Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day 2015

The Courage of Love by EE Montgomery
Sequel to Between Love and Honor

In 1915, after his beloved Carl died from a vicious beating, David Harrison enlisted in the Army and went to war. He returns home to find a world seemingly unchanged, while he will never be the same. At Mrs. Gill’s boarding house, he meets Bernard Donnelly, a young man suffering the aftereffects of his own war experiences. David finds himself increasingly attracted to Bernard, but that terrifies him. He blames himself for Carl’s horrific death and fears he isn’t strong enough to lose another love to violence.

Bernard needs David to help him face each day and find a way they can be together without stigma—and without putting them in legal and physical danger—but David clings to his idea that the only way to keep a lover safe is not to have one. His fears threaten to destroy everything, unless he learns that sometimes the risk is worth it and finds the courage to love.

This story is so powerful and emotions are all over the place.  I'll admit that the first few shell shock induced nightmare scenes are a little confusing but afterwards, I realized that the mild confusion I felt only added to the severity of what both David and Bernard were dealing with.  I've always been a bit of a history buff, so this is not my first story surrounding World War 1 veterans but the author still managed to tug at my heart when dealing with the shell shock.  Some people might see the continued nightmares and David's reluctance to open his heart again after losing Carl as repetitious but I see them as showing how far they've actually come and at the same time reminding us that it's not a clear cut scenario that can be bad one day and completely fixed the next, it's ongoing.  David and Bernard and even the memory of Carl, David's first love, are the main focus of the story but those around them are so important to story.  Mrs. Gill is amazing, she's the mother that David should have had, she's caring but she's also right to the point.  As for David's mother? She's not actually in the story much but she certainly leaves a lasting impression and it's not a nice one either. This is the first time I've read E.E. Montgomery but it won't be the last.


Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen
New York City, 1919. His career as a concert pianist ended by a war injury, Sutton Albright returns to college, only to be expelled after a scandalous affair with a teacher. Unable to face his family, Sutton heads to Manhattan with no plans and little money in his pocket but with a desire to call his life his own. Jack Bailey lost his parents to influenza and now hopes to save the family novelty shop by advertising on the radio, a medium barely more than a novelty, itself. His nights are spent in a careless and debauched romp through the gayer sections of Manhattan. When these two men cross paths, despite a world of differences separating them, their attraction cannot be denied. Sutton finds himself drawn to the piano, playing for Jack. But can his music heal them both, or will sudden prosperity jeopardize their chance at love?

I have to admit I had a bit of a hard getting into this one but it was no fault of the author.  I just wasn't ready to let go of the characters of the previous book I had finished.  But by the time I was finished with chapter 3 or 4 I was hooked.  Sutton and Jack may have been from opposites ends of the  spectrum as far as their upbringing and background but they were more alike than either of them realized.  It's pretty clear that they are both better off together than either was alone.  If you're a fan of historical fiction mixed with romance, then this is definitely a book for you.  I hadn't read anything by this author but after finishing Whistling, I went on to read three more and will definitely be checking out others as well.

Home Fires Burning by Charlie Cochrane
Two stories, two couples, two eras, timeless emotions.

"This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense" It is 1914 and The Great War is underway. When the call to arms comes, Nicholas Southwell won't be found hanging back. It's a pity he can't be so decisive when it comes to letting his estate manager Paul Haskell know what he feels before he has to leave for the front line. In the trenches Nicholas meets a fellow officer, Phillip Taylor, who takes him into the unclaimed territory of physical love. Which one will he choose, if he's allowed the choice?

"The Case of the Overprotective Ass" Stars of the silver screen Alasdair Hamilton and Toby Bowe are wowing the post WWII audiences with their depictions of Holmes and Watson. When they are asked by a friend to investigate a mysterious disappearance, they jump at the chance-surely detection can't be that hard? But a series of threatening letters-and an unwanted suitor-make real life very different from the movies. Charlie Cochrane, author of the delightful Cambridge Fellows series, brings her familiar romantic, roguish style to the two novellas that together are "Home Fires Burning."

Both tales are amazing.  It's the simplest and easiest way to describe it.  In This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense, you can't help but feel what Nicholas is going through.  Not only is he dealing with the heartaches of war but he's also has his heart set on a man he didn't reveal his feelings for before leaving.  He's given a chance at exploring physical love when he has a new tent mate in Nicholas.  In The Case of the Overprotective Ass, we see 2 actors entertaining post WW2 audiences with Sherlock & Holmes but they are given a chance to play detectives for real. Alastair and Toby share similarities with Miss Cochrane's famed Orlando and Jonty from her Cambridge Fellows series, but they are definitely their own pair.  Both tales, although shorter than what I would like, are most enjoyable and very entertaining reads.


Bonds of Earth by GN Chevalier
In 1918, Michael McCready returned from the war with one goal: to lose himself in the pursuit of pleasure. Once a promising young medical student, Michael buried his dreams alongside the broken bodies of the men he could not save. After fleeing New York to preserve the one relationship he still values, he takes a position as a gardener on a country estate, but he soon discovers that the house hides secrets and sorrows of its own. While Michael nurses the estate’s neglected gardens, his reclusive employer dredges up reminders of the past Michael is desperate to forget.

John Seward’s body was broken by the war, along with his will to recover until a family crisis convinces him to pursue treatment. As John’s health and outlook improve under Michael’s care, animosity yields to understanding. He and John find their battle of wills turning into something stronger, but fear may keep them from finding hope and healing in each other.

I found both Michael and John to be what some might call damaged, I personally found them complex but not damaged.  Having survived the Great War, had they not had issues I would have found the story lacking. This touches on what they saw and felt without being overrun with those horrors taking away from their story of surviving.  I also found myself falling in love with the supporting cast, not an easy accomplishment in my opinion.  Secondary characters are obviously important to the story but to make the reader fall for them and still keep them as secondary is not always met.  I've been in a historical mood lately, especially concentrating on the Great War era, Bonds of Earth was an excellent addition to my library.


On Wings of Song by Anne Barwell
Six years after meeting British soldier Aiden Foster during the Christmas Truce of 1914, Jochen Weber still finds himself thinking about Aiden, their shared conversation about literature, and Aiden’s beautiful singing voice. A visit to London gives Jochen the opportunity to search for Aiden, but he’s shocked at what he finds.

The uniform button Jochen gave him is the only thing Aiden has left of the past he’s lost. The war and its aftermath ripped everything away from him, including his family and his music. When Jochen reappears in his life, Aiden enjoys their growing friendship but knows he has nothing to offer. Not anymore.

This is a beautifully written tale of a chance meeting becoming something more.  Not all chance meetings are instant bonds but when Aiden and Jochen find themselves talking over literature during the WW1 Christmas truce, it's pretty obvious that bond is real and the author conveys that in a way that is beautiful and believable.  If you love historical fiction than this is a must for your reading list and even if they aren't your typical fare, I still highly recommend this great story.  It's the first time I've read this author but it won't be the last.


The Door Behind Us by John C Houser
It’s 1919, and Frank Huddleston has survived the battlefields of the Great War. A serious head injury has left him with amnesia so profound he must re-learn his name every morning from a note posted on the privy door.

Gerald “Jersey" Rohn, joined the Army because he wanted to feel like a man, but he returned from the trenches minus a leg and with no goal for his life. He’s plagued by the nightmare of his best friend’s death and has nervous fits, but refuses to associate those things with battle fatigue. He can't work his father's farm, so he takes a job supervising Frank, who is working his grandparents’ farm despite his head injury.

When Frank recovers enough to ask about his past, he discovers his grandparents know almost nothing about him, and they’re lying about what they do know. The men set out to discover Frank's past and get Jersey a prosthesis. They soon begin to care for each other, but they'll need to trust their hearts and put their pasts to rest if they are to turn attraction into a loving future.

This is an amazing story of love, friendship, and overcoming both physical and emotional difficulties.  Added on top of all that, it was a time when a gay relationship was not only shunned but illegal.  Jersey and Frank both have their own issues to overcome that linger after returning from the war, alone they just manage to "get by" but together they find strength to not only get by but also grow and overcome.  I loved the way the author dealt with their individual issues and meshed them together at the same time.  Not all the characters are likeable but they aren't suppose to be and the author writes them in a way that is understandable, at times leaves the reader wanting to shake them till they realize what they are saying and doing could do with some rethinking.  A definite must for those who love historicals and for those that enjoy a good romance and character study, because you just might find something that makes today a little brighter, I know I did.


The Courage to Love
Chapter One
Brisbane, July 1919
THE westerlies began early this year. The icy winter wind cut straight through my clothes. I tugged my collar closer around my face, shoved my gloved hands into the pockets of my overcoat, and stared at the weathered headstone. The words carved into the pale granite were now dark and legible. The southern side of the stone held a slight greenish tinge, the beginnings of moss growth, but someone had been caring for Carl. The grass around the grave was neatly trimmed, and there was a small bowl of fresh camellias beside the headstone.

We could not say good-bye.

My heart is broken.

“It still is, Carl,” I whispered. “Every day.”

Eventually, my shivering became so extreme I had to leave. I looked up at a sky tinged orange and pink and knew if I didn’t run, I’d miss the last tram into the city.

MOTHER’S shrill voice started before I finished unbuttoning my coat. “Where have you been, David? Dinner’s been ready for over an hour. You know what time to be home.” The diminutive woman who ruled my every waking moment when I was at home came into the front hall. She had pulled her graying hair back into her usual severe bun, her thin lips were pinched in disapproval, and her gray eyes glared accusingly as I turned from hanging my coat on the coat stand. “Well?”

“I was just walking around, Mother.”

“Mrs. Edwards and Esther came for afternoon tea. I expected you to be home.”

I stifled the sigh that wanted to escape, but judging by the frown on Mother’s face, I probably didn’t hide my relief very well. The excuses I’d once used dried on my tongue. I would no longer pretend to be someone I wasn’t. After Carl, I’d not get drawn or trapped into marrying a woman my mother chose. Or any woman.

“Did you go to the Post Office and get your job back?”

I couldn’t control the sigh this time. I had gone in there in the morning, and nothing had changed. The checkered tiles still muted footsteps from the doors to the counter. The polished oak counter and stair railings gleamed in the light as they had before. The large room still smelled of old paper, ink, and furniture polish. The only difference was the new faces behind the counter. And me. I was different too, but no one understood that, least of all my mother. I didn’t want to go back to the Post Office, but I wanted to stay in this house even less.

“I begin on Monday.”

Her consideration of me changed, and I suppressed a cringe, standing taller, my back rigid, knowing what she’d say next.

“Good, then you’ll be able to pay more board.” She returned to the living room and sat among the threadbare spotlessness of worn carpets and upholstery. A small fire burned in the grate, lending a homey feel to the one room my mother spent time in. She positioned her feet precisely together, as a lady should, and picked up her mending. “Your dinner is in the oven.”

Dried-out cottage pie and wrinkled, woody carrots, burned on the tips, sat forlornly on an enameled plate in the hot side of the wood-fired oven. I sat at the scarred kitchen table and shoveled the food into my mouth, chewing and swallowing without tasting anything. I didn’t care what my mother served. Everything here tasted better than what I’d eaten the last four years. If I never saw bully beef, tinned peaches, or golden syrup again, it would be too soon.

When I finished, I placed my plate in the tub of water sitting in the sink and stared at the dim reflection of myself in the grubby window. I shuffled my feet against the gritty, sticky floor, then went up the stairs to my room, grateful every day that it was positioned directly over the kitchen and its warmth.

I pulled my suitcase from the top of the wardrobe, sneezed at the dust that came down with it, and packed as many of my clothes and books as would fit. I put the filled suitcase back on top of the wardrobe, hung my pants, coat, and shirt over a chair, crawled into my narrow bed, and stared at the stained ceiling.

I woke in the dark hours before dawn to screams echoing in my room and, from what I knew from her complaints after other nightmares, the thump of my mother’s shoe hitting the other side of the wall above my head. I rose and dressed, then went down the back stairs. Within five minutes, I was free of the house and headed for the river.

OUR glade was unchanged except for the cigarette ends that littered the flattened grass in the middle. The white paper-ends, left by careless smokers, glowed dully in the predawn light. I crawled under the drooping leaves of the willow and leaned against the trunk. I closed my eyes as I remembered the times I’d spent there with Carl, holding his warm body against mine, before the ugliness of our world exploded.

I woke reaching for my rifle, only to have my fingers bump against roots and dew-damp mulch. Murmured voices faded downriver as their unseen owners meandered along the nearby path. I stared through the fractured canopy above me until my breathing settled and my heart rate calmed. When I was sure I was in the glade and not at war, and that no one waited to shoot me, I crawled out of the dimness, brushed myself off, and walked along the riverbank toward Mrs. Gill’s in New Farm.

The house had suffered while I’d been away. The paint looked dull. Sections on the western side had begun to peel and flake away. Dirt clouded the louvered windows that formed the top half of the closed-in wraparound verandas on both the ground floor and the floor above. A small gum tree sprouted in the drooping gutter at the corner of the corrugated iron roof. The front gate needed oiling—the hinges caught and screeched as I pushed it open and closed. The grass beside the path needed cutting, while the flower beds on either side of the short set of stairs to the front door still flourished amid a tangle of weeds, though not much but azaleas were in bloom. The roses, planted in round mounds of mulch leading the way from the gate to the stairs, had been pruned and were beginning to shoot. Over to the side of the front yard, between the house and the fence, a scraggly Geraldton Wax leaned away from the wind, its purple geometrically arranged flowers whipped to a frenzy against the fence dividing this yard from the one next door.

I took the front stairs two at a time, as I always had, only remembering when I reached the landing, there was nothing worth running toward anymore. I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. I hoped Mrs. Gill remembered me and that she had a room to spare.

“Mr. Harrison, you’re back!” Mrs. Gill pulled me into the entry and enveloped me in a lavender-scented hug. Then she pushed me away and fussed with the position of a bowl of camellias on the side table. They were the same color as the flowers at Carl’s grave. “Come on in and tell me when you got back.”

I followed the bustling woman down the long hallway—past the doors to the dining room and parlor, the stairs to the upper level, and the short hallway that led to boarders’ rooms and the downstairs bathroom—to the back of the house and stepped down the single step into the warm kitchen.

There were only good memories in this room. Mrs. Gill’s stove was the same model as my mother’s, but where my mother’s was dull black and smoked from its poorly cleaned flue, Mrs. Gill’s shone from Stove Black and produced a sweet, clean warmth that immediately soothed me. Mrs. Gill tapped the back of one of the wooden chairs as she passed. “Sit, sit, Mr. Harrison.”

She dragged a heavy kettle from the back right corner of the stove to the left, directly above the fire. I looked around the room as I sat. The scrubbed wooden table top was the same, but the large basket that usually contained fruit was gone. The potato sack hanging on the back of the open pantry door was half-full. On the floor in the pantry was a bucket filled with turnips and cabbages. The icebox in the corner of the room didn’t sweat as it usually did when freshly stocked with ice but appeared to be the same temperature as the rest of the room. The stone floor gleamed, clean and smooth in the early morning light that streamed in through the windows over the stove.

Outside, in the backyard, the vegetable patch brought memories of lazy Sunday afternoons in my room, laughing as Carl, naked and flushed from our loving, leaned out the window and tried to scare the crows from the corn. Tall stalks of corn and trellised beans waved in the breeze, but appeared neglected, overgrown with weeds, like a remnant of a better life that would never be seen again. The tall jacaranda tree in the back corner appeared unchanged, and provided shade over nearly half the yard. In front of the vegetable garden, over to the side of the privy, white sheets flapped in the breeze on lines strung across the yard from the small washhouse.

“I’ll make us a nice cup of tea, and you can tell me all that you’ve been doing since you came back and what you have planned now.” Mrs. Gill pulled down cups and saucers from the dresser against the wall facing the sink.

I sat and breathed deeply for the first time in what felt like months. Everyone else wanted to know about the war. They asked if I’d had fun in France and how many French women I’d met. They told me I must be “so proud to have served King and country” and be pleased to have driven the Huns back. I’m glad Mrs. Gill didn’t.

“So how are you settling back in, Mr. Harrison? Several of our young men from here never returned.” She cleared her throat. “But you’d know more about that than I would, I expect.” She placed a cup of steaming tea in front of me and pushed the sugar over. “We lost nearly half our chickens in a storm a few months ago, so it’s going to be difficult to keep eggs on the table until new ones arrive, but I’m sure we’ll manage, dear. We always do.” She sat and, pulling the saucer, drew her teacup toward her.

I flinched at the rattled china-scrape across the table.

Mrs. Gill added milk to her tea, picked up a teaspoon, and stirred it as she stared at the swirling liquid. “I suppose you’ve found better accommodations since you returned?”

“Actually, no, Mrs. Gill. I’ve been staying with my mother, but I was wondering if my old room was available.” My speech was as I had rehearsed, but my throat felt scratchy, like I wanted to cough or vomit. I had no idea what I’d do if Mrs. Gill had rented my room to someone else. The only thing I knew for sure was I couldn’t spend another night under my mother’s roof.

“Oh.” Mrs. Gill looked up at me, her faded blue eyes showing an endearing combination of surprise, pleasure, and dismay. “Actually, it’s not available, Mr. Harrison. I put Mr. Donnelly in your old room, on account of it being at the back of the house and quieter.”

I nodded and tried to smile, but my stomach churned. I twisted my fingers together in my lap, my nerves stretched so tight I thought I would start screaming and never stop.

“I expect you’re looking for a quiet room as well.” She considered me carefully for several seconds. I was relieved that she seemed to instinctively understand. “With so many motor cars around lately, all the front rooms will be too noisy for you. You could have Mr. George’s old room if you wanted.” After making this statement, Mrs. Gill jumped up, grabbed a cloth, and wiped the table down, then refilled my cup, even though I’d barely taken two sips from it.

“It’s not taken?” My heart pounded and I closed my eyes against the image of Carl, in pain, his eyes crying out his love for me even as he breathed his last. I didn’t know if I could go back into that room, yet part of me couldn’t stay away.

“No.” Mrs. Gill hesitated. “Some gentlemen don’t like the thought that someone died there, but you and Mr. George were such close friends, I thought you wouldn’t mind.”

The alternative was my mother’s. I’d rather be somewhere Carl had been. “I start back at the Post Office on Monday. Would I be able to move in today and pay the board after I receive my first wage?”

Mrs. Gill beamed at me. “Of course, dear. You didn’t bring anything with you?” She looked around the kitchen as if expecting to see a suitcase materialize even though we both knew I hadn’t arrived with anything. Mrs. Gill reached over and patted my arm. “It’s good to have you back, Mr. Harrison.”

I smiled at her. “And it’s good to be back, Mrs. Gill.”

For the first time since the ship had landed back in Australia, I meant those words.

I RETURNED to my mother’s house in the afternoon. Today was her library afternoon, in which she met several like-minded matrons at the local library and they discussed in hushed whispers the state of the neighborhood. It was cowardly, but I didn’t want to face her. I’d had enough of people screaming at me, and if I had to listen to one more of her tirades, I would say something irrevocable. As much as I no longer wanted to live with her, she was my mother, and I needed to treat her with as much respect as I was able to. Unfortunately, that meant behaving like the basest coward and running away.

I left a note on the kitchen table, collected my suitcase, and shoved the front door key under the door as I left.

CARL’S room felt like me: it looked the same, but it was empty. The washstand still held the same fluted blue-and-white basin and jug, but his brushes and shaving gear were gone. I laid out my toiletries precisely but on the opposite side of the basin from where he’d always stored his. After hanging my clothes in the single wardrobe, I pushed them to the left, leaving enough room for as many again beside them. Then I positioned the suitcase on its side on top of the wardrobe. I stared at the bed, but didn’t touch it. His bed had always been narrower than mine, so I’d never slept in it. If I closed my eyes, I could see Carl as he was the last time I saw him, belly swollen, bones broken, tears streaming down his face.

I didn’t close my eyes.

Mrs. Gill let me take one of the brocade wing-back chairs from the downstairs sitting room. I positioned it near the window, facing out so I could sit and look at the garden, with the branches of the jacaranda tree gracefully protecting the corner of the vegetable garden from the midday sun. I kept it at an angle so I could also see the door. On the floor beside the chair, I placed a sturdy branch that had fallen from the gum tree in the neighbor’s yard.

At dinner that night, I met the other boarders. I remembered one from my previous time there, but the other two were new. I forgot their names before I’d finished shaking their hands. They took their places at the dining table, leaving one place setting unclaimed. They sat silently and avoided looking at each other, a stark contrast to the noisy conversation that had heralded their arrival. The two other dining tables were bare of place settings. I went to the kitchen.

“Mrs. Gill, is there anything I can help you with?” I asked as I walked into the room.

A crash greeted me, and I looked over to see a tall, thin young man, with a head of unruly mahogany curls, crouched over a smashed plate. He frantically scooped scattered food onto the largest piece of plate. As I watched, blood bloomed on his hand, and I rushed over to him.

“Mr. Harrison, don’t.”

“You’ve cut yourself,” I murmured as I reached for the young man’s hand. “Let me see.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what happened next. One moment I crouched next to the injured man, the next I lay sprawled on the floor with food splattered over me and the young man curled into a whimpering ball, pressed against the wall beside the stove. His trousers rode up his ankles as he curled in on himself, but I could see the fabric gathering under his belt, a testament to recently lost weight.

“Mr. Harrison, come away now.”

I looked up to see Mrs. Gill standing on the far side of the table, concern etching wrinkles into her forehead.

“Come now, Mr. Harrison, I’ll put your dinner in the dining room with the others.” She loaded a large wooden tray with plates of steaming food and left. I glanced at the man on the floor, and I felt torn between doing as Mrs. Gill instructed and helping the man.

The whimpers had stopped, but the man hadn’t moved, his face resolutely hidden from me. I determined to ask Mrs. Gill about him after dinner, then went to eat my meal.

By the time I’d finished eating, I’d decided I would ask Mrs. Gill if I could eat in the kitchen from then on. Anything would be better than the uncomfortable silences alternating with generalized complaints against society that had accompanied my meal in the dining room.

“THAT’S Mr. Donnelly.” Mrs. Gill efficiently dried plates and put them in a stack with a clack. “I mentioned him this morning.”

“Is he…?”

“He was in the war, Mr. Harrison.” Mrs. Gill turned to stare at me. “I’m sure you know the kinds of things he might have experienced.”

Shell shock. I’d seen it before. Good soldiers, even great soldiers, started to sob and not stop, even when the medics came to carry them out. Others experienced flashbacks so bad they went on rampages and shot everything that moved. Hell, I’d even experienced some of that myself. I still had nightmares.

“How long has he been with you?”

“Only a couple of months. He just needs things quiet for a while, I think.”

Hence giving him the back bedroom. I placed my hand on her shoulder. “You’re a good woman, Mrs. Gill.”

Whistling in the Dark
Jack's expression of surprise lasted only an instant before a wicked leer took its place. As he sauntered over, Sutton's heart seemed to quicken to 2/2 time. He didn't know if Jack felt the same attraction, the one coursing with sudden heat through his blood. He wanted to think so—but Jack seemed to play to the crowd as he dropped onto Sutton’s lap and, draping both arms around his shoulders, drew closer for a kiss. Jack's breath warm in his face reminded him to breathe and he did so, audibly. But at the last second, Jack brushed his forehead with a brotherly buss and everyone exclaimed in good-natured protest.

Jack was unrepentant. "That's how they kiss in Kansas," he said and turned laughing eyes back to Sutton. "Tell 'em, Mabel."

Deciding to correct that misapprehension, Sutton took him by the lapels and kissed him. He could feel Jack's initial shock in the lack of response. Then Jack kissed back, sparking something neither of them could blame on the champagne. His momentum dropped them backward to the pillows, Jack still kissing him as if he never wanted to stop, and Sutton didn’t mind in the least if it went on forever. He ignored the whoops and whistles from their audience and Jack did too, until Theo stuck his nose in. "Would you gentlemen care for the key to my apartment?"

Jack broke from the kiss, meeting Sutton's gaze for barely an instant before turning to smirk at Theo. "Satisfied?"

Theo looked only more amused. "Just what I was about to ask you."

Disentangling themselves, they sat up and Jack made a show of straightening Sutton's coat and tie before rising to swagger back to his spot.

Sutton avoided all the laughing faces and wondered if he'd gone too far. No one else seemed to think so or care, so he tried not to care, either. But he couldn't bring himself to look Jack’s way until the game had broken up and the others had returned to dancing. By then, Jack had vanished in the crowd and before Sutton could look for him, Theo pounced to ask without pretense this time if he would play the piano again.

It was after midnight when Sutton wandered to the edge of the roof for a little fresh air and a sumptuous view. A welcome breeze blew in his face along the shadowed walk behind the palms. He found Jack leaning on the parapet, his features in unusually quiet repose as he took in the view. Unbidden came the thought that Jack was terribly handsome and rather dear, besides.

Jack looked around at his approach and smiled easily. "You ready to go home?"

"No, I just wanted to—well, I hope I didn't embarrass you earlier. In the game," he added, at Jack's puzzled look.

"Oh, that?" Jack laughed. "Nothing to worry about. Unless Topeka law says we're engaged."

"Not even promised. In our case, anyway." He felt foolish. The kiss had been part of a silly game. He shouldn't have brought it up.

"Champagne?" Jack picked up the bottle on the ledge and filled his empty glass.

"No, thank you. I think I'm done with that or I'll be sick."

Jack downed the glassful. "You've been to fancier parties than this. Your folks must throw some real hummers."

"Yes, just—decidedly different." He shuddered to imagine what his parents would think of the goings-on at Theo's.

"No kissing? Or dancing?"

"Dancing, of course. But of the proper sort."

Jack rolled his eyes. "A party's no place to be proper. Your folks don't know you dance with boys?"

"I never have," Sutton said, then realized Jack meant more than dancing.

"You always blush that easily?" Jack grabbed his hands and whirled him around in an unsteady circle.

"Jack, for heaven’s sake." But he couldn't keep from laughing.

"You can't fox-trot worth a damn, Mabel."

"Is that what you're trying to do?"

"Smug bastard." Jack grinned and pushed him. "You don't even know how to get good and drunk. I think you met me just in time."

Home Fires Burning
The leaves on the copper beeches danced in the breeze; the late summer sun lighting on them produced a warm glow. Nicholas had always loved them more than any other trees on his estate, even in their bare winter form. Now, leaving the cab at the gate and savouring the walk along his own drive, he saw them afresh. He used to meet Paul under these branches when they were hardly more than boys, taking a chess set or pack of cards to play seemingly endless games bathed by the warm August Hampshire sun. There’d be no time for such frivolity now.

He told Nanny that he was signing up almost as soon as he reached the house, before anyone else. She’d been so proud at the thought of him putting his name down. “You’ll look a picture in your uniform. Have all those mesdemoiselles waving their handkerchiefs at you. Be careful you don’t come back with one of them on your arm.”

“I promise.” Only recently had Nicholas been able to address his former governess and not feel seven-and-a-half again. Even though he towered over her, she would always seem the grown-up one of the pair. “I hope to be off training in just a few weeks, which will give me time enough to set my affairs here straight. There are plenty of safe pairs of hands to entrust things into.”

“Young Mr. Haskell will keep a steady eye on things,” Nanny said, fiddling with her knitting. No doubt those fingers would be employed producing socks or scarves or who knew what else over the next few months. “You’ll be back come the spring, in time to see the lambs over at Longlea.” She made the pronouncement as if it were a certainty, as sure as Christmas Day falling on December the twenty-fifth.

“I hope so.” As Nicholas spoke the words, he felt a prophetic jolt, and knew it was all a lie. Somewhere inside—heart or brain, he couldn’t be sure—he was certain they were in for a long campaign. Leaving the old lady with her wool and her thoughts, he went out into the gentle light to find Paul.

As he walked down the path back to the beech avenue an instantly recognisable, elegant figure came to meet him, a gun hanging off its shoulder and an uncharacteristically serious look on its handsome face.

“You’ll sign up?” Paul didn’t attempt any small talk; it wasn’t their way. They usually met three times a week, if Nicholas was down in Hampshire, and those meetings always began with a litany of business, action taken or to be considered on the estate, successes and failures. Only when all the business was dealt with would Paul take a beer, relax for half an hour and indulge in chit-chat. A discussion of parish scandal, something which might have been called gossip if they’d been female, a brief harking back to the days when they’d traded all their secrets over that chess board. True to form, Paul hit straight at the crux of things now.

Nicholas wasn’t sure if the question was an order—you do this for the honour of the estate, I can’t—or some sort of expression of jealousy, that he could go where the other man could only dream of. He couldn’t dare hope it was the beginnings of a plea for him not to go.

“It’s my duty.” The words seemed inadequate, barely expressing anything Nicholas felt. Yes, he was bound by duty, but there were other considerations. He was, he knew, running away from conflict as much as running towards it.

“I’ll look after things.” Paul’s eyes registered something which might have been offence.
Nicholas replied hastily. “Of course you will. I’ve never doubted it.” He’d doubted his own intentions, of course.

He cast a sidelong glance at Paul, wondering what expectations he’d have. The estate manager wore his business face, a cool, clear eye surveying the fields, maybe weighing up the chances of the next pheasant brood surviving the depredation of fox or buzzard.

Sometimes Paul spoke of his family, an occasional glimpse into a world not bounded by rents or yields; would one of his brothers or cousins be taking the King’s shilling? “Will Tom volunteer?”

Bonds of Earth
Chapter One
April 1919

THE early spring evening still held a reminder of the winter’s chill, but as soon as Michael opened the door of the Saint Alexander’s Baths, it might as well have been high noon in the middle of summer. The sultry heat and humidity washed over him, drawing him inside and tugging him down the wide steps to the place that, for all its chipped paint and flickering Mazda lamps, had become his second home, his refuge.

By the time he reached Millie’s office, he had shed his jacket and collar and was working on the buttons of his vest. He was not looking forward to this conversation, but there was nothing else to be done. He had no choice.

“Darling! You’re early!” The sweet scent of Millie’s perfume momentarily drowned out the stronger odors of the bathhouse as she hugged him to her ample bosom. When she released him, she peered into his eyes, that sapphire-blue gaze seeing right through him, as it always had. “What’s the matter?”

Michael motioned her to her overstuffed chaise; she shot him another glance but did as he wished, and he sat in the chair opposite. “I wanted to let you know I have an interview tomorrow for a position. I’m probably going to get the job; my uncle’s all but fixed it.”

Millie pursed her rouged lips. “Refresh my memory, dear. You have so many relatives.”

“Padraig, my mother’s eldest brother. He’s a gardener—works for the City most of the time, though he also does some work for the types with mansions near the Park.”

“You’re going to work as… a gardener?” Millie’s sour expression made it clear what she thought of that idea. Reaching out, she gripped Michael’s broad hands in her finer ones. “Your poor, talented hands—you’ll ruin them!” she exclaimed in horror.

Michael squeezed her fingers before drawing away. “I’ll be fine. As Uncle Paddy says, it’s a good opportunity for a working man.” He forced a twisted smile that wasn’t intended to convince her of the statement.

Millie made a derisive noise. “Yes, well, you know what I think of that.” She sighed. “I suppose it’s not the end of the world. At least you should still have a bit of time to work here, especially in the winter.”

Michael shook his head, the rage he’d been feeling since hearing from his meddling bastard of an uncle threatening to stop his throat. “If this comes through, I’ll be leaving New York. One of the old blueblood biddies needs someone to tend her Hudson River estate. If I’m lucky, I’ll manage to visit Manhattan once a month, if that.”

Millie stared at him, her carefully plucked eyebrows climbing. “But why? Why leave the city? Everything is here.”

For a moment, Michael considered telling her. For all her flash, she was a kind-hearted soul, and she’d been a good friend to him over the years. All the more reason, though, not to burden her with his troubles. He knew full well she’d survived more than he ever had, and while she would be outraged on his behalf, it would do neither of them any good. Instead, he shrugged and murmured, “Time for a change, that’s all.”

Millie shook her head, then leaned forward slightly. “Have you given any more thought to what we talked about last week?”

Michael settled further into the chair. “You know I haven’t.”

Millie scowled, the deep lines revealing her age in a way that Michael was sure would horrify her. “If you’d just stop being such a—” she began hotly.

Cutting her off with a sharp gesture of his hand, he said, “I’m not going to take your money, Millie. I already owe you too much. And even if I could, I don’t want the things you think I want. That discussion is finished.”

“Consider it a loan,” she persisted. “You can pay me interest if it offends your virtue. And you owe me nothing. You’ve long since paid me back for everything I put toward your education. You know that.”

Michael stood, suddenly eager for the conversation to be over. “I’m sorry. And please don’t think I’m not grateful you gave me my old job after I came back from the war. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and you made it possible for me to—”

Millie waved away his words, and he smiled in spite of his mood. “Well, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. I was a rough, ungrateful Mick ruffian before you taught me manners.”

Rising to her feet, Millie took his face gently between her palms. “You were never a ruffian, my darling,” she said softly. “And I wish you’d think about what I’m offering you. When you left six years ago, you had such dreams.”

Christ, Millie, he wanted to say, you have no idea. For you, it’s been a few short years. For me, it feels like a fucking century. And every time I dream now, it’s a nightmare.

“This is a good position,” he said, parroting his uncle’s speech. “A good opportunity.”

“Well,” Millie said, releasing him with a final pat, “perhaps the country air will clear your head.”

Michael leaned down and brushed his lips against hers softly. “From your mouth to God’s ear.” Too bad the old bastard is deaf, he added silently.

Sighing, Millie hooked an arm around his neck and pressed into his embrace for a moment before releasing him. He tried not to notice that her eyes were bright when she pulled away. “Get to work, you loafer,” she whispered. “Your customers are waiting.”

Michael touched her cheek with his fingertips, the faintest hint of beard greeting them even through the heavy layer of paint. At least you still have your disguise, Henry m’dear, he thought, allowing himself a moment of fierce sentimentality. “Mustn’t disappoint the customers,” he murmured, planting one final kiss on her forehead before plunging back into the tropical atmosphere of the bath, filled with the seductive scents of sweat and lust.

Michael was almost disappointed when his shift progressed much the same way it always had: the same customers, the same faces, nothing out of the ordinary. The pressure from the bulls had let off in the last month, so there wasn’t even the excitement of a possible raid to break the monotony. The Greenwich Village baths like Millie’s attracted a mixed crowd, bohemians and fairies and rough Ninth Ward Italian boys who weren’t allowed to touch the nice girls their mothers wanted them to marry. They all liked Michael because he’d forgotten more about massage than most of the city’s rubbers knew, and because he had long since trained his voice to be nearly as soothing as his hands. It didn’t hurt that he was over six feet besides, with a longshoreman’s build, hair the color of a raven’s wing, and blue-gray eyes that more than one customer had called “hypnotic.” Michael didn’t give a tinker’s damn what they called his eyes or any other part of him; a hollow shell would serve them as easily as he did, and they’d still come away satisfied. Most nights, a hollow shell was all they got.

Geoffrey, one of his regulars, arrived not long before closing. He was a middle-aged fellow, soft hands and a soft manner, the sort you usually saw at the Everard rather than up in the Village baths. A businessman, Michael guessed, or perhaps a lawyer, someone inclined to seek out a bathhouse where he would not be recognized. His face wasn’t remarkable, but his eyes were dark, almost black, like a Gypsy’s. He was always polite. Michael liked the way he said his name, though he liked the way he tipped even better. The skin of Geoffrey’s shoulders was pale as milk, and his arms and chest were slim but not without muscle. He preferred for Michael to start with his neck and work his way down his front first, starting with effleurage and graduating to frictions and petrissage of his arms. His father had suffered from debilitating arthritis, he told Michael, and he was terrified that the same would happen to him.

“I have to believe that your treatments will be a help to me,” Geoffrey would say, as Michael gently stroked his fingers.

“Can’t hurt,” Michael would reply.

After that, Michael would move on to his lower extremities, kneading from the feet to the calves to the thighs, hands moving constantly, checking for signs of weakness or fibrosis automatically, although after four months he knew Geoffrey’s body almost as well as his own, was familiar with the span and stretch of every muscle and tendon. By the time he reached the hips, Geoffrey was usually restless and showing the first signs of arousal. He was an odd one; most men who came to the Saint Alex were hard the minute they walked in the door. But then most of the clientele of the Saint Alex kept the animal inside them close to the surface, while men like Geoffrey spent their whole lives hiding theirs from the light of day. Regardless of where each of them spent their days, darkness was the safest place for desires whose indulgence could bring arrest and imprisonment.

This was usually the time when Michael asked him to turn over, but tonight he felt a strange need, a desire to make a connection, and so he said, “You probably won’t see me next week.”

Geoffrey’s eyes opened, dark gaze startled and confused. “I’ll be leaving the city soon,” Michael explained. “I don’t imagine I’ll be back here.”

“Oh,” Geoffrey said softly. “I’m very sorry to hear that.”

“You’re just worried about your arthritis,” Michael remonstrated.

“No!” Geoffrey exclaimed, pushing himself up off the table, his expression earnest. “I don’t—I haven’t only been coming here for that.”

Michael looked pointedly down at the towel that was barely covering Geoffrey’s groin. Geoffrey’s face flushed. “Not only for that, either. I—”

“What’s your real name?” Michael demanded, suddenly in earnest for no reason he could explain, to himself or anyone. “I know damned well it’s not Geoffrey.” The other man’s face grew fearful. Michael cursed himself silently but pressed on nevertheless. “You can tell me. I’ll share it with no one.”

Geoffrey shut his eyes and took several deep breaths, as one preparing for a dive into freezing water. Finally, he whispered, “Joseph. It’s Joseph.”

“Well, Joseph,” Michael said, leaning forward and bestowing a gentle kiss on his brow, “how’s about you turn over for us now, hm?”

Joseph nodded and sank back onto the table as though the admission had exhausted him, robbed the resistance from his bones. He lay limp and unresponsive at first, but Michael had the sweetest hands of any rubber in the baths, and within minutes Joseph was trembling and moaning and grinding his hips into the table. His pleasure sounds drew a crowd, and by the time Michael began to press inside him there were a dozen hands on Joseph’s pale back, striping it with every shade of olive and tan and brown.

Joseph gave him five dollars before he left, and Michael kissed him for it, lingering in the soft, pliant depths of Joseph’s mouth as though they were lovers loath to part from one another. When Joseph drew back, he searched Michael’s face for a moment before turning and walking away, soon disappearing in the fog that surrounded them all.

MARGARET looked up from the money Michael had pressed into her hand, her face revealing her confusion and hurt. “You’ve only just come back, and now you’re going away again?”

Michael stroked Donald’s cheek where the baby lay warm and cozy in his bassinette, a sturdy drawer pulled from the dresser. His nephew looked exactly like Margaret had at that age: both strong and fragile, a contradiction that lived inside her still. He reluctantly lifted his head to meet her gaze. The fragility was harder to find now, but she was no less dear to him for that.

“It’s a good opportunity,” he repeated, hoping that the speech he’d used on Millie would work on her as well. He didn’t have the patience to come up with new arguments, particularly when the reason for his exile was staring him in the face.

No, he thought sharply, it’s not her fault. It’s Paddy’s. Don’t forget that.

Reaching out, he took her hands in his. “You know I’ve been at loose ends since coming home,” he said, trying a smile he knew didn’t reach his eyes. “God knows you’ve probably grown sick of my black moods.” She opened her mouth to speak, but he shook his head to forestall her. “Perhaps this will give me a chance to break out of my rut.”

She looked up at him sadly, squeezing his hands as she spoke. “I wish you could tell me what happened over there,” she murmured.

“No, you don’t,” he replied gently. “If you had seen a tenth of what I’ve seen, m’darling, you’d pray every night to have God take the memory of it from you.”

Margaret’s face crumpled as she took his face in her hands. “If telling me about it would help you, I’d gladly bear it, Michael. I’d—”

Gut knotting, Michael hugged her to him tightly so that he wouldn’t have to see her face. “Don’t cry. I’m not worth crying over.”

“You’re worth more than all the gold in the world,” Margaret murmured against his shoulder, repeating words he’d said to her since the day she was born. “We never used to keep secrets from one another. You used to tell me everything.”

“Not everything,” Michael said, trying to keep his voice light and failing miserably. “I want you to love me, don’t I?”

Margaret tipped her head back and stared at him. He filled the silence before she could ask the question, because in his agitated state, he might finally tell her the truth, Paddy and the police and God be damned. But he also knew that if he spoke now, he would lose the last thing that still mattered to him, and so he only smiled and said, “Cheer up, now. I’m only going up the Hudson, not across the Atlantic. I’ll be back to visit before you know it.”

Margaret lived only a block from the place in which she’d been born, in a tenement less ramshackle than most thanks to Michael’s weekly supplements. When they were children, Michael would sneak her out on summer Sunday mornings before his aunt woke them for Mass and spirit her off to Central Park. They’d spend the day lost among the tall trees far from the beaten paths, imagining themselves intrepid explorers in uncharted territory, and return sunburnt and tired and exhilarated. Paddy would cane Michael for it, but he’d never lay a hand on Margaret, perhaps because he knew Michael would kill him in his sleep if he ever touched her. Someday, he would tell her, someday we’ll be gone from this place.

But in the end, she had never escaped this handful of overcrowded streets of filth and feuding humanity, and even though she was barely twenty-one, he doubted she ever would. And Michael had fled across an ocean only to learn that the world was steeped in such filth as made the Bowery seem the most pristine wilderness imaginable.

“Uncle Michael!” Michael turned to see Edith, her short sturdy legs stumbling as she raced to reach him. Striding toward her, he caught her just before she would have fallen and swung her up into his arms.

He tickled her, and she giggled happily. “Anna took me to the park!” she exclaimed, flinging an arm out to indicate the skinny olive-skinned girl standing in the doorway. She nodded to him, then began talking quietly with Margaret.

“Well, that was very kind of Anna,” Michael said softly, “but we must keep our voices down. Your brother’s sleeping.”

A tiny line appeared between her brows. “I don’t like him,” she confessed in a whisper. “When he came, Papa went away.”

Michael squeezed the child a little tighter. Paul, Margaret’s husband, had left three months ago for Philadelphia, claiming to be following a lead on a steelmaking job. Margaret hadn’t heard from him since. “Your Papa has left to find work,” he said, as soothingly as he could. “He’ll send for you before you know it.”

Edith’s frown didn’t abate, as though she could tell he didn’t believe a word he was telling her. “You mustn’t blame your brother,” Michael added. “He needs you to love him and take care of him.”

“The way you took care of Mommy?” the child asked.

Michael stroked the fine blonde hair back from her forehead. “Oh, I know you can do better, m’dearie,” he murmured. “Much, much better.”

“REMEMBER your promise,” Paddy warned as he stopped the truck in front of the tall wrought-iron gates.

“I don’t need to be bloody reminded,” Michael spat back. “You’ve made it damned clear what my choices are.”

“Watch your language,” hissed Paddy, peering nervously out the windows of the truck. “I hope you don’t talk like that in there.”

Michael sighed, suddenly wanting it all to be over with. “I’ll get the job, Uncle.”

“See that you do,” Paddy sniffed. “When I think about your poor mother looking down on you from above, knowing what you’ve done—”


“She sees you, don’t think she doesn’t—”

Michael reached for the door handle. “I suspect heaven’s not that much different from this world as they’d like us to believe. Ma’s likely too busy washing rich men’s socks to be looking down and watching me fuck—”

The word was barely out of his mouth when his uncle clapped him soundly across the face with his open hand. Michael wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of flinching, even though it hurt like the devil. After all, he was used to it by now.

“Shift yourself,” Paddy said lowly. “Or I’ll call for a constable. And then I’ll tell Margaret just what kind of a pervert you are.”

Without another word, Michael reached for the door handle and let himself out of the cab. The street was busy but not clogged; in this part of the city, the sidewalks were wide, and there was fresh macadam on the roads. There were well-dressed clerks hurrying to and fro, and the occasional young woman wearing a shirtwaist and heavy skirts. Many women had given up—or been forced to give up—their office positions as soon as the war ended. He knew Annie Sewell from the floor above him had had to go back to her first job working in the kitchen of one of these fine houses. A year ago she’d been eagerly talking about her new “career” as a clerk and how her boss didn’t try to take liberties with her the way the old master had.

He gave his name to the stiff who answered the door and waited in the library for the lady of the house to appear. He’d kill for a cheroot right now, but he’d sworn off the things because he didn’t want all the teeth to rot out of his head by the time he turned thirty. With what this position was likely to pay, it wasn’t a sound idea for him to take up the habit again. The fewer vices he indulged, the more of his wages he’d be able to save, even after sending Margaret whatever he could.

What he was saving them for, well, that he couldn’t say exactly. That would require planning, and Michael had worked hard to avoid making plans for some time now.

“Mr. McCreeley?”

Michael turned to face the well-dressed woman with silver-blonde hair who had spoken to him. “McCready, mum. Michael McCready.”

“Yes,” she said, looking him up and down with a delicately wrinkled nose. He didn’t offer his hand, merely bowed slightly at the waist and nodded. She hesitated for a moment, perhaps trying to decide which of her chairs she’d risk sullying. Finally she picked one and waved him to it.

“Your uncle does you a great service. He says you are an excellent gardener—surely a great credit from such a fine one as Mr. Sullivan.”

Michael smiled. She couldn’t know how funny he found that statement and would just take it as pleasure at the compliment. “Yes, mum. He’s taught me all I know.”

“I understand you worked with him before you went overseas?”

“Yes, mum.” That much was at least partly true. He’d sweated for Paddy since he’d gone to live with him at the age of twelve, because if he hadn’t pulled his weight, Paddy wouldn’t have fed him. As it was, there’d been more than a few nights when Paddy had drunk so much of his paycheck that there wasn’t enough food for Michael, Margaret, and Paddy’s six children besides. When the settlement house do-gooders had quit dragging him back three years later, he’d escaped to work for himself.

She asked him more questions, and he answered them easily, embellishing in places and omitting in others, telling her the things she would want to hear. While she droned on about the requirements of the position, he let his mind return to his last job interview, nearly two years ago now.

Doctor Randolph Parrish of the American Convalescent Hospital in Somerset sits behind his huge oaken desk, one finger tapping the side of his nose as he studies the report. Short and rotund, he has the appearance and mannerisms of a jocular Christmas elf and the steel-gray gaze of a Viking warrior. Michael finds himself drawn to the contradiction.

“You want to join my staff, then, do you?” Parrish says, raising his eyes to contemplate Michael.

“Yes, sir.” Michael does not say that he has requested this transfer because he’s only a few short steps from madness. Parrish deals with shell-shock victims every day; he can recognize the signs of a man who is heartily sick of the trenches.

“Your record as an ambulance driver is commendable,” Parrish says, “and you have completed a year of medical school?”

“Yes, sir. In Dublin, before the war.”

“Where did you study massage?”

Michael launches into the carefully prepared speech. “I’m mostly self-taught, sir, though I did study the Ling methods, as well as some of the more modern techniques.”

“Hm.” Parrish nods thoughtfully. “Do you have any experience with electromechanotherapy?”

“No, but I did use hydropathy in my work. I’ve read Doctor Baruch’s writings and attended one of his lectures at Columbia.” Michael doesn’t add that he’d snuck into the medical building and stood at the back of the hall while the real students looked askance at him and his threadbare suit.

Parrish flips through the papers in his hands. “I don’t recall seeing references from your massage work.”

“I spent over three years working at one of the finer men’s clubs in Manhattan,” Michael replies smoothly. “Unfortunately, the letter of reference my employer sent never reached me overseas.” A brief flash of anger accompanies this statement, but he tamps it down swiftly. The truth is that the word of the man who transformed Michael from ignorant tough to idealistic young medical student would be worthless to a man like Parrish. It is equally true that no amount of anger will change this fact. Worse, his physical therapy experience is all in the baths, and although he spent long nights applying the techniques he learned in long days of self-study, he knows that the merest whisper of his years at the Saint Alex will lose him more than this position. A self-confessed invert is doomed to prison at best and a mental institution at worst, where the alienist’s latest “cure” will be only too joyfully inflicted upon him.

“Will you be going back to medical school afterward?”

The question takes Michael by surprise, and suddenly he is trapped by that sharp gray gaze. It seems as though Parrish can read every one of his secrets as easily as the headlines of the morning’s Times. “I don’t know,” he says, surprising himself with an uncharacteristic display of honesty.

Parrish leans back in his chair, folding his hands over his ample belly. “The men on this ward have need of an experienced masseur. More than that, however, they have need of a man who is committed to their recovery, more so in most cases than they are. You must be prepared to never let them see your disgust, your fear, your despair, and I guarantee you, you will feel those things every day. Privately, you may be as uncertain as you wish, but you must never show them a moment’s hesitation. Do you understand?”

Michael wants to tell him no, wants to walk out of the room right now and resign from the Red Cross—he’s a civilian, there is no force holding him here—but this is his last chance. He can see the hundreds, thousands of dead rise up before him, and he wants so desperately to help something to live, wants to make one last attempt to revive the dream he can barely remember before it leaves him forever.

“Yes,” he says. “Yes, I understand, sir.”

“Well, then, God help you,” Parrish says wearily, rising to his feet and offering Michael his pudgy hand, “the position is yours.”

“The position pays well—thirty dollars a week,” Mrs. Anderson said, the mention of money bringing Michael back to the present. He nodded at the woman politely. Millie paid him forty, and he often made that much again in tips. But at least here he’d have no expenses for food and lodging.

“That’s very generous, mum.” It was, truthfully, more than he’d been expecting; the bluebloods loved their charities, but they were notorious for paying their help next to nothing.

“Well,” she said with some asperity, rising to her feet, “you look like you’ve a good strong back, and you have a pleasant manner. With Mr. Sullivan vouching for you, I’m willing to offer you the position. I’m off to Philadelphia at the end of the week, and I can’t be bothered with interviewing twenty men who are probably equipped with few qualifications and even fewer references.”

“I’m honored to accept, mum. When shall I start?”

“As soon as possible. Can you be ready to leave Thursday?”

Two days. “I believe so. Yes, mum.”

“Good. I’ll have a ticket waiting for you at the station for the five o’clock train. Thomas will meet you in Stuyvesant.” She waved a hand at Michael’s unspoken question. “Thomas Abbott. He and his wife are the caretakers, but he’s advancing in years and isn’t able to tend the garden any longer.”

“Are they the only residents, mum?” Many of the estates on the Hudson were little more than summer homes or places to deposit the maiden great-aunt or the mad relative. He wasn’t looking forward to sharing a house with the family embarrassment.

“No. My nephew—my brother’s only son—has been living there for several months now.” She made another sour face. “He’s recently returned from the war as well.”

Michael nodded. No doubt he’d served his country as an ass-licking aide-de-camp or rear-echelon paper-chaser. “And I suppose I will be reporting to him?”

“You will be reporting to Thomas,” the woman informed him, ice in her words, “and Thomas will report to me. You will have no need to bother my nephew.”

“Yes, mum,” Michael said woodenly. Wonderful. The man was either mentally incompetent, a drunkard, or a completely useless bastard—or perhaps all three. Well, Michael had certainly put up with worse.

“If you have no more questions, I believe our business is concluded most happily for both of us. Thank you for your time, Mister McCreeley.”

Michael did not even consider correcting her again. “Thank you, mum. I will do everything in my power to give you satisfaction.”

“I’m sure you will,” she said distantly, already having dismissed him in her mind.

Taking his cue, Michael bowed slightly and let himself out. Once back on the street, he took a deep breath of the Manhattan spring air, which even in this fine neighborhood had the slight tang of the city’s ever-present layer of filth in it.

“I’ll miss you, you ugly old bitch,” Michael murmured, startling a young woman bustling past him on the sidewalk. Nodding at her, he tipped his hat and headed off in the opposite direction, toward the streetcar.

On Wings of Song
Chapter One
JOCHEN WEBER pulled his greatcoat around him and continued watching the scene in front of him. It had snowed the night before, the ground a blanket of white, a refuge for those who had survived the last few days. Stark contrast to the devastation of clay, mud, and ruined brick that lay beneath.

Men who had shot at each other mere hours before now kicked a ball around a supposed no man’s land—the forbidden area between their trenches and those of the enemy. The lines between friend and enemy had blurred: British, German, and French soldiers spent Christmas together in Flanders, Belgium.

“Come join us, Jochen!” Arndt Dahl yelled. “Put your book down.”

Jochen waved but didn’t move. “I haven’t even started reading it,” he muttered. Reading was more appealing than the game. He’d never really understood why men felt the need to kick a ball around, and preferred to lose himself in the words that came alive on the page.

He caught a movement from the corner of his eye and turned. A young Englishman stood about a meter away, watching Jochen with something akin to curiosity. He didn’t look much older than Jochen, who was barely twenty. The private, like himself—Jochen recognized the British insignia—was several centimeters taller than Jochen, with dark hair and the most amazing dark brown eyes. He smiled shyly, and Jochen couldn’t help but return the gesture.

“Frohe Weihnachten,” Jochen said quietly, not sure what else to say. “I mean, Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” the man said. His voice had a musical quality to it, strong but not as deep as Jochen expected. “I thought this war would be over and we’d be home by Christmas. We all did.”

“Perhaps we won’t be fighting for much longer?” Jochen voiced the hope he mainly kept to himself. “After all, if we can find peace at Christmas, maybe it will last. The war has only been going four months, but it feels much longer.” He held out his hand. “Excuse my manners. I’m Jochen. Jochen Weber.”

The man shook Jochen’s hand. “Aiden Foster.” Aiden shook himself as though waking from a dream. “I’m sorry. I still can’t believe what’s happened. We’re supposed to be on opposite sides. You Jerries are nothing like I expected.” He flushed bright red. “I just insulted you, didn’t I?”

Jochen chuckled. “That depends on what you expected.” He shrugged. “You’re not what I expected either, although I didn’t really believe that you Tommies were as bad as we’ve been told. Not if your Mr. Dickens is to be believed.”

“You’re reading Dickens?” Aiden looked surprised. “Your English is very good.” He grimaced. “Probably much better than my German.”

“Thank you. There were books I wanted to read that hadn’t been translated into German. It was quite the incentive, although I’ve also been told I’m too impatient.” Jochen tapped the side of the book in his hand. “I have read Dickens, but this is Goethe.” He lowered his voice. “Reading a British author in English while in a German trench during a war against his countrymen is probably not very sensible.”

“About as sensible as a Tommy and a Jerry discussing literature on what is supposed to be a battlefield?” The side of Aiden’s mouth twitched.

Jochen laughed. “Exactly.” He liked Aiden already. The man was easy to talk to and had a good sense of humor. One of the soccer balls headed straight for them. Jochen stepped between Aiden and the ball and caught it. “The goal’s that way!” he yelled, pointing to a pile of sandbags a few meters away.

“You could always come and play!” Arndt laughed. He sounded happy, more so than he’d been over the last few months. He missed home, and in particular his girlfriend, Lisel.

“Don’t let me stop you, if you want to join in.” Aiden watched the ball for a few moments.

“Do you want to?” Jochen asked.

Aiden shook his head. “I’ve never been one for football or any game really.” He turned to Jochen. “But as I said, don’t let that stop you.”

“I’d prefer to continue our conversation.” Jochen kept his voice light, but truth be known, he found Aiden rather intriguing. “Besides, this war could go on for a while, and I could not honestly pass by an opportunity to discuss Dickens.”

“I’m more into Tennyson and Keats,” Aiden admitted. “I’ve read one of Dickens’s books, but never got around to the rest.”

Jochen gave him a look of mock horror. “Only one? Which one?”

“David Copperfield. Have you read it?”

“No, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy.” Jochen studied Aiden. “So… Tennyson, hmm? Anything in particular?”

“Idylls of the King,” Aiden said without hesitation. “A storm was coming but the winds were still. And in the wild woods of Broceliande, before an oak, so hollow, huge and old it look’d a tower of ruin’d masonwork, at Merlin’s feet the wily Vivien lay.” He trailed off. “That’s the first stanza of ‘Vivien.’ It’s one I keep coming back to because of the war. It’s like the storm, but today the winds are still, or we wouldn’t be talking like this…. Oh Lord, I’m rambling, aren’t I? Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Jochen assured him. “You make it sound so lyrical. I’ve never read much in the way of British poetry in English, and the flow of it is often lost in translation.”

“I like poetry.” Aiden shrugged, the fire in his eyes fading a little as he retreated back into himself. “It reminds me of music, I guess.”

“I’ve heard it described as music without… the notes.” Jochen hoped that didn’t sound as foolish as he was certain it did. “Are you a musician?”

“Music without the notes.” Aiden sounded thoughtful. “I like that.” He smiled, and his expression softened. Did he realize how breathtaking he was when he smiled? “Yes, I am a musician. I’ve loved music for as long as I remember.”

“What do you play? I love music, although I don’t play anything.” Jochen’s grandmother had attempted to teach him the violin. It had been a disaster, and for months afterward their cat had taken one look at him going anywhere near the instrument, howled, and run away.

“I sing.” Aiden looked a little embarrassed. He studied his boots. “I’ve been with the Avery Theatre for about two years. Or I was until this bloody war.”

“Avery Theatre?” Jochen asked.

“In London’s West End.” Aiden continued to stare at the ground. “It’s a music hall, so there’s a bit of acting involved too.”

“And the shows are focused on the snow?” Performing on stage would take a great deal of confidence. Jochen wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to. Or want to.

“Huh?” Aiden looked up.

“You keep looking at the snow.”

“No! I mean….” Aiden sighed. “I’m not very good at talking about myself. I hate it.”

“Yet you perform on stage?” Jochen tried to imagine a confident Aiden on stage, wooing the audience.

“Yes, but that’s not me. Not really. When I sing, it’s not me, it’s a… role.” Aiden shrugged again.

“It’s still you,” Jochen said firmly. “Be proud of who you are, Aiden. Of what you can do, and of what you want to achieve.” Those were his father’s words, spoken to Jochen as a child, but he’d never forgotten them. Why was he repeating them to a man he barely knew?

“Thank you.” Aiden frowned and tilted his head to the side. “There’s something going on over there.” He gestured to the end of the makeshift soccer field. A group of men were talking together—a mix of German, British, and French officers. “I can’t hear what they’re saying, though. Can you?”

Jochen strained to hear, but he couldn’t make it out either. “We could always go find out,” he suggested, slipping his book into the pocket of his greatcoat.

“It looks as though we won’t have to,” Aiden said. “They’ve finished talking and are coming this way.”

Jochen stood to attention as his commanding officer approached. Hauptmann Grünberg was accompanied by two other men of equivalent rank—the commanding officers of the British and French troops.

“This is Captain Williams and Capitaine Brodeur,” said Grünberg in English. He was a good man, and fair. His men respected him. “Given this truce, we have decided to work together to bury our dead. As you are fluent in German and English, Weber, I’m counting on you to help spread the word.”

“Foster, find Mills and organize shrouds and stretcher-bearers.” Williams glanced back toward the barbed-wire fences in front of the British trenches. “It’s a chance to give our chaps and theirs a decent burial.”

“Yes, sir.” Aiden saluted his commanding officer, took one last look at Jochen, then headed toward the group of men socializing nearby. He spoke briefly to a red-haired man. Several others overheard and joined the conversation, offering to help.

Jochen had the same response when he approached men in his own troops. They’d all lost friends and comrades over the last few weeks, and their bodies were still lying out there, decaying under the snow.

THEY BURIED their comrades in silence. Jochen offered to dig graves for both sides. The ache in his arms took his mind off what they were doing. Not completely, yet enough to numb his emotions so he could pretend he was able to ignore them. Until now, he’d known logically these men were dead, but seeing their sightless eyes and still bodies, often with limbs missing or at odd angles, made him shiver. He’d have nightmares about it soon enough.

He leaned on his shovel and closed his eyes for a moment. A light touch on his shoulder jerked him back to attention.

“It’s not easy, is it?” Aiden said softly. He nodded toward the grave Jochen had just dug. Jochen realized the man in it was a British soldier. He’d dug so many graves he’d lost track of what side they’d been on. They’d all worked together to get the job done.

“It’s not meant to be.” Jochen watched the plain wooden cross being hammered into the ground. Someone had made crosses from old biscuit boxes. Others had taken it upon themselves to collect identity discs from the corpses so their families could be informed. “Did you know him?”

Aiden shook his head. “No. There are so many men I didn’t get the chance to know. And so many I did know who are now dead.” His voice shook. “We’ve lost so many already. How many more deaths will there be before this bloody war is over?”

“Too many.” Jochen picked up his shovel. They finally seemed to be getting to the end of the burials, at least for now. These men would have the luxury of a grave, but how many more would not?

“I’m not sure who wins a war.” Aiden glanced around, his gaze resting briefly on Captain Williams, who was far enough away so their conversation wouldn’t be overheard. He lowered his voice. “Why are we fighting, Jochen? I joined up because it was supposed to be the right thing to do. I was going to do my bit for king and country, and save Britain from you Jerries.”

“I’m thinking the same thing,” Jochen admitted. “I….” He swallowed and gripped the handle of his shovel tightly, his knuckles white. “Have you seen a man caught on the wire?”

It was an image he’d never get out of his mind. The soldier was younger than Jochen by a few months. They’d chatted briefly when Jochen had joined their unit. Conrad had been a student at Göttingen University, studying literature, so they’d had that in common. He’d had fire in his eyes when he’d spoken of his love for the subject, of his dreams for his future. An hour into the attack on Ypres he was dead. Hanging on the wire, unable to get free while shells rained down around him. Caught in the crossfire, the lower half of his body blown away a few moments later.

Jochen had vomited when he’d seen it—what was left of Conrad wasn’t really him. Jochen couldn’t believe it was. He didn’t want to. His stomach still churned at the memory of it. He’d wanted to run at the time, to pretend the whole thing was just some kind of sick nightmare, a landscape of death brought on by something dark lingering deep in his own mind.

It wasn’t.

“I’ve seen it,” Aiden said quietly. “I wish to God I hadn’t.” He looked directly at Jochen. Jochen met Aiden’s gaze. He’d seen an echo of Conrad’s fire in Aiden when he’d talked about his music earlier that afternoon.

“Don’t die on the wire, Aiden.”

“I’ll try not to.” Aiden’s words were an empty promise. They both knew it, but what else was he going to say?

The red-haired man Aiden had spoken to about arranging the burials walked over to him. He too held a shovel, and he wiped perspiration from his brow despite the cold. “There’s going to be a combined service for the dead,” he told them. “In about ten minutes in no man’s land in front of the French trenches.”

As they made their way over, men were already beginning to gather, soldiers from opposite sides sitting together, conversation dwindling to a respectful silence. A British chaplain stood in front of them, a Bible in his hand, a German beside him. Jochen recognized him, although he didn’t know his name. The young man was only a few years older than Jochen and was studying for the ministry—would he ever get the chance to complete those studies?

Jochen and Aiden found somewhere to sit a few rows back from the front and joined the company of men. The German spoke first. “Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel. Geheiligt werde dein Name.”

The British chaplain repeated the words in English. “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name.”

They then spoke a few words each, some from the Bible, the rest from their hearts. Their congregation was silent apart from a few quiet “amens.” Jochen saw a couple of men wipe tears away. He was close to it himself.

Finally the chaplain bowed his head in prayer. When he’d finished, he spoke quietly to the man who had come to stand next to him. It was Captain Williams. He nodded and looked over the crowd, his gaze fixing on Aiden.

Aiden must have guessed what Williams wanted. He inclined his head in response and then stood. Jochen glanced between the two men, confused. What did Williams expect Aiden to do?

“Aiden?” Jochen asked softly.

Aiden smiled at him and began to sing. “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining….” He lifted his head, his voice strong and clear, each note building on the last to create something truly beautiful, something angelic. Aiden’s eyes shone; his body swayed slightly in time with the music. He was the music.

His audience sat in awe. Jochen could feel the emotion rippling through the men around him, tangible, as though he could reach out and touch it. He felt something inside himself reach out, wanting to be a part of it, to be carried along the wave of pure music, to grab it and never let go.

Finally Aiden sang the final verse, the notes fading as he came back to himself and sat down again next to Jochen. There was no applause, it wouldn’t have been appropriate, but Jochen could see men around them wiping tears. One man closed his eyes and gently moved from side to side as though he could still hear Aiden’s song.

Several minutes later, the congregation dispersed, heading back to their own trenches. Aiden began to stand. Jochen laid a hand on his arm. “Can we talk?” he asked. Tomorrow they’d probably be fighting again. He’d heard whisperings that the Staff were visiting the trenches that evening, that they weren’t impressed with the fraternization between their men and those of their enemies. But Jochen didn’t want to lose this magic, this brief friendship with Aiden, just yet.

“Of course.” Aiden seemed surprised at Jochen’s words. “What about?” He acted as though his performance hadn’t happened. He was merely a soldier, nothing more.

Jochen led Aiden back to where they’d first met. Men were still talking quietly in small groups, just as reluctant to return to the reality of the war as Jochen was.

“Your singing…,” Jochen said. “It was beautiful. It touched me, Aiden, took me away from everything.”

Aiden blushed. “It… it was nothing.”

Darkness was falling quickly. They didn’t have much time. “I wish we weren’t on opposite sides,” Jochen said. “I’d… perhaps in another life we would have been friends.”

“I would have liked that.” Aiden’s blush grew deeper. He swallowed. “Perhaps we are now, just for this day. I’ve never met anyone who listened to me the way you do. Not my music, but me.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Thank you.”

“I’ve never met anyone who listened to me like you do either,” Jochen said. It figured, didn’t it? He’d finally met someone who understood and it had to be a man he’d probably never see again. “I’ll take your song with me too. I doubt I’ll ever forget it.”

“What will you do after the war?” Aiden asked.

“Go back to my studies, I hope.” Jochen noticed Aiden spoke of a life after the war as though they’d both have one. “I want to teach, if I can. Will you return to the theater?”

Aiden nodded. “Yes. It’s my life, really. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“You should,” Jochen said. “Go back to it, I mean. People need music in their lives, especially music like yours.”

In the distance lanterns were being lit. The lights of the Christmas trees shone from the top of the German trenches—a glimmer of home. They were all far from home tonight.

Jochen hesitated. He didn’t want to say good-bye, to just walk away as though they’d never met. An idea struck him, a foolish one perhaps, but what else was there? He yanked off a button from his uniform, low down where it wouldn’t be immediately noticed. “Happy Christmas, Aiden,” he said, handing it to Aiden.

Aiden took it, their fingers brushing momentarily. A welcome warmth spread through Jochen. “Thank you,” Aiden said. He studied the button. “It’s different to ours,” he said. “A lion holding a shield. I like that.” He slid it into his pocket, then pulled one off his own uniform. “Happy Christmas, Jochen.”

“Thank you.” Jochen took the button Aiden offered. “You’re right. It is different.” It was inscribed with a crown, although made of brass like his. “I’ll keep it safe. I promise.”

“I’ll keep yours safe too,” Aiden said. “I promise.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Bloody war,” he said suddenly. “I don’t want to fight you, Jochen.” His voice shook. “Survive this insanity, and have a good life.”

Before Jochen could answer, Aiden spun on his heel and walked away. Jochen watched him go—back to the British trench, to the reality of death and killing, farther away from the sanctuary of his music, leaving behind a friendship that had been doomed before it had begun.

“I don’t want to fight you either,” Jochen said softly. He fingered the button in his pocket. “Survive this insanity, and have a good life too, Aiden. I won’t forget this. Or you.”

The Door Behind Us
Chapter 1
THE YOUNG man still had a dressing over one ear and a crust of blood inside one nostril. The doctor paged through the chart. Notations recorded progress as good as could be expected for such a recent amputee. “Mind if I look?” He pulled back the sheet and noted the wound drained normally. “How’d he rest last night?”

The resident pulled at his narrow tie. “Poorly. He was yelling and thrashing around. That’s why I asked for you to look in.”

“Hmm. Has he been given anything to help him sleep?”

“No, he even tried to refuse the morphine.”

“That’s interesting.” He watched the steady rise and fall of the muscular chest. “He’s a sergeant. Was he a squad leader? Do you know what happened to him?”

The resident shook his head, yawning. “Nope. He hasn’t said much.”

“Does he know about the leg?”

“We told him there was too much nerve damage.”

“The nightmares started before the surgery?”

“Before.” The resident yawned again. “From the first night he was here.”

“There’s not much I can do for him until he wakes up. You’ll have me paged?”

Chapter 2
FRANK CAME into the barn sniffing the air like the scent might tell him whether the place was dangerous.

“About time you got here. Saw the note, I take it? Any questions?” Charlie watched the boy take in the stone barn, from hayloft to the three-legged stool where he sat. “Questions?” he prompted the boy a second time.

Cocking his head as if sorting through a stack of mental index cards, the boy eventually picked a pair of questions. “What happened to me? Why can’t I remember?”

“You received a head injury, maybe from a shell explosion. That’s what the quacks at the hospital told us. But that doesn’t answer your question, does it? Why don’t you remember anything? I don’t know. Here, grab a bucket. I expect your hands remember how to milk a cow, even if your head don’t.” Charlie watched the boy’s hand creep upward to touch his head. “Queenie knows you, even if you don’t know her.”

Frank picked up a bucket hesitantly.

Charlie nodded at a Jersey cow that stamped impatiently at her stanchion. “She’s waiting.”

What was it like for the boy to discover who he was every morning from a note tacked to the door of the privy? If the boy had any feelings about it, he never told Charlie.

THE BOY discovered the note after waking in an unfamiliar room. Pale light filtered through a dusty window at the end of a tunnellike dormer. Feeling exposed even under a woolen blanket, he slid to the floor and rolled part way underneath the bed. More comfortable with the solid frame looming over him, he stayed for a time, staring upward. As the light strengthened, he let his gaze follow the lines of wood grain in the window frame. The builder of this house had cut matching pieces for the verticals, their patterns mirrored on either side of the window.

Eventually he rose and struggled out of the tangled bedclothes. A small writing desk, cluttered with loose sheets of writing paper, a fountain pen, and an inkpot, was tucked into the dormer. A stack of unopened envelopes lay next to the writing supplies. The first was postmarked in July of 1918, and the last in October of the same year. Why didn’t this fellow, Francis Huddleston, open his mail?

Gut fluttering like an anxious bird, he peered under the bed for a chamber pot. Finding none, he rushed down to the second floor looking for a toilet or the way to the privy. Steps led down toward either end of the house. The set in the back were coarse and painted rather than finished, a servant’s stair. He knew the term, even if he didn’t know where he’d learned it. Down again, he found a large kitchen and heavy door framed in pantry shelves. He ran out into the yard. A well-worn path led to a small, clapboard structure with high windows. A minute later, as he tried not to breathe the acrid stink, he noticed a ruled sheet of writing paper tacked to the door in front of him. GOOD MORNING was blocked out in square letters.

Your name is Francis “Frank” Huddleston. You are a soldier, returned from the war in Europe. The white-haired man milking the cows in the barn is your grandfather, Charlie Clark. He will welcome your help with the chores. When you return from the barn, the gray-haired woman in the kitchen will give you breakfast. She is your grandmother, Edith “Eddy” Clark.

Charlie continued to milk his own cow and watched as Frank began to squeeze a stream of milk from Queenie’s teats, the familiar act calming the boy. Soon the milk squirted steadily, and Frank fell into a kind of trance, his movements automatic, until a diminishing stream and restless stamp from Queenie signaled time to change to a new pair of teats. Shifting to a new set, he rested his head against Queenie’s side and continued mechanically.

Charlie finished first and went to stand behind the boy. When Frank was done, he placed his hands on his knees and looked around. Charlie held his breath and watched Frank’s face. But there was only a tightening around Frank’s mouth and a narrowed gaze. Charlie sighed and placed a hand on Frank’s shoulder. “It’s all right, boy. I’m your grandfather, Charlie Clark. You’re Frank Huddleston, come home from the war with a head injury. That’s why you don’t know me. Let’s go in and meet your grandmother. She’ll give us something to eat. Are you hungry? Don’t forget your bucket.”

EDDY’S SPOTTED hands twisted in her lap as she spoke. “Charlie isn’t a young man anymore. You’re a great worker, Frank, but it’s the forgetting. With one of us staying with you all the time to answer your questions, we can’t….”

Frank fidgeted in his chair and let his gaze wander over the worn fixtures and scarred wood of the kitchen. He wondered if they would ask him to leave, the strangers who had fed him for months, judging from the thick wad of notes in his hand. Would their faces ever be familiar?

“… so Charlie and I, we’ve posted a notice at the Grange Hall. We hope to have someone here by the harvest.”

Frank became aware the room had fallen silent—except for the tap dripping in the sink and the birds calling outside. Eddy and Charlie. They watched him closely as if they expected something, as if they were unsure of his response. He didn’t know why. Eddy’s careful announcement seemed to have little to do with him.

“Will you hire someone I knew… before?”

“No, Frank. You were with your parents in Philadelphia before the war. Nobody around here knows you.” Charlie looked away. His voice took on a rote quality. “They thought you might be more comfortable here with us while you recovered.”

“Will the new person stay with me or work with you?”

Charlie rubbed fingers across his forehead like he was trying to erase the wrinkles there, but Eddy answered in firm tones. “We have to be careful with our money, Frank. It may be cheaper to hire somebody to keep an eye on you and to help you remember when you have one of your spells. Charlie will work around the house.”

Frank fingered his notes again. “So… you want me to keep feeding the horses and milking the cows?”

“Yes, you’ll do that and other work as well.”

“Now, Eddy.” Charlie’s voice was gentle. “The boy’s still recovering. I’m not dead yet.”

“He’s strong as a bull, Charlie.”

“I don’t mind doing more, if that’s what you want.” Frank shifted from face to face until he focused on the sharp furrows at the side of Eddy’s mouth. “Just tell me what you want.”

“That’s what the new man will do,” Eddy said, looking at Charlie.

Charlie’s gaze dropped to his callused hands.

Author Bios:
EE Montgomery
E E Montgomery wants the world to be a better place, with equality and acceptance for all. Her philosophy is: We can’t change the world but we can change our small part of it and, in that way, influence the whole. Writing stories that show people finding their own ‘better place’ is part of E E Montgomery’s own small contribution. 

Thankfully, there’s never a shortage of inspiration for stories that show people growing in their acceptance and love of themselves and others. A dedicated people-watcher, E E finds stories everywhere. In a cafe, a cemetery, a book on space exploration or on the news, there’ll be a story of personal growth, love, and unconditional acceptance there somewhere.

Tamara Allen
Tamara Allen resides in the piney woods north of Houston with her cozy family of husband, son, and cat. Her primary occupation is keeping them out of trouble, but on the side she likes to make up stories, for the pleasure of living briefly in an era long gone by.

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.

GN Chevalier
G N Chevalier has lived in Ottawa, Toronto, Québec City, and Montréal, but currently resides in Nova Scotia with her partner of many years. A long-time student of history, she is particularly interested in helping to tell the hidden stories that are only now being rediscovered. Some of her hobbies include playing music, video remixing, and photography.

Anne Barwell
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.

John C Houser
John C. Houser’s father, step-mother, and mother were all psychotherapists. When old enough, he escaped to Grinnell College, which was exactly halfway between his mother’s and father’s homes—and half a continent away from each. After graduation, he taught English for a year in Greece, attended graduate school, and eventually began a career of creating computer systems for libraries. Now he works in a strange old building that boasts a historic collection of mantelpieces–but no fireplaces.

EE Montgomery

Tamera Allen

Charlie Cochrane

GN Chevalier

Anne Barwell

John C Houser

The Courage to Love

Whistling in the Dark

Home Fires Burning

Bonds of Earth

On Wings of Song

The Door Behind Us