Captain Gabriel Deane first met beautiful Frenchwoman Emmaline Mableau on the streets of Badajoz, Spain, saving her and her young son from harm during the riots that overtook the city. Gabriel manages to get Emmaline and her son, Claude, to safety, and resumes his activities with his regiment, assuming that his path will never again cross that of the woman he finds so fascinating.
Three years later a chance encounter in Brussels finds Gabriel still very much attracted to Emmaline, who returns his affection but worries about her son, who harbors a deep hatred for the British after the death of his father, a member of the French army. Gabriel and Emmaline begin seeing each other, but it’s not long before they realize that their relationship is not meant to be: Gabriel’s career in the army and Emmaline’s love for her son will make a future together impossible.
Two more years pass, and Napolean has fallen at Waterloo. Gabriel is awaiting a new commission when Emmaline tracks him down in England to ask him for a huge favor, a favor that she is willing to pay dearly for Gabriel to complete. Emmaline’s son, Claude, has embarked on a dangerous mission of revenge and retribution, and Emmaline fears for her son’s safety. Gabriel begrudgingly agrees to help Emmaline, knowing that it will be painful to spend so much time with the woman he has never been able to forget.
A game of cat and mouse ensues, with Gabriel and Emmaline chasing Claude throughout England, as Claude in turn pursues the man who ordered the death of Claude’s father years ago in Badajoz. Gabriel and Emmaline are tested again and again, as their love for each other battles Emmaline’s instinctive need to save her son, despite the toll it will take on her relationship with Gabriel. As the story unfolds, it’s clear that Gabriel loves Emmaline, perhaps more than she loves him in return, but that love alone may not be enough for them to salvage any kind of relationship if and when Claude is found.
Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy is the third and final installment in Diane Gaston’s Three Soldiers series, and while it certainly stands alone as an independent novel, it was interesting to see characters from the first two stories appear in this installment. Gaston has made a point to examine the impacts of war on everyone involved, not just the soldiers themselves, and she has succeeded. Emmaline, Gabriel and Claude are caught up in a painful triangle that knows no simple solution, and that pain is palpable throughout the story.
Complex and compelling, Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy is a haunting reminder that the effects of war extend far from the battlefield, no different today than hundreds of years ago.