Nights of Fire
Excerpt

© 2004, 2011 Laura Resnick

Stars

June 4, 1944
Normandy, France

Both eyes opened this time. The left one, not very much... but he could see out of it—though it took him a few moments to realize this, since it was dark again.

He wondered what that soft drumming was, then realized: rain. Again.

He lay there listening to it for a while, then gradually became aware of a faint splashing sound coming from the barn below him. "Ga..." His throat was dry. He tried again. "Gabrielle?"

"Ici," she called softly. Here.

She climbed up into the loft. He could scarcely see her.

"So dark tonight," he muttered.

"This filthy weather."

"Rain. Storms. Wind." It meant something to him. It seemed like a problem. He just didn't know why.

 She came closer. "You're better."

"Yes," he agreed.

"The fever broke after sundown."

Her silence was speakingwas telling, so he informed her, "I still don't remember. Well, not much."

"Not much? What do you remember?" she pounced.

"Mostly... things about the war."

"The invasion?"

He went still. "No."

It wasn't entirely a lie. He wasn't sure what his jumbled thoughts meant.

Will the rain never stop?

Why did he care so much about the weather?

"Do you remember being a prisoner?"

The pain... His head started throbbing.

"Some of it."

"What?" she prodded, kneeling beside him now.

He could hardly see her tonight. "Is there a lantern?"

"Downstairs. We shouldn't use one up here, not with that window," she said. "This place is isolated, but even so...

"If someone saw the light, they might investigate."

"Yes."

Needing human contact, wanting it, he reached out to touch her. She was in her slip again. Her skin was damp and cool. "You've been... washing?"

Her breath was shallow as he explored her. "Yes."

He brushed his fingers across her throat. "I... like to watch you wash."

"You're remembering?" she asked hopefully.

He shook his head. "No, I think it was a lucky guess." Based on the way his thoughts suddenly filled with a mental image of her—remembered, or just imagined?—sluicing water over her bare skin. Droplets trickling down the smooth column of her throat, sliding into the valley between her breasts...Water glistening on the pale skin of her back, tapering down to her waist...

He came out of his reverie when he heard her unhappy little sigh.

"It's so strange," she said. "You're right here, you act very much like yourself... Yet I'm so lonely for you, because you don't remember me."

"So this is what I'm usually like?"

"No. I mean..." She suddenly laughed, though it was a weak and shaky sound. "This is your personality, yes. But your circumstances—weak, ill, confused—make everything even stranger. You're normally in charge. In command. Confident. Organized. Efficient." She added archly, "Bossy."

"You don't seem," he ventured, "like a woman who would let me boss you much."

"I don't," she assured him. "We fight when you try."

He smiled. It sounded true. Even familiar. "Gabrielle..." The more he said her name, the more right it sounded to him. Memory? Or was he just getting used to her?

"Yes?"

"I, uh... Never mind."

While they held their silence in the dark, the rain started to let up.

"I'll get you something to drink," she offered.

"No, I'll come down with you."

"You shouldn't—"

"I need to go outside for a moment," he explained.

"Ah. Of course." She sounded very matter of fact. Well, a wife would be accustomed to her husband having normal human functions, after all. "I'll help you climb down."

She rose and leaned down to help him do the same. It was more difficult than he had expected. He was dizzy when he stood up, leaning against her for a moment while his body adjusted. Then, impatient with his weakness, he pulled slightly away from her.

"Come," she said, leading him towards the ladder.

"Wait a minute." He felt embarrassed at the idea of walking around naked with her. "Where are my clothes?"

"I burned them."

"Burned..." He seemed to remember her saying something about that. Ages ago. "Why?"

"They were all torn, and covered in blood and mud and... ugh, who knows what else?"

"But—"

"You couldn't have worn them again, chéri, je te le jure. So I burned them. I don't expect anyone to come here, but if I'm wrong, then it's better that no one should find those clothes. They'd realize right away that—"

"Yes, I see." He supposed he did. It was a sensible precaution. "But surely I must have other clothes?"

"Not here." Sensing his hesitation, she let out her breath on an impatient puff. "Paul, there is no one here but me, and I see you naked often." When he didn't respond, she added, "You like me to look at you naked."

He could well believe that. And at least he seemed to be in decent shape for showing himself off to her. "It's just that, uh..."

"I see." She was getting annoyed. "You let me do the things I did this morning when you didn't even know my name. But now that you know I'm your wife, you don't want me to see you naked."

"When you put it that way," he admitted, "it sounds bad. But this morning, we were making love. Whereas now—"

"Were we?" she snapped. "Love? You didn't even know my name!"

"But you knew I was your husband—"

"While you thought I was just some woman you were enjoying for a few minutes!"

"No, I thought you had saved my life—"

"Oh, and your way of saying merci was to roll around in the straw with me?" Her sarcasm made him wince. "What if some other woman had rescued you? Would you be in bed with her now?"

"Not unless she was also as bold as a cat in heat," he snapped back. "It's not fair to blame me completely for—"

She gasped in outrage. "A cat in heat! Monstre! You're the one who taught me to be bold with you! You like it!"

"I know! Without remembering! I can tell! In fact, I love it. I loved it so much this morning, I wanted you even though I was half-dead. So why," he said, angry by now, "are we fighting about it?"

"Because when I took off my clothes for you last night—"

"You were so beautiful, I—"

"Or put you in my mouth this morning—"

"And I'd have died a happy—"

"You might have found the time to mention," she snarled, "that you thought I was a total stranger instead of the woman you married!"

"My body could tell—"

"Because if I had known that you didn't know that we do things like that together all of the time—"

"We do?"

"Yes!" she cried furiously.

"In that case, I married very well, didn't I?"

"I might have been a little more... A little less..."

"Yes?" he prodded.

She sputtered, "I would not have..."

His anger was fading now, being replaced by amusement. And comfort. This did feel familiar. Wonderfully so. "Would not have what?" he asked, cheerfully goading her. Did he even like arguing with her? He must be in love.

"I would never have—"

"Put my hands on your breasts?" he offered helpfully. "Or taken me in your mouth—"

"Yes!"

"With, I might add, stunning expertise. Is it always that good, or was this morning special?"

"You'll just have to live with not knowing, won't you?"

"I guess you wouldn't have put my hand between your legs, either?"

"I did not—" She paused. "Did I?"

"And showed me how to make you happy."

"Since you'd forgotten."

"Still, I muddled through well enough, didn't I?" She grunted non-committally in reply, so he continued, "Oh, well, if I've left you wanting, we can certainly—"

"Oh, stop," she said in exasperation. "Enough."

"Of course, at the time, you seemed pretty pleased. But I'll be the first to admit that I'm not quite myself, so—"

"Are you sure?" she said dryly, also sounding more amused than angry now. "Because you're starting to sound just like yourself."

He came closer, ready to make up. "Am I an irritating husband?"

"Very," she whispered, reaching for him.

They bumped noses in the dark, laughed softly, and then kissed. They were gentle, mindful of his sore lip—and of each other's volatile feelings right now.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I came back from death, and you were there. So beautiful. So free with my body... and with yours, too."

"Well, you're my husband," she whispered back, "even if you don't remember that."

He slid his arms around her, trying to imagine what this must be like for her, being with a spouse who didn't know her. She hesitated for a moment, then embraced him, too.

Her palms were smooth and warm on his naked back, and exquisitely gentle on the bandages she had put over the stinging marks of the whip the Gestapo had used on him. Her fingers absently kneaded his shoulders. Her breasts flattened against his chest, the worn fabric of her slip a delicate barrier between them. Her flat belly snuggled against his groin, and she ran her hands down to his buttocks, which she cupped and suddenly gripped hard, pulling his hips possessively against her.

"This body is mine as much as yours," she informed him fiercely. "You gave it to me."

Wedding vows. "With my body I thee worship."

"Yes. And you have been... well, a very dutiful husband in that respect."

"But not in other respects?" he asked.

She pressed her face against his neck. "As much as you can be, Paul. But the war is not kind to lovers. Or to marriage."

No. Obviously not. A secret marriage. A wife who was often alone. A husband who told her precious little about his work.

"How did I wind up in your cart?" he asked suddenly.

She sighed shakily. "That last time I saw you was in May. You—"

"What's the date now?"

"June fourth. Almost June fifth, I suppose. It's nearly midnight." Feeling his tension, she prodded, "Paul? What is it?"

"I don't know." June... June... D-Day.

The invasion will be soon.

He didn't know how he knew, but he knew.

Words and images suddenly flooded his mind, making his head ache fiercely.

Neptune. Overlord. Omaha. H-Hour. Utah. D-Day. Poker.

stars

 

Wedding Night
Excerpt

© 2011 Laura Resnick

 

June 1943
Occupied France

Someone was here.

In her cottage. In the middle of the night. Creeping furtively towards the bedroom where she slept alone and helpless.

Gabrielle couldn't move. For a moment, she felt so helplessly immobile that she thought she was still dreaming. But then she was able to wriggle her fingers, and she realized the brief paralysis was the result of her sudden transition from dream-rich sleep into the wakeful, bone-chilling terror of hearing an intruder in her home.

Don't panic, she told herself.

Her heart was pounding so thunderously that it frustrated her further attempts to hear the prowler. Had she imagined that furtive footstep in the main room of her humble stone cottage?

She closed her eyes again and concentrated on listening, feigning sleep as she lay tensely on her stomach with her head turned away from the bedroom door.

Her heart nearly stopped when she heard it: a slight creak in the wooden floor as someone approached her bedroom.

Her most persistent fear sired her next thought: Had the Nazis found out she was in the Resistance?

No, she realized immediately, that didn't make sense. Half a dozen of them would break down her door and stampede into the cottage shouting. They ruled France and could do whatever they pleased if they found out about her. They weren't furtive when they murdered civilians or hauled them away to concentration camps. And they particularly liked to make a noisy show of killing or arresting Resistance members. No, it wasn't the Nazis creeping towards her bedroom in the middle of the night.

Someone else then. She knew that Paul suspected there was a traitor in her Resistance cadre. Was this prowler the traitor, sneaking up to murder her in her sleep?

Be ready.

Or perhaps the intruder was a rapist? Some violent pig who thought a woman living alone was an easy target. Though her cottage was in Caen, it was rather isolated for a town dwelling, standing alone at the edge of an old abbey's grounds on the outskirts of the city.

Her mouth was dry with fear as she released her tormented grip on the pillow and slid her hand underneath it.

Panic almost claimed her when her fingers didn't immediately encounter what she sought; but then she found it.

The knife.

The blade was encased in its old leather sheathe so that she wouldn't inadvertently injure herself in her sleep. She started to tug at the handle and felt the whole sheathe move.

Damn.

She heard him cross the threshold of her bedroom. She had only moments left. Intending to take him by surprise, she kept her body still, but pressed her cheek hard into the pillow to hold the leather sheathe beneath it in place while she withdrew the sharp blade it shielded.

He approached the bed without pausing or stumbling in the dark. She wished that, for once, she hadn't been tidy. For once, why couldn't she have left a pile of clothes and shoes lying on the bedroom floor? But, no, there was nothing there to trip him or slow his progress to her bed.

She could have wept with relief when she felt the knife slide out of the sheathe. She sighed and shifted a bit to cover her movement as she took the weapon in a backward grip, good for slashing or for stabbing after delivering a punch.

She could feel his presence now, looking down at her in the dark, looming over the bed. What was he planning? What did he intend?

She listened for any sound that would tell her he had a gun, but she heard nothing. Not even the sound of his breathing, in fact. Just silence, as he gazed down at her and she waited for him to move. She would strike when he was off balance, catching him off guard as he—

It happened. She felt him put one knee on the bed, and then start shifting his weight as he leaned down to touch her.

Now!

She screeched like all the damned in hell as she simultaneously leapt up and drove her fist—the one gripping the knife hilt—into his face.

"Yaggggh!"

"Argh!"

His reflexes were good. She barely clipped his cheek before he threw himself backwards, out of her reach. Her adrenaline-fueled body was already leaping after him of its own volition when instinct alerted her to her mistake.

"Don't!" he shouted as the faint streak of moonlight piercing the dark room glinted off the blade of the raised knife. "It's me!"

She stared at his defensive shape in the shadows, stunned beyond coherent speech, and pumped with mingled terror, aggression, and horror at what she had almost done. She tried to speak, but all that came out of her mouth was, "Agh!"

"What are you doing?" he demanded in English. Though American, he almost always spoke French with her. Not right now, though.

She was panting, her head spinning with this sudden shift of reality. "Paul?" she said incredulously.

"Have you lost your mind?"

She just kept panting and staring at him. "Paul..."

She couldn't see his face, but when he spoke, he sounded as if he were addressing a dangerous dog. "Put down the knife, Gabrielle."

"What are you... When did you..." she asked incoherently in French. She could speak English well under normal circumstances, but certainly not right now. She stared at his dark shape in dazed bewilderment, feeling dizzy.

"The knife, Gabrielle," he prodded, switching to French.

"Huh? Oh." She realized she was still poised for attack and holding the knife as if she meant to use it on him. Pulling herself together, she slowly lowered it, almost feeling as if her right arm didn't belong to her anymore. "Sorry."

"Sorry? Sorry!" he sputtered. "You nearly kill me, and you're sorry?"

He sounded a little upset. Gabrielle felt numb with shock.

I nearly made myself a widow.

She didn't realize she'd spoken aloud until he snapped, "Damned right, you almost made yourself a widow! What the hell is going on?"

"You're... mad," she guessed, her mind operating slowly.

"Me? You're the one who just tried to stab me! What's wrong with you?" He stomped across the room and fumbled for the box of matches she kept on the dresser. "I come home to my new bride, and as soon as I try to get into bed with her, she pulls a knife on me! What did I do to deserve that?"

She raised a hand to shield her eyes as the lantern blazed to life. "I thought you were a prowler."

Now that they could see each other, he studied her incredulously from across the little room. "You're sleeping with a knife now?"

"Yes." Some feeling was starting to return to her limbs.

Paul!

Heat flooded her heart.

"You're back," she said in wonder.

"When," he persisted, "did you start sleeping with a knife?"

"I, uh..." She looked at the knife in her hand and frowned. "A few nights ago... Last week?" She shrugged. "Sometime after you left."

"For God's sake, Gabrielle, why?"

His irritation was starting to irritate her. As her stunned mind began functioning again, she replied, "Why? Because I'm here alone every night, that's why!"

He frowned now, starting to look concerned. "Has something happened?"

"Yes," she snapped. "I got married two weeks ago and have slept alone more often since the wedding than I did when I was single!"

"And just how does a knife replace me in bed?" he snapped back. A moment later he winced and said, "What I meant was—"

"I used to sleep with a knife before we met. This cottage is isolated, no one would know if something happened and I needed help. No one would hear if I screamed. And any German soldier who came here to force himself on me would probably be safe from the law." She gestured emphatically with the knife. "But he wouldn't be safe from me."

Paul's shoulders sagged and his expression changed. "Sweetheart..." He started to cross the room towards her.

"Two weeks!" Anger flooded her blood in place of the shock she'd felt moments ago. She waved the knife at him. He stopped abruptly and watched her warily. "You've been gone two weeks! No word, no nothing! I didn't know if you were dead, or still in France, or were ever coming back!"

"Of course I was coming back," he said. "I'm your husband."

"We haven't even had a wedding night!" she raged.

"We've had plenty of them," he reminded her. "We just didn't happen to be married at the time."

"You know what I mean!" she shrieked. He'd left Caen barely an hour after the brief, secret ceremony wherein they'd become husband and wife.

"I'm sorry about that," he said sheepishly. "It was an emergency. I had no choice."

She knew that. At the time, she had understood. He was an undercover agent for the Office of Strategic Services, posing as a bankrupt French wine merchant from Paris. His secretive work took him all over Normandy and Brittany, where he liaised with various Resistance groups, spied on German fortifications and troop movements, relayed information to his superiors, and received new instructions.

"And I told you so," Paul added, recklessly using the words which no husband should ever use. "I told you that afternoon that I'd have to leave as soon as it got dark. I said we could postpone the wedding until I got back. I left it up to you. And you said—"

"You're making me very sorry I said I'd marry you at all!"

He sighed. The look of exaggerated patience on his face enraged her.

"Where have you been?" she demanded.

"You know I won't tell you."

He kept so many things secret to keep her safe. Even their relationship was secret. Oh, they couldn't hide the fact that there was something between them, but they pretended to most people that it was casual. Only two members of the Resistance and the priest who had performed the service knew about their marriage.

"But while I was away," he added, "I did tell the OSS about us."

"That you married me?"

"Yes."

They'd wanted to be married, to belong to each other, to be husband and wife. And Paul had wanted to ensure that if he got captured or killed, she'd be taken care of by the American government. That she could even go to America if the Nazis weren't  driven out of France. She and any child of his which she might have conceived.

"This is the longest you've been gone since you first came to Caen," she said accusingly, even though the rational part of her mind—which felt very remote at this moment—knew he'd have returned to her sooner if he could.

"I know." His expression softened. "I'm sorry."

"Do you have any idea how worried I was?"

"Yes," he replied, "I do."

Of course he did. She knew he worried just as much about her. He often begged her to leave France, or at least to go south to stay with her relatives in a remote village in the Pyrenees where she'd be safer than she was here.

She sighed shakily and turned away, suddenly sad. God, how she hated this war. It was so cruel to lovers. So vicious to newlyweds. Gabrielle immediately felt a wave of guilt about her self-pity, when she knew that millions of people were suffering as much as or more than she and Paul.

"Agh!" Lost in her thoughts, she nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt his hand on her shoulder.

He leapt back as she spun around to face him. "Jesus, what's wrong with you?"

"What do you think is 'wrong' with me? You scared me to death, creeping up on me in the dark while I slept! What on earth were you thinking?"

"Give me the knife," he said with sudden determination.

"What?" She vaguely realized she was still holding it—and waving it around with reckless emotionalism. "Oh."

He advanced cautiously. "The knife, Gabrielle."

"How do you think any woman would respond to the sound—"

"Most probably wouldn't pull a knife on their husbands—"

"—of an intruder in the middle of the night—"

"—and I've been coming here in the middle of the night—"

"—when she's alone and helpless?"

"—for months."

He seized her right forearm in a strong grip, then carefully removed the knife from her grasp. She was surprised at how hard it was to let go. She'd really been scared.

"You've never been helpless, my love," he said with a grin.

 

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