Friday, November 11, 2016

Veteran's Day 2016


Out of the Blue by Josh Lanyon
Summary:
France, 1916. The Great War. High above the carnage in the trenches, British and German aces joust like knights of old for control of the skies. The strain and tension of living every day on the edge of death leads to dangerous choices and wild risks. When British ace Bat Bryant's past catches up with him, he strikes out in panic and kills the man threatening him with exposure. But there's a witness: the big, handsome American pilot Cowboy Cooper.

Cowboy, it seems, has his own ideas of rough justice.


Re-Read Review 2016:
I have upped my rating to 5 with my re-read.  Since reading it the first time 2 years ago, I have come to have a deeper respect for novellas and don't knock off 1/2 a bookmark just for it's shortness.  As for the story, it was fantabulous!!  I am a huge lover of WW1 stories so that just added to my enjoyment.  Even knowing how the story goes, Cowboy's actions and attitude still left me reeling but loved every ounce of him.

Original Review 2014:
This story is several of my favorite genres all rolled into one: historical, male/male relationships, romance, drama, and erotica. With main characters named Bat and Cowboy you expect to be dropped in the middle of a western, which by the way is also a favorite genre of mine, but this time author has brought her way with words to the airfield of World War One. Now, I won't lie, the first time you meet Cowboy you're not real sure if you are suppose to like him or not but we quickly find out that there's more to him than he first lets on. The only reason I gave this a 4-1/2 bookmark instead of 5 is because I would have loved for it to have been longer. Simply put, I was just not ready to let go of this pair when the final page came. Once again, I was not let down by Ms. Lanyon's work.

RATING:

Awfully Glad by Charlie Cochrane
Summary:
WWI hero Sam Hines is used to wearing a face that isn’t his own. When he’s not in the trenches, he’s the most popular female impersonator on the front, but a mysterious note from an anonymous admirer leaves him worried. Everyone realizes—eventually—that Sam’s not a woman, but has somebody also worked out that he also prefers his lovers to be male?

When Sam meets—and falls for—fellow officer Johnny Browne after the war, he wonders whether he could be the man who wrote the note. If so, is he the answer to Sam’s dreams or just another predatory blackmailer, ready to profit from a love that dare not speak its name?


Original Review February 2015:
A nice little tale of war, post war, romance, and a bit of "what's he after?" thrown in for good measure.  Sam is such an interesting character but as himself and as Madeline, who brought such joy to the men during the war.  Now that the war is over and he's put Madeline behind him, he is reunited with one of the men he met after one of his Madeline's shows.  I just love watching Sam trying to figure Johnny out and what he's after.  Of course, there's a bit of "if they just communicated" but then the story would be even shorter and where's the fun in that?  Definitely a great addition to my library and once again, I was not let down by the writings of Charlie Cochrane.

RATING:

All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane
Summary:
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries #8
He's at the end of his rope...until fate casts a lifeline.

The Great War is over. Freed from a prisoner of war camp and back at St. Bride's College, Orlando Coppersmith is discovering what those years have cost. All he holds dear--including his beloved Jonty Stewart, lost in combat.

A commission to investigate a young officer's disappearance gives Orlando new direction...temporarily. The deceptively simple case becomes a maze of conflicting stories--is Daniel McNeil a deserter, or a hero?--taking Orlando into the world of the shell-shocked and broken. And his sense of Jonty's absence becomes painfully acute. Especially when a brief spark of attraction for a Cambridge historian, instead of offering comfort, triggers overwhelming guilt.

As he hovers on the brink of despair, a chance encounter on the French seafront at Cabourg brings new hope and unexpected joy. But the crushing aftereffects of war could destroy his second chance, leaving him more lost and alone than ever...

Product Warning: sensual m/m lovemaking and is a three hankie story, two of which you'll need for the happy ending.


Orignal Review August 2014:
This was definitely the most emotional entry in the series so far. Recovering from the war, dealing with loss, trying to return to "normal" life, and a mystery that seems to embody all those elements as well. Definitely a multi-hankie read. Not much I can say about this one other than it plays havoc on your heart, even pretty much knowing what the outcome will be from the very beginning. A true example of how the greatness of a story isn't always in where it ends but the getting there. I'm eager to read number 9 & 10 but as I didn't look into it ahead of time, I have to wait for the paperbacks to arrive as they aren't yet available in ebook form, at least that I've discovered. Once they arrive I will be digging in immediately.

RATING:

Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane
Summary:
France, 1915

Lieutenant Tom Donald envies everything about fellow officer Frank Foden—his confidence, his easy manner with the men in the trenches, the affectionate letters from his wife. Frank shares these letters happily, drawing Tom into a vicarious friendship with a woman he's never met. Although the bonds of friendship forged under fire are strong, Tom can't be so open with Frank—he's attracted to men and could never confess that to anyone.

When Frank is killed in no-man's-land, he leaves behind a mysterious request for Tom: to deliver a sealed letter to a man named Palmer. Tom undertakes the commission while on leave—and discovers that almost everything he thought he knew about Frank is a lie…


Sometimes life throws us on an unexpected journey that may appear unwanted but leads us exactly where we should be and Promises Made Under Fire is a prime example of just that.  When Tom's friend and fellow officer Frank is killed he finds a letter left to him asking him to visit Frank's mother.  When Tom is home and visits he finds more questions than answers but when he finally discovers the answers will they be what he expected, will they bring him some unexpected happiness, or will they throw everything he thought he knew about his friend for a loop?  For those answers, you will have to read Promises for yourself and trust me you won't be disappointed.  Once again, Charlie Cochrane takes us into the era of The Great War with scenes of the frontlines and the homefront, she does it with such devotion to detail that you feel you are right there.  Whether you are a history lover or not, if you love a good story with believable characters than you will definitely want to add this one to your reading list.

RATING:

Across Your Dreams by Jay Lewis Taylor
Summary:
“I hope we’ll meet again on the other side of fear, but should this damn war choose otherwise then all we can do is bear it …“

Lew and Russ, Grant and Alan have been caught up in the Great War, which governs their coming together and their moving apart; which has sucked them into the machine and seems reluctant to spit them out. When at last the Armistice comes, three out of the four survive; but how many will survive the peace?


This is the first time I have read Jay Lewis Taylor but it won't be the last.  I loved the way two separate storylines, two individual stories of love converge into one. You have Alan and Grant who's story quickly turns from happy to heartbreak and then you have Lew and Russ who also does not remain cheery for long but seems more hopeful until it no longer does.  There are secondary characters that blend the stories together, sometimes you aren't sure whether to trust those characters but they are no less important to the overall canvas of the tale.  I truly loved the detail to the time frame as well as how the characters continued to develop throughout the entire book, that doesn't always happen but as the war progresses and the Armistice is signed, we see them continue on to face life after war.  A true blend of war, love, drama showing that sometimes no amount of planning can replace just living. A really great addition to my historical shelf.

RATING:

The Legend of Mountain Ash by Ruth Sims
Summary:
Ethan is a Doughboy wounded in the battle for Belleau Wood. Davy is a reviled British conscientious objector serving in a military hospital. Two young men drawn to each other in the midst of the horrors of the Great War. Neither has a family, for the soldier's has all died and the CO's has cast him off in disgust for refusing to take up arms.

The bond of love that grows between Ethan and Davy takes them to Ethan's beautiful Appalachian hills, where they build a home and make a life. It is there they find that their love is strong enough to conquer everything, even time and death.


This short story is not really about the war but I included it in my Veteran's Day blog post because the main characters are from the war and the basis of the Legend of the Mountain Ash is set mostly in post-war 1920s.  Whether you believe in legends or miracles, the story of Ethan and Davy is a tale of love and survival.  A great little read that left me equally in tears and smiles.

RATING:

Through Adversity by Amelia Faulkner
Summary:
Tortured German fighter ace Lt. Siegfried Krämer has a terrible secret which could ruin him: he prefers men. Hurried, loveless encounters have armed him with a sardonic wit and a bleak outlook, and he faces a life in which his only companion is his dog, Eike.

The young and talented Lt. Valentine Westbrook should be considered an ace, but most of his victories are unconfirmed, and now that his squadron is relegated to bombing missions the chances of him ever reaching the magic number are dwindling. When he encounters an equally-skilled enemy pilot during a terrible storm, Valentine is unable to resist the hunt.

Both men soon abandon all common sense and - with a protracted dogfight at their backs - crash-land in the midst of the German Empire’s last great offensive push. Injured, stranded, and with no idea which side of the Line they are on, they must work together if they are to survive. One of them will become the other’s prisoner just as soon as they figure out where they are, but until then they are stuck with no food and no shelter in storms which don’t seem ready to end. But worse still, their mutual respect blossoms into something dangerously intimate, and their lives are about to become forever intertwined...


How I missed this story when I put together last year's Veteran's Day blog is beyond me.  Again another new author for me and one I will definitely be keeping an eye on and checking out her backlist.  Through Adversity is a tale of necessity to survive leading to love.  Val and Siegfried are pilots on opposite sides of the war who find themselves shot down and not sure which side of the battle line they find themselves on. Coming to a truce to survive and agreeing that whoever's side they are on the other will become their prisoner, the two pilots find they may have more in common than just planes.  Is this an enemies to lovers trope? Perhaps because technically they are enemies in battle but since they are strangers I don't really know as I'd classify them as enemies in a typical romance label.  Some might say that their connection is either too quick or not believable that it would last after such a short time together, but in times of war the concept of time can often have a different definiton especially when it comes to the heart.  For me personally, I found it not only possible but believable and it grabbed my heart so deeply that I suddenly found myself on the last page without even realizing how much I had read. A truly great addition to my historical shelf.

RATING:



Out of the Blue by Josh Lanyon
France, November 1916
“Don’t be too hasty, Captain Bryant,” Orton warned. “Not like I’m asking a king’s ransom. Not like you can’t find the ready, eh? What’s a couple a bob ’ere and there? Could ’ave gone to the major, but I didn’t, did I? Not one word to ’im about what you and poor Lieutenant Roberts used to —”

Bat punched him.

He was not as tall as the mechanic, but he was wiry and strong, and his fist connected to Orton’s jaw with a satisfying crack. Orton’s head snapped back. He staggered, tripped over something in the shadowy darkness of the stable, and went down slamming against the side of the stall.

The elderly dappled gray mare whickered softly. Leaning over the stall door, she lipped at Orton’s fallen form.

For a second, perhaps two, Bat stood shaking with rage — and grief.
“Get up, you swine,” he bit out.

Orton’s head lay out of reach of the uneven lamplight, but his limbs were still — and something in that broken stillness alerted Bat.
“Orton?”

He moved the lantern and the light illuminated Orton’s face. The man’s head was turned at an unnatural angle — watery eyes staring off into the loft above them.

Bat smothered an exclamation. Knelt beside Orton’s body.

The mare raised her head, nickering greeting. The lantern light flickered as though in a draft. He could see every detail in stark relief: the blue black bristle on the older man’s jaw, the flecks of gray in his mustache, oil and dirt beneath his fingernails.

There was a little speck of blood at the corner of his mouth where Bat’s ring had cut him. But he was not bleeding. Was not breathing.
Bat put fingers to Orton’s flaccid throat and felt for a pulse.
There was no pulse.

Sid Orton was dead.

Bat rose. Gazed down at the body.

Christ. It seemed...unreal.

He was used to thinking swiftly, making life-and-death decisions for the entire squadron with only seconds to spare, but he could think of nothing. He’d have to go to the CO. Chase would have to go to the Red Caps...

Bat wiped his forehead with his sleeve. First he’d need to come up with some story — some reason for what he’d done. Gene mustn’t be dragged into it. No one could know about Gene and him. Wasn’t only Gene’s name at stake. There was Bat’s own family and name to think of. This ... just this ... murder ... was liable to finish the old man.

He couldn’t seem to think beyond it. Disgrace. Dishonor.

He ought to feel something for Orton, surely? Pity. Remorse. He didn’t. He hadn’t meant to kill him, but Orton was no loss. Not even an awfully good mechanic. And Bat had killed better men than Orton — ten at last count — for much worse reason.

A miserable specimen, Orton.

But you couldn’t murder a chap for that.

Gaze riveted on the ink stain on the frayed cuff of Orton’s disheveled uniform, Bat tried to force his sluggish brain to action. Yes, he needed a story before he went to the major. More, he had to convince himself of it — get it straight in every detail — in case he was cross-examined. Mustn’t get tripped up.

If only he had ignored Orton’s note ... Why the devil hadn’t he?

“You waiting for him to tell you what to do?” a voice asked laconically from behind him.

Bat jerked about.

Cowboy leaned against the closed stable door. His eyes glinted in the queer light. Bright. Almost feral as he watched from the half shadows.

“P-pardon?” Bat asked stupidly.

“If you don’t plan on getting jugged by the MPs, you better get a move on.”

It was as though he were speaking to Bat in a foreign language. Granted, Cowboy was a Yank — a Texan, at that — and did take a bit of translation at the best of times.

Bat said, “I don’t — what d’you mean? I-I shall have to report this.”

“Why’s that?” Cowboy left his post at the door and came to join him. Oddly, it gave Bat comfort, Cowboy’s broad shoulder brushing his own. Together they stared down at Orton’s body.

Already he had changed. His face had a waxy, sunken look. The smell of death mingled with kerosene and horse and hay.

Bat’s stomach gave a sudden lurch and he moved away, leaning over a rusted harrow. But there was nothing to vomit. He hadn’t eaten since yesterday. Hadn’t eaten since Gene bought his packet and crashed in flames in the woods of the estate his family once owned near Hesdin.

Instead, he hung white-knuckled onto the rough metal frame heaving dry, empty coughs and nothing coming out but a few exhausted tears. Not for Orton. For Gene.

“You better pull yourself together, boy,” Cowboy told him when the worst of it was over. Listening distantly to that terse voice, Bat knew he was right. He shuddered all over. Forced himself upright, blinking at the American.

Cowboy was a big man. Several inches taller than Bat. Broad shoulders and narrow hips. Long legs. Must be the way they grew them in Texas. Cowboy certainly fit Bat’s notion — based entirely on the works of Zane Grey and Max Brand — of a man of the West. He’d been attached to the RFC for about two months. Which was a bloody long time in this war. Several lifetimes, really.

The old mare stretched her long neck and nibbled at the collar of Cowboy’s tunic. He patted her absently and drawled, “Orton was a sidewinder. A low-down, miserable piece of shit pretending to be a man. He wasn’t even a very good mechanic. Whatever else you might be, you’re one hell of a pilot. And the RFC is running short on pilots these days. Let alone aces.”

Bat blinked at him, wiped his face again. He felt hot and cold, sick and sweaty. He felt as though he were coming down with something — something fatal. He was unable to think beyond the thing at their feet. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying what the hell’s the point of you going to jail for killing that skunk? Anyway, I saw what happened. It was an accident. You slugged him and he fell and hit his head.”

“It’s still...” But he didn’t finish it. He felt a flicker of hope. “You’ll back me up then? When I go to Major Chase?”

“I don’t think you want to do that.”

Too right there. Bat didn’t. But...

“How are you going to explain what he said that got you so mad you punched him? Or what the hell you were doing in the stables this time of night?”

Before Bat thought of an answer — assuming he’d have come up with one — Cowboy added, “I guess Orton ain’t the only one who ever noticed you and Lieutenant Roberts were kinda sweet on each other.”

Bat lunged, and Cowboy sidestepped, grabbing him and twisting his arm behind his back in a wrestling move they never taught in any officer’s training course Bat had received. It was fast and efficient. Pain shot through his shoulder and arm and he stopped struggling, sagging against Cowboy. The American was so big, so powerfully built, it was easy to underestimate how fast he was when he needed to be. Not least because he never seemed to be in a hurry. He spoke in a lazy drawl and moved with easy, loose-limbed grace. Even when he flew into battle, he picked off enemy planes as though he were potting birds off a branch with a rifle. As though he had all the time in the world.

Listening to the calm, strong thud of Cowboy’s heart, Bat thought dizzily that this was the closest he’d come to being in a man’s arms ever again.

Cowboy’s voice vibrated in his chest as he intoned, “Never realized you had such a temper, Captain Bryant. One of these days it’s going to land you in a fix you can’t get out of.”

Bat yanked free and Cowboy let him go.

“Not tonight, though.”

Bat rubbed his wrist where Cowboy’s fingers had dug into the tendons. “What d’you mean?”

“I mean, if you can simmer down long enough to listen, I’m going to help you.”

“Help me how?”

Cowboy wasn’t looking at Bat. He stared down at Orton’s body. Thoughtfully, as though only making his mind up to it, he said, “I’m going to get rid of him once and for all.”

“How?”

“Never mind how. It’ll be better if you don’t know. Go back to the mess, and make sure everyone sees you. Close the place down. Then head up to your quarters. Understand?”

The flicker of hope flared. Bat knew a cowardly longing to do exactly as Cowboy instructed. Leave it to him, go get blind drunk, then retire to bed and forget any of this happened.

He forced himself to say, “Awfully good of you, old chap, but you must see I can’t ... can’t let you do this.”

Amused, Cowboy retorted, “You don’t even know what I’m going to do, old chap, so why argue about it?”

He was staring at Bat, smiling that funny crooked grin of his. Bat had never noticed how blue Cowboy’s eyes were. Blue as the sky — back when the sky was empty of anything worse than clouds — light and bright in his deeply tanned face. His hair was soft gold. Palomino gold.

Helplessly, Bat said, “Why should you do this? Why should you help me? I haven’t been ... it’s not as though...”

“You’ve acted like a stuck-up sonofabitch since the day I arrived, is that what you were going to say?” Cowboy asked easily. “Not a member of your old boys’ club, am I? Well, I guess it could be that I like you anyway. Or it could be having you around makes my life easier — ’cept days like today when you seem bent on getting yourself blown out of the sky.”

His gaze held Bat’s, and there wasn’t anything Bat could say. Today. Yes. What a long time ago it seemed.

If Cowboy hadn’t been there today ... Sid Orton would still be alive.

“Git,” Cowboy said softly. “I’ll find you later.”

And so ... Bat got.

Awfully Glad by Charlie Cochrane
A makeshift stage. An audience. An entirely male audience, in khaki. A high sense of anticipation. The Macaronis concert party about to perform. Music starts, curtain is pulled across—to an outbreak of applause—revealing a group of men in evening dress, who take up the tune. The show begins.

They’d reached the part where the comic had finished his rendition of “Gilbert the Filbert,” leaving the stage to guffaws of laughter and thundering applause, and the tenor had come on to the opening strains of “Roses of Picardy.” The audience settled down, lulled by the familiar tune but with the first buzz of expectation starting to rise. They’d been briefed about this concert party by a couple of the officers whose friends had seen them perform before. So far, the advance information had been correct—good singing, good jokes, a couple of things slightly near the knuckle but not going too far.

And now, the much-vaunted and long-awaited “Roses of Picardy.” That song could only mean one thing—the imminent appearance of the lovely Miss Madeleine.

Second Lieutenant Hampson nudged his fellow officer in the ribs. “She’s on her way. I wonder if she’s really as hot a piece of stuff as they say.”

Lieutenant Browne shrugged. “I hope so. I’ve been looking forward to this a long while.”

An agitated “Shh!” from somewhere along the line of spectators put a stop to conversation as the tenor’s rendition of the verse began. The holding of breaths within the audience became palpable, especially when the curtain to one side of what passed for a stage twitched slightly. The chorus came, and with it Madeleine, gorgeous in a lavender dress to match her eyes and a sumptuous hat, worn at a coquettish angle. An outbreak of wolf whistling, a single shout of “Cor!” and more “Shh!”s, mainly from the colonel in the front row who’d leaned forward to get a better view of the trim ankles that appeared as she sashayed across the stage.

“What a peach,” Hampson whispered, staring up at the stage, spellbound.

“Not bad at all.” Browne tipped his head to one side to set up a better line of observation of the trim waist, the pert backside, and the well-proportioned dĂ©colletage. Those curves were just what you wanted in a woman.

The song came to an end among rapturous applause, whistling, and stomping of feet. The tenor kissed Miss Madeleine’s hand and led her upstage, where she prepared for her solo, batting her eyelashes flirtatiously at the colonel. She looked like a nice girl, dressed like a nice girl, was rumoured to have no truck with any of the officers who beat a path to her stage door, but there was a roguish twinkle in her eye which belied all of that.

The first few bars of “Home Fires Burning” welling up from the small orchestra stifled any expectations of a saucy song to match the saucy twinkle. Her voice was clear, bell-like, incredibly moving. By the time the song had finished, sleeves were being drawn across faces and noses blown. Even Hampson, who had never been known to show much in the way of emotion—apart from getting worked up over a shapely, slim-waisted form—had a tear in his eye.

“Marvellous,” he said, clapping wildly. “And think. We’re the lucky blighters who’ll get to meet her afterwards.”

Browne laughed. “She’ll never look twice at you. Not with that shock of hair—she’ll think a scarecrow’s come in.”

“Is it that bad? Could you lend me a comb?” Hampson tried—in vain—to flatten his locks into submission.

“We’ll have you turned out like the Queen of the May.” Browne grinned. “Now hush.”

Madeleine had been joined by the tenor for a haunting love duet, one which soon had the audience thinking of home and happier times, far away from trench foot and whiz-bangs. They’d be back to that soon enough, but for now they had a glimpse of something heavenly, and not just in the form of Madeleine’s shapely arms.

All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane
High Table was excellent as always and coffee back in the SCR was almost as good as the stuff Matthew had tasted in Boston with Rex. “I didn’t think you could get coffee like this in England. Camp Coffee seems to be the standard fayre and that’s hardly worth the effort of putting in the hot water.”

“Might as well drink diluted shoe polish,” Orlando agreed, with a smile. “The world’s changing, Mr. Ainslie, and I’m not sure I like the way it’s turning out.” Outside the security of his study they were back to surnames, just as it had always been his custom with Jonty. They wouldn’t change things, especially now the driving force for change had gone. “Goodnight, Dr. Panesar.” Orlando waved a greeting as the man in question departed, grinning madly as he dragged a poor unsuspecting guest off to the labs to show him his latest heap of metal masquerading as a technological breakthrough.

“He was on good form tonight. Certainly lights this place up.” Matthew tipped his head towards the other occupants of the SCR, only half a dozen remaining now and three of those apparently asleep.

“Aye, Panesar keeps this college alive at times. All the rest seem to have descended into semi-torpor.” Just so must life in St. Bride’s have been prior to 1905.

The comparative solitude gave the opportunity to speak more openly than usual in this room. “Why did you sign up for the army? You were doing such a worthwhile job already in Room 40.”

“Worthwhile? I suppose it must have been. It was certainly safe, if you’re really asking why anyone should turn up a cushy number in search of a surefire way of getting himself killed.” Orlando couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice.

“I’m not asking that. It just occurred to me that your brain was maybe more usefully employed doing things that only men of your intelligence could do.”

“As opposed to being cannon-fodder like any other man with two arms and two legs and who cares how much brain?” Orlando frowned, passing his hand over his face. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. Your argument’s a fair one and I had it put to me on more than one occasion. How best to serve my country and all that.” He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead as if soothing away the years. “Too many of them had died, Mr. Ainslie. My students. Did you know the Stewarts turned the Manor into a sort of hospital-cum-convalescent home? Opened the doors to a stream of soldiers—not just officers, other ranks as well—who needed some peace and quiet and care. My Italian sort-of-cousin took charge of the medical side and Mrs. Stewart was quartermistress.”

“Ah, the Italian connection.” Matthew grinned. “I saw the Baron Artigiano del Rame in The Times recently, taking over as chairman of Mrs. Stewart’s charity for—what did she call them? Unfortunate girls.”

“That’s the one.” Orlando couldn’t hide his pride in the family he’d never known he had, not until he was a grown man. “They’ve become quite pally, the houses of Coppersmith—Italian version—and Stewart. There’ll be an intermarriage with one of the latest batch of offspring, no doubt. One of Paolo’s girls and young George Broad is where the smart money lies.” Shame the really great love match between the two families could never have been officially recognised.

“Do you see a lot of them?”

“Not as much as I should, I suppose. I like them, don’t get me wrong, and they’ve welcomed me beyond all I could have hoped for, but it’s not like it was with the Stewarts.” Once experienced, nothing could compare to that family’s love and generosity.

“The hospital at the Manor…” Matthew brought the conversation back before the silence became awkward.

“Of course. I went down and visited one of my ex-students there.” Orlando shuddered in remembrance. “Physically it looked as if nothing had touched him and his mathematical capabilities were all still there, better than most of my dunderheads. But something had snapped inside him.”

Matthew nodded. “Never to be put together, no matter what any of the king’s horses or men could do?”

“It was that visit which made up my mind for me. How could I sit in a safe little room playing with letters and numbers when young men I’d had in my study trying to understand vectors, were being sacrificed? Little more than boys, who’d not seen anything of life, some of them.”

“So young.” Matthew shook his head, staring into his coffee cup. So many fresh faced lads he’d seen, passing through on their way to the front, enthusiastic and emboldened. He’d seen a few of them passing back—broken shells, bare remnants of humanity.

“So many.” The silence of the SCR was broken only by a murmuring from the other end of the room, one whispered conversation and the droning of gentle snores. “We had to go. We couldn’t not go, in all conscience.”

“At least you didn’t have to lie about your ages.”

“We’d have only had to if we’d been quick off the mark. By 1916, they weren’t so choosy.”

“I wish they’d been more scrupulous. Dear God, some of the lads I saw looked no more than schoolboys.” Such meticulous and painstaking checking there’d been at some of the recruitment centres, such desperation to get bodies into the system. Seventeen, did you say? Go out and come back in and then answer the question again, there’s a good man. Babes in arms, literally.

“There were times I didn’t think there’d be one of us left standing.”

“I still can’t believe I’ll never see Mrs. Stewart again. Oh, I’m sorry.” Matthew worried whether he’d overstepped the line, if the pain of bereavement was still too close for anything more than formal expressions of condolence. Orlando’s face suggested too much hurt still lingered.

“No, please talk about them. So few people do talk of the dead.” Orlando managed an unexpected smile. “A world without Mrs. Stewart’s kind heart seems a much colder place. She meant a great deal to me.”

“I saw the obituaries in the papers, although they didn’t do either of their subjects justice.” Matthew drew out his wallet. “I kept the clippings, just in case you wanted them and hadn’t been able to get hold of the newspapers. I’ll understand if you would find them too painful.”

Orlando put out his hand, which was shaking slightly. “I’d appreciate them very much, thank you.” He took the little pieces of paper without reading them, putting them in his notebook for later scrutiny. Perhaps.

“It was the flu, they said, that took both of them. Or complications following it.” Matthew slipped his wallet back into his inside pocket, the action giving him time to choose his words. “The newspapers weren’t very clear.”

“Lavinia said they’d made a bit of a mess of things, one of the so-called correspondents getting all the details wrong. There was quite a stir, I believe, among the family.” Orlando studied his hands. “I wish I’d been here to help, to clear up the mess. I felt so bloody helpless, miles from anyone.”

The uncharacteristic swearing—especially in the SCR—the equally uncharacteristic baring of the Coppersmith soul, took Matthew aback. Still, it was understandable. He had Rex to tell his troubles to, if the occasion arose, but Orlando hadn’t a confidante in all the world, except for him.

“The news shook me up pretty badly. God knows, I saw enough death out there, but that…” he ran his hands through his hair, “…that was almost the last straw. Something snapped inside me.”

Matthew held his tongue. There’d been at least one occasion in the past when things had snapped, when things had overwhelmed Orlando to the extent he’d upped sticks and left, leaving Jonty and his family bereft and desperate to find their prodigal.

“I volunteered for a mission from which I didn’t expect to return.” Orlando raised his hand to prevent any interruption. “I was an idiot, I know. And apparently they didn’t expect me to return, either. Missing, presumed dead, that’s what everyone was told.”

“Couldn’t you get word back?”

“I did as soon as I could. Trouble is I was out for the count for a fortnight. I woke up in a German hospital and couldn’t even remember who I was for the first few days. Lost a lot of blood, with it.” Orlando passed his hand over his eyes, in remembrance of the previous time he’d lost his memory. Some mysterious part of his brain seemed inclined to shut down when it decided he needed protecting. “It seemed to take forever to get word back that I was still alive. It must have been the October of last year.”

Matthew waited as Orlando gathered himself again. He knew what it was like to lose someone you loved to a violent death, but for loss to have piled upon loss… No wonder something “had snapped”. Maybe it could never be repaired.

“I’m sorry, I sound like some snivelling child.”

“That’s fine, old man. God knows it doesn’t bother me.” Matthew reached into his pocket again. It was time for decisive action. “This may not be the opportune moment, but I’ve got something here—I’d be grateful if you could cast your eye, and your mind, over it.” He produced an envelope, which he put in Orlando’s shaking hand.

The effect was better than he’d hoped, his friend showing an instant, if slightly grave interest in the letter the envelope held. “It’s from Collingwood.” The genuine note of curiosity in Orlando’s voice was a good sign. “Isn’t he retired by now?”

“Do solicitors ever retire? He keeps his hand in, for favoured clients. He remembered the time you helped us and he wanted to turn to you again.” Matthew was heartened by the glint in his friend’s eye, one he hadn’t seen there for a long time. “If you’re still willing to take a commission.”

“Willing?” Orlando turned the letter in his hands, as if he was trying to remember what a commission might entail, why it was being brought to him. He smiled, suddenly and unexpectedly. “Of course I will. It’ll give me something to live for, Mr. Ainslie. I thought I would never have that feeling again.”

Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane
First light. A distant sound of something heavy being moved. A thin curtain of rain--the sort of misty, drizzly rain that soaked us through to the skin. Prospect of something for breakfast that might just pretend to be bacon and bread.

Good morning, France. An identical morning to yesterday and bound to be the same tomorrow. Tomorrow and tomorrow, world without end, amen.

I looked up and down the trench. The small world I'd become bound in was now starting to rouse, stretching and facing a grey dawn. The men were stirring, so I had to get out my best stiff upper lip. If I showed how forlorn I felt, then what chance had I of inspiring them?

"Morning, sir." Bentham, nominally my officer's servant but in reality a cross between a nursemaid and a housemaster, popped up, smiling. "Breakfast won't be that long. You and Lieutenant Foden need something solid in your stomachs on a day like this."

"Aye." I nodded, not trusting myself to say anything else until I'd got my head on straight.

"Tea's ready, though." He thrust a steaming mug into my hands. Add telepathist to the list of his qualities. Maybe when I'd got some hot tea into me then the world might seem a slightly better place. "Quiet, last night."

"It was." I was going to have to enter into conversation whether I wanted to or not. "I don't like it when they're quiet. Always feel that Jerry's plotting something."

"He's probably plotting even when he's kicking up Bob's a dying."

"Bob's a dying?"

"Dancing and frolicking, sir. Not that I think Jerry has much time for fun." Bentham nodded, turned on his heels and went off, no doubt to make whatever we had in store for breakfast at least vaguely appetising. I took a swig of tea.

"Is it that bad?" Foden's voice sounded over my shoulder.

"Do you mean the tea or the day? You'll find out soon enough about the first and maybe sooner than we want about the second."

"The perennial ray of sunshine." He laughed. Only Frank Foden could find something to laugh about on mornings like these, when the damp towel of mist swaddled us.

"Try as I might, I can't quite summon up the enthusiasm to be a music-hall turn at this unearthly hour." I tried another mouthful of tea but even that didn't seem to be hitting the spot.

"If you're going to be all doom and gloom, can you hide the fact for a while? The colonel's coming today. He'll want to see 'everything jolly.'" The impersonation of Colonel Johnson's haughty, and slightly ridiculous, tones was uncanny. Trust Foden to hit the voice, spot on, even though his normal, chirpy London accent was nothing like Johnson's cut-glass drawl.

"Oh, he'll see it. So long as he doesn't arrive before I've had breakfast."

Foden slapped my back. "That's the ticket. Don't shatter the old man's illusions." He smiled, that smile potentially the only bright spot in a cold grey day. In a cold grey life. Frank kept me going, even on days when the casualty count or the cold or the wet made nothing seem worth living for anymore.

"How the hell can you always be so cheerful?"

"Because the alternative isn't worth thinking about. Why make things more miserable when there's a joke to crack?" They weren't empty words--that was how he seemed to live, always making the best of things. He wasn't like a lot of the other officers, plums in their mouths and no bloody use, really. The men loved him.

"I bet it's not raining at home."

Across Your Dreams by Jay Lewis Taylor
London, October 1916
The noise; the crush; the explosions of steam; the constant shrill of whistles. It might have been the anteroom to Hell.

It was, in fact, Victoria Station.

David Lewry got down from the train, took a firm grip on his bag, and walked along the platform, looking straight ahead.

He had stayed awake through France, and during the appalling Channel crossing. Once aboard an English train he had fallen asleep in the corner of his compartment. Now, he was not altogether sure that he was conscious; he could barely feel the ground beneath his feet, and walking seemed easy, dreamlike.

In one corner of the station men were queuing for tea and a place in the refreshment area. He would have given anything to have joined them, but he was an officer, and officers were expected to pay their own way. Moreover, he was expected at – at – he tried to drag the name of the hotel out of his memory. If only he still had that letter.

It was raining in London, of course; but he was used to the rain. He paused for a moment under the station canopy. Maybe the name of the hotel would come back to him if he sat down and thought about it. The nearest place … he turned round, walked back into the station and shouldered his way through the passage that led to the Grosvenor Hotel.

“Would you have a quiet corner where I could sit and have some tea?”

They showed him to a small room and brought tea and biscuits. The biscuits he devoured ravenously, but the tea was weak. He swirled it round a little, and set the pot down. He would wait for it to brew, and try to remember the name of that hotel.

He woke with a leap of every muscle at the touch of a hand on his shoulder.

“God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

The light was behind the newcomer, and all Lewry could see of him was the usual khaki, a face, a blur of chestnut hair. He rubbed his eyes.

“What are you doing here, for Heaven’s sake? I left a note for you to come up to the room.” David Russell-Hansford-Barnes, clean and shaven and good-looking as hell, with a frown on his face. “I was expecting you two hours ago. I ate dinner on my own.”

Lewry blinked at him. “Russ,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even remember that this was the hotel.”

“Didn’t you get that letter either?”

“I did, but I don’t have it any more.” Lewry touched the teapot: it was stone-cold. In his cup was one mouthful of cold, weak, dust-coloured brew. He drank it.

“My first letter,” Barnes said, low and teasing, “and you throw it away?”

“The only letter I had from you in six months.” Lewry rubbed his eyes with the hand that was not holding cup and saucer. “I was reading it when a shell got our parados. After that – it wasn’t legible.” He did not say why, but he could not stop a shudder from running through him, strong enough to rattle the china.

Barnes took the fragile things from his hands. “We’ve found each other now, anyway.”

“Yes.” It should not have been like this; they should have met each other off their respective trains, and smiled and waved and been able to talk cheerily. And then – “You did say a bed?” Lewry asked.

“Yes, Lew. Well – two beds, to be honest. I … didn’t have the nerve.”

“Good.”

Barnes looked a little startled at his vehemence. “What are you going to do about dinner?”

“I couldn’t eat a thing. I was sick all the way across. I want to sleep.” Lewry stood up. “I saw you were gazetted Major, by the way. Youngest major in your regiment, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I don’t know who told you that, it’s rubbish. Besides, what about you? Captain. You’ll catch up with me yet.” Barnes clapped him on the shoulder.

The smile soured. “Rather not,” Lewry said. “Promoted because of all the dead, not because of competence. They should have left me in the Surreys.”

“Another four shillings a day, though.”

“There is that. But – oh, never mind.” He reached for his bags as Barnes picked them up. “I can manage those.”

“I’m sure, but let me help, eh? The room’s not far.”

“I can carry them.”

Barnes stopped short; looked at him; and handed the bags over. “If you must.”
The room was on the first floor, and an oil lamp was already burning. The covers had been turned down on the beds. There was a covered jug of water and a glass on each stand, and a ewer of hot water on the cabinet. Lewry came in from the WC at the end of the corridor to find Barnes stripped to the waist and washing.

“Left some clean water for you,” the major said, muffled through a towel.

“Use it. I’m too tired.” Lewry’s bootlaces fought every attempt to undo them, but he wrenched his boots off at last and slung his khaki on the nearest chair. Still in his underwear, he sat on the bed. “Night, Russ.”

“Lew … “

They looked at each other.

“Well?” Lew said.

“I’ve been here for two days.” Russ ran his fingers through his hair. “Waiting for you. For this.”

Lew’s muscles stilled into tautness. He said, “You didn’t think I might not … “

“For Christ’s sake. I thought it was you started all this off by wanting me. That time.”

“That was then.”

“Lew – “

“Russ,” Lewry cut in. “I am tired. I don’t want to. Not now this minute. And besides – “

Barnes looked at him. Hurt? There was no way of telling. “Besides, what?” he said, his voice abrupt and clipped.

“Besides,” Lew said again, “I’m buggered if I’ll let a major pull rank on me.”

“So what am I supposed to do? Go out and shoot one so that you can step up again?” Russ snapped.

“No, of course not.” Lew stared at him. “Oh, fuck, Russ. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to be like this.”

Russ stared back; then, at last, relaxed and laughed. “Fuck, likewise,” he said. “I’m sorry, Lew. We shouldn’t be fighting. Of course you’re tired. Of course I’m a pushy bastard. You have your sleep out. I’m very glad to see you.”

The Legend of Mountain Ash by Ruth Sims
There are places in this world where magic and miracles meet, and when they do a legend is born. This is the story of one such legend, and how it came to be.

In the hills of Appalachia, in a cove that no living man will ever find, is a Mountain Ash unlike any other in the world. It is not one tree but two, twined around each other in the same way that vines twine around a host. It stands as it has for nearly three generations, untouched by wind, rain, frost, or fire, always bearing thick clusters of white flowers and blood red berries. Its flowers and fruit never fall. It will not grow. It will not wither. 

The legend of this mountain ash is, as many legends are, a story of love and loss, sacrifice and redemption.

* * * * *

1921
Ethan Drumm sighed with satisfaction and reached out to tousle Davy’s dark hair, flinching a little as he did so, from the pain that would never go away, pain that was courtesy of a German bayonet thrust into his shoulder in Belleau Wood, five years before. The luckiest bayonet wound of the war, he thought. If he hadn’t been wounded he would not have been evacuated by the Friends Ambulance Unit, would not have ended up in a British military hospital, and he would not have seen Davy.

His beautiful English Davy. Slim, gentle, with the courage of a lion, silently bearing the constant abuse heaped on him. “Slacker,” “coward,” and “conchie” were the kindest names Davy and the other C.O.s were called by the men they helped care for. Ethan fell head over heels in love for the first time in his life. He was surprised to learn that Davy was not religious, but was against killing as a matter of conscience. When the war was over he convinced Davy to join him in America, in the Appalachians where he had been born and raised. Davy’s family had turned their backs on him because he refused to fight, and Ethan’s family were all dead. They had only themselves to please, and so Davy joined him.

Davy first saw the mountains in the spring, when the dogwood was in bloom, and the redbuds seemed to throw a pale purple mist over the slopes. A little later came crimson azalea and pink laurel and rhododendrons splashing vast areas with dense color. There were more shades of green than he had ever imagined, even though he had grown up in a green country. Davy fell in love with Ethan’s hills. 

They took a little house together in the valley village, and with the naivety of the young and unsophisticated, they were not cautious. At first it didn’t matter because no one seemed to notice or care. Ethan worked as a blacksmith; Davy taught in the one-room school. Most of the villagers were of English descent, and seemed proud to have a teacher from the mother country. 

For a year all went well. And then a new preacher came to town. Right off he started preaching hellfire-and-brimstone sermons about “the sodomites amongst us,” and how their presence would bring down the wrath of God. Over the months, little by little, in subtle ways things changed for Ethan and Davy. Folks they had thought were their friends stopped speaking to them, though some had the grace to look embarrassed. Men muttered insults under their breath when passing them on the dirt street that ran through the center of town, and women avoided their eyes. Even so, it might have all gone away if a school-hating village boy, larger and stronger than Davy, had not gone to the preacher and declared that “the teacher got me alone in the schoolhouse and pulled my britches down and tried to fuck me, right there.”

There was no inquiry or hearing. The outraged preacher saw to it that Davy was instantly fired. Later that same week their house was pelted with dozens of eggs. Guns were fired, and one bullet went through a window. A few nights after the attack, two men whose skins were full of moonshine, forced their way into the house when Davy was alone and savagely beat him. 

When Ethan came home and found Davy, he grabbed his shotgun, ready to charge off and shoot them all. Even with blood streaming from his nose and trickling from a cut lip and gash over his eye, Davy pleaded with Ethan, saying over and over that he hadn’t been a conscientious objector in a war just to throw it all away. Eventually he made Ethan see reason, though Ethan knew he would hate those men until his dying day.

Ethan and Davy left that night, taking only what they could carry. They had no plan, no destination, except to go where they would be left alone. They walked for days on the twisting paths, stopping often to rest. Davy bathed his swollen, bruised face and body in every cold stream they came to and healed quickly. They avoided the cabins they passed, and slept at night in each other’s arms on the ground, in shelters of bent saplings; once in a while they slept in a cave. They walked until they found a place that called to them, high on the mountain.

“This is the place, Ethan,” Davy said. “Nobody knows we’re here and we’ll be left alone. We can build a barn, and have animals and raise crops, and look, there’s already a house.”
“Such as it is,” Ethan said. “It would do for a while. We have to find out who owns it and buy it proper and legal. And City Boy, you have no idea what it will take to clear the land we need.”

“No, I don’t. But I don’t care. It will be our home. As long as we have a couple of axes, we’ll manage. You will merely have to show me how to use one.”

“It won’t be easy. We’ll still have to go down to the nearest village to buy sugar and tools and other necessaries we can’t grow. It ain’t as if we can avoid everybody forever.”

“We can try.”

Author Bios:
Josh Lanyon
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.

Charlie Cochrane
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

Her Cambridge Fellows series of Edwardian romantic mysteries were instrumental in seeing her named Speak Its Name Author of the Year 2009. She’s a member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and International Thriller Writers Inc.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.

Jay Lewis Taylor
Despite having spent most of my life in Surrey and Oxfordshire, I now live in Somerset, within an hour’s drive of the villages where two of my great-great-great-grandparents were born. Although I work as a rare-books librarian in an abstruse area of medical history, I am in fact a thwarted medievalist with a strong arts background.

I have been writing fiction for over thirty years, exploring the lives of people who are on the margins in one way or another, and how the power of love and language can break down the walls that we build round ourselves.

Ruth Sims
Ruth Sims has lived her entire life in small town Mid-America, surrounded by corn-, wheat-, and soybean fields. Like Emily Dickinson she has never seen a Moor and has never seen the Sea (except, unlike Dickinson, in films) but she's seen plenty of silos, Amish buggies, whitetails, and amber waves of grain. She's the wife of one and mother of two ... or vice versa. She gets a little confused by the rush of living.

Though many years past schooldays, her education is continuous and far-ranging, with interests running the gamut from Shakespeare to awful puns and limericks; from criminal psychology to the science of baking towering chocolate cakes and artisan bread. Her special love of theatre (as reader and observer only; never a performer) is apparent in The Phoenix. Her passion for Classical and Romantic music comes to life in Counterpoint: Dylan's Story, published by Dreamspinner Press, July 2010. The Phoenix, originally published in 2004, was revised and republished by Lethe Press in 2009. There were a number of changes, so she urges potential buyers to get the one from Lethe Press.

She has always loved short stories, especially Jack London's. Though best known as a novelist, she is proud to have several short stories published. Like her interests, the stories range wide, from poignant literary works to comedy and sly mystery.

Words, imagination, books, music and writing have always been the means by which she could travel the world and slip into other lives. After retiring as a librarian, she was able to turn to full-time writing and set loose the characters who have been living in her head all this time. They are relieved. It was getting crowded in there.

She passed away May 8, 2014.

Amelia Faulkner
Amelia Faulkner was born in Thame, Oxfordshire, and sprouted upward in short order. The ground around Thame is reasonably mucky, especially in the winter, and she can’t be blamed for wanting to get away from it.

Raised on a steady diet of Star Trek and Doctor Who, Amelia stood no chance in not becoming a grade-A geek. She has sat on the board of the British Fantasy Society, contributed fiction and fluff to various published roleplaying games, and written non-fiction for SciFiNow and SFX Magazines. For every positive there is an equal and opposite negative, and Amelia is forced to admit that she loves Wild Wild West.

In her spare time she enjoys travel, photography, walking her Corgi, and trying to convince her friends to replay the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game with all the Goblins decks.


Josh Lanyon
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Charlie Cochrane
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Jay Lewis Taylor
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Out of the Blue
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Awfully Glad
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All Lessons Learned
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Promises Made Under Fire
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Across Your Dreams
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The Legend of Mountain Ash
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Through Adversity
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