Lord of Temptation(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 2)(29) by Lorraine Heath
“I could send some of my men with you—”
“No, I don’t want . . . people about. It’s part of the reason that I didn’t purchase passage for other means of getting here. I didn’t want to run into someone I know or might have met on the journey. I need this to be private.”
Was she going to call things off with him? Why not simply pen him a letter? Why go to all this bother? No, all she needed was for Tristan to accompany her, then things would become private between her and her fiancé. Tristan would be expected to return to the ship. Could he do it? Could he leave her in another man’s keeping?
He was half tempted to kiss her now or to ask for an additional kiss for the service of delivering her safely through the streets. If she hadn’t been looking at him so beseechingly he would have bargained. As it was he could say little more than, “When do you want to leave?”
“Good.” Before he had any time to consider the ramifications and to change his mind. Smart lass. He contemplated shaving, making himself a bit more presentable, but what did he care what this bloke thought of him? And if she used the opportunity to compare them, he could undo any damage when they returned to the ship. It was chilly out, he had his coat, and quite honestly, he wanted this done with. “Let’s be off then.”
After disembarking she handed the map to him. He wished he was familiar with the city. He could navigate the world, certainly understood the lines on a map, but preferred the stars to guide him. But there were none out now, so he studied the scrawled lines and the scribbled words and the occasional arrow. Florence Nightingale was meticulous but things were not drawn to scale.
Anne kept her hand on his arm. From time to time, she’d squeeze and he realized it was her way of coping with nervousness. He supposed after four years that she might be a bit apprehensive about seeing this man. If her fiancé was at the hospital, Tristan wondered if he was recovering from wounds, but that seemed unlikely after this length of time. Perhaps he was a physician who had stayed behind to help the people. Maybe she had come here to persuade him to return to England.
He fought not to growl at the thought of the man on his ship.
It seemed to take forever, but it was only a distorted passage of time brought about by his lack of desire to go where she wished him to lead, and eventually they did reach the General Hospital. At their arrival, the lethargy seemed to leave her and a purpose in her step took hold.
As they came around to the front, she said with confidence, “This way.”
A short distance away was a sign: British Cemetery.
He was no longer leading, but following as she passed through the entrance. She strode past several marked graves until she came to an area that housed no headstones, where the land simply stretched down to the glistening blue waters of the Bosporus Strait.
She staggered to a stop, tears welling in her eyes. “More than five thousand are buried here,” she rasped. “With no markers. However shall I find him?”
Her answer came as she sunk to the ground and sobbed softly, leaving Tristan to feel like an absolute bastard. He’d considered killing the man himself. Now he was irrationally furious at her fiancé for causing her this pain.
He knelt beside her, drew her into his arms, and held her while her shoulders shook with the force of her grief and her tears dampened his neck where she had pressed her face. If he still possessed a gentleman’s heart, he thought it would break at her mewling, her trembling.
If he had a heart, he would know how to comfort her. But all he knew to do was to hold her and swear softly in between uttering her name.
Oh, it hurt, it hurt so terribly much. She’d known it would, known that no matter how much she prepared for it, the reality of being here would undo her.
She had also known that the captain would hold her and comfort her, just as he had when she’d been ill during the storm. Martha would have comforted her as well, but with her slight frame it wouldn’t have been as reassuring. He was solid, firm, and strong. His large hands caressed her back, her arms. He held her until she had no more tears to weep, and then he walked with her along the water’s edge where birds darted about and swooped down to capture fish.
“Even knowing that Walter was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, somehow I thought I would be able to find him, that I would know where he was. That I would sense his presence. But I don’t feel him here. I had so much that I needed to say to him.”
They walked on in silence. No matter how she had imagined things, she hadn’t envisioned it being like this. She thought she would regain something she’d lost. Instead, it remained beyond reach.
“Why didn’t you tell me that your fiancé was dead?” he asked over the cries of seagulls.
“I never said the words to anyone. It would make it more real. A letter from his brother alerting me to his death, his condolences, a notice in the paper—they made everything seem so distant. He died of cholera. Such an ignominious ending. I’m not even certain if he ever saw battle.”
“Doesn’t make him less of a hero. He was willing to fight, to die.”
She peered up at him, at his strong features. “Thank you for that.”
“I’m not simply muttering words, you know. He was a soldier. That says a lot for his character.” He glanced out toward the sea. A muscle in his jaw tautened. “My brother fought in the Crimea. Was terribly wounded. Lost half his face.”
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