An Unlikely Alliance
Betrayed and stranded in France at the height of war, Lord Gregory Halston has few options. After rescuing his ailing brother from jail, they struggle to survive in hostile territory without outing themselves as Englishmen. Gregory hopes the feisty French peasant woman he meets is willing to guide them to safety.
Danielle Belanger doesn't wish to protect any man from the same country responsible for her brother's demise. But there's something about the determined Englishman that makes her willing to try. Though a match between Danielle and Gregory is impossible, their attraction can't be denied. The only thing more dangerous than aiding the enemy is falling in love with him.
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Countryside of Ardennes, France
Blackness pulsed around him, reaching its icy tentacles out to swirl about his feet and beneath his coat, up his torso until it nearly froze his skin. The tree branches clattered above, scrawny and bare of leaves as they scraped together like skeleton fingers. But Gregory Halston, third son of the sixth Marquess of Westerfield, remained still despite the foreboding sense that permeated the night, shrouding himself against a centuries-old oak as he stared at the fortified castle in the center of the field.
"Do you see them yet, Lord Gregory?"
But they had to be coming. Any moment now. Too much planning had gone into this night for something to go awry. The journey across the English Channel and a hostile country at war with his own, the exorbitant funds paid for a guide to lead them through a land that had been fighting for nearly a decade, an even larger sum paid to bribe a cook and a guard to sneak messages, ropes and a sack of supplies to a certain pair of prisoners inside.
The endeavor was worth every last guinea.
Or it would be, provided the plan worked.
"Shouldn't they have been here by now?" Farnsworth whispered. "And our guide has yet to arrive."
Gregory clamped his teeth together. While valets had their uses in London, bringing his on a trek across war-ravaged France wasn't one of his brightest ideas. "I realize that, thank you."
"Do you want me to check my timepiece?"
"As that would involve lighting a lantern and likely alerting the guards to our presence, no."
"I could always"
"Farnsworth, stow it."
The man grunted, and Gregory blew a breath into the silence, keeping his eyes pinned on the shadowed castle. Four rectangular walls jutted toward the sky, with looming guard towers anchoring each corner and a moat surrounding the entire structure. As a fortress, it would have been impregnable. Now that it functioned as one of Napoleon's secret prisons, unauthorized entrance was utterly impossible.
What had his brother done to get himself jailed behind that massive stone edifice?
Gregory swallowed the lump forming in his throat. What Westerfield had done mattered little compared to getting him out. Unfortunately, Westerfield and his friend Kessler, the future Earl of Raleigh, had been imprisoned together, and rescuing one meant rescuing the other.
Gregory reached down and slid his palm slowly over the bullet scar in his thigh. He'd be happy to see his brother, yes. But as for the man who had faced him across a field at dawn nearly two years ago?
He would prefer to let him rot in prison.
"Do you think they had trouble deciphering the appointed time?" Farnsworth asked from beside him.
A trickle of apprehension started at the base of his neck and dripped down his spine. If only it was something so simple as a misread number. If only something hadn't gone wrong inside those castle walls.
"Perhaps they mistook your two for a three."
A dark blob, barely visible in the nighttime shadows, appeared through the opening of a second-story window, followed by a second blob.
The breath rushed from Gregory's lungs. They were coming. Everything was according to plan, just a bit late. In another moment their guide would arrive, and they could head across the hills and fields toward the coast, and then on to England.
He ran his eyes over the shadowed forms, now inching slowly down the wall with nothing but ropes to hold them. But there were only two. Where was the third? Had something happened to the guard who was supposed to escape with them, the one who had smuggled the black cloaks and ropes into the prison? The one that was supposed to "accidentally" drop a key when delivering food this night?
No, nothing could have happened to him. Westerfield and Kessler wouldn't be climbing down the castle wall if not for the guard, and the guard couldn't have changed his mind about the escape. Gregory had already paid the man half a fortune, and once he reached England, the information he could provide about Napoleon's police and secret prisons would net him another.
Perhaps the guard was one of the blobs and something had happened to Westerfield or Kessler.
Gregory tightened his hands into fists at his side. Just as long as his brother was one of the escaping forms. But with both men hidden beneath heavy cloaks as they inched down the dark castle wall, he couldn't distinguish which was Westerfieldif his brother was even there at all.
He slanted a glance at the nearest guard tower, where lanterns cast their narrow beams through the windows and into the field beyond. No call rang out from the guards. A few more moments, a silent swim across the little moat, and two men would be free.
Please, Father God, let Westerfield be one of them.
Just then a cough ricocheted against the quiet waters and one of the men slipped, dangling precariously from the rope.
A wave of ice swept through Gregory. He turned toward the tower. Had the guards heard? Surely they must have. A cough like that couldn't be ignored against such a silent night.
But no shout sounded from the tower, no extra lantern appeared at the window to better illuminate the out-of-doors. Nothing happened whatsoever.
Thank You, God.
The figure on the rope righted himself and climbed down the last few feet, slipping silently into the water. A moment later, the first escapee disappeared into the black depths.
"Stay here, Farnsworth." Wrapped in his own dark cloak, Gregory broke away from the line of trees and headed toward the moat. His breath puffed hot against the cool winter air as he stood exposed.
Half a minute passed, then another. He stared at the calm surface of the water. How long did it take to swim a moat? Could something have happened underwater? To both men, no less?
He wiped his damp palms on his thighs, though his gloves prevented the action from doing any good. This was something they hadn't taught him at Eton and Cambridge, how to enter a country he was at war with and effect a prison break. All those useless hours sitting in lectures, studying and writing essays, and for what? The two schools hadn't even taught him how to duel.
A head full of matted blond hair broke through the top of the water and heaved a gasp. Kessler.
Gregory's leg wound, though healed for over a year, smarted afresh. He crossed his arms over his chest. The rat could climb out of the moat on his own.
But Kessler didn't climb out, at least not immediately. Instead, he looked up, his face thin and drawn.
Gregory hardened his jaw. He'd known he'd see Kessler again, but it should have been in England surrounded by his family, not here on a field outside a prison in northern France. Not after he'd just helped the man who'd shot him to escape.
"Halston " The world grew still around them, and even the lapping of the water seemed to cease, as though the air itself held its breath in anticipation of what Kessler might say.
Kessler stayed in the water, which had to be frigid given the cold January temperatures, and for a moment it seemed he decided to keep quiet. Then Kessler hefted himself onto the bank, the tendons in his emaciated hands and forearms stark even in the blackness. "I'm sorry."
The breath exploded from Gregory's lungs. His wound had become so infected he'd almost died. What was he supposed to do with an apology?
A small splash rippled the water, and he tore his gaze away from Kessler to the dark head full of shaggy hair surfacing at his feet.
"Westerfield." The name felt odd on his tongue. His brother had been a mere heir to the Marquess of Westerfield when he'd entered France during a short-lived period of peace all those months ago. Now he was the marquess himself, and their fatherthe man the world had once called Westerfieldwas dead.
Gregory held out a hand to pull Westerfield from the water.
The palm that reached up to wrap around him was naught but bones, with a grip so weak a child could break it. What had these despicable Frenchmen done to his once-strong brother?
Gregory hauled Westerfield out of the moat and wrapped his arms around him. Never mind that the embrace soaked his cloak and shirt. Never mind that they hadn't time for such things until they were at least shrouded in the shelter of the trees.
A horrid stench rose up around him, sour and reeking of urine and vermin. He nearly broke his hold, would have, except Westerfield's gaunt hand had only been the beginning of the horrid discovery. The man was so thin he might well be more corpse than human.
"Did they feed you?"
"On occasion." The rasp in his brother's words made the once-familiar voice barely recognizable. Westerfield sagged into him, as though too weak to stand on his own. Then a cough racked his chest, ringing out over the water and up the castle walls.
"Get him to the trees," Kessler murmured. "You can greet each other there."
Gregory wrapped his arms tighter around Westerfield, bracing him more than hugging him. Was his brother ill? That hadn't been reported. The guard had claimed Westerfield and Kessler were both in excellent health.
Gregory looked at Kessler. Though the man stood covered in a sopping black cloak, 'twas plain from his pronounced cheekbones and the drawn way his skin sank into his face that he'd fared little better than Westerfield. "There's only the two of you?"
Kessler frowned. "Yes. Were there supposed to be more?"
"I arranged for three escapes, the last was supposed to be the "
A lantern appeared in one of the lower castle windows, voices carrying across the moat.
"Could there have been an escape?"
Despite Gregory's rather basic understanding of French, the meaning of the words was clear enough.
"Non. No escape, not here!"
"One of the cells below is empty."
"I know nothing of it."
"Wake the guards, and search the castle. The men couldn't have gotten outside these walls."
"What if they did?"
"We must hasten," Kessler growled quietly, then wrapped an arm beneath one of Westerfield's shoulders.
They scrambled toward the trees together, stopping only when they met Farnsworth. But the tree line could offer only momentary respite. They needed to get away, yet the guard hadn't made the escape, and their French guide was still missing.
Westerfield coughed again, the bone-deep sound jarring against the otherwise still night. "Slower next time."
A call rang out from somewhere inside the towering stone walls of the castle, followed by an echo in response. Gregory didn't look back to see whether more lanterns had appeared in the windows, but he could well guess the next cry before it left the mouth of a distant guard.
The shout reverberated across the field and bounced against the trees.
A cold dread filled his chest. They'd been betrayed.
In the middle of France.
At the center of a war.
He glanced briefly around his group. Four men, all unmistakably English. Their clothing and coin might be French, but their tongues were English. They could manage to speak some French between them, yes, but not without accents.
By this time tomorrow night, they'd all be rotting inside a dark French dungeon, and something told him their new home was going to make the horrors his brother and Kessler had endured look trivial in comparison.
Danielle Belanger crouched beside the campfire and laid another stick on the licking flames, then sighed. Another task failed.
Oh, she'd been sent to Reims to visit with her aunt, true. And the visit had gone rather well. Her mother's sister was kind, generous, well respected.
And had tried introducing her to every decent, unmarried man in the city.
Those meetings had turned out about as well as all her introductions to men in her hometown of Abbeville.
Two and twenty years of age, and no one wanted to marry her.
Not that she wanted to marry any of them, but most girls four years her younger were happily married and bearing babes. Shouldn't she have had at least one marriage proposal by now?
Or rather, she'd had one, she supposed.
Well, more like a dozen. But none of them from men any sane woman would marry. Perhaps if she was blind and docile and preferred spending her days mucking stalls and spinning yarn, she could be happily married. But she certainly didn't take to mucking stallsthey stank too much. Or spinning yarnone had to sit far too still to manage such a task. She wasn't blind, and as for the docile part, well.
"I could only get one." Serge, her younger brother by six years, emerged from the tangle of trees and shrubs lining the creek. A squirrel dangled from his hand by the tail.
She rolled her eyes. "Go back for another, then." He held out the squirrel for her to take. She merely crossed her arms. "Papa said you need to practice."
"Come on, Dani. You can have it skinned in half the time."
Which was likely why her younger brother had reached sixteen and was the slowest animal skinner in all of Abbeville.
"I caught and cleaned the rabbit last night. It's your turn." She eyed the bloodied animal, a large stab wound gaping in its chest. "And you've little choice about going back for more. Mayhap we could have shared just the one had your blade hit between the eyes. But knifing it in the chest like that, you lost too much meat."
Which her brother should have known.
Maybe he wasn't just the worst in Abbeville at handling a knife. He had to be the most inept in all of northern France.
She pushed up from her crouched position by the fire and stood, stretching her back before turning to head upstream.
"Where are you going?" Serge called after her.
"To look for berries."
She shrugged. So mayhap she wouldn't happen upon berries, but she might find some burdock or cattail root to dig. Anything to get her away from the fire. If she lingered there, she'd end up doing all Serge's work, and she could hardly sit still long enough for him to find another squirrel.
He likely wouldn't return until after dark, the dunce.
She made her way along the water, sluggish from the coolness of winter, but not frigid enough to turn to ice. Leafless brambles and shrubs sprang from soil still damp from yesterday's rain. She shivered inside her cloak and glanced up at the gray sky through the tree branches above. Home would be more temperate than this, near enough the channel's warm waters to drive winter's chill away.
Something rustled ahead, then a rabbit scampered out from beneath a bush and darted toward a little thicket. Within half a second, she had her blade in hand, her fingers gripping the familiar leather handle. One throw, quick as lightning and silent as a snake, and she'd have their supper.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
During the Napoleonic Wars, English Lord Gregory Halston sneaks and bribes his way into the heart of France to rescue his brother from one of Napoleon’s most loathsome prisons. When his French associates double cross the English nobleman, he must strike out on his own with his now desperately ill brother. With the countryside on the alert, a trek to the English Channel seems hopeless until Gregory stumbles upon Danielle Belanger traveling with her younger brother. Danielle has no reason to help and every reason to turn the English in to authorities. But something about this Englishman earns her respect, yet to help him puts her life at risk—and maybe something more. Falling for the Enemy features feisty and remarkable characters along with a compelling plot and unexpected turns. In this third book in the Belanger series, the author again keeps the pages flying with excellent historical setting and details, along with some great inspirational romance. In this story, the egalitarian ideals of the new France collide with hierarchical English society, providing interesting insight into this titanic struggle. Ascending the spiritual realm, the ideals of equality, forgiveness, love and compassion are also poignantly illustrated. Another great read by this author.
I was curious to read this mainly because I did read Sanctuary for a Lady and found that to be a really fantastic read. But unfortunately I was quite disappointed with this book. For a few reasons. One minor one was that while Danielle is constantly bragging about the wonderful French system and how every citizen is equal and the English are just bad, she comes of a far more condescending than Gregory although that's what she is accusing him of. So it seemed a bit hypocritical. That being said every character was a Christian in theory but not in practice. Danielle is constantly thinking about how bad the English are and how they don't deserve any help while at the same time remembering scripture that contradicts her thoughts. In the end of course she changes her mind. Then another issue I have is the authors take on history she seems to paint the French Revolution as a wonderful event in which ordinary men took back power from the evil rulers and everyone was equal. But while to some extent that is true there was much evil that took place during this time and many innocent people suffered as a result and this is what the author seemingly paints over as inconsequential. If you wanted to see a revolution where the ordinary man truly succeeded the French Revolution is not the best example because what really happened was that corrupt rulers were replaced with corrupt rulers and in the end the French people were not the victors. As a Christian we are not supposed to divide people into lines based on nationality, gender , or even social standing but in this story Danielle looks down her nose at Gregory quite a bit and in fact she does so more that Gregory looks down on her. That's not to say this story wasn't without merit but I couldn't get past this issues and in the end I didn't really like any of the main characters that much.