As heir to a title and great wealth, Will Masterson should have stayed home and tended his responsibilities. Instead he went to war. Now, after perilous years fighting the French, he intends his current mission to be his last. But all his plans are forgotten when he arrives
in the small mountain stronghold of San Gabriel and meets her.
gloried in her independence. But for the first time in her life, she finds a man who might be her match.
enemies. For neither will back down from death, and only together can they find happiness and a love deeper than any they’d dared imagine…
Read an Excerpt
In a burst of fury at the brutality of war, he hurled the empty bottle across the cellar. He meant to strike a section of plain stone wall, but instead the heavy bottle crunched into a rickety upright supporting one of the wall racks. The rack collapsed with a dusty crash as shelves of old crockery and unidentifiable objects pitched to the floor.
“Jesus, Masterson!” Chantry said indignantly as he dodged back, his head clipping the lantern so that it swung wildly. “Are you trying to kill us prematurely?”
The dust sent Will into a coughing fit before he managed to choke out, “Sorry. My aim was off.”
As he looked at the dust rising from the collapsed rack, the erratic light of the swinging lantern briefly illuminated straight lines gouged in one of the stones that had been concealed by the shelving. The lines were very faint, but the pattern looked familiar. Frowning, he levered himself up and lurched across the cellar. “Does anyone know who owns this house?”
Duval shrugged. “I heard that it belongs to British wine shippers who’ve operated in Gaia for a couple of generations, but I don’t know the name. Does it matter? The current owner and his household fled when the French confiscated the house.”
“It appears that a Freemason built the house.” Will reached the wall and traced the angular lines with his fingertip, confirming his guess. “Freemasonry evolved from medieval stonemasons’ guilds, so their symbols are based on the tools of a mason. This is a compass overlaying a square, a Masonic symbol.”
“So?” That was Hawkins’s gruff voice.
“Freemasons aren’t always popular. Some have been known to build escape routes from their homes in case rioters came after them. Maybe that’s what this one did.”
The dusty mortar around the block looked like all the other mortar in the foundation, but the side seams were a little wider. If Will’s guess was right . . . On a hunch, he looked at the collapsed rack. It made sense for the builders to have the necessary tools convenient if the escape route was needed.
Yes! One of the uprights had separated into two pieces, and both looked like hardened metal. He lifted a length that tapered to the shape of a narrow chisel. Perfect for gouging. He dug into the mortar on the right side of the stone, and it crumbled away like sugar icing.
“The devil you say!” someone exclaimed as the other men scrambled to their feet and gathered behind him. The tension was palpable.
Silently Hawkins picked up the other piece of the broken upright and started gouging on the left side of the block. Gordon bent over and began clearing away the wreckage of the collapsed rack so the area under the work space was open.
Duval asked, “Are you a Freemason to know so much about them?”
“I’m a part-time engineer,” Will explained. “The Royal Engineers corps never had enough men, so line officers like me are sometimes seconded to work with them if we have engineering experience. Very educational.”
“If there is an escape tunnel . . .” Hawkins’s voice broke for a moment. “Do you have any idea where it might lead? This house is full of French soldiers and there are guards all around.”
“My guess is the tunnel comes out among outbuildings where it won’t be obvious,” Will replied. “There’s no point in going to this much trouble just to be captured outside.”
With most of the mortar chipped away, Will said to Hawkins, “Step back.” Then he carefully shoved the wider end of his tool into the gap he’d made between the stones. The temptation was to use full force, but he didn’t want to damage his lever.
The stone shifted. Releasing the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding, Will worked at the block until it was far enough out from its neighbors to get a grip on. He tugged and the stone moved toward him. Hawkins grasped the other end and they both pulled. Abruptly the stone jerked free and crashed heavily to the dirt floor of the cellar, narrowly missing Will’s left foot.
And behind it was a tunnel large enough for a man to crawl into. “Well, hallelujah!” Chantry breathed.
After years of fighting, the war is finally over, and Will Masterson is free to return to his home in England and resume his duties as Baron. As he is about to prepare for the journey, his commander makes a request of him. San Gabriel, a small kingdom, tucked in the mountains between Spain and Portugal, has been an English ally, and it will be several weeks before their wounded and decimated army makes it back home. Will is tasked with stopping at San Gabriel, assessing their situation, and providing any assistance he can until they are back at full strength. As it turns out, San Gabriel had been invaded by the French, who captured the king and his son, and randomly destroyed crops and property, while making off with treasure and food.
Will is an extremely capable and multi talented man, and begins to formulate plans to rebuild the damaged country. The king’s daughter, Sofia, and her companion, Athena, managed to elude the French, and work with Will to help put San Gabriel to rights. Athena is the illegitimate daughter of an English peer and a notorious courtesan, and was reluctantly supported by her father on the condition that she never acknowledge their connection. She has had to endure plenty of slings and arrows about her birth, and this has made her strong, and very wary of titled gentlemen.
Athena is as capable in her own way as Will is in his. They almost immediately admire and are attracted to the other. Before long, Will is thinking that Athena is the perfect woman to be his wife, but when he gives hints about his feelings, Athena backs off. Her experience with her father, and an ill fated affair with a gentleman with less than honorable intentions have left her wary. Though she knows that Will is an honorable man, she realizes that her status will never let her fit in as part of society.
As a new danger to San Gabriel occurs, Will and Athena are forced into close proximity. Though Will tries to act the gentleman and respect Athena’s wishes, they soon give in to their passion. Before they can even determine if they have any chance of a future together, they have to just survive. Will is a stellar hero – he’s honorable, kind, intelligent, hard working, and very sexy. Life has shaped Athena into the capable, yet stubborn woman that she is. I love both these characters, and was rooting for them to be together. The book flowed along at a great pace, blending the action in with the romance to make a very enjoyable read. The camaraderie of Will and his fellow soldiers, some great secondary characters, and a very satisfactory resolution prompt me to give ONCE A SOLDIER my solid recommendation.
Mary Jo Putney is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has written over 60 novels and novellas. A ten-time finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA, she has won the honor twice and is on the RWA Honor Roll for bestselling authors. In 2013 she was awarded the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Though most of her books have been historical romance, she has also published contemporary romances, historical fantasy, and young adult paranormal historicals. She lives in Maryland with her nearest and dearest, both two and four footed.
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