Chapter Fifty-Two

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"Are you certain you won't have a cigar?" Ambassador Grant Duff asked David as the men stood on the balcony with snifters of Cognac after dinner.

"It's not something I've ever had a desire to try. Now, after my experiences with gas at Ypres, I think I'll keep my lungs as clean as possible."

Colonel Picot blew out a long stream of smoke. "From the accounts I've read, that was beyond horrid."

"As the first cloud rolled toward us, we thought the Germans were using a fog screen of some sort to cover a daylight advance. We held our ground, peering into the spreading clouds to spot them, and it wasn't until our entire left flank began choking, screaming and falling, that we realised the cloud was poisonous."

David took another sip of his Cognac. "The Germans missed a great tactical opportunity. The entire French portion of the line panicked and fled. That left a four-mile-wide gap that the Germans could have poured through in force to flank both us and the British, capture us from our rear, then overrun our reserve and support areas and continue the twenty miles to the Channel coast and to the port of Dunkirk."

"How were they prevented from storming through?"

"We figured they hadn't anticipated the scale of the damage that would be caused by the gas, so they had far too few troops in position to take full advantage of the breach of the line. During the lull, the reserve Canadian battalion was mustered and sent forward of the gap into no-man's-land to counter the expected rush. We held out without support on either flank and with no reinforcement. The French and British had been holding the line for months until we arrived the previous week to relieve them. They had fallen back for a much overdue break. By the third day, we were down to about a third of our strength. That's when I got hit the second time."

"The second time?" Grant Duff asked. "You didn't mention another hit yesterday when we debriefed."

"I had taken some shrapnel from an exploding shell near dusk the day of the first gas attack, and I was moved back to be stitched up. The next day there was a call for volunteers among the walking wounded to join our HQ Company when it went forward to reinforce the 8th Battalion at Saint-Julien. Two days later I was hit again as the Germans overran our position."

"So a minor wound, the first one?" Wallinger asked.

"More a pain in the arse." David laughed. "A rip across my left buttock." He took another sip of the Cognac. "This is far superior to the brandy the medic served. Not sure how many stitches, I didn't start counting them until well into it, trying to focus."

"Thirty-two in your butt," Maria said as she and Edith led the other women across the balcony. "Fifty-seven in your face. Don't try to make it sound insignificant. You were a mass of stitches when we met."

Edith stepped beside the Ambassador. "We decided we wanted to share some of the men's talk. No cigars, thank you, but snifters of Cognac would be welcome. If we're to be of any help in fighting this war, we need to know what's happening."

The men expanded their circle as the women joined their husbands. "We've been discussing what we might do to ease the suffering of the wounded." Edith nodded to Maria. "Maria has been training as a nurse, and her talk of caring for David has sparked an idea of bringing wounded prisoners here. Neither side wants to treat them, and they'd likely welcome an agreement to transfer them here to relieve them of their Convention obligations."

The conversation turned to a discussion of ideas on how this might work. The International Red Cross was seen as a body well placed to begin building a plan. "I know Frau Hoffmann," Edith Grant Duff said. "She's taken a keen interest in the Red Cross, and I see her often at meetings."

"Hoffmann, the President of the Swiss Confederation?" the Ambassador asked.

"Yes. I'm sure she has an influence on him. She's a feisty woman."

They paused as waiters brought additional glasses and another bottle of Cognac, then the group resumed the conversation on the balcony until the evening's chill sent them inside. It was nearly eleven thirty when the Ambassador said, "We've all much to do, and I've an early morning meeting. What splendid company you have all been this evening, and what grand projects we have before us."

David and Maria rode back to the hotel with the Picots, then bade them good night as the lift reached their floor. As soon as David locked their room door, he wrapped Maria in his arms. "I've wanted to do this all evening, but the setting never allowed it." They kissed deeply for a long while, then he unwrapped his arms and stepped back. "How do I get you out of your gown? It looks as if it's a part of you."

Maria undid a line of hidden buttons up her left side, then the three under a flounce on her right shoulder. She smiled at him as she let go of the broad strap, allowing the gown to fall to her feet, leaving her naked in front of him. "Like that." She giggled as she stepped out of it and shook her breasts at him. "You can do it next time."

"You've near ripped the front out of my trousers." David went down onto his right knee to relieve the cloth along his left thigh.

"It's my ploy to get you into position." She giggled as she spread her legs and arched her back. "Lick me. I'm so hot for you. All the women talking about you has made me want you even more."

He took her buttocks in his hands and flicked his tongue into her folds to find the firm nub. His nose caught her scent and caused a tremor through his body as his tongue continued.

She held the sides of his head to direct as her sensations mounted, then she released her tensions in a series of waves, deep moans and heavy breathing. "So hot... All evening... Oh God."

He looked up to see her tightly puckered nubbins and moved a hand to gently tweak one. "You're such a magnificent woman. I'm so proud of how well you fit in this evening. You looked so natural and relaxed. So beautiful. All the men commented on your grace."

"Did they? I'm pleased I've made you proud." She chuckled. "You're still very proud down there also, aren't you? I'll have to do something about that." She slid his coat off his shoulders, then knelt to unbutton his waistcoat. "The women all raved about the fit of your suit, but I'm sure their imaginations of the body under it are what stoked their admiration. I know those did mine." She slid the waistcoat and suspenders off his shoulders and down his arms, unbuttoned the front of his trousers and reached in to free him, then bent to lick.

"I should finish undressing so I don't mess all over my suit." She continued licking, following him up as he rose. He kicked off his shoes, stepped out of his trousers then unbuttoned and removed his shirt. "Let's throw the duvet back and play soixante-neuf."

As they lay relaxing later, Maria said, "Like Mama has explained to me, women crave sex more during their fertile time. My body certainly confirmed that this evening. So hot for you. The craving is part of the design to aid procreation."

"That makes sense. The fellows in the Army called it horny. They often talked of finding a horny woman." He laughed. "One fellow said he dreamed of being captured by a squad of horny women."

She ran her fingers over the ripples of his abdomen. "Do you dream of other women?"

"I have no need to. You're far beyond what any dream could ever be. And you? Have you dreamed of men?"

"When I was younger, probably from all the fairytales. I would dream of you, my hero, my knight in shining armour, my Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet and make my days eternally blissful. I no longer need to dream."

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