Le Coeur de Lion
by
JSwrdsmth@aol.com

Part 5 - Final

 

 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |

 

The pain woke her. Katrine groaned and opened her eyes but made no further movement as she took stock of her injuries. The pain, which radiated from her hip and shoulder, had flared when she’d tried to roll on to her right side, she realized. What had she done yesterday…?

 

Katrine Durr shut her eyes against a deeper pain as the events of the previous night engulfed her: light slashing across the huddled prisoners, the faces of the murdered, the night ripped open by fire, the throat-choking flight.

 

But before the familiar black despair could sweep over her, another memory came—being cradled in Anna’s arms. She could still feel her shock as the fierce maquisard embraced her gently and offered the solace of a lullaby.

 

And that kiss. My God. A shiver of arousal swept over her. Everything the woman was had been distilled in her kiss. And that had been more intoxicating than any of the experienced caresses of other lovers.

 

A knock came at the outer door. With a groan, Katrine threw back the covers and began the process of rising. By the time she had shrugged on her robe and limped across the sitting room, the knock had sounded twice more. Pain and that annoying persistence had the club owner grumbling as she flung open the door.

 

"What is it?" she demanded.

 

Except for the flight of one eyebrow, Thomas showed no reaction to her ungracious greeting. "Good morning, Katrine."

 

"What time is it?"

 

He glanced at his watch. "8:35."

 

"And why have you come pounding on my door at this indecent hour?" she asked, slouching against the doorframe and crossing her arms.

 

The hint of a smile flickered in his eyes. "My apologies." Then more seriously, "You just received a note from Commandant Schemmel, and the messenger is waiting for your reply."

 

The resistance leader straightened and took the envelope being offered. "What’s in it?"

 

Thomas shook his head. "The messenger did not say, and I did not attempt to read it since it was addressed to you."

 

Katrine glanced at the back of the envelope then up at him. "Didn’t want to break the seal?" she asked sardonically.

 

His lips twitched, but he made no reply.

 

"Where is the soldier?"

 

"In the front room. Nicolas is serving him coffee." There was a hint of reproach in the answer; they both knew that the question had really been ‘you haven’t left him alone here, have you?’

 

She reached out and squeezed his arm, smiling apologetically, before limping back inside. He followed, closing the door behind them.

 

Taking a seat at her secretary, she picked up her silver letter opener and slit the envelope with a flick of the blade.

 

Madame Durr:

 

My sincere apologies for disturbing you at this hour, but I must request a meeting with you this morning. I am investigating the murder of German soldiers and the sabotage of a train near Ste-Claire last night. Please inform me of the most convenient time to call upon you.

 

Heinrich Schemmel

 

Her pulse jumped, but she said calmly enough, "The commandant wishes to speak with me this morning about the sabotage."

 

"Do you think he suspects?"

 

Katrine shook her head. "Most probably he merely wishes to know whether I may have heard anything suspicious. If he did suspect us, I would not have received a polite note requesting a meeting. Soldiers would have stormed the club."

 

"That is certainly what his men have been doing to the rest of Ste-Claire."

 

Concern crossed the woman’s face. "Have people been hurt?"

 

"No one is resisting, from what Nicolas has heard, and the soldiers haven’t been too violent—yet. I suspect that is by order of your commandant."

 

Katrine grimaced. "Not my commandant—but I agree. He is not a man, I think, to use violence before he feels he needs it." She looked up at her friend, face grim. "But that is not to say he won’t if he believes it necessary. He may be more civilized than many, but he is still a Nazi officer."

 

Thomas nodded.

 

"I will write a note," Katrine continued, "offering him my complete assistance, of course. Then we shall see."

 

************

 

The clock above the bar read 9 a.m. when Anna entered the front of the club from the back rooms. A quick scan told her no one else was present—a relief given the confusion churning within her. Anna plopped down on a chair at one of the tables. In the light of day, her actions last night seemed fantastical. Had she truly held Katrine Durr in her arms, sung her a lullaby…and kissed her?

 

Anna closed her eyes. Oh, yes, she had kissed the woman; even now, she could feel traces of the burn. Lying in bed, she had been all too aware of the rubbing of the soft cotton nightgown against her nipples as she moved restlessly beneath the covers. Sleep had been a long time in coming. This morning, the physical torment had given way to emotional upheaval.

 

What do I do now? I know more of killing than love. She clenched her hands, refusing to think of the men who had died in the explosion as anything other than beasts. She would not regret what she had to do to drive all of them from her homeland. What she did regret—would always regret—was being unable to help those prisoners.

 

She rested her elbows on the smooth wooden surface and put her head in her hands. Yes, she knew about killing and hatred and regret—but nothing about love. And Madame Durr clearly knew just how inexperienced Anna was. She felt the heat rise in her face as she remembered the older woman’s words.

 

Why would a woman as experienced and sophisticated as Katrine Durr be interested in an ignorant village girl, anyway? The more she thought about it, the less sense it made. Madame Durr had never appeared to be attracted to her before last night.

 

Last night, when she was upset and in need. Anna felt a sinking in her stomach. That was all it had been—a moment of need.

 

"Anna?"

 

The maquisard shot up from her chair, which toppled over with a clatter. She stared wide-eyed at Katrine Durr, who was standing by the table staring quizzically at her.

 

"I’m sorry," the club owner said in that damnably husky voice. "I didn’t mean to startle you."

 

"Uhh…"

 

Katrine frowned. Moving closer, she reached out to touch Anna’s arm. "What’s wrong? Has something happened?"

 

The younger woman stared at the slender hand branding her arm then back up at its owner. She swallowed and managed to blurt out, "Nothing!"

 

Auburn eyebrows rose, and Anna once again felt heat scorch her cheeks.

 

The puzzled look in the gray-blue eyes gradually gave way to something else. Katrine’s fingers slid from Anna’s arm and into her hand, wrapping warmly around it. Then the older woman tugged slightly, urging Anna forward until only inches separated them. "Are you sorry, my Anna?" she asked softly, gazing up at her. "About what happened between us last night?"

 

The maquisard’s heart skipped. Her Anna? Relief flooded her, and she shook her head.

 

Katrine smiled. "Good, because neither am I. And I would like very much," she reached up to touch full lips with two fingers, "to kiss you again. May I?"

 

The younger woman could only nod.

 

"Thank you." Then Katrine wrapped her arms around Anna’s neck and pulled her into a kiss.

 

Anna felt light-headed by the time she was released—but her doubts about what Katrine wanted were gone. Knowing this beautiful, worldly woman wanted her made Anna feel incredibly powerful—more powerful than the ability to destroy ever had.

 

That thought reminded her of what else had happened last night, and she stepped back to examine Katrine’s face.

 

"Are you all right?" she asked anxiously. "The pain?"

 

Katrine grimaced. "I think I’d better sit. My leg still aches somewhat."

 

Concerned, Anna helped the other woman to sit down on the other chair at the small table.

 

The maquisard had just righted her own chair when Nicolas burst in from the kitchen, disheveled and out of breath.

 

"Madame, they’re coming!" he gasped.

 

"Nicolas, slow down," the club owner responded. "Who’s coming?"

 

"German soldiers. They’re coming here!"

 

Katrine frowned. Slipping a hand into the pocket of her dress, she retrieved the gold watch that had, Anna knew, belonged to her father.

 

With a touch, the cover sprang open.

 

"9:10. I told the commandant 10:00, but perhaps he didn’t wish to wait," she said.

 

Anna stiffened. "What are you talking about?"

 

Katrine smiled reassuringly. "Don’t worry. The commandant sent me a message this morning asking for a meeting to discuss the sabotage."

 

Anna sprang to her feet. "Why haven’t you told me this?" she asked angrily, mind racing to determine what should be done.

 

"What should we do?" Nicolas asked, echoing her thoughts in a voice pitched higher than usual.

 

"Calm down, my friends. As I told Thomas, if Commandant Schemmel suspected us, then his troops would have stormed Le Coeur. He wouldn’t have asked politely for a meeting. He’s looking for information and probably considers me a good source on the comings and goings of people here."

 

The reasoning sounded plausible, but the adrenaline of alarm continued rushing through her body.

 

"I pray that it’s as you say, Madame," Nicolas interjected. "But the commandant isn’t with the men headed this way."

 

The resistance leader frowned. "Is there an officer with them?"

 

"A lieutenant. But I think he is new to Ste-Claire. I don’t recognize him."

 

"And you’re certain they’re heading to Le Coeur?"

 

"Yes, yes, no doubt," he replied.

 

Anna saw the concern rise in Katrine’s eyes. "Weapons?" the maquisard asked brusquely. No time to get out, but they could fight.

 

Startled, the resistance leader looked at her. "No. We don’t know for certain what’s happening. We must play it out for now."

 

"Nicolas," Katrine said, "go to German headquarters and ask to speak to the commandant’s aide. Tell him…." She stopped, considering. "Tell him one of their lieutenants and some of their soldiers have come early, and I’m wondering if the commandant wishes for them to remain until his arrival."

 

"I don’t understand," Nicolas said.

 

Katrine smiled grimly. "If the commandant did not order this then he will, I hope, call off these dogs. If he does know, then I have not actually protested the ‘visit,’ only asked for his instructions. Go, Nicolas."

 

The small man nodded and headed for the front door.

 

As the door closed, the resistance leader turned back to Anna. "Did you and Thomas stash everything?"

 

"He told me he would take care of the packs and his weapon. I hid my pistol and the clothes I wore in the compartment beneath my floor."

 

Katrine, who had begun to nod, froze. "My clothes…," she said, a touch of fear tainting her eyes for the first time.

 

Before Katrine could finish the thought, Anna was moving toward the back rooms.

 

Then the front door burst open, and armed Germans soldiers swarmed into Le Coeur de Lion.

 

**************

 

A shocked Katrine suddenly found herself shielded by Anna’s body, startled by the speed with which the younger woman had moved.

 

"Who is the owner here?" demanded a heavily accented male voice.

 

Katrine touched her protector’s back, urging her to step away; the younger woman resisted. "Anna," she said quietly, pressing more firmly. A long moment passed before Anna slowly gave way.

 

A prime specimen of Aryan manhood—tall, blond, blue eyes, narrow face and nose, high cheekbones, and pink-white skin—stood arrogantly in front of his men. Almost certainly a new arrival in town for Katrine did not recognize him. Commandant Schemmel had always made it a point to bring his officers to the club to introduce them. His way, she assumed, of telling them she was under his protection.

 

"I am Katrine Durr, the owner of Le Coeur de Lion. How may I assist you, Lieutenant…?"

 

A sneer crossed the Nazi officer’s perfect features. "Hemerling." He gave her a brief, mocking bow. "You can assist me, Madame, by summoning your people for interrogation while my men search your…," he glanced around the place with obvious distaste, "…establishment."

 

Spreading her hands in a placating manner, she responded, "But of course, I will help in any way I can. But you may wish to contact Commandant Schemmel before proceeding; he.…"

 

"The commandant has issued his orders," he interrupted harshly. "Find the scum who murdered German soldiers." He stepped closer, menacingly. "Those are my orders, and I will execute them."

 

Through long practice, Katrine remained outwardly calm, but her heart was racing and she was battling a rising panic. Had she misread Schemmel and the situation this badly? Had the commandant sent that note to lull her into a false security until he could get his men here? Or had he discovered something in the short time between writing the note and now?

 

But what could he possibly have discovered? Even if we dropped something at the bridge, we had nothing that could be traced back to us. Anna had ensured that, checking over everything they had carried.

 

Has someone talked? Her heart seemed to stop, and it was all she could do not to look at Anna. No, she thought desperately. Then memories of previous night flooded her. No. And this time, the denial was conviction, not plea. The woman who had been revealed to her last night could not have betrayed them.

 

Who else? Not Thomas. He would die before betraying us. Nicholas? His warning could have been a German ruse to scout out the club before storming it. Yet if he had given them up, she was certain she would have seen not only fear but guilt in his face. He was not a man who hid his emotions well.

 

Brigitte? The thought of Brigitte betraying them seemed almost obscene. The woman’s involvement with the resistance was the only thing that kept her going at times. Yet if her family were threatened…? But why would anyone have suspected Brigitte to begin with? There was nothing to connect her to the explosion. There wasn’t even anything in her house to tie her to the resistance. Katrine had made Brigitte agree early on to that, hoping to protect her friend even if the club owner’s involvement were uncovered. So what physical evidence would the other woman have…?

 

The map. The one Brigitte had used to point out the bridge yesterday. Could she, for some reason, have taken it home? Would it be a suspicious item to have? As far as Katrine could remember, they hadn’t marked the map. But how reliable is my memory? I may have doomed us with a pile of dirty clothes.

 

"How many people live here?" Hemerling asked, interrupting the frantic thoughts.

 

"Just four of us," she replied, trying to bring her mind back to the immediate situation. "My cousin," she gestured toward Anna, "myself, my bartender, and my handyman."

 

"Where are the others?" he demanded.

 

"I’m not certain. Monsieur Roche, my bartender, may still be on the premises, but my handyman just left."

 

"Ah, I had almost forgotten," Hemerling said. He snapped his fingers, and two soldiers hauled Nicolas inside. "Is this your handyman, Madame? We found him scurrying away."

 

Dwarfed by the two soldiers who held him, Nicolas gave Katrine an apologetic look. "I’m sorry I had no time to run that errand, Madame," he said.

 

"It doesn’t matter, Nicolas, you can do so after Lieutenant Hemerling is done here." But hope sank away at the sight of him.

 

"Silence!"

 

The handyman shrank back at the German officer’s command.

 

"Where is this man Roche?" Hemerling demanded.

 

"Here."

 

The Germans swung around, bringing their guns to bear on Thomas, who stood in the doorway to the back rooms, unmoving.

 

The lieutenant pushed past his men to stand in front of the bartender. His eyed the black man, then spit on the floor between them and swung around to face Katrine.

 

"You let this animal serve Germans?" he demanded. "Touch the glasses from which they drink?"

 

Not waiting for a response, Hemerling gave a clipped order in his own language. A soldier grabbed Thomas and pushed him face first against a wall. Roughly, he pulled the black man’s arms behind his back and tied them. Then he dragged Thomas down to stand beside Nicolas.

 

Katrine opened her mouth to protest, but Thomas shook his head slightly. After a brief hesitation, she allowed those words to die unspoken but could not remain completely silent. "I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I assumed since Commandant Schemmel had no complaints about my bartender that it was all right for him to serve your people."

 

That seemed to give the officer pause, but then he replied dismissively, "Commandant Schemmel cannot concern himself with places like this. Now you will sit down, and we will…talk."

 

"As you wish, Lieutenant. Anna?"

 

Katrine touched the maquisard’s arm; the muscles were rigid. Glancing up, she saw that Anna’s gaze was locked on the German officer. She was paying no heed to Katrine’s efforts to get her to sit down.

 

This drew Hemerling’s attention. His hard blue eyes slowly raked the younger woman’s body. He smiled; Katrine’s skin crawled.

 

Crossing the floor, he stopped before Anna, standing much too close to her. Running a finger down the side of her face, he said, "Who would have thought to find such perfection in this pathetic place?"

 

Hot anger swept over Katrine, and she had to fight the urge to interfere, knowing it would only escalate the danger.

 

But she wasn’t the only one enraged. With a quick, hard blow, Anna knocked the officer’s hand away. Stunned silence descended over the room, and for several moments, no one moved. Then Hemerling cursed and grabbed for the woman who had resisted him.

 

Katrine stepped quickly between them. "Forgive my young cousin, Lieutenant," she forced herself to say soothingly, heart pounding, "she doesn’t always mind her manners well. The village she came from was very backward. I’m trying to teach her, but I’m afraid she is a slow learner."

 

With obvious effort, the Nazi officer checked himself, perhaps deciding that it wouldn’t do to lose control before his men. "You had better teach her quickly, or I will deliver my own lesson."

 

A chill ran down her spine. She knew that the man would be dead before he could even begin such a lesson. Anna would kill him first—or Katrine would. But she also knew that action would seal all of their fates.

 

"Sit down now!" Hemerling ordered.

 

Wrapping a hand around one of the fists balled at Anna’s sides, Katrine said gently, "Commandant Schemmel would want us to help the lieutenant in his investigations, Cousin. You mustn’t act childishly."

 

Pale eyes met her own, the expression so cold and deadly that Katrine shivered, though she knew the other woman would not hurt her. "Anna, please," she murmured.

 

The menace receded from the maquisard’s gaze, and she allowed herself to be led over to a chair.

 

The resistance leader was grateful she had to walk only a few steps since the effort of hiding her limp increased the pain. Hemerling would not fail to notice the limp; anything out of the ordinary would be suspect.

 

The lieutenant perched on the table next to the women. "You will not mind, I am certain, if some of my men entertain themselves by looking around your club while we have a…chat."

 

Though it was not a question, Katrine replied anyway. "I and my staff will assist you in whatever way we can."

 

His smile offered nothing remotely reassuring. "Yes, you will."

 

He glanced over his shoulder and barked some orders. Four men broke from the rest. Two pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen while the others disappeared into the back rooms. Since hers was the last room in the hall, it would probably be the last searched—but that would just be postponing the inevitable for Katrine did not think this man would stop until he had searched every inch of her club. When the soldiers discovered the clothes, it would be all the excuse needed to wreck Le Coeur de Lion. And if they did, they would find the hidden compartments.

 

Hemerling turned back to Katrine. "As the owner of the village nightclub you have contacts with many people."

 

It flickered through the club owner’s mind that this was the same reasoning Brigitte had used when she had approached Katrine about the resistance. Ma belle, I hope that you are safe.

 

Donning a puzzled look, the resistance leader replied, "It is true that I see many people; Le Coeur is well patronized."

 

"Then it would be easy for you to be in touch with the resistance. Who would notice one more face among so many?" he accused.

 

"The resistance!" she exclaimed, using her fear to drive indignation and surprise into her voice. "Why would I associate with terrorists who kill innocent people!"

 

A sneering skepticism crossed his face. "You must be unique among your countrymen to characterize German soldiers as innocents."

 

"Even if I agreed that every soldier deserved to die—which I do not—they are not the only ones to suffer when the saboteurs strike. My countrymen, too, have died in these exchanges. Innocent victims." That was true. No matter the cause, trying to reconcile herself to the death of innocent bystanders proved a constant struggle.

 

"The resistance does not care about these ‘innocent’ Frenchmen," he countered. "So if you are helping the resistance you would not care either."

 

Her mind raced, trying to decide what to say next, how to convince this man that she was not part of the resistance. "Lieutenant, I am no more than what you see." She swept a hand downward, indicating her rather harmless—she hoped—appearance. "A woman who inherited a business from her father and who is trying to keep it going in the midst of a war in order to feed and shelter myself and my family." She placed her right hand on Anna’s arm, which lay stiffly on the table between them. "Do you think I would risk it all to join a hopeless and reckless effort to dislodge your army?"

 

"You wish me to believe that you do not care that Germans, not Frenchmen, own this country? If this is true, some would call you a traitor."

 

She smiled sadly. "I prefer to think myself a realist. And I am not the only one in France to have chosen this course, yes?"

 

"Fortunately, for the Germans," Anna said through clenched teeth.

 

Anna, no, Katrine thought in dismay.

 

The Nazi, on the other hand, seemed delighted to have provoked a response. His predator’s gaze settled on the younger woman.

 

"And why is that, Mademoiselle Durr?"

 

Katrine pressed her fingers against Anna’s arm, warning.

 

A minute passed, then Anna replied in an emotionless voice, "Like my cousin, most of our countrymen accept Germany’s presence because it is the wise thing to do. Anything else would be…unrealistic."

 

Hemerling rose from the table to stand before the maquisard; a hand under her chin forced her to look up at him. "Interesting. You include your cousin in the group of sheep—but not yourself. Why is that?"

 

Sickened by the sight of the Nazi touching Anna, Katrine gripped the side of her chair with her left hand. There are men here who won’t hesitate to shoot us, she reminded herself. Her own forbearance might not be enough to contain the situation, however; Anna was obviously close to losing control.

 

"She meant nothing by it, Lieutenant," the club owner hastily interjected. "The young often misspeak, yes?"

 

He didn’t spare Katrine a glance, eyes fixed on Anna. "And are often reckless as well. You claim that you would not risk everything to defy the Germans, Madame, but I think your young cousin is another matter. Would you not agree?"

Katrine was on her feet, not having made a conscious decision to take action, knowing only that Anna needed her. Guns rose in her direction.

 

"I suggest you sit down again, Madame Durr; you are making my men nervous." This time the officer did look at her, though he kept his grip on Anna’s chin.

 

"My cousin…," Katrine began.

 

"Sit down or you will no longer need to worry about your cousin," he snapped, stepping away from the maquisard and toward the older woman, threat written in every line of his body.

 

"Of course. I didn’t mean to alarm anyone." As she sat, she glanced past the officer to Anna. Free from the Nazi’s hold, the younger woman appeared to have regained some control.

 

Once the club owner had obeyed him, the lieutenant resumed his interrogation of Anna. Fortunately, he did not touch her again.

 

"Just how reckless are you, Mademoiselle Durr?"

 

"Not very," Anna replied, dropping her gaze to her lap.

 

Hemerling frowned, clearly unappreciative of the change in her attitude. "Yet just a minute ago you were eagerly informing a roomful of German soldiers that we are fortunate that more Frenchmen do not fight us—that we should be grateful. And I’m sure my men are."

 

He glanced over his shoulder and said something in German to his men, who laughed.

 

Katrine saw the other woman’s hands clench. God, Anna, don’t let them know that you understand. If Hemerling discovered the maquisard was Alsatian, it could mean her death. The Germans had always considered Alsace their land, even when France reclaimed it after the last war, and any Alsatian who sided with the French was a traitor in their eyes. Traitors were shot.

 

Hemerling returned his attention to Anna. "Speak your mind, Mademoiselle. Tell us why we should be grateful."

 

"I am…sorry," Anna choked out. "I only said it because I didn’t like the way you were treating my cousin."

 

The lieutenant feigned shock. "Have I mistreated your cousin? I apologize. I thought I was only asking her the questions that needed to be asked. Do you not agree?"

 

Anna raised her head and met his gaze. "Yes," she said tonelessly.

 

Hemerling moved closer. He ran his hand through Anna’s blond hair. "Perhaps if you demonstrate how sorry you are, we can forget the whole thing."

 

Before either Katrine or Anna could react, a soldier came to the door to the back rooms and said something in German to the lieutenant. Hemerling beckoned the man closer and questioned him. He turned to Katrine. "It seems that one of the doors is locked. Why would that be?"

 

The club owner shook her head, genuinely confused. "I don’t know, Monsieur." She glanced over at Thomas and saw him staring steadily at her. "Are you certain it is locked? We’ve been having some trouble with swollen doors."

 

A smile that wasn’t a smile at all touched his lips. "Let us help you with that problem, Madame." He gave an order and the soldier disappeared into the back rooms again. "I have told him that you would appreciate having the door opened—no matter what the problem. But he will wait for us before entering. Shall we join him?"

 

**********

 

Anna fought not to retaliate when one of the German soldiers "escorting" Katrine and her shoved her through the doorway. Hatred and fear raged within her, the latter more for her companion than herself. From the day she had joined the maquis, Anna had known she would not survive this war, that somewhere along the line her luck would run out. But Katrine….

 

"Ah, here we are," Hemerling pronounced as they neared the soldiers at the end of the corridor.

 

Startled, Anna realized they were standing before Katrine’s door. Why would the club owner have locked her door? It was not her practice.

 

The German officer stepped forward, grasped the knob, and tried to open the door. It did not budge.

 

"You see?" he said. "We cannot enter. Why would that be, Madame Durr?"

 

Katrine shrugged. "I do not know. If it’s locked, someone must have done it accidentally."

 

"That must be it," Hemerling said mockingly. "What room is this?"

 

"Mine."

 

His eyebrows rose. "Then you would be the one most likely to have locked it, would you not?"

 

Again the slender shoulders shrugged. "I cannot remember, Lieutenant. My apologies. But I assure you, you’ll find nothing inside but quite ordinary possessions."

 

"Perhaps," he said. "But my orders are to search everywhere. Please give me the key."

 

Katrine made a show of patting her pockets, then gave the officer an apologetic smile. "I seem to have misplaced it. I’m sorry. If you come back later.…"

 

"No matter," he said, interrupting her. "I have my own key." His thin lips curved into a sneer. To the man standing before the door, he said in German: "Break it open!"

 

The soldier immediately raised his gun and smashed the butt against the door above the lock.

 

Anna felt Katrine flinch.

 

It only took a few strikes before the door gave way. The soldier slung his rifle back over his shoulder and shoved the splintered door open.

 

"Ah, see there, we have opened it for you," Hemerling said to Katrine. "Shall we proceed?"

 

Two soldiers entered; the lieutenant indicated the women should follow next. Anna allowed Katrine to precede her, using it as an excuse to lightly touch the other woman’s back. Katrine glanced over her shoulder, giving Anna a small smile, but there was fear in the gray-blue eyes.

 

"Now we shall see what innocent reason you have for locking your rooms," the lieutenant said with false pleasantness. Then in German he ordered his men to "search this place—every inch of it. Do not be gentle!"

 

Anna’s hands clenched; it took everything she had not to react to his words and reveal that she understood.

 

Within moments, it no longer mattered. The soldiers’ actions made the order clear as Katrine’s sitting room was ransacked. One man jerked open the liquor cabinet and began hurling glasses to the floor as he searched—though he carefully spared the liquor itself, Anna noticed. Another soldier flung open the secretary and began tossing out papers as he searched the drawers and compartments.

 

"Stop this!" Katrine said suddenly. "You don’t need to do this!"

 

Hemerling, who had seated himself on the sofa while the women still stood, replied, "But we must clear your name. Would you want people to think you know something about the sabotage?"

 

He didn’t wait for an answer. "You would not. That is all we are trying to do here—prove your innocence."

 

"Lieutenant, I have found something." The soldier who had been searching the secretary was holding a wooden box with a small lock on it.

 

Beside her, Anna felt Katrine stiffen.

 

"Bring it here," Hemerling ordered.

 

The soldier complied. Hemerling ran a hand over the worn cherry wood of the box, then tugged at the lock. It did not open.

 

"Another lock, Madame Durr?" he inquired with a smirk. "For someone who has nothing to hide, you have an abundance of them."

 

The soldiers had stopped searching; all eyes were on Hemerling and the club owner.

 

"That is something that belongs to my family," Katrine said. "It has nothing to do with anyone but us."

 

"We shall see." He handed box back to the soldier beside him. "Open this."

 

The man nodded and walked away from the group. He set the box on the floor and drew his pistol.

 

"No!" Katrine started toward him. Fear shot through Anna as the soldier spun around, bringing his pistol to bear on Katrine. The maquisard lunged forward, grabbing the smaller woman around the waist and pulling her back against her own body even as she was twisting to form a shield between Katrine and the danger.

 

Hemerling flung up a hand, signaling his men to hold their fire. But his cold gaze never left the two women. "I commend you on your reflexes, Mademoiselle," he said to Anna, eyes narrowing. "I wish my trained soldiers had such speed."

 

Anna froze. Had she betrayed herself? Too late now. Shaking off her fear, she straightened, turning the two of them back to fully face the officer. She kept one arm around Katrine’s waist, feeling the trembling of the smaller body. "I know nothing about that. Katrine is my family; perhaps that gave me extra…reflexes."

 

"Perhaps," he replied, sounding unconvinced. He contemplated Anna for several more moments before addressing Katrine. "If you do not want me to open the box my way, open it for me—now."

 

Katrine nodded. "There is a key in my desk. May I get it?"

 

The blond brows rose. "Certainly."

 

The club owner squeezed Anna’s arm once then disengaged herself.

 

After rummaging in one of the drawers, Katrine extracted a small brass key. She motioned to the soldier once again holding the box, indicating that she wanted it. He looked to Hemerling.

 

"I think it would be best if you gave me the key," the lieutenant said dryly, beckoning to the soldier. "Bring it here," he commanded her.

 

With obvious reluctance, the club owner lay the key in the German officer’s hand. He mocked her with a smile. "Thank you, Madame."

 

With the box resting in his lap, Hemerling placed the key in the lock. It clicked open, and he slipped it free of the hasp. "Now we shall see what was so important to Madame Durr that she risked her life."

 

He lifted the lid and let it fall back.

 

On a velvet lining lay two medals. Hemerling lifted one to examine it. It was the Légion d’Honneur, the highest military award in France. "It appears that someone in your family likes fighting Germans."

 

"No," the club owner said tightly.

 

"Are you saying that these do not belong to someone in your family? That these medals were not for shooting German soldiers?"

 

"I’m saying that my father did not enjoy fighting anyone." Katrine glanced at his picture as she spoke.

 

Noting the direction of her gaze, Hemerling stood and crossed to the photograph. "A colonel in the French army. Very impressive. He looks like a man who would not hesitate to kill his enemies."

 

"He did not like killing, Lieutenant," Katrine said, a touch of anger seeping through. "He did it because it was his duty."

 

"Like father, like daughter, Madame?" the Nazi asked, face and voice hardening. "Is it not your duty to fight us as well?"

 

Be careful, Katrine, Anna thought, wishing desperately that she could help, knowing how emotional the woman was when it came to her father.

 

Katrine did not reply for several seconds. Then she spread her hands out in a placating gesture and said, "Lieutenant Hemerling, I am just a woman. We are the peacemakers, yes? All I want is for my family and friends to be safe."

 

He moved to stand before the club owner, who had to tilt her head up to meet his eyes. Anna took a step toward her, but stopped when a soldier shifted his weapon her way.

 

"Your sex, Madame, can be deadly. We have dealt with many of them who have resisted us." He sneered down at her. "As I will deal with you and your cousin if necessary. Now we shall proceed, and you shall keep silent."

 

"Tear this place apart," he shouted at his men in German, "tear it apart and find what we need to condemn her. She is guilty." Soldiers scrambled to obey him, some ripping cushions off the sofa and chairs in the sitting room while others ran into the bedroom to begin the search there. Anna could see little, but she could hear the crash of breakables and hear the screaming wrench of drawers.

 

Was there a chance to get Katrine free? Anna's eyes swept the room, evaluating the possibilities. Yes. The soldiers were all occupied, and even Hemerling was focused on the chaos his men were wreaking. If Anna attacked him now, there was a chance Katrine could escape.

 

She stepped up behind Katrine and bend down, bringing her lips near the shorter woman’s ear. "Get ready to run," she murmured.

 

Startled, Katrine stared up at her, questioning.

 

"When I attack Hemerling, run."

 

The club owner looked alarmed. "That’s suicide," she whispered. "I won’t let you."

 

Anna gazed down for a final time at that beautiful face. "Run or let me die for nothing."

 

Then she brushed by Katrine and moved swiftly toward Hemerling.

 

"What are you doing?"

 

The harsh German question had come from behind her. Anna stilled momentarily, then figuring she had nothing to lose, she started forward. A small, but surprisingly strong hand, clamped around her wrist, checking her. What…?

 

Katrine held her tightly. "Wait, Anna," she breathed and shifted her eyes to the front door.

 

The imposing figure of Commandant Heinrich Schemmel filled the doorway. His gaze was sweeping over the damaged room and its occupants, who had all frozen. Then Lieutenant Hemerling stepped forward and saluted his superior officer.

 

In German, he said, "Commandant, I am proceeding with your orders to search for any sign of the terrorists."

 

"I see." His eyes raked the room again as he stepped inside, forcing the lieutenant to back up. Anna could see more German soldiers waiting in the hallway behind Schemmel. "And you thought such details might be hidden inside Madame Durr’s liquor glasses?"

 

Hemerling stiffened. "My men had to perform a thorough search."

 

Schemmel walked over to peer into the bedroom, then turned back to Hemerling. "Yes, a thorough search, I see. You and your men may go now."

 

"But the rest of the place has not been searched! And this woman," he pointed at Katrine, "is undoubtedly a sympathizer of the resistance, if not part of it."

 

"Your proof?" the commandant asked, voice calm.

 

Hemerling grabbed the box with the medals and offered it to his commanding officer. "Her father fought us in the last war. He was a colonel in their army." The lieutenant flung out a hand, indicating the picture on the wall.

 

The commandant walked over to the photograph and surveyed it. Then he addressed Katrine. "Your father, Madame?" he asked in French.

 

"Yes, Commandant."

 

"You are proud of him?"

 

"Yes, of course," she said, surprise sounding in her voice. "He fought bravely when his country asked him to."

 

"And you, Madame Durr, are you a soldier, like your father, in the French army of resistance?"

 

Katrine shook her head. "I only want there to be peace in Ste-Claire and in Le Coeur de Lion. That is why I insist that everyone leave the war outside."

 

"Yes, it is one of the reasons I enjoy coming to your establishment," he replied with that slight smile. He offered a small bow in Anna’s direction. "Another is your beautiful singing, Mademoiselle Durr."

 

Thrown by the changing emotions in the room, adrenaline still pumping through her system, Anna could manage only a jerky nod in reply.

 

The commandant faced his subordinate, who had been standing rigidly silent during the exchange. "You may go, Lieutenant," he said in German.

 

"But the evidence…"

 

"What evidence?" Schemmel replied, his voice growing impatient. "That her father was a soldier and she is proud of him? If that were evidence of resistants, you would have to arrest most of the French population."

 

"There may be more evidence elsewhere. We haven’t searched the entire place," Hemerling insisted.

 

"Are you refusing to obey an order, Lieutenant Hemerling?" Schemmel asked, the pleasant tone of his voice belied by the cold hardness in his eyes.

 

No one else in the room moved or made a sound as the two men stared at each other.

 

Finally, the lieutenant said harshly, "No, Commandant."

 

Hemerling gestured angrily for his men to follow as he walked to the door. The look he leveled at Katrine as he passed her made Anna’s palm itch for a knife. Then he was gone.

 

"My apologies, Madame Durr," Schemmel said. "Sometimes our officers are too…enthusiastic."

 

"I understand," she replied. "Officers do have to follow orders."

 

"Madame, I hope you do not think I ordered Le Coeur de Lion searched," he said gravely.

 

Katrine frowned. "But the lieutenant…."

 

Schemmel waved a hand in dismissal. "No, Madame. He simply carried his duty too far. He is new and does not yet understand Ste-Claire. Now, shall I have my men clean up in here while we have our discussion?" He glanced at his watch. "I am somewhat early, but I hope that will not inconvenience you."

 

Anna was surprised to hear the club owner laugh. "No. I would say your arrival has come at a most convenient time."

 

He smiled.

 

"Could I prevail upon your help in one matter, Commandant?" Katrine continued.

 

He appeared surprised but answered readily, "How may I help you, Madame?"

 

"The lieutenant took a…disliking…to my bartender, Thomas Roche. He detained Thomas and my handyman, Nicolas. Would it be possible to have them released?"

 

"Ah, yes, I saw them up front with some of my soldiers," Schemmel replied. "They will be released."

 

Schemmel gave an order to one of his men. "Make certain that the lieutenant has let the bartender and the other worker go."

 

The soldier hurried off, and the commandant returned his attention to Katrine. "It will be taken care of, Madame. No need to worry further."

 

"Thank you, Commandant. I am in your debt."

 

"I am happy to do whatever it takes to keep your delightful establishment running. I hope you are still up to talking with me this morning."

 

"Yes, of course; whatever I can do to help you. I think we will be more comfortable up front," Katrine continued smoothly, "given the state of this room." She turned to Anna. "Cousin, would you mind straightening up in here while the Commandant and I talk?"

 

Seeing the question in the older woman’s eyes, Anna nodded. "I will take care of everything."

 

Commandant Schemmel bowed once more to Anna. "My apologies, Mademoiselle. I hope my men have not caused you too much work."

 

She simply shook her head.

 

"Good." Returning his attention to Katrine, he said, "If you will lead the way, Madame?"

 

***********

 

Katrine limped wearily down the corridor to her rooms. The grueling day had ended at last. First the terrifying experience with Hemerling, then the interview with Schemmel. While the latter did not hold the terror of the former, it had been planted with its own minefields.

 

Fortunately, the commandant had not seemed suspicious of her. As Katrine had surmised, he wished primarily to discover whether she had noticed any strangers in the village or anything else unusual. Apparently satisfied that she could tell him nothing of import, Schemmel had eventually taken his leave, promising to return again that evening to hear Anna sing.

 

Once assured the club was German free, Katrine had called a meeting. Her relief upon seeing Thomas unharmed had been immense. When she and Schemmel entered the club’s main room, they were informed that Hemerling had taken Thomas to headquarters. Schemmel had assured her that he would send someone to retrieve her employee, but all through the interview a part of her had worried that Thomas might not be freed in time.

 

Fortunately, as Thomas himself was able to report, the commandant’s order had come as the lieutenant was about to begin his ‘interrogation.’ Thomas also told her that he had been the one who locked her room after overhearing her conversation with Anna. There had been no time to do anything else since he had known the Germans might be upon him at any moment.

 

But it had been Brigitte who had really saved them. She had seen the soldiers storming into the club, she told the group, and had gone directly to ‘her’ lieutenant to tell him, knowing he would be eager to win favor with the commandant by alerting him to the situation.

 

The resistance leader had ended the meeting by telling them that for the next several days, they would be lying low. No messages to other cells would be delivered until the furor had died down, no search for information.

 

After the meeting, Katrine had hoped to spend some time—even a few minutes—with Anna, but other matters had cropped up, demanding her attention. Then evening and Le Coeur’s first patrons had arrived, and for the next few hours, Katrine had had to settle for admiring Anna from afar—like all the rest of the audience.

 

But now the evening, thank God, was over, and all the club owner could think about was getting off her feet. Though she had tried to sit as much as possible during the long hours since morning, she had had to stay in character, greeting patrons at the door, walking among the tables, while disguising the limp.

 

Katrine paused as she came to Anna’s door, debating whether to knock. It's late. She’s probably asleep. Pushing aside a pang of disappointment, Katrine walked on to her own door.

 

She was pleasantly surprised to find that Nicholas had already repaired it. Opening the door and stepping inside, she found more evidence of the little handyman’s attention in the cozy flames crackling in the fireplace. In the dim light provided by the fire, the room scarcely looked as if it had been a torn apart at all. She would have to thank Anna for cleaning up….

 

As if the thought had conjured her, the maquisard rose gracefully from one of the chairs before the fire, surprising a gasp from Katrine. Anna had shed her glittering stage costume for simple trousers and shirt.

 

"I hope," she began tentatively, one hand clutching the chair back as she faced the other woman, "that you do not mind my waiting for you here. I found Nicolas laying the fire and just thought…uh…."

 

The uncertainty in the young woman’s voice shook Katrine from her surprise. She crossed the room to wrap her arms around Anna’s waist. "You are a most welcome sight, my Anna."

 

For a time, they just held each other, and Katrine let the weariness and ache flow away from her. Finally, Anna pulled back and asked a little anxiously, "Are you still in much pain?"

 

Puzzled, Katrine answered, "Well, some…"

 

Disappointment clouded the younger woman’s face. "So I should leave now?"

 

Katrine tightened her hold. "Only if you wish me to hunt you down and hurt you."

 

"But last night, you didn’t want…"

 

"That was last night. Tonight I’m not quite exhausted enough to have that control."

 

"Katrine…."

 

"Come to bed, " the club owner said. She captured Anna’s hand and began limping toward the bedroom.

 

"Wait," Anna commanded.

 

Katrine paused, afraid her companion had changed her mind. Anna bent down and scooped the smaller woman up, causing her to gasp and fling her arms around the maquisard for support.

 

"Anna!"

 

"Quiet," Anna admonished as she carried Katrine across the sitting room. "I don’t want you in pain."

 

Katrine let the protest die—surprising herself. One of her first male lovers had picked her up, making her feel both vulnerable and faintly ridiculous. She had never let anyone carry her after that. But it felt…different…with Anna. Perhaps because the act was not a flaunting of strength or an overly romantic gesture. Anna had picked Katrine to…protect her.

 

At the side of the bed, the maquisard set her passenger carefully on her feet. Palms against other woman’s upper chest, Katrine gazed up, and her heart caught at the vulnerability crouching in the pale blue eyes. Katrine reached out to brush a strand of blond hair behind one delicate ear, only to have her hand captured and full lips pressed into the palm.

 

The gentle kiss tripped her breathing. "God, Anna." She dragged the blonde’s mouth down to her own. Both hearts were racing by the time they broke apart. Katrine rested her forehead on a convenient shoulder, fighting for some semblance of control.

 

Last night, after Anna had left, Katrine had lain awake, caught in a whirlpool of shock, desire, hope, and concern. Though she had been struggling against her feelings for Anna since that first evening, Katrine had never imagined that the often belligerent maquisard returned them in any way. Anna’s tender embrace had been a shocking revelation, one that had swept away any further thought of resistance. Yet the fact that Anna had never been with anyone, male or female, had troubled Katrine. She did not want to hurt this woman she had come to care so much about.

 

Gently, slowly, that’s how I should touch her. But to do so she must control her own desires. Breathing deeply, she tried to slow her heart. Then she felt fingers threading themselves through her auburn hair, combing the strands lightly. Katrine smiled and allowed herself to be calmed by the touch.

 

Finally, having regain some control, Katrine raised her head and smiled at Anna. Lightly touching the top button of the blonde’s shirt, she asked, "May I?"

 

"Yes," Anna breathed.

 

Katrine undid the buttons slowly. Despite her resolve, she couldn’t suppress the flash of heat that seared her blood as the shirt parted to reveal the curves of Anna’s breasts. The smooth skin seemed to glow in the warm light of the bedside lamp. Katrine reached out with her right hand and delicately stroked the side of one breast before leaning forward and kissing it. Anna sucked in her breath.

 

Katrine pushed the shirt aside to expose the pink nipple of Anna’s left breast. Slowly she leaned forward again. A gentle sucking elicited a gasp. Katrine repeated the caress on the other breast.

 

"Katrine…," Anna began, voice raw.

 

"Shhh. It’s all right." The older woman stretched up to plant a light kiss on the full lips. Before Anna could respond, Katrine pulled away and slipped the shirt from her companion’s shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. Dropping her hands to the waistband of the Anna’s trousers, she freed the button before grasping the zipper and sliding it down. The body against hers began trembling.

 

Afraid the younger woman might actually fall, Katrine caught her around the waist and steered her to the bed. "Here."

 

For the first time, Katrine was looking down at Anna, who had tilted her head back to meet the older woman’s gaze. Once again the vulnerability in Anna’s gaze captured her. She ran a hand over one perfect cheekbone and into the blond hair, then bent to kiss those soft lips with an unexpected fierceness. In a moment, Anna’s mouth was answering hers with equal passion.

 

But again, Katrine pulled away. Ignoring a twinge of pain, she knelt before Anna to untie and remove her shoes, then her socks. Task complete, she rose and stepped back from the bed and began to disrobe.

 

Hands bunching the bedspread, Anna appeared mesmerized by the slow revelation of the body before her. Following every sensual move, the normally pale eyes darkened with an intensity so fierce that Katrine nearly gasped at the spasm of desire it induced. By the time the last article of clothing fell away, Katrine found that her hands were trembling and her breathing had gone ragged. Calm. Be calm. Taking a deep breath, she closed the distance between them.

 

Anna raised her face to look up; Katrine stroked one cheek. "You are beautiful, and I want you very much," she said, voice husky and deep.

 

The last bit of uncertainty that had shadowed the desire in Anna’s face vanished, and she reached for the older woman. Then Katrine found herself on her back, with Anna staring down at her intently before claiming her mouth.

 

Sensations overwhelmed her: the demanding pressure of the lips on hers, the soft plushness of Anna’s breasts against her own, the warm weight of the long body pinning her to the bed, the exquisite pleasure of the clothed leg pressed against her center. Katrine groaned. Her hands slipped down along the sides of Anna’s back, brushing over the curves of her breasts, and slipped beneath the loosened waistband of Anna’s trousers and underwear and over firm cheeks.

 

Anna moaned, surging against Katrine, who arched up to meet her, feeling an almost desperate need to merge with the woman above her.

 

"Anna," Katrine managed to say.

 

"Ye..yes?"

 

"Take your clothes off."

 

Katrine might have laughed at the alacrity with which the command was obeyed—if she hadn’t been burning with her own impatience. She groaned with relief as the naked length of Anna’s body pressed at last against her own.

 

Driven by a sudden desire to possess, Katrine rolled their bodies until she lay on top. Her lips and tongue burned a trail from Anna’s mouth, to her throat, to her breasts, reveling in the softness, the slight saltiness, of the skin. Cupping one breast, she encircled the nipple with her lips then flicked her tongue against it, smiling at the moan.

 

As her mouth moved to the other breast, Katrine slipped her right hand down between their bodies. Her fingers slid over Anna’s belly and downward, slipping at last into slick folds. Anna shuddered.

 

Katrine paused and raised her head. "Do you still want this, Anna?" she asked, trying to rein in her own desire. "We can stop…"

 

"Don’t stop!" The whispered plea sounded a bit desperate. "Please."

 

Reassured, the club owner smiled and began to slide partially off Anna’s body. The younger woman’s arms wrapped around her, holding her in place.

 

"What’s wrong? What did I say?" Anna asked urgently.

 

Katrine stretched up to kiss her. "Nothing. I can touch you more easily this way."

 

"But I…," Anna blurted out before stopping herself.

 

"But what?"

 

Anna’s cheeks colored, and her eyes glanced away. "I like you…on top of me."

 

The older woman stroked one flushed cheek. " I like it, too, and I promise, I’ll be back."

 

Slowly the arms released her, and Katrine moved to lie along Anna’s right side. She laid her head against one shoulder and her hand against Anna’s belly. For several seconds, she lay quietly, reveling in the snug fit of their bodies, the warmth of Anna’s skin, the beauty of the woman against her. Then she slipped back into silky wetness.

 

With a sharp intake of breath, Anna surged up against the exploring fingers. Katrine moaned and slipped her right leg over Anna’s, hooking her foot around the calf. Gently, she urged the other woman to open herself more.

 

"Katrine…," Anna whispered raggedly.

 

The older woman looked up. "Yes?"

 

"I…." She paused, then placed one hand over Katrine’s and moved their joined hands lower. "I want you."

 

Katrine hesitated. How much did Anna know? "There may be some pain."

 

"Please."

 

The plea swept away Katrine’s lingering doubts. Driven by Anna’s need and her own, Katrine entered her lover in one smooth thrust. There was a soft gasp of pain, but that quickly gave way to groans of pleasure as Katrine claimed Anna with slow, deep strokes.

 

"Katrine," Anna moaned, then suddenly pulled the smaller woman back on top of her.

 

Understanding, Katrine pressed one leg against her moving hand, intensifying the pressure. Anna arched upward, pressing hard against Katrine, who groaned at the sensation. Then they were moving together.

 

"Katrine!" Anna cried, arching against her a final time. The cry sent Katrine tumbling over the edge with her.

 

******

 

Something was pinning her in place. Heart pounding, Anna fought her way to consciousness.

 

It took her several seconds to realize that she wasn't being restrained by some enemy soldier but by the soft, warm body of Katrine Durr. Anna lifted her free hand to touch the auburn hair scattered across one of her shoulders but stopped, afraid of waking the other woman. She sucked in a slow breath, letting her heart rate fall as she contemplated her…lover.

 

My lover. She closed her eyes, remembering the feel of Katrine’s mouth and hands on her, of Katrine inside her….

 

Her body’s hot liquid response to the memories alone unnerved her, and she was seized by an urgent need to get up, get away. Though Katrine’s arm momentarily tightened, she did not awake when Anna slipped carefully from her grasp.

 

Kneeling beside the bed, Anna picked up her shirt and slipped it on, the slight tremor in her fingers making it difficult to button. Shirt only partially buttoned, she reached for her trousers.

 

"Where are you going?"

 

Anna started. Katrine was sitting up in bed, watching her. The bedcovers lay pooled around the other woman’s waist, the delicate beauty of her upper body exposed to the cool night air. Tousled auburn hair and sleepy gray-blue eyes gave the club owner a curious air of vulnerability. The sight tightened Anna’s throat and sent a wave of desire through her.

 

As if reading that desire, Katrine smiled slightly, then asked again, "Where are you going?"

 

The younger woman glanced down, hand gripping the trousers she held. "I don’t know," she replied softly. "I don’t know where I’m going." And she was surprised to hear the bewilderment in her own voice.

 

There was silence, then Anna heard the whisper of covers. Moments later, fingers gently touched her chin, urging her head up. Katrine’s eyes, filled with concern, searched hers. "Was this not what you wanted, after all?"

 

Feelings of vulnerability and fear threatening to overwhelm her, Anna pulled away from the touch and dropped her eyes.

 

There was a long pause, then Katrine said, "I see," in an even tone. She rose and walked into the bathroom. When she reappeared a minute later, she was wrapped in her robe.

 

"I’m sorry," the older woman said, arms hugging herself as she gazed down to where Anna knelt. "I should have realized…." She stopped. A sigh. "I’m sorry." She turned away and disappeared into the sitting room.

 

Still Anna knelt, struggling to deal with the tumult of emotion. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to go back to the maquis, to a life she understood, where the risks were only physical. She could walk away from Le Coeur, from Katrine Durr.

 

But even as these thoughts ran through her mind, Anna was rising, the rest of her clothing forgotten, and moving toward the front room.

 

She found the club owner kneeling before the fireplace, laying kindling across the dying fire. Katrine tossed the last piece of wood in but did not rise. She remained on her knees, eyes fixed on the flickering fire, head bowed.

 

Anna watched for a time, heart catching. Then she was kneeling beside Katrine, who turned startled eyes her way.

 

"The men in the maquis called me brave because I took the most dangerous missions without hesitation," Anna began. "I planted explosives, carried messages, killed." She paused and studied her hands, trying to find the right words. When she glanced up again, she found the gray-blue eyes still fastened on her. "It wasn’t bravery, Madame. To be brave, you must risk something. But I had nothing left to lose. Everything I valued had already been taken from me."

 

"Your life…," Katrine began.

 

But Anna shook her head. " So you see, Madame, I made the perfect resistant. Because I didn’t care if I survived the war. I did not particularly want to survive the war."

 

Katrine said nothing but reached out to curl a hand around one of Anna’s.

 

"Do you see how you have changed that? You have made me want again," Anna said fiercely, unconsciously tightening the clasp of their hands, "and it terrifies me."

 

Katrine reached out to brush a strand of hair back from Anna’s face. " You wish, then, that you’d never come to Le Coeur de Lion—to me?"

 

Did she? Anna closed her eyes, letting all the memories and emotions of before Katrine Durr and after wash over her, considering what she had lost and what she had won. And all she might yet lose.

 

She opened her eyes and met Katrine’s. "Wishing to alter the past is as futile as wishing not to love you. It can’t be done."

 

"You…love me?" Katrine asked uncertainly.

 

Realizing that she had revealed everything now, Anna exhaled heavily and nodded. Then uncertainly, " Is that a good thing?"

 

Katrine smiled a half smile. "Oh, mon coeur, it is an amazing thing for I love you, too."

 

"Yes?" Anna asked, a smile slowly crossing her own face.

 

"Yes," Katrine breathed, resting her palms against Anna’s chest.

 

"Then I have something to tell you."

 

"Do you?" Katrine asked, apprehension in her voice.

 

"Deneuve," Anna said softly.

 T

A frown. "What?"

 

"My last name is Deneuve. When I came to Le Coeur, you asked me, but I wouldn’t tell you."

 

"I remember," Katrine replied. "And I didn’t understand why you didn’t want me to know."

 

Anna wrapped her hands around Katrine’s, keeping them close to her. "Because…," she paused, "…because I felt I had already surrendered too much to you."

 

Dark brows lowered in puzzlement.

 

"The night I arrived, you asked me what had happened—and I told you, though I hadn’t meant to. I hated to be touched by anyone, yet I let you help me bathe. And I sung to you." Anna freed one hand to stroke Katrine’s brow. " I didn’t know why I had done these things, only that somehow you were the cause. It frightened me, and I was determined to give you nothing more."

 

Then Anna raised one of the delicate hands she held and pressed her lips against it. "But it seems I have given you everything after all."

 

In answer, Katrine pulled Anna down into a fierce, possessive kiss, which the younger woman responded to with her own hunger.

 

Katrine finally broke the kiss and leaned her head against Anna’s chest.

 

Time passed, then Anna whispered, "I am afraid. There is so much to lose now. So many dangers around us."

 

The other woman looked up. "I know," she answered, caressing Anna’s face. "But we will see it out together. Stay with me, my Anna."

 

The maquisard tightened her arms about her lover. "I will, " she promised, adding silently, for as long as we both shall live.

 

 

THE END

 

 

Author’s note: Merci beaucoup to Rhea, JCayan, and my partner for all their help and encouragement through these long months of writing—and for saving me from some very embarrassing mistakes! I’m grateful as well to those who posted my story on their sites and to all the readers who have taken this journey with Katrine and Anna and me. The many notes of support you sent were appreciated more than you will ever know.

 

JSwrdsmth June 2001

 

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