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After the Kiss
The First Royal Dragoons
June 11, 1812
Captain Sullivan James Waring ducked low along his mount's neck just as a rifle ball whistled past his head. The French continued their retreat, but they weren't making the English advance an easy one. Guiding his chestnut gelding, Salty, with his knees, Sullivan reloaded his pistol as he and nearly seven hundred members of the combined First Royal Dragoons and the Third Dragoon Guards pounded across the rolling Spanish plain.
"Sullivan! What the devil is Slade doing?" the rider just to his right shouted."Advancing seven miles past any assistance," Sullivan replied grimly, not certain Captain Phineas Bromley could even hear him over the gunfire and pounding hooves. He sent a glance back over his shoulder at the men and horses under his command. The line was ragged, and the horses tiring. And General Slade continued to gallop along in front of them.
The six hundred French mounts ahead of him were tiring, as well, but it was hardly a compensation. Seven miles behind them they'd left a hundred or so French captives with a handful of dragoons to watch them...a victory and a damned fine bounty by anyone's measure. Continuing this pursuit so far beyond any reinforcements was mad. With the village of Maguilla and the broken ground of a riverbed coming into view ahead of them, it was beginning to look suicidal."Close ranks!" he bellowed.
Another rider angled toward him. "At this pace," Major Lord Bramwell Lowry Johns contributed breathlessly, "in three days we'll reach the coast and then be able to swim home to Dover.""We'll never live that long,"Sullivan returned, blinking dust from his eyes. "That's Maguilla up ahead. You outrank Phin and me, Bram. If you can catch General Slade, you might remind him that the bulk of the French cavalry is out here somewhere."
The major began to reply, then flinched sideways as his black watering cap flew back off his head. "They've shot my bloody hat off, the bastards!" Bram took aim, fired his pistol, and dropped one of the French cavalrymen ahead of them.
"Take that, you brigands!"
The French might be brigands, but the Royal Dragoons had their own troubles. A hundred feet ahead of them General Slade waved his saber in the air, yelling as he had been for the past ten minutes. "Haste, haste! Gallop, damn you!" The black horse hairs on his hat trailed behind him like a bloody parade streamer."That man is the worst officer I've ever seen," Sullivan grunted, beginning to see why they'd had to make it a punishable offense to shoot one's own commanding officer.
They pounded over a low rise, twelve hundred French and English cavalry stretched out over nearly a quarter mile. Ahead the ramshackle town of Maguilla looked deserted, as did the broken, tree dotted riverbank beyond.
"This is not good," Phin shouted, echoing Sullivan's own assessment.
"Take the right flank," Bram ordered Phin, abruptly serious as he signaled for his men to fall to the left.
Spread out as they were, flanking maneuvers at best would keep them from being surprised from behind. Waving an arm forward, Sullivan kept his own men pounding up the middle behind the general. "Idiot," he muttered. At least Slade hadn't stopped the charge to adjust his stirrups this time, like he'd done last month at Corunna, but the current insanity didn't seem to be much of an improvement.
The French dragoons slowed as they reached the outskirts of the town. Sullivan lifted his pistol, accelerating as Slade stopped, the dimwit probably surprised that the chase was ending. "Arrêtez!" he yelled, focusing his attention on the nearest of the green coated officers.
At the same moment he heard Phin's distinctive bellow. "Fall back! Fall back, for God's sake!"
He looked to the right just as a barrage of pistol and rifle fire nearly took off his head. Charging over the lip of the riverbank looked to be an entire regiment of green jacketed dragoons, all of them firing into the mass of British cavalry. Christ. The French Seventeenth had been waiting for them.
"Covering fire!" He aimed beyond Phin's retreating dragoons and fired off his pistol. One of the Frogs hit the ground, but he barely took the time to note it. The right flank, made up of two hundred of the First Royal Dragoons, was disintegrating.
He wheeled Salty to see that most of the left flank was leading the way back in the direction they'd come. Bram waded his bay against the current, rejoining him. "I knew I should have stayed in bed this morning," the Duke of Levonzy's second son panted, shoving his pistol into his waistband and pulling his saber.
"Maybe we'll find your hat on the way back," Sullivan grunted. A dismounted greencoat grabbed for Salty's bridle. Sullivan kicked him in the face, and the Frog flew backward to the ground, where he stayed. "Where's Phin?"
Wheeling again, he spotted Viscount Quence's younger brother. The captain was on the ground, his bay floundering half on top of him, with the French dragoons cutting a swath toward him through the fleeing English. Without thinking, Sullivan spurred Salty. The chestnut charged forward, right into the French line. Sullivan sliced out with his saber, feeling the wrench and tug as steel met flesh.
Phineas Bromley staggered to his feet as Sullivan reached him. Kicking a boot out of his stirrup to provide a foothold, he reached down a hand, grabbed Phin's wrist, and hauled backward. The captain swung up behind him. Salty stumbled sideways as he adjusted to the additional weight, and then they were off back the way they'd come, Bram flanking them and yelling obscenities in French as General Slade passed by them, still yelling.
"Fifty pounds to any man who'll stand and fight with me! Fifty pounds!"
Bram muttered something that sounded like, "Bloody stupid muggins," but Sullivan couldn't be certain.
"My thanks, Sully!" Phin shouted in his ear.
"No need. My mother wants to paint your portrait, remember? You can't get killed before you're immortalized."
Something burned hot and wet into his left shoulder. Sullivan slammed backward, nearly knocking Phin off of Salty's back behind him.
His vision blurred. The last thing he remembered was Phin reaching around him for the reins, and Bram moving in to grab his left shoulder and keep him upright. And then everything went dark.After the Kiss
. Copyright © by Suzanne Enoch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.