Moonlight Mistress is out NOW from Harlequin Spice. In this scene, Hailey is carrying a message to Meyer and Daglish, who are on leave in Paris. Note there’s been a change to this excerpt to protect a plot detail.
The road to Paris was in awful shape. Hailey clung desperately to the zouave piloting the motorbike and tried to ignore the fragments of cold mud whipping his cheek and splatting on his goggles. Periodically, the rear wheel would skid in a puddle and the bike would be knocked askew, sometimes careening far enough to one side that the zouave’s boot would scrape through mud; he would shout in French, right the machine with a disconcerting jerk, and off they would speed again, weaving in and out of various ambulances, lorries, and the occasional horse-drawn wagon. Aside from trains, Hailey had never traveled so fast in his life, especially not balanced half on a seat and half on a saddlebag.
Traffic grew heavier as they approached Paris, necessitating that the zouave slow down. Hailey fumbled the envelope from his jacket pocket with gloved hands and checked the hotel’s address once again. Inside was a scribbled note from Captain Ashby, dated a mere two days before, with details of their irregular mission for the French. It definitely beat being back with the battalion, laying a railway in the rain.
The zouave left him at the Hotel Lutetia with a cheery salute and more incomprehensible attempts at English, then rattled off, his scarlet trousers flapping in the wind. Hailey found his handkerchief and wiped most of the mud off his face before swathing it in his muffler, hunching his shoulders against the cold, and trudging across the hotel’s cobblestoned courtyard.
Inside wasn’t much warmer than outside. The concierge was also wrapped in a muffler, and the end of his nose looked distinctly red. He at least spoke some English. Hailey was able to make herself understood once he unbuttoned his coat to display his uniform, and pointed out the names he wanted in the register.
Meyer came down to meet him, closely followed by Daglish. They looked clean and warm and well-fed, and he was startled by a stab of jealousy. They in turn looked startled to see him. Hailey dug out the letter, bundled in with the other papers he’d brought. “Got some important news.”
Meyer and Daglish exchanged a glance. Meyer said, “You look chilled to the bone. Come on up to our room.”
Once climbing the staircase, it became evident to Hailey that the two officers were clean and he was not. It wasn’t the mud so much as the fact that he hadn’t had so much as a wash since he’d left Sister Daglish, and before that, it had been weeks since he’d had a real bath. He’d been hoping for one on leave, when he could get some privacy; maybe there’d be a chance of one before they had to leave Paris. Though there might not be time. He’d likely need to scrape the dirt off himself with a knife. Twice.
The door of their small room had barely closed behind them when Meyer asked, “What is it?”
Hailey couldn’t stop himself from smiling. “Ashby’s alive!”
He wasn’t prepared for Meyer’s knees to go.
Daglish grabbed Meyer before he could hit the floor and eased him onto the bed, where he sat staring at Hailey as if he were about to weep, but grinning, too. Daglish looked at the neatly printed list Hailey held and said, puzzled, “Is that my sister’s handwriting?”
c. Victoria Janssen 2009
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