"Because I love you so much - I want the best for you,
Sarah." He gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze. "And
I'm not it."
"How do you know what is best for me? Have you ever
asked? No," she gave a bitter little laugh. "Nobody
ever does. Everyone always think they know what is best
for me. But they don't. You don't."
"Perhaps you are right." He let go of her arms and drew
himself up. "But I do know it isn't a cur like me.
Sarah, you deserve so much better."
"No I don't," she said defiantly. "Tom, you keep talking
as though you think I'm some sort of paragon. But I'm
not. I'm just a...a woman, that's all." Her shoulders
slumped. "I thought you knew me, but you don't really.
So all your talk of love? It isn't true at all, is it?"
She drew herself up and looked him in the eye. Hers
flashing with pride.
"Go, then. Leave. After what I've just done to Adam, my
own brother, I deserve to be on my own."
"No, Lady Sarah, you will find someone, one day, who will
be worthy of you..."
"I thought I'd found him," she retorted. "But I was
clearly mistaken. As mistaken as you were when you said
you loved me."
"No!" He took her hand again. "I do love you. Don't
ever think I don't."
She lifted her chin. "A fine sort of love," she said
scornfully. "The sort that leaves me b...broken and
An elderly couple who were strolling past caught her
words, and gave Major Bartlett a scandalized look.
Clucked their tongues, and hurried on.
"Sarah," he said in an urgent undertone, pulling her off
the main path and into the shadow of a stone lion, "the
last thing I ever wish to do is hurt you. I didn't
think I could hurt you. I thought leaving was for the
best. It's not as if you care for me all that much."
"That's all you know."
"What?" He seized her hand. "What are you saying? I
know you only took me in to prove something to yourself.
And then you kept me because you needed the excuse to
stay in Brussels so you could find out what happened to
your twin. I've been convenient, until now. But - "
"Yes. That's all true. I've been utterly selfish.
Until you said you loved me, I was only thinking about
Gideon. But since then..."
"What..." his heart was banging against his ribs. "Since
"Since then, I started to wish for something I'd never
thought I wanted before. To belong to someone, other
than Gideon. To belong to you."
"I want that more than anything," he said, raising her
hand to his lips. "But it cannot be."
"Oh, for heaven's sake Tom stop talking such fustian!
So, you've been a rake. So, your background contains a
bit of scandal. I don't care. I don't care about any of
it. What I do care about is what you think of me.
That's all. Because you're the only person never to have
condemned me. Or tried to order me about. You might
even," her breath hitched in her throat, "be able to
forgive the wicked things I've done," she ended, gazing
up at him with eyes full of hope and longing.
His face worked. "Yes. But that doesn't change what I
am. Why do you think Lord Randall selected me to become
an officer in his unit? It's because I've always been so
good at causing trouble wherever I go. And leading
others into it."
"The way you formed those village lads, the ones who
taunted you with that horrid song, into a gang who
followed you into all sorts of enterprising adventures?"
She curled her fingers into his. "You are a born leader
of men, Tom. Why can't you see that it's a good thing?
Why do you talk of it as though it is some kind of
crime?" "You speak of me as though I'm some kind
of..." he shook his head, unable to find the right word.
"To me, you are, Tom," she said with a soft smile. "The
best man in the world."
Her words sucked the breath from his chest. Made his
legs start shaking. "And I can't bear the
thought of you leaving. Please, Tom, don't leave me."