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"Stop!" he repeated—and then his erection was in her hand and his voice failed him. With quick fingers, she worked his arching sex from its confines. It rose up against the tousled folds of their clothing. She held it carefully, though with the strength of his arousal, it needed no support. At the sight of her pale hand surrounding the base of his shaft, his defiance fled.

And in the back of his mind, where his self-pity and disappointment lingered, a desire long suppressed emerged: She'll have to marry you. She'll be yours.

Possession—an emotion unfamiliar and heady—ripped through him, left him breathless, and mingled with self-disgust that he would ever use such a method, that he was participating in this calculated ruin. Emily rose higher on her knees, her eyes cold with purpose. She guided his tip to her entrance; he immediately recognized that she wasn't ready, but she began to sink onto him before he could implore her to wait.

The pleasure of being enveloped by her heated depths overwhelmed the discomfort of his entry until she whimpered softly in distress. He realized that despite her practiced kiss and her knowledgeable fingers, she didn't know more than the mechanics of intercourse.

With clinical detachment, he heard himself say, "Lift yourself up, then push back down. Slowly."

Her face blazed with color, but she followed his instruction. Considering that she had been bold enough to instigate this, Anthony had a moment to wonder at her embarrassment—was it caused by their actions, his frank instruction… or because it was him? — before the leisurely drag of her inner muscles up his length captured every bit of his attention.

She took him in again, more easily than before; her body had begun producing moisture. With a small, relieved sigh, she began riding him in slow, shallow strokes.

It was torture, but he dared not force her all the way onto him for tear of hurting her. To keep himself from thrusting deep, he leaned forward and buried his face between her breasts, biting the bodice of her dress. He inhaled sharply, letting the dark, warm scent of her fill his senses.

She suddenly paused with his shaft halfway inside her, and his teeth threatened to tear through lace trim. "Anthony?"

He hoped she would take his choked grunt as an answer; at that moment, nothing he could have said would have been sensible.

After a brief hesitation, she said, "Do not spill your seed inside me."

That brought his head up. Uncertainty and fear pinched her mouth.

"I won't," he promised.

"Will you spill it soon?" she said, with a fleeting, pained expression.

"Not immediately." Chagrin flushed his cheeks. When he had become a willing participant, he should have seen to her pleasure. "Have you exhausted yourself? Do you want to stop?"

She shook her head. "I will finish this," she said, rising up with determined vigor. She dropped, earned down by her weight.

She cried out in surprise at his full penetration; Anthony, unable to help himself, held her locked against him with his hands on her hips. His boot heels dug into the carpet. Fire licked at his spine, drawing his muscles taut.

After a long, shaky sigh, she began to move again, and he drew her hands to his shoulders so she could brace herself against him. Slipping his fingers between them, he sought the tiny organ at the apex of her sex. His thumb stroked; she gasped and tried to pull away; he followed, briefly triumphing in the soft sounds of pleasure she began to make low in her throat.

Not immediately, he had told her, but the slick glide of his fingers against her, of his shaft skimming against his hand with every thrust into her, undid him. His body tightened, trembled. He fought it, trying to wait for her, ringing the base of his cock and squeezing in a hopeless attempt to slow his orgasm. The urge to find his release inside her, to make his possession complete, almost overwhelmed the memory of his promise—but at the last moment he withdrew.

Grabbing for the first piece of cloth at hand—her chemise—he wrapped it over his glans as his orgasm tore through him, clenching his teeth against a shout.

And when the last shudder faded, the enormity of what they'd done hit him.

He stared down at the semen-soaked linen in his hand. Oh, God. Had he really been stupid enough to imagine that Norbridge would allow him to marry Emily? That he would be a match for an earl's daughter, just because he'd compromised her? More likely, if he discovered Anthony had made love to his daughter, Norbridge would ruin him, make it impossible for Anthony to live or work amongst polite society.

Had he only believed it for that moment so he could allow himself to yield to her? If I had been a man, instead of a boy searching for ease and pleasure, wouldn't I have kept us both from ruination?

Shame stiffened his tongue, but he knew he had to apologize. He lifted his gaze; she was staring at him, her expression arrested on his face.

"Don't… blame yourself," she said. Her voice trembled, and she closed her eyes. "I told you I would hurt you."

Unsure how to respond, he gestured to their clothing and said the first thing that came to his mind. "I've not been hurt—only mussed." He attempted a smile. "Colin will be severely displeased by my state of dishevelment tonight; I hardly think he'll let me accompany him to his gentleman's club now."

To his horror, tears started in her eyes. As if she hadn't heard his jest, she said brokenly, "I have been an idiot to think love means anything. It is a fraud, isn't it?"

Without waiting for his answer, she buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed. His concerned queries yielded no answer. At a loss, he could only hold her, stroking her hair in a vain attempt to soothe her unrelenting despair.

Self-recrimination tore at him—why had he allowed her to do this? The answers that came to his mind were not pleasant, and in the end, he could only murmur against her temple his apologies, and his promise to return from the Peninsula and make reparations for the wrong he'd done her, to take away the troubles that plagued her.

He repeated the vow again and again as she cried, and he felt the weight of it settle over him. His life had never had a purpose, but one sat before him now. It would not be a grand purpose, but it would be his.

He would return and make it right—and she would be happy again.

"I promise," he said.

Albuera, Spain

May 1811

A soft breeze had swept away the haze of burnt gunpowder enveloping the fields, but the acrid odor lingered. The moonlight made formless lumps and shadows of the soldiers lying on the ground; its dim glow erased their identities, the blue and green and red of their uniforms showing gray and black.

Anthony raised his lantern high, trying to peer past the circle of light it cast, silently urging the dead men around him to moan or call out for help. None would—he'd checked each still form in the field, bending hundreds of times to feel for a pulse that was almost never there. Earlier, he'd seen medical personnel and soldiers from both sides scouring the battlefields for survivors and collecting weapons. Now, as it neared midnight, the search for survivors had waned until the only living beings in that wretched place were him, the two hospital mates he'd accompanied, and the handful of soldiers they'd found and treated and who now waited in a medical cart for transport back to the hospital.

Across the ridge that ran the length of the Albuera River, the wagons carrying the dead back for burial were still at work, slowly taking the course the battle had followed and collecting its casualties. It would be early morning before they reached this field.


With a resigned sigh, Anthony lowered his lantern. A few paces away, Assistant Surgeon Dilby stood wiping his hands with a blood-streaked cloth. The skin around the young surgeon's face looked as if it had been stretched and released, hanging tiredly under his eyes and chin.