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Breaking Bad News

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Before he became one of Lord Wellington's exploring officers, Grant had written more letters of condolence on the Army's behalf than he cared to count. Letters to fathers who had not looked to outlive their sons; letters to wives, now widows, reminding him more than ever that a soldier had no business marrying. To break the news of a death was a familiar task, though Grant had never quite grown used to it.

To tell a woman that her husband had vanished into a mirror, gone who knows where, was quite another thing. To tell her so, knowing that it was his fault, at least in part, was as acutely uncomfortable an experience as Grant could well remember. To look at Arabella Strange and recall the desires he had struggled to quell during that game of billiards at the Bedford was more than he knew how to bear.

When Merlin finally reappeared, bursting with self-satisfaction and babbling about the King's Roads, Grant could have struck him from sheer vexation. Bad enough that he had wanted to bend Strange over the billiard table and have his way with him; bad enough that he would think of nothing else but that for many nights to come. But to find himself almost on the point of kissing Strange, heedless of his wife's presence - by God, this would not do. He must shun the man's company henceforth, or he would be lost forever.

Strange and his wife were quarrelling now. Grant averted his gaze and wished he were deaf. He could not blame Mrs Strange for her anger; it was too close to his own. Though he desired to quit this painful scene, there was nothing for it but to stand fast. He and De Lancey would make their escape soon enough, and this accursed evening would be over.