I’ve been jumped by a lot of work in the last couple of weeks, so I’ve posted the Under Fire contest because it goes until January 31. So if you haven’t participated, you still have time. Today I’d love to share with you an excerpt from One London Night, which is truly a book of my heart. One London Night debuts on January 27, 2014. Over the rest of the month I’ll have some more snippets for you from this novel. Enjoy!
War Time London, 1940
A time when uncertainty festers within even the strongest of men.
A time when fear rules everyone’s lives.
A time when love dares to defy the devastation of war.
After years away, American war correspondent Sylvie Hunnicut returns to England determined to put aside tumultuous memories and muster the courage to cover the war in Great Britain. Guilt she harbors over a horrible accident that permanently injured childhood friend Alec Kent threatens to destroy their relationship. Secret longings for him remain in her heart, even if he wants nothing to do with her.
Alec Kent’s disability works against him in serving his country, until he signs on with the Auxiliary Fire Service. Sylvie’s return brings to the forefront Alec’s hidden love for her and a determination to prove himself to his disapproving father.
But war promises to destroy the possibility of love and bring a great city to its knees.
Riding in the car with Alec, Bent, and Felix as they towed a pump toward Howard’s Timber Yard was about the most exciting thing Sylvie had ever experienced. She acknowledged a part of herself, right then and there, she hadn’t known existed before tonight. Adventure ran in her blood. Of course she should have known this before. She’d gotten into jams more than once with her stubborn insistence on challenging established rules.
As they rolled through the streets, the glows from more than one fire reminded her this wasn’t an adventure but deadly business. Nervous but thrilled to ride along, Sylvie caught herself talking too much.
“She’s quite the pip, ain’t she?” Felix asked.
Sylvie turned toward Felix—he sat right next to her in the back seat. “I’m right here, Felix. You’re talking about me as if I’m not here.”
A bashful look came over his face. “Sorry, miss.”
“I’d watch out, Felix. She is a pip,” Alec said.
She wanted to pop off with a snappy something that would show them all her mettle. Instead she kept it professional. As the dark buildings went buy, light from the fires ahead made the way easier to navigate. Tension traveled up her body, her muscles going tight.
“Here we go.” Bink’s voice reflected concern. “Straight into hell.”
Sylvie decided to remember what he’d said. Darkness prevented her from making notes. Time passed slowly as they continued slow progress along the streets.
“No wonder things burn down around here. We can’t move any faster,” she said.
“Can’t be helped,” Bink said from the seat in front of her. “We run over a civilian, there will be hell to pay.”
She didn’t want them to think she criticized their efforts. “Of course. If you crash, you can’t help anyone else.”
When they reached the timber yards a long time later, Sylvie quickly discovered her ignorance about firefighting. Walls of flame shot upward from the timber yard despite the efforts of dozens upon dozens of pumps on the scene. As Alec pulled the pump into line with the others, Felix and Bent bailed out to get orders on where they were needed the most.
“My God. Where do you start?” she asked.
In awe and fear, she watched the flames devour everything in their path, barely held back by the firefighters’ efforts.
“Damn good question.” Alec handed her something from the front seat. “Wear these.”
In the dark she almost couldn’t tell what was in her hand. “What is it?”
“Gas goggles. You don’t want eye injuries. I’m wearing a pair.” He slid a balaclava over his head and fastened the goggles in place before putting on the helmet. Then he handed her an extra helmet.
“What…” she started to say.
“Get rid of the fancy hat and wear the helmet and goggles.”
She stared at him for a few seconds.
“I’m serious, Sylvie. Wear it.”
Despite the bossy tone, she knew he was right. “Sparks off the fire.”
With the goggles and other head covering, he looked like some sort of weird creature from a nightmare. “That’s right.”
She worked on removing the hat and tossed it aside. Her hair tumbled down, but she ignored it. She didn’t have time to braid it. She’d have to work the situation with what clothing she possessed.
Felix opened the door. “When you two are done playing, we’ve got a fire out here. They want this pump over on the north side.”
She heard Alec curse under his breath. “Get in.”
As she plopped the helmet on her head, Alec drove them to the north side. As the fire drew nearer, she could feel the heat in the car. Tension rose inside Sylvie. Her stomach tumbled and flipped with an anxiety she couldn’t contain. She’d never crept closer and closer to a fire this huge in her life. She leaned forward to look out the windshield as fear threatened to derail her plans for calm.
You’re a journalist, Sylvie. No matter what you’re feeling, you have to do this.
She drew in a breath and let it out slowly. Noise outside the car hid the sound. Good. If they knew how nervous this made her, they’d believe all the things said about women as war correspondents. It didn’t matter if this whole thing scared her to death, she couldn’t show it.
The car and pump drew to a halt. Her heart raced as Alec and the other men hurried out of the car. She sat there a second too long before she noticed Alec, Felix, and Bink manned the hoses. She wished she had a camera, but her memory would have to do the trick, and maybe she could write some notes if the fire made it light enough. She hesitated, the fierce flames sending a primitive fear through her she’d only experienced once before.
Her mind flashed back to being fourteen and hearing Alec’s cry of agony as glass tore into his right eye. Recalling that horrible experience hurt enough, but the flames…the flames dove into everything primitive inside her. She’d been prepared, hadn’t she? She’d imagined this scene before.
She forced herself out of the car but stood near it, as if it would be a bastion of safety if things got out of control.
Heat blasted her, and she took an involuntary step back. Glad for sturdy shoes and practical clothing, she directed her attention toward recording everything she could in her mind’s eye. Water spouted from the hose Alec and the other men pointed at the relentless conflagration. Streams of water came from another hose manned by other men. They’d hooked up the hose to a hydrant. She shoved aside all apprehension and allowed her senses to absorb the situation. She’d need all this for her article. Fear sliced like a knife through her, but she closed her eyes and listened.
An angry roar and snapping sound told her the fire had no mercy. It was a beast without conscience or morals. Heat came in waves. Snaps and crackles mingled with the ping, plop, and zing of mortar popping and melting. Bricks crumbled and fell. The noise almost eclipsed the drone of Germans flying overhead and the ack-ack noise of anti-aircraft guns.
She opened her eyes and matched what she saw with the hellacious sounds. Fire shot up from the center of the building and made the windows look like yellow eyes staring at her in condemnation. An element of helplessness overwhelmed Sylvie. She took out her notebook and managed a few perfunctory notes. She couldn’t fight this fire, and the men nearby put their lives on the line doing what they could to tame this beast. Shouts mixed with grunts of exertion. She was hot and tired already, and the night was certainly young. She remembered them explaining that if it was an oil bomb fire, they’d take care of it with a special foam. But this wasn’t that type of fire, apparently—she didn’t see any crew using foam. As time dragged on, the pumps at the fire started to make progress. She wandered away from the car but kept herself far away from the timber yard and other buildings.
A roar came from somewhere nearby, and someone shouted.
Alec’s voice reached over the horrible sound of hell coming undone, and she realized the building behind her was listing to the side and new flames had cropped up. Sparks had found their way over her head.
“Sylvie, get away from there!”
Alec raced toward her, and she darted toward him and what she hoped was safety.