The Last Ride Raid



By the early months of 1945, the world knew that the Third Reich was crumbling into the dust of history. In mid-December the American newspapers were full of the Germans’ desperate attempt to break through the Allied lines in the Ardennes but that had been repulsed, and now, two months later, they were retreating on a daily basis on all fronts. Every city, town, hamlet and culvert in Germany had became a place of defense or refuge. To the east, the Russians were overrunning former Axis lands while the British, Americans, Canadians and others struck from the south and west. That month, February, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met in Yalta to establish what Europe would look like when peace was declared.

For those who had fought long and hard, the feeling of victory was vindication for four or more brutal years of bombings, retreats, and captures. The survivors of Dunkirk’s retreat, North African battles, the muddy Italy campaign, the stony beaches of Normandy, all could see a payoff in the next few months that might take them home victorious.

For the Rat Patrol, a surviving unit of the Long-Range Desert Patrol of the North African campaigns of 1942, the war couldn’t end too soon for them. They’d fought through all those battles, and a few others forgotten except in the classified dossiers of the British Special Operations Executive or the American Office of Special Services. That the four men were still alive, and working together was due to tremendous luck, skill and the common-sense of their superiors who saw no reason to break up a good team even if they did come from different armies

But now the end was in sight for Master Sergeant Sam Troy, Sergeant Mark Hitchcock, Sergeant Tully Pettigrew and the only member to become an officer, Lieutenant Jack Moffitt of the Second Commando. Separately, each man wondered what the future would bring. No one wanted to jinx the possibility of victory by mentioning it just as no one wanted to tempt fate by saying, "after the war, I’m going to do...something." No one wanted to think that they might not survive the last few months until the war was over. They had survived this long by not asking for too much of the Almighty.

But the war wasn’t over yet for the four of them.

** *** **



The few remaining panes of glass in the window rattled in the explosion. The rest of the empty spaces were filled in with cardboard squares that let in the icy air.

The two men in the office barely noticed the explosion, though they did rub their hands together against the chill. Through the blackout curtains came a faint red glow as the fire took hold of a building a block away, but they could already hear the sirens of the vigilant London fire engines.

"Besides," said the smaller of the two in a refined accent straight from Oxford University, and a civilian from his clothing, "V-2s seldom land in the same area twice."

"You seem rather blasé about them, Williams," the other remarked. In contrast, he had the harsh accent that marked him as a native Londoner. He hung his long greatcoat on a wooden coat rack in one corner, and sat in an old-fashioned wooden chair opposite Williams. On the desk was a small lamp that flickered as the city power faded, then revived. The light flickered off the polished badge on his cap, and the buttons and epaulettes of his Royal Navy uniform.

"Quite, Hanson. There’s very little warning despite radar, you know. I know that HQ has put knocking out the launchers on a high priority, but there is so much going on right now in France that we just have to put up with the rockets," Williams said peaceably. He sat in the other chair across the paper-strewn desk, most of the documents with the warning Classified on the top, and steepled his fingers. "The Londoners got upset when the bombs took out the Christmas ornaments down in Selfridges’s last month but otherwise..."

Hanson shivered. His skin had a healthier color than the other man’s. "It’s been the longest, coldest winter in fifty years in London. Glad I got down to Bahamas for a lot of it."

"How is the Duke of Windsor?"

"Very well. Bored, though. He’s restless to get to America or back to France."

Williams snorted. "I wish him luck on that. It’s rather nasty in New York right now. So, why have you asked me here?"

Hanson tapped on a file that sat on the top of a pile. "This and that. Let’s start with this." He pushed it across the desk.

Williams flipped it open. "A horse?"

"Not just any horse. Former Olympic mount, top stud. The Russians are threatening to take him back to the Soviet Union, the Germans are sharpening their knives, and one of our Ministers wants him out of there."

"Which one?" Williams inquired, leafing through the folder.

"Minister White."

"White! The Palace…. "

Hanson said quietly, "This comes from the top, Williams."

"The Caribbean, eh? I see. How do they even know about this horse?" Williams closed the file.

"Intelligence work in southern Germany. Probably something to do with cans of tinned milk," Hanson said succinctly. "The war must be going well, because now Headquarters is worrying about horses, not men."

Williams shook his head. "Wrong priorities. The war’s not wound up yet."

"Aye, but still they’re thinking of the future. Have you got anyone who can do this job?"

"Someone you can trust with an expensive horse?" Williams asked. "Have you heard anything from Peter Alexander and his troop? The Rat Patrol, as they were called in North Africa. I believe they’re somewhere in southern Germany."

Hanson grimaced. "Yes, they were the ones that were mentioned, and why we called on you. You seem to get the best response from Alexander and his men. But they’re the ‘that’."

Williams frowned. "‘That’?"

"Yes.... how long have they been working together?"

"Since early Forty-two. They teamed with Peter in Forty-three."

"Two years." Hanson pursed his lips. "A successful team from what I’ve seen."

"Very. Haven’t lost a man, which is quite a trick, come to think of it. Why?" Williams asked baldly.

"The Americans have asked that we withdraw them," Hanson said quietly. "Apparently, their methods upset a number of command—."

"In other words, they’re too independent for the bureaucrats now running the US Army," Williams cut in succinctly. "That’s the way they were trained to operate, Commander!"

"I know, but either Alexander has been covering for them, or Sergeant Troy and his men are going round the bend. I had no idea they were that insubordinate!" Hanson said with a huffy tone.

"Insubordinate? I always thought of them as the perfect soldiers...if a little innovative. How is Alexander?"

"Unfortunately, we haven’t heard from him in the last two weeks. The mission in Czechoslovakia isn’t going well," Hanson said soberly.

"Why on earth did you send him in alone?" Williams asked in angry exasperation. "They are a team, you know."

Hanson shrugged. "He was the man in the area who spoke Russian and German. It was only supposed to be for a few days to contact the Partisans and get a feel for the situation, then out."

"It’s been two months!"

"Yes. We keep expecting him to reach the Americans but that hasn’t happened yet."

"I hope he’s not dead, then. He has some identification so the Americans don’t shoot him?"

"I thought you said he could talk his way out of anything, Sir?" Hanson said provocatively. He glanced at the curtains. The light was starting to get brighter. Maybe we should move out of the office.

Williams cast up his hands in exasperation. "Normally yes, but… Do the Americans have an idea he might be down there?"

Hanson shook his head. "We don’t know where he’s coming from so we didn’t tell anyone. All he has to do is open his mouth and speak English and they should be able to tell he’s one of us, sir!"

William snorted. "The Germans have people who speak perfect English, Hanson! I hope he makes it out."

"So do I, so he can take over his commandos. They’re all bomb-happy according to Major Burrin. They should be after all this time—."

Williams stared at him in disbelief. "Bomb-happy? What the Yanks call ‘battle fatigue’? I’ve never seen a sign of that. Tired, yes, but everyone is. What are you telling me?"

"The Americans have sent a man down to evaluate the situation," Hanson prevaricated. "A Captain Carlson. Depending on what he reports back, we’ll see what to do. Maybe, by then, Alexander will have surfaced "

"I hope so," Williams said soberly. "I’ve known every man in that team for over two years, Hanson. I wouldn’t want to lose any of them to some psychologist who’s never been under fire and wouldn’t understand those men."

"I understand, sir." The officer tapped on the file. "What about this? Do you know anyone who can do this job right away, or shall we wait till Alexander surfaces?"

Williams smiled wryly. "Let’s wait unless you have some kind of overwhelming demand from the Palace. Peter’s troop is down there. We’ll wait for him, then team the whole lot up."

Sourly, Hanson stared at the table. "If they’re already unstable, why should we use them at all?"

"Let’s wait on the Americans’ report before you write them off," Williams warned. "I’d suggest that this Carlson talk only to Colonel Alexander about the inquiry. I shudder to think what Sergeant Troy would make of this!"

"And if he finds they’re unfit for duty?" Hanson questioned, leaning forward.

Williams shrugged. "They’ll have to be withdrawn. I’d do that for any man who’s done so much, Hanson. Maybe you should go down yourself and check on them." He smiled at Hanson’s gesture of revulsion. The officer probably hadn’t been in combat since the end of the Blitz. He would make a poor judge of combat fatigue.

"What if he judges Colonel Alexander unfit as well?" Hanson asked hesitantly. "I mean, he’s your man, Williams!"

Williams folded his hands, and leaned on his desk. "I hadn’t realized that our officers were part of the Americans’ field of operations. If I judge Peter off his head, I’ll bring him in. The war’s nearly over, Hanson. I’m sure that he’ll be invaluable for future planning."

Hanson blinked in surprise. "Funny. You know I never think of what the future might bring. It seems like it’s been going on forever."

"For some people it has."

The building rocked as something exploded nearby.

"They’re getting closer," Williams remarked. He swept the papers into one pile, and stored it in the open safe behind him, twirling the dials. The only file he kept out was that on the horse. "I believe that one of the team’s here in London at the moment. Lieutenant Moffitt. I’ll issue orders for him to take to Peter as soon as he gets to the Americans."

"I hope the Colonel’s still alive, sir," Hanson said soberly. He rose and took his coat off the rack. "Shall I walk you back to your hotel?"

"Certainly. It was hit last week so it should be safe."

** *** **


Major Hans Dietrich, formerly a Panzer commander in Normandy, now a prisoner-of-war for seven months, quietly closed the front door to the sprawling farmhouse and walked down the porch stairs and across the cobblestones to the stables, where over two dozen Thoroughbred broodmares, most in foal, others with newborn foals at side, along with a number of stallions and geldings, waited for him.

It was the same routine every morning— a quick check of each horse to ascertain that none had colicked, had cast themselves in their stalls, or were in any other sort of distress, then on to mucking out stalls. After the stalls were laid with fresh straw, and the manure was added to the pile behind the breeding shed, feeding could begin. Only when all the horses had been fed and had been given fresh water did he return to the house for his own breakfast. He’d appreciate that on this raw and ugly morning. February was going out with a wintry roar that made him glad that he had a heavy, if second-hand, coat to wear over his denim shirt and thick pants, and a snug shelter from the elements when his work was done. An avid reader of the different American newspapers his employers received daily, he knew what his countrymen and their opponents faced daily in Germany— icy roads, snowy terrain, frostbite, unheated homes, and frozen earth.

Dietrich knew he was lucky. It was good to be working with horses again, and the Cullen family treated him well. He had a bedroom in the farmhouse with a soft bed, clean sheets and towels, and even a private bathroom—a luxury he never would have dreamed would be awarded to a prisoner-of-war. He even took his meals with the family. Oh, it had been a bit awkward at first, but the Cullens had gone out of their way to make him feel comfortable. He hadn’t questioned their motives at the time—he was still a bit dazed by the speed of his transfer from Kentucky to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and then on to Diamond Shamrock Farm. He’d finally realized that their open-handed friendliness wasn’t forced, and wasn’t the product of any ulterior motives. It was just their way. It was unexpected, and quite welcome.

In return, he worked as hard as he possibly could. There was a lot of work to be done around a horse breeding farm, and he didn’t see how Mike Cullen and his daughter had done it all before his arrival in January. Both were grateful for his help, and showed it. There was none of the contempt or condescension a victor might feel for the vanquished. Instead, they treated him as an equal. In turn, he awarded them the respect they deserved.

Mike Cullen, a widower, worked as hard as any man Dietrich had ever met. Short, bandy-legged, he was an ex-jockey who’d emigrated from Ireland in his mid-teens. When he’d grown too tall and heavy to continue riding flat racers, he’d moved on from jockeying to training, and seemed to win with every horse he saddled. He’d married the daughter of one of his clients, and Diamond Shamrock Farm had been a wedding present from said client. The marriage had been happy, and had produced two children— Joseph Michael, a Marine sergeant fighting in the Pacific, and Bridget Kathleen, better known to friends and family as Bridey.

The house was run by Siobhan McKenna, Mike’s cousin, a dark-haired widow whose laconic manner belied a warmth that she showed rarely and reluctantly. Dietrich felt that her cooking rivaled some he’d eaten in France, and she always made sure there was enough available for seconds, even with rationing.

Bridey was a strong-willed young woman of twenty-two, with dark red hair— and all that implied— and green eyes the color of the fabled Emerald Isle. A recent graduate of Monmouth College, she saw to the day-to-day operation of the farm, bossing everyone around her. Like her father, she was a skilled rider who wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get dirty working in the barn.

He heard her now, greeting the geldings on her way down the aisle. "Morning, Merlin. Morning, Dancer."

Dietrich looked over the door of the stall where he was refilling the water bucket, and saw her striding in his direction. He straightened and nodded his head politely at her. "Guten Morgen, Fraulein Cullen."

Bridey smiled. She’d always thought of German as a harsh language, but Hans Dietrich could make it sound like classical piano. "Guten Morgen," she replied, knowing her pronunciation was fine, even if her accent was atrocious. "How’s Charm doing?"

"She is bagged up. It should not be too long now. With your permission, I would like to move her to the foaling barn today and spend the next few nights sleeping there with her."

Bridey nodded. Sleeping in the barn during foaling season was a chore she’d done her share of during the years— more so since the beginning of the war, when most of the barn help had been drafted or enlisted, and her older brother Joe had enlisted in the Marine Corps. Foaling season brought its own sort of work—days and nights could run easily together on a breeding farm when mares started dropping their foals. It was nice to have help at this sort of thing, even if it came from a German POW on work-release.

"Sure. There’s a cot in the storage room in the foaling barn, and I’ll dig out a couple of extra quilts for you— the foaling barn gets cold at night."

"Thank you, Fraulein."

"No— thank you. I’d be the one on foal watch if you hadn’t volunteered." She paused, then said, "You know, you could call me Bridey."

Dietrich shook his head. "Fraulein, that would be beyond the bounds of propriety."

Bridey made a rude noise. "I’m not your jailer."

"But you do hold my parole. And you are my employer. Certain...formalities...must be observed."

Bridey shook her head in resignation. "Whatever you say. Just let me know when they get to be too much trouble." Bridey moved off down the stable aisle to the tack room, then turned and walked back to the mare’s stall, where she rested her forearms on the lower half of the stall door. "Can you do me a big favor?" Without waiting for him to answer, she said, "Can you feed the chickens before you come up to the house for breakfast?"

"The chickens." Dietrich raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah. Those damned chickens. We never had chickens here until the war. This is a breeding and training farm, not a food farm!" She shook her head. "I like eating them, but I’d rather buy my eggs from the egg man and I want my chickens already butchered, not running around the property making those ridiculous noises." She paused. "And I hate feeding them!"

Dietrich did his best to keep his expression sober; sometimes it was very difficult around this extremely outspoken young woman. "I will see to the chickens for you, Fraulein."

She grinned. "Danke. And for that, I’ll see that Siobhan gives you an extra egg with breakfast."

"I will appreciate that."

"I thought you would. See you later. And don’t be late—you know how Siobhan is."

"I have no intention of getting on her bad side."

"Good move, Major. Looks like you’ve got everything in hand here—I’ll go feed the stallions."

Dietrich inclined his head in acknowledgement.

** *** **


Colonel Peter Alexander of the British Special Operations Executive and the 2nd Commandos, rubbed his face which was covered with a two-day bristle from missed shaves as well as a layer of grime that wouldn’t come off despite several washes in icy water. Late February, and he was tired clear down to his frozen bone marrow. Sometimes he wondered if he’d offended some obscure Teutonic god by being on the winning side of this war, and thus had ended up at the end of a brutal mission quartered in a medieval castle, complete with arrow slit windows built into the thick stone walls and covered by torn wax paper which didn’t keep out the gusty draughts of the storms outside. The small room he’d been assigned had a smoking brazier which barely put out enough heat to keep the condensation on the walls from becoming ice and the chimney had been cleared enough to let the smoke go up when icy gusts weren’t coming down. There was an Army cot to one side with several blankets and a small bag of clothes which they’d loaned him, as well as a rickety wooden chair and a small table. Dinner, an uneaten tin of Spam or some other kind of meat, sat there beside a bent fork. The Americans weren’t quite prepared for unexpected visitors who outranked everyone in the castle.

Alexander thought back on the last two months in Czechoslovakia, and wasn’t hungry for the K ration goodies. Despite years of war, he was being haunted by the last few months. He’d traveled over the scorched earth left by the Germans, laughed with the guerrillas as they cleaned out the food supplies of supposed collaborators’ families, then hung the men if they could find them, and would have raped the women except for Alexander’s presence (they were trying to impress him) all in the name of gaining their support for the Allied cause. It had been a waste of his time. He’d never get the blood-stained dirt off his boots or coat. If he wasn’t so cold, he’d burn the garment.

He was surprised to find how much he missed his usual back-up team on this last mission. The Rat Patrol had made themselves part of his thinking when planning an operation, and it was a cold, dangerous world without them. Funny; two years before, he had always worked alone, and not thought twice about it. Now he felt the icy breeze behind him. Maybe he was getting too old for this. He huddled in his long coat and eyed his unwelcome guest.

The only comfort was that the American officer, Captain Carlson, huddling in front of the meager fire, was shivering as well. He looked better fed than the lean, tired Alexander, who had barely escaped being shot by American troops three days before when he’d accosted a patrol and asked for directions to the nearest HQ. He was brought in by a suspicious patrol who were only partly mollified when Carlson recognized him and vouched for his rank. Alexander wondered what the man wanted.

Carlson finally stopped rubbing his hands in front of the burning coals. "Stupid snowstorm," he muttered for the tenth time. "Colonel, I’m glad you’re still alive. Washington wasn’t sure."

"I wasn’t expecting to have a welcoming party."

"No, of course not, but I was glad to help. I’m sorry I have to bring this up now. I’m sure you’re tired—."

"You haven’t told me what it’s about yet," Alexander replied, hearing a peevish edge in his tone. That would never do. Control, Peter.

"One of your usual team, a Sergeant Pettigrew, has been in the local hospital after a run-in with a Panzer. "

"Who won?" Alexander asked with a grin. He’d lay money on Tully any day. He wouldn’t have been so amused if he thought any of them were dead but Carlson’s tone didn’t indicate that.

Carlson frowned. "He heard his friend Hitchcock was trapped in Bastogne and decided to get him out. He and Sergeant Troy took on the Panzers, and Pettigrew was injured. Troy got him some care but then joined in on the attack. Apparently, some of the officers thought his methods were unorthodox enough to report him to HQ."

Alexander winced though the other man didn’t see it. Of course, Troy would have joined in; he wouldn’t have left Hitch in Bastogne if he could help it. Probably set off by himself. "Did he get anyone killed by these unorthodox methods?"

"Only the enemy," Carlson growled. "In fact, a couple of the men protested when they heard about the reports, but unfortunately Troy’s come to the attention of the brass, who want him pulled out, Colonel. Permanently."

"Is Hitchcock out of Bastogne?" Alexander inquired.

Carlson shot him a puzzled gaze. "Didn’t you hear? We relieved Bastogne on the twenty-sixth of December."

"It’s been a devil of a couple of months, Carlson, and I’ve been out of touch. So, where is Troy now?" Alexander asked, closing his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to curl up in front of the fire and fall asleep. That it was only warm in contrast to the storm outside didn’t bother him. At least the ice in his washing basin had finally thawed.

Carlson braced himself. "He and Hitchcock are awaiting orders at the hospital where Pettigrew is. They were assigned duty there after the complaints came in."

Alexander shot upright. "Hospital duty?" he said incredulously. "You’ve taken one of the finest commando teams in Europe and put them to carrying stretchers?"

"No, we’ve had complaints that they’re suffering from battle fatigue, and they’re under observation at the hospital while they’re carrying stretchers!" Carlson shot back. "Damn, HQ wants me to check them out!"

Alexander’s jaw dropped. He blinked in surprise, then shook his head. "You’re the crazy ones, Carlson. That team isn’t bomb-happy—."

"Can you see the forest for the trees, Colonel?" Carlson said gently. "How long has it been since you’ve had an extended leave?"

"Leave?" Alexander stared at him blankly, then into the fire. Reluctantly, he admitted Carlson’s point. "I’’s been a long time."

"Yeah, so I heard, sir," Carlson said compassionately "You called them ‘the finest commando team’ and you’re right. They were the best. Now, they’re stretched thin, sir."

Alexander smiled wryly as he walked over to the fire and held out his hands. He could see the dirt from the trip still stained his skin. Or was it blood? No. He had washed his hands numerous times, and the water was dirty brown. It hadn’t run red for weeks. He doubted he’d be invited back into the Russian territories after that last incident.

"What are you going to suggest?" he asked with a dangerous edge.

Carlson eyed him suspiciously, and moved back from the fire. "I’m going to suggest that they be pulled from combat for a long rest. Sent back for leave. There’s not much of the war left and they’re probably high on the list for demob."

"Retired...." Alexander said dreamily. "Basically, you’re knocking us out. Them out."

"We call it ‘combat fatigue’, not bomb-happy, but that’s what it means. God knows, you all deserve the rest," Carlson said compassionately. "Don’t take it out on me, Colonel--I just follow orders."

"And make suggestions," Alexander remarked. "I don’t think they’re as far gone as you’d like to believe. There’s steel in there that you haven’t taken into account."

"I don’t want to be there when the steel breaks," Carlson said forcefully. "I’ll file my report when I get back from the hospital, sir."

Alexander nodded, his eyes on the fire. "I understand. When do you leave?"

Carlson eyed him suspiciously. "Tomorrow morning. I’ll be heading up to check them out. The guys here have given me a bunk tonight down in the dungeons."

"Wonderful." Alexander flashed him a smile. "Then I’ll say goodbye tomorrow morning, Captain." He settled down on his army cot by the brazier, and shut his eyes.

Carlson gaped at him for a second, startled that he’d been dismissed that quickly, then saluted and headed out the door.

As soon as he closed it, Alexander flicked open his eyes and, with a speed that would have surprised Carlson, darted over to the window, looking outside.

A few minutes later, the captain emerged and said something to the guard, then headed across the courtyard to the entrance for the dungeons.

Alexander headed downstairs towards the communication post. His coded report was going to have some special comments aimed at his superiors about this situation. This was not going to go unchallenged. Then he’d see if he could warm up that Spam, and eat it before getting some sleep.

** *** **


On her way out of the barn, Bridey stopped at the stall closest to the center of the barn. Inside was an Appaloosa mare, who wore a heavy stable rug against the chill. Her nose was buried in a bucket of bran mash. "Morning, Rosie," Bridey said. The mare didn’t leave her breakfast, but cocked one ear in Bridey’s direction to acknowledge her presence.

"Chow down, old girl. You need it." Bran mashes were extra work, and Bridey blessed Dietrich for taking the time to prepare one for old Rosie. The mare was incredibly ancient by equine standards—thirty-two years old. The soft mash was easier for her to chew and to digest, and it kept weight on her. "See you later," Bridey said, and left the barn.

As Bridey headed for the stallion barn, she saw an Army staff car come up the drive. The driver honked, and she changed direction to meet the car.

Resting her forearms on the frame, she leaned in the open passenger-side window. "Hello, Charlie. How are you?"

Army Captain Charlie Wagner grinned and reached over to pat Bridey’s hand. "Fine, Bride. How are things going?" Dark-haired and handsome, with intense blue eyes, he looked like he’d just stepped off a recruiting poster. She’d known him since he and her older brother Joe were both six, an inseparable pair. His good looks made no impression on her, and she tended to laugh when he cut a swath through the local maidens.

"The usual. You’re out early— you here to check on Major Dietrich?"

"Not today. I’m just playing mailman." He handed her a small packet of letters. "These came to Monmouth for Dietrich." It was obvious that they’d been opened and read.

"Damned censors," Bridey muttered.

"Come on, Bride," Charlie chided. "They’re just doing their jobs."

"Yeah, I know. But I hate opening a letter from Joe and knowing that other eyes have already read it."

"It’s not like it’s going to be full of sweet nothings, Bride. He’s your brother, for Pete’s sake."

"Come on, Charlie. You know how he is. You never know what he’s going to say. The censors are liable to think he’s sending classified information in some weird code." She opened the door and got into the car. "How’s the leg?"

"It aches when it’s damp."

Bridey knew he was deliberately minimizing the situation, but she played along. "You’re lucky they didn’t discharge you because of that wound."

"I wasn’t hurt that bad—."

"Yes, you were," Bridey interrupted.

Charlie went on as if she had never spoken. "And I’m more valuable this way. I can run the POW work-release program at Monmouth and still gimp around selling war bonds. Decorated heroes are great for that. The girls all swoon for me."

Bridey made a rude noise. "Here’s one who doesn’t."

Charlie killed the engine and leaned back. "Yeah, but you knew me before I was famous."

"I knew you when you had skinned knees and I’ll know you when your fame is just a memory. You ought to come out for a ride before you forget how."

"Bride, I think I already have." He grinned. "When it gets a little warmer and my leg isn’t so stiff."

"I’ll let you use a mounting block," Bridey said, grinning mischievously.

"I thought they were only for short people and sissies."

Her grin widened. "They are—but big guys with bum legs can use them too."

"Speaking of big guys, how’s he doing?"

"Fine. I should ask for ten more just like him."

"Bridey, that guy is one of a kind. I’m glad we were able to place him with you—there are too many unrepentant Nazis at Monmouth for my taste and his safety. Dietrich isn’t a Nazi—and a lot of the other officers don’t appreciate it, especially after the attempt on Hitler’s life last summer."

Bridey frowned. "I thought you said the re-education program was going well."

Charlie shrugged. "It is—where the enlisted men are concerned. We’re really making headway with them. But some of the officers are Party die-hards who believe that Hitler is a god. We can’t force them into the classes, and we can’t overtly try to stop them believing what they believe in—we’re trying to show them the virtues of a free society."

"I don’t think it will make much of an impact on them," Bridey said dryly.

"That’s why your man Dietrich is such a find."

"My man?" Bridey asked, raising an eyebrow. "I don’t own him, Charlie."

"Figure of speech, Bride. Don’t get so testy," he chided. "At any rate, he’s a lot safer here. I’m glad you agreed to quarter him instead of having him ferried back and forth from the base like the other prisoners."

"Considering this is a horse farm and he starts work at five a.m.—or before, most days, by his own choice— it was the smart decision, and convenient for everyone involved." She laughed. "Most of the time he even beats me to the barn!"

"That’s some trick."

She grinned. "Hey, listen, Siobhan is making soda bread for breakfast. It should be ready soon. Want to come in and eat?"

Charlie shook his head. "I’ll take a rain check. Got a couple more stops to make before I head back to Monmouth."

"Delivering more mail?"

"Only here. I told you—Dietrich is a special case."

"You sure you don’t want to see him?"

Charlie shook his head. "If you say he’s doing fine, that’s good enough for me. It makes my job easier." He leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Let me know when you hear from Joe. He writes to you more than he does to me."

"That’s not saying very much, Charlie." She got out of the car and waved as Charlie made a quick K turn and headed down the drive.

She glanced down at the letters in her hand. One was from Germany, addressed in an ornate hand; the other was addressed in handwriting similar to Bridey’s own. Good old Palmer method, she thought. Then she struck off toward the stable area to find Dietrich.

He was leading a mare and foal away to turnout when Bridey reached the broodmare barn. An angry frown creased her forehead. "Damn."

"Something wrong, darlin’?"

She turned quickly to see her father leading Diamond Merlin in her direction. She swung in alongside him as he led the gelding to his paddock. "Just one of many, Pop. Where should I start?"

"With the one that bothers you the most," Mike said good-naturedly.

She gestured toward the retreating German. "That damned denim jacket and shirt he has to wear during the day. That twice-bedamned PW emblazoned on them. I’m embarrassed for him, Pop."

"Fortunes of war, darlin’. Fortunes of war. And when did you get so soft-hearted? You usually reserve that for the animals."

Bridey opened the paddock gate and Mike let the gelding loose into the pasture. "I don’t know, Pop. He’s not what I expected when I told Charlie we had room for a prisoner on work-release."

They started walking back to the barns. "Darlin’, we had more than room—you were workin’ yourself into an early grave tryin’ to do all the work around here yourself."

"What else could I do when Barry Dugan enlisted right after he graduated high school in December? He didn’t even wait to be drafted!"

"You could leave some of the work for me, you know," Mike pointed out.

"Pop, you’re entitled to relax too."

"I’ll relax when I’m dead. You can’t do it all—you’re not one of those superheroes in the comics the kids read."

Bridey sighed. It was an old argument between them. Mike thought she worked too hard; she thought he did. "Well, it’s a moot point—we’ve got help now, and damned good help, at that."

"It’s nice to have someone who knows horses, and doesn’t have to be told what to do every second."

"He’s got a qualified background, that’s for sure. I just wish I knew what it was."

"Bridey, you two spend a lot of time together. I know you talk."

Bridey nodded. "Yeah, Pop, but it’s all about business, the horses. He hasn’t told me much about himself. We wouldn’t even know he had a wife if Charlie didn’t bring his mail here."

"Look at it as a form of self-protection, darlin’. Let’s face it—all he really has to count on is himself. He’d want to keep that safe."

"I guess." But she didn’t sound convinced.

Siobhan McKenna stomped out onto the farmhouse’s wide front porch. "I’ll not be havin’ this perfectly good food go to waste while you two stand there jawin’! To the kitchen, the lot of you!"

"We’re late," Mike said with a mock cringe.

"Coming, Siobhan!" Bridey called. The woman turned back into the house, muttering as she went. "And now we have to face the wrath of Siobhan," Bridey muttered, "and I haven’t even fed the stallions yet."

"They can wait—they’re getting too portly, anyway. I’ll soothe her, then feed them. You go get our German friend. We can’t have her mad at him, either," Mike said and struck out for the house as Bridey headed for the broodmare barn to find Dietrich.

She stopped just inside the barn door and inhaled deeply, smiling. She’d been born on this farm, had grown up here, but the smell of a barn still filled her with exhilaration. This morning it was particularly intoxicating She took another deep breath and went looking for Dietrich.

She found him working with Diamond Playfair and her two-day-old colt. He was handling the foal’s feet, teaching him to accept the handling as a matter of course.

Bridey leaned on the stall door to watch. It was something she’d found herself doing a lot lately. Dietrich’s skill with the animals was natural, unforced, with no wasted movements, and it gave her a lot of pleasure to watch him at work. He was a natural horseman, something both Bridey and her father admired.

"I am not ignoring you," he said without looking up.

"I know. The foal’s more important anyway."

She could see him smile at that, but he kept working, running his hands up the foal’s legs, to his back, and along his spine to the head, where he began handling the colt’s ears. Through it all the colt stood quietly, enjoying the attention. His dam stood in the corner eating. That, more than anything else, showed her trust in the man working with her foal. Playfair was one of the flightiest mares on the farm. That she would turn her back to him as he handled her foal—well, Bridey thought it was a minor miracle.

"When you’re finished, get your breakfast before Siobhan throws it out. I have mail for you, too."

That made him look up. "Mail?"

Bridey nodded, grinning at his reaction. "Uh-huh. Charlie just dropped it off. One from Germany, one from Kentucky."

"Thank you." And he again directed all his attention to the foal.

"You’re welcome. I’ll be in my office up at the house. Come by when you’re ready."

She retreated to the house. Built in the early Twenties, most of it was heated by coal-fired steam heat, but due to rationing, some rooms depended on their fireplaces and were heated by wood, which was stacked in huge, now-depleted, piles beside the main barn and the back door of the house. Inside the living room were a huge hearth where the fireplace was laid for that evening, comfortable chairs and a long leather couch which had been inexpertly patched where the puppy she’d adopted briefly last year had chewed on it, and a radio which took up a corner of the room. Next to it was the dining room, with an oakwood table that gleamed with polish and eight chairs under a modest wrought-iron chandelier. Off that room was the kitchen; Bridey could smell the aroma of the soda bread wafting toward her as she walked toward it. She felt hungry.

The kitchen was empty. Siobhan was probably upstairs, working; Mike was in the stallion barn by now. Breakfast was the soda bread, warm and redolent, and hot coffee. There wasn’t any butter since Bridey hadn’t taken Siobhan shopping for over a week. The jam they’d traded manure for last year was at the end of the jar, so Bridey left it for Dietrich, who she’d discovered had an inordinate craving for anything sweet, but the soda bread, sweet with raisins and savory with caraway seed, would be tasty enough on its own. She took a mug of hot coffee and a plate with three slices of bread and headed down the hall towards her office. On the way, she passed the huge room that held her piano, and stopped in for a second. With the radiators turned off, the large room was cold, and she shivered slightly. Reaching the study, she paused to light the wood-fired iron stove that sat to one side, and made sure the kindling was crackling before she drew the drapes and opened the blinds on the long bank of windows and French doors to the cold light of day.

She put Dietrich’s mail on one corner of the desk, safely away from the piles of breeding forms, paperwork for feed, old ration books, and other paperwork that made the daily grind seem twice as long. Momentarily she wondered if she could wrangle a little more gasoline from Charlie. It might be unpatriotic to beg for gas, but it certainly would help when they had to trade manure for more oats. Barter had become a way of life in farm country since early 1942.

She opened the mail she hadn’t had time to read the day before. Her brother’s letter had only two streaks of impenetrable black, thanks to the censors. That was unusual. Joe was usually a lot more verbose than that.

With nothing to distract her, Bridey’s thoughts turned to farm problems. Even though the war was nearly won, things were still tight but she wished that the government would get out of the horse business. Not only had they prevented Mike from racing any of the horses currently eating their heads off in the stables, but now they couldn’t even ship the horses to racetracks in New Orleans or Florida where they could have raced! The newspaper pointed out that the railcars were still needed for important military transport, but while they could ship horses from one farm to another, after filling out masses of paperwork, they couldn’t ship them out of state to race them. She couldn’t even show the jumpers she’d been working with. Racing and showing were not part of the war effort.

She snorted. Racing and betting would go on despite the crackdown. The war was heading towards its final days, or so said the reports in the newspapers, and why there was still all this effort was probably the behemoth of the military still in full tilt.

She heard Dietrich come in and head for the kitchen. She wondered what he thought about the end of the war, and Germany’s coming defeat. She wouldn’t ask, no, but there was more than a trace of curiosity in her mind. The man was so hard-working and dedicated, that she wondered what he had been like when he wasn’t a prisoner-of-war. Probably a formidable enemy. Now, he took care of the horses and she didn’t have a clue about what was going on behind those dark eyes. And that drove her crazy.

She turned back to her first problem. Quick Step, a multi-stakes-winning stallion that she had leased last year to cover her mares this spring, was stuck in Virginia and would be delayed, perhaps for months. He’d certainly arrive past optimum breeding season.

She heaved a sigh of disgust. The little chestnut stallion would have been a perfect outcross for her mares, bringing in speed-bred bloodlines to the distance-bred Diamond Shamrock stock. She could use Diamond Diligence and Diamond Advocate on the mares again this season, but she didn’t want to—she’d used them on the mares the past two seasons running, and she wanted to avoid it again this year, if she could. She needed outcross blood at Diamond Shamrock, and soon.

She’d have to figure out another solution so that she could get the foals her heart was set on, foals to race in the coming racing seasons. Luckily, the fault was with the owner of the stallion, and the fact that he couldn’t bring Quick Step to the farm, so nothing had come out of her pocket on the contract, but she still had to do something about the mares. But what?

She came back to reality when Dietrich came in. He held his hands out to the warmth of the stove, then flexed them. "Another fine day, Fraulein."

"If you like the cold." She snorted. "And as long as it doesn’t rain again. The horses need to get out and really exercise, and they haven’t had a chance to do that for a month. Lunging just isn’t good enough. I wish we had an indoor ring—or at least that it was summer already." She tapped on his letters with the edge of hers. "Here’s the mail."

He lifted one up, and smiled. "Ah."

"What’s in it?" she said pointedly. Dietrich was notoriously silent about his background and Bridey had become insanely curious. It was the historian in her — or so she told herself. She wanted to find out exactly what Dietrich had done during the war as well, but hadn’t found the opening that would make him talk.

He turned it over in his hands. "It is from my wife. I think."

"Why don’t you open it and find out?" she asked. "Sit down. It’s warmer here than back in the barn."

"Thank you," he said, sitting in the other chair. The light from the stove played on his clothing and for the umpteenth time, Bridey wished that he didn’t have to wear those ugly POW shirts. Part of her wondered what he’d looked like in a uniform...of a country at war with hers. She had to remember that. She remembered reading an article in the Newark Star Ledger about a woman who had been accused of collaboration because she’d fallen in love with a parolee, and had basically been hounded out of her town. His life had been made a living hell by his fellow prisoners.

So, lets curb that thought.

He had opened the letter, and spread it out. The ornate black script covered only the front of one side, and he frowned as he read.

"Is it?" Bridey couldn’t help herself.

He looked up blankly. "Is it what?"

"Is it from your wife?"

Dietrich shook his head. "This is from her father."

"Do you have any pictures of her?" Bridey asked inquisitively.


"Can I see them?"

He nodded slowly and took the photos out of his shirt pocket.

Bridey looked at the small array of photographs. Annaliese wasn’t what she had expected. Somehow she thought Dietrich would have married an aristocrat, not a round-faced woman with dark hair, and large eyes that were probably brown. "She’s pretty. Do you have any of the baby?"

He shook his head. "None yet."

"Oh." Bridey knew that anything else she might say would come across as insincere platitudes, so she kept her mouth shut.

"This is from her father. They are in Pforzheim right now. That is near where the horse farms are. I met her down there when I was invited to go riding with Field Marshal Rommel on one of my leaves from France," Dietrich continued.

"And you fell in love...." Bridey ventured.

He smiled. "Yes. I am not sure she was in love with me, but I only had a week so...I talked with her, and her father and family, and by the end of the week, we were married."

Bridey hid a snicker but didn’t even try to hide her grin. He was a fast mover, all right. "Then you had to go back to your troops...." she prompted. God, getting anything personal out of this man was like pulling teeth!

Dietrich nodded. "Yes. But she came to visit when I was in France. It is hard on wives. After the Allied invasion, I told her to stay in Germany. She was very pregnant, and it was safer."

"Wise idea."

"Yes." He folded up the letter, then slipped it and the photos into his pocket. Bridey had an idea he carried them with him all the time. "I will go out and make sure that the stallions are taken care of, Fraulein."

And read his letters in peace. She noted that he hadn’t opened the one from Kentucky. "I’ll be out in about an hour. I have to finish some of the paperwork here. We can do some lunging. The geldings need the work, and the stallions are getting too fat."

"Ja, Fraulein." Pulling his jacket shut, he went out the door, leaving her alone to wonder exactly what was in the letter to make him so unhappy.

** *** **

Hans Dietrich settled into the warm straw of one of the empty stalls, and pulled out the letter from Kentucky. He smiled at the sight of the lacy handwriting. Laura Pettigrew had had a strict teacher years ago in grade school, and never learned to be sloppy. She had actually made some extra money by hand-lettering invitations until she married Tully Pettigrew’s older brother and came to live in the hills of Kentucky. Raising their only child, Mack, had taken up all of her time after Tully’s father had thrown out her abusive husband.

The slender brunette, who looked worn from running the farmhouse and apple farm in the face of war shortages and treated him like a friend because he had known her brother-in-law, Tully, had become a confidant with whom he had shared the joy of knowing about his child, Katrina, when he finally heard. He had never thought of her as a lover; for one thing, he was married, and for another, she’d stated her love for Tully with virtually every story she told about her life in Kentucky, and he was amused to find himself wishing them both well. He had never admitted how many times he’d wanted to eradicate Tully and his friends from the earth. That was for old warriors to discuss among themselves. Laura had needed an ear to confide in, a person to trust, and she’d chosen him, a prisoner-of-war.

Sometimes Dietrich was amazed by Americans. They were so trusting, so open.

Dietrich turned the letter over and over in his hands. He had been at the Pettigrew farm when Davey Pettigrew returned, and had seen the bruises on Laura’s face and arms. It had all culminated that traumatic night when Davey was shot; and Laura taken the blame to cover the fact that Dietrich had killed him to protect her.

He had followed her orders, knowing what she might face for killing her husband. Mack had been out that evening, which was why they had been able to carry off the charade that Laura had finally struck back.

The policeman had looked skeptical, especially when he lifted the old shotgun and found it too heavy and stiff for her to have done what she’d claimed to have done, but by that time, Dietrich was back in the barn with the other work-release prisoners, his hands still smelling of gunpowder, and his nose bloodied from the fight that had led up to the shooting. Most of them had been asleep. Only Gruber had known, and Gruber had things of his own to hide, like his close relationship with a young American guard named Frank Miller. The mutual blackmail pact was still in place.

He slit the envelope and pulled out the sheet of paper.

"Dear Hans, I knew you’d want to know as soon as possible, so I am sending this to you care of Captain Charles Wagner at Fort Monmouth. The grand jury heard all the evidence, and has declined to prosecute me in the death of Davey. Apparently, most of the county thought he deserved it and that I acted in justifiable self-defense."

He did. You did.

"Mack says he wished he had been there, and done it himself, but I think he’s still trying to understand all of it. He’s buried himself in his books, and is trying to make sure he has the grades to get into college if the Army doesn’t call him up first. He says that it’s harder learning German without you here; none of the other prisoners will talk to him.

"I heard from Tully in late November. He says that they were all well, and hopes that you enjoyed apple picking. He is threatening to bring all his friends back to eat pie."

That would be a party Id like to attend, Dietrich thought nostalgically. Laura made excellent pies, considering the limitations of rationing. Gruber had found her a honeycomb and her pies had included apples and honey, and a few raisins.

"He says the boys send their hellos to you, and hope you’re doing well. It sounds nasty and cold there, and apparently even the churches aren’t quite what they should be, which disappoints Lieutenant Moffitt. Tully said he ate horsemeat once, and said it didn’t taste like anything special. The bread is great, and the wine was sour, but it was better than rations."

They had to be in France. Dietrich snickered. The French would be so offended to know that a ‘liberator’ thought their vaunted cuisine was barely better than K-rations!

"Anyway, stay safe, write me sometime, and please send Mack a note. We all miss you, and hope you’re doing well. Stay dry, and warm.

"Warmest memories, Laura."

Dietrich smiled and folded up the letter. The warmth took away the sting of Annaliese’s father’s letter.

Annaliese had gone to work in the factories, leaving young Katrina with her neighbor’s wife, who was looking after several small children. It was the only way they had been able to bring in enough money to buy medicines for her ill mother. It hadn’t been enough and Mother had died. Annaliese kept on working, coming home too tired to write or be with her family, or so her father wrote. Who knew what the truth really was?

Stern and cold, the father had doted on his daughter to the point that no man, especially a soldier, was good enough for him. Between the lines, Dietrich read that the world was collapsing around their ears. There was no way he could magically fly back to Germany and make it all right. Katrina was fine though, still bright and cheerful, and the apple of her grandfather’s eye.

He looked at the two letters. Two different worlds. He was in a third one. There was nothing he could do for either woman except hope that the war would be over soon, and the world could be set to rights. Tully Pettigrew would come home to the woman who loved him, and Dietrich hoped that he would realize it, and love her just as much. Dietrich could go home to Annaliese and Katrina, and rebuild his life.

He hadn’t a clue of what he would do after the war, but he’d find something. There had to be something out there for him. He knew one thing — he’d seen enough war and misery to fill three lifetimes.

He shivered slightly, and looked around to see a reason for it. He suddenly realized that he had been thinking of a future when the war was over, and that was a dangerous road to follow. He had survived this long by living only in the present. He knew that any moment this comfortable existence could be destroyed. Laura might have persuaded her neighbors that it was an accident, but someone could still cobble together some kind of a case that might lead Dietrich to a hangman’s noose. Killing an American had led other prisoners to their deaths; he’d read it in the newspapers. If they found out the truth, his own countrymen in the camps might see this as a way to control him…or get him killed.

Hans Dietrich had always prided himself on being practical. The only way he might survive all these long knives was to stay as low profile as possible. No thinking of escape, which would be stupid at this point, or dreaming of a future in the United States; he was going to be repatriated after the war, rebuild his life with Annaliese and Katrina, and move on. The days at the Cullen farm would just be part of his past, just like the months in Kentucky when he had picked apples and tried to dodge the hardcore Nazis in his camp. Nothing was going to make Dietrich stand out. He would just clean the stables, work the horses, keep his distance from the Cullens, and stay alive.

** *** **


Alexander wanted something hot to drink, something that reminded him of home, and the Americans couldn’t make a decent cup of tea to save their lives. After the first day Alexander had given up on the private who had been assigned to help him find his way around the labyrinth of the castle, and concentrated on learning his own way. The courtyard outside the window was always bustling with jeeps and vans going in and out, and the noise kept him from uninterrupted sleep. At the first lull in the storm, Carlson left, but Alexander knew that his message was already in the hands of his people. He wondered what would happen now.

"Colonel?" One of the American aide-de-camps to the general who was in charge of the castle but trapped miles away by the storm, rapped on the door jamb, then came in and saluted. Alexander returned the salute. "There’s an English officer out here. Says he’s carrying dispatches for you, sir?"

"What’s his name?" Alexander asked.

"Lieutenant Moffitt, sir."

Alexander felt that the sun had just come out despite the contrary evidence outside his minuscule window. "Send him in!"

Thank God. Moffitt knew how to brew up with the best of them. With any luck, he would have brought some tea with him.

Moffitt came in, muffled against the heavy snows and icy winds, a black leather satchel in one hand. He saluted. Alexander returned it briskly, then held out his hand. "Nice to see you, Jack."

"Thank you, sir." Moffitt shook Alexander’s hand, then put the bag on top of the desk that Alexander had requisitioned from another room in the castle when he realized he might be trapped here for a while. The room had become a snug haven with an extra blanket on the cot, and a change of clothing donated by other officers. "I have orders for you, Colonel, from London."

"Already? I only sent my report two days ago?"

Moffitt looked slightly puzzled. "Report, sir? As soon as we heard you were in the Americans’ hands at the beginning of the week, I was sent to bring you these new orders."

"Then London hasn’t received the latest report."

Alexander, intrigued, pulled over the satchel, noticing the intricate locks. "Interesting. Do you know what the orders are?"

"No, sir."

"I see. I believe I know the combination for this… or I can pick the lock." He glanced mischievously at Moffitt.

"Bored, sir?" Moffitt needled gently.

Alexander gave a flicker of a smile. "Very, Lieutenant." He finally noticed that Moffitt’s greatcoat was soaked with melting sleet, and his hands were white and chilled. "Get comfortable, and report back to me in fifteen minutes. The billeting officer is downstairs next to the kitchen. I hope you brought some extra kit. I dislike looking like an American."

"Yes, sir!" Moffitt said, standing. "I brought some of yours. It came out with the orders."

"Super. Oh, and Jack, if you can possibly figure out how to make a pot of tea, could you bring it up? These Americans just can’t…."

"Understood, sir." Moffitt struggled to hide a smile but it escaped. "They never could."

"Good. Dismissed."

** *** **

By the time Moffitt returned carrying a tray with two mugs, sugar and milk, Alexander was seated, reading several sheets of paper. The expression on his face was thoughtful. He folded the orders, and set them to one side as Moffitt put the tray down on the desk.

Taking a mug of tea, he put in a teaspoon of sugar, and stirred. "Sit down, Moffitt. Get comfortable. We’ve got something to discuss."

Moffitt added a little milk to his mug before obeying. He’d seen that expression on Alexander’s face before, and heard that tone of voice, and knew it usually led to a raid into enemy territory where they could only count on their team to save their lives. The last time he could remember hearing it was a week before the Normandy invasions when they’d been dropped to establish a liaison with the French partisans. Moffitt remembered that mission all too well. It hadn’t been fun. They’d nearly lost Troy.

"Are the others still at the local hospital?" Alexander asked abruptly, his gaze dropping to the folded orders. "Tully’s recovered from that crash?"

Moffitt was surprised that Alexander knew about that. Who had told him? "Yes, sir."

"That tank will never recover, I suspect."

"No, sir."

Alexander sipped his tea, and visibly relaxed. His thin nostrils quivered at the delectable scent. "Can you find them?"

Moffitt barely restrained himself from raising an eyebrow inquiringly. He knew that Alexander could see his astonishment. "I believe so, sir."

"Excellent. Order them here."

"Here, sir?"

"Here. Now. I’ll order for their release from current duty. I need them here in four days."

"Four — yes, sir!" Moffitt privately thought that Alexander was being optimistic. It had taken him over a week to drive over the frozen mud that passed for the roads leading from Montgomery’s army to the castle. "They might have difficulty getting away from hospital, Sir. The petrol is in short demand up here."

Alexander snorted. "That’s what being a Colonel is good for, Jack. My orders will give them carte blanc on any petrol they need. I suppose that they could liberate it somehow on their own, but let’s make it legal. Might help in the long run."

"Yes, sir." Moffitt hesitated for a second. "Sir, can I ask what our orders are?"

"I’ll wait until we’re all together," Alexander replied, with a smile of amusement. He held out a piece of paper that confirmed what he’d asked Moffitt to do. "It’s a pretty simple job. Not like Paris."

"Yes, sir." Moffitt said obediently, taking the papers. "Colonel, may I ask how you know about Sergeant Pettigrew?"

"Oh, I keep up on you lot. Wish I’d had you a couple of months ago," Alexander said airily. "I’m sure that Sergeant Hitchcock has recovered from the siege."

"Yes, sir, I believe so. I was up near Meuse where the Germans were trying to break through, and gave us a bit of a time. Wish the others had been with me."

"Really? You must tell me about that. Sounds like more fun than Czechoslovakia. Send that message first though, then come up and tell me about it." Alexander waited till Moffitt reached the door before asking, "By the way, Lieutenant, can you ride?"

Moffitt stopped, his hand on the knob. "Ride? Horses? Yes, sir."

"How well?"

"Not that well, sir. I’ve ridden with the hounds once or twice but — "

"That should do."

Moffitt stared at him puzzled, then saluted. "I’ll get this on its way, then, sir?"

"Do that," Alexander agreed, picking up the folded orders and pulling out a map of southern Germany. "That’ll be all."

"Yes, sir."

"By the way, Jack," Alexander called. Moffitt hesitated. "Thank you for the tea."

"Yes, sir!"

Moffitt pulled the door shut and headed down the corridor. By now he was used to dealing with the colonel’s irregular ways, but he wondered how the Americans around him felt about his presence. If they knew Alexander the way that Moffitt and the others knew him, they’d treat him like a ticking bomb and get him out of the area as soon as possible.

From Norway to France to Germany, the four members of the Rat Patrol, as they had fondly been called in North Africa, had fought either alongside or as back-up on missions with Alexander. They had known it would be exciting when they joined up with the commandos, but none of the Patrol had had an idea of how much. The few missions they’d done without him had gone well, but there was something about Alexander that made things work more smoothly once they hit France. The man had been through Europe for years before the war, and seemed to have contacts in every spa, village and house-of-ill-repute in every major city. At least those were the ones Moffitt remembered; the girls had been spectacularly enthusiastic about the team.

Moffitt wondered what Alexander had meant at the end about riding. Well, he’d find out soon enough. If the others were to get here in four days, then whatever the mission was, was important. He’d better not unpack.

** *** **

Master Sergeant Sam Troy hunched in his coat, and wished that they weren’t driving in a jeep. Even with the top up, it was cold as hell. They had to be crazy. It was still snowing. He could feel icicles in his dark hair, and his fingers were cold even through the gloves.

After getting their orders, and requisitioning a jeep, the three men had driven through the narrow back lanes and hills of southern Germany before they reached a moldering castle on a hillside swept by icy winds, and the occasional hail. It had been a reasonably quiet ride. They’d only been shot at twice, once by their own troops by accident.

Their orders had gotten them through all the checkpoints, up to the castle, which overlooked a massive POW camp. Driving past the rolls of barbed wire and sentries, Troy remembered his two stints behind wire, and didn’t waste any pity on the sullen German prisoners who milled around in the fading sunlight. It was their turn now.

The same expression was in Mark Hitchcock’s eyes as he glanced at the captives. He’d been a prisoner as well. "Looks busy here, Sarge." The scarf wrapped around his face made him look like he had a toothache but kept him warm. A tuft of hair fell over his forehead. It wasn’t as blond as when he’d been in North Africa where the sun had bleached it to bright gold, but he still was as muscular as he had been four years before when he’d first reported to Sergeant Troy for assignment to the Long Range Desert Group as a driver.


"Got an idea of what it’s about, Sarge?" Tully Pettigrew asked from the front passenger seat. He hadn’t changed either in the last four years, despite being shot several times, and finally being written off as an invalid and returned to the United States to die. Tully had proved to be very, very tough. They joked that it was because he was weaned on Kentucky moonshine instead of mother’s milk. His wheat-colored hair was mostly hidden under the metal pot helmet he was wearing over a thick scarf. Troy envied him. He’d lost his Australian bush hat when he was captured, and Hitchcock’s red French Foreign Legion cap was gone forever.

"No, except that the Colonel is finally back from wherever the hell they sent him," Troy said edgily. "He shouldn’t have gone alone."

"Nah, he’ll go get himself killed and, hell, trainin’ up a new C.O. would be a pain," Tully agreed. "Don’t they know that?"

"Is Moffitt with him?" Hitchcock asked as he slowed to get around a farmer leading two cows. The man shook his prod at them after they passed. Not all of the former Third Reich had been tamed by the invasion of Americans.

"He’s supposed to be here," Troy commented. "This’s where the orders said to meet him."

"Yeah," Tully agreed. "I wanna know how Colonel Alexander got us all outta the hospital. I thought I’d be there forever!"

"He pulled rank. How’re you feeling anyway?" Hitchcock asked, taking the last curve of the hill, and hitting the brakes. There were vans clustered around the arched gothic doorway.

"Fine. That was just a scratch. Think they wanted to keep us there ‘cause they knew we’d do a better job than half the orderlies!" They all laughed. Their jobs were usually far more dangerous.

Troy was still irritated that Alexander had been sent behind Russian lines alone. He’d heard about the conditions in eastern Europe and was glad when the orders had told them to meet the colonel at the castle; it meant their pet officer was still alive. He agreed with Tully; it would be hard to train another officer to work with them. And vice-versa.

Tully broke into his thoughts. "Hey, did you guys know that I got another letter from Laura?"

"Your sister-in-law?" Hitchcock asked. "What’d she say about Dietrich?"

"I thought you’d ask that." The continuing saga of their old Afrika Korps foe, Panzer captain-now-major, Hans Dietrich, POW, fascinated the three men. That Dietrich had ended up near Tully’s in-laws, and met them, almost bordered on the unbelievable. Laura Pettigrew had kept them informed of Dietrich’s doings, and Troy felt sympathy for his old foe when he heard that incarceration in a POW camp filled with fanatical Nazis had almost gotten him killed. Only taking on work camp duty, picking apples on farms including the Pettigrews’, had saved his life. "She says he’s now at a horse farm in New Jersey called Diamond Shamrock Farm, where they breed racehorses. Good ones, he says. He sent her a note when he arrived."

"Sounds good," Troy said in a slightly envious tone.

"Yeah, but he included a note for us," Tully added with a small grin.

"Us?" Hitchcock asked incredulously.

"Yes. ‘Tell Sergeant Troy and his company that your nephew, Mack, needs a good history of Julius Caesar, and they will probably find it wherever they are, since I’m sure they are at the front of the army! It will help greatly when Mack goes for his entrance exams at Princeton.’"

"Princeton?" Hitchcock yelped. "A good country boy like him?"

"Apparently people have been pulling strings," Tully retorted, hitting Hitchcock jokingly in the arm. "Anyway, that’s where Dietrich is. Geez, Sarge, they’ve even got a drawbridge here!" Following a two-ton truck, they bounced over the rickety wood, feeling the nails through the thin rubber of their tires. The courtyard was paved with cobblestones and sleet.

"Welcome to the fourteenth century," Troy observed, looking around..

"You can have it," Hitchcock replied, steering the Jeep around a horse van, and parking. "I’d rather have indoor plumbing and a hot shower."

The breath of the guards was white on the frigid air. Most of the snow and sleet had been cleared from the courtyard, but the remainder had frozen into ice, as Tully discovered with the first injudicious step. The air was full of exhaust, the smell of burning wood and echoes of the past from the carved double-headed eagle above the main doorway to the gargoyle water spouts encased in crystal tombs.

They saluted the shivering soldiers, who examined their credentials one more time, then directed them up the stairs.

"Where’s Errol Flynn?" Tully asked as they climbed the winding staircase. "Or that Henry Reynolds guy doing The Song of Roland!"

Hitchcock chuckled. "Maid Marian. I want to see Maid Marian!"

"Keep it down," Troy hissed. "Remember this is a HQ!"

"Yes, and I’d much rather have Greer Garson wrapped in mink," came a familiar voice down the stairs.

"Moffitt!" Hitchcock called and grinned.

The restrained Englishman couldn’t repress a smile, though it disappeared when a burly American officer came out of a room, frowning at the four men. They gave him a sharp salute, hiding their good spirits, and he clattered down the stairs muttering about insolent enlisted men.

"I suppose we have to salute you too," Hitchcock said shooting a good-hearted grin at Moffitt after the man disappeared around the corner.

"Save it for the Colonel," Moffitt advised. "By the way, he’s not in a good mood."


Moffitt hesitated. "We ran out of tea, but I’ve managed to unearth some more. And something’s afoot. How’s your riding?" Before anyone could answer, Moffitt opened the door in front of him and stepped inside. "Sergeants Troy, Pettigrew and Hitchcock, sah!" He snapped to attention.

The others entered and followed suit.

"At ease," Alexander ordered. "Close that door, Lieutenant."

The moment the door shut, the men relaxed. Everyone, including the Colonel, exchanged friendly smiles. Alexander waved to several bottles on an antique credenza, along with a set of crystal goblets. "Help yourselves, gentlemen. I’m drinking tea myself."

"I’d like to know what the mission is first, sir," Troy said, eyeing Alexander. The others nodded and didn’t move towards the glasses.

Alexander sighed and sat down. He rubbed his face, then brushed back his hair. "I thought you might. We’re going into the horse stealing business, gentlemen."

There was a moment of silence. Troy looked at Moffitt, whose expression was non-committal, then glanced at Hitchcock, whose jaw had dropped. Tully silently chewed on his omnipresent toothpick.

Finally, Troy asked, "Rustling, sir?"

"Yes." Alexander looked up and frowned. "For heaven’s sake, Troy, relax and get a drink! This’ll take a while."

They busied themselves trying out the whiskey and fine brandy which had probably been requisitioned from the castle’s cellars. Finally, all seated, they awaited Alexander’s explanation.

"It’s quite simple. There is a stallion called Jaeger on a farm near Wittenberg. My superiors have ordered that we retrieve him before the Germans or the Russians remove him from the area."

Troy eyed the colonel suspiciously. He knew there had to be more to this than it appeared.

Hitchcock glanced at Tully, who cocked an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Moffitt stood to one side, staring thoughtfully into his glass of whiskey.

"A horse, sir?" Troy finally asked. "Just a horse?"

"He’s an ex-Olympic champion," Alexander explained. "I’ve seen pictures of him. A very handsome Thoroughbred."

"Yeah, but sir, a horse...." Hitchcock protested. "I mean, the boys are still fighting for their lives!"

Alexander let him get away with the protest. Hitchcock and Alexander had spent five months in the same POW camp. They knew each other better than either would admit. "I understand that, but my orders are to retrieve Jaeger immediately. It seems to matter in the great scheme of things," Alexander concluded. "So, gentlemen, after we study the maps, and finish our drinks, and get some more petrol, we leave for the mountains to steal a horse. I’ve already set up to get a horse trailer."

"Are the Germans there, sir?" Hitchcock asked.

Alexander slanted a glance at him. "Oh, yes, they’re there. They’re guarding the horses."


"Apparently there is a herd of mares as well, but we’re only after the stallion. By the way, who here can ride besides Moffitt?"

"I can," Troy said confidently. "Used to ride out west."

Hitchcock shrugged. "I rode English for a while. Not a good rider but I can stay on board."

"I ride Jeeps," Tully said flatly. "I used to farm with a horse. I like cars."

"We’ll let you drive, then," Alexander said. He sipped his tea.

"How about you, Colonel? Do you ride?" Troy challenged him.

Alexander smiled reminiscently. "I used to ride with the hunt, Sergeant. I was a good rider a long time ago. A very long time ago. I agree with you, Tully. I’d rather ride in a car."

"So, we steal this horse. What happens then?" Troy asked.

"We take him to Normandy, and we ship him to America," Alexander said succinctly. "One of you will have to go with him to make sure he settles in."

Three of the four men straightened up eagerly. Moffitt looked doubtful. "America, sir?" he said dubiously.

"Yes, well.... We’ll try to make it one of the others," Alexander said considerately. "The horse, if we get it, must be kept safe for a— well, for reasons that aren’t mine, but come from above. Frankly, I think my superiors simply want to improve their breeding stock, but like you, I follow orders."

"You got a place to send the horse?" Tully questioned.

Troy shot him a suspicious glance.

Alexander raised an eyebrow. "I don’t think it’s been firmed up — ."

"How about Diamond Shamrock Farm? It’s in New Jersey, and reasonably out of the way. Near Fort Monmouth. Another horse wouldn’t be noticed," Tully said, with a slight smile. "Hear they train high-class racers there."

"Diamond Shamrock Farm?" Alexander studied Tully. "I’ll submit it as an idea, Tully. Do you know anyone there?"

Yes. Hans Dietrich, Troy thought but didn’t say anything. He wondered exactly what Tully was up to.

"I’ve heard good things about the farm," Tully said persuasively, sticking to the straight truth.

"Colonel, how’d you get us assigned to this?" Troy broke in before Alexander could continue the questioning. "I thought they might be breaking us up when you got sent out alone."

Moffitt snorted. "Pulled a few strings, eh, sir?"

"You should know," Alexander said with casual tolerance. "Troy, I was only supposed to be out there for a couple of weeks but, believe me, France looks like heaven compared with Czechoslovakia, and I got trapped coming back through Austria, which is still German territory, you know. Bombed every night—messy situation," he said lightly leaving it to their imaginations as to what the last two months had been like. Troy knew it was lucky that Alexander had made it back alive. "Couldn’t even reach your lines till about a week ago. Then came these orders—London knew we were all in the same area, and requested your release from hospital. When that went sour, I went to your General Patton and explained my orders to him. Nice chap when he’s doing a favor that doesn’t cost him anything."

"Patton?" Tully said with an edge of incredulity.

"General Patton!" Troy said at the same time.

"Yes, General Patton. Who used to command the hoofed cavalry, and understands the uses of a good horse. Remember, he was an Olympian himself before the last war," Alexander said wryly. "I explained the problem, and he expedited the orders. Rather profanely, in fact. He still rides himself, and gave me several suggestions of good places to stable Jaeger in America. That’s why it’s unlikely that Diamond Shamrock Farm will be selected but I can ask for it," Alexander said kindly to Tully who shrugged. "Patton thought that Jaeger shouldn’t be carved into steaks either, so you were sent on your way here. We leave in two days, once I have more information on where we’re headed."

Troy raised his glass to Alexander. "To horse rustling, Colonel!"

The others lifted their glasses. "To the liberation of Jaeger!"

"And to going home—for one of you. Cheers."

** *** **


"Can you tell me where to find Mike Cullen?"

Mounted on the tallest horse on the farm, an ex-racer named Diamond Determination, Bridey looked down at the Army officer who was leaning out of the window of his car. A cloud of steam emerged from the tailpipe. She shortened the reins. Determination didn’t like cars. "Who wants to know?"

"Major Adam Harper, ma’am." He lifted his hat politely. His ears were red from cold. "I’m from Fort Monmouth."

"I’m Bridget Cullen. And don’t call me ma’am." She pointed her crop toward the house at the end of the lane. "He might be up there or he might be in the stable. Park that thing by the house and wait for me there. And drive slowly. You don’t speed around horses."

The handsome officer rolled up his window, and drove slowly towards the farmhouse. Obeying orders, he parked the car and stepped into the crisp air, settling his hat on his head. It felt like there might be a touch of rain that afternoon. He walked up the four steps that led to the porch and, opening the screen door, knocked on the wooden door behind it.

After a minute he heard the sound of footsteps, and the door opened. The woman behind the screen was a cook, judging by her apron and floury hands. Her dark hair, shot with silver, was drawn back in a bun, and she wore a thick sweater over her dress. Her blue eyes surveyed him suspiciously.

"I’m looking for Mr. Cullen."

She pointed toward a short man who came out of the nearest stable, dusting straw from his pants. "There he be." Her accent was soft and lilting with an Irish brogue.








"Thank you, ma’am," Harper said curiously, and headed for Cullen, who saw him and stopped. Bridey rode up and dismounted. The gelding stomped his hoof and blew a plume of vapor into the cold air. The sun came out, gilding the cobblestones underfoot, and reflecting off the white-painted clapboards and green trim.

"Mr. Cullen?" Harper asked as he came up.


"Mister Cullen, I’m from Fort Monmouth. My name’s Adam Harper. The Army would like to board a horse here for a few months."

"What kind of horse?" The ex-jockey looked intrigued. Bridey’s expression was suspicion itself.

"A Thoroughbred stallion."

"From the Remount?" Bridey asked.

Harper shook his head and looked back at Mike. "No. A German horse."

Reining in her annoyance at his dismissal, Bridey looked towards the back of the main barn, where she knew Dietrich was working. "Spoils of war?"

The major looked uncomfortable. "Something like that. Your farm was suggested by one of the men on the scene — a Sergeant Pettigrew."

"Was it now?" Mike asked, his brogue thick, for show. His eyes danced in amusement. "And just what does the United States Army expect from us?"

"Full care. And, understand, that this is a very valuable animal. He needs the best of attention."

Bridey bristled, but managed to hold her temper. "There are many valuable animals on this property, Major. Another one certainly wouldn’t be a novelty."

He looked at her briefly, then turned back to Mike. "The horse isn’t a racer— he’s a former show horse, as I understand it."

"That’s my daughter’s department," Mike said, giving his daughter an expectant look. "She’s been training showhorses for years."

Harper looked dubious. "Are you willing to take him on?" he asked, feeling a bit like a tennis ball being volleyed between two players.

"Sure. What’s one more valuable horse?" Bridey suppressed a grin at the look of discomfort on the Major’s face. "When does he arrive?"

"As soon as we can get him here."

"And you’ll make sure we’ll get the supplies we need if we run into problems? I won’t short our own for this horse, whoever it is."

"Yes, ma- — uh, yes. We’ll truck supplies in ourselves, if we have to."

"And extra ration coupons for any human attendants?" she requested.

"You drive a hard bargain, Miss."

"It’s wartime, Major. I don’t have a mess hall giving me three squares a day," Bridey said sharply.

"I understand, Miss Cullen. I’ll make all the arrangements." Harper looked relieved.

"Got any idea of when he’s arriving, Major?" Bridey asked, toying with the slack in her mount’s reins.

Harper shook his head. "No, ma’am. Not a clue."

"Then we’ll ready a stall and hope it’s soon," she said briskly.

Recognizing a dismissal, Harper nodded. "I’ll keep in touch, Miss Cullen, Mr. Cullen."

Mike nodded; Bridey gave him a neutral smile. Harper retreated to his car.

"Impressed with himself, isn’t he?" Mike observed watching him get in.

"And then some, Pop. Not a fighter, that one. A desk jockey, probably. I wonder what Charlie thinks of him?" she said aloud. "I’ll have to ask him about the horse as well."

"Yes, well, you’d better be seeing to your horse," her father commented, seeing the gelding pulling on his reins.

"Yeah." Bridey watched the car move down the drive, then led Determination to his stall in the main barn. She untacked him slowly, talking to him as she did.

"So we’re going to have a boarder, huh, Deets? A German horse, he says. A showhorse—no details on what kind of showhorse he is, of course. I bet that silly captain didn’t even know—he didn’t impress me as knowing much about horses at all. I bet you could even tell that, huh? Well, this boarder, whoever he is, is no better than you all are, so don’t you worry. You’re taking those fences much better, and once the show circuit gets back into swing, well, we’ll just show them, won’t we?"

The tall bay ignored her, moving to the corner where he snuffled around in his feed bin. Bridey laughed. "You’ve got a one-track mind, Deets. Dinner will be here in a while." After checking to make sure he had a full water bucket, she took his tack to the tack room, wiped it off, then walked back into the aisle and headed toward the back of the barn.

Dietrich was grooming Diamond Playgirl, a young filly just being broken to saddle. Bridey leaned on the stall door and watched for several minutes, saying nothing. "Was there something you wanted, Fraulein Cullen?" he finally asked.

Bridey pursed her lips. Too many thoughts jostled each other for space in her head and she knew this man was somehow at the center. "I don’t really know yet."

An expression of concern crossed the German’s face briefly, then was gone, shuttered away behind the impassive shell that was his usual mien.

"Nothing to worry about, Major," Bridey said quickly. "At least, I don’t think so."

She entered the stall and moved to the filly’s head. She always thought better when she had her hands on a horse, and Diamond Playgirl was one of her favorites. Stroking the filly’s velvet nose, she said, "We just had a visitor from Fort Monmouth— an Army captain named Harper. I don’t think he even knows you’re here. Anyway, he asked if we’d board a horse for the Army for a while."

"One of your cavalry remount stallions?"

Bridey shook her head and straightened the filly’s forelock. "Nope. A German horse."

Dietrich twisted around to look straight at her. "German?"

"Uh-huh. He belonged to some bigwig—I think. Harper wasn’t all that forthcoming. I don’t think he knew all that much. Anyway, a Sergeant Pettigrew apparently recommended our farm as the best place to keep him for a while. The horse, I mean."

"Pettigrew?" Dietrich asked, startled.

She eyed him shrewdly. He obviously recognized the name but Bridey remembered Harper saying that the man on the scene, apparently in Germany, had recommended the farm. "That’s the name of the family you know in Kentucky, isn’t it?"

"Kentucky and...elsewhere." Dietrich went back to brushing the filly, turning his face away from her.

He didn’t elaborate, and Bridey decided to let that lie for the moment, filing it away for future pursuit. "Well, he recommended that this stud be sent here."

"And you concluded that I had to be connected."

"It was a logical guess. I thought I’d mention it." She paused. "And no, I didn’t mention you to the major. You’re none of his business."

He inclined his head in acknowledgment. "To answer your question, yes, I know Sergeant Pettigrew. We met in North Africa and correspond occasionally. But no, I didn’t know anything about a horse being sent here."

"Would I be correct in surmising that this Sergeant Pettigrew suggested sending the horse here because of his connection to you?"

Dietrich shrugged. "He could have. Without knowing all the facts, I can’t say for sure."

"Fair answer. Well, you’d be the logical one to care for the stallion, I think."

"Since we speak the same language, or because we’re both prisoners of war?"

Bridey caught the gleam of humor in his dark eyes. "More the former than the latter. Oh, have you ever worked in a breeding shed?"

"Several times. Why?"

"Because I may try to bargain for a couple of breedings. Presuming this stallion is of high enough quality and isn’t post-legged or cow-hocked." She shook her head. "Lord, I’ve seen enough of those. What some people try to pass off as breeding stock…. "

"Your stallions here don’t fit either category, Fraulein."

"No, they don’t, and I thank you." She gave him a smile. "But we need new blood on this farm—badly." Bridey patted the filly and turned to leave the stall. "Don’t be late for lunch. I figure you’ve got, oh, maybe five minutes before Siobhan starts yelling."

"Have I ever been late for a meal here?"

Bridey grinned. "Not that I’ve seen," she called back over her shoulder as she left the stall.

Dietrich continued grooming the filly, who snorted her approval. He had a light and delicate touch, which the sensitive filly appreciated. The geldings and stallions, and some of the broodmares appreciated a firmer hand, but Playgirl needed finesse—like a lot of human women, he reflected, or most superior officers.

So, Sergeant Pettigrew had recommended the farm. He must have gotten Lauras letters. What was he up to? The German had never thought of Tully as a deep thinker, just as a reliable soldier with some unexpected talents, otherwise he’d never have stayed with the Rat Patrol as long as he had. In fact, he’d never bothered getting to know the man before Pettigrew had landed in the hospital after the raid that caught the Rat Patrol, and Dietrich had arranged the prisoner exchange that sent Tully back to the United States. All Pettigrew had wanted to know was about the others, and when he knew that, he’d even wished Dietrich good luck from the stretcher as he was carried away. Dietrich remembered that moment with a touch of amazement. He wasn’t sure he would have done the same had their positions been reversed.

But now? Maybe he wants satisfaction for his half-brother? Dietrich shook his head. Not from what he’d heard from Laura and Mack. Tully’s father had thrown David Pettigrew off the farm; David had run away and joined the Navy shortly after that since he didn’t have a home any longer.

Laura said Tully had been the man who taught her to shoot the shotgun and the other guns at the farm, not to protect her against wolves or other animal predators, but against her husband if necessary. The town had known about his abuse of her and had rallied around her even before David returned.

So, why had Tully said to send this mysterious horse here? What horse could provoke this kind of response from the Allies? A horse, not soldiers?

Dietrich hated mysteries. They led to too many unexpected shocks that could reveal too much. If Tully’s suggestion led to the uncovering of the murder in Kentucky, then Dietrich just might have to ‘escape’ into the general population, something he desperately didn’t want to do. But he wouldn’t let them hang him, not for doing what was right for Laura.

Dietrich snorted. Why hadn’t Tully taken care of Davey permanently years ago? Then again, the Biblical injunctions against fratricide were strong, and that was Bible country back in Kentucky. Still, if Davey had been beating Laura years earlier leaving bruises like Dietrich had seen during his stay, then Davey would have had an accident out in the apple groves long before the war started.

Ah, well, at least the French wont have a chance to set their knives to this horse, Dietrich thought with a slight smirk. Not if the Rat Patrol was involved with him. He stepped back and looked over his job. Diamond Playgirl pulled a mouthful of hay from her net and eyed him as she chewed.

"I agree. It is time for lunch." He put the combs and brushes in the pockets of his overcoat, and left the stall.

** *** **


Alexander and the Rat Patrol drove swiftly through the dark, cold and wet winding roads of southern Germany. They wore their uniforms under heavy coats, scarves and hats just in case they needed to establish that they were soldiers, not deserters. They were taken for German officers, which was what everyone had hoped for. The horse trailer attached to the anonymous car driven by Hitchcock made them look official.

Darkness had fallen by the time they reached the crossroads. The area had been bombed into utter desolation, and it was obvious that no one lived there any longer.. The shell of one small house sagged on the right corner. They drove the trailer up to the wreckage, and parked it unobtrusively so that they could make a quick getaway.

"Ready, Troy, Hitch?" Alexander asked.

Troy nodded. His hands were numb, his nose was frozen, but he was glad that finally something was happening. He was tired of eating army food at the castle, and avoiding officers who were highly suspicious of Alexander’s little group. The more officers, the higher the amount of army flak, and Troy preferred to just get on with the job. That was the problem with the war as it now stood; too much bureaucracy. In North Africa, for the most part, he’d been free to do what he wanted. Now that it looked like the Allies were winning, the amount of red tape had increased to almost throttle them.

That was what colonels really were good for, he thought. To free the fighting man up from official crap. At least thats what ours is good for. We gotta make sure we keep him.

"Moffitt, you and Tully be prepared to leave at a minute’s notice," Alexander commanded, "when the horse arrives. Remember, Moffitt, if anyone gets in your way, make sure the horse gets through."

Hitchcock muttered. "Horse over man?"


Troy followed Alexander out of the car. He said in an undertone, "Are you sure, Colonel?"

"Yes. The orders come from the very top, Troy. Believe it or not, the horse is more important than we are," Alexander said wryly, pulling out the halter and rope he’d bought from a nearby farmer for three tins of condensed milk and a loaf of bread. Then the farmer had offered the use of the trailer for a tin of Spam. Troy had never seen a family eye the despised luncheon meat with such ravenous hunger. No matter how good Spam might be, the soldiers were very tired of eating it, and everyone contributed at least one tin, if not more. The family would probably barter it on the black market, but that wasn’t Troy’s problem. The Colonel was. He was taking risks that Troy felt belonged to him. Then again, he didn’t speak any German, and Alexander did.

The Colonel hitched the rope over his shoulder. "Troy, you and Hitch, come with me."

They nodded. The small cavalcade moved up the narrow road up into the more mountainous hillside. It was about a mile and a half’s walk over a potholed, rutted road in a darkness lit only by a crescent moon. The trailer would never have made it.

In the distance they heard the sound of the large cannon that were softening the area up for the attacking Russians. Troy was uneasily aware that their allies were a fair distance ahead of them, and that the American lines were equally far behind them near the Rhine. With the speed the Soviets were moving, this horse should have been taken by the Russians, not the Anglo-American alliance, as Alexander had once called them. Still, who was Troy to disobey orders?

The road grew less steep as they reached the top of the rise, and they saw they’d come to a small hamlet with a cluster of old farmhouses and barns, and beyond them the rubble of bombed fields and fallen stone walls. Passing through silently, the only thing they heard was the cackle of an occasional hen, and in one farmyard, the squeals of rats. A dog appeared out of the darkness, outlined by moonlight like the Hound of the Baskervilles, then vanished into the night with only the clicking of toenails.

It was another two miles before they found the ramshackle house and barn where the horse, named Jaeger, was supposed to be kept. The house was dark, except for a sliver of light at one broken window, and stone walls spread from either side, one around a pig sty, to judge from the grunting originating behind the wall, and the other to mark off fields in the landscape beyond. Troy felt his skin prickle. The perfect place for an ambush.

Hitchcock and Troy faded away to each side, keeping an eye out for danger.

Troy watched Alexander climb the front stairs and knock on the door. This was the dangerous part. It was possible that the man who said he had the horse was simply faking it, that what awaited Alexander was a trap, and that the man would be killed long before Troy or Hitchcock could do anything to help him. That was one of the things Troy disliked most about this mission. Alexander took risks that most officers wouldn’t dream of.

The door opened on the second knock. The muzzle of a gun poked outside, and the challenge came in German.

Alexander held up his hands and replied.

The muzzle lowered, and then disappeared, and the door opened further. A hand beckoned.

Without looking behind, Alexander walked inside.

Despite the weather, Troy sweated. Tension ate through him as the minutes ticked on. When he saw Hitchcock move stealthily towards the barn, Troy followed. One way or the other, the orders were to get the horse. Alexander had been very clear on that.

Just as they reached the closest stone wall, the door opened and Alexander, the farmer in tow, headed towards the barn. Alexander’s coat was open, Troy suspected, to better reach his gun, but he looked calmly in control. The farmer pushed back the tall doors. Alexander let the rope and halter slide down off his shoulder, and they both went inside.

There was a whinny, and a neigh. It sounded like several horses were stabled there.

Troy moved closer so he could see what was going on inside. Alexander was eyeing a black horse, who was staring boldly back at him. Moving forward, he put the halter over the horse’s head, dodging a nip, and fastened the rope to the ring at the bottom of the noseband. He led the horse out of the stall and to the doorway, where the farmer stopped him, holding out his hand.

Troy tensed and slid the safety off his gun. Alexander reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. The farmer took it, riffled through it with his hands, and stepped out of his way.

Alexander led the horse through the cold muddy courtyard parallel to the sty. Troy stepped over a low, white-stone wall aiming to join him. The farmer let out a yell, dodged inside the barn, and slammed the door shut. Alexander looked around wildly as two men came out of the darkness, waving weapons and screaming in German. His hand went inside his coat and pulled out a pistol.

Hitchcock knocked one down as he tried to pass and the man landed on the icy turf with a thud. One more blow behind the ear and the man was unconscious.

The horse reared, knocking Alexander off-balance. He let go of the rope, stumbling back so that he wouldn’t be hit by the sharp hooves and fell over a small stone wall next to the barn, landing in the frozen pig sty.

Hitchcock made a dive for the rope but it snaked by him as the horse danced away.

Troy was in the way as the horse bolted down the road. He grabbed hold of the rope and instantly felt himself pulled along the road. His hands were bloody from scoring by the time he tripped and fell on his face. He was dragged for another twenty yards before he let go, and the horse ran away into the darkness.

A dog with glimmering teeth and wild eyes jumped at them from a hedgerow, and the horse kicked out. It rolled back, yelping in pain. Troy thought it looked like the same dog he’d seen before, which meant they were somewhere near the trailer. Thank God.

Looking back, he could see and hear noise up at the farm. Should he go back? Grimly he remembered Alexander’s orders; get Jaeger to safety. Damn it all to hell! He set off down the road looking for signs of the horse.

He hadn’t gone very far. Troy saw him grazing on the stubble in an abandoned field, the rope still trailing from his halter.

Troy muttered soothingly, and walked forward. Jaeger eyed him suspiciously. and snorted, dancing back. Troy restrained a curse, and began to patiently stalk the horse. The last thing he needed at this point was to have it spook again.

It took a half hour for the stallion to calm down enough that Troy could grab the rope and slowly reel the horse in. He found himself muttering things in German that he had learned from Moffitt and Alexander. He hadn’t a clue what they meant but usually the others had used them in time of stress. They were probably obscene.

He followed the rope up to the halter, and stroked the horse’s neck, murmuring under his breath. Finally, the horse settled down enough that Troy could try and get his bearings.

They were on the far side of a crest, and below them lay the crossroads with the wrecked house. That was a relief; Troy didn’t want to retrace his steps. He’d give the horse over to Tully, and he and Moffitt would go back for the others. They had better be still alive.

He led the horse down the hill.

Reaching the house, he saw Tully coming out to meet him. He saw Moffitt look out an upstairs window, wave, then come downstairs.

"That’s some horse, Sarge," Tully commented.

"Where’s the Colonel? And Hitch?" Moffitt asked.

Troy jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Back there. Let’s get this beast into the trailer, and Tully, you take care of him. Moffitt, we’ll go back."

Tully frowned, but didn’t protest in the face of Troy’s grim expression.

Moffitt asked, "Was there an ambush, Troy?"


** *** **

Hitchcock used a stone from the old wall to stun the second man. Both of them were just boys barely out of their teens, dressed in castoff uniforms and patched shoes.

Alexander stared around groggily, his pistol drawn but not aimed. He must have hit something when he went down, Hitchcock surmised. "Let’s get out of here, sir!"

Alexander nodded, and clambered to his feet, ripe manure and potato peelings over his long coat. He’d lost his hat somewhere.

There was a crash behind them, making both men flinch, and a shower of sparks went up from the far end of the barn. They smelled smoke and saw flames leap up.

"The horses!" Hitchcock said urgently. "There’re more horses in the barn!"

"Not our problem, Hitch!" Alexander ordered harshly. "Don’t you hear the cars?"

Hitchcock looked around. There was the sound of Kubelwagens coming up the road. "They’re retreating. The Germans, that is."

"The Russians are almost here!" Alexander snapped.

"But that won’t help the horses!" Hitchcock said, looking at the burning barn in anguish.

The farmer threw open the door and ran out, his back on fire.

Acting instinctively, Hitchcock sloughed off his coat and flung it around the man. He knocked him to the ground and rolled him over twice, snuffing the flames. The man was crying in pain, and screaming in German.

Alexander was staring down the road, worry on his face. "Here they come!" He pointed down the road.

Something behind him snorted.

Hitchcock swiveled, and saw the tiny eyes and the rounded snout of a pig in the mud behind Alexander. It looked mean. The pig squealed and tensed, preparing for a charge. "Get the hell out of there, Colonel!" he yelled, and aimed his pistol at the porker.

Alexander looked behind him in surprise, saw the charging pig, and leaped for the top of the wall. He slipped in the slime and went down on his knees, banging his forehead hard on the stones.

Hitchcock fired three shots at the pig, killing it, but the forward momentum was too much. The dead pig crashed into the prone man, knocking him to one side.

The farmer groaned as he rose to his hands and knees. Looking at the dead pig, he let out a cry of anguish.

Hitchcock knew that things were rapidly getting out of hand, if they weren’t already. He looked to see the Kubelwagens coming up the hill; he knew the soldiers in them had probably heard all the shooting, and could see him by the light of the burning barn. The trapped horses were screaming in terror and pain, and the farmer was throwing curses around.

The second’s hesitation was enough for the farmer. He hit Hitchcock’s arm, knocking the gun out of his hand and into the mud where Alexander was just getting to his feet, his face half-covered with blood and mud.

Hitchcock swung back but missed, and the farmer escaped down the road towards the line of cars. He was screaming in German. "Damn!" Hitchcock swore under his breath, looking at the leading Kubelwagen which turned into the farmyard.

An officer stepped out, and the soldiers behind him aimed their guns at Hitchcock and the others. Hitchcock took a step back, putting him on the other side of the wall from Alexander and held his hands up in surrender.

"Leave this to me," Alexander commanded in his ear. Hitchcock thought he sounded better than he looked.

The officer barked a question. Hitchcock knew a little German but this was beyond him. He seemed to be directing his troops to help the farmer who was desperately begging for aid to fight the fire. Several did, leaving the officer to come up to them. "Who are you?" he asked harshly.

"Americans," Alexander lied baldly, his voice sounding reassuringly calm despite the evident pain on his face.

The officer pursed his lips as he surveyed them. He was a thin man in a worn uniform, badly mended at one shoulder, but his belt was well-polished, and his cap badge shone in the weak moonlight. The soldiers in his platoon were the age of the two teenaged attackers, who were picking themselves off the cobblestones.

One of the boys ran into the barn despite the protests of the farmer and some of the soldiers, and came out leading a badly-burned horse by her singed mane. She staggered and he jumped away. The mare collapsed in front of the Kubelwagen, and died.

"Damn," Hitchcock said under his breath, looking at the dead mare. She was bony and old, but the boy had loved her from the tears coursing down his cheeks.

"You did this?" the officer snarled, turning on them.

Alexander shook his head slowly. "Not us."

"Then who did it? You’re the only ones here!" The man drew his gun. Hitchcock noted with alarm that it was shaking. Behind him, the barn’s roof fell in on itself, and the screams of the horses stopped.

"Our guns don’t reach this far! No planes overhead, so it’s not a bomb….Must be the Russians!" Alexander replied glibly in German.

The crying boy looked up from the corpse, and drew the back of this hand across his face, smearing the soot into a mask. He spat at Alexander, hitting his lapel. The officer ignored him. "The Russians aren’t here!" the boy howled. "I don’t see any Russians! I only see you!"

Alexander met the officer’s gaze. At least he had no illusions. The Russians were on the tail of the German platoon even if the civilians didn’t believe it. "They soon will be. When, Oberleutnant? Hours? A day? They’re following you, aren’t they?."

The Oberleutnant nodded. "They’re about to attack — "

"Kill them!" the farmer screeched, pointing at Hitchcock and Alexander. "They stole my horse, they burned my barn, they...killed my pig They aren’t soldiers! The Reich — ."

"Do you want to live?" Alexander asked over the yelling. "Do your men want to live, Herr Oberleutnant....?"

"Von Linger," the man said sharply, looking at the straggling men who were standing watching the burning barn. There was the smell of burning meat. Probably the horses. Hitchcock’s mouth watered, and he felt guilty.

"Do you want to live?" Alexander repeated.

Von Linger studied him. "Who are you?"

"The Russians behind you and the Americans in front of you. They are closing in on both sides. What are your chances, Oberleutnant Von Linger, of surviving capture by the Russians?" Alexander asked.

"You think we’re defeated?" Von Linger asked with a curl of his lip.

"You tell me," Alexander replied. "Your men are young, tired and inexperienced. How long will they hold off the Russians? The Americans are only a few miles away. Wouldn’t you prefer to be captured by them?"

A mortar shell flew overhead and landed in one of the fields, making the ground rock. The troops flinched and even Von Linger stepped back. Hitchcock felt the heat of the blast against his back but didn’t fall. He saw the colonel was still standing though he leaned heavily on the wall.

"They’re getting closer," Alexander said persuasively through his mask of blood-stained mud. "The Russians. You know what they’ll do to you and your men."

Von Linger nodded reluctantly. He looked around at his muddy, worn troops who were watching him, their hands drooping by their sides. They looked defeated already. "What are you offering?"

"Surrender to us, and we’ll take you to the American lines," Alexander answered.

Hitchcock barely kept his jaw from dropping. He hoped desperately that Alexander knew what he was doing.

The farmer grabbed at the gun of the soldier who had been guarding the two prisoners. They struggled before Von Linger struck out, knocking the farmer onto his back. The man whimpered.

Hitchcock felt little sympathy. The farmer had set up the ambush, taken the money, and lost everything. That was the way it was in war.

Another mortar landed near the farmhouse with a tremendous explosion which blew dirt over them..

That decided it. Von Linger waved his troops back into their Kubelwagens, and held out his gun. "I surrender to the American army."

Hitchcock glanced at Alexander who, nodded for him to take the officer’s weapon.

"Then give us a ride back to our lines," Alexander ordered, climbing over the wall. He looked back at the scrawny porker lying dead in the mud. "We could always take it with us, Hitch. Makes good bacon."

"They’ve got to eat," Hitchcock said simply, looking at the boy, who was still crying over the mare. He’d leave it for the boy, if not the farmer. "Let’s get out of here, Colonel."

"Colonel?" Von Linger said with great curiosity.

"Just a nickname," Alexander said hastily. He waved towards Hitchcock. "Talk to him."

"And you are?"

"Sergeant Mark Hitchcock, US Army," Hitchcock said, tucking the gun away in his belt after making sure the safety was on. He shivered. Losing the overcoat was going to make it a long cold ride back to their lines. He wondered why Alexander had insisted on Hitchcock taking the surrender but decided to ask him later. Von Linger might speak English.

Alexander smiled wearily, wiping his hand over his face. The mud smeared. "Let’s go."

Hitchcock caught his arm as he swayed. "That was a helluva hit you took, sir," he said in an undertone.

"I feel lousy," Alexander admitted. "It’s in your hands, Hitch. You’re in command now." He climbed in the front seat where the soldiers made room for him, and closed his eyes.

Hitchcock gulped, then climbed in beside him. He was acutely aware of all the guns at his back. "Shake it!"

"Pardon?" the driver asked.

"Go. That way." Hitchcock pointed towards the Allied lines, and the Kubelwagen lurched forward.

** *** **


Henry Reynolds knew all about horses. At least, he thought he did. He had ridden them in numerous motion pictures, and even owned part shares in several racers, so he knew what a good horse was, and how much he wanted it.

But now he was out of his depth and that was something he wouldn’t admit. The horse he needed wasn’t a race horse but a trained show jumper, and he desperately wanted to impress the golden-haired young woman at his side. From a rich Boston family, and half his age, she was susceptible to his mature charms. Sheila Finch was going to be the new Mrs. Henry Reynolds if he played his cards right. He’d never have to make another picture if he married her. Since his last film had pulled in minimum revenue, though he was told it played well to the GIs in the field, Reynolds was looking towards a new career.

He needed a good replacement for his next movie. The gelding he had been riding had pulled up with a sore hoof, and instead of using a Hollywood nag provided by an animal trainer, he’d decided to provide his own. Knowing people who had purchased horses from the Cullens, he had made a special trip out here to see if they could take on the invalid as well as provide him with a replacement.

The long black sedan glided up the long drive from the front gate of the farm to the farmhouse. It was a full mile and a half in length, and wound through, what would be in summer, beautiful stands of trees that arched naked branches over the road, and by fields delineated by wooden fences interspersed with some made of stone. Horses grazed on the light green of new spring growth. One galloped beside the car for a second before swerving off to buck as if ridding himself of a rider.

Sheila giggled. "It’s beautiful."

Reynolds’ more experienced eye saw that the horse was still growing and might not even be broken to saddle yet. Still, if this girl thought he was beautiful, then it was worth encouraging. "Yes, he was."


"Of course. Didn’t you notice it?" he said lightly.

Sheila frowned. The line cut between her golden eyebrows. "I don’t understand, Henry."

"I’ll explain later," he continued, wondering exactly how he was going to do it and not be brought up on a morals charge. How young was Sheila? Not that young, or all that innocent, from what he had heard, but he’d better make sure before he made his move.

They swept through a final grove of trees where undergrowth was still matted from winter, and puddles had barely melted from last night’s freeze, and up the road into the cobbled driveway in front of the farmhouse and barns.

He had called the farm earlier today so he knew that Bridey Cullen and her father expected him. They should be outside waiting since he was precisely on time, going by his watch.

There was no one on the porch. In fact there was no sign of life at all. He parked and got out, walking around the sedan. "Hello!"

A man led a horse from the barn closest to him. He was tall and slender, had brown hair shading to gold in spots. He was dressed in a denim shirt over a thick sweater, and jeans, along with worn riding boots. He paused, seeing the car, and raised his hand to stroke the muzzle of the restless horse.

Reynolds suspected that he was one of the Cullen clan or an employee, so he smiled broadly and held out his hand. "Hi, I’m Henry Reynolds. You must be..."

The man stared at him in surprise. "Herr Reynolds? I believe Fraulein Cullen is not expecting you for another fifteen minutes."

The accent was a tip-off. This man was a German! Where the hell had he come from? Reynolds dropped his hand, his smile congealing. He hoped that Sheila hadn’t seen what had just happened. "Where is she? I’m on time, I know I am." He looked at the expensive pre-war watch around his brawny wrist.

Sheila slipped her arm through the crook of his. "I told you it ran fast," she said helpfully. "Daddy said it kept him on time."

Reynolds wanted to hit her but decided to take his umbrage out on the man who was watching him with a knowing expression. What the hell was this guy thinking? Probably that he was being an idiot! "Is she inside? Miss Cullen, that is. Find her!"

The man nodded reluctantly. The horse snorted and nipped at his hair, and he snapped in German, turning so that they could see the PW on the back of his denim shirt.

Sheila squeaked, then covered her mouth with her hands. Her artfully-made-up eyes widened.

"I will put this horse in the field, then find Fraulein Cullen," the prisoner said.

"Find her now," Reynolds said imperiously. "Whatever your name is."

The man stiffened, and clicked his heels, bowing slightly towards Sheila. "I am Major Hans Dietrich of the Wehrmacht. I will return the horse to the field...then find Fraulein Cullen."

Reynolds felt his cheeks burn with anger. This Dietrich had a lot of nerve talking to Sheila while he was a POW from a country going up in flames! A loser. Before Reynolds could retort, he heard his name being called.

"Mister Reynolds?" Bridey came out of the house and down the brick steps. She wore the same type of denim pants as Dietrich, but with low boots and a nice blouse; her auburn hair was held back by a becoming headband. Her lipstick was red. "I’m Bridey Cullen. We weren’t expecting you for a while yet."

Reynolds deliberately turned his back on Dietrich, forcing Sheila around. "Miss Cullen! I’m so happy to meet you. Bart Nolan speaks so highly of your stock! May I introduce Miss Sheila Finch?"

Bridey smiled at Sheila, who gave her one in return, then glanced back towards Dietrich. Her expression changed to disappointment for a second when she saw he had walked away toward the field leading the mare.

Reynolds intended to take up the matter of her insolent prisoner when the time was right, but at the moment, he was more interested in finding out if she had a mount for him.

She took it out of his hands. "If you’ll come this way, I’ll show you what we have to offer."

"You will take my horse in, then?" he asked, falling in step beside her. Sheila lagged behind, her hands in the pockets of her yellow rain slicker. "The gelding with the hoof problem?"

"I would think your trainer would probably want to deal with him on his own," she replied.

"He’s quit. Gone south to train in Cuba where there’s still racing," Reynolds said in disgust. "My damned hor— oh, sorry, darned horse is just eating his head off in the barn and getting prime vet care, but I’d really like to place him where he can be trained when he recovers."

Bridey raised an eyebrow. "To be honest, I don’t think I have room for another horse, Mister Reynolds."

"Well, I’ll take one of yours and you take mine," he suggested. "I can pay you whatever you ask, Miss Cullen."

She hesitated. Probably the money flow was pretty dry by this point. He pressed his advantage. "I can probably even pay you double if you want. I want the horse to have the best of care."

Bridey raised an eyebrow. "He would even at half the price, Mister Reynolds. I heal horses. I’m just not sure if I have the room. It’s still too early in the year to pasture board."

Horses inquisitively poked their heads over the bottom doors of the stalls, looking interested. Reynolds saw one stall that was empty and clean as if it were waiting for an occupant. "How about there, Miss Cullen?"

She shook her head. "Sorry. That one’s on hold for someone else."

"But he’s not here yet," Reynolds said, looking at it eagerly.

"He could come any day."

"But until then...."

"Until then, the stall will remain empty. Let me show you some of the horses that are for sale," she said firmly, leading him towards the other barn. "In here."

** *** **

Most of the time, Dietrich didn’t feel like a prisoner except when outsiders came to the farm. The Cullens treated him well, far better than he’d expected. He had made his peace with the milkman the day the man’s van had a flat tire in the courtyard, and Dietrich had changed it almost before the elderly man had unloaded his wares and returned. The few times Dietrich had gone to Freehold with Siobhan, he’d talked with some of the other prisoners on work-release, but his meetings with the townspeople had varied. Some were marginally friendly, others ignored him; still others glared in his direction and made comments, and in one case a man had picked a fight. After laying him out in the street, Dietrich had been taken into custody for about ten minutes. Most of the onlookers had come to his defense, and Dietrich was released into Siobhan’s care, with a suggestion that he not come back to town too frequently, and never alone. He’d agreed. There was more than enough to do around the farm without going off the land. He surmised that Siobhan had never said anything to Fraulein Cullen about it, or the Fraulein would have gone after the local police chief and would have raised a fuss. She was very protective of the people she considered her own, but Dietrich had gone through enough battles not to pick one over something this minor. It might cause him to be removed from the farm, though, so he was glad that it had been swept under Siobhan’s carpet. Captain Wagner knew, of course, but he’d been brought in on the conspiracy to keep the problem from Fraulein Cullen’s attention.

Out in the warm sun, he was starting to feel overheated under the sweater and denim shirt. He’d needed them earlier in the day, when the overnight chill still remained in the air, but now, as the day warmed up, they were a hindrance. Stripping off the shirt, he hung it on a nail in the side of the barn, then pulled off the sweater. His undershirt was damp with perspiration. He tossed the sweater over a fence post, and reached for his shirt. A movement to the left made him freeze, then he turned.

Sheila had wandered out of the barn, and was watching him with an appreciative smile on her painted lips. He met the expression with reproof, and was mildly shocked to see her smile grow.

Id better get dressed now, Dietrich thought, and took the shirt. It slipped through his fingers, landing on the dirty cobblestones. He made a mental note to wash the stones down, and picked it up.

"Is it dirty?" she asked, obviously just to say something.

"Nein, Fraulein," he said, putting it on. "Just a little bit of soil."

"It has become a hot day, hasn’t it?" she said airily. "I should have brought a hat."

"The barn is cool," he suggested, then mentally winced. He shouldn’t have brought up the barn. He didn’t want her thinking that he was suggesting that they go inside and...

She came closer. "Yes, but so lonely. Nothing but horses."

He stepped back, coming up against the fence post. He knew the consequences of having too close a friendship with the Americans, and he’d seen the price some of his countrymen had had to pay for it. Besides, he wasn’t at all sure that Sheila Finch was the innocent she seemed to be. There was a knowing look in her eyes that made him very nervous.

Where were Fraulein Cullen and Herr Reynolds? For a fraction of a second, Dietrich saw the humor in his situation; a seasoned tank commander scared of a girl barely out of her teens, but he didn’t want to think of the situation if Bridey Cullen were to see him even smiling at Sheila Finch. Fraulein Cullen had a possessive streak, and Dietrich knew that she would do something rash, new client or no new client. Besides, he wasn’t attracted to Sheila in the slightest and he didn’t want to examine his feelings for Fraulein Cullen too closely. Better to remain just friends with the fiery redhead.

He picked up the pitchfork, hoping it didn’t look he was grabbing for a defensive weapon. "I must go back to work, Fraulein."

"In the barn?" she asked knowingly. "Can I come with you?"

"Nein, Fraulein. It is too dirty in there for your...coat," he said firmly.

She shrugged. "It’s so hot, I’ll just take it off."

Dietrich shook his head warningly. "Then you will be cold in the barn. I must go back to work."

She pouted. "I could keep you company."

An American staff car came around the corner, and Dietrich felt a rush of vast relief.

Sheila turned. "Who’s that?"

The car pulled up, and the driver got out. "Hello, there. Have you seen Miss Cullen?" he asked Sheila.

"She’s in the barn," Sheila replied. "Hi, I’m Sheila Finch."

"Captain Adam Harper at your service," the officer replied, touching his cap. He pointedly ignored Dietrich.

Sheila walked toward him, smiling brilliantly. She slipped the coat off her shoulders and tossed it onto the hood of the car. "Why don’t you find Miss Cullen?" she called behind her.

"Ja, Fraulein," Dietrich replied with relief in his voice, and she shot him a suspicious smile that said she understood his feelings, before turning back to Harper. Dietrich escaped into the barn, leaning the pitchfork against an empty stall. Bridey and Reynolds must be in the far barn.

** *** **

Bridey was already leading Reynolds through the barn when she saw Dietrich waving at her. She waved back, just a little too heartily. Seeing him was an immense relief, especially after spending this much time with Reynolds. They’d been looking at the horses for about an hour, but to Bridey, it had felt like ten. Reynolds was far too impressed with himself for her taste.

They came out into the hot sun, and Bridey felt it soaking into her bones, releasing the tensions brought out from the winter. She knew the weather could change in fifteen minutes and a storm could come howling over the fields, but right now she’d enjoy the warmth. She hoped that it would stay for a while. She needed the sun.

She also looked forward to the departure of her companion. Reynolds seemed fairly knowledgeable about horses and certainly was as charming as he was on the silver screen, but she had seen the way he’d looked at Dietrich, and it had turned her stomach. She wouldn’t let him be picked on by some phony actor.

Sheila was sitting on the sedan’s hood, her coat lying behind her on the shiny mudguard, flirting with the handsome officer who had arrived while Bridey was in the barn. Captain Harper didn’t seem to mind the waiting. He was laughing when they joined him.

Dietrich silently carried out two buckets of water and sent them over the cobblestones next to the barn. Slivers of straw and manure clods were washed into the grass with the flow. He was studiously staying out of their way. Bridey wondered if Sheila had tried her flirtation routine on him, and had been repulsed. Actually, Dietrich would have more brains than to get mixed up with that kind of woman. At least, she hoped he did!

"Ah, Miss Cullen," Harper said cheerfully.


"I stopped in to tell you that the horse should be arriving soon."

"Really?" Bridey wished he hadn’t said anything in front of the others. Why, though, she wasn’t sure. It was just a feeling, but she’d always put great stock in her hunches. They’d certainly been profitable enough at the track!

"The horse for that empty stall?" Reynolds asked politely.

"Yes," she said with a lack of interest. "So, Mister Reynolds, we have an agreement."

He agreed with good grace. "I will bring my horse down in a week then, and pick up Diamond Peach."

Sheila hopped off the car, and picked up her coat. Reynolds gallantly held it out so she could drape it over her shoulders, and let his hands rest there in a proprietary manner for a second, then let go. "We should be leaving, Sheila."

She dimpled. "Okay, Henry. Nice to meet you, Miss Cullen."

Bridey crossed her arms and smiled insincerely. "It was a pleasure, Miss Finch."

Sheila held out her hand to Captain Harper. "Nice to see you...sir? I’m just terrible on ranks! Please forgive me."

"Captain," he said fatuously, taking Sheila’s hand and shaking it as the girl played the coquette.

Bridey wanted to be sick. She looked over at Dietrich for his reaction. He was just turning away towards the barn. Was it her imagination, or were his shoulders shaking in silent laughter?

"I enjoyed our talk, Miss Finch. Mister Reynolds, nice to meet you. I’ve enjoyed your pictures," Harper said.

Reynolds realized that he was being honest. Harper wasn’t being insincere in the least. "Thank you. But we’re going to be late, Sheila. I’ll be back, Miss Cullen."

Bridey nodded and stepped back as Reynolds held the door open for Sheila to climb inside. He slammed it, and walked to his side of the sedan.

Inadvertently, he walked into a rush of water from another bucket of water Dietrich had just sent sluicing over the cobblestones.

Reynolds turned with an ugly expression. "I take it won’t be anywhere near my gelding, Miss Cullen?"

Bridey felt a flame of anger flare through her. She squared her shoulders and stuck out her chin. "Major Dietrich is helping me out, Mister Reynolds. He takes excellent care of every animal in these stables. I wouldn’t have him on the property if he didn’t. If he’s good enough for my horses, he’s good enough for yours. And if you don’t trust him, you don’t trust me— and perhaps we should reconsider our arrangement."

Reynolds was taken aback by her vehement words. He realized that despite her relative youth, she was no child—and no pushover. He’d have to tread softly with this one. He looked from her to Dietrich, suspicion on his face, then back to her. "I will speak with you later about it."

Bridey almost called his bluff but she saw Harper’s expression and that stopped her. As Reynolds had, he looked from Dietrich to her, and obviously thought that there was more to her heated response than just the defense of a friend. Bridey met his gaze unflinchingly, and was rewarded when Harper dropped his eyes first.

Was Dietrich her friend? Yeah, she thought. He is and Ill be damned if Ill let anyone criticize that! What do they think? That Im bedding my parolee? She mentally kicked herself. Dont even think it, Bridget.

In the interim, Reynolds had climbed into his car and started the engine. He maneuvered it carefully around Harper’s car, and roared down the path towards the front gate.

"May I see you inside?" Harper asked.

"No, you may not. You can say whatever you need to say to me right here," she retorted, standing her ground. She wasn’t in the mood for condescension from a damned desk jockey. "You said the horse would be coming in soon?"

"Yes, very soon." Harper sounded startled. "‘I’ll bring the ration books for his attendant and other material when I bring the horse."

"Just how many people are we talking about, Captain?"

"Just a groom, I believe," he replied. "I don’t have the details, Miss Cullen. It was just that your telephone seems to be out, and — ."

"Not again!" she said in exasperation. "We have to restring it every time more than one blasted crow lands on the wire!"

"Shall I call the telephone company?" Harper offered.

She wondered why he was offering. It wasn’t as if she needed the phone most of the time. "Thank you, Captain, but I’ll take care of it."

"I hope so," Harper said sincerely. "We need to keep in touch about the horse."

Dietrich swished another bucketful of water over the cobblestones and it nearly washed Harper’s shined shoes. Bridey suppressed a grin; she wasn’t sure if he was doing it on purpose or if he was just being more thorough than usual, but his aim was impeccable.

Whatever the reason, Harper’s face darkened. "There is one thing. I don’t want that German anywhere near the horse."

"I trust him with the animals," Bridey said simply.

"He’s a German officer, Miss Cullen," Harper said, as if explaining the obvious to a small child. "A prisoner of war."

"Yes, Captain, I can see that. That big PW on his shirt is a little hard to miss. I told you, I trust him," Bridey repeated.

"He’s still a German."

"And so’s the damned horse," Bridey shot back.

Anyone who knew her would have realized that Bridey was losing her patience and was close to losing her temper, and that any moment, fireworks to rival the largest Fourth of July display would ensue. But Harper wasn’t that bright. "Miss Cullen —"

"Captain, might I remind you that you’re on my property." Her smile was as insincere as she could make it.

"Miss Cullen—."

But Bridey wasn’t about to let him get a word in edgewise until she was through. "And I might further suggest that you treat Major Dietrich with the respect you would hope to receive were you in his situation."

Harper chuckled meanly. "That’ll never happen, Miss Cullen."

She wanted to hit him. His words were bad enough without having him crowing over the defeated — especially where Dietrich could hear him. "Perhaps not. Then again, I rather doubt that this is the last war this country will find itself in, so you never know where you might find yourself. It might not be as congenial as where you’ve managed to spend the past few years." She pointedly looked at his chest, which was devoid of any qualification badges or campaign ribbons. "Is that all, Captain?"

He nodded. "Thank you, Miss Cullen. The stall is ready?"

"Ready enough."

"Then have a good day, ma’am."

Bridey didn’t trust herself to tell him again that she hated to be called ‘ma’am’. It just gave her another reason to dislike him. She compromised by stepping away from his car, and back towards Dietrich, who had watched the entire exchange.

Harper looked from one to the other again, but said nothing, climbing into his jeep and driving away.

"Son of a— Damned desk jockey." She was furious. "How dare they?" she whispered under her breath. "They think— Men!" Dietrich prudently said nothing, just swabbed at the stones next to her feet.

She took a deep breath, started counting backwards from one hundred in Latin, and stalked towards the house to change to go the feed store. She wasn’t sure if it was the insinuation that made her so angry or the fact that she couldn’t combat their suspicions.

She also admitted to herself that Dietrich was a very handsome man. Given human nature, it wasn’t a totally unreasonable assumption on their part, though romance with a POW was the last thing on her mind at this point. But the only way to deal with it was to send Dietrich away and she wasn’t going to do that. That would only add to their suspicions—and it would lose her the best damned stable help this farm had seen in a long time. She just didn’t have a way out.

** *** **


Alexander sighed in relief as the last strip of tape came off his forehead. He opened his eyes. It was easier to take the pain if he didn’t have to look at the doctor’s face, and see worry as he examined the wound. "Healed?" he asked, putting up his hand. The cut was scabbed over.

"At least as long as you don’t scratch it," the doctor said rudely. "I’ll get a bandage for that. You need to have a specialist look into it, Colonel."

"Yes, you told me that days ago," Alexander said impatiently. "It’s being set up. Now — "

"Now, sir, you have a visitor," the doctor cut off ruthlessly. He flicked his hand toward the man who was taking off his heavy coat.

Alexander hissed through his teeth. Pain, and Carlson. Bad combination. "I see. Can we have some privacy, doctor?"

"Sure." The doctor retreated out of the small room where Alexander and another badly wounded soldier had been kept for the last few days. The soldier had been moved out that morning, and Alexander was looking forward to leaving today.

He and Carlson exchanged salutes, and Carlson sat down on the opposite bed without asking. "I’ve seen the report on that last mission," he said without preamble.

Alexander began to button his shirt. He felt at a disadvantage in this situation by being half-clothed. "So?"

"So, it should never have happened as it did!" Carlson retorted. "They should never have let you in for such danger — ."

"Rubbish, Captain. I was the one who set up the mission."

"You’re also the one who came out injured."

"Fortunes of war. Nothing ever goes as smoothly as it looked back in HQ. I’m sure you know that." Alexander was pretty sure that Carlson had never gone on a mission with any commandos.

Carlson’s face darkened.

Alexander continued. "We came back safely with the horse, with all of us, and with German prisoners. Most people wouldn’t consider that a failure of a mission, Captain!"

"It’ll probably be your last," Carlson said crisply. "I believe you’ve been detailed to take the horse back to America, sir?"

How did he know that? Where was the leak? "Yes, I have."

"You will be taking one of your men with you? I have suggested that the others also be pulled out, and sent home," Carlson stood. "They’re too dangerous to be left behind without proper orders."

"I would suggest you reconsider, Captain," Alexander said, standing and willing himself not to sway.

Carlson shook his head. "It will take several weeks to finish up all the details, but they’re out of here, Colonel. The US army doesn’t need live bombs running around right now."

"Lieutenant Moffitt doesn’t belong to the US Army," Alexander remarked. "He belongs to my army."

"Then he stays and fights alone," Carlson said stubbornly. "Sorry, sir. I saw them when they were in the hospital before this mission, and I thought they were on the edge there. Nearly losing you and going for that horse instead—."

"Those were my orders, Captain!"

"Sir, you’re more important than any damned horse, orders or not!"

"Are you suggesting they should have disobeyed my orders? My word, Carlson, they’re damned if they follow orders or not, according to you!"

"They’re outta here, sir! I’ve filed my report with HQ, and they’ll send it on to Washington. It’s too late to do anything."

Its never too late, Alexander vowed silently. He wasn’t going to let this bastard get away with this. "Then you’re leaving soon? Were you planning to come along with us?"

Carlson looked taken aback. "‘Come along?’ No, sir. My orders are to report back to HQ."

"Then I suggest you follow them. Dismissed!"

Carlson stiffened and saluted. "Yes, sir!" He hesitated as if he wanted to say something more but Alexander’s face was forbidding. He retreated out of the hospital room, apparently glad to be gone, or so Alexander concluded from his speed.

Alexander sat on the bed, his shoulders drooping. What the hell am I going to do now? This isnt fair to the men!

"Colonel?" the doctor asked and Alexander started. He hadn’t noticed the man’s return. "Let me put a fresh bandage on that, and then you can go."

"How much longer am I going to need a bandage, Doctor?"

"Another week or so."

"Thank you."

** *** **

"So, what’s up?" Hitchcock asked as Moffitt came out of HQ, Troy at his heels. "What about that horse?"

"The colonel has ordered us to meet him," Moffitt said with a slight edge. "I’m not sure what he’s up to. He just had a visit from the doctor, who said he could leave."

"Hey, maybe we’ll all be leaving!" Hitchcock replied cockily.

"I thought you wanted to be here ‘til the end!" Moffitt retorted.

"Sure. Be here on the last day? Who wouldn’t after all this fighting?"

The trio of men entered the outer ward, past a slender nurse, who smiled at them, and headed for Alexander’s room. Troy and Moffitt would never forget seeing Hitchcock leaning out of the first Kubelwagen waving a bloody scarf to keep them from firing. It turned out to be Alexander’s; the Colonel had been unconscious when they transferred him to the car. Troy was furious with the officer as well as with himself. There was no reason to think that he could have prevented Alexander’s injuries, but he still didn’t like it.

He was conscious by the time they’d arrived back at the camp to find Tully had already unloaded Jaeger and put him in a makeshift stall. They had physically delivered Alexander to the hospital ward and left him in the hands of a determined doctor. Now, four days later, the colonel had ordered them into his presence.

This wasn’t the first time Troy had seen an ill Alexander. When they’d first met, Alexander had been on the downward path to pneumonia. Now he looked pale, but healthy. He finished buttoning his shirt, and tucked the tail in his pants, fastening them.

"Good. You’re here," Alexander said abruptly.

Troy revised his opinion. Alexander had an sharp edge unusual in the officer. "Yes, sir!"

"I’m leaving shortly to take Jaeger to the United States. I wanted to tell you that I’m taking Tully with me."

The three men looked stunned.

"Lucky Tully," Hitchcock finally stuttered out.

Alexander sighed, and ran over his newly cropped hair. He had brushed his hair forward so it covered most of the bandage.

"I know you’re disappointed," Alexander continued, meeting each man’s eyes. "I would have liked to have all of you, but that’s impossible. I chose Tully because he has the most experience caring for horses. It’s one thing to ride them, another to care for them."

"You’re going to escort him back?" Moffitt asked. "The horse, I mean. Have you recovered enough to do that, Colonel?’

Alexander smiled ruefully. "You’ve hit the right spot, Jack. Not only am I now a horse guard, but I’ve been ordered to see a specialist in the United States about my head injury. We’re also traveling by boat--the doctors don’t want me flying."

"What about us?" Troy asked intensely. "Will we be rejoining the Third Army?"

"I’m not exactly sure what your officers have in mind for you, Troy," Alexander admitted. "You will be staying here until you have further orders. I’m afraid the future of the Anglo-American alliance is going to be short."

Troy didn’t like it at all. The war wasn’t over yet! He refrained from making a harsh reply when he saw that Alexander liked it no more than he did. "Then you won’t be returning, sir?"

Alexander hesitated, then shrugged slightly. "I plan to, and soon, I hope. I want to see this through to the end."

"Where will you be taking the horse, sir?" Hitchcock asked.

"Ah. I convinced my superiors, and yours, that Tully had a good idea," Alexander said, settling his jacket on his shoulders. "Diamond Shamrock Farm."

"That sounds good," Moffitt said in the awkward silence that followed. "Then we should say good-bye, sir."

"Down at the stable," Alexander replied. He settled his hat on his hair, and it landed on the bandage. He winced. "Don’t look too disappointed. I plan to see you again before the end of the war. Here’s that damned doctor again. You’re dismissed, gentlemen."

Troy and the others saluted, and left.

They went over to the stable where Tully was whistling as he brushed horsehair out of the makeshift horse brush. Jaeger snorted in the darkness of the stall, and moved out into the light, hanging his head over the board which kept him in the stall.

"So you’re headed home," Troy said accusingly, then grinned.

"Congratulations," Hitchcock added, his arms folded.

Tully chewed on a straw and grinned. "Hey, I don’t wanna go. Anyone want to take my place?"

"Tried to talk the Colonel out of it, eh?" Hitchcock teased. "Thought you just liked Jeeps."

"I do," Tully retorted. "More than horses. Okay, what do you guys want from the States?"

"Beautiful girls!"


"I don’t want a thing," Moffitt said airily. "I’d just like to be out of here!"

"Well, I’ll send you cards from sunny New Jersey," Tully replied, grinning. "Now, we’d better get Jaeger ready to go back into that trailer."

"‘We’?" Hitchcock said loudly. "Hey, he’s your responsibility! You deal with him!"

"All for one," Moffitt said crisply. "And we’re about to be invaded by higher authority, so...."

"Here comes the Colonel!" Hitchcock whispered. "Let’s all help out. Maybe he’ll change his mind."

They were all still laughing when Alexander came in, swathed in a heavy coat. They all saluted. Jaeger eyed them inquiringly, then reached out to take a nip at Tully, who stood closest to him. Tully moved out of the way just in time.

"Charming animal," Alexander commented with a frown. "Tully, I spoke with our transport. We leave in four hours. Better get Jaeger ready."

"Then this is good-bye, sir," Troy said to Alexander.

"That’s correct. We’ll meet again," Alexander replied, unexpectedly holding out his hand. He shook hands with Troy. "Good luck, Sergeant. I’m going to finish up the paperwork now. Can one of you make sure there’s enough petrol in our jeep?"

"Yes, sir!" They all exchanged salutes, and Alexander walked off towards the administrative area.

Troy noticed with a frown that he moved a little more slowly than usual. "Tully, you’re in charge of making sure he gets to a good doctor!"

"Gotcha, Sarge. Suspected I would be," replied the laconic sergeant. "Though how the hell I’m gonna order a Colonel around, I dunno."

"Easy, Tully," Moffitt said with a slight edge. "Wait till he collapses, then take him to hospital. That’s about the only way you’ll get him there."

"From personal experience, I agree, " Hitchcock said in amusement. "Just make sure it’s not a German one like last time he collapsed!"

They chuckled. "Well, it’ll be hard to find one in the States," Tully replied.

Troy turned to Tully. "Keep in touch, Sergeant!"

"Yes, sir, I’ll keep you informed!"

** *** **


Bridey walked down the porch steps when she saw Reynolds’ sedan come up the path. Mike followed her out into the yard. Following the sedan was another car towing a freshly-painted trailer.

"Here we go," Mike commented, looking at her.

She wondered if this was a good idea. Maybe she should have canceled out, but they needed the money. The farm accounts were low because of the war, and both Mike and Bridey refused to touch the large sum of money Big Joe Murphy, Mike’s father-in-law, had left them for something as mundane as day-to-day farm expenses. And what did she have against the handsome movie star except that his dislike of Dietrich grated on her? Nothing, really. This was a normal emotion for most people right now. Even the headlines proclaiming Allied victories daily didn’t counteract the gut reaction against the Germans. This was the main reason Bridey never asked Dietrich to go to Freehold with her when she went in, even though there were plenty of German POWs from the camp at Fort Monmouth on work-release in the area. The families and businesses they worked for were pleased with their work, but there was still that lingering, entirely natural prejudice that they all had to combat.

I dont need to have them thinking Im in bed with the enemy, either, she thought, as Reynolds parked the car. The trailer stopped a few feet behind him.

Sheila popped out of the sedan before Reynolds could come around and open the door. She waved gaily at Bridey, who despite her resistance, smiled. Sheila had an infectious smile.

A groom got out of the following car and went back to the trailer.

"Miss Cullen!" Reynolds called, raising his hand in greeting. "Please come and see my horse."

Bridey walked to the car, followed by Mike. "I have Diamond Peach ready for you, Mr. Reynolds."

"Great!" he said heartily.

The groom unfastened the back door and pulled out the ramp. The gelding inside was dark gray, just starting to dapple, with four black legs and a blaze down his face and nose to his upper lip. He limped slightly as he was led into the courtyard. Bridey thought he’d probably been pushed too fast, too soon, but she kept her mouth shut.

"Where shall I take him, sir?" the groom asked.

"In there," Bridey said briskly before Reynolds could reply, pointing to the nearest barn. "Major Dietrich will bring out Peach. We’ve been waiting for you."

"How can you stand him?" Reynolds asked her in a normal tone as Dietrich led the horse out to the van.

"Stand him?" Bridey asked with a dangerous edge in her voice. "You mean the Major? He’s the best worker I have right now!" She saw no need to add that he was the only worker she had at the moment.

A snort from her father made her shoot him a repressive glare.

"But do you trust him?" Reynolds asked. "I mean, he’s one of the enemy."

"Far more than I trust a lot of other people," Bridey replied. Including you, she thought, but didn’t give voice to the statement. "He’s never given me any reason not to, Mr. Reynolds."

"Henry," Reynolds suggested. "After all, we’re becoming partners over Diamond Peach."

"Hmmm," she replied noncommittally.

"And I can call you.… "

"You can keep on callin’ her Miss Cullen," Mike cut in from behind. "Darlin’, you have another visitor." He pointed to where a car towing a horse trailer was coming up the path.

Bridey recognized the car. "Dear sweet mother of God, what did I do to deserve this?" she muttered.

"Who is that?" Reynolds asked. The bright sunlight was harsh enough for him to wear some kind of aviators’ sunglasses. Bridey couldn’t see his eyes, and felt at a disadvantage because of that.

"It’s Captain Harper," Sheila said ebulliently. "When I called him, he said he might be coming today."

"You called him?" Reynolds asked with a slight edge.

"Of course," she replied. "We went out last Saturday to see the parade on the base."

Bridey glanced at her father and hid a grin. Reynolds had better look out for his lady. She seemed enamored of Captain Harper...or was it his uniform that attracted her?

The new car pulled up as tightly as it could behind Reynolds’ trailer. Dietrich came out of the barn leading Diamond Peach. He ignored the smile that Sheila sent him to look inquiringly at Bridey. She shrugged, shook her head, and rolled her eyes.

The sergeant who drove the newly-arrived car jumped out and opened the door, holding a sharp salute.

Bridey cocked her head. This was a lot of formality for a mere captain. In fact, the last time Captain Harper had driven up here he had driven himself. What was up?

The man who got out settled his billed cap with a glittering badge on his dark hair, and looked around, crisply returning the driver’s salute. His overcoat was open to show a uniform with strange cut, a long khaki jacket with a dark belt, lighter shirt, and dark tie, pants that matched the jacket, and ankle-high black boots. It suited his lean build and long legs. There were also three lines of ribbons on his left breast, none of which she recognized at first glance.

Bridey’s eyebrow went up in surprise. What, were the British invading now? Hadn’t they learned their lesson the last two times they’d tried? Who was this?

Captain Harper came around the car from the other side, said something to the stranger, then waved at her. Bridey waved back half-heartedly.

"That’s a Brit colonel! What’s he doing here?" Mike said under his breath.

I never heard a more accurate question, Bridey thought. "I don’t know, Pop. When Harper told me about the horse, he didn’t say anything about it coming with accessories," she remarked out loud.

The colonel said something to Harper, then looked around. He stopped dead in his tracks, staring at Dietrich.

Bridey looked at Dietrich and saw he was as surprised as the colonel. The chestnut mare stamped her foot and Dietrich’s hand automatically went up to stroke the soft nose.

Then the colonel shot an angry look at his driver, who was watching the scene with a particularly bland expression on his face. The man gazed back innocently but didn’t respond.

Dietrich looked at them both and a smile struggled to his lips. He tried to hide it when Harper stared at him suspiciously, but it wouldn’t die. Bridey realized there was more going on here than would appear to the casual observer.

The colonel looked like he wanted to laugh out loud. "Get the horse out, Tully," he ordered finally, his words drifting over to the group. He headed for Bridey, Harper following a step behind. The driver went back to the horse trailer and began undoing the back.

Bridey came down to greet him. "Captain Harper?" she said politely, though the tone of her voice made it clear she expected an explanation—and now. Her gaze was on the stranger.

"This is Colonel Peter Alexander," Harper introduced the newcomer. "He brought the horse from Germany."

"Miss Cullen," Alexander said, extending his hand. His grip was cool. He looks...formal. Reserved. Stiff-necked. Dull, Bridey thought. The decorations on the uniform under the overcoat formed an intimidating array. No desk jockey here. Then she looked into his eyes and realized that she was being assessed in the same manner. She wondered what he thought — then wondered why she cared.

"Ah, yes, the horse," she said hesitantly. Then she got a grip on herself. These people needed her cooperation. "I’m Bridey Cullen, the owner. Glad to meet you, Colonel."

"We were just leaving," Sheila said easily with a tact that Bridey hadn’t expected. "Henry…."

"Please don’t let me drive you away," Alexander said with easy grace. "I’m sorry we’re here unexpectedly, Miss Cullen, but the horse was getting restless. We decided to push on and arrive as soon as possible."

Her gaze went over to the horse trailer. She could hear the stallion moving about and the soothing sound of a man’s voice. It didn’t sound like it was doing much good. The horse sounded restless.

"Need some help?" she asked.

"I’m sure Tully could use some. Maybe Major Dietrich could help," Alexander replied, staring at the German, who was watching the scene unfold with a slight smile on his face.

Everyone looked boggled. "You know him, sir?" Harper finally asked incredulously.

"Oh, yes," Alexander said dryly, his eyes on Dietrich. "Nice to meet you again, Major."

"I agree, Colonel," Dietrich answered in the same polite tone, standing at attention though he didn’t salute since Peach was restless. "You look recovered from your illness."

"For the most part, yes," Alexander replied with a chuckle. "I am surprised to see you here."

Dietrich smiled. "I thought so."

"I will have to have a long talk with my driver, Sergeant Pettigrew!" Alexander remarked to Harper, who looked confused. Bridey’s jaw dropped. Pettigrew? Dietrichs Pettigrew? What the hell was going on? "What do you know about horses, Major?"

"He’s very good with them, and one of the best riders I’ve ever seen," Bridey cut in, determined to find out what was going on, or at least to regain marginal control of the conversation. "Major Dietrich, can you help with the horse, please?" Her courtesy wasn’t lost on Harper, who frowned. She gave him a sugary smile, which didn’t reach her eyes.

Dietrich nodded, and looped the mare’s lead around an iron ring on the outside wall of the barn. He went to the trailer.

"Where did you get him?" Alexander asked, his gaze on the German.

"‘Get him’?" she repeated. "I didn’t ‘get him’ anywhere. He’s on work-release here. I hold his parole." She wasn’t sure she liked the Englishman. There were too many secrets behind that thin face with its dark eyes and arching eyebrows. Besides, he knew more about Dietrich than she did, and had the mysterious Pettigrew in tow.

"Aren’t you worried he’ll try to run away?" Sheila asked.

"Where would he go?" Bridey asked. "It’s a long swim home."

"He’s just another prisoner," Reynolds said dismissively. "Probably mucking out stalls is about all he’s good for."

Bridey flushed and glared at him. "Excuse me. He’s good for a lot— "

She was cut off by Alexander’s scornful laugh. Reynolds looked taken aback. The sound had an edge of contempt to it, almost too faint to be realized. "He was one of the top commanders in the Afrika Korps. If he’s mucking out stables, he’s doing it impeccably."

"I’ve asked him to help with the stallion," Bridey cut in before Reynolds could retort, filing Alexander’s comment away for future pursuit. How does this Brit know so much about Dietrich? What is going on?

"Is that the horse?" Reynolds gasped, his gaze on the horse now being led down the ramp. Dietrich, standing at the foot of the ramp, was staring at it with a totally astonished expression on his face as the horse danced and then aimed a kick at Tully, who dodged it a familiarity that came with time.

"I know this horse," Dietrich said in surprise. He said something in German, and the horse turned toward him, nickering and butting his head against Dietrich’s shoulder.

"I’d say he knows you, too," Bridey called, grinning at the horse’s reaction.

"I don’t want that German anywhere near the horse," Harper put in.

Bridey stared at him in surprise. She thought this was a dead issue. "Captain, we’ve been through this before. I don’t have time to rehash this again."

"Yes, Miss Cullen, we have. And my objections remain the same."

"Well, that’s just tough," Bridey said.

"Captain, if Major Dietrich says he’ll cooperate, he’ll cooperate," Alexander said. "His word is good."

Harper frowned at him. "You’re certain of this, Colonel?"

"You can ask Pettigrew once I finish with him," Alexander said, a slightly acid tone to his words. "He and his friends tangled with the good Major back in North Africa when he was just a Captain." Harper flinched. "Jaeger is a connection to home. Tenuous, but one nonetheless. I would trust him with the horse."

Harper looked doubtful and suspicious, but made no reply.

Followed by Tully, Dietrich led the horse in a semicircle, ending in front of the group. The stallion snorted and tossed his head. Bridey noticed Sergeant Pettigrew looked grimly dour while Dietrich looked almost dazed. It was hard to read behind that control, but there was more to this situation than appeared on the surface.

In fact, it reminded her of a bog which she was sinking into deeper and deeper. Bridey hated not understanding everything that was going on. She didn’t want to be left out.

Taking a deep breath, she turned to Alexander. "Well, thank you for the delivery, Colonel. I suppose I have to sign for him or something?"

Alexander looked surprised. "Sign for him?"

"Um, Miss Cullen, we need to talk," Harper said with a trace of urgency, ignoring Alexander’s expression.

"He’s so beautiful," Reynolds said his gaze still on the horse. "He’s magnificent!"

Bridey saw the stallion gather himself and she knew he was about to rear. "Dietrich — watch out!" she called.

The horse reared and Tully stumbled back, the hooves dangerously close to his face. Dietrich, holding the lead, addressed the horse sharply, and he quieted instantly, resting his chin on the German’s shoulder.

Bridey caught her breath in amazement. Whatever the Blessed Mother was up to in sending all these people here on the same day, she’d made up for it with the horse. Bridey had to get breeding rights. She’d trade ration coupons for this horse.

A chill suddenly went down her back as she watched the horse and man. She had seen this before. Somewhere, she had seen this horse.... "Who is he, Major?" she asked softly.

Dietrich turned to her. "His name is Jaeger. He is one of the horses from the German dressage team that competed in the last Olympics."

"I must have him," Reynolds said in an undertone. "For my next picture."

Bridey glanced at him and realized he didn’t know he had spoken aloud. "I don’t believe that’s possible, Mr. Reynolds."

He turned the full force of his smile on her, and she almost shrank back. It was blinding. "He is so much better suited than Diamond Peach for me, Bridey. I can call you Bridey, can’t I?"

"No, you can’t," Mike grumbled, but Reynolds ignored him.

"I’m afraid that’s impossible," Alexander cut in before she could retort. "I have to speak privately with you, Miss Cullen."

Reynolds eyed Alexander, assessing him, and the colonel met him stare for stare. Bridey wondered who would win. The standoff was broken when Dietrich turned to walk the stallion away, stroking his neck and murmuring in German.

"Put Peach in Mr. Reynolds’ trailer, please, Major. Let Tully put Jaeger in his stall," Bridey said perversely. If Reynolds didn’t appreciate Dietrich’s presence, she’d just have to make sure he was around enough to annoy the twit.

"I’ll be back," Reynolds said to Bridey. "He is a magnificent animal."

Bridey realized that Reynolds thought she owned the stallion. From the corner of her eye, she saw Alexander cough into his hand, hiding his expression of amusement. Harper looked worried.

"I will certainly look forward to it," she said automatically, being polite. She knew only those who knew her well would catch the underlying sarcasm in her tone. Reynolds and Sheila certainly didn’t appear to pick up on it. A casual glance showed her Alexander had. Unusual. She acknowledged it with a raised eyebrow, then looked back at the horse.

Reynolds realized he had lost her attention, and gracefully retreated to his car. Sheila eyed Alexander with interest, then blew a kiss to Harper, whose ears went red, before she got into the car. Leaving his groom to help Dietrich load Peach, Reynolds drove away.

Bridey saw several duffel bags in the back of the car. "Planning on a visit?" she asked Alexander pointedly.

Harper looked uncomfortable. "Can we go inside, Miss Cullen?"

She waved in the direction of the house, then rolled her eyes and led the way when she realized that both men believed in a lady going first.

Mike Cullen had preceded them and was waiting in the living room. He looked intrigued by the parade but said nothing as he leaned on the mantelpiece, a half-filled glass in his hand.

"Would you like a drink?" she asked politely.

"Not at the moment," Alexander said in like tone.

"Please sit down," she ordered, following suit, wondering how long she could keep the charade going.

Alexander sank into one of the leather chairs with a sigh of unconscious relief. He had taken off his cap when he entered, and she saw a thin line of red across one temple, disappearing into his short-cropped hair. It looked like a recent wound. She wondered if it still hurt.

Harper perched on the edge of the sofa. "Miss Cullen, there’s been a change of plans."

"A change?" she asked pointedly. "What kind of change?"

"I’m afraid that Colonel Alexander will be staying here with Jaeger," Harper said baldly.

Bridey glanced at Alexander, who had a hint of a smile on his lips. "This isn’t a boarding house, Captain," she snapped.

"We know that, but the orders come from the highest level," Harper stated flatly. "The Army realizes this is an imposition and we’re willing to make recompense for the Colonel and Sergeant Pettigrew to stay— ."

"Two of them?" she said in annoyed disbelief. "What am I supposed to do with two of them?"

"Oh, that’s simple," Alexander purred. "Tully was brought up on a farm. He can help out around here."

She suspected there was more to that statement but didn’t pursue it. Damn this man! Was he always going to say things that had more than one meaning? "And what about you, Colonel? What am I going to do with you?"

Alexander smiled. "I suspect that I will be in and out, Miss Cullen, and I trust that won’t be an inconvenience. It is necessary for me to stay close to Jaeger at the moment, so I am afraid that I have to stay."

"We have ration books for both the Colonel and his aide," Harper said hurriedly, pulling the books out of his jacket. "And coupons for gasoline, clothing...everything we could think of."

She glared at him, then looked at Alexander. With a shock she realized the man was eyeing her clinically. The stare softened a fraction of a second after she met his eyes. This man wasn’t about to be diverted from his job.

Bridey’s back went up. "I suppose I can find a use for you, too, Colonel," she said, giving in grudgingly.

"Thank you," he murmured. "I believe I can be useful even if only to muck out stables."

Bridey’s eyes gleamed. "You may be doing just that. Can you ride?" she asked cuttingly.

He smiled ruefully, and despite her anger, Bridey warmed to it. He had an attractive smile. "A little. I got thrown the last time I fox-hunted."

She chuckled. "You probably deserved it, Colonel!"

"Undoubtedly," he agreed. "And the fox got away as well. Captain Harper, Sergeant Pettigrew will drive you back to Fort Monmouth with the horse trailer, if you like."

"Yes, sir," Harper said automatically, then realized he’d been dismissed. "Here are the ration books, Miss Cullen."

Bridey rose and accepted the items, grabbing at the shreds of her self-control. Honestly, this Alexander was an arrogant man! She wasn’t sure she was going to like him. But she wanted to know more about Dietrich, so she’d put up with this— as if she had a choice. "My father will take you to your room, Colonel. Maybe the...ah, blue room?" she asked Mike, who had been watching with thinly-disguised amusement on his face.

The ex-jockey nodded. "Come with me, Colonel," he said suavely and led the way, humming a tune that Bridey hoped Alexander didn’t recognize.

Oh, Pop, we have to talk, she thought as she watched the two walk away.

She escorted Captain Harper out to the car. Sergeant Pettigrew came out of the stable and looked around with a faintly puzzled expression. Dietrich followed him.

"The colonel…. " Tully started.

"Will be staying," Harper said harshly. "You will drive me back to the Fort then return here to be his driver, understood?"

Tully stiffened and saluted. "Yes, sir."

Harper stared suspiciously at Dietrich, then looked at Bridey. "I hope you know what you’re doing, Miss Cullen."

She wanted to say, I always know what Im doing, but didn’t. "I guess we’re all just following orders," she said calmly.

He shot the house a look of dislike. "I guess so. Please believe me, I was not aware that the Colonel was coming, or I would have warned you."

From the corner of her eye she saw Pettigrew give a small grin, which vanished in a fraction of a second. "I suspect that he moves pretty quickly, Captain Harper. All that time in battle." There again, that flicker of smile. Bridey’s curiosity went up a notch. She’d have to pump the sergeant for information on Alexander as well as Dietrich. For the first time she saw Alexander as a challenge, not an inconvenience. This just might be fun. And what was the mysterious connection between Pettigrew and Dietrich and Kentucky?

She stepped back. "Good afternoon, Captain."

"Miss Cullen." He got into the car; Tully got into the driver’s seat.

She retreated to the front stairs where she was joined by Dietrich after the car and trailer rumbled out of the yard down the muddy road to the front gate of the farm.

"So what do you think of this?" she asked curiously.

Dietrich smiled. "I think it’s very interesting, Fraulein."

"You’re a master of understatement. Where did you meet the Colonel?" Bridey asked.

"In Norway," he replied.

Bridey’s eyebrows went up in surprise. "Norway, huh? You got around a lot, didn’t you?"

Dietrich gave her an enigmatic smile, but made no response beyond saying, "He was very ill with pneumonia but he has since recovered."

"Ah," she said, finally understanding the greeting. "You were doing what there...?" she prompted.

Dietrich shook his head. "Ask Colonel Alexander, Fraulein. I must return to Jaeger."

"He’s a wonderful horse," she said sincerely. "And I was afraid he was going to be cow-hocked!"

"We will be breeding him, then?" Dietrich asked.

She smiled. "‘Tis a possibility. But I’ll have to ask the colonel that, won’t I? Unless Jaeger should somehow get into a paddock with a mare who’s in season...."

Dietrich smiled. "I’d suggest you talk to the colonel about your plans. He is a very reasonable man."

She wanted to know more but the sound of approaching footsteps cut off her curiosity. She turned to see Mike coming down from the porch. "Hi, Pop."

"He’s all settled in. Let’s take a good look at that stud."

Bridey smiled. They walked side by side into the barn, Dietrich following behind.

The stallion pulled down a mouthful of hay and ignored them as they watched him. The stall almost seemed too small for him.

"Holy-" Bridey said reverently. "My dear good God."

"And then some," Mike agreed. He chuckled and placed an arm around his daughter’s shoulders.

"Oh, Pop, just look at him!"

Mike squeezed her shoulders. "Calm down. I know you’re dyin’ to be up on his back and take him over the jumps on the hunt course, but give him a bit o’ time to settle in first."

"You old fraud," Bridey said affectionately. "Is that brogue for Alexander’s benefit?"

Mike grinned. "And what do you think?" he asked. Much of the brogue had disappeared, replaced by a lilt that was barely there.

"I’m thinkin’ you’d best not be singin’ any o’ the Rebellion songs around the good Colonel, unless you want to be sleepin’ in the barn," Bridey said in a brogue even thicker than her father’s. "I heard the tune you were humming as you took him to his room."

"But darlin’, A Nation Once Again is such a lovely piece."

"Save it." Bridey grinned. "And riding that big beast isn’t all I have in mind for him — not with a dozen mares coming into their foal heats in the next couple of weeks. Can you say ‘outcross stallion’?"

Mike grinned broadly. "Darlin’, someone raised you right."

"Will you just look at this guy?" Bridey said to Dietrich. "Is he a beauty or what?"

"Ja," Dietrich answered peaceably. "Leave him in peace, Fraulein. He had a long trip here."

She nodded agreement. "I’d better go warn Siobhan. I don’t think she planned on having two guests in the house."

"When will Sergeant Pettigrew be returning?" Dietrich asked curiously.

"Dunno. I’d better tell her to plan on two more for dinner, though."

"Fraulein, with your permission, I will stay here throughout the evening and sleep here tonight. I would feel more comfortable than leaving the horse alone this first night."

Bridey had hoped he’d join them for dinner as he did every night, but she nodded. "If you want. I’ll have Siobhan make you up a plate so you don’t miss dinner. She’s making that pot roast you like so much."

He inclined his head toward her and gave her a warm smile. "I appreciate your kindness."

At that Bridey looked at him quizzically, but his expression gave no clue to that he might have been thinking. Somehow she felt that his statement covered more than his appreciation for dinner, though. "You’re welcome. Come on, Pop. Siobhan will have our heads if we’re late for dinner."

Bridey and Mike headed for the house, leaving Dietrich to water the new horse and make sure he was settled for the night.

** *** **

Tully Pettigrew drove slowly up the long path. His headlights cut through the evening mist as it rose off the warm ground into the cooler air. He shivered slightly, feeling the chill settle into his bones. Compared with Germany this was warm; still, he wished he was wearing his heavier coat. It was with the duffels in the house.

He parked to one side of the barn closest to the farmhouse and headed toward the house, which was glowing with light. No blackout requirements any more this far inland. There was a lit window up above where Tully assumed Alexander was staying.

Going in the front door, he found himself in the open hallway with the front parlor on one side and a huge room with a piano on the other side. He heard the cook rattling dishes and saw the table set for five in the dining room beyond the parlor.

Heading upstairs, he stopped in front of the room with the light coming out from under the door. He rapped on it.

"Yes?" Bridey answered.

Tully stepped away hastily. "Sorry, ma’am, I was looking for the colonel," he called.

She opened the door, her tousled hair falling in her eyes. "He’s in the room at the end of the hall, on this side. You have the one across from him, Sergeant...Pettigrew?"

"Yes, ma’am," Tully said respectfully.

She frowned. "Please don’t call me ‘ma’am’. I’m just Bridey. My father is Mike." She held out her hand. "We aren’t big on formalities here."

He shook it. "Sergeant Tully Pettigrew, ma— ah, miss. The room at the end?"

"Yes, the far end. I haven’t seen him since he came up."

Tully felt the muscles tense at the back of his neck. Alexander should have been down by now. He was a stickler on good manners in formal situations. "I’ll check on him, Miss Cullen."

"Please. Dinner’s in ten minutes, and Siobhan gets upset if we’re late," Bridey replied. She retreated into her room, shutting the door.

Tully knocked on the door to Alexander’s room. After four seconds, he turned the knob and went inside. "Colonel?"

The only light came from a full moon outside. Alexander lay on the bed, a hand across his eyes. Even in the faint light, he looked faded and tired, and that worried Tully. "What is it?"

"Just reporting, sir. I drove Captain Harper back to Fort Monmouth."

"Did he try and pump you, Tully?"

"Yes, sir."

Alexander smiled, his eyes still hidden. "What did you tell him?"

"Nothing, sir. It wasn’t any of his business. He wanted to know about Dietrich as well."

Alexander nodded, and sat up. The scar was red on his forehead where his hair was brushed back. "Speaking of Major Dietrich, I want to talk about him. Did you know he was here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, why the devil did you suggest it then?"

Tully hesitated. "The devil you know, sir? Dietrich’s an honest man and pretty trustworthy. If he gives his word, he’ll keep it. Cost him a lot back in the desert, too. There were times he’d’ve dearly loved to shoot us all...and didn’t. Anyway, rather than just sending the horse to someone we didn’t know, I thought this might work." He hoped Alexander was going to be satisfied with that. Until he got a chance to talk to Dietrich, Tully didn’t want to tell anyone about what happened in Kentucky

It was difficult to hide anything from Alexander, and from his expression, he knew Tully was holding back. Luckily, he decided not to pursue it right now.

"Very well, Tully. Did you get a refill of the petrol?"

"Yes, sir. The car’s fully gassed up." Tully shut the door behind him, and leaned on the wood. "What are you going to tell the Cullens?"

"‘Tell the Cullens?’ Why should I tell them anything?" Alexander asked arrogantly. He stood up, swayed, then took a deep breath. He fastened the top button of his shirt, and picked up the tie.

"You’re not going to tell them about seeing the head doctor, sir?" Tully said persistently. "They might want to know— ."

"It’s not part of their job," Alexander said, cutting him off. "All they need to know is that I’m here for a week, until Jaeger settles in and all the red tape is untangled, then I’ll be leaving. You’ll be able to go down to Kentucky at that point as well. I won’t need your help."

"What if you get sick, sir?" Tully asked pointedly. "Before the end of the week. Like right now...sir."

Alexander shot him a quelling look. "I’m fine, Tully. Let’s not scare our hosts." He picked up his battledress jacket, and slid it on over the shirt, then brushed back his hair with a comb. He touched the scar gingerly and winced.


"No ‘buts!’" Alexander snapped suddenly. Tully didn’t flinch. Alexander took a deep breath, and let it out with a sigh. "I apologize. You have a valid point but I don’t want to discuss this, Tully. You are not to tell the Cullens anything about my head injury or the upcoming examinations. That is a direct order."

Tully automatically stiffened to attention. "Yes, sir!"

"Then, I suggest you get cleaned up. We are having dinner with our hostess."

"Yes, sir. In about five minutes." Tully went into the next room, and cleaned his hands and face. He brushed back his hair. In the mirror he saw the worry in his eyes over the colonel, but he had his orders. Stupid orders. Stupid officer. He straightened his jacket and went downstairs.

Bridey and Mike were talking with a short woman with dark hair shot through with streaks of silver as they awaited their guests. Bridey wore an emerald green blouse over a slim black skirt that ended just below her knee, and a touch of lipstick, probably in their honor. Mike had compromised by putting on shoes rather than his boots, and a clean shirt.

"Sergeant?" Bridey said holding out her hand in welcome. She wondered why he looked slightly worried. "This is Siobhan. She runs the house, so if you have any problems here, please bring it up to her."

"Yes, ma— um," Tully stuttered, and stopped. He looked relieved to hear Alexander’s footsteps behind him.

The officer looked as neat as he had earlier, even though he had changed from his formal uniform. Bridey thought he was a tall man, even taller than he had looked outside; she estimated he was an inch or two taller than Dietrich. "Colonel," Bridey acknowledged him with a cooler smile.

"Miss Cullen," Alexander replied and nodded to Mike, who returned it. "Thank you for the invitation."

She smiled and pulled back her chair, to find it taken out of her hands by Alexander, who held it formally for her. Bridey knew this was going to become obsessively polite in a second, and she didn’t want that at her table. "Please, sit down anywhere, gentlemen. Pop...."

Siobhan took one look at the officer and disappeared back into the kitchen, muttering under her breath. Tully hoped that she hadn’t taken a dislike to Alexander, or to him. He never wanted to be on the bad side of the cook.

Bridey sat down, and Alexander pushed in the chair, then sat at her right hand, while Mike was opposite and Tully on the left.

Siobhan came in with a steaming plate of pot roast. Tully perked up immediately while Alexander merely looked interested.

Mike took care of serving the sliced roast and ladling out the soupy gravy. Bridey saw that despite Siobhan’s reservations she had done the farm proud by using an excess of their rationed goods plus vegetables grown the year before in their own garden to make a delicious supper.

And both her guests, despite their good manners, ate like hungry wolves.

Mike raised an eyebrow at the rapid consumption of beef. "How is it, Colonel?"

Alexander patted his lips. "Excellent, Mr. Cullen. Superb."

"It’s the best I’ve had in..." Tully was groping to remember when he’d last eaten something like this. Finally, he said, "Months."

"Better than your K-rations," Alexander joked.

"How is it over there?" Bridey asked seriously, spearing a piece of boiled potato. "Back here, we’ve had rationing, which is a pain in the rear…. How is it over there?"

Alexander paused, his eyes far away. "It...was, is, cold. Snowy. Lonely. Everywhere you go there are refugees, soldiers, lost, displaced people — "

"Or nothing at all," Tully said unexpectedly. "Miles and miles of nothing alongside the roads except — "

"Some of the roads are mined, and they’ve been abandoned," Alexander overrode him. "It’s the people that I remember. All those displaced people starving in the snow." He looked down at his plate. "Some of them were our soldiers, who had been prisoners, and left behind by their captors."

That cast a pall over the dinner table. Bridey chewed on her lower lip. Pete Riley, one of their exercise riders, had been a POW in Germany since mid-1944. Bridey looked up and met Mike’s eyes, and realized he was thinking the same thing. She wondered who would have the nerve to ask for a second helping after that.

Finally, Mike asked, "Do you ride, Colonel?"

Alexander looked up eagerly. He obviously regretted bringing reality into the warm, candle-lit room. "I used to, Mr. Cullen. I hunted back in England before the war."

"We haven’t had any hunting around here for years, although there are several formal organized hunts in the western area of the state," Bridey observed. "The farmers here don’t want their fields cut up by dozens of horses galloping through them. Too bad; we could do with scaring the foxes away from the chicken coop."

"You have foxes here?" Tully asked doubtfully.

Bridey wasn’t sure if there were any now, but she remembered seeing them not so many years earlier. "Either that or someone out there has a taste for feathers."

"I mostly gave up riding when I got thrown in Baron Albert’s hunt," Alexander added. "Nearly broke my collarbone."

"Baron…before the war?" Bridey asked doubtfully.

He smiled. Again, she reluctantly admitted he did have an attractive smile. "Several years before, Miss Cullen. I ended up in bed for a day and a half."

"Alone?" Mike asked unexpectedly.

Bridey had just taken a sip of water, and sputtered in shock. What was Pop up to? On the other side of the table, Tully looked just as shocked.

Alexander stared Mike straight in the eye. "Reluctantly, yes. I wasn’t in the mood to be blackmailed in the future by taking up any offers that came my way."

Mike smiled broadly. "I’m sure you were the soul of discretion, Colonel."

"Actually, I was a traveling salesman at that time," Alexander said. "Manufacturing plants. I was filling out the table at the Baron’s party."

"Munitions?" Bridey asked.

He shook his head, and almost imperceptibly winced. Her keen eyes picked up the flicker of pain, and she wondered what had caused it. "Cameras, Miss Cullen, and films. They had automated their factories brilliantly. The quality was far beyond what we had in Britain."

"So you haven’t been on a horse for what… ten years?" Cullen persisted. "Think you’d like to start riding again?"

Alexander put down his fork. He looked paler than when he had first come down. "I would enjoy that very much. I’m afraid that I’m a little more tired than I expected, Miss Cullen. I’ll have to excuse myself."

Before she could respond, he pushed back the chair and left the room. The stunned trio left behind heard him climbing the stairs and then the creaking of the wooden floorboards as he went to his room.

Finally, Bridey looked at Tully. "I hope it wasn’t the pot roast."

Tully felt uncomfortable. "No, miss. It wasn’t the food."

"Then what was that all about?"

Tully shrugged. "It was a long trip, Miss Cullen, and we ran into the usual Army red tape over here when we got in. It’s been a long ride —."

"That’s not much of an explanation!" she exploded. "It certainly doesn’t explain why a man in that physical condition looks sick after eating my food!"

"It’s great stew," Tully said woodenly.

"Don’t let Siobhan hear you call it stew," Mike intervened. "That’s pot roast, and she worked very hard to make it."

"Tomorrow we’ll add flour to thicken the gravy, and call it stew — if there’s any left," Bridey murmured. "You’re staying for dessert, right?"

"Yes, ma’am," Tully said with a touch of enthusiasm.

"Apple pie," Mike commented with the same tone. "Homemade."

"If the Colonel is lucky, we’ll save him a piece," Bridey said. "How long have you known him?"

Tully swallowed the piece of potato in his mouth. "Hmm… about two years, on and off."

"So you know him well?" she probed.

Tully shook his head. She had him on the grill now. He should have kept his mouth shut. "No, ma’am…uh, miss. Just a bit."

"Bridey," she reminded him. "But you’re both here now. Do you know why the horse was sent here, Sergeant?"

He flashed an unexpected grin. "Yes, that I know. I suggested it."

Bridey blinked in surprise, and looked at her father, who raised an eyebrow inquiringly. "Why us?" she finally asked. "And how did you even know about us?"

Tully leaned back in his chair, looking sated. "I knew Major Dietrich was here," he said unexpectedly.

That rocked the Cullens, who again exchanged a glance. "You know him personally?" Bridey asked suspiciously.

"Known him longer than I know the colonel," Tully confessed. "Back in North Africa, we used to play cat-and-mouse with him in the desert. I was a driver for one of the long-range patrols."

She was instantly intrigued. "You knew him before he was a prisoner? Back in the war?"

"Oh, yeah. He was on top then, always cutting up the lines, and making trouble," Tully said casually. "We nearly got caught a bunch of times, but the Sarge always bailed us out."

"The Sarge?" Mike asked. He mopped up the gravy on his plate with a piece of bread and popped it into his mouth.

"Sergeant Troy. He and Sergeant Moffitt, a British officer who was in my jeep, and Hitchcock, we all rode together." Tully had a slightly reminiscent smile on his face.

"Are they…still alive?" Bridey questioned with a touch of delicacy.

Tully blinked in surprise. "Alive? I hope so! We only left them about a month ago back in Strasb— ah, Germany." He caught himself self-consciously.

"Strasbourg, huh?" Bridey pounced. "Were they involved in getting Jaeger free?"

He looked uncomfortable. "Ask the colonel, ma’am!"

She looked disgusted. "Sergeant —."

"Bridey," her father cut in, "let it go now, darlin’."

She frowned, then realized that Tully was very uncomfortable. "Right. All right. I’ll go help Siobhan for a minute." Leaving the table before they could rise, she stalked into the kitchen.

Siobhan stared at her inquisitively. The four dessert plates were set to one side, with the forks, and the pie crust glistened with baked egg white. It smelled delicious.

"Ready for pie, then?" Siobhan asked.

Bridey closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then opened them again. "We’re ready. There’re only three of us, Siobhan. Don’t forget to cut a piece for the Major, too."

"I already took him out his dinner," Siobhan said, then Bridey’s statement registered. "Three?"

"The colonel has gone upstairs."

Siobhan frowned. "Not very hospitable of him."

"He said he was too tired," Bridey said acidly. She added, "I’m sure Sergeant Tully will eat his slice."

Siobhan shook her head, and took the pie knife out of Bridey’s hand. "We can save the rest for tomorrow."

"Think he’ll want it then?" Bridey asked archly. "Oh, never mind. He’s just getting on my nerves. That stupid accent, uniform —."

"He’s really gotten under your skin, hasn’t he?" Siobhan commented. "Do you like him?"

"Like him?" Bridey flushed. "I don’t know if I like him or not yet. He’s old enough to be my father —."

Siobhan gave a ripe chuckle. She began cutting. "Not quite, Bridey. Not quite."

She cast Siobhan an exasperated look. "Close enough that it doesn’t matter. Look at him—he can’t be that much younger than you and Pop. And don’t try to matchmake, my darling cousin. I already have half the town thinking I’m in bed with Dietrich. I don’t need the other half thinking I’m taking up with an Englishman! To the Irish half of the town, Dietrich would be the lesser of two evils."

"I’ve heard those rumors when Mike takes me to Freehold," Siobhan said bluntly. "You should go more yourself. People talk too much."

"I’m too busy," Bridey scoffed. "I have a farm to run, remember? All those horses?"

"Go in with me and get the groceries," Siobhan urged with a touch of seriousness. "We’re going to need more with all these people. Let the people in town see you again. Between finishing school and working with the horses, they haven’t seen you in months."

"And they haven’t missed me, either."

"They’ve missed you enough to talk."

"Those busybodies say more than their prayers. If they’re so worried about me, let them come out here and help with some of the work!" Bridey shot back. "I don’t give a damn what the people in town think." She took the knife from Siobhan, carefully levered the pieces of pie out of the dish and onto four plates, setting one to the side for Dietrich. "I’ll take these in now."

"I’ll put away this half," Siobhan said. "For tomorrow."

Bridey balanced the three plates and forks as she walked back into the dining room. Mike and Tully were laughing about something, the bowl of pot roast now empty. Both of them must have had second helpings. So much for leftovers.

They rose when she entered, and she put a piece of pie in front of Tully, then on Mike’s place mat. She sat down with the third piece. "We’ve saved the rest for tomorrow."

Tully smiled. "Thank you, Miss Cullen!"

** *** **

The night air was freezing, but the moon was almost full, and Tully could easily see the main barn. Entering the barn, Tully felt the warmth that came of horses. It was a cozy atmosphere.

He glanced at the heads that poked over the stall doors to watch him as he walked through the building. The horses were a mixed lot. Chestnut, bay, black, gray, some with stars or blazes and some without. But they all had a sameness, a certain refinement and delicacy that came of high breeding. These were no common farm horses.

Tully paused when he reached Jaeger’s stall. He had guessed right. Dietrich was in there.

Dietrich turned, a curry comb in one hand. His eyes took in the neat uniform, including the tie and slicked-back hair, and he almost looked as if he wanted to chuckle.

Tully did laugh, and undid the tie. "It’s too tight anyway, Major."

"I am not used to seeing you in a formal uniform," Dietrich confessed.

"Rather not be but the colonel wanted us to put on the dog tonight."

"Is he that formal?" Dietrich asked, intrigued. "I admit that this is the first time I’ve seen him in a proper uniform."

"That’s right, you only saw him in Norway, didn’t you? The other time, when you got caught, he was around the neighborhood but you didn’t meet," Tully commented, leaning on the closed lower door to the stall. "He got you transferred out of France as soon as he could."

Jaeger snorted, and Dietrich patted his neck. "I had no idea that the Colonel was even in the area. How did he know— ."

Tully chuckled. "We were scouting around, and you being there nearly ruined the plan. The colonel told the locals to make sure that the Army knew to ship you out fast if you were taken alive."

Dietrich shrugged. "He must have kept a very low profile, Sergeant."

"We all did. Troy got thrown into the Seine. But that’s not what I came here for," Tully said. He plucked a long stalk from Jaeger’s hay bundle and began to chew on it.

Dietrich tensed. Jaeger moved restlessly. He could sense the tension. "What are you here for, Priva— Sergeant?"

"Want to tell me what happened?"

"Exactly what she says," Dietrich replied. "What has she said, Sergeant?"

"That you were there when Davey was killed, and that she got arrested for it." Tully eyed him judiciously. "Haven’t heard anything since."

"You did not hear that she has been released? The police called it self-defense," Dietrich replied.

"Nope, though I can believe it. She said it was that old shotgun."

"It was an old shotgun," Dietrich agreed. He didn’t meet Tully’s eyes. "One shot."

"That gun’s too heavy for Laura," Tully said quietly. "She couldn’t pull it."

Dietrich didn’t flinch. He rested his hands on Jaeger’s withers, and the stallion calmed at his touch. "Believe what you like, Sergeant."

"I do," Tully replied. "I’d like to thank you, Major, for everything you did for her. I know it wasn’t easy down there, and Davey..." He held out his hand. "I owe you."

Dietrich looked at the outstretched hand, then up to Tully’s gaze. "You are very forgiving, Sergeant."

Tully shrugged. "Davey was a clod. Only thing he did right was give us Mack."

Dietrich nodded, shaking Tully’s hand. "Your nephew is very intelligent, Sergeant."

"Yeah. Must come from Laura’s side of the family," Tully said whimsically. "I’d better get inside. Think we’re headed to New York tomorrow."

"Have a good night." Dietrich turned back to the stallion.

Tully walked back to the house, whistling under his breath. So, his sister-in-law was now free, and single again. The trip home was looking brighter by the moment. He bounded up the stairs and let himself in the front, first being careful to scrape off the mud on the iron boot scraper by the door.

The only light downstairs came from the kitchen where the door was slightly ajar, and the embers in the fireplace. Tully remembered that he should make sure the wood was ready for a morning fire in the fireplace in his bedroom. He wondered if Alexander had laid his. Probably not. The colonel wasn’t quite as together as he liked to show. In fact, Tully thought he should check on him before turning in.

Drawn by the light, he went over to the kitchen and looked inside.

It was empty except for the dishes soaking in the sink. The remainder of the pie sat to one side, and Tully’s mouth watered. He walked over, and eyed it covetously. The smell was almost irresistible.

Siobhan came in with a handful of cutlery, and a towel over one shoulder. Tully started back guiltily.

"And would you be wanting a piece?" she asked pointedly.

"Um. Well…. " Tully glanced at the pie, then back. "No, ma’am. Just scouting around."

She snorted. "Around the pie, eh? Haven’t had anything like that for a while?"

"I’ve never tasted anything that good," he said fervently. "There’s nothing like that overseas."

Her expression softened. "Then you just sit down and I’ll make some coffee, and we’ll finish it off."

He smiled. "I’d love to, ma’am. Especially some coffee." He pulled back the chair and sat down, as she bustled around the kitchen, making the coffee and getting out two plates.

It was five minutes before they were both settled comfortably at the table. The pie was cut into four slices, and she served him the largest. "You’re too thin," she remarked when he tried to protest.

"I won’t be for long," he said with feeling. The pie melted in his mouth. "Not with food like this."

Siobhan smiled broadly at that. "They don’t feed you boys?"

He nodded. "Yes, but nothing like this. Mostly stuff out of cans, and I never want to see Spam again. Fresh stuff...well, we were always outrunning the supply trucks, and that meant eating what we carried."

"Outrunning the suppliers? Sounds like you were out and about a lot," Siobhan commented. She didn’t take a slice of pie, but did sip the hot coffee.

He nodded. It was very comfortable in the kitchen, and Tully found his tongue loosening. "We were. The last time I had pie was...months ago. My sister, Laura, makes wonderful pies back in Kentucky. This is almost as good as hers...oh, sorry." He apologized belatedly.

She began to laugh. His tone was so apologetic. "Maybe we should compare recipes? Your sister — ."

"Actually, sister-in-law," he said. "I’ve always thought of her as a sister. She’s running the farm back in the mountains, and having a time of it."

"War problems?"

"Yeah, and family. I wonder if I can find her a job somewhere...else." He stopped and frowned. The tines of the fork rattled on the now empty plate. "Depends on where I’ll be going after my leave, of course. I might end up back in Germany, and I can’t help her from there."

"So she should stay on the farm till you come back for her?" Siobhan asked pointedly.

"Her son Mack’ll probably be leaving soon for college unless he’s drafted first." Tully shook his head. "Don’t know what she’ll do then."

"You’re going to go see her?" Siobhan asked.

He smiled, and ran his finger around the plate, licking up the last of the juices. "As soon as the Colonel’s taken care of, ma’am."

"‘Taken care of?" Siobhan repeated. She picked up his plate and took it to the counter. "Sounds like you’re going to finish him off. He’s not a healthy man, is he?"

Tully looked guilty. Again, he’d let something slip. "Pretty healthy, ma’am. I’d better check on him — ."

"Is he a babe that you’d be checking on him all the time?" Siobhan demanded.

Tully shook his head. " don’t understand. He’s my responsibility — ."

"I thought the horse was," she interrupted.

"And he’s a friend," Tully finished, his tone serious. "He’s also a good man."

Siobhan gave a tiny shrug. "He doesn’t like pot roast?"

Uh-oh. The colonel made an error leaving dinner like that. "Actually, he loves it. Tonight’s just not a good night." Tully pushed back his chair. "Thank you for the pie, ma’am."

She smiled at him. "Come back anytime, and tell me more about your Laura. I’ll be here."

Tully felt his ears burn as he climbed the stairs to the second floor. His Laura? Maybe she might be...if he courted her the right way.

Knocking softly on Alexander’s door, he waited a few seconds, then went inside.

The room was lit by the moon. Alexander had at least undressed before crawling under the quilt, but he looked as if he was cold, from the way he had his arms wrapped around his body. He was frowning. Must still have a headache, Tully surmised.

Glancing at the fireplace, he saw the kindling and paper hadn’t been laid. Alexander was going to be very cold when he woke up and had to set up his own fire. Tully quickly wadded up the paper, and put the thin wood. Now, all the Colonel had to do was light it. That he could probably handle.

Letting himself out, he wondered what was going to happen when Alexander went into the hospital. He’d better start planning ahead.

** *** **

Bridey yawned and stumbled down the cobblestones in the faint light of morning. The weather had turned nice for mid-March and she only wore a thick pre-War cable-knit Aran sweater over her light cotton blouse and worn jeans. Through the thin soles of her oldest boots, she could feel the lumpy stone. It would be nice to get back to getting shoes without ration coupons. She needed a new pair of custom riding boots, as well as barn boots. These old riding boots had almost had it.

She heard voices coming from the main barn and headed over there. She saw no one except Jaeger, who put his head over the door and snorted, then went back to his breakfast. The Diamond Shamrock geldings never bothered to look up from their breakfasts. "You sure know your priorities, boys," she said as she walked through the barn.

The voices were coming from outside the other end of the barn, where the farm truck and various other machinery were kept. It sounded like Dietrich and a stranger. Their words were punctuated by the clink of metal on metal.

Walking into the dawn light she found Tully standing on the bumper of the truck, its hood up, talking with Dietrich, who leaned on the fender, watching with interest. Two mugs of coffee steamed in the chilly air.

"It’s fixable," Tully grunted finally. "How did it ever get in this much of a mess, Major?"

"I only arrived two months ago so I don’t know," Dietrich replied. "This and Fraulein Cullen’s car both need fixing. That much I could tell."

"Well it’s better than feeding the chickens," Tully commented. "We always had chickens back at the farm."

"You still do," Dietrich said in amusement. "They are quite well taken care of as well. Mack tends their needs."

Tully laughed. "Right. You’ve been there more recently than I have!"

Bridey wondered who exactly Tully Pettigrew was and how Dietrich knew him, other than the North African desert. There was obviously a history between them. Yet another one of those mysteries that came in tow with that wretched Colonel, she thought. Well, she’d get to the bottom of all of them eventually. "Major, did you feed our chickens?" she asked from behind them.

Tully jumped and the coffee cup wobbled dangerously on the radiator. He jumped down and grabbed the cup. "Good morning, Miss Cullen."

Shed never break him of that, she decided in exasperation. "Bridey," she corrected automatically.

"Yes, Fraulein, I fed the chickens," Dietrich said solemnly. "I put Diamond Star in the field as well."

She swiveled and looked around. "Which field?"

He pointed to the field on the far side of the stallion barn. She saw the old bay stallion gallop by once, tossing his mane. "Thanks. It looks like he has a lot of energy this morning."

"More than he has had," Dietrich agreed. "The warmer weather seems to agree with him."

"Yeah, it’s easier on his old bones." She smiled. Star was the farm’s foundation stallion, and his blood ran in the veins of a lot of the farm’s horses.

Then her attention was caught by Alexander, who came out onto the porch. Instead of the uniform, he wore a light blue sweater with the sleeves rolled up, and dark pants tucked into boots. That at least looked military— the boots were shined to a high gloss. She wondered if he had done it himself. He leaned on the porch railing and looked around the courtyard and the barns, then spotted her. He smiled, and raised his hand in greeting, but went back inside instead of coming down.

Bridey frowned. That was an inhospitable move on his part. She looked at Dietrich, who didn’t react, then at Tully, who was carefully watching her out of the corner of his eye. She shook her head in annoyance and headed for the stallion barn without saying a word.

"I had better get to the stalls," Dietrich finally said. "You can fix this...Tully?"

Tully grinned. "I’m good with machines, sir."

"Danke," Dietrich replied with a slight smile. He headed for the barns, his cup of coffee in one hand.

Tully pursed his lips and gave a slight whistle. This was going to be a pleasant week. That Miss Cullen was sure a prickly piece of work. ‘Course, the colonel wasn’t quite himself: It would be interesting to see who was still standing in seven days. He turned back to the engine.

** *** **

Dietrich looked out of the stall and saw Alexander holding two steaming mugs. He was looking around as if trying to find someone. Fraulein Cullen, maybe. He had probably gone inside to get coffee for her. The German tossed the pile of manure-laden straw out the door onto the wheelbarrow and stuck the pitchfork into another heap.

"Looks familiar," Alexander commented from behind him. "I’ve dug myself out of that in the past."

Dietrich nodded. "Do you ride, Colonel?"

"I used to," Alexander replied. He took a sip from the cup. "Can I talk to you, Major?"

Under the circumstances, that was sensitive of him, Dietrich thought. He didnt have to ask permission. He turned, and leaned on the pitchfork. "I have to finish these stalls."

"I won’t keep you long. Would you like some coffee? I want to discuss Jaeger." He held out the mug in his left hand, and Dietrich took it with a half-smile of acknowledgement. He drank a mouthful, then put the cup safely out of reach.

Jaeger leaned over the lower door of the neighboring stall and whinnied. Another horse replied from another barn, then another.

Dietrich chuckled. "Not yet, Jaeger."

"Hmmm?" Alexander asked, eyeing him. "What’s up?"

"Some of the mares are in season, while others are just starting to come in. He can sense it," Dietrich explained. "I believe Fraulein Cullen plans to— ."

Alexander held up his hand. "I can guess. Very clever of her."

"It will probably help him," Dietrich said dryly. "Frustration, you know. He’s very well-behaved, but all these mares are a great temptation for him."

Alexander laughed. "I understand that as well. As I suspect you do?"

Dietrich chuckled. "I am married now, Colonel. I knew of a maison series in Bordeaux which had an excellent reputation, but that was several years ago."

"I’m not likely to get to France any time soon. There’s one in London which I could give you an address to," Alexander replied as lightly.

"I am afraid I won’t be in England any time soon," Dietrich said with a trace of regret. "London was a beautiful city."

"It still is. Did you try Bordeaux, Major?" Alexander asked archly.

Dietrich eyed him. "I heard of it through word of mouth, Colonel. Word of mouth."

"Ah. Much the same way I know about London." Alexander chuckled softly. "I suppose if we want to find the equivalent over here, we should ask Henry Reynolds."

"I’m sure he is an expert," Dietrich agreed. His gaze went out into the yard. He saw Fraulein Cullen lead one of the other horses— it looked like Diamond Diligence—out to turnout. She would be back in the barn in a little while. "Did you ride Jaeger, sir?"

"I would think that very few people can ride Jaeger," Alexander said dryly.

"How did you get him, Colonel?" Dietrich asked, picking up the pitchfork, and attacking the straw.

"Let me help you," Alexander suggested. He put down his cup and grabbed another pitchfork.

Dietrich was taken aback. He would never have imagined the elegant officer of the day before pitching dirty straw into a wheelbarrow. In fact, the vast majority of the British officers he had met— and he had certainly taken enough of them captive in Tunisia— wouldn’t have even have deigned to speak to him, since he was below the rank of major.

Then again, Alexander had been unusual from the first moment Dietrich had heard of him. Any man who spent five months in a prisoner-of-war camp under a dead man’s name, took the opportunity to escape when it was offered and went through Berlin and out of Europe through Norway at the height of its occupation, was unusually talented, and was definitely a danger to the Reich, which was why Dietrich had arrested him on that Norwegian dock. The only time they had talked was a brief half-hour in the Gestapo infirmary, but both men had come away with great respect for each other— and a wariness born of expecting the unexpected. Dietrich was a little surprised that the Colonel had been so sanguine about his presence at the farm; he suspected Tully had something to do with it.

They companionably tossed the manure and soiled straw into the wheelbarrow until it was piled high.

Finally Dietrich asked, "You are not going to tell me how you got Jaeger?"

"No," Alexander replied. "Where do we take this stuff?" He leaned the pitchfork against the wooden wall of the stall and it slipped, heading for the sloped concrete of the barn aisle. His grab missed it, and he caught himself on the stall as Dietrich caught the pitchfork.

"Are you all right, Colonel?" Dietrich asked concerned. He put out his hand to steady Alexander.

Alexander reached up to brush off the hand but found himself holding it instead. He let go. "Fine."

"I don’t believe so," Dietrich said, stepping back. "What is the problem?"

"It’s none of your business," Alexander said crisply.

"Does it have to do with your head wound?" Dietrich countered, ignoring him. "You look very pale."

"I’m always pale," Alexander retorted. "Not enough sun."

"You look like you did when we first met, and then you had pneumonia," Dietrich replied clinically. "You obviously don’t have that now. What is the problem, Colonel?"

Alexander rubbed his eyes and leaned unsteadily on the wall of the stall. There was no point lying now. "I hit my head in the escape. Dizzy spells, black spots, things like that. More infrequently now but— ."

"You hit your head?" Dietrich asked, frowning. He leaned Alexander’s pitchfork, then his, against the stall and picked up the wheelbarrow’s handles.

"I was escaping from an enraged pig and slipped," Alexander said with a touch of grim amusement. "Sergeant Hitchcock killed the pig."

"Ah, you were traveling with the Rat Patrol. That explains it," Dietrich laughed. "I was not surprised to see Sergeant Tully here."

"He was the one who suggested Diamond Shamrock Farm. He said he knew you were here."

"That seems to be true. He mentioned it, but Fraulein Cullen interrupted our conversation this morning." Dietrich straightened up. "I have to get back to work."

Alexander nodded. "We’ll finish this talk later, Major. One favor, though."

Dietrich frowned. "What?"

"I don’t want the Cullens to know about my head injury," Alexander said with quiet authority.


"I’d rather not be viewed as an invalid because I have a headache all the time. And besides," Alexander said in a lighter tone, "I want the chance to ride some of their horses, and I don’t think they’d let me if they knew."

Dietrich nodded in understanding. "Probably not. I do not suggest you ask if you are not in shape to ride, Colonel!"

Alexander looked startled for a second. "They’re that high-spirited?"

"Yes. All are former racehorses, and some are more advanced in their training than others. None are suitable for the casual rider. The broodmares are not ridden at all." Dietrich began to load the barrow again. "Colonel...could you...would—." He stopped, unsure of how to proceed.

"What?" Alexander asked. He picked up his mug and took a long sip of the now-cooled liquid. The smell wafted over Dietrich. For a brief moment he wondered where the Englishman had gotten the tea.

"I...My wife." Dietrich felt uncomfortable asking this favor.

"You mentioned before that you are married. How is she?"

"I don’t know," Dietrich said baldly, and stopped his pitching. "I have not heard from her in several months. Is it possible that you could find out about her and our daughter?"

Alexander stared at him, and took another sip. "That might be possible. Where did you hear from her last?"

Dietrich fumbled in his pants, and brought out a creased piece of paper. It appeared to have been torn from an envelope. "This is the address. It is near Ulm."

Alexander accepted the slip. "I’ll look into it. Here comes Miss Cullen!"

They turned and watched Bridey come in. "Later, Colonel," Dietrich warned.

Alexander nodded. "Then it’s a deal, Major?"

"Yes, sir," Dietrich agreed, though he didn’t feel good about it. Bridey Cullen was not an easy woman to deceive; her eyes were too sharp and noticed everything. And for all his deceptively easygoing attitude, Mike Cullen was the same. He did not want to be put into the position of lying to the people who had made him so welcome, and who trusted him far more than his situation should warrant.

** *** **

Bridey looked from one man to the other. They looked relaxed. In fact, she had even seen Dietrich smile as she’d come up the path from the paddocks. His smiles were so rare, and were usually connected in some way to the horses. Because of that, she felt a trace less hostile to the Colonel, who was watching her with that secret amusement on his face. She wondered if he was laughing at her. That certainly hadn’t been a pleasant dinner last night. She wondered if she could arrange a buffet or something else so they didn’t have a repeat. "Colonel Alexander?"

"I was just checking on Jaeger," Alexander said smoothly.

With a slight smile, Dietrich rolled the wheelbarrow out of the barn, leaving them alone.

"And what did you find?" Bridey said suspiciously.

"That this farm was an excellent choice," Alexander commented. He didn’t try to rub Jaeger’s nose. The horse was eyeing him wickedly and his nostrils were blowing heavily.

Bridey glanced at the stallion, disapproval evident in her body language. "Jaeger, halten sie," she said to the stallion, who subsided. Then she turned to Dietrich, who had just re-entered with the empty wheelbarrow. "How’d I do?"

Dietrich afforded her a small smile. "Your accent is improving."

"Danke schoen. Considering how bad it was when I started, I’ll take that as a positive comment." She turned to Alexander. "Not only do I have world-class stable help, but I have a private language tutor as well."

Her attitude dared him to contradict her, so Alexander decided to take the subject in another direction. "Do you speak any foreign languages, Miss Cullen?"

"I’m a history student, Colonel. I’ve had Latin at the high school and college level and some Greek in college, too. And I hated both." She played with the latch on the stall door. "I prefer modern history to the classics. There’s too much going on in the world today for me to be distracted by something that happened two millennia ago."

"There is a great deal going on right now," Alexander agreed succinctly. "I’m afraid that Tully and I will be out until late tonight, Miss Cullen."

Another man who wouldn’t use her given name. She’d kill him first, then the others, one by one. "Thank you for telling me, Colonel. I’ll pass it on to Siobhan."

"I did when I picked up my tea," Alexander said suavely. "I brought you some coffee but — ."

"Thank you," Bridey said flatly and picked up the cup Dietrich had set aside. She took a sip of it before Dietrich could protest. "This is the real stuff! And fresh!"

"Courtesy of Great Britain," Alexander acknowledged.

"You drink coffee?" Dietrich couldn’t help but ask, knowing that Alexander’s cup had contained tea. "Sir."

Alexander smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. The man’s sense of humor was gone. Dietrich wondered why. The headache he’d mentioned? "Sometimes, Major. Do you know where Sergeant Pettigrew is?"

"Out with the truck," Bridey replied. "That way." She gestured with her cup.

He nodded gracefully and retreated out the back. She snorted in frustration. Jaeger echoed it. "Why don’t you like him?" Dietrich asked, curious.

"He’s too smug for words," she said with a dismissive gesture. "And so damned formal!"

"I think that may change if he’s here long enough," Dietrich said turning back to his wheelbarrow. "Most of the English officers are very formal. The Colonel is more relaxed than many."

She snorted again. "I’m surprised they breed."

Dietrich laughed. She joined him. "I will take this out," he finally said, and wheeled the barrow outside.

"I’ll stay with Jaeger." She stood outside Jaeger’s stall, listening to the stallion shuffle around inside. She leaned on the stall door. "Morgen." The stallion’s head came up and he regarded her quietly.

"You’re a fraud. You’ve got everyone here bamboozled except me, my da, and Dietrich. C’mere." She dug in her pocket, then held out her hand, palm up. In the center of her palm was a piece of carrot. "I don’t know how to say this in German, but the taste is the same."

The stallion moved over and gently lipped the carrot half out of her hand, then looked for more. "A gentleman, too. Just what I’d expected." She gave him the other half of the carrot, then unlatched the door and entered the stall.

The stallion observed her with calm, dark eyes as she snapped a leather and chain lead shank to his halter, running the chain over his nose and through the ring on the left side. "Want to go for a walk?"

Jaeger stepped along smartly at the end of the lead. He carried himself beautifully, Bridey thought, moving along easily, his hooves barely seeming to touch the ground.

They walked toward the training track. The two breeding stallions in the far paddocks on the other side of the stallion barn called out to Jaeger when they caught his scent on the wind, and he responded with a clear clarion bugle, prancing at the end of the lead.

Bridey took up the slack in the shank. "Behave. You’re a guest in their territory, remember. Now settle down."

Although the stallion didn’t understand her words, he did catch the meaning in her tone. He moderated his pace to a fluid, ground-covering walk that Bridey, with long legs and a long stride, found it a stretch to match.

Jaeger took a healthy interest in his surroundings, looking from one paddock to another, calling to the mares and their foals near the broodmare barns.

"Easy, Romeo. Your turn will come." She reached up to stroke the stallion’s neck and he nickered at the touch. "Hedonist. Well, me lad, you’ll get plenty of scratches around here. As long as you’re here, that is, and I’ll keep you here as long as I can. Reynolds doesn’t deserve a horse the likes of you."

Raised around horses, Bridey had a healthy respect for stallions. She knew when to be on her guard with an entire male horse, and when to relax. This one, she concluded, was a fraud. He loved putting on a show for those unfamiliar with horses, but was docile as a lamb around those with experience. And he knew exactly which was which.

Bridey opened the gate to the tree-lined paddock that bordered the east edge of the half-mile training track. Jaeger patiently waited for her to lock the gate behind them, then moved off at her signal.

She played out the slack in the lead shank, and Jaeger took it as an invitation to graze. She’d chosen this paddock specifically for that reason. Jaeger would be comfortable here; the farm’s two breeding stallions never came near this area, nor did the broodmares, so the German horse wouldn’t be distracted by their lingering scents. Only the young stock in training frequented this area, and there hadn’t been any racehorses in training on the farm in three years. With Joe in the Marines, and Bridey in school, there had been no one to help Mike with their training—and no point to training them, anyway, with the tracks in the area closed. Now, though, with the war winding down, Bridey out of school until the fall, and with Dietrich there to help, Diamond Shamrock Farm would be able to resume training and eventually racing, when the tracks opened again.

She watched the horse as he grazed. He was about average height for a Thoroughbred, sixteen and a half hands to her experienced eye. Despite the privations she was sure he had endured, his black coat gleamed in the sun. He had probably eaten better in the past few weeks than he had for a very long time. She made a mental note to have Doc Devaney come out to give him a checkup; and she’d have him bill Captain Harper for the visit. Oh, maybe Colonel Alexander. Yes, that might be better.

The stallion was a true black; he had a blue cast to his coat and no dark brown hairs on his muzzle or at the flanks, telltale signs that would mark him a dark bay. His conformation was near-perfect, too. Unless she missed her guess, he’d sire beautiful foals on Diamond Shamrock mares. He’d be a complete outcross for all of the bloodlines presently on the farm. Bridey made a mental note to find out as much about his pedigree as possible. Dietrich would probably know. She doubted that the German Jockey Club would be reachable, at any rate. Dietrich could well be the only source of information on the animal. She’d have to see what he could tell her.

** *** **

New York City

Despite the fact that the war was still raging in Pacific, there was a definite feeling of looking ahead in the air. The clubs in New York might still cloak their windows in black, but were a blaze of color inside. The most exclusive clubs were still the bastions of New York society enlivened with high-ranking officers, noble families who had fled from the occupied countries— most with some of their families’ wealth— and the rich of Hollywood and the east coast.

Sheila Finch wove her way through the crowd carrying her martini in one hand and a whiskey-and-soda in the other, nodding to familiar faces, and smiling at unfamiliar ones. Her dress was green silk, styled specifically for her by Sophie in her Fifth Avenue shop. The fabric had been sent back by a boyfriend who was in Australia who had bought it from a refugee, but he was now dead on Guam, and Sheila only dimly remembered what he looked like.

Her father nodded approvingly as she passed, and she paused, balancing the drinks carefully. She vaguely knew the woman he was talking with; she was from one of the richest families on Long Island but there was some scandal involved with her son. Her hair was carefully coifed in a golden halo around her face which was made up to widen her eyes and cover the lines that ran from nose to mouth.

"This is my daughter, Sheila. Do you remember her?" Finch said heartily. Sheila detected the slightest touch of fawning; the woman was someone to impress. She made note of it. "Sheila, these are the Hitchcocks. I believe you met their son once or twice."

"Of course," Sheila said graciously, though she didn’t remember the boy. "How nice to meet you!"

Mrs. Hitchcock smiled slightly. "I haven’t seen you in years, Sheila. You’ve grown into quite a young lady."

Sheila had a flash of memory. The Hitchcocks’ son was named Mark. He was a few years older than she was but had come off as an unsophisticated bookworm. He had joined up just after Pearl Harbor as an enlisted man, to the horror of Long Island society. "Thank you, Ma’am. How is Mark?"

Mrs. Hitchcock raised her chin proudly. "He’s fine."

"He writes?"

"Oh, yes, but you know, censorship," Mrs. Hitchcock said vaguely. "He said he might be coming back to Long Island sometime soon, but who knows? They do seem to keep him busy over there."

"Is he in Europe, then?" Sheila asked to be polite. She was getting bored with this conversation.

"Yes, under the command of an Englishman, if you can believe it. Some kind of joint venture," Mrs. Hitchcock replied. "He says—."

"Good heavens! However did he fall into the hands of the British?" a voice interrupted lazily. Henry Reynolds, dressed in an immaculate tuxedo and his hair brushed back, put his hand out for the whiskey and soda.

Mrs. Hitchcock surveyed him from head-to-toe but wasn’t proof against the lazy smile on his lips. Sheila thought he had made another conquest. "Oh, he’s quite enthusiastic about working with Colonel Alexander."

Reynolds’ arm stiffened around Sheila’s waist. Both recognized the name. "Colonel Alexander? He’s English?"

"Oh, yes," Mrs. Hitchcock said with a slight trace of reluctance. She probably had been told not to talk about what her son had said. Still, the war was nearly over, and Sheila had heard things earlier that evening which would have gotten people arrested six months before.

"I met an English colonel by the name of Alexander yesterday," Reynolds said smoothly. "Over in New Jersey. I wonder if it’s the same man."

"Really?’ Mrs. Hitchcock asked politely. "Where?"

"Diamond Shamrock Farm. I was borrowing a horse for my next film," Reynolds replied. "There was another man too, a... Tully—."

"Pettigrew," Mrs. Hitchcock filled in. "My goodness, I will have to ask my son if he knew his friends were in the United States and so close by!"

"You should go down and see them," Sheila suggested.

The woman shook her head. "I’m sure that they are too busy for that. And if they aren’t the right people— I’ll check through some friends and see if they are the same people."

"Would you like me to find out?" Reynolds asked, sipping on his drink. "I know some people in Washington who would be happy to help you out there. I mean your husband’s work is well-known."

Sheila remembered reading about the Hitchcock factories, busy turning out uniforms and other textiles for the war effort. She wondered if the denim that handsome POW was wearing made from Hitchcock fabric. It might be.

"Thank you but I’ll call when I have a moment," Mrs. Hitchcock said, politely nodding.

"It would be no problem," Reynolds urged using his full charm. "The honor will be mine."

Mrs. Hitchcock succumbed. "Well, then let me give you a name or two." They went off into the crowd to where she had left her purse, leaving Sheila and her father alone.

He beamed at her proudly. "You’ve made quite a friend there, Sheila."

"Yes, Henry is very charming," Sheila said simply.

"Not Henry. Mrs. Hitchcock," her father reproached her. "She was showing pictures of her son earlier. He’s turned into a very handsome young man."

"Enlisted," Sheila said with a lack of interest.

"But in a special company with lots of medals," Finch said insightfully. "Don’t despise the rank, daughter. After the war, he will look as good out of uniform in civilian clothing."

Sheila had a sudden image of Dietrich out of his clothing, and smiled irresistibly. Her father misunderstood. "Thank you, Daddy, for reminding me."

"They’ve invited us to brunch on Sunday after church. They are staying over at a summer place in Deal. You can bring Reynolds if you like."

"Thank you, Daddy."

"Or that Captain Harper. Nice man even if he never got into combat," her father said thoughtfully.

She knew he was hoping she’d show some sign of a preference. It was too early for that. Sheila knew that right now she had the world at her feet if she wanted; being young, blond, rich and sleek had its perks and she intended to enjoy them. She wasn’t going to give him grandchildren any time soon. "I think that Henry will do just fine for brunch." She glanced at the drink in her hand.

"Enjoy!" her father said knowingly. He turned away as Reynolds came up, and disappeared into the crowd.

She plucked the olive out and ate it. "Well?"

"I’ll go after these names tomorrow morning," he said succinctly. "One way or another, I’m going to find out about that horse and that colonel."

"Of course," Sheila purred, and slid her arm through his. She took a long sip on her martini. Personally she was more interested in the POW but she could question Captain Harper about that tomorrow when he came to pick her up for their date. "Whatever you say."

** *** **

The burly doctor put down the penlight and stepped away from the examination table. A nametag said Doctor Bigginson, RAMC. "You can get dressed, Peter," his accent a soft Scottish burr.

"Thank you," Alexander replied and picked up his shirt. "What’s happening, Biggy?"

Bigginson picked up the clipboard and made a note. "Well, as far as I can tell, you sustained a subdural hematoma. Are you going to tell me how you got it?"

"No, you don’t need to know that," Alexander said forcefully. He pulled the shirt on, and began to button it up. "It was unmilitary."

"So what’s new about that? You cracked open your skull and now something’s building up underneath," Bigginson retorted, writing another comment. "What you need is an operation to relieve that pressure or you might die, or have a stroke or—."

Alexander raised his hand, cutting him off "Thank you, Biggy, I understand. When can you arrange it?"

Bigginson gave a quick grin. "You never could stand being held up, could you? I don’t know how you lasted all those months in that POW camp!"

"You saw me after I got out so you know how I took it!" Alexander replied, smiling. "Williams made sure that you were my doctor."

"Mr. Williams is a powerful and discreet man," Bigginson agreed. "I’ll be reporting this to him."

"Of course," Alexander retorted. "I’m seeing him myself in an hour or two, and I’ll fill him in on the details. When can you arrange the operation?"

"I’ll get in touch with Brian Murtagh, who’s a civilian neurosurgeon. He’s the best in his field, and he practices right here in New York City. We’ll look at you in a week, and if you need it, do the operation depending on what he says. He’s the real expert, Peter."

"How soon can I leave the hospital after that?" Alexander asked eagerly.

Bigginson snorted. "Don’t be in a hurry. You’ll be in hospital for at least a week or more, depending on how it goes. You’ll be bored to tears. I hope you enjoy the listening to the radio, because you won’t feel up to doing much more."

Alexander paled. "Weeks?"

"Maybe longer." Bigginson met his eyes unflinchingly. "This is dangerous, Peter. You might not come out the same man."

"If I put it off..."

"You might die. Maybe not. You could recover, or the pressure could subside— but I doubt it. And I think you know that from what you’ve told me."

Alexander frowned. "From what I told you? It really hasn’t been that bad before the last day or so— ."

"You don’t remember telling me that you have memory problems?" Bigginson asked quietly. "Or that you have a splitting headache right now?

"Oh, that. Right. I remember now," Alexander said ruefully. "Yes, luckily I’m not commanding anything at the moment. Forgetting things could have fatal consequences. Thank you for being honest, Biggy." They had known each other for more than two decades and understood each other far better than either would admit.

"I’ll give you some pills which will help with the headache, and you’ll be back in a week. You’ll make the other arrangements?"

"Already made." Alexander hopped off the table and picked up his pants. "I have a week?"

"You probably have a week. Keep in touch with me, Peter. This is nothing to play around with, and nothing that you can solve on your own."

"I like to work alone," Alexander murmured under his breath.

Bigginson snorted. "Thought they’d finally trained you out of that! I’ll see you outside, Peter!"

Closing the door, the doctor headed down the hallway briskly, acknowledging salutes from several Army orderlies, and nods from other physicians. He reached the main lobby and looked around. "Sergeant Pettigrew?"

Tully put down his magazine and stood at attention, though he wasn’t sure if he should salute or not. It wasn’t clear if Bigginson was an officer.

"Come with me for a minute," Bigginson commanded.

"The Colonel..."

"He’ll out soon, and we should talk first," the doctor said in a lower tone. "This way."

Tully followed him into one of the small consulting alcoves and shut the door. The room reeked of alcohol and disinfectant, and the wastebasket was littered with used tissues. The small table had chairs on either side and a black rotary telephone. There was a cross on one wall.

Bigginson saw him looking at the debris. "Sometimes we have to tell the families the worst. It’s better to do it in here with the chaplain, Sergeant."

"I’m not family," Tully said slightly warily.

Bigginson laughed. "Indeed not! I’m not a chaplain either. I’m using this hospital’s equipment on loan. Sit down, I need to tell you something."

Tully sat down in the hard wooden chair. The armrest was moist under his wrist. The room must have been used recently. "Yes, sir."

"I want you to keep an eye on the colonel," Bigginson said flatly.

"I already do, sir," Tully said with mild surprise.

"You’re his current orderly? Good luck, Sergeant, you’re going to need it."

"I’m more in charge of the stables, sir. He takes care of himself. You’ve known him for a long time?" Tully said awkwardly.

"Since public school. That’s why I’m having this talk with you. Peter is a stubborn old bastard who can put up a wall thicker than the one in China. It saved him an immense amount of trouble in Whimsley but it won’t help us now."

"I know about that wall, sir."

"That’s right, you’ve been dealing with him on-and-off for the last two years, haven’t you?" Bigginson said ruefully. "I’m avoiding — how do you Americans put it? ‘Beating around the bush.’ The honest truth is, Sergeant, that Peter’s head wound is becoming worse. I’m getting in touch with the best neurosurgeon I know, and we’ll get him to hospital and fix him up, but that won’t happen for some time. I need you to watch him and keep me informed. If I have to, I can crack his thick skull myself— but I’d rather wait for Murtagh or one of his associates. They’re the experts."

Tully absorbed this. He hadn’t liked the fact that he’d been assigned as Alexander’s ‘orderly’ in the first place, and had been grateful that most of his duties had been taking care of that damned horse, and looking like an aide the few times Alexander needed an assistant to impress the other officers. He wasn’t any man’s valet or assistant; he was just a common grunt from the backwoods of Kentucky, where his home didn’t even have indoor plumbing! "What do you want me to do, sir?"

Bigginson held out a slip of paper. "This is my number here, and my number at my billet. If he has any kind of seizure or becomes incredibly vague or anything unlike his normal self, which you seem to know fairly well, then I want you to call me. We’ll take him in—."

"Without his permission?" Tully burst in incredulously. "You’ll have to take him in bound in chains!"

"I’m perfectly willing to stick him with numerous needles until he keels over," Bigginson said grimly. "He isn’t admitting to himself how serious this is, Sergeant, in a vain hope that it will go away. It won’t. I’m counting on you to keep me informed."

Tully looked dubious. "I’ll try, sir."

"Your duties will include making sure he has his medicine, and takes it!" Bigginson said acidly. "Don’t feel too uncomfortable. It’s a good cause and besides it’s only for a week. He will be reporting to hospital at the end of that time and I am positive that he’ll be there for a while. I suspect you will be free to go where you please at that point—."

"Should I bring the Cullen family in on this?" Tully interrupted. "They’re the family we’re staying with at the moment."

Bigginson hesitated, then shrugged. "Ask Peter. If he doesn’t want them to know, I’d go along with it. It’s his decision."

"He’s already ordered me not to," Tully replied.

"Typical. He’d want as few people to know as possible," Bigginson said in exasperation. "He’s probably looking for you, Sergeant. I’ll sit here for a few minutes. Get him out of the building."

"He’s not to know about this?" Tully inquired, stowing the slip of paper in his wallet.

Bigginson shook his head. "Keep it to yourself. He’d have a fit, thinking that he was being babied or become even more paranoid than he already is by nature."

"Yes, sir!" Tully said.

"Then you’re dismissed, Sergeant." Bigginson leaned back so he couldn’t be seen when Tully left, then flipped open his folder. He picked up the telephone receiver and began to dial Williams’ number in New York City.

** *** **


Sheila Finch was already finding Captain Adam Harper rough going. He was just so very earnest about everything. The blanket was spread perfectly on the dunes behind the beach at Deal. They sat overlooking the sea, where no sailboats had floated since the war had started. There was an observer’s post just over the hill so their privacy could be invaded at any moment.

She surveyed him from under the wide brim of her hat. Harper leaned back, his hands folded behind his head, and his ankles crossed. He looked like he was at peace with the world. In the meantime, she was starting to get a bit cold. The wind was whipping up white-tops on the waves.

"Well, this is much more fun than being in town," she said, gazing out. "That was a lovely picnic, Adam."

"Thank you, Sheila. I had it specially made up," he replied, opening his eyes.

She had to agree that they were very attractive. If he wasn’t so glum, he’d be fine company. "By one of the cooks?"

"Of course, ma’am. We’ve got a work-release prisoner who was a pastry chef in Berlin before the war," he said smugly. "Makes the best cakes you can taste."

"Fancy that. You must get a lot of interesting work-release prisoners," she said encouragingly. "I mean, wasn’t that German out at Diamond Shamrock a work-release prisoners?"

Harper frowned. "Yes, and he’s got a lot of nerve too! Bridey Cullen gives him far too much freedom, in my opinion."

"What can you tell me about him? What was he?" Sheila asked lightly, hoping that he didn’t question her interest.

"Major in their regular Army. Panzer leader," Harper said with a lack of interest. "Just another Kraut who thought getting captured would land him a cushy job in a camp. Instead he’s up at dawn taking care of those horses. Serves him right."

"That Englishman thought he was more," Sheila mused. "That officer—."


"Colonel. What is that in our army, Adam?"

"A colonel. Didn’t recognize the medals, though. The Brits have their own system. Probably easier to get them over there than in our army," Harper scoffed, closing his eyes. "Yeah, if it wasn’t for us saving their bacon, that whole damn island would be overrun with Major Dietrichs."

He missed the smile on her lips. Sheila thought that would be just fine by her. With a little work, she’d wind that German around her finger, just like she had Adam and Henry. Then the straw would fly in the Cullens’ barn. No playing around with the German, and if he complained, well, she’d just report him to Adam. "Where’d Major Dietrich come from? I mean, from France, Germany—."

"Kentucky," Harper said sleepily. "One of Charlie Wagner’s breakdowns from Kentucky. Got into some trouble there, and they shipped him here posthaste. Or so I heard somewhere."

Kentucky, huh? Well, well, well. I have friends in Kentucky. Time to give them a call. She looked back at the officer, who was slipping into a light doze. Time to wake him up. She wondered how he kissed. Better than Henry, or worse?

** *** **

New York City

Tully stretched his legs by walking up and down the length of the office. After the hospital, they’d driven into New York City, which he considered almost worse than driving through Germany. Parking on the street, they went inside up to an anonymous office in Rockefeller Center.

There he waited, alone, for a half-hour while Alexander went inside to talk with his contact. The room had a copy of that day’s New York Times and several copies of the Times of London from a month ago. Having exhausted those resources, he decided to start walking back and forth.

Why couldnt the colonel have let him go out, he wondered in exasperation. This wasn’t his idea of fun. He bet he could have found a girl in nothing flat. It was the middle of the afternoon, and Tully didn’t want to spend the rest of the day prowling around the outer office After all, Alexander was safe here in the hands of Williams and the rest of the office. Tully had to get accustomed to his job as a spy. This was not something he had trained for. He hoped to hell everything was going to run smoothly for a week..

"Sergeant Tully!" a man called behind him, and Tully gave up on the idea of making a date for that night. It was back to work.

"In here. Lieutenant— ah, Captain Archer?" Tully looked startled. The last time he had seen the officer, he was a Royal Air Force lieutenant assigned to the British Embassy. The epitome of an overbred officer, they’d finally become friends when Tully helped Archer shop for an engagement ring. That was two years ago. He’d lay odds that the handsome Archer, who could have modeled for the Arrow shirt advertisements, now had children.

"Glad to see you again," Archer said holding open the door.

Alexander was slumped in a leather chair, his hand on the side of his head, while the quiet man that Tully knew as Mr. Williams, and knew that was far more than just a civilian, sat in another chair. They flanked a fireplace where logs were burning, adding warmth to a raw chilled day. An ornate silver teapot and cups sat on a small table in front.

Williams stood up and held out his hand. "I’m glad to see you again."

Tully shook it. "Thank you, sir." He eyed Alexander, who opened his eyes and smiled lazily.

Williams laughed. "Don’t worry about him. He’s got a headache. I made him take his pills. That’ll be your job in the future."

"My headache isn’t being helped by this latest problem," Alexander said acidly. "Tully, did you recognize the man we met yesterday?"

For a second, Tully wondered if Alexander meant Dietrich. Then he realized he was probably talking about the stranger at the farm. Not much of a stranger, of course. His face was familiar from dozens of films. "Henry Reynolds, sir?"

"Henry Reynolds," Alexander agreed. "What do you know about him?"

Tully looked nonplused. "He’s an actor, sir. Made a lot of those action films. Made a movie just last year that they were showing to the troops in France."

"Is he any good?" Williams asked.

Tully shrugged. "The audience didn’t care."

"That wasn’t the question, sergeant," Alexander snapped. "Is he any good?"

Williams’ brows knit as he watched Alexander. Tully knew that the friendship between the two Englishmen predated the war, so if Williams was worried, then the injury was far more serious than Alexander was letting on. That fit with the doctor’s warning.

"Not bad. It was one of those crusader movies, you know, a lot of riding around and saving maidens. Not as good as Errol Flynn, sir."

"Please sit and have some tea, sergeant," Williams offered.

Tully shook his head. "Don’t really like the stuff, sir. I prefer coffee." He sank down into the other leather chair across from the couch.

Turning to Tully, Williams said, "We’re asking you about Mr. Reynolds because someone has been asking about Jaeger and Peter, and it seems to lead back to Reynolds. He called someone in Washington, and all sorts of inquiries are being made about your troop."

"Inquiries?" Tully asked suspiciously. He picked up one of the small cakes on the plate next to the teapot and nibbled. Not up to Siobhan’s pie. "That was fast work, sir. He only saw Jaeger yesterday."

"Mr. Reynolds has connections," Alexander observed sourly. "Apparently high ones—."

Williams continued. "Yes, inquiries about the horse, how it got here — ."

"Is it available for a picture?" Alexander cut in acidly. "I thought that this Diamond Shamrock Farm was supposed to be discreetly out of the way, Tully!"

"I never heard of it before— ah, um," Tully said uncomfortably.

"Before?" Alexander asked.

"Before what, sergeant?" Williams inquired.

"Before I got a letter from my sister-in-law Laura, sir, about Major Dietrich. She said he’d been transferred to Diamond Shamrock farm."

Alexander rolled upright. "So, you knew that Dietrich was there, and made the suggestion on that point?"

Tully faced him unflinchingly. "Yes, sir. I explained that last night."

Alexander flushed. "That’s right." From his expression, Alexander hadn’t remembered it until this moment. Tully noted it to pass on to Bigginson.

"Why?" Williams asked. "What about Major Dietrich led you to believe that this would be a good place?"

Tully shrugged. "He always seemed an honest sort, Mr. Williams. He helped Laura when her husband came back, and then he got shipped to New Jersey. Colonel, I didn’t know if he’d still be here or be moved on or even if you’d take my advice!"

"That’s not the point!" Alexander said in sheer disgust.

"On the contrary, that is a good point," Williams countered. "We researched Diamond Shamrock Farms when the name first came up. It seemed like a reasonable place, owned by honest, hard-working people, according to Captain Wagner at Fort Monmouth. The son is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. Highly decorated."

"Nothing has happened to prove it isn’t, either, sir," Tully said flatly. "I don’t know what’s going on with this movie guy."

"He wants Jaeger to star in his next film. Since the horse is viewed as war spoils, he believes that he can get the horse from Miss Cullen," Alexander retorted, "by going through the US Army."

"But the horse belongs to you, doesn’t it, Colonel?" Tully asked in bewilderment. "So what’s the problem? The Army’s got no control over it!"

They both stared at him in surprise. Finally, Williams glanced at Alexander. "He has a point, Peter."

Alexander glowered. "What happens in a week, Bill?" he shot back. "In a week, I’m not going to be around to keep this Reynolds from the horse."

"We’ll just have to get the ownership straightened out before then," Williams replied. He picked up his tea cup and sipped on the liquid.

"A week, sir?" Tully asked warily as if he didn’t know anything.

"I’ll be reporting to hospital for an operation on my head in a week, Sergeant," Alexander said. "Bigginson has given me a good prognosis."

Tully met Williams’ eyes. The man shook his head the tiniest bit. They both saw the truth in each other’s face. The prognosis wasn’t as good as Alexander made it out to be.

"So, we just make sure that this Reynolds never gets near Jaeger," Tully said cheerfully to cover the moment.

"Then we’d better get back," Alexander said, getting up.. "Can you do one thing for me, sir, before I leave?"

Williams looked exasperated. "Of course, but you’re staying for dinner, remember? What is it?"

Alexander smiled, and held out a crumpled piece of paper. "Major Dietrich’s wife and child were somewhere in the area of Ulm the last he heard. Can you check on their status?"

Williams glanced at the letter. "Dietrich, eh?"

"Yes, sir. I told him I would make inquiries."

"Then I’ll get someone to do it."

"Why not the team, sir?" Tully asked. "I mean, they’re in the area now, aren’t they? They can look around."

Williams pursed his lips. "I’ll ask Washington for authorization. There shouldn’t be any problem."

"I’d really like to know this before I go into hospital, sir," Alexander said seriously. "I said I’d find out — ."

"Then I’ll ask them to rush it," Williams said flatly. "Sergeant, you can have the rest of the day free. The colonel and I are having dinner. Please be back here by nine?"

Tully nodded, and saluted. "Yes, sir!"

"Nine?" Alexander said doubtfully. "We’re going to get back to the farm late. What about dinner there?"

Tully knew he’d be making that call to Bigginson. "I believe you told Miss Cullen you’d be out tonight. They were just having stew. I’m sure Siobhan will save some if we call her."

Williams raised an eyebrow. "‘Siobhan’? Ah, yes, the cook that Wagner mentioned."

"More than a cook," Tully said reverently. "She runs the household."

"A housekeeper, then. You’re dismissed, Sergeant."

"Thank you, Sir!" Tully left, hearing behind him, Alexander say, "But we should at least warn our hostess that we’re not coming in for hours!"

"I’ll call her, Peter," Williams said authoritatively. "Right now, get some rest. Those pills are knocking you out."

"Yes, sir..." Alexander agreed drowsily.

Tully shut the door, and saw Archer’s gaze on him. "I have the rest of the day off," he said exuberantly.

Archer grinned. "Want some recommendations on where to go in New York City?"

"Sure. Got a place to buy something for a lady?"

Archer laughed. "Dozens. Let me make you a list!"

** *** **


Bridey rode in jeans and paddock boots most of the time and never thought anything of it. For everyday riding, it was more practical and comfortable than dressing in breeches and boots—and it saved her valuable breeches and high boots, both of which would be too hard to replace due to rationing, or cost the earth if she could even find them. So she restricted their use to formal schooling sessions, which were few and far between in winter and early spring. The Cullens were extremely well-off, thanks to the money Mike’s father-in-law had left them, but none of them were spendthrifts. New breeches and boots could wait until after the war.

Right now she was wearing her oldest sweater, and patched pants, and she never gave a second thought about how she looked. She was warm, and that was all she asked for at the moment. It was another cold and crisp New Jersey morning, more typical for a New Jersey spring than the weather they’d been having lately. Yesterday it had seemed that summer was on the way, but it certainly didn’t feel that way now. The sweater and jeans kept her warm, and were practical for everyday hacking and barn work.

But Dietrich—practical or not, it just looked wrong for him to ride in POW-issue denim. Or any denim, for that matter. He’d been meant for tailored breeches and custom boots.

She climbed to the top of the fence of the round pen and sat there to watch him lunge Jaeger, her mind working. He wasn’t that different, physically, from her brother Joe. For the most part, they had a similar build and were about the same height—and all of Joe’s pre-war breeches were in a trunk in the attic. They might as well be put to good use until he got home.

"You don’t look that comfortable in those jeans," she called.

"They are not what I am used to." He reeled Jaeger in and unsnapped the lunge line from the horse’s cavesson, then slapped him on the rump. The stallion wheeled and trotted off to the center of the ring, where he stopped and watched them.

"I can imagine. Listen—you’re about Joe’s height and weight. His breeches might fit you. Meet me up in the attic after you turn him out and we’ll see what we can find."

Dietrich came over to where Bridey was standing and leaned back against the fence beside her. "That’s a kind offer, Fraulein. Will your brother not object?"

"Doesn’t matter if he does—he’s off in the Pacific wearing jungle fatigues and combat boots. Better his riding stuff should be put to good use." She paused. "We had a letter from him yesterday. He’s very curious about you."

"Does he feel you’re harboring the enemy?"

"Joey?" Bridey shook her head. "No, Joe’s too practical for that. He mostly wants to know how well you ride."

"What did you say?"

"I told him you ride a lot better than he does." She grinned. "He’s a racehorse trainer, not a world-class equestrian. One of his horses may win the Derby some day, but he’ll never win a gold medal at the Olympics."

He smiled at that, then moved away from the fence and squared his shoulders. "Fraulein, may I ask a favor of you?"

"Sure," Bridey said, idly worrying at a splinter on the top rail that had caught her attention. Time to sand the fencing and repaint it, at least in this enclosure. She wondered where they’d find the time.

"Would it be possible for me to ride Jaeger occasionally?"

Something in the tone of his voice alerted her. It was too diffident, almost desperate. She looked at him and swallowed hard. Seeing this proud man standing at attention, practically begging for a favor, made her extremely uncomfortable. She looked back at the fence and started picking at the splinter again.

"Well… yeah, sure," she stammered. "Of course. In fact, it’s a great idea. You know him, he knows you — it’s perfect. Just perfect. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it." Dont overdo it, Bridget, she warned herself.

But when she looked back at him again, she saw a look of amusement in those dark eyes. Dietrich knew exactly what she’d been doing—and he probably knew how she felt, too. "Danke schoen, Fraulein. I am in your debt."

"Oh, I think that runs both ways," Bridey said hurriedly. "You feed those verdamnt chickens, remember."

He frowned. "You’re picking up German a bit more quickly than I’d expected."

"Major, some words and phrases transcend the language barrier."

"I will have to be more careful of how I speak around you."

Bridey grinned. "You can try. But I warn you—I hear grass grow. Why don’t you go put him in the paddock and I’ll see you up in the attic?"

He smiled and turned away, calling Jaeger to him. The horse responded instantly. Bridey thought his usually-straight posture was even more erect, and she thought she saw a new spring to his step. She smiled and turned for the house.

In the attic, she sank to her knees in front of the big tack trunk that held Joey’s civilian clothing. Inside were his riding clothes, including several pairs of twill breeches. His dress boots, all four pairs of them, sat off to one side in boot bags, while his hunt coats and velvet cap were in a closet built into the wall of the attic.

Bridey pulled the breeches out and snapped out each pair to shake out the wrinkles, then refolded them. They’d need to be washed, of course, but they were in remarkably good shape, for all that they smelled of cedar. Better that than mothballs, she reflected—she’d always detested them. She set the breeches on the top of a nearby tack trunk, then turned her attention back to the material in the first.

She pulled out a cotton ratcatcher shirt, and held one up. Shaking her head, she refolded it and placed it back in the pile in the trunk. Joe was broader through the shoulders than Dietrich, who had a leaner, far more elegant build. Joe’s shirts would just hang on him and give Siobhan another reason to pile his plate even higher at mealtimes. There were nights she saw him struggling to finish all he’d been served. He didn’t need to have more piled on him.

In the lid of the trunk were stuck several photos. Bridey took one out, showing herself, Joe and Charlie, all in riding outfits, proudly displaying ribbons they’d won at a prestigious local show.

Bridey remembered that day vividly. She’d been thirteen, the boys three years older. She’d made it to the jumpoff of a large junior jumper class, winning with only split seconds to spare. It had been the last show her mother had been able to attend.

She smiled at the photo. Joe’s grin was so wide, and he’d been as proud of her blue ribbon as she was—maybe more. She’d beaten dozens of older teenagers in the class, many several years older than she. Joe hadn’t stopped crowing about it for weeks.

She visualized his smiling face and dancing eyes as they were now "Joey, Joey, I miss you so," she whispered. "Please be careful." She sighed heavily. "Keep Joey safe, Mama. We need him."

So engrossed was Bridey that she didn’t hear Dietrich’s approach until he was almost on top of her. "Fraulein Cullen?"

Bridey sat bolt upright, turning swiftly in surprise. "Hi!" she said, putting the photo back into the lid. She rose and showed him the breeches, sitting on the other trunk.

He took up the topmost pair of breeches. "They look suitable."

Bridey took the breeches out of his hands. "Turn around."

"What?" He raised one eyebrow in surprise.

"Turn around." Bridey made a circling motion with her right index finger. Dietrich looked at her as if she’d lost her mind, but complied.

She shook out the breeches and lay the waistband against his waist, letting them hang. Dietrich jumped slightly when he felt her hands at his waist, then straightened.

Bridey cocked her head to one side and leaned down slightly to cast a critical eye at the breeches. "They look okay," she said. "We won’t know for sure until you try them on, of course."

"Of course," Dietrich said dryly. He cast a glance down at the remaining pairs of breeches resting on the trunk. "I doubt I need six pairs of breeches, Fraulein."

"Sure you do," Bridey said, folding the pair in her hands and adding them to the pile. "They’re just going to waste here."

He looked about to make a comment, then simply inclined his head in her direction. "I thank you for your generosity."

"You’re welcome. I thought his shirts might fit you, too, but Joey’s got broader shoulders—they’d only hang on you."

He nodded, then gestured toward the breeches. "I will wear them only when working the horses. They would be inappropriate for barn work."

"As well as uncomfortable," Bridey said dryly. "We need to see about getting your boots resoled, too. It’s too much to ask that Joey’s would fit."

"That would be helpful. The soles are wearing thin."

"That can be dangerous in the barn," Bridey said. "I’ll talk to Charlie about it."

"Danke." He paused, then asked, "What were you looking at when I came in?"

She lifted the photo and handed it to him. "This is your brother?"

Bridey nodded. "Yeah. Charlie, too. I’m the one in the middle with the big teeth."

"And a blue ribbon," he said, smiling.

"That too." She smiled and looked around the attic. "There are a lot of memories up here," she said softly.

"Good memories, I hope."

"Mostly. And a few I’d rather keep hidden." She looked at her watch and groaned. "I promised Siobhan I’d go to town with her. I have to get changed. Why don’t you go ride our new horse now?"

He smiled and turned away, picking up the breeches. "I will do that, Fraulein."

"Give those to Siobhan on your way out—she’ll need to wash them before you wear them."

He nodded and left.

Bridey puttered around the attic for a while, straightening up. She took one last look at the photo, then latched the trunk and headed for her room. Going to town with Siobhan was not one of her favorite pastimes when she’d rather be on horseback. But a promise was a promise, so she went downstairs to change.

** *** **

Alexander took a quick shower and toweled dry his dark hair while he stood naked in the bathroom. Tying the towel around his lean waist, he cautiously opened the bathroom door and peered outside.

Empty. Good. The household must be down at the stables. He’d slept late that morning, and was running the risk of being late for his luncheon appointment as well.

Ever since boarding school, Alexander had had a morbid distaste for being naked in front of anyone but his mother and his lovers. He’d only survived school by learning how to fight dirty better than any of his classmates, and been willing to do it. This had established him as a leader which he found was equally annoying. Not letting himself become a bully, he learned to examine with a judicial eye the men who tried to become his friends; and picked only a few. Of them, only two or three survived the twenty-some years; Bigginson, who had become a doctor, Alfred who worked down in Bedfordshire with Turing and his crowd, a few others. Alexander knew that he could count on these men.

He padded from the communal bathroom down to his bedroom which was now warm from the crackling fire, and dressed, except for the shirt in his closet. It was badly creased. He examined it with a frown, then picked up the previous day’s blouse and slid it on over his undershirt, doing up several buttons. He’d just nip down to the laundry room in the basement and use the electric iron on the shirts and then he’d not have to worry about disgracing the British Army for the rest of his time here. He felt uncomfortable doing his laundry at the farm, but it would have to be done. Maybe he could take it to New York with him. He didn’t want to put Miss Cullen to any more trouble.

Siobhan "felt" reliable even though he knew she disapproved of him immensely. She’d barely said a word in the time he’d been here, and the times he’d ventured into the kitchen to make his tea, she’d been painfully polite, if cold. Tully could bring a light to her eyes, and laughter. Alexander wished he could do the same. He hoped that Williams’ call had come early enough to prevent them all from making extra in case he and Tully came back. Rationing wasn’t as tight as it was in England, but it was still in place.

He tiptoed down in his stocking feet, glanced into the kitchen, which was empty, then down the stairs into the basement laundry. It was cold since the heat didn’t reach the small room. Several shirts, including the green blouse Bridey had worn at dinner, lay across a pile of clean sheets. Siobhan must have been interrupted, or perhaps Bridey herself. Plugging in the iron, he let it warm up on the sideboard and contemplated the pull-down board. Finally, he discovered the latch and pulled it flat. It clicked and held.

Humming happily, he pulled over his first shirt and laid it out carefully. Picking up the iron, he could feel the heat radiating from the iron. That felt good on his icy fingers. The familiar movements of ironing were calming. He could feel himself relax, and that persistent nagging ache over his right temple almost vanished. Biggy’s pills were working. Maybe he wouldn’t need the operation.

After finishing the second shirt, he hung it on a nail beside the other, and picked up the last one.

"What are you doing?" Siobhan asked behind him.

He jumped and the iron landed with a solid thud on the floor. He picked it up, and put it on its end away from the cloth, then turned. "Ironing."

"I can see that," she said sharply. Her gaze went to the hanging shirt, and then back to him. "I’d have done that if you asked."

He shrugged. "I didn’t like to ask, Miss Siobhan."

"You’re a guest in the house," she stated, crossing her arms.

"I like to iron," he said simply. "I learned how to about...two, two and a half years ago, and never gave it up. Drives my man barmy."

"‘Your man?’"

"I have an orderly when I’m in England. Usually he does this sort of thing. Around me he’s restricted to the boots and other bits. I like to take care of myself."

She sniffed. "I can see that. Been taking care of yourself for a long time?"

He nodded, and ran the iron over the collar. "Last two, three years, then before the war. Haven’t had a valet since...Lord, I don’t know. Always seemed to be a waste of time."

"Valet? Been surrounded by servants, then."

"My sister and I were mostly left to the servants," he confessed, flipping the shirt so he could do the sleeves. "I went to school, and she was an invalid, then the war, the first one, and then...well, I struck out on my own."

"And where did you learn to iron?" she asked pointedly.

"Five months in a POW camp teaches you many things," he replied. He set the iron to one side to let it cool, pulled the plug from the socket, and picked his other shirts off the nails. He was self-consciously aware of his unshod feet and the dirty shirt over his undershirt which was only buttoned twice.

She stepped back to let him out. "Come down any time, Colonel. I’ll teach you how to use the washing machine."

"I could handle that," he said in jest, though his ears went red. "It’s mechanized. We used to wash everything by hand in the camp."

Her jaw dropped. "By hand?"

"No machines." He gave her an embarrassed smile and retreated upstairs, hearing her footsteps walking back into the kitchen.

His relief fled when he saw Bridey’s door was half-open. He could hear her moving around, then the creak of the bed when she sat on it. She was probably changing her clothes to go to town with Siobhan. He had heard them discussing it earlier.

Creeping along on tippy-toe, he continued down the wooden corridor, and breathed a sigh of relief when he reached his door.

He never heard her until she spoke. "Colonel?" Bridey called.

He jumped and almost lost the shirts. Taking a breath, he half-turned. "Miss Cullen?"

She leaned against the side of the doorframe, scanning him from socks to half-brushed hair. "Want us to bring you anything from town?"

"No, thank you. I’ll be going to Fort Monmouth myself shortly. Is there anything I can get for you?"

She shook her head. "Nope. But thanks for asking. Have a good trip."

"Thank you." Grabbing at his dignity, he turned the knob and escaped into his room. He would lay money he heard a snicker behind him, but then he heard her door shut.

Checking his watch he saw he had only five minutes before he had to meet Tully. They were heading over to Fort Monmouth to meet the local commander, Colonel Westover. Muttering under his breath, Alexander hung the shirts, put one on, and tied his tie. Sliding into his shined shoes, he laced them up, then combed back his hair, grabbed his battledress jacket, and headed out.

** *** **

Charlie Wagner was just heading for his office when a car pulled up in front of the base cafeteria. He watched with mild interest as a sergeant got out of the front and opened the back door, letting out a man in an unfamiliar uniform and a beige beret. Wagner stopped dead in his tracks and looked around. Despite all the officers going in and out of the building, not one of them looked like a welcoming committee.

The stranger caught Wagner’s gaze and smiled, then said something to the driver, who saluted, and got back in the car. Wagner wondered where the man’s escort was. On the way, he hoped. Or had this man just decided to visit on a whim?

Charlie knew who the officer was. Fort Monmouth was curious about the odd set-up down at the Cullen farm as only a small Army base could be. Wagner had come in for his share of inquiries since a lot of people on the base knew of his relationship to the Cullens, but he hadn’t had the time to go down and investigate for himself. He was one of the few people who actually had an excuse to go down there. He was practically family, after all.

The mountain has come to Mohammed, he thought, stepping forward. "Colonel Alexander?" He saluted and Alexander returned it. The weak sunlight glinted off the stars-and-crown on the shoulder straps, and the gilt cap pin.

"Captain? I’m afraid I’m early," Alexander remarked. "I’ve a meeting with Colonel Westover?"

Wagner mentally cringed. Westover had taken off for the far reaches of the base over an hour ago, and had probably made the appointment, then forgotten it in the press of activities. There had been some trouble concerning a prisoner on work-release, which was why Wagner was still here.

"Please come this way, Colonel," Wagner said politely. He led the way up to Westover’s office where the young secretary was reapplying her lipstick by the reflection of the tiny mirror in her hand. She gasped and whipped away the mirror.

"Colonel Alexander is here for lunch," Wagner told her, then winced. It sounded like he was serving Alexander up on a platter.

The girl’s eyes widened in a betraying manner. "Um, sir, I’m so sorry, but Colonel Westover’s been called away. I got a call an — ."

"That’s enough!" Wagner cut in hastily. He turned to Alexander who was looking a little stiff. "I’m sorry about this, sir, but I’ll see if one of Colonel Westover’s aides — ."

"How about you?" Alexander interrupted.

"Me?" Wagner gaped, then caught himself. "I’m not one of the aides, sir."

"No, but I think you’d make good company. Why don’t we have lunch?" Alexander asked disconcertingly.

Wagner reassessed his estimate of the stiff officer. There was a touch of a twinkle in the dark blue eyes that peered under the stiff brim of the hat. This man was assessing him as well as the base. It was up to Charlie to redeem their reputation. He hoped he was up to the task.

He tossed his plans for the afternoon out the window. "I’d like that, sir. Jill," he turned to the secretary, "please inform the Colonel of the change of plans when he returns."

"Sure, Charlie," she said brightly.

Alexander gave an almost-inaudible chuckle.

Wagner led the way down to the officer’s club, noting that Alexander had slowed his long stride to keep pace with Charlie’s limp. He tried to minimize it as they walked but still was quite glad to sit down.

Alexander surveyed the room with its blue-gray curtains and plush carpet underfoot, gleaming tables and servants, before placing his beret to one side of the table and sitting down. Their little table was instantly the center of covert attention. "This looks pleasant," he remarked.

"The soup’s good," Charlie replied. The white-coated waiter looked at Alexander’s uniform with the three rows of decorations, unveiled by the calf-length coat he laid across another chair, and instantly became unctuous.

Wagner had a shrewd guess that Alexander was heartily amused under that bland expression. It was awkward enough to be having lunch with the Colonel’s abandoned guest without thinking that he was laughing all the time.

"May I ask you something?" Alexander said to him after opening the menu, surveying it, then handing it back.

"Yes, sir?"

"What’s your real name, ‘Charlie’?"

Wagner felt his ears go pink. He’d forgotten that detail. "Captain Charles Wagner, sir. I run the POW work-release program."

"Ah. Then you probably know Major Dietrich?"

"Dietrich? Yes, sir. I placed him at the Cullen farm," Charlie replied, handing his menu to the waiter. "The chicken noodle soup, please, Harry, and a ham sandwich on a hard roll. Mustard, no mayo."

"Yes, sir! And you, sir?" Harry asked, looking at Alexander.

"I’ll take the soup as well, and some tea, if possible," Alexander requested. "So, you placed Dietrich at the farm?"

"Yes. I knew they could use the help," Charlie said. "The war’s been hard on the farmers. A lot have gone under. Bridey and her father run that big place on their own."

"Why him though?" Alexander inquired. "I mean, he’s hardly your typical POW."

Wagner frowned. "You know him sir?"

Alexander laughed. "Oh, yes. Quite well."

A vast pit opened under Wagner’s feet and he wasn’t sure of where to go. He decided to avoid new questions. "He worked well with horses, and he wasn’t getting along with some of the other officers in his camp here. Bridey Cullen says he’s the best worker she’s ever had, and she’s always raving about his riding skills. And it takes a lot to get a compliment in that area from her, believe me."

"I’ve heard her say that," Alexander agreed. "But you say he wasn’t getting along with the others?"

"Yeah, they tried harassing him, and there were some fights. He was involved in a mess in his last camp, and the officials decided to ship him up here to keep him out of trouble. Why are you interested, Colonel?"

"He’s at the farm and I’m curious. Tell me, Captain, you said you work with the release program? So you work with the prisoners?"

Wagner nodded. "The civilians who want help apply through me, fill out the forms, and I try to match them up with prisoners with appropriate skills. That’s where I’m headed this afternoon. I have to interview a station administrator about a problem."

"A problem?"

"They say the guy’s lazy; he says they’re slave-drivers. The truth lies somewhere in between, I think," Wagner said in disgust. "To be honest, Colonel, I think Albert’s the honest one but still, I have to check."

"You must speak German, then," Alexander stated. "Otherwise you couldn’t do this."

"Fluently, sir. My father was born in Germany. He came over just before the last war. I may miss some of the more esoteric nuances or the newer slang, but I get most of them," Wagner said simply.

They were interrupted by the waiter, who put down their plates of soup, then set Wagner’s sandwich at his right hand. As he stepped away for the tea, they saw a man standing in the doorway, gesturing frantically. The waiter blocked their view when he put down the pot of tea for Alexander, then retreated.

Alexander lifted a spoonful of the aromatic broth. "Smells splendid, Captain. I suggest you eat fast. We’re going to have a visitor."

Charlie risked a glance over his shoulder and unconsciously flinched. "Uh-oh. Not him."

"And who might he be?" Alexander asked.

"Captain Adam Harper. Desk jockey."

Captain Harper bustled over with a relieved expression on his face when he saw them. Wagner looked up when he approached, but Alexander just gave the new arrival a non-committal smile. Harper saluted Alexander, and ignored Wagner. With a slight wave of his hand, Alexander indicated that Harper should sit.

"Colonel Alexander, I have to apologize for this. Colonel Westover called to say he was going to be late but we couldn’t reach you in time!" Harper burst out.

Bridey must have loved being the answering service, Wagner thought. He wondered if Alexander had yet been treated to one of her spectacular displays of temper. Maybe she was constrained by the same reserve that was driving Harper into fits of irrelevant explanation.

"I’m just having lunch with Captain Wagner," Alexander said charmingly. "I’m delighted you can join us."

"Colonel Westover definitely wants you to know that you can make full use of all the facilities here on base, anytime," Harper said. He said curtly to Harry, "Coffee."

Wagner flinched slightly. It bordered on being rude, and the colored waiter had to accept it. It did get a raised eyebrow from Alexander, which Harper didn’t seem to notice.

"I am glad to know it," Alexander replied. "I believe that my driver has already taken advantage of your petrol supplies. If I need anything else, I’ll let you know."

"You’re comfortable down at the farm?" Harper asked solicitously.

Wagner looked up to see a slight smile before Alexander said seriously, "It’s very pleasant. Wonderful food Very relaxing indeed.."

Bridey hasnt gotten him out to the stables yet, Wagner translated. He really did wonder what she made of her guest. He would have to go down and see her soon and get her take on the situation.

"If you’d prefer to stay here, I’m sure we could make room for you," Harper said anxiously, "and the horse, of course."

"Jaeger is settling in very well down at the Cullens’," Alexander stated flatly. "There’s no problem there, Captain. Thank you."

"He’s a wonderful animal," Harper said. "I’m sure he takes extra effort to take care of."

"Not according to the head groom, Major Dietrich," Alexander said deliberately. He glanced at Charlie, who swallowed the last of his sandwich. "I believe that I will take up your offer, Captain."

Wagner had no idea of what he was talking about, but didn’t let it show. He wiped a trace of mustard off his upper lip. "Thank you, sir."

"Then perhaps we should start for your appointment?" Alexander suggested, standing.

The other men rose, Wagner feeling like he had fallen into the pit. What was going on? "Yes, I need to get a jeep requisitioned—."

"I’ll take you in my car, and return you here," Alexander said. "Nice to meet you again, Captain Harper."

Harper could do nothing but salute, and watch them as they left.

Harry came over with the coffee. "Shall I put this on your tab, sir?"

"Put it on Colonel Westover’s! He should have been here," Harper muttered as he stalked out. "Stupid Brit!"

** *** **

Harper retired to his office. It was overly-neat with only three folders in the Out basket and nothing in the In basket. He had completed his duties for the day, and was just thinking of calling one of his girlfriends when his telephone rang. He picked it up. "Yes, Gladys."

"There’s a Mr. Henry Reynolds here to see you, sir!" the woman said with awe in her tone.

Harper flashed back to the farm. That actor who had been there when he arrived. Harper had been too intimidated to notice much of what Reynolds said, but now, the actor had come to him. He cleared his throat. "Send him in, Gladys."

"Yes, sir!"

In the few seconds before the door opened, Harper brushed back his hair and made sure his necktie was straight. There was no reason for him to feel awestruck. Reynolds was just an actor.

That was obvious to Harper’s critical eye as Reynolds sank down in the chair opposite Harper’s empty desk. The actor looked like he’d stepped off the New York stage, from the discreetly-tailored tweed jacket over a red shirt that set off his dramatic dark coloring and lent color to his cheeks, to his dark cravat and black pants. The loafers had gold-touched tassels. He must have left his overcoat with Gladys. Harper wasn’t sure that Reynolds would get it back.

"I’m glad to meet you, Captain," Reynolds said charmingly.

Harper couldn’t help but warm to the voice. He’d heard it for years after all, and Reynolds had always played a hero. "I’m honored that you’d come all this way, Mr. Reynolds. This is not exactly part of the city."

"When we met at the Cullens’ farm, I knew I should look you up. Sheila said you wouldn’t mind if I just dropped in," Reynolds concluded.

Harper’s heart increased its rate of thumping. He’d forgotten about Sheila. It had only been one date after all! God, she was beautiful though. And could she kiss! "Sheila...oh, ah, yes, Miss Finch. Lovely girl. Simply lovely."

"She spoke highly of your talents. I need some information and I thought you might be able to help me."

The flattery went far in overcoming Harper’s reluctance. He knew that Reynolds could call on people in the Office of War Information in Los Angeles or New York for help but he had come to him. "Yes?"

Reynolds folded his hands. "I would like to know about the horse down at the Cullens’ farm. Jaeger? Right, the black stallion from Germany."

Harper’s instincts went off. Uh-oh. "What about Jaeger?"

"I called a friend down in Washington who told me a little about the rescue, but he suggested that you knew more," Reynolds said lazily.

"I just set up Jaeger’s stay at the Cullen farm," Harper said depreciatingly.

"Really, I thought you were there when he arrived on the hospital ship? Amazing that they’d give up the room for an animal over our wounded."

"Probably on account of the Colonel. I didn’t know that he’d be along! Had to scramble around for ration books, and other stuff for him."

"The Colonel...."

Harper’s mind flashed back to lunch and he felt a burn of resentment. "Yeah, Colonel Alexander and his aide, Sergeant Pettigrew. How the hell an American’s working for a limey like Alexander, I don’t know. Sometimes being Allies goes too far."

"Probably someone’s idea of a joke," Reynolds said in agreement. "Anyway, the horse?"

"Hmm? Oh, it belongs to the Cullens now. That’s my understanding at least."

"Then I have to get their permission to use Jaeger in my next picture?"

"Oh, no. I mean the Cullens have control of the horse, but I think the Army still — I mean he’s spoils of war, Mr. Reynolds. If someone had a use for him, then he wouldn’t be eating his oats on the US payroll and not giving anything back." Harper found a touch of pleasure in the thought of Jaeger doing something useful. All that effort for a damned horse, and then Alexander stepped in as if he ruled the world, and no one even said, ‘thank you.’ "But you’d have to get permission from the OWI down in Washington. I can give you a couple of names."

Reynolds smiled sincerely. "That would be very considerate, Captain Harper. I would really appreciate it. I’ll make sure you get the credit."

** *** **

Wagner sat in the back seat next to the Colonel and wondered what was going to happen next. He hadn’t been introduced to the driver, who showed an interesting lack of fear of Alexander’s rank, and amusement at the new orders. They were driving dangerously fast down the country roads. Wagner occasionally pointed the way when they had to turn, but otherwise he just held onto the seat and cringed. He wondered if this driver had learned to drive the same place Bridey had—they certainly employed the same techniques. Charlie swore he’d lost several years off his life riding with Bridey, and was about to lose several more due to this ride alone.

Alexander broke the silence. "Tell me about this situation."

"Albert Spierer is one of the work-release prisoners. He came here a couple of weeks ago, and seemed to be doing pretty well down at the station. It’s a small depot—."

"Which means?"

"Oh, they unload boxes for shipping to other small towns. A distribution center for this area. Anyway, he’s working for Jack Miller and his family, along with a couple of other POWs, but I got a call this morning from Jack asking that Albert be removed. When I asked why, Jack shuffled his feet and ha-hummed, and said he just wanted the man out of there."

"Really? What do you know about this Albert?"

Wagner shrugged. "Corporal in the Wehrmacht. Infantry. Seems nice enough if a little shy. He seemed relieved to be out of the Fort and doing something. Don’t think he can read much."

Alexander nodded. "Despite the Nazis’ claims, literacy is by no means universal in Germany."

"Seemed to do well in the kitchen but they had enough help there. I placed him, checked a week ago, and everything seemed fine, but now..." Wagner spread his hands in bewilderment.

"Do you have many calls like this?"

"Like this? Nope. Most of them are happy to find some kind of outside work. They like it better than working in the camps. I’ve never had a parolee walk off the job yet, either."

"Then I wonder what the problem is?" Alexander said reflectively. He stared at the dismal gray clouds that were darkening the sky.

"Turn left at the crossroads," Wagner called. Tully obeyed.

They descended into a small valley where a train was parked on a siding next to several warehouses, and a number of trucks. Men were unloading crates and boxes from boxcars and putting them on the trucks, and the loaded vehicles headed away up the hills. It was a hive of activity. The town that had obviously grown up around the junction was peaceful with women taking in hanging laundry before the storm broke, and children walking home from school. It was a halcyon scene.

"The Millers live down on Main Street at the end of the warehouses," Wagner called. "Take a right, and head along the tracks."

It was a nice two-story house with wood siding painted white, a wooden picket fence and a huge American flag hanging out front. Through open windows, the breeze swayed white lace curtains.

Jack Miller opened the front door and came outside followed by his son. Both looked taken aback to see someone with Wagner.

"Jack Miller. He’s the foreman," Wagner introduced. "Now what’s the problem, Jack?"

Miller looked over his shoulder, then waved them outside the fence. His son hung behind in earshot. "You gotta take him back, Charlie."

"Why?" Wagner said baldly. "Has his work been bad?"


"Lazy, shirking— ?" Charlie prompted.

"Naw, he’s a good kid, but he’s nervous as a cat lately. Keeps looking over his shoulder like something’s gonna eat him, and can’t be trusted near the house. Trips over everything in sight."

Wagner frowned. "Where is he?"

"He was doing the bushes in the backyard but I thought it’d be better if he did some of the digging on the garden. John!" Miller called his son, who looked up with the sullen glare of a teenager. "Get Albert round here."

John took off.

Alexander looked around the small house, seeing the feminine touch in the lacy curtains, and well-tended garden. Upstairs the curtain stirred in one window and a girl looked out.

He dropped his gaze to Albert who came around the corner, seemingly reluctantly. His hands were coated in mud, and the knees of his pants were stained. He must have been digging out stones or something. He stopped dead when he saw the two officers, and almost flinched.

"Was gibts, Albert?" Wagner asked.

Albert stopped gaping at Alexander and turned to Wagner, answering in his native tongue. "Herr Hauptmann! Please take me away from here!"

Wagner looked surprised.

"What’d he say?" Miller said suspiciously.

Alexander glanced up at the window, saw the pretty face with the curly blond hair and pouting lips, then back at Albert. He asked, in fluent German, "Is it the daughter?"

Wagner stared at him. "You speak German, sir?"

Albert flinched skittishly. "She is always there, always asking questions, and bothering me, every day, then her brother comes and tells me to leave her alone, and Herr Miller— ."

Miller perked up his ears at his name. "What’s he saying?"

"— says leave her alone, but she won’t leave me alone!" Albert finished desperately.

"He says your family’s pickin’ on him, Jack," Wagner said in English. "But he’s ready to leave."

"Picking on him?" Miller bristled. "Hell, he’s too much of a sad sack for even Juliemarie to pick on!"

"Juliemarie?" Alexander inquired.

"His daughter," Wagner said from the corner of his mouth. "Yeah, I know, but that’s his side of it."

"Well, hell, I don’t want him around here anyway!" Miller burst out. "Saying my kids are picking on him! Hell, it’s probably the other way around!"

They were interrupted when Juliemarie came out, her coat open to show the nice blouse and skirt underneath. She was very nubile for a young teenager, and her eyes were artfully made up just enough that her father didn’t notice. She batted them at Alexander, then stopped, intimidated by his stance. Out of the corner of his eye, Wagner checked Alexander’s expression. It was cold and shuttered, but there seemed to be some anger underneath the control Who was it aimed at? Wagner suddenly felt as if the thoughtful, scholarly man he’d ridden down with had been replaced by a live tiger lashing his tail. He hadn’t had any idea that Alexander spoke German as fluent as Wagner’s own. What had Bridey inherited?

Wagner saw Albert wringing his hands, and knew he had to get his POW out of here as soon as possible. He believed the desperate man. This sweet young thing was trying her wings on a captive audience and no matter what Albert did, he was damned. If he took Juliemarie up on her barely-understood offers, he would be lynched by the locals. If he didn’t, he’d be degraded by the locals and the family. And who was her father going to believe? His daughter— or the POW?

"A bad situation, Mr. Miller," Alexander finally said with his most charming manner and heaviest accent. "I can understand your qualms about keeping young people in close contact with a potential liability. Perhaps, he should get his things and come back with us, Charlie?"

Wagner wondered if the Colonel understood exactly what he was doing. He had a flash of what it would be like to arrive back at Fort Monmouth with a dirty POW and a dapper Colonel all in the same car. Westover would have a fit!

Then again, am I going to say to a staff officer this is a bad idea? No, sir! "I suppose we could do that…. " He turned to Albert. "Get your coat, Albert. We’re going back to camp."

Relief flashed on Albert’s face. "I will get my coat," he said eagerly.

"Albert!" Wagner called. "Wash your hands!"

The German nodded and disappeared around the house.

Juliemarie pouted. "Are you going to take him away, Captain?"

"Don’t worry, Julie, he wasn’t good for anything," John said in disgust. "Have you seen the garden? He’s doing it all by hand!"

"You didn’t give him a spade or a hoe?" Alexander asked with a slight edge. "The ground’s still frozen!"

The family gaped at him, and Wagner felt a surge of exasperation. Couldn’t he keep his damned mouth shut now?

Miller finally shrugged. "Hey, they need the work. They’re getting well-fed, better than our boys in Germany, and they can work it off. Do a good job down at the station."

"That is quite true," Alexander agreed, his voice slightly distant. "They are better fed."

"You been over there?" John asked, eyeing the long coat. Alexander was wearing it closed, hiding his decorations. The epaulets on his shoulders were the only mark that he was an officer.

Wagner formally introduced them. "Colonel Peter Alexander, Second Commando, this is Jack Miller and his son, John, and Juliemarie."

"Honored to meet you," Alexander said smoothly.

John dropped his gaze to the muddy ground. Juliemarie’s eyes went wide and her jaw dropped. It wasn’t very appetizing.

Albert interrupted them by coming around the corner, swathed in a too-large civilian jacket. On the back had been stenciled a large PW.

"Climb in front, Albert," Wagner said cheerfully. "I’ll be in touch, Jack."

"You do that, Charlie," Miller answered, gazing at them truculently. "Lookin’ forward to it."

They drove halfway to the fort before Alexander shifted his gaze from the empty countryside to Wagner. "What do you make of that, Charlie?"

Every time Alexander used his first name, Wagner felt the tiger’s breath. "I think Albert’s innocent."

"I don’t. I think he took what she offered to a point, and realized that he shouldn’t go any further. She’s afraid to tell her father, and together they called you," Alexander said unequivocally.

"You mean...that bastard."

"Oh, I’d say the guilt lies on both sides, and both regret it now. I hope there aren’t any long-term consequences. The daughter was trying her wings. However, her brother would probably have done something idiotic. It’s better now that Albert’s away from there before he got in any further."

"Long-term..." Wagner stopped, aghast. "It’s a small town, sir! If she’s pregnant...oh, God. That’ll look good in the records!"

"Accurate on all points," Alexander murmured. "They also strike me as the type of family that might try and take advantage of the situation without judging all the consequences."

"The situation?’ You mean that we’re winning the war?"

"The advantage of having a helpless man at their beck and call," Alexander said sharply. "You were the only one Albert could call on in that situation. Thank God he did. Or was it Juliemarie?"

"The call came from a woman, but she put Albert on. That’s why I came myself." Wagner studied Alexander for a second before tentatively asking, "You sound like you’ve been in that kind of place, sir?"

Alexander smiled reminiscently as he looked out the window. "I was a POW for five months in Germany and I know what it’s like to have no control of your life. I went on one work party where we gathered wood and the local women spat on us as we brought it back."

Wagner was dumbstruck. All he could think was Bridey is going to love this man. She has to. Hes full of more war stories than I am...if she can dig them out of him.

"Recalcitrant prisoners were more likely to be sent to other punishment or labor camps," Alexander went on. "And escaping was a way of life."

"Did you escape, Colonel?" A fraction of a second later, Wagner felt like an idiot for asking. How else would Alexander be free? Well, they had freed a couple of POW camps in the drive for Berlin, but still…

Alexander smiled. "Yes, with two others in Forty-three. I don’t think you should assign another POW to work for the Millers."

Wagner nodded. "That would be foolish unless I get someone like Major Dietrich — "

"He’d be run out of town in a day by an angry mob!" Alexander interrupted. "That young girl wants a lover, Captain. As a former captive, I don’t think anyone should be put in that position where they’re helpless to retaliate! Besides, a man like Dietrich would only work well for someone he respects, like the Cullens, rather than someone he couldn’t."

"He certainly respects Bridey and her father," Wagner agreed hastily. Alexander was more blunt than he’d expected. Wagner wondered how he was getting on with Siobhan, another brutally honest person.

"Have you known her long?" Alexander asked, shifting so he could watch Wagner’s face.

"Siobh— ah, Bridey? Since before she entered kindergarten," Wagner honestly replied. "I went to school with her brother, helped her do her math. Her father put me on a pony, who promptly dumped me. My mother said I couldn’t ride again."

Alexander chuckled, and stretched his long legs. "I suspect you didn’t listen to her."

"Nope. Our families are old friends. My mother is Irish, and knew Mrs. Cullen when they were kids. Bridey’s brother and I went through school together, and she used to tag along after us and boss us around. Joe and I went to college together—until he enlisted on December eighth. I stayed in college, joined up after I graduated in June, came out of OCS a second looie, and got this on Sicily with Patton." He waved towards his wounded leg. "I talked them out of a medical discharge, went through therapy, and was sent here in early Forty-four to run the work-release program. That’s when I found the Cullens needed help. It took a while to get Bridey to agree to take a POW—she hates to admit there’s something she can’t handle on her own—but she finally came around when her last farm worker enlisted last year. So, when Dietrich arrived, I sent him down there. He’s perfect for the farm, and Mike and Bridey were killing themselves trying to run it alone."

"She’s a beautiful woman," Alexander commented, watching him closely

Wagner looked blank. "Diet— oh, Bridey? Yeah, I guess..." He considered that. "She’s more like a sister to me than anything else, but I guess you could say she’s beautiful now. I never thought about it before. You don’t notice that when you grow up with people, you know." Especially about someone whos filled the role of a kid sister practically all your life, he thought.

"I know. My former wife was a friend of my sister’s. I was sent down from University for a little nighttime excursion, and found her in the house. Joined the Army, fell in love, and was sent to France all in a month. I married her just before I went, just in case," Alexander revealed unexpectedly.

"Just in case?"

"I died. The pension would have done well by her. But I came back and we were separated in two years. Went our ways. But still, she was very beautiful when I met her." Wagner glanced over at Alexander and wondered just what made him tick. It seemed like he’d gone into his marriage with a realistic cold-blooded view of his potential death. A glance warned him that the time of confidences was over. "So, what was Miss Cullen like as a child?"

** *** **

The sun had set by the time they reached Fort Monmouth and only traces of lighter black showed that it was still early in the evening. He stepped away from the car, Albert at his side, and saluted. "Thank you for everything, Colonel."

Alexander nodded regally. He again wore the stone face that Wagner had first met. He suspected it was a mask to keep weaker men away. "Take good care of your man there, Captain. And thank you for the information."

The car drove off, and Wagner turned to Albert, who looked to him unquestioningly. "Off to your bunk, Albert. Tomorrow, we’ll talk." He beckoned to a guard who put his hand on Albert’s shoulder and led him off.

Wagner felt like an oyster that had been opened and eaten raw. He didn’t realize how much he’d talked until his voice turned hoarse. Everything he’d said about Bridey had led to still more questions until they reached Monmouth. Wagner wondered if he should warn Bridey that her houseguest now knew more about her than she would ever imagine—or would possibly ever want him to. Alexander was the best interrogator Wagner had ever seen. He never wanted to speak to the man again.

He wondered about Alexander’s comment about her beauty. Was the man going to try and pull a Juliemarie? He couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Not unless she gave him some kind of an opening…. Wagner dismissed the thought. Nope. Bridey wasn’t the type for casual affairs, if she could even see a man for all the horses around her. They tended to monopolize her attention. If the colonel thought he was going to have a ‘bit on the side’, he was sorely mistaken.

A grin tugged his lips. Then again, it might do her good to go head-to-head with someone she couldn’t intimidate. He had to visit Diamond Shamrock more often. Work had kept him away entirely too much lately. He’d have to get back into his old habits soon. Truth be told, he missed sparring with Bridey, and Mike had always been like a second father. And then there was Siobhan’s wonderful cooking…..

** *** **

Bridey disliked shopping for food. She could memorize five-generation pedigrees and keep track of breeding records and farm expenses with one eye closed, but the changing ration coupons, and the wheeling and dealing that Siobhan took an inordinate joy in just bored Bridey out of her mind. She knew Siobhan saw it as an opportunity to meet with other people and gossip, but Bridey’s nearest friends were the horse breeders on either side of her and the milkman who came three times a week. She made a mental note to ask him if he could come a fourth day now that they had the coupons since Alexander and Tully’s arrival. They’d need the extra.

Three days had passed since they’d arrived at the house. She hated to admit it but they were easy houseguests. Half the time they weren’t there. Alexander had spent one night in New York, Tully returning to the farm late, then getting up early to meet Alexander at the Central Railroad station in Long Branch, and last night, they’d come back from a meeting down south, so she had barely seen them. She intended to corner Tully that afternoon if he was home to get some war stories. She couldn’t wait to pump him—he was a virtual goldmine!

They went into the local store where Siobhan was greeted with pleasure by the grocer.

"Here," Bridey said, handing her the ration books. "I don’t want any part of this."

Siobhan clucked in disapproval when Bridey handed her the coupons, but Bridey shrugged it off and retreated outside where the fickle March weather was turning into a sunny, but raw and cold day. She huddled in her coat. The wind flicked viciously around her ears, making them tingle. She could see that the old-fashioned wooden sign that hung outside the office of her lawyer, M. Stanley Susskind, was swinging in the breeze, and she hoped he wouldn’t lose it to the weather. The office was unlit. He was probably out writing a will or doing something important. More important than grocery shopping!

After a few seconds she ventured into the nearest shop, which she discovered was a beauty salon, new since her last visit to Freehold. The three women there, one beautician and two patrons, stared then went back to gossiping, ignoring her.

That was fine with Bridey. She picked up a copy of Life magazine and flipped through it. Pictures of the war in Europe. A girl sitting with a bundle of clothing and her dog at her feet against the background of the spires of Cologne cathedral. All around her was rubble. The magazine called the city a desert. She wondered if the Colonel had ever been there. She’d have to buy her own copy of the magazine and take it back to the house. It might be the wedge to get him to talk to her. Further on there was an article on the uses of blood and what medical advances that had been made during the war. It included a gory picture of brain surgery using fibrim. Interesting. Bridey turned the pages. A chart comparing the Sherman, Royal Tiger and Pershing tanks. And there were endless pictures of new spring dresses. Who could afford them?

The bell over the door jingled and Sheila Finch came in, holding a spotted-fur purse. The plain coat was expensive wool. Bridey wondered where she had gotten it; most of the wool was still going to the war interests.

Sheila smiled brightly at her. "Miss Cullen! How nice to see you again!"

Bridey rose, tossing the magazine to one side. "Hello, Miss Finch."

"Please, call me Sheila. I always feel like I’m back in convent school if they call me Miss Finch." Sheila giggled.

"Only if you call me Bridey. Miss Cullen is so...formal."

"Done!" Sheila said promptly. "Are you getting your hair done today? I always come here. Pauline does the best dos." The beautician smiled over the graying hair she was combing out.

"I came in to get out of the cold," Bridey replied, looking outside. The wind blew leaves across the street and the trees looked like they were shivering. It was becoming an unholy afternoon. Long ride home too. "I’d better get moving."

"How is Cameroon?" Sheila asked abruptly. "Henry is quite worried about him, you know. He’s scared that— ."

"Cameroon is just fine," Bridey interrupted. "I’ve had the vet out to see him. All he needs is a couple of months of rest and vitamins, then light work to bring him back into shape. How is my horse?"

"Hmm? Why you would know that best, wouldn’t you?"

Bridey felt confused. "Diamond Peach? The horse that Mr. Reynolds— ."

"Oh, that horse! He’s fine. Henry rides him each day. I meant that beautiful black stallion you have out at the farm. That was some horse."

"Jaeger. Yes, he is, isn’t he?" Bridey replied honestly.

"How does he ride?"

"Do you ride, Sheila?" Bridey asked.

A half-smile came to the painted lips. "Horses, yes."

What other kind of animal does she She cant know about that sort of thing. Shes too young. No she isnt, and thats definitely what she meant. "The stallion rides like the wind," Bridey said sweetly.

"And what about your helper?" Sheila asked, cocking her head.

Bridey gave a false smile. "Oh, I don’t ride him."

The gray-haired lady gasped and the beautician looked shocked. Sheila looked taken aback, as if she hadn’t expected Bridey to be so blunt.

"But he’s an excellent rider, and exercises our horses for me. He has sole care of Jaeger," Bridey continued grimly, making sure her point was clear, "and they’re quite close. Inseparable, in fact."

"Really? I don’t think Henry will take him along when he comes for Jaeger," Sheila said sincerely.

"Take him?" Bridey asked sharply. "What do you mean, ‘take him’?"

"Why, Henry said he’s been up to Fort Monmouth and Captain Harper says the horse belongs to the Army. Henry’s getting some permissions to take Jaeger to Hollywood."

Bridey felt a touch dazed, though she refused to allow it to show in her expression. This was the first she’d heard about it. Had anyone else heard anything? Had the Colonel heard anything about this? "Over my dead body," she said flatly. "Thank you for warning me, Miss Finch."

The girl’s eyes widened. "Henry’s supposed to be meeting me in an hour if you want to talk to him. We’re going up to the dance at the Fort tonight."

"Just give him a message, will you? Tell him that he’d better make sure he has everything carved on stone tablets before I let him take Jaeger. If he doesn’t—well, let’s just say that I keep the gelding knives well-sharpened. And I know how to use them," Bridey said sweetly. "Have a good time tonight, Sheila. Bye." She left before Sheila or anyone else could say anything, and stalked back to the store. She found a copy of the magazine on the way and bought it, shoving it under her arm.

Siobhan took one look at her stormy face and turned to the man behind the counter. "That’s it for today, Johann."

"Right. I’ll take it out to the van, Frau," Johann said briskly.

Turning at the now-familiar German accent, Bridey saw a PW on the back of his shirt. Another German POW. She wondered if he knew Dietrich.

"What is it, Bridey?" Siobhan whispered, wondering what had happened to put that black look on Bridey’s face.

Bridey felt her ears burn. "Outside," she muttered, and led the way.

It wasn’t until they were on their way that Bridey said, "They’re trying to steal the horse, Siobhan."

"The horse? Oh, the black one?"

"Jaeger. That’s right. That damn actor is trying to steal my horse."

"He’s very good looking."

Bridey shot her an impatient glare. "The horse or the man?"

"The man." Siobhan looked out of the window. "He was quite a man in Soldiers of Fortune."

"That was ten years ago, and yeah, he was handsome. Now he drinks, judging from his red nose, and probably is looking for a cushy young bride to get him into high society," Bridey snarled. "I met up with Sheila, the girlfriend. Apparently he and Harper are planning on taking Jaeger. I’ll geld him before I let that happen."

"Jaeger or Reynolds?"

"Either—or maybe both. Harper, too."

"Well, they can’t do that, can they?" Siobhan asked placidly.


"They can’t take Jaeger. The horse belongs to Colonel Alexander. They have to get his permission, don’t they? I don’t think he’ll let them."

Bridey hit the brakes in time to stop at the red light, and Siobhan tumbled forward. Her hand went out to brace herself on the dashboard. "That’s right!" Bridey shouted, and hit her palm on the wheel. "Why am I so worried? Alexander outranks Harper."

"Unless they go to someone above Alexander," Siobhan suggested. "I think you’d better tell him about this."

Bridey looked rebellious, but nodded. "You’re right about that. I wonder if he knows anything?"

"I wouldn’t put it past him," Siobhan said frostily and went back to looking out the window.

"Why? Don’t you like him, Siobhan?" Bridey glanced at her.

Siobhan shrugged. "Englishman. He’s got some charm, aye, but he is probably more trouble than he’s worth."

Bridey snorted in amusement. "Sounds like you don’t think he’s worth it."

"Hard to tell. He hasn’t been about much, has he? Always running about and not telling a body if he’ll be here for a meal." Siobhan sniffed. "And he’s English."

That says it all, Bridey thought. "How about Tully Pettigrew?"

Siobhan smiled broadly. "Now, there’s a good man. He likes my cooking. Came in and had another piece of pie the first night he arrived, and pokes up the fire for me in the morning before I get there. I’ve had to chase him out once or twice; he likes to watch me cook."

The way to Siobhan’s heart was through everyone else’s stomach, Bridey reflected. Tully had made himself at home, and made a friend, to boot. "Siobhan, you’ve never said -- what do you think of Major Dietrich?" Bridey pursued.

"He’s sort of between the Colonel and Tully, isn’t he? Used to giving orders and having people do things for him, and now he has to do it for himself, and that must’ve been hard to learn. He gets along, and he’s respectful. But he’s a dangerous man, Bridey, under all that control. I think that he might be dangerous to his enemies."

"His enemies? Where? Alexander?"

Siobhan shook her head. "I don’t get that from their talks. They seem to understand each other pretty well. Same type of man."

"Maybe," Bridey said thoughtfully. She had never seen it in quite that light.

"Handsome men," Siobhan commented. "All of them."

Bridey blushed. She had been trying to ignore that. Between Alexander, Dietrich and Tully, she had cornered the market on attractive single men. And she wasn’t interested in a single one of them—not that way, anyway. But their war experiences—if only she could get those out of them!

"But I’m not sure that the Colonel’s well," Siobhan said unexpectedly. "Seems very pale to me. Almost scrawny under that fine uniform."

Bridey glanced at her. "You think he’s sick? Wouldn’t he tell us?"

"Not that kind of man," Siobhan said shaking his head. "Not any of them. Think they can fix anything by ignoring it."

"So you think he’s sick?"

Siobhan spread her hands. "I don’t know for sure. Tully seems to keep a good eye on him as if he’s expecting something to happen."

Bridey clicked her tongue. "I hadn’t noticed. I’ll keep a better watch from now on." She chuckled. "Can’t have our guests falling sick; they might blame it on the food!"

Siobhan chuckled.

Bridey’s temper had cooled to a low ember by the time they reached the farm. To her surprise Alexander’s car was parked beside the main barn, and Tully came outside to greet them.

"That box goes into the kitchen and stay out of the crackers," Siobhan ordered, picking up another box.

Alexander came out of the barn. "Please let me help."

Bridey intercepted him before he could reach for another box. "Can I speak to you first, Colonel?"

He raised a thin eyebrow. "Certainly, Miss Cullen. Where would you like to talk?"

"Over here." She waved to the fence that ran beside the barn. Jaeger was grazing in the paddock. He raised his head and snorted, shook his head and neck, then went back to eating.

Over Alexander’s shoulder, Bridey saw Tully come back for the other box and head into the kitchen. "I heard some disturbing gossip in town, Colonel," she said, staring up at him. "I hope you can clarify some things for me." He didn’t look ill, she thought. His eyes were clear and his coloring normal. Siobhan must be mistaken.

He leaned on the fence, facing her. "Yes?"

"Sheila Finch said that Reynolds and Captain Harper are planning to take Jaeger away."

Alexander nodded, then shrugged. "I’ve heard that."

All her anger boiled up. "And you didn’t think to tell me, Colonel? Why in God’s name not?"

He looked surprised. "I apologize, Miss Cullen, but it was only a rumor. I’ve been pursuing it myself."

"And what would happen if they show up with a trailer and you’re not around, and they have all the proper papers! What am I supposed to do then?" she said explosively. "Dammit, Colonel, let me know about these things! What do you think I am, someone you have to protect?"

He almost took a step back in the face of her anger. "I wouldn’t dare to try, Miss Cullen. Honestly, I didn’t tell you because it wasn’t a firm rumor."

"Well, Sheila thinks it’s a sure thing, so I hope you have something up your sleeve, because they might just show up to take him away."

"They can’t," Alexander said flatly. He brushed his hair back uncovering the scar, which looked swollen. "I’m Jaeger’s custodian, and without orders from London, there is nothing they can do."

"Tell that to Captain Harper!"

"I will. I’ll go up to the Fort myself if necessary," Alexander said calmly. "I’ll contact my people in New York and we’ll have the papers in the next few days at the latest. Please don’t let it upset you, Miss Cullen."

She wanted to hit him. Being told to go be a good girl by men who had no business giving her such orders was driving her wild. But she calmed herself and moved on to her next objective. "In the meantime, I have two mares coming into heat. I would like to breed them to Jaeger."

Alexander nodded. "That sounds good. Please go ahead."

Bridey narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "You don’t care?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Why should I? It will probably do him a world of good. Breed him to every mare on the farm, if you choose. Dietrich will be helping you?"

"Of course." He just doesnt know it yet.

"Good. It will go smoothly then."

Bridey regarded him thoughtfully. "You seem to have a great deal of respect for him, Colonel."

"I do." Alexander gave a short laugh. "You see, I’ve kept an eye on him since...well, for several years. He’s got quite an impressive past.."

"You tracked him?" she said curiously.

Alexander looked like he regretted saying anything. "Somewhat, yes. When I heard he had been captured, I had him sent to America as soon as possible. He was likely to escape back to his people if he stayed in one of the camps over there, and cause masses of trouble. So, you might say, the road to Diamond Shamrock Farm started with me."

"I’m laying the groundwork for my masters degree, Colonel," Bridey said softly. "History— current stuff. Will you talk with me?"

He hesitated for over thirty seconds before shaking his head. "I can’t right now, Miss Cullen— ."

"Bridey. " Would this man never learn?

"Miss Cullen. I’m sorry, no. My work is something I don’t discuss."

She gave in on that. "Point conceded. If I didn’t ask you about anything secret?"

He smiled. "You can ask me any question, but don’t expect an answer."

"Done." The best of a bad bargain. She looked back at the truck. It was empty now. "I guess that we should help Siobhan put the groceries away."

"Certainly," Alexander said formally.

"By the way, Colonel, could you please tell us when you’ll be out for dinner? Siobhan hates wasting food."

He grimaced. "I’m sorry about that. It’s been a busy week. I’ve also meant to bring this up before this."


"I’m leaving for good in four or five days. Tully will also be going."

She stopped dead. "Leaving? Leaving? Where are you going? What about Jaeger?"

"Jaeger stays."

"What about Reynolds and Harper?"

Alexander shook his head. "I will make sure that is cleared up before I go, Miss Cullen. I promise you that."

"You’re promising a lot!"

"I know. I keep my promises though. Don’t worry about Jaeger."

"What about you?" she persisted. "Where are you going?"

Again, he shook his head. "That’s not important, Miss Cullen. Sorry."

"What can you tell me?"

He smiled charmingly. "I had lunch with your friend Charles Wagner today, and brought back some cans of petrol for your tractor."

Bridey wanted to hit him, hard, and break through that damned self-control. She stepped back, her fists clenched, composing herself. She needed contact with horses to drive this black mood away. "Thank you." She headed for the house to change.

"Fraulein Cullen!" Dietrich called from behind her.

Bridey spun to see him coming up from the foaling barn. "What is it?" She ran towards him, drawn by his worried tone.

"Diamond Winter—the foal is in distress. It is incorrectly presented."

"How bad?"

"One leg is back."

"Sweet Mother." Together they ran to the barn.

Dietrich hadn’t been exaggerating. The mare was struggling, her flanks coated in sweat. One of the foal’s forelegs protruded from the birth canal, but its twin was nowhere in sight.

Bridey thought for a second, then ran to the door. "Colonel?" she yelled

He turned. "Yes?"

"Go into my office. Doc Devaney’s number’s in the front of my address book in the top drawer. Call him and find out if he can come right out!"

"Yes, ma’am!" he said and took off for the house.

She ran back inside the foaling barn, stopping at the feed room and raiding the equipment locker on the way. She had a bucket full of equipment when she re-entered Winter’s stall—soap, towels, a large jar of petroleum jelly. She set it down at the stall door. "We’re on our own, Dietrich. I bet Doc’s out. Is my da around?"

"He went off to another farm soon after you and Siobhan left—they needed help with one of their mares."

"Perfect timing. I should have known." She looked at Winter. She stood in the center of the large stall, groaning when each contraction hit her. And, with each contraction, both Bridey and Dietrich could see the tiny hoof protrude from the birth canal, then slip back in when the contraction eased.

This was bad—a dystocia, or malpresentation. In a normal foaling, both forelegs would exit at once; the foal’s head would be extended along them with the foal looking for all the world like it was diving out of the mare’s body.

But this foal had one leg pulled backward, causing it to become stuck in the mare’s pelvis. The mare’s body continued to try to expel it, with no result. Prolonged unproductive labor could result in the death of the mare, foal—or, in extreme cases, both.

Diamond Winter was a maiden mare; this was her first foal. She’d had a successful career on the track and had been bred to a stallion who had also been successful in his career. This foal wouldn’t begin racing for two years or more, but both Bridey and Mike were looking forward to seeing what he or she would do.

And Bridey wasn’t about to lose either the mare or her baby. She ran back to the equipment locker, grabbed two more buckets, and filled them at the spigot at the washrack. It was frigid, but there was no help for it—she couldn’t take the time to heat it.

Water sloshed out of the buckets as she hurried back to the stall. More water splashed as she set the bucket down on the straw.

"It’s up to us—have you ever tried to straighten out a foal before?"

"I have watched."

"Me too." Bridey sighed. "Let’s get started." She stripped off her jacket and then pulled off her blouse. For warmth, she’d taken to wearing one of Joe’s old tee-shirts under her shirts and blouses, and she shivered in the thin cotton.

"What are you doing?"

"I’m going to try to straighten out that leg."

"Are you strong enough for that?"

"I don’t know. But my arm is smaller than yours. It might be easier for me."

She could see doubt in his eyes, but she knew he wouldn’t object. Yet. Then he nodded.

Bridey washed her hands and her arms up past her elbows, then applied a thin coating of petroleum jelly. Quickly blessing herself and saying a Hail Mary followed by a quick prayer to Saint Francis, she stood behind and just off to one side of the mare, away from any potential kick.

"You’ll have to hold her," Bridey told Dietrich, who was already at the mare’s head, talking to her in low, soothing tones in his own language. Bridey listened for a moment, understanding perhaps one word in two dozen.

She slipped her right arm into the birth canal, using the visible leg as a guide. Partway up the leg, she touched the foal’s nose, then worked her way along the neck and down to the foal’s chest. Her arm felt like it was trapped in a vise that was constantly squeezing. It could have been worse—the mare was tiring and the contractions were weakening. But even weak contractions were enough to take Bridey’s breath away.

Her vision swam as one particularly bad contraction squeezed her arm. She could feel her fingers go numb, and she let out an involuntary cry.

Dietrich was instantly at her side, supporting her. "Enough. Let me try."

Bridey looked at him for a moment and then nodded and slowly slipped her arm out, wincing as the blood rushed back to her fingers. "I’m sorry, girl." The mare just groaned as another contraction hit her.

"Did Herr Doctor Devaney’s office give you any idea when he would be here?"

"Alexander’s calling him. If he’s on an emergency call, it could take hours."

"We don’t have hours, Fraulein," he said gently.

"I know." Breathing hard, Bridey sank down into the straw bedding to catch her breath. Dietrich stripped off his shirt and undershirt, scrubbed quickly and pulled Bridey to her feet, taking her place behind the mare. Bridey moved to the mare’s head, stroking her, ready to restrain her if necessary.

The strain on Dietrich’s face was tremendous as he fought against the contractions to straighten the leg. "It’s… stretched back against… his flank."

God, Bridey thought, that can be impossible to straighten out.

Dietrich fell silent, concentrating on working his way back along the body of the foal. Then his eyes widened. "I think I have… the leg."

Bridey leaned forward and held her breath, waiting.

"Yes!" Dietrich braced himself against the mare’s flank as he struggled to reach the foal’s forearm. "I have the knee… this is a big foal, Fraulein."

"Hold on girl," Bridey crooned. "Just hold on."

Dietrich let out the breath he’d been holding. "I have it!" Slowly he eased his arm out, and along with it, one small forehoof. He leaned against the mare’s flank and took a deep breath, watching.

Winter gave a great groan and the tiny forehooves protruded even farther. "It shouldn’t be long now," Bridey muttered. Dietrich nodded and positioned himself to assist the mare if necessary.

Alexander appeared at the stall door, followed by Tully. "Doctor Devaney is on an emergency call. His office doesn’t know when he’ll be free." He looked shocked at the sight of Bridey and Dietrich, both covered in blood and birth fluids, in the stall with the mare.

Bridey looked up in shock. As focused as she was on the mare and getting the foal out, she hadn’t realized Alexander had returned. "Damnit. What do you know about delivering foals?" she asked.

He’d quickly regained his composure. "Nothing, I’m afraid. Is there anything I can do — ."

"Just stay the hell out of the way!" Bridey snapped, then turned her attention to the mare.

"Can I help?" Tully asked softly.

Bridey looked at him. "Have you ever done this before?" Tully shook his head. "Then hold her. Talk to her. When she wants to go down, let her."

Tully nodded and took her place at the mare’s head, allowing Bridey to join Dietrich. "Come on, girl. Lie down," Bridey muttered. But Winter remained standing.

"Fraulein… "Dietrich said softly, without taking his eyes off the mare.


"I think she intends to foal standing."

"I know." She sighed heavily. "What a day. Thank God it isn’t breech. Tully," she called, "don’t let her move."

Winter groaned, and the forelegs protruded more, followed by the foal’s muzzle.

"I will support the forequarters—you support the hind legs," Dietrich said.

"Yeah," Bridey agreed, willing Winter to go down before they had to catch the foal. Going to the equipment bucket, she removed a pair of scissors and stuck them into her back pocket.

One more contraction, and the foal’s neck appeared, followed by first one shoulder, then the other. Dietrich supported the foal’s weight while Bridey pierced the heavy sac containing the foal and eased it away from the foal’s head. She took one of the smaller towels and carefully cleared the fluids from the foal’s nose.

Winter chose that moment to lie down. Dietrich reacted immediately, moving with her, supporting the foal as the mare went down, lying in the straw like a dog. He ended up in the straw behind her, with the foal half-delivered into his lap. Then Winter shifted position, lying full out on her side in the straw.

Bridey helped support the foal’s weight as Dietrich moved out from under it. She allowed the foal’s head to dangle alongside its forelegs, so any fluids remaining in the nasal passages would drain. She relaxed slightly as the foal took a breath.

Another contraction delivered the foal’s body; one that followed delivered the hind legs. As Dietrich cleared the sac from the foal’s body, Bridey retrieved the towels she’d brought in earlier and began rubbing the foal dry, working backwards from the head. Dietrich discarded the sac and reached for a towel, beginning to work forward from the hindquarters.

Bridey reached for a dry towel. "What is it?" she asked, craning her head to see.

"A large colt, Fraulein." He carefully grasped the umbilical cord, noting the strong pulsations. All was well, he realized, and he relaxed somewhat. "Do not let her move until I tell you, Sergeant," he said to Tully.

"Right," Tully said, stroking Winter’s neck.

When the pulsations ceased, Dietrich nodded. "It is safe. Let her rise if she wishes."

The mare, still weak, somehow managed to heave herself to her feet, breaking the cord. Bridey lunged for the equipment bucket. Removing the bottle of iodine, she uncapped it and inserted the stump of the umbilical cord into the bottle of antiseptic. She left it there for several seconds before removing it and recapping the bottle.

Winter stood shakily for a moment, her head low. Then she turned around to her colt, who lay in the straw. She lowered her head and sniffed at him, then tried to nudge him to his feet.

After a few breaths, the colt attempted to stand. His rear end came up first, then collapsed to the straw.

He tried again. Extending his long front legs before him, he tried to raise his hindquarters. He half-succeeded, but fell back to the straw again.

He rested for a moment, gathering his strength, before the next attempt. This time, he was successful. Once he was up, he braced all four legs and stood, swaying slightly from side to side. Then he took one step, followed by another. He was wobbly, but he was on his feet to stay.

The three humans in the stall looked at each other and sighed in relief as the colt took three wobbly steps to his dam’s side and started nosing around for her udder. He found it quickly and started nursing with enthusiastic slurps.

"Noisy little guy," Tully said.

"He’s up fast," Bridey said in awe, going to the mare’s head and stroking her. "Good girl."

"He is a strong one, to get up quickly after a birth like that," Dietrich said, watching the colt closely.

"Keep an eye on her," Bridey said. "She should deliver the afterbirth soon now that he’s nursing."

"I will stay with them," Dietrich said.

"Like hell," Bridey said. She looked at him, soaked with blood and amniotic fluid, and knew she didn’t look much better, even if she did have a bit more clothing on. "That’s a good way to get pneumonia." Belatedly she realized that Alexander was still standing in the stall door. She felt a quick pang of guilt at the way she’d snapped at him earlier.

"Colonel, would you see if my father is back? The Major and I need to clean up and get into dry clothes, fast." She looked at Dietrich, daring him to contradict her.

Alexander nodded and left. Tully looked at Bridey, then back to Dietrich. He knew she was right—both of them were soaked to the skin, and Dietrich was half-naked to boot. "I’m clean—I’ll stay if your pa isn’t around."

Bridey shot him a look of pure gratitude. "Thanks."

Mike came into the barn at a dead run. He spared a glance for the mare and her foal, still busily suckling, before looking at his daughter and parolee. "God in heaven! What are you standin’ around here like that for? Get up to the house and into a hot bath, the both of ya! You’ll catch your death!" When neither moved as quickly as he’d have liked, he put his hands on his hips and roared, "Now! I’m not talkin’ to hear me own voice!"

Bridey rolled her eyes and picked up her discarded shirt and jacket from the corner of the stall. "Sure, Pop. We were just leaving. The stuff-- "

"I can handle that. Go on wi’ ye. Now."

Bridey picked up Dietrich’s shirt from the straw, draped it across his shoulders, took his elbow and pulled. "Come on."

She waited until they were out of the stall and well up the barn aisle before saying anything more. "Pop doesn’t get mad often, but when he does, get out of the vicinity. And he’s mad now."

"That was quite evident." He looked down at himself, then slipped his arms into the shirt to ward off the chill. "We are a sight. You have blood on your cheek. And your nose."

"And you have a lot more." Bridey choked down a laugh. "We look like two axe murderers on the run from the law. Bonnie and Clyde, take two."

He frowned at that. "Siobhan will not be pleased at the state of our clothing."

Bridey nodded. "She’s seen all this before, but I’ll catch hell for ruining these trousers." She looked down at the garment. "What a mess. I’ll never go to town in these again."

"You didn’t have time to change," Dietrich reminded her.

"No, but she won’t care. Listen—that was a good call you made. Winter and the baby could have died if you hadn’t realized that there was a problem."

Dietrich just shrugged noncommittally.

"No, really," Bridey pressed on. "They’re both alive because of you. I’ve seen mares and foals die from dystocia, and it’s not a pretty sight. I realize that you’ve probably seen a helluva lot worse in the past few years, and I’m probably overreacting."

"Fraulein, I was just doing my job."

Bridey glared at him. "I really hate it when you brush off my compliments like that. I wouldn’t say them if I didn’t mean them, but damnit, you just shrug and give me that ‘shucks, ma’am, t’weren’t nothin’ duck-and-shuffle act. I hate that. Can’t you just accept a compliment when I give you one?"

"There is nothing I can do about that," Dietrich said with sudden intensity. "It is the way I am, Fraulein!"

She stopped, and he halted, turning to face her head on. "I’ll bet that you’re not so damned cold-blooded when you’re in battle, Major! Don’t you care about anything?"

Dietrich’s jaw set in stone. "I cared a great deal for my men and my country, I care for my family, and I care about my friends both here and over there. You are one of them, Fraulein."

"More than your girlfriend in Kentucky?" she raged, then stopped, aghast, shutting her mouth with an audible snap. She couldn’t believe she’d said that! What on earth had possessed her to say such a thing?

Dietrich’s lips twitched. "‘Girlfriend?’ No, not a girlfriend. But she is a good friend." He paused momentarily, then said in a softer tone, "Fraulein...I am a prisoner here. I cannot overstep my bounds. There is too much at stake."

Bridey felt like she’d been doused with a bucket of ice water. Her anger fled and she was filled with remorse. If she hadn’t lost her temper, she would never have lashed out like that at a man who couldn’t, no, wouldn’t strike back, for more reasons than she could count. Besides, she liked him...a lot. She stepped away from that cliff edge, and back onto solid ground. "Major…..I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off like that. It was a cruel thing to say, and I apologize. I’m just tired and bloody, and I want a long hot bath. With bubbles."

Dietrich nodded. "I would like one too. Without the bubbles."

They both laughed, the tension between them gone, and went towards the house.

On a sudden impulse, Bridey looked back. Alexander was watching them, his arms crossed, and his expression thoughtful, and rather cold. She shivered. What was he thinking about? Of her and Dietrich? There was nothing there!

Siobhan took one look at the two of them and dropped the dish she was drying. "Jaysus! What happened?"

"Bad foaling, Siobhan. The mare and foal are okay, and so are we."

"Get out of those clothes, both of you. I have to get them soaking or the blood will never come out."

"You mind if we do it upstairs, in private?" Bridey asked dryly.

"Go on wi’ ye. I’ll have a pot of tea and something for you to eat when you come down. And leave those clothes out in the hall before you go into the bath!"

"Yes ma’am," Bridey said, and she and Dietrich headed for the stairs.

"What would you call a female curmudgeon?" Dietrich asked.

"Siobhan. Her picture’s next to the word in the dictionary." Bridey grinned at him. "The first one upstairs gets most of the hot water!"

Dietrich gestured for her to go in front of him. "Ladies first."

"Uh-uh—we’ll race." And she charged up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Dietrich followed at a more sedate pace. "You let me win," she accused when he reached her. His only response was a shrug. "Next time, I expect a fair race."

"Next time?"

"Yeah." She chewed on her lip, unsure of how to broach the subject that she’d been thinking about since they’d argued in the stable yard. "What you said back there about overstepping your bounds…I wish you would once in a while."


"Listen, if I do or say something stupid, please, just tell me. I may bluster for a while, but it’ll eventually sink in. And I’d rather you be honest with me than worry that you might say something that might get me mad. I think we’ve gotten to that point, don’t you?"

He thought about that for a moment, then nodded agreement. "Very well."

"Thank you. I’ll meet you downstairs. And don’t forget to leave your clothes in the hall for Siobhan."

Bridey closed the door softly behind her, then started pulling off her ruined clothing. She looked at them critically. The blouse wasn’t in that bad a condition, but the trousers were ruined beyond salvaging. She folded them and placed them alongside the door while she pulled on a robe, then opened the door and placed them along the wall next to the door. It wouldn’t do to make Siobhan wait. Then she padded into the bathroom.

Bridey liked to take her time in the shower or bath, but this time, she moved as quickly as she could—there was a new foal to see! She hurried through, promising herself a longer, more leisurely bath—with attendant bubbles—in the evening, after dinner.

Knowing Mike would have a fit if she turned up at the barn with a wet head, she pulled the Handy Hannah out of the closet and used the powerful, if noisy little dryer on her hair until it was nearly dry. Then she pulled out fresh clothing and dressed quickly, pulling her hair back into a ponytail.

She leaned forward and looked in the mirror, surveying her face critically. There—with the lengthening of the days and the strengthening of the sun’s rays, her freckles were popping out all over. There were only a few now, but by mid-summer, her nose would be covered with them. Mike called them ‘fairy kisses’ and thought they were cute, but Bridey thought they were just an annoyance.

She could hear the shower still going in the adjoining bathroom and grinned. One thing she’d learned about Dietrich in the past couple of months was that he loved long showers—he was probably making up for time he’d lost in the desert. Well, there was plenty of water, and the boiler was big enough to supply the several bathrooms in the house.

She was about to put the little dryer away when she realized that it might be a good idea to let Dietrich dry his hair, too. No sense letting him antagonize Mike at this point.

She puttered around the room, trying to give him enough time to get dried off and dressed — loaning him the hair dryer was the practical thing to do, but there was no sense embarrassing either of them in the process. Looking at her watch, she judged that enough time had passed, and left her room. The clothing was gone from the hall when she walked next door to Dietrich’s room. Siobhan was operating at her usual efficiency, she thought.

She gave three sharp raps on the door. He opened it immediately. He was shirtless, and barefoot, with a towel draped around his neck. She held out the dryer. "Here."

Dietrich gave it an odd look, but didn’t take it. "What is it?"

"It’s a hair dryer. Pop’ll string us up if we go down to the barn with wet hair — he has this thing about wet heads in cold weather. He doesn’t get mad about much, but I try not to push him if humanly possible. Just leave it on my bed when you’re done."

"Thank you."

"You’re welcome. And hurry up — I want to see that new colt."

"You do not have to wait for me."

"I’m not going without you." And she clattered down the stairs.

** *** **

Dietrich knocked on Bridey’s bedroom door. No answer. He hadn’t expected one but he couldn’t barge in just in case she was in there. He twisted the knob and went inside.

The light blue curtains on the windows sat motionless. The embers in the fireplace still crackled behind the screen, and the room smelled familiarly of burned wood, and the floral-scented soap she used. He had noted it before, but now it was stronger, wafting out of the open bathroom door.

Walking over to the double bed, he noticed that the blue-and-white quilt matched the blue of the curtains. On one wall was a portrait of a woman who looked like Bridey in the nose and mouth, though her hair was dark and her eyes blue. Probably her mother, he surmised; they had the same eyes. Other pictures were from horse shows—several showed a younger Bridey, mounted on one showhorse or another, accepting trophies from elegantly-dressed people— while others were obviously of family. He glanced for a second at the photo of the young man in a US Marine uniform. The framed photo held pride of place on the oak dresser, next to a small china horse. This had to be Joe, the brother she spoke of so often and with such open affection. He had chestnut hair, and his eyes were a lively blue, like his mother’s. He looked healthy, strong, and full of energy. Dietrich had seen hundreds like him in POW camps in Germany. He hoped that wouldn’t happen to Bridey’s brother.

It was neat, orderly, so different from the room he’d shared with Annaliese. She had strewn her garments over chairs, and tables, laughing when he picked them up and put them in a closet. Her father had indulged her with new garments when he could afford it, and Dietrich remembered a particularly revealing black gown from Paris which hadn’t stayed on her body very long when he had seen it. That might have been the leave that had produced Katrina. Maybe not. The months and leaves had run together, and he didn’t remember anything but the feel of her body against his, and the sound of her voice, and the look she had given him when he had to leave her for the front. Those brown eyes... Did Katrina have his dark eyes or hers? He shuddered. Better not think of that right now. He had to avoid that line of thought before he went insane.

Dropping the dryer on the bedspread he retreated to the door, looking around once more. She kept the room painfully neat. Looking through the open bathroom door, he could see her wet towel draped over the shower rod to dry. The dresser was well-dusted, and the small table where she kept her brushes and what little makeup she used was orderly. A familiar-looking sleeve was caught in the door of the closet. She must have slammed the door in haste and not noticed.

He walked over and opened the door. Facing him were an array of blouses, and a few skirts. The pants were neatly arrayed, boots and shoes neatly lined up beneath them. It was all too intimate for Dietrich. He tucked the sleeve back in, closed the door and headed for the door faster than he had intended. Bridey was fast becoming an attraction with her mere presence, and he couldn’t afford that, not with Annaliese and Katrina counting on him. He was in love with his wife—not the headstrong young redhead who was so close by.

** *** **


Troy yawned. He had spent enough time in the canteen to hear all the new stories, which didn’t differ a lot from the stories he’d heard for years, and drink enough beer to float a hospital ship, and now he wanted to do something useful. The Colonel had been gone over two weeks, Carlson had vanished not long afterward after giving vague orders for them to stay put, and Troy was chafing at the bit. There was nothing for him and the others to do but bum around the castle, eat the lousy food, and help with the supplies. Rumors of the war swirled around them.

At the table next to him, he overheard a balding, burly man with tattoos covering his forearms holding forth, as he had for an hour, that Texas was the only place on this green earth that was worth living in, and that when he got out of this stupid war, he was going south and make a pile of money in oil. Troy had listened with growing interest as the man expostulated on the topic. The Texan had been on oil rigs before he joined up, and knew what he was talking about. It sounded like work Troy would be interested in. Outdoors, dangerous and with the potential to make a lot of money. Funny, but in the desert, he hadn’t cared about the money, but soon the war would be over, and what kind of work could he find that offered him as much challenge as what he was doing now? Post-war armies weren’t interesting.

Right now he’d be happy just be doing some kind of work. He felt a surge of irrational dissatisfaction. There was still fighting to be done and he wasn’t in it. Hadn’t the last five years been enough for him? Probably…if it was finally over now. Troy didn’t want anyone to think he was a welsher. There was still a war to be fought, and he wasn’t part of it. He headed up to the ramparts of the castle where he could look over the neighboring towns. A flush of green touched the remaining trees, and even the red-tiled roofs on some of the houses had a glow that made them look like they were on fire. He could see refugees on the roads being directed by soldiers, and a line of trucks trying to drive away from the castle. The whole world was in motion except for him, Hitchcock and Moffitt.

Behind him came the clatter of boots, and he turned. "Moffitt?"

"Troy. I’ve just gotten orders for us," Moffitt said crisply.

"What? From whom?"

"The Colonel. Let’s find Hitch." They climbed the steep stone stairs to where Hitchcock was resting on a cot in the room that had been Alexander’s and been co-opted by the team after he left. In a castle stuffed with soldiers, they’d made the cubby their own, and defended it fiercely. The sergeant who assigned space had accepted the fait accompli and left them alone after the first argument.

From the smile on Hitchcock’s lips, he was thinking of girls. He sat up when they entered. "What’s up?"

"Moffitt’s got orders," Troy said. "What is it?"

Moffitt held it out to Troy. "Alexander wants us to go to Pforzheim and find Dietrich’s wife and kid."

Hitchcock’s jaw dropped. "His wife? Kid? He’s married?"

"Apparently," Troy said, handing back the orders. "Can we get the gas?"

"Sure," Hitchcock said briskly. "I’ll liberate it, Sarge!"

"We’ll just say we’re following orders, and do the job." Troy grinned enthusiastically. "I can’t wait to see what Dietrich’s wife looks like!"

"What if Carlson comes back and we’re gone?" Moffitt asked with a slight frown knitting his brow. "I mean we’re under his orders technically."

"Aw, you worry too much," Hitchcock said challengingly. "We’ll be back before he knows it."

"I wonder how Alexander and the horse are doing?" Troy mused.

Hitchcock nodded. "And Tully. I wonder how he is?"

"They are probably enjoying themselves more than we are," Moffitt said depressingly. "Very well. Let’s take off early tomorrow. It’s going to be a long drive."

** *** **


Bridey descended to the main floor where she found Siobhan stirring a pot of soup and laughing with Tully, who sat at the kitchen table peeling the last of the potatoes. She paused to admire the domestic picture. "Having fun?"

"He peels potatoes better than you do."

"Dancer peels potatoes better than I do, Siobhan." Bridey hooked a chair leg with her foot and pulled out the chair, dropping into it bonelessly. "Got put on KP a lot, huh?" she asked as she poured a glass of milk from the pitcher in the center of the table.

Tully just grinned and kept on peeling.

Siobhan placed a large bowl of chicken soup in front of Bridey. The aroma made her mouth water. She hadn’t realized she was this hungry. Taking a golden-brown biscuit from the plate Siobhan put at the center of the table, she smiled. "Smells great, Siobhan."

"I have a thermos for you to take down to your father."

"Did he calm down?" she asked Tully.

"Right after you left."

"Good." She took a spoonful of the soup, blew on it to cool it, and swallowed. "It tastes as great as it smells."

Siobhan beamed. "Where’s the Major?"

"Drying his hair."

"With that noisy little thing you use?" Siobhan sniffed.

Bridey rolled her eyes. "Don’t knock it, Siobhan. It works. And I don’t need Pop yelling at us again."

Tully nodded. "He was mad, all right. I didn’t think Mike had it in him."

Siobhan snorted. "You’d be surprised at what he has in him. Raising this one and her brother almost alone was no picnic."

"Come on, Siobhan," Bridey complained. "We weren’t that bad."

"No. You were worse. Joseph was an angel compared to you, and he had his own share of the devil in him. Your father’s got his place in heaven waitin’ for him — he’s already been through Purgatory here."

Tully laughed, and Bridey made a face, then chuckled. Dietrich came in on the tail end of their laughter, and Bridey patted the seat of the chair next to her. "Sit down. The soup’s hot, and the noodles are homemade."

"I left the dryer where you instructed," he said, seeing no reason to let either Siobhan or Tully know he’d been in Bridey’s bedroom.

"Thanks. Fun, isn’t it?" Bridey poured him a glass of milk as she refilled hers.

"I can say I have never had an equivalent experience."

Siobhan placed a bowl of soup in front of him, and he smiled. "This smells wonderful, Frau McKenna."

Siobhan beamed again and pointed to the biscuits. "Eat them while they’re hot."

Conversation ceased as Bridey and Dietrich applied themselves to their meals. "Seconds?" Siobhan asked when they pushed their plates away.

"Not if I don’t want to waddle down to the barn," Bridey said. "It was great, Siobhan."

"It was excellent," Dietrich said.

"Does that mean you want more?" Siobhan asked, turning back to the stove, ready to fill his bowl once again.

Dietrich looked at Bridey to see her trying to hide a grin. "Not at this moment. I am also full."

Siobhan looked dubious, but nodded. Then she placed a thermos in front of Bridey. "Give that to your da. He’s bound to be hungry after the day he spent."

"Sure, Siobhan." Bridey and Dietrich took their coats and walked down to the stable.

"She thinks you’re too thin, you know. That’s why you get the first glass of milk out of the bottle, and the biggest piece of pie—she’s trying to fatten you up. "

"Except for my stay at the Pettigrew farm, I eat better here than I have in a long time."

"Doesn’t matter. She’s gonna do to you what she’s always done to Joey—and he can eat twenty-four hours a day, and not put on an ounce."

"The food you eat is so rich, even with rationing."

Bridey laughed. "Chalk that up to a good harvest in our garden last year, and creative bartering with those damned eggs and all that manure those horses churn out every day. And thank God butter isn’t rationed. Bread is supposed to be the staff of life, but not to the Irish. For us, it’s butter and potatoes."

They found Mike at the foaling stall, watching the foal. Alexander was nowhere to be seen.

"How is he, Pop?" Bridey asked, handing him the thermos. "That’s from Siobhan."

"He’s fine. Big. Strong. And alive because of you two. With any luck, he’ll see a racetrack in two years or so." He opened the thermos and inhaled deeply. "Chicken soup."

"The noodles are homemade," Dietrich said, smiling at Bridey.

She grinned back. "Yeah. Hey, Pop, have you come up with a name yet?"

"Not yet. It needs more thinkin’ on."

"Do that while you eat your soup." She saw Dietrich start to walk away out of the corner of her eye. "Where are you off to?"

"To the stallion barn," he replied. "It is almost feeding time."

"Let that wait. I’m planning to take Jaeger out for a walk. Come with me."

"I have work to do," Dietrich protested.

"You work too hard," Bridey retorted. "Take a break. And I can use the company," she added in a softer voice.

He inclined his head in acceptance.

They went to the main barn and led the stallion out to the pasture near the training track, where Bridey set Jaeger free. Bridey sat down, her back to the old oak in the center of the paddock, and gestured to Dietrich to sit beside her. He did so reluctantly. They both watched Jaeger as he cantered around the enclosed field, snorting and bucking occasionally. He moved like a sweep of black ink from a sable brush.

"You and he seem to be spending a lot of time here," Dietrich finally said.

"We’re getting to know each other. And he’s comfortable here — he can’t smell the studs from here. Or the mares." She grinned. "I’m dying to get up on his back."

"Fraulein, he can be a handful."

"Major, I can handle stallions. I’ve trained unbroken racehorses and horses fresh off the track who know only one thing— go fast, faster. I can handle this boy. He’s a gentleman. He’s been well-trained."

"Fraulein, that stallion— ."

"Is not as dangerous as the non-horse people flitting around this farm think. Or, should I say, as dangerous as you want them to think."

He didn’t seem ruffled; Bridey had to give him credit for that. "Why would I want anyone to think that, Fraulein?" he asked, with a deceptive restraint, turning toward her.

"Because it suits your purposes, whatever they may be." She smiled, and gestured toward the stallion. "And it suits mine, as well." She changed the subject before he could respond. "Has he been bred before?"

"He has a few dozen offspring on the ground. Or he did, before the war."

That was territory she didn’t care to explore. "And how does he behave in the breeding shed?" Sensing his discomfort, Bridey shook her head. "Major, I’ve been actively helping out at foalings and breedings, not to mention geldings, since I was fourteen. I was watching them long before. Nothing that happens on a farm shocks me. I know what happens when you put a stallion to a mare," she said solemnly.

Dietrich sized her up momentarily, then nodded. "Eager, but a gentleman. He has never yet savaged a mare."

"My mares will be happy to hear that," Bridey said dryly.

Dietrich frowned. "Your father has no say?"

Bridget laughed. "The more interest I take in the running of this farm, the happier he is. He has this wild dream that I’ll forget about school and run the farm full-time, so he and Joe can concentrate on the racing end. That’s why he put my name on the deed when my mother died—to tie me to the farm. He didn’t have to do that— I’ll never leave."

"And when you marry?"

Bridey plucked a blade of grass and started tying it in knots. "Change that ‘when’ to ‘if’. I don’t know if I’ll ever find anyone suitable. I’m not exactly easy to get along with, as I’m sure you’ve noticed," she said dryly. "And I’m not sure I’d be able to make the compromises I’d have to make in a marriage. That’s okay—the Irish have a long tradition of spinsters."

He ignored that. "If you marry—what about your husband?"

Bridey shrugged. "He’ll just have to agree to live here."

"And if he does not?"

"Then he’ll have a problem." She paused, then went on. "I love horses. I’ve been around them all my life. But I love history, too. I want to learn as much as I can, to teach, to write— and your Fuhrer has provided me with plenty of material."

"He is not my Fuhrer," Dietrich responded quickly.


"No. Many of us objected to the loyalty oath we were forced to take, but we had no alternative—and an oath is an oath."

"I see."

The stallion gave a couple of bucks, then sank to his knees and lay down on the stubble of the grass and rolled. Dietrich raised an eyebrow, then turned to a grinning Bridey. " He trusts you."

Bridey drew one knee into her chest. "Hey, what’s not to trust?" Seeing his confusion, she apologized. "Sorry. Your command of English is so good, sometimes I forget it’s not your first language."

"And you’ve forgotten other things, as well."

She shook her head, knowing full well that his words had several meanings. She decided to answer head on and see how he responded. "Not forgotten. They’re just not important right now."

"Because your country has won the war?"

She paused a moment before answering. At her look, he continued, "It is only a matter of time. The war was lost a long time ago."

Bridey nodded. "Partially that. But more because you’re a human being, and you act like one. You don’t fit the stereotype — that’s for sure."


"The jack-booted, goose-stepping stormtrooper."

"I was a Wehrmacht officer," Dietrich said frostily.

Bridey refused to let that throw her. "I gather there’s a distinction?"

"An extremely important one."

"Why don’t you enlighten me so I don’t make the same mistake again?"

Dietrich raised an eloquent eyebrow. "Is the history student or the horsewoman talking?"

"The friend, in this case, although the history student is never far from the surface."

"Friends are hard to come by during wartime," he murmured.

"That’s true enough— although you seem to be pretty friendly with Tully. Even with Alexander."

Dietrich shook his head. "Colonel Alexander respects me. I’m not sure he likes me very much."

"That’s not such a bad tradeoff."

"There are some people whose respect is more valuable than their friendship. And the respect of an enemy is a rare and valuable thing."

"I’m beginning to understand that," she agreed. "Alexander said he respects you."

Dietrich looked surprised. "Did he? Strange...."

"He said he looked into your background."

"I wonder why?" Dietrich murmured.

Bridey snorted. "Curiosity, maybe?"

"That might be. He is a curious man."

"Very," she said dryly. "He said I can breed Jaeger."

"Today? This week?"

"Whenever I want."

Dietrich nodded. "Diamond Venture is in season. So is Diamond Sea Sprite."

"Yes, I was just thinking about that." She looked up into the tree. "You know, I broke my arm falling out of this tree when I was eight."

Dietrich looked up. The lowest branches were a good ten feet above their heads. "This tree? How did you get up into it?"

"It had a lot of lower branches back then. Pop had them all sawn off after I fell—he didn’t want a repeat performance."

"Should I ask what you were doing in the tree?"

"Joe dared me to climb it—or maybe it was Charlie. I don’t remember. But a dare’s a dare, so I climbed up—in paddock boots, which wasn’t too smart—slipped on a branch, and down I went. I didn’t cry, though."

He heard the pride in her voice. "Quite an accomplishment for a child with a broken arm."

"Maybe." Bridey shrugged. "Or maybe I was just protecting my pride. I wasn’t going to let them see how much it hurt. Never let people see what bothers you. It gives them too much power over you." She stopped, as if she realized she’d given too much of herself away. "Anyway, I walked back to the house, made it as far as the kitchen, and fainted. The last thing I remember is the look on my poor mother’s face as I fell. The next day my father had the groundskeeper cut the lower branches off."

"It must have been nice to grow up here."

"It was great—especially when racing was in full swing. The pastures were full of mares and foals, and yearlings. We were always training the young stock, and shipping them off to this track or that, or to sales. I miss racing. I can’t wait for it to start up again. I used to help break the yearlings. I used to back them for my father. To be the first one on a horse’s back, to know how important that first experience is to a horse—it’s humbling."

He laughed at that, and Bridey looked at him in puzzlement. "What’s so funny?"

"Fraulein, I have trouble picturing you being humbled by anything."

She raised an eyebrow, then smiled ruefully. "Getting dumped in the dirt can humble anyone."

"I would not know."

Bridey looked at him in amazement. "Are you trying to tell me that you’ve never been thrown?"


She gave him a disbelieving look. "You’re not human."

"I bleed if I am cut," Dietrich assured her. "I have enough scars to prove it. But they came from bullets."

Bridey smiled. "Like to tell me about them?"

"Nein. Not now. It is too peaceful here for that discussion."



"I don’t give up that easily, you know."

"I know. Another time."

She glanced at him and saw that his smile was gone. She decided not to pursue it at that moment. "I can’t wait for Joey to come home. I haven’t seen him in over three years."

"Your brother."

"Yeah. Big brother, best friend, adversary and nemesis. I made his life—and Charlie’s — miserable when I was a kid. They’re three years older than I am, but we’re close. There weren’t that many kids my age around here, and none of them were girls—not that I wanted to do girl things, anyway. So I just followed the boys around."

"What did they think of that?"

"They got used to it." She grinned. "You know that little scar on Charlie’s cheek? It’s my fault. I don’t remember how, exactly. I just know that it’s my fault."

"Or so Captain Wagner says. If you don’t remember the occurrence, you have only his word for it."

"That’s an excellent point." Bridey gave him a big grin. "I like that. I do. I think I’ll tell him so." She looked at her watch, then rose, brushing dirt off the back of her pants. "The mares await their suitor. Shall we get started, Major?"

"That sounds reasonable," Dietrich agreed. "I will catch Jaeger and bring him to you in the breeding barn."

"And I’ll go grab a mare."

** *** **

The next morning, Bridey was up earlier than usual. She heard Tully snoring in his bedroom, and smiled as she went down to the kitchen. She had even awakened before Siobhan. She laughed—that didn’t happen often. Bridey stirred up the embers in the old stove, and fed it some wood. After a few minutes the water in the kettle was hot enough for a cup of coffee, which she drank out on the porch to the accompaniment of a pair of barn swallows who were curving and dipping. She stretched out her arms, reveling in the unusually warm weather. It was a superb day, just above fifty degrees—fifty degrees at this hour!— according to the thermometer outside the kitchen window. The spring had been warmer than normal, but she’d lived through far too many nasty spring storms to take it for granted. She’d enjoy the gift, but not be surprised if the weather turned cold again. Disappointed, yes; surprised, no.

Today was a fine day to be alive.

She rinsed the cup, set it to dry, then rummaged in the pantry. She found two apples, cut them up into eighths, then went outside. It was a perfect spring morning.

Dietrich walked in to find her already feeding Jaeger, who was taking bits of apple delicately from her hands. "You will spoil him, Fraulein," he said in mock reproof.

She chuckled. "Maybe. And maybe he’s worth spoiling. I can’t imagine he’s had it too easy the past couple of years. At any rate, he needs to keep his strength up—he’ll be meeting a lot of mares in the next few weeks." She looked at Dietrich, seeing that he was dressed in a pair of buff breeches. His boots were shined to an even higher gloss than usual. "That’s a definite improvement. Are you going to exercise him now?"

"Yes. I have already fed the chickens and the mares." He took down the lead shank and clipped it to Jaeger’s halter. "Do you have a dressage saddle?" he asked as they walked to the tack room.

Bridey tried to keep from smiling. "Major, I train hunters and jumpers. I’ve got four different types of forward-seat saddles, a slew of racing saddles, and three Western saddles for the lead ponies, but no dressage saddles. Take your pick."

Dietrich put Jaeger in the cross-ties outside the tack room and looked at the array of saddles on the wall racks. After several minutes of intense hands-on scrutiny of every saddle there, he selected the flattest jumping saddle he could find, then took a full bridle off one of the bridle racks.

"Would you like to watch?" he asked as he saddled the stallion.

"You bet! Just let me tack Dancer up and I’ll meet you."

By the time she got Dancer brushed and saddled, twenty minutes had passed. She rode down to the main ring on a loose rein, her feet out of the stirrups. What she saw took her breath away. The horse was collected, moving along effortlessly under a rider who seemed to make no movement at all. As she watched, they did a canter half-pass diagonally down the ring, then moved into a perfect canter pirouette—movements Bridey had only read about until now.

"Hes one of the horses from the last Olympics."

Bridey’s mind started working overtime. A horse and rider in that much harmony had a lot of riding behind them. And Dietrich couldn’t have ridden Jaeger much since 1939—or before, with the build-up of the German armed forces.

That meant—

She waited until they came up and stopped beside her and Dancer. "You rode him. Didn’t you." It was not a question.


He seemed startled; surprised enough to lapse into German. Good. Maybe he’d be off-guard enough for her to get some answers.

"You said he was one of the horses from the last Olympics. You rode him in them, didn’t you?"

He considered for a moment, then nodded. "Yes."

"How did you do?"

"We won the gold medal in dressage," he said calmly.

Bridey’s eyes nearly popped out of her head "Holy-! Mother of God, I’ve got an Olympic gold medalist mucking out stalls in my barn!" She leaned forward over Dancer’s neck and addressed the horse. "Do you believe this, Dancer?" She looked back at Dietrich. "I knew you were good, but—a gold medal? Wow!"

He raised his chin proudly. "We were the best there."

"I have absolutely no doubt of that," Bridey asserted. "You’re lucky you both survived," she added, then instantly regretted it. "I’m going to get some breakfast now. Want to put him back and come in with me?"

Dietrich shook his head. "We have just started here. I will be in later."

Bridey fought down the irrational surge of disappointment at his refusal. "Suit yourself," she said flippantly. "I’ll make sure the Colonel leaves some soda bread for you." Dietrich’s expression at that comment made her stop. "What? What is it?"

"Nothing, Fraulein," he said, stroking the horse’s neck "I am not hungry this morning."

"Not hungry...but you’ve got a full morning of work ahead of you. You’re going to do that on an empty stomach?" she said in exasperation. "We’ve got fresh jam," she added, aiming directly for his sweet tooth. "Raspberry."

"I will eat more at lunch," he assured her. "Let the Colonel have what he needs."

She gaped at him. "What he needs? What is going on here? Is something going on that I don’t know about? Talk to me, Major!"

Dietrich shook his head. His face was a stone wall. Bridey hated the way he hid behind that expression. There was definitely something going on behind her back, and she wasn’t going to let it go on much longer. All the men seemed to want to protect her, and Siobhan— Siobhan. Did she know something? Bridey felt a flare of paranoia, then shook herself. Dancer snorted beneath her, and she soothed his restlessness. One thing she did know—she wasn’t going to get the truth from Dietrich. Not now.

"He’s a long hank of bones, yeah, but come on! He won’t begrudge you a piece of soda bread! Besides, he’s probably not even up," Bridey said sharply. "He went to bed before dinner last night, though at least he warned Siobhan, and right now he’s still asleep. Why he needs all that sleep is beyond me. He doesn’t even do anything around here that would tire him out, anyway!"

Dietrich’s expression was set in stone. "What would you like him to do, Fraulein?"

She cast her hands up. Dancer sidestepped at the movement and she closed her legs around him, halting his movement. "I dunno. We could use some help in the barn!"

"Have you asked him to help?" Dietrich asked. "He is a guest, isn’t he?"

She snorted, then looked ashamed. "Yeah, but....well, this is my home, and I feel like he considers it a boarding house, coming and going as he pleases, without telling anyone about it!"

"If you want to know the Colonel’s business, ask him. Or Sergeant Pettigrew," Dietrich suggested.

"Yeah, they’re joined at the hip, aren’t they?" Bridey said acerbically. "Oh, never mind, I’m just curious."

"Frustrated," Dietrich said with a knowing smile.

"That too." She gave him a reluctant grin. "I want to know all the details and no one will talk to me!"

Dietrich’s face closed again. "Soldiers don’t talk about the war, Fraulein. Most of the time we would prefer to forget it."

"And those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. That’s caused a lot of our problems over the past few years, if you ask me. And I’m not going to let that happen, if I can help it," she shot back. "I’m going inside. See you later. If you change your mind, come up for breakfast."

Bridey rode up to the house and dismounted. She took a leather lead out of her back pocket and clipped it to Dancer’s bridle, then tied him to the porch rail and went inside.

But instead of going in to eat, she ran up to the attic. Passing stored clothing and furniture, she headed for the rearmost part of the attic, where piles of papers and magazines were neatly arrayed.

She unerringly homed in on several piles -- old issues of Chronicle of the Horse. They were meticulously sorted by date, and it was easy to find the relevant issues. She went directly for the pile dating to 1936, the last time the Olympics had been held.

There. In the issue with the Olympic coverage was a photo spread of the medal winners in the equestrian events. Dietrich’s photo was near the center of the page, and was one of the largest of the photos displayed. The gold medal was clearly visible. He wore a wide smile, free and easy and full of the joy he’d undoubtedly felt at the moment. Bridey wondered if she’d ever see him drop his mask and smile like that again.

He also looked impossibly young. He was dressed in a high-collared Army uniform and peaked cap. She knew he’d had to be a commissioned officer in order to compete in the Olympics, but he didn’t look nearly old enough.

She started flipping through the Chronicle, looking for editorial coverage of the events. There wasn’t much, unfortunately, just a listing of the names of the winners. There, listed as winning the gold medal in dressage, was Leutnant H. J. Dietrich. Adjacent columns listed Jaeger’s name, and a letter designation that Bridey assumed meant Germany. The score listed in the rightmost column was remarkably high, much higher than those of the silver and bronze medal winners.

Bridey folded the paper carefully and left the attic. She headed for the kitchen, cut four pieces of soda bread, slathered them liberally with butter, wrapped them in two napkins, then headed out the kitchen door.

She climbed up onto the fence around the ring where Dietrich was working Jaeger and beckoned him over. "Here," she said, handing him one of the napkin-wrapped bundles.

Shaking his head at her stubbornness, he took the package. "Thank you."

"Can’t have you passing out from hunger while you’re riding Jaeger, can I?" Bridey asked, unwrapping her own breakfast.

"I doubt very much that would happen, Fraulein. But your kindness is appreciated."

Bridey ate her own breakfast quickly, then reached out and scratched Jaeger’s poll. "You’re such a beauty," she said softly. "And no, I don’t have any more treats," she said, when he snuffled at her shirt pocket. "You had enough before."

Dietrich handed her the empty napkin, his eyes going to the paper in her lap. But he said nothing. Bridey unfolded the Chronicle, still open to the photo spread, and handed it to him carefully to keep from spooking Jaeger. "I thought you might like to see this."

Dietrich looked at it, lost in memories. "This was a very long time ago and a world away," he said softly.

"You look like a baby."

"I was just twenty."

Bridey did a quick calculation. That would make him twenty-nine now, seven years her senior. "And already an officer? Wow." Bridey crossed her fingers, hoping he’d continue to talk.

"I was still in academy, but had been commissioned temporarily the month before to make me eligible to compete. I graduated the following year."

"Tricky move."

"It was… not questioned." He handed the Chronicle back reluctantly.

"I bet," Bridey said. "So why didn’t you go into the cavalry?"

"I was…directed…into panzers when I graduated." He slanted a glance at her. "Like your General Patton, who also started with horses but went into armor."

"Well, it probably took less upkeep," she said, smiling at him. "I think I’d prefer to stay on four hooves." She jumped down. "Speaking of four hooves, I’d better get Dancer. He probably thinks I ran away from home."


Bridey turned. "Yeah?"

"Thank you."

Bridey gave him a smile. "Any time."

** *** **


The remaining members of the Rat Patrol took turns driving down to Ulm. The telegram from London had been explicit, and included the address, but when they reached the city, they found nothing but rubble.

What they saw on the way sickened them. The bombing had destroyed cities and villages, and the refugees crowded the roads if they had the strength to leave the ruins. There wasn’t any sign of German resistance at this point, only a dull resignation that the war was over and they had lost, and now they had to find something to eat amid the rubble of imperial aspirations.

The breeze caressing their faces smelled of death. Troy was the only one who turned his head to gaze at the bodies laid out in a field, row after row of men, women and children who had starved to death, or died in some bombing raid, or somehow. They passed old women who wore black scarves over their white hair, and sat exhausted on the grassy verges, sobbing into their ragged handkerchiefs and old men who hunched their shoulders and gazed at the ground not looking at them as they passed. Small children without parents trundled wheelbarrows and prams, loaded with their belongings, from town to town looking for refuge. Many of them showed signs of malnutrition. Anyone older than ten was probably hidden in the forests that dotted the area serving in the German equivalent of the Home Guard, Volkssturm, or trying to get away from the American troops.

Hitler had ordered the Volkssturm to fight to the last man to save the Fatherland. One person had taken a pot-shot at them but the bullet missed. Hitchcock, who was on guard at the time, had unloosed his machine gun on the hedge, and there hadn’t been any more shooting.

Troy had been fighting too long to have great sympathy for the civilians they passed. He had seen what happened in France, Belgium, Norway; had seen buried in the rubble of German cities the loot of overrun countries, and he had fought too long. Nothing could surprise him. He knew that Hitchcock felt a little more sympathy but that was wearing thin the longer he was in battle. Moffitt’s detachment saved him from caring too much for all the people, and he had been fighting longer than either of the others. He remembered the bombing at Dunkirk and the Blitz, and lost his brother. Did he still feel for the civilians they passed? Troy couldn’t tell. He wasn’t going to ask.

There were so many people on the main roads, some of them looking like skeletons, which made Troy wonder how they’d lived this long. The Allies were dealing with the diseases that came with the total destruction of the land. Typhus had wiped out thousands. Cholera was the by-product of the lack of clean water. Death by freezing had been the result when the fuel ran out last winter.

Despite this, the young women still dressed as well as they could, some to catch American and British eyes, some just to retain their dignity. The troops had strict rules against fraternization, and most of the soldiers kept their distance except when the children came out. The few German soldiers who could be found were usually cripples or amputees trying to reach their families. Many of them had found their homes in ruins and their people gone. There was no fight left in most of them.

It took something special to break through Troy’s weariness. He’d been touched by the telegram. Even without Alexander’s order, he would have convinced the others to go south to find out what happened to Dietrich’s family. Moffitt had looked skeptical when he heard where they were headed and why, but Troy remembered that Moffitt and Dietrich had a different relationship from his own and Dietrich’s. The Germans and the English had fought for two years before the Americans joined in. Moffitt had been wounded at Dunkirk, and barely escaped to fight again. To him, Dietrich was a respected enemy who played by rules that most of the troops now in the German army seemed to have forgotten, and it was because he respected Dietrich that Moffitt gone along on this quixotic quest.

Hitchcock slowed at a crossroads. The metal pole for the road signs was still standing but the signs, probably made of wood, were gone. They were probably long burned by now, used for fuel. "Where do I go?"

"Moffitt?" Troy asked.

Moffitt lifted the map and pointed. "We should be here. Pforzheim is over that hill."

"If it’s standing," Hitchcock muttered. He’d been driving through so many bombed-out towns that finding one intact would be like seeing Shangri-La.

"Troy, you said the address was Pforzheim?" Moffitt questioned.

"A town outside of it," Troy said. He tapped on the map on the name of a small town to the south of Pforzheim.

"Hmm," Moffitt murmured. "All right, let’s try and head down there rather than going through the city."

"Why?" Hitchcock asked.

"There was a huge raid in Pforzheim about two weeks ago. Saturated the area. It’s probably not there any longer."

"I hope that Annaliese Dietrich wasn’t there!" Troy said sharply.

Moffitt refolded the map. "She could be anywhere, Troy."

"Yes, but I don’t want to search everywhere," Troy retorted. "So we take the right-hand?"


They drove on and found themselves on the crest of the hill. Pforzheim stretched in front of them, and despite being tired and numb to destruction, Troy gaped at the ruins. It had been a fair-sized city stretching for miles, and now it was a desolate ruin of roofless buildings, soot-blackened walls, and smoke coming from endless campfires for the remaining living inhabitants. A few trees still stood, but the monument of defiance to the carpet bombing was the tall spire of the cathedral, which rose above the rubble. The glass in the rose window glittered in the weak sunlight. Amazingly it had survived.

"What a mess!" Hitchcock summed it up. "Where to, Sarge?"

Troy shook his head in disbelief. "Right again. I don’t think we’re going to be able to miss this city, Moffitt."

"Let’s try," Moffitt said crisply. "I’ve had enough of the refugees at the moment."

They drove down country roads which took them into the outskirts of the city, then back into the countryside where patches of snow still lay on the ground.

Finally, after they’d dug the car out of one last mud puddle, they drove into a small village, surrounded by farms with neat stone walls that had probably kept cattle or sheep in previous years, and around the broken stone monument to the WWI survivors, up to the small church which sat at one end. Judging from the presence of a crater in the back, the graveyard had been hit by a stray bomb, and there were shards of wooden coffins, piled in the back, some still with brass handles; the bombing must have been fairly recent or the handles would have been melted down for munitions. Probably the coffins would keep the few parishioners warm during Sunday service if they weren’t stolen for cookfires before that.

They parked in front of the church and headed up the path, machine guns cradled in their arms. The village seemed deserted, but that couldn’t be taken as a given. Troy had seen too many bodies of GIs who were ambushed when they went into what seemed to be friendly villages. He was no longer the trusting sort. He was too tired to believe in the goodwill of men.

Moffitt knocked on the aged wood of the church door. The sound echoed hollowly inside. Churches were the heart of the small communities and it was as good a place as any to start their search.

After a half-minute, he knocked again, harder.


"Force it," Hitchcock said harshly. The silence around them was unnerving.

"Hitch, this door is three hundred years old. I doubt I can break it down," Moffitt said in an unexpectedly sharp tone. The quiet was getting to him as well.

"One more knock, and then we go find another entrance," Troy ordered. "Probably a backdoor around here somewhere."

Moffitt nodded. He raised his hand to rap on the wood, but the door creaked open a crack. "Ja?" a man croaked feebly from inside.

Moffitt opened his overcoat to show his uniform. "Let us in. All we want is some information!" he said in crisp German.

"Go away!" The man started to close the door, but Moffitt threw his weight against it, and it swung wide, sending the man onto the stone floor.

The building was empty, a barren stone box with glassless slit windows where the light came in. It was covered with dust and there was a pile of scrap kindling near the door to the lower level. The old man was bald except for a fringe of dirty silver, and the black suit was shiny from age. The sole of one shoe flapped as he scrambled to his feet.

Troy moved in cautiously, ready to shoot, and Hitchcock took up position on the steps, where he could keep an eye on the jeep and the village.

We should have brought more troops, Troy thought. He didn’t like the smell of the church, a musty dampness that pervaded the empty building. There was an underlying odor of smoke.

"Who are you?" the man asked, wringing his hands.

"Are you the pastor here?" Moffitt demanded. "Or the local undertaker?"

The man drew himself up with as much dignity as he could muster. "I am Heinrich Knatch, the caretaker. Who are you?"

"Lieutenant Moffitt, Sergeant Troy, from the American lines. Herr Knatch, we are looking for a woman."

The man gave a laugh. "Here, Herr Oberleutnant? Go to Prozheim and find a woman! They all went there to work in the factories, then the bombers came, and some of them came back here but most of them are still there. You will find no women— ."

"She may be dead but she came from this village!" Moffitt harshly cut him off.

Troy glanced at him, slightly concerned. Troy didn’t speak any German; Moffitt was doing all the interrogation and whatever the old man said had visibly upset him.

Moffitt took a deep breath, and coughed as the dust caught in his throat. "We are trying to find Annaliese Dietrich. She and her daughter Katrina lived here."

Knatch frowned. "Dietrich? I know no Dietrich...but there was an Annaliese who came back here from Prozheim. Before the bombing? Yes, just before. She was running away from... but she can’t be your woman. She was trying to trade baby clothes for wood."

"That might be her," Moffitt urged. "What happened to her, and her daughter?"

"Her name was Habermas. Not Dietrich. It wouldn’t be here — ."

"What happened to the woman, Herr Knatch?" Moffitt snapped.

The man shrugged. "She died, Herr Oberleutnant. Her daughter had died in the hospital in Prozheim, and she had to leave her there, because the hospital wouldn’t give her back the body. She came back here with the clothes but the disease, it must have come with her. She died here." He waved his hand around the barren church.

Moffitt glanced around as if he expected to see the woman.

"What is it?" Troy asked brusquely.

"Bad news," Moffitt replied. "If she’s the same woman, she’s dead, Troy."

Troy had halfway expected this but it was still a rude shock. "Dead!"

"Yes, of some disease. Why did she come back here?" Moffitt demanded of the caretaker.

"She used to work on one of the horse farms here, but the horses were sent to the Front to help with the war, and then she went into the factory to earn money," Knatch supplied. "She had a handsome soldier husband, but he was always away, and when they were here, he’d try to make up for it, but she was bitter. She didn’t like to live alone here or with her father. Then she had the baby...and he wasn’t here."

Dietrich? Because he was a POW? Moffitt wondered. "Did she leave anything behind? Papers, toys, clothing...."

The man gave an ugly laugh. "I burned everything I could to keep warm this winter. The books, the pews, everything. The clothes were stolen by the refugees who broke in. They robbed the graves opened by your bombers and I put the bones in one pile and burned them all. Your woman is gone, Herr Oberleutnant."

"She left nothing?" Moffitt said in a louder voice, stepping closer, towering over the man, who trembled. "Are you sure?" Knatch hesitated, and Moffitt seized on the moment. "What is it? What do you remember?"

"She had a purse. I searched it when she died but it had nothing inside," he said reluctantly.

"Get it," Moffitt ordered. "Where did you put it, Herr Knatch?"

" the crypt," Knatch said reluctantly, dropping his eyes. "With the rest of the things I couldn’t burn."

"Let’s get it," Moffitt snapped. "Troy, I’m taking Herr Knatch down to the crypt — ."

"Are you crazy!" Troy said furiously. "He’ll kill you for that coat, Moffitt!"

"The proof’s down there," Moffitt shot back. "Follow us if you must. Let’s go!"

Knatch reluctantly led the way down into the dark crypt. Troy took out his Zippo lighter and lit it, holding it so burned steadily.

The light danced off shoes and purses, tarnished scabbards of swords, old metals, and other unburnable items. Some woman had probably enjoyed those earrings enough that her husband had buried them with her. Now they were tradable on the black market for food and fuel. Knatch was a jackdaw scavenger, piling all his goods in one messy heap.

The room smelled of the long dead, and mold.

Knatch jumped to find the purse he remembered. It was among five or six that he pulled out, inspected and discarded. Finally, he held out a slender black purse, patterned with small gold squares. The strap was long gone.

Troy asked, "Is that it?"

"He says it is," Moffitt replied, after asking Knatch.

"Then let’s get out of here, and check it out."

"He’s cleaned it out, Troy!"

`"Maybe he missed something. The air’s bad. Let’s get out of here."

Moffitt nodded and led the way, Knatch following him, and Troy bringing up the rear. He was never so glad as when he hit the air of the old church, and the dark hole that led to the crypt was safely behind him.

Moffitt felt inside the purse. "Empty."

"Look in the lining," Troy ordered. "My mother used to lose things in the lining all the time."

Moffitt nodded, and felt around again. "Nothing. But it’s ripped inside. Hold on..." He brutally ripped out the inner lining, and Knatch gave a cry of anguish as if it were his guts spilling out.


"Nothing but the cardboard which kept it stiff," Moffitt said calmly. He tore at the lining until he could see the paper. "Hold it."


"It’s not cardboard."

"What is it?"

He pulled on the edge, and the board came out. Moffitt was wrong; it was cardboard, but there was something adhered to it, a stained photograph of a woman, and what would have been a baby if the cardboard hadn’t become stuck to that part and torn the photograph.

"Who is it?" Troy asked, not taking his eyes from Knatch. The caretaker was swaying back and forth, whimpering, his gaze fastened on the bag in Moffitt’s hand.

"This belonged to Dietrich’s wife," Moffitt said briefly. "It’s of her, and a baby."

"How can you tell?" Troy risked a glance at the photograph. Annaliese had a round face, dark eyes, and wide lips which smiled at him. She wore a dark dress with white dots with a tiny lace collar. There was no way to tell what the baby had looked like; that part of the photograph was gone.

"She wrote to him on the back. She must have known that she was dying," Moffitt said in an odd tone. "Let’s get out of here, Troy. We’ve got the proof for the colonel."

Troy frowned. What had gone wrong? Moffitt was acting strange. "What’d she say?"

"Tell you later," Moffitt replied. He tossed the ruined purse at Knatch’s feet and the man snatched it up, clutching it to his chest.

"Right." Cautiously they retreated out the front of the church where Hitchcock looked vastly relieved by their appearance. Still no one was in the village. The area was empty.

"What’d you find...oh." Hitchcock sensed the truth. "Damn. I hoped we’d find them."

"Me too," Moffitt said in a clipped tone. He went down to the jeep and climbed into the driver’s seat. The others followed and Moffitt gunned the engine as soon as they were aboard.

Driving away, Troy felt the eyes of the local population. They were watching like wounded dogs from the darkness, waiting to take down the invader, or to be fed and helped depending on the strength of the opposition. He was relieved when they hit the forest and the outskirts of the ruined city, and Moffitt turned onto the road that led back to their lines.

He relaxed slightly, and tapped Moffitt on the shoulder. "What did she say?"

Hitchcock looked inquiringly. "What happened, Sarge?"


Moffitt hit the brakes and pulled over. He took the photograph out of his pocket and turned it over. "The wet’s gotten into this but I can make it out." He began translating the dark cramped handwriting on the back. "Dear Hans, Katrina died last night, and they took her away. There is nowhere for me to go but home, and the horses are gone too. They said they needed them for the war effort but I think they made soup of them. Where are you? When are you coming back? I love you —."

Troy’s hand came down on his shoulder. "That’s enough."

Moffitt nodded. "I agree."

"You gonna send it to him?" Hitchcock asked around a lump in his throat.

"We have to," Moffitt stated, looking at Troy. "It’s probably the only trace he’ll have of his daughter."

"Goddamn war," Troy said, glancing around at the deserted road. The snows were coming back, judging from the feel of the air. It would be another brutal night and a brutal time for everyone involved. "Let’s get moving, Moffitt. We’d better find a safe place to camp tonight and send that to the colonel as soon as we can."

"Send the photo?"

"Send a telegram first, then later the rest of it," Troy corrected. "This was a priority, remember?"

Moffitt started the engine again, and they took off towards the storm clouds.

** *** **


Tully wondered what he’d find behind the oak door of Alexander’s room. The colonel had come down for a sandwich at lunch, then retreated back to his room.

Siobhan had commented on his pallor after he was gone, and Tully had been hard put to keep his promise. Her dark eyes saw too much, and far too clearly. Going upstairs later, Tully discovered Alexander sitting by the window, watching Dietrich work Jaeger and a couple of the other horses. The fire had gone out in the fireplace, and Tully silently replenished it, kept silent by the forbidding expression on Alexander’s face. He asked if Alexander would be down for supper.

"I certainly intend to," Alexander said absently, staring outside at the balmy afternoon. He wore a light gray pullover sweater over his blue trousers, and black ankle boots, his dark hair slightly ruffled forward to hide the scar. He had that slightly strained expression which meant his head was aching, but he didn’t comment on it.

"I’ll tell Siobhan to prepare," Tully said dryly, worried. He went downstairs to speak with Siobhan but only found Mike standing at the sink, drinking a large glass of water.

"Hot day," Mike greeted him with a smile. "Out in the sun, at least."

"Is it usually this hot this early in the year?" Tully asked.

"Nope. Usually, we’ve got rain, we’ve got mud— and we’ve even had snow this late in the year. I guess God’s giving us a good spring for a change." Mike waved toward several papers which were stacked on the kitchen table. "Harry the milkman dropped those off with the new bottles."

Tully was drawn to them. The New York Times had a map of the European battlefield on page three, and he knew all the locations in Germany. The drawing brought back memories more strongly than he liked. He wondered what the others were doing while he was babysitting the Colonel.

With a flash of insight he realized that his job was just that— to keep track of the Colonel. Something rebelled inside him. He hadn’t fought through North Africa, Norway, France and Germany, and been wounded so often that his Purple Hearts clanked when he walked to wet-nurse a wounded officer who wouldn’t even admit he was sick!

"Where were you when you got that magnificent beast?" Mike asked conversationally. He had been watching Tully closely, and saw that he annoyed by something.

Tully pointed out Strasbourg. "Near here. Somewhere up in the hills. There are a lot of trees in that area, and small farms. The Krauts hide in the hedges, or in the ruins. Sometimes they shoot at us, and sometimes all they want is chocolate. It’s currency over there, better than cash. There’s a curfew for our troops, but still people get out. Everything’s for sale right now."

"Even the horse?"

Tully shrugged. "Probably, by now. Or he’d have been eaten. They’re hungry for meat over there. It’s such a mess."

"Happy to be out of it?" Mike asked quietly.

Tully glanced at him. "My buddies are still there. I should be with them."


"Some. There’s not much I can do around here."

"Except fix everything mechanical on this farm," Mike said dryly. "I appreciate that. So does Bridey. Neither one of us is mechanically inclined."

"Yeah, but...."

"You’re obviously here more to take care your Colonel than the horse," Mike said insightfully. "He’s not a well man, is he?"

Tully set his face in stone. "You’d better discuss—."

Mike snorted. "Come on, son. I’ve been around a lot of sick people, and I know how they look. I nursed a sick wife for several years until the good Lord took her from me. Still, he’s got better manners than most. If we find him dead in his bed, then I’m sure he’ll have all the necessary arrangements already made!"

"I wouldn’t know, sir," Tully countered. "The Colonel doesn’t really discuss anything but what we need on a mission."

"I don’t believe it," Mike said flatly. "But I’ll let it go for now, because I see Bridey heading this way, and I don’t think you want her after him."

Tully smiled. "I’m sure they’d be quite a match, Mike. Your daughter is very strong-willed."

"She’s had to be. She runs this farm. I just train the racers," Mike said, rinsing his glass and putting it in the drainer. "Sometimes I wish she was possessed of a little more...subtlety, but that’s not her style. She’s a wee bit too direct than she should be at times."

"I’ll warn the Colonel," Tully replied dryly.

"She’s more interested in you right now," Mike tossed back. "She wants to know how you and Dietrich met up."

Tully shifted from one foot to the other. "She ought to ask the Major."

"Aye, but he says she needs to talk to you. Good luck, Sergeant. I suggest you surrender gracefully."

Bridey came through the door and caught Mike’s grin. "What are you up to now, Pop?"

"Nothin’, darlin’. Just telling the sergeant about your interest in history."

She stared at him suspiciously. "Yeah? Well, I was planning to ask you, Sergeant, if you wouldn’t mind sitting down with me for a while and talking about the war."

"The war, ma’am?" Tully replied hoping to distract her by using the title she hated.

She frowned. "Don’t call me that! Yes, about the war. Come with me into the study, will you?"

"I promised to help your father with...the tractor," Tully said cravenly.

"No, no, go ahead," Mike replied sweetly. "I’m riding Determination over to Polmar’s to see if he needs some manure. I’ll be out most of the afternoon."

"Right, Pop," Bridey acknowledged. She stared hopefully at Tully. "I’ll have Siobhan make sure we can hold dinner if necessary. I know how you and Wade get when you get to talking about the old days."

"Bye." Mike kissed Bridey’s cheek, then slipped out the door, leaving Tully to feel like he was at the mercy of a hungry tigress. All his years of combat were easier than dealing with the young woman before him. He couldn’t be rude; she was his hostess. He couldn’t give in if she asked about Alexander; he had given firm orders. He’d have to distract her with some other information.

So he threw the German to the winds. "You want to know about Major Dietrich?"

"Yes, I want to know more about him, and you, and whatever you care to tell me about your experiences in the war. Want to come with me?" Bridey led the way to her study, assuming he was following.

With a longing look at the back door, Tully followed her.

** *** **

Alexander came down the staircase and found the front hall empty. Sliding his blue battledress over his lean shoulders, he went out the back, past the rose garden, which was just starting to send out tentative shoots, surrounded by the withered remnants of Bridey’s annual garden, skirting the large empty plot which would be the Victory garden as soon as it was dug up, and beyond the foaling barn. The chickens clucked as he passed, but he went further on into the rolling hills.

He wasn’t sure why he had been driven out of his room. Not out of boredom; the show out the window was too interesting. He had seen Siobhan taking rugs out to air on the wooden fences that bordered the paddocks, and beating them with a stick. His head ached in sympathy. She’d stopped to talk with Dietrich, then gone inside, and come back with something wrapped in a napkin that he ate while still on horseback, chatting with the housekeeper. Bridey had come and gone several times, bouncing along with that youthful, coltish stride that made him feel ancient and decrepit. He wasn’t ready to face the young woman today; her absorption in the farm and the horses was something far from his normal existence, and he wasn’t sure that he could keep up with her—or her insatiable curiosity.

He climbed over the hill out of sight of the house, and paused to survey the view. There were farms on neighboring hilltops, most surrounded by clumps of trees, but the fields rolled up and down, broken by stone walls and small naked bushes. He saw a stream to the right, probably a mile away, which he could hear if he strained. There were trees with the first blush of spring bordering the stream, and he could see a well-worn path where people probably rode or walked to enjoy the peace.

Other paths went over the hills towards the far-off houses. From his window, he had seen Mike Cullen lead a tall horse out of the barn, mount, and ride off after telling Dietrich something that made the German look a little apprehensive. Cullen had ridden this way, which was one reason Alexander decided to follow him. The bridle path looked like it led far away from the bustle of the house and the stables, and right now he needed some time alone.

To the left, about a half-mile away, he saw a dead tree, still clad in brown leaves, which towered over a flat rock. The hill rose steeply behind it, hiding the stone from the casual viewer. Alexander was drawn to it like a homing beacon. From there he could see most of the land around him, and not be seen. Perfect for what he had in mind.

He sank down on the stone and gave a sigh of relief. It was almost too warm out in the sun, but now in the shade, he was glad for the jacket. The temperature was almost summer-like.

From out of the long pocket in his trousers, he pulled several sheets of paper, and took a pen from his upper pocket. Smoothing the paper out on his knee, he looked over the land. How to start this?

He had no illusions about the operation. Too many men had been injured like he had, and not even lasted this long. When he hit that wall, he thought he was dead. He had been injured before in the past, but never to where the doctors clucked over him, and sent him off to see more doctors. He hated hospitals. The too-clean tiles and antiseptic walls reminded him of Gestapo headquarters in Norway and France, and the cut-rate spas where his spies in Germany had been sunning themselves before passing on their information. Probably, not one of those men and women had survived.

No, his dislike of hospitals went further back than that. Visiting his sister in the sanitarium where she was dying of tuberculosis, and watching the nurses all bustling efficiency, and no mercy. The Americans were warmer that way. Even in her driven way, Bridey Cullen was a warm person. You just had to catch her attention long enough, and Alexander didn’t want that to happen until he felt better. She might try to manage him and there was enough of that going on already. He suspected Bigginson had set Tully to watch him, and seeing the American trying to be casual about it was almost enough to make Alexander forgive the doctor.

Besides, I need the help, Alexander thought bleakly. He fingered the paper. "God, I don’t intend to die right now. I’d appreciate it if you could arrange that."

He chuckled. It sounded like he was giving orders.

The last five years had been up and down. He’d been an officer, a spy, a prisoner with a false name, an escapee; was wounded, sent back to France before the invasion; worked with a team, worked alone in Czechoslovakia. It was almost enough to make your head spin if you thought back on it. In the slow times, he’d visited his parents, written to his daughter, even fought with his ex-wife, who had been disappointed that he was still alive. She resented losing his pension payments. He had sent part of his pay to his daughter to make sure she had some money, but hadn’t heard from her since she’d arrived in Canada. Not that Grace even thought of him much; he hadn’t been around much last ten or so years, but he did love her.

That was what had driven him out of the room. He had to write to her once more in case he didn’t make it. He didn’t want her to ever think that he didn’t love her. Someday she would have to find out the truth. He wouldn’t put it past Phyllis to throw it at the girl when Grace bid to be more beautiful than her loving parent.

He began to write. Dear Grace, As usual I cant tell you where I am or what I am doing. Dont you get tired of hearing that? I know most people do. This time is different.

Grace, I want to say how much I love you even if I couldnt be there all the time. You are seldom out of my thoughts but the job of a soldier is war and I have to do my bit. Im sure you understand that.

If you are getting this letter, then you know I am dead. I know they told you this once before, but this time, I can assure you that I will not be coming back.

I want to tell you something else youll probably find difficult to accept. Please read this to the end.

When your mother and I split up, I lived apart from her for almost a year. In that year she became pregnant with you.

When she found out, she came to me, desperate, and begged me to acknowledge you as my child. So I put my name on the birth certificate. You will have to ask her who your father really is.

He stopped for a moment. That was harshly blunt when he wrote it out. How could you tell a person tactfully that she was someone else’s bastard offspring?

Just because you arent a child of my blood, that doesnt mean you arent the child of my heart.

I love you very, very much. I can only wish that we had spent more time together as you grew up but I was involved in work where I couldnt get away. Im sure youre a beautiful young lady.

Dont ever let your mother ever deny that I love you.

Grace Alexander, you are my daughter in everything but blood, and I am proud that you have my name.

He paused, already feeling embarrassed by what he had written. He wish he could ask someone whether he should even be doing this. No, of that he was certain was right—if he didn’t set it straight before he died, then all Grace would hear would be from Phyllis, who disliked him. I wish I could ask Siobhan about this….She was such a stable type of woman. What would she say? He couldn’t ask her or she’d demand to know why, and he wasn’t prepared for that kind of discussion. Besides she might not want to help him; she’d made her feelings clear as to his nationality.

Staring at the letter, he decided he’d rewrite it again, and folded the papers, tucking them in his pocket. Putting the pen away, he leaned back against the tree bark and shut his lids. Over his head the leaves rustled in the light breeze. He could have sworn he heard a bee zip by, but when he opened his eyes, nothing was buzzing around him.

So many years of constantly having to stay alert, of moving from one continent to another, escaping the enemy, and having to live up to what his country expected... He wouldn’t have turned the clock back a minute except for that time in the pig sty. He closed his eyes again, and leaned back.

** *** **

Two hours later, Tully felt like he’d run fifty miles with a full pack— uphill. Bridey was sharp—she asked the right questions, picked up on minor details, yet closed a line of questioning with no argument when he indicated he couldn’t answer. And her comments and questions indicated that she had a good grasp of what was going on in Europe. She’d even gotten him to start using her first name.

Actually, he found himself talking about the days in North Africa and his fellow soldiers more than Europe. She was absolutely fascinated with some of the raids that they’d pulled against Major Dietrich.

"So, you didn’t really want to kill him?" Bridey said hopefully.

Tully snorted. In two short hours, he’d talked more than he usually did for days. "We would have been happy to kill him sometimes, but we were pretty sure we’d get something worse in his place. It’s not like Europe or Norway or anywhere else. I mean, the troops followed the rules of war."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, for example, their docs treated our guys and we treated theirs, and no one thought twice about it. Now, well, it’s not the same. France… you didn’t know who to trust. Italy was just a bloody mess of mud. The Balkans…ah, well, snow."

"But they were the enemy, Tully!"

"Yeah, and they took a lot of the Brits and our guys prisoners, but not…it was war on terms versus outright war. The Germans used to apologize when they had to hand our people over to the Italians because they ran the worst prison camps. One time the Krauts set up a truce that started at seven p.m. You couldn’t raid them after that, ‘til sunup. Worked pretty well too but as the Brits pushed them back, the truce went to hell. Of all the Krauts, the worst were the SS officers. They had to be shell-shocked. Can’t believe they bred them that way."


"Hell, they’d shoot you even if you surrendered. I heard a lotta stories about them, but until the stuff’s confirmed.… " Tully shrugged.

"You aren’t going to tell me."

"No, ma’am."

Bridey shrugged. "I’ve read enough articles in the papers—I can read between the lines to figure out what you haven’t told me. Okay, so, tell me about your Sergeant again."

"Which one? Troy or Moffitt?"

"Either. Both." She smiled.

Tully laughed. "Hell, they’re night and day, and work like that as well. Troy always knew where he was aimed at, and had a real knack for getting the job done against the odds, but Moffitt had the book learnin’. He could read all that old stuff, Coptic and Latin and German, Greek, too. Command used to drag him out of the unit for special duties, and half the time when he came back, he had some kind of injury."


"Yeah. Too tall to duck most of the bullets. Got beat up too, but so did Troy when they caught him. If you were facing the normal troops, you didn’t have to worry about that much—hey, you became a prisoner. But if you were caught as a spy…well, we had to pull both of them out of messes. Hitch and I used to wonder what we’d have assigned to us if they died, but they never let us down, ever. Not like some commanders."

"Like the Colonel?" she asked casually, even as she eyed him closely.

Tully’s jaw dropped, then he shook his head. "Nope, the Colonel never let us down. Couple of times he might have wanted to, but it didn’t happen. There was one time when he had to deny knowing us, but he got everyone out safely, even then. I mean, the work usually comes first for the Colonel, but after his guys. I heard him say that it was something he learned in the trenches."

Bridey looked a little ashamed. "Sorry, but he doesn’t talk much about himself, and I’ve been really curious and so have my da and Siobhan.."

"Ever looked at his medals?" Tully asked seriously. He had to get her off this topic. "That’s how you read a soldier’s life. He’s got some from the first war, and now, and will probably get another before this all ends. I even got one—."

"Yeah? Where?" she asked eagerly. "Which one?"

His ears reddened. "Some French one. I mean you got one just for being in Italy, and North Africa, and for good conduct, and then there’s the Purple Heart—."

"You have a Purple Heart?" she asked.

"Yeah. A couple or so. Didn’t duck fast enough."

"Will you tell me the stories behind them?"

Tully shook his head. "Not my stories to tell, really. Belong to the guys. I gotta go, Bridey. Promised the Colonel that I’d do some work for him," he lied. He hoped Alexander would cover if she asked.

Bridey looked disappointed but rose politely, gathering her notebook and pencil. "Thanks for your help."

"Don’t know if I helped much."

"Hey, the more I learn, the more I can write about. I just wish I could get the Colonel to talk!"

"Well, he doesn’t say much about what he does, did, ever…. " Tully got lost in the sentence. "See ya."

"Later, Tully. Thanks again."

He escaped, and wiped his hand across his brow in mock relief. Women!

** *** **

The light had changed. Long shadows stretched from the tree over the path , and the sky was the evening blue of Grace’s, and his, eyes.

With a jerk of panic, Alexander groped for this watch. Damn! He’d missed the dinner hour, and now Siobhan and Bridey would be angry with him, and legitimately. He had promised to make it home for supper.

His head pounded from the movement. and he buried his face in his hands. One finger touched the scar. It felt swollen. Oh, God, what was he going to do? About Bridey and Siobhan, not his head. He’d need Bigginson’s pills for that, and he didn’t want to admit to Tully that he had lost the pills somewhere.

Cravenly, he leaned back against the bark, pulled out a cigarette, and lit it with shaky hands, then put the lighter away. He’d just wait until they’d cleared the table and see if he could sneak upstairs. Would Dietrich let him sleep in the barn? No, he’d rather not face the German with the fact that he was afraid of two women, and besides they’d find out one way or the other.

He’d just finished the cigarette, and watched the sun set in a fantastic display of red light and golden rays, when he heard the clip-clop of hooves. It came from the direction of the other farms, so he was pretty sure it wasn’t Bridey out looking for him, if she would do such a thing. No, she would if she thought he was ill. Thank God she didn’t know how ill he was. Dietrich? A stranger? He sat back against the tree and waited.

Mike Cullen rode around the corner, his head looking from side to side, and sniffing. He reined in his horse when he came to the tree. "Colonel?

He was becoming soft, Alexander thought. He should have remembered that the smell would also drift on the cool air. Then again, Cullen wasn’t the enemy. "Over here."

Cullen dismounted, and led the horse over. "What’re you doing out here in the cold evening, Colonel?"

"Thinking," Alexander admitted honestly. "It’s a nice evening."

"That it is," Cullen agreed, sitting down beside him. "But the weather can change fast, and it’s coming on dark. You don’t want to get lost out here."

Alexander chuckled. "I’ve never gotten lost, Mike. Even without a map, I can find my way back."

"Aye, but I think it’s time to be getting home, don’t you?" Mike persisted. "We have an early drive tomorrow to go into church. Were you plannin’ on joining the family?"

Alexander blinked. Church? He hadn’t even considered it. "Is there an Anglican church there?"

"Anglican? Episcopal is the closest we have," Cullen offered. "St. Mark’s, in Freehold."

"Yes, I’d like to go there tomorrow," Alexander said calmly. "You’re driving?"

"No, I’m watching the stables. Bridey and Siobhan are going in together if her car is working."

"I’ll take them in my car," Alexander cut in. "It would be my honor."

"Then you’ll be coming back with me?" Mike asked.

Alexander snuffed the cigarette on the rock, and absently put the butt in his jacket pocket. "Right."

They walked companionably along the road as the stars came out. Diamond Determination trailed behind Mike.

"So, do you like America?" Mike questioned with the air of making conversation.

"Very much so," Alexander replied in the same tone. "This isn’t my first trip here, but the first time I have really gotten out into the country."

"Really? When were you here before?"

"I took several trips before the war, down to Washington, and once out to San Francisco. It’s amazing how vast the country is, and how...uncrowded." Alexander paused, and pulled out another cigarette. He lit it. "I’d rather not do this in the house."

"No—that wouldn’t go over too well with Bridey. She can’t abide the smell. None of us smoke. It’s not a smart thing to do around barns. Does it make you feel better?" Mike asked bluntly. "Smoking."

Alexander stilled for a second, then took another drag. "Sometimes. I haven’t been doing it much lately. I used to do more when I was in the POW camp, but I haven’t been smoking for the last two months."

"You’re trying to distract me," Mike said mildly. "How do you feel?"

Alexander glanced at him, glad for the darkness. "What do you mean?"

"Do you think, man, that no one noticed?" Mike asked in the same light tone as he had asked about America. "I don’t think Bridey has quite placed it yet, but Siobhan has. She’d like to know if she can help."

"No one can help," Alexander said philosophically. "It’s just very different from over there, Mike. I’m having a hard time adjusting to this country."

"Well, then, if you do need some help, ask me or even your old friend, Dietrich," Mike replied, letting it ride. "I’ve seen him watch you as well."

"Is that what tipped you off?"

"No, it’s more the way you look in the morning. Either you’re pregnant or you have colic like my Bridey did when she was a baby."

Alexander began to laugh, and Mike joined him. "Your daughter has a rather…strong personality, Mike."

Mike laughed. "She didn’t lick it off the grass, Colonel. It skipped a generation—her mother was a dear, sweet woman. She was a dainty thing, my Ashleen. She was nothing like the two strapping children she gave me. But her da…. Big Joe was just that—a big, stubborn, two-fisted Mick. He had a temper that would frighten the devil and a voice that could sing the angels down from heaven. The family joke is that Joe got the tenor, and Bridey got the temper—and did she ever. My Bridey can be a right harridan at times, Colonel. Her brother knows to tread softly when she’s mad. Siobhan just ignores her most of the time."

"And you seem to enjoy baiting her."

"She’s such a lovely target. Nothing like her dear mother, though. More’s the pity. No, she’s all Big Joe. Still, he fathered the world’s loveliest woman, so there’s hope for the next generation. God willin’, that is. This house should be filled with grandchildren. It’s been too empty of little ones for too long."

"How long has your wife been gone?"

"Eight years—and I miss her every day I draw breath. Bridey does, too. Fourteen is a hard age to lose a mother. She had to grow up too fast. Ah, but my Ashleen was sweet, soft, and too good for this world."

"Ashleen—what a lovely name."

"As lovely as the woman who wore it. It means dream, and I swear, she stepped right out of one and into my life. She was my life. Now my children fill that role. If anything happens to Joe.… I don’t know what my Bridey will do." He shook his head. "Oh, they torture each other, like any other brother and sister, but there’s a solid core of love between them. He’s always been a willing ear and shoulder when she needed one growin’ up. And they only got closer when my Ashleen passed over. If anything ever happens to him, I swear a part of her will go too. And if you tell her this, Colonel, I’ll deny I ever said it. My Bridey is a private person, and keeps a lot inside. She wouldn’t appreciate me givin’ away her secrets."

"I’ll keep my silence, Mike. And thank you for honoring me with these confidences."

"You honored me with yours."

They saw the lights of the house over the crest of the hill.

"Almost home, Colonel."

"Yes. Almost...home."

** *** **

Tully was livid. Not only had Alexander abandoned him to Bridey, but he had left his room sometime in the afternoon, and gone for a walk over the hills only coming back after dark, escorted by Cullen. He had apologized to the furious Siobhan and Bridey, and only the fact that Mike was making faces behind Alexander’s back held them back. After sharing the plate of food that Siobhan had saved for Mike, Alexander had slunk away upstairs, looking like a truant. Both women had retired to the music room, and Tully promised to join them later.

Only the fact that they’d worked together for two years would let him get away with giving the colonel a tongue-lashing. He knew he might get written up for insubordination, but someone had to say something to the officer.

Alexander was brushing down his jacket, getting mud off the back when Tully entered without a knock.

"What the hell do you think you’re doing, sir?" Tully said furiously. "What if you’d had an...attack or a fall or something out there!"

"Nonsense, Tully. I feel fine," Alexander said, not meeting his eyes. There was a line cutting between his brows.

"All day?" Tully demanded. "You didn’t this morning."

Alexander’s grip tightened on the brush. "That was this morning. I got restless. I needed a break, Tully. I wanted to get out and think."

"Think? Think of what? You left us here wondering what the hell had happened to you, sir! This isn’t a boarding house, it’s a home! What kind of guest—."

"Enough!" Alexander snapped, his face flushing. "I apologized."

"You’ve got a lot to apologize for, sir! The Cullens don’t think much of you right now. Siobhan may never cook again!"

Alexander sighed and leaned forward on his coat, his face buried in the coarse wool. "Two more days, Tully. I have two more days. I have such a headache most of the time."

"Then let me call Bigginson," Tully suggested. "We can try and get things moved up--"

"No! I don’t want to upset their plans. It’s not that bad. I promised Cullen that we’d go into town tomorrow morning, and go to church. You’ll drive."

Tully was surprised. Alexander was planning on going to church? Tully would wager not the same one as Siobhan. "Church, sir?"

"Yes, church! I go occasionally," Alexander said irritably. "And I have to find those pills —."

"You lost the pills?"

"They’re around here somewhere." Alexander sank back on the bed, not even kicking off his muddy boots. "I think I’ll just rest for a bit before I go looking."

Disquieted, Tully stared at him. "I’ll get you some water for the pills, sir."

He left the room preparing to call the doctor and confess all to Bridey but something stopped him. He could hear laughing downstairs, then the sound of the piano wafted out of the music room. They sounded so happy right now. Why spoil it? Besides, Alexander had given an order— they weren’t supposed to know about it.

By the time he’d gotten the water and come back, Alexander found the bottle of pills and had undressed. After swallowing a couple, he curled up under the antique quilt, and Tully closed the door on the dark room. Depending on how the Colonel was the next day, he’d either call the doctor or not.

With a purposeful step, he headed for the barn.

Dietrich was humming something under his breath as he leaned the rinsed farm implements against the wall. Tully knew that it was the last thing he did before coming into the house and joining the family. Often, he and Bridey would sit around and read newspapers, do crossword puzzles, or listen to the radio, until she headed for bed. Dietrich had taken over making sure the house was secure before going to bed himself. Tully had discovered this the first night he and Alexander had come in late and had to wake up the household to get inside.

"Major?" Tully asked.

Dietrich turned. "Sergeant?"

Tully grinned. "I can’t get used to that. I always look around for Troy."

"Sometimes I do as well," Dietrich said briskly. "I wonder how he is doing."

"Me too. Listen, I want to ask a favor of you," Tully said leaning against the door.

Dietrich’s eyebrow went up. "Yes, Sergeant."

"The Colonel’s going to church tomorrow, and I’m driving everyone into town. I want you to come too."

"Into town?" Dietrich frowned. "That is not a good idea, Sergeant."

"It’s a very good idea," Tully countered. "I want you there because if Colonel Alexander collapses, I’ll have to take him to the hospital. That’ll strand our lovely ladies in town alone—"

"He’s that ill?" Dietrich asked in concern. "I watched him today out on the hillside. He looked as if he wanted some privacy."

"So you knew where he was? And watched?"

"Yes. As you say, he is ill. He told me of it the first day," Dietrich admitted. "I did not want to leave him totally alone."

"Well, I wish he’d admit it to the others, but I have my orders," Tully said in exasperation. "I want you there as back-up, Major."

Dietrich hesitated. "You must understand that the last time I went to town there was a fight. I was arrested."


"Yes. For disturbing the peace."

Tully shook his head. "You’re gonna have to explain that to me, but later, Major. I need you there tomorrow. As a favor to me—."

"A favor?"

"Yeah, I’ll in your debt. I’ll also protect you from the big bad townies." Tully grinned at Dietrich’s instant stiffening. He thought that would get the officer’s goat. Insinuating that he was afraid would touch on his pride.

Dietrich reacted exactly as Tully had thought he would. "That will not be necessary, Sergeant. I would be happy to accompany you to town tomorrow as long as I don’t have to go to church."

"Me too. Thanks, Major."

"Good night, Sergeant."

"See you inside."

** *** **

Siobhan was waiting in the porch swing when Tully came out, fixing his tie to make sure it was perfectly placed. He’d heard splashing in the bathroom so Alexander was up, at least. A waft of perfume on the air said that Bridey was moving around as well.

"Are you ready?" he asked in a soft voice.

The day was raw with an edge of rain showers that swept over the farm. The horses had been cared for and a few were out in the fields but even they seemed nervous.

"I’m waiting for the others," she said calmly, her hands folded.

He was relieved to see Alexander come out of the house with his usual brisk stride, looking far healthier than he had the night before. After him came Bridey, then Dietrich, both dressed for town. Dietrich wore the omnipresent jacket with the PW stenciled on the back. Bridey looked surprised when she saw him, but didn’t comment in the face of his frown, merely raising a questioning eyebrow in response. The last person out was Mike Cullen, who wore the usual jeans and a comfortable shirt, and a heavy jacket since the day was cooler than it had been. A cold breeze snaked over the hills and whipped through the pillars of the wraparound porch.

Bridey wore heels, which made her almost as tall as Dietrich. "Are we ready?" she asked in a voice as cold as the breeze.

"I am," Alexander replied. "Tully?"

Tully nodded, and held out his arm to Siobhan, who shot him a curious glance, but took it and they walked down to the car. It had been neatly washed the day before and gleamed.

Bridey followed, eyes straight ahead, leaving Alexander and Dietrich to exchange rueful looks and trail behind.

It was a little crowded in the back of the car. Bridey sat to Siobhan’s left; Alexander was on Siobhan’s right, in his most formal uniform. Dietrich sat in front beside Tully.

They drove in silence to the front gate, which Dietrich got out and unfastened, then redid it when they’d passed through. He climbed back into the front seat, and off they drove.

Twenty minutes later when they arrived at church, the silence still held. Tully, with Dietrich in tow, parked the car as Alexander escorted Bridey and Siobhan to Saint Andrew’s.

Dietrich beckoned to a surprised Charlie Wagner, who walked over. His limp was more pronounced than usual, and Dietrich surmised it was due to the morning dampness. Dietrich introduced him to Tully, who saluted. "Well, I didn’t expect to see you here, Major," Wagner said cheerfully. "That must mean Siobhan is somewhere around."

"She is probably seated in the pew by now," Dietrich wagered.

"You’re going to join us?" Wagner asked, looking surprised.

"No. I am here just in case—."

"He’s with me," Tully cut him off abruptly. His eyes watched Wagner shrewdly. "Promised to show him around where he can’t go by himself. Listen, Captain, is it possible that you could do the Colonel a favor?"

Wagner cocked his head. He looked mildly suspicious. "What kind of favor, Sergeant?"

"I’m supposed to be with him, but he said that I should keep an eye on Major Dietrich instead," Tully lied glibly.

Dietrich abruptly turned and looked over the parking lot, hiding his irritation. He was not a baby! Another car came in, the people staring at him unsympathetically, and he turned back to meet Wagner’s understanding eyes. That squelched his annoyance like water dousing a flame. He had to stay as far out of trouble as he could.

"Yeah, right. So you’d like me to escort the Colonel?" Wagner said dryly. "It’s not exactly by the book, Sergeant."

"No, sir, but I’m sure he’d appreciate it," Tully replied earnestly.

Wagner remembered Alexander’s help with Albert. Why not? "He’s at St. Mark’s? I’ll just see if he’d like some company. I think I can become an Episcopalian for a week. Father Andy hasn’t seen me at confession in a while — this will give him a good sin to chew on when I go next Saturday."

"Thank you, sir!"

They exchanged salutes and walked off, leaving a vastly relieved Tully. "That takes care of that," he said in satisfaction.

"I wonder if the Colonel will understand why Captain Wagner is there and you are not," Dietrich ventured.

"I’m not exactly in his good graces at the moment, so he may be relieved," Tully replied. "Let’s take a walk."

Freehold, though the county seat, was small-town familiar to Tully. Waving flags dotted tree-lined streets. Most stores had posters extolling War Bonds in the windows, and a huge sun-faded photo of an ice cream cone in Karsten's Ice Cream Parlor was kin to those at home in Kentucky. There were a few hitching posts at the curb in some areas, paying silent homage to Freehold’s genesis as a farming center.

Dietrich nodded. "I can understand why he is frustrated by being watched. A lonely man — ."

"A loner," Tully corrected. "It took us a while to train him to work with a team!"

"Usually the officers train the men," Dietrich commented dryly, glancing at a billboard where a brawny Uncle Sam exhorted the civilians to ‘Defend Your Country. Enlist now. U.S. Army.’ Behind it on the wall was a sign for homemade candy.

Tully chuckled and shrugged. "Tell that to Troy."

"Troy should have been an officer. I believe that Sergeant Moffitt is now?"

"Yeah, a lieutenant."

"This doesn’t cause a problem with Sergeant Troy?" They turned the corner, past Susskind’s sign, and headed down another street.

"Nope. Only when they go into HQ and suddenly there’re differences. Otherwise..." Tully shrugged. "Did the Colonel see you yesterday, Major?"

"No. I have retained enough of my skills to make sure of that," Dietrich said with a touch of pride. "But I was glad when he returned home with Herr Cullen. I was getting cold."

"And I bet Bridey just loved the fact that you just vanished for several hours," Tully added with a grin. "She’s a tartar, that one!"

"She is still young, and very strong-minded," Dietrich replied stiffly. "And the Colonel is not being polite."

"I told him that last night," Tully agreed. "Told him this wasn’t a barracks. He promised to shape up."

Dietrich glanced at him and shook his head. "Do you know what would happen if you had done that in my Army? You would be dead in a snow bank on the Eastern Front!"

"Yeah, I know. I’m glad to be an American."

Tully saw a more than few people give him puzzled looks as he walked along the sidewalk with Dietrich. The incongruity struck him as well. Two years before, who would have thought this would happen? He didn’t realize that he had said it aloud.

"No, it is strange," Dietrich agreed. "I would gladly have put you all in the tightest prisoner of war camp I could find, and thrown away the key, Sergeant!"

Tully laughed. "Yeah. Well, you got Troy and Hitch—."

"Who escaped after leaving my care," Dietrich said smugly.

"Yup. Can’t keep us under control, Major." Tully turned abruptly. "Let’s get some ice cream."

"Ice cream?" Dietrich looked doubtful. "Is the store open?"

Tully rattled on the door, and realized it was locked. "Sorry, forgot it was Sunday morning. Everyone’s probably in church—."

Unexpectedly, the door opened, and a hand gestured. After they entered, the door was hastily shut behind them.

Inside it was dark and stuffy with the blinds down. The man who had beckoned wore the same style denim jacket as Dietrich wore, with the same PW stenciled on the back. He saluted Dietrich, clicking his heels, and began to talk in a furious burst of German after Dietrich returned his salute.

Tully flicked a glance at Dietrich and was slightly startled to see the old officer he remembered so well from the North African desert emerge from the patient, well-contained prisoner he played at the farm. Dietrich asked several questions which the man, Becker, as Dietrich addressed him, answered.

Tully looked around the closed store. A refrigerated counter hummed at one corner, with a large sign bearing an ice cream cone advertising its wares, while all around them, on shelves and filling all the open spaces, were cans and boxes of goods ranging from soup to detergent to loose candy. The grocery store was well-stocked. Over the canned goods was a poster of ration points and what could be bought with them. Tully was glad that Siobhan had that in firm command; it looked like a mess to him.

Finally, he cleared his throat, and both Germans stopped. "Mind telling me what’s going on?" he asked quietly.

Dietrich waved toward Becker. "He has overheard something we must discuss, Sergeant."

"Figured that."

"The people who come here don’t realize how well he understands English. They talk, he listens. And he remembers what he hears."

Becker broke in with a feverish whisper, and a look at the large clock above the cash register. It was nearly noon.

"Come, he will let us out now," Dietrich continued. "The back way, where no one should see us. He is supposed to be doing inventory alone, and his employers should be here with guards from the camp to pick him up soon."

Tully followed both of them through the musty, close passages of the store. The back door let them out on a small alley, where an overflowing trash can already smelled in the increasing heat. It would be another warm day, once the sun rose high enough to chase the chill away.

"Okay, Major, give," Tully said as they walked away from the alley. Becker had disappeared inside, back to whatever he was doing. Tully reflected for a second on the fact that Becker was trusted not to steal from his employers, even if the register was empty of the cash drawer. He was probably in the same boat as Dietrich.

Dietrich walked beside him, frowning. Finally, he said, "Gefreiter Becker says that there have been questions about me circulating around town. Someone has been trying to gather information."

Tully gaped at him. "About you? Why, sir?"

Dietrich chuckled. "Sir?"

"Yeah, well, don’t tell anyone. Why?"

"Apparently someone is curious about what is going on at the Cullen farm." Dietrich frowned again. "In fact, Becker has heard several rather unpleasant jokes about the Cullens, especially Fraulein Cullen."

"Rumors about Bridey? What could they possibly say about her?"

"Something about the number of men she has living at the farm, and suggestions that she is...." He let his words trail off, unwilling or unable to voice the words. He face expressed his discomfort far more than mere words could ever entail.

"Loose?" Tully said helpfully. He felt disbelief at the notion that the Cullen farm had suddenly become a hotbed of vice and immorality. "Hey, she’s got Siobhan and Mike as chaperones. And all those horses."

Dietrich’s brow lightened. "Ja. Becker did not mention Siobhan."

"Has he got an idea of who’s spreading this?" Tully asked. "I mean, malice—."

"Rumor is often stronger than truth," Dietrich observed. "Becker will listen for more information. But I do not enjoy being the center of rumors, Sergeant. They might look a little too closely at Kentucky—."

"Yeah, got it. I’ll keep an ear out too. It’s got to be coming from somewhere around here."

"And I do not want Fraulein Cullen hurt by these rumors, either," Dietrich said angrily.

"No. That’s something we need to avoid."

They reached the churches and found that they had let out about five minutes before. Colonel Alexander, with Charlie Wagner beside him, had been cornered by a matron in a black dress and hat with veil that easily had to be twenty years old. Charlie looked bored, and Tully smiled at Alexander’s politely-distant smile. Then, behind the Colonel’s shoulder, he saw a familiar face and froze. "Uh-oh."

"What?" Dietrich asked, and spun around.

Sheila Finch, and an older man who bore a strong resemblance to her, came out of the Episcopal church. Alexander saw them, and paused in his reply to the matron, who saw Sheila and began making formal introductions. Behind him, Wagner picked up on everyone’s response and stiffened as if he scented danger.

"I see you are a good churchgoing man," the older man, who looked like Sheila around the eyes, said to Alexander.

"I go when I have a chance, Mr. Finch," Alexander replied smoothly. "I feel that the Almighty has watched over the troops for years."

"And continues to," Finch said heartily. "We mustn’t forget that!"

"I never do."

They walked to the sidewalk where Tully and Dietrich were standing. With one dismissive glance, Finch ignored Dietrich. "I hope you’ll be able to come to my party tomorrow night," he said to Alexander. "It’s only a small gathering but the company will be good. I have a house guest, Henry Reynolds from Los Angeles. He’s squiring Sheila to New York after brunch. Should be here in a second."

"I will have to check with my hostess," Alexander replied with his heaviest charm. "I am not sure if we have plans for tomorrow. I’m staying with the Cullens, you know."

"The Cullens?" Finch frowned. He obviously hadn’t assumed that Alexander would bring a guest. "Please bring Miss Cullen along. Nice girl. I saw her ride in a show once. Very good rider."

"Yes, excellent," Alexander agreed. "Here she comes now, in fact."

Bridey, with Siobhan in tow, was heading for them with a determined look on her face. She arrived just as Reynolds pulled up in his car.

"Colonel!" Reynolds greeted him smoothly. "How nice to see you again! Miss Cullen, Mr. Finch, Sheila, darling." He ignored Tully, Wagner and Dietrich.

"We’re going to the Ashburtons’ house over in Deal for brunch," Sheila said to Alexander. "You will come, won’t you?"

Tully saw Alexander’s slight withdrawal but he wasn’t sure anyone else caught it. "I’m afraid that I have promised to go elsewhere. Thank you for the offer."

"We’re having waffles and muffins and lots of scrambled eggs," she said hopefully, putting her hand on his sleeve. "Won’t you join us, Colonel? I’m sure that the others won’t mind."

Tully’s jaw dropped. Stealing houseguests? What bad manners! From the corner of his eye, he saw Bridey’s shocked expression. She opened her mouth as if to speak.

Wagner rolled his eyes and grasped Bridey’s elbow. "Now, Bride, you just took communion," he said in a low voice, but it still managed to carry to Tully’s ears. "Make the state of grace last longer than five minutes past the end of Mass, okay?"

Bridey closed her mouth with an audible snap and shrugged her elbow out of Charlie’s grasp, then squared her shoulders and glared at Sheila, who ignored her.

Alexander shook his head again. "No, thank you, Miss Finch. Miss Siobhan makes the finest omelet I’ve ever tasted and she’s promised me one with—."

"Spam, sir," Tully said cruelly. Wagner’s jaw set and he looked like he wanted to laugh. Next to him, Bridey gawked, then bit her lip to keep from laughing outright.

"Spam. Ah, yes. The culinary delight of this war," Alexander continued smoothly, not even looking at Tully. Siobhan looked mildly amused.

Dietrich wore a knowing smile. Whatever was going to come down on Tully when the Finches left, he wanted to be there. He also knew that there wasn’t a can of Spam in the entire house. Siobhan wouldn’t allow it.

"Speaking of breakfast, we really must be moving on," Bridey cut in. "Otherwise, Pop will eat all the eggs and ruin another frying pan in the process."

"You know, Colonel, I heard your name from someone else," Sheila said with a slight smile. "Mrs. Hitchcock said you worked with her son, Mark."

Tully felt shock. Where had this come from? Were Hitch’s parents somewhere around, and how did Sheila know about the connection?

"She’ll be at the brunch," Sheila continued. "I’d hoped I could introduce you."

Alexander’s lips set. "I’m sorry, Miss Finch, but I do have a prior commitment. I’m sure Mrs. Hitchcock will understand. Now, we really must be going."

Finch nodded in understanding, looking at Siobhan and Bridey, who looked impatient. He took his daughter’s arm. "It was nice meeting you, Colonel." He and Sheila got into Reynolds’ car, and Alexander closed the door securely, then stepped back. The well-polished automobile drove off.

"Well, that’s that," Alexander murmured, though he was still frowning. "How did she know about us, Tully?"

"Don’t know, sir," Tully said calmly.

"Find out somehow, will you?"

"Yes, sir." Tully ignored the expressions on the others’ faces. This was the kind of command he was used to hearing. The only real shock was that Alexander hadn’t waited till they had some privacy before issuing it. That was uncharacteristic. He glanced at Wagner, who nodded to him. The Captain would check it out himself. "Shall I bring the car around?"

"Let’s walk," Alexander said briskly. "Shall we go, ladies?"

They set off like a family group. Alexander and Wagner acknowledged the occasional salute as they passed other servicemen. Tully and Dietrich glanced at each other, and fell a step behind.

Charlie Wagner fell back beside Bridey. "I’ll be along a little later, Bride."

"You’re not coming back with us? Where are you off to?" she asked suspiciously.

"To the Ashburtons’ soiree to see what I can find out about that oh-so-casual bombshell Little Mary Sunshine dropped back there," Charlie said. "Anyone in uniform has an open invitation."

Bridey nodded. "Okay. But don’t be too long—this crew won’t leave much in the way of leftovers."

"Yeah, but Siobhan loves me—she’ll cook me up a fresh batch." He kissed her cheek, then moved off toward his car.

Bridey stared after him, shaking her head. "Charlie.… "

"So, what do you think about Sheila’s little tidbit?" Tully muttered.

"One more interesting lead to pursue," Dietrich said in a low voice. "We must come to town more often."

"Not sure I could take it," Tully retorted. "Where the hell is the team now that we need them?"

Dietrich chuckled. "Miss Finch versus Sergeant Troy."

They both laughed, and Bridey looked back, curiosity on her face. "What are you two mumbling about?"

"Nothing, Fraulein," Dietrich said, still grinning. "Nothing very important."

She raised a disbelieving eyebrow, but didn’t question him further. They reached the car, and settled in comfortably. Tully drove them sedately out of the town limits, then increased his speed.

"What do you have planned for the rest of the day, Miss Cullen?" Alexander asked Bridey.

Bridey jumped. She’d thought they’d be going home in the same silence they’d driven out in. "Not much, Colonel. Just the usual Sunday stuff. After we feed the horses, I was going to read the papers, maybe do some updating of the files in my office, and enter Jaeger’s name against some of the mares in the records. Did you have something in mind?"

"No. Nothing. I wasn’t sure if there was a plan," Alexander said.

"Brunch," Siobhan spoke up. "But no Spam."

"God, no," Bridey agreed heartily.

Alexander smiled lazily. "Oh, good. I really don’t want to eat any more of that. I had enough of that over the last year."

"It’s not so bad," Tully said unexpectedly. "With lots of ketchup—."

"Then you can have my share," Alexander retorted. "No bacon, either. I’ve had enough problems with bacon."

"We don’t have any bacon left anyway," Bridey said. "What did you have planned for brunch, Siobhan?"

"Pancakes, poached eggs, and some of that new jam I got in town," Siobhan said.

"Dibs on the strawberry for my pancakes!" Bridey said.

"You and your strawberries. One day you’ll turn into one," Siobhan said fondly. "Maybe an apple pandowdy for later in the day if someone will peel the apples for me."

"I’ll be happy to peel them," Tully assured her from the front seat.

She snorted. "And eat half while you do?"

"I’ll help," Alexander cut in. Both women looked surprised. "I like to sit in a warm kitchen and watch a cook at work. Maybe you’ll show me how to use the washing machine?" he added hopefully.

Bridey gawked at him. What had gotten into the man? Suddenly he was relaxed and charming. What happened to the stiff Englishman of the last few days?

"I said I would," Siobhan said unexpectedly. "It’s not hard to understand."

"Thank you," he said sincerely. "I’ll be happy to do any ironing as well."

"Colonel," Bridey started, confused, "I can do the ironing. You’re a guest — ."

Siobhan smiled. "Who likes to iron, Bridey. No more burned cuffs."

Bridey winced. She didn’t know Siobhan still remembered that little incident. "Siobhan, I haven’t burned a cuff since I was twelve, for Pete’s sake!"

"Then the day should be spent reading the papers, ironing cuffs, making dessert, and relaxing," Alexander summed up. "It sounds peaceful."

"We normally rest the horses on Sunday, but we can go riding, if you like," Bridey said politely.

Dietrich’s head turned sharply and he stared at Alexander in warning. "The horses will be very fresh, Fraulein."

"I’d rather not today," Alexander said smoothly. "Maybe later?"

"Sure." Bridey sensed there was another reason for his refusal, but good manners forced her to accept his refusal. She vowed she’d get it out of Dietrich later. She gave him a promise of that in the glance she sent him, then looked across Siobhan to Alexander. "Sure."

"Someone want to get the gate?" Tully called.

Bridey looked around. They had already made it home, and Dietrich was unfastening the latch that swung open the gate. That had been a short ride! Pleasant conversation made a big difference over unpleasant silence, Bridey reflected.

Mike Cullen came out to greet them. "Colonel," he called as soon as the door opened. "You had a phone call."

Alexander frowned, his earlier ease gone. "From whom, Mr. Cullen?"

"Some guy named Bill Williams in New York. He asked that you call him as soon as you get in."

"Thank you. I will."

"You can use the phone in my study, if you like," Bridey said.

The group separated as soon as they entered the house, Alexander heading for the study, Bridey and Dietrich to change into stable wear, and Tully trailing Siobhan into the kitchen.

At the top of the stairs, Bridey put out a hand to stop Dietrich from going to his room. "Where did you and Tully get off to today?" she asked.

"We took a walk," Dietrich informed her calmly.

"A walk," she repeated. "You took a walk?"

"A walk," Dietrich repeated calmly, holding her gaze. "Seeing the sights."

Bridey stared at him in stupefaction for a moment, then sighed. "Baloney. Freehold doesn’t have any sights worth seeing. Just be careful, okay?"

"Careful? Why? Sergeant Pettigrew won’t do anything to me."

"Tully? Phooey— I’m not worried about Tully. I’m more worried about...." Bridey was stumped. She wasn’t sure why she was worried except that she wasn’t in full command of this situation, and too many unexpected things were happening around her. "I don’t know what I’m worried about—it’s just a feeling I have that something isn’t right. I just want to keep you safe. Listen, forget I said anything." She turned and went into her room and shut the door.

** *** **

In the study, Alexander dialed the operator and had her put the call through to the office. He wasn’t surprised when Williams picked up.

Without preamble, Williams demanded, "Where’ve you been?"

"In church. I felt the need this week with what’s coming up. What did you want?"

"Come see me in the city about ten tomorrow. We need to talk about the actor and other things."

"He’s up to something?"

"Very much so. So much that I’m putting in an order for your team to join you—."

"The Rats will be joining me?" Alexander said in total surprise. "You’re pulling them out of Germany?"

"Hardly my decision. They were already on the way out. I’m having them diverted," Williams replied strongly. "Carlson—."


"Agreed, but it’s better for us. They should get there in a couple of days. Our contacts are running them through Fort Monmouth to get the paperwork handled. Rationing, you know. I’ll have better information tomorrow."

"I’d better warn our hostess—."

"Do it tomorrow, Peter. You’ll have a better idea of when they’re getting there."

"So they’ll be here when I leave," Alexander mused.

"Exactly. If this Henry Reynolds thing comes through, we might need them."

"I’m looking forward to having it explained. Ten a.m. sharp tomorrow. I’d better go tell Tully."

"How’s it going down there?" Williams asked seriously.

"Fine. We’re about to have brunch. Then I’m going to do laundry and iron my shirts," Alexander said breezily.

Williams began to laugh. "Isn’t that what your batman is for? To keep your kit intact, and make sure you’re properly turned out?"

"Tully’s good with Jeeps. Even when I had Hitchcock assigned to me in the camp in Germany, he couldn’t iron like I could," Alexander boasted. "I like to do it myself."

"Peter, you’ll make some woman a fine wife," Williams teased.

"Frees her up for other things that we can do together," Alexander said in the same tone. "See you tomorrow."


** *** **

Charlie Wagner had known the Ashburtons for years, on and off. After he had been wounded and returned to Fort Monmouth, he was startled to see an invitation to visit their house any time as they had room for any serviceman who cared to visit. It had been their summer home, but since the beginning of the war, Mrs. Ashburton had kept it open year-round, operating like a USO in miniature, welcoming all the soldiers stationed at Fort Monmouth as well as those passing through.

Preliminary scouting established that this was a pretty good deal. Mrs. Ashburton was a wonderful hostess whose overflowing good will and expansive manners had made her well-received in the neighborhood. Mr. Ashburton was a cipher who mostly stayed in New York City, leaving the summer house in Deal to his wife, who had collected quite a few young women, and single men, and was busy matchmaking.

Charlie had his own ideas about what he wanted in a wife and he doubted he’d find her at one of the Ashburton get-togethers, but there was no harm checking out the scenery. He’d gone to the Ashburton brunches twice since he’d come back, but the avid interest of the young women, who were at loose ends with the majority of available men out of the country, had made him terribly skittish. He preferred being the hunter rather than the hunted.

Now, though, he was working, and he fortified himself with that thought as he parked in the circular drive.

The house had been built some time in the last decades of the previous century, and had been renovated and expanded as the Ashburton fortune grew. The grass was just starting to get new growth, and the sheltered magnolia tree actually had tightly-wrapped cone-shaped flowers, and green leaves. The warm weather this spring was giving the greenery ideas it shouldn’t have.

Despite a ban on new cars, and the constant exhortations of the government to carpool or take buses, there were a number of cars parked in the circular driveway. Up near the front of the house, he spotted the shiny black sedan that Reynolds had driven earlier that morning. Other cars looked considerably more battered, and he wouldn’t have wanted to drive in the one in front of his; the tires were practically bare.

Walking into the garden, he was ambushed by a twelve-year-old girl who was stalking him with a rifle made of her father’s golf club. Her strawberry-blond hair hung in unfashionable braids down her back, and she wore an oversized shirt and neat pants.


Wagner laughed and put his hands up. "I surrender!"

She smiled, showing bright white teeth, and put down the club. "Really? Did I surprise you?"

"Didn’t hear a thing! You’d take out any Nazi before he knew you were there, Patty!"

She blushed. "I don’t think I could hit him."

"Don’t worry. I don’t think you’ll need to," Charlie said. "Is your mother here?"

"Yes, serving lunch. Oh, are you here for the girls?" she said with a lack of enthusiasm.

"Who’s here?"

"Um, let’s see, Carlie, Alice, Fred Myers, you know, that flyer. Henry Reynolds and Sheila and her father are still here —."

"The Hitchcocks?" he tried to ask casually.

She shot him a shrewd gaze but didn’t question him. "No, they left for the West Coast this morning early. Alicia’s still here, but she’s going to New York later."


"Alicia Hitchcock. Their daughter. She’s a bookworm," Patty said with devastating candor. "But she’s nice anyway. Got a real good-looking brother!"

Charlie laughed. "Oh, you’ve seen him?"

"She’s got a picture. We went riding yesterday, just hacking around, and she showed it to me. Doesn’t dare to show it to the others," Patty finished sagely. "They’d be all over her in a minute. I just don’t understand!"

He grinned. "You will, ma cheri, you will. In the meantime, where do I find Miss Hitchcock and the others?"

"Up on the porch, of course," she said falling in step with him. "Listen, Charlie, you get around the county."

"Somehow I don’t think that’s grammatical," Charlie mused with a smile. "Yes, I do travel around."

"I want my own horse, not a pony I’ve already outgrown, but Momma says that I can’t have one because of the war. I don’t think that’s fair."

"You’re only twelve, Patty!"

"Yes, but Carlie had a horse at ten, and she’s always telling me about it! I want my own horse!" Patty exclaimed with a touch of tears in her voice. "Do you know anyone who’s selling a horse?"

Charlie flashed back to the Cullens, but none of their mounts would be appropriate. Patty was a good rider for her age, but the Cullen horses were far above her skill level. "Not at the moment, Patty."

"Well, can you look around?" she pleaded. "I’ve saved all my allowance for years! Please, Charlie?"

"I’ll keep an eye out," he said absently, his attention on the porch.

"I’m going back to stalking Germans!" She vanished back among the neatly-trimmed hedgerows.

Sheila had her back to him as he climbed the stairs, but she turned when Mrs. Ashburton surged out of the house and enveloped him in a hug.

"Charlie Wagner! It’s about time you came back to my parties!"

"It’s been too long," he said sincerely. "I’m sorry, but the war has cut into my social life."

She playfully slapped him on the arm. "Terrible man. Still using that cane?"

"Once in a while."

"Well, let me set you up in one of the chairs and maybe someone will get you some food and coffee," she boomed, casting around at large.

Charlie sank down on one of the wicker chairs that lined the porch, realizing that it wasn’t going to be easy to find out exactly what Sheila had meant by that bombshell at the church. She must have known the Hitchcocks had left. What was she up to?

Right now, it looked like she was up to talking with a slender brunette whose Southern accent carried to him on the slight breeze from the garden. They were clustered together exchanging whispers over plates full of sweet rolls and orange slices.

"Would you like some eggs?" a girl asked him, and he jumped. She was very quiet, with honey-blond hair and blue eyes along with a trim body. Her eyes were disconcertingly shrewd as she looked at him.

He could see the indentations on either side of her nose where she’d taken off her glasses. He’d wager that this was the Hitchcock daughter. "I’d prefer some of the toast, and waffles. Maybe some bacon?"

"Let me get it for you," she said and went over to the buffet. "I’ll get you some orange juice too."

How the Ashburtons had managed to keep the servants with the war shortages, Charlie could only guess. There was money to burn here—and they didn’t appear to mind flaunting it.

He saw Sheila come towards him balancing two coffee cups, and he gestured toward the chair next to him.

"I’m not surprised to see you here, Captain," she said sweetly, handing him a cup of coffee. "I’m only disappointed that you couldn’t convince the Colonel to come as well."

"I’m afraid he had other plans, as he said," Wagner answered, and sipped his coffee. "However, I was rather interested in knowing how you knew about him."

She giggled. "I asked my friends in Washington about him. They didn’t know much."

Charlie could well believe that. Alexander didn’t strike him as a man with many loose-lipped friends. "There are so many Brits around right now."

"Not in New Jersey! So, I talked to my friends up here, and they talked to people in England, and, I mean, everyone talks a little bit about the war."

"And what did you learn?" Charlie tried to keep it light.

She dimpled. "Well, he’s quite a man of mystery! Belongs to one of the special forces groups, but I don’t know what he really does. Speaks German, French and Russian, or so they say. His rank’s pretty much show, from what I heard."

Charlie almost laughed in her face but caught it back. He’d seen the rows of decorations on Alexander’s uniform that morning, and knew someone was having a good time with Sheila. He was fairly sure that Alexander wouldn’t mind that she thought he was unimportant.

She set her cup into her saucer, and frowned. "Let’s see. He’s been running around with a team and one of them’s Mark Hitchcock, from what his mother says. His sister’s as closed as an oyster—won’t even talk about him. I think she’s ashamed that he’s not an officer."

"Really? What is he?" Wagner asked casually.

She shrugged. "Enlisted. He was in North Africa but after that, who knows. I heard he was even a POW."

Charlie wondered exactly what was going on with the Hitchcocks. He’d have to ask Alexander or Pettigrew. "So, you got all these rumors from the Hitchcocks?"

Sheila pouted. "No, of course not. Mrs. Hitchcock talked about her sons’ friends and their commander, and I put two and two together. I mean, there aren’t that many of our men working under the British!"

"True," Charlie reflected. "Well, it sounds like you have all the details."

"But I don’t really know why he’s here!" she said, leaning forward. "I mean, it can’t be over that stupid horse. A horse? Come on, Captain! Even Adam isn’t quite sure why there’s such a fuss over Jaeger. There’re lots of horses out there!"

Not like Jaeger, Wagner thought. Ive never seen the like of him, and the Cullens have had some real beauts.

"So, I’ll bet he’s here about what happens after the war. Why at the Cullens’, well, who knows, it is out of the way, but, do you know?" She leaned forward and put a hand on his sleeve. Her perfume, lilies-of-the-valley, sweet and cloying, enveloped him.

He saw his salvation coming towards him with a plate overflowing with waffles, toast and bacon, a tall glass of orange juice in her other hand. The blond girl lost her smile when she saw Sheila, but it came back full-force when Sheila looked at her.

"Alicia, this is Captain Wagner! I’m sure you’ve heard about him," Sheila introduced him with a wave.

Charlie struggled to his feet, despite Alicia’s horrified look. "Charmed to meet you."

"Likewise," she said with a real smile. "Here’s your toast."

"I’ll leave you to eat," Sheila said with a knowing look. "Alicia, you should talk to the captain. He knows your brother’s commander—in fact, he’s around here!"

Alicia looked surprised but sat down in Sheila’s abandoned seat. "You know my brother?"

Charlie was at a total loss. He hadn’t a clue who her brother was or what to say. Finally, he said honestly, "No, I’m afraid not. Miss Finch said he is in the Army?"

"Nasty girl," Alicia muttered just loud enough for him to hear it. "He’s a commando, but I don’t have a clue where. The last letter came from somewhere in France."

"When did you get it?" Wagner asked around a mouthful of toast.

"After New Year’s. He just said everyone was fine, and we weren’t to worry, and he was hoping for a huge plate of bacon and eggs when he got back to the states."

Charlie smiled. The hope of virtually every returning soldier was fresh food and no Spam. "I’m sure he’s fine."

"She mentioned that his commander was around?" Alicia questioned. "Mark seems to get switched around a lot. The only time I could keep it straight was when he was a prisoner. Do you know what she meant?"

He shook his head. "I have no idea, Miss Hitchcock. None at all."

** *** **

It was a typical Sunday afternoon. Mike sat in the chair by the fireplace, a stack of papers on the floor beside him. Bridey and Dietrich had the leather couch. They sat at opposite ends, looking for all the world like a pair of mismatched bookends—Bridey sprawled at one end, her legs straight out in front of her while at the other end, Dietrich sat ramrod-straight, one leg crossed over the other. Mike wondered if the boy had ever slouched in his life. Somehow, he didn’t think so.

The rest of the week’s papers were stacked on the couch between them. As usual, they were trading various sections back and forth, reading articles to each other.

"Listen to this!" Bridey exclaimed. "A guy tried to rob a bank in Tulsa. The teller told him he’d have to talk to a bank officer before she could give him the money." She looked at Mike over the top of the paper. "So he got back in line and waited. Meanwhile someone called the cops, and they came in and arrested him." She snorted. "Talk about dopey."

"I thought that only happened in movies," Mike commented.

Bridey folded that section and picked up the New York Times crossword puzzle. "Life is stranger than fiction, Pop." She picked up a pencil from the end table and shifted, tucking her right foot under her left leg and leaning back against the arm of the couch.

Alexander came up the stairs from the laundry room, his hands filled with curtains. "Which room, Siobhan?"

"Those are mine and Mike’s," she called from the kitchen. "I’ll be up in a minute. Just put them on the bed, Colonel."

Bridey snickered, then went back to her crossword after exchanging an amused glance with Dietrich. Siobhan had put both of their guests to good use. Alexander had done at least two loads of laundry, and carried the ironed shirts upstairs, including Bridey’s green blouse that she’d been avoiding pressing, and from the chugging of the washing machine, there was another load underway. Tully had been scrubbing at the stove, muttering under his breath, and barking his fingers. Now, that it was spotless, he had started on the apples, leaving a pile to one side for Alexander to join him.

Bridey chewed on the end of her pencil. "What’s a nine-letter word for greedy?"

Dietrich thought a moment. "Rapacious?"

Bridey looked at the puzzle, then nodded. "Yeah. Thanks." She noted his frown. "Looks like you have a tough one."

He shrugged. "The last winner of the Triple Crown."

Bridey grinned "That’s too easy. Count Fleet. He won in Nineteen Forty-three."

"Danke, Fraulein."

"Darlin’," Mike called from across the room, "if you didn’t know that one, I’d disown you."

Bridey noted Dietrich continued to frown at the paper in his hand. "Tough one, huh?"

"It seems to be concentrated on American sporting events."

"Oh?" Bridey leaned over and scanned the clues. "Wanna share?"

He shrugged. "If you like."

"Sure. Joey and I used to share puzzles all the time." She shifted the papers that lay between them onto the floor and moved into the middle of the couch, sitting crosslegged at an angle to the back of the couch. "What’s next?"

"New York Yankees catcher, Nineteen Twenty-nine to Nineteen Forty-one."

"Bill Dickey."

"And a fine Irish lad he is, too," Mike called.

Siobhan smiled at him as she headed upstairs with an armful of lace curtains that she must have had drying on the line, judging from the whiteness of the bleaching. They heard her footsteps upstairs, going into her bedroom.

Tully came in carrying several apples. "How about some music?"

Mike turned on the radio. The music that spilled from the speakers was classical.

"Oh, well," Tully said with a shrug. "Suppose people like it."

"It is Mozart," Dietrich said in reproof.

"I like it," Bridey said, looking over Dietrich’s shoulder at the clues. "Where are we, anyway?"

"I’d prefer Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman," Tully argued.

"The nickname for the Nineteen Twenty-seven Yankee team," Dietrich read, ignoring him.

"Murderers’ Row." Bridey grinned. "They hit a lot of four-baggers."

"That is the next clue."

"What is?"

"Four-bagger," Dietrich said with a smile.

Bridey chuckled. "Talk about serendipity. Home run."

He shook his head. "No. That has too few letters."

"How many do we need?"


Bridey closed her eyes and thought. "Uh… round trip?"

Charlie Wagner, dressed in civilian clothing of worn jeans and a work shirt, drifted into the living room. "Miss me?" he asked no one in particular.

"Of course we did," Bridey said. "Were you gone?" She pointed to another clue. "The Bambino— that’s Babe Ruth."

"You must rate, Major," Charlie said, sinking into the overstuffed chair on the other side of the fireplace from Mike and propping his bad leg up on the ottoman before it. "Bridey usually hogs all the crosswords for herself. I never get any of them, and she never offers to do any with me, either."

Bridey made a rude noise. "That’s because you’re lousy at them, Charlie. Why would I waste a perfectly good crossword puzzle on you?" she asked, smiling to take the sting from her words.

"You’ve got a point there, Bride. Anyone interested in what I’ve been doing all afternoon?" he asked mischievously. "Or should I just sit here and feel sorry for myself?"

"I am," Alexander said dryly from the doorway. He looked a little pale as he sank down in an empty chair next to the door to the kitchen. "Tully said you were hunting Finches."

"I certainly was. Let me tell you, the Ashburtons put on a good spread despite rationing," Wagner replied.

"Then you’ll not want dinner," Siobhan said dryly from the bottom of the staircase. "Thank you, Colonel, for the help with the curtains."

"You’re welcome," he said, his attention on Wagner. "So, how was your day?"

"Siobhan, darlin’, I’m always ready for your wonderful food," Charlie said, blowing her a kiss. She shook her head and left the room. Charlie grinned at her departing back, then said, "Well, I managed to avoid Reynolds and Sheila again, but Mrs. Ashburton definitely wants to see you again soon, Bridey. Says she can find you a husband in nothing flat."

Bridey made a rude noise. "I’ll handle that little detail myself, thanks," she said. "Like I need more problems," she added sotto voce, the last reaching only Dietrich’s ears. He cleared his throat and she grinned at him.

"Basically, they haven’t a clue why you’re here," Wagner said. "Sheila’s very curious and she’s been asking around even back in England, though I’m not sure she’s telling the truth. She likes to drop hints and hope you’ll snap at them."

Alexander pursed his lips. "Good. Let’s see if we can keep them ignorant."

Charlie nodded. "Yes, sir. I do have one question."


"Who is Mark Hitchcock, and was he one of your men?"

Tully came in, a half-peeled apple in his hands. "Hitch? What about Hitch?"

Alexander glanced at him. "Care to tell him about Hitchcock, Tully?"

"Go ahead, sir," Tully said, beginning to peel again. "I’m sure you can tell him what he needs to know."

Bridey glanced at Dietrich and was startled to see him biting his lip in amusement. She remembered talking to Tully about his time in North Africa, and hearing about his friends. "Is that Hitch the same one you were telling me about, Tully?"


"Yes, he is part of my troop," Alexander said reluctantly. "For the last several years, at least."

"And you knew him before that?" she asked, turning to Dietrich.

"Oh, yes," Dietrich replied. "Quite well."

"As well as anyone on the other side could," Tully said cheerfully. "Never thought you really noticed us at all, Major."

"You were excellent bait, Sergeant. Whenever I had to corner Sergeant Troy, catching either you or Private Hitchcock was one way of making sure he would come to meet me."

Tully grinned. "We knew that. Made us avoid breaking up into teams except when we had to."

"Now, wait a minute!" Charlie said in exasperation. "Let’s go back to the start. Who is Mark Hitchcock?"

"He was the other driver for the Rat Patrol," Dietrich supplied amicably. "Demolition, guerilla warfare, commando raids—."

"We had two jeeps, Troy and Hitch in one, me and Moffitt in the other," Tully cut in. "Hitch is a prep school boy who got sent over there in the first wave, and was assigned to the patrol. We were part of the Brit long-range desert groups, even though most of the time it was three Americans and one Brit. I mean, this was long before most of our guys even hit the beaches over there."

"Yes, most unusual," Alexander agreed. "Later, I was briefed on your exploits. Impressive."

"I agree," Dietrich said unexpectedly. "Though I didn’t appreciate them at the time. You seemed to specialize in shooting at me."

"Talk to Troy," Tully retorted. "He always seemed to just wing you, Captain."

"Or hit me on the head—."

"That was Moffitt."

Dietrich frowned, then nodded. "True. Then there was the time Sergeant Troy invaded my tent to get a blood supply for one of your team. Who was wounded, Sergeant Pettigrew?"

"Hmm? Oh, Moffitt. We patched him up enough to get him to a field hospital. That happened to Hitch too, but we went to one of your hospitals that time. Got an excellent doctor to fix him up before we escaped."

"I remember. I heard about it after the fact," Dietrich said sourly. "You were a group of pests."

"Rats," Tully agreed smugly.

"Let me get this straight— Mark Hitchcock was part of one of the Long-Range Desert Groups?" Charlie said in slight disbelief. "I used to hear about them in the pubs when I was in England. I thought most of them had been wiped out!"

"We were," Tully said grimly. "Hitch and Troy went to the POW camps—."

"And you were judged on the brink of death and exchanged," Dietrich finished.

Bridey frowned. "You’re missing one, aren’t you?"

"Yes, but Lieutenant Moffitt was supposed to be dead, and that’s another long story," Alexander cut in. "Does that answer your question, Captain Wagner?"

Charlie picked up on the authoritative note, and retreated. "Yes, sir." Catching Bridey’s eye, he could see she wasn’t satisfied but would work on Dietrich or Tully until they told her what she wanted to know. "Well, Mrs. Hitchcock said her son had an English commander, and that’s how they concluded it might be you, sir."

"‘Loose lips sink ships’," Mike murmured. The slogan was on every shop wall in town.

"True. Still, there’s no harm really done," Alexander murmured. "What else do they think of me?"

Wagner winced. "They think you’re a phony, sir. Yes, sir. I was going to correct her, but I wasn’t sure you wanted me to."

Alexander eyed him sharply. "Very intelligent of you, Captain."

"Charlie’s a pretty bright boy," Bridey said with a touch of frost in her voice as a warning. She wasn’t going to let anyone pick on Charlie but herself. "He doesn’t miss much."

"So it would seem," Alexander replied with a courteous nod. "Thank you for the information."

"My honor, sir," Wagner replied.

"Can we find anything but that dirge on the radio?" Mike asked, cutting into the silence that had filled the room.

"Mozart," Tully said smugly.

"Bridey, change it to some real music!" her father ordered.

"Pop, you like Mozart enough when I play it!" Bridey protested, but pushed herself off the couch and found another station. Take the A Train floated into the room.

"Colonel, I saved you some apples," said Tully, the peel dangling from his hand. "If Siobhan’s going to get dessert started… "

"I’d better help out," Alexander said with a return to his earlier charm. "Excuse me."

** *** **


The sun was out at the airbase in England. The noon air was almost warm, though in comparison to the flight, anywhere was warm. Except for Germany.

Troy stretched his arms, soaking in the rays, then wandered into the belly of the plane. They weren’t traveling in comfort this trip. He was still puzzled by the rush but maybe it foreshadowed something good.

Hitchcock came in. He’d been talking with the woman ferry pilot, and from his expression, he had been enjoying himself.

Troy wished he could feel as light-hearted. Moffitt had vanished the day before, right after they landed. Then the plane was delayed a day. They were barracked in one of the transit huts for the night along with a dozen other men, who had left on an earlier transport that day. Troy and Hitchcock had been told to wait.

"I’m bored, Sarge," Hitchcock said, sitting down.

"She’s married?"


"Too bad."

"Yeah," Hitchcock agreed. "But she had some gum. Want a slice?" He proffered it.

"No, thanks," Troy said. "Hey, that’s Moffitt!"

The Englishman was coming back with his duffel bag over one shoulder. "Let’s get on board?"

Troy and Hitchcock picked up their duffels and climbed into the belly of the transport plane, depositing the bags in the back where they were joined by Moffitt’s. The three men sat down in the metal chairs as the pilot shut the door, and went into the cockpit.

"What’s up?" Troy asked over the roar of the engines.

"We’re being sent to Diamond Shamrock Farm," Moffitt replied crisply. "To help the Colonel."

"Help the Colonel? What’s he gotten himself into this time?" Hitchcock demanded. "I thought he was just dropping off the horse!"

"It’s a little more complicated than that, and we’ll be briefed by him when we get to the Farm."

"Tully still there?"

The engines drowned Moffitt’s reply but he nodded.

Troy settled back in the hard bucket seat, and grinned. The war wasn’t over yet!

** *** **


They were late. It was ten-thirty before Tully could get through the thick traffic to Rockefeller Center, and park. Alexander was tapping impatiently on the hand rest. He left the car before Tully could open the door, and headed, without looking back, into the building.

Archer sat behind the desk, a telephone at his ear, and waved them through into the inner office. Williams was also on the phone but he hung up as they entered.

"What’s up, Bill?" Alexander asked bluntly.

"Sit down, Peter. I’ve got some new information to put in place, then we’ll talk,’ Williams said abruptly. "Sergeant, please leave. You have two hours free."

Tully saluted. "Yes, sir!" and exited.

Alexander glanced at Williams after the door shut. "So?"

Williams leaned on the top of his desk. "Henry Reynolds, the actor, is making trouble for you, Peter."

"I suspected he would. What now?"

"He’s talked the Office of War Information into letting him have Jaeger for a film. Pulled some strings."

"Well, I’ll jolly well throttle him in them," Alexander threatened. "What does he mean — what do they mean by doing that?"

"They’re ignorant," Williams replied. "But they can pull impressive weight."

"We’ll have to pull back. Who ordered Jaeger rescued anyway?"

"Minister White."

"White? He works at the Palace...ah. I see." Alexander sank back in his chair, suddenly understanding better. "Don’t tell me that Royalty’s involved in this!"

"I won’t tell you that, I won’t tell you much more than you know now!" Williams replied acidly. "I sent a cable last night to London asking for clear instructions on this situation."

‘You explained about Reynolds?"

"Of course. I just got off the phone with Washington. Apparently, he’s been down at the embassy trying to find out information on you!"

Alexander chuckled. "So what did they tell him?"

"To mind his own business. Still, the ambassador’s trying to decide whether to help or not, getting Jaeger for the picture. I told him not to interfere."

"Reynolds has connections at home too, doesn’t he?"

William shrugged. "A pretty face like his? Instantly recognizable and people listen to him. Some of our people are very impressionable."

"Then we have to make sure he doesn’t succeed," Alexander said sharply. "This is becoming a personal matter, Bill. I don’t want him anywhere near that horse. Bridey Cullen doesn’t think much of him, and that’s good enough for me."

"You’re taking her opinion on this?"

"She’s the horsewoman."

"I thought you’d feel that way, so I’m hoping Minister White will send clear instructions. In the meantime, I received this yesterday." Williams slid over a yellow telegram form.

It was baldly blunt.


Alexander’s heart missed a beat. He had hoped against hope that he wouldn’t be getting this message. He wanted Dietrich’s family to be found alive and well, and that he could extract them and reunite them here in the United States. He’d wanted to be a happy ending.

"Are they positive?" he said against the depression.

"You can ask them when they arrive tomorrow," Williams said bluntly. "They should be there in the afternoon some time."

"You told me they’re coming through Fort Monmouth?" Alexander asked. "Put them in touch with Captain Charles Wagner. Good officer there. He’ll make sure they all get to the farm as soon as possible."

"You’ll brief them on Reynolds?"

"I certainly will!"

"Well, there’s one more thing that you should know," Williams said bluntly. "The US Army has exerted their control over Troy, Hitchcock and Pettigrew. The troop’s back in the Army for the few days that are left to them, but a General Wilson in Washington has been agitating for a commission for Sergeant Troy, and it looks like it’s coming through."

"A commission!"

"Yes. He’s going to be appointed a captain whether or not he likes it. They’ve made up their minds —."

"I have to be there when this comes though!" Alexander said with a laugh. "He swore he wouldn’t let them do that! Hated the idea of paperwork."

"Yes, well, he now hasn’t much of a choice. Besides it’ll only be for a day or so till they’re discharged."

"He’ll outrank Lieutenant Moffitt! That’ll be a change. Troy should have been an officer years ago, Williams."

"Agreed. Now, go get some lunch, and wait for London’s reply. It should be here and decoded in about an hour," Williams ordered. "Do you need to see Bigginson?"

Alexander stared at him blankly. "Biggy? No, why should I?"

"You look terrible."

"Just a bit pale. I still have a headache."

Williams shook his head in despair. "The sooner they crack open your skull, the better, Peter."

"I’m not looking forward to it!" Alexander retorted. "I’m afraid I’ll never wake up!" Before the words left his lips, he wished he could pull them back. That deep-seated fear was never meant for anyone but himself. "I’m not afraid of anything but that ultimate darkness."

Williams watched him for a second, worry showing on his lined face. "Trust Bigginson and Murtagh, Peter. Murtagh’s supposed to be one of the best in the country."

"That’s reassuring. I’d hate to have a clod mucking about up there. I mean I have only a few brains left. Don’t want to lose more."

Williams chuckled. "Go feed your brain and body, and come back in an hour!"

Alexander took his word and left. Outside, he found Tully talking with Archer who was explaining something about his wedding. It took only a second for Alexander to decide not to tell him about his friends’ upcoming arrival. He’d tell him when he told Bridey that she was just about to have three more men quartered on her, with the original two leaving.

Tully hopped off the edge of the desk. "Going back, sir?"

"No. Let’s take a walk. I need some air."

"Maybe down near Forty-Seventh Street?" Archer suggested. "I mean, that’s the diamond district."

"Diamond?" Alexander looked at Tully inquiringly. "Are you now interested in diamonds, Sergeant?"

Tully looked acutely embarrassed. "We were discussing wedding rings, sir."

"Oh! You’re planning to get married?"

"There are definitely orange blossoms in the air, sir," Archer put in.

"More like apple," Tully retorted. "My sister-in-law, Laura, maybe. I thought I should be prepared. I looked at a couple on that list you gave me, Captain Archer, but I didn’t see anyone I liked."

"I haven’t gone hunting for a ring in a long time. That’s as good a way to spend time as any! Lead on, Sergeant."

** *** **

Bridey yawned. She hadn’t caught up on her sleep after last night’s dinner and the socializing that followed afterward. She wondered if Alexander felt as tired as she did. She couldn’t tell. By the time she’d gotten up that morning the Colonel and Tully had already gone into the City. She hoped that wherever he was, that he was still as light-hearted as he had been when they had all gone to their separate beds. He had turned out to be unexpectedly charming.

After the morning breeding session, where Jaeger had covered a very willing Diamond Justice—the biggest hussy on the farm, Bridey thought with a grin. That mare even flirted with the geldings — she took the coffee that Siobhan offered, and retreated to her office. This was where the breeding records were kept, and she was going to update them right now, writing Jaeger’s name in pencil until she knew the mare had caught. She’d continue to have Jaeger cover the mare until she refused to accept his advances. That would be a good signal that the mare was in foal, though of course, she’d have Doc Devaney confirm it with an examination.

Half the coffee was gone, and she had just put together all the papers when she heard loud voices and footsteps. The door swung open and a crowd came in.

Dietrich led the way, his lips thin with anger, followed by Henry Reynolds, Captain Harper, and Sheila.

"They insisted on speaking to you, Fraulein," Dietrich said tersely and stepped back against the wall, arms crossed against his chest. His posture conveyed disapproval of the intrusion and dislike of the people involved.

"What is it?" Bridey snapped. With a chill, she thought this might be the confrontation she had so dreaded. Where the hell was Alexander? That’s right; he wasn’t here. He was off wherever. Dammit, he said hed be here if they came back!

Reynolds dropped a sheaf of papers on her desk. "I have permission from General Benson down in Washington to take Jaeger with me back to the stables at Fort Monmouth. He’s being loaned to me for a motion picture—."

"That stallion isn’t leaving this property, permission or no permission," she said flatly. She picked up the papers and began reading them. They did seem very official and in order, and bore out what Reynolds had said.

"Those orders say he is," Captain Harper said pompously. "I have control over the animal — ."

"You do not," Bridey replied icily. "The horse belongs to Colonel Alexander, and I’m the designated recipient of the animal. I don’t see his signature on these papers."

"Colonel Alexander is not part of the US Army, Miss Cullen," Captain Harper argued. "Those papers are signed by a general!"

"Of the wrong army for the horse," Bridey commented, dropping the orders onto the desk. "You are not getting the horse. I don’t give a damn who signed those papers. President Roosevelt’s signature could appear on them and I’d still refuse."

"I have a trailer reserved for tomorrow morning," Reynolds said smugly. "I’ll take my gelding and Jaeger — ."

"You’ll take your gelding once you pay for his board, Reynolds, or I’ll take possession for non-payment."

"Then I’ll leave him and take Jaeger. He’s far more valuable to me anyway."

"How dare you!" she yelled, so incensed that her usual control, second nature around strangers, evaporated. "What makes you think you have the right to come here and take my animal, Reynolds?"

"I believe that the Fort believes that you have lost your sense of proportion," Reynolds said bluntly. "There was and is no reason that Jaeger can’t be returned to you after the movie. We only need him— ."

"Proportion? Proportion? What are you talking about?" Bridey stalked around the desk until she stood only a foot away from the actor. Both Harper and Sheila stepped away from them.

"Consorting with the enemy," he shot back.

"What? Are you accusing me of being a traitor?" She glanced over Reynolds’ shoulder and saw the worried expression on Dietrich’s face. "With the Major? He’s a POW, Reynolds! Do you think that I’d— ."

Reynolds glared at her. "The people in town do talk about it," he said. "They say you never let him leave the farm because you’re afraid that he’ll escape."

"Escape? What’s he going to do—swim home?" she asked, the expression on her face an indication of the absurdity of Reynolds’ statement. "He’s not supposed to leave the farm without an escort! He’s in my custody—I hold his parole."

"I’m sure you hold much more than that," Reynolds said silkily. His voice was pitched barely above a whisper, though she could hear it clearly, and she knew the others in the room could hear him also. "A German mount— ."

Without thinking, Bridey lifted her right hand and slapped him as hard as she could across the face.

He swayed, and his skin flushed, the red of the blow becoming a deeper color, and raised his arm to reciprocate. Harper made an inarticulate sound. Sheila gasped.

"Try it," Bridey challenged.

Reynolds tried to swing, but found his arm being gripped by Dietrich. He tried pulling himself free but the German didn’t let go, his grip getting tighter and tighter the more Reynolds resisted. Their gazes met and neither man looked away. Dietrich looked as if he wanted to kill the actor, and the actor showed the contempt he had for the prisoner.

Finally, Harper stepped forward. "Let him go!" he snapped at Dietrich.

With a casual shrug, Dietrich let go of Reynolds’ arm, and the man groaned. He clutched it to his chest and stared angrily at the German.

Harper cleared his throat and everyone looked at him. "We will be back tomorrow morning, Miss Cullen. Perhaps the Colonel will be here then?"

"You can bet on it," Bridey snapped. Her hand still stung from the blow, and she shoved it into her pocket.

"Let’s go then," Sheila chimed in unexpectedly. Her gaze was as bluntly assessing as Alexander’s had been that first day, and Bridey had no idea of what might be going on behind those eyes. Did she approve of Reynolds’ actions or was she having second thoughts? "Come on, Henry, Adam."

The men left, and Sheila followed, leaving the door open behind her.

Shaking, Bridey leaned back against the desk. Dietrich hesitated for a second, then came over. "Fraulein?"

She wouldn’t ask for comfort, but her eyes were full of tears. Most were caused by rage, though some came from reaction. She let out a tense sigh.

He put his hand on her shoulder. "Bridget?"

That small comfort was all she needed. The tears freely ran down her face. Blindly, she reached out; Dietrich’s arms automatically went around her, holding her close. It felt good, and she felt safe, safe enough to stay there forever, but she knew she had to break contact for both their sakes. She sat back, sniffing and digging into her pocket for a handkerchief. He held out his. It was as immaculate as she might have expected. She gave him a watery smile. "That was the first time you’ve ever called me that."

"A moment of weakness," Dietrich said lightly. Her tears had left a huge wet spot on his shirt.

"Keep it up. I like it." She blew her nose. "There are entirely too many men 'Miss Cullening' me to death around here."

He smiled. "I think we should see if the Colonel has come back, Fraulein. He has to know about these orders." Dietrich glanced at the sheets of paper on the desk.

"If he’s back and didn’t come in, I’ll kill him myself," she muttered.

A rumble of thunder underlined her words. The weather had changed drastically and from the thrashing of the trees, a major storm was coming in. The temperature had dropped in the study, and she shivered, making a mental note to bring in more wood for the fireplaces.

There was a knock on the open door, and Tully peered in. "Miss Cullen? Major? The Colonel says he’d like to see you before dinner."

Bridey and Dietrich were still standing quite close to one another, and Bridey realized what it must look like to Tully— and she further realized she didn’t give a damn. "Where the hell has he been? All hell just broke loose here!"

Tully stepped back. "Miss Cullen?"

"Reynolds and Harper were here, and where was your Colonel? Gone!"

Tully looked uncomfortable. "I’m sorry that we missed them. We had a small emergency in New York."

"Let’s go find him," Dietrich urged. "Now."

** *** **

Alexander came down the stairs from his room, buttoning up his greatcoat. He felt the stiff papers in the outer pocket, and debated putting them in his room, before dismissing the thought. He needed to have the telegram handy for Dietrich if he met him, and the other one from Minister White would go to Bridey. They would be more accessible on his person.

The house had been very quiet when he’d entered, and he assumed Bridey was gone when he saw the empty spot where the farm truck had been parked.

He had to think about how to do this. How to tell Dietrich about his wife and child, and do it before Troy and the others arrived the next afternoon. It would be the coward’s way out to leave it to them. He dismissed the thought and went out to the yard.

He stopped in surprise. A long black sedan was parked outside the house. When had this car arrived? Alexander wondered who it belonged to. Probably one of Bridey’s friends from another farm.

Alexander paused for a second, thinking he’d heard loud voices coming from Bridey’s study. Probably his imagination. It was silent now.

Setting off down the winding road, he saw incipient dandelions, and the tall grasses that had sprung up at the first moment of spring. The trees were just starting to come out. Their buds were glossy red-brown and yellow-green leaves were uncurling.

Actually, they were shivering, as Alexander was after only ten minutes. The wind sliced around him like a knife. Looking back he couldn’t see the lights of the farm. Around him was dense underbrush and tall straggly trees. Prickly wild grapevines and broken twigs littered the ditch beside the muddy road. The sun had set and it was the gray twilight just before dark.

He heard the roar of a car engine behind him, and turned. His boot caught on a strand of ivy and he swayed.

His coat was caught on the side of the black automobile as it raced by at a faster speed than it should, and he was whipped around. The edge caught on the back bumper, throwing him face-down in the underbrush amongst the needled grapevine, bracken, and broken twigs. He didn’t move.

The car disappeared around the bend in the road without slowing down for a second.

Five minutes later, the skies opened. The rain started as mist, then grew until it was a solid sheet of water. Falling temperatures turned it into sleet after another ten minutes. Darkness fell over the road and the man face-down in the mud.

** *** ***

"Where is he?" Bridey asked in exasperation. She looked around the dining room. The table was set for six, and she was holding off lighting the candles until they found Alexander. If this food went to waste, Siobhan would serve sautéed liver-of-Colonel for breakfast despite the fact that he and Tully had returned from New York with a box of rare delicacies procured from somewhere Bridey didn’t want to think about.

"I don’t know," Dietrich commented with a frown. He had been searching the barns but had found no trace that Alexander had been in any of them.

"He knew what time dinner was going to be served," Bridey looked around in exasperation. She had taken the house, and still had a few cobwebs in her hair from the pantry next to the basement laundry. "He’s never late for a dinner he said he’d be here for! Except when he falls asleep.… "

"That’s true," Dietrich agreed. "I brought in Diamond Concerto and Mr. Reynolds’ Cameroon from the outer field. It is getting icy out there."

"Well, I’ve covered the house," Bridey said crisply. "No sign of him."

Tully came in at that point. "He’s not in any of the paddocks or run-in sheds, or anywhere I can find him."

Siobhan bit her lip. "If he’s not inside, he has to be outside. Start all over again."

Tully nodded, looking distinctly worried. Bridey wondered if there was something going on she didn’t know about. What would be new about that? "He’s got to be around here somewhere. I’ll take a flashlight and look around the outer fields."

"I’ll check the road," Dietrich offered.

"You don’t think he went off with Reynolds and Harper, do you? To work things out up at the Fort?" Bridey asked.

"I saw them leave," Tully commented. "Sheila was driving, with Reynolds in the front seat, and Harper behind him. Reynolds was holding his arm. What happened?"

Bridey glanced at Dietrich who was smiling smugly; she gave him a smug smile of her own in return. "Let’s find Alexander and I’ll tell you both at the same time. We need to talk. Pop’ll be back in about five minutes."

"Where is he?" Tully asked.

"He went out to the feed store for a supply of grain, but he’ll back for dinner. He knows better than to miss it."

Tully nodded and redonned his hat. "Let’s go."

** *** **

Dietrich walked down the road, flashing the beam of his light into the fields beyond. The verge was a tangle of old grasses, thorny bushes and undergrowth, and the road was rapidly becoming a mud pit.

He looked behind him. The lights of the house were barely visible through the new growth on the trees, which was waving furiously in the high wind. He heard a crack as one of the limbs broke and saw it fall nearby.

He and Tully were home for five, perhaps ten minutes before Reynolds left. How far could he have gotten between then and now? He was not in the barns, nor in any of the fields nearby. He was not been in his room or Fraulein Cullen would have mentioned it. He is not stupid enough to try going cross-country in a storm, unless there was a reason for him to do it. He might have had sufficient reasons to do so were he back in Germany, but not here. The shortcut over the hills...Tully is looking into that. So, how far could he have gotten down this garden path before the storm?

Again he wondered if Reynolds had picked up the colonel. Not knowing about the insult to Fraulein Cullen, Alexander might have taken up the offer to go to the Fort and work it out. It would have been just like him not to tell anyone before presenting a solution.

Alexander didn’t know what Reynolds had said to the Fraulein, though. Otherwise, Alexander might have been second in line to hit him. Dietrich claimed first shot. It would be worth being sent to a penalty camp to hit the arrogant actor. Fraulein Cullen had never stepped over the bounds of propriety with him, nor had she shown the least inclination to do so. She had offered friendship, nothing more. And while Dietrich had accepted that gratefully, he had never looked for a deeper relationship. That wasn’t appropriate at this time.

Two headlights shone through the grove of trees that bordered one of the turns, interrupting his thoughts; then the farm pickup came slowly up the muddy path. The hail looked like snow in the bright light. Dietrich could feel the pellets under his worn boots, and saw them sparkling on his coat in the light of the beams.

He waved the flashlight, and Cullen slowed to a crawl. His tires slid as he braked.

Something caught the light from Dietrich’s flashlight, and he stopped. The shiny metal badge on the cap reflected the light. Alexander had been here. That was his cap, muddy, and with a thorn in the brim.

Dietrich played the light around in the undergrowth, and took a sharp breath in shock. "Mein Gott!" he said under his breath.

Hail coated the unconscious man with an icy sparkle. It looked like he was wearing a frozen coat of mail.

Behind him, Dietrich heard Cullen’s engine die. Picking his way, the German stepped carefully until he reached Alexander.

"What is it?" Cullen called. "What’s there?"

Dietrich turned. "The Colonel! Help me?"

"The Colonel?" Cullen gasped. He reached inside the cab and pulled out his cap, then a slicker from behind the seat.

Dietrich played the light over the unconscious man seeing the blackish stain of blood soaking the cloth of the right leg. Kneeling down, he felt for a pulse in the colonel’s neck.

It was there. Faint, thready, but there. The skin was clammy cold and there was ice forming on the dark hair. Dietrich brushed it away gently and saw that the wound had re-opened on Alexander’s forehead. A trickle of blood washed down his face.

Had he had one of his dizzy spells? Dietrich wondered. Fallen down and rolled? Should he warn the house first, or—

Cullen reached both of them. "Mother of God," he said. "He’s still alive?"

"Ja. We must get him back to the house as soon as possible," Dietrich said briskly. "Is there room in the truck?"

"Yeah, but we’d better move a couple of the bags so he can lie flat."

Dietrich nodded. He dropped the lit flashlight by the unconscious man, and they went back to the truck. Tugging and pulling, they moved the wet feed sacks until the flatbed of the truck was clear, and there was no danger of the bags toppling. Then they went back.

"Gently," Cullen warned as they rolled him face-up. Dietrich gingerly held onto the injured leg so it didn’t shift unnecessarily.

Luckily Alexander had worn his long overcoat, and by buttoning it up, and wrapping it around his legs, he formed a compact bundle. Dietrich turned off the flashlight and put it in his pocket.

"Think we can do it, Major?" Cullen asked. "He’s a big man."

"I don’t think that we should wait for more help," Dietrich said tersely. "We could get Tully but that would take another five or more minutes. The storm’s worsening—we cannot waste the time."

"Yes, and the branches are coming down. They took down the telephone wire," Cullen commented. "I’ll take the top half, you worry about the bottom. Heave!"

It had to be painful. Dietrich could only be glad that Alexander was still unconscious, because he wouldn’t have wished this maneuver on his worst enemy. He didn’t want to think what might be happening to the injured leg.

Tugging and pulling, they had him on the flatbed. Dietrich hitched himself up beside Alexander.

Cullen nodded in understanding. "I’ll try to make it an easy ride."

"Make it fast. The storm is more dangerous than jolting," Dietrich said authoritatively.

Cullen ran back to the cab and started the truck. They made as good time as they could up the road and into the stable yard, then up to the house. He leaned on the horn several times until Bridey, and Siobhan came outside.

Jumping out of the truck bed, Dietrich saw Tully coming running across the fields. The horn had alerted him.

"What is it?" Bridey called, pulling on a sweater as she came down the porch steps.

"We found him," Dietrich replied grimly. "Do you have somewhere warm, Fraulein? He is... "

Despite the rain, she came around the back. The sweater was soaked in no time. "What happened to him?" she gasped. "Never mind. I’ll clear the living room, you guys just get him inside."

Dietrich nodded.

** *** **

Bridey went indoors. She found Siobhan already pulling chairs back in the front parlor, and moving tables out of the way.

"We’ll put him in front of the fire," Bridey said briskly.

"I’ll put on a log then," Siobhan said. She took down the fire shield and picked up the last piece of wood. This storm hadn’t been predicted. They would have to get more wood, and wait until it dried a little unless that reserve stockpile of logs in the main barn was still dry. Bridey made a mental note to send Dietrich after them, or to get them herself.

Siobhan poked the fire until the wood lit, then replaced the shield. "Take the other end of the table, and lift," Bridey ordered. They moved to one side the small oblong table that usually sat in front of the fire.

"Blankets," Bridey muttered.

"Towels," Siobhan added. "He’ll be wetter than that pup you had last spring."

A smile touched Bridey’s lips as she remembered the pup she’d adopted for a while the year before. A stray, he’d died of distemper that was too far gone to cure. "Parsley, yeah. Let’s get the linens. They should be bringing him inside in a second."

They were barely back with the folded blankets and an old patchwork quilt when the door opened, and Mike, Tully and Dietrich carried Alexander in. The coat looked like an icy shroud and Bridey saw Siobhan shudder, then bless herself.

"We’ve got the living room cleared," Bridey called.

"Good," Dietrich said with unconscious authority. "Tully, slide your hands under his legs and Herr Cullen, around his lower back, please."

"Don’t put him down yet," Mike said unexpectedly as they started to lower him to the floor. "Let’s see if we can get the coat off now, and his jacket as well. Then we won’t have to move him again once we have him down."

Dietrich nodded. "Fraulein Cullen, if you would please...."

"Got it," Bridey agreed, a steely detachment hiding her horror. Alexander really looked like a drowned man now that the ice was melting; puddles appeared on the floor around their feet. Both Tully and Dietrich were soaked, Bridey was almost as wet as they were, while Mike wasn’t as wet except for the lower part of his pants.

She laid two blankets over the hearth rug, and put down a pillow. "Be careful."

Getting the clothing off before they laid him down proved to be impossible, but at least they’d gotten him stripped down to his undershirt and torn pants. The overcoat and jacket ended up on the neighboring sofa. "Get those clothes off that before they soak it through," Bridey ordered. Tully jumped to comply, laying them on the floor.

"His leg is ripped open," Dietrich said calmly when Alexander was resting on the nest of blankets. Blood was slowly returning to his face. It was covered with mud and bruises, and the neat stitchery of the thorns of a wild grapevine made a puckered line on his chin.

"Yeah," Cullen agreed looking down at the scored flesh visible through a tear in Alexander’s pants. "Bridey, get some scissors. We’ll need the first-aid kit, too."

Bridey nodded and caught up the soaked clothing carrying them through the kitchen to the laundry room, where the sewing machine and heavy utility shears were kept.

A bundle of papers fell out of one pocket as she was hanging the coat, and she picked them up, glancing at them. One in particular caught her attention. Something—she didn’t know what—made her open it and read the contents.

Her eyes widened in shock. "Oh, no." She read the telegram again, then looked out the door. She couldn’t see the living room from here though the scene there was vivid in her mind. "God, no…. "

Could this have been part of the reason Alexander had gone out in the storm? To find Dietrich? Why not? The death of his wife and child would be something the two men would want to keep to themselves.

"He must have gotten these this afternoon," she murmured. "That was why Alexander didn’t come to the meeting." She stuffed the other papers back into the pocket without looking at the rest of the packet, but kept the telegram, sliding it into the pocket of her trousers. "I guess I’ll have to tell him," Bridey said softly. "I’m the closest thing to a friend the Major has right now."

She rummaged through a basket of clean clothing until she found a soft cotton top. It was wrinkled, but at this point, that didn’t matter. Discarding her wet sweater and blouse, she pulled it on. Then she grabbed the heaviest pair of shears and returned to the living room, retrieving the medical kit from the pantry on the way back.

As she returned to the living room, the wounded man groaned and shifted his right hand as if he were looking for something. Bridey remembered the papers in the coat. He was probably looking for those.

"Colonel?" Tully said urgently. "Colonel!"

Alexander opened his eyes. He felt like he was floating. This cant be heaven; that looks like Bridey Cullens ceiling, was his first clear thought. And Im freezing. Of course this could be Wotans revenge. Ill never listen to the Ring again. He realized he was cold and wet and he’d never listen to that opera again without thinking of Bridey’s ceiling.

Someone who sounded familiar was calling his name with increasing force. "Colonel? Colonel!"

Tully Pettigrew. No, definitely not heaven. He dismissed that thought and rolled his eyes until he saw Tully, who looked like a drowned rat, his normally springy hair plastered down around his ears, dressed in damp clothing. Beside him, Mike Cullen looked like he’d been wading in the Thames; looking the other way, he saw Dietrich was also wet, but somehow looked neat despite that.

"Colonel Alexander?" the German inquired, his gaze intent. "How do you feel?"

Alexander knew that was addressed to him, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how to answer. He was still floating apart from them. Finally, he summoned up the energy and whispered. "Fine...."

Dietrich looked startled for a second, then a hint of smile crept into his eyes. "You will not feel that way for long."

"What...happened?" Alexander asked faintly.

"That’s what we want to know!" Bridey cut in. "What happened to you? Did someone hit you?"

Alexander shifted his gaze to her, then around the room. She sounded worried. About him? Alexander felt honored. Bridey mostly worried about her family and Dietrich. He saw Mike come back in with a bottle in one hand, setting it down by Dietrich’s hand. Bridey was still staring intensely at him, and Alexander realized that he was expected to answer. He shut his eyes and tried to remember what happened.

Memories came back vaguely. The trip to New York, meeting with Williams, the telegrams, lending Tully the extra cash for his potential wedding ring. Tully driving him back under the darkening clouds, which cleared when they reached the farm, giving a beautiful afternoon, which had then clouded over again. Chill. Cold. Rain on his face. He struggled with that memory. Something was missing.

He went back to the time at the farm. The telegrams...oh, God. The telegram about Dietrich. His eyes flicked opened. "Dietrich...." he croaked.

For a second, Bridey looked astonished, then she shook her head. "No, Colonel. The Major was with us," she said firmly.

Alexander struggled with the meaning, then understood. She wanted to know how he was injured. "I...know. I...don’t remember...."

"Let’s do this later," Dietrich said briskly. "Colonel, we will get you a doctor as soon as we can but we will have to treat your leg."


"Your leg is injured," Dietrich clarified. "I am not sure if it is broken. We will have to clean it, and it will hurt a great deal."

Alexander was not in favor of that. His head throbbed. The center of it was the recently-healed wound and it was getting more difficult to think clearly. "Pain...."

"The only painkillers I’ve got are aspirin and horse liniment," Bridey put in. "I don’t think either will help."

"You’ve got this," Mike Cullen suggested unexpectedly, tapping on the bottle.

"Whiskey?" Siobhan said doubtfully from the doorway.

"He’ll have to drink a lot to kill that pain," Dietrich said with a slight laugh. "How do you feel about that— don’t move!"

Too late. Alexander tried shifting and felt a shooting pain go up his entire body. He could feel the blood drain out of his face and his shoulders shake in reaction. Everything went black.

"There’s not enough whiskey...." Alexander croaked. His gaze went to Dietrich, who nodded in understanding.

Cullen handed down a glass of whiskey. "Pity that you can’t savor it as it should be savored."

Tully held it to Alexander’s lips and the wounded man swallowed several times. His eyes brightened. "Excellent," he croaked.

Cullen poured a fresh glass. "I think it’ll take three glasses to make you numb," he counseled.

Alexander grinned, "With this good...whiskey, three won’" He swallowed the second glass, and licked his lips.

After the third glass, he held up his hand. "Enough."

"After the first few seconds, you won’t feel anything, Colonel," Mike said dryly. "Bridey, we’re going to need some more blankets."

She nodded and got to her feet. "I’ve got some upstairs." Dietrich began to cut away the pants that covered the injured leg. The blanket underneath was damp from melted sleet. "Siobhan."


Behind them, they heard the soft murmur of voices, then a gasp of pain cut through the air, quickly stifled. Bridey flinched. "I think they just started on his leg."

Siobhan glanced at her. "I’d not have wished that even on an Englishman."

They went upstairs to Alexander’s room and stripped the blanket off his bed, then went to the linen closet in the hall and got another one. Going downstairs with their arms full, they rejoined the others.

When they returned, Alexander’s leg was wrapped in an antique quilt and bound around with shipping bandages. He was covered with the only other dry blanket they had. His face was ashen, and he looked more dead now than he had when he had been carried in.

Tully took a quick sip from the whiskey bottle, then set it down on the table alongside the couch. He looked more upset than Bridey had ever seen him.

From the smell it appeared that all the men still conscious had taken a slug from the bottle. They weren’t enjoying the party any more than Alexander.

"Oh, hell!" Bridey said suddenly, and dropped her blanket on the sofa beside the discarded coats. "Dinner!" She disappeared into the kitchen. Siobhan followed, muttering.

"Dinner?" Tully said hopefully. He picked up the blanket and laid it over Alexander.

"There’s nothing more to do here," Dietrich agreed. He looked soberly at Alexander, who was breathing shallowly. "Just make sure he does not try to move."

Bridey reappeared. "We are going to sit down to dinner in exactly ten minutes or it will not be edible— and I’m not going to let that happen!" she said emphatically. "Major Dietrich, can you get some more wood?"

The German rose to his feet. "Certainly, Fraulein Cullen."

"I’ll be out to help you in a minute," she added, ignoring his puzzled look. "Pop, you and Tully had better get changed or you’ll have pneumonia!"

She turned and strode out, followed by Dietrich, who disappeared out the back door before she could get her barn jacket on.

Outside, the sleet had let up momentarily, turning into straight rain, and the path between the house and the barn was wet, but not icy. She could feel the cold edge starting to return to the air as she sloshed towards the building.

At the doorway, she met Dietrich, who had taken the wheelbarrow to bring in the wood. He paused and retreated into the barn as she held up her hand. "Major..." She faltered as her courage deserted her. What do I do now? Mother of God, please give me the strength to tell him.

He frowned, his face full of sudden suspicion. "Fraulein Cullen? Is something wrong?"

She drew herself up to his full height as if it would help to fortify her for her task. "I...I think the colonel was going to tell you, but he’s not going to...hell, he’s out of it now, and he can’t and I’m...I’ve… Oh, God." Bridey was all too aware that she was babbling. She gave herself a mental shake, and took a deep breath before saying, "Hans, I’m sorry."

He stared at her, her unprecedented use of his first name making him wary. "Why?"

"Colonel Alexander received information about your family today. Your wife...." She hesitated, then pulled out the telegram from her pocket. "I think he was looking for you to give you this."

Dietrich took it from her shaking fingers, and unfolded it. Bridey watched as he read it in silence. "You read this?" he finally asked.

The pain evident in his dark eyes sheared through her as he met her gaze. "Yeah," she admitted softly.

His eyes went over it again before he folded it and handed it back to her. "Thank you."

She pulled her hand back quickly, refusing to touch the telegram as if it were red-hot. "No. Keep it. Hans, I’m so sorry," she said quietly. "I’m going to get some wood. Come in when you’re...ready."

"I will be in," he said numbly, turning back to the wheelbarrow. His mind was far, far away in Germany.

She plunged back into the dark wet night, feeling moisture on her cheeks. Was it raining again? Then she tasted salt and knew she was crying. She leaned back against one of the oak trees that shaded the path and wiped her eyes, standing there, drawing shaky breaths until she regained her composure.

Bridey strode purposefully up the path, feeling sharp stinging on her cheeks. Looking up at the sky, she felt the patter of sleet. The storm was coming back in. Just what we all need.

Reaching the woodpile, she took two logs and lugged them towards the house. Risking a gaze at the barn, she saw Dietrich was gone, though the wheelbarrow still stood in the doorway. Feeling like she was intruding, she turned back to the house and her guests.

Bridey slammed the back door in anger as she entered the house. Tully looked up in startlement as she walked into the kitchen with the wet logs. "Everything all right?" Siobhan must be with Alexander or somewhere else. The kitchen was empty except for the two of them.

"No, Sergeant, it is not!" she shot back, feeling bloody-minded, knowing full well what he meant and that she was taking her frustration out on the wrong man. "I just had to tell that man out there that his wife and baby girl are dead—a baby he never even got to see, for the love of God!"

Tully looked at her, uncowed. "How did he take it?"

"Exactly as you would have expected him to," she shot back.

"I’ll go see him later."

Bridey nodded, and dropped the logs by the doorway. "It isn’t fair."

"War is hell, Miss Cullen."

"Yes, it is, Sergeant, for everyone involved. Including those of us who wait at home—and the families that are forever torn apart." She didn’t give him the opportunity to respond, but went on. "You know what the hell of it is? He never even saw that baby girl. She was born a couple of months after he was captured. He got maybe five letters from his wife since he’s been a prisoner—and he’s read them so many times he’s got them memorized. And now they’re both gone."

He voice had a fierce undertone, and Tully wished he had someone to defend him so staunchly. "You seem to care for him very much."

Bridey drew herself up to her full height. "Yes, I do. He’s my friend. There are good people on both sides of this war, Sergeant," she said, daring him to contradict her.

"I agree with you there, ma’am. He certainly treated us fairly enough. And I feel real bad about his wife and daughter. Laura told me how happy he was when he got the news about the baby."

All belligerence left her posture. "Laura. Your sister who runs the farm in Kentucky?"


"Dietrich has mentioned her a few times. He told us how well she treated him."

"Laura always had a soft spot for lost people." Tully smiled. "Want to see something?"

Bridey looked curious. "What?"

Tully pulled out a small box. "The Colonel lent me the extra cash but most of it’s mine."

Nestled in the dark cloth was a very simple gold ring with a one-carat diamond set in four prongs. Bridey caught her breath. "Tully, it’s beautiful! It’s for Laura?"

"If she’ll have me," Tully said with a touch of uncertainty. "I just wanted to make sure that it’s ready if I need it."

Bridey looked at him, and thought he was a thoroughly nice man. Lucky Laura. "I think she will. In fact, I’m sure she will."

"That’s what Major Dietrich told me once, but you never know," he said, stowing away the ring.

"You’ve become friends with him, haven’t you?"

"Sort of—but he’s still an officer, even in old barn clothes."

"Is that an insult or a compliment?" Bridey asked wryly.

Tully shifted the matchstick to the other side of his mouth. "‘bout most officers, it’d be an insult. Not about him, though."

"I didn’t think so. You’ve got a lot of respect for him, don’t you?"

Tully shrugged. "Woulda been easier if he’d been on our side."

"And then I wouldn’t have the best damn stable help I’ve ever seen."

"War makes strange bedfellows," Tully said, then realized the implications of his words. "Sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean that like it sounded."

Bridey waved off his apology. "No need to apologize, Tully. I know what you meant."

"I’ll go bring him in for dinner."

"Don’t force him if he wants to be alone, Tully."

"No, Ma’am—uh, sorry."

Bridey couldn’t work up the steam to correct him. "Go on with you." She waved in the direction of the door.

** *** **

In the barn, Dietrich moved numbly towards the stalls. Horses inquisitively poked their heads over the lower doors, and several whinnied. He walked on until he reached Jaeger’s stall, and stopped.

Chewing on a mouthful of hay, the black stallion snorted approval at Dietrich’s arrival.

Dietrich picked up the curry comb and a brush from the tack trunk in the aisle and went inside, scarcely thinking of what he was doing. He automatically began to brush the satin coat.

Annaliese...and Katrina. He had never met Katrina. She was an abstraction to him, someone he had never known but who was so important that she had become any small girl to him. He might end up seeing Katrina’s face in them all...or it might pass.

Like so many deaths over the last five years.

Annaliese...small, beautiful, trusting, and full of laughter. A honeymoon in the mountains where they rode together and spent the nights far away from uniforms and orders and the killing that was war. The leave in January of 1944, months before he was captured, which had produced that imp, Katrina. The daughter he would never know now.

He felt a surge of grief and set his jaw. Brush, scrape, brush and scrape. Jaeger snorted, and nudged him. Dietrich realized he’d been brushing the same place for several minutes. He automatically moved to the horse’s back and kept brushing.

Suddenly, he leaned against the silky hide, breathing the smell of horse. He sighed heavily. A hot tear went down his cheek, then another, and for a second, he just gave himself the freedom to release his sorrow.

They had parted with a fight, that last time. Annaliese wanted him to ask Rommel to have him transferred back to Germany. She argued that she needed Dietrich there, and besides, he’d done his part for the Reich. He had known that this was impossible and he had tried his best to explain that. She hadn’t understood, and they’d parted on cold terms.

The few letters after that had been affectionate but less than filling emotionally . He understood that not much could get through the censors but he had wanted her to understand how much he loved her— more than he loved his career, more than life itself. But he couldn’t put that in the letter.

"For me the war is over...." he said under his breath, and went back to brushing the horse, taking comfort in long habit and repetition. Brush, scrape, brush, scrape. A shiny coat and a well-tended animal. Something that could be positive.

The hinges of the barn screeched open and he felt a blast of cold air. He ignored the sound of soft footsteps till they stopped outside the door.

"Miss Cullen wants you at the table, Major," Tully said softly.

Looking over, Dietrich wondered how much the American knew. Whatever it was, for a second, Tully looked solicitous, then the mask he perpetually wore dropped over his face and Dietrich wondered if he had imagined the other emotion. Probably not. Did everyone know? Was he the last to know?

He felt a surge of horror at the thought, then throttled it. Did it matter? "I will be in after I wash my hands," he said calmly. "I will bring in more wood."

"Need some help?" Tully offered.

Dietrich shook his head. "I will do it myself, Private — Sergeant Pettigrew."

Unexpectedly, Tully grinned. "Don’t worry, Major. Colonel Alex’s always threatening to make me a private again."

Dietrich had been so wrapped up in his grief that he had forgotten about the accident. "How is he?"

"Still out of it. But the chicken’s hot and the bread’s done. You’d better come in." Tully headed for the door.

"One second," Dietrich said with a rasp of command.

Tully turned. "Yes, sir?"

"Did she really send you out here?"

Tully eyed him, then shook his head. "Nope."

"Who did?"

"I came on my own. She said I should leave you alone if you wanted, but I don’t think that’s a good idea."

"I see."

"They’re waiting for you, Major."

"I will wash my hands, and be right in."

** *** **

The tone around the oval dinner table was sober. Bridey sat at one end with an empty chair left beside her for Dietrich; Mike Cullen sat on the other side of Dietrich’s chair, Tully beside him, his attention only half on what was being said, the other on any sound that might come from the parlor. The empty chair at the other end of the table was a reminder of the evening’s events. It would have been Alexander’s.

Siobhan bustled around making sure everything was on the table before vanishing back into the kitchen. Bridey could hear her crooning some kind of song and knew that for once it wouldn’t be a song of the Rebellion. It was all well to bait a healthy colonel, but bad form to continue it when he was lying badly injured on the hearth in the next room.

They passed the plates up to Bridey and she portioned out savory chicken stew, then added healthy dollops of mashed potatoes topped with gravy before returning the dishes. Mike added slices of homemade bread as the plates passed him.

Finally, she took a deep breath. "We’ve got a lot to discuss tonight." Everyone glanced at her, then returned to eating supper in silence.

Dietrich stepped in, looked around at the table, then went to his chair. "The Colonel?" Dietrich asked Tully.

Tully shrugged. "Still asleep."

Dietrich nodded and applied himself to the stew.

Bridey said grimly, "I was just getting started. We’ve got some problems to discuss. We have to talk about the horse."

"No, we need to discuss who ran down the Colonel," Mike disagreed unexpectedly.

"Why do you assume he was hit?" Bridey asked calmly. Silence followed, with everyone looking at her in astonishment. She shrugged. "Yeah, I think he was run over, too, but I’m just playing devil’s advocate. We have to examine all of our options. That’s a lousy stretch in bad weather and he could have slipped. What was he doing out in the rain in the first place?"

"I brought him back from New York about...five," Tully said unexpectedly. "He was worried about something. Dunno why he was out in the rain."

"Even a chicken knows enough to come out of the rain!" Bridey said acidly.

"Perhaps he was injured before it started," Dietrich stated. "And couldn’t move — "

Mike nodded. "That’s what I’ve been thinkin’."

Bridey could tell from the thickness of her father’s brogue that he was more upset than he looked. "I took a look at his overcoat," she said. "It’s got mud everywhere, and there’s a rip up one side. He rolled after hitting the ground."

"He could do that just by falling," Siobhan said pessimistically. She carried out a plate of peas and set it on the table.

"Sit down now, Siobhan," Bridey ordered. "We all need to talk about this."

Siobhan looked surprised but sat down in her empty seat.

"Mr. Reynolds left about five-thirty," Dietrich said. "As for the Colonel, you do not get that kind of mud on your coat by falling in the mud. You do not suffer that kind of injury by slipping. He was hit by a car and thrown in the mud."

Dead silence greeted this flat statement.

"You think he was hit by Reynolds?" Bridey asked. "Would he have hit someone and left them in the dirt? I don’t know about you, but I don’t see that in the man, as much as I detest him."

"So it was an accident," Siobhan put in. "Dark night, dark coat, anger clouding his mind, and so on."

"Could it have been anyone else?" Dietrich asked. "Sergeant Pettigrew, you know the Colonel’s business better than anyone else at the table. Does he have any enemies who would do this?"

Everyone looked at Tully who swallowed his mouthful of bread before he spoke. "Wish I knew, Major. I don’t think so. Unless it was Captain Harper or someone like that."

"Captain Harper?" Bridey said incredulously. "Tully, we’re not at war with the US Army!"

"Even though it might feel like it," Mike murmured barely audibly. "I don’t think anyone would come up with a car, hit Alexander, then drive off, just for the pleasure of injuring him."

"No, they would have just shot him from the undergrowth and slipped away," Dietrich agreed, bringing a chill over the table. "An assassination."

Tully nodded. "Reckon that’s right. Company he kept in Europe, well, that’s possible, sometimes. Not now."

Bridey snorted and everyone jumped. " Let’s stick with a realistic scenario. Reynolds hit Alexander and we found him. Probably when the Colonel wakes up, he’ll tell us more."

"If he remembers," Cullen muttered.

"Tully, you said he was worried about the horse?" Bridey asked, determined to keep going.

Tully nodded. "Is there any more stew?" he said wistfully.

"Sure. Pass your plate. You didn’t hear anything?"

"He said that he had clear title to the horse now, and Harper could go to — uh, sorry, ma’am," Tully said embarrassed. Bridey handed back the filled plate.

She remembered the documents in the coat. Maybe there was something in them relating to the horse, besides that bedamned telegram.

"If Reynolds hit Alexander," Siobhan said looking up from her plate, "can we use it against him?"

Everyone stared at her. "What’ya mean?" Mike asked.

"He’s a movie star who didn’t go to war. That’s not exactly patriotic. And now he’s hurt an officer of one of our allies, and is trying to steal a horse belonging to the same man. We have to report the accident to the police, at least, and Captain Harper, and whoever the Colonel contacts in New York — "

"You’ll take care of New York, right, Tully?" Bridey said, cutting Siobhan off.

Tully looked startled. "New York? Oh, yeah, well... I know who to talk with but..."

"I’m sure that his injury will be like putting a fox in the chicken coop," Dietrich cut in dryly, startling everyone. "Sergeant, you will have to make the proper authorities, both British and American, aware of the situation."

"Oh, they’ll be thrilled..."

"What about the horse?" Mike asked. "What now?"

Dietrich stared thoughtfully into the living room. "There is a problem there. The Colonel stood between Mr. Reynolds and the horse. Now that he is incapacitated, the Army might say that it is a military animal and move him."

"Dammit!" Bridey swore unexpectedly. "I was trying to ignore that, Major."

"Ignoring it won’t make it change, Fraulein," Dietrich replied firmly. "From what I overheard, Mr. Reynolds has talked to the Army authorities in Washington and gotten some kind of permission to take the horse to Hollywood. So, Captain Harper and Mr. Reynolds are working together."

"Won’t it be somethin’ when the Captain finds out he got a clear field because Mr. Reynolds hit the colonel?" Mike said brightly.

Bridey glared at him.

"It may or may not make a difference," Dietrich said soberly. "The Captain will want to make all the proper arrangements for the Colonel’s hospitalization, which will take him away from here and Jaeger, and the incident will probably be covered up unless there is some threat — ."

Mike snorted in amusement. "You know a lot about bureaucracies, Major!"

Dietrich shrugged. "It was a way of life, Herr Cullen. We needed to understand them in order to survive."

"I think we’d better tell the Colonel’s people first," Tully said. "I mean, they might want to make their own plans."

"We don’t have much time," Dietrich said soberly. "Once it’s known that Colonel Alexander’s down, everyone will be trying to take advantage of the situation. Those are only good military tactics. Mr. Reynolds said he was returning tomorrow with the trailer."

"Doesn’t Bridey have any rights in this?" Siobhan demanded.

The men around the table shook their heads sorrowfully. "Not much," Mike said soberly.

"Agreed. Maybe we should move the horse," Dietrich offered.

Tully chuckled. "More rustling. That’s how we got him in the first place."

"That will only compound the problem," Bridey said regretfully.

"Maybe we should move a couple of the mares into the main barn. Harper and Reynolds will think twice about moving a randy stallion."

"I sure would," Tully said.

"Let’s move Diamond Justice and Sea Sprite into the main barn, too." Mike said. "They’ll go berserk if they smell someone they don’t know around their foals. And move Diligence into the paddock near the main barn, too. No one will get past that son of a gun, and if he’s rugged up enough, he won’t even notice the cold."

"Good idea, Pop. We’ll get on it after dinner."

"If we inform the authorities at Fort Monmouth tomorrow morning, then it will take some time to reach Captain Harper through the usual channels, if they are anything like the ones I was used to," Dietrich judged. "Sergeant, if you go to New York early tomorrow, can you reach Colonel Alexander’s people right away?"

Tully shrugged. "Dunno. I can try."

"We call the doctor early tomorrow," Bridey said firmly. "Or tonight, if the storm lets up." They could hear the sleet still pelting on the windows. "He needs to have that leg taken care of, and we’re running out of whiskey painkillers."

Mike smiled proudly. "We can break into the pre-war bottles, darlin’."

"He’d like that," Tully commented. "He really loves tea, though."

"Tea won’t cut the pain," Siobhan pointed out gently. "Whiskey will."

"The wires are down— the oak tree near the road dropped a few limbs," Mike cut in.

"If the phone lines are down, we buy some time," Dietrich put in. "Is there any way we can keep him here?"

Bridey stared at him. There were times she forgot she had a tiger in her stables. "How, Major? He should be in a hospital."

"Let him decide," Mike urged unexpectedly. "He’s not exactly dead. And he’s a colonel— he could still stop them."

"Not for long," Tully contradicted him. "But, yeah, let’s let the Colonel make up his mind."

"If he wakes up in time," Dietrich said pessimistically. "I will move the horses tonight, Fraulein."

"I’ll help you."

They finished dinner in relative silence. "You’ll be in for dessert?" Siobhan asked as she cleaned off the table.

Bridey sent a querying glance up at Dietrich, who nodded. "I think that can be arranged."

Siobhan disappeared into the kitchen with a load of dishes, Mike and Tully went in to check on the Colonel, and Dietrich and Bridey donned their barn jackets and headed for the broodmare barn.

Bridey blanketed Diamond Justice against the rain while Dietrich fastened a much smaller blanket on her eight-week-old filly. The mare watched alertly, but made no move to come between him and her baby. Together, they led the mare and foal to the main barn, putting them into a stall near the front door. Justice looked at Bridey as if to ask why they’d changed quarters, but she turned away when Dietrich hung a full haynet in the stall. The filly immediately turned to her dam and began to nurse.

"Two down, two to go," Bridey said as they walked back out into the rain.

Diamond Sea Sprite was tougher to get moving. She was no problem to get blanketed, and she didn’t protest the attention given to her ten-week-old colt, but once they got her to the big barn doors and she saw the rain, she stopped dead.

"I knew she was going to pull this," Bridey muttered, urging the mare forward with no success. "Come on, girl," she wheedled. "Dinner’s waiting in the other barn."

Dietrich gave her the ghost of a smile. "This may work," he said, and led the colt out into the rain. Sea Sprite took one look at her departing foal, whinnied, then followed.

"Tricky," Bridey said in approval when she and the mare caught up to Dietrich and the foal.

"Sometimes you need to approach a problem from the side," he said.

"An end run," Bridey replied. "I hope we can use one against Reynolds."

Dietrich unlatched the stall door, then led the foal inside. Sea Sprite readily followed. "Sergeant Tully may be able to provide one, if he can get to New York in time."

"Let’s just hope the weather doesn’t turn worse. Of all the times for that gorgeous weather to decide to leave us."

"The weather may work with us, Fraulein."

"How do you figure that?"

"It may delay Reynolds’ arrival tomorrow," Dietrich pointed out.

"I hope so." She latched the stall and watched Dietrich head toward the feed room for feed for the mare. He seemed all right, but she knew his mask was firmly in place. What must be running through his mind? She could only imagine.

** *** **

Mike was awake and at the kitchen table when Bridey came down for breakfast the next morning.

She greeted him cheerfully. "Hey, Pop, you’re up early." Her complexion was as clear and fresh as if she had slept the night through, rather than spending half the night wide awake and the other half tossing and turning in the midst of disturbing dreams. The storm had continued until an hour ago, and the chill had permeated the entire house. Probably the warmest places were the kitchen where Mike had built a good fire, and the living room, which still had the remnants of last night’s fire burning behind the screen.

"I can’t let you do all the work, now, can I? And I don’t think our Hun friend will be up to it, after the news he got last night," Mike said peaceably. Bridey had told him and Siobhan privately after the dishes were washed and put away. Mike had been rocked by the news—he knew what it was like to lose a wife. It looked as if he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep at all. His eyes were bloodshot as if he’d had too much whiskey. Bridey knew he had left that bottle down with Tully, so it couldn’t be from liquor.

She pulled out a chair and sank into it, swallowing hard when she remembered the loss in Dietrich’s eyes when she had given him the news. "He won’t be up to it, but he’ll be at work anyway. He won’t let this stop him."

Mike laid a supportive hand on her shoulder. "How much sleep did you get last night?"

"Less than it looks." She shook her head and rested her forearms flat on the tabletop. "I’ll be glad when this damned war is over and Joe is home and we can go about our normal lives again."

"Amen to that, daughter." Mike dug a fork into the pile of scrambled eggs on his plate.

"I never heard Dietrich come in last night," Bridey commented.

"I checked his room on my way down," Siobhan said, entering the kitchen from the pantry. "The blanket is still tight as a drum. Mike, you didn’t cook those yourself!"

"Siobhan, the frying pan is soaking over in the sink. I only burned it a little," Mike said calmly.

"I bet he slept in the barn last night," Bridey said.

"Is that a wee touch of disapproval I hear in your voice, me girl?" Mike asked, his brogue thick for effect. "I seem to recall you sleepin’ in the barn more than once when you were upset—somethin’ about the horses bein’ such a comfort?"

Bridey met her father’s teasing gaze with a steady stare. "They are a comfort. And I wasn’t criticizing him." She had spent days holed up in the barn after her mother died. It had taken some doing to get her out, including a lot of fast talking on Joe’s part.

"I know you weren’t," Mike soothed. "That Hun’s gotten under all our skins." He paused. "I’ve been thinking that if things were different, you and he.… "

"Pop!" Bridey exclaimed in horror. "Don’t try to matchmake!"

Siobhan laughed. "Michael Patrick Cullen, don’t be silly. They’re much too alike. They’d kill each other before the first year was out."

"Now, Siobhan…."

"‘Tis true. Our Bridget needs someone calm and easygoing—a tame housecat, if you like, not that caged tiger out in the stables. They’d never survive each other except as friends."

"Better the fighting than the loneliness," Mike said.

"We can throw platitudes from the other side at each other all day, Michael, but it won’t change the facts."

Bridey pushed back her chair. "I’m leaving. Talk about me behind my back, okay? It’s a lot easier on me."

"I’ll put on a pot of coffee," Siobhan said. "You make sure you bring him up to the house with you for breakfast."

"He may not be in the right frame of mind for that," Bridey pointed out.

"That might be so, but bring him anyway," Siobhan ordered.

"I’ll do my best. But don’t expect much."

Mike looked after his daughter and shook his head.

"Do you think he wants to see her, Mike? Perhaps you should tell her to back away. You didn’t want people hovering over you when Ashleen died."

"I had my family for succor, Siobhan. He has no one. And her heart’s in the right place. Besides, would she even listen to me?"

"If you thought to curb her, you would have had to start ten years ago—or earlier," Siobhan sniffed." I took a look at our guests. They both look like they had a bad night."

"Aye. I saw that. I brought in the eggs in case they want something to eat when they wake up."

"I’ll clean up your mess, then call Tully." She glared at the soaking pan. "Will you learn not to burn them someday, Mike Cullen?"

He blew her a kiss. "I know you’ll love me even if I don’t, Siobhan."

She threatened him with a fork, and teasingly, he held up his hands in surrender. Laughing softly, he went out to the back door, leaving her to deal with the mess he’d made. She sighed and turned to the sink. It was baking day, and she planned on getting a good start. It would be an interesting challenge to stay as quiet as she could be, and get the job done.

** *** **

Bridey looked at Dietrich, who was sitting cross-legged on the pile of horse blankets in the corner of the stall, and frowned. "I was right. You did sleep here last night."

"It seemed the right thing to do," Dietrich replied. He arched his back, and winced.

She momentarily thought about offering to rub his sore muscles with some liniment, then quickly damped that thought. "It’s a good way to get pneumonia in weather like this. You could at least have used one of the cots, you know."

"The straw is warmer."

Bridey knew she wasn’t going to win this argument, and, truth be told, she didn’t want to. "You know, I slept in the barn for a week when my mother died."

He looked up in startlement. "Did you?"

"Yeah. Pop didn’t try to stop me. He knew why I did it."


"Same reason you did." She kicked at a pile of straw.

He made no answer to that. "Has your mother been gone long?"

She sensed he needed to change the subject and went along with it. "Eight years. She died when I was fourteen. But she was sick a long time before that. She had rheumatic fever. By rights, I should never have been born."

Dietrich looked at her in shock. "Why do you say that?"

"Mama wasn’t the healthiest person who ever walked this earth. She had a hard time when she was pregnant with Joe, and the doctors told her not to have any more kids. Well, she didn’t quite agree with that, but it took her a while to get my father to go along with it. So I was born—and I nearly killed her." Bridey changed the subject abruptly, feeling her self-control trembling. She never spoke of this topic to anyone else—not to Joe, not to her father, certainly not to Siobhan. Why now and why Dietrich? She shrugged the feeling off. "Are you hungry?"

"Not now," he said, getting to his feet. There was straw in his hair.

Bridey reached out to pluck it out, then showed it to him with a smile. "Didn’t think you’d be. The coffee is almost ready—how about I bring you out a cup?"

"Danke, Fraulein. That is kind. I will feed the chickens." He smiled.

She chuckled. "Yeah, well…. I’ll be back in a bit." She discarded the straw and headed out to the stable yard.

** *** **

Tully stirred. He had fallen asleep half-lying against one of the chairs that Bridey had moved away so that they could lay Alexander down on the hearth.

The embers of the fire glowed behind him, but there were faint streaks of light in the sky between banks of clouds. The room was cooler than when he’d dozed off; he estimated that he’d been asleep several hours.

Guilt ate at him. He had been watching carefully for any signs of recovery but Alexander had slept the sleep of the dead...metaphorically speaking.

So what had awakened him? Tully rubbed his eyes, and stretched, then picked up a log and put it on the embers. The half-dry wood crackled and he blew on the kindling that he put underneath. It caught and a flame crept up. The log caught fire.

A slight sigh, and Tully swiveled to face Alexander. The man’s eyelids were fluttering and his tongue licked his dry lips. He was awake.

Tully glanced at the half-filled whiskey bottle, but decided that water was probably better. He knelt down beside Alexander, holding a glass. "Colonel?"

Alexander opened his eyes, then blinked. "Tully?" His voice was very weak.

"I’m here," Tully said calmly. He noticed an ominous swelling where the scar was an ugly red. He’d better get Bigginson right away. "Do you want some water?"

Alexander knit his brows, and blinked. "What...time is it?"

"Time?" Tully looked around. The grandfather clock against one wall said it was roughly seven a.m. "Seven."

"Seven... Dietrich." His voice sounded suddenly stronger. "I have to talk... to...."

"About his wife?" Tully asked steadily.


"Bridey found the telegram, Colonel, when she hung up your coat. She told him."

Alexander moistened his lips with his tongue. His eyes stared into space. "She told him. She told...."

"Yes, she told him, sir," Tully agreed. "Try some water." He slid one arm underneath Alexander’s shoulder and head, and held the glass to his lips.

Alexander swallowed two gulps then pulled his mouth back. "Enough." He sounded better. "You said it’s seven?"

"Hmm...more like quarter past."

"Then the sun’s up?"

Tully cocked his head. What was he getting at? "Got a few streaks in the east, sir. Still lots of clouds out there."

"But... you can see the couch?" Alexander persisted.

Tully gently let him down on the creased pillow. "Sure. Can’t you?"


Tully rocked back on his heels. No wonder Alexander sounded shaky. "You’re blind, sir?"

"I can’t see anything. Not you, not the room, nothing!" His hands shifted on the blanket finding the edge which he drew further up. "Tully…."

"Probably from the hit," Tully said calmly. "It’ll come back. Give it time."

"Time...." Alexander chuckled weakly, and tried to shift his weight. The bandages on his leg prevented him from going far. "Tully, I want you to...go to New York. Now. Go to New York...and tell Williams what’s happened."

"More’s happened than you know, sir," Tully said apologetically. "Reynolds came to the farm demanding Jaeger. He has some papers from the Army, and Harper’s backing him. They got some general to sign off — ."

"I don’t care!" Alexander snapped out. "Go to New York, get Williams, tell him what’s happened to me, and that they’re...after Jaeger, and get...reinforcements, Tully!"

"What about you, sir?" Tully asked.

Alexander started to shake his head, then stopped. He looked even paler than he had asleep. "Don’t worry...ah, there’s other people. You know Williams, he Get moving!"

"Still an icy mess out there."


"I’m going, sir, but I’m getting someone to sit with you first," Tully said flatly. "Dietrich’s out in the barn with the horses, and I think I heard Bridey go out the back way, but there’s Siobhan or Mike..."

"I don’t care if I’m alone or not," Alexander said with a steely edge. "I’ve been there before. Get going before...something else happens, and I can’ anything about it."

Tully gripped Alexander’s hand and pulled it over to where the half-empty glass of water sat. "If you need more, sir..."

"Thank you."

"I’ll take off then." Tully thought this was beyond the call, but he obeyed orders. That was his job right now.

With any luck he’d be long gone when they discovered he’d left Alexander alone.

** *** **

Bridey heard the sound of an engine as she came out of the warm barn into the frigid air. Tully had started the engine of Alexander’s car but it was having a hard time catching. From the smudge of icy snow on one arm, he’d taken at least one fall coming across the yard from the house.

"And where do you think you’re going?" she asked with a dangerous edge in her voice. "Why aren’t you inside?"

He started guiltily. "I— ."

"Why aren’t you with Alexander?" she cut him off.

"He gave me orders," Tully said uncomfortably.

Bridey put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "So, he’s awake, is he?"

The engine caught and purred. Tully looked visibly relieved. "Yes, ma’am."

"And giving orders."

"Yes, ma’am...miss."

"And you’re just going to obey them, and probably wreck the car on that icy road?" she shot at him.

He nodded. "I follow orders, Bridey. It’s my job."

"What the hell does he think he’s doing?" she asked angrily. "I should go inside and ask him what he thinks he’s doing!" she said, half to herself.

"He went back to sleep," Tully said cravenly.

"You stay here, Tully Pettigrew, ‘til I get back!" she called and headed into the house.

Tully watched her charge up the steps and open the door before he slipped the car into gear and headed down the drive. The tires slipped from side to side. She had been right; it was going to be a dangerous trip to New York.

** *** **

Bridey stormed inside, fed up to the gills with Alexander’s stupidity. If he was giving orders, he was probably better than he’d looked when she’d glanced in an hour before and seen both men asleep. She’d noticed that Alexander’s color was better than it had been, but still had lines of pain around his lips. Tully had been snoring loudly.

Alexander was lying in much the same position now except one hand was on a glass of water beside him. His eyes were shut. He turned his head fractionally when he heard the door close. Taking a deep breath, he sniffed. "Who is it?"

"Who do you think?" she said and regretted it a second later.

"Miss...Cullen." Alexander managed a smile. "You’ve been in...the stable."

She looked down at the streaks of mud on her boots. If he opened his eyes, it would be more than obvious where she had spent the last hour. "Tending the horses. It happens every morning," she said dryly.

"Right...." he muttered. The hand tensed on the glass but didn’t pick it up.

"What do you think you’re doing sending Tully out in this weather?" she asked sharply. "If you had waited ‘til the sun came up, a lot of the ice would have melted. It’s warming up already."

"I couldn’t wait," Alexander replied simply.

"Why not? Do you expect Reynolds to show up with the horse trailer at the crack of dawn?" she said sarcastically. "Or maybe Captain Harper will bring in a tank?"

"The horse...I’d forgotten," Alexander muttered. "The papers I had in my coat."

Bridey started guiltily. She remembered reading the telegram. "Yeah?"

"Tully told the Major...about his wife."

"Yes, I gave him the telegram."

"Good...thank you."

Dammit! Couldnt he even look at her when he said that? "I figured I was the right person to do it."

"Yes...thank you. I was trying to figure out a way... to tell him." Speaking loudly seemed to be an effort. Bridey came around the couch to get closer to him. "The other...papers."

"I didn’t look at them."

"Get them."

"I’m not a servant, dammit!" she snapped. He sighed patiently. The sound simply fed the flames of her anger. With an effort, she reined in her temper. "What’s in those papers?"

"Bridey...get the papers. Please," he requested weakly and opened his eyes. His gaze was on the ceiling.

She nodded and stalked off, returning with the still-folded documents. "I’ve got them—what are you doing?" she gasped.

He had tried to drink from the water glass but had missed his mouth, judging from the wetness on his neck and the pillow next to it. The glass lay against his shoulder, the contents spilled. His fingers were shaking.

She knelt down beside him and noticed that his eyes were staring at the piano in the next room. "What happened?" she asked in a gentler tone. She reached up and touched his hair, moving towards the swollen cut.

He gasped and flinched, his hand coming up in an abortive move that missed her wrist. "Don’t do that!"

She caught his hand. "Do what? I’m just going to — ." It suddenly occurred to her that he hadn’t reacted until she touched his hair, though her hand had passed in front of his eyes, cutting off his view of the other room. "Colonel...? Can’t you see anything?"

He swallowed heavily. "No. I can’t see you. Anything. I’m blind."

"Oh, dear God," she whispered. She put his hand back down on the blanket, and picked up the glass, setting it safely aside before taking his hand again. "Why didn’t you tell me?"

He flushed. "I...didn’t think...found out this morning."

"There’s more to this than your being tossed in the grass, isn’t there? Something you’ve been hiding since you got here."

Mike Cullen came from the kitchen in his stocking feet, obviously trying to be as quiet as he could. Bridey waved to him to listen, and put a finger to her lips. He nodded.

"I hit my head in Germany. They...I’ve been seeing a doctor about it," Alexander said reluctantly. "The operation...was to be in a couple of days."


" the damage. If possible."

Bridey suddenly saw the events of the last few days in a different light. The frequent absences, missing dinners, not helping with the chores.... She’d thought he’d been too top-lofty to work in the stables. He’d probably been too ill to work, and too proud to admit it. "I’m sure they can fix it," she said finally, her voice steady. That surprised her. She didn’t feel very steady.

"Biggy didn’t tell me anything about this," he said, his voice a touch calmer. He seemed to take comfort in her hand on his. "Bigginson, my doctor."

She flinched. He might be trying to control his emotions but they were leaking out. He was scared and she didn’t like seeing it. It made her uncomfortable. "So you sent Tully to tell your doctor what happened?"

"More than that. You," he said.

Anger flared but she put a cap on it. "I’ve got — ."

"Official protection. Paper," Alexander cut in. "Documents. You have the papers, Miss Cullen?"

"It’s Bridey, remember? I have them here."

He raised his hand, and she guided them to the papers. "Not the telegram. The other ones."

"Here." Flicking open the sheets, she scanned the first page and gasped. "Jaeger belongs to the King of England?"

"Best I could do.…" Alexander said apologetically. "Best protection...that could be arranged on short notice. Never mind. It’s just on paper. I was going to...arrange something formal but now...."

She sat down beside him. "What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to help me sign Jaeger you."

"What?" Bridey jerked upright. She couldn’t have heard him right.

He blinked and reached out as if he could touch her. She took his hand again and held it tightly. "I’ll sign him over to you. As my personal...agent. He’ll stay here until...I come back."

Mike nodded in understanding and went into the study. Bridey wished she could go with him. The desperation in Alexander’s voice was unnerving; he didn’t expect to come back.

"I’ll get a pen," she said, and laid his hand down. "Don’t go anywhere."

A smile came to his lips. "I won’t."

She met her father on the threshold. He held out a clipboard and a pen. "You going to go through with this, darlin’?"

"Can you think of any other way?" she asked. "It’s what he wants."

"You think those papers will keep Reynolds away?" he whispered.

Bridey snorted. "I’ll stack my papers against his any day, Pop!"

"And if they say the Colonel was out of his mind when he signed him over?" Cullen asked pointedly.

"We don’t have to say when he signed them," Bridey replied acidly. "What am I going to tell him, Pop? That I don’t think this will work? He’s blind!"

Cullen flinched. "I didn’t know."

"I didn’t either when I came in," she said. "I thought he was just being his usual obnoxious self."

"A Royalist pain," Mike joked weakly.

She smiled. "Yeah. I’d better get back before Siobhan comes in and gives him hell for spilling the water on his pillow."

"I’ll warn her about his condition. And I think I’ll make him a cup of warm tea," Mike said.

"He’d like that." Bridey retreated to the living room while Mike tip-toed into the kitchen.

Alexander turned his head. "Who’s there?"

"Me. My da just came in," she said calmly. "He’s gone to make you some tea."

"That’s very kind of him."

"Yeah…. I’ve got a clipboard and a pen. I’ll put the paper on it, and you can sign it when I, I’ll...uh.… " she floundered.

"We’ll manage it," Alexander said encouragingly.

She clipped the papers into the board, and gave him the pen. Fumbling for a second, he got it open.

She put the clipboard into his left hand, and drew his hand over where the signature should be. "Think you can manage that, Peter?"

"I’ll try. How long is it again?"

She dragged his index finger the length that he had to write in. "Seven inches across the bottom."

"Right. What’s your legal name?"

"Huh?" she asked, taken aback.

"Were you christened Bridey?"

"Oh — it’s Bridget Kathleen."

"Is that with a C or a K?"

"Kathleen with a K."

Licking his lips, he put the pen on the paper and began to write. In His Majestys name, I give Bridget Kathleen Cullen full custody of the stallion, Jaeger, until the day I return. Peter Alexander, Col., 2nd Commando, March 30, 1945. "Is that right?"

Privately she thought it looked unsteady, but she wasn’t going to tell him that. It would have to do. "Fine."

He held the pen out where he thought she was.

"Where?" She could have bit her tongue. Bright, Bridget. Real bright.

"Close to my signature. Get...Mike to witness it. Dietrich or Siobhan or Tully as well."

"I’ll sign it when they’re there." He was starting to fade out now that he had his way. She could tell from the way he referred to Tully as if he hadn’t sent the man away. He looked tired, and his skin was blotchy.

"All right, I’ve signed it. I’ll get the others to sign as well, as soon as I can round them up."

He smiled. " dream. And what dreams we dream as we shuffle off this mortal...coil…. "

"You’re going to sleep, not die," she said tartly. "Don’t you even think of dying on us, Peter Alexander. I’m not going to have this farm haunted by the ghost of an Englishman. Siobhan would have a fit!"

He chuckled. "Quite a formidable lady...I had to make my own tea every morning. She wouldn’t do it. I think...she thought I didn’t know how."

"She probably thought you should start it with coffee like I do," Bridey said, thinking she should have a word with Siobhan. Guests were guests, English or not.

"Didn’t matter...I got into the kitchen that way. So...full. You can barely tell there’s rationing."

"This is farm country—we’re luckier than people in the cities. The farmers always have a bit extra to trade—especially for top-class horse manure."

His voice was drifting off. "I used to dream...of a full kitchen, back in the camp. Stew. Chicken. No black bread...we all dreamed of food, every day."

His eyelids closed and he sounded like he’d fallen asleep.

If you recover, Ill see that you have chicken at every meal, if you want it. You can have all the chickens in the coop! Bridey shook her head, wondering what had come over her. She wasn’t usually that soft-hearted.

She picked up her clipboard and headed for the kitchen. Mike Cullen and Siobhan were talking under their breath, the steaming kettle in Mike’s hand. He’d taken it off the burner before it could start whistling.

"How is he?" Mike asked bluntly.

"Asleep again, but I don’t know for how long," Bridey replied.

"Then we’ll use this for our coffee," Siobhan said taking the kettle. "I’ll brew him a cup of tea later."

"I thought you didn’t do tea for Englishmen," Bridey said snidely.

Siobhan sniffed. "He’s sick. I’ll do him a good cup, not like that black sludge he makes," she replied tartly. "The Major should be in in a bit."

Bridey looked at the signed papers. "I need to get you all as witnesses when I sign this. Tully, too, when he gets back."

"Then call Dietrich in. He probably needs some coffee—it’s terrible raw out there," Mike said. "And you’d better tell him about the good colonel. We may need the Major’s muscle when Reynolds come back. I’ll go sit with Alexander until you come back."

"Pop, if the lines are up, call Stanley. We might need him." Bridey headed out the back door, a mug of coffee steaming in either hand.

"I’m thinking we need some good strong lads," her father muttered. "But I’ll settle for the lawyer."

** *** **

Dietrich was crossing the yard when Bridey came out of the house. His hands were dirty. "Just give the stalls a lick and a promise this morning, or skip them altogether," she ordered, hastening her steps to catch up with him.

"What happened?" he asked as he gratefully took the coffee, warming his hands on the mug.

"Alexander is blind."

"What?" He dropped the pitchfork in shock, but managed to hang onto the coffee mug.

"It seems to be a byproduct of that head wound he got in Europe— which no one thought to tell me about!" she snapped. "The blindness came on since last night—or maybe because of last night."

"Do you want me to go for the doctor?"

"You can’t leave the farm on your own, and I need you here, anyway. The kicker is, he signed Jaeger over to me."

"You own him now?"

"For the time being. Can you believe it? At least it gives me ammunition to fight Reynolds." She started walking toward the feed room. "Forget mucking—they can stand dirty stalls for one day. We’ll just water and feed them this morning. I’ll need you to witness the paperwork, too."

"Is that wise?"

"Maybe, maybe not. But what can they do—send me to jail?"

"Some prisons are more pleasant than others, Fraulein."

"I don’t intend to go to prison." She headed for the feed room.

** *** **


Tully thought that if it hadn’t been for the icy roads he’d have broken the land-speed record getting into New York City. There were the usual crowds of soldiers and sailors, milkmen and businessmen, secretaries and socialites roaming the streets, but the traffic was less than he’d faced the last time he’d come into the city. He parked near Rockefeller Center and headed inside up to the office.

Archer was brushing back his hair in the reflection of the glass-fronted door. He gaped at Tully when the sergeant came tearing through. "What— why are you here?"

"Is he in?" Tully asked, waving towards the inner office.

"Yes, I’ve just taken in his tea and the morning— hey, you can’t go in there!" Archer protested as Tully opened the door.

Williams frowned as he looked up from the pile of telegrams on his desk. "Who...? What is it, sergeant? Has something happened?"

Tully nodded. "The Colonel’s down."

"What?" Williams exclaimed, standing up. "Sit down, Sergeant! Archer, get him some coffee."

Archer nodded and retreated closing the door behind him.

"It took me three hours to get into town," Tully confessed. "The roads are covered with ice outside of the city."

"That was one reason why we chose that farm. It’s far enough away from here," Williams said. "Explain what you just said, please!"

Tully complied, laying it all out.

By the end, Williams was staring thoughtfully at the lamp on one end of his desk. From his expression, he was putting together some kind of a plan. He glanced over in worry when he heard about the blindness. Reaching out a hand, he picked up the telephone, and dialed. "Doctor Bigginson? Williams. Can you come and see me immediately? No, not a half-hour, right away. We have a problem with Peter Alexander. Yes. Immediately. Thank you." He hung the telephone in its cradle, and turned back to Tully.

Halfway through the explanation, Archer had come back with Tully’s coffee. The sergeant sipped at it while he watched Williams. Archer sat down in the leather chair behind Tully and waited.

Williams asked, "Did you see the name of the general on these papers of Mr. Reynolds?"

"Benson, sir. I believe he’s part of the OWI in Washington. But the main person behind this is Reynolds. From what Bridey says even Captain Harper is following his orders."

Williams raised an eyebrow. "If Captain Harper is following the orders of a civilian, then the United States Army has a problem. Let me make some calls, Sergeant. Have you had breakfast?"

Tully felt his stomach rumble. "No, sir."

"Get some, and come back. I’ll have some orders for you. Doctor Bigginson will be here as well; it’ll take him that long to get into the city. I’m sure he’ll want more information about Peter. You’ll be heading back to the farm after that."

"Should I call them at the farm and tell them?" Tully asked.

Williams held out the receiver. "Go ahead."

The phone hummed after he dialed, but there was no answer. Finally he tried through the operator.

"I’m sorry, sir, but that line is not answering," she said in a soft southern voice. "You’ll have to try again later."

Tully hung up. "They haven’t fixed the lines yet."

"Then you’ll get back there as soon as Bigginson arrives," Williams said succinctly. "I’ll have new orders cut for you by then."

"Yes, sir!"

As he left, he saw Williams reaching again for the telephone.

** *** **

Williams waited until the door closed before picking up the receiver. He dialed the number of Fort Monmouth.

Several clicks, and he was connected. "Captain Wagner, please," he requested of the dulcet voice on the other end.

A few seconds later, and Wagner was on the phone. "Hello?"

"Captain Wagner? This is Williams."

"Ah, yes, sir. I was just getting the proper forms together right now for your men. Ration books, medical documents—."

"Excellent. There is a slight change in plans, though. Rather than have them go through Fort Monmouth, I’d prefer if you take them directly to Diamond Shamrock Farm. Can you handle this?"

"Yes, sir," Wagner agreed with a slight tone of puzzlement. "Has the colonel told Bridey about them yet?"

Williams wasn’t sure. He wasn’t going to admit it, though. "I’m sure it’s been taken care of."

"I was supposed to pick them up late this afternoon. I’ll check and find out when their plane arrives, sir."

"Good. Carry on, Captain. This is very important."

"Yes, sir!"

Williams hung up and dialed his contact at the Pentagon. After a brief discussion, he hung up.

The telephone wires to Fort Monmouth would be humming now. Captain Harper was about to have a very rude shock.

** *** **


When Bridey got back from the stallion barn, Dietrich and Mike were in the main barn checking on the mares and foals they’d moved in last night. "Major, would you please bring a cot out of the storeroom? I’m sleeping here tonight."

"You are not."

Bridey blinked at the completely unexpected answer and tone. "Excuse me?"

"It is far too dangerous. If there is a need, Sergeant Tully or I will sleep here."

"You slept in the barn last night," Bridey said. When it was out, she realized that it was a pathetic comeback, but it was all she could think of to say in the face of his opposition.

"And I can do it again. I have slept in worse places."

"I bet," Bridey muttered under her breath. She noticed that her father was keeping conspicuously silent.

"Fraulein, I am serious. You will sleep in the house tonight. It is too dangerous for you to sleep here."

"I’ve slept in the barn plenty of times before."

"Not under these circumstances. You are our last line of defense. With Colonel Alexander incapacitated, you are all that stands between Reynolds and Jaeger. You must be protected."

Bridey glared at him. After a second, she realized the glare was having no effect. She intensified it, said, "I’ll be in my office," spun on her heel, and stormed out.

Dietrich stared thoughtfully after her.

"She’s mad at herself, you know."

"Hmmm?" Dietrich turned to look at Mike. With his attention on Bridey, he had forgotten that the ex-jockey was there. That was a bad sign. He was getting soft.

"I said, she’s not mad at you."

"Then who is she mad at?"

"Herself. It’ll pass. She knows you’re right, and she’s not used to losing an argument, or not bein’ at the center of things all the time. And being protected is an entirely new experience for her." Dietrich looked skeptical and Mike laughed. "‘Tis true. Even as a wee one, she was fierce and fearless. She’s always played to win—and she just lost. She knows you’re right, but she doesn’t like the feeling."

"I shall apologize to her."

"You’ll do no such thing," Mike ordered. "That’ll only feed her ego, and the saints all know it’s already big enough. Let her work it out herself—and let her calm down while she’s doin’ it."

Dietrich nodded, but a few minutes later, when Mike turned around, he was gone. The ex-jockey shook his head and returned to work.

** *** **

Bridey stalked through the house to her office, belatedly realizing that her passage might have awakened Alexander. But she had too much on her mind to worry about that now.

She sat at her desk, but couldn’t direct her mind to her work. Damnit! Dietrich was right— she didn’t belong in the barn, not now. At least he’d come right out and told her, instead of pussyfooting around. That was an improvement.

She tried working, but gave it up as a bad job and got up, walking to the French doors on the short wall. The rose garden was just coming to life, the brown skeletons of the bushes just starting to sprout red shoots.

She turned around at a soft rap on the doorjamb. Dietrich. She jerked her head toward the window. "Come on in."

He did, shutting the door behind him. "Fraulein—."

Bridey shook her head and held up one hand. "Don’t you dare apologize," she warned.

"I was not going to apologize. I simply came to see if you were all right."

Bridey smiled wryly at that. "Yeah, I’m okay. Just annoyed."

"With me?"

"With myself. I told you to tell me if I did or said anything stupid. I can’t be mad at you for doing what I asked you do to."

"Then you realize that you cannot sleep in the barn tonight?"

"Yeah. It was a dumb idea. But damnit, I’m not used to being on the sidelines." She paused, sitting back against the windowsill. "I also don’t like being wrong, and I don’t like to lose."

"That you have a competitive instinct would never have occurred to me," he said dryly.

"It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?" She grinned. "I don’t have all this red hair for nothing."

"It is not exactly red."

"No, it’s auburn. But the effect is the same." She smiled at him.

"Why don’t you go for a ride?" he asked. "You look like you could use one."

Bridey smiled. "You read minds now? My, you are multitalented."

Dietrich shrugged. "It will…..distract you."

"Yeah. That it will." She pushed off the windowsill. "I’ll stay within yelling distance."

** *** **

Alexander sighed. He meant it to be a gentle sound but it sounded loud to his ears.

He heard footsteps come closer. From the sound of the stride it had to be Siobhan. Both Bridey and Mike wore boots while Dietrich’s stride had a very distinctive sound. And Bridey had gone charging through the house a bit earlier, followed by Dietrich. He wondered if there was a problem.

Alexander was rather proud that he could tell so much with just his ears and his nose. Of course, he hadn’t tried to do much more than tell where people were while they were trying not to disturb him, but it kept him occupied in the darkness. For some reason, the radio was off. He had tried guessing how much time had passed from the sound of the clock ticking away but he found that that was unnerving and gave up. Every time he found his hands gripping the blanket’s edge, he forced himself to relax. When he was tense the leg hurt even more. And that made his head pound even more. Despite Mike’s offer, Alexander knew that the hair of the dog would do him no good. Thank God the man had understood Alexander’s other pressing need, and now he didn’t need to use the facilities.

"Colonel?" Siobhan asked. From the rustling of cloth, she had knelt next to him. "How are you?"

He smelled vanilla and flour. She must have been baking. That was probably the reason that the radio was off. So she could work and still listen for him. He felt like an idiot for not asking earlier. "Restless," he said unexpectedly. "The pounding comes and goes, and my leg feels detached from my body, but other than that...I just feel bruised."

Siobhan chuckled. "You’re better."

"Yes. What time is it?"

"Nigh on one."

"One. Where is Tully? Never mind," Alexander muttered. "I can’t do anything about it."

"Would you like some tea?" Siobhan asked.

He turned his head towards the voice. "Tea? I thought...yes. Is there anything to eat?"

"Eat?" she asked startled.

He flashed a smile, then winced. The movement made pain go through his throbbing temples. "I missed dinner."

"They finished that up," Siobhan said. "But I have something that might do. Hold on, Colonel."

"Peter?" he asked hopefully. "Please...."

"I’ll be getting the food...Peter," she said and rustled off in a wave of baking scents and bath soap.

Alexander was acutely aware that his own smell was a bit off. Rubbing his chin, he could feel bristles. Time for a shave too. He couldn’t do anything about that...he couldn’t do anything, period! Frustration gnawed at him and he shifted his body. A shooting pain came up from the injured leg, and set off the head wound. Light-headed, he let himself go limp, and waited.

A few minutes later, Siobhan returned and sat down beside him. He smelled tea and something else. "What is it?"

"Open your mouth," she commanded.

He hesitated. "What do you have?"

"Open your mouth. It’s oatmeal."

"Oatmeal?" Obediently he opened up and she put a spoonful of the lukewarm oatmeal in. He chewed and swallowed. "Not bad. Porridge."

"Oatmeal with a touch of cream and a bit of honey," she said. "I had to let it cool off."

"I used to love porridge," he said wistfully. "Not in school but when we had it at home, I asked for seconds. Mother—."


He swallowed another mouthful. "Ordered it whenever I came back. " He ate several more mouthfuls before turning his head to one side. "Thank you."

"The tea then?" she asked. "You’ll have to lift your head for that."

"Let’s try," he said, his tone changing to something far more serious. It was lifting his head that made the wound go off. The tea was barely in his mouth when a flare of intense pain went through his head, and he began to choke. She snatched the cup away and wiped away the spill when he was through coughing and spraying.

Breathing heavily, he let his head sink back onto the pillow. He felt ashamed of the mess and wondered what she was thinking as she cleaned up his chin and throat.

He opened his mouth to apologize but she cut him off. "Go back to sleep, Peter. We’ll be here if you need anything more."

"Thank you..." Her retreating footsteps rang in his ears. He let himself drift into a daze.

** *** **

After her discussion with Dietrich, Bridey went upstairs and changed into breeches and boots. She tacked up Diamond Determination, intending to start working him over a series of medium-height hunter jumps in the main ring. They worked for about half an hour, first warming up with a series of gymnastics, then moving to actual jumping, varying direction and concentrating on improving his flying changes of lead between obstacles.

But Bridey was too edgy, and her mood communicated itself to the big gelding, who didn’t perform up to his usual standard. So she cooled him out and put him back into his stall, then moved on to her regular chores.

Bridey brought Winter and her foal in from turnout, then checked her wristwatch. Nearly one-fifteen and there was still no sign of Tully or anyone else. Mike had gone over the hills on Merlin to the Wagner farm to see if their phone still worked and to call in the repairs for the Cullen phone, but he’d come back five minutes before and was now in the barn untacking the gelding and talking to Dietrich.

She glanced back at the house. She distinctly did not want to go inside and see the injured man spread on her hearth. The memories of that morning’s encounter were too vivid.

Maybe grooming Dancer would help. She headed towards the main barn, where Mike and Dietrich were working and had just entered it when she heard the sound of a car’s horn. "They’re here!" she yelled inside.

Spinning on her heel, she ran out to the yard where a car, followed by a truck with a horse trailer, was parking in front of the house.

She saw red. Out of the front seat of the car stepped Henry Reynolds, wearing a smug expression and an exquisitely tailored suit. Captain Harper got out of the other side, followed by Sheila, who looked worried, though she put on her brightest smile and waved until she saw Bridey’s forbidding expression and hurriedly dropped her arm. A soldier sat in the front seat of the truck with another man beside him, and waited.

Bridey knew enough about military tactics to know she had to take the high ground. She had climbed to the porch before they gathered their forces and stood there, arms crossed in front of her.

"Miss Cullen," Captain Harper called, his tone uncertain in the face of her evident dislike. "I believe you’ve got our horse."

"My horse!" she said flatly, eyes bright with dislike. Behind them she saw Mike and Dietrich close the doors to the barn; then Mike took up a position leaning against the doors, while Dietrich headed across the stable yard toward her. She was momentarily distracted by his expression. He didn’t look like the mild-mannered POW she knew so well. Belatedly she remembered Siobhan’s words: "This man is dangerous." He certainly looked that way now, and she was overwhelmingly glad he was on her side. "I have custody of Jaeger."

"I thought you said he belonged to Colonel Alexander," Reynolds said arrogantly. "Where is he?"

"Inside," she said feeling a slight burn. "And he signed Jaeger over to me."

"What?" Harper asked climbing the stairs. Dietrich reached the porch at the same moment and taking the three brick steps in one bound, moved to stand beside the door, barring the way. "Where is he? I want to talk to him!"

"Like hell, you’ll talk to him!" Bridey blazed up. "He’s— Major!"

Harper had pulled open the screen door, and Dietrich raised his hand in warning, sliding in front of the oak front door to block Harper’s way. Harper looked taken aback. He hadn’t expected any resistance, especially from the prisoner-of-war.

"What do you mean by breaking into my house!" Bridey said viciously. Harper took a step back in the face of her vehemence.

"Where is the Colonel?" Reynolds asked suspiciously. "What have you done with him?"

"Done with him?" she gasped. "What exactly— ? Oh, never mind, you’re not important enough to matter!"

That wounded him. He stiffened and gazed at her with explicit loathing. "If he’s signed over control of that horse to you, then I— we should hear it from his own mouth!"

"He shouldn’t be bothered," Bridey retorted, pulling the screen door out of Harper’s hand and slamming it shut. "I have title to that horse and I’ll geld him before I turn him over to you. But I’m a little rusty—I might have to practice on you or Captain Harper first. Maybe on both of you. It’s been a while…."

Both men sucked in their breath momentarily and flinched while Dietrich’s eyes flashed with amusement. He hadn’t moved from in front of the door. Feeling a rush of adrenaline, Bridey, her eyes drilling into Reynolds, continued, "I don’t appreciate the end run you tried to pull just to satisfy your overblown ego. And using the US Army to do it is beneath contempt!"

Reynolds started sputtering but Bridey cut him off by waving her hand in front of his face. "And let me tell you one more thing. You’d be the last person I’d give that horse over to. I’ve seen you ride—he’d dump you in a second. Your so-called expertise is due to clever camera angles—not horsemanship!"

"That’s enough!" Captain Harper said loudly, his neck going red. "If you have ownership of that horse, either I want to hear it from the Colonel or I want to see how you got it, Miss Cullen. Otherwise those orders I left with you have the final say. The horse is on American soil and belongs to us!"

She made an explosive sound. "I’ll get the papers!"

Dietrich moved to let her pass, and the door swung open, letting Harper see inside. His eyes widened at the sight of the prone form lying near the fireplace. "What have you done to him?" He stood at the doorjamb, leaning inside.

Alexander started, his head turning towards the loud sound, then gasped in pain. He whimpered.

"What’d I do to him?" Bridey slashed back. "I’m not the one who ran him over him with a car, Captain Harper!"

Running towards the study, she heard voices rising behind her, but as she grabbed the file with all the papers, all Bridey could do was pray that no one was armed. That was all she needed.

"Hit by a car?" Harper said in loud astonishment, his voice shattering the quiet in the living room. "When was this? Who hit him?"

Siobhan appeared out of the kitchen. "Be quiet!" she snapped. "Get out, you…. "

Dietrich put his hand out and grabbed the doorknob, half-shutting the door. "Wait further back, Captain."

Harper defied him, by putting out his hand to force the door open, and Dietrich stepped close to him, almost on his toes. They collided, and Harper fell back a few steps in astonishment. The expression on his face clearly showed that he couldn’t believe that Dietrich had done what he had done.

"I’ll see you go to prison," Harper said in an ugly tone.

"For not permitting trespassing in my employer’s home?" Dietrich asked politely.

"You should have been rotting — ."

Another blast of a horn, and yet another car came driving up the road, coming to a stop next to Reynolds’. With vast relief, Dietrich saw Tully jump out of the front seat. The stout bearded man in British uniform who came out the other side had a medical bag in one hand.

The cavalry. Finally.

"Where is he?" Tully panted, ignoring the others and going directly to Dietrich.

"Peter?" the man asked with a flat Scottish accent that took Dietrich by surprise.

"Inside," Dietrich answered. "Where we left him."

Harper put his hand out to stop the doctor. "Who are you?"

"Bigginson, RAMC, let me past," he replied forcefully, brushing the hand off. Dietrich moved out of the doorway, and everyone heard the gasp when Bigginson saw his patient. He went inside, and Dietrich closed the door.

Tully shot him a curious glance but took up position on the other side of the door as a second guard.

Harper looked back at Reynolds, who was definitely furious. The captain glanced at the barn where Mike was leaning comfortably on a pitchfork, smiling back at him. The soldiers in the van were watching with interest but didn’t move.

Sheila walked up the stairs. "Did someone say someone was hit by a car?"

** *** **

Inside, Bigginson put his bag down beside Alexander, and knelt down. Siobhan came out of the kitchen, the ladle tucked under one arm. "So, you’re the doctor?"

Bigginson nodded, his attention on Alexander, who was very pale. "And you are?" He glanced up.

"Siobhan McKenna," she said baldly. "Will you be needing anything?"

They were distracted when Alexander opened his eyes and smiled. "Biggy?"

"Hello, Peter," Bigginson said in a wry tone. "I see you’ve done it again."

"The other...leg," Alexander said weakly. "Hurts more now."

"You need to watch out for this," Bigginson replied, opening his bag. "That looks nasty."

"Nothing to"

"The prefect didn’t appreciate you landing on him."

"He...shouldn’t have been...out that late," Alexander said virtuously. His gaze was still on the opposite wall though Bigginson had waved his hand in front of his face.

"Nor should we have," Bigginson retorted. "You always seem to get yourself in the most improbable messes, Peter."

Alexander chuckled. Siobhan thought it was the most human she’d ever seen him— except when she had been feeding him like a baby and he looked no older than sixteen. And from what the doctor said, he’d even been a nuisance at that age.

"I can’t get myself...out of this one," Alexander stated flatly. "Biggy... I’m—."

"Blind, yes, I know," Bigginson said calmly, feeling in his bag. "Your man Tully told me all the details."

"Can you fix it?"

Siobhan was reminded of Mike’s voice years past when they were children back in Ireland, and he’d taken something to his father to repair with the same hopeful, desperate tone. Most of the time it had been too badly broken to fix but Pat Cullen had always tried, God rest his soul.

Bigginson avoided the answer. "Let me look at this. I’ve already called one of the best neurosurgeons in the country, Patrick Murtagh, and he’s on his way to the local hospital where we’re getting set up."

"Set up...?" Alexander sounded weaker by the second. Siobhan wished that Bigginson had answered him honestly. "What are you going to do?"

Bigginson softly laughed. "We’re going to drill a hole for all your brains to come out of."

Alexander chuckled. "Better...get a teaspoon to hold...them all."

Siobhan smiled grimly. A man with that kind of humor couldn’t die. She’d say the proper prayers and he’d come back alive. If he came back at all. She noted with surprise that she had a death grip on the ladle, and tried to relax.

"Now let me look you over, and keep quiet," Bigginson said authoritatively. "And don’t move your head whatever I do."

"I can hold him still," Siobhan murmured and knelt down. She put both her hands on either side of Alexander’s head.

His hair was soft. This close she could see strands of silver among the dark brown where it curled back over her floury hands. "You’ve still got some dirt in here, Colonel," she said lightly. "I thought Mike cleaned you up last night."

Alexander gave a faint smile. His shoulders were rigid with tension. "Must have missed a spot— ah!"

Bigginson had laid a feather-touch on the wound. "That hurt?"

"What do you think?" Alexander gasped.

"It hurt. You’ve got some nice bruises as well, Peter. What did you do? Go rolling down a hill?"

"He was hit by a car," Siobhan said in a low tone.

Bigginson glanced at her. "Belonging to one of those gentlemen on the porch, perhaps?" They could hear raised voices, Bridey’s among them.

"We think so," she admitted. "Colonel, do you remember someone hitting you?"

Alexander frowned. "No...I heard an engine. Does that help?"

"Relax," the doctor commanded him. "I’m going to check for other problems."

"My leg...."

"Yes, I can see that. Nice job of bandaging there. Let’s see if you broke anything," Bigginson said cheerfully. "Do scream when it hurts."

Alexander chuckled. He winced several times when Bigginson touched tender spots but didn’t cry out.

More to distract him than anything, Siobhan ran her fingers gently through Alexander’s hair. "I’ll have you know that you have twigs here," she teased. "I think I just found an acorn."

"Must be doing my Puck," Alexander muttered.

Her fingers found a circular shell, and she pulled it out. "A snail?"


"Snail." She set it aside on a table. "I think it’s still alive."

"Keep it that way. I’ll show you a way to cook snails that I learned in France—ah!"

Bigginson stopped his unwrapping the injured leg. "That hurt, eh?"


"I’ll look at it later. A Christmas gift, maybe," Bigginson said unruffled. "Right now, I’ll give you something for the pain, Peter."

"Just to kill the pain?"

"Long enough to get you to the hospital. I’m afraid I’m moving up your surgery, Peter."

"To when?"

"As soon as I can get you to the hospital. I called Murtagh from Williams’ office after Pettigrew filled us in."

Alexander licked his lips. "Today, then."

"Yes. You’re not worried about it, are you? I don’t intend to lose old friends like you," Bigginson said flatly. "Leave it up to me."

"You’re going to knock me out," Alexander said uncertainly.

"Correct. Right now." Bigginson finished filling his syringe, and put the needle into the vein in Alexander’s elbow. "This won’t hurt more than a second. It’ll take a minute or two though to knock you out."



"Take me out the front."

"What?" the doctor stared at him.

"The front door. It might help...stave off those...gentlemen." Alexander’s voice was slurring. "Siobhan?"

"I’m here," she said calmly, running a fingertip through his hair. "I’m not going anywhere."

"I’ll come back...."

"Of course you will. I’ll make you a cake then with all those things you brought from New York. Chocolate and cherries and real sugar, and..." She stopped talking when she realized he’d fallen unconscious.

"I hope you’re right," Bigginson said seriously. "That he’ll be coming back."

"It’s that bad, then, Doctor?"

Bigginson nodded. "Yes. I’m going to check on his leg before I tell Pettigrew to find that damned ambulance."

"Let me help. That’s my grandmother’s quilt wrapped around it."

"Then I’ll be gentle for sake of the wrappings," Bigginson said with a slight smile.

** *** **

Bridey came out of the office looking ruffled, holding a folder bristling with papers. Passing the living room, she glanced inside and saw Siobhan and a uniformed man she didn’t recognize on the floor with Alexander. She reined in her curiosity and headed to the front door. First things first.

She opened the door and Dietrich stepped to one side long enough for her to pass, then returned to his position. Coming up the drive was a car which she recognized. M. Stanley Susskind, the family lawyer, had a B sticker on his windshield of his aging Chevy. He parked behind Tully’s car, and jumped out. "Bridey? Came as soon I heard. What’s up?"

"Who the hell are you?" Captain Harper snarled down the stairs.

Susskind took two steps back, then bounded up until he was beside Bridey. "Susskind. Lawyer. Who are you…" he looked at Harper’s insignia, "Captain?"

"This is Captain Adam Harper from Fort Monmouth," Bridey said in disgust. "With the help of that bastard," she waved towards Reynolds, "he’s trying to steal my horse!"

Susskind looked very surprised. "What? Which horse? Mike didn’t have time to fill me in."

"If Colonel Alexander is too injured to be on active duty, then the horse should belong to the US Army since it is a prisoner of war," Harper said defiantly.

"A prisoner-of-war?" Susskind asked blankly. "A horse? Are you kidding?"

Bridey blinked through the red haze in front of her eyes. "Authority for the horse was signed over to me by Colonel Alexander before he was— ."

"And how exactly did he get injured?" Reynolds interrupted. "Your tame German get a little out of hand?"

Bridey placed a restraining hand on Dietrich’s arm before he could go for Reynolds’ throat. "He’s not worth it, Major. Stanley, look at these papers and tell me who has ownership of the horse!" She held out the folder. Harper pulled it from her hands, and flipped it open. With a gasp, she reached for it but he was already reading the top cable, witnessed by Dietrich, Mike and Siobhan.

"Looks suspicious to me," Reynolds said, looking over his shoulder. "I mean, it could have been written any time. I’ve never seen any of Alexander’s handwriting, have you, Adam?"

Harper gave him a mistrustful look, while Bridey went white with fury. It was Dietrich’s turn to place a restraining hand on her shoulder.

"I have," Tully said, breaking the tension. "Got some of it upstairs, in fact. My orders. Want to see them?"

Susskind took the top sheet out of Harper’s hands. "This looks legal."

"Could be anything," Harper said authoritatively. "I doubt it will hold up in court."

"I think I know the law better than you do, Captain," Susskind said calmly.

Harper glared at the lawyer, then looked over at the ambulance, which had stopped behind the horse trailer. One of the drivers got out and headed back towards it to meet the medic, who climbed out of the cab.

The stable yard was starting to look like the Yankee Stadium parking lot at the seventh game of the World Series, Bridey thought. They must be here for the colonel. "Tully, tell that doctor his people are here."

"Yes, ma’am," Tully said, glancing at Dietrich, who was leaning against the door.

Dietrich nodded and opened the door. " Herr Doctor? Your ambulance is here."

"Good. Send them up here with a stretcher," Bigginson called. "And clear those stairs!"

Dietrich shot a look at Tully, who nodded and headed to the edge of the porch. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he called, "Bring a stretcher, boys!"

Bridey glared at Harper, who had brought his orders to the top and held them out to Susskind. "As you see my orders are complete."

Susskind compared the telegram with the orders and looked thoughtful. "I can see where you think you might have a case...but the line of ownership is clear. This Colonel...Peter Alexander is in control of the horse. He has handed it over to Bridey Cullen. It’s signed and witnessed-- ."

"By everyone who lives and works on this farm!" Reynolds said furiously. "Hardly impartial witnesses, Mr. Lawyer!"

Susskind looked at him disdainfully. "That’s not important."

Bridey let out an involuntary groan and everyone looked at her. Her gaze was on the road. "Not another car!" she said in exasperation.

The new arrival parked behind the ambulance, whose medics were responding to Tully’s shouted commands. It blocked the road down to the main gate. The black sedan also had a driver who stepped out sharply, and held a crisp salute as an officer got out. Bridey was instantly reminded of Alexander’s arrival. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dietrich and Mike exchange glances. They remembered too.

Only this time, the Colonel was American.

The entire party on the veranda stepped aside to let the two bearers through with their canvas stretcher. Dietrich, reminding her of a footman in one of those British movies she’d enjoyed in school, opened the door long enough to let them pass. From the living room, Bridey heard the muffled voices of Bigginson and Siobhan.

She glared at the new arrival and was astonished to see he didn’t even react. His attention was on Captain Harper, who had blanched a sickly shade of white. "Attention!" Harper snapped, and Tully reacted, coming to full attention. Even Dietrich stiffened and saluted.

"I see you remember something about being in the Army, Captain," the new arrival snarled at Harper. "Miss Cullen, I’m Colonel Westover from Fort Monmouth."

The senior commander. Bridey had met him once, when Charlie had taken her to one of the parties on the base. She had been favorably impressed, though they’d never gone beyond pleasantries. "Colonel," she said, inclining his head. Why was he here now?

"I believe you’re supposed to be on base right now," Westover said harshly to Harper. "Get back there— . "

"Sir— ."

"We’re not finished here," Reynolds said imprudently. "Captain Harper has been helping— ."

"I know exactly what Captain Harper has been doing, and if he’s lucky, he’ll still retain enough rank to peel potatoes," Westover blasted the actor. "Whatever made you think you’d get away with this little scheme, Harper?"

"We have the orders, sir...." Harper replied feebly. He plucked it from Susskind’s fingers and held it out.

Westover took the paper and tore it in pieces. The pieces floated to the ground as he tossed them over his shoulder. "I know about them too. I received a call today from the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington regarding this entire incident, and I don’t appreciate anything I heard!"

Bridey grinned. She almost felt a trace of sympathy for Harper, who was ashen and almost shaking. He obviously hadn’t had the imagination to dream of this moment.

"Please let us out," someone said authoritatively behind them.

Bridey turned as Dietrich moved to one side. Tully caught the screen door and held it open as far as he could.

They had used shipping bandages to secure Alexander in place on the stretcher, but the capper was a bandage over the head wound that covered his eyes with gauze. Bridey wondered why, since he was already blind, but she didn’t question it any more than she wondered why they hadn’t carried him out of the wider back door. Instead, she looked at Harper, who was visibly shaking, and Reynolds, who stood with tight-lipped anger, his hands clenched at his side. Dietrich, who was closest to him, was watching him closely.

The procession horrified Colonel Westover, who had obviously been told that Alexander was out of commission but hadn’t realized the extent of it. Alexander looked ashen, but after last night, Bridey could tell the difference between half-dead and simply unconscious. He was heavily drugged.

Westover saluted, as did Tully, and, to the surprise of the Fort officers, so did Dietrich, as they carried the unconscious man down the stairs. The silence stretched around them as Bigginson followed.

"Bridey!" She was jarred out of her state by Susskind. "Was that this colonel of yours?"

She automatically wanted to deny ownership, but couldn’t. "That was him."

"And he’s the one who signed the horse over to you?"

"What are you talking about?" Westover asked angrily. "Signed over?"

Susskind handed over the signed telegram. "Look at this."

Westover gave it a cursory look, and handed it back. "It appears that the horse stays here with Miss Cullen. I believe that’s all, gentlemen. Captain Harper — ."

Reynolds started to sputter. Harper looked miserably uncomfortable.

"Wait a minute!" Bridey blazed. She’d won, but still had a full head of steam and wasn’t through with any of them yet. "Captain Harper, you’d better take some time to rethink your actions in this. You’re an officer in the US Army. You swore to uphold and defend the Constitution — not to play toady to some washed-up actor. Your actions in this should come under close scrutiny by your superiors — and if I have anything to say about it, they will. Attempting to use the uniform to intimidate a civilian? Trying to steal my horse? Bringing your trailer onto private property without permission? We’re not under martial law, Captain!"

"Very true," Westover said approvingly. "Come along, Harper."

"Yeah, before the ambulance runs over your staff car getting out," Tully commented, shading his eyes as he looked down the road. "They can’t get out, and Bigginson said he would have to get to the hospital right away."

Westover stared at him in shock that the sergeant had used that tone. Tully met his gaze unflinchingly Finally, the colonel nodded, and turned back to Harper. "Get in the car."

Harper saluted and took off down the porch stairs like his coattails were on fire.

Westover nodded politely to Bridey. "I’m sorry about this, Miss Cullen. You must let me make it up to you."

She fought down a laugh. "Thank you, Colonel Westover. You’ll have to return for a visit at another time. I’m afraid we’re not at our best right now."

He walked away to his car, and they backed up onto the verge and drove away. The ambulance followed them, rocking back and forth. Bridey made a mental note to see if she could find some way of filling in the ruts caused by all these horse trailers coming up to the farm over the muddy road.

Which reminded her...she turned back to Reynolds, who was standing with clenched jaw and fists, staring at her with hate in his eyes. Bridey faced him down. "Get off my property before I call the police and have you charged with trespassing!"

"I have full reason for being here," he said tersely. "My horse is in your stables."

Cameroon. She’d forgotten. "Not for much longer," she snapped. "You’ll have to find another place for him."

"You’re breaking the contract?" Reynolds asked in a peculiar tone. "That could get expensive, Miss Cullen."

"A verbal agreement? Don’t be ridiculous."

Bridey stepped forward to find Susskind’s arm blocking her. "Verbal agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, Mr. Reynolds. What I want to know is who hit that man?" Susskind asked. He glanced at the telegram still in his hands. "Alexander? Yeah, that’s his name. Who hit him?"

That acted like a cold bath on both Bridey and Reynolds. Sheila, who had been keeping out of the way, came up the stairs and laid a hand on Reynolds’ arm. "Time to go, Henry."

He glared at her, then at Bridey and Susskind. "I didn’t hit him."

"Your was the only car on the road when he was hit!" Bridey lashed out. "Who do you think hit him, Stanley?"

"I wasn’t driving!" Reynolds protested furiously.

Sheila tugged at his arm. "Let’s go, Henry!"

He spun on her. "I wasn’t driving— she was!"

Bridey saw shock in Sheila’s eyes but didn’t know if it was caused by Reynolds’ words or actions. Vaguely she remembered Tully saying he’d seen Sheila in the driver’s seat when the car sped down the drive the night before.

It was the laconic sergeant who spoke up. "Will anyone believe that?"

They gaped at him. Dietrich looked frankly approving. "Yes, Herr Reynolds, will the popular press believe it when the story comes out?"

Reynolds gaped at him, then looked around the circle. He could see the consequences clearly. His public wouldn’t believe his word over Sheila’s. The actor over the society maiden? "But I didn’t do anything! I just wanted to borrow Jaeger for my movie!"

"You couldn’t ride a hobbyhorse!" Bridey yelled.

Sheila stalked down the stairs towards the car. "Henry, if you don’t come now, you can walk back to Daddy’s!"

Mike chortled from where he was watching. Tully and Susskind just looked on in shock.

Susskind took one step forward to stand a foot away from Reynolds. "If he says your car hit him, you’re dead in the water, Mr. Reynolds. If there’s proof that you hit him at all, you will go to jail until it can be sorted out. So you’d better be damn silent about all this until we find out if this Colonel Alexander lives or dies."

Reynolds stared at him in cold silence, then shifted his gaze to Bridey. She didn’t flinch, though his expression was definitely ugly. "You bitch!"

"I believe the actor is leaving now," Dietrich said unexpectedly, and put his left hand on Reynolds’ shoulder, grasping Reynolds’ belt with his right. Tully did the same on the other side, and swiftly, they lifted and carried him, his feet dangling inches above the ground, to the car, where they dropped him abruptly. Off balance, he jolted forward, and looked around, his face a mask of rage.

Mike came over, the pitchfork dangling loosely from one hand. "Need something like this, boys?"

Reynolds gave an inarticulate sound of rage and wrenched open the door. Sheila was already in the driver’s seat, and started the engine before the door was even shut.

Dietrich, Tully and Mike jumped out of the way as the car screeched off down the road, as it had last night.

Bridey sent up a grateful prayer that no one was on the road right now. At least, she hoped no one was.

Mike walked over to the two soldiers, who were still watching from the cab of the horse trailer. "You boys better be getting back to wherever you came from. Nothing here for you."

"Maybe they should take Cameroon for Mr. Reynolds?" Bridey called.

"Not till we get Diamond Peach back," Mike replied. "That mare’s too good for him."

The soldiers nodded, and now with the emptying of the stable yard, could turn the car and trailer around. They trundled off down the driveway.

Bridey let out a crow of triumph, ran down from the porch, and threw her arms around Tully, who reacted with slight surprise, then a smile as he returned her embrace. "Did you see the look on Harper’s face when Westover arrived? And Reynolds, when you guys carried him off the porch?" she asked, still hanging on to Tully. "Whoo!"

"Fraulein, you’re gloating," Dietrich said amused.

"And I take immense pleasure in that, Captain," she retorted. Then she pulled away from Tully and threw her arms around Dietrich.

"That was an excellent performance, Fraulein." He hugged her long enough for propriety’s sake, then dropped his arms and stepped back.

"Yeah—they didn’t know what hit ‘em," Tully put in.

Mike came up onto the porch and slipped his arm around his daughter’s waist. "Darlin’, you did us all proud. Your granda would’ve been right proud of that little tirade of yours," Mike said. "There were times when you sounded just like Big Joe."

"There were times when I felt him standing right beside me, Pop," she said softly.

"Excuse me," Susskind spoke up from where he had been left on the porch. "Could someone tell me exactly what’s going on?"

Bridey smiled up at him. "You played your part wonderfully, Stanley! But why did they bring Peter out the front door instead of the back? It would have been better for him. They’d have had fewer steps to take him down."

Siobhan came out with a towel in her hands. "He insisted."

"Excuse me?" Bridey said, startled.

Tully chuckled. "The Colonel?"

Siobhan nodded. "He told Doctor Bigginson, made him promise to take him out the front, before he let him shoot him full of painkiller. Said the effect might help."

Everyone stared at her in astonishment. Finally, Tully began to laugh, and that set off Mike and Bridey. Dietrich struggled but finally succumbed.

Bridey wiped her eyes, and coughed to clear her throat. "Always planning ahead, eh? He’s gotta survive this so I can hear his side!"

That sobered the company. "I hope he does," Dietrich said soberly.

"Yeah," Tully agreed. "I’d rather not lose a well-trained officer!"

Susskind coughed. "Could someone please explain what just happened?" he pleaded.

"Let’s go inside," Bridey ordered. "I am suddenly famished. Don’t we have some soda bread left from breakfast, Siobhan? Let’s celebrate!"

Siobhan nodded. "I was baking this morning. I’ve got a coffeecake, too."

"Let’s open the stable, and give the horses some air, then join the others," Mike called to Dietrich and Tully.

"We have to feed them as well," Dietrich observed.

"Be in as soon as we can," Tully added. "I’m not missing the coffeecake!"

** *** **

An hour later, they were all gathered around the kitchen table, the remains of the soda bread and a coffeecake on an empty tray in front of them, and drinking second cups of coffee laced with Jameson’s whiskey. Susskind had listened to the entire story, shaking his head.

Finally, Tully pushed his chair back. "I’ll pull the Colonel’s belongings together. Pack it up, and send it to the office."

"What are you talking about?" Bridey cut him off. She glared at him. "Taking Alexander’s stuff? Whatever for?"

"He’ll need it wherever he goes," Tully said with a blank expression. "I mean he won’t be coming back here."

"Why not?" Siobhan asked bluntly. "We can take care of him as well as they can at any home." She said the word as if it disgusted her.

Bridey barely stopped herself from gaping at her cousin. This was a new side to Siobhan. Since when did she want an Englishman in the house? "That’s right, Tully. Why can’t he convalesce here?"

"I’ll teach him to ride properly, strengthen that leg," Mike said, licking a crumb from one side of his mouth.

Dietrich grinned unexpectedly. "Sergeant Tully, you suggested Jaeger come here, now you need to suggest that the Colonel come here to recuperate. You might have as much luck the second time as the first!"

Tully laughed. "I’ll tell his boss that you’re holding his clothes hostage until he comes back for them!"

"You give me his boss’ phone number and I’ll extend the invitation personally," Bridey asserted.

"And you?" Siobhan asked. "You’ll be staying as well?"

Tully hesitated, looking from face to face. "I was supposed to be on leave when the Colonel went into that hospital. I was going south to visit my home."

And Laura, Bridey thought. She looked at Dietrich; he appeared to be thinking the same thing. "Yeah, I guess you’d want to go home," she agreed.

"But I’ll stick here long enough to find out about Colonel Alexander," Tully added, seeing the disappointment in her expression.

"You can always come back," Mike rumbled. "In fact, I insist."

"Yeah," Bridey chimed in. "I don’t want to handle the Colonel without you, so you’d better be here by the time he comes back."

The phone rang and everyone jumped.

"They fixed the line!" Bridey said in relief. She beat Siobhan to the receiver by a hair. "Hello?" Her expression changed to thoughtful. Putting her hand over the mouthpiece, she said, "Tully, it’s for you."

Tully took it from her hand. "Hello?"

A voice chattered. No matter how she tried, Bridey couldn’t make out the words. She returned to the table.

Tully hung up and looked around. "I asked Doctor Bigginson to call me when they arrived. The operation’s about to start."

That killed the mood immediately.

Susskind stood up. "Well, it’s been an interesting afternoon, but I think I’d better take off. Bridey, I’ll look into what we can do if Henry Reynolds comes back or if we can get him for hitting the Colonel."

"It was Sheila who hit him," Tully spoke up.

Susskind glared at him. "We need the Colonel to say Reynolds hit him. I’ll keep in touch, Bridey, Mike, Siobhan."

"Bye, Stanley," Mike called.

Bridey led him out the front. "I can’t thank you enough— ." she started awkwardly.

He held up his hand. "It was a pleasure to finally meet Henry Reynolds. You know, I used to like his movies."

"Me too." She watched him drive away, then went back inside. Her mood had darkened.

Dietrich noticed the expression on her face. "Fraulein, you need a horse."

"Major, I need more than a horse, but that’s a good place to start. Let’s go for a ride." She turned to Tully. "Want to go with us?"

"I’ll stick with the cars, thanks."

"I can use help in the kitchen getting dinner ready," Siobhan said.

"Do I get to taste?"

Siobhan frowned at him, but her eyes were dancing. "We’ll see. Come along wi’ you."

Tully grinned and followed her to the kitchen. Bridey shook her head and turned to her father. "How about you, Pop?"

"I think I’ll take a little snooze. All that excitement tired me out."

Bridey made a rude sound. "And all the Catholic you put in your coffee had something to do with it, too." She turned to Dietrich. "Looks like it’s just you and me."

He was already at the door. He plucked her barn jacket off the bentwood coat rack in the hallway and gallantly helped her put it on, then opened the door and gestured for her to precede him.

Bridey grinned and stepped out onto the porch. "I could get used to this treatment. You have to give Joe lessons when he gets home."

In the main barn, Dietrich stopped at Jaeger’s stall, but Bridey tugged at his arm, drawing him past it to stop at the stall of the big grey stallion across the aisle. "Leave Jaeger here—take Diligence."


"He knows the trails here—Jaeger doesn’t. And Dilly needs the exercise. I haven’t had enough time to exercise him since—well, since everything blew up. And I’m in the mood for a good run. You don’t want me to leave you behind, do you?"

He replied to the challenge in her eyes and in her words. "No."

"Good. Dilly is probably the only horse on the farm who can keep up with Dancer. He’s the only one of our horses who ever beat him on the track, either." She grinned. "I’ll meet you at the round pen."

** *** **

Bridey was already mounted on Dancer when Dietrich rode up to her on Diligence. Bridey leaned from her saddle to scratch Diligence’s poll. The big grey let out a huge sigh. "Dilly-boy, you’re such a hedonist."

"Your propensity for giving horses ridiculous nicknames when they already have perfectly good names astounds me," Dietrich said, shaking his head.

"It’s easier. Don’t you give horses stable names in Germany?"

"None like ‘Dilly-boy’."

Bridey laughed and signaled Dancer to head out.

They rode behind the barns and past the broodmare paddocks toward the winding trails on the west side of the farm. Bridey whistled as they rode along.

"I don’t think I have ever heard a woman whistle."

"No? Joey taught me when I was a wee one. My mother always said that hearing a woman whistle made the Blessed Mother cry. If that’s true, that poor woman has shed an awful lot of tears over me. But the horses like it, and I can’t carry a tune in a handbasket, so I whistle instead."

"I noticed."

"You noticed I whistle or you noticed I can’t sing?" she challenged.

"Both. Your speaking voice is quite lovely, but.… "

"I know. I croak like a frog when I try to sing. Ah well, we all have our gifts. I guess singing isn’t one of mine." She dropped the reins on Dancer’s withers and spread her hands, guiding the gelding with seat and leg pressure. "I guess all of my musical talent is concentrated in my hands."

Dietrich smiled at her, but made no comment.

"I feel good about what we accomplished today. And I bet Harper feels like he’s been on the schneid for a year!"

"On the..…guts?" Dietrich asked quizzically.

Bridey looked at him blankly, then laughed. "Is that a German word? It’s a racing term—it means a bad losing streak." She clapped her hands once than slapped her thighs. "Looks like his is just beginning. Colonel Westover was definitely not happy, and he doesn’t look like the kind of man you want to cross."

"Fraulein, you are still gloating."

"Yes, I am," she said emphatically. "He deserved it. He sullied his uniform, and he acted without any honor at all. And I didn’t like the way he treated you."

Dietrich inclined his head in her direction in acknowledgment. "Thank you, Fraulein."

Bridey sighed in exasperation and halted Dancer as Dietrich kept riding. "My name," she said, "is Bridey. Bri-dee. Two syllables. Nice and easy."

He shrugged and made no reply. But Bridey wasn’t through. "It’s a perfectly good name, you know," she called after him. "My parents gave it to me for a reason."

Dietrich turned Diligence and walked back to her. "It is a curious name."

"It’s better than Bridge," she said, her disgust of the name readily apparent in her tone.

"There are people who call you Bridge?"

"None who’ve done it more than once," she said flatly, then brightened. "Listen. We’ll race down to the pond. It’s maybe, oh, a half mile from here. If you win, you can call me whatever you want."

"Including Bridge?"

She winced. "If that’s what it takes to get you to stop being so verdamnt formal."

"And if you win?"

"Then you call me Bridey." She picked up the reins, taking them into her left hand while holding out her right. "Deal?"

He met her eyes briefly, then took her hand. "Deal."

"Good." She dropped his hand, then yelled, "Ready, set—go!" And Dancer took off like he’d been shot out of a cannon. Dietrich cued Diligence, who eagerly charged after the fleeing pair. But Bridey and Dancer had too much of an advantage, and Dancer was also carrying less weight. They kept easily ahead of Dietrich and the big grey, despite Diligence’s gallant efforts.

At the pond, Bridey pulled Dancer up several lengths ahead of Dietrich and Diligence. "Pay up!" she chortled, holding out her hand, her eyes dancing with triumph.

Dietrich covered her palm with his own, curling his fingers around her hand. "Bridget," he said softly, meeting her eyes with a warm gaze.

She curled her fingers around his hand and squeezed before pulling away. "Okay. I like that. It suits you better."

"But in formal situations, I will still call you Fraulein."

"Fair enough."

"He has speed."

"Dancer?" Bridey patted the chestnut’s neck. "Yeah, lots of it. He was a sprinter when he was on the track and he still loves to run. He was a decent racer in his day, too. He won a couple of stakes races. Pop used to let me exercise him in the mornings in the track. We flew." She smiled at the memory.

"Why was he gelded?"

"He wasn’t keeping his mind on his work, so—." She mimed a pair of scissors with the first and second fingers of her right hand. "Snip," she said irreverently, watching him out of the corner of her eye for any reaction.

He didn’t let himself react, and saw her mentally approving. Most men, especially those unfamiliar with horse husbandry, didn’t handle the subject too well.

"It improved his attitude one hundred percent," she continued. "My father is a firm believer in breeding only the best. That’s why Merlin and Dancer are geldings. Merlin’s record didn’t warrant keeping him a stallion after he was retired, and Dancer—his record would have warranted it, but it was too late then. And he didn’t really start winning until he was cut, so it did what it was supposed to do."

"In Germany, the Verbands—what you would call a breed registry—hold bloodstock inspections. Only the best animals are approved for breeding."

"What happens if you breed a horse who hasn’t been approved?"

"Either the offspring are denied registration privileges, or they are approved on their own merits."

Bridey shook her head. "That wouldn’t fly over here, Hans. Breeders would never tolerate it. How do these Verbands get away with it?"

"They hold the power, Bridget. It is accepted. It is to the benefit of all involved, and it only improves the breed. Many unapproved stallions are then gelded."

"Well, here anyone can breed any stud to any mare. If they’re both registered, the foal can be. There’s no one to tell you the foal isn’t acceptable."

"Different countries, different methods," he said calmly.

Bridey shrugged. "Sure seems that way."

"It might be best if we return to the house. I still have to exercise Jaeger today, and he has other work to do in the breeding stable."

"Yeah—we can’t keep those mares waiting, can we?"

They set off for home at an easy canter.

** *** **

Siobhan hummed as she mopped the marble floor in front of the hearth. Downstairs she could hear the washing machine going with the last of the blankets from Alexander’s parlor nest, and she’d swept up the dirt, and debris. His coat was hanging where she would repair it in the course of time. It would take some cleaning to get the grime out.

She checked the clock. Nearly four in the afternoon, and all traces of last night’s storm had disappeared. She moved a chair back, and felt a pain in her lower back.

"Let me do that," Mike said behind her. He put down several new logs by the fire. They were wet from last night’s storm. "You know better than to be moving that heavy stuff, Siobhan."

"I wanted it to look the way it used to," she confessed. "Before last night’s storm."

"Then I’ll take the wildlife out," he commented, and picked up the snail. It withdrew the head that had been watching her.

She put her hand out, feeling a trace of superstition. "No, put him in the kitchen. That’s the colonel’s snail."

"The colonel’s snail...." Mike eyed her skeptically. "Would you like to be explainin’ that?"

"You put him in the kitchen, and come back. We’ll move the furniture, then I’ll explain," she replied. "Bridey and the Major still out?"

"I wouldn’t expect them for a while. They both need the diversion—they’ve been working hard lately and they’ve got a lot of energy to work off. Tully’s outside with the vegetable garden. He says he can probably get the ground broken before he leaves tomorrow."

"Good. The planting will keep you and Bridey busy for a few days."

They automatically avoided discussing the phone call that would end their worries. By tomorrow, they might know about Alexander. Then again, he might be dead. She crossed herself. No need to think that way.

"I’ll be takin’ the little colonel into the kitchen then," Mike said. "Be back in a second."

She had mopped one more tile before she heard the front door bell. Siobhan leaned the mop against the fireplace and went over to the wooden door. Opening it, she let out a small scream.

The silhouette against the screen door was familiar. It looked like it belonged to a British officer, from the slouched beret to the lance-straight stance.

"What the hell?" Mike came boiling out of the kitchen. He stopped dead, shocked. "Colonel?"

The man opened the screen door and politely took off his beret. "Miss Cullen?" he asked, looking at Siobhan.

Mike shuddered. The accent was reminiscent of but yet not quite Alexander’s. "She’s a McKenna. I’m Mike Cullen. Can I help you?"

Beyond him they saw the familiar outline of Charlie Wagner’s sedan, and three men who were coming towards them. They only recognized one, Charlie, who brought up the rear.

"I’m Lieutenant Moffitt, and this is Sergeant Troy and Sergeant Hitchcock. We’re here to report to Colonel Alexander," Moffitt said politely.

Siobhan let her hand drop to her apron. "The colonel...I’d better be getting Tully." She turned and fled before Moffitt could say a word.

Mike beckoned them inside. "It’ll be more comfortable here, Lieutenant. We just have to move some of the furniture back."

Siobhan went out the back. "Tully!" she called.

He came out of the garden patch with a worried expression on his face, a long-handled shovel in his hand. "Siobhan?"

"There’s another one of those Englishmen here!" she said. "Like the colonel."

"Like the..." he gave her a blank stare. He brushed past her. "Let me handle this."

She followed him in. The men turned at their footsteps.

Tully let out an unexpected whoop. "Sarge! Hitch!"

They all grinned at each other, and Moffitt clapped him on the shoulder. "What about me?"

"You’re giving Siobhan a heart attack in that hat," Tully said dryly. "Sir."

Moffitt folded it and tucked it under a shoulder-strap. "I’m sorry about that. Why?"

"Introductions, lad!" Mike commanded Charlie, who was grinning.

"Sergeant Sam Troy, Sergeant Mark Hitchcock and Lieutenant Jack Moffitt reporting as ordered," Troy said quietly. He seemed as honestly pleased to see Tully but was not as rambunctious as Hitchcock, who was grinning for all he was worth.

"Ordered? What ordered?" Mike asked in bewilderment. "Who ordered?"

"Where’s the Colonel? He can explain all of this," Wagner said.

Mike’s smile died, and he glanced at Siobhan, who looked stricken. "You didn’t hear?"

"Didn’t hear?" Moffitt asked sharply. "Didn’t hear what?"

"What’s happened to him?" Troy cut in with a seriousness that drew all eyes to him. Siobhan sensed that this was a man used to being in command. He must have been quite a commander in the field.

"Sit down and let me explain," Mike said soberly. "Just move that couch a bit."

** *** **

Dietrich and Bridey came riding into the yard. They were flushed from their ride, though the horses were already cooled down since they’d kept to a walk the last mile in. Both checked slightly when they saw another strange car in the driveway.

"Oh, no," Bridey said in exasperation. "Not more people! This place is starting to look like a boarding house. My grandma will roll over in her grave."

"It looks like Captain Wagner’s car," Dietrich called.

"That’s Charlie’s car, all right! I wonder if he heard what happened before?" Bridey asked, kicking her feet free of the stirrups and dismounting.

"I don’t know, Bridget. I will take care of the horses if you want to go—."

Dietrich was cut off by the opening of the front door. The men who came out were out of the misty depths of his memory and past, and totally a surprise, except for Tully and Mike, who brought up the rear.

Troy smiled and nodded to him, then saluted. Dietrich reached up to salute and realized he wasn’t wearing a cap. Still, he completed the gesture with a wry smile.

"Who are they?" Bridey asked, cutting through his surprise.

"The Rat Patrol," Dietrich said slowly. "Probably one of the most irritating commando groups from the North African desert."

"Tully’s friends," she mused. "Your enemies?" she asked as he took Dancer’s reins.

"Nein. I do not think so, not now."

The first man came down the steps and strode over to them, holding out his hand. "Miss Cullen?"

Bridey cast an assessing glance at him. Compact and lithe, he moved like a cat. As he stopped in front of them, she realized that he wasn’t much taller than she was, perhaps an inch, maybe two, tops. She felt a touch of restraint as she shook the proffered hand. This soldier looked as if he was used to being in command no matter what. Her hackles went up immediately as she met sky-blue eyes. "Yes?"

"I’m Master Sergeant Troy," he said. He looked at Dietrich. "Major Dietrich?"

Dietrich inclined his head slightly. "Sergeant."

Bridey asked, "What are you doing here, Sergeant Troy?"

Troy’s jaw set. "We’re here to work with Colonel Alexander, but that’s gone out the window."

"Work with...?" she gaped at him, then looked at Dietrich, who shook his head.

"He didn’t say anything to you?" Troy probed.

"Not a word. I didn’t see him until after the accident." She saw Charlie standing on the top of the steps. "Hey, Chuckles! What’s going on?"

Charlie winced at her old nickname for him. The other two strangers came down to join her, their gazes going to Dietrich, who stood holding the reins to both horses, wearing a faint smile of amusement.

Charlie came down and quickly provided introductions, then said, "Bridey, I can’t believe the Colonel didn’t say anything to you! It’s been in the works for about two days."

Her eyes flashed. "Two days? He’s known about it for two days and he didn’t tell me anything?"

"It might not have been formalized," Moffitt cut in, sounding irritatingly like Alexander. "From what your father said, the threat escalated yesterday."

"So, we got diverted but not in time," Hitchcock said from the back of the group.

"From what you say, he didn’t have time to fill you in on the details," Moffitt concluded.

"So, what’ll we do now, Sarge?" Hitchcock looked at Troy who watched Bridey steadily.

They stared at each other. Finally, Charlie shrugged. "I suppose we can put you up at the Fort…."

"I think if Alexander had asked them to come here, he probably had a good reason to, Chuckles," Bridey said acerbically. "I wish he’d let a few more people in on it—like me, maybe— but that’s in the past now. You’re all welcome to stay here until he comes back."

Silence, then everyone started talking at once. She was intrigued to see that they were as worried as Siobhan or herself. "Siobhan?" Bridey asked, pitching her voice over the babble. "Any phone calls?"

Siobhan shook her head. "With all this racket, how could we hear even if there were?" she said dourly. She addressed the crowd. "Get those bags out and upstairs! I’ll bring you some sheets and blankets."

"Charlie, you’re staying for supper, aren’t you?" Bridey asked.

He shook his head negatively. "I have to get back to base. Besides, I want to hear the gossip about Harper."

"You might want to keep an eye out for gossip about Henry Reynolds as well," Troy cut in. "Somehow, I don’t think he’s totally given up on this."

Wagner nodded. "I’ll do that, Sergeant."

"You owe me, Chuckles," Bridey said, her voice a promise of retribution to come.

"Put it on my tab, Bride."

"Your tab’s about a mile long already," she shot back.

"Then another yard or so won’t hurt," he said flippantly, and ignored her outraged expression.

"I’ll put Dancer and Diligence away," Dietrich said to her. "Chuckles?"

"I’ll tell you later." She was still glaring at Wagner, who shrugged. "You bring that gossip back tonight, you hear?"

"Do I get fed?"

"If this crew leaves anything, you will."

"It’s a deal," Charlie said, and blew her a kiss.

She shook her head and turned for the house. "Come on, gentlemen, let’s get you settled in." Leading the way, she clattered up the stars, the soldiers following her slowly. Hitchcock blew a huge bubble and grinned at Troy, who frowned at him, but followed Moffitt inside.

"Captain," Dietrich said to Charlie, who passed him on the way to his sedan, "I would not want to be in your shoes when Bridget wants to collect all the IOUs you have been accruing."

"Bridget?" Charlie asked, raising an eyebrow. "Hardly anybody ever calls her Bridget. When did you start that?"

"When I lost a bet."

Charlie laughed. "Lesson number one. Never bet against Bridey on anything, Captain. She never bets unless it’s a sure thing, and she never loses."

"I will do my best to remember that."

"Major Dietrich!" Troy called. Bridey slowed her steps, taken aback by the tone. This man was definitely used to giving orders. He was probably used to having his own way too. "I have to talk to you later."

Her curiosity rose in a huge wave, and she came to a standstill, pretending to inspect a rosebush by the porch while she listened.

Dietrich frowned slightly, then nodded. "I will be in the barn, Sergeant."

"Good." Troy swung around to Wagner. "Let’s get the duffels out of your car."

The party broke up into chattering groups, and Bridey watched Dietrich take the horses into the barn. The earlier rush of happiness over their rescue of Jaeger was totally gone now. More mysteries had arrived at her farm, and she needed to talk to her father and Siobhan and find out what they knew.

It was going to be an interesting evening.

** *** **

Troy knew he had to talk with Dietrich as soon as possible. The Rat Patrol had talked it over on the flight home, but none of the three of them had an idea of how to start the discussion. It wasn’t as if you told an enemy you liked and respected about the death of his wife and kid every day. Troy wasn’t the sentimental type either but he wouldn’t let anyone else do the job except the Colonel. In fact, he had counted on Alexander doing it!

His hand went to the pocket that held the picture. He’d give this to Dietrich as well.

It was after dinner when he finally had a chance to break away. They’d packed away all their clothing, and gotten the grand tour of the house, and eaten the spread that Siobhan, who must have been cooking most of the day, laid out for them. The only fly in the ointment was the fact that they hadn’t heard about the colonel’s health, but no news was better than bad news.

Troy left Moffitt and Hitchcock with the others back at the house, and headed for the barn. He knew he probably wouldn’t be missed for a quarter hour while the others got organized.

The German was grooming Jaeger when he came in. He watched Troy’s approach with a noncommittal expression.

"Let’s go outside," Troy said abruptly.

Dietrich raised an eyebrow but followed him to the rear of the barn and outside. The sun had set, leaving only a few light streaks across the sky. The stars were coming out. No storm tonight, though it was still a little brisk. "Sergeant? Can I ask what this is about?"

Troy leaned on the fence, staring into the empty field. "Funny how it’s turned out, isn’t it, Major? Three years ago you were going to hang me."

"That’s true," Dietrich agreed, his eyes on the man. "If you wanted to live, you should have given me the information."

"Not a chance."

"I know. It was an extremely frustrating situation." Dietrich glanced back towards the warm barn. "I disliked immensely having to do interrogations, and hang the spies. Future generations may call me a war criminal."

"What happens in war is unlike anything else. The magnitude of what you do is what’ll damn you," Troy said. "Major, Colonel Alexander asked us to find your wife and kid."

Dietrich stood like a stone. "I know about my wife." His voice was level.

Troy glanced at him. "The message?"


"We sent the message. There’s more if you want it."

Dietrich didn’t move. His yearning went unspoken but Troy saw it. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the photograph. "If you want to know how we got it, I’ll tell you later. Take your time, Major. I’ll see you inside."

Dietrich took it with shaking fingers. "Thank you, Sergeant."

"You’re welcome."

Troy left him under the starry sky and walked through the barn. Halfway through, he ran into Bridey Cullen, who wore a red jacket over a black shirt and pants. She was strikingly beautiful. He wagered she turned heads wherever she went, but she didn’t even seem to be aware of it.

"Where is he?" she asked.

"Who? Dietrich?" He jerked his thumb behind him and stepped in front of her, barring her way. "Leave him alone, Miss Cullen!"

She glared at him. "What did you do?" she spat out.

Troy met her glare with his own. "It’s none of your business."

"That’s where you’re wrong, Sergeant. It is my business! He’s my friend," she snapped at him. "Anything that happens to my friends concerns me. And if you did anything to hurt him, you’ll answer to me."

Around them the horses restlessly shifted in their stalls as if they were becoming upset. Troy looked back out the door. He could see Dietrich’s silhouette. He was still leaning against the fence. "He’ll heal. Like us all."

She looked outside. "Was it about his wife?"

"Why don’t you ask him?" Troy said angrily. "Open that wound. Why don’t you just leave him alone!"

"And why don’t you just mind your business?"

"For Christ’s sake, Miss Cullen, she’s barely dead! Give him a break!"

She gasped and flushed but retained her control. "I’ll give that comment exactly the answer it deserves, Sergeant." And she pointedly stepped around him to walk to the back of the barn, head high.

Troy regretted his words as soon as they left his mouth, but it was too late. If she couldn’t see how it looked, it wasn’t up to him to break it to her. Someone in the family would have to— or Dietrich would have to tell her himself.

The German will just have to take care of himself, Troy thought. He wasn’t Dietrich’s babysitter. He headed for the house.

** *** **

Dietrich heard her footsteps before he smelled her perfume.


He didn’t turn from where he leaned on the top rail of the fencing. He knew there were still tears on his cheeks. "Bridget?" It was hardly an inviting tone.

"We wondered what had happened to you. We’re all in the parlor. Are you all right?"

Dietrich turned. Her shocked expression made him realize he was showing more to her emotionally than he wanted. He wiped away the moisture. "I was feeding Jaeger. Then Sergeant Troy came out to talk to me."

"Troy," Bridey spat angrily. "Who the hell does he think he is?"

Dietrich looked surprised for a second. The usual female reaction to Troy was positive. What could he have done to alienate Bridget? "What happened?"

"He stood there, giving me orders like he’s in command around here!" she fumed.

Dietrich laughed, a chuckle that started from deep within. "Sergeant Troy always did give that impression, Bridget. Usually because he was in command of a situation, even as a prisoner!"

She looked vastly relieved at the sound. "‘As a prisoner?’ Oh, you’re going to have to explain that one, Hans!"

Dietrich nodded. "Someday, Bridget, someone will write a history of the North African campaign and we will all be footnotes. Still, it was an amazing time."

"I bet it was. And I want you to tell me all about your part in it one day. Maybe someone will write a history where you’re all more than just footnotes." She put her hand on his sleeve. "Come inside with me now. Siobhan is tired of defending your dessert from Sergeant Hitchcock, and I’d like to see you there."

He curled his fingers around hers; the contact was comforting. "It is hardly suitable— "

"Of course it is. Hans, we’re your friends. You have as much right to be there as any of them—more, in fact. Come in with me, and ditch that awful jacket!" she ordered. Then she added in a softer tone, "Please?"

He looked at her, and was about to say more, but they heard the telephone ring up at the house, and that drew their attention. One ring, then two. Bridey’s hand clenched on his arm and Dietrich guessed that the others were just as frozen as he and Bridey were. His fingers tightened around hers.

"It could just be one of my friends," Bridey said, shattering the silence.

"Bridget, how many of your friends call at this time of night?" he asked. "I have not heard one in the months I’ve been here."

"I know. But I don’t want to find out about Alexander unless it’s good news," she replied honestly. "Let’s go back to the house."

"After I feed — ."

"None of the horses need to eat again and we both know it. Stop delaying and come with me now," she said. "I’m not going to let you slide out of this one, Hans."

He gave in. Holding out his arm, he clicked his heels. "As you wish, Bridget."

He slid the photo into his shirt pocket, and let her slip her arm through the crook of his. She was obviously wondering what it was about, but he wasn’t going to tell her. Not yet. He still had to think it through. Maybe tomorrow he could corner Sergeant Troy or Lieutenant Moffitt and get the details. Tonight, it was too raw. Tonight, all he wanted to do was forget.

** *** **

The front parlor was full of men, all watching the door to the kitchen. Normally, Bridey would have been amused if she wasn’t aware it was because Tully was on the phone. She couldn’t hear his voice clearly.

Moffitt stood by the fireplace, a log in his hands. Hitchcock was poking at the embers with the poker while Troy was standing with Mike, glasses of whiskey forgotten in their hands. Behind them on the oblong table was set a full set of coffee cups and a silver teapot that Siobhan had dug out of the china closet and polished up. Bridey hadn’t seen it shined that way since her mother’s wake.

She shivered at the memory, and Dietrich glanced at her. "Cold?"

"No," she said softly. Dietrich nodded understanding.

Moffitt looked down at the log, then handed it to Hitchcock. "Sorry. Here."

Hitchcock took it. "Right. I need another one too. Move."

Troy sipped his whiskey, his eyes warily watching her. He hadn’t forgotten what had happened in the barn.

Neither had Bridey. She realized that if she thought it was hard to get to know Alexander, it was nothing compared to getting to know Troy. Would it be worth it? Probably, if only for her historical research. But he still made her hackles rise. She turned to Dietrich. "Hang up your coat, and join the party."

"Jawohl, Fraulein General," Dietrich replied obediently, his eyes shining with inner laughter. She’d let him get away with laughing at her right now. It brought grins to everyone’s faces, and they badly needed the humor at this point.

The sound of the receiver being hung up came to them, and Tully came in looking sober. "Bigginson says it’s still touch and go. But he’s conscious and muttering about preferring whiskey to ether."

Mike threw back his head and roared. "That’s him, all right! I’ll have to save the bottle— "

"You’ll save the best stuff!" Siobhan ordered. "Don’t let everyone drink it all!"

Bridey saw that everyone looked vastly relieved. Even she felt a little light-headed.

Dietrich poured her a cup of coffee, and then himself. "To the colonel!"

"Hear! Hear!" the others chorused and raised their glasses. The conversation turned to generalities as they broke up into small groups. Siobhan, fending off a mock grab from Hitchcock, gave Dietrich his slice of the maple-nut angel food cake, and he retreated out into the hallway where he could eat it in peace. Bridey was caught on the other side of the room by Hitchcock, who was asking her about the farm, but she saw Troy and Moffitt confer with Tully, then split up. Tully and Moffitt went across to talk with Mike, and then went outside onto the porch. Bridey felt another surge of exasperation. Was she going to be trapped with another whole group who thought she needed to be protected as Alexander had?

Cutting Hitchcock off as politely as she could, she wound herself through the crowd outside to the porch where Moffitt held the door politely for her to exit, then went inside.

She wasn’t sure she liked this Englishman either. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Alexander at his most stiff, and his eyes always seemed to be judging everyone around him. The reserve was even thicker than the Colonel’s at his worst. However, she remembered the stories Tully had told her, and decided to give Moffitt a little more time before she decided he wasn’t worth talking to.

Tully and Dietrich were seated smoking on the front stairs with Mike standing behind them. There was no tension in Dietrich’s shoulders; in fact, she heard a low laugh. That was an improvement in itself, she thought.

They rose at the sound of her footsteps, and Tully took the plate from Dietrich’s hands. The Major nodded, smiled at Bridey, then went down the stairs.

Mike saw the expression on her face and headed for the door, leaving only Tully.

"What’s going on?" she asked in a dangerously angry tone.

Tully surveyed her, then looked at the barn. "Well..."

"Don’t pull an Alexander on me, Tully Pettigrew!" she said furiously.

He held up his hands, one still encumbered with a plate. "Whoa, Bridey, easy! I wouldn’t do that to you. I told them that I’d tell you myself. The plan is that we’ll take turns guarding the barn. Each man gets a night. Dietrich wants to show everyone the ropes tomorrow, so this is his night. Tomorrow it’ll be mine, then Moffitt’s, then Hitch’s, then Troy’s."

"So, this is just something you decided on your own."

"Yes, ma’am."

"And you thought it would be perfectly fine to tell me about this decision afterward."

"Yes, ma’am."

Bridey took a deep breath. "Tully, this is my farm. I will be in on any plans you make. You will not tell me about them after the fact."

"We told Mike about them."

"Wrong answer. Don’t try to shelter me, and by no means try to protect me. Is that understood?"

"Yes, ma’am."

"And stop calling me ma’am!" She glared at him, then turned on her heel and stalked back inside. She ran into her father in the foyer, and he ostentatiously stepped out of her way; at that, she felt more anger that her loss of control was that noticeable. Glancing into the parlor she saw Siobhan sitting with Moffitt and Troy, with Hitchcock feasting on another slice of cake, and laughing. Spread across her legs was Alexander’s bedraggled jacket, a spool of thread beside her, and a needle tucked in the collar. From their expressions, there was a lot of teasing going on. Mike went in to join them, a bottle of whiskey in his hand, and effectively shielded her from the crowd.

Bridey was glad that the shadows hid her face. She knew she wasn’t fit company for anyone at that moment. She paused when she heard Siobhan ask about the ribbons on the jacket she was repairing. It was the tall Englishman who answered. "That one," pointing to a five-striped, red-white-blue, "is the France and Germany Star. We all have that one. In addition, I have the African Star." He tapped on a sand-colored ribbon with two stripes of different blues, and a red.

Siobhan looked up and saw Bridey watching. She recognized her body language, and automatically drew the attention of everyone around her by tapping on another ribbon,, leaving her cousin in peace. "This one?"

"Ah, the Colonel’s own," Moffitt said thoughtfully. "That’s the DSO with bar. You have to be mentioned in dispatches to get that, and I have to wonder if he got it in the first war or the current one."

"That’s true," Troy said dryly. "It’s not as if we all got medals for what we’ve been workin’."

Bridey felt her anger cool. This was what she’d been wanting to hear, and now the men had loosened up enough to talk, thanks to Siobhan, and Mike’s generously-applied Jameson’s. She realized that this was the moment if she could make the most of it.

That meant keeping her temper, not disturbing the tableau, and just listening. She settled back against the wallpaper, and was so quiet that Tully and Dietrich didn’t even see her as they came in.

"I hardly think this is all of his medals either," Moffitt protested lightly. "I suppose I’ll have to go searching in the mud to see if any dropped off."

"What about yours?" Siobhan asked Troy, looking at his jacket. "I don’t recognize that one." She pointed to a yellow one with green edges.

Troy looked taken aback. Bridey had a flash of insight; Troy was one of those men who really didn’t like to be noticed for himself, only for his work. Siobhan’s question embarrassed him, and he hesitated.

"That’s the Medaille Militaire," Hitchcock chimed in. He licked the fork clean of icing, and put it and the plate down on a side table. "French. For falling in the Seine."

Troy grinned at him. "The best thing I did that mission!"

"Well it distracted the Germans long enough,, " Moffitt said with a touch of amusement. He continued lightly as Troy squirmed, "I’m not sure how the Colonel swung the other ribbons."

"He probably just called on his buddies in the War Office in London," Hitchcock said cheerfully. "He used to be able to wangle just about anything."

"Which is how Major Dietrich ended up here versus being buried in a ditch," Moffitt added.

Dietrich blinked in surprise. "Really?"

Bridey almost leaned forward into the light but realized that she might distract them, and she wouldn’t get the story. She leaned back.

"What was that about?" Mike asked, sitting down in one of the armchairs.

Moffitt looked regretful. "I shouldn’t have brought it up. Let’s just say that the Colonel had a good harangue at the partisan leader who wanted to shoot the Major, and won. I believe it might have been payback for what happened in Norway."

"Which is a story for another night," Troy said briskly. Bridey realized she wasn’t going to get the story. Ah, well, tomorrow. "I’m for bed."

That broke up the party and Bridey stood, smoothing out her trousers. Most of her anger had faded. "I’ll help you clean up, Siobhan," she offered, coming forward.

"Thank you, Bridey."

The men helped move the dishes to the kitchen, then disappeared to their various cubbies. Siobhan rehung the jacket, needle tucked in the wool, and went over to the sink.

"So what do you think about them?" she finally asked Siobhan, who was washing the dishes, and handing them to her to dry.

Siobhan smiled. "A lot better than I thought I would when I first saw Lieutenant Moffitt against the screen. Thought I was seeing a ghost!"

"Yeah, he does look like the Colonel. But what do you think of the others?" Bridey persisted.

"Troy’s a good man but he’s set in his ways. Don’t cross him unless you have all the evidence," Siobhan said insightfully. "That Moffitt’s more sensitive to what’s going around, but he’s not a man to cross, either. Hitchcock’s still young— what a pup! But they’ve all been in the war too long, Bridey. Their leashes are short, and they don’t know what the situation is. The Colonel was someone important to them. Don’t start provoking trouble."

"Now wait a minute! I don’t start trouble!" Bridey shot back, stung at the unfair accusation.

Siobhan lifted out a delicate cup and handed it to her. "No, that you don’t. But they’re all strong-minded men, Bridey, as strong-minded as you."

"They’re guests," Bridey pointed out. "They should act like guests. I mean, first Alexander comes in and acts as if he runs the farm, and now this bunch is just as bad. But I can’t toss them out, now, can I? It would be inhospitable, and the Irish are definitely not."

"I’ve never seen so many ration books in my life," Siobhan murmured. "Between that and what Colonel Alexander brought back from New York, we’re the best-provisioned household in New Jersey!"

"They could at least give me the courtesy of listening to me."

Siobhan laughed. "Bridey Cullen, someday you’ll fall in love, and find that you have to compromise to make everything work. I dearly loved my Dinny, but we had some huge fights before he or I gave in. I wish he was still here," she said reflectively.

Bridey had never met Dennis McKenna. He had been dead, killed in a steeplechase race, long before Siobhan had come from Ireland to live with the Cullens and to help care for the invalid Ashleen. "Well, I’m not in love with any of our guests, or anyone else for that matter, so compromise isn’t necessary. And this is my farm! The idea that they’d have the right to make any decisions here that I’d need to compromise with is ludicrous!"

"They’re guests who want to protect you." Siobhan handed her the cake plate. "They’re commandos, who have probably done their share of killing. Why not let them help you, Bridget Kathleen, rather than putting up a fight?"

"I have no problem with them helping me, Siobhan—but I draw the line at being dictated to in my own home. Being presented with a fait accompli by strangers with no connection to this farm isn’t something I can tolerate. This is my farm. Pop had his own reasons for putting my name on the deed, but it’s mine by words and action. I’m entitled to be in on the plans to protect it and the stock, no matter what old-fashioned ideas they—and you—have about women!"

"Do they know you own the farm?" Siobhan inquired. "Why should they listen to you?"

"Whether they know or not, they should listen to me out of courtesy. And if they don’t, I’ll make damned sure they find out!" Bridey carefully dried the plate, then turned to put it on the counter. It slipped from her hands, clattered on the counter, then crashed to the floor. The pieces went flying across the linoleum.

"Oh, Bridey!" Siobhan said in distress. She’d brought it with her from Ireland years ago after the death of her husband and it was the only survivor of that set of china.

Bridey cast the towel onto the counter, and went outside, her eyes swimming. What a wonderful night!

She went for a long, rambling walk around the stable grounds until her tears ceased and she felt that her emotions were under control. Then, as always, she sought out the horses for comfort.

She made her rounds, visiting Dancer, Merlin, Diligence and Determination; Rosie was sleeping, so she moved on to Jaeger’s stall. She pulled a peppermint out of her pocket and offered it to the German horse. The stallion lipped it from her palm, then crunched down. His eyes widened and he snorted at the taste—then he looked for another one. Bridey laughed, Jaeger’s reaction helping to dispel her depression. "They all do that the first time," she told Dietrich, when he walked over to join them.

Something about her voice sounded off, and he looked at her quizzically. "Bridget, you will spoil him," he rebuked her gently.

She sniffled before answering. "Some guys deserve to be spoiled. Want one?"

He looked at her to see a brittle light in her eyes before taking the candy. "Danke."

"Bitte sehr. How was that?"

"Better than the last time you tried." He unwrapped the candy and slipped the wrapper into his pocket. He also noticed the track of a tear down one cheek, but didn’t mention it. He was sure she’d explain one way or another.

Bridey gave Jaeger a second mint, which the horse took eagerly. "Don’t get too used to them, big boy. I don’t have that many left."

"Maybe Captain Wagner will be able to help you there," Dietrich suggested. "I believe he goes into town quite often."

She laughed. "Chuckles?"

"Why do you call Captain Wagner ‘Chuckles’?"

"To annoy him, for one thing. Chuck is a nickname for Charles. He hates it, and nobody calls him that. I don’t like it either—it makes me think of the football players my teachers used to pass just because they were on the team. Big, bullet-headed jerks with nothing but air between their ears. Charlie might have been on the football team, but he uses his head for more than just a hatrack. Anyway, when I get mad at him, I call him Chuckles just to twist the knife."

"Sarcasm does not become you."

"Sarcasm is one of my most valuable weapons," she retorted. "It makes the fools go away, but the smart ones will stick around to see if there’s anything underneath. I don’t tolerate stupid people very well."

"One of the reasons you dislike Miss Finch?" he asked, searching her face.

She flushed. "She’s not stupid, Hans. She’s clever like a snake. She pours high-grade poison around, but always in the most socially acceptable way. I’m not...I don’t know how to handle that kind of witch." She paused. "We’re not their type. We’ve probably got more money than they do, but theirs is old, and inherited, therefore better than ours, which is tainted because it comes from the sweat of my grandfather’s brow and the talent in my father’s hands. And, to add insult to injury, my father is a Mick, born on the other side—and with a brogue, to boot. Granted, it’s not as strong as it used to be, but that accent—any accent, in fact— will do you in every time. And we’re Catholics, on top of that. We’re the lowest of the low to them."

"You sound bitter."

"I guess I am. A lot of the people who live in this area are recent immigrants, or first generation. They came here to make a better life for themselves than they had at home. And they have. Charlie’s father could barely speak English when he came over here from Dusseldorf, and now he owns one of the largest farms in the county. But people like the Finches look down on people like him or my da because they can’t trace their lineage to the Mayflower. They don’t deserve that—and I don’t know how to handle people who wield that type of prejudice."

"I think you can handle whatever may come your way," he said gently. "Otherwise you would have broken long ago. It does not hurt to be flexible, Bridget. It is not a sign of weakness."

"Were you?" she asked suddenly, opening the stall door and entering. Jaeger came over to look for a treat, and she showed him her empty hands. "Flexible, I mean."

Unexpectedly he chuckled. "Not nearly enough or I would have caught the Rat Patrol on my own. As it was, they beat me more than once. The only reason they were caught was a pure accident of war."

She glanced at him curiously. "Will you tell me that story, Hans?"

"It’s long and complicated and perhaps the person you should talk to is the Colonel," Dietrich said, amused. "It all centered around him." That comment stopped the conversation in its tracks.

Finally, Bridey sighed, and sat down in the straw; Jaeger moved to the far wall. Avoiding the last statement, she said, "Thanks."

"For what?" Dietrich asked, sitting next to her.

"For helping me calm down."

"What upset you?"

"Tully presented me with the plans you’d all made to protect Jaeger. Behind my back."

He knew without asking how that had angered her. "Bridget, allow them to help."

"Help," she said, and gave a mirthless laugh. She pursed her lips. "Siobhan and I already had this discussion."


"And it didn’t go too well." She paused, piling straw into a small mound before her. "Do you know why they named me Bridget?" she asked absently.

"Nein. Why?" He saw she wanted to talk but what was really bothering her hadn’t quite surfaced yet. The arrival of the Rat Patrol had disturbed her more than she wanted to admit. And if he had learned one thing about Bridget, it was that she was a person who disliked feeling disturbed. So he’d just let her get it out at her own pace.

"Do you know who Bridget was?" Without waiting for him to answer, she said, "Saint Bridget is known as the Queen of Ireland, of all things. She’s the patron saint of County Kildare, where my father was born. She loved the land and she was incredibly beautiful." Bridey cleared her throat. "I was constantly hearing stories about her when I was a kid. What a lot for a little girl to have to live up to. And when I do try to live up to it, I get all these men who don’t even know me trying to tell me why I shouldn’t."

"But you have."

Bridey frowned at him quizzically.

"You love your home, and I imagine you are as beautiful as your namesake."

Bridey looked at him in disbelief. "I don’t think so."

"You do not love your home?" he asked innocently.

"You know exactly what I mean," she said, flushing. "Have you had your eyes checked lately? My mother was beautiful. I’m just a too-tall gawk with too many freckles."

Dietrich smiled at her. "Now who is it who cannot take a compliment?"

She smiled in wry acknowledgment. "Touché—but I still think you need to have your eyes examined. And I’d rather be complimented for what I am than for what I look like. Looks are an accident of birth—they don’t have anything to do with who I am or what I can be." She looked away and piled the straw even higher.

He regarded her knowingly. "This line of conversation bothers you."

She flushed again and folded her arms. "Jawohl, Herr Major. That it does."

Dietrich took the hint and changed the subject. "Your accent is atrocious."

"Maybe, but I’d hate to hear you try an Irish brogue."

Dietrich shook his head. "I would not even make the attempt."

She smiled. "That’s good. I like it when a man knows his limitations."

"I only yield to superior power— like the Allied armies. Speaking of limitations, do you know yours?"

"I don’t think that’s something I’d ever like to find out," she said thoughtfully. "It might be painful."

"So you just go on, jumping higher and higher obstacles until you crash?"

She looked up at him thoughtfully. "Good analogy. I like that."

"You didn’t answer my question," he said pointedly, eyeing her.

Bridey shrugged. "I never thought about it before. I guess I’ve just assumed that I’ll go over them, no matter how high they get."

"And if you fall?"

"Then I’ll pick myself up."

"And if you can’t?" he asked, his voice so soft it was almost a whisper.

"Then I hope someone reliable will be around to help me."

He stood up. "I also hope so, but I would not count on it, Bridget. Repairs often take much time before the person is whole again."

Bridey eyed him somberly. "This conversation is getting awfully deep for this time of night."

"It is late. You should go up to the house and get some rest." He held his hand out.

Bridey let him help her stand. "I will, if you want to be alone," she offered.

"Yes," he said quietly, his hand going to the edge of the photo sticking out his pocket. "Tonight, I need to be alone."

She regarded him silently for a moment, then nodded. "Okay." She brushed the straw off her trousers. "Thank you for listening, Hans. You’re a good friend."

He thought that he was becoming the confidant of beautiful women—Bridey, and Laura, and neither of them his wife. Oh, Annaliese… . No, Bridey had to leave before he went back and reread the back of the photo. Tonight belonged to his wife. "I will always listen to you, Bridget. Now, please listen to me."

She hesitated, a quizzical expression on her face. "What?"

"Sergeant Troy and the others are honorable, intelligent men. You said you will not put up with stupidity, but Bridget, you will not find it among them. Please give them a chance. They will be here only until we find out about the Colonel; then it will be over."

She flushed. "You know, I keep remembering this morning, when you and I argued. When I ran inside to my study, I think I let the door slam. That was thoughtless; I didn’t even go in to see how he was. I want to apologize to him."

"I think he will probably forgive you," Dietrich said calmly. "If he lives."

She shivered. "I wish everyone would stop walking on his grave. He’s got to stay alive; I think Siobhan has designs on his stomach."

Dietrich chuckled. "He will have no problem being a prisoner here, then. Good night, Bridget."

"Good night, Hans. I’ll see you in the morning."

** *** **

Bridey was too edgy to go to bed, and she knew if she tried, she’d toss and turn for far too long. But the night was still relatively warm, so she went inside, took a bottle of beer from the refrigerator, and came outside to sit on the porch swing to relax and let her mind wander.

She was still there when Charlie drove up. "You’re late," she said as he climbed the steps and crossed the porch to her. "I don’t think there’s anything left to eat."

Charlie leaned against the porch railing. "I was actively engaged in the pursuit of gossip and I ran into an old friend on my way here."

"Was she cute?" Bridey asked dryly.

"Not as cute as you are, Kiddo."

"Skip the flattery, Charlie. It doesn’t work on me, remember?"

Charlie sat in the swing beside her, his weight setting it in motion. "What’s wrong, Bride?" he asked softly, dropping his arm around her shoulders.

Bridey leaned her head back against his arm. "What makes you think anything’s wrong?"

"One, the fact that you’re outside, alone, rather than inside, socializing. Two, you’re a lot more crabby than usual. And three, the beer in your hand is a dead giveaway."

Bridey pulled a face, then took a swallow from the bottle. "They’re all in bed. Besides, this place is getting too crowded for my taste. I needed some time alone. I’m not used to having this many people around the farm any more, Charlie—especially not living in the house with us."

"It’s getting to you, huh?" Charlie said sympathetically.

Bridey sighed. "Too much has been happening here lately. First I get an Olympic horse and a Brit colonel and his driver dumped on me, then a washed-up actor tries to steal said horse with the help of the US Army, and then I get a commando team dropped in my lap on top of everything else."

"You forgot your resident POW."

Bridey waved that off. "Oh, Charlie, he’s the least of my worries—if he’s even a problem at all."

"Yeah, I’m proud of this placement. It worked out pretty well all around—it got you guys help, and it got Dietrich out of the camp and away from the fanatics. And you two have a solid friendship, I think."

"I think we’d have been friends no matter what, Charlie. We speak the same language."

"Yeah—you both whinny."

"I’m serious. I can talk to him like I used to talk to Joe. Well, maybe not quite like I talk to Joe—no one understands me like Joey does. But it’s close."

"Like you used to talk to me, you mean."

"Exactly. But you’re never around for me to talk to any more," Bridey pointed out, "so I had to find a substitute."

"Ah, how fickle is woman," Charlie said, a sorrowful expression on his face.

Bridey made a rude noise. "You met them at the airplane, didn’t you?"


"What’d you think of them?"

He fell silent. A moment later, he sighed. "Well, the plane was full of men coming home, but I could tell them right away. They hung together like a team, and they were expecting to be met by someone. Alexander’s my guess."

"What about them, though?" she persisted. "What do you think of them?"

"I think they must have been a helluva team," Charlie said reflectively. "Each one knows what the other’s thinking even before anyone says anything. You get that way in combat, Bridey. If you can’t trust the joe next to you, then you’d better just give up. These guys have been doing this for four years or more. They’re either real good or real lucky."

"Good, probably," Bridey said. "Or maybe both."

"Yeah. Actually, I thought I’d recognize Hitchcock because of Alicia but the first one I saw was Lieutenant Moffitt, and I thought how much he looked like the Colonel. Then I saw Troy and Hitch, and well, that was that. They had those duffels with them and we just took off for the farm. They were disappointed in me, I think."

"You weren’t the Colonel," she commented.

"Yeah, and I wasn’t Tully, either. I filled them in on the farm, and you, but I didn’t have a clue what had happened here just before we arrived."

She smiled. "Not exactly your usual day at Diamond Shamrock. So, tell me—what gossip did you get?"

Charlie laughed. "Adam Harper’s been reassigned to the Aleutians. The paperwork went through PDQ. Apparently someone in Washington thinks that dealing with the Eskimos is better for his talents than dealing with Jerseyans."

"The Aleutians? God, that’ll be a cold post. Maybe he’ll even get a campaign ribbon," she added snidely.

"Ooh, Bride, nasty shot." Charlie smiled. "You wouldn’t believe the rumors on base about this. They’ve gotten into their heads that you’re running some kind of special operation for the Brits here. Espionage, and you’re cast as the beautiful spy." He laughed outright. "The Mata Hari of Colt’s Neck!"

She snorted, and teasingly swung the bottle at him. He ducked. "Dear good God! What’s Siobhan supposed to be?"

"I don’t think they’re bringing her into this," he remarked. "They’re trying to figure out if the Irish government is involved in this, and what Dietrich’s part is."

"Oh, Lord! Can it get any worse?"

"I keep my mouth shut and smile mysteriously. It keeps them off-guard," he said with a mischievous smile.

"You wretch," she said lazily, then yawned. "Misleading them that way. Can’t you tell them the truth?"

"The truth? Much less interesting than the rumors. You’re up past your bedtime, little girl," Charlie said, and stood, pulling Bridey up with him. "Go on in before you turn into a pumpkin. I’ll raid the kitchen or sweet talk Siobhan into rustling me up something."

"She’ll probably make you a full-course meal," Bridey said, then kissed him on the cheek and led the way into the house.

** *** ***

Hitchcock got up the next morning to find that most of the household was up before him. He consoled himself that he wasn’t that late; they were just early risers at Diamond Shamrock. Still, he wasn’t sure why Troy and Moffitt beat him out of bed. They’d all been up late the night before, while Tully filled them in on all the details of the last week. Troy hadn’t reacted to any of it except to look more dangerous, then go outside for one last smoke by himself, but Hitchcock knew that he was intensely angry at Captain Harper. Moffitt had studied Tully’s face the entire time, nodding as if he understood far better than the rest why Alexander had done what he did, then gone to his bedroom after commenting that he would go into town the next day to talk to Williams. Hitchcock himself had been shocked and disgusted but what he found most intriguing was Sheila Finch. Hitchcock had spent too much time with Tully to not sense that he was leaving something out about Dietrich, and decided to get it out of him later.

One thing that he could do was a little bit of inquiring about Sheila. He had contacts that the others didn’t.

After consulting with Siobhan, he retired to Bridey’s study where he could make his call in private. He dialed the number, and leaned back on the desk. Around him the room was full of dazzling sunlight reflecting off the cups and awards won by the farm’s mounts. It was an impressive array.

"Hitchcock residence," said a woman politely.

"Virginia? This is Mark," he said ebulliently. He recognized the voice as that of his parents’ housekeeper, who had been with them for a dozen years.

"Mr. Mark! How are you?" she replied cordially. "Are you safe?"

Hitchcock grinned. "Fine, ma’am, fine. I’m here in the United States. Are my mother or father around?"

"No, they’re out of town right now in the West."

He caught back the expletive before it escaped his lips. Virginia wouldn’t appreciate it. "Do you know when they’ll be back?’

"No, sir."

"What about my sister? Where’s Alicia?"

"She’s in New Jersey, sir, staying with some friends—."

"New Jersey!" Hitchcock said in surprise. "Where in New Jersey? Can’t be too far from New York or she’ll die of boredom away from the libraries!"

Virginia giggled. "You haven’t changed, haven’t you? Well, she’s staying with the Ashburtons over on the coast. Deal, I believe. Sailing, you know, plus some second-hand bookstores."

"Got a number for them?" Hitchcock asked cockily. He rooted in the desk till he found a piece of paper to write on, and jotted down the number. "Thanks, Virginia."

"When are you coming back, Mr. Mark?"

"As soon as I can. Got something still going here," he replied ebulliently. "I’ll try and give you some warning."

"I’ll see if I can make your favorite pie," she laughed. "You take care now."

"You too. You too." He dialed the new number and waited.

One ring, then two. It was answered on the third. "Ashburton residence."

"Hi, this is Mark Hitchcock. Is my sister there?"

** *** **

Moffitt walked over to where Dietrich and Troy were grooming a horse. "I’m heading for New York. Anything I can get for you?" he asked, studying them both.

One of Dietrich’s eyebrows went up. "In New York?"

"Yeah," Troy said, flicking an eyebrow at Dietrich. "Don’t you owe someone some champagne?"

Moffitt nodded. "I was thinking of that. I promised Siobhan some wine for dinner. Do you have a type you like, Major?"

Dietrich studied him for a moment, then glanced at Troy. "What is this about, Sergeant?"

"It’s about being a good shot," Troy said briefly. "What kind of champagne do you like?"

The German shrugged, his face showing mystification. "Moet & Chandon Thirty-eight? Bollinger or Irroy. Sergeant, I would like to know what this is about!"

"I owe you," Moffitt said briefly. "I’ll try for the Moet."

Dietrich was about to comment, but the front door slammed open and Hitchcock came bounding out of the house, buttoning up his coat, his hat in one hand. "Sarge—uh, Lieutenant! Can you give me a ride to New York, sir?"

Troy and Dietrich glanced at each other with raised eyebrows.

"My sister’s going to meet me at the Algonquin Club for lunch," Hitchcock explained further.

Moffitt replied dryly, "Really?"

"Yeah, but it’s not what you think," Hitchcock said hastily. "She knows the Finches. Tell you more on the way."

"Oh, get in," Moffitt said in exasperation. "I’m going to be late as it is."

"Let me drive," Hitchcock suggested. "I’ll make up the time."

Moffitt looked doubtfully but walked around to the passenger side. "Remember there’s a lower gate, Hitch. Around here, they stop for gates. And how were you planning to get back?"

"I’ve got a plan, sir!"

They sped off into the warming day leaving Troy to mutter, "What is he up to?"

"Up to?" Dietrich asked. "He wishes to see his family."

Troy shook his head. "There’s more to it than that. I know that look."

"Well, I hope he will be back for dinner, or warned Siobhan," Dietrich said with a slight edge. "That was one of the major problems we had with the Colonel. He never gave anyone warning about what he was planning to do."

"Yeah, I believe it. Tell me your side of it, Major. Why is this Reynolds guy after the horse, and who is this Captain Harper?"

"After you tell me about this champagne."

** *** **


Hitchcock had visited New York City many times and knew his way around. This was the first time he’d driven in it, though, and that was more difficult. After dropping off Moffitt at Rockefeller Center, he found parking near the Algonquin Club, and went inside.

Pausing by a mirror, he made sure his hair was slicked back, and his uniform sat straight. No matter how many battles he’d been in, and medals won, this was his sister he was facing.

He talked with the maitre d', who directed him to a table set in the corner. His sister, immaculately coifed with a hat with a long pheasant feather, and a neat black suit with white trim, was staring out the window next to her. The amber curtains framed her. "Alli!"

She turned, and rose impetuously, giving him a hug. "Mark!"

He hugged her back, feeling suspicious moisture in his eyes. It had been a long time since he’d seen his family. His one home leave had been marred by the news that his cousin had died in the Pacific, and no matter how they tried to hide it, his parents were afraid for him. His sister had kept him company the night he’d gotten drunk in the library, her favorite cocoon, and he’d told her more than she should have known about his job and his friends. In return, she’d shared some secrets of her own. It was amazing how that irritating little brat had turned into a lovely girl. He had introduced her to liquor that night to make sure she understood how dangerous it was in the night clubs she planned on frequenting. The next day both had had hangovers, and she’d written that she now restricted herself to one drink a night.

He sat down opposite her, and they chatted about banalities until the waiter had taken their order.

"So how are you and your friends?" she asked sunnily, putting the reading glasses back in her purse. "Everyone still alive?"

He winced. "That’s what I need to talk to you about."

Her manner sobered. "Oh, Mark, don’t tell me you lost someone!"

"I hope not," he said seriously. "But it won’t be for lack of trying on someone’s part. Listen, Allie, what do you know about a Sheila Finch?"

She gaped at him. "Sheila? Oh, that Sheila. Well, what do you want to know?"

"Did you go to school with her?"

"Yes, for a year." Alicia shuddered. "She was always in with the senior girls, picking up tips on boys. You know the type."

Hitchcock scoffed, "You have to be kidding. No one even noticed me before I went in the Army!"

She smiled. "They will now, oh brother mine. In fact, Mother’s very proud of you. She hopes you’ll be come an officer yet. Or a professor or someone—."

"She can boast about," Hitchcock finished resignedly. "I know. But please tell me more about Sheila."

She leaded back to let the waiter put down her lunch, and waited till he had set down the other platter and wandered off. Then she leaned forward. "Why? Don’t tell me you like her?"

Hitchcock flinched back. "Good God, no! I mean, I don’t think so. Haven’t seen her in years."

"Then why the sudden interest?"

He hesitated. "Remember I told you about my C.O.?"

"The Englishman?"

"Yeah, the big guy, not Lieutenant Moffitt. He’s in the hospital and we think Sheila might have done it."

Alicia’s eyes sparkled with excitement. "Wow! Tell me more."

"No, you tell me more," he urged. "Tell me all about her."

** *** **

Moffitt stood at ease in the office as Williams rummaged among the papers on his desk. This was a familiar scene to the young officer. It wasn’t the first time he had been in front of Mr. Williams.

"So, Sergeant Pettigrew filled you in?" Williams finally broke the silence.

"Yes, sir."

"And your assessment of the situation. Relax, Leftenant, and take a seat," Williams ordered.

Moffitt obediently sat. "Seems stable, sir. The threat from Washington has basically been countered by the Colonel, and I can’t see any way for Henry Reynolds to get at the stallion. They can probably try to get some lawyer to dispute the Colonel’s orders, but it won’t work. If we have to, we can move the horse."

Williams nodded. "Yes, that’s a possibility, though I’d hate to do it. I used to ride myself, and every time I moved my horses, it took them a week or more to settle in. Now that Jaeger is comfortable, and from what you say, doing yeoman work on the farm, and there isn’t any danger to him, I don’t see a reason to move him."

"Then you won’t be needing us to stay?" Moffitt asked. "I mean, the Cullens are marvelous hosts but I’d hate to be an imposition to them."

"I don’t believe they view you that way," Williams said thoughtfully. "I asked Captain Wagner for his assessment as well. He was back on the base getting the rumors there."

"Intelligence gathering here in the United States?" Moffitt asked with a hint of a grin.

"On a very minor scale," Williams reproved. "Remember they’re on our side, Leftenant, despite Captain Harper’s actions. Captain Wagner—who will very soon be Major Wagner, according to my sources— said that the Cullens are a very hospitable family who would welcome the help for as long as we could give it to them. They were badly overworked until your friend Dietrich arrived."

"Not exactly my friend, sir," Moffitt said.

"No, but not exactly an enemy, either. So, unless you have other plans, Leftenant, you will stay with the Cullens until further notice."

Moffitt frowned. As if he had any other plans that would make a difference to Williams! Still, they were imposing on the Cullens and he had to make one more protest. "Until notice of what or when, sir?"

"Until I call you," Williams said quietly. "For a mission or anything else."

"Sir, I believe that we’re due some leave—."

"Stay on the farm till I call you," Williams ordered. "Frankly, I’ve always been suspicious of situations that look too good. I did some research on Henry Reynolds as well. He has a wide vindictive streak."

"Tully believes that the pressure he was imposing helped to aggravate the Colonel’s condition. As well as his car hitting him."

"Yes, but we haven’t any confirmation on that," Williams said authoritatively. "I have asked the Americans if they can find a reason to check his car, but they haven’t gotten back to me yet."

"Did you call the Army, sir?"

Williams grimaced. "This time it was the police in New Jersey. Without a reason, they can’t check."

"I understand, sir."

"So, I wouldn’t say that Mr. Reynolds might not try again, Leftenant, now that he feels he’s been thwarted. I suggest you keep a good eye on Jaeger."

"Yes, sir."

"I’d hate to lose the horse after all the work Peter’s put into getting him here," Williams murmured.

"Any word on the Colonel’s condition, sir?"

"I called this morning. He didn’t weather the night very well."

Moffitt felt his spirits sink. "Then he might yet die, sir?"

"Maybe. I don’t give up hope." Williams leveled a finger at him. "You shouldn’t either."

"Yes, sir!"

"And don’t let anyone else either. I’ll call you if I hear anything. I believe that the Cullens are keeping Peter’s kit until he returns?" Williams inquired.

Moffitt nodded. "Yes, sir, they insisted. I believe some kind of superstition is involved— they feel as long as it’s there, he’ll come back. There’s a snail too."

Williams blinked in surprise. "A snail. A snail?" He held up his hand. "I don’t want to know. You will pack up his belongings in case of his death, and return them to me if that happens."

"Yes, sir. I’m in the same room he had. It will be easy to pack."

"Good." Williams stood, and Moffitt followed suit. "Enjoy your day in New York, Lieutenant. Give my regards to the Cullens, please, and thank them for their good wishes."

"Yes, sir! I’ve been ordered to find a bottle of champagne and some wine to bring back."

"Check with Archer. I believe he has some connections."

Moffitt saluted and escaped. Outside the office, he checked his watch. Nearly one. If he read the street signs correctly, the hotel wasn’t that far away. He started off at a brisk walk.

** *** **

Hitchcock had never planned to be in this situation. They had barely finished lunch, and were talking about their parents as well as the Finches, when Alicia kicked him under the table and nodded toward the door. He turned to see a slender blond dressed in the height of designer fashion, a tight blue dress with a huge bow on the skirt, leaning on the arm of a handsome man he remembered from a film he’d seen in those interminable weeks back at the castle.

Critically, he thought Henry Reynolds drank too much. That was obvious from the slight redness of his nose, and the sagging bags under his eyes. The movie people obviously had to apply heavy coats of makeup to hide them.

Or maybe that was just Hitch’s bias. He felt the muscles between his shoulders tense as they came into the restaurant, led by the maitre d’, stopping conversations as people recognized the actor. Sheila basked in the attention.

On an impulse, he turned deliberately so he could get a good look at them, and kicked his sister under the table. "Introduce me!" he hissed.

Alicia’s jaw dropped but she shrugged. "Okay, big brother, but are you really sure!"


She waved her hand and Sheila spotted her, turning around with a practiced smile on her face. Her eyes lit up and the smile became real. "Alicia! How nice to see you!" She came over, abandoning Reynolds, who looked a little surprised.

Hitchcock rose politely, putting his napkin on the table.

"Sheila, it’s good to see you again," Alicia said with a sunny smile. "May I introduce my brother? Mark, this is Sheila Finch."

Her eyes summed him up, taking in his rank and medals before meeting his gaze. She smiled. "I’m happy to meet you, Mark." She held out her hand.

He shook it. Cool, and manicured. He admitted that unless he’d known about what happened to the Colonel, he could fall heavily for Sheila Finch. At least for a short while.

Henry Reynolds came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Old friends, darling?"

"Yes, this is Alicia Hitchcock from my school, and her brother, Mark," she called over her shoulders. A frown marked her face as she studied Hitchcock. "I think I know you from somewhere, don’t I?"

"I doubt it, Miss Finch," Mark said succinctly, studying her. "I’ve been in Europe the past few years."

"Ah, one of our brave soldiers back on leave, eh?" Reynolds said with hearty sincerity. "I hope you enjoy New York...Sergeant."

At least he could read insignia, Hitchcock thought acidly. "Very much, Mr. Reynolds, thank you."

"Have you been in the United States long?" Reynolds asked, cocking his head. "I have heard something about you, I’m sure."

"I doubt that, sir," Hitchcock said briskly, restraining himself from introducing himself as one of Alexander’s men. Something in him said that it would be a bad idea to tip his hand. "I just came back."

"Ah. Probably just some kind of a mix-up."

"I just saw your last film," Hitchcock interrupted eagerly. "They played it for the troops. It was great. Are you doing another one soon?"

Reynolds hesitated, eating up the praise but apparently uncertain of what he should say. "Well, yes, the studio and I are making another film about show jumping. It should be out in a few months. I wish I could have used the horse I really wanted but that’s still under negotiation. I’ve still got hopes, though."

"That would be great to see," Hitchcock said, all his instincts going off. The horse he wanted? Was this actor still after Jaeger or did he have another one in mind? "What’s the problem? I mean, they should do all sorts of things for you. You do great films."

Reynolds gave a false smile. "You’d think so but sometimes, well, things don’t always go the way they should. The problem’s still being worked on."

"Oh, pooh," Sheila said, tucking her hand through the crook of his. "That horse is practically yours in time for the film."

"Sheila, our table’s ready," Reynolds urged, looking faintly disconcerted.

"It was nice meeting you," Sheila replied, smiling at the Hitchcocks. "Alicia, we must get together soon."

Out of the corner of his eye, Hitchcock noticed his sister’s brittle expression. "Of course, Sheila." Her tone lacked enthusiasm.

"And nice meeting you, Sergeant Hitchcock."

They retreated to their table, and Hitchcock sat and glanced at Alicia. "So that’s Sheila."

"Yes. Quite a woman, eh?"

"Quite. Bet she drives like a maniac."

"She always did at school, but the family had so much money they could buy off the police. Besides she smiles and men melt," Alicia said succinctly. "Dessert, Mark?"

"I don’t think so." Hitchcock saw a familiar man in the doorway looking their direction, and he stood up, holding up his hand to keep him from entering. Moffitt looked confused but obeyed the hand signal and retreated into the lobby. "Alli, I’ll pay you back. Will you settle with the waiter and meet us outside?"

She raised an eyebrow in curiosity, but nodded. "I’ll be out in a sec."

He wove his way through the crowded restaurant to where Moffitt was leaning on the counter.

"What is it?" the Englishman asked crisply.

"Sheila Finch and Henry Reynolds are having lunch here," Hitchcock answered. "He didn’t recognize me as one of the Colonel’s men but he might put two and two together if he sees you, Sir. You look just too much like the Colonel at times."

Moffitt nodded, his gaze going to the doorway. "True. Did you talk with him?"

Hitchcock filled him in on what Reynolds had said, and Moffitt frowned. "You mean he’s still after the horse?"

"Somehow, sir." Hitchcock smiled as his sister joined them. "Sarge, let me introduce you to my sister, Alicia."

Moffitt straightened. "Miss Hitchcock."

She smiled at him. "Hi! Mark’s told me about you."

"Oh, dear," Moffitt said lightly. "That must have been a horror story."

She laughed. "Not quite."

"Do you think that Jaeger’s in direct danger then?" Moffitt asked over her head.

"Not at the moment. It seemed to have been some kind of a plot, sir," Hitchcock replied. "Long-term."

"I see. Then we can enjoy our day in New York," Moffitt said. "Then we’ll go back and tell the others."

"Got any plans?" Alicia asked.

"I believe there’s a large museum here," Moffitt answered. "I’d like to go there."

Hitchcock flinched. "I had hoped to go down to Coney Island."

"Well, you go pick up girls on the boardwalk, and I’ll take your friend to the museum," Alicia retorted. "If he doesn’t mind my company."

Moffitt smiled at Hitchcock. "I need to buy a good bottle of wine and some champagne—."

"Champagne?" Hitch asked.

Moffitt nodded. "For Dietrich."

Hitch grinned. "I can’t wait to see his face when you give it to him."

"Neither can I," Moffitt said, grinning. "But that sounds like an excellent plan for the rest of the afternoon. Any complaints?"

Hitchcock shook his head. "I know she’ll be safe with you, sir. Just don’t be surprised if she knows more about mummies than you do!"

Moffitt glanced at Alicia, who blushed. "‘Mummies?’"

"Go away, Mark!"

"Don’t forget your glasses, Sis!"

"You beast!"

"I’ll see you at five back here," Moffitt said, holding out his arm to Alicia. "Do be prompt. If we’re not home for dinner, Siobhan will skin us both."

"Yes, sir!"

** *** ***


Bridey had managed to avoid Siobhan for most of the day but as dinnertime approached, she went in to help. The table was laid for eight. Her cousin was in the kitchen preparing a casserole of chicken and corn that would be the main dish that evening. Bridey could smell the chocolate pudding cake in the oven. It was going to be another fine dinner for their guests, even if it had to be served in two bowls instead of being displayed on Siobhan’s largest platter.

"Can I help?" Bridey asked hesitantly.

Siobhan turned. Her face was flushed from cooking. Now that the sun was setting, the temperature outside was dropping and the room was pleasantly warm rather than hot as blazes as it had been most of the day. "You might get some wineglasses out. Lieutenant Moffitt promised that he’d bring some back from New York."

"Do you think he’ll find it?"

Siobhan smiled. "I wouldn’t underestimate that young man, or any of the rest of them."

"Listen. I’m sorry about last night," Bridey said with a rush. "I was just — "

"I know," her cousin interrupted. "I understand."

"No, really, I’ll replace the plate," Bridey went on. "I just— well, I was moving too fast and it slipped."

Siobhan nodded. "That was how I broke the bowl that went with it. Of course, it was at a dinner for my mother-in-law. Not my best moment."

Bridey felt a flush of relief. Siobhan wasn’t mad at her. "It had a bowl with it?"

"Yes, and other serving pieces. That was the last of it," Siobhan said briskly. "Bridey, if you do replace it, see if you can get one just a wee bit larger, and deeper. I was always scared the meat juices would slop over the sides."

"Yes, ma’am." Bridey gave her a salute that was as sharp as any of Charlie Wagner’s.

"Now, go call the men. I think I heard a car come up a few minutes ago," Siobhan ordered.

Bridey hesitated. "Any word of the Colonel?"

"Do you think I’d not have let you know out there in the barn? Besides, they’d be calling Tully, not me."

"No word then?"


"I’ll get the others."

Bridey left, her spirit lighter. There were some things that could be solved with a sincere apology, and this was one of them. She’d ask Charlie or maybe one of the others to take her to Freehold or even up to Newark tomorrow and get a new plate.

Outside she found all five of the men leaning on the Colonel’s car, engaged in a sober discussion, judging from their expressions. She wondered what it was, and if they’d tell her. Probably not. Putting on a bright smile to hide that particular thought, she called, "Dinner!"

Moffitt turned and raised his hand, then reached inside the car. He brought out a bottle of wine and followed the others as they came inside. Dietrich went into the barn to call Mike Cullen, and her father came out with him, brushing straw from his jacket.

Over dinner they discussed the day. Hitchcock had gone to Coney Island, but found most of the girls already had dates for the day. So he had ridden the roller-coaster and some of the other rides, and nonplussed one of the barkers by being able to shoot every bottle that came up.

"So, I won this white rabbit, really cheap thing, but I gave it to my sister," he concluded.

Moffitt chuckled. "Yes, and she just ‘loved’ it as well."

The others laughed.

"Hey, she can give it to her first kid!" Hitchcock protested. "Come on, what’d you do?"

"The Metropolitan Museum of Art which is quite impressive. Reminds me of what I saw in London before they closed down our museums," Moffitt commented. "Then I stopped by the office and got the wine."

Bridey hadn’t thought about what it was like in London. The museums were closed? She chose her words carefully. "What is London like now?"

Moffitt shrugged. "Bombed out, but the shops are reopening. Some new goods but no new dresses, nothing compared with New York. Still, the theatres are open and filled every night. We’re surviving." He changed the subject abruptly. "What did you do today, Troy?"

Bridey had seen him tense as he spoke so she knew better than to ask for more. It must be miserable in London. With a flash of insight she realized that except for those stationed there, most Americans would never have a clue of what it was like "over there" during the war.

Troy shrugged. "Riding."

"Yes, helping me exercising the horses," Bridey cut in. "Thank you, Sergeant, I needed the help."

"Glad to help, ma’am," he said and speared another piece of beef.

Tully looked up brightly. "I got half the garden dug out. Hitch, you’re helping me tomorrow, right?"

Hitchcock looked a bit surprised. "Sure, Tully. Didn’t have any other plans that I know of."

"Good," Siobhan added, bringing in another basket of fresh rolls. "It has to be done fairly soon or we’re not going to get the plants started."

"Your wish is my command," Tully said with a slight bow.

"She can command anything as long as she keeps feeding us like this," Hitchcock added brightly. "Can I have a roll?"

Bridey sat and listened, thought that it all felt terribly normal. She could hardly believe that there was still a war going on, but Moffitt had brought back late editions of several New York newspapers that showed major advances of the Allied forces. The end had to be near.

"What about that champagne?" she asked. Dietrich had carried in the bottle with a slightly embarrassed look on his face, and he’d refused to tell her why Moffitt had given it to him.

"We will save it for the Colonel’s arrival," he said, surprising everyone around the table. "That would be a proper occasion to open it."

"That sounds good," Mike agreed. "A good pre-War bottle as well. How did you find it, Lieutenant?"

Moffitt grinned. "I got it from one of our men. Apparently, he has a collection which he’s been hoarding. I liberated it."

"Yeah…" Hitchcock said with a grin. "Amazing what a couple of bucks will buy!" They both chuckled.

After dinner and dessert, everyone went to the parlor to listen to the radio and read the news. Siobhan continued to sew on the jacket, which turned out to have some clumsy mending inside. She tutted, and began to pull out the loose threads. "Amazing," she murmured. "A man so tidy and this is what I find."

Hitchcock chuckled. "He wasn’t so tidy when I first met "Captain Pierson". Looked like a rag-picker. Specialized in the tattiest clothing he could find. Numerous layers."

"‘Captain Pierson’?" Bridey asked, looking up from the tabloid on her lap.

"Yes, he was masquerading as a dead man," Hitchcock replied casually. "Better than getting shot in the mountains."

"Was that after the mission in France?" Dietrich asked dryly. "I was wondering how he magically disappeared away from our troops. He was hiding in one of the prison camps under a false name?"

"Hitch," Moffitt said warningly. "Be careful what you tell. I’m not sure the colonel wants that story bruited about."

Bridey wanted to shoot the Englishman. This was part of the story she had been trying to dig out of Dietrich and Tully since they arrived. She kept her mouth shut and tried to remain inconspicuous. They were comfortable with Siobhan, and her sewing basket, and the stories just might flow.

Hitchcock nodded. "Yes, sir. He was in my second camp after the hospital. It was split between the Brits and Americans, and the Brit officers all had enlisted men assigned to them as orderlies."

"What the devil was an American doing serving a British officer?" Mike demanded, his puzzlement making it seem inoffensive. "I thought they were kept apart?"

"A good question," Moffitt said dryly. "It would have to be extraordinary circumstances to make it happen."

"Why don’t you explain?" Troy put in, his tone making it an order. Bridey was aware that if the stories went too far into what Troy considered should remain secret, he would stop it flat, and all the men accepted that. One more reason to keep quiet and listen.

Hitchcock settled back with a cup of coffee clasped in his hands. "I wasn’t assigned to anything when I arrived. I mean, you know how it is, Sarge," he looked at Troy who nodded, "all you do in those camps is rot or plan to escape. Since there weren’t that many Americans, and none that I knew, I was pretty much on my own. Roamed around a lot with the enlisted rankers and heard a lot of tall tales. Told some too. Apparently some of them got to the Colonel’s ears and he decided to come over and talk to me, but he couldn’t get across the line. So, one day we both volunteered for a work assignment. It was one way to keep us both from going stir crazy. We went hunting for wood. Well, one of the guys went down, he had dysentery pretty bad, and the guards started to beat on him. I went to help him out and got whomped pretty badly, and the Colonel interceded, and got the guards to stop, and we all pulled ourselves back together and headed back to the camp with the wood. God, they wouldn’t let us leave that wood behind. I mean there were townspeople who were out foraging, and they wanted the wood badly, and we would have given it to them if it hadn’t been for the guards, but we couldn’t. Got spat at a lot on that trip." Hitchcock paused for a second remembering.

Bridey was struck by the fact that he lost any semblance of youth as he remembered. Now he was a hard-faced man who had stories in him to match Dietrich’s, despite being several years younger.

Troy reached for his cigarettes, then stopped. He went back to fidgeting with his coffee. "Happened to me as well. I was in a Gestapo labor camp for a while." He glanced at Dietrich.

Dietrich said softly, "You are lucky to be alive, Sergeant."

"I know. Most of the guys with me didn’t make it out. I was being shipped to another camp when I ran into you, Hitch," Troy supplied.

"That was my third camp, and I was lucky to still be with the Colonel," Hitchcock answered. "Anyway—."

"What a minute," Siobhan broke in. "I’m getting confused. How many camps are we talking about?"

"We had prisoner of war camps, labor camps, secret camps under SS administration," Dietrich said unexpectedly. "We knew very little of those. Go on, Sergeant Hitchcock."

"Well, anyway, the camp commandant came down like a ton of bricks on me and the other guy, who ended up in the camp hospital for days, and I was headed to the cooler for the rest of my life when ‘Captain Pierson’ walked in, and said he’d take responsibility for the fight and if they sent me to the cooler, they’d have to send him as well. Commandant didn’t want to do that — the Brits would put up a stink and the Red Cross was coming to visit, and well, they asked Pierson, uh, the Colonel why he cared, and he said, without batting an eye, that I was his orderly, and he needed me."

Moffitt snorted. "And he got away with it?"

"Well, from the Germans, yeah. They thought it was one of the funniest things they’d ever heard because I sure didn’t look like I was anyone’s hired help, and when we got back to the camp, the Brit officers put up a stink as well, demanding to know what the hell—oops, sorry, ma’am," he apologized to Siobhan who nodded regally, "was going on. The Colonel just looked them in the eye, pointed out that the man in the hospital was one of theirs, and that he felt responsible for me. Both my upper brass and the Brits asked if I was going to do it, and I didn’t have anything better to do, so I said yeah." He snorted. "We finally just took a walk outside, and he asked if I knew anything about shining boots. Cleaning and mending clothes."

"Ironing," Bridey murmured, shooting a glance in Siobhan’s direction..

"That too. You know the stuff that orderlies generally do."

"We call them batmen most of the time," Moffitt corrected. "A good one is rare indeed. What did you say?"

"Told him I knew how to shine boots if I had the polish, but couldn’t do much else. He just looked down his straight nose and said, ‘I see I have a lot to teach you if we’re going to keep up this charade.’"

"That sounds like him," Troy observed. "What’d he teach you?"

"Sewing, mending, survival," Hitchcock said succinctly. "We had a lot of training, Sarge, but that doesn’t do much when you’re penned up with hundreds of other men who are going stir-crazy. Pierson knew all the biggies who were running the escape routes. That was how I got into that."

"That’s right," Troy mused. "You were annoyed that they were moving us before the last tunnel was done."

"Yeah. God, I’m glad we didn’t have to go out that tunnel," Hitchcock commented, sipping on his coffee. "Don’t think we would have made it very far considering the Colonel had pneumonia and I speak very little German."

"And I speak none," Troy added. "That was quite a trip through Germany."

Bridey was salivating. Was Troy going to continue? She jumped when Dietrich spoke up.

"Yes, I suspect it was. You are lucky that you weren’t captured, Sergeant. If they had caught you, you probably would have been shot out of hand by the troops."

"Better than being with the Gestapo," Troy said. "I spent just a little bit too much time with them for my liking."

Dietrich nodded. "Unfortunately your reputation preceded you. Many of your missions in North Africa used contacts in the French underground. Their interest in you probably stemmed from that."

Troy winced. Bridey was fairly sure that he hadn’t even noticed the motion. There were unseen scars under that controlled front. She wondered what he dreamed about at night, then was glad she didn’t know. "That was some of it, Major. At least they weren’t like Colonel Beckmann, who ran my first camp."

"What about Colonel Beckmann?" Mike asked, holding up a bottle of Jameson’s.

Troy glanced at Siobhan, then at Bridey before staring at Mike. "Beckmann specialized in interrogations."

"Especially if you had nothing to tell," Moffitt added. "I only saw part of his file when we broke in there. Rommel didn’t think much of him either, Troy."

"That would be real reassuring to the guys who’re buried in the sand," Troy commented harshly. His hand went to his pocket again. "I think I’ll go out and take a smoke." He left before anyone could comment.

Tully looked at Hitchcock, then over at Moffitt, who was intently studying the linen tablecloth.

"He’s been at war too long," Dietrich finally said. "He is still in battle."

"Yes, well, we are still at war," Moffitt remarked, lifting his head.

"Not here. America was never bombed. Its cities are still intact, there is no fear of starvation," Dietrich replied. "The men have fallen in a cause that most strongly believe is just, and the women will be there when they return. Sergeant Troy will have to let go of his war, sooner or later, or he will become another casualty."

"That’s true," Siobhan said unexpectedly. "I knew men back in Ireland who fought in the Easter Rising and never let go of their hatred for the English, and for some of their own. The killing went on and on. I think some of them were addicted to it like a drug."

Bridey set her jaw. Ireland was a part of their lives, their history, and their heritage but like Mike, she considered herself an American. She hadn’t realized that Siobhan knew the men of 1916 but she’d been in Dublin at the time, a girl of nineteen.

"I think that that will keep going till every last one of them is dead," Moffitt said in a flat tone. "On all sides. I prefer the long dead of the Middle East to the current battles."

"Remember when that sandstorm uncovered that ruined Roman temple?" Hitchcock asked brightly, obviously trying to change the subject. "It had a mosaic of a woman who must have been… "

"Probably Venus," Moffitt said more enthusiastically. "I’d like to go back there and dig once this is over. It was a wonderful site."

"If it’s still there. I think we did a bombing run in that area," Troy said unexpectedly from the hallway. He came inside looking a lot more peaceful, and smelling of smoke. "I don’t know where it is anymore."

"Then we’ll have to search," Moffitt said doggedly. "I want the books I saw in one of the rooms of the villa. Everything had been covered by sand, you see," he explained to Siobhan who was trying to match up the two sides of the lining and having a hard time of it. "Buried deep."

"When the war is over," Dietrich interjected, "then there will be time for that."

"Right now, I’d like to know who tried sewing this up," Siobhan said in exasperation. She held up the jacket and showed them the line of clumsy stitches.

"Those clumsy stitches are probably his last orderly’s, Siobhan. There’s a reason why Colonel Alex does his own mending," Hitchcock commented. "Even I can sew better than that now."

"I know he picked up his kit in London before coming here with Jaeger, so it was the man he had back in England," Moffitt added. "Speaking of the horse, how is he?"

"Just fine," Cullen said with a grin. "Bridey has him doing his bit for after the war."

All the men chuckled, including Dietrich.

Bridey thought it was a pleasant evening. Pity it had taken a war to bring it about. "Yes, I was glad to see him come here. We needed new blood brought into our lines in the worst way," she said with a smile. "You ride very well, Sergeant Troy. You learned to ride out West, didn’t you?"

Troy nodded silently. "A long time ago."

He really was the quietest of men, Bridey thought. Dangerous? She saw a scar on his lower arm. Knife? Probably. A dangerous man with unseen scars, as well.

"Better than me," Tully cracked. "Bridey, your tractor’s working again."

"Great! Thanks, Tully. That’s a big help." She paused, a thoughtful expression on her face. "I’ve been thinking."

"We’re all in trouble now," Mike said, his affectionate tone belying the tone of his words.

Bridey just ignored him and went on. "If the Colonel is going to come back here to recuperate, he’s not going to be able to handle those stairs. If you guys help me," and here she looked first at Dietrich, then at the members of the Rat Patrol, "we can set up my study as a bedroom."

"You’d do that, darlin’?" Mike asked, knowing the sacrifice his daughter was making.

Bridey shrugged. "Where else is he going to go? The music room? I can move my stuff upstairs and work in my room, if I have to."

"Do you play the piano?" Moffitt asked. "I saw it in the other room."

"Does she ever!" her father said boastfully. "She plays like an angel, just like her ma."

"Would you like to hear?" she replied, getting up. "Come on."

The rest of the evening was spent in the music room with Bridey at the piano, the others singing songs— including Lili Marlene, which, they all assured Bridey, was a favorite on both sides of the war. The evening sped by.

When she went to bed that evening, she glanced out the window and saw Troy crossing the yard to the barn. Dietrich was walking with him, and they looked like they were talking, then Dietrich turned back. She’d guessed earlier that Troy was taking the watch that night, and this proved she was right.

Dietrich looked up at her and smiled. Bridey gave him a little wave, then shut the window against the night air and went to bed. Tomorrow, she’d get Charlie to take her to town so she could keep her promise to get a new plate for Siobhan.

** *** **

Sheila wrapped her arms around Henry’s shoulders as they reclined in the lawn chair. It was the day after their trip to New York, and they had spent most of the morning in the indoor pool, eaten lunch, then retired to the glass conservatory. It was a private place on the estate, and they had made it their own by forbidding the servants entry. The exotic ferns and topiaries provided some cover from prying eyes. She was happy that they were alone because Reynolds was harping on his most persistent topic—the defeat on the porch of the Cullen farm.

"That stupid bitch," Reynolds repeated for the umpteenth time. "I’m going to get back at her, Sheila."

"Then do it," Sheila yawned. She fiddled with the hair that fell over his forehead. "I mean, there has to be some way to do it."

"She’d throw me off that farm, or have that creepy German do it," Reynolds complained. "He’s a real danger."

A smile came to her lips. "Yes, I know. Very handsome though."

Reynolds glanced up at her. "You were going to find out where he came from, weren’t you? Did you find out anything?"

"He was a prisoner in Kentucky. I talked with one of my girlfriends out there, and she talked with one of the officers at the POW camp, who said he was shipped here because of a murder."

"Murder!" Henry half-rose, but she put her hand on his chest and he sank back.

"Yes, but it turned out he didn’t have anything to do with it. Some backwoods wife shot her husband and the major was part of a work party nearby. They investigated and found out he wasn’t involved." Sheila leaned down and kissed him. "So just forget the German, Henry. He’s nothing but dirt under your feet."

"I wish he was under dirt," Henry burst out. "I mean, he touched me!"

"Yes, yes. What do you plan to do with the Cullens?" she asked. "I mean you said you were still after that horse yesterday in the restaurant!"

A crafty expression came over his face. "I’ve got an idea of how to nail them to the wall, Sheila. I’m gonna smear the name of Diamond Shamrock Farm in the headlines. They’ll never take on horses every again!"

"What are you talking about?"

"And even their goddamn lawyer won’t be able to save their skins."

"Henry! Such language!" she said in shock.

He sat up, and put his arms around her. "I just have to get the stuff I need. Let me tell you what I have planned I need your help."

She nestled in his arms, and lifted her face to his. Luckily she had distracted him from Dietrich. There was more to the German than she said, and she was going to pursue that no matter what Henry thought. "Tell me about it."

** *** **

Sheila took the can of poison and put it in her handbag. She was careful to keep from meeting the eyes of the POW across the counter who was staring at her with wide eyes. They seemed to be everywhere these days—cleaning streets, working in stores, or working as road gangs on the state highways. This one wasn’t as handsome as that Dietrich out at Diamond Shamrock farm. She wondered if they knew each other.

Her father came in the door, and she snapped the purse shut. Her father hadn’t any idea of what Henry had planned, and she was going to keep it that way.

"Are you done, Sheila?" he asked in a deep voice.

"Yes, Daddy, all done," she replied lightly. "I was just wondering if I should try and get some candy for the Ashburton children."

"Oh, I’m sure that’s not necessary," he said heartily. "I met a friend of yours outside and she said she’d meet you at the Ashburtons’."

"Oh, really? Who?"

"Alicia Hitchcock. You know, the Hitchcocks’ youngest daughter?"

"Oh, yes! I met her in New York a couple of days ago."

"Yes, she’s staying with them though her brother’s back. Apparently he’s staying with the Cullens. Remember them?"

Her mind flashed to the confrontation on the porch. Her father still didn’t know about that. With a light tone she answered, "Oh, yes, them. I know them quite well."

"You met Mrs. Hitchcock at the party. Remember? You were commenting on the fact that her son had a British officer commanding him."

Sheila felt a flush of red in her cheeks. "How could I forget?" she lied. Now she remembered why the name was so familiar, and from where. Well, this was interesting. She’d have to tell Henry about it. He’d have to be more careful in his plan of attack if that handsome young soldier was at the farm. Along with the German of course. "The Cullens won’t be at the Ashburtons’, I’m sure. They’re not quite our type, Daddy."

"No, that’s true," her father conceded. "Quite common, in fact. A racehorse trainer, of all things…."

"And the way they treat their German...well, it’s the talk of the town," Sheila continued, seeing the POW’s wooden expression. The man retired to the other end of the counter. Several women who had been surveying their ration coupons approached him. "I’m surprised they’ve not been investigated before this, Daddy."

"Well, that handsome Captain Wagner is their friend," Finch replied. "Don’t forget him, Sheila. He looks like a nice young man."

"I suppose that Captain Wagner can help out, but really. Such a handsome prisoner and well, Bridey’s my age, so..." she shrugged. "We’d better get moving if we’re going to the Ashburtons."

"You don’t believe that they’ve been consorting with the enemy, Sheila?" her father asked seriously.

"No, of course not!" she protested. "I’m sure it was all in order. Let’s go!"

Behind them, Johann Becker took the ration coupons from one woman and helped her bag her groceries, storing away everything he had just heard to get it somehow to Major Dietrich. He gave an unconscious shiver. The pretty blond girl was dangerous. He wondered what the arsenic was for. Perhaps the Major should know about that as well.

** *** **

Siobhan was doing laundry for the household. Tentatively, she knocked on Moffitt’s door even though she knew that he was outside. She wasn’t sure if he would like it if she did his washing but there was always the outfit the Colonel had left behind. She had finally finished the sewing and had it over her arm to hang in the closet.

The room was painfully neat. Moffitt might be an officer but he remembered what it was like to be a ranker and made his own bed. His clothes were piled neatly in a pile on one chair, and his uniforms were in the closet beside the Colonel’s.

Siobhan frowned. Very much like the colonel’s. In fact, it was hard to tell them apart.

She shrugged, and picked up all the dirty clothing she could see. She’d see if the Lieutenant could sort them when she brought them back.

The leg of a pair of pants protruded from under the bed where it had probably been kicked by accident. She pulled it free and held it up. Probably the Colonel’s. There was mud on the seat and she knew that he had gone one afternoon and sat on Table Rock, where Mike had found him in the early evening.

She pulled some papers out of the pocket. A quick glance showed that it was a very personal letter. So, Peter had a daughter and a no-good wife? That was something he probably didn’t need to have known around. What on earth was he thinkin’ writing something like this? This wasn’t the way anyone should find out about their parents! She’d put it in a safe place and give it back to him when he came back to the farm.

With one last glance, she left the room, clothes piled in her arms.

** *** **

Despite her intentions, Bridey went to town not the next day but the day after, because it fit into Charlie’s schedule better. The morning was blustery with a touch of rain in the air and she was dressed in one of her newer coats, a kelly green tam o’shanter at a jaunty angle on her head.

The men were either working in the barns or, in the case of Hitchcock and Troy, on the roof of the house. A few of the slate tiles had come loose during the windstorm, and they were repairing the damage. There was a great deal of repartee as they struggled with the recalcitrant roofing. They had spent the previous day working on the house, and cleaning the gutters. Bridey was running out of work for all of them. These men worked fast and the results were sound. Maybe they could sand and paint the fencing of the paddocks and riding rings next.

Out of the stallion barn came Moffitt, Dietrich, and Mike, mounted on Cavalcade, Concerto, and Destiny, three of the non-breeding stallions Bridey was training as show hunters. All of the horses snorted and tossed their heads. It was going to be a lively ride, and Bridey wished she were going off with them instead of shopping. But a promise was a promise, and Charlie had made special arrangements to get away.

Bridey wondered where Tully was, but suspected he was helping Siobhan. The new arrivals had brought a mountain of laundry to be done as well as other duties, and Tully was Siobhan’s chosen companion. Besides, it kept him near the phone.

Three days since the operation and all the news they’d had about the Colonel had come that first day. She could sense the tension in the others, but there was nothing any of them could do.

Idly, she wondered what was happening with Sheila Finch and Henry Reynolds. She hadn’t heard anything from them since the confrontation on the porch. Cameroon was almost fully recovered right now, and restless at being kept in his stall for an extra day or so. She supposed she’d have to call Reynolds and find out when he could take his gelding back. It wasn’t a chore she looked forward to, and she wondered if she could get her father to do it instead.

Charlie Wagner drove up. "Bridey, are you ready?" he called.

"Sure am," she called back. She ran down the steps and got into the front seat. "Let’s go, Charlie."

"Aye, and if you don’t look just like a fetchin’ colleen," Charlie said in a brogue that rivaled Mike’s as they pulled away. "Or maybe the queen o’ the land herself."

"Your Irish half must be coming out today," she said, grinning.

Charlie grinned. "Faith and begorrah, it needs to emerge once in a while, surrounded as I am by the German portion of me ancestry. Listen," he said, dropping the accent, "I’ve got a couple of stops to make on the way," he said, backing the car to maneuver it down the drive. "Do you mind?"

She shook her head. "Hey, boyo, you’re doing me the favor." She looked wistfully after the riders as Charlie drove past them.

Charlie looked at her. "I know, I know. You’d rather be riding than spending time with me. I’m a poor substitute for one of those horses."

"I’d rather be riding than going shopping," Bridey corrected. "You aren’t a poor substitute for anyone, Charlie, me lad, and we haven’t spent nearly as much time together lately as we should. "And is it that obvious?"

"You should see your face." He grinned. "How are you coping with your guests? Better than you were the other night?"

Bridey shrugged. "A little. I put them to work around the grounds. They’ve been a big help. And I’ll tell you—it’s a real novelty having more than one guy around who’s taller than I am."

It was late morning when they reached Freehold’s business district after making stops at several farms in Colt’s Neck where Charlie had placed POWs from the work-release program. There was an air of anticipation on the air. She could sense it. The morning paper being hawked on the street said the Soviets had reached far into German-occupied territory, and that the Americans and British were pressing the Axis hard in the west. There were fresh strawberries in the farmers’ market, and some new summer dresses proudly on display in the front window of Silen’s Department Store.

Even the German POWs looked more relaxed as Charlie made his rounds, Bridey trailing along with him. She blushed when a group of them took her for Charlie’s wife or girlfriend, and Charlie patiently explained that she was the sister of his best friend. But it was a new feeling to see the interest in their eyes.

"Bridey, you have done such wonders for my reputation," Charlie said in amusement. "They all want to know where I found such a schone Madchen."

"A what? Come on—you know my German isn’t that good yet."

"No, and I don’t think you’d have heard this from Dietrich, at any rate. It means beautiful girl. They all think you’re a beautiful girl."

"Charlie!" she said, rolling her eyes, remembering Dietrich’s comment of the other evening. Maybe she was beautiful. Dietrich never lied. He might evade her questions at times, but he never lied. At least, she’d never caught him in one. Had he been exaggerating that night in an attempt to raise her spirits? She wondered about it uncertainly, but dismissed the thought. He was her friend; she could trust him. "You aren’t serious," she protested.

"No, honest, Bride. They’re all impressed with you, and it makes me look great. My reputation is soaring. I should have taken you on my rounds with me months ago. "

She hit him lightly on the arm. "Get out of here, Charlie."

Charlie shook his head. "Seriously, they’ve heard how well your family has treated Dietrich. You get points for that, too."

"Charlie, we’ve treated him the only way possible."

"It still makes you look real good to them, Bridey," Charlie said as he opened the door for her. He paused as one of the POWs came out of a store and raised a hand, beckoning. "I’d better check on this, Bridey. Hold up, will you?"

"Sure. Where would I go without you, anyway?"

Charlie walked over to the man, who started talking in a low voice. Bridey caught the word ‘Fraulein’, and a gesture towards her, then Dietrich’s name, but in the end, both men just shrugged. Wagner replied in German, then walked away.

"What was that all about?" she asked as he climbed into the car.

"Johann overheard someone being...well, catty, is the only way to put it," he replied. "Sheila Finch was in buying weed killer and making comments about you and Dietrich."

Bridey flushed. Stupid society bitch! "I thought I’d nipped that a while back," she said with false calmness which she knew wouldn’t fool Charlie; it was more for the benefit of any passers-by. "I mean, I told her that Hans was just help."

"Yeah, well, some people don’t have enough to do in their lives and have to gossip," Charlie said philosophically. "It’ll go away, Bride. By the end of summer, it’ll all just go away."

"I hope you’re right, Charlie."

"I will be—you’ll see. Now, I belong to you for the rest of the day. Where to, now meine Schatze?"

"Your what?"

"My treasure."

Bridey rolled her eyes. "You know, Charlie, it’s getting real deep in here. Cut it out."

"As you wish, madam. Where to?"

"Can we go to Abramson’s next?" Bridey pulled the tam off and folded it in her lap.

"Abramson’s? What’re you interested in there, Bride?"

"I broke one of Siobhan’s serving platters. I want to replace it," she replied honestly. "It was one she brought over from Ireland."

"That rose-patterned one? Ah, no. I liked that one," Charlie said sadly.

"So did she," Bridey said dryly.

"Listen. Let’s go up to Newark instead. We can go to Bamberger’s—they’ll have a better selection. I’ll even go in with you."

Bridey’s eyes widened. "People will think we’re engaged and choosing a china pattern, Charlie!" she protested.

"Don’t worry. We’ll be far enough from home that it won’t matter. And you don’t have to worry about a proposal from me, anyway," he laughed. "It would be like marrying my sister."

"Praise the lord," Bridey teased. "Marrying you would be like marrying Joe."

** *** **

Charlie trailed in Bridey’s wake as they made their way through Bamberger’s Fine China department. Bridey stopped in front of a wall that displayed the various patterns available. "Keep your fingers crossed, Charlie," she said.

Charlie tapped her shoulder and pointed. "Look—is that— ?"

Bridey’s eyes widened. "Not exactly, but it’s close." She moved in for a closer look.

A salesclerk came over, seeing their interest. "Can I be of assistance?" she asked, zeroing in on Charlie.

"Yes, you can," Bridey said. She was used to this. Women had been homing in on Charlie for years; now, with him in uniform, the effect was multiplied by ten. It amused Bridey no end to watch it.

The woman wrenched her attention away from Charlie and looked at Bridey. "Can I help you?" she asked, though it was clear that she would have preferred dealing with Charlie.

"That rose-patterned china—do you have it available in a large serving platter?"

"The only pieces we have at the moment are serving pieces—a large platter, vegetable bowl, gravy boat, covered sugar and creamer on an oval tray, and a covered butter dish."

"I’ll take the platter," Bridey said.

"Wait a minute," Charlie interrupted.

"What?" Bridey asked.

"How many pieces did Siobhan bring with her from the other side?" Charlie asked.

Bridey shook her head. "I don’t know—the platter—."

"Which you broke."

"The gravy dish—"

"Which Joe broke."

"And the butter dish—which you broke," Bridey pointed out, before Charlie could butt in.

"Weren’t there any others?" he asked.

"Probably. I don’t remember any, but she mentioned that she broke a bowl when her mother-in-law was over for dinner once."

"Ouch," Charlie said, wincing in sympathy. "Then let’s get her one of everything. We kind of owe it to her, for our accumulated sins." He grinned. "And I’ll float Joey’s share until he gets home."

Bridey swallowed hard to get rid of the lump that appeared in her throat at the thought of her brother returning home. "Nice idea."

Charlie smiled and squeezed her shoulder. "I thought you’d like it." He beamed at the woman. "We’ll take one of each."

"Certainly, Captain," the woman gushed. "Shall I gift-wrap them for you?"

"That would be a nice touch," Bridey said.

"Thanks," Charlie said, and the woman hurried off to the stock room.

"You haven’t lost it, Charlie," Bridey said, lightly punching him on the left biceps.

"Yeah, I never have to wait at the USO either," he replied with a grin. "Can’t dance but what the hell."

** *** ***

Tully stretched and felt his tendons pop. He was tired of digging. The garden looked good, but it was a big plot. Hitchcock had taken over digging the other half and the ground was now broken enough that Siobhan and Bridey would be able to start planting in the next week. The hot April sun burned his skin. This was one of the warmest springs ever in the Northeast.

The wind died down just after lunch, and the temperature rose. Dietrich was working with the foals, Troy and Hitchcock had finished their roofing work and gone somewhere, leaving Tully alone with Siobhan.

Nows the time to move in...if I felt like it, he thought with a chuckle. He remembered the ring in his room upstairs and laughed. All he wanted was Laura. No, he wanted to hear the Colonel was safe, and then leave and go to Laura.

Inside he heard a phone to ring. Siobhan was there, finishing the dishes after lunch. She’d get it.

He gazed with satisfaction down the long rows of dirt. This was the kind of job he remembered from before the war. God, all those hours of digging at the farm, with Mack beside him— .

"Tully!" Siobhan called. She came out the door, a towel in her hand. "It’s a call for Lieutenant Moffitt!"

Tully tensed. Moffitt? "Who is it?"

"They insist on speaking with him, Tully," Siobhan said tensely.

He dropped the shovel beside the garden. "I’ll handle it, Siobhan."

Inside it was at least ten degrees cooler. Thank God. He picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Lieutenant Moffitt?"

"This is Sergeant Pettigrew. The Lieutenant’s out at the moment. Is there any message for him?"

Mumbling, then a familiar voice came on. "Sergeant Pettigrew?"

"Doctor Bigginson?"

"Glad I got you. When will Lieutenant Moffitt be back?"

"I don’t know, sir. Do you have any news of the Colonel?"

"Yes, that was what I wanted to speak with Lieutenant Moffitt about. Can you have him call me—."

"Dear God in heaven! Is he dead?" Siobhan said loudly, her nerves shredded.

Tully glanced at her. The phone was silent, then Bigginson asked, "Is that Miss McKenna?"

"Mrs. McKenna, sir."

"Ah. I see. You can tell her that, yes, he’s alive, but he’s worried about something, and that he wanted to make sure that Lieutenant Moffitt handled it. He won’t get better if he’s agitated like this!"

"Doctor, the Colonel’s always worried about somethin’," Tully said, his flat tone at odds with his ebullient smile.

"How true, Sergeant. Usually he hides it better. However, he won’t get better, and could get worse if he doesn’t let this go, and he’s asking for Lieutenant Moffitt to visit him."

"He wants company?"

"Yes. He doesn’t like his nurses, his food, the fact that he’s bedridden, and he’s worried that he didn’t tell your hostess that his men were coming! Says he was terribly rude and that you yelled at him. Did you really yell at him?"

"Would I yell at a colonel, sir?" Both men chuckled.

"Can he see?" Siobhan asked loudly, leaning forward.

They both heard a chuckle. "Tell Mrs. McKenna he can see again, but he tires very easily. It’ll be a longish time before he’s really recovered. I’ve been keeping his eyes bandaged for the most part."

"But he’s going to live?" Tully asked, holding up his hand to Siobhan.

"Oh, yes. It’ll take a silver bullet to do him in, Sergeant. Still, it would be better if he could stop worrying about the Cullens!"

Siobhan nodded furiously, and waved her hand. Tully chuckled. "You can tell him not to worry."

"He’ll take that from Lieutenant Moffitt, not me," Bigginson said with a slight tone of disgust. "Pass the message, Sergeant."

"Yes, sir!" Tully hung up the receiver and he and Siobhan danced around the kitchen. "He’s going to make it!"

"Thank God," Siobhan said seriously, sitting down to catch her breath. "Are you planning to see him?"

"Oh, I’m sure Sarge — Lieutenant Moffitt will go over tomorrow," Tully said casually.

"No, you take me over there tomorrow."

Tully gaped at her. "What?"

"You tell the others that you heard the Colonel is getting better, and tomorrow, we’ll go over there ourselves."

"But--but— ."

Siobhan stood and looked at him, challenge in her gaze. "If what the Colonel is worried about is us, then I think I should be the one who talk to him about it."

Tully brushed back his hair from his cowlick. "Yes, ma’am, but I’m not sure he wants to see a woman. I mean, he’s not at his best, Siobhan."

She snorted. "I’ve seen him in his underwear, Sergeant Pettigrew. I don’t think I can embarrass him further." She added, "Besides, I want my quilt back. It was wrapped around his leg."

"Yes, ma’am!"

"Now, either start shucking those peas or get out of my kitchen. I think it’s time to bake a victory cake!" She glanced at the snail, which was munching away on a lettuce leaf. That would stay until Alexander came back. It was too soon to take anything for granted.

Dietrich looked in the back door. "Frau McKenna?"

"Yes, Major?"

"Have you seen Herr Cullen?"

"No. He’s probably around somewhere. Good news!" She laughed in sheer relief.

"You have heard from the Colonel?"

"He’ll recover," Tully said, dutifully shucking peas.

"We’re going to see him tomorrow," Siobhan informed Dietrich.

He chuckled. The happiness was infectious. "He will make a complete recovery then?"

"Yes!" Siobhan said, and flipped up her towel. "If you see Mike, tell him, will you?"

"Ja, Frau." Dietrich exchanged commiserating looks with Tully behind her back, then retreated outside.

** *** **

Dietrich was walking from one barn to the other when Charlie pulled up to the house. "Perfect timing," Bridey said to Charlie, and leaned out the car window. "Hans!" She beckoned him over once she had his attention. "Can you do us a favor?"

"If I can."

"We have some presents for Siobhan, but I don’t want her to see us bringing it in. Can you distract her for a moment while we get set up in the dining room?"

He regarded her silently for a moment, then a sly light stole into his eyes. "I think that can be arranged."

Bridey grinned at him. "Great. Thanks."

"Give me two minutes." He left and headed for the side of the house.

Dietrich went in through the kitchen door and took a glass down from the cabinet. As he expected, Siobhan appeared behind him. The woman had an uncanny sense of when anyone was in the kitchen. The kitchen was empty, shucked peas in a bowl on the table.

"Hot out there, Major?" she asked cheerfully.

"Ja, Frau McKenna." He filled it with water and casually leaned back against the sink, sipping. "Frau, have you thought about what the Colonel will need when he comes back here?"

She looked surprised. "Need?"

"In Bridget’s study. We can get the bed in there, but his clothing may be a little more difficult."

Siobhan looked thoughtful. "I hadn’t really considered it, Major. I just opened the curtains and windows in there to let it freshen up. It’s such a lovely day."

"Shall we look at it, so we are ready for him when he comes back?" Dietrich suggested simply, standing up. He put the empty glass into the sink. "We should get a start on the room. Just in case he recovers faster than we believe possible."

Siobhan nodded, and followed him out the back door, around the back of the house and through the rose garden. "Is there a reason we’re goin’ the long way?" she asked.

To give Bridget and Captain Wagner time for their machinations, Dietrich thought. Aloud, he said, "As you said, it is a lovely day."

"As if you haven’t been out in it since five this mornin’," Siobhan pointed out dryly.

"Ah, but I have not been in the garden."

Siobhan narrowed her eyes at that, but made no comment. He gestured for her to precede him and she walked up the flagstone path that wound through the rose garden, and in through the French doors that opened into the study. "If we take the big chair out and put it in the parlor, and push the desk back, and move those file cabinets into a corner, then we can put up the double bed that we have in pieces in the attic," she said briskly.

Dietrich looked around the study. He had a feeling it wouldn’t be as easy as Siobhan thought. "Even if you do that, Frau, there won’t be enough room for any kind of dresser. We will have to move the files out to the hallway, or perhaps down to the laundry room, and bring in a dresser if you have one."

"There’s an extra one in the attic but it’s terribly heavy," Siobhan replied. "I think that maybe we can take the one out of my bedroom instead, and I’ll find something else for my clothes."

"You’ll give up your own dresser? That is an honor for the Colonel," Dietrich commented, flicking a glance at her.

She smiled, and he thought how rare that was. Siobhan was normally stone-faced and grim, but when she smiled she lost ten years, and could have been Bridey’s much older sister. She was a beautiful woman when she allowed herself to be.

"An honor? I’m not so sure of that; the dresser’s not that large or it would be too heavy even for the brawny men on this farm to carry!" She looked reflectively around the room. "Besides, I like him."

Dietrich saw a slight smile. "Like him? I thought you were frustrated by him."

She sniffed and waved a hand in the air. "Only when he didn’t show up for dinner! You’d think there was something wrong with the food."

"I don’t believe he thought of it that way," Dietrich said hastily. "He was not quite himself."

"That was obvious," she replied tartly. "I think I started to like him when… I caught him doing his own ironing. I mean, most of the time, he’s rather cold and remote, and looks at you like he can see your every thought, and that time—well, he seemed really human. And rather embarrassed to be caught in his bare feet."

Dietrich chuckled.

"Then when he went to church with us, and he took care of that little snip.… Well, it’s hard to dislike a man with that much charm," Siobhan admitted. "He also listens well and never shows that he’s bored to death with babble about cooking, and horses. I’m sure that’s not what he talks about in his home."

"Are you sure he has a home?" Dietrich asked, looking around. "He does not seem like that type of man."

"Oh, he probably has a home somewhere, and…well, who knows?"

Dietrich remembered a discussion of brothels. He wasn’t at all sure Alexander was a family man. His job was his life. "And he can peel potatoes."

"Apples. The colonel likes apples. Tully does potatoes."

"Apples." Dietrich was amused. "Very few English officers of that rank would peel fruit!"

"He seems to be an oddity…from what you say. Yes, I think that you boys can move those cabinets out of the way, then bring down the dresser," she concluded briskly. "The bed can be set up opposite the door here, so he can have the smell of roses when they decide to come out, and that’ll help with the recovery."

"I will make sure the woodpile by the stove is replenished," Dietrich promised. "With his leg, he will not want to do much walking."

"Thank you, Major," she replied. "Now, I’d better start getting dinner ready. It’ll be ready in an hour, if you’d like to warn the others."

"Jawhol, Frau." With a grin that she didn’t see, Dietrich followed her up the hall to the parlor and into the dining room.

** *** **

Bridey and Charlie snuck inside with the packages and arranged them on the table. They could hear Siobhan’s voice float down the hall, mixed with Dietrich’s crisp comments.

"Lay them out on the table," Bridey whispered, seeing that Siobhan hadn’t begun setting it for lunch. She and Charlie laid out the neatly-wrapped packages and stood back with feelings of satisfaction.

Mike came in, bringing with him the odor of manure. Tully was a step behind. "Pop, you’d better clean those boots before Siobhan smells them," Bridey warned. "She’ll give you bread and water if you track on her rugs."

"What’s that?" Tully asked, neatly intercepting Mike’s retort.

"Surprises for her," Charlie said sweetly. "Here she comes!"

Mike hastily went to the door that separated the kitchen from the dining room, out of the way.

The clock chimed as Siobhan and Dietrich came up the hallway. The German almost trod on her heels when she stopped dead in her tracks, but he sidestepped gracefully at the last moment. "What on Earth have you done, Bridey?" she asked, looking taken aback.

"I replaced the platter," Bridey said, folding her arms and grinning.

"And then some," Charlie said, with a grin to match Bridey’s.


"I replaced…what did I break again?" he said innocently.

"Your head might be next…" Bridey muttered, glaring at him.

Everyone began to laugh. "Now, come along, and start unwrappin’!" Mike said, holding out a chair. "We won’t let you into the kitchen till you do."

Siobhan wrinkled her nose at her cousin as she sat. "You’ve been tracking that mess over my clean floors?"

"No, just on the carpets," Mike retorted.

The center of all eyes, Siobhan unwrapped the dishes, setting them gently on the sideboard where the other china lay.

"Well… I’m not sure what to say," she finally said looking at them all. Her eyes were moist. "Thank you, Bridey and Charlie."

"And Joey, by proxy," Bridey said softly, slipping her arm around Charlie’s waist.

"You’re welcome," Charlie replied warmly, setting his arm around Bridey’s shoulders. "And I look forward to eating food off that platter, but I’ve got a meeting in a half-hour and I’m probably going to be late."

"Important one?" Bridey asked.

"Mickey Mouse stuff, mostly." He grimaced. "I inherited some of Adam Harper’s duties, and tonight we’re briefing some bigwigs from Washington. All they’re interested in is hitting the beach and looking for bathing beauties."

"That’s right up your alley, Charlie," Bridey said, and scooted out of his reach.

"Then you’re left out of the great move," Siobhan said. "All you gentlemen are going to be impressed into helping get the study ready for the Colonel."

"You heard something?" Bridey said with a gasp.

"When’s he coming back?" Charlie asked as he settled his cap on his head.

"He’ll be back but I don’t know when. I’ll find out tomorrow," she said flatly. "Now, I’m going to start on the chicken. Bridey, you’ll be moving all those books?"

"No," Bridey said firmly. "Just the books I need. The rest can stay in the study."

"The bed frame’s in the attic, and I think there’s an old mattress as well," Siobhan said.

"What’s for dinner?" Troy asked unexpectedly from the doorway. Hitchcock and Moffitt were following him. They all smelled of sun and horses. All three men eyed the pile of torn gift-wrap but didn’t ask questions.

Siobhan flapped her arms at them. "Go get cleaned up, the lot of you, and I’ll have dinner ready in a bit. Mike, you’ll have to bring out that bell again to ring for supper!"

"It upsets the horses," Mike replied. "An hour, then?"

"And a half. Get moving!"

Charlie took off after acknowledging the salutes, and most of the others went upstairs, pleasantly arguing over who got the first showers.

Bridey and Dietrich went into her study. She looked at the books on the shelves, then cast an apologetic glance at Dietrich. "We have several trips ahead of us, I’m afraid. My references and my notebooks, and the breeding records—I need all of them. There’s so much stuff to move," she said, sounding upset at the idea.

"I thought we were moving only the books you need."

"We are. But I need a lot of them."

"Then let us begin."

"Thanks for the help," she said, starting to pull books from the shelves, piling them on the desk.

Dietrich smiled. He understood the sacrifice she was making for the Colonel. This room was her haven—she had a lot emotionally invested in it. "I am sure that Tully will be done shortly to help us."

"He will if he wants dinner!"

They both took a load of books and headed up the staircase.

Bridey dropped her armful onto the bed, lunging for one as it threatened to slide off the top of the pile and onto the floor. "Just put them anywhere," she said at Dietrich’s questioning look. "I’ll get everything organized after we get it all up here." She looked over at the dresser.

Dietrich noticed the way her eyes automatically went to the framed photo of her brother on her dresser. "He will come home soon, Bridget," he said softly.

"From your lips to God’s ears, Hans," Bridey replied. "I miss him more every day." She swallowed hard. "He’s been gone so long, and the news coming out of the Pacific… . The longer this goes on, the more I—." She blinked and forced a smile. "That’s not important. We have work to do."

The more you think he wont be coming home, he thought, finishing her unspoken statement. I hope your war ends soon, Bridget, Dietrich thought, but didn’t voice the sentiment. Instead he took her cue. "Where are we putting the rest of the books?" He looked at the laden bed, then around at the rest of the furniture.

"We’ll pile them up next to the closet. I can sort them later. Maybe you can help me?"

He nodded. "If you need it."

"Yeah. Pity we don’t have an empty bedroom anymore," she said in a mildly exasperated tone.

"You can always toss Sergeant Troy out of his," Dietrich said mildly. "He is used to sleeping on hard ground. And sand. And straw."

They both laughed and headed downstairs for more books.

** *** **

Even if the hospital looked empty, Siobhan could smell the cold smell of antiseptic and the squeaking of wheels. Most of the rubber had long ago been worn off the hospital gurneys, and the remainder looked thin. It probably made for a bumpy ride for the patients. It was as cold as the morning air. Most of the people at the farm had been still asleep when she and Tully drove out. They had spent the time before and after dinner moving furniture, books and clothing. It would still take some doing to move the bed into the study, but it had become a project for the men, and she was sure she’d find it completed when she came back. Tully didn’t mind missing this part.

He led the way, his back stiff. He still didn’t approve of what she was doing but she’d steamrollered right over him.

Tully knocked on the door, then went inside. He stopped abruptly, and she ran into him.

"What is it?" she asked acidly and shoved him hard. He stumbled inside and she followed.

"Moffitt? Is that you?" Alexander called from the far side of the cotton curtain that hung between him and the door.

Siobhan was used to open hospital wards where rows of men lay side by side, and had never seen such an intimate small room.

"It’s us," she called in a low voice. "Tully and me."

"Us?" Alexander asked. "Siobhan!"

He looks so much better, she thought as she pulled back the curtain. There was color in his face, and the one eye that was uncovered was clear. His head was still swathed in bandages.

Siobhan turned and thrust Tully the bouquet of spring flowers she’d picked from the front garden. "Find something to put this in, Sergeant. I’ll handle this."

He looked startled, but obeyed, leaving them alone.

Alexander chuckled. It was weaker than those she’d heard from him before, but that didn’t keep her from seeing the improvement even in his tone of voice. "Putting him to good use at the farm, Siobhan?"

"Him and the others," she replied softly. "I wish you’d told us they were coming, Peter!"

Alexander nodded and winced slightly. She sat beside the bed and squeezed his hand. He returned it. His grip was unexpectedly strong. "I wanted to get you all together to tell you. Then I was going to speak to Dietrich alone."

"About his wife?" Siobhan asked. "Aye, I know about that. There’s nothing much in the kitchen that I don’t hear."

"How’s he taking it?"

"Best he can," Siobhan said, after considering it for a minute. "The photograph was a blessing and a curse."

"Photograph?" Alexander asked, puzzled.

"Yes. Your Sergeant Troy brought back a photograph," she said with a slightly disdainful tone.

He smiled. "You don’t like my Sergeant Troy?"

"Oh, he’s not so bad, though he doesn’t talk much. Always fixing something that was broken and we never noticed, and that’s to the good," she said with a slight grin. "The garden’s never looked so good, and the horses have been getting more exercise than they’ve had in years."

"I’m sure Bridey appreciates that," Alexander murmured. "She doesn’t have to do it all by herself now. How is she doing with Sergeant Troy?"

Siobhan giggled. "Like oil and a live flame. They get on one another’s nerves a bit, and stay as far apart as possible."

"Oh, dear," Alexander murmured, lying back against his pillows. "I’ve caused a good deal of trouble, haven’t I?"

"Oh, don’t try to be gettin’ away with that!" she retorted, eyeing him suspiciously. "You knew what might happen. You know them both very well."

Alexander grinned. "I’m not always right, though."

"They’re polite," she acknowledged. "It’s that Sergeant Hitchcock who’s a live wire. The garden’s his pride and joy now, except the roses. Those are Bridey’s exclusively—she’ll let no one else near them."

"Of course. The early roses are out, aren’t they?"

"Not yet. They’ll be along in May." She frowned, seeing his face going pale. "Your headache coming back, Peter?"

"A bit," he said in a strained tone. "It comes and goes."

"Aye. She stood and came over to stand next to him. "Well, they won’t let you out of here until you’re well, so get better fast."

He smiled. "Then back to the farm?"

"Yes. We’re holding your clothes ready for you to iron."

He chuckled weakly.

She leaned over and before he realized what she was doing, kissed him.

His hand went up automatically to tangle in her hair, and his lips parted. What started out as a gentle kiss rapidly became more intimate, and Siobhan didn’t withdraw. It was far too enjoyable, he was very experienced, and her Dinny had been gone far too long. Finally, they broke apart, and she slid out of his grip. "I’ll be seeing you at the farm," she said calmly, her face slightly pink. "We’re preparing a bed for you downstairs. Bridey’s letting you use her study."

"Thank you," he said with equal calm. He looked like he was uncertain of her calm reaction.

"Then I’ll go find Sergeant Tully, and get my quilt. I’ll be back to visit, Colonel."

"I hope so, " he replied. "Please."

She passed Tully, who had just come back, a glass vase in hand. She saw comprehension dawning on his face as she went outside. Depositing the vase on the window ledge in clear view of the bed, he said, "Colonel, you’ve got lipstick on your face!"

Alexander’s hand went to his mouth, and he grinned. "Dismissed, Sergeant!"

He exited but he didn’t say anything to Siobhan as Bigginson, followed by a tall man with dark hair going a distinguished silver, came down the hall. They were followed by a brawny blond in a Naval officer’s uniform.

"Mrs. McKenna?" Doctor Bigginson said politely.

"Doctor?" she replied. "How is he?"

"Recovering," the tall man said briskly. "Mrs. McKenna, I’m Doctor Patrick Murtagh, and this is my son, Sean. I operated on the Colonel."

She smiled. "Ah! Glad to meet you, Doctor."

"I’m glad someone came," Bigginson said sincerely. "He was getting lonely, and the one person he didn’t want to see was me."

"Only because you poke and prod him. And if we’d been called earlier, we’d have been here days ago," Siobhan said dryly. "I’m glad he’s recovering. When will he be free to leave?"

The doctors exchanged glances. "That depends on how well he does in the next week," Bigginson stated. "Let’s talk about this, but not in the hallway."

"I’m here for my quilt," she said determinedly.

"I have it in my office," he assured her. "Doctor Murtagh, would you like to join us?"

"I’ll check on the Colonel, then join you," Murtagh assured them.

Trailing behind Siobhan, Tully devotedly hoped that the colonel had wiped off the lipstick. That might be a little hard to explain. Then again, if they thought Siobhan was his girlfriend, then he might be released into her loving care earlier.

** *** **

Henry Reynolds wondered if he looked as obvious as he felt. He blessed the full moon over his head, which showed most of the landscape around him in great detail. Wearing a dark blue sweater, and dark pants, the only pale things about him were his hands and his face. He knew he should have darkened them, but if he got caught, he wanted to be able to say that he was only there to see Cameroon, and not look too guilty. But he didn’t plan to get caught.

Sheila was waiting for him over the hill with her car’s lights off. She had kissed him so intensely that he had been tempted to not to go, but this was perfect night for carrying out his plan. He had made enough training films for the Army to understand the power of moonlight and how it could help him.

Besides, the Cullens were probably in bed early since the next day was Sunday and of course, they’d want to go to church. He remembered seeing the charming little group they’d made a week ago with that stupid Brit with them. Reynolds devotedly hoped he was dead. One less mouth eating American food.

He stumbled, and hoped that no one heard the ensuing rattling of stones. He could see the paddocks where the horses grazed in daylight. They were empty now.

He sank to one knee and looked over the farm. Above him, dead leaves rattled in a tree, and he jumped.

There was the main farmhouse, new slate tiles in different spots on the roof, with the barns arrayed around it. He saw a tall blond man come out of one barn and stretch, and Reynolds’ lips stretched back in a vicious grin. That damned Kraut was on guard. Perfect. Maybe he could get the Nazi blamed for what he was going to do. The Cullens were fools to have trusted him anyway.

He watched the man go back inside the barn, and got to his feet. No sound from the house. Apparently everyone was asleep.

He crept down the hill, his left hand wrapped around the paper bag filled with carrots.

** *** **

Hitchcock came out of the barn and looked over the fields. Nothing moving. Not even a bird. It was going to be a long night. He sauntered around the side of the barn, looking both ways. Definitely a good night to be alive. He could spend the rest of the night dreaming about the beautiful girls he’d meet once the job was done here. It was quiet now in comparison to the singing they’d done earlier in the evening. Dinner had been another masterpiece, and so had the news that the Colonel had perked up in the last two days. Bigginson and Murtagh were astonished at his progress, Siobhan had said, and he might be allowed out of the hospital fairly soon. Heal fast, Colonel!

** *** **

Reynolds slid up next to the woodpile and crouched slightly. The blond man was standing with his back to him. He stretched up, his fingers against the moon, and gave a huge yawn, then relaxed, putting his hands in his pockets.

The actor picked up a log, and took four steps. The paper bag crackled, and the man half-turned.

A second before the wood landed, Reynolds realized it wasn’t the German. Damnation!

Hitchcock crumpled into a heap, blood streaking his face. The blow had knocked him cold, scraping the skin on his cheek. He looked dead.

Shaking, Reynolds discarded the log, and put his hands under Hitchcock’s armpits. This wasn’t the way it was in the movies when someone was knocked out. There they were light as a feather, but Hitchcock was a solid heavy weight and the sound was loud in the cool air. He pulled the unconscious man into the darkness by the woodpile, and went cautiously into the barn.

Horses hung their heads over the doors and snorted. Reynolds hesitated when he reached Jaeger, seeing the horse had a halter on, but then continued down the row of stalls. There would be time to ride that horse later when he had firm control of him. Right now, he had to destroy the Cullen bitch, and he had what he needed in his bag.

Cameroon recognized his scent, put his head over the stall door, and whinnied at him. Without a touch of remorse, Reynolds pulled on his gloves, and took out his bag of carrots. They were covered with a white powder that didn’t seem to faze the horse, who eagerly took them from his hands. Finally, Cameroon nuzzled the gloves, looking for more.

Reynolds patted him on the broad cheek, and turned away. The deed was done.

He heard footsteps. Damn! He took refuge in the tack room, and crouched down until he could see through a crack in the wood.

** *** **

Bridey was restless, unable to relax enough to fall asleep. So instead of tossing and turning the night away, she discarded her pajamas and pulled on the clothing she’d removed not long before and left her bedroom, being careful to make as little noise as possible as she left the house.

Coming down off the porch, she walked around the corner of the house to the rose garden. The full moon limned the bushes and their new leaves with silver. Buds were evident even in the pale moonlight, and she knew they’d be open shortly. She couldn’t wait for the explosion of color that would paint the farm in the next few weeks. The azaleas and early rhododendrons would open first, then the tulips and daffodils, followed by the roses.

Looking past the vegetable garden, she could see the training barn off in the distance, next to the mile-long oval training track. In a couple of years, the barn would be filled with Jaeger’s progeny, and the training track would echo with the sound of their galloping hooves. The thought filled her with anticipation. With luck, some of them might eventually come her way, to train as showhorses. Unfortunately, Hans wouldn’t be here to see it.

That thought sobered her. He’d become a good friend, and she didn’t like the idea of losing him. Then another thought struck her. Would it be possible that he might be interested in coming back to the States and working here, perhaps as her partner in a training venture? She’d need help if she was to make the farm into the training operation she’d envisioned—who better than an Olympic gold medalist, who just happened to be the best rider she’d ever seen? They worked well together—they’d already proven that. But would he be even interested in coming back to the US, let alone going into business with her? She mentally filed the idea away for further consideration.

Looking over at the barn Bridey saw Hitch, who waved as he started his rounds. She waved back, then took the steps up to the porch. She stood on the veranda and took one last look over the dark farm before turning to go inside. It was an unusually warm April night for New Jersey, feeling almost like early summer rather than mid-Spring. She thought of digging out her lighter sweaters but decided that could wait for the weekend.

Something caught her eye, and she paused. Hitch was off on his rounds and everyone else was inside now, so who was at the stable? Mike and Siobhan were long abed, Hans had gone up to his room an hour ago, about the same time she had, and the others were asleep, judging from the snoring that came out of various windows cracked to let in the breeze.

Trusting her instincts, she went down the steps to the barn. It looked dark and very empty. None of the aisle lights were lit, and the only light came from the full moon outside.

She walked down the length of the building and out the other end. Nothing. Nobody. She went around the side of the barn, and tripped over a pair of long legs. Catching herself, she turned to see Hitch lying in the shadow of the depleted woodpile. From his position, he appeared to have been hit from behind. His breath was even. He was just unconscious.

Bridey took a sharp breath and looked around. She picked up a log to defend herself in case the intruder came after her next. There was someone out here—someone who didn’t belong on her farm.

She wondered if she should search for the intruder herself or go get help. Common sense took over in a fraction of a second. She might be a strong woman and she was certainly no coward, but an attacker in the dark was not someone she wanted to meet. Especially when she had a household full of soldiers who knew how to fight, and would gladly do it.

Clutching her log, she retreated to the house and up the stairs. Without knocking, she slipped into Dietrich’s room. He was asleep, lying on his back with the covers pulled up just to his waist. His chest was bare, but she didn’t spare a second to admire him. She dumped the log on the floor, crouched beside the bed and whispered, "Hans?"

His hand shot out and grabbed her before she could say more. She hadn’t realized that his reflexes were that sharp. He let go as soon as he recognized her. "Bridget. What is wrong?"

"There’s someone in the barn."

"Sergeant Hitchcock— ."

"Not him. He’s been knocked on the head. There’s someone out there," Bridey said sharply.

Dietrich gaped at her for a second, then threw back the covers. "Get the others," he commanded, swinging long legs to the floor.

Bridey nodded, noting briefly that he was only dressed in boxer shorts, and exited, leaving her log on the floor. Brushing at a stain on her blouse, she saw it was blood. From what? The log?

She rapped sharply on the doors to Troy’s, Tully’s and Moffitt’s rooms before entering. The men woke as swiftly as Dietrich had and reacted much the same way. Bridey had never seen so many muscular men in her entire life.

They met in the hall, at the foot of the stairs. "Troy, Moffitt, Tully, go around the rear," Dietrich said commandingly. "I’ll take the front." He swiveled on her. "Bridget, stay out of the way!"

She glared at him but said nothing. Common sense reared its head again. She didn’t want to be in the way, but damned if she’d just sit by the window and watch! She followed them onto the porch. They heard a horse neigh, and Dietrich let out a curse in German. "Jaeger!" He started across the yard at a run. Troy and Moffitt went the other way, around toward the back of the main barn.

Bridey was the only one in position to see the horse and rider take off out the far end of the barn and off to the east. She ran into the barn, past Dietrich and on to the tack room, ignoring his snarl. She grabbed Dancer’s tack and a second bridle, tossing Dietrich the other bridle on her way back past him to Dancer’s stall. He glared at her as he caught it. "That’s Dilly’s. Come on, we can catch him!"

He efficiently bridled Diligence as Bridey ran to Dancer’s stall and started to tack the chestnut gelding. "Stay here, Bridget," he called to her as he headed for the tack room for Diligence’s saddle.

"Not on your life!" she shot back, and continued working.

Dietrich glowered at her and was about to say more when a distinctly vengeful-looking Hitchcock came around the corner of the barn with Tully beside him. Bridey wouldn’t want to run into Hitchcock alone when he was wearing that expression. "He went up the old path."

"We’ll catch up with him, no problem," Bridey said, finishing saddling Dancer. "Did you see who it was?"

"Yeah. Henry Reynolds," Troy tersely replied from the doorway. "I’d recognize him miles away."

"Then we will be lucky if he isn’t thrown," Dietrich commented, tightening Diligence’s girth. "He does not ride that well."

"It’s all camera angles—and there aren’t any cameras to help him here," Bridey said angrily. "How dare he come back here and steal that horse?"

Troy’s glance flicked to Dietrich. "We’ll take the Colonel’s car to the meadows down below. See if you can herd him down there, Major."

Dietrich nodded. "Take Diamond Merlin if you need a mount. He can see in the dark."

Moffitt appeared. "I just spotted someone on the far hill in the moonlight. If you’re planning to catch up with him, I suggest you hurry."

"Ready," Bridey said. She met all their glares. "Oh, come on, gentlemen! I am not staying behind! Jaeger is mine, remember!" She mounted and gathered up her reins. Dancer sensed the excitement in the air, and fidgeted beneath her. She calmed him easily, and he quieted, standing steadily, waiting for her cue.

"I don’t have time to argue, Bridget," Dietrich replied, tightening Diligence’s girth. "Stay here."

"We don’t have time to argue, and you wouldn’t win, anyway. I am not staying behind— I know those trails better than you do, and it’s not exactly daylight out there."

"There is a full moon," Dietrich said.

"Which won’t penetrate the trees to light the path that much," Bridey pointed out calmly. "I’m the best resource you’ve got right now."

He exhaled heavily. "Just stay out of the way if he has a gun!" he ordered, swinging up into the saddle.

"If he has a gun, I’ll duck, and you’d better do the same!"

The others cleared a path as they rode out of the barn into the moonlight.

Bridey led. She knew every nook and cranny of the farm intimately and headed unerringly for the barely visible shortcuts through the trees rather than the established bridle paths that wound through the property.

Before long they were riding through a hollow which would bring them out on the shortcut to the trail that led to the north end of the farm. They heard the commotion before they rounded the corner on the path. The long string of lurid curses startled her even if she knew they weren’t meant to be heard by anyone else but the horse. Henry Reynolds was struggling with his mount, who was shying and bucking, snorting as he tried to rid himself of his rider. Jaeger definitely didn’t approve of his rider. Lather frothed on his neck, and he was foaming at the bit. Reynolds looked furious. Bridey had to give him credit; he was still on the stallion’s back, which was in itself an accomplishment. But he couldn’t make him move forward.

Dietrich called out in German, and Jaeger’s ears pricked up. He snorted, and gave a huge buck, but Reynolds had a death grip on the saddle’s pommel and didn’t move off his back. The man hauled back on the right rein and jabbed his heels into Jaeger’s sides, and the stallion took off down the road, Dietrich and Bridey in pursuit.

Bridey could see that they weren’t going to catch him. She and Dietrich might have been mounted on former racehorses, but neither was in racing trim any longer, and Jaeger was impelled by pure fear and rage, outdistancing their mounts with every stride. Reynolds wasn’t in control any longer, if indeed, he ever had been, and was just clinging desperately to Jaeger’s mane.

The stallion disappeared around a corner, and Bridey cued her mount to follow. Dietrich called to her and reined in for some reason she didn’t understand, until she came around the corner and nearly ran into Reynolds.

He stared at her with pure fury in his eyes, and raised his right hand. It looked like he had a gun. Someone yelled and he swiveled. A gun went off, and Reynolds screamed.

She yelped and urged the gelding out of the way. Dancer slewed around and off the path, sliding down the hill on his haunches. She heard thundering hooves, and knew that Dietrich had come around the corner face to face with Reynolds.

Dear God, dont let him get shot! She thought.

She rode on until she found a spot where the hill wasn’t as steep, and headed back up to the path. Dancer shied when another horse came tearing past her. In pure astonishment she saw it was Jaeger! After a second’s debate, she decided to let the stallion run, and rode down the hill towards Dietrich and Reynolds.

** *** **

Dietrich reined Diligence in. Reynolds was on his knees on the ground, whimpering, while Troy, Moffitt, Tully and Hitchcock stood in a half-circle around him. The gun in Troy’s hand was smoking, and Reynolds had a bloody hand. Blood streaked Hitchcock’s face as well, and he looked far more grim than Dietrich imagined he could.

"Did he have a gun?" Dietrich asked.

"Couldn’t tell," Troy said laconically. "Thought he did." The Colonel’s car was parked nearby. They must have realized the path would lead him straight to them, and headed directly here.

Dietrich dismounted. Diligence snorted and moved back. "What were you thinking?" he asked the actor. "That we’d just let you steal Jaeger?"

Reynolds looked up. "I was just borrowing him from the Cullen bitch."

The men moved closer, their collective attitude pure menace. "I would suggest you treat the lady with respect if you plan to get out of here in one piece," Troy said tersely. "Watch your mouth."

"They don’t have much horse theft in New Jersey these days but I’m sure the old rules still hold," Hitchcock said in an ugly tone. "Don’t they hang horse thieves out West?"

"Better than what the Arabs do," Moffitt said agreeably. "I believe it has something to do with hooks. Lasts quite long, as well."

Reynolds got to his feet and glared at him. "You’re another one of those goddamn Limeys, aren’t you? We should have left you all to rot."

Moffitt shook his head patiently. He didn’t look offended.

Tully cracked, "By the side of the road like you did with the colonel?"

Dietrich moved in a little closer. He saw now that the blood on Reynolds’ hand had come from scraping it on a stone off to the side of the path. "I think that the war is now over for you, Mr. Reynolds. We will take you back to the farm and call the police."

"I’d say your career in pictures is shot," Hitchcock said smugly. "I sure wouldn’t pay good money to see you!"

Reynolds stared at him with hatred. "If they’ll believe you! Or that bitch Cullen!"

"That is the last time you will speak of her that way," Dietrich said agreeably. He handed Diligence’s reins to Moffitt, who looked surprised. "Would you please hold him for me, Lieutenant?"

"Certainly, Major," Moffitt replied charmingly. "I’d be happy to."

"Need any help?" Hitchcock called eagerly.

"I don’t believe so," Dietrich replied. "I will enjoy doing this myself."

With one hard thump, Dietrich broke Reynolds’ nose. Blood spurted from one side. "That was for what you said to her in the office." Reynolds looked disbelieving, then raised his hand as if he were going to retaliate. Dietrich hit him hard in the solar plexus, and the man crumpled into a heap. "That was for all the trouble you’ve caused her."

Tully eyed Reynolds critically. "I suppose he can blame it on being hit by a car."

"More like a tank," Troy said dryly. "Nice work. I didn’t see a thing." The others chuckled.

The men turned around as Bridey rode up on Dancer. She eyed the scene for a second. "Anyone need any help?" she asked brightly.

"No, Bridget," Dietrich replied, taking the reins from Moffitt. "I believe we are through here."

"We’ll bring him back," Troy called. "Can you have the police ready?"

"Sure," she said, grinning. "It’s a long walk home."

"Do him some good," Hitchcock said, glaring at Reynolds. "A nice night for a long walk."

"But you’ve got a car!" Reynolds wailed.

"Hitch, take the car back," Troy ordered. "We’ll walk."

"Nice and slow, the long way around," Tully said smugly. "I’m sure he’ll have sore feet."

"I will leave it up to you," Dietrich said dryly. "Good evening." He swung onto Diligence’s back, and turned away. "Come, Bridget."

She followed him obediently, and for once, silently. Looking behind, she saw the four soldiers moving in on the crumpled actor, who was white with fear.

Over the hill, she urged Dancer up beside Diligence. Bridey gave him a sideways glance. "Does your hand hurt?"

Startled, he looked at her for a moment before admitting wryly, "It can use an ice pack, I think. You saw that?"

"Yeah." Bridey grinned. "I’ll take care of it back at the house. How long do you think it will take them to get back?"

"I suspect that it will be several hours," Dietrich said agreeably. "It is a nice night for a walk."

They pulled the horses to one side as Hitchcock drove by in the car, waving at them. The car disappeared into the night, and it was quiet again.

"Did he tell you why he was here?" she asked. "I mean, he couldn’t have expected to get away with stealing Jaeger."

"He said nothing of importance," Dietrich said, slightly prissily. "I think the police will have to find out exactly what he was planning to do."

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, knowing he was concealing something he didn’t want her to know—maybe the reason he’d punched Reynolds.. "Yeah…... Well, let’s speed up. I think my da must be awake now, but if he’s not, we’ll have to catch Jaeger. He’s still loose."

They cued their mounts, and began to canter.

** *** **

The first Mike Cullen knew about the situation was the sound of galloping hooves departing the barn. He looked out to see Dietrich and Bridey disappearing over the hill at a dead gallop. A second later, the Colonel’s car drove down another path that would intersect that of the horses.

He threw his robe on, pounded on Siobhan’s door to rouse her, and ran down to the barn to find the horses all stirred up, Jaeger’s stall empty, but no one to be seen. A brown paper bag was crumpled in one corner.

Cullen picked it up and looked inside but only saw the traces of powder. Some of it fell from the bag onto the straw. He crumpled it up, and tossed it to one side.

Walking down the line of stalls, he saw the horses were restless. He murmured soothingly and stroked noses, then went out the back of the barn. There was nothing in sight over the hills.

Then he heard a crack that sounded like a pistol shot. Anxiously, he scanned the hills but there was nothing moving.

"God save us all," he said under his breath, and turned towards the foaling barn. He hadn’t gone very far before he heard galloping hooves, which slowed. A horse loomed out of the darkness, the reins dragging in the dirt. Jaeger. It was a miracle that he hadn’t caught a leg in them and fallen, Mike thought, and blessed himself. The white of the horse’s eyes showed in the night.

Mike knew better than to startle the skittish stallion, who could easily shy away. Crooning a lullaby, he slowly approached the horse, who had stopped, panting and shivering, legs spraddled, head down.

Catching up the reins, Mike petted his forehead, then ran his hand down the lathered neck. This horse had run long and hard and was frightened to boot. He began to lead the stallion through the barn to the stable yard on the other side.

Siobhan, wrapped in a floral bathrobe, her hair in a net, was standing on the top step. "What is it, Mike?"

"I dunno," he called. "But Jaeger’s overheated. Can you get my barn jacket, Siobhan?" She nodded and disappeared inside. Mike continued to circle with the horse, who was slowly calming down.

She came out wearing a housedress, a thick jacket, and boots, with his jacket over her shoulder and his heavy socks and barn boots in her hand. "Let me hold him while you put that on, Mike," she offered, handing him the garments. "I wouldn’t want you to be catching cold."

Mike nodded and let her have the reins. He quickly slipped into his jacket, then pulled on his socks and boots as quickly as possible. For all that Jaeger was exhausted, he was still a stallion, and Siobhan wasn’t in any way the horseman that he and Bridey were.

Siobhan handed him the reins and stepped back. "I’d better get the stove going. They’ll be wanting some coffee."

"Aye." Mike felt better already. He was happy the jacket was thick; the temperature was falling. With all the warmth of the days, the nights reminded him that it was still early spring.

Through the air they heard the sound of a car come in. Siobhan stood and watched until the colonel’s car, driven by Hitchcock, who still had blood on his face, parked next to the fence, and he got out. She eyed him, then looked at Mike.

"What’s going on?" Mike called.

"That bastard Reynolds tried to steal the horse," Hitchcock said succinctly. "Dietrich and Bridey are coming in, and the others are bringing Reynolds in with them."

"Horse thief!" Mike said in an incensed tone.

"I’ll call the police," Siobhan called. "Hitch, come inside and let me clean that up."

"I’ll be in in a second," he replied. He continued as she went inside, "Mike, did you see a car go by here?"

Mike shook his head. "Nothing. Why?"

Hitchcock shook his head in puzzlement. "I could have sworn I saw a car on the way here."

"Not unless it was going cross-country," Mike said sagely. "Why? You think Reynolds had a friend?"

"Who knows?" Hitchcock shrugged. "Can I walk him for—."

Mike shook his head. "I’ll keep him." They heard hooves ringing on the air. "Two horses," Mike said, cocking his head. "Bridey and the Major?"

"Probably. I’ll go get cleaned up—."

There was a groan from the stables, and they stared at each other, then at Siobhan, who had come out with a glass of water in each hand. She parked the cups on the veranda and came down the stairs. They heard another groan, louder this time. Mike led Jaeger to the nearest paddock and took off for the barn with Hitchcock on his heels.

Cameroon had his head down, and groaned again as they reached him. "Sweet Jaysus, he’s colicking," Mike said as the gelding snapped at his flank. Then he saw a steaming pile of manure in one corner. Not colic, then. "Then what— ?" Mike asked, puzzled, his words drowned out by another groan from Cameroon. Then he remembered the bag in Jaeger’s stall, and the white powder that had spilled from it. "Oh, Mother of God! Poison!"

"Hey, Pop!" Bridey caroled from the courtyard. She came in leading Dancer, Dietrich on her heels with Diligence. "What’s going on? Hitch, are you all right?"

"Poison," Mike said.

"Poison?" She gaped at him, then at Cameroon, who was shifting uncomfortably, kicking a hind leg at his belly from time to time. "Pop, you know we don’t keep anything around here that can hurt the horses!"

"No, but Herr Reynolds was here. He could have brought it in with him," Dietrich said, surveying the sick gelding.

"Good guess. I found a paper bag in Jaeger’s stall," Mike said, pointing to the empty stall.

"Where it is now?" Dietrich asked.

"Still there. I picked it up and saw some powder inside but I just tossed it to one side."

"Don’t touch it," Dietrich ordered. "Leave it as evidence."

"I’m going to call Doc Devaney," Bridey said, and ran out of the stable.

Mike glanced at Dietrich. "Remember to cool those two down before you stable them, Major."

"Ja, Herr Cullen. I will walk Jaeger."

"Put the geldings on the hot walker," Mike instructed. "They’re used to it."

Dietrich nodded and left.

"What are we going to do about this horse?" Hitchcock said, aghast. Cameroon let loose with another load of bloody manure and groaned.

Mike bit his lip. "We’ll have to make him walk till it’s out of his system. Give him water, tube him with mineral oil, walk him.… I wonder what kind of poison that bogtrotter used?" He clipped a lead to Cameroon’s halter and led him out of the stall. "Let’s take him to one of the larger stalls in case there’s still some poison here."

Hitchcock nodded, forgetting his headache. "What can I do?"

"Get some water."

Hitch hurried off to comply. Before he could return, Bridey was back. "Doc’s on his way. He said to tube him and give him a couple of gallons of mineral oil to soothe the stomach and get him to pass any foreign material that might still be in there."

Mike didn’t look at her, just kept stroking the gelding. "Go get the tubing kit."

"Right, Pop." She was back in a moment with a bucket containing a coil of soft plastic tubing and a funnel; in her other hand she held a two-gallon can of mineral oil. She set the bucket safely away from Cameroon’s hooves and began to straighten the tubing.

Hitch came in with a bucket of water. "Here. What can I do now?"

"See if he’ll drink it," Mike said.

Hitch put the bucket in front of Cameroon, but the gelding wasn’t interested. Mike looked at Bridey. "Get ready, darlin’."

Bridey nodded and dipped the end of the tubing into the mineral oil to coat it, then handed it to Mike. "Hitch, can you go to the tack room and get the stepladder?"

He looked confused at her request, but nodded and left the stall. He was back momentarily with a five-foot-tall wooden stepladder.

"Bridey, you pour the oil down the funnel. Hitch, come over here and help keep Cameroon calm."

Bridey nodded and poured some of the mineral oil into a small bucket, then set it on the stepladder and climbed up carrying the funnel. Hitch moved to Mike’s side and took the gelding’s lead from him, freeing Mike to tube the horse.

"Easy, boy, easy," Mike crooned, humming under his breath as he worked the length of rubber tube into the horse’s nostril and down his throat. Slowly, he pushed the tubing down. Hitch was amazed to see it running along under the hide of the horse’s neck, looking for all the world like a mole tunneling through a lawn.

Moments later, Mike took the end of the tube and blew into it. A pungent scent wafted out. "Stomach," he said, handing the end up to Bridey. She fitted the funnel into the end and slowly began pouring the oil in from the bucket.

"Go slow, now," Mike said, his eyes on the gelding. "You know the drill."

"Yeah, Pop," Bridey replied. "I know." She emptied the bucket, then handed it down for a refill. Hitch poured more mineral oil in while Mike held Cameroon and crooned to him.

They repeated the procedure several times—empty, fill, empty, fill—with Hitch going back and forth to the tack room for two more cans of mineral oil.

"Five gallons should be enough for now," Mike judged.

"Now what?" Hitch asked.

"Now we walk him," Bridey said, climbing down from the ladder and taking it out of the stall.

"Let me," Hitch said.

"You feel up to it, son?" Mike asked.

"It’s better than sitting around doing nothing."

Mike looked at Bridey, then shrugged. "Your call," he said, then handed Hitch the lead.

They heard a car pull into the stable yard, followed by the slamming of a car door. "I’ll go see who it is," Bridey said, and ran out of the barn. She was back in a minute with Doc Devaney.

"What happened, Mike?" the veterinarian asked, making directly for his patient.

"Poisoning, I think. We’ve tubed him and we’re just about to start walking him."

Doc Devaney nodded and began his examination. Mike held the gelding, while Bridey and Hitch moved back out of the way.

They heard another car pull up. "The cops," Bridey said. "Stay here with Pop in case he needs something." Then she darted out of the stall.

Bridey walked out to see Sergeant Fred Drexler and Patrolman Pete Hansson, two members of the Freehold Police Department whom she’d known all her life. "Bridey, you had a break-in?"

"And an assault, and a poisoned horse. "Sit down and I’ll tell you all about it," she said, leading them over to the porch.

** *** **

By the time Troy, Tully and Moffitt led the exhausted actor into the stable yard it was crowded with a police car, Doc Devaney’s truck, and men milling around. Siobhan had set up her coffee pot on the veranda and was handing out coffee as required.

Dietrich had finished cooling Jaeger and the two geldings and was just putting them into nearby paddocks, out of the way. He came over when he spotted the new arrivals. Mike, Hitch and the doctor were still in the barn. The hollow moaning of a horse occasionally drifted out the open door. Bridey was gesturing angrily as she talked to the policemen, who were busily taking notes.

The foursome was instantly the center of attention. Bridey led the policemen over. "Pete," she said to the burly one, "Fred, this is Sergeant Troy and Lieutenant Moffitt. I think you might recognize the other gentleman," she said dryly. "Gentlemen, these are Fred Drexler and Pete Hansson. Freehold Police."

Troy raised an eyebrow. "More trouble, Miss Cullen?"

"Someone seems to have poisoned Mr. Reynolds’ horse. You know anything about it?"

Reynolds lifted his head and glared at her. His hands were tied behind his back with Troy’s belt. "You stupid bi- "

"Ah, ah, ah," Moffitt said, grabbing his collar and jerking backward. Reynolds choked and fell silent. "He hasn’t been very informative on the walk back. His profanity wasn’t even original."

"Just loud," Troy said dryly. "You say the horse was poisoned?"

"As far as we can tell, yeah," she said firmly. "My da’s in there with Doc."

Peter looked distressed. "Bridey, that’s Henry Reynolds! You can’t honestly believe that— I mean, you say he stole your horse?" he asked, changing thoughts midstream.

"She poisoned my horse," Reynolds said hoarsely. "And set her brutes on me." He sniffed. Blood stained his upper lip and his chin.

Bridey looked like she was on fire. "I poisoned his horse? Cameroon was perfectly fine when everyone went to bed!"

"What are you doing here anyway, Mr. Reynolds?" Fred asked shrewdly. "At this time of night, I mean."

He cast a dark look at Bridey. "She didn’t want me to see my animal, probably because it’s sick. I had to sneak in or she’d get her tame German to throw me out again!"

Fred pounced. "Again? You’ve been here before and were thrown out?"

Reynolds looked at him helplessly. "I— ah, yes, but she threw me out that time!"

"Technically, he’s right," Bridey said, folding her arms. "Of course, he’d tried to steal my horse with the aid of an officer from Fort Monmouth. Stanley Susskind was here— he’ll corroborate my story."

She turned to Reynolds. "You could have picked up Cameroon any time in the last week by driving up in daylight with your trailer. Bring me back Diamond Peach and you can have the gelding. Or you could have had he might not live through the night! What’d you feed him, Reynolds?"

"I didn’t feed him anything!" Reynolds protested.

"Why’d you steal Jaeger?" she accused.

"You set that guy on me!" He jerked his chin at Hitchcock. The young man stepped forward, to be stopped by a look from Troy.

"You must be one hell of a fighter then to take out Sergeant Hitchcock," Troy said in a silky tone. "He’s one of the best commandos around. Funny— I thought his injury was to the back of his head— like he’d been hit from behind."

The two policemen exchanged glances. "Seems that we’d better sort this out in the morning," Fred said. "Bridey, you’re bringing charges against Mr. Reynolds?"

"You bet I am!" she blazed. "Trespassing, breaking and entering, assault and battery, theft, poisoning an animal—the works! If you can find any other charges, throw them at him. I want him in jail, and I want him there now, Fred!"

"She’s the one who fed the carrots to Cameroon!" Reynolds protested.

Dietrich smiled. "We were not sure what caused the poisoning before, Herr Reynolds. Thank you for telling us."

"In front of witnesses, too," Bridey said, giving Dietrich a triumphant grin. "That was very thoughtful."

Troy laughed. "He’s yours, gentlemen. Bridey, I’ll drive you into town tomorrow if you like, to press charges."

She smiled. "Thank you, Sergeant Troy. I’ll take you up on that offer."

Pete stepped forward and took one of Reynolds’ arms. "This way, Mr. Reynolds."

The actor sullenly walked over to the car. Fred shook his head. "This’ll be a keg of worms, Bridey. Do you know who that is?"

"Yeah. One colossal pain in the butt!" she snapped. "I’ll see you at noon?"

"Sure, stop on by. Bring the rest of your friends," Fred said, eyeing Dietrich. "We’ll need their statements." Fred followed his partner to the car, and they drove off, Reynolds in the back seat.

"What’s happening in the barn?" Troy asked, his attention caught by the noise.

Bridey shook her head. "I don’t think he’ll make it. He’s in rough shape."

"Off to the knacker’s?" Moffitt asked. "Pity. He was a good-looking horse."

"Yes, he was." She sighed. "We’d better stall Jaeger and the geldings. It’s a little dangerous to have them out in the chill all night, especially after the runs they had."

They strolled over to the paddock where Jaeger came over at Dietrich’s whistle.

Bridey leaned on the top rail. "Remember when this was a nice, quiet farm, and our only worries were who was going to feed those smelly chickens?"

Dietrich smiled and straightened the stallion’s forelock. "You have to admit that it’s more interesting than cleaning stalls, Bridget."

"You mean ‘interesting’ like in the Chinese curse? I’ll take dull any day, thanks. Damned actor."

"Unfortunately, you cannot blame the Rat Patrol for Mr. Reynolds—he was here before they were."

She looked up at him. "I wasn’t going to blame them. I’ll blame Alexander. He’s not here to defend himself!"

They both laughed. Dietrich led the stallion out of the paddock and into the barn to his stall. He closed the stall door, and latched it. The horse lipped hay from the haynet above his head.

Bridey glanced at her father, who looked strained as he came out of Cameroon’s stall across the aisle. "Pop? Is he going to be okay?"

Mike shrugged and ran his hand through thinning ginger-colored hair. "I don’t know."

"Reynolds basically confessed to feeding Cameroon poisoned carrots, Mike. He was probably carrying them in that paper bag," Hitchcock said. "Luckily he didn’t feed any to Jaeger."

"I don’t understand everything," Tully said. "I mean, why did he poison his own horse?"

"Blacken our name, get Jaeger taken away because I poisoned an animal?" Bridey hazarded. "I think he had it all planned out."

"I’m sure he’d try and find a way to get Jaeger once he’d proven us unreliable. He’s probably been spreading gossip all over town about us," Mike said tiredly, sitting on a tack trunk.

"Then nail him for slander," Hitchcock said sharply. "I’ll bet his girlfriend was involved."

"Sheila?" Bridey asked. "Do you think she’d do this?"

Hitchcock nodded. She could still see the dark stain where he had wiped the blood off his fair skin. "Yeah, she would."

Mike looked up and frowned. "What’s that horse doing in there?" he said puzzled, staring at Jaeger.

Bridey stared at him. "That’s his stall, Pop," she said patiently.

"Get him out of there!" Mike roared, straightening up. "When I picked up the bag, some poison spilled on the bedding!"

Even before he finished speaking, Dietrich had unfastened the door, swinging it open. Jaeger gave him a puzzled snort and affectionately nudged him in the chest. "Where’ll we put him?" Troy asked, giving Dietrich the lead rope that hung on the outside of the stall.

Bridey sighed. "Back in the paddock, I guess."

Cameroon groaned, and Mike disappeared back into the stall, muttering.

"Do you think he can save him?" Troy asked Hitchcock, who was leaning on the wall.

"I dunno," Hitchcock said, opening his eyes. "He’s real sick."

"It would be a pity," Dietrich added. "Didn’t Captain Wagner mention that the Ashburtons were looking for a horse for their daughter? I was going to suggest to Bridget that if Mr. Reynolds did not reclaim Cameroon, then she might sell him to the Ashburtons. He is a good horse for a young rider."

"He was a good horse," Moffitt commented. He wrinkled his nose. "I’m glad I’m not sleeping in the barn tonight."

"I don’t think anyone will sleep in the barn tonight—including the horses," Hitchcock said.

"Do you think you have to keep that up now?" Bridey asked. "I mean, we’ve got Reynolds—."

"Take nothing for granted," Troy and Dietrich said simultaneously.

"He could have an ally," Troy added.

"Well, I’m going back to see if I can help Mike with Cameroon," Hitchcock said. He swayed slightly as he pushed off the wall.

"Are you all right?" Troy asked staring at him.

"Not another head wound!" Tully said in exasperation. "Can’t they start hitting people in other places?"

"Glad you care!" Hitchcock retorted with a grin. "Naw, Sarge, I just got an ache that goes clear to Kansas."

Bridey folded her arms. "Then you’d better get to bed, and let us take over here," she ordered. "I don’t want another man telling me he’s fine and ending up in the hospital! I had enough of that with the Colonel, thank you very much."

"Yes, let us take over now," Moffitt said reassuringly. "We can split up the rest of the night."

Hitchcock nodded and winced. "Right. I’ll take dawn."

"Good. Get to sleep," Troy ordered. "Let’s get to work."

** *** **

MAY 6th, 1945

Nobody knew when to expect Alexander’s arrival back at Diamond Shamrock. The call had come in early that morning, and Siobhan had made a tremendous fuss getting the sheets made up on the bed, and fresh flowers from the garden in the study-turned-bedroom, but they figured that it was now presentable.

The mood was upbeat despite the shock of Franklin Roosevelt’s death a week before. Dietrich had left them alone with their grief, and only rejoined them the day after. Bridey had only been nine when Roosevelt was first elected, and it was a rude shock to see Harry Truman as president on the front page of her newspaper.

Troy came out of the barn; Dietrich followed him, the denim shirt tossed over his arm. After the confrontation with Reynolds, they no longer thought of him as a prisoner of war. Now he was one of them. To Bridey’s great delight, Hitchcock had threatened to burn the shirt if he ever saw it again, so Dietrich, mindful that he’d eventually have to return it to the government with the rest of the clothing they’d issued him, wore it only if they expected strangers at the farm.

She heard the smooth purr of Alexander’s car. "Siobhan! They’re back!" she called and ran outside.

The car parked nearest to the stairs, and Moffitt got out. A vast sense of relief came over Bridey. He was smiling. If there had been any problem, Moffitt wouldn’t have been smiling. Thank you, God.

Troy and Dietrich walked over side by side and Dietrich opened the back door. "Colonel?"

"Thank you, Major. Want to give me a hand with the cane?" Alexander said. Troy took the cane and leaned it against the door, then helped Alexander get out.

Siobhan came out and smiled. Bridey thought Alexander looked better than she’d ever seen him. They had had to cut his hair back from his temple on the right, but it was growing back. He had brushed what remained over the scar to hide it as much as possible. There was healthy color in his cheeks as well. If it wasn’t for the cane, on which he leaned heavily, he would look totally unscathed.

He looked up and smiled, and Siobhan smiled back at him with more than a touch of intimacy. "Come inside. We’ve set a room aside for you."

"My study," Bridey added. "I hope you like sitting among championship cups and racing trophies, Colonel."

"Gladly," Alexander said, limping up. Moffitt kept just to his right in case he couldn’t maneuver, but he was doing well.

Siobhan escorted him to the study as Bridey stayed behind to help get lunch ready, shanghaiing Tully to help. Alexander surveyed the room, and nodded approvingly. Outside the open window, the early roses in Bridey’s garden were blooming. "Looks comfortable," he commented. "I feel like it’s a conservatory."

"It was Bridey’s idea that you stay here. When the sunlight comes in, the room’s full of light," Siobhan said, amused. "It glints off the crystal like a thousand stars. You’ll be up early every morning."

"I’m looking forward to it," he replied. He sank down on the edge of the bed and surveyed the trophies and ribbons on the walls. "I was so glad to wake up in the hospital."

"I told you you’d come back," she said, crossing her arms. "You didn’t listen to me?"

He grinned ruefully. It made him look younger than his years. "I wasn’t hearing much of anything at that point, Siobhan. I’ve never been so scared in my life."

"Yes, I know," she agreed unexpectedly. "I won’t tell anyone."

"Thank you."

Her next question took him by surprise. "Do you like the flowers?"

He hastily glanced at the bouquet in the crystal vase. Daffodils and tulips, with a spray of cherry. "Lovely, though I’m not much for...what’s that?" He peered at the small shell on a lid at the foot of the bouquet.

"Your snail."

"My snail...oh, my snail! Of course." He stared at it. "What would you like me to do with it?"

She laughed. "You said you’d cook it if I kept it!"

He looked dubious. "A bit small for escargot. Tell you what, let’s let it go."

"Snails are bad for the garden," she scolded. "Bridey won’t be happy if you do that."

"Then we can take it back to where I got it, and let it go," he coaxed. "I really don’t think we should kill it. I mean, it’s alive...and so am I."

"Mike calls it the ‘little colonel’, she commented. "I caught him feeding it lettuce."

"Isn’t that expensive?" Alexander murmured.

"Not for a good luck charm. I’ll have the Major take it back to where he found you," she said, scooping up the lid. "Do you need a bit of a rest, Colonel?"

"Peter. You used to call me Peter," he replied.

She shot him a stern look. "And what would the others be thinkin’ if I called you that?"

"They’d think I was lucky," he said, smiling sweetly.

She looked slightly flustered. "Can you get to the kitchen with that leg all wrapped up?" she asked. "Shall I send someone in?"

"I’ll get there if I have to crawl," he promised. "I’ll be in in a minute."

She disappeared from the study, leaving Alexander sitting on the bed, looking around at the loving cups and plaques. This was the first time he had been in this particular room. Silver trophies Mike’s horses had won in races, crystal trophies Bridey had won in shows. Photos of a younger Bridey dressed in hunt coat, breeches, boots and a velvet hunt cap, mounted on show horses, were surrounded by championship rosettes and reference books on horses and history. It was clear that this room was Bridey’s study—her personality blazed from every square inch. This was obviously her personal room, and he felt honored that she’d loaned it to him. They must have had a time moving the double bed and dresser down the stairs.

He laid his hat beside him on the familiar quilt, and tenderly touched the scar on his forehead. God, he felt so much better. The occasional throb, but nothing like what he had had before. He knew that Bigginson had filled in Moffitt and Siobhan on the ‘care and feeding of colonels’ so he knew that he was going to be watched like a hawk at least for a little while. Murtagh’s son Sean, an intern at New York University Hospital, had been assigned to come out twice a week to check on Alexander’s condition, and he would put up with that as well. He wondered how Williams had swung that—he’d heard that the boy was due to start a surgical residency with the Navy at the hospital in Pearl Harbor soon.

It would be nice to be healthy again. This year was such a waste that way. First those months in Hungary, then his injury. Well, things were looking up here. He wondered what Siobhan had meant by that kiss. Could he look forward to more, or was that just because he had been in the hospital? Should he wreck his chances of a smooth berth here for the summer by asking? It made his head ache.

A knock on the door heralded Troy. "Siobhan says that you need to come out on the front porch, sir. They’re serving tea."

"Tea? That’ll get me started," Alexander said. He picked up the cane and began to stump towards the door.

Troy chuckled. "Be careful on the floor. They waxed it in your honor."

"My God, the Allies will kill me yet," Alexander replied flippantly. "Follow me just in case."

"Yes, sir."

** *** **

Bridey came out onto the porch with a tea tray and accoutrements, followed by Siobhan, who must have been baking all day, from the amount of small cakes on the two large plates she carried.

Troy followed the hobbling Alexander out to the wicker furniture that Bridey and Dietrich had just pulled out of winter storage. The warm sun heated the air, and a fat black-and-yellow bumblebee hovered near the stairs, eyeing the wood hungrily, before zipping above the roof of the porch.

Mike and Dietrich, their hands still wet from washing them at a spigot at one of the barns, came up and took the cups of coffee that Bridey was dispensing, while Moffitt and Hitchcock busied themselves with the cakes.

Alexander tried to remember the last time he had felt quite this much at ease. He had to go very far back in his memory to before his sister had gone into the sanatorium. The last summer fete at his parents’ home, with the neighbors and the tenants who worked the land around the small manor house. Him back from the War, still in uniform, and engaged to…Phyllis. His gaze went to Siobhan, who had just smacked Hitchcock’s hand as he nicked another cupcake out from under her nose.

God, that was a long time ago. Im glad Im here now.

"So what do you have planned for the rest of the day?" he asked the assembled multitude.

"Exercising the horses," Troy said, his hands cradling his cup of coffee. Unlike the others, he hadn’t taken any of the cake or the scones Siobhan had made.

Alexander knew that mask. Troy was still someone lost behind the lines, and at war. He’d have to get him aside and debrief him before the Sergeant acted on his own, and all hell broke loose. Besides, he might warn him that he was about to be given a field promotion to captain just before he was booted out.

His head throbbed at the thought. Well, just because he was on medical leave, that didn’t mean he didn’t have responsibilities. Sergeant Troy was one of his men, as were the others, and he meant to hold Williams to his vague promise that they would stay in the Army until their war was over. It had to come soon. The newspapers that Moffitt had left on the seat beside Alexander screamed it in bold headlines. The Germans wouldn’t last much longer.

His attention turned to Dietrich. What would the Major do when the war was over? He looked less reserved than normal as he accepted a scone from Siobhan’s plate, giving her a smile along with his nod of thanks.

"What are you thinking about?" Bridey asked unexpectedly from her perch on the porch railing beside him.

He glanced at her and smiled. She was so young, and so untested in so many ways, but had a world of potential in front of her. He wouldn’t want to go through the next few years in her life. The twenties were so difficult at times. But right now, he had to come up with a legitimate answer. "I was thinking that I’d like to go riding, but not for a while yet."

"No," Siobhan and Moffitt chorused together, and he grinned. The others chuckled.

"Peter, I wouldn’t let you ride old Rosie in your condition. But you’ll be here long enough to get your chance," she said with a smile. "But if we’re going to get going, then we’d better start tacking up and move out."

There was a general move to deposit coffee cups and used plates on the table, then most of them headed for the stables.

Moffitt prepared to sit in the other wicker chair, but was forestalled by a raised hand. "Why don’t you go riding with the rest?" Alexander said firmly. "I’m just going to sit here and enjoy the sunshine."

Moffitt gaped for a second, then stood. "Are you sure, sir?"

"Very sure, Lieutenant. I think you deserve a ride."

"You will call for help if you need it, Colonel?"

Alexander smiled. "Trust me, I won’t go hiking. I promise. Really promise. Now leave me alone, will you? Go riding!"

"Yes, sir." Moffitt went inside to change out of his uniform, and Alexander, alone, watched the people in the courtyard.

It was obvious in the first few minutes that they were parading the horses for his entertainment while they waited for Moffitt. Bridey normally would have saddled up and taken them out the other end of the barn, heading for the trails through the hills, but they were all milling in the courtyard, waiting for Moffitt to join them. Alexander watched, acknowledging their waves with a slight smile.

Moffitt clattered down the stairs. After he mounted, the six of them rode two-by-two out onto the path, leaving Alexander alone with the bumblebee and the barn swallows.

"Abandoned?" Mike asked from behind him.

Alexander twisted his neck and smiled. "I’m afraid so. They just left."

"Aye, I saw them. The horses will come back tired, but not those riders," Mike said comfortably. He settled in the chair next to Alexander. "A touch of the Catholic, Colonel?"


Mike poured some Jameson’s into Alexander’s teacup and put the bottle down on the wooden porch. "A bottle from before the War."

Alexander tasted it, and his eyebrows shot up. "Very smooth, Mike! Very...good."

"Thank you. I’ve always been partial to Jameson’s over Bushmill’s." Mike half bowed. "Now, why are you sitting abandoned out here, thinking deep thoughts, Colonel?"

Alexander assessed him thoughtfully. "Deep thoughts?"

"Aye. About something, no less," Mike commented, "than the future?"

"Sort of," Alexander murmured. "I was thinking about what it would be like after the war."

"What do you expect it will be like?"

"I really don’t know. I was in Czechoslovakia over Christmas, and came back through Austria. They’re barren wastelands, Mike, and Germany’s not much better. France may fall prey to the Communists, who are brave fighters even if I don’t agree with their politics," Alexander said reflectively. "Italy’s…well, not well organized, but when has it ever been?"


"England…is tired. Tired of war, of rationing, and seeing their men come back in bags. It’s gray and tired, Mike. We pulled together during the Blitz and the war, but now.… "

"So, what do you plan to do?" Mike asked, eyeing him curiously.

"Me? Whatever I’m told, I suspect. I believe that my commander has some kind of plans, but what happens when the bureaucrats move in, I don’t know." Alexander shrugged. "Right now, I’m on leave."

"And we’ll keep you here as long as necessary," Mike assured him with a smile. "I never thought I’d welcome an Englishman to this farm, Peter."

Alexander chuckled. "I never thought that I’d ever be really welcome, Mike. I’m glad we both thought wrong."

"Aye. Speaking of the future, I’d better get over to the broodmares. They’ll be needin’ their dinner."

"It was nice talking with you," Alexander said settling back into the depths of his chair. "Please come back again."

Mike snorted, then laughed, and went down the stairs to the barn.

** *** **

Two hours later, the sun had moved behind the tall stand of trees behind the barns, sending long shadows across the courtyard. The temperature had dropped to comfortably cool.

On the porch, Alexander started, looking around in bewilderment. He’d fallen asleep in the chair. Even the carpenter bee buzzing around his head didn’t make him stir. The bee decided that he wasn’t as tasty as the wicker, and left him alone.

So what had awakened him? He rubbed his eyes, and ran his hand through his hair, moving gingerly where the scar was still evident.

The yard was empty, even of the swallows. Stretching carefully, he reached around for the cane, and began to hitch himself up. Then he stopped and looked down the lane to the front gate.

That was the noise that had awakened him from the nap. There was a sporty light green convertible coming up the drive, followed by a truck and horse-trailer.

Alexander turned and called, "Mike! Siobhan! You have a visitor."

Nothing. Fair enough. He maneuvered himself upright and limped to the edge of the porch. Here he could hold onto one of the posts, and not look quite the invalid that he was.

The girl in the convertible parked and got out before she saw him standing in the shadows. Maybe she didn’t recognize him until he moved into the sunlight. Her smile grew stiff around the edges.

"Miss Finch?" Alexander said urbanely, not taking his eyes off her.

She smiled reservedly. "Colonel! How nice to see you again! You look so much better than the last time I saw you."

Alexander suspected that she had been part of the great confrontation on the porch. "I feel better as well. Are you here to see the Cullens?"

"Yee— es," she drawled. "Actually, Daddy asked if I’d bring back the mare that Mr. Reynolds borrowed and take back Cameroon."

"Cameroon? Oh, yes, Mr. Reynolds’ gelding. I think Mike’s somewhere around."

Mike Cullen came out of the barn and stopped dead, his jaw dropping. Protectively, he made a beeline for the porch.

She smiled at him, including Alexander in it. "Mr. Cullen, I’m here to return your lovely horse, and take back Cameroon."

"I thought Cameroon belonged to Henry Reynolds," Mike said suspiciously.

She nodded. "Yes, but his lawyer’s also Daddy’s, and they have to do something with the horse while Henry’s, well, Henry’s — ."

"In jail," Mike said dourly, and with more than a trace of hostility. "For horse theft. Among other things."

Alexander watched, intrigued.

She blushed. "Well, yes, but the lawyer sold us Cameroon, and he’ll be my horse now. Mr. Reynolds needs the money for his lawyer bills."

"I thought he was a movie star?" Alexander said pointedly. "He should have plenty of money."

Sheila shrugged. "I only know what Daddy said. Can I have Cameroon?"

As they had talked, her groom had gone to the trailer and unfastened the back. He led Diamond Peach down and was waiting patiently for direction where to take her.

Mike grunted. "You’ll have to talk to Bridey about that, Miss Finch. She does the books around here."

Sheila’s smile faltered. "Is she here, then?"

"Out riding. She’ll be back soon," Alexander said, smiling slightly.

Sheila shrugged. "Well, then, do you think I could get a cup of tea or something while I wait? It’s a longish drive and I’d rather get this done today."

Mike took a step back, and glanced at Alexander, who had a reserved smile. Mike hadn’t seen that look since the first day his guest arrived. The war mask was back. "Colonel?"

"Let’s not be a poor host," Alexander said softly. "You might want to warn Siobhan, though."

Mike chuckled. "I’ll warn her, then stable Diamond Peach. Can you handle yourself, Colonel?"

Alexander raised an eyebrow. " I have no choice." He raised his voice. "Please, Miss Finch. Come up on the porch and have a seat."

** *** **

By the time the clatter of hooves heralded the return of Bridey and the others, Alexander was on his second cup of coffee, and feeling the effect of too much liquid on his bladder. Sheila Finch had provided quite pleasant company all told; if nothing else she provided insight into the mindset of the modern American girl. Alexander thought she would make a wonderful matron in several years, ruining a slew of marriages with her affairs. He had had numerous dangerous assignments in the last few years, but sitting with the woman who was part of the domestic conspiracy against Jaeger appealed to his sense of humor. Siobhan had come out with more coffee and leftover cakes, then left them alone. She must have sensed that he had something in mind.

Embedded in the casual chatter was a definite danger to the Cullens. It was clear that the Farm’s reputation was already on the line after the Henry Reynolds affair. It didn’t matter how in the wrong he had been, the movie actor would be forgiven a number of sins. Whoever had broken his nose wasn’t being forgiven that blow. Rumors and slander were spreading wide. No matter what Bridey might say in response, the gossip was running against her. Malicious gossip as well; Bridey’s looks and general disinterest in neighborhood matters had bred spiteful comment. Bridey would have to do a lot of work to counter them.

And what Sheila was using against them the most was Dietrich.

"So, you have a problem with the good Major?" Alexander asked agreeably, leaning forward with the coffeepot.

Sheila shrugged casually. "Well, I mean, he is our enemy, isn’t he, Colonel? I know that Henry had his suspicions before…well, he was looking into that horrible murder in Kentucky. Major Dietrich was involved in that. I mean, I don’t understand how he wasn’t shot or hung for murdering that man. That was what the papers said after all—that he was involved."

"What murder?" Alexander questioned, picking up a scone that he wasn’t interested in eating, but he took a bite anyway. The jam on top was warm and too sweet.

"Oh, a David Pettigrew. They said that his wife shot him but she’d been seeing the Major after all, and we know how that ends."

Alexander didn’t know anything about it, but he wasn’t going to let this sweet girl know that. David Pettigrew? Who was this? What else had Tully neglected to tell him?

"I think the authorities would have discovered it if Major Dietrich had shot anyone," Alexander said dismissively. "The US Army is very competent, Miss Finch."

"Well, it was assumed that Captain Wagner moved him here to cover it up," she said cheerfully. "I mean it was quite sudden, from all I heard from Carla, who lives in Louisville most of the time, though she’s at the Ashburtons’ right now. She read all about it. Apparently the police thought the wife did it, and it was self-defense. Can you believe it?"

He could just see her and her friend talking over lunch discussing the details of the killing out in the backwoods of Kentucky with the salacious air of watching aborigines at mating rituals. Slim cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, lemon cake, pink lemonade spiked with champagne and spite. That was how he’d discovered his wife’s infidelities with her first? Second? Whatever lover. Another woman had told him, just because he thought he should know. After all, it wasn’t as if Phyllis wasn’t doing anything that wasn’t accepted in most of their circle…

He asked, "What was the woman’s name?" having a suspicion that he already knew, but he wanted it confirmed.

"Laura. I mean, she confessed but, well, you know how those hicks all hang together—."

"Actually, I’ve never been to Kentucky, but I know several men from there," Alexander cut in. "Most of them are quite well-educated, with very good manners."

The reproof went straight over her head. "Well, I went there once for the Kentucky Derby but, you know, this was all back in the mountains where it happened," she replied. "I think Major Dietrich’s a dangerous man and probably should have been kept behind bars. Whatever was Captain Wagner thinking releasing him out here?"

"He’s done great work here at the farm," Alexander said neutrally. "And he’s not a fool. I think you’re probably wrong about his being a killer, Miss Finch."

She shrugged. "Well, all I know is what I read, Colonel, and I wouldn’t have him around my house. I mean, doesn’t Miss Cullen know about this?"

Probably not, Alexander thought. If I didnt know, I doubt Tully or Dietrich told Bridey. I am going to have a long talk with both of them.

"I don’t think I’d go repeating those charges," he said lightly. "Reputations are such fragile things, Miss Finch. Once you lose your good name, you are at the mercy of other people. Especially in a social sense."

"Oh, I’m not worried," she said lightly. "I mean, I know everyone in society. I just saw an old friend who’s a soldier, last week, up in New York, who just came back from the war in Europe. You might know him."

Alexander chuckled. "There are so many soldiers, Miss Finch—."

"Yes, but he used to work for you!" she protested, staring at him guilelessly. "Or, so he claimed. Mark Hitchcock?"

His smile froze for a fraction of a second, then went back. "Sergeant Hitchcock? Oh, yes, I know him very well."

"His parents are really high in society. I mean, everyone listens to them despite the fact that most of their fortune comes from textiles, not from an inheritance," she said with a smile. "Did you ever meet them, Colonel?"

"No, not yet," he said calmly. "But I’m sure I will."

"Why?" she asked, cocking her head.

"Do you hear hoofbeats?" He looked out across the yard. A string of horses was riding down the path behind the barns. "I believe Miss Cullen’s back with the others."

"The others?" She rose, going to the edge of the porch where she was highlighted by the setting sun, and looked out under a shading hand.

The riders came into yard, pulling up when they saw the convertible and the empty horse trailer. Troy looked up at the porch, and his attention sharpened when he saw the duo. Alexander met his gaze guilelessly, then looked at Sheila. Troy nodded, and switched his attention to the girl.

Bridey pulled up, her jaw dropping, and stared at her. "Miss Finch?"

"Yes! I’m glad you’re back, Miss Cullen. I came to pick up Cameroon, but your father won’t let him go without your word," Sheila explained, her attention elsewhere. "Hello, Mark. I didn’t know you were staying here!"

Hitchcock eyed her from his position on Sandbar’s back. The sun gilded his blond hair and his sleeves were rolled up. He looked like a cowboy from the old West, and Bridey had to admit that while he did nothing for her, he would cut a swath larger than Charlie’s through the local maidens. It might be fun to watch them on the prowl together. "Hello, Sheila. Thought you were in New York."

"Oh, I get around out here too. I’m over at the Ashburtons’ right now. Are you coming to visit your sister? She’s still over there."

"I’m sure I’ll drop by," Hitchcock said casually, swinging off his horse. "Later."

Sheila turned her attention to Bridey, who had been the last to dismount. "I’m here about Cameroon, Miss Cullen. I have a document that gives me ownership and I also have a draft on my bank to pay for the services of your vet, as you requested of Mr. Reynolds."

"I’ll get Major Dietrich to bring Cameroon out of the stable and load him if you’d like to wait." Bridey said agreeably. "I mean, there isn’t any paperwork to sign."

Sheila looked taken aback. "No paperwork? I thought…. "

"We had a verbal agreement," Bridey continued. "But I think I would like a receipt." Handing Dancer’s reins to Dietrich, she asked, "Would you stable him, please?"

He turned his back to Sheila and smiled. "Ja, Fraulein." From the conspiratorial smile he gave Bridey, it was clear his formality was for Sheila’s benefit. She gave him an ironic smile in return, then strode to the porch, not bothering to see if Sheila was following.

Sheila followed Bridey inside, leaving Troy to glance meaningfully at Alexander, who nodded to Hitchcock. He held out his hand for Hitchcock’s horse, and gave an order, then led the bay gelding away, followed by Moffitt and Tully.

Hitchcock took the stairs up to the porch, two at a time. "Troy wants me to sit with you, Colonel."

Alexander looked amused. "To protect me? Where were you the last two hours?"

"It was a wonderful ride."

"I’ll wager it was." Alexander suddenly felt very tired. Too much activity today for his wounded head. "It looks like she’s taking an interest in you, Hitch."

"Yeah," Hitchcock agreed, glancing in the window, where he could see Sheila in the parlor. She was looking at the pictures on the wall. "What does she want, sir? I mean — "

"She’s a baby viper who needs her poison drawn," Alexander said in a light casual tone which didn’t deceive the man beside him.

Hitchcock did look surprised. "What has she done now, sir?"

"She’s spreading malice about our hosts, and using Dietrich as a club against Miss Cullen. I need to have a talk with Tully later, as well as the major, but right now, we need to deal with Miss Finch."

"What do you have in mind?" Hitchcock asked simply, crouching by his chair.

Alexander eyed him speculatively. "What is the general feeling about her in your family’s social circles, Hitch?"

Hitchcock shrugged. "Haven’t been there much lately, Colonel, but my sister doesn’t like her and Allie’s one of this year’s debutantes, so she knows all the gossip. I think that she’s just viewed as a butterfly who found a handsome actor to hang onto."

"Well, I have an idea of how to draw her fangs, but that depends on you," Alexander drawled, glancing inside. "It all depends on you, Sergeant."

"Are we at war with the Finches, sir?"

"I think for everyone’s sake we’d better consider her as dangerous as any armed stormtrooper," he replied. "This is what I want you to do."

** *** **

Bridey took the signed receipt from Sheila’s hand and glanced at it. The woman had used her full name. Good. Insurance in case something happened to Cameroon. Bridey rather liked the gray gelding but not enough to keep him in her stable.

Sheila looked around the front parlor where Bridey had left her to get the receipt book, now kept in Bridey’s bedroom since Alexander had the study. "Very...cozy," Sheila said with great politeness.

Bridey felt her hackles go up. She knew the room wasn’t the height of fashion, or even as neat as it could have been, considering the number of people using it on a daily basis, but there was no reason for Sheila to look down her pert Bostonian nose at it. "Yes. We have a lot of fun in here."

"I’m sure you do," Sheila replied with false sincerity. "The couch looks very, ah, comfortable."

"Well broken in," Bridey said sweetly. "It’s been here since the first days of the house. It’s very bouncy."

Sheila stared at her. "Oh. Really?"

Bridey was pretty sure that Sheila was referring to Dietrich again. "Yes, or so my da always said. But I’m sure you have more modern furniture. Your couch wouldn’t be as springy."

Sheila’s eyes widened. "I’ve always preferred a solid couch. Why?"

"Oh, no reason," Bridey said sweetly. She couldn’t wait to tell Charlie about this discussion. She was sure he’d appreciate it as much as she did.

"We have some of those old French couches," Sheila said. "My mother brought them back from Paris—."

"The ones with the high backs?" Bridey interrupted. "So no one can see over them?"

Sheila nodded. "Just right for privacy. I have to mention this, Miss Cullen, since we probably won’t be meeting again, but the first time I was here.… "

"Yes?" Bridey prodded, wanting to drag the words out of her to end this miserable conversation.

"Your prisoner, well, he tried to get me into the barn the first time I came over. Alone."

Bridey couldn’t believe it, remembering Dietrich’s expression when Sheila had first come out with Reynolds that day. It had to be a misconstruction in Sheila’s mind—or a deliberate slander cloaked in false solicitude.

"I can’t imagine why he’d want to do that."

"He said he wanted to show me how soft the straw was to… sleep in."

"Really? He has no need to sleep in straw. He has a perfectly good bed upstairs," Bridey said calmly.

"He sleeps upstairs? With you...your family?" Sheila asked artfully.

"And our guests, as well." Looking into the well-shaped gray eyes, Bridey saw an enemy. She felt a bit inadequate in this situation. The Irish didn’t care to flaunt their fortunes, and the Cullens lived a very low-key life, for all of their money. Society belles were far beyond Bridey’s experience. "I think it’s time you left, Miss Finch. I’m sure Hans has Cameroon ready."

"‘Hans’....What a charming name. You’re on a first name basis. How nice," Sheila said showing none of the cattiness that she’d shown seconds before. "I’ll say my goodbyes to Colonel Alexander, and my old friend, Mark, and be on my way then."

Old friend? Bridey wanted to see this. She trailed Sheila out to the porch where Hitchcock was talking to Alexander, who didn’t even try to rise for Sheila.

Hitchcock did, though, with a smile on his lips. Bridey almost took a step back. He looked almost wolfish, nothing like the light-hearted young man who teased Siobhan so much he’d been banned from the kitchen while she made desserts. For a second, she had an inkling of what he must have looked like when he went into battle. Strangely enough, both he and Alexander wore the same expression in their eyes. Bridey never wanted to be looked at that way by anyone.

Sheila didn’t seem to be affected. She turned to Alexander. "Colonel, I do hope you will be coming to the parties on base more often now that you are back here."

"I’m afraid my dancing days are over for a while," Alexander said smoothly. "Thank you for the invitation, though."

"Don’t be a stranger." She dimpled at Hitchcock. "I’ll tell everyone I saw you and that you look wonderful!"

Hitchcock held out his arm. "It will take a moment for Major Dietrich to load Cameroon. Will you take a walk with me?"

Bridey kept her face bland with an effort. What was he doing? The expressions on the faces of the others told her something was up—Tully looked bland, and Moffitt was studying the coffee pot with an air of anticipation. Since he preferred tea, this was a sure tip-off. Troy just leaned on the railing and smiled in an avuncular fashion, which Sheila ignored. She probably thought he was too old for her, Bridey thought cattily. More fool she. Bridey might not get along with Troy but his attractiveness was one thing that she wouldn’t deny.

Sheila slipped her hand into the crook of Hitchcock’s arm. "Of course!"

Dietrich, who had come out of the barn and was watching, overheard the comment and glanced at Bridey. She looked at him for a clue as to what was happening, then at Alexander, who had a slight smile on his lips as he watched the duo descend the stairs.

It was suddenly very cold on the porch.

They disappeared around the corner of the barn before Bridey turned to Alexander. "What is he doing?"

He glanced at her. "He’s following orders, and his own inclination, Miss Cullen." He sounded tired but decisive.

"What are you talking about?" she asked, her eyes narrowed.

"Yes, what is he doing, sir?" Moffitt asked. Troy came up the steps, Tully a step behind. Mike came out of the house with Siobhan right behind him.

Alexander affixed Tully with a cold stare. "Why didn’t you tell me about your brother, Sergeant Pettigrew?"

Tully froze. "Sir?"

"Yes, Miss Finch has been filling me in on the gossip she’s been spreading about Major Dietrich, your sister-in-law Laura, and a shooting in Kentucky. It would have been easier to combat if I’d known about it before!" he said harshly.

"What shooting?" Siobhan asked with a gasp. "Tully?"

"It didn’t seem important," Tully replied stolidly, staring at his superior officer. "The case was closed. The cops didn’t prosecute."

"Except that it has done some harm," Alexander said sharply. "To the Cullens. I dislike being sandbagged by a infant viper, Pettigrew, and I want the entire story tonight!"

"Yes, sir," Tully said reservedly.

"And I expect Major Dietrich to explain his part of it as well!"

"Mind letting us in on it?" Mike said with deceptive calm. "Exactly what is going on? What kind of harm are we talkin’ about here?"

The others closed ranks without even moving. Bridey had never seen such unanimity.

Alexander glanced at Mike. "She’s been spreading gossip about Major Dietrich and your daughter."

Mike looked slightly bewildered. "What about them?"

"That-! Charlie said—." Bridey flushed. "Nothing’s going on!" She looked at Dietrich, who returned her gaze with equal surprise.

"That’s the point, isn’t it?" Troy said calmly. "But no one knows that. It’s easy to spread rumors. Who cares if they’re real as long as they sound good?"

Bridey hadn’t expected to hear that from Troy, of all people. "Anyone who’d believe it wouldn’t be worth my time, anyway."

"That might be true, but it wouldn’t be your friends who believed it," Moffitt said dryly. "The lady doth protest too much…. "

Bridey’s eyes narrowed as realization dawned. "Son of a bi-" She caught herself, clenching her jaw.

"Exactly," Alexander murmured. "But I think Miss Finch is about to have a rude shock."

"What is Hitch doing now?" Bridey asked.

"Ruining Miss Finch’s reputation," Alexander replied.

** *** **

Reaching the end of the barn, Hitch and Sheila came face to face with Jaeger, who was grazing in the paddock. He lifted his head, and eyed them, then went back to grazing.

"He moves like silk," she said with a touch of envy. "I wish that Miss Cullen had loaned him to Henry. I don’t understand still why we couldn’t just borrow him for one movie."

"Because he belongs to someone else who didn’t want him in the pictures," Hitchcock said succinctly. He watched her expression go from envy to puzzlement. "He’s a wonderful horse, though. Major Dietrich can make him dance on air."

She smiled. "I’ll bet he can! Do you know a lot about him?"

"The horse? Not much."

"I meant the German."

"Sure. I knew him in North Africa," Hitchcock said with a slight chuckle.

"Oh, was he on our side?" she asked. "I mean, if you knew him.…"

"He was the guy who caught us, but made sure we stayed alive.. He’s an honest and honorable man, even if he was on the wrong side," Hitchcock said seriously. He wasn’t sure of how to approach this.

"Honest?" she said lightly. "Is he a killer?"

"Sheila, we’re all killers," Hitchcock said in an equally light tone.

She glanced at him, her eyes widening. "All of you?"

"That’s what soldiers do," he replied. "Kill each other. That’s what war is, you know."

She shuddered. "Well, I never heard anyone put it like that. I mean, the other men just don’t talk about it much."

"Probably not. I won’t from now on if you don’t want me to. That wasn’t what I wanted to talk to you about."

She turned and faced him. "What do you want to talk about, Mark?" She was just the right distance away— if he took a step he could gather her in his arms and kiss her long and hard, and Hitchcock was struck by the fact that she knew it. She knew just the right way to play on a man, and it was working, to some effect. It made him dislike her even more. He remembered what Tully said about the colonel’s accident, he thought about that miserable night when they’d tended Cameroon, his head aching from Reynolds’ blow, and the smell of the bloodied manure. Alexander had called her a viper. He was off. She was something even lower, even if she looked gorgeous.

He took that step and caught her in his arms. She molded herself pliantly to his chest and lifted her face expectantly. "I’d like you to stop spreading rumors about Bridey Cullen and Major Dietrich," he said with a sweet smile.

She stiffened and tried to step away but his grip was like iron. "What are you talking about?"

He ignored her question. "Because if you don’t, Sheila, I will make sure that everyone from Maine to Baja California knows that you’ve slept with every man you’ve dated…. including a roll in the hay with me right here," he finished simply. "What do you think about that?"

She gasped and struggled. "Let me go!"

"Promise me, Sheila, and I’ll let you go."

Her cheeks went scarlet. "I don’t know what you’re talking about."

"I’m talking about blackmail," Hitchcock said agreeably. "If you keep silent, I won’t tell my mother, who as you know will spread it among her set, or my sister, who is debutante of the year, or among any of the soldiers I know, who talk too, you know, if you will keep your fangs off the Cullens and Dietrich. Not another word. If you’re asked, you say that what you heard was obviously wrong, and change the subject. And I’ll toss in one more bonus, Sheila."

"What?" she snapped. Her body was rigid and as far away as she could get from him, which wasn’t very far.

"I’ll ask the Colonel to drop the charges against you for hitting him with the car," Hitchcock replied.

The color drained from her face. "Hitting him?"

"Yeah. They’ve got proof that you were the one," he lied. "Nearly killed him, but he’s a forgiving sort and doesn’t hold a grudge. Maybe. So, what are you going to do?"

Tears rolled down her cheeks. "I didn’t do it."

His hands gripped tighter. "You did it. You’re doing it. Don’t do it again. Leave everyone alone. Take Cameroon and get the hell off this farm."

"Would you really do that to me, Mark?" she asked, looking up woebegone. She looked like a small child deprived of a ice cream cone.

"Yeah. I would." He studied her for a second, then went on. "I’d enjoy it, too. When you have friends, you protect them. Sheila, trust me—I’ll tell everyone you’re the biggest whore on both coasts and everywhere in between if you don’t shut up. Do you understand me?"

She went red again. "You won’t do it. You’re too nice —."

"Not any more. I’m a soldier."

"Mark…. "

"Sheila… ?"

"I…I promise." She didn’t meet his eyes when she said it.

"You’re lying," he said clinically. "Don’t lie to me."

"Mark, let me go. I promised—."

"I think I’ll just tell my mother anyway," he said, letting go and stepping back. "Because on top of all the rest, you’re a lying bitch."

She flamed red.

"What will your father say?"

Sheila looked up with real fear in her eyes. "Mark, don’t do it! Don’t let Daddy know—."

"Did you sleep with Reynolds?"


"I thought so," he concluded. "Well, he probably wasn’t the first. I think I’ll make sure Mother tells—."

Her hand went out desperately and clutched the sleeve of his shirt. He could feel the talons of her nails through the thin cloth. "I’ll do it. I’ll lay off the Cullens— just don’t tell Daddy!"

"And Major Dietrich," Hitchcock said, crossing his arms. "Don’t forget him."

"Why do you care about him?" she asked honestly. "He’s your enemy!"

"I’d rather have him as an enemy than a lot of others as my friends," Hitchcock answered honestly. "Besides, the war will be over soon. After the war, what will he be? I’d rather call him a friend."

Puzzled, she stared at him. "I don’t understand. He tried to kill you, didn’t he?"

"That was during the war," he said patiently. "That was during battle. This is a battle where he can’t defend himself. So I will."

"But why does that matter?" she replied with an edge. "I mean, battles are won by the strongest."

He laughed. "Well, in that case, I have overwhelming firepower on my side, so lay off Major Dietrich. Hell, you won’t even see him after you leave here. Think of him as dead, Sheila. Forget all this. Just like I’ll forget I saw you driving away the night we caught Reynolds stealing Jaeger and poisoning Cameroon."

She gasped and stepped back. "You saw me?"

The slip was all he needed. "Yes. You’re an accessory. I think the ASPCA and a lot of others might want to talk to you. Especially the Freehold police. The Cullens may even sue."

"I’ll do anything you want," she said with a touch of urgency. "Don’t tell anyone, Mark!"

"Then leave everyone alone," he ordered. "Take Cameroon back, and forget about Diamond Shamrock Farm!"

"That stupid horse. He’s not going to be good for anything anyway," she said in disgust. "I thought I’d just give him away to the local glue factory or something."

Hitchcock’s memory flashed back to walking the gelding the long, tense night when no one was sure if the animal would live. The horse deserved better, even if he wasn’t the quality of the magnificent black stallion now capering in the paddock. Sheila was too distracted to even notice. "He’s worth more than that. Still a good mount for a quiet rider."

She tossed back her head. The blond hair caught the light like a halo. "I don’t know any quiet riders."

"He’s a solid mount. Sell him to the Ashburtons. Isn’t their youngest horse-mad?" Hitchcock suggested.

Sheila shrugged. "Maybe."

"So I have your promise?" he asked flatly.

"Yes. I promise I won’t say another word about Bridey Cullen or her pet German or the horse or your damned colonel!" she burst out, an angry tear slipping down her cheek.

"I’ll hear about it if you do," he said as a parting shot. "And I’ll make good on all my promises."

Sheila blanched. "I’m leaving now."

He stepped back, and swept his hand in a bow. "Ladies first."

She stalked away from him through the barn, her dignity in shreds.

Following her, Hitchcock caught sight of a familiar face watching from one of the stalls. From his expression of amusement, Dietrich must have heard the entire discussion. There was something new in his expression as well—respect. He lifted his hand in a salute, and Hitchcock returned it for a second, then went after Sheila, who had missed the entire scene. He heard Dietrich following behind them.

They emerged to find the crowd on the porch watching in anticipation. Sheila must have realized that everyone knew her predicament, except for the groom she’d brought; she got into her convertible without a word and drove off, the trailer bouncing behind.

The crowd on the porch waited until she’d gone around the corner and out of sight before clapping and cheering.

"Come on, tell us!" Tully called as Hitchcock climbed the stairs, a broad grin on his face. "What’d you do?"

Hitchcock saluted Alexander, who raised one eyebrow in amusement. "Mission accomplished, sir!"

Alexander returned the salute. "Well done, Sergeant. Didn’t doubt you could handle it for a second."

"Thank you, sir!"

"What did you do?" Tully asked in exasperation.

Alexander rose to his feet, leaning on his cane. His face was pale. "I look forward to hearing this in more detail, but I think I’ll go lie down first," he said, his tone slightly exhausted.

The others had been so caught up in the drama that they hadn’t noticed his pallor. Belatedly they remembered that he had only arrived that day from the hospital. This had been a stressful day.

"I’ll wait for you, sir," Hitchcock offered. "Tell them all later—."

"Not necessary, Hitch. I’m sure I’ll hear it all sooner or later," Alexander replied. "From Sergeant Pettigrew when he tells me exactly what happened in Kentucky."

"Yes, sir," Tully said stolidly.

"I’ll take you in," Siobhan offered, sliding her hand under Alexander’s elbow. "Come on. I thought that last scone was one too many."

"Actually, I have a stop to make on the way. Excuse me, gentlemen."

There was a chorus of "Yes, sir!"

As soon as he and Siobhan were inside the door, the others looked expectantly at Hitchcock. "All right," Moffitt ordered. "Talk!"

** *** **

Bridey drifted away from the crowd on the porch after she heard Hitchcock repeat his tale. She had a feeling that it would have been a lot more pungent if she hadn’t been there. She saw Troy notice her departure but the sergeant turned back to the chattering group leaving her to walk alone to the far paddock, behind the broodmare barn and out of sight of the porch.

Dietrich found her looking out over the paddock. "Bridget?"

"Yeah?" she asked, without turning around.

He moved to stand alongside her. "Does what Sergeant Hitchcock did to Fraulein Finch bother you?" he asked softly, his voice so low it was almost a whisper.

Bridey looked up at him. It was easy to see that she was disturbed. "What he did? No. That she made it necessary—that bothers me." She shook her head. "I can’t comprehend a mind like hers…. "

"You cannot because it is not in your personality to act in such a way."

"And you think I can cope with someone like that?" Bridey shook her head. "You have such faith in me."

"I think you will have to learn to cope," he said gently.

"I’d prefer not dealing with her kind of snake at all. She’s completely amoral."

"That are many people of that type in the world, Bridget. She will not be the last one you meet."

"Thanks for the encouragement," Bridey said with an edginess that she didn’t realize she was feeling. "Professor Dietrich."

"Bridget, there is no need for you to hide behind sarcasm with me," he chided softly.

She looked up at him, a stricken expression on her face. "I’m sorry, Hans. You of all people didn’t deserve that. Please forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive," he said gently, taking her hand. "I understand."

"You would. Thank you." She smiled ruefully. "It’s just so unnerving to not be in control of a situation. I wish I could just ignore it, but you’re right, the world’s full of Finches and I’m going to have to learn to cope with them."


"I think I need to go hug a horse," Bridey said. "Or maybe a couple of them. Thank you."

Dietrich inclined his head in acknowledgement, then squeezed her hand. Bridey squeezed back, gave him a half-hearted smile, then walked off to the main barn. Dietrich watched her until she disappeared inside, then walked back to the house.

Troy was waiting for him on the steps. "Problems?" he asked, as he rose.

Dietrich shook his head. "She has never been the target of malicious gossip for its own sake, Sergeant. It…bothered her."

Troy heard the underlying anger in his tone but decided against addressing it. "Is she all right?"

"She will be."

"Will she be able to handle this?"

"Bridget is more practical than you credit, Sergeant. She understands the need for Sergeant Hitchcock’s actions. The circumstances that made it necessary are what bother her. Bridget is very strong, but this is beyond her experience."

Troy eyed him closely. "First-name basis. You two have gotten pretty close, haven’t you?"

Dietrich regarded him for a moment before speaking. "Yes. But not in the way Fraulein Finch intimated."

"No. You’re not that stupid," Troy stated flatly.

"Neither is Bridget." Dietrich paused. He folded his arms, and leaned on the railing. "I did not expect to find friends as a prisoner, Sergeant, let alone people who would welcome me into their family, who would care about me even though I am their enemy. The Cullens are good people. They do not deserve the treatment they have received at the hands of Fraulein Finch and Herr Reynolds."

"No one deserves the treatment those two handed out. You expect this when you’re in a battle zone, Major, not back on the home front," Troy said bluntly, coming down the stairs. "Things are more direct in battle."

It was Dietrich’s turn to eye him closely. "You miss it, Sergeant?"

"What? Battle?" Troy looked around at the placid courtyard. In the warmth of the afternoon, the smell of horses, manure, hay and chickens was bucolic. It was far different from the desert of North Africa or the hedgerows of France or the bombed-out cities of Germany. You could almost believe there wasn’t a war going on. "No. Yes. I’m not sure, Major. It feels unfinished. They’re still fighting over there, and we’re here."

Dietrich realized that Troy had forgotten he was talking to the enemy. "How will you feel when the war ends over there, Sergeant, and you have to come back here permanently? Will you be able to give up fighting the war?"

Troy glanced at him, his expression reserved. "I’ll deal with that when it happens."

"Do you have a plan for after the war?" Dietrich asked, intrigued. This was the closest he’d ever gotten to a conversation with Troy. The times they’d talked in the past, one of them was being held prisoner or had a gun trained on the other.

"Yeah. Get out of the Army and go into business, or something," Troy confessed. "Not really planned out. How about you? What happens when the war ends for you?"

Dietrich looked startled. "I do not know, Sergeant. Where I go depends on the authorities."

"Sooner or later you’ll go back to Germany?" Troy asked.

"I have to go back to deal with things there," Dietrich said flatly. "Annaliese and her family, and my parents if they are still alive. I have been reading your newspapers to see if their town is still there, but it is so small, it is not mentioned."

"Why didn’t you ask us to look them up?" Troy demanded. "Colonel Alexander sent us down to check on your wife!"

"They are in northern Germany, where the British Army is," Dietrich said calmly. "I have gotten letters from them in the past but I did not want to impose on the colonel by asking about them."

"Yeah, I got it," Troy agreed. "Maybe you can ask now."

"I might." Dietrich sighed unconsciously, and turned back to the paddock. "I have to exercise the horses now."

Troy shrugged. "Can I help?"

"I would enjoy that."

** *** **

Alexander had been asleep for several hours when the phone rang. It sat on the desk, just out of reach unless he rolled out of bed, and his leg ached like a demon was stabbing it with a hot prong. Besides, it was probably for the Cullens, he thought, sitting upright, yet still half asleep.

He glanced at the clock that sat beside the paired French doors leading to the garden. Nearly dinnertime, if he remembered the schedule right. He was determined to make this supper. There was no reason to start on the wrong foot already.

He stretched, wincing as one hand hit a set of bookcases. It was time to start getting dressed. He’d stripped down to his underwear for his nap, but it wouldn’t take long to dress. His shirt and pants were draped over a chair, with his boots tidily underneath. They were even shined. Apparently Hitchcock remembered some of what he’d been taught.

Someone knocked on the door, and he pulled the blanket over his bare legs. "Yes?"

"It’s for you, Peter," Mike called. "I’ll hang up the extension when you get it."

Alexander cursed under his breath. Couldn’t he even convalesce without someone calling him? "Thank you!"

"Dinner’s in a quarter-hour."

"Right. I’m up," he called back, and slid to the edge of the bed. Putting his leg on the ground, he felt it give way, and sat back on the bed. Reaching for his cane, he used it to stump over to the desk, and picked up the phone.

"Alexander," he said with a trace of exasperation.

"Peter? How are you?" Williams asked briskly. There was a click as Mike hung up on the other extension.

"Fine. Just got up from a nap. What’s up?"

"I’m glad you’re getting some rest. Do you remember that promise you made me give you?"

Alexander straightened, his fatigue gone. Even the throbbing leg didn’t hurt as much. "About my troop?"



"I believe Captain Wagner will be carrying some sealed orders to you tomorrow morning."


"Yes," Williams said urgently. "Listen to the radio, Peter!."

"About what time, Bill?"

"Hmm…all day," Williams suggested.

"I hope some good music will be on the radio."

"The best you’ll ever hear. You can give out the orders after that."

"No special treatment?"

"What? Oh, no. The specifications for demobilization will be in the papers in days. Troops with long service times and other considerations are first."

"Perfect," Alexander said in relief.

"I thought you’d approve. Also, General Wilson has gotten his way and Sergeant Troy will be given a commission as a Captain. It’s retroactive."

"I’d better warn him about that… "

"Seriously, Peter, how are you?" Williams sounded concerned.

"Seriously, Bill, I’m tired but already better. I hate hospitals."

"Well, the Murtagh boy will be coming out in a couple of days to look at your leg and change the bandages if you haven’t been in to do it. You should see him several times a week. We’ve managed to borrow him for a while."

"Great. Look forward to it," Alexander replied in a more depressed tone.

Williams laughed. "I told him to make sure it hurt."

"Thanks, Bill. I’ll put it on your tab for later retribution."

They both chuckled.

"Why don’t you celebrate Captain Wagner’s promotion tomorrow? It would be an excuse for a party."

"Promotion?" Alexander asked. "What promotion?"

Williams chuckled. "Major."

"Ah. I understand," Alexander said. He heard footsteps in the hallway. "I’d better go. Dinner’s almost ready and I can’t be late!"

"No, or that nice woman will skin you alive. Cheerio."

He hung up the phone and reached for his pants. He was fastening them up when Siobhan knocked. "Colonel?"

"Yes?" he replied, sliding on his blouse and doing up a button. He didn’t feel quite so naked now, though he’d have to unfasten the pants to tuck in the shirt. "Come in!" He braced himself against the desk.

She peered inside, then entered. "How do you feel? Shall I bring you a tray here or will you be joinin’ us? Mike wasn’t sure from your answer."

He fastened the last button, and put his tie around his neck. "I’m coming, though it’s taking me a bit of time to get ready."

She came closer, eyeing him. "Are you sure that’s a good idea?" she said seriously. She put her hands up to his neck and tucked the tie under his collar, and did up the buttons.

Surprised by her movements, he let her tie it. "Why?"

"You were worn out this afternoon. Too much excitement."

He nodded. "Yes, and I’ll retire to bed after dinner, Siobhan. It’s a bit much for the first day. "

She put her hand to his forehead. "You’re still a little warm."

He captured her hand, and kissed the palm. "I’m fine. I was just a little tired." He didn’t let go as she moved closer, slipping her other hand behind his neck and tilting her face up to his.

He kissed her as she demanded, and, like before, it rapidly became more intimate. He pulled her closer to him, placing one hand on the small of her back, the other roaming up and down. It felt so good. It had been far too long for both of them.

Finally they broke apart, both breathing heavily. She licked her lips. "Well."

"Well." He let her step back. "I suspect you should give me a slap for that."

"Why?" she asked simply. "I would have stopped you if I didn’t want the attention."

"Yes, but I don’t think I can follow through," he said honestly. "Not tonight at least."

She dimpled. "We have time, Peter. The house is too full right now anyway. We might be interrupted."

"I’d hate for that to happen. I like taking my time."

"I’m counting on it," she replied, putting her right hand on his cheek. "I’ll see you at dinner."

"I’ll be there in a second."

She had almost reached the door when he called her. "Siobhan!"


He finished tucking in his shirt and redid his pants. "Do you have some special dessert for tomorrow? A cake or a pie or a specialty of the house?"

"Hmm?" she looked puzzled. "Well, Mike and Bridey are partial to my strawberry shortcake."

"I think you might want to dig out your cookbook," he said calmly. "Major Wagner will be coming over tomorrow morning."

It took her a second, then she smiled. "Major?"

"So I’m told. Let’s make it a surprise for everyone else." That would ensure some kind of special dessert even if it was more for the announcement than Wagner. He’d keep that thought to himself. "Bridey—."

"I wouldn’t spoil it for anyone. Let it be as much of a surprise to her as anyone else," Siobhan said with an impish smile. "Something chocolate, I think. That boy’s always been terribly fond of chocolate cake and for once I think I have enough chocolate to do it! I’ll make two. One would never be enough. And the shortcake, for Mike and Bridey. That girl has a fondness for strawberries, and we found some in the market today."

"Excellent," Alexander said, picking up his jacket. "I think I’m ready." He slid it on and picked up his cane.

She waited until he limped over, and escorted him to dinner, where everyone was waiting.

** *** **

Alexander stumped into the study and sank against the oak desk that hadn’t been moved since it weighed a ton. It was only a foot from his bed, and he sank onto it with a sigh of relief.

He felt almost bloated. Now that his head didn’t ache like a brass band, he could really appreciate the food that Siobhan put onto the table. After a month, no, years of restricted diet, the overflowing servings of potatoes and carrots, the succulent chicken roasted in its own juices and basted in butter and served with savory bread stuffing, golden gravy, and then the Jell-O ring with fresh strawberries, were almost too much to take. The conversational banter around the dinner table flicked back and forth from teasing to serious to half-told jokes lost in loud laughter.

He had a headache but it was a normal one. This kind would go away in the morning.

He saw with a grin that the fire was already laid, and that a long-handled lighter had been rigged up next to it. All he would have to do was crawl out of his cozy bed, topped with a very familiar quilt, and click on it. He wondered momentarily which one of the Rats had come up with the design. Maybe they should patent it.

He loosened his tie, and unbuttoned his coat. After his guests left, he’d undress and go to bed. He could hear the sound of revelry still coming from the music room. Bridey never tired of playing for the assemblage, though she never sang, protesting that she couldn’t carry a tune.

There was a knock on the door. "Come in!"

Tully sidled around the door, followed by Hans Dietrich. Alexander was struck by their similarity of expression. For all the world they looked like two truants being brought before the headmaster.

"Ah, yes. Time to confess," he said, folding his arms. "I want the whole story now, Tully. Is this the real reason you suggested Diamond Shamrock Farm?"

"Partly, yes, sir," Tully replied. "I didn’t lie to you."

"No, you were just judicious with the truth. Tell me all about Kentucky."

"My brother Davy was a wife-beater. Laura finally took the family shotgun to him, and it was self-defense," Tully said laconically.

"And Major Dietrich just happened to be nearby?" Alexander asked pointedly, glancing at the German, who had his stoniest mask on.

"I was with a work party," Dietrich said crisply. "Apple picking for your war effort."

"I see. And you just stood by while David Pettigrew beat his wife?" Alexander questioned, watching him closely. The expression of revulsion at the idea was enough to give Dietrich away. "The family shotgun just happened to be loaded?"

"It’s always loaded, sir," Tully cut in. "You never know what’s up in the woods."

"Yes… " Alexander drawled. "I’ll wager you don’t. Well, it would seem that the case has been closed, correct?"

"Yes, sir," they chorused.

"I take it, Major, that no one there will contradict your actions?" Something flashed on Dietrich’s face. "Ah, so there is another man. Who is he?"

"Gruber. He was on the work party as well. He saw me come in," Dietrich said honestly. "He helped me clean up."

"Gruber. What a common name. Will he use what he knows against you, Major?"

"Nein. There are reasons he will not," Dietrich replied strongly. "He will never talk."

"I see." Alexander studied him for a second. "Sorry, I can’t be satisfied with that. Why not, Major?"

Dietrich hesitated. He obviously didn’t want to explain.

"It’ll go no further than this room," Alexander said with quiet authority. "Tully… "

"Of course, sir," Tully agreed.

"Gruber made friends with an American guard named Frank Miller. A close friend…. "

Understanding dawned on both the other men. Alexander nodded. "The other men in the camp would kill Gruber if they knew that he was homosexual. You found out…. "

"I didn’t care!" Dietrich said crisply. "It was none of my business and I told them that. I do not blackmail other people!"

"Of course not," Alexander murmured. "I’m sure you wouldn’t. Lucky that Gruber was there when you came back from the Pettigrews’ that night."

"He was on the same work detail. So was Miller. They had also been outside that night."

Alexander pondered that for a second, then shrugged. "It’s past history, now, Captain. As you said earlier, Gruber will never talk about what happened. Dismissed. If there is something else you neglected to tell me, save it for the morning."

Both stiffened and saluted, then retreated out the door.

Alexander sighed and leaned back. He’d have to trust their word on this. He sincerely hoped that it wasn’t going to come back and bite him!

He roused himself long enough to get undressed, and toss his clothes across the desk, then crawled into bed and went to sleep to the smell of Bridey’s roses, which was wafting in through the open door that led to the garden. Bridey’s piano playing crept into his dreams.

** *** **

Alexander was roused by a set of loud cheeps and avian singing. He saw a red bird and his less-brightly-colored mate land in a rose bush; then roused by his movement, they flew off. He’d have to ask Siobhan what kind they were.

He rolled out of bed and shivered. It was going to be a brisk morning with some clouds floating overhead. It felt like it was barely in the high forties at the moment.

He pulled out a sweater and his thickest pants, and got dressed, grabbing his jacket and sliding it on. There was something he had to do before breakfast. He only hoped the man he needed to talk to was awake.

Reaching the kitchen, he found the wood stove being fed wood by Dietrich and Troy, who looked like they’d been up for an hour.

"Good," he said ignoring their surprised expression. "Troy, I want to talk to you."

"Yes, sir," Troy said in a guarded tone.

Dietrich chuckled. "At least, Sergeant, I don’t have to worry about that kind of discussion anymore!"

"Stop looking like you are about to be thrown to the lions," Alexander said cheerfully. "Major, can you tell Miss Cullen—Bridey— and Siobhan, that we’ll be back in an hour if you see them."

"Jawohl, Colonel," Dietrich agreed. "Bridget is already out in the barn."

"Then we’d better get a move on, Troy," Alexander said briskly. "If they have to find me, we’ll be up at the rock."

Dietrich nodded.

** *** **

It took longer than the last time to climb to the top of the hill to the rock. Alexander sank on it with a sigh of relief as Troy stared over the rolling hills.

"So, tell me your problem, Sergeant."

Troy didn’t look back at him. "Problem, sir?"

"Come off it, Sam," Alexander said with a hint of exasperation. "We’ve known each other too long for this. Something’s been eating you since I arrived back here, and probably before that. What is it?"

Troy turned to face him. "I don’t like leaving a job unfinished. Sir."

"Job? Are you referring to the war, Sergeant?" Alexander asked, one eyebrow going up. "It was hardly your personal job."

"Agreed, sir, but it’s still not finished, is it? Why was Captain Carlson sniffing around in Germany? What did it mean, sir?"

Alexander answered as bluntly as Troy had asked. "It meant that someone in your chain of command thought that you and the others were bomb-happy, and wanted to have you immediately withdrawn and sent back to the United States, and given a medical discharge."

Troy looked shocked. Alexander had never thought that he’d actually see the mask break. "Battle fatigue?"

"Yes. I said you weren’t on that edge, but apparently I was overruled after I left," Alexander continued. "I believe your orders were changed when you reached Britain, correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, that was because I needed you here. Otherwise, you would be on your way to hospital for a psychiatric exam, Sergeant!"

Troy shook his head. "Combat fatigue?"

"Shell shock, bomb-happy, many different names for the same thing. Too much war for too long."

"How could they have thought that?" Troy asked simply.

"Something about Tully and a tank precipitated it," Alexander said with a grin. "Don’t let it worry you, Troy. With the speed that the Allied armies are approaching Berlin, the war is over."

Troy grimaced. "And we’re here, sir."

"Doing war work."

"Re-tiling Bridey Cullen’s roof and exercising her horses?" Troy said sarcastically. "Not exactly war work, Colonel."

"Believe it or not, Sergeant, Jaeger’s rescue was an important job, and the roof…well, consider it good experience for after the war," Alexander said. He debated telling Troy the truth. No, it would be out that day, if he knew the press. He’d tell him when Wagner arrived with the orders, if the word hadn’t come over the radio by then. "However, I do have one piece of news for you, and it was nothing that I was involved in. This came from your Army."

"Sir?" Troy’s eyes were suspicious.

"General Wilson down in Washington has been agitating to get you a commission as a captain for your long service. I’m afraid that you’re expected to take it, Troy, and like it."

"A commission!"

"Yes. Captain."

"I don’t want to be an officer!"

"Well, it looks like you may end this war not only as an officer but one with battle fatigue, Purple Hearts, etc. Formal ceremonies loom in your future. Surrender, Troy."

"Does this mean I’ll be going to the Pacific, sir?" Troy asked, puzzled. "Why else would they commission me?"

Alexander rose to his feet, and winced He almost decided to tell Troy the truth but the moment passed. He leaned on the cane. "It’s going to be a long walk back, Captain. Let’s get started. I believe Siobhan has a special treat planned."

"Really, sir? Does she know something that no one else does?" Troy asked, shortening his stride so he stayed with Alexander.

Alexander grinned. "Yes, indeed. The cook knows just about all." But not everything. He laughed.

** *** **

Breakfast was a cheerful milling scene as everyone scrambled for a piece of the coffeecake that Siobhan had baked the previous day, or the morning’s batch of soda bread, and drank coffee while they compared plans on what to do for the day, then went off to either exercise the horses or to work on the driveway. Hitchcock and Tully had decided, after due consultation with Bridey, to see if they could level the drive down to the lower gate, and put down new gravel. This meant finding a roller, then getting some gravel for the lower portions. The cobblestones that made up the courtyard were coming loose in spots, and there was a long discussion on how to reset them.

Bridey tuned the discussion out and looked out the window in time to see Charlie drive up and park the car in front of the house, honking like a madman. He grinned as people burst out the front door, holding cups in their hands, and looking worried. He waved when he got out of the car. "Hey, Siobhan, am I in time for breakfast?"

Something was different, Bridey thought, looking at him, gasping when she realized what it was. "Charlie!" she yelled. The level and intensity bordered on a scream, making everyone look in her direction. She charged down off the porch, ran over to him and threw her arms around him, kissing his cheek. "When did this happen?" she demanded, tapping the gold oak leaf on his uniform jacket.

"This morning, Eagle-eyes." He grinned. "Shoulda known you’d see it before I could tell you."

"No ceremony?"

"Nope. And I’m just as glad. I hate that stuff."

"Well, we aren’t going to ignore this!" She dropped her arms and turned toward the porch, where everyone stood gawking at them. "Hey! Charlie got a promotion! He’s a major!"

The Rat Patrol snapped to attention, throwing snappy salutes in Charlie’s direction. Dietrich and Alexander looked at each other and smiled while Charlie returned a snappy salute of his own, muttering to Bridey, "I’m gonna get you for this, Bride."

She just grinned up at him in unrepentant delight and hugged him again. "Put it on my tab, old buddy."

Mike came down from the porch to congratulate Charlie, while Siobhan stood on the top step and beamed. "This calls for something special," Siobhan said knowingly and disappeared inside.

Alexander and Troy walked slowly into the courtyard. They eyed the crowd till they saw Charlie emerge from Bridey’s hug.

"I believe that there’s been a change," Alexander said with a slight smile. He leaned on his cane and returned the salute as Wagner gave it. "Congratulations, Major!"

"Thank you, sir!" Wagner put his hand to his pocket and pulled out four slender envelopes. "I was ordered to bring these here this morning."

"Yes, I’ve been expecting them," Alexander remarked, and put them in his pocket, ignoring the curious looks around him. "Shall we go inside?"

"Why not?" Bridey said and tucked her hand into the crook of Wagner’s arm. "We have to celebrate!"

They led the way, Alexander following behind with Moffitt at his heels, and the others trailing politely behind.

With Charlie, the kitchen seemed filled to bursting. Siobhan turned and shooed them into the parlor where Alexander had already settled into a comfortable chair with a sigh of relief and a cup of tea. Troy, his hands in his pockets, stood by the radio, which was playing Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters, watching with a grin as Wagner tried to melt into the wallpaper. But Bridey wouldn’t let him get away with it. She kept turning him this way and that, making the gold oak leaves glint in the faint sunshine coming in the window. Charlie endured it with a long-suffering brotherly grin.

Finally, the discussion turned to their plans for the day. "Well, I’m trying to think of what you guys can do next around here," Bridey said with a grin. "There’s always the arena and paddock fences. They need sanding, then a new coat of paint."

"We’ll need a good spell of weather for those, Bridey," Hitchcock replied with a grin. "I think it’s gonna rain tonight!"

She made a face at him and everyone laughed.

"Has anyone here thought of what they’ll do after the war?" Alexander asked unexpectedly.

Troy glanced at him suspiciously. He’d heard that innocent tone before — usually just before plunging into a dangerous situation. Moffitt glanced at Tully, who glanced at Hitchcock, who had suspended drinking his cup of coffee. Something was going on.

"Seriously. The war can’t last forever," Alexander said, looking around innocently. "What do you have planned for the future, Troy?"

"The oil business," Troy said, surprising everyone. "I like being outside and that’s where the action is. It looks like money can be made there."

"Texas?" Hitchcock asked

Troy shrugged. "Why not?"

"Why not North Africa, Troy?" Moffitt asked unexpectedly. "There’s plenty of oil there to be found. Lots of cast-off equipment lying around as well."

"Is that where you plan on going?" Alexander questioned, turning to him. "Back to North Africa?"

"Back to the Middle East, yes. I think I can probably get some kind of grant from the University to study there. We ran across amazing old relicts on patrol," Moffitt said with enthusiasm.

"If you can’t get a grant, come see me," Alexander said thoughtfully. "I might have some connections that can help you."

"Thank you, sir."

"What about you, Colonel?" Troy asked.

Alexander ignored him. "Hitchcock?"

The young man shrugged. "Don’t really have any plans, Colonel. I don’t think I really fit into the society life any more back home. Guess I’ll go back to school."

"Good move," Bridey said. "I’m going back to school, too. I start my masters’ program in history September, then I’ll go for my doctorate."

Alexander nodded approval. "That would certainly suit your interests, Bridey. Tully?"

Tully rocked back and forth. "Think I’ll open a car repair shop back home," he said unexpectedly. "I sure know how to fix them! Mack’s going to college after all, so I’m tied to the farm unless Laura wants to sell."

Hitchcock perked up. "Need some help?" he said hopefully.

Tully laughed. "Better see what your parents say first, Hitch!"

"How about you, Colonel?" Troy pressed him. "What are your plans?"

Alexander shrugged. "I don’t have any firm plans. I’ll see where the War Office wants to send me."

"And yours, Major?" Troy said suddenly, turning towards Dietrich, who was leaning against the front door listening. "What are you going to do after the war?"

"My plans? I have none, Sergeant," Dietrich replied. "None at all."

"Rebuilding Germany will take longer than the war," Alexander said to him soberly. "There is devastation everywhere....except for the United States. It will be the Americans’ job to rebuild the world and make sure the Russians don’t take over."

"The Russians, sir?" Moffitt questioned. "Rather thought they were our allies."

Alexander shook his head. "I spent two months with the Soviets before rustling Jaeger. The Russians aren’t seen as conquering heroes most of where they go. The next war will be with Russia or with Communists everywhere."

That cast a pall over the scene. The last thing any fighting man in the room wanted to contemplate was another war. "Killjoy! Let’s finish this war first before we start thinking about another one," Bridey said unexpectedly. "Wars will always be with us, but right now, I’d rather contemplate a happy future rather than think about more conflict."

They laughed and toasted her with tea cups. "Well put, Bridey," Alexander agreed.

Alexander looked at Wagner. "So, Major, what’s your next stop?"

Wagner looked puzzled. "Well, my job hasn’t changed, just my rank. I’ve got to make the usual rounds, and then I have the afternoon off. As far as I know, nothing’s breaking loose."

"I’ll bet," Hitchcock said under his breath studying Alexander. "You’re welcome to help with the road, Major. We need strong backs."

Charlie held up his hands in protest. "My back is willing, but my leg sure isn’t. If I ruin this leg, the doctors will put me on a rack to make them both match again! And I don’t want to even think what my mother’s reaction would be!"

"You have more to fear from your mother than from all the doctors in Army uniforms, Charlie," Siobhan laughed. She entered with a chocolate cake covered in rich chocolate icing.

Bridey looked at her with sudden understanding. "You knew!" she said accusingly. Her cousin smiled smugly, and looked over Bridey’s shoulder at the Colonel. Bridey spun to gape at Alexander. "You knew, too?"

He had the grace to look abashed. "I think I knew before Major Wagner did."

"And you didn’t tell me!"

"No, I didn’t. I would have hated to ruin the surprise."

"What else have you kept secret?" Mike asked suspiciously. "When the war is ending?"

Alexander smiled. The opening was too good to resist. "About twelve hours ago, I believe," he said innocently.

Everyone froze, and Wagner stopped cutting the cake to stare at him. The silence was deafening.

"Want to say that again, Colonel?" Moffitt finally asked.

"Williams called last night to say the documents had been signed. He suggested we listen to the radio today to hear it officially," Alexander said, holding out his hand. Wagner put a plate with a slice of cake in it. "It could happen any time today, depending— Hello!"

The music cut off. Everyone stared at the radio as if it were a bomb.

"You knew?" Troy asked in approximately the same tone as Bridey had used. "Up on the hillside, you knew!"

Alexander waved him silent. "Yes, but listen now!"

The radio voice was unfamiliar and excited. "We have a flash from the Associated Press in Germany that General Alfred Jodl, the chief of Operations of the German High Command, signed the articles of unconditional surrender at two forty-one AM on Sunday morning at the Allied Headquarters in Rheims. That’s France, folks! The war in Europe is over! We’re simply awaiting final confirmation—."

"Turn it down," Bridey whispered. Her eyes went to Dietrich, who was studying the wood of the front door, his expression stony.

"Thank God, it’s over," Alexander said devotedly. "Apparently the AP man has slipped his leash but they’ll have to confirm it now. Not for our troops in the Pacific or Far East but for us—."

"The war is over," Dietrich finished. He walked out of the room. Through the open windows, they heard his boots go across the porch, and down the stairs.

Alexander nodded. "So, gentlemen, you have your futures ahead of you." He fished out the letters that Wagner had brought. "Troy, I extracted a promise to see if I could keep you in the army long enough to finish the war."

"You knew back there," Troy said in slight disbelief. He accepted the envelope but didn’t open it. "Why didn’t you say anything?"

"I thought the announcements should come together," Alexander replied honestly. "Open them."

Hitchcock already had his open and was staring at it in disbelief. "I’ve been ordered to Fort Dix for final separation orders."

"Probably more Army crap," Tully said in a flat tone. He slid his sheet back in the envelope and folded it. "But it looks like we’re all going together."

"Open yours, Troy!" Alexander suggested, eyeing him. "It seems a little more bulky than the others."

Troy shot him a suspicious glance, then opened the envelope. Two pairs of captain’s bars slid out first.

"Congratulations, Sergeant!" Charlie said into the silence. "Or, should I say, Captain Troy."

Bridey grinned and handed Troy a plate with a huge piece of cake. "Same here."

Troy stared at Moffitt. "What’s in yours?"

"I’ve been ordered back to England," he replied. "Unfortunately, not for demobilization, but to be reassigned." He flicked his gaze to Alexander, who was eating the cake, licking crumbs off his lips. "I suppose this has something to do with you, sir?"

"Oh, I doubt that you’ll have a hard time of it," Alexander said dryly. "I should be back there myself in a short while, and by then you’ll be out of the Army. Just look at it as taking a little longer. I believe there is a shortage of German speakers, and they’ll need them for the trials."

"Trials?" Siobhan asked, coming in with a large pitcher of milk, and four empty glasses. She set them down beside the half-emptied plate of cake. "This goes with the cake, Charlie."

"Thanks, Siobhan," he said casually, staring at Alexander.

"What trials, sir?" Moffitt asked.

"Something else we don’t know about?" Troy said dryly.

"I’m sure there will be war trials," Alexander said with an edge. His eyes looked beyond them into the kitchen, and back to the beginning of the year, and his face changed. For a second there he was back in those occupied territories, seeing civilians hung, being downwind from labor camps full of skeletons, living and dead, and seeing soldiers on all sides shot for minor reasons. His hand shook and he put down his cake plate. "I wouldn’t worry about occupation after the war, Lieutenant."

Moffitt nodded. "Will you be going to the trials, then, Colonel?"

"I don’t know," Alexander said thoughtfully. "Maybe to testify about Czechoslovakia."

Bridey shuddered. "Would you excuse me for a minute?" She walked outside, her arms folded across her stomach.

The others looked at each other and shrugged.

"Well, the war is over," Siobhan finally said, breaking the silence.

"Part of it, anyway," Mike corrected. "Our family is still affected by what’s going on in the Pacific."

"Part of it," Siobhan acknowledged. "What do you all plan to do now?"

Hitchcock looked up eagerly. "You know what I want to do?"

"What?" Troy asked, finishing the last of the chocolate cake and putting his plate down on the top of the radio cabinet.

"I want to go into New York and be there when it’s announced."

"That sounds like fun," Moffitt agreed with a touch of enthusiasm. "It would be exciting."

"Yeah!" Wagner chimed in. "Sounds good to me!"

"What about your work here?" Alexander said dryly.

Wagner shrugged. "I’ll make my rounds as fast as I can. Most of the places I need to check today are all in Freehold, so I can do them in a hurry."

"I’d like to go myself," Tully said unexpectedly. "Be a helluva day to be in New York."

"Troy?" Moffitt questioned, looking inquiringly at him. "Coming with us?"

Troy grinned. "Why not! It sounds like a good way to spend the day!" He put the bars into his pocket.

"Coming with us, Colonel?" Hitchcock asked, then looked horrified. He wasn’t usually so casual around his commander.

Alexander laughed. "Go ahead, gentlemen. I’ve already had my victory celebration." They looked curious. "Nineteen-eighteen. I’ll stay at home and listen to the news."

"I’ll try to get back as soon as I can," Wagner said, eagerly climbing to his feet, and brushing crumbs off his jacket.

"Why don’t I call Colonel Westover, and ask him to loan you to me for the day?" Alexander said dryly. "I’m sure he won’t refuse my request."

Charlie gaped at him for a second, then grinned. "No, he wouldn’t, sir. Not after all that’s gone on."

"Then don’t worry about it. Load yourselves in those cars and go to New York!" Alexander ordered. "Remember to ask Miss Cullen as well."

"Will she come?" Troy asked, his gaze going outside. He saw her deep in conversation with Dietrich, who was leaning on the paddock fence. Jaeger was grazing beyond.

"I’ll ask her," Charlie said.

"You might suggest that she’d do more for the Major by letting him adjust alone than keeping him company and reminding him of his losses," Alexander suggested with a sharp edge. "Although I’m sure you’ll be more diplomatic."

Charlie heard the authoritative tone, and stiffened. "Yes, sir!"

"I’d suggest that you leave soon."

Hitchcock let out a whoop. "Let’s get dressed!"

** *** **

Bridey leaned back against the railing, facing Dietrich. "Are you going to be all right?" she asked uncomfortably.

"Ja," Dietrich said, his gaze on the horse in front of him. "This is your day, Fraulein."

"I won’t say I’m sorry that our side won, Hans," she said softly. "Maybe it’ll be over with Japan soon. Then Joey can come home and we can all get around to the rest of our lives."

He looked at her as if he knew what she was trying to do. He appreciated the concern. "The rest of our lives…. My life has been the Wehrmacht for the last ten years, Bridget, and military school long before that. I am not sure where I will go next."

"Can you stay here?" This wasn’t the right time to propose her plan for an eventual business partnership between them, but she could start to sound him out on it.

"Nein. Sooner or later, I will be sent back to Germany," he replied. "I do not know what I will do then, but I will eventually go home."

"Maybe you should ask the Colonel," she suggested. "He might be able to do something for you."

"Ja," he agreed in an offhand manner.

"Would you…would you want to come back here someday? To stay?"

Dietrich looked at her sharply, narrowing his eyes. But before he could answer, they were interrupted by the slam of the front door.

"Bridey!" Charlie Wagner hailed her from the porch. "Come on inside! We’re going to New York, and you’re my date for the day!"

"Charlie, you’ve always had execrable timing," Bridey muttered. "In your dreams, Charlie!" she called back. "God. It would be like going out with my brother," she said to Dietrich.

Dietrich drew slightly away. "You will be traveling with the Rat Patrol. They are not your brothers!"

"None of them are quite my idea of anyone I’d like to date, either," Bridey said with some asperity.

Dietrich grinned at her reaction. "Go to your friends and family, Bridget. This is a day of celebration, after all. The war is over."

"What happens then?" she asked him. "When you go home?"

He hesitated. "I don’t know. But I will have to go home, sooner or later. Right now, I have to start cleaning the stables, and then I will exercise Jaeger."

She nodded. "It’ll work out. You’ll see."

He nodded back. "Ja. It will work out."

"Hey, Bride, come on! We’re burnin’ daylight!" Charlie yelled.

She smiled. "I’d better go in before he upsets the horses with his yelling. I’ll see you later, Hans."

"Yes, Bridget."

** *** **

Alexander, Siobhan and Mike watched the two cars full of excited passengers drive down the long road. After they rounded the corner, the farm was filled again with the normal sounds of horses, and birdsong; a chipmunk came out from the shrubs near the main barn to run across the cobblestones.

"My word, that was exciting," Alexander finally said. He glanced at Siobhan’s smiling face. "Are you sorry you didn’t go?"

"Oh, no!" she replied promptly. "It’ll be a madhouse up there."

"It was enough of one here," Mike murmured. "I’d better be getting to the horses." He stepped down, then paused as Dietrich came out leading Jaeger. The horse wore a bridle and saddle.

"Going riding, Major?" Alexander called.

Dietrich nodded. "Over the hills. He needs the exercise."

"Aye," Mike said shrewdly, knowing it to be more of an escape. "Be careful out there."

"I will." Dietrich’s gaze went to Alexander, excluding the others. "Congratulations, sir."

"Thank you. Have a good ride, Major. Siobhan, when’s supper?"

"At the usual time. Hans, make sure you’re on time. Don’t come in after dark!"

He smiled, and swung himself up into the saddle. "I promise not to be late for dinner, Frau McKenna."

They watched him ride off, their expressions sober. "So, that’s what the end of the war is like?" Mike asked.

"No, it’s part of the morning after a parade with lots of liquor, and as many kisses as you can get," Alexander said soberly.

Mike raised an eyebrow. "We just sent my daughter off to one of those celebrations. I’m not sure that’s the kind of thing I want to hear right now."

"Bridey isn’t a flirt, Michael, and Charlie won’t let anyone take advantage of her, anyway," Siobhan said. "Nor those other young men, either."

Alexander looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Major Dietrich is starting to realize what it’s like to have a future."

"I’d better get to the horses," Mike said. "They’re my future." He walked down the stairs and into the barn.

Siobhan put her hand on Alexander’s arm and turned him to face her. "Okay, that leaves us with all the dishes."

"That I can handle. After that I have to make my bed," he said agreeably.

She paused with her arms full of plates. "You didn’t make the bed?"

"No, it didn’t seem that important this morning. I had to talk to Troy."

"Let’s let the dishes soak, and make the bed. Together."

"You soak chocolate cake off dishes?" he asked, puzzled.

She stared him straight in the eyes, her message clear. "I do when there’s a bed to be made. Be careful with that cake dish, Peter. Don’t drop it."

"I wouldn’t dare," he said smiling and following her into the kitchen. "It would hold up making the bed."

** *** **

Hans Dietrich reined Jaeger in on a hilltop. He took a deep breath and filled himself with the beauty of the land. Looking down on the gently rolling fields that comprised Diamond Shamrock Farm, he thought how rich it was here. Peaceful. So very untouched by the war. So unlike Europe, which was pock-marked with scars from bombs and mines from wars that went back to the dawn of time. No, here there were no cities lost in the desert sands, no ancient empires that stretched farther than the mind could conceive, as in Africa. No tyranny of the classes—in America you really could start again from nothing and go as high as your talents could carry you. If you failed, well, the Americans wouldn’t hold it against you; they might even try to help you up.

And if there was a flip side of malice, deceit and spite to their generosity, it wasn’t part of their total nature. Americans had to make excuses for their negative actions because their society didn’t have them built in like the Europeans did.

This was a wonderful country. He would have to come back here when he was able. Bridget’s question—and he knew there was more to it than just innocent curiosity—had planted a seed. He remembered telling Troy that he hadn’t expected to find friends here, and in particular, friends among his former enemies. What did they see in him that made them offer to help him? Should he ask someday? He laughed. No, that might embarrass everyone; better to just let it lie and take what was given.

He used to know what he was and where the future lay; now he looked into the coming decades and knew that nothing was certain. His life had always been the military. It was built into his nature. But that didn’t exist anymore—and it probably never would again, at least, not as he had known it. What was he going to do now? What were they all going to do now? Most of his army friends were probably dead; most of his family certainly, and his home was in the British area.

Beneath him, he felt the horse stir. Jaeger was tired of waiting for him to make a decision. For the stallion, the future was clear; breeding mares, siring foals, and perhaps the dressage arena again. Even if Alexander took him back to England or wherever his mysterious commanders ordered, the horse’s job was well-defined.

The past was the structure; the future was misty, and Dietrich realized that for the first time in his entire life, since long before he had gone to his military school, he had total freedom to choose his life. Yes, the US Army had control right now; they could ship him back to a POW camp in England, or release him into the morass of Europe, but after that, after he was free, Hans Dietrich would be able to choose his own path, just the way the Rat Patrol could, and Bridget and the others. It was a heady thought.

There were no boundaries anymore. It was frightening. His spine stiffened. He had never been afraid of any obstacles in his life. This just incorporated more of them, higher and with more to lose.

But he had friends who would help him get up. The war was over!

Squeezing his calves, he urged Jaeger on towards the horizon. Today they’d ride the limits of the Cullen farm, and then go back. He’d deal with tomorrow when it came, and the next day. No matter what came, he could handle it now.

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