting





London Season, 1813



Lord Matthew Blackwood stood in the wide, rectangular doorway leading into Lady Charlesworth’s ballroom and took one cursory glance at the ton at play. Only Kendall’s insistence they obey Her Grace’s dictate to stop by before going on to White’s had induced him to waste even a few hours of leave enduring the grueling tedium of such a sad crush. On the passage from the Peninsula, Kendall had prosed on and on about the activities they must throw themselves into while at home—boxing at Gentleman Jackson’s, races at Newmarket, cockfights in the country. Dancing attendance at ton balls was not Matt’s idea of a desirous diversion to take his mind from the battlefield. The petticoat line was Kendall’s, perhaps even his brother Longford’s, world, certainly not his. He knew exactly what he was looking for; the trouble was, he was beginning to think she didn’t exist.

Bored already, he half turned toward Kendall and his gaze fell on a vision. Her ebony hair fell from a topknot in loose ringlets about her perfect oval face. Her wide blue eyes dominated her tiny nose and sweet cherry lips. Her demure white crepe gown fell gently over just-hinted-at delectable curves. She was the embodiment of soft, innocent sweetness he’d dreamed of for years.

“My God, Kendall! She’s here!” Matt breathed, unable to contain his excitement, to quite believe she actually existed as flesh and blood. “I’ve been seeking her and here she is!”

“What are you raving about, Matt?” Lord William Kendall, dressed in the identical rifle green of their brigade, had also been idly glancing about the room, but now straightened to attention.

“There!” Impatiently he directed Kendall’s wandering eye. “The raven-haired angel next to Lady Charlesworth. She must be her niece, Miss Serena Fitzwater.”

“Yes, a pretty little thing.” Kendall shrugged. “But this season, fair hair is the rage, I’m told. We’ve six weeks of leave, at best, before it’s back to old Picton’s tyranny, so might as well dally with nothing but diamonds of the first water.”

“Old friend, you don’t understand.” Clasping Kendall’s shoulder, Matt flashed him a brilliant smile. “Before I return to the Peninsula, I plan to make that angel my bride.”

“Matt, are you mad!”

His friend’s astonished face proved no deterrent. Matt always knew exactly what he wanted, and once his mind was made up, he allowed nothing to distract him. The powers of concentration that made him an excellent soldier would stand him in good stead for the coming battle of hearts.

Making his way across the packed ballroom floor, he barely noticed the interested looks that marked his direction. Nor did he pay much heed to the whispered admiration that followed him. He blocked out the dozens of flickering candles in tall silver sticks, the crystal chandeliers blazing overhead, the strains of the waltz played by musicians hidden in the balcony, and the scent of flowers perfuming the air.

All was as nothing beside the perfect vision of Miss Serena Fitzwater. Even her name conjured up delights he’d only dreamed about.

Boldly he stepped before her. Her dark, feathery eyelashes fluttered upward, and at once he was caught in the pure blueness of her sweet gaze. Before, his mind had been captured by seeing his vision brought to life; now his heart gave one single stroke to forge his fate.

Sensing someone pause before her, Serena looked up instinctively to find herself gazing into a young, handsome face—the face of her dreams.

Her fingers trembled so, she clasped them more securely around the silver stem of the nosegay Aunt Lavinia had presented her with, to bolster her courage, and perforce to give her something to occupy her hands this evening. He smiled and the trembling bolted to her middle, making it a trifle difficult to breathe. His smile transformed the handsome face into a startling male beauty never before seen in Serena’s small world.

The candlelight haloed patterns of gold in his rich chocolate hair, and his eyes, an even deeper brown, gazed at her with such intensity, she felt rather light-headed. For the first time in her life, she could relate to the fainting heroines she’d read about, who swooned at the slightest provocation.

This would definitely not do for Reverend Bartholomew Fitzwater’s daughter from Market Weighton, East Riding, York! Parsons’ offspring were supposed to be made of sterner stuff!

It was with breathless gratitude that Serena heard her aunt’s booming voice through the blood pounding in her ears.

“Lord Blackwood, isn’t it? What a pleasure to have you home from the wars, and to find you here at our little gathering.” Aunt Lavinia gushed as only she could, her chubby face wreathed in a smile.

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