Set in Brighton…
The sounds and scents of the Crimean War are strangling Harry Marlow, shutting him off and silently smothering his soul. But he is a soldier and that is his life, and he can see nothing else besides that. So why should he care when a woman watches him? His life is not one to share with a woman, other than for a few moments in his bed.
When a woman is already drowning so deeply in sin she is without any fear of judgement – what can it matter if she chooses to begin a new affair? It is like escape to choose her own man and Captain Marlow is the perfect candidate for a dalliance. All she has to do is obtain an introduction…
* * *
Ah, well. I sort of don’t know what to say. I have lived with the Marlow family for ten years, since writing the first draft of The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, so they have a very fixed place in my imagination and my heart. It is really emotional to say goodbye to them in this last book in the Marlow Intrigues series. Perhaps I will not be able to let them go entirely and they may pop up as extras in other stories. But it is time for me to turn time back and return to writing in the Regency period in a new series.
I shan’t say anything about my next series, but keep an eye out for it and one of the easiest ways to do so is to follow my author page on Amazon just search Jane Lark go onto the author page and click on follow. But to belt and braces it, why not follow me on Facebook and ask for emails when posts go up.
When you read this story, if you have been following the series and have a good memory of the first two books you’ll spot all the parallels in this story to both the Lost Love of a Soldier and The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, there was a deliberate resonance in many scenes and I also went back to using inspirations described by Harriett Wilson, a real Regency courtesan. You’ll find all of Harriett’s true stories on my blog. She was the inspiration for the whole of the Marlow Intrigues series, really. It would never have come to my mind if I had not read Harriett’s memoirs.
Harriette was known as quite tom boyish so she was also the inspiration for Charlie’s name.
So, thank you, Harriett Wilson! And thank you to all the readers who have followed the series, posted reviews and share the stories, to spread the word. I am very grateful for your support ❤
Gareth’s touch on Harry’s arm drew Harry’s attention away from his dog. ‘Is that not the woman we saw here yesterday?’
Harry looked across his shoulder and smiled. ‘I believe so.’
It was a blustery day and in the grey sky above seagulls called out as they played on the breeze, flying into it and then letting it sweep them back. The women’s skirts were blowing about their legs as they held onto the brims of their bonnets.
The dog barked because the stick had been lifted and not thrown yet. Harry looked at the waves and hurled the piece of driftwood he’d picked up to play their game. Ash turned and ran after it, all enthusiasm, inspired by the energy in the weather. A few minutes later the dog returned, with the stick in her mouth and her tail wagging violently Harry patted the Dalmatian’s head and took the stick from her mouth then hurled it into the sea again. The pebbles on the shore stirred with the movement of both the dog and the waves as Ash raced into the foaming water.
‘She is smiling broadly and my bet would be she is smiling at you.’
Harry glanced over his shoulder once more. The woman was speaking to her female companion, who from her appearance he would guess to be a maid. He looked at his friend. ‘Or you.’
‘No. Definitely you.’
‘How can you be sure?’
‘I have neither the looks nor the reputation that make women whisper.’
Harry laughed as Ash returned. ‘You have a scarlet coat with epaulettes, the uniform works wonders, Captain Morris,’ he mocked his friend, then took the stick from the dog’s mouth and threw it into the shallow part of the waves again. Ash followed it.
‘The woman could not be more obvious. She has not taken her eyes off you.’
‘Then perhaps it is some young miss who has heard of my reputation and sees a monster to point at.’
‘She is not looking at you in disdain.’
Harry smiled at his friend’s amusement. He did not care why the woman was looking at him. Let her look. Ash came back and Harry threw the stick a few more times as Gareth continually glanced back and recounted how the woman continued to watch while she walked back and forth, beside her maid, along the path at the head of the beach.
When he’d had enough of being observed, like a spider in a jar, Harry looked at Gareth and suggested it was time to return to their barracks in Preston. He had to get back anyway. He was on duty later.
Harry walked off the pebbly beach as Gareth sent one last smile in the unknown woman’s direction.
They walked to the inn, where they’d left their horses side by side.
Ash kept close to Harry’s horse as they rode back, nipping at the horse’s hind legs on occasion if she had a chance.
Harry dismounted. The brick paved yard in the centre of the barracks was a huge square and the stalls about it held several hundred horses. He led Obsidian into one of the giant stable blocks, to her stall. He took off her saddle before brushing the horse down, while Ash retired to the corner of the stable and watched.
When Harry walked out of the stall the dog followed.
Ash slept under the desk by Harry’s feet as Harry served his hours of duty through the night and in the morning when Harry tumbled on to the bed in his quarters, Ash climbed up and lay beside him. Harry fell asleep as he stroked the dog’s ear.
A deafening explosion rang in his ears and it resonated through his chest. Then there were screams of retaliation and the thunder created by a cavalry charge. Harry awoke and sat up. His nose and mouth burned with the smell and the acrid taste of gunpowder and his mind was plagued with the sight of wounded men, blood and death. It was a relief to be awake.
He stroked Ash’s neck and the dog licked his cheek. ‘You, scallywag, Ash.’ He rubbed her stomach as she rolled onto her back.
Ash had come from a litter his sister Mary’s husband had bred for his son to choose from. Harry had been offered one of George’s spares. The offer had been the gift of more than a dog, though. Harry had been in need of something to make him smile and his sister had spotted his need and given him Ash. He’d accepted the gift for the kindness it was and chosen the runt of the litter, although Ash’s playful character had grown beyond the weak puppy he’d carried away tucked inside his coat.
The dog sat up and licked his face again. ‘Good day to you too, you silly animal, Ash.’
Ash’s name had come from Harry’s niece, Iris; Ash for the sake of the black dots on her white coat.
Having Ash to amuse and pet had helped still his mind. It had quietened the sudden, violent visions during the day. The impacts of fighting a farcical war without enough equipment, ammunition or food and medicine were cut deep into his mind and the scars opened up whenever he was idle. His nightmares were of the tents full of wounded men as often as they were of the battles. He’d seen more men lost to infection and fever than cannon fire or bullets.
He’d joined the army as an eager young man, keen to discover the thrills of the life of a soldier and leave the stifling safety of his family home behind. For years he’d lived carelessly, supported by them, with a casual disregard for anything but his own pleasure. He’d been a flippant young man, breaking all his righteous father’s rules, even when he’d first become a soldier. But that was not the man who had returned from the war. War had tainted him and his family had seen it. But good God, he did not even recognise the man he’d once been now. That innocent, foolish man was a stranger to him as much as this man had been a stranger to the family he had rebelled against for no other reason than to express his individuality.
‘Come along, let us go for a run.’ Harry shoved the dog off the bed, then climbed out of it himself. He washed and shaved, then picked up his dark-blue trousers and pulled them on. Next he put on his shirt, tucked it in and drew his braces up over his shoulders before putting on his black neckcloth. Lastly he slid his arms into his scarlet military coat. That last garment was the thing which defined him as a lancer, a cavalry man.
His fingers ran over the epaulette, which announced him as a captain, then brushed down the sleeve, knocking off any lint. He swept off the dust from his other sleeve and then secured the brass buttons in their regimental button holes, following an upward pattern. The routine of dressing each morning and returning himself to the man who was ready and prepared to fight, had become a ritual. He clothed his soul and his thoughts, hiding them to ensure they were never exposed.
He sighed out a breath. ‘Ash,’ he called the dog to his heel. They left his room together and walked to the stable to prepare Obsidian. The horse and the regiment were a family that understood him and they were his home now. The Crimea had set him apart from his family. The knowledge, the wounds in his head, were things he could never share with them, or his old friends. But everyone lived with such memories here.
Yet the dog had been a good thought of his sister’s. Ash was in his military family too. War may have set him apart, but his family still sought to reach out to the stranger they had found amongst them on his return. As his family could not look after him from a distance. Ash’s role was to watch him and lift his spirits when they were low.
Fifteen minutes later he was riding at a trot, with Ash beside the horse, as they travelled the two miles towards Brighton’s beach.
He could have ridden in another direction, but the sea always seemed to pull him towards it.
The taste of salt filled the air. He breathed it in and kept breathing slowly. It cleansed his senses of the haunting stale smells of the gunpowder and blood and the foul odours of death. He could see the sea in the distance through the avenue of houses.
He left Obsidian at the inn he regularly used for that purpose, then walked on with Ash, and a stick for Ash, ignoring the bustle of passing carriages and people in the busy street. Yes, the dog was a very good addition. Without Ash he would not have come to the beach each day. His visits to the beach had become his moments to escape—they would have felt like running away without Ash to entertain. With Ash these moments had become the sanctuary he ran to.
‘Fetch!’ he yelled as he walked out on to the pebbles and hurled the stick. Ash barked with loud excitement and her eyes followed the stick’s flight through the air.
Harry watched it too, isolating his thoughts and himself, shutting out his awareness of the bathing carts and those managing their occupants and the others walking on the beach, letting his thoughts slip out of the past and the echoes of the nightmare he’d dreamed.
He’d been invited to play cards with a retired colonel tonight. Colonel Hillier. He presumed because those playing believed he would bring money into the game, with a Duke for a brother. The truth was that he had already spent, or rather gambled away, most of the arrears of his allowance that had been given to him by his brother on his return to England. Equally, most of his pay that had built up during his months abroad had been lost at the tables.
But not all the money had been lost since his return; there had been many nights during the regiment’s progression towards the battlefields in the Crimea in which bets had been made and promissory notes written. Gambling on the outcome of a hand of cards had been the closest thing to freedom there.
The notes had all been called in and paid on his return and now he was poor until he received the next payment of his allowance from his ducal brother, or his next wage.
Laughter rang out behind him, in a woman’s tone, from the walkway along the head of the beach. The familiar sound pierced through the dustsheet he’d thrown across the world to separate himself from it.
He looked back.
The woman, who kept watching him, was there again. For the fifth day. With the same maid. He looked away, out to sea. He was not interested in any young misses. His life was not a life for an English wife…
The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama
The last book in the Marlow Intrigues series out in May and available to preorder
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75 now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks)
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback