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Regency Christmas ProposalsRegencyChristmasProposals


Regency Christmas Proposals
Excerpt from “The Soldier’s Christmas Miracle”
in Regency Christmas Proposals

Prologue

“It’s water.”

A gentle hand raised his head as the rim of a metal cup was placed
against his parched lips. He drank greedily, only now aware of the
depth of his thirst—a sensation that had been buried under the pain
of the burns and his other wounds.

When the cup was taken away, he asked the question he’d wondered
about for hours. “Is it morning?”

“It’s still night,” the same voice answered.

Feminine. English. And cultured, he assessed automatically.

“More?”

“Please.” The need to keep her beside him--to keep the darkness at
bay--was greater even than his thirst.

They had bandaged his eyes shortly after the battle, but by then the
darkness had already closed around him. And it was that, and that
alone, he feared.

When the cup was removed from his lips a second time, he knew that
she would leave him, too. Just as had the friends who’d brought him
here to await the ships that would take the wounded back to England.

And when she was gone the terrifying blackness would become
omnipresent again.

“Could you stay a while?” he heard himself beg, although he
recognized the request for the cowardice it represented. “Unless
there are others who need water...?”

“No, you’re the last,” the woman said not unkindly.

“I could hear it,” he said to keep her talking. “The sound the cup
makes against the side of the bucket. But then no one came.”

“You were so still, I think everyone believed you were sleeping.”

Given the extent of his injuries, they would probably have
considered that a blessing. It would have been, of course, but he
hadn’t been able to sleep. The thought of what might lie ahead had
destroyed any hope of that.

He had promised himself that no one would ever hear him complain.
He was, after all, a soldier, and others had suffered far more than
he.

But now, whether it was the thought of home or the anonymity of
their situation, he found that he needed to tell her. To
acknowledge, if only to this unknown voice in his darkness, the true
depth of his cowardice.

His lips began to tilt upward at the ridiculousness of what he was
about to say. That movement was halted by the painful pull on the
burned skin of his cheek, but the words of his confession spilled
out, almost of their own accord.

“Like a child, I find I’m afraid of the dark.”

He waited, expecting some bracing homily or even a rebuke for his
weakness. She was silent instead, so long that he was once more
aware of the sounds of human suffering that surrounded them.

“You would willingly accept water from my hand, but not its
guidance?”

“Not if...” he hesitated, and then said what he knew to be the
truth. “Not if I were always to be guided.”

Never to ride again. Or to dance. Never to walk unfettered through
a meadow. Never to see the faces of his children.

His throat thickened with that thought, although he could not
remember thinking about his progeny before in his entire life.
There had always been other things more pressing. Friends. His
regiment. The intoxicating pull of the dangers they faced daily,
often with a confidence that bordered on insanity.

Now a vision of the remaining years of his life stretched before
him, a montage of dependence and invalidism. Death, even here, far
from everything he had ever known or loved, would be preferable to
that.

“Because that would make you less a man?”

Was that what he feared? Emasculation by infirmity?

“Would it?” he asked.

She was a woman. Surely she could provide the answer to that
question better than he.

“I think that would depend upon the man you were before.”

He examined the words, using the mental exercise it offered to keep
the relentless pain at bay. He knew his reputation, of course.
Fearless. It was a word that had been used often enough to describe
some reckless endeavor he’d undertaken without a second’s thought.

And that was the crux. He had never thought beyond that moment
between life and death. Had never considered the possibility of a
life unlike the one he’d known. Did he have courage enough to live
under the restraints he’d been imagining since they’d wrapped the
cloth around his eyes?

“It’s easy enough to live young and free and strong.” The voice
beside him echoed his thoughts. “But without any one of those... I
think that life would require a man of remarkable courage.” The
last had been so softly spoken he’d had to strain to hear the final
word.

And then, in the stillness that had finally fallen among the
wounded, came the sound of distant bells, their joyous clarity
vastly different from the noises of the suffering.

A celebration? Some hard-won victory in a battle he had not been
part of?

“What is it? What’s happening?”

“Christmas.” The woman’s voice was filled with wonder. “It’s
Christmas morning. I had forgotten.” The last words contained a
breath of amusement.

“Christmas,” he echoed softly.

Memories evoked by the word invaded his brain, pushing out the
darkness that had seemed to swallow up all the goodness he had known
in his life. A thousand images, foreign to those of the last few
years, bright and gay and dearly familiar were there instead.

“The season of miracles,” she said. “Perhaps...”

Again the words faded, but there was no longer any need of them.
She had already uttered the only ones that mattered.

Through the long days and longer nights that followed, he clung to
them rather than to the unspoken suggestion that miracles still
sometimes occurred. I think that life would require a man of
remarkable courage.

And in the years that followed, that dauntless courage and it alone,
was all he asked for in his prayers.

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