Today I am so pleased to welcome Anna Butler to Joyfully Jay. Anna has come to share an exclusive excerpt from her latest release, Day of Wrath (Taking Shield #5). She has also brought along a tour wide giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
“They make me feel about ninety. Where do you want to talk?”
“There’s my storeroom. I do all my important emotional stuff in there.”
“Well, that accounts for a lot.”
Flynn let him get away with it, but then Bennet had sounded amused rather than snarky. The storeroom was empty and Flynn had long ago learned how to over-ride the door mechanism and lock it from the inside. He did so now, not wanting to be interrupted.
And, of course, now that Bennet was back and he had the privacy he wanted, Flynn’s rehearsed speeches vanished from his mind and tongue. Which was annoying. “I don’t suppose you can tell me what you were doing back home?”
“What do you think?”
Flynn managed a creditable laugh. “That I’m playing for time.” He gestured to the back wall, where piles of new uniforms made a comfortable seat. They sat side by side, leaning back against the wall. “I took a leaf out of your book and I’ve been practising what I want to say. Trouble is, I’ve forgotten my lines.”
“Keep it simple then.” Bennet’s grin was lopsided. “I’m running on fumes right now, anyway. I can’t handle complex.”
Flynn nodded. “Well, ‘simple’ is that no matter what I might have said when I was mad with you—and the gods help me, I was so mad with you I couldn’t see straight—you are the most important person in my life. I kinda think you always will be. But we are where we are. You’re going, I’m staying here. You’re Shield, I’m Fleet.” He forced another laugh, but it didn’t sound quite as credible. “Doomed. We were doomed from the start.”
Bennet’s laugh wasn’t any better than Flynn’s. He slipped his hand into Flynn’s. “We were.”
“Star-crossed, I said when you left to go back to Albion.”
“Yeah, and that sucks. Because, you too. No one more important.”
“It sucks balls the size of planets. Galaxies.” Flynn tightened his grip on the warm hand in his. “We only have a few weeks, and I know better than to think things can be different just because of that. We’re still star-crossed. Except, maybe, at the end…?”
He hated that he sounded so unsure, but then Bennet’s mouth curved up a fraction.
It wasn’t much of a promise, but he’d take what he could get. Flynn leaned his head back against the metal wall. An instant later and Bennet copied him, rolling his head to one side until he was almost touching Flynn’s. A better outlook than Flynn could have hoped for, even a couple of weeks earlier.
Flynn let the deep, mostly subliminal hum of the Gyrfalcon‘s engines soothe him. “I don’t suppose we could stay in here and never come out?”
“They’ll come looking for us.”
“Yeah.” Flynn had to concede that. “So, did you get the Hyperion back?”
“No.” Bennet pulled at face at him. “They bumped me up to major. I’ve got a Shield battle group to look after. Three Shield ships to command.”
“A promotion? Seriously?”
“Yeah. Not formally until I step off this ship, but yeah. Shield Major.”
“We don’t have majors in Fleet,” Flynn said.
“Well, I’m not Fleet. And the Shield Regiment doesn’t have that ‘regiment’ tacked onto the name just because someone thought the two words sounded well together. Shield started out in Infantry centuries ago, and Infantry does have majors.”
Flynn made a tchtching noise. “Some people have no shame, confessing to low origins like that. But seriously, that is brilliant news!”
“It would be brilliant if I didn’t have work going on with the Strategy Unit again. You know, I’m seriously thinking that I’ll give it a year, then I’ll get out.”
Flynn blinked. “That’s a bit drastic.”
“It’s a family tradition that we all serve, Flynn. But some days I reckon I’ve done enough. More than enough.”
Flynn couldn’t hold back the derisive snort. “Only if you have that sense of duty surgically removed.”
Bennet stared at him, mouth turned down at the corners, his lips pressed tight together. After a moment he blew out a noisy sigh and lifted one shoulder in a slight shrug. “I know. It’s a fantasy that I have choices.”
“You said it yourself to the kids, Bennet. Stand and fight.” Flynn found his grip on Bennet’s hand had slackened. He glanced down at them, his brown hand curved around Bennet’s long white fingers. He used his thumb to make little smoothing motions over the back of Bennet’s hand, relishing the almost imperceptible shiver Bennet gave. “If you did leave the military, what would you do? The history thing back at the museum?”
“Maybe. But what I’d like to do some front line archaeology. Trace our route back to Earth and do some star-mapping and exploration, run a few digs when we find something worth investigating. Never stay anywhere long, just keep moving. I’d like that.”
Flynn saw that for the first time in a long while Bennet’s expression was relaxed, open; that the fine, tight lines of tension around his mouth and eyes had eased. “A ship of your own? You’ll need a crew.”
“Do you want to sign up?”
“Well, there won’t be any fraternisation rules, will there?”
Bright eyes glanced at him sidelong. “No. There won’t.”
“A pittance. You do it for academic glory.”
“I prefer cash.” Flynn smiled at Bennet’s amused snort. He was silent for a few minutes. Beside him Bennet relaxed. “Well, I like the idea of wandering around and exploring stuff and having adventures. That sounds exciting. The digging part of it sounds more like hard work than I’m strictly comfortable with.”
“It never killed anyone yet.”
“I’m gonna have to see the medical studies before I take your word for it. It’s beside the point, anyway. I have delicate hands and shouldn’t ruin them with a shovel. But all in all, it sounds like a reasonable job.” Flynn smiled at Bennet’s profile. “I’m on—if I can sign up as First Mate.”
Bennet tilted his head until it was resting against Flynn’s. “The job’s yours. Until I get a better applicant, of course.”
“In your dreams.” Flynn let it all smooth away, slip into a comfortable silence. He had less than four weeks of this before Bennet was gone again, and he wasn’t going to waste any of it. Not one second.
He brought his other hand across to enclose Bennet’s in both of his, and let his eyes close.
In less than a week, Bennet will finally return to the Shield Regiment, leaving behind the Gyrfalcon, his father, his friends… and Flynn. Promotion to Shield Major and being given command of a battle group despite the political fallout from Makepeace the year before is everything he thought he wanted. Everything he’s worked towards for the last three years. Except for leaving Flynn. He really doesn’t want to leave Flynn.
There’s time for one last flight together. A routine mission. Nothing too taxing, just savouring every moment with the best wingman, the best friend, he’s ever had. That’s the plan.
Bennet should know better than to trust to routine because what waits for them out there will change their lives forever.
Anna Butler was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.
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