The Dirty Dozen: To The Last Gasp: Book 1 Part 4

The Dirty Dozen: To The Last Gasp: Book 1 Part 4

 

The next morning, half of the dirty dozen gathered in the hotel lobby, along with their new found female friends, to prepare for a day on the town. They all agreed on where to have breakfast, but how they’d spend the hours after that were still being hotly debated when Olivia appeared and asked to speak with Leeds privately.

They moved away, to a quiet corner of the lobby and against his nature, Leeds kept his mouth shut and waited for her to start the conversation.

“I understand you were the last person to talk to Cort, Captain Mueller, the night of the rescue.”

“That’s right. We had two cars. I was in the back of one with you and he wanted to say goodbye. You don’t remember?”

She shook her head and fresh tears began to well in her eyes. “What did he say? Why didn’t he come with us?”

Leeds sighed. “He said all he ever wanted was to keep you safe and somehow in doing that, he’d put you right in the line of fire. It was killing him, seeing what that SS bastard did to you. He felt guilty and I guess that’s why he chose to end it with a bullet.”

“That’s all he said?”

“Well, it all happened pretty fast,” Leeds said, but his eyes strayed to a spot over her shoulder – Danko and Cutter stepping off the elevator into the lobby. They all knew Danko had fallen for the woman and it was no surprise. Blind and in the hands of the enemy, the comfort she offered him must have felt like a god send. That didn’t mean it could work out here in the real world. He was an officer who was already skating on thin ice and she was an American who had spent the war years living with a high ranking, German soldier. Leeds made a decision. “Mueller said I should tell you that he loved you with all his heart.”

She nearly buckled at that and he felt bad. He liked her, too. Not the feelings Danko had for her, but they’d formed their own weird little bond when he’d carried her out of that building and tended her wounds. She didn’t deserve what had been done to her. And now, with that single sentence, Leeds felt like he’d rubbed salt in her wounds.

“Olivia.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “He wanted you to have a life. He wanted you to be happy. You can hang on to that forever, or you can let him go and move on.” Leeds indicated with his chin. She turned and saw what he saw.

Danko looking very somber on his rare day away from the pressures of the war.

“He’s a good guy,” said Leeds. “And that’s quite a compliment coming from me. Not real big in the trust department.”

She smiled slightly and it was like turning on a light in a dark room.

“I gotta go,” he said, indicating the group that was now impatiently waiting for him. “Maybe I’ll see you later. Save me a dance.”

“I will.”

He went back to his friends but as they headed out of the hotel, he saw her walking toward Danko.

Leeds sincerely hoped for the best for both of them. Then it struck him funny when he realized that he actually cared about someone other than himself.

“Will wonders never cease,” he said out loud. Feke gave him the eye but said nothing.

It was going to be a good day.

#
Danko didn’t see her coming, so he was both pleased and surprised when he heard a woman call his name. His formal name, not his first name.

Before he could say anything, Cutter spoke up. “I’m gonna go roust the stragglers and make sure they don’t get into any trouble. I’ll see you later.” Then he touched the brim of his hat and said, “ma’am,” before walking away.

“I’m sorry I ruined your night,” Olivia said for an opening. “I know you don’t get many evenings to relax and I wish . . . ” She trailed off into a sigh.

“I understand. You had a lot on your mind, so it’s good we cleared the air.”

“Now what?” She asked, her dark eyes still misted with tears.

Danko had no idea what was the best thing to say, or the smartest, so he went with what he felt in his heart. “I would really like to spend the day with you. No war talk. No talking about the past, just two people enjoying each other’s company.”

“I’d like that, too.”

“Have you had breakfast yet?”

“No.”

“Then let’s start there.” He took her hand then led her out of the hotel. When he hit the street, he turned right, fully aware that his men had gone to the cafe three doors down on the left.

#

They spent part of the morning simple walking randomly around the streets of London. Danko bought her a flower from a street vendor and they stopped to watch a troop of jugglers performing by the Thames.

From there, they went to a museum. Not his thing, but it turned out she had a degree in art history and it was a place she had always wanted to visit. The mention of her degree came perilously close to breaking their role about not discussing the past but when he saw her light up with excitement, Danko figured it was worth it.

She dragged him from painting to painting, filling him in on the history of the piece and the technique used to create it. Apparently there was more to this art thing than just slapping paint on to a canvas with a brush. There were water colors and inks, and something called a fresco. Impressionism and Cubism – neither of which he understood. Straight-forward portrait of a pretty girl – that made sense. But paintings where her nose was growing out of her forehead and her body was a collection of squares. . . not so much.

From there, they boarded a bus with no thought to where it was going. They just rode, got off, rode back to where they came from. And as the hours passed, Olivia became more and more animated, pointing out landmarks and offering historical tidbits. She’d spent two years living in this city and being back was like coming home.

The more she talked, the closer he sat. Their hands intertwined and here and there, he snuck in a kiss. Sometimes when they were alone, sometimes not. Danko enjoyed the winks and smiles of strangers who appreciated what he had. If anyone was upset by the public displays of affection, they weren’t showing it.

They arrived back at the hotel an hour before dusk. Danko walked her to her room and reluctantly let her go in alone to clean up and change for dinner. He knew he’d see her again in less than an hour but when she closed the door, he felt an ache that was worrisome. Tomorrow was his last full day of leave, then it was back to the barracks and back to the war. Leaving her was going to be excruciating

All the more reason to make the most of the time they had.

Danko took the stairs down to the second floor, then checked in with the lone MP at the end of the hall. Seven of his men were present and accounted for including all of the newbies. That was a relief. He wasn’t worried about the originals. They had learned to respect Danko’s authority so he felt confident that they’d be back soon.

With business out of the way, he went to his room, washed up then changed into his evening suit. As he dressed, he felt that unique tingle of anticipation that he hadn’t felt since he and Michelle had parted at the start of the war. There had been other women in between, brief dalliances and moments of pure stress relief, but this was different. This was the ramp up to the kind of deep thrill he’d only felt while waiting for a woman he was aching to make love to. By evening’s end, he be shaking with desire but what were the chances she’d let him have his way? In spite of what happened back in France and the day they’d spent together, they were barely acquainted. And he knew for a fact that she still loved Mueller. Yes, the man was gone from her life, but that didn’t make it any easier to forget him, let alone replace him.

The sobering thoughts took the edge off and that was probably a good thing. Enjoy the evening. Enjoy her company and maybe, in another week, another month, you’ll get another chance. His brain kept repeating it but his heart wasn’t listening. Other body parts were caught somewhere in between.

Damn, it had the potential to be a very long, very confused night.

#

The moment he took her in his arms on the dance floor, his body won out over his brain. She fit so perfectly against him as they swayed to the gentle rhythm of Moonlight Serenade. His hand found the center of her back, just above the swell of her backside and as the song continued, he exerted a gentle pressure to close up the tiny bit of space between them. By the end, her head was on his shoulder and when he closed his eyes and imagined, they were in bed together. It was an easy reach and his body responded as if it were true. A soft moan escaped his lips before he realized what was happening and then suddenly the song was over and an up-tempo number had begun.

“Mind if I cut in?” Leeds appeared in Danko’s peripheral vision and he was about to tell him to get lost when Olivia stepped out of his hold.

“I promised,” she said, then switched partners.

Just as well. He needed a break. Time to pull it together before he made a fool of himself in front of her and everyone watching.

“One dance,” Danko said sternly, then smiled as he saw the two of them swing into a bouncy jive. He made his way off the dance floor, barely avoiding being run down by an exuberant Farrell and his chubby date. Then he fell into a chair next to Sgt. Cutter who was his usual stone-faced self.

“All present and accounted for, sir,” Cutter snapped. “And not a lick of trouble from one of them. Makes me nervous.”

Danko had to agree. Though the dozen had become a cohesive combat unit, they tended to go after each other in the downtime. And if they weren’t after each other, they were working on a scheme to steal something or break something, or embarrass anyone of a higher rank.

“Maybe they’re taking pity on me,” Danko suggested.

“It’s possible, sir. We thought we lost you for a good while and I think that sobered ’em up quite a bit.”

“Yeah, they were worried that without me, they’d all be heading back to prison.” Danko knew that wasn’t the primary motivation, but he needed to make a joke out of it. Couldn’t go around thinking his men actually cared about him, that would make it too hard to get the job done.

“She’s a pretty girl,” Cutter said, unexpectedly changing the topic of conversation. “Glad things turned out all right for her.” He turned toward Danko, his best angry drill sergeant look plastered on his face. “You take good care of her. After what happened, I feel kind of fatherly toward her and I would hate to have to hurt you for doing her wrong.”

Danko could barely keep from laughing at the seriousness of Cutter’s declaration. “I’ll treat her like a princess.”

“You do that.” Cutter got to his feet, snapped to attention then saluted. “Sir. Have a good evening, sir.” Then he turned on his heel and marched off into the wave of dancers coming off the floor.

Leeds escorted Olivia back to the table, kissed her hand, then headed back out to find another partner.

“That was crazy,” she said, gasping for breath between the words. “I am so out of shape.”

She was standing right in front of him, her hips at his eye level and he so couldn’t agree. “Why don’t we step out and get you some fresh air.”

“As much as my legs would like to give up right now, fresh air sounds wonderful, but you may have to hold me up.”

“With pleasure.” Danko stood and slipped his arm around her waist. This close, he could feel her chest rising and falling as her heart rate continued to beat in time to the fast music.

“From now on, I stick to the slow ones,” she said, then dropped her head left so her hair brushed his cheek.

The nearness of her, the smell of her perfume and the feel of her curves beneath his hand had Danko’s heart racing, too. He willed himself to calm down, but not too much. He liked that feeling of being on the edge, just moments away from doing something he shouldn’t, anticipating where it could go if it all worked out right.

They walked out the back entrance to the hotel, into the victory garden that supplied the restaurant with fresh vegetables for the plates and flowers for the tables. The moon wasn’t as bright as the previous night, but light was seeping out of the hotel windows, giving him just enough to see her face in the dim glow.

Sure that they were alone, Danko swung her around in front of him then kissed her gently on the lips. That was how it started out, anyway. But gentle soon gave way to desperate as her hands slipped under his jacket and clawed at his back.

He used his hands to hold her still as his tongue thrust in to meet hers. Any worry that she might object such a forward move went out of his mind when she gave him back the same and then some.

“Oh John, I’ve been wishing you’d do this all day long. Those kisses out on the street, those maddening little kisses—”

She lost her words and her breath as he lifted her off her feet, whirled her around, then set her on the waist-high brick wall that surrounded the garden. Now, he didn’t have to lean down to kiss her. She was right there for the taking and so he took and took. Her lips, her throat, down to the neckline of her dress.

God, if only he could get that dress out of the way and his jacket and his pants. . .

Voices shocked them both into breaking the hold. A soldier and his girl appeared on the path. They were giggling and breathless, then the young man saw Danko in the semi-darkness and came up short.

“Sir. Excuse me, sir.” He saluted which surprised Danko since he wasn’t in uniform. “We were just—”

“I know what you were just,” said Danko as he lifted Olivia down off the wall. “And we were just leaving.” He saluted. “Carry on.” Then he took Olivia by the hand and pulled her along with him as he headed back toward the hotel.

“What are you doing?” She asked breathlessly. “You’re the officer. Why didn’t you order him to go away?”

He stopped short then leaned down and whispered, “because to do, what I really want to do, we need a door and a bed.”

“What a coincidence. I have a door and a bed.”

And that was all it took to push him off the edge and into the abyss. Hurrying now, they entered the hotel, crossed the lobby then took the elevator up to her floor. By the time they reached her room, she was shaking too hard to work the key. Danko placed his none-to-steady hand over hers to help, then they were inside.

He closed and locked the door.

She turned on the light on the nightstand, then sat down on the bed to kick off her high heels. Danko shed his shoes and jacket, then slid down on to the bed beside her. He was torn between wanting to feel her skin against his and wanting to kiss her this very second.

She made the decision for him, by falling back on the mattress, her legs still over the side of the bed. Rolling over, trapping her beneath him, then kissed her long and hard. Keeping his weight on his forearms, he threaded his fingers into her hair while her hands pulled his shirt loose from his pants. Her hands roamed across his bare back and the suddenly she stopped. Stopped moving, stopped returning his kisses. He lifted himself up enough to see her expression and what he saw there scared the hell out of him.

It wasn’t fear. It was more like sadness.

“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?”

“No.” The word caught in her throat and he thought for sure she was going to burst into tears.

Damn it.

He forced himself to roll away from her, full aware of the growing bulge in his pants. Not that he was trying to influence her. If she didn’t want to go further, he’d respect that. He’d be in pain for the rest of the evening, but he’d live with it rather than push her into something she didn’t want to do.

“I’m sorry,” she said, near tears. She got up off the bed and he fully expected her next words would be ‘please leave.’ Not wanting to draw out the misery any longer, he stood up and went for his shoes.

“No.”

“No?” Danko sighed as he turned to her. “Honey, I’m trying to do the right thing here, but the signals you’re sending me. . . ”

“I know. Unbreakable girl code.” She shrugged and forced a smile. “I want you, I really do. When we were out this afternoon, every time you’d brush up against me. . . I’d forget how to breathe. Then, when we were on the bus, I closed my eyes and I pictured us, here, in this bed, with you making love to me and I thought for sure everyone could see it on my face.”

“I sense a but coming.”

“Not just one, dozens. Cort. I loved him and he’s only been dead a few weeks and he was a German officer and you’re American officer and even though I was born in America, people are going to question my loyalty. And in a few days, you have to go back into battle and what if I’m on your mind? What if you hesitate to kill a German because of me and my feelings and if you get hurt again. . . ”

He closed the space between them in a flash, pulled her into his arms and stopped her words with a kiss. “Sssh. You’re thinking too much,” he whispered. “Don’t. Don’t think about anything but right here and right now. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.”

“How do I forget the past? How do I forget this?” She ran her fingers up his back but still he couldn’t finish the thought. “How are you going to forget when you see me?”

Then all the little switches in his brain flipped the right way and he got it. The reason she had hesitated. The reason she got choked up.

“Olivia, sweetheart, it doesn’t matter. I want to see you. All of you.” Which meant she’d see all of him, too, including the barely healed welts that she had felt on his back. “Your beautiful, Liv. That’s all I’ll ever see when I look at you.”

Without meaning to, his fingers brushed against the zipper tab on her dress. He gave it a tug, waited for her to protest, and when she didn’t he unzipped it all the way. Since it was strapless, the dress came away from her body and with a little more coaxing, it slid down her hips and on to the floor. Beneath it, she had a bustier that nearly met the top of her girdle. At the bottom of each leg were two suspenders to hold up her stockings.

Danko laughed. “I don’t wear this much hardware to jump out of a plane.”

Thankfully, she laughed, too. “It’s tough being a girl.”

“Well,” he kissed her gently. “I appreciate the effort. You want to do the honors?” He nodded down at his own shirt and was eminently pleased when she began unbuttoning it for him. By the time she got to his cuff buttons, he was shaking was impatience. He’d cooled down in between but this time his body warned that it wouldn’t be denied. Finish what you start or suffer the consequences.

His shirt hit the floor, then his pants joined the pile. He wished she were a little more bare but he wasn’t about to push it.

They moved as one back to the bed. It was the awkward arranging of new lovers, neither sure who should turn this way or lay that way. After a few moments of this, Danko realized that she had definite ideas about how this was going to go so he laid back and let her lead the way.

The ‘way’ turned out to be her on top of him, hot kisses that worked their way down his neck, chest, stomach and then her mouth surrounded him and he nearly came right then and there. He cried out her name, or not, it sounded like one thing in his head, but something else to his ears.

This was not the plan, but he sure as hell wasn’t complaining. He reached for her, aching for more contact but she moved so all he could get was fingertips ghosting over her arm.

“Let me touch you, damn it.” That came out harsher than he intended but instead of cowering, she laughed.

“When I’m ready and not before.”

Seriously? After all that emotion and angst, now she wanted to play games.

Fine. How about a new game? With the agility he’d learned in the field, Danko sat up, caught Olivia under the arms, lifted her off him then dropped her down on the bed. Before she could wiggle away, he moved on top of her, his weight supported by his hands on either side of her head.

“I want to touch you now,” he said, voice deep and thick with desire. He shifted his hips forward, trapping his engorged cock between them. It hurt, but it was a good kind of hurt and he wanted to keep that sensation going for as long as he could. . . which probably wasn’t going to be that long now that her fingers were digging into backside.

Animal instinct took over and he began rocking his hips to increase the friction but then his brain kicked in and told his body to stop. Not this way. He wanted to make love to her, not use her as a means of release.

Control. Get control. He forced himself to think about something else, something not so sexy, like the cold, lumpy cot back at the barracks and the filthy mess that was the result of 12 men living under one roof.

He moved to lie beside her then fumbled with the latches on the garters. Geez, it really was like releasing the multitude of straps after a parachute jump. She made no attempt to help him, instead she calmed herself stroking her fingers along the back of his neck. Another mood shift, dark again and he worried that if he didn’t hurry he’d be on the outs once more.

Danko set a brief kiss on the thin strip of bare tummy between her bustier and the girdle. She didn’t react to it one way or the other, so he slipped his fingers under the girdle waistband and peeled it down, over her hips and eventually off completely. Not easy and not part of the sweeping seduction he had imagined. Sometimes life was like that, you had to simply accept it and move on.

So he did.

Move on to the nearly bare, woman lying there for the taking.

“You are so beautiful.” He started to move on top of her again but she stopped him with a firm hand to the chest.

“No. My way.” Olivia nudged him to lay back then she straddled his hips, her hands splayed over his ribs. She was still wearing the bustier, which covered the scars Kruger had left behind, but once he got past the reason, he found it kind of sexy, that she should be naked except for that.

She took hold of his length then guided him into the warm patch between her legs. Slowly. Deliberately. It was madding. He settled his hands on her hips and toyed with the idea of holding her still while he bucked up inside of her. One long stroke and he’d be buried to the hilt.

Then he saw the glint of fear in her eyes as her teeth worried her bottom lip. Damn. This wasn’t right. He wanted her to enjoy the act. He wanted her to beg for more, for him to go deeper and harder.

“If you don’t want to do this—”

She shook her head, then practically fell forward on to his chest. Their lips met while her hands lifted him slightly at the back of the neck.

“We’ll get there,” she murmured into his mouth, then slowly she sat back taking all of him up inside of her.

In spite of her playful attitude, he could see that she was tense. It was in her expression, in the way her body moved around him.  Was it just nerves or something more? He couldn’t find his voice to ask her so he simply did his best to let her set the pace. Tough though, it had been so long since he’d been with a woman and this woman, she made him feel things he hadn’t felt since he’d left Michelle in St. Luc.

She spoke his name but he could barely hear it over the pounding of his heart. He reached for her and his hands found her stocking-covered thighs.

“Livy, I can’t–” That’s all the warning he could manage before he lost control. In spite of his self-promise to hold back, he arched up into her while pressing down on her thighs. She gasped sharply and he hoped it was joy not pain, but there was nothing he could do to stop it now. Her hands clamped over his to brace herself as he finished inside of her then she collapsed on top of him for a moment before rolling off to the side.

Danko’s muscles went to jelly as he struggled to get oxygen back in his lungs. He didn’t plan on moving for a long time but that changed when he heard her sob. With real effort, he rolled to his left and bundled her into his arms. They were both overheated and sweating but still he held her as tight as he could with spent muscles.

“Oh, honey, please tell me those are tears of joy.”

“I don’t know. . . I mean, I guess.”

“You guess.” He kissed her wet cheek. “What am I going to do with you?”

“This,” she said, then snuggled deeper into his arms. “This is good, right here.”

#

It was dawn when Danko stumbled back to his room. Despite having spent the last eight hours in bed, he needed some sleep. And a shower. And food.

Sleep first.

He closed and locked the door behind him, kicked off his shoes, threw his jacket on the chair then planned to lay down with the rest of his clothes on. What stopped him was a body in his bed.

“Leeds!”

The young soldier popped like a Jack-in-the-Box, and Danko was glad it wasn’t Feke. Feke would have had a gun under his pillow.

“Hey, Lieutenant.”

“What are you doing in my room?”

“When I saw you leave with Olivia, I figured you weren’t going to need it, so why let it go to waste?”

“You have your own room.”

“Yeah, but you know how Lebec snores.” Leeds sat up then took in Danko’s rumpled condition and the light streaming in from outside. “Guess you did okay.”

“Get out.”

Leeds didn’t move. “I gotta hand it to you, after what Krueger did to her; I’m surprised she even let you get near her.”

Danko sat down on his jacket on the chair. “It was almost an issue. She didn’t want me to see the scars he left behind.”

“Yeah, but the ones you can see are nothing compared the ones you can’t.”

Danko yawned and stretched, then the penny dropped in his muddled brain. “I’m not entirely comfortable having this conversation with you, but I feel like I’m missing some pieces.”

Leeds rolled his eyes and sighed, clearly no more comfortable than Danko was but now that he’d come this far. “Well, it’s not like I was trying to sneak a peek or something, but Lebec was taking care of you so it landed on me to administer aide and. . . ”

“And. . .” Danko prompted, too tired to deal with Leeds’s verbal gymnastics.

“All I’m saying is, that pipe he used to burn her. . . he got real creative with it. So some scars you can see and some you can’t.”

Of course. Now it all made sense. Her reluctance to make love, the way she carefully controlled the situation. The way she tensed when he’d entered her. She was in pain, but she took it and kept quiet for him.

God, he felt like a louse.

Leeds got out of bed. “Forget we had this conversation.” He yanked on his pants then searched the floor for his shirt.

“No. I’m glad you told me. It’s stupid. I was right there when it happened but all I have are these foggy images, like a dream you can’t quite remember when you wake up.”

“That’s a good thing.” He found the shirt, put it on. “What I saw was bad enough. I can’t imagine living through it.” Leeds grabbed the last of his personal belongings then headed for the door. “See you in a couple of hours.” Then he was gone.

Danko took off his pants and shirt, then fell back on to the bed, but as tired as he was, he couldn’t close his eyes. Leeds’ cryptic comments kept playing over and over in his head. The burns, hidden scars, atrocities committed upon a beautiful woman whose only crime was trying to administer aide to an injured soldier.

It was his fault she’d been tortured.

Leeds was right, given the circumstances, it was a wonder she’d let him touch her.

And he’d done more than that. . . memories of the past few hours washed away Leeds’ words and soon Danko was sound asleep.

#

Danko spent the next few hours dreaming of another day and night with Olivia. Now that he realized the impact of her injuries, he knew he’d have to be more careful and considerate lover. It bothered him to know that she’d kept her pain from him and that was going to have to stop. He also wondered how long it would be before she felt comfortable enough to let him see every inch of her.

A sharp knock on the door roused him from his half sleep.

“Just a minute,” he called as he pulled on his pants. He hoped to find Olivia on the other side of the door but it turned out to be a young soldier and not one of his.

“Lieutenat Danko?”

“I’m Danko.”

The Private handed him a sealed envelope but made no move to leave. “I was told to wait,” he said off Danko’s questioning stare.

He didn’t like the sound of that. Danko ripped open the envelope and pulled put a folded, handwritten note. He recognized the sharp, precise handwriting right away and it may his heart sink.

Sorry to cut your leave short but we have an extremely time sensitive matter that requires your special talents. There’s a car waiting for you. Let’s talk before you pull in your men. Worth.

Danko cursed loud enough to scare the poor private. “Let me put some clothes on, give me ten minutes.”

He left the private in the hall then washed up and changed into his uniform. That done, he told the private they had two stops to make. The first was Cutter’s room. He told him to keep an eye on the troops and not to let them stray too far in case they all had to come in early. Then he went upstairs to Olivia’s room.

She smiled when she saw him outside her door, but the smile fell away when she realized he was in uniform. “Oh no.”

“Oh yes. I’ve been summoned.”

“As in you’ll be back this afternoon?”

“I wish that were true but I have a feeling our leave is over. I’m so sorry, honey.” He pulled her into a hug and kissed her hard enough to embarrass the young Private who was waiting nearby. “If I can come back, I will but don’t count on it.”

“Then what?” Olivia asked, tears welling up in her eyes. “Am I going to see you again?

He wanted to say, yes of course, but experience had taught him not to make such a promise. “I hope so.” He kissed her again, gentler this time but when he tried to step out of the embrace she hung on tight.

“John. . . ” What more could she say? Be safe? Don’t get killed or captured?

“Sir,” the private interrupted, “we need to be on our way.”

“I’m aware, soldier,” Danko snapped. He knew he shouldn’t shoot the messenger but he was starting to get angry all over again. He took hold of Olivia’s hands then brought them to his kips. “Think of me.”

“Constantly.”

He let go of her hands, then turned his back and forced her out of his mind. He had to if he wanted to come back from the next mission alive.

#

It was three long months before he saw her again. Danko had spent les then half of that time in the field but two bad missions had left him too mentally worn out to step outside the confines of the punishment camp that was his home. The first mission, a demolition run in Italy, had gone all wrong from the moment they touched down. Some of what happened wasn’t their fault, but that was life in the field. You had to think on your feet, adapt and move on. But they were slow in Italy. Dissension among the men, physical fights between two of them, Feke questioning his orders — it was like the early days and in the end they’d left with their tail between their legs.

Danko’s response was to push them harder. Back to boot camp. Daily drills, calisthenics, punishment duties for any man who mouthed off. He’d thought they were past this, but familiarity had made them careless and disrespectful. That was his fault, he’d come to treat his men, especially the originals, as friends and it was time to reinstate the chain of command.

He felt bad doing it, but knew that in the end he was saving their lives. The next mission, the rescue of a brilliant scientist, went as planned. They got the man and his family out and managed to blow up a German munitions dump as a bonus.

Danko was feeling better about life when he got the news about Roy. One of the original dozen, they’d been forced to leave him behind after he was wounded during a raid in Denmark. Getting Roy’s giant of a brother, Vern, to leave him had been heartbreaking, but the Danish underground had promised to care for him and send him home.

It wasn’t going to happen. Word had come through from a G2 unit that Roy had passed on. Danko seriously considered keeping the message to himself but after discussing it with Sergeant Cutter, decided they owed it to Vern to tell him the truth.

The big man took the news better than expected and in hindsight Danko realized that he should have been concerned.  On the next mission, Vern walked himself right into the line of fire. To an outsider, it appeared that he gave his life to save a bus of civilians, including women and children. Danko and the remaining dozen knew better. Vern had committed suicide. He died a hero, but that didn’t make the loss any easier on the rest of them.

After that mission, Danko wondered how much longer he could go on. He’d led dozens of young men to their deaths and there was no end in sight. Maybe spending the next twenty years in Marsten Tyne Prison wasn’t such a bad idea. At least he wouldn’t have to watch one more man die under his command.

He was at the end of his third scotch in an hour when Cutter knocked then entered. “We’ve got company coming. You might want to put on a clean shirt.”

Which meant the brass. Danko was tempted to blow it off but he figured he couldn’t require his men to follow protocol if he didn’t. Quickly he washed his face, put on a clean shirt and was just getting the tie on straight when he heard the commotion in the barracks. Happy cheers, not the sound that usually accompanied a visit from the brass.

Curious, he left his quarters and stepped out into the main room. He spotted General Worth coming his way, but his men was swarming around someone else, someone too short to be seen.

 

“What’s all the excitement?”

“Letters from home,” Farrell replied as wiggled his way out of the crowd with a box and several envelopes in his hand.

“And the mailman,” said Lebec. “Oooh oui!”

“Have at it boys,” said a female voice, then Olivia ducked out of the crowd, leaving the mailbag behind for the men to feast upon.

Danko had instant flashbacks of her straddling him, the taste of her lips, the feeling of her warm body pressed up against him. “Olivia.” He didn’t trust himself to say anymore.

She slipped into his arms and bestowed a chaste kiss upon his lips. God, he wanted more but that wasn’t going to happen here.

“In your office, Lieutenant,” said Worth.

It took Danko a second to realize what he meant, then he stepped out of Olivia’s embrace and motioned for the general to precede him into his combination bedroom and office.

“Don’t worry, Lieutenant,” Leeds said, sliding in to take his place. “I’ll look after her while you’re gone.”

 

Olivia didn’t mind the hug from Leeds but the small taste of being back in Danko’s embrace had left her wanting more. She’d spent nearly every waking minute over the last few months worrying about him, wondering if she was ever going to see him again. Even when Worth assured her that he’d come home safe from the latest missions, she worried. Why didn’t he contact her? Why did he stay away?

So when Worth asked if she wanted to accompany him to the camp, she wasn’t sure what to say. She wanted to see Danko, for sure, but if he didn’t want to see her, that would be heartbreaking. Still, wasn’t it better to know the truth? Know for sure if they had a future or not?

She got her answer the moment she saw his face. It was a subtle shift in his smile, in his eyes. Then, when he took her in his arms, she felt the want, the need. She had no doubt that if they could find a private space he would have made love to her right then and there.

“Let me give you the grand tour,” Leeds said, as he steered her toward a broken down, stuffed couch. “This is the salon where we entertain our most honored guests.” He pointed toward the worn, wooden bar. “That’s where we serve cocktails and dinners are held in the formal dining room.” A peeling wooden table with benches on each side. “Beyond that is the bedroom but it wouldn’t be proper for me to take you there.”

Leeds motioned for to sit then he dropped down beside her. “I know it’s not what you’re used to, but the roof only leaks during the hard rains and the heater warms up a quarter of the room in the winter, so we can’t really complain.”

Olivia smiled as she bumped her shoulder into his. “You all look very tired.”

“It’s been a rough couple of weeks,” Leeds admitted. “We lost Vernon. Remember him? Big guy, kinda dumb, like an overgrown sheepdog.”

He was making a joke but she could hear the pain underneath the worlds.

“That must have been hard on all of you.”

“It was, but you go on, right, cause you have to. So, it was the perfect time for the mail to arrive. It’s a good reminder of what we’re fighting for.”

Farrell dashed over and waved a photo in front of their faces. “Check this out! I’m an uncle. Isn’t she beautiful?”

“Very active for her age,” said Leeds.

“Oh.” Farrell held the photo still long enough for them to get a good look. “Her name is Beatrice Ann Farrell.”

“She’s darling,” said Olivia.

“The first grandchild, man is she going to be spoiled. I gotta write her a letter, or is that dumb? I know she won’t be old enough to read it for a long time.”

“That’s a lovely idea. She’ll really appreciate it when she grows up.” In the back of her mind Olivia thought it might be the only link to her uncle the child would ever have. A terrible thought, but one she couldn’t completely eliminate, not after doing the math. Nine men in the room plus Danko meant they were down not just one, but two. And here they were laughing and carrying over letters from home. She didn’t know how they did it.

“Miss Warner?” Worth called from the doorway to Danko’s office. “You have ten minutes.” Then he stepped out and addressed the men. “Who thinks they can beat me at darts?”

Olivia didn’t wait to hear anymore.  She dashed into Danko’s office, pulled the door shut behind her then dived into his arms. With no one around to see them this time, he kissed her passionately only stopping when they both needed air to breath.

“When I didn’t hear from you, I thought it was all over between us.”

“I’m sorry, I should have sent word, at least let you know I was safe but-”

“You’ve had a rough time, I know, Leeds told me about Vernon.”

Danko stopped her with another kiss. “Let’s not talk about that. Let’s not talk at all, I just want to hold you, touch you.” He ran his hands over every inch of her that he could reach, mentally mapping each curve and valley. He lifted her in the air and set her down on top of his desk. He would have preferred to lay her down on his cot, but ten minutes wasn’t going to cut it and he wasn’t sure the old metal frame could even stand the strain. No, this was going to have to do.

She opened her legs as wide as her tight skirt would allow, giving him the space he needed to get in close. One hand wrapped around the back of her neck, holding her still for more passionate kisses while his free hand slipped up her stocking covered thigh. Suddenly he was back there, in her hotel room, beneath her while she rode him hard.

And speaking of hard.

God damn, Worth and his ten minute limit. Then again, with as wound up as he was now, he probably wouldn’t even last ten minutes.

“Oh God, Olivia, I want you so much.” He left breathless kisses down her neck, nudged his way under the collar of her blouse then her hands were all over him. “Think we could,” he whispered in her ear. “Right now, real fast?”

“You’re dreaming.” She laughed and it sounded so sweet.

“Oh, I have been dreaming, honey, every night since that night at the hotel. I tried to put it out of my mind but whenever I close my eyes, you’re there and I can’t get enough.”

“John, darling, I honestly thought you didn’t want me anymore, that I didn’t please you. I know it wasn’t perfect–”

“Stop, no. I know what you did, I know how hard it was to let me touch you and I wish I’d been more careful, wish I’d done more for you.”

“Listen to us, both so worried about the other.”

He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her again, sweetly this time. “You’re so beautiful. I promise, I won’t leave you wondering ever again.”

A sharp rap on the door put an end to all the sweet notions in Danko’s head. He moaned as he snuck in one last kiss.

“Time to move out, Miss Warner,” Worth called and they knew if they didn’t answer he’d just knock down the flimsy door.

“I still can’t decide,” said Olivia, “if he’s an I curable romantic or a miserable monster.”

“He brought you to me, so I can’t complain.” Danko lifted her off the desk and set her on her feet. She took a moment to straighten her skirt and tuck in her blouse, then they walked out of the office.

Danko could feel all eyes on him. His men were all chomping at the bit to make a comment or hoot but mercifully they restrained themselves.

He walked them out to the car, then opened the door for Olivia. As she ducked down to climb in, he caught her with one last kiss. Then, against his better judgment, he did the thing he tried never to do, “I’ll see you soon, honey, I promise.”

As he watched the car drive away, he wondered if he’d cursed himself with those simple words. He’d promised Michelle they’d be together forever and that couldn’t have ended worse.

But not this time. This time, it was going to work out. Worth had told him confidentially that the end might be near. Danko couldn’t allow himself to believe that the war was ever going to end, but having Olivia in his life permanently? That was a dream he was starting to believe could come true.

Now all he had to do was survive until Hitler decided he’d had enough. Easy.

End Book One

Continue to Book Two: Coming Soon

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