Moonlight Mistress is out December 2009 from Harlequin Spice. This scene depicts the first combat of World War One, as experienced by one of the secondary characters, Lieutenant Gabriel Meyer, who until this moment directed the regimental band.
Gabriel slid from tree to tree until he reached the low wall bordering the cemetery. He stepped over, then wriggled to the road on his belly. The terrain dropped towards the canal just in front of him, and he could see. Smoke scummed the air. He smelled acrid burnt powder. Gray-uniformed men crowded the width of the bridge, firing as they advanced, struggling to climb past fallen comrades who blocked their way to the bank. He tried to count, to estimate their numbers, but kept losing track at the middle of the bridge. He couldn’t see how far the crowd of Germans stretched on the other bank. Two companies? Three? A cluster of willows on the opposite bank blocked his view. Where were Ashby and Daglish? Were they safe? He sighed in relief when he spotted Daglish’s stocky torso on the right flank. He looked to be under adequate cover, training a pair of binoculars at the opposite bank.
The men were doing well. He estimated twelve to fifteen rounds a minute, at the least, and considerably more accurate with their aim than their German opponents, even given that the Germans were exposed and moving. He crushed the thought that he, too, might have to shoot soon. He’d never killed a man. He’d never intended to. He only hoped he could manage it if the need arose.
As Gabriel watched, Cawley and Lyton each fired a final round from their advance placement, then abandoned the wagon’s inadequate cover and retreated for the barricades. Cawley went down, his body jerking with the impact of two, then three bullets.
Gabriel closed his eyes for a moment, but the picture was the same when he opened them, Cawley sprawled amid the lush grass and wildflowers like a painting, bright and unreal. He didn’t move again. Lyton didn’t see, and a moment later was dragged behind a heap of sofas and thrust into a trench.
…Someone touched his elbow, and he rolled, pistol ready. Ashby halted his movement with a hand on his wrist, and Gabriel let his breath free in a rush. Trust Ashby to move like a ghost. Ashby said, loudly enough to be heard over the rifles, “You’re to hold this position.”
Ashby’s usually insouciant expression had tightened, his mouth drawn into a thin line, his face caked with dust and sweat beneath the brim of his cap. A red line streaked across his neck, the blood already crusting. He’d come within inches of being killed already. His throat too tight for words, Gabriel could only nod.
Ashby grinned at him and gripped the back of his neck for a moment, a comforting squeeze that conveyed fresh energy. Then he scrambled down the road. Gabriel worked his way back to the cemetery wall and relayed their orders, then returned to his vantage point. A couple of Germans had fought free of the chaos at the foot of the bridge and were advancing at a run, bayonets leveled. Gabriel couldn’t hear individual shots amid the percussive storm of them, but the two interlopers jerked to a halt and landed short of Cawley’s body. Southey and Mason, he realized, peering up at the spire. Sure enough, he could just see the tip of a rifle protruding from the narrow arras.
c. Victoria Janssen 2009