Catarina didnâ€™t trust the soldier in front of her. By the
same token, she had little choice but to trust him. Her
time was up. Little as she liked it, this man was her only
â€śI beg your pardon, miss,â€ť he said, one eyebrow arching
upward. â€śI donâ€™t think I heard you correctly.â€ť
She jerked her chin up. â€śYou heard me.â€ť
â€śYou need a husband,â€ť he said slowly. He was more handsome
in close proximity than heâ€™d appeared on horseback and from
a distance. Sheâ€™d chosen him not for good looks but because
he was in command. He was large and strongâ€”a man who could
stand up to her father.
But now she saw he was not quite so large as heâ€™d seemed
when mounted. He was probably not even six feet. But she
had not been wrong about his commanding presence. Even
sitting and at the other end of the barrel of her pistol,
he appeared calm and in control. His blue eyes, eyes that
had crinkled slightly with confusion, met hers levelly and
without any concern or anger. Only his red hair seemed
immune to regulation. It jutted about his head in wild
swirls and spikes. Catarina had the urge to tamp it down
with her fingers.
â€śI see.â€ť He began to stand, but she shook her head and
raised the pistol higher. The soldier lowered himself
again. Slowly. â€śMissâ€”?â€ť
When she didnâ€™t give her name, his expression turned
exasperated, but only for a moment. â€śMiss, must we have
this conversation with a pistol between us?â€ť
â€śYes,â€ť she said.
She waved the pistol. â€śI have no time to argue. I need a
â€śYes, as you said. Help me to understand. Do you meanâ€¦ahâ€ťâ€”
he ran a hand through that wild hair, and she understood
why it stuck upâ€”â€śmarido?â€ť His Portuguese accent was
horrendous but she was not one to judge. She doubted her
English was much better.
â€śHusband. That is what I said.â€ť
â€śDid one of my menâ€”â€ť He seemed to reconsider. â€śHas one of
my men been too familiar?â€ť
â€śFamiliar?â€ť She knew the word. Unlike the rest of the
people in the provincial town sheâ€™d had the misfortune to
be born into, Catarina read. She read in four languages,
including English. Familiar meant something or someone one
saw every day, such as the path to the market. These
English had only come to the area recently. They had come
to fight the French, who were now in retreat. They were not
familiar. â€śHow do you mean?â€ť she asked.
He looked a bit sheepish, which rather intrigued her.
â€śPerhaps I did not make myself clear. Has one of my menâ€¦ahâ€¦
caused you trouble?â€ť
She frowned. Sheâ€™d had to skirt his men in order to gain
entry to the camp, but that had not been much trouble.
â€śHas one accosted you?â€ť
â€śAttacked?â€ť he said, clarifying.
â€śThen perhaps one of them visited you in the village and
did not pay forâ€”er, services rendered.â€ť
She narrowed her eyes. Not paid? Her father was the mayor
of the village, not a merchant. And then it struck her what
the soldier meant, and she straightened indignantly. She
must have swung the pistol about as well because the man
flinched and jerked to one side.
â€śI am not a prostitute.â€ť
He held both of his hands up. â€śI did not mean to imply that
â€śMy English is not so perfect when I talk, but I
understand. You did more than imply, senhor.â€ť
â€śAnd you, miss, have more than tried my patience.â€ť He
stood, and even when she waved the pistol at him, he did
not take his seat again. â€śGo ahead and shoot me. Put me out
of my misery, I beg you, for I fail to see how any of this
relates to me.â€ť He came around the table and stalked toward
her. Had she thought he was short? He seemed a giant in
that moment as the space between them rapidly diminished.
She could not back away. If she did, he would have the
upper hand. And she did have the pistol, after all.
â€śStop!â€ť she said, brandishing her weapon. To her surprise,
he halted. â€śDo not come any closer.â€ť
â€śIs that pistol even loaded?â€ť he asked.
â€śYes.â€ť But sheâ€™d hesitated, and heâ€™d seen it. His brows
lifted with skepticism.
â€śVery well then, shoot me.â€ť
â€śI would rather not, senhor. You are more valuable to me
â€śYou think to take me as your prisoner? Whom do you work
for? The French?â€ť He moved closer. â€śI assure you, I will
never be taken alive.â€ť
â€śI do not work for anyoneâ€”French or English. And I do not
wish to kill you. I need you alive so you can marry me.â€ť
He was close enough to touch the pistol now, but her words
had stopped him in his tracks. â€śSay again?â€ť
â€śDo you not understand English? You will come with me now
and be my husband.â€ť
He stared at her as though understanding for the first
time. â€śYou want me to marry you?â€ť
She cursed in her native Portuguese. Perhaps she had made
the wrong choice after all. The man was not nearly as
clever as she had thought him. She closed her eyes in
frustration, and that was her mistake. The next thing she
knew she was flat on her back, her wrist imprisoned in one
his hands, rendering the pistol unusable.
The soldier straddled her, his face dark and dangerous in
the shadows. She bucked and struggled, but he simply
grasped her other hand and held her in place easily. His
broad shoulders were obviously not the result of a padded
uniform but actual muscles.
â€śLet me go!â€ť
â€śNot likely. I think we shall begin our conversation again.
This time on my terms and with civility.â€ť
â€śI was civil. I said please.â€ť
His mouth turned up at one corner, and in that moment, she
almost forgot she wanted him to get off her. She would have
rather he kissed her. A strange thought to enter her mind
since he was at least a dozen years older than she. But he
did not seem such an old man at the moment. He seemed
strong and virileâ€”too strong, she thought as she tried,
again and in vain, to push him off.
â€śYes, you did. But perhaps we might begin with
introductions. Lieutenant Colonel Draven of the 16th Light
Dragoons. And you are?â€ť
She did not see the harm in telling him. She would have had
to give her name during the wedding. â€śCatarina Ana MarciĂˇ
â€śAnd is that your real name?â€ť
â€śWho sent you?â€ť
He still thought her a spy for the French. â€śNo one. I came
on my own. I told you, I need a husband.â€ť
His grip on her wrist loosened. â€śAre you with child?â€ť
Her instinct was to immediately deny it, but the release of
pressure from her wrists gave her another idea. She raised
her hands, ramming them into his chest. If he hadnâ€™t been
balancing precariously above her, the push would have been
completely ineffective. Instead, it left him off balance
and while he struggled to keep from toppling back she
slithered from between his legs, crawled to her knees, and
pushed off for flight.
She was back on the floor in only one step. Heâ€™d caught her
ankle and dragged her back. She tried to kick him. He swore
and grasped her about the waist, locking her arms beneath
his grip. Still kicking and fighting, he carried her across
the tent and set her down, none too gently in a chair. She
tried to jump up again, but he pinned her arms to the
â€śMiss Neves, what did I say about civility?â€ť
â€śLet me go!â€ť
â€śOh, no. You came into my tent. You threatened me with a
pistol. Now it is my turn for some answers.â€ť
He dragged her, still trapped in the chair, toward a trunk,
which he then flung open. He reached in and yanked out what
appeared to be tack for a horse and used it to bind her
wrists to the chairâ€™s arms. When he attempted to secure her
ankles to the legs of the chair, she almost landed a kick
to his nose. He managed to dodge it and grasped her leg in
a firm grip. â€śThat was unwise.â€ť
She gasped as his hand slid under her skirt to caress the
bare flesh of her calf beneath her dress. â€śDo not touch
He raised a brow. â€śWhat, no stockings?â€ť
She tried to shake his grip off. â€śAnd where would I acquire
them? This town is still living in the sixteenth century. I
did not give you leave to touch me!â€ť
He eyed her warily. â€śNever let it be said I did not treat a
woman with respect. I will release you if you give me your
word you will sit still and allow me to bind you.â€ť
She shook her head. Her long, dark hair had fallen into her
eyes. She must look as much a peasant as she felt. â€śAnd
when I am bound, how am I to fight you should you take
He nodded as though considering the point. â€śVery well, I
give you my word, as a gentleman, I will not touch you.â€ť
â€śYou are a gentleman?â€ť she asked.
â€śI am not titled, but my father owned land and can trace
his ancestry back over four hundred years. I am also an
officer of His Majesty the King of England. I would not
She blew out a breath. She knew enough of these English
soldiers to know they often behaved dishonorably. The rumor
was that a girl in a village a dayâ€™s ride from here had
been accosted by a group of English soldiers, and now all
the women in Catarinaâ€™s village were to stay indoors and
not go anywhere without a male escort.
Sheâ€™d disregarded that rule entirely in coming here. And
she reminded herself that sheâ€™d come because sheâ€™d seen
this officer and known instinctively that she could trust
him. It was too late to turn back. She had no choice but to
trust her instincts.
â€śVery well. I agree.â€ť
He released her leg, and she found the removal of his touch
and the warmth of his skin on hers more of a loss than
sheâ€™d expected. Perhaps her mother was right, and she was a
wanton woman who needed to marry sooner rather than later.
While the soldier tied her ankles, Catarina said a prayer
to the Blessed Mother, asking for forgiveness for enjoying
the manâ€™s touch.
When she was bound, he stepped back, giving her space. She
supposed the gesture was to make her feel less threatened.
It did not work. He was such a presence in the tent that
she could not help but feel overwhelmed by him. Even the
tent, which was larger than her little stone and tile-
roofed cottage, seemed small when he stood.
He drew the pistol, her pistol, from his pocket and studied
it. Then he looked at her and back at the pistol. â€śIf you
have actually fired this antique, youâ€™re braver than I am.
It must be sixty years old.â€ť
â€śEighty,â€ť she corrected. â€śIt was my grandfatherâ€™s.â€ť
â€śAnd you planned to fire it and kill both of us?â€ť He
examined it closer then made a sound of disgust. â€śNo, of
course you werenâ€™t. It isnâ€™t even loaded or primed.â€ť He
looked up at her, his blue eyes narrowed in anger. â€śYouâ€™ve
made quite the fool of me.â€ť
â€śThat was not my intention. If I had come here with no
weapon, you would not have listened.â€ť
â€śWouldnâ€™t I? You know me so well then?â€ť
She only knew what she had heard about the English
soldiers. They were proud and haughty and took what they
wanted. She had seen him and thought he looked powerful
enough to serve her purposes but also fair and honest.
Sheâ€™d watched him for several days and he always treated
his men with dignity.
But she had never considered asking him if he would marry
her without the pistol pointed at him,. Why would he, a
powerful English soldier, want to marry her, a Portuguese
peasant? She wasnâ€™t even beautifulâ€”not like the pale,
flaxen beauties who resided in England. She was dark with
coarse curly hair and what her mother liked to call a
strong personality. She was not dainty or demure. She was
not quiet or obedient. No wonder her father wanted to be
rid of her.
She lifted her chin. â€śVery well, senhor. If I had asked you
to marry me, would you have said yes?â€ť
â€śThe name is Draven. Lieutenant Colonel Draven.â€ť
Draven. It sounded odd to her ears, but she liked it
â€śAnd to answer your question, Miss Neves, no. I am not
looking for a wife at present.â€ť
â€śAnd I am not looking for a husband. I would not have asked
you to remain my husband. I do not even think the marriage
would be considered legal in your country.â€ť
â€śNo doubt it wouldnâ€™t. You are a Catholic, I presume.â€ť
â€śAnd you are a heathen, but I do not hold that against
To her surprise, he laughed. His face looked younger when
he laughed, even more handsome. His cheeks reddened
slightly and his eyes looked even bluer. â€śThat is something
then. Tell me, Miss Neves, why are you in such desperate
need of a husband?â€ť