The Conquest - A Body Broken, A Heart Reborn
by Edith Layton
ISBN: 0380818639 HarperCollins Publishers
Many times Alexandria Gascoyne has been called upon to nurse forest animals back to health - but never before have her brothers brought her a wounded man! Though pale and grievously injured, the unconscious nobleman in Alexandria's bed is as striking a male as she has ever seen. But this is a time for tender healing, not for fantasy and dreams that leave an innocent maid flushed and breathless.
An angel has brought the Earl of Drummond back to life. Her smile is a delight, her touch is ecstacy. Yet freedom-loving Drum knows he must leave the exquisite Alexandria as soon as he is able. Being discovered with this stunning country miss could lead to only scandal ... or, worse, to matrimony! And Drum dares not expose her to the perils of his world. But how can he abandon this incomparable lady who mended his damaged heart - then conquered it with kindness, passion, and love?
Excerpted from Chapter One
"He Regained Consciousness To Find Himself sprawled on the ground, dizzy and confused. He tried to sit up and a wave of pain washed over him, so profound it made him feel sick. He couldn't move anyway. Some enormous thing was pinning him to the ground. That thing was screaming. He didn't believe it. This was impossible; it couldn't be happening.
His head was a jar of thunder, but he concentrated, trying to block pain
and force awareness. The last thing he could remember was riding along the
road, thinking about what his father had said. There was much to think about.
For once the usual litany of complaints and demands made sense. He hadn't
been paying attention to the road, but then he never expected to be pitched
off his horse. He was an excellent rider, it was a simple country road,
and the weather was fine too. In fact, he had left the highway to enjoy
the day and relax from the hard riding he'd done all morning.
He found the perfect place: a quiet lane surrounded by fields of vivid yellow blooming rapeseed. Scarlet cups of poppies bobbed above green grasses in the meadows as his horse ambled along peacefully. He half listened to birdsong, feeling the newly warm sun on his upturned face.
He remembered the horse stumbling, and his surprise. Then the way he'd gripped the reins, trying to hold up the horse by sheer force. He had heard the crack of gunfire too.
Gunfire? He blinked, scowled, his thoughts reeling. The war was over, this was England, he was safe, he was home. But he'd heard gunfire — afterward, as he felt himself beingborne down to the ground. And then crushed into it.
The light seemed to be draining away now; he could hardly see, much less think. He ran a hand over his eyes, and recoiled. He stared at his hand. It was dripping red. He'd spread blood all over his face, into his eyes. His last thought was that he really should get up and help his horse. Except his horse was lying on him and that made it difficult. He smiled at the absurdity, and welcomed the darkness.
Alexandria was washing the dishes after luncheon when she heard a babble of excited voices at the front door. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but there was too much commotion for her to ignore. She knew her brothers well. She quickly laid down the dish and ran into the front hall. When she got there she found the boys taking the front door off its hinges.
"Have you lost your minds?" she demanded.
Rob swiped a lock of hair back from his eyes and she saw how they sparkled. He hopped from foot to foot in a fever of excitement. "No, Ally, but we have to carry him on something, don't we? We can't just drag him. And where are we going to get a hurdle? The door's fastest. It's famous! The most exciting thing!" he said as he avidly watched Vincent and Kit trying to unscrew the hinges. "We thought he was dead. I was sure he was. But Vin here put his hand on his throat and he was alive! Since we're the closest house, we're bringing him here."
"We are?" Vin muttered as he kept trying to unscrew a hinge off the door. "I asked the little villain to stay with him to keep ants or animals or such away, but he insisted on helping us. Can't blame him for not staying on alone, though. It's a bad sight."
Alexandria sighed. Another wounded creature for her to tend to when the boys got tired of it. "Leave the door alone," she commanded. "Go back and treat it where you found it. If it's that big, you can't have it."
All three boys gaped at her.
"Where are you going to put it?" she asked in exasperation. "The barn? There's scarcely room for poor old Thunder. And how do you know the thing isn't diseased? We can't have Thunder catching anything. Tend to it in the wood, and then let nature take its course. "
"It's a man," Rob said, his eyes wide. "And he's half dead."
"There's a horse, too,"Vin said, bending to his task again, "but I think he's all right. He's trembling and covered with blood, but it's only a graze because you can see a furrow where the wound is. And he's sprained a hock, we think. But the man looks almost gone. He must have hit his head or something. We can't tell how much of the blood is his and how much the horse's."
"Lud!" Alexandria gasped, untying her apron. "Why didn't you say so? You boys get the door. I'll get towels, water, some salts...Did any of you think to fetch the doctor?" She saw their expressions. "I didn't think so. Rob, stop standing and gaping. Be useful. Saddle Thunder and go fetch the doctor." She cast a critical eye on the door. "I'll get some lard. Those old bolts will take you a year if you don't grease them. Now, where is he?"
It was only half a mile, and Alexandria ran all the way, but when she got there she thought she might be too late anyway. The man lay at the side of the road at the foot of the hedgerows. She stopped in her tracks, breathing hard, a hand on her heart. He was a tall man, well dressed, but he was tumbled in a graceless heap, like a child's cast-off rag doll. The dark head was flung far back, the long face was gray.
From the Critics
Latest in her "C" series of Regency-set romances (e.g., The Chance), this warmly romantic tale finally settles the matrimonial affairs of the marriage-shy Earl of Drummond when an ambush sends him badly wounded to the home of Alexandria Gascoyne and into her heart as well. Nicely sprinkled with characters and references from other books in the series, this witty, well-crafted tale nevertheless stands on its own and features a full complement of appealing, beautifully drawn characters, graceful language, and excellent period description. Layton is a popular, widely respected writer of Regencies and Regency-set historical romances.
© 2005 Edith Layton. All rights reserved.