Ella survived an abusive and philandering husband, in-laws who hate her, and public scorn. But she’s not sure she will survive love. It is too late to guard her heart from the man forced to pretend he married such a disreputable widow, but at least she will not burden him with feelings he can never return. She prays he will learn to tolerate her.
Alex understands his supposed wife never wishes to remarry. And if she had chosen to wed, it would not have been to him. He should have wooed her when he was whole, when he could have had her love, not her pity. But it is too late now. She looks at him and sees a broken man. He hopes she will learn to bear him.
In a masquerade of a marriage, Ella and Alex soon discover they are more well-matched than they thought possible. But then the couple’s blossoming trust is ripped apart by a malicious enemy. Two lost souls must together face the demons of their past to save their lives and give their love a future.
A Raging Madness is book 2 of The Golden Redepennings.
The funeral of the dowager Lady Melville was poorly attended—just the rector, one or two local gentry, her stepson Edwin Braxton accompanied by a man who was surely a lawyer, and a handful of villagers.
Alex Redepenning was glad he had made the effort to come out of his way when he saw the death notice. He and Captain Sir Gervase Melville had not been close, but they had been comrades: had fought together in Egypt, Italy, and the Caribbean.
Melville’s widow was not at the funeral, but Alex was surprised not to see her when he went back to the house. Over the meagre offering set out in the drawing room, he asked Melville’s half brother where she was.
“Poor Eleanor.” Braxton had a way of gnashing his teeth at the end of each phrase, as if he needed to snip the words off before he could stop chewing them.
“She has never been strong, of course, and Mother Melville’s death has quite overset her.” Braxton tapped his head significantly.
Ella? Not strong? She had been her doctor father’s assistant in situations that would drive most men into a screaming decline, and had continued working with his successor after his death. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really so he could chase whores in peace, without her taking loud and potentially uncomfortable exception. Alex smiled as he remembered the effects of stew laced with a potent purge.
Melville swore Ella had been trying to poison him. She assured the commander that if she wanted him poisoned he would be dead, and perhaps the watering of his bowels was the result of a guilty conscience. The commander, conscious that Ella was the closest to a physician the company, found Ella innocent.
Perhaps it had all caught up with her. Perhaps a flaw in the mind was the reason why she tried to trap Alex and succeeded in trapping Melville into marriage, why she had not attended Melville’s deathbed, though Alex had sent a carriage for her.
“I had hoped to see her,” Alex said. It was not entirely a lie. He had hoped and feared in equal measure: hoped to find her old before her time and feared the same fierce pull between them he had been resisting since she was a girl too young for him to decently desire.
“I cannot think it wise,” Braxton said, shaking his head. “No, Major Redepenning. I cannot think it wise. What do you say, Rector? Would it not disturb the balance of my poor sister’s mind if she met Major Redepenning? His association with things better forgotten, you know.”
What was better forgotten? War? Or her poor excuse for a husband? Not that it mattered, any more than it mattered that Braxton used the rank Alex no longer held. It was not Braxton’s fault Alex’s injury had forced him to sell out.
The Rector agreed that Lady Melville should not be disturbed, and Alex was off the hook. “Perhaps you will convey my deepest sympathies and my best wishes to her ladyship,” he said. “I hope you will excuse me if I take my leave. I have a long journey yet to make, and would seek my bed.”
Out in front of the house, Alex’s chaise waited, with his man Jonno—stripling boy, rather, barely out of his seventeenth year—leaning against a tree at the head of the horses. Alex was nearly up to him before he jerked fully upright.
“Major!” Jonno’s brain woke a second after his tongue, and he corrected himself. “Mr Redepenning, sir. Are we off, then?”
Alex ignored the slip and the stab of regret it caused. “Back to the inn, Jonno. I’d like to make an early start of it. There’s heavy weather coming, they were telling me, and if we have to hole up until it is over, I’d rather do it in a decent town than in an inn at the rear end of nowhere.”
“Right you are, sir. Close lot they have here, sir.” Jonno kept up a comfortable patter as he put down the modified step that allowed Alex to drag his bad leg up into the chaise with the minimum of help from his man. Jonno’s conversational overtures had been rebuffed, no refreshments had been offered to man or beast, and Jonno had been directed to water for the horses only reluctantly, after a direct request.
Alex let the boy’s words wash over him as he settled into his seat stifling a groan. Eight hours on the road followed by all this standing around had inflamed the constant ache he lived with into active knives of pain. Jonno, having folded away the step, led the horses around to face the carriage way, then leapt up beside Alex, released the brake, and chirruped the pair into movement. His unconscious ease of movement made Alex’s command sharper than Jonno deserved.
“Give me the reins. I’m not dead yet.”
Jonno handed them over, wisely saying nothing, though his face spoke for him.
“I don’t drive with my legs, Jonno,” Alex said, trying to sound more conciliatory. With Jonno on the brake, and a tired pair of not particularly fine post horses, he was putting less strain on the damned limbs than he would sitting tense beside Jonno fretting about his incapacity. He had a flash of memory: a carriage race in India, every bone and muscle in his body called into glorious service as he and his colonel’s four blood horses swept to victory against the competitors from three other brigades, his own screaming support from every hillock along the track.
Never again. Those days were behind him.