This historical romance novella was an intense and riveting read. Set in France during WW1, the story focuses on Bat, a British soldier who leads a squadron of pilots. The novella begins with Bat accidentally committing a crime, and then to his rescue comes Cowboy, a swaggering American pilot on his team who steps in to assist in covering things up. Only Bat realizes that Cowboy has a price, and that Bat's relationship with his teammate, recently killed in battle, was not as secret as he'd thought.
That sounds really dark, and parts of the story are, but mostly it's just intense. Bat's squadron flies out twice a day on missions, and they lose pilots daily, so every time they go up, each of them fully understand that it could be their last flight. As captain of his team, Bat is weighed down by both his mortality and that of his men. Between missions, any pocket of respite is either used to drown reality with alcohol and sleep or fiercely grabbed at and used as a way to remind themselves that they are still alive.
Bat is a stunned shell in the beginning of the story, faced with both his crime and the recent and sudden loss of his lover. He's at first dismayed with Cowboy's machinations, believing he's fallen from one hell to another, but he can't deny the release that he needs, and realizes slowly that Cowboy is offering him much more than just hiding him.
Lanyon does a great job with setting the scene--it was easy to picture every detail, from the planes in mid-battle to the crowded room where the soldiers drank and unwound to the tangled and dilapidated gazebo where Bat and Cowboy would meet. Evocative and richly detailed, I was swept along with this powerful story, and at times, found myself craving some of the same things. (For instance, an intense want of chocolate as Bat and Cowboy smoked and ate chocolates in the dark while they talked, just enjoyed the simple pleasure of something so hard to come by.)
I also totally cried like a baby at points. Thankfully, such an intense story wraps up in a HFN ending. (I don't think Lanyon would ever leave you hanging that badly.) But the intensity of the story made that ending feel like another pocket of respite--unsure of what the morning will bring, but for that moment, enjoying what life there is and the offered and wanted love of the person with you.
Not an easy read, but excellent and recommended, especially if you like a good historical story.