Read an Extract
19th June 1815. The battlefield of Waterloo
The briar rose caught at her with grasping, thorny tentacles as she backed away. The pain was real, so this must all be real. The screaming inside her head made it difficult to think, but it hadn’t stopped, not since she had found Gerald. What was left of Gerald. He had seemed untouched until she had grasped his shoulder and turned him over…
The noise in her head hurt so much. She lifted her hands to try and clutch at it, squeeze it out, make it stop. Then she could think, then she would know what to do about…them. Her arms wouldn’t move. She looked down to the imprisoning briars, then up at what was coming towards her across the muddy, shell-ripped ruin of the spinney. This was real and this was Hell and so those were demons. They laughed as they came, four of them, blood-soaked and mud-smeared, wild-eyed and ragged, baying like hounds on the hunt. She knew what they wanted, what they would do to her, even if she knew nothing else. Not her name, not how she had lived before this nightmare had begun, not how she had come to be here.
She opened her mouth to scream but nothing happened. Go away. Help me, someone. Help me… Nothing. Only the sound of her heartbeats racing. Only the sound of their laughter and the words that made no sense as they hit her like fistfuls of slime.
And then he came. He pushed aside the shattered, wilting branches, strode through the mud and the nameless, stinking filth. The Devil himself. He was big and dirty, bare-headed, stubble-jawed, blood-soaked. He had a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other and a smile like death on his blackened face. He roared at the demons and they turned, snarling, towards him. He shot the first and came on, stepped over the body and waited, waited until they were on him and then…
She closed her eyes, stayed in the darkness with the screaming in her head, the screaming from the demons, the Devil’s roars. She would be next. She had sinned and this was Hell.
‘Open your eyes. Look at me. You are safe, they have gone.’ Gone to a much worse place, the scum. Flint looked down at the pistol in his left hand and the blood-streaked sword in his right, thrust one into his belt and pushed the blade of the other into a tussock until most of the gore was gone. He sheathed the sword and tried again. ‘Open your eyes.’
The woman was tall and slim and her hair, where it was not wet and matted, was a dark auburn. Rose petals had fallen from the briar that held her. They were fragile, pale pink, incongruously beautiful on the ripped, soaking fabric of her gown, the tangle of her hair. Long lashes fanned over white cheeks and her mouth was slightly open. He could hear her breath coming in short, desperate pants like a trapped animal in a snare. She had bitten her lips and the sight, amidst so much carnage, touched him despite his defences. Angered him.
‘Let’s get you untangled.’ Flint kept his voice calm, used the firm tone that would steady an injured man. The briars tore at his hands, added to the bruises and cuts, the little rips of pain reminding him he was alive. After three days of hell, who would have thought it?
When he got her free she just stood there, swaying. Flint touched the back of his hand to her cheek, leaving a smear of blood on the cold skin. She flinched but her eyes opened, wide and dark, the pupils so distended he could not see the true colour.
‘What is your name?’ She stared blankly. Shock, certainly, and perhaps she did not speak English. He tried French, Dutch, German. No response, not a flicker. ‘My name is Flint. Major Adam Flint. Are you hurt?’
They hadn’t raped her, he had been in time to stop that, at least. The sound of their laughter had brought him here at the run. He had heard that unmistakeable excitement too often when men had poured into a besieged, defeated city and found the women and the girls. Children. Sometimes you could be in time. Often, not. Badajoz…
Still she stood there, a breathing statue. She must be a camp follower, but he couldn’t leave her, not here. Her man, if he was still alive, would never find her, but others would. Flint put his arm around her, ignored the way her body shuddered at the touch, bent and swept the other arm under her knees to lift her against his chest. Pain stabbed from the sabre cut in his right side. The blood must have dried into his shirt and lifting her had ripped it open. He ignored it.
After a moment her arms slipped around his neck and she clung as he crossed the glade, stepped over the bodies. She was a reasonable armful, Flint thought as he found the track again and made for where he had left the men. Slim but not skinny, curved but not buxom. Feminine. Any other day he’d enjoy the feel of her against his body, but not now. Not here.