Authors: At Love's Command
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
At Love’s Command
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
At Love’s Command Copyright © 2007 Samantha Kane
Edited by Raelene Gorlinsky.
Cover art by Syneca.
Electronic book Publication December 2007
This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/) This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
BROTHERS IN ARMS:
AT LOVE’S COMMAND
There are quite a few people I’d like to thank for their assistance with this novel.
First, Julie Gupton for her invaluable support and advice as my critique partner. She’s spent almost as much time with Ian, Derek and Sophie as I have. Thanks also go to Nancy Mayer and her online class on the Regency gentleman. Raelene Gorlinsky was, as ever, gracious and patient with me through the entire editing process. She is an editor beyond compare. Thanks also go to Mary Altman for her editing expertise.
Thank you to K. Manzella for her help with translations. An anonymous thank you goes out to the many people who dedicate their time to sharing their knowledge and love of history on the internet. And last but not least, thanks to Deb Dixon and her GMC
workshop. It helped me through a dry patch in the final edits.
This novel is dedicated to my family. First to my husband, who is my biggest fan, and that was before I became a published writer. He is the very definition of partner.
Next, to my two sons and my little girl, because they are so patient when mommy has to “do her email”, and “work on her computer”. To my parents, who worry where the ideas come from but support and brag about me anyway. To my two sisters who are just too cool, and think I am too. And for my Smokin’ Hot Big Brother, who has spent most of this year weathering the storm of losing his wife to breast cancer, and is learning how to sail his ship again. And to my late sister-in-law, who taught me the valuable lesson of living and loving every minute of every day.
At Love’s Command
Ian Witherspoon was rather amazed at how calm he was considering he had just
left his lover to go meet his bride. For all that he’d been betrothed to her for nearly twelve years, he couldn’t recall having seen her since that long-ago day. She’d been a mousy little thing of ten years then, thin and blandly brown—hair, eyes and clothes. He had been a very immature eighteen, reluctantly agreeing to the future marriage in order to stay in his father’s good graces.
Then the war, and Derek, had come along and he’d forgotten about little brown
Sophia Middleton. Ah yes, Derek. His lover was less than thrilled at Ian’s upcoming nuptials. Ian had tried everything to make Derek understand why he was doing this.
But Derek refused to listen, he refused to talk about the past or the future. Derek wanted to live in the present, with no thought to causes or consequences. Ian couldn’t blame him, really. He’d seen too much of consequences in his short life. Hadn’t they all?
But his stubborn refusal to even discuss the situation had Ian tremendously frustrated.
As he walked up the stairs to the drawing room Ian thought about their friends
Jason Randall, Tony Richards and their wife Kate, Lady Randall. Jason and Tony had fought beside Ian and Derek on the Peninsula, and they had suffered in the same way Ian and Derek had from the war. Yet they had found happiness with Kate. Why
couldn’t Derek see it was that elusive happiness that Ian sought for both of them with Miss Middleton?
Ian put Derek and their problems firmly from his mind. Right now the neglected
Miss Middleton was awaiting him with her papa in the salon. Not only had she been kept waiting this morning, but she’d been cooling her heels here at his London
townhouse for over a week, awaiting his return from the Lake District where he had gone to help a friend in need.
Ian stopped long enough to check his cravat in the hall mirror. Assured that his cravat, indeed his entire person, was suitably groomed to beg Miss Middleton’s pardon, Ian stepped purposely down the hall to the drawing room. A footman opened the door for him, so he didn’t even need to break his stride as he entered the room. The two occupants turned to the door expectantly and Ian stopped to bestow a polite smile on them.
“Good morning, Sir Middleton, Miss Middleton,” he offered. He had decided not to be too contrite before them. A small amount of sheepishly apologetic behavior was required, of course, but for the most part he thought he ought to behave as he felt—
sorry they’d been kept waiting but not sorry he’d gone to see his friend Jonathan Overton through a rough patch. As it was he worried that they’d left Jonathan too soon.
Ian saw that Sir Isaac Middleton was unabashedly sizing him up. Sir Middleton had been knighted for making an obscene amount of money in trade. Oh, they claimed it was for some terribly important service he’d done for the crown of course, but everyone knew it was the money. That’s why Ian had been betrothed to his daughter. Ian’s father was Lord Thomas Witherspoon, the youngest son of the Earl of Wilchester. Granted, Ian did not have a title himself and was rather out of the running for Earl seeing as his cousins were amazingly prolific, but he was
. Lord Thomas Witherspoon needed a large loan, and Sir Middleton wanted an entrée into society. Thus Sophia and Ian were matched and the two proud papas were happy.
Ian had been miserable about it at the time. He’d been picturing himself dazzling some diamond of the first water when and if he decided to settle down. He had
arrogantly assumed his dashing good looks would overcome his complete lack of
income. That lack of income had enabled his father to successfully threaten to cut off his meager allowance unless he betrothed himself to the girl. Little brown Sophia had done nothing to ameliorate Ian’s displeasure. The only consolation was that he would not have to wed her for at least eight years. He’d made sure that provision was in the marriage contract, and in return Sophia received a very large marriage settlement.
Everyone ignored the fact that the money would almost certainly come from her own dowry.
Over the years Ian had forgotten about her. When he asked his father to buy him a commission in the army, Ian had been surprised when the old man had asked him,
“What about Miss Middleton?” He had nearly replied, “Miss Who?” In his own defense he hadn’t thought he’d be at war longer than a year or two, and as Miss Middleton was only sixteen at the time he assumed it would work out well.
He’d been at war for four years. And when he came back he had Derek with him
and a whole host of demons at his heels. Rushing to Sophia Middleton’s side for a lavish wedding did not appeal. He didn’t think she cared too much; he’d written to tell her of his commission and hadn’t heard a thing from her, not in four years. She’d known where he was, she could have contacted him. And she hadn’t sought him out in the two years he’d been back, either.
Ian thought back on why he’d finally decided to marry her. It had nothing to do with her charms—he honestly didn’t know if she had any. What he wanted was a new beginning. He had love with Derek, but it hadn’t made either one of them truly happy.
They were too mired in the past, in a war they rarely talked about. Even more than Ian, Derek was haunted by the war. Ian wanted them to have a new start with someone not associated with the war and all that happened there. Sophia Middleton was the way to do that, he just knew it. Finally they could put the past behind them and live fully in the present, planning for a future. Ian wanted a family. He wanted children. And he wanted to give those things to Derek, too.
Since he’d decided he wished to marry, Ian logically concluded that the wife he’d had waiting in the wings for twelve years would do as well as any other. He thought after twelve years he at least owed her a wedding.
At Love’s Command
Ian finally allowed himself to study Miss Middleton. She’d looked at him briefly when he came in, but turned away almost instantly. He noticed now that she was biting her lower lip nervously, her cheeks red. She was clutching her hands together in front of her tightly enough to whiten her knuckles. She was as brown as ever. Dull brown hair scraped back in a utilitarian bun, brown dress better suited to a day of work than an auspicious occasion such as meeting the fiancé you haven’t seen in twelve years. He assumed, with an inward sigh, that her eyes were still brown as well. He caught her glancing nervously at him, and just at that moment a small beam of sunlight crept through the window to strike her face. Her eyes glowed warm amber, and copper
highlights in her hair warmed her skin tone from pale to cream. Interesting. She wasn’t so brown then.
“Well, Mr. Witherspoon,” Sir Middleton barked, capturing Ian’s attention, “it was good of you to invite us here before the wedding. Glad to see you’re a man who lives up to his promises after all. Been wondering if you were going to let Sophia wither on the vine before marrying her.”
“Yes,” Ian drawled, “as to that—”
Sir Middleton interrupted him. “Ah well, no explanations necessary. A young man with seeds to sow, and after the war, well, I daresay you had some seeds stored up, eh?” Sir Middleton’s laughter was as coarse as his humor. “No matter, we’ve kept Sophia at home these years. Saw no need of her gallivanting about when she was
already spoken for, so you needn’t worry about her, if you know what I mean, even at such an advanced age. She’s had no beaux to speak of. We’ve kept her for you, to be sure.”
Ian’s eyes widened at this crude assurance. He reflexively looked at Miss Middleton and saw her wince in horror, her features pinched into a frown, her cheeks going from red to white. What on earth had he done to the poor girl, leaving her to Middleton’s tender mercies all these years? If she’d been a virtual prisoner in her home her behavior was most likely caused by shyness and inexperience. Ian sent her a small smile of understanding and he saw her eyes widen with surprise before she looked down.
“Miss Middleton may require an explanation,” Ian told her father, still looking at the young woman staring fixedly at the Aubusson carpet beneath her feet.
“What?” Sir Middleton exclaimed. “Sophia need an explanation? I daresay not.
She’ll do what she’s told and make no mistake, sir. She don’t question her elders nor her betters like some of the young women these days. She knows her place. No, Sophia don’t require an explanation.”
Ian hadn’t looked away, and so he saw her close her eyes and bite her lip harder.
He wished she’d speak up for herself. What was she thinking? Did she want this
marriage? It had never occurred to Ian that she might not. He had assumed she’d be as anxious to marry as any other young woman. He was still attractive at thirty, and he’d made quite a bit of his own money in the years since their betrothal. He was, by anyone’s standards, a rather good catch. He got the impression Miss Middleton was not just anyone.
Sophie wished the floor would open up and swallow her whole, even if she
dropped straight down to hell. Surely the Devil was preferable to spending even one more minute in the company of her overbearing, pompous, callous, ignorant toad of a father. Sophie always felt better after she called her father names, even if it was only in her head. Sometimes she got so angry she couldn’t even think of a name foul enough for him, so she just chanted to herself,
I hate him
I hate him
I hate him
. It settled her nerves and cleared her head so that she was able to bear his awful presence for another day.