Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saturday Series Spotlight: Echoes by Anne Barwell

A series set in occupied Europe during WW2.  Doktor Kristopher Lehrer is a scientist working on a top secret project in Germany. When his illusions are shattered and he discovers what the Nazis plan to do with his work, it isn’t long before he is on the run with both the Gestapo and the Allies after the plans he carries.

Echoes follows Kristopher and Michel (the undercover Resistance agent sent to watch him), and the Allied team as they attempt to stay one step ahead of their enemies and reach safety.

Shadowboxing #1
Berlin, 1943. An encounter with an old friend leaves German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer with doubts about his work. But when he confronts his superior, everything goes horribly wrong. Suddenly Kristopher and Michel, a member of the Resistance, are on the run, hunted for treason and a murder they did not commit. If they’re caught, Kristopher’s knowledge could be used to build a terrible weapon that could win the war.

When Michel contacts the Allies, hoping they can work together, it isn’t long before the so-called “simple” mission becomes anything but. With both men realizing they can no longer ignore their growing feelings for each other, Kristopher and Michel must fight—not just for a chance of a future together, but for their very survival.

I really enjoyed the complexities of the characters in this story.  Kristopher has been so ensconced in his work that he didn't really stop to see what was going on around him or what his work's end product would be used for.  Once the truth starts to seep into his conscience, Kit does what he must.  Watching him trying to decide who is who and who he can trust is well written and totally captured my attention.


Winter Duet #2
Germany 1944

With Kristopher finally fit enough to travel, he and Michel leave the security of their safe house and continue their journey across Germany toward Switzerland. Caught in a series of Allied bombings, they stop to help civilians and narrowly escape capture by German forces.

While investigating a downed aircraft in the Black Forest, the two men discover an injured RAF pilot. After they are separated, Kristopher and the pilot are discovered by a German officer who claims he is not who he appears to be. Determined to find Michel again, Kristopher has to trust the stranger and hope he is not connected to those searching for him and the information he carries. Meanwhile Michel is intercepted by one of the Allied soldiers he met in Berlin. His help is needed to save one of their own.

Time quickly runs out. Loyalties are tested and betrayed as the Gestapo closes in. Michel can only hope that they reach safety before information is revealed that could compromise not only his and Kristopher’s lives, but those of the remaining members of their team—if it is not already too late.

When I finished Shadowboxing and realized that the story was really just beginning, I quickly sought out book 2 and devoured it as fast as I did book 1.  In Winter Duet, we learn a few new things about the characters we met in Shadowboxing, realizing that every one has multiple layers to their tale.  Kit and Michel once again had me on the edge of my seat.   Even though I've been a bit of a history buff from an early age, German terminology wasn't something I was familiar with so some of the German words and phrases had me a bit perplexed but after some quick web searches, it was all straight in my head and once again I was fully enveloped in the boys tale of evading the Gestapo.  Now I am eagerly awaiting book 3.

Comes a Horseman #3 -- Release to be announced

Shadowboxing #1
Chapter One
DAVID REUBEN hadn’t changed. His unruly, too-long dark hair still met the top of metal-rimmed glasses, and his shirt was creased as if it had never had the privilege of being introduced to an iron. His trousers were neatly pressed. His appearance had always reflected the contradictions of his personality, but his eyes were now tinged with a sense of sadness and worry that was out of character. Kristopher sighed loudly. He reached over the table to offer comfort, acting on instinct rather than common sense, withdrawing his hand quickly when he realized what he’d done.

They’d known each other a long time, becoming close friends at university although they’d studied in different fields. Kristopher was passionate about physics, intrigued by how the specifics of the universe worked and why, while David, acting on a genuine desire to help those less fortunate than himself, had decided to become a doctor. After graduation they’d drifted apart, but Kristopher doubted David was aware of the real reason why.

There was so much about their friendship that Kristopher regretted, especially the way in which he’d eroded the closeness they’d once shared to what was left now. Part of him didn’t want to remember the painful memories and the guilt of what he’d done, but he’d convinced himself at the time that it was what was needed. David was a good-looking man, and while the physical desire Kristopher felt for him was not as strong as it once was, enough of it remained to remind him why he’d convinced himself that their friendship could not be allowed to develop further. Seeing David again, however, Kristopher wasn’t so sure that he’d made the right choice. Perhaps he should have been honest with himself, and with David, instead of taking the coward’s way out and choosing not to face up to the reality that he was falling for his closest friend. But now, seven years later, it was too late. The spark that had once brought them together was gone; Kristopher had deliberately killed it.

David sipped his coffee, not having said anything since their initial greeting. He fingered the yellow star sewn on his sweater over and over. Kristopher wound his fingers tightly around his own cup, trying to ignore his own restlessness and curiosity, knowing that David would speak when he was good and ready. It was David who had requested this meeting, which in itself was unusual. They tended not to meet in person, although they still kept in contact through Kristopher’s sister, Clara, and the occasional letter.

The door of the Kaffeehaus opened; Kristopher glanced over his shoulder to see a tall man in a dark suit enter and walk over to sit at a table on the other side of the room. David lowered his cup onto the table with shaking hands, his eyes darting toward the man, then back to Kristopher.

Kristopher wanted to ask David whether he was all right, but decided against it, as it was very obvious he wasn’t. Once Kristopher would have had the right to ask anyway, but not now, although the emotions he’d thought he’d worked through were coming once more to the surface with seeing his friend again. Even focusing his attention on the steam rising from his coffee didn’t help; he settled on forcing himself to drink it slowly in measured sips instead.

Eventually David removed his glasses, reaching over to place his hand over Kristopher’s. “Have you any idea what kind of people you are working for?” David spoke quietly, as always, but there was an underlying tone of fear in his voice that Kristopher didn’t remember hearing before. David’s emotions were always controlled; it was something that Kristopher had envied. “Have you any idea of their real agenda?”

Kristopher snatched his hand away, trying to ignore how fast his heart was beating. Why had David come to him? Surely he couldn’t have presumed to use the closeness they’d once had to further whatever agenda he had? “I’m a scientist, David, trying to make the world a better place, just as you are. We are working for the advancement of science and for the good of the Fatherland.” The last sentence came out sounding like the mantra it was. Any doubts that Kristopher had were always dealt with efficiently when he repeated those words. While he knew the potential danger of the device they were working on, the chances of anyone considering utilizing the catastrophic component of it were remote.

“You always were naïve, Lehrer.” David raked a hand through his hair and replaced his glasses, adjusting them when they slipped down his nose. “Wake up and take a look at what’s going on around you before it’s too late.” An edge of desperation and fear sharpened his voice as he lowered it to almost a whisper; it sounded as though he was talking about the end of the world.

“Too late? Too late for what?” His earlier fears of being used vanished at David’s tone. Kristopher’s voice rose in pitch, all attempts of hiding his conflicting emotions lost as he tried to desperately work through his rapidly escalating confusion.

David shook his head, unwilling to say more, his eyes darting nervously around the small Kaffeehaus before his gaze settled on the man who had entered several minutes earlier. “I have to go. I’ve said too much already.”

“Wait!” David was already halfway out the door before the word was out of Kristopher’s mouth. He pushed his chair back, ready to follow his friend, then hesitated, suddenly unsure as to what had just happened.

“I SAW the God of Death today.”

“What?” Kristopher scrutinized his sister, Clara, across the dinner table noticing, too late, the slight smile turning up the corners of her mouth. He studied his soup bowl for a moment. “I wasn’t listening, was I?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head in confirmation. It was a standing joke between them of late. He’d be thinking about the events of his day, and Clara would divulge something farfetched to see if she could win his attention. Some evenings the stories she spun would be completely ridiculous; this one was a little closer to home considering her profession. “Honestly, Kristopher, the world could end and you’d never notice. Were you thinking about your project again?”

Kristopher nodded. Often he thought that Clara knew him better than he knew himself. He usually looked forward to these conversations and the lighthearted banter and teasing that accompanied them, but tonight it failed to capture his attention.

Dinner at the Lehrer residence would be an extremely silent affair if it wasn’t for Clara. He shuddered at the thought of just he and his father sharing their evening meal, each ignoring the other because they were focused on their own thoughts. Formal dinners were one part of his life he’d discontinue in an instant, given the chance. He’d be just as happy sitting in a park somewhere with a packet of sandwiches, rather than playing the dutiful son. Paul Lehrer, however, certainly never worried about the opinions of his children in regard to the running of his household. Each night was a repeat of the same scenario, food served on fine white china on an impeccable white linen tablecloth, a servant hovering in the background ready to top up glasses if required. Kristopher hated it with a vengeance. It was stifling, a reminder that even though he’d gone his own way in life, as Clara had, his father still maintained parental control on some level.

“Kristopher?” Clara’s voice softened when her brother still didn’t reply verbally. “Kit?”

“Sorry, Clara,” he mumbled, forcing a half smile. “What were you saying?” He’d spent the last few days mulling over an equation; the answer was so close he could almost touch it. While he knew that his obsession with work was not healthy, for the moment it was consuming him to the exclusion of all else.

“One day you’ll find a pretty girl to distract you from your equations,” Clara teased, taking a sip of wine. “If you can find one prepared to share you with whatever project you’re working on.”

Instead of laughing as he usually did, Kristopher mentally winced. A part of him had always yearned to find someone else who would listen to his ideas and want to be with him. It wasn’t as though he wanted to live only for his work, but until he met the right person, he didn’t see any reason to change. He’d dated a few times while he was at university, knowing that he should attempt some semblance of a social life, but hadn’t connected with anyone he’d met.

Except for David.

“David Reuben didn’t come into work today.” Clara repeated what she’d said when Kristopher realized that she’d continued speaking and he’d missed it. Her eyes met his. She seemed tired, more so than usual; her voice lacked its usual fire. His sister always managed to sound enthused about everything of which she spoke, the spark in her voice often ensnaring others into assisting her with her current charity case. Clara couldn’t resist someone in need—it was one of the reasons she’d become a doctor—but apparently the long hours she was putting in at the hospital, in addition to the extra volunteer work, were beginning to take their toll.

Watching her carefully, Kristopher noticed the lines around her eyes, and the way in which she brushed an errant lock of dark blonde hair off her face in a gesture of annoyance. Clara wasn’t just tired, she was also very much on edge. He wondered how long she’d felt like this; judging from the pallor of her skin, the stress of work had been building up for some time. Why hadn’t he noticed before now?

“Do you know why?” Kristopher glanced at their father, but he was slowly sipping his soup from his place at the head of the table. Often it seemed that the long hours he spent running the family business were of a higher priority than time spent with his family. Many of Kristopher’s earliest memories consisted of being in the care of his sister and various nannies while his father worked long hours at the bank.

“He’s not the first person to disappear overnight.” Clara ignored the way her father’s eyebrows knitted together, his spoon paused just above his bowl when he looked up from his meal to glare at her. Father never approved of their conversations of late and still worked under the illusion that his show of disapproval should be enough to divert the subject material to something deemed more suitable.

“David wouldn’t disappear without telling anyone. He was very involved in his work and wouldn’t leave without good reason.” A slow, cold feeling crept through Kristopher as memories of their meeting the week before trickled through his mind. David was scared, his words, both spoken and not, more ominous than ever. Surely Clara must be mistaken. Kristopher had heard the rumors about homeless people being given the option of relocation and the chance of a fresh start. But David wasn’t some vagrant….

He was no longer allowed to practice medicine, but that hadn’t stopped him doing what he could to help those in need. After the laws had passed six years ago, Clara had gotten David a job as an orderly so he wouldn’t have to leave the hospital, and called on him for help discreetly with patients who sympathized and would not report either of them.

Kristopher shivered. He reached for his glass and took a gulp of wine.

“Poor Kristopher.” Clara rolled her eyes. “You’re so involved in your work that you haven’t noticed what’s going on around you.” There was no teasing in her voice now. Whatever this was about, it was something very serious. “It’s because he’s Jewish, of course.”

Frowning, Kristopher placed his soup spoon on the starched linen cloth. “So?” Why would that be a reason for it? While the Jews had to follow a different set of laws in regard to some things, David had always been careful to stay out of trouble. He had done nothing wrong, and this could not be anything to do with his assisting Clara, or she would have mentioned it earlier.

The sudden silence in the room was broken by the sound of Paul Lehrer dropping his spoon onto his plate with a loud clunk. “So?” he reiterated, the outrage in his voice resounding across the room. “They are Jewish, Kristopher. What other reason is needed? Better that they are rounded up and sent somewhere more suited for their place in the scheme of things. We must not lose sight of the fact that the Jews are nothing more than parasites interested in taking control of the economy for themselves.”

Gripping the side of the tablecloth, pulling the fabric into a hard ball in his hand, Kristopher fought to repress what he really wanted to say. How dare he? He’d suspected his father had disapproved of the friendship with David but had never heard these arguments voiced before.

He shoved back his chair and stood, still struggling to quell his anger. “Father,” he said in a low voice, his tone devoid of the disgust he was feeling. His stomach twisted, threatening to expel its contents as he eyeballed his father. “Most of these people have spent their lives as useful contributing members of German society. You have no right to judge them just because their beliefs are different to ours.”

“Someone has to protect the future of the Fatherland. The Nazis will lead us into a glorious new age.”

His father had always believed in looking after his own interests alongside those of the German people. He’d never turned down an opportunity to spread his own “empire” and to meet potential customers, especially those connected with the upper echelon of society. It was important to him, more so than being there for the milestones in his son’s life. Not even Kristopher’s graduation ceremony had been enough to drag his father away from his work.

While Kristopher agreed in principle that something needed to be done to help the Jewish people, and had read about how some of them lived, that did not mean they should be considered a threat. After all, David was still a qualified doctor; he helped people as did Clara.

“These people might need help, Father, but relocation without their consent is not the answer.” Kristopher leaned over the table toward his father, knocking the contents of his wineglass over the table in anger.

“I should turn you over to the authorities for this treason! How dare you question me, question the ideas of the Führer?” His father turned an interesting shade of white, his hand shaking as the temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees.

Clara stood, leaning over to place a hand on each man’s shoulder. “I think we should leave this discussion for another time. Father, I’m sure that Kristopher is tired after a long day’s work, as are you.”

Muttering something under his breath, Paul Lehrer pulled away from Clara. “We will discuss this further in the morning,” he said coldly, stalking out of the room.

This was far from over. Holding onto his standing as head of the household was of utmost importance to the elder Lehrer. Losing control in public was even less of an option than being disagreed with in any shape or form in front of the servants. Was it really so hard for him to listen to his son’s opinion, just this once?

Kristopher sighed, wishing not for the first time that his mother was still alive. From what Clara had said, their father had been much more approachable before he’d lost his wife. When she had died giving birth to their only son twenty-nine years ago, part of her husband had died with her. All Kristopher had of his mother were the stories Clara told him and the old photos she’d shown him. While Clara’s slightly darker coloring was closer to that of their father, Kristopher had inherited his blond hair, pale blue eyes, and slender build from his mother. It was another reminder to his father of what he’d lost. For all intents and purposes, Kristopher had been orphaned when Kristine Lehrer had died. His father tolerated him because society dictated he should, although it felt often to Kristopher as though he was disliked and blamed for the death of the one person his father had ever truly loved. In Kristopher’s mind, his family consisted of himself and Clara; she was ten years older than he and was always there for him. Discussions such as these only served to confirm that feeling.

“Are you all right?” Clara wound a stray lock of hair around her finger as she studied him.

Sitting down, Kristopher leaned back against the hard wooden chair and took a deep draft of wine when the serving man refilled it. “No, I’m not!” he snapped, guilty after he saw the hurt on his sister’s face. She was the last person on whom he should be taking out his anger.

Clara nodded toward the servant, and he backed quickly out of the room, following her unspoken request to give the siblings some privacy. Someone would return later to clear the table.

“I’m sorry, Clara.” Kristopher buried his face in his hands for a moment, trying to pull himself together. He’d always felt things deeply even if sometimes he didn’t possess the strength to admit those emotions to himself or others. Clara told him it was because he cared so much about others. Kristopher found that difficult to believe now. He’d cared so much he hadn’t noticed what was going on under his very nose. The work he was involved in was so important and absorbing it had taken over to the exclusion of all else.

Had this absorption cost him the life of a friend? It was ironic that he’d entered science to advance the quality of life of those around him, and yet become so engrossed by it that he’d ignored reality. When had he stopped caring, stopped noticing?

“Maybe you should get an early night, Kit. You’ll cope with Father better in the morning if you do.”

She was right. Discussions with Father, especially when they couldn’t be avoided, usually upset him even when he wasn’t tired. Herr Lehrer was only interested in his own opinions. Kristopher had once hoped he and his father would grow closer as time progressed, but instead they were drifting further apart. Kristopher’s refusal, as son and heir, to take over the family business, or show an interest in it, had only rubbed salt into an already existing wound. According to his father, Kristopher had shirked his responsibilities to their family name by choosing instead to become a scientist.

After a brief hug to Clara, Kristopher said goodnight and climbed the old wooden staircase at a snail’s pace. He was barely aware of the rail under his hand as he trudged toward his bedroom; his mind was trying to digest the information about David. Kristopher had ignored the fear he thought he’d seen in David, permitting it to take a backseat to his work. What had happened to his friend?

He changed into his nightclothes quickly, leaving the curtains open slightly so he could observe the stars. Climbing into bed, he pulled the crisp white sheets over himself and lay his head on the pillow, hoping sleep would bring some respite to his confused state of mind. A dark cloud passed over the clear night sky, obscuring the small pinpricks of light. He wondered again where David was and what had happened.

It was connected with the Nazis, he reasoned, his thoughts returning to something he’d read months ago but had dismissed as fiction. What if the stories on the leaflets circulated by the underground group, White Rose, had some element of truth to them? The rumors of concentration camps were also no longer as easy to ignore as they’d been when he’d first heard them. What had really happened to David and the other Jews? Clara always chose her words carefully; if she said he’d disappeared, she meant just that.

Dr. Kluge, the head scientist working on the project, and the man Kristopher answered to directly, had always spoken highly of the Nazi party. Kristopher sighed, wriggling further into his bedclothes. He would not help them, or allow them to use his work to bring harm to others. But he was only a scientist; this couldn’t be connected to what was befalling the Jews.

“Have you any idea of their real agenda?” David’s words echoed through Kristopher’s mind over and over until he finally drifted off.

HE WALKED slowly, taking comfort in the familiar regularity of his breathing and the echo of the leather soles of his shoes against the hard pavement. They were loud in the apparent absence of life. Looking around, Kristopher realized he was in his own neighborhood. These were the streets he saw each morning from his bedroom window when he started his day.

Wondering what had happened to all the people, he turned upon hearing a rumble of an engine from behind, just in time to observe a large covered truck pull up to the sidewalk. The brakes screeched when the driver came to a sudden halt. Kristopher moved back into the welcome safety of the shadows, shivering as a dark shape slithered through the street, leaving a sense of coldness in its wake. Death was moving through the empty streets and buildings; he could smell it, sense it. He pitied its victims. They would lose their lives tonight.

A cry echoed through the silence; it was a plaintive cry for help.


Carefully Kristopher edged out from his hiding place, out of the safety of the shadows, just in time to see David being ushered into the back of the truck by a group of soldiers.

“This is your fault.” David tried to pull away from the well-built man who held him. “I tried to warn you, but you wouldn’t listen and now it’s too late.”

Kristopher stepped forward, placing himself between his friend and the vehicle, only to have one of the soldiers bring his rifle up to bear down on him. Reaching out to Kristopher, David had his arms pulled roughly behind him before he was thrown, none too gently, against the side of the truck, his head connecting with a dull thump.

“Do you want to join your friend?” asked the soldier. “It can be arranged very easily.”

The sharp intake of breath he heard was his own. He opened his mouth to protest against the rough treatment but couldn’t get the words to form. One look at David, still trying to free himself despite the blood dripping from his forehead, brought Kristopher to a sudden halt, fear for his own safety quickly becoming paramount.

“I can’t help you,” he whispered. “This isn’t my fault. I didn’t know.”

“Wake up and take a look at what’s going on around you before it’s too late.” David’s eyes lacked their usual spark; his spirit was already dying. Kristopher remembered the creature he’d thought of as Death, and realized his friend would soon be one of those sating its hunger.

Kristopher stood frozen. He tried to force himself to move but couldn’t. It was too late to help David, too late to help the others he could see cowering in the back of the truck.

The soldier shoved David into the rear of the truck. Then he turned to stare at Kristopher for a moment before joining his prisoners. The street spun momentarily when Kristopher registered the expression he’d just seen on the man’s face. He both despised and pitied Kristopher for his cowardice and lack of action, as did Kristopher himself.

He stood, knees bent, breath rasping, alone on the quiet street once more with his thoughts and growing feeling of guilt after the truck drove away into the darkness of the night. He hadn’t known. How could he have?

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he whispered, knowing it was too late to apologize to the one person who needed to hear it. Looking up again at the once-clear sky, now completely covered in darkness, he dropped down onto his knees and screamed the words again, trying to purge himself from a sin he knew he’d never forget or be forgiven.

“It’s not my fault.” He closed his eyes, seeking respite from the images embedded in his mind, lashing out when he felt strong arms around him. The soldier had come back for him.

“Wake up, Kristopher, wake up!” The voice wasn’t that of the soldier, but of someone else—his sister, Clara.

Relief flowed through him as he opened his eyes. He was on the floor next to his bed, Clara leaning over him. He let her assist him in getting back under the covers, taking comfort from her gentle touch as she stroked his brow, her fingers cool against his damp forehead.

“It’s all right, Kit. It was a bad dream.” Clara would look after him. She always made things right. He took a few ragged breaths, snuggling into her when she held him close. Once he grew calmer, she disentangled herself, tucking the covers around him before settling herself on the chair next to his bed.

“It was only a dream,” he whispered, more to himself than to her, taking refuge in the security of the soft feather pillow and allowing sleep to claim him once more. “Only a dream.”

Winter Duet #2
CLARA LEHRER twisted the loose strand of cotton from the hem of her skirt around her finger clockwise and then anticlockwise. It was a simple enough motion, but one she had clung to since the cell door had slammed behind her, trapping her in the darkness.

She had no idea how much time had passed since she’d been taken into custody. While her captors supplied her with food and water, it came at irregular intervals, and a guard stayed with her while she consumed it by the light of a small candle. Clara hadn’t bothered trying to make conversation and, to be honest, was quite relieved when none had been forthcoming. She had heard stories from friends within the Resistance about what happened to prisoners of the Gestapo and had seen enough of it firsthand when she’d treated those who had escaped.

This was merely a temporary measure while Herr SS Standartenführer Holm planned his next move. Clara wasn’t foolish enough to believe she was a valuable prisoner because of her known association with the Resistance. No, she was merely a pawn in a much larger game of chess. Holm wanted Clara’s younger brother, Kristopher, in custody. As soon as he was found or Holm decided she was of no further use, she would be quickly shipped out to a detention camp and probably never seen or heard from again.

“Kit, please be safe,” she whispered under her breath. If he had any sense, he’d be out of Berlin by now. Kristopher’s world had turned upside down since he’d made the decision not to allow his work to fall into the wrong hands. While a brilliant scientist, he was sadly naive about how much things had deteriorated as this war progressed.

Clara closed her eyes, remembering the last time she’d seen him. Michel had brought Kristopher to her, seeking medical attention for the bullet wound in her brother’s shoulder. She hadn’t missed the way they’d reacted to each other. Kristopher had strong feelings for Michel, and if she wasn’t mistaken, it was mutual. When she’d told Michel, the undercover Resistance agent, to keep an eye on her brother, she hadn’t expected this to happen.

She smiled. It wouldn’t be just the need to keep his work out of Nazi hands that would motivate Kristopher to survive this war, but his desire to keep Michel safe.

She shook her head. Unfortunately, knowing Kristopher, that desire could also work against him. He had a tendency to put himself at risk to protect those he cared about. Although Michel was very capable, he and Kristopher would need all the help they could get.

The door to Clara’s cell swung open. She blinked against the sudden light. To her surprise, Margarete Huber stood framed in the doorway. Her arm was bandaged and in a sling, no doubt from injuries sustained in the recent Allied bombing of the area. The original premises used by the project had been badly damaged, so much so that Holm had relocated with his men to Gestapo Headquarters.

“Fräulein Dr. Lehrer,” Margarete said, inclining her head in greeting. She held out her hand. “Allow me to express my apology for the way in which you’ve been treated. I can assure you I had no idea you’d been left here.”

I’m sure you didn’t, Clara thought, but she took Margarete’s hand and allowed herself to be led from the cell. “I hope the man who was brought in with me was not left forgotten,” she said. The young Allied soldier had a gunshot wound to his leg. Clara had been assured he would be taken somewhere where he would receive medical treatment.

“Of course not!” Margarete seemed surprised. “He is recovering from surgery and then will be transported to a suitable location.” She shook her head. “Our families have known each other since we were children. I am shocked that you would think such a thing.”

“My apologies,” Clara said in the same tone Margarete had used when speaking to her a few moments before. “These are trying times, and we all find ourselves reacting to things to which we are not accustomed.”

Margarete smiled again. Clara suppressed a shiver. She’d never liked Margarete or the way she’d hovered around Kristopher over the past few years despite his continued rejection of her advances.

“Exactly,” agreed Margarete. “Herr SS Standartenführer Holm has asked me to speak with you, as he is busy for the moment.” She sighed. “Sadly there is still no word about the whereabouts of your brother or the traitor with him. Finding Herr Dr. Lehrer and the information he carries is our priority. We are concerned for his safety.”

“All we can do is to continue to hope he is safe,” Clara said, not about to confirm or deny whether he and Michel were traveling together.

“Neither is there any word about the escaped prisoners.” Margarete led Clara into what appeared to be some kind of office. Two heavily armed SS soldiers stood on duty outside the door. They nodded at Margarete as both women entered. The door remained open behind them. The room had no other exit. “I don’t suppose you have any information that could help us find them? Their associate was not particularly forthcoming despite SS Obersturmführer Reiniger’s best efforts to ask nicely.”

Reiniger was a bully who enjoyed inflicting pain. Clara hoped Palmer hadn’t suffered too much.

“No, I don’t,” Clara replied. Margarete could be asking for one of two reasons. Either Reiniger still hadn’t located Matthew Bryant and his men, or they were already in custody and the question was a test of Clara’s loyalty to the Third Reich.

“That’s a shame,” Margarete said softly. She poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the table and handed it to Clara. “It would make things go so much easier for you if you cooperated.”

Clara took the glass. Her hand shook, although her voice was even. “If the reason for your civility is to persuade me to give up my brother, Fräulein Huber, you’re wasting your time. I have no idea where he is or even whether he is still alive.”

Chapter One
KRISTOPHER LEHRER peered at himself in the small oval mirror that Michel handed to him. “It’s… different,” he said finally.

“That’s the idea,” Michel Faber said. He ran his fingers through Kristopher’s now-dark brown hair and picked up the scissors. “I did like you as a blond, mon cher,” he said quietly.

“It will grow out, but hopefully not too soon.” Kristopher placed the mirror on his lap and pulled the old towel around him. “Do you think it will be enough? I still look like me.”

“The Gestapo are looking for a blond scientist,” Michel told him. He began cutting Kristopher’s hair, altering the length and style into something more appropriate for a man serving in the German Army. “People see what they expect. Once you’re wearing your uniform and if you don’t draw too much attention to yourself, hopefully luck will stay on our side.”

“What about you?” Kristopher twisted his head around to look at Michel when Michel’s hand stilled. “You haven’t changed your appearance, and Holm and his men know what you look like.”

“You’re their target, Kit, not me.” Michel shook his head. His own hair was dark blond, and he had striking brown eyes with a hint of green to them. “The files they have on record are for the original Obergefreiter Schmitz, not me. I suspect it is one of the reasons my cover was compromised. Holm was already suspicious, and my identity papers, while good, would not have stood up to scrutiny once he compared them to the original Schmitz’s. We did not look anything alike, and he was a lot younger than me.” He shrugged. “We worked with what we had at the time because we had no choice.”

“We don’t have much of a choice with this either.” Kristopher turned around again so Michel could finish the task at hand. “When you’re done, I’ll trim your hair for you too. It’s grown somewhat since we arrived at St. Gertrud’s.”

They’d been hiding in the attic for over two months, only venturing outside at night, and then not going any farther than the pond at the back of the convent. The trip from Alexanderdorf to Switzerland was a long one, fraught with danger. It would have been foolish to attempt it until Kristopher’s wound was fully healed. They had escaped one close call, shortly after they’d arrived, when SS Obersturmführer Reiniger had searched the convent, convinced his prey was hiding there somewhere.

In his nightmares, Kristopher saw Michel tortured and heard himself screaming for Reiniger to stop, that he’d tell Holm anything he wanted. He couldn’t let that happen.

One life for thousands.

Could he sacrifice the man he loved to save others? He knew he might have to, but he wasn’t sure he could. He’d take a bullet himself first, but if they were both caught and he was killed, then Michel’s life would also be forfeit. He was useful as leverage, as a hostage to ensure Kristopher’s cooperation. Nothing more.

Kristopher had always known the weapon potential of the energy source he’d helped design. When he’d joined the project, it hadn’t been a priority. Even after the war began, most believed Germany would soon achieve victory. That and the fact that the uranium enrichment was going slower than planned would have made it impossible to get a bomb ready in time to be used. Kristopher still remembered the relief he’d felt upon that discovery. When had everything changed? Dr. Kluge had led him to believe that side of the project had been discarded. Finding the letter in Dr. Kluge’s papers from the Nazis stating they were working together had woken Kristopher to the reality of the situation.

He should have listened to his nightmares far sooner. Despite Kluge’s reassurances, Kristopher should have realized that far more money was made available for their research than most were aware of. It had been too easy to stick his head in the sand and chant the mantra to himself that they were working for the advancement of science and the good of the Fatherland.

It was only now he’d finally had the time and distance to think everything through that he’d realized just how much of a fool he’d been. Michel had shaken his head and voiced his disbelief that Kristopher could have been so unaware of what was going on around him. Kristopher had found it difficult to admit, not only to himself but to Michel, that he’d chosen to be unaware. He had clung to the idea that surely, even if such a weapon were to be built, no one would ever use it. He’d always believed that, deep down, people were good, but now he wasn’t so sure.

He and Michel were being hunted, not only because Kristopher knew the final formulae needed to make the weapon a reality but also for a murder they had not committed.

He bit his lip. If Holm discovered the truth about Kristopher and Michel’s relationship, he wouldn’t need any excuse to arrest them. One man was not allowed to love another, let alone enter into a sexual relationship. Their slim chance of a future together would drop to zero, as would their life expectancy.

“You’re thinking too much,” Michel said. He laid down the scissors, walked around to the front of the chair, and pulled Kristopher into his arms.

Kristopher leaned into Michel, the towel slipping from his shoulders to fall to the floor. “There’s a lot to think about,” he whispered. “You’d think with the time we’d spent here it would stop going around in circles in my head, but it hasn’t. Not at all.”

“You wouldn’t be you if it had.” Michel kissed Kristopher’s forehead. “I’d hope that you’d at least moved on from your feelings of guilt, but I’d be wasting my time, wouldn’t I?”

“Yes.” Kristopher didn’t see the point in lying.

Spending time in close proximity like this had meant they’d got to know each other very well. They’d talked a lot, not only about their hopes and dreams but about their regrets. They both had them. Michel had told Kristopher he figured most men their age did, especially with the war going on around them. Too many people had died already, too many good people giving their lives for a cause they believed in. Surely it all couldn’t be for nothing?

“The past is done, mon cher,” Michel said. He lifted Kristopher’s head and kissed him deeply on the lips. “We can’t change it, but the future is still unwritten. That, we do have a chance to influence for the better.”

“Is it for the better?” Kit asked. He caressed Michel’s cheek, the stubble of his lover’s beard rough under his fingertips. “What happens when we get to Switzerland? What do you think the Allies will do with this weapon once they have it? They’re just as desperate to win the war.”

“You may be right,” Michel admitted. “I really don’t know. But all we can do is take this one step at a time. For now I’m more worried about getting you somewhere safe. The longer we stay here, the more we risk Reiniger deciding to come back in case he missed something. We made him lose face in front of his superior when we left him tied to that tree. He is a man who holds a grudge, and he won’t rest until he has the opportunity to take revenge.”

“I don’t know how you put up with him for all those months you were undercover.”

“We all do what needs to be done.” Michel smiled and placed his hand over Kristopher’s. “Some might wonder how you’ve put up with me these past months. I’m not always the best of company, and these walls are beginning to make me more than a little claustrophobic.”

Kristopher pulled Michel onto his lap and kissed him, cupping the back of his head to hold him close. “Je t’aime, Michel,” he whispered when he finally broke the kiss.

“Ich liebe dich auch, Kit.” Michel’s skin was flushed. He was breathing heavily. “Do you know what you do to me when you do that?”

“Tell you I love you or kiss you?” Kristopher teased. Michel speaking the same words in German never failed to make Kristopher’s breath hitch.

“Both.” Michel reached for the buttons on Kristopher’s shirt. He shuffled forward on Kristopher’s lap, his cock straining against the material of his trousers. Michel groaned. He finished undoing Kristopher’s buttons and slid the shirt from his shoulders, kissing across his shoulder and nipping at the skin. “After we leave here, I won’t be able to touch you like this. We’ll have to be very careful so no one suspects.”

“Perhaps one of these safe houses has a room with a lock?” Kristopher suggested. He ran his hands up and down Michel’s back. Whenever they made love, he couldn’t help but think it could be their last time together.

He glanced toward the trap door, making sure the lock on it was still secure.

“You’re still thinking too much.” Michel silenced him with another kiss. He pulled Kristopher’s undershirt off over his head. Michel licked his lips. “You’re beautiful, Kit,” he murmured. He dipped his head and ran his tongue over one of Kristopher’s nipples. It hardened under his touch. Kristopher bit back a gasp. He threaded his fingers through Michel’s hair.

“Oh, oh.” Kristopher tried to force himself to think, to tell Michel that no, he really wasn’t, but he couldn’t get the words to form.

Michel began to undo Kristopher’s belt and then reached for his fly. “I want a future with you. I want to still be with you when we’re old and gray.” Michel closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, Kristopher saw a familiar desperation there. “I’m yours. For as long as we have together, I’m yours,” Michel promised.

“Touch me. Please.” Kristopher yanked Michel’s shirt and undershirt from his trousers and caressed the bare skin beneath. “I want you.” Michel slipped his fingers beneath Kristopher’s undershorts. Kristopher scrunched the material of Michel’s shirt with one hand, his knuckles white. “Oh God. There. Yes. Right there.”

“Right there?” Michel’s voice was breathy, barely above a whisper. Kristopher reached down and fumbled with the clasp on Michel’s belt. Once undone, he yanked down the fly and the white cotton material beneath it.

“I want you. Now.” Kristopher began stroking Michel, slowly at first, then speeding up. Michel mirrored the rhythm and touched Kristopher in the same way. They both withdrew their hands at the same time and rocked against each other, thrusting, bare skin sliding against bare skin, their movements getting faster and faster.

Kristopher moaned loudly. Michel leaned in and kissed him, muffling the noise, exploring Kristopher’s mouth with his tongue. He thrust frantically against Kristopher, his body going rigid as he lost control. Michel broke the kiss and buried his head against Kristopher’s shoulder. Kristopher followed a moment later, clinging to Michel, holding him close.

“We’ve made a bit of a mess,” Kristopher said shakily, glancing down.

“Just a little,” Michel agreed. He smiled softly. “I do love you, Kit, and with everything I am.”

“I know you do, my love,” Kristopher whispered. “I love you too.” He traced Michel’s lips with his fingers. When he smiled like this, it was as though nothing lay between them, as though Kristopher could see into Michel’s very soul. If someone had told him a few short months ago that he’d ever feel like this about someone, he wouldn’t have believed it. While it wasn’t the first time he’d felt sexually attracted to another man, this wasn’t the same. This was more than just lust; it was too emotional, too deep to be anything but the love he knew it to be. He didn’t speak the words lightly. They came from his heart.

“You—” Whatever Michel was about to say was lost when a familiar loud creak reverberated through their attic room. Someone was coming up the stairs!

Michel placed one finger over Kristopher’s lips to quiet him before slipping off his lap and grabbing a cloth. He dunked it in the basin of water by the wall, squeezed it out, and threw it in Kristopher’s direction.

They could not afford to be caught with any clue as to what they’d just been doing. Not even by anyone they perceived to be a friend.

Another creak sounded a few moments after the first. Two of the stairs leading to the attic were loose; it was an early warning that someone was approaching. Kristopher cleaned himself quickly and yanked his trousers up, ready to dive toward the hidden room. He was still fastening them when he heard the lock being opened on the other side of the door.

“Oh Lord, thou hast searched me…,” Sister Magdalene called out the beginning of the psalm that was their agreed code phrase. Kristopher heaved a sigh of relief.

“I’m sorry,” he mouthed. Every time they made love there was a chance they would be discovered. Despite the sisters’ work with the Resistance and their support toward their “guests” so far, Kristopher did not want to either see or risk a less than favorable reaction to the intimacy he and Michel shared. Emotions tended to run high over a person’s beliefs. Hell, Kristopher had been no better about his views on certain subjects until recently.

Michel merely shrugged and shook his head. He refastened his fly and called out in the direction of the door. “My apologies. I’m unlocking it now, Sister.” They often locked it from their side too when they were sleeping. Sister Magdalene had suggested it, as it would give them more time to get to the hidden room. It was easier to miss the telltale creak of the stairs when not awake. Although the fact it was locked from the inside would be a giveaway someone might be there, it was better than the alternative, and it was easy enough to argue it was a stiff old lock that was beyond a woman’s strength. She’d told them that for two men, they took a “surprising amount of naps for ones so young.”

Sister Magdalene’s gaze lingered on Kristopher for a moment, and then she smiled. “Hair gets everywhere when you cut it, doesn’t it? It’s very sensible of you to remove your shirt before you started, although I wouldn’t stay like that for too long. The convent furnace is old and not as efficient as it once was, and February is a cold month. Enjoy the heat while you have it.”

“Yes, it does, and we will.” Kristopher blinked several times before replying. He was never quite sure how to take Sister Magdalene’s comments and wondered occasionally just how aware she was of what went on under her roof.

“Thank you, Sister,” said Michel. He’d managed to get his shirt back on in time, but the buttons were still undone. “The walnut dye you supplied has worked well.”

“It should last a good while too, although you may have to reapply it depending on how long your journey takes.” She glanced at Kristopher. “Take care to keep your beard trimmed, as that will draw attention to the difference between the dye and your natural color. The equipment is set up to take your photograph. You should have the papers tomorrow. I must admit I will miss both of you.”

“Is there any word of my sister?” Kristopher asked. Sister Magdalene had known Clara when she’d first started working at the hospital and had promised to make discreet inquiries.

“As far as I know she is still in custody. I’m sorry. Security is very tight around Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin, but I will let you know if I hear anything further before you leave.” Sister Magdalene sighed. “I pray for the end of this war every day. Too many lives have been lost and too many families separated.”

“Thank you,” Kristopher said. Each day he hoped and prayed that Clara was all right. His older sister had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember. He’d been shocked when he’d discovered she was a part of the Resistance movement in Berlin. Reiniger had taunted him with the knowledge she was in custody when he’d tried to get Kristopher to give himself up. But once he was discovered, her usefulness would be at an end. The best way to protect her was to keeping evading Holm and his men and to complete what he’d set out to do and get the formulae he carried in his head to the Allies.

“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” Michel said. “We know how much of a risk you take in harboring both of us here.”

Sister Magdalene shrugged. “We do what we can to help those in need, Herr Schmitz. It’s what we’ve always done, and I don’t see why we should change that now.” She peered at Kristopher. “Your shoulder has healed well. You’re moving it much better than you were when you first came to us.”

“It is a lot better,” Kristopher admitted. “Although I get a few twinges with the cold weather.” He’d expected that. Although he didn’t possess the medical knowledge his sister did, he had listened to her talk about her work since he was a child and had picked up information that way. She’d also given him some basic first aid training in case he ever needed it. On the run across Germany disguised as a medic was not the way she’d most likely intended him to use it.

“Unfortunately none of us have any control over the weather,” Sister Magdalene said. “My poor joints are already looking forward to the spring.” She turned to go. “Sister Claire has been making bread, so there will be that to go with the soup for supper tonight.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Michel said. “Her bread is delicious.”

Sister Magdalene chuckled. “You are very polite. The poor dear means well, and I must admit I’ve tasted worse.”

“So have I,” Michel told her, “but the experience was one I’d prefer not to dwell on.” He waited until she’d left the room before continuing. “You should change into your uniform, Kit. The sooner the photograph is taken the better. I’ll feel happier once we have your papers.”

“Do you think we’ll need to leave sooner than we thought?”

Michel shrugged. “There’s no reason to think we will, but I’d still prefer to have your papers before our transport arrives, just in case there are any problems.”

“I could still be Brother Dominic, if there was no choice,” Kristopher pointed out. It was the identity he’d used to flee Berlin.

“We got away with that once. I don’t want to risk it again. Holm is no fool, and there would have been a reason he sent Reiniger to search for us here. The Oberfeldwebel who stopped us at the checkpoint might have said something in his report that made Holm suspect.”

“Your papers have the same name on them you were using with Sister Brigit at the Klosterkirche. Isn’t that just as dangerous?”

“Sister Brigit knows far more than just my false identity, so if she is captured, that is the least of our problems.”

Michel shrugged, but Kristopher knew the motion was to hide his fear that might happen. Sister Brigit had been a good friend to them, and Michel had already lost his brother and a close friend, among others, to this war.

“As with all false papers, they won’t stand up to too much scrutiny, but as I said before, we work with what we have. Yours won’t either, but I figured as I already have a set of papers with an identity Holm won’t be looking for, it makes sense to use them. That way, too, we only had to worry about yours.”

If they were caught at the convent, any papers would be useless, so there hadn’t been a great rush for them until they were needed. They’d hidden Kristopher’s real papers. He’d have to convince their contact in Switzerland of his real identity some other way. The formulae in his head would go a long way toward that; he was a valuable commodity.

Kristopher shook his head. He didn’t want to think about that right now. One day at a time. He’d told himself that ever since they’d arrived here. He’d have to deal with the fallout of what he’d done with the Allied authorities soon enough. For now he and Michel were still alive and together, and that was what mattered.

He walked over to the bed and the uniform lying on it. “Let’s get this over with,” he told Michel. “Very soon I’ll be Paul Reichel, and you’ll be Michel Werner, and we can’t be anyone but two soldiers traveling together to rejoin their unit. This could be the last time we have the luxury of just being us, Michel. Let’s make the most of it.”

Michel silently slipped his arms around Kristopher and rested his head on Kristopher’s shoulder. “I like that idea.” He turned Kristopher to face him. “Whoever you’ll pretend to be or need to be, you’ll always be Kit Lehrer to me.”

“I’ll hold on to that thought.” Kristopher smiled. He caressed Michel’s check. “You need a shave, my love. Let me do it for you?”

“After supper?” Michel smiled and his eyes lit up. He’d done it for Kristopher when his shoulder was too sore to do it himself.

“Yes, unless there is something else you’d prefer to do?” Kristopher couldn’t help but grin. He nodded toward the chess board set up near the window.

Instead of answering with words, Michel kissed Kristopher, long and deep. When he broke the kiss, he leaned his forehead against Kristopher’s, both of them breathing hard.

“I’ll take that as a no to the chess, then, hmm?”

“Your reputation as a brilliant man is not without good reason, I see.” Michel returned Kristopher’s grin, ran his hands over his buttocks, and then let him go. “Get dressed, mon cher.” He looked Kristopher up and down and swallowed. “Let’s not waste the little time we have.”

Author Bio
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand, sharing her home with her twin daughters, at least during the holidays, when one of them isn't away at university. Her son has left home and started his own family, although she claims she is too young to be a grandmother already. Her three cats are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing "discussion," and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching and has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and a librarian. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction club and plays piano for her local church and violin for a local orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as "too many." These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of "spare time" is really just a myth.


B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Winter Duet
B&N  /  KOBO  /  ARe

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the wonderful reviews. You've made my day :) I'm writing 'Comes a Horseman' early next year.