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An absolutely magic read that delivered several hours of deliciously good reading. Smart, hot and clever with beautiful historical detail and attention to the time period, which left me wanting more.

Sarah for Rain on Roof
Grieving over the death of his lover, British flying ace Bat Bryant accidentally kills the man threatening him with exposure. Unfortunately there’s a witness: the big, rough American they call “Cowboy” – and Cowboy has his own price for silence.

(Included in the historical print collection What’s Left of Kisses)

Chapter One

France, November 1916

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

Bat punched him.

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

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

For a second, perhaps two, Bat stood shaking with grief, anger, and more than a little panic.

“Get up, you swine,” he bit out.

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

“Orton?”

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

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

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

There was a little speck of blood at the corner of his mouth where Bat’s ring had cut him. But he was not bleeding. Was not breathing.

Bat put fingers to Orton’s flaccid throat and felt for a pulse.

There was no pulse.

Sid Orton was dead.

Bat rose. Gazed down at the body.

Christ. It seemed…unreal.

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

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

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

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

A miserable specimen, Orton.

But you couldn’t murder a chap for that.

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

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

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

Bat jerked about.

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

“Pardon?” Bat asked stupidly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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