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The warrior returns… but he never really comes home. Allegra has longed for the return of her soldier husband. But when the war ends, he is more distant than ever. After months of trying to reach him, she leaves to chaperone her husband-hunting younger sister at a duchess’s house party. Only then does Nicholas know that to win her, he must leave the war behind and truly come home to her for good.
Allegra has always been the perfect soldier’s wife, lovely, competent, and with interests of her own to keep her occupied in those long years while her husband fights his war.
But when he returns, she wants to be a wife in truth. Nicholas, however, is still preoccupied with fighting, and bored with civilian life. It isn’t until he thinks she’s betrayed him with a fashionable rake that he comes to claim her back.
In the elegant setting of a duchess’s house party, Allegra finds her way back to the man she’s always loved— and the romantic girl she used to be, the one who expected more out of life than duty, and more out of love too.
“I never imagined that, not in all those years away from you. I couldn’t, of course, couldn’t think of it, or I wouldn’t have been able to go on. But to hear it said, by two men not fit to—” Nicholas shook his head and didn’t finish.
“And you believed them?” she cried. “Gossip overheard in a taproom? Accusing me of—” She couldn’t say the words betraying you.
“No. They weren’t describing, only predicting, and in some detail.” With a savage, smooth motion, he pulled out his sword. Instinctively she stepped back from the rush of wind as the blade slashed an inch from her leg. She heard a splash of water, and saw the tip of the sword flash silver, deftly beheading a waterscorpion at the lip of the fountain.
The two pieces held together for an improbable moment, then Nicholas swung up his sword and they fell separately into the water. Allegra gasped as drops splashed on her skirt, and shrank back from the tainted pool.
Automatically, Nicholas wiped the blade of his sword on his breeches and sheathed it. As if nothing had happened, he said, “So tell me, wife, tell me. Where were they wrong? What shouldn’t I believe? That you left your home to come to London to see him? That you sent your son away? That Keverne was a frequent visitor to our house—our house—in London? That he got you invited here, and your sisters too as some sort of blind? That the other men at the party are wagering on the night of your succumbing?”
She gazed down at the dead thing in the water and couldn’t speak. His recital was such a knot of half-truths she couldn’t begin to undo it anyway. Finally she whispered fiercely, “If you won’t believe me, I have nothing more to say.”
“I don’t know what to believe.” For just a moment, the anguish rang clear in his voice, then he got control of it. “If you haven’t betrayed me—if he isn’t your lover, then why are you here? Why are you with him? No.” With a sharp gesture, he cut off her protest. “Don’t tell me you aren’t with him. I have seen you with him, twice now. Oh, nothing compromising, no. But Allegra—”
He put his hand beside her, palm against the wall, his full white sleeve caressing her bare arm. He leaned closer, speaking softly, so that his words brushed her temple. Now his voice was cool, all the pain stripped from it. “Come tonight, Allegra. Or don’t come at all.”
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