She and Philippe had been thrown together in Paris two years ago, she a recent widow who still loved her husband, Philippe a handsome flirt who'd saved her life. Then she'd saved his. Since then, they'd met up whenever she got leave from Scotland. It had never been serious, she reminded herself. Yet he could have told her that this other part of him existed. It would have made her think twice.
Never trust a Frenchman. Then came the inevitable:
Why did he get to be the one whose family survived while hers had been killed? She turned toward the exit, her gaze straight ahead.
BACK AT THE OFFICE, THE FANY put an envelope in her hand. "There's a car waiting for you."
"Now? But I thought the meeting would be here."
"Orders. The muckety mucks said hurry." She gave Kate a level look. "You owe me, Yank."
Kate pulled out a pack of Craven A cigarettes—disgusting, non-filtered things—and slid it across her desk. "You covered for me, right?"
"Delayed train," she said. Winked and took Kate's offering.
In the car, Kate was handed a Thermos, a paper bag with sandwiches and a folder marked ELB38.
"Where are we going?" she asked the driver, a non-com by the looks of his civilian clothes.
"You'll get instructions upon arrival. Otherwise, no conversation, miss. Orders."
It was missus, but she let it go. It was like her rose gold wedding band was invisible.
All hush-hush. Always. Her stomach twisted. The secrecy, the not knowing. She thought of the Copenhagen mission.
From the Thermos she poured out a stream of the steaming, caramel-colored mixture. Sipped. Semi-sweet and milky, but so strong it could bend nails. Tea was the English's answer to everything.
She glanced at the sandwiches. She had no appetite. First her pa. Now Philippe.
They drove past a warren of rubble-strewn streets in the bombed-out East End, through the rot of debris and charred wood permeating the streets. Curiously, a mailbox still stood intact, its cap painted with the yellowish-green gas-detecting paint. The odor of dry heat and the decay of decomposing bodies pervaded. She felt death in her bones.
There weren't even enough ambulances these days, yet here she was in a car with a driver. It felt wrong.
Feeling guilty, she slid down in her seat, trying not to look.
The car stopped to let fire wardens and old men with shovels pass. Gas masks, issued by the government to everyone, hanging from their belts. She knew they were here to clear the rubble and comb for bodies. A small boy sat on a pile of scorched bricks looking curiously content even with his sooty face and torn short pants. He held a woman's lizard handbag.
Kate eyed him. Was he waiting for his mother? She glanced side to side. There wasn't a woman to be seen.
"Hold on a minute." She took the bag of sandwiches and jumped out of the car. "Would you like a sandwich, young man? I've got so many extra."
He had puffy black eyes and sunken cheeks. A child-size gas mask hung from a loop on his belt. "I'm not supposed to take things from strangers."
"You're right, of course. But this is extra from the government. It's meant for people who've missed their breakfast."
She nodded. "It's quite all right. See? The stamp means it's from—"
His eyes widened. "That's the royal symbol!"
Observant boy. His hair and body, caked with plaster dust, gave him the appearance of a little ghost. He looked no more than eight.
"I'm sure his majesty would want you to have it," Kate said.
"May I take one for me mum?"
"Of course." Kate peered around again. "Where is she?"
"She told me to wait here. She's coming back after she checks our flat."
His fingers tightened on the dusty lizard handbag. Fashionable. Or had been, once.
"How long have you been here?" she asked softly.
He thought. "Must be yesterday morning."
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.