Act of Valour

Act of Valour

by Emma Drummond

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The Ashleighs of Knightshill, a talented British family who are proud of their ancestry, have their world turned upside down in the summer of 1914, when the black sheep of the family returns after 12 years. Act of Valour is the concluding volume in Emma Drummond's Knightshill trilogy.

"An enormously satisfying family chronicle spiced with plenty of romance, passion, and action." - Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466862791
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/28/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 560
File size: 654 KB

About the Author

Emma Drummond was born in a military hospital into a large army family. She spent her early childhood in Hong Kong, where her father was stationed, and has continued to travel extensively. Before her marriage to a senior civil servant, she served as an officer in the W.R.A.C. She has written several novels, including A Question of Honour, A Distant Hero, and Act of Valour, comprising the Knightshill trilogy. She lives on the edge of the New Forest in England.

Emma Drummond was born in a military hospital into a large army family. She spent her early childhood in Hong Kong, where her father was stationed, and has continued to travel extensively. Before her marriage to a senior civil servant, she served as an officer in the W.R.A.C. She has written several novels, including A Question of Honour, A Distant Hero, and Act of Valour, comprising the Knightshill trilogy. She lives on the edge of the New Forest in England.

Read an Excerpt

Act Of Valour

Volume III of the Knightshill Saga

By Emma Drummond

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1996 Emma Drummond
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6279-1


By the time he was twelve years old, Tim Daulton knew he was going to lead a charmed life. He passed examinations without too much effort, won sporting laurels with the ease of a born athlete, and made friends wherever he went. At fourteen, girls began swarming around him like bees at a honeypot and he discovered one of the pleasures of life was his for the taking. When he reached the age to embark on the military career he had wanted from childhood, there was just one desire left to fulfil. This was taken care of by the family solicitor and so, in that year of 1914, it was Second-Lieutenant Timothy Edward Verity Ashleigh who took his place with the West Wiltshire Regiment, eager to emulate his distinguished ancestors.

However, on a morning in late June when it was already hot, military distinction was not uppermost in his mind. A girl wearing a diaphanous négiligé had woken him offering tea on a tray, and he was wondering who she was. Blonde hair, wide, teasing blue eyes, peaches and cream skin? Well, they all had those ... unless they were the brunettes with dark, fiery glances and intense natures. Molly? Jeanne? Flora? His gaze travelled downwards from her face. Well, they all had those, too. No clues there to her identity ... but they invited him more than the prospect of tea. As he twisted free of the sheet and grabbed her he told himself her name was unimportant, anyway. She would get a new hat or a little pearl bracelet out of the encounter, and they would both have enjoyed it.

When the girl brought in fresh tea an hour later and told him in pouting manner that he was a lazybones, Tim then remembered he had a train to catch. Jumping from the bed, he snatched the cup from its saucer as he headed for her tiny bathroom. If he missed this fast train there was no other until tomorrow. Only by reaching Yeovil and taking a charabanc mainly used by farmers, then two different horse-drawn vehicles, could he then get home tonight and avoid family censure.

Returning to the girl, whose pout had deepened, he held out the cup to be refilled, then began pulling on his clothes that lay scattered around a room decorated with far too many pink, fluffy things.

'You're not going, Bobby!' she complained.

'Have to. Got a train to catch,' "Bobby" replied.

Tim never gave his real name on these sexual jaunts. He could not risk one of his partners turning up at his barracks, or at Knightshill, to claim that she had been 'wronged'. Thrusting his legs into evening trousers, Tim attempted to work out how long it would take him to reach his rooms, wash, shave and change his clothes, then take a cab to the station. It would be cutting it fine, but he would sooner miss that train and arrive late than walk into Knightshill looking like the contents of a horse's nosebag. One glance in the mirror confirmed that description. Bloodshot eyes, thick blond stubble, tangled hair, swollen mouth and a bruise just below his right ear where little whoevershewas had nibbled in her excitement. Good God, if the Elders of Knightshill saw him in this condition they would urge him to change his name back to Daulton.

On reaching barracks Tim narrowly missed an encounter with his CO, Colonel Manners, who was a bachelor married to the army. Needless to say he came down hard on a promiscuous subaltern who enjoyed life to the full. A man did not have to be a monk to be a good soldier, and Manners would never have reason to fault Tim Ashleigh's military performance, he vowed.

Shouting to his batman to fetch hot water and clean clothes, Tim burst into the quarters he shared with John Marshall.

'I thought you had a train to catch,' John murmured, reading a letter in his own room where the door stood open.

'I have.' Tim made for the bathroom. 'Could you lend me a fiver?'


Stripping off his outer clothes and dropping them on the floor, Tim called out, 'It's just until I get back from leave.'


'I haven't enough on me for the train fare.'

'Then you'll have to walk to Wiltshire.'

Cleaning his teeth vigorously, Tim went to the doorway. 'I'd do the same for you.'

John continued reading. 'You wouldn't. You never have any spare money.'

Through the foam in his mouth Tim protested. 'That's rot! I'm as well heeled as you. It's been a particularly heavy month, that's all.'

His friend glanced across at him then, dark eyes full of resignation. 'You're such a high flyer, that's your trouble. Find a few waitresses or chambermaids who'll give it to you for no more than a hair ribbon or a frilly garter. The girls you choose want diamonds on them.'

Their batman arrived with a can of hot water, clean underwear and a starched white shirt. Tim continued his pleading. 'Come on, old chap. Just a fiver until next week. The Elders will give me hell if I don't get there on time. You wouldn't want that, would you?'

John took his notecase from his pocket. 'If I thought it would chasten you, yes.' As he put a five-pound note on his small table, he added without much conviction, 'This is the last time.'

Tim vanished into the bathroom to make himself presentable enough to face his family within the shortest possible time. He had been right in saying he was as wealthy as his friend, who was the son of a distinguished banker. It was simply that Tim found so much more than John to spend it on. Life was there to be lived and he had expensive tastes. He had been brought up to enjoy the best and saw no reason to change. He always repaid John or any other of his friends who helped him out when funds were low, and was meticulous over his Mess bill. Tradesmen seemed happy enough to wait, which was just as well because he never had sufficient left at the end of each month to settle the accounts of his tailor, bootmaker and wine merchant.

Dropping his razor in the bowl of soapy water, he peered at himself in the mirror. He could not do much about the bloodshot eyes, swollen lips and bruises, but he looked more respectable now. 'Ah, you handsome devil,' he told his reflection with a grin, 'only the high flyers are good enough for you.'

He caught the train by sprinting along the platform and jumping aboard the last carriage. Having had no breakfast, he made his way to the restaurant car, then found he could eat no more than coffee and toast. There had been a round of parties this week. A great deal to drink and a different girl each time. Even at twenty-five a man needed a breather to recoup his energy. What he should do was sleep before encountering Ashleighs en masse. He found an empty first-class carriage, stretched out, pulled his hat over his eyes and expected to go out like a light. To his annoyance a cavalcade of thoughts kept him awake.

He had been summoned home by his Uncle Vere, who was the head of the family and one of those Tim called the Elders, the others being Aunt Lottie and his own mother. These were the senior generation of Ashleighs who upheld tradition and family values. There was another Elder, of course – the reason for the summons to Knightshill – but he was something of an unknown quantity. Tim had last seen Val Ashleigh more than fifteen years ago, when the latter had been a sixth former at Chartfield. Separated in age by only ten years, Tim had then regarded his uncle more as an older brother, someone he greatly admired and envied, because Val had the Ashleigh name and was destined for a career in the West Wilts. Both these things had then been out of reach for the son of a churchman named Daulton.

Tim was fond of his family and proud to be a member of it, but he had always deeply resented being the child of a female Ashleigh who could not pass her name to him. The Reverend Philip Daulton had been a good father until he suddenly discovered a burning compulsion to bring heathens to Christ. The laughing, gentle papa had then become a tyrant. Overbearing to the point of violence, he had terrified little Kate, bred in Tim defiant hatred, and driven his wife into the arms of another man.

On the morning before they were all to have sailed to an isolated mission in Africa, their mother had driven Tim and his young sister in the trap from Knightshill on the pretext of collecting new shoes, then boarded a train for Southampton to join her lover, Laurence Nicolardi, who had booked cabins on a steamer leaving that evening. They had moved from country to country to avoid being traced, until Philip Daulton's murder at the hands of those he had wished to 'save' enabled the lovers to marry.

Kate had not taken to the peripatetic life and, after a severe attack of fever which had left her unable to speak, Charlotte Ashleigh had agreed to rear the child at Knightshill while the Nicolardis sailed for South America where Laurence would take up a diplomatic post. Tim had gone with his mother and step-father, eager for adventure. He was a great adaptor to circumstance when it gave him all he desired, and he had thrived in the comfort, distinction and variety of embassy life. That period in South America had been instrumental in turning a bright ten year old into a multi-lingual youth at ease in any company and free to follow any star.

Tim liked and respected the man who had given him all his true father would have denied him. He also loved his mother, Margaret, who had become an accomplished hostess known for her impeccable taste and style. When first Jonathan, then Richard, had joined the family, Tim had accepted his half-brothers willingly. They had made little difference to his life at the start. Then he had, one summer, gone home for the school holiday to find everything changed. Jon and Dick appeared to have supplanted him in his mother's affections. She no longer kissed him goodnight or ruffled his hair and called him her splendid boy. What was more, Laurence began shaking his hand in formal fashion. This sign of maturity had taken Tim by surprise. He found it difficult to adjust, especially when his young brothers were still getting the loving attention he missed. Feeling very much a cuckoo in the nest, he had been glad to sail for England and Oxford.

During his wild student days, Tim had made a momentous decision. If he had to be the only member of his family group whose name was not Nicolardi, he would be an Ashleigh rather than a Daulton. When his parents discovered what he had done they had been amused rather than shocked, but the legal deed had brought penalties. Ashleighs were expected to walk the straight and narrow, and must distinguish themselves to a greater extent than any other officer in the regiment. In that respect Tim knew he would not fail. He had won all the top honours at Sandhurst, looked every inch the budding hero in uniform, and was willing to lay down his life for king and country. Good thing the Elders knew nothing of his boudoir activities and list of debts, however. They certainly would not approve of those.

Shifting restlessly on the train seats Tim craned his neck to look from the window for evidence of where he was, then lay back covering his face again with his hat. Nowhere near Yeovil yet! Sleep remained elusive as he reflected once more on the reason for his journey. He had envied Val all those years ago, yet he was the one who presently had all his youthful uncle had then seemed set to gain, whilst Val ...? There was a mystery surrounding the man who was returning to Knightshill today.

He reviewed the facts he knew. When his mother had fled with her children, Val had been at odds with his grandfather over his determination to join the cavalry instead of the family regiment. The next thing Tim had heard was that Val was in a cavalry regiment but as a trooper masquerading under his middle names, Martin Havelock. As a boy he had deduced that Great-grandfather was to blame, but the adult Tim sensed a scandal behind it all. Even so, Val appeared to have distinguished himself during the war against the Boers in South Africa, being decorated for bravery and commissioned in the field. Kate had a photograph of the uncle she had idolized as a child, looking proud and handsome in Lancer officer's uniform, so that must be true, if nothing else. Tim knew little more save that Val had left the army and gone to work in Australia, where he had been for the past twelve years. Why would a successful military officer do that? The Elders were close-lipped on the subject, which strengthened the theory of a scandal.

Uncle Vere's telegram had revealed only that he expected everyone to be at Knightshill for Val's arrival. Of course they would all obey, and eat the fatted calf prepared for the returning prodigal ... but Tim intended finally to get to the bottom of the affair. After all, why should he be expected to give up his leave and forego several social engagements for the sake of an Ashleigh who had failed to live up to his obligations?

On that disgruntled thought he must have fallen asleep because he came to his senses with a jerk to the sound of banging doors. One glance from the window showed Tim the small station of Dunstan St Mary and Parsons waiting for him with the pony and trap. Shooting to his feet, Tim pushed open the carriage door as the train began to leave the station. Jumping to the platform, he realized that a young woman standing and gazing at the surrounding hills was about to be struck by the door left swinging on its hinges. He lunged forward to snatch her from danger in the nick of time, then smiled down into her startled face as he explained how some person's carelessness could have caused her serious injury. She was decidedly pretty and looked at him as if he were the answer to all her prayers.

'I'm so thankful I spotted the hazard,' he added, taking her travelling bag with one hand and her left arm with the other. 'Is someone meeting you? I can't leave you here all alone. Railway stations can present all kinds of problems to unescorted ladies.'

'Like unescorted men, for instance?' she asked in innocent tones which did not hide her caustic amusement. Yet she made no attempt to draw away from his hand beneath her elbow.

Tim's interest flared. Not the ingenuous young creature he had thought her to be. 'You're very unkind,' he protested. 'I've just saved your life.'

Her brown eyes were full of laughter. 'I'm truly grateful but, you see, as you and I were the only people to leave the train at this station, it must have been you who left the door swinging so dangerously.'

Tim was further intrigued. 'I could have left you to your fate,' he pointed out, guiding her through the gate in the direction of Parsons and the trap. There was no one else in sight so he had every intention of taking her to her destination before someone turned up to do so.

'And had the deed on your conscience for the rest of your days? You're much too gallant for that, Mr Ashleigh.'

Tim stopped and stared at his companion. 'We've met before?'

She shook her head. 'Mr Parsons is waiting for you, and I've occasionally seen you in the village. Everyone in the district knows the family from Knightshill.' She held out her hand for her bag. 'I hope you enjoy your leave ... and thank you once again for your prompt action just now.'

Tim kept hold of her luggage. 'You must allow me to make amends for my carelessness by giving you a ride in the trap to your destination.'

'No, no. There's really no need.' She made to take her property, but Tim resolutely held it out of her reach.

'Has someone promised to meet you?'

'No, but ...'

'Then I insist on escorting you.' He took her arm again. 'I'm a very determined man. It's a family trait.'

'So I've heard,' she murmured, as he led her to the trap and handed her bag to the groom watching with interest.

'Parsons, we shall take this young lady to her destination before going home.'

'Whatever you say, sir,' said Parsons with a knowing grin.

Tim helped his passenger into the trap and was treated to a glimpse of lace generously trimming her silk petticoat. Beneath her sensible exterior she was delightfully feminine. He leapt up to sit beside her with interest deepening further. During the drive he would pursue this fortunate encounter as far as he was able. He hoped their destination lay on the far side of the village. Not only would that give him enough time to win her over, he could ride there very swiftly down the bridle-path behind Knightshill. This spell of leave might prove quite enjoyable after all.

He gave her his most irresistable smile. 'Where to?'

She smiled back. 'The Stag's Head, if you please.'

Interest, intrigue, instantly developed into a sensation he could not name as he gazed down at a face covered in feigned innocence. The Stag's Head Inn lay just fifty yards away across the cobbled square. Now he understood Parsons' amusement.

The girl relented, saying gently, 'You were so determined you allowed me no chance to finish what I was saying.' As he continued to study her, for once lost for words, she stood up and made to pass him. 'I'll leave you to go on up to Knightshill, Mr Ashleigh.'


Excerpted from Act Of Valour by Emma Drummond. Copyright © 1996 Emma Drummond. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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