Highborn Anna Arrington has been "following the drum," obeying the wishes of her cold, controlling cavalry officer husband. When he dies, all she wants is to leave life with Wellington's army in Spain behind her and go home to her family's castle in Scotland.
Sergeant Will Atkins ran away from home to join the army in a fit of boyish enthusiasm. He is a natural born soldier, popular with officers and men alike, uncommonly brave and chivalrous, and educated and well-read despite his common birth.
As Anna journeys home with a convoy of wounded soldiers, she forms an unlikely friendship with Will. When the convoy is ambushed and their fellow soldiers captured, they become fugitivestogether. The attraction between them is strongbut even if they can escape the threat of death at the hands of the French, is love strong enough to bridge the gap between a viscount's daughter and an innkeeper's son?
With Wellington's Army in Spain, June 1811
"Aiee! Madre de Dios, it hurts!"
Will knelt on a coarse wool blanket beside his best friend's woman, gripping her hands. "Not much longer, Juana," he murmured. "Everything is going well."
He hoped he spoke the truth, but he didn't rightly know. His boyhood experience with lambing on his brother-in-law's farm hardly made him a midwife. He was a Rifle sergeant, an eleven-year veteran who had known no life but a soldier's since he was sixteen. He'd been trained to usher men out of the world, not babies into it.
Juana's birth pang ended, and she released his hands. Will flexed his fingers to get the blood flowing again. Her grip had turned so fierce he wondered if he'd be able to manage his rifle the next day.
Somewhere nearby there had to be better help for a laboring woman. He could still hear tramping feet and creaking oxcart wheels on the road, just a few yards away from the grove of cork trees where they had sought shelter when Juana's pains grew too strong for her to continue on the march. Their own regiment marched far ahead with the vanguard, but the main body of the army hadn't yet passed them by.
He allowed himself a brief daydream of seeking out Lord Wellington to tell the general exactly what he thought of him for ordering a march today of all brutally hot days. It wasn't as if they were going to or from battle. They hadn't seen action in weeks, and if camp gossip was to be believed, that was unlikely to change soon. Today they marched to improve their position relative to the French, many miles distant, or maybe simply to avoid exhausting the countryside's food and water and the goodwill of their Spanish hosts. They could just as well have waited a few days in hopes of the heat breaking, and Juana could've given birth in a settled camp.
Will shook off his insubordinate fancies and turned his mind to reality. He fixed the third occupant of the grove with a glare that would've made any private leap to obey. "Damn it, Dan, you must go for help."
Dan, however, was no private. He was the other sergeant of Will's companynot to mention Juana's lover and the father of her child.
"No," he said. "I'm not leaving her. Not this time." His jaw was set, his eyes haunted.
Will shook his head. Two years before, Dan had lost his wife in childbirth after being forced to leave her behind on the retreat to Corunna, so he had made up his mind that he could keep Juana safe by keeping her in sight. But he was useless, pacing the edge of the grove in a nervous panic. He could not take Will's place, freeing him to seek help, so somehow they had to manage. But Juana needed more. She needed a woman.