A soldier's second chance
Captain Gabriel Deane has known his fair share of pain, but he'd take a dagger to the chest rather than relive the torture of rejection from the woman he loves.
Saying no to Gabriel broke Emmaline Mableau's heart, but being a soldier's widow had already cost her family too much. Now she wears Gabriel's ring around her neck: a reminder of the man who can never be hers.
Two years later, Emmaline's hand trembles as she goes to knock on Gabriel's door. Now she has a proposal for him, but will he say yes?
The Three Soldiers Series (Book 3)
Still holding the lace in her fingers and startled at the sound of a man’s voice, Emmaline turned. And gasped.
She recognized him instantly, the capitaine whose presence in Badajoz had kept her sane when all seemed lost. She’d tried to forget those desolate days in the Spanish city, although she’d never entirely banished the memory of Gabriel Deane. His brown eyes, watchful then, were now reticent, but his jaw remained as strong, his lips expressive, his hair as dark and unruly.
“Madame.” He bowed. “Do you remember me? I saw you from afar. I was not certain it was you.”
She could only stare. He seemed to fill the space, his scarlet coat a splash of vibrancy in the white lace-filled room. It seemed as if no mere shop could be large enough to contain his presence. He’d likewise commanded space in Badajoz, just as he commanded everything else. Tall and powerfully built, he had filled those terrible, despairing days, keeping them safe. Giving them hope.
“Pardon,” he said. “I forgot. You speak only a little English. En peu Anglais.”
She smiled. She’d spoken those words to him in Badajoz.
She held up a hand. “I do remember you, naturellement.” She never dreamed she would see him again, however. “I—I speak a little more English now. It is necessary. So many English people in Brussels.” She snapped her mouth closed. She’d been babbling.
“You are well, I hope?” His thick dark brows knit and his gaze swept over her.
“I am very well.” Except she could not breathe at the moment, and her legs seemed too weak to hold her upright, but that was his effect on her, not malaise.
His features relaxed. “And your son?”
She lowered her eyes. “Claude was well last I saw him.”
He fell silent, as if he realized her answer hid something she did not wish to disclose. Finally he spoke again. “I thought you would be in France.”
She shrugged. “My aunt lives here. This is her shop. She needed help and we needed a home. Vraiment, Belgium is a better place to—how do you say?—to rear Claude.”
She’d believed living in Belgium would insulate Claude from the patriotic fervor Napoleon generated, especially in her own family.
She’d been wrong.
Gabriel gazed into her eyes. “I see.” A concerned look came over his face. “I hope your travel from Spain was not too difficult.”
It was all so long ago and fraught with fear at every step, but there had been no more attacks on her person, no need for Claude to risk his life for her.
She shivered. “We were taken to Lisbon. From there we gained passage on a ship to San Sebastian and then another to France.”
She’d had money stitched into her clothing, but without the capitaine’s purse she would not have had enough for both the passage and the bribes required to secure the passage. What would have been their fate without his money?
Emmaline suddenly understood why the captain had come to her shop. “I will pay you back the money. If you return tomorrow, I will give it to you.” It would take all her savings, but she owed him more than that.
“The money means nothing to me.” His eyes flashed with pain.
She’d offended him. Her cheeks burned. “I beg your pardon, Gabriel.”
He almost smiled. “You remembered my name.”
She could not help but smile back at him. “You remembered mine.”
“I could not forget you, Emmaline Mableau.” His voice turned low and seemed to reach inside her and wrap itself around her heart.
Everything blurred except him. His visage was so clear to her she fancied she could see every whisker on his face, although he must have shaved that morning. Her mind flashed back to those three days in Badajoz, his unshaven skin giving him the appearance of a rogue, a pirate, a libertine. Even in her despair she’d wondered how his beard would feel against her fingertips. Against her cheek.
But in those few days she’d welcomed any thought that strayed from the horror of seeing her husband killed and hearing her son’s anguished cry as his father fell onto the hard stones of the cobbled street.
He blinked and averted his gaze. “Perhaps I should not have come here.”
Impulsively she touched his arm. “Non, non, Gabriel. I am happy to see you. It is a surprise, no?”
The shop door opened and two ladies entered. One loudly declared in English, “Oh, what a lovely shop. I’ve never seen so much lace!”
These were precisely the sort of customers for whom Emmaline had improved her English. The numbers of English ladies coming to Brussels to spend their money kept increasing since the war ended.
If it had ended.
The English soldiers were in Brussels because it was said there would be a big battle with Napoleon. No doubt Gabriel had come to fight in it.
The English ladies cast curious glances towards the tall, handsome officer who must have been an incongruous sight amidst all the delicate lace.
“I should leave,” he murmured to Emmaline.
His voice made her knees weaken again. She did not wish to lose him again so soon.
He nodded curtly. “I am pleased to know you are well.” He stepped back.
He was going to leave!
“Un moment, Gabriel,” she said hurriedly. “I—I would ask you to eat dinner with me, but I have nothing to serve you. Only bread and cheese.”
His eyes captured hers, and her chest ached as if all the breath was squeezed out of her. “I am fond of bread and cheese.”
She felt almost giddy. “I will close the shop at seven. Will you come back and eat bread and cheese with me?”
Her aunt would have the apoplexie if she knew Emmaline intended to entertain a Britishofficer. But with any luck Tante Voletta would never know.
“Will you come, Gabriel?” she breathed.
His expression remained solemn. “I will return at seven.” He bowed and quickly strode out of the shop, the English ladies following him with their eyes.
When the door closed behind him, both ladies turned to stare at Emmaline.
She forced herself to smile at them and behave as though nothing of great importance had happened.
4 1/2 Stars An insightful and refreshingly realistic romance set in the Napoleonic wars. This is a must read for those who enjoy Regency romances.— Pauline, Bookaholics Romance Club
4.5 Stars! Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy is a beautiful ending to this trilogy of book surrounding men who were all affected by a terrible day during a war. One incident which had long range consequences for so many….How all these emotions resolve themselves is told by a master story teller, Diane Gaston in the pages of Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy. Diane Gaston is truly gifted with her ability to create memorable, realistic characters that remain with us long after the story has been told.— Debby, Cataromance
Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy is a sweet romance set amidst the backdrop of war. Wartime is a tumultuous one and Diane Gaston does a great job of propelling the reader into the story. These characters are beautiful and easy to fall for. Gabriel and Emmaline share an epic romance in Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy.— Miranda, Joyfully Reviewed
In Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy Claude follows Edwin Tranville to a cock fight in Blackburn. Although, like other blood sports, cock fighting sounds barbaric to us now. in the early 1800s, cock fighting was a popular sport.
Cocks were male roosters, gamecocks, specially bred for the sport that took advantage of the natural aggressiveness between males of the species. The fights were sometimes made bloodier by the use of sharp spurs, called gaffs, fastened to the birds’ legs. The fight was not necessarily to the death, but injury to the birds was the essence of the sport.
The Romans brought cock fighting to the British Isles. The Romans were introduced to the sport by the Greeks. When Themistocles was marching his army against the Persians, He spied two cocks fighting and said to his army, “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors; not for glory, not for liberty, nor for the safety of their children, but only because the one will not give way unto the other.” This speech apparently roused the Grecians to gain victory over the Persians and a sport was born.
By the twelfth century it was a schoolboy sport in England. On Shrove Tuesday, schoolboys were allowed to bring game cocks to their masters and amuse themselves all the day watching the bloody battles of their birds. By the 1800s cock fighting was a man’s sport and wagering on the result added to the excitement. Even in the 1500s efforts were made to outlaw the savage practice, but it was not until 1875 that cock fighting was banned in England.
The cocks were weighed before the matches began, the lightest birds to fight first. The space created for them to fight was called the cockpit. The “setters-to” placed the bird in the pit. If one cock stopped fighting, after a count of forty his setter-to brought him back to his opponent, beak to beak. After a cock refused to fight ten times (or the bird died) the fight was over.
The cocking season began around Shrovetide (the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) and ran during the same time as the horse racing season. Its practice was widespread, prevailing in every county. The Cock-pit-Royal in Westminster had battles every night during the season. Remnants of its popularity can be seen by the number of taverns and inns still bearing the name The Fighting Cock.
Cock fighting was a common pastime in Blackburn, where my scenes are set. It was said that a Blackburn blacksmith named Miller sold his soul to the devil so that he could have enough money for betting on the gamecocks. It was said that her rarely won, however.
The savagery of this blood sport suited my story perfectly. Claude is consumed with hatred for Edwin Tranville. Like the gamecocks, he is primed to fight to the death. The question is, can Gabriel Deane stop him?
* “The Cock Fight,” also known as “The Cockpit,” etching, by the British artist and engraver William Hogarth