Elijah Cameron, the son of runaway slaves, has spent his whole life in the British army proving that a black man can be as good a soldier as a white man. After a victory over the French, Elijah promises one of his dying men that he will deliver a scavenged ruby necklace to his wife, Rose, a woman Elijah has admired for years.
Elijah feels bound to protect her and knows a widow with a fortune in jewels will be a target. Rose dreams of using the necklace to return to England, but after a violent attack, she realizes she needs Elijah’s help to make the journey safely.
Her appreciation for Elijah’s strength and integrity soon turns into love, but he doubts she could want a life with him, knowing the challenges they’d face. As their relationship grows, she must convince Elijah that she wants him as more than a bodyguard. And she must prove that their love can overcome all obstacles, no matter the color of their skin.
Read an Excerpt
This excerpt takes place in the British army’s camp late at night after the Battle of Vitoria, in which Rose’s first husband Sam was killed. Elijah has brought her the ruby necklace Sam plundered from the baggage train abandoned by the fleeing French army. Before she learned of the necklace, Rose had been worrying what would become of her and her young son Jake, but now her long-buried dreams for her future are coming back to life…
“Why did you do it, Sam?” she asked the darkness. She still clutched the necklace, which had grown warm under her touch. “What did he think I’d do with this? It’s not as though I could wear it.”
“He said you could have what you want—no, that’s not it. He said you could be what you want, now.”
Now all became clear. “The Red Lion.”
“An inn in our village. It served the most dreadful food you can imagine.”
Elijah laughed softly in the darkness. “I’ve lived almost my entire life in an army regiment. I can imagine some very bad food.”
She couldn’t help but chuckle a little. “I can see that. Well, it was as bad as food can be when it ought to be good. There was enough of it, and good English beef and mutton that hadn’t been walked half to starvation before it was slaughtered, so it should’ve tasted better than anything I cook here, but it didn’t. I used to dream of being able to buy the inn so I could make Aspwell Heath a place where everyone on the Great North Road would stop to linger over their food, even the ones who were eloping to Scotland. Sam said when he enlisted that after the war we’d go home and do just that. I didn’t know how he expected to save the money, even then, and I’d certainly given up on any such thing by the time we’d been here a month, but he kept talking about it, that he’d get the money, somehow or other.”
“Hm. Is that still what you want?”
Was it? Rose clutched the necklace tighter and considered. “I’m not sure,” she said after a moment. “Most people only stopped there long enough to change horses.” She shook her head. “If I’m going to cook, I don’t want it to be for people who don’t slow down long enough to taste it properly. Half the joy of it is knowing that people like my cooking. Sam always did. You do.”
“You’re the best cook I’ve ever met. Even better than my mother.”
“High praise indeed.”
“She is very good. She was Colonel Dryhurst’s cook, while my father was his clerk.”
Now, that was a thought. Could she, Rose, get a similar post? Somehow Mrs. Cameron had managed it while raising a son and a daughter. Possibly some officer who liked to set a fine table might take a similar interest in her.
“I might enjoy that sort of work,” she said. “Cook in a household that appreciated good cooking. Only, I suppose that sort wants chefs and not cooks, and French ones by preference.”
“If the necklace is real, and you can find a way to sell it, you won’t need to work for anyone,” Elijah pointed out. “If you can’t buy your Red Lion outright, I’m sure you could at least lease it, or some other inn if it’s not for sale, and work toward owning it.”
She frowned thoughtfully into the night. Now that it was no longer impossible, she found she still liked to imagine herself mistress of the Red Lion. And she’d be home at last. There was one difficulty, however. “When I marry, it’ll be my husband’s necklace—but wait. I don’t have to marry again, either.” Suddenly the world seemed large, large and open, and she blinked back tears that carried more relief than sadness.
“No, not unless you want to someday. You can take Jake and go home to England now.
You won’t have to tell about the necklace to pay your passage. I took enough good plain silver coins from that baggage train to pay your way many times over.”
“I couldn’t take so much from you—”
“It wouldn’t be taking. You can repay me, when I’m back in England, if your inn will have a place for such as me to eat along with all the quality who’ll be clamoring for a spot at your table.”
She laughed. “I’ll always make a place for you. But I have coin enough of my own to pay our passage—that’s what Luisa took for our share.”
“Good, then. But I’ll still stop at your inn, after we win and the world is at peace.”
“That will be a happy day indeed.” Rose yawned, tired despite herself. “I suppose we should try to sleep. Thank you, Elijah.”
“What for? Why, for everything. For bringing this to me, for keeping guard tonight—and for helping me see I really am free now.” She clutched the chain of rubies tighter. “I can go home.”
“I’ll miss your cooking more than I can say,” he said lightly, “but I’ll do anything I can tospeed your path.”
“Thank you,” she repeated. Impulsively she leaned over to kiss his cheek, but he turned his head at just the wrong moment and her lips found his.
She froze in pure shock, as did he. Then he slid a hand around to the back of her neck and held her there. All she could feel was his fingers threading into her hair, deft and questing, and his lips on hers, warm and seeking and hungry. The hand and lips felt good, they belonged. She kissed him back, for a heartbeat or two, until she realized what she was doing. Planting a hand on his chest, she pushed him away and jumped to her feet.
“I didn’t mean to—” she began.
“I’m sorry—” he said at the same time.
She brushed anxious hands down her dress. “I should check on Jake. And—and sleep.
The nights are so short.” The moon was already sinking, and Elijah was nothing but a dark form in the darkness. She was glad. She couldn’t bear to see him just now.
It was still gripped in her right hand. “I have it.”
“Hide it well.”