The Soldier's Homecoming
Ensign James Rowland was fortunate to return from Waterloo unscathedat least in body. But guilt from that terrible battle has left him almost mute and crushed in spirit. Only in the company of sweet, compassionate Lucy Williams, a volunteer at the Veterans' Group in Bath, does he begin to feel happiness is within reach.
Penniless governesses can't afford dreams of romance. Lucy Williams is resigned to lifelong spinsterhooduntil James enters her life. His mother opposes the match. Lucy herself is sure the chasm between their ranks is too wide. But now that she has helped heal James, he intends to overcome every obstacle between them and emerge victorious in the battle for her love.
About the Author
Lily George lives in northwest Texas with her husband and precocious child, and they are restoring a 1920s farmhouse. You can read more about her work by visiting www.lilygeorge.com.
Read an Excerpt
Saint Swithin's Church of England
Lucy Williams rolled her eyes at her friend in playful disgust. Sophie Handley had no idea how to flirt. That much was certain. For all her airs and graces, for all her pretty face and lithe figure, her friend had no real idea how to capture a man's attention.
Why, they had come to Saint Swithin's for Sunday services just so Sophie could meet up with a man she liked, and here he wason the point of departure. And Sophie just fretted at Lucy's side, murmuring how all was lost. Utterly ridiculous.
It was time to take matters into one's own hands. Lucy tugged on her reticule, unclasping it from her wrist. Then, as the parishioners began to file out of the church, she pushed through the crowd, keeping Sophie close by. The sea of humanity parted, and she could just glimpse Lieutenant Cantrill, her quarry. A young man stood beside the lieutenant, his angular face a mask of misery. Lucy stopped short. Why was he so sad? Her heart skipped a beat. Surely there was no reason in the world for such a handsome man to be so morose.
Sophie made an impatient tsking sound, jolting Lucy back to her senses. 'Twas time to accomplish her mission. With a smart twist of her wrist, she sent the reticule flying. It landed with a satisfying smack right beside the lieutenant on the wooden floor. He bent at once to retrieve it, his interesting companion bending down to assist. The lieutenant picked up her reticule, his eyebrow quirked, and turned to look for the party responsible for launching such a cunning little missile.
Time to spring into action.
"Oh, sir!" Lucy sang out. "You found my reticule. How very good of you." She hustled forward, tugging Sophie along behind her. "It was knocked clear of my hand by the bustle of this crowd." She skidded to a halt before the lieutenant and his companion, giving both the confident smile that had won her a position as governess to Lord Bradbury's daughtersno mean feat for a penniless orphan. Sophie stood beside her, pale and silent, her large blue eyes as round as saucers as she stared at Lieutenant Cantrill. Lucy jabbed Sophie in the ribs with her elbow, sending Sophie's curls bouncing.
Sophie winced and, rubbing her side, began the rounds of introductions. But it was clear from the way she stood ever so slightly closer to the lieutenant than propriety allowed that Sophie wanted a chance to be alone with the lieutenant. Very well, then. Lucy had her own task to follow.
It seemed that the young man with the lieutenant was none other than Ensign Rowlandthe soldier Sophie had mentioned to her a few days prior. According to Lieutenant Cantrill, Waterloo had left the poor man mute. He had, in fact, barely spoken a few words since his arrival in Bath. The lieutenant believed that listening to someone else read aloud might ease his condition and had asked Sophie to find someone to read to the ensign. Sophie had asked her to assume that duty.
She turned to the tall man who stood beside the lieutenant. His wide green eyes regarded her solemnly, yet a spark flickered in their depths. His sandy blond hair waved over his forehead in a stubborn cowlick. She resisted the urge to reach up and pat it down with a tender gesture.
"So this is Ensign Rowland? How do you do, sir?" Lucy took his hands in hers. They were warm and capableas strong as a man in service might possess. Now, how could she broach her assignment without making it sound as though she pitied him or felt sorry for him? Perhaps if she made it sound as though he would be doing her a tremendous favor in helping her. Yes, that would work best.
"Ensign, I was wondering if you could assist me with a problem. You see, I must instruct Lord Bradbury's daughters in the finer points of elocution and pronunciation, and the best way to do so is by reading aloud." She threaded her arm under his elbow and piloted him toward the door, letting Sophie and her lieutenant have their moment together. "But I am so rusty at reading aloud myself. Would you be my audience? I should so like to have your assistance."
The spark in his green eyes leaped. He understood what she had said, even if he didn't speak. He inclined his head ever so slightly, a lock of sandy hair falling over his brow. Again, she resisted the urge to pat it back into place, contenting herself with the feel of his arm underneath her hand.
He allowed her to guide him out of the side entrance of the vestry. He pushed open the rough wooden door, bathing their faces in pale, watery sunshine. Lucy blinked, tugging the brim of her bonnet down lower. Now she had him all to herself and no idea how to entertain him. Fine beads of sweat broke out under her brow. She would have to do all the talking and never pause for an answer. That was the only way to carry the conversation, without matters becoming awkward or embarrassing for the ensign.
Or perhaps the best way was to begin by acknowledging his obvious affliction. That way, one needn't feel quite so frantic about keeping up the conversational flow.
As they strolled into the courtyard, Lucy pulled away from the ensign's side. She turned to face him, her heart beginning to pound in her chest like a big bass drum. Why was she so nervous? She had faced scores of unsettling situations from losing her parents to leaving her only home, Cornhill and Lime Street Charity School, to strike out on her own. There was no need to panic just because she was facing a strikingly handsome young man.
"Ensign Rowland," she began, her words tumbling over each other in a rush, "I should let you know that I am well aware of your affliction. You cannot speak, can you?"
He shrugged, his eyes clouding over. She was losing that spark, that gleam of interest he had shown her just moments before. A frantic feeling seized hold of her, and she hurried on, her face growing heated under his uncertain gaze.
"It doesn't matter to me, of course. I can talk enough for two people. Indeed, I have it on good authority that I can talk the legs off a chair."
A strange sound, rather like a rusty chuckle, emanated from the ensign. His lips were quirked downwardwith mirth. Good heavens, she made the man laugh. That was a good sign, surely. She pressed on.
"At any rate, do not feel you have to make a conversation with me. I really would like to have the opportunity to read to a captive audience. And if you don't mind my chattering, then I should love to talk with you frequently."
He nodded, his features softening.
"Very good then." She took his arm once more, and he steered her toward the stone steps that led down to the street. She could just pick out Sophie's voice behind them, but she wasn't ready to let the ensign go. Not yet. Now that things were resolved between them, she could let herself enjoy the pleasure of some company. Aside from Sophie, she had no one even close to her age in Bath to speak to, and sometimes loneliness threatened to overwhelm her. There were her two young charges to speak to, of course, but it was quite another matter to have a friend. It was nice to chatter on with the ensign; even if there was no possibility he would respond.
"You know, I work for Lord Bradbury. He has two daughters, and I am their governess. Sophie" she nodded in Sophie's general direction "works as their personal seamstress. Before Sophie came to Bath a few months ago, I had no one with whom I could speak freely. But now she is here, and I've met you. What a delight to have two young people I can chat with."
She slanted her gaze up at him. A delightful smile crept over his face, as though he too had discovered a treasure. A warm glow lit Lucy's heart. He was a gentle soul. That much was certain. And had probably suffered a great deal. It would be a joy to talk with him and to bring that smile back to his face.
From some distance away, a clock began tolling the hour. Botheration. She should be returning to Lord Bradbury's house soon. She needed to supervise her charges' luncheon; for if she were not present, the girls were likely to fire dinner rolls at each other like cricket balls.
"I must go." It was difficult to let him go. But perhaps she could see him again soon. "Will you be at the next veterans' group meeting? I don't know when they meet, but I can find out from Sophie."
He nodded, smiling once more.
"Sophie," she called up the steps. Sophie broke away from the lieutenant's side and began her descent. Lucy turned to the ensign. "Ensign Rowland, it's been a pleasure to meet you. And I look forward to tormenting you with the classics soon. I have a great fancy for Greek epic works, so beware."
His polite smile grew into a devastating grin, and her heart flip-flopped in her chest once more. She withdrew her hand from his sleeve slowly, savoring the moment. It would be nice to see him again.
Sophie danced up beside them, her eyes bright with merriment. They made their goodbyes, the ensign tipping his hat with a practiced, genteel gesture as he took his leave. Sophie linked her arm with Lucy's as they began strolling toward the Crescent, the balmy spring breeze rustling their skirts. And while Sophie babbled on about the lieutenant and her harebrained scheme to save him from his meddling mama, Lucy's mind drifted.
Though she made her usual barbed responses to Sophie's nonsense, Lucy was far from her friend's side. Instead, she wandered down the steps once more with the ensign, remembering his somber green eyes and his crooked, heartbreaking grin. The veterans' meeting, which she hardly knew about before this day, was now the most important event on her horizon.
As they approached his lordship's home, she looked up at the second-story window that housed the schoolroom. Of course, nothing could really come of her interaction with the ensign other than friendship. She was nothing but a poor governess, and she had to earn her own way in the world. Any girlish dreams of romance had to remain just thatdreams and nothing more. She had no time for love. And she had a duty to her charges.
And, after all, she had been asked to help the ensign not for her beauty or eligibility but because she was a governess. And a governess she would remain for the rest of her days. She dearly hoped that she and the ensign would become good friends. But friends were all they could ever be.
Ensign James Rowland smiled as he watched Miss Lucy Williams walk off arm in arm with the pretty blonde Miss Handley who had captured Cantrill's interest. Lucy didn't mind that he could not speak, which had made him quite comfortable in her company. In fact, he was more at ease with her than he had been with anyone outside his tight circle of fellow soldiers.
It helped, of course, that she was quite attractive herself, but in a more unique way than her blonde friend. She had glossy black hair piled high on her head, wide brown eyes and a fascinating sprinkle of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Most women, out of coquetry or sense of fashion, would use some type of artificial means to hide or remove those supposed imperfections. But not Lucy. They added spice to her person, like a sprinkle of cinnamon across a particularly tasty dish.
For the first time since his return from Waterloo, he was intrigued by someone else. Everything looked gray and sounded like it was wrapped in cotton wool since that horrible day he lay bleeding and silent in the rye at La Sainte Haye. But in Lucy's warm brown eyes, he captured a glimpse of life. And that brief spark glowed in his heart as Lieutenant Cantrill joined him on the street below Saint Swithin's.
"Come, Rowland, let us return home." Cantrill sighed. "I have much preying upon my mind this afternoon, and I need to think matters over."
Whatever Cantrill and Miss Handley had spoken of apparently drove the lieutenant to distraction. He spoke hardly a word on the fifteen-minute walk back to Beau Street to the modest flats that several soldiers had called home since their return from the peninsula. Of course, it didn't matter that the lieutenant didn't speak. In fact, Rowland couldn't expect anyone to make conversation with a man who only uttered a word now and again.
He nodded his goodbye to Cantrill, who lived on the ground floor flat, and took the steps two at a time to reach the flat he shared with Lieutenant Sean Mac-ready, a fellow officer of the 2nd Battalion 69th.
As he entered their humble flat, the delectable aroma of beef stew greeted him, causing his mouth to water. The housekeeper must be here. Thank heavens. They shared servants with Lieutenant Cantrill; this kept Mrs. Pierce bustling up and down stairs all day long, though she insisted she did not mind. And her stew, heated and reheated, formed their sustenance for many days, growing richer and mellower with each passing day.
"What ho, man?" Macready beckoned him into the kitchen, where he sat at the rickety oak table, a steaming bowl before him. "Mrs. Pierce just left to take the lieutenant his lunch. Try the bread first with a dab of butter. It's a poem."
With a grateful grunt, James grabbed a plain white china bowl from the cupboard and filled it to the brim with stew. Then he hacked off the end of the loaf of breadso warm that it singed his fingers a bitand sat across from Macready at the table.
"Good gracious, man. I haven't seen you eat so heartily since before the war." Macready leaned forward, eyeing James suspiciously. "What has gotten into you?"
James shrugged, keeping his eyes cast down. Nothing extraordinary had happened, had it? He was just hungry was all.
He split the bread open, patting butter on the inside and then closed it so the middle of the bread would become more moist as the butter melted. His favorite childhood treat, much more coveted than a cookie or a slice of cake.
Macready took another bite of stew. Then, assuming an elaborately casual air, he asked, "How was Sunday service?"
James bit into the crusty loaf, closing his eyes in delight for a moment as he savored it. Then he uttered his customary one-word response, "Fine."
"Hmm. Are you sure, Rowland? There's an air about you, as though something extraordinary happened to you. You even look different. There's more color in your person, as though you are warmer from the inside." Macready broke off another piece of bread, peering at James as he did so.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I felt this had a promising premise, but I struggled to get through it, starting and stopping many times. The depiction of stuttering was ok, though she failed to capture the different types of stuttering (repetitions, prolongations, blocks) and secondary behaviors in her writing. She did use the correct British term stamering though. I'm probably just picky as a speech therapist. What really bothered me was how unrealistic and soapy the book was, particularly regarding gifts of money and career advancement. An absurd amount of speed in artisan skill, responsibility and largesse achievement. Not at all historically accurate - totally impossible in almost every respect. Also, the characters were iritatingly dramatic and cliche, forming strong relationships and opinions in an instant and regularly residing in a state of tragedy or alt. I haven't cringed this much in awhile. This book was just too implausible for me, but others might enjoy it who are less fastidious...