WHAT A LADY MOST DESIRES - Lecia Cornwall
England - 1815
On the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, Lady Delphine St. James attends the Duchess of Richmond's ball. Coming down the staircase, Delphine sees Lord Ives, who was the first and only man to ask her opinion on anything. She fell in love with him when he asked her opinion on a play, but Stephen later showed he did not hold her in much esteem. Still, since men of her class did not expect their wives to have opinions, or thoughts, or purpose other than to entertain and produce heirs, her love endures. Tonight, on her way to approach Stephen, her brother's friend Captain Lord Rothdale intercepts her. He is drunk, and his boorish manner shocks Delphine. Stephen intervenes, claiming it is their dance. When orders come for the officers to return to their units, Delphine impulsively kisses Stephen and gives him a pink daisy from her hair as a good luck token. With her sister Eleanor, whose husband is Colonel Lord Fairlie, and Meg Temberlay, wife of Major Lord Nicholas Temberlay, she returns to their villa, preparing to evacuate quickly if the battle goes bad. The three ladies wind bandages and wait. After the battle, they will help care for the wounded.
Lady Delphine's charm and intelligence attracted Major Lord Stephen Ives until he saw she was an accomplished flirt, out to capture the attention of an entire room, in whatever room she happens to be. His previous posting as a diplomat has taught him how to judge people. He ponders his reaction to her kiss, but puts her from his mind as the impending battle consumes his attention. After the battle, he hears Delphine's voice, encouraging him. He wakes to discover he was shot three times, has broken ribs and an arm, and is blind. More problems came later. Colonel Lord Fairlie tells him, once he recovers, if he recovers, he faces a court martial for acts of cowardice and theft from his fellow officers.
It is hard to describe all the wonderful aspects of this story. Certainly, both Delphine and Stephen return from Waterloo changed by their experiences. Delphine as a single woman cannot even mention she helped nurse the wounded, or she will create a scandal. Their respective situations depict the unfair social mores and problems of the era, while one character schemes to discredit Stephen. Delphine's family is constantly pushing her to find a suitable husband, but her heart is set on her unrequited love, Stephen, and Stephen is unable do anything until his court martial, when he will learn his fate. The situations, the characters, the emotions evoked, and the writing create a story deserving a Perfect 10.