My offering is from Moonlight Mistress, out December 2009 from Harlequin Spice.

Today’s excerpt is all about the setting. It’s the beginning of World War One, and Lucilla has joined a new hospital as a nurse. Ths hospital is being housed in a building that used to be a casino.

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The first days were all hard work, such hard work that Lucilla fell into her bed each night already nearly asleep from exhaustion. Bedsteads had arrived, mattresses had accidentally gone to Rouen and had to be retrieved by lorry. Twenty roulette wheels had to be carried up to the attics and stacked atop card tables covered in green baize. Tanks of nitrous oxide were procured, but some of the tanks of oxygen needed to mix with it had leaked and arrived empty, and had to be replaced. Only boys and men over fifty years of age were available to work as orderlies, so Lucilla and even some of the doctors pitched in to carry immense piles of bedding and cases of bandages up the casino’s grand staircases and into the wards. The official inspectors arrived, and declared one of the rooms they’d chosen for surgeries to be unacceptable, so another had to be prepared, all its carpeting ripped out and every surface scrubbed and painted.

At last, however, Lucilla gazed around a makeshift ward in satisfaction. The variously colored brocaded coverlets and lap rugs, all donations, made the room look cheerful. She’d successfully directed her cadre of six French volunteers in making the beds and laying out the requisite kit in the lockers beside: pajamas, flannel, towel and soap, and a bag to hold the patient’s uniform once it had been labeled and laundered out in the paved courtyard. She doubted this perfection would last beyond the first influx of wounded, but she let her volunteers enjoy their success while they could, and for a break requested they stock the entertainment cabinet at the far end of the ward. Lucilla set the mademoiselles free to roam the casino’s every room and closet to obtain sufficient decks of cards and cups of dice, secretly gleeful that such a male bastion was now the domain of women.

She looked out the glass doors at a crew of local workers struggling with electrical wiring, for the temporary buildings that would house the X-Ray department and laboratories. The white-haired man who directed them looked ready to strangle his helpers. Several more aged Frenchmen, aided by a crew of youngsters, were building paths out of boards, so trolleys could be wheeled directly from the hospital. One of those small buildings would be Lucilla’s own kingdom, where she would perform double duty compounding disinfectant and irrigation solutions. The extra work would be worth it for the attendant privacy.

Matron swept through the elaborately carved doorway, studying the watch she wore clipped to her uniform cape. “Daglish, I’m afraid I’ll have to move you over to the east wing. It’s not quite ready, and I’ve heard we might be receiving casualties sooner than we’d expected.”

So it begins, Lucilla thought. “Yes, Matron. Someone will look after the mademoiselles?”

“I’ll send Sister Inkson.”

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c. Victoria Janssen 2009

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