The Dream, The Nightmare
Miss Angela Elizabeth Devlin’s heart was fluttering wildly beneath her breasts. She had dreamed of attending a fancy ton ball for as long as she could remember. As the eldest child of Baron Heathman, it should have gone without saying that she would have her coming out in polite society at a London Ball. But Angela, or Angie as she preferred, had given up on that dream a long time ago. Not because she was not well-born enough to attend a ton ball, but because her father was a drunk, a gambler, and a philanderer who was rarely at home and had nearly bankrupted their family a dozen times over that Angie knew about.
But despite all that, here she was, standing beneath the glittering chandeliers with thousands and thousands of candles illuminating a magnificent ballroom. And it was just as she had dreamed it would be, filled with more than five hundred of the elite of England’s nobility. All the men were dressed in black tails, snow white hose, crisp white cravats, and jet-black knee-breeches. And they were all devastatingly handsome just as she knew they would be.
The women were vibrantly dressed in a rainbow of colors, their faces less clear to her. But then she only had eyes for the men that whirled passed her on the dance floor. The ladies’ laughter was infectious, ringing out and filling the air with a sense of joy and excitement that hummed through Angie as she watched the spectacle.
To the left of her, something exploded and the floor beneath her feet shook. She shut her eyes and cried out, “No! Not now.”
When she lifted her lashes, the dancers were still there and she breathed a sigh of relief. But the faces of the men were beginning to fade into the distance, becoming indistinguishable from the others in the ballroom.
In desperation, Angie looked to the left and saw more of the elegantly dressed people fading into the shadows. Then she looked in front of her and a line of smartly dressed French soldiers in their distinct blue uniforms stood where the handsome men had stood a moment before. Their rifles at the ready, their faces contorted with hatred.
Her body shuddered and she spun around to find the gayly dressed men and women shimmering in the distance. And then another earth-shattering explosion to her right caused her to flinch and whirl toward the sound. And there on a hill were a dozen men in Grenadier green uniforms, charging into a hell of fire and smoke. Sergeant-Major Gordon Campbell was at the head of the men, followed closely by Captain Lucien Stoughton, and then the kid, Corporal Jeremey Cavendish, three of the men along with herself that were known as the Fallen Angels.
Angie shook her head violently and closed her eyes tightly. “No,” she cried out. This wasn’t right. She was at a ball in London. She opened her eyes and tried to concentrate. This was all wrong. She had never been to London. But yet here she was. Wasn’t she?
She turned slowly in a circle and could still see the glittering ballroom. But now it was filled with French and coalition soldiers. The music was no longer playing in the background, the sounds of rapid firing rifles filled the air, along with the acrid odor of gun powder. Another explosion closer to her shook the ground and pain ripped into her head.
“No, no, no,” Angie silently screamed.
Strong and heavily calloused hands pulled her from the nightmare and back into the ballroom. Familiar hands. Ones that she had felt hundreds of times over the last year. But these were not the hands of one of the gentlemen or noblemen in the ballroom. No, in the past she had known men like them. Men with soft, sweaty, and pudgy hands. Hateful and despised men. Those had not been the hands of a lover but a seducer of innocent young women.
Not so these. They were a lover’s caress. Ones that bespoke of dreams coming true. Of a man she had only seen in her dreams. Angie knew them so well that she could now map each and every callus and scar on them. She knew the length of each finger without having to look. She even knew the ghastly scar that marred the top of his right hand. It ran diagonally from the knuckle of his right hand to the lower wrist bone of his arm. She knew it so well because she shared a similar one on her own right hand. And she knew, without having to ask that he had received it in a similar fashion as she.
His hand slid upward, cupping her right breast through the tight corset that banded her breasts and made it hard for her to breathe. Kneading them through the thick layers until her nipple pebbled and ached from the need he engendered. To be touched by those wonderful calluses was heavenly. Erotic. Then bereavement scorched through her as his hand left her breasts and dipped lower. Caressing her ribs, her stomach, and then setting fire to her core as they came close to the apex of her legs.
For a single breath embarrassment nearly overwhelmed her, but then she saw that the dance floor was devoid of people. The entire ballroom was now empty. She didn’t stop to wonder about it, just rejoiced in the pleasure of being in her lover’s arms.
His fingers seemed to paused for a moment near her most private of places. Her mons quivered and jumped to life even as his powerful hands moved farther down. They stroked down her right leg and then journeyed upward on her other leg. Tremors of pleasure followed in their wake. Again, her sex vibrated life as they passed over, unhesitating this time, over that most hidden place of her body. When they reached her breasts, one of his fingers slipped inside her corset and caressed her from one breast to the other. Questioningly. As if he was asking permission, or a question. But which, she did not know.
Enthralled she begged, “Yes. Oh, God please.”
Her mind screamed the answer so loud it echoed off the walls of her mind. But no words burst forth from her mouth. She could not fathom why she could not entreat this man to continue. To make love to her. To fulfill the erotic fantasies she had borne these many, many lonely nights.
His hand slackened and began to withdraw.
“No!” she cried.
This time the word ripped from her lips. Hoarsely. Raspy. As if something was wrong with her throat. The thought had barely registered before Angie felt a burning pain scorch her throat. Pain that seared and grated against her lips.
But she was beyond caring about insignificant things like a little pain or hoarseness. What did pain matter when she was in the arms of her lover? The man who fulfilled her every dream. Filled her thoughts. Both in slumber and in daylight.
She grasped his arm in a death grip as she tried to turn her face to his. A face hidden in shadows. Obscured by the smoke blanketing the ballroom turned battlefield. Tears of frustration blurred her vision as his face was always in shadows. Hidden from her.
“No, not again. Not now,” Angie cried out.
It could not end this way. Not again. Not this time. She wouldn’t allow it to end this way again. She tilted her head backward, her lips searching. The coarseness of his beard rasped painfully against the side of her face. Moisture dampened her mouth as she strained to meet his. Dirt and a bitter coppery metallic taste rolled over her and penetrated her senses.
Please God, not again, she begged in silence.
“Lieutenant. The line is moving up.”
Lighting flashed and thunder roared, slicing through the fog that clouded her mind. No, she wouldn’t let it go. Not this time. Not again.
Angie clinched her eyes shut, willing the world away and the darkness to remain. She elongated her body, stretching as far as she could. Searching for his lips but unable to touch them. The whispers of his form remained in the shadows. Barely there. Hesitantly they returned her caress, her kiss. They pulled away as more lighting flashed around them and thunder rolled across the land. The earth quaked beneath her body and ripped her from her lover’s arms.
White light blinded her as a bitter cold encased her. One that she had felt and relived hundreds of times in the last year. Numbness in her chest exploded with searing pain. It engulfed her, mind, body, and soul. Yet through all of it, she heard his voice. “I’ll come back for you, my Angel. I’ll come back for you. I swear on my honor, I’ll return for you as soon as I can.”
Her lover’s voice wavered and she closed off her mind to all but the memory of it. Once again, the dream faded into the oblivion from which it had come. A world of dreams and lost hopes. “I’ll save you, my lady,” his fading voice promised. His voice now growing fainter, more distant with each painful heartbeat. “I swear, on my honor, I’ll come back to you,” he repeated.
Lightning flashed once more and “the Dream” as Angie had come to think of her reoccurring nightmare, faded away completely. Once again leaving in its wake desolation and despair. The Dream had plagued her for nearly a year now. It was always the same. She knew his voice, his touch, his manly scent.
But other than the color of his uniform and the buttons on his coat pressed against her breasts, Angie knew nothing else about the man who came to her in her dreams each night. Her soul told her he was real. Her mind told her he was but a dream. A dream built on hopes for salvation. For freedom. Manifested in her mind in response to her daily prayer for redemption from God.
“Lieutenant Devlin,” the voice of Sergeant Gordon Campbell bellowed from just outside her tent. Moments later the tent flap wrenched up and the face of the man she had come to see as her mentor and protector stuck his head in and glared.
“Lieutenant, I know you like your beauty sleep, but the General has called for an advance. The First is moving up in ten minutes. Get your arse up and join your squadron before someone reports you as missing or dead.”
Lieutenant Andrew Devlin, that was who she was now. Or who she was pretending to be. It was whom she had become three years ago when her worthless brother had managed to get himself killed the night before he was to report for duty as an officer in the Royal Army. A commission bought for him as a last-ditch hope to stave off poverty for him and their family. A family he had cared nothing about. As the eldest, Angie was the only remaining family member capable and able to care for all of them. So, thanks to her brother’s untimely death she had been forced to take extraordinary measures in order to keep her mother and little sister safe from poverty.
It wasn’t such a stretch, pretending to be her brother. Angie had been doing it for years while running the farm he and their father had ignored. Physically her younger brother and she were nearly identical. At least as far as their facial features went. To the world, Andrew Devlin had been an Adonis. A man of extraordinary good looks. He had been a charming rakehell with a dishonorable character. A typical English nobleman as far as Angie was concerned.
On her, the features weren’t so appealing. At least not for a woman. But over time she had come to appreciate her unusual appearance as it had allowed her to fill in on their farm, as her father and brother liked to call it. It had freed them to gamble away what money the farm had been able to make.
Filling in. It was what she had decided to do when Andrew’s last escapade had gotten him killed the night before he was set to save them all from ruination. In true “Andrew Devlin” fashion, he had lied through his teeth about the duties he was to be assigned to. A cushy post behind the lines as an aid to a general.
Desperate, Angie had done what she had always done, she stepped in for her brother. She had donned his uniform and reported for duty as Andrew Devlin. Fortunately, the commission had been real. Unfortunately, the cushy post was not. Angie had arrived and found herself assigned to one of England’s most decorated fighting units and thrust into battle on her first day there. And there she had been for the last three years. Fighting and watching men dying in horrible ways. Men she had come to rely on and count as friends and comrades in arms.
The Dream was vanquished to the recesses of her mind once more as she struggled into her coat and lumbered outside to join her men. Or Lieutenant Andrew Devlin’s men. The rumor was that the fighting was almost over. There was talk that this would be the final battle in the war with the insane Frenchman.
Angie prayed it would be so. For then she would no longer need her dream man to come and take her away from all this. She would have survived on her own. Just as she had always been forced to do. She could return to England a conquering hero, a decorated war hero, a newly minted Earl (that one bothered her as she would have to continue pretending to be a man, something she didn’t want to do) and in possession of enough money to keep her mother and sister safe from the drunks and gamblers of their world.
Just one more battle. One more fight. One more charge and she would be free to be herself again.