The Soldier's Rebel Lover

By: Marguerite Kaye

Chapter One

 Basque Country, Spain—July 1813

 Major Finlay Urquhart of the Ninety-Second Regiment of Foot scanned the rough terrain through the eyepiece of his field telescope, his senses on full alert. ‘Got ye!’ he whispered to himself with grim satisfaction.

 The French arms dump was partially concealed, set in the lee of a nearby hillock. It was obviously a large cache and therefore a strategically important discovery, especially if it could be destroyed before Wellington began his siege of the nearby fortress at San Sebastian. There were no guards present that he could discern, but they could not be far away, and might return at any time. The French army was severely stretched in the aftermath of the Battle of Vitoria, where they had sustained heavy losses, but even against their presumably depleted defences, any planned assault on the arms cache would carry significant risk, since it was located some distance behind enemy lines.

 As was he, Finlay reminded himself. The light was fading fast, and with it any chance of making it back to base tonight, for his journey would take him through some treacherous and hostile terrain. It would be much more prudent to hole up for the night under cover in the small, heavily wooded copse a couple of miles distant where he’d tethered his horse.

 ‘Aye, and Prudence is my middle name, right enough,’ Finlay muttered to himself. Despite the perilous nature of his situation, he couldn’t help grinning at his own joke. With any luck, he could be back in camp and feasting on a hot breakfast not long after sunrise.

 He could not have said what it was that put him on his guard. A change in the quality of the silence, perhaps. Maybe the fact that the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up. A sense, acute and undeniable, that he was not alone. Definitely. Finlay’s hand moved automatically to the holster that held his pistol, but the failing light, and fear of the sound it would make when he primed it, made him hesitate and reach instead for his dirk, the lethal Scottish dagger he carried in his belt.

 His ears pricked, Finlay listened intently. A faint scrabbling was coming from the ditch on the other side of the rough track. A rat? No, it sounded like something much larger. He waited on high alert, crouched in his own ditch, and was rewarded by the faint outline of a man’s head peering cautiously out. No cap, but it could only be a French sentry, for who else would be concealed here, so close to the arms cache? He could wait it out and pray he was not discovered, but sixteen years in the army had taught Finlay the value of the pre-emptive strike. Taking the sgian-dubh, the other, shorter dagger he carried tucked into his hose, in his other hand, he launched himself at the enemy.

 The Frenchman was in the act of aiming his pistol as Finlay threw himself at him, knocking his arm high and sending the gun spiralling harmlessly into the air. The man fought like a dervish despite his slight physique, but Finlay had experience and his own considerable brawn on his side. Within moments, he had the man subdued, wrists yanked painfully together behind his back, the glittering blade of the dirk only a hair’s breadth from the French soldier’s throat.

 ‘Make one sound and, by all that is holy, I promise you it will be your last,’ Finlay growled in guttural French.

 His captive strained in Finlay’s iron grasp. He tightened his grip on the man’s wrists, noting with surprise how slender and delicate they were. Now that he was close up, Finlay could see he was not, in fact, wearing a French uniform. What was more, as he struggled frantically to free himself, it became clear that there was something much more profoundly incongruous about his captive.

 ‘What the devil,’ Finlay exclaimed, so surprised that he spoke the words in his native Gaelic. ‘What the hell do you think you’re playing at, woman,’ he added, lowering his voice and switching to Castilian Spanish as he turned the female round to face him, ‘creeping about in the dead of night in man’s garb? Don’t you realise I could have killed you?’

 The woman threw back her head and glared at him. ‘I might ask you the same question. What the hell do you think you are doing, creeping about in the night in woman’s clothing? I could just as easily have killed you.’

 The sheer audacity of her remark rendered him speechless for a moment, and then Finlay laughed. ‘This, señorita, is a kilt, not a skirt, and you did not for a moment come close to killing me, though I don’t doubt that you’d have tried if I’d given you half a chance. Why did you point a gun at me? Could you not see that I am wearing a British and not a French uniform? We are supposed to be on the same side.’

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