A Discreet Affair
By: Shelley Munro | Other books by Shelley Munro
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
Published: Jan 17, 2011
ISBN # 9781595787996
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
Published: Jan 17, 2011
ISBN # 9781595787996
Word Count: 36,700
Price: $3.99 $1.99
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket (.prc), Rocket
DescriptionSummer, 1940. Britain is at war, and her brave fighter pilots attempt to keep the enemy at bay.
The last thing Pamela Allison wants is another man, especially one like her brutal, now deceased husband. Her managing mother wants her to live with her in London, but Pamela accepts a job from her aunt, working in the family store in the village near Biggin Hill.
Enter Michael Stedman, a Spitfire pilot based at the Biggin Hill airbase. Depressed and a little drunk after the death of his friend, he doesn’t expect to meet a beautiful woman during a night out at the local pub. He’s not looking for anything permanent since a pilot’s life is fraught with danger. All he wants is a little feminine company to take his mind off the war.
London is under siege by the enemy. Bombs drop every night and the danger increases for everyone. Michael and Pamela’s relationship changes and they become lovers. They are happy with their secret liaison until gossip and the past intrude and threaten to destroy everything, including her good reputation.
Content Notes: Historical, 1900's, WWI, WWII, Vietnam
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
Near Biggin Hill, England, September 1940
“You’re coming to the Poacher’s Pocket with me tonight.”
“Oh, no.” Pamela Allison laughingly shook her head at her cousin. “Thanks for asking me but I promised Aunt Susan I’d finish the darning.”
“Pooh!” Christine wrinkled her button nose, immediately discounting the excuse with a dismissive flap of her hand. “Darning.” With a conspiratorial smile, she leaned closer, lowering her voice. “Some lovely flyboys frequent the pub. I’m acquainted with most of them.” When Pamela didn’t react, she let out a huff of exasperation. “None of the pilots bite. You’re such an old maid, a real stay-at-home. Why won’t you live a little? You’re too young to turn into a hermit.”
Pamela hid a smile at the veiled insult. Did Christine really think calling her an old maid would make her agree to the outing? “I don’t--”
“Pamela, you should go,” her aunt said, cutting her off in a firm voice. “It will do you good to get out with people your own age. And Christine is right, dear. You have a beautiful smile when you forget about Thomas. Every single one of the tradesmen loves you.”
“No, don’t try to deny you’re popular. They’d ask you out if you gave them the slightest encouragement. Jimmy the milkman goes stupid every time he gets a glimpse of your big blue eyes.”
“He does not!” She dipped her head to hide her discomfiture and a lock of her hair swung across one eye. Impatiently, she smoothed the curl aside and poked her needle, threaded with coarse wool, into the sock she held for darning.
“Not all men behave like Thomas,” Christine added, both of them ganging up on her.
Pamela blinked and carefully set the darning aside, her forearm suddenly throbbing along with the anxious thud of her heart. Even though her husband, Thomas, was dead, killed in a motoring accident eleven months ago, he still held the power to frighten her, to hurl her deep into horrid memories. A sad state of affairs and one she needed to change.
The passage of time helped in her healing, though. Slowly, a feisty angel was appearing to replace the timid one who’d kept her company during her marriage. And right now, her angel spoke in a stern lecture. Did she want to go through life terrified of men or refusing to let one get emotionally close? Logic made her agree with Christine. And closer to home, her uncle--a gem of a man--offered a good example of the perfect husband.
Maybe she’d been unlucky to marry a scoundrel and a bully. Honesty bade she admit the early days of her marriage had been pleasant. At the start she’d loved being married, enjoyed the intimacy of being with a man and making love.
She shivered and rubbed her arm where Thomas broke the bone during one of his drunken rages. In truth, she missed the physical part of her marriage--the closeness with a man and the comfort of his strong arms. Although she wasn’t about to confess her feelings to her cousin on the subject of sensual nips, biting actually sounded quite good. Maybe she should go out for a change. At the very least, her acquiescence would stop Christine and her aunt from nagging her on the subject.
“All right,” she said before her timid angel talked her into staying at home. Really, she didn’t have a choice. One glance at her aunt and cousin told of their determination to prod her nonexistent social life into action, no matter how much she protested.
“Good,” her aunt said as the grandfather clock struck the half hour. She shut her latest copy of House and Garden and placed it on the arm of her chair. “You should get out. I’d better go and check the soup.”
Christine smirked in victory and waited for her mother to leave the living room before speaking. “Most men aren’t like Thomas. They’re not brutal bullies. Intimacy with a man you love is wonderful. And besides, you liked making love at the start of your marriage. I distinctly remember you telling me so after your honeymoon.” She kicked off her shoes and wriggled her stocking-clad toes, her expression going soft and dreamy.
“Christine.” Pamela didn’t even try to hide her shock. “Have you...?”
“Yes, and maybe you should give men and a physical relationship another chance.” Christine’s chin lifted with a trace of defiance. “Oh, I’m not suggesting you should go with any man but if you find one you like and enjoy his company, why not? There’s a war on and everything is different. Life’s too short to waste t-time.” Her voice hitched and she swallowed, the sheen of tears filling her eyes. “You’ll like Owen. He’s wonderful. I ... I love him, and I couldn’t bear it if he died and we hadn’t made love.”
“But what if you fall pregnant?” Pamela glanced nervously at the door, only relaxing when the clatter of a saucepan lid and the scent of vegetable soup drifting from the kitchen indicated her aunt’s focus remained on dinner. She turned back to her cousin, picking up her darning again. Surely, Christine knew the risks? If women had children out of wedlock, people shunned them, called them curb crawlers or slags. Whores. “If you love your beau, why don’t you get married?”
“Owen won’t. Not when ... he doesn’t want to leave me a widow.” She paused to steady herself, bit her bottom lip and took a deep breath before continuing, “We’re careful. We use a sheath. Besides, the war can’t go on forever. We’ll marry when the war is over.”
Pamela’s brows shot toward her hairline. “A sheath?”
“A condom,” Christine said, her melancholy pushed aside for now, her stiff upper lip in evidence again. Winston Churchill couldn’t have done the expression better. He’d show proud approval of her attitude.
“I know what a sheath is,” Pamela said, trying to wrap her mind around Christine’s confession. Her cousin’s cheeks held the stain of pink, but the tilt of her chin indicated she’d argue her point given the chance. She obviously didn’t have a single reservation about giving herself to this man ... this pilot.
Without warning, envy curled through Pamela, her fingers digging into the nubby wool of the sock in her hands. Yes, she’d been unlucky with Thomas, but there had been good times before unfounded jealousy warped his thinking and imploded their entire relationship. “Are you meeting him tonight?”
“Owen. Yes. He has a friend--”
“No! Tell me you haven’t. You haven’t made a date on my behalf?”
“No.” She shook her head, and Pamela relaxed once she sensed her cousin told the truth. “But he does have lots of cute friends. I’ve met most of them while working at the airbase. It will be a fun night. You might even find a man you’d like to marry.”
“I don’t think so.” Her voice held tartness and the same uncompromising attitude Thomas used to show. Yes, she missed sex, but she wasn’t about to let a man rule her life again in order to sate her physical needs. She was happy working in the shop for her aunt and living in the village. Her move from London to the village was the start of a new chapter in her life, a fresh beginning and a change of direction for the future.
Even now, she still counted her blessings. Christine had contacted her after Thomas’s death. She’d wanted to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force but her parents needed her to work in the family shop. Would Pamela consider taking her place and working at the store? If Pamela agreed, Christine’s mother would let her move into the cottage they owned on the outskirts of the village. Pamela had said yes and hadn’t regretted her move for a moment since. When Christine didn’t room at the airbase, she stayed with her, although they spent a lot of time at the family home too.
Pamela checked the doorway in case her aunt decided to return. The smart tap of a spoon against a pot signaled an all clear. “Where do you and Owen go to ... spend time together?”
Christine wrinkled her nose. “That’s part of why I came clean. I wondered if he could come back to the cottage with me some nights.”
Pamela stared at her cousin. “The neighbors will gossip if they see a man at the cottage. Old Mrs. Pearson is a terrible tattletale.” Someone had to deal with practicalities because it was obvious Christine fancied herself in love. Pamela wasn’t sure she believed in love. Lust maybe. There certainly hadn’t been much love in her marriage, although she’d taken too long to recognize the fact. Once she’d believed in the fickle emotion. Not anymore. There was no such thing.
“Not if we’re discreet.” Christine’s glance held both challenge and a plea for Pamela to grant her this favor.
“We’ll see,” she said, knowing she’d give in eventually. She understood what it was like to experience the dizzy heights of lust, even if she never wanted to commit to a man again.
* * * *
They switched off the light and exited her cottage via the kitchen. For a few seconds, Pamela paused to allow her eyes to adjust to the inky blackness outdoors. Finally she followed Christine, navigating with care. After skirting the Anderson bomb shelter and the vegetable gardens to the right of the house, they walked gingerly down the dark path to let themselves out the gate onto the main road. The Poacher’s Pocket pub was at the other end of the village, not far from her aunt and uncle’s house.
At this time of night on a weekend, before the outbreak of war, the village would bustle with life. People and cars would crowd the green. Music spilled from the community hall and dancers filled the floor, twirling and dipping to the big band songs. Darts matches at the pub. Dinner dates at the small restaurant--now closed. Concerts at the bandstand. Locals filling the green with light and laughter. Right now, the village center seemed like a town for ghosts with the two of them the only ones walking along the gloomy road. On the parallel road to the one they walked, the rumble of a vehicle engine sounded, the slow progress indicating a cautious driver. The number of accidents had increased since the commencement of blackout with the baker’s son dying in a head-on crash at the village intersection only last month. Thomas’s accident had occurred during the first week of the blackout and most people took extreme care if they ventured out at night.
“Christine, don’t walk in the middle of the road. It’s not safe.”
“I know, but it’s better than twisting our ankles in one of the potholes at the edge of the road.”
Some of the ruts were deep enough to house fish, so she could hardly disagree. She steered a conservative course and listened carefully for traffic. “Thanks for helping me get ready. I’m out of practice.”
“It was my pleasure. You look beautiful. Owen’s friends will love you.”
Earlier, Christine had helped her to restrain her curly brown hair into a smooth roll, lending several of her precious hair grips to secure the style safely. She’d applied powder to her face in an attempt to conceal her hated freckles. A touch of bright red lipstick completed her makeup--the perfect remedy to put one in a good mood, according to Christine. A dab of lavender perfume behind each ear and between her breasts completed her preparations for the evening.
Right now, agitated butterflies fluttered in the pit of her stomach at the idea of making small talk with people she didn’t know. What if she befriended the wrong person again? She’d made mistakes with Thomas and compounded them by agreeing to marry him. Her past record wasn’t good, so obviously she lacked sound judgment.
The buzz of planes sounded overhead, the distinctive sound of Spitfires returning to the airbase reassuring and comforting. Last Thursday they’d witnessed two engaged in a dogfight with the Me 109s of the enemy not far from the village. A spurt of remembered terror pierced her at the memory of two planes colliding and crashing in a fiery heap. She offered a quick prayer for all the boys to return from the sortie tonight safe and unharmed. How did Christine bear the strain, knowing Owen put himself in such danger?
The thud of their shoes on the road was the only audible noise once the rumble of the planes receded. Christine took custody of the torch and flicked the light off and on, aiming the beam at the ground in compliance with blackout regulations. They walked through the middle of the village, skirting the green. Not a single light peeked through windows of the homes they passed or between cracks in curtains. The local wardens didn’t stand for infringements of the blackout rules and enforced the regulations with great efficiency. They’d fined Mrs. Heath, one of her aunt’s neighbors, last week, much to her chagrin, because her blackout curtains let light through the small gap where the fabric didn’t quite meet.
“Are you sure Owen will be there?”
“His squadron always hits the pub on a Friday night after a sortie.”
Pamela nodded before she remembered Christine would have trouble seeing in the dark. “Oh.” The chances of a pilot living through the war ... they weren’t good. Did Christine worry about her man? Of course she did. Everyone worried about the men and women who fought on the front line. Everyone, no matter their identity, had family or friends fighting in the war.
“They tend to stick together. They’re more like family than friends because they rely on each other whenever they go on a sortie.”
They maintained their silence for a while, neither willing to voice the truth--so many good men had lost their lives already.
Christine opened the front door to the pub and they darted inside, quickly closing it behind them. The light in the foyer was brighter, good enough to distinguish posters on the walls entreating the public to grow their own vegetables, save coal, and invest in war bonds. The click of Christine’s heels signaled her progress across the flagstone floor to the double doors that opened into one of the large rooms inside. When she opened the doors subdued light spilled out along with laughter and chatter and the clink of glasses and bottles. A cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the air. A radio was playing on the bar, the haunting strains of Somewhere over the Rainbow combining with the animated chatter.
“There he is,” Christine said, bounding through the doorway and into the gaiety, embracing it with a wide smile on her face.
Pamela followed more slowly, her blue and white floral dress and navy summer coat out of place when most of the occupants wore their uniforms, a mixture of Air Force blue with a smattering of Army green and uniforms from the home guard and fire wardens. Even Christine wore her WAAF uniform.
A burst of extra loud laughter came from a group of men in slate blue uniforms who clustered around a table in the corner of the room.
“There’s Owen,” Christine said over her shoulder, and she put on a burst of extra speed, weaving in and out of the people to get to him.
Pamela trailed after her cousin, another spike of nerves assailing her. She was here for a drink and nothing more. She didn’t have to do anything but act friendly and listen. Smiling always helped too. The night would pass quickly and she’d return to her cozy existence as a respectable widow who worked in the village store.
“Hello, pretty lady. Can I buy you a drink?”
Startled from her anxiety, she glanced upward. The looming shape in front of her was dark. Large. She flinched; a sharp pang of fear hit. “Thomas?” she croaked, the intimidating figure throwing her directly into the past.
The man shifted his weight and came into focus when he turned to the light. Her rapid heartbeat returned to normal when she realized her mistake. Weakly, she offered a smile while she clandestinely wiped her damp palms on her coat.
“Who, me? No, I’m not Thomas, but I can be, if that’s what you want.” One green eye closed in a cheeky wink and he dragged on his cigarette. He blew the smoke out and waited for her reaction.
Green eyes. Of course this man wasn’t Thomas. He’d had brown eyes. Pamela stared for an instant longer, mesmerized and drowning in those green eyes before she realized how odd her reaction must seem. She swallowed and tore her gaze away. Unbidden, her gaze returned to him and wandered to his mouth--quirking lips that laughed at her. No, he didn’t really look like Thomas, not when she studied him more closely. Of similar height, they both had dark hair and handsome faces, but this man smiled with his eyes and his mouth. He wore charm like a cloak.
Surreptitiously, she rubbed her forearm. The bone always ached when she thought of Thomas, a reminder of his temper and cruelty. It was the mental viciousness that lingered and made her cautious with other men.
Her mouth opened and closed before she blurted, “I’m here with my cousin.”
“I’ll escort you to his side,” he said firmly. “Too many wolves wandering around this pub. A little lamb like you won’t live long to tell the tale.”
“Her.” Pamela chuckled out loud. She wasn’t exactly an innocent. “And it would take a wolf to recognize another.” She’d always had a quick tongue but Thomas’s temper taught her to curb clever quips or face his wrath. Amazing. It seemed she was slowly healing and the thought brought a quick burst of pleasure. Take that, Thomas.
The man slapped his hand across his heart in a dramatic fashion. “She wounds me with her sharp words.”
Shaking her head at his silliness, she attempted to force her way over to the corner of the pub where she’d seen Christine disappear. To halt her escape the man seized her hand, his calloused fingers stroking gently across her thumb before he slid them upward to cup her elbow. His contact sent a frisson of sensation running down her arm. She gasped at the surge of pleasure, stunned by his caress and the sexual awareness running through her body. She met a lot of men at the shop but not one of them pulled this sort of reaction from her. With a cautious glance at his handsome face, she studied his expression. Maybe her aunt and cousin were right and she should stop hiding away. There was no reason she couldn’t have a little fun from life, as her cousin said.
“Pleased to meet you, Pamela.” He rolled her name around his mouth, pursing the sensual curves of his lips in a manner that made her want to touch.
She shivered again, finally admitting the man fascinated her. It was his sparkling green eyes and the daredevil expression lurking in them, his muscular shoulders and his hands. A man’s hands shouldn’t attract attention, but she didn’t have any trouble imagining them running over her bare breasts. Aghast at her thoughts, she ripped her gaze from his fingers to concentrate on his face.
“Why haven’t I met you before?”
“I don’t go out much.”
“We’ll need to remedy that, I think.”
Good grief. His husky tones brought a distinct prickle to her skin. At the first sexy drawl he’d woken her sleeping libido. Did that mean she was easy? Maybe she should worry about her reputation, but his charismatic smile drew her. If she were a keen fisherman like her uncle, she’d say he was the perfect lure to use for fishing. Maybe too good. Two women at the other end of the bar kept eyeing him like a special pre-wartime treat. His freshly ironed RAF blue uniform, bearing the distinctive pilot’s wings and stripes, garnered everyone’s interest. A big man with short black hair, he stood about six inches taller than her. Dark lashes fringed his green eyes and at the moment, those eyes bore a distinctly predatory look. It should have made her run but instead, the man sent waves of exhilaration skipping through her.
“Do you think so?” A flirtatious smile curved her lips. It brought an answering grin to his, and she wondered what his mouth would feel like brushing against hers. Good, instinct told her, but would she find the courage to let her attraction run its natural course? Only time would tell. Besides, it was early days. He mightn’t think the same way or he might have many girlfriends. The last thing she wanted was to find herself part of a harem.
“There you are,” Christine said once they’d managed to navigate the crowd. “Everyone, this is my cousin, Pamela Allison.”
The men grinned and waved, firing names at her in a casual manner that would’ve made her mother frown since she always followed correct etiquette.
“Come and stand beside me,” a tasty sandy-haired man suggested, waggling his eyebrows. “I’ll look after you.”
“She’s with me,” Michael said in a low growl.
Startled silence fell before the teasing started.
“Are you?” the sandy-haired man asked Pamela. “Are you with our ace pilot?”
“I say, old chap,” another said. “That’s hardly fair. You shoot down most of the enemy planes and get the girl as well.”
Michael met his friend’s jibes and sly innuendo with unconcern. Christine arched one brow at her, a tiny smile playing across her scarlet lips.
It was the moment to protest, to say no man owned her. Thomas had wanted to possess her so badly his need transformed to severe jealousy and violence. The doctors blamed the head injuries he’d suffered while boxing in the local pub, stating they’d caused his irrational behavior. They weren’t the ones who’d dealt with his suspicion and cruelty. Yes, it was the moment to set everyone straight, but the words didn’t come. Michael wrapped his arm around her waist and his touch reduced her to a pile of shivering femininity. His scent, a subtle bay rum and underlying masculine musk, drew her in and enticed her to lean closer. He acted cocky and confident. A little arrogant. All traits borne by the typical fighter pilot, according to her cousin when she’d expounded on the topic one day.
“This is Owen,” Christine said. “Owen Johnston.”
“I’m pleased to meet you.” She smiled at the big, burly blond. His open and boyish face bore a grin, his cheeks ruddy from the heat inside the pub. It was obvious he adored Christine because he hadn’t taken his eyes off her since Pamela joined their group.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Owen said.
“You’re not from England,” Pamela said in surprise.
He smiled. “I’m from New Zealand. A place called Papakura.”
Pamela nodded, her mouth silently shaping the unfamiliar syllables of the foreign town. “Christine hasn’t told me much about you.”
He blushed and shared a soppy grin with Christine. It was so cute a sheen of tears formed in her eyes. How neat to see her cousin looking happy. Pamela hoped everything worked for her and Owen, even if the angel on her shoulder muttered with cynicism. During her time working in the shop, she heard every scrap of village gossip, whether she showed an interest or not. A reputation took years to build and it took one mistake or lapse of judgment to lose everything.
“What would you like to drink?” Michael asked, his warm breath drifting across the whorls of her ear in a delicate caress. “Can I buy you both a drink?”
“Gin and tonic for me,” Christine said. “Thank you.”
“I’ll have a dry sherry, please,” Pamela said.
Two of the men stood, offering them their seats at the table.
Michael helped with her coat before he moved away, taking his warmth and solid comfort with him when he went to purchase drinks. While she placed her coat over the back of a chair, she puzzled about her extreme reaction to the man. She didn’t understand it. Anyone would think she was one of those women. A tart who went with any man for money. But Lord help her, she wanted to run her hands through his hair, stroke his naked chest. She yearned to experience his hands strumming across her pleasure points. The need to kiss him thrummed through her so strongly she shook with need.
“He looks like Thomas,” she whispered to Christine. Thoughts of her husband and his tendency to violence might help ground her again.
“He does,” Christine agreed, glancing at the pilots at the bar. “A little bit.”
“Am I sick?” A trace of panic made her consider running before retreat became too late. “I mean, what if he acts like Thomas as well as looking like him? Am I flawed and fated to keep picking the wrong man?”
“Of course not,” Christine said with a laugh. “All it means is you fancy the tall, dark, and handsome type. There’s nothing wrong with your preferences.” A dimple flashed. “At least your penchant means you won’t try to steal Owen.”
Aghast, she stared at her cousin. “I’d never do that.”
“Relax. I’m teasing.”
“So where have you been hiding?” one of pilots asked Pamela, halting any notions of more private conversation with her cousin.
“I work in the village store,” Pamela said. “Hardly hiding.”
“I haven’t been with the squadron for long. Tommy,” he said, extending a hand for her to shake. His eyes glowed in admiration. “I’ll make a point of visiting the store now.”
“Where’s Bogle?” Another newly arrived pilot took possession of an empty seat.
Everyone fell silent, the hush an uneasy one.
“He bought it today. His plane crashed into the channel,” someone said.
The pilot stood again. “I need a drink.” He stalked off, leaving a strained silence behind.
One of the men cracked a joke. Everyone laughed and they started talking, firing questions. Flirting. They were fighter pilots from 92 Squadron and flew Spitfires. They were a close-knit group, yet brushed the death of their fellow pilot aside, but not in an uncaring nature. No, their behavior was more a grim acceptance with the knowledge lurking in their expressions that today’s death could have easily been one of them.
Curiosity burned in Pamela. Presumably Michael flew Spitfires too. She finally plucked up the courage to ask. “What does Michael do?”
“I’m a pilot,” he whispered in her ear, an instant before she recognized his enticing scent. He placed a drink on the table in front of her and another for Christine. His warm presence created havoc with her senses and the way he cupped her shoulder in an openly possessive manner didn’t help. Her nipples tightened, achy without warning. Pulling to rigid points, they rubbed with exquisite friction against the cups of her brassiere. When he lifted one finger to caress her cheek, the sensation zapped the length of her body, converging in her core. She shifted uneasily while silently acknowledging her acute arousal. It was all true. Her enjoyment of sex had turned her into one of those women. For the months since her husband’s death, she’d bottled her emotions. The change in routine and meeting Michael had pierced the dam, awareness of the opposite sex now in full flight.
“Let’s drink to Bogle,” Michael said, lifting his glass.
“To Bogle!” they said in unison, raising their glasses in a toast.
Pamela waited for them to say more but, after the toast, the conversation drifted on to discuss the next dance at the hall and talk of Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable, and Vivien Leigh. To her relief no one asked questions about her, apart from what she did. She hated talking about Thomas and her past. No doubt the questions would come, but meantime she would happily stick with superficial stuff like community events.
“Anyone for darts?” one of the men asked.
“Not me,” Owen said. Pamela caught his gaze on Christine’s lips and her cousin’s blush.
Christine leaned closer to her and spoke in an undertone. “Is it okay if I go home with Owen?”
Oh-oh. Her cousin’s departure would leave her alone with Michael. For an intense few seconds she almost panicked until she caught her cousin’s beseeching look. She softened, her grip on her sherry glass loosening. Christine and her family were her lifesavers, picking her up when she’d been at the lowest ebb, rescuing her from the clutches of her overbearing albeit well-meaning mother. “Yes, but take care. Please. Don’t let Mrs. Pearson see him either entering the cottage or departing. You don’t want your mother learning about Owen’s visit.” The need to say more, to tell Christine to stay at the pub instead of leaving with Owen trembled at the tip of her tongue. Shades of her mother. The realization kept her mouth firmly buttoned because the last thing she wanted was to fall out with her cousin.
“Thanks, we’ll be careful,” Christine said, not giving her a chance to rethink the decision. She and Owen finished their drinks and left, with her cousin whispering they intended to go straight back to the cottage. A hint for her to stay out for a few more hours. Pamela took a deep breath. Okay, she could stay for another hour, maybe two at a stretch.
Conversation continued while Owen and Christine left. Once the door closed behind them, a few people murmured in undertones. Too far away, Pamela couldn’t hear their discussion. She gnawed on her bottom lip, worried about talk. The circulation of rumors would devastate her aunt and uncle. She glared at the gossipers, her hand clenching around her glass.
“Don’t worry about Christine.” Michael’s breath whispered against her ear again, and she couldn’t prevent her shiver of awareness.
“I’m not worried.” A lie. Her stomach churned and she forced herself to remain still instead of squirming. Her bad angel shouted at her to lean into Michael, to show her interest. She froze and the naughty compulsion passed.
For the next five minutes, she listened to the idle chatter about life at the mess and speculation about the new picture due to run at the local cinema.
Michael joined in, asking questions and offering a few observations. He made a point to involve her in the conversation and when several other women joined their group, her discomfort at sitting with the pilots alone eased.
She actually started to enjoy herself and watched Michael play a game of darts while chatting with the others in the group. The noise grew progressively louder as everyone drank more beer.
“Would you like to play darts?” Michael bore a jubilant grin after beating one of the other fighter boys.
“You’ll have a harder time winning now that you’re playing with a woman,” one of the other men teased.
“Nah,” Michael scoffed, tugging his dog tags from beneath his shirt. A tarnished coin swung with the tags, glinting in the light. He placed a smacking kiss on it. “I have my lucky charm.”
He was also playing with a woman who knew how to handle a set of darts, but she didn’t mention that tidbit to him. The game was a rowdy and close-fought one. Pamela acquitted herself well, much to everyone’s surprise except her own. After several glasses of sherry, a pleasant buzz filled her, the normal reticence she experienced disappearing completely. When her final dart hit dead center, Michael cheered and picked her up, swinging her round and round until her head whirled. Finally, he set her down and planted a congratulatory kiss on her lips.
“Looks like I have two lucky charms,” he said when his friends hooted.
“Another game?” The losing team wanted revenge.
“Do you want to play again?” Michael’s face remained serious, and she knew he was asking for more.
“No, I’d better not. I have to work tomorrow.” She wanted to stay. Instead she heeded the voice of reason telling her to say no and hurry home. She needed to put distance between her and the enticing Michael.
“I’ll walk you home. You shouldn’t walk alone in the dark.”
She should have said no. Instead she agreed to his suggestion in a husky voice.
He stared at her for an instant longer before draining his beer. “Good night, chaps. You’ll have to get your revenge on us another night. I’m walking Pamela home.”
Heat crowded into her face but not one of them made a teasing remark. They’d probably wait until later. Michael helped her with her coat, pulling it up and over her shoulders.
“Thanks.” The naughty angel cheered, and Pamela could scarcely hear herself think. “Good night.” She nodded to the men and women they’d been sitting with, trying not to let her mother’s lectures or her husband’s commands govern her thoughts. This was totally innocent--a mere escort home.
Michael clasped her hand and led her from the pub. Once outside they paused to allow their eyes to adjust to the inky darkness, now typical in every English village and town.
“Where do you live?”
“In a cottage at the other end of the village. It’s okay. You don’t need to walk me home. The airfields are in the other direction.”
“I’ll walk you home.” He paused. “I say, you’re not frightened of me, are you? I’d never do anything to hurt you. I promise.”
The dark shape of his face sent her imagination soaring. Memories slammed into her and unease slithered through her like a grass snake. She took half a step back before she reined in her fear. Thomas always said the same thing. She’d believed him. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
“Pamela?” He tugged lightly on her hands, bringing her closer to his large frame. “I won’t even kiss you good night, even though I want that more than anything.”
A soft sound of surprise escaped her, making him chuckle. He offered his arm and she took it, telling herself she was being silly. Acting afraid of a man who’d done nothing to earn her fear would be like letting Thomas win. Besides, a kiss didn’t sound so bad.
The man possessed excellent night vision. He led her away from the pub, over the rutted cobblestones of the car park and along the path. They passed the butcher and the baker, gradually reaching her uncle’s store. They sold everything from soap to flour and beauty items for women.
“Is this where you work?”
“Yes, I’ve worked for my uncle and aunt for almost a year now.”
“Where did you live before that?”
Pamela tripped on an uneven section of pavement, Michael helping her to keep upright. “I ... ah ... thank you. I lived in London. My husband was a policeman.” Maybe her abrupt tone would give him a subtle hint.
“Husband?” Michael’s reply sliced through the air and he withdrew his touch. “I didn’t realize you were married.”
“Thomas died in a motor accident, almost a year ago now.”
“I’m sorry. I thought--”
“I know what you thought,” Pamela said icily. “Perhaps you should let me walk home on my own.”
“I’m sorry. Christine didn’t tell me much about you.”
“She shouldn’t have told you anything. This is a mistake.”
“Haven’t you ever made a mistake before? Give me a second chance.”
“No, it’s okay. I’m a bit sensitive about my husband. Let’s change the subject.”
“We can do that. And I understand. I don’t particularly like talking about our sorties either.” Michael moved close enough for her to catch his faint smile.
The tension inside her seeped away, until the unexpected screech of a cat fighting with another startled an undignified squeak from her. Michael laughed softly and wrapped his arm around her waist.
“Steady. It’s only a couple of cats.” He halted in the shadows cast by an oak tree, the leaves rustling in the breeze.
“Pamela.” He smoothed his thumb across her lips. She scarcely breathed while she waited for his next move. “Can I kiss you?”
Suddenly her fears appeared stupid and out of proportion. Before Thomas entered her life she wouldn’t have thought twice about a few kisses in the moonlight. Funny how her life fell into two parts--before Thomas and after. “Yes, you can kiss me.”
Immediately he stepped closer, cupping her face with his hands. He touched his lips to hers in a soft yet chaste kiss before he pulled away.
Swift disappointment filled her. Was that it? Did he intend to act the gentleman and leave the smooching at that? Despite her mental wavering, honesty propelled Pamela to admit she wanted him. She couldn’t explain the compulsion to take their budding relationship further. She just wanted. A snort burst free, the soft hiss of breath bringing a flash of humor. It was obvious she and Christine had more in common than she’d thought.
“Do you call that a kiss?”
Michael laughed. “You seem a little jumpy. I didn’t want to scare you. I can do a much better job if you want.”
He was asking her still? Instead of taking her silent offer, the one backed with a flirty gaze? In lieu of an answer, she lifted one of his hands to her mouth and traced her tongue over his thumb from tip to fleshy base. His sudden intake of breath thrilled her, dared her to tease further. She clutched his hand and guided one of his fingers to her mouth. She traced her lips with his finger before drawing his finger inside and sucking lightly. Michael moved closer, crowding her slighter body until the tree trunk halted farther retreat. His legs brushed hers, his erection digging into her stomach. With one final swipe of her tongue, she released his finger, making an audible pop. Before she said another word, he swooped, lowering his head to claim her mouth.
At first he kept the kiss light, as if she might still object. She melted into his hard, muscular chest, reveling in the strength and warmth of him. He tasted of beer and tobacco and smelled of bay rum. The man knew how to kiss, using just the right amount of pressure--not too hard and not too soft. His tongue pushed against the corner of her mouth. Her pulse raced, her body starting to ache with need. It had been a long time since a man held her with tenderness and desire. Excitement engulfed her, snaking through her. Warmth tugged at her breasts until they ached for Michael’s touch, his fingers, his mouth. The desire grew when his tongue retreated and teasingly pushed inside her mouth again. Prickly heat and moisture gathered between her legs. She moaned against his mouth, needing more, wanting more, but he kept things slow and easy.
A gentleman to the end. The thought hurled her back to the past. Women shouldn’t enjoy sex. If they did, they deserved the name of whore. Thomas...
Michael explored the interior of her mouth, not realizing her mind had drifted. He nibbled at her lips before planting a string of kisses against her jaw. The warmth of his breath on her neck pulled her right back to the moment, her bad angel giving her a swift kick of reminder. Thomas wasn’t here. Besides, he’d been wrong. Her mother was mistaken and she didn’t owe anyone explanations. Sighing, she tilted her head to allow him access. Warm, wet suction on the tender skin a fraction above her collarbone brought a low hum of pleasure. She gripped his shoulders and soaked up every seductive sensation.
Gradually, he pulled back. The half moon peeked from behind the clouds, bringing light to pierce the darkness. He smiled slowly, and his eyes shone with a faint glitter in the dim light.
The distinct drone of a plane flying overhead brought a frown to his face. “We should go.”
Her cottage stood at the far end of the town and backed onto a wheat field. At this time of summer, the wheat stood tall, almost ready to harvest. The wind blew through the blades, making them resonate. The song normally soothed her, bringing to mind waves rushing to shore at the beach. Tonight the sound didn’t calm her agitation. She fumbled with the latch of the small green gate that opened into the cottage garden and paused to stare up at Michael. The moon disappeared again, screening his face from view.
“Thanks for walking me home.”
“It’s my pleasure. Can I see you again?”
Pleasure suffused her at his request. Her eager kisses hadn’t put him off. “I’d like that.”
“Good. I’ll ring you.” He brushed a quick kiss on her cheek and turned away with a wave. “Do you have a phone?”
“No, but you can give Christine a message if necessary. Do you see her at the base?”
“Yes, I can give her a message.”
Pamela watched him walk away until she could no longer see him. Smiling, she swung the gate open and stepped inside. She closed it behind her, the squeak reminding her she should oil the hinges. Since she’d gone straight from the store to her uncle’s house earlier and had hurried during her brief visit to change for her pub outing, she paused now to check the mail. The bulky envelope she pulled from her mailbox made her wish she hadn’t bothered. The familiar writing on the fat letter belonged to her mother. Already, she imagined the contents--the demands to return home. Why spoil a perfectly good day and memories of Michael and his kisses?