Moonlight Mistress is from Harlequin Spice. In this scene, three soldiers are causing a distraction at one site while a more secret operation happens at another. Note there’s been a change to this excerpt to protect a plot detail.

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It would have been better to have grenades thrown from all directions, but it hadn’t been practical with only the three of them. Meyer had insisted that one of them be armed with a more accurate and long-range weapon, much as the infantry were protected by artillery. Of them all, he was the best shot with a rifle, though he wasn’t as good as Southey or anywhere near as good as Mason, back at the regiment. Hailey reminded himself that accuracy like Mason’s or even Southey’s wasn’t required here. All Meyer had to do was plug someone until he couldn’t attack any more. Even the worst shot in the regiment could usually manage that.

Meyer interrupted his thoughts. “Be careful. Both of you.”

Daglish said, “I for one don’t intend to be killed. Hailey, you ready?”

“Yes,” he said.

After that it was the usual sort of running and dodging and flinging oneself into cover, except the sniper gear was uncomfortable and one had to do everything more carefully because of the grenades; and normally, Hailey wouldn’t be given grenades, even jam tins, because his job was to carry messages. In front of Meyer, he’d pretended he didn’t mind, but in truth the grenades made his nervous enough that his palms were sweating inside his gloves.

Daglish had taken platoons out on raids, so he knew what he was about. When they reached the stand of trees that was their midpoint, he settled in among the leaf litter and silently began to lay out his grenades in an arc around his feet. Hailey did the same, then slipped the lit pipe from its loop on his webbing. He could still see a red-orange glow within the pipe’s bowl. He stirred up the embers just a bit with a stick and murmured, “Ready.”

Daglish rose slowly, stretching his arm and rotating it to make sure his sleeves–uniform beneath, sniper tunic above–wouldn’t catch and land a grenade on top of them. He scooped up a tin in each gloved hand and held them out to Hailey, who held the pipe bowl to the fuses until they caught. Together, they counted, then Daglish threw, strong clean arcs that nearly made Hailey whistle in admiration.

Daglish had easily cleared the tall fence. Hailey counted another second, then two explosions ripped the air, one after the other. Sound rushed in, and he realized he hadn’t been breathing, but he was already lighting the next grenade, holding the fuse steady in the bowl of the pipe until sparks crackled, slowly eating their way up the fuse, towards the tight-packed gun cotton. The explosion would fling free the nails and other bits of metal rubbish they’d packed into the tin. The sharp odor of gunpowder singed his nostrils, or was it smoke from the laboratory compound? He held the grenade up to Daglish without looking at him, shook burning ash off his leather glove, then began to light the next fuse.

Daglish had thrown perhaps half the grenades before Hailey heard the gate rattle open and rifle shots popping. “Run?” he asked. He risked a glance; three guards had ventured out, staying close to the fence.

“Two more,” Daglish said, heaving the grenade he held. It landed on a roof, and the resulting explosion resulted in a tower of flame as dry wood caught fire. He hissed with satisfaction as the flame leapt to another roof, which caught fire with a roar.

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c. Victoria Janssen 2009

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