The Very Thought of You by Jenny Frame

Disclaimer – The characters in this story are mine. Any resemblance to any fictional characters is purely coincidental. This is an uber story and so the two lead characters may be familiar. Some locations contained within the story are real and some are fictional.

Love/Sex warning/Disclaimer – This story depicts loving, consensual sexual relationships between women. Some very light BDSM references are contained in the piece. If you are under 18 years of age or if the themes of these relationships are illegal in your country then I suggest you skip this story.

Song/Music Disclaimer – The Songs mentioned in this piece are used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.

Thank you to my Beta Reader Norsebard. I am very grateful for your help and hard work on this story.

My thanks also go to my friend Govita for some great story advice.

For my partner Lou. Your help, love and encouragement are my inspiration.

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The Very Thought of You

– A Dalton Family Saga Prequel

jennyframe91@yahoo.com

http://www.jennys-storybook.com


Special Operation Command

RAF Beaulieu, Hampshire

1942

Corporal Tommy Martin looked at his watch and turned to his passengers in the back of the Military jeep. Squadron Officer, and unit commander Alex Dalton, and Flight Officer Evangeline Woodward, better known as Poni to her comrades.

“We’re going to be late if Rowe doesn’t hurry up, Guv!”

The three friends were waiting outside the Operation Command building, set on the large estate grounds of Baron Montague’s, in Hampshire.

After a period of leave over Christmas , Squadron Officer Dalton’s team had been brought to Hampshire to train for their next secret mission on behalf of RAF Intelligence .

The training building was jokingly known as the finishing school for military agents, and after a month there, learning every aspect of their new mission, they were to be deployed overseas from the local RAF base.

Poni looked at her own watch and said, “Tommy’s right, old man, we need to get going now if we’re going to make it to the village hall in time.”

Alex took a cigarette case out of her blue RAF Uniform jacket, took one out, and tapped it on the silver case.

“Give her a few minutes, she was chatting up a new recruit that came into Beaulieu this afternoon. Tommy and you were at the equipment store when the commander brought her in. Pretty girl she is too.”

“A pretty girl, and you weren’t chasing her, My Lord?” Poni asked with a smirk.

Alex took her cigarette and blew the smoke out into the cold January air. “Ah, but Poni old chap, I can’t monopolise all the pretty girls. I was feeling charitable, besides you know I never entangle myself with fellow agents. I keep all my encounters strictly off base.”

“Hmm.” Poni said , as she looked at her watch again. “She better get a move on. Two weeks we’ve been planning this fundraiser for The Dalton Foundation, Alex. Two weeks in which I had to attend two planning meetings with the church ladies, that you conveniently ducked out of.”

Tommy and Alex laughed. “Very important meetings with the Commander came up, as well you know, Poni.”

Alex looked over to the entrance and saw Rowe running down the steps, her cap under her arm.

“Here comes Rowe now. Get in, Section Officer Mathews, old Poni here is desperate to meet up with the old ladies of the village again.”

“Very funny, Alex. So how did you get on with the young lady, Rowe?” Poni asked.

Rowe smiled from ear to ear. “Her name is Francine. Well, that’s the name she gave me, anyway. She’s absolutely beautiful, Poni. Golden hair like the colour of the sun, and her eyes…”

“What’s her story, Rowe? Commander Sanderson suggested she might join our team in a few weeks.” Alex told them.

“She’s a linguist, speaks five languages. She doesn’t know what her mission will be yet, but she’s going to go through some basic training in isolation first. So if she gets assigned to our team, keep your mitts off, you two!”

“A linguist?” Alex raised an eyebrow and nudged Poni. “Good with her tongue, then?”

Poni and Tommy burst out laughing at Alex’s joke. “I would imagine so My Lord. So do I have your word of honour that you’ll both keep your mitts off?”

“Of course, Rowe. You know my position about chasing other agents, and Poni here is looking for the future Mrs Woodward, so I think you’re safe there.”

Poni gave Alex a look. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to settle down, old man.”

“Of course not, not for you, anyway. Well, Tommy, take us to the village hall. We don’t want to keep the young ladies waiting.”

“Right you are, Guv!” Tommy said, driving the jeep off into the night.

***

“Hurry up, Lotty! We’re going to be late.”

“Coming, Maude!” Charlotte Nightingale sat at her dressing table and applied her lipstick carefully.

She smacked her lips together and regarded her image in the mirror. Her dark blonde hair hung in loose curls down to her shoulders, and her hazel eyes sparkled in the light. “Hmm. You’ll just have to do as you are, Lotty.”

Lotty’s c ousin Maude came bounding into the bedroom. “If we don’t get there on time, all the best dance partners will be gone. This is the most exciting dance this boring little village has ever had, and I’m not going to miss out.”

Lotty sighed. “It will just be full of cocky RAF and Army officers.”

“Yes, exactly! They are so dreamy in their uniforms.” Maude began waltzing around the room with her imaginary officer.

Maude and Lotty were very close in age. Lotty, at eighteen, was a year older than her cousin, and they had always been good friends since they were little. So when Lotty’s parents had decided to travel to Newcastle and take care of an elderly relative, she had jumped at the chance to stay with her aunt Edith, uncle Cyril and cousin Maude.

Although they had similar interests, such as dancing and music, as most young girls their age did, Lotty did not have the same excitement when it came to the dashing young men who tried to court them.

Lotty stood, and popped her powder case into her clutch bag. “So? Will I do, Maude?”

Her cousin took her hand and regarded her blue polka dot dress. “You look wonderful, Lotty! You always were the most beautiful one. I don’t think you’ll want for a dance partner.”

“Oh shush you. This dance is meant to be a charity evening is it not? Not dancing and showing off.”

Maude checked her hair in the mirror one last time. “Oh, don’t be such a killjoy Lotty. We can do both.”

“Let’s get going then. W e have all these handsome officers to dazzle!” Lotty said with a smile.

As they walked out the bedroom and down the stairs, Maude said with excitement. “Miss Simpson, the baker’s daughter, told me that there are supposed to be some American servicemen going.”

“Oh, be still my beating heart!” Lotty said dramatically.

At the bottom of the stairs they stopped to put on their coats. “The GI’s are so yummy, just like in the American pictures, and Miss Simpson says that they can get you chocolate and stockings. Don’t you want some stockings?”

They were interrupted by uncle Cyril, who came to see them off. He was a large and imposing man, a former Royal Navy officer, who ran his home with a ship’s discipline.

“Make sure you are back on time, or there will be no more church dances!” Cyril said forcefully.

“Yes, Father.” Maude replied.

Once they got out of the house and out of her Father’s earshot, Maude asked, “Well?”

Lotty smiled at her cousin and said , “What woman wouldn’t want stockings? I haven’t seen a pair in three years. It’s what I would have to do to get them that worries me. Nothing comes for free, remember that.”

“Oh, don’t be such a spoilsport! Come on!” Maude took her cousin’s hand, and they set off running and giggling towards the village hall.

***

The rather unusual group of RAF officers from the Beaulieu estate , were getting a lot of attention. None of the villagers had ever seen women in uniform with trousers or looking as masculine. No one dared say anything to them, or offend them, as they were more than grateful for the crates of champagne and hard to get hold of foods that had been provided for the party by Alex, Poni, and Tommy.

Alex Dalton headed up the country’s largest charity organisation for the poor. The Dalton Foundation was funded from the Dalton family fortune, donations and fund raising events. Poni Woodward, just like her father before her, sat on the board of the foundation and donated large amounts of money herself.

Since the outbreak of war, Alex and Poni did not have as much time for their charity work, due to their RAF service, but they did what they could.

They had thought it a wonderful idea to have a village dance, and fundraiser, before they headed off on their next mission. It wouldn’t raise a great deal of money, but it would be a thank you to the village women who had been knitting and donating clothes to the foundation for those left bombed out of their homes in London.

The normally sedate church hall was alive with music, dancing, and laughter. Rowe and Tommy were off dancing with some young ladies, leaving Alex and Poni having a glass of champagne and a smoke.

Alex looked at her friend Poni who seemed to be quite melancholy this evening. You don’t look your usual cheerful self, my friend.

 

“Cheer up, old chap. You’ve had a face like a wet weekend since we left the Beaulieu. We’re in a room full of beautiful women.”

Poni sighed and lifted another glass of champagne. “It’s nothing.”

Alex put an arm on her shoulder and said ; “It’s obviously something. Just tell me, old friend.”

“It’s what you said back at the barracks. It got me thinking.” Poni said and took a long drag on her cigarette.

Alex tried to think what she could have said to upset her friend, but couldn’t. “What was it?”

“You were telling Rowe that I wouldn’t chase her girl because I wanted to find Mrs Woodward.”

Alex raised an eyebrow. “Yes…well, that’s no secret is it? I mean, it’s not what I ever want, but you have always been a romantic at heart, Poni. You’d love to have a little wife and sit by the fire on cold evenings, all domestic and comfortable.”

“Yes. It’s what I’ve always wanted, but it got me thinking. There’s a reason our commanding officers put us together as a unit. Tommy, Rowe, you, and me? They think agents who prefer their own sex don’t have family ties to home and are more willing to do what is necessary.”

Alex wasn’t used to her friend being so melancholy. It just wasn’t like Poni. “That may be a big assumption on their part, but it’s true in my case . I don’t know about Tommy and Rowe, they probably will want to settle down one day, after the war. I know that you always have wanted that, and you will meet the right person, old man.”

Poni looked deeply into her glass. “Sometimes I wonder. Don’t you ever get tired, Alex, tired of the endless women that drift in and out of your life?”

“My, my! We are in a depressed mood. You know me, old chap, I won’t ever let anyone have my heart. I’m not made for loving, I’m made for charming and giving pleasure to as many ladies as possible.”

Alex patted her friend on the back and said, “Perk up, there’s American servicemen dancing with all the best girls, we have to keep the side up for old Blighty!”

Poni downed the last of her champagne and slammed it down on the table. “You’re quite right, my Lord. I’m sorry for…”

A strange look came across Poni’s face, and her mouth hung open in wonder.

“What is it?” Alex asked.

“Beautiful…”

Alex followed her line of vision to the other side of the hall where two young women stood together laughing , and enjoying the music. One in particular looked absolutely stunning.

“The dark blonde girl?”

Poni could only nod as she was transfixed by the vision before her. Poni’s heart thudded hard, she felt a bit light headed.

Alex had never seen her friend react that strongly to a woman before. She had of course had her share of encounters with the ladies, but never had one struck her friend dumb to such an extent .

“Go and talk to her, old chap.”

Poni turned and looked at her friend in a panic. “I can’t…she probably would be horrified that a woman was wanting to chat her up.”

“That’s never stopped you before. Come on, Woodward. Buck up and march over and turn on the old charm.”

Poni nodded and smoothed her hair back. “Faint heart never won fair lady sort of thing?”

“Indeed, that sort of thing. Now be a good chap and go and talk to the girl.”

Poni snagged a glass of champagne and downed it in one. ” All right , I’m going.” She tugged down her uniform jacket and straightened her tie.

“Good hunting, Woodward!” Alex encouraged her and watched her walk off muttering under her breath.

“Once more into the breach…”

***

“Lotty? Are you listening to me?” Maude said.

“Hmm?” Lotty’s gaze was directed across the hall, to an unusual woman in RAF uniform. When Lotty saw her, she felt a thousand butterflies tumble around in her stomach, something she had never felt before , and didn’t quite understand.

“You’re not listening, are you? I asked you if you saw the two American GI’s looking over at us ? Do you think they’ll ask us to dance?” Maude said excitedly.

Lotty completely ignored her cousin’s question and instead replied, “Do you see those two women over there with short hair, and dressed in men’s RAF uniforms ? Have you seen them before?”

Maude sighed. She was more concerned with the GI’s than two strange looking women. “No, I’ve never seen them around the village. They’ve probably come from the local base. Oh look! The GI’s are coming over!”

The two American soldiers appeared in front of them, and introduced themselves. “Hi ladies, I’m Joey De Campo, and this here’s Glen Johnson. ”

“Hello!” Maude said excitedly.

“Good evening.” Lotty saw clearly that the two men had decided that Maude would be Glen’s quarry, and she Joey’s, as they sidled ever closer to the young women.

Maude’s young man, clearly confident that he wouldn’t be refused, took Maude’s hand and led her to the floor ; her cousin giggling all the way.

“So?” Joey said, indicating with his thumb that they should join Glen and Maude on the dance floor.

Lotty regarded the young soldier with derision. He stood with his legs wide in a most ungainly fashion whilst chewing insistently on a piece chewing gum.

Uh! You are entirely too pleased with yourself!

 

“So what, Mr De Campo?”

Joey laughed in an arrogant fashion. “Sweet cheeks, you are easily the best looking girl in this crummy village hall, and I’m the best looking guy, so you’re not going to get a better offer.”

He put his arm around her bare shoulders and tried to maneuver her towards the floor. “Get off of me!” Lotty stamped down on his foot. “The name is Charlotte, not sweetcheeks. ”

He yelled out in pain. “What did you do that for?”

“I don’t respond well to being manhandled, and a gentleman would never touch a Lady’s bare skin without her permission!”

Joey stepped towards Lotty, his face was red with anger. “Frigid bitch!”

“Private! Are you harassing this lady?” Lotty looked round to see the woman she had been watching across the hall come to her aid.

The young American sized up the newcomer with disdain. “Who the hell are you?”

Poni positioned herself between Lotty and Joey, and said, “That would be, who the hell are you Flight Officer, ma’am!”

The soldier looked very unsure of how to handle this turn of events, and so Poni decided to make her position abundantly clear to him. She leant over, close to his ear and said with an air of supreme confidence and superiority, “If I were you Private, I’d apologise to this young woman and toddle off to find someone else to bother, before I have to make a call to your base commander. Are we clear?”

Joey De Campo could see his off base passes being ripped to shreds for months on end and decided retreat was the best policy.

“Yes, Flight Officer.” He turned to Lotty and said , “I’m sorry if I was a bit forward…um…I…well…I’m sorry .” And with that he was off leaving Lotty alone with her rescuer.

“Thank you so much for rescuing me, Flight Officer. I couldn’t seem to make myself clear to the young man.”

“Oh, not a bit of it. You seemed to be doing quite a good job of keeping him at bay. I just thought I would hurry the process along. I don’t like to see a lady manhandled in that way, Miss…?”

“Nightingale, Charlotte Nightingale.”

“That’s a beautiful name. I’m Evangeline Woodward, but everyone calls me Poni.”

Lotty smiled sweetly and Poni’s heart began to beat at double time. “Poni? That’s an unusual name. I take it you like horses?”

“Well, something like that. I’ve been called it since I was small, and it seems to suit me, much more than Evangeline.”

Lotty took in Poni’s fine, sturdy, masculine form. “Yes, I do think you’re right there, Poni.”

They were silent for a few seconds, simply looking at each other when Poni said, “I hope you don’t mind me coming over to talk to you, Miss Nightingale . I saw you across the hall with your friend, and I thought. ‘That young woman looks very jolly indeed, I must go and introduce myself.’ Then when I saw that unmannerly cad take liberties with your person, I had to intervene.”

“It’s actually my cousin Maude that I’m here with, and it’s very…” Lotty knew what she wanted to say, but didn’t want to say the wrong thing and offend the officer. She decided to take a chance and say what came to her naturally.

“It was very Gentlemanly of you. Thank you.” She saw that she had pleased the officer with her words as Poni smiled with pride.

“I should hope I am a Gentleman. My m other would expect no less of me. Would you permit me to fetch us a couple of drinks, Miss Nightingale?”

“That would be lovely, Poni, and please call me Lotty.”

“Thank you, Lotty. If you would excuse me, I’ll just be a few moments.” The bright smile that Poni gave her before walking off to get them some drinks, made the young woman blush deeply.

Why is she making me feel so giddy? She’s a woman.

***

While Poni collected the drinks, Maude popped back from the dance floor, along with her GI Glen, to check on her cousin.

“Are you alright, Lotty? Glen says Joey can be a bit overpowering.”

“Yeah, he means no harm Ma’am honestly, but I’m sorry if he upset you.” Glen said sincerely.

Lotty thought this young man seemed harmless enough, and a lot more polite than his friend.

She patted Maude’s hand and smiled, “Don’t worry about me. You two go off and dance.”

Maude stepped closer to her. “Are you sure, Lotty? I don’t want to leave you on your own.”

“I’m not on my own. I was talking with Poni Woodward. She’s just gone to get us some drinks.”

“Flight Officer Woodward?”

“Yes, why?” Lotty asked.

Glen looked at Maude, unsure whether or not he should say anything. “Well, Ma’am…um…she and her friends are pretty important. I’ve heard some of the guys talk about them on base. I don’t know exactly what they do, but they’re not your everyday RAF officers, in more ways than one.”

Lotty noticed Poni on her way back and wanted to encourage the pair away before she got back.

“I’m sure I’ll be absolutely fine, now off you go you two. Have fun, Maude!”

Maude smiled broadly and took her GI’s hand. “We will!”

As he was being dragged off, Glen said, ” Again, I’m sorry about earlier, Ma’am. Just be careful, okay? They’re not like normal women….”

Lotty watched her cousin pull the hapless GI onto the dance floor. Not like normal women? What does he mean?

 

Within a few moments, Poni was back by Lotty’s side, grasping two glasses of champagne. “I hope you like champagne, Lotty, I should have asked. Perhaps you would have preferred the fruit punch?”

In truth, Lotty had only had some champagne on her eighteenth birthday, but tonight she felt like the drink would calm her racing heart and unfamiliar feelings in her stomach.

“Champagne is delightful. Thank you.” Poni handed her the glass and Lotty took a big sip straight away, causing her to splutter slightly as the bubbles tickled her nose.

“I can get you a fruit punch if you’d rather. It’s no trouble.”

 

Well done Lotty! She thinks you’re an immature little girl now.

 

“Oh no, it’s fine. I just haven’t had any champagne since my birthday last year, and even then it wasn’t real champagne like this. I don’t know how the organisers got hold of it, or some of the food on the buffet table. Have you seen them ?”

Poni laughed softly. “Forgive me for laughing, it’s just that this dance was organised by myself and my friend Alex Dalton.”

Lotty looked surprised. “Dalton? The Dalton Foundation?”

“Yes. You’ve heard of the charity?”

Lotty smiled warmly. “Oh yes indeed. I doubt there are many in Britain who have not heard of it. They do such wonderful work, and in fact my cousin and I are helping my aunt to knit blankets and jumpers for the Foundation appeal.”

“That’s wonderful, Lotty! Well, I sit on the board of trustees and help my friend Alex as much as I can. We were able to source the drinks and food from some of our usual suppliers.”

Lotty looked over to where she had first seen Poni and asked, “Is that Lady Dalton over there?”

“It is indeed Lady Dalton, Countess of Sheffield, although she prefers Alex. She’s not the ‘lady’ type. We’ve known each other since we were children. She’s standing with our other friends, Tommy Martin, and Rowe Mathews.”

“You look a jolly bunch of friends, I must say.”

“I suppose you could call us a band of brothers. We’ve worked as a unit for some time now.” Poni took a drink from her glass, worrying she had said too much.

“What exactly do you do in the RAF, Poni?”

“I’m afraid I can’t talk about that. Security, you understand. I’m sorry.” Poni looked down at the floor.

“No, don’t apologise. I shouldn’t have asked. I understand there are lots of things in this war that are difficult to talk about. I…I should say we, lost my brother in the retreat from Dunkirk. He was a Captain in the Army,” Lotty said sadly.

Poni looked into her eyes with great sincerity. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Lotty. This war is a terrible business. I’m sure you miss him a great deal.”

Lotty nodded and smiled sadly. “I do. A great deal. He was eight years older than me, and the apple of my parents’ eye, but…well, it doesn’t matter now.”

There seemed to be more to Lotty’s remarks than just sadness for losing a beloved brother, Poni thought.

“Look at us becoming morbid. I think we need to cheer ourselves up. Miss Nightingale would you do me the honour of having the next dance with me ? ”

Automatically, Lotty wanted to accept, but then reminded herself that her partner was a woman. She looked around nervously.

Poni anticipated this and said, “Don’t feel under pressure to dance with me if you don’t feel comfortable with it.”

Lotty looked up into the eyes of her new friend, and although Poni was trying to hide it, she saw an anxiety that she would be refused. Lotty found it so endearing that such a tough, confident woman could be so sensitive, and in that moment she decided she didn’t care what the rest of the village would say. She wanted to dance with this woman, and she would.

She smiled and said to Poni, “I would be delighted to dance with you.”

Poni couldn’t help the happiness from showing on her face. “Wonderful. May I?”

She offered her arm, and Lotty looped her arm through it. They walked onto the floor just as the next song was starting, and it was Lotty ‘s favourite. “The very thought of you. This is my favourite song, Poni.”

“I’m delighted, it’s one of mine too.” They stood face to face and just as Lotty was expecting Poni to take her in her arms, Poni reached into her uniform jacket and pulled out a crisp folded handkerchief.

“I didn’t wear gloves this evening so I hope this will suffice.” Poni put her arm around Lotty’s shoulders to assume the dancing position, but kept her handkerchief in her hand, so that she wouldn’t touch Lotty’s bare shoulder with her hand.

Lotty could only nod, as she was overwhelmed at such a gentlemanly act. Her m other told her that a gentleman should always wear gloves when dancing so that they didn’t touch a lady inappropriately, but she had found that men seldom kept up the custom these days . For Poni to show her this little mark of respect made Lotty feel ever more giddy than she already did.

They began to dance, and as Poni swirled her around the room, all the other dancers seemed to fall away.

 

The very thought of you and I forget to do

The little ordinary things that everyone ought to do

I’m living in a kind of daydream

I’m happy as a king

And foolish though it may seem

To me that’s everything

 

The mere idea of you, the longing here for you

You’ll never know how slow the moments go till I’m near to you

I see your face in every flower

Your eyes in stars above

It’s just the thought of you

The very thought of you, my love

 

Poni’s eyes never left Lotty’s as they danced. It was as if they existed only for each other, and the more they danced, and touched, the more Lotty forgot she shouldn’t be feeling this way about a woman.

 

The mere idea of you, the longing here for you

You’ll never know how slow the moments go till I’m near to you

I see your face in every flower

Your eyes in stars above

It’s just the thought of you

The very thought of you, my love

 

Poni herself had never felt so much for a woman after only just meeting her. She’s the one, the one I’ve been waiting for…

 

 

***

“Looks like Poni found a real looker, Guv , ” Tommy said to Alex.

“She certainly has, Tommy. She’s the most beautiful woman in the room. Don’t you think, Rowe?”

The three friends had been watching their friend from the side, delighted at the look of happiness on Poni’s face.

“Certainly is. How did you miss out on her, my Lord?” Rowe said with a smirk.

Alex lit a cigarette and inhaled, the smoke billowing out as she answered. “Poni saw her first, and you know I don’t make a play for girls like that, the ones that want to be courted. I would just disappoint them when they realised I couldn’t give them any more than the best night they’ve ever had.”

Tommy nudged Alex. “Unlike Mrs Ruby Black? She’s been keeping her eye on you all night, Guv.”

Alex looked over and saw the very glamorous forty-something who had been eyeing her all evening.

Mrs Black was the widow of the former village doctor and was well known by the locals as enjoying the company of young men. She was what Alex would call buxom, very large breasted, curvaceous and appeared very interested in the commanding Lord Dalton.

“She has made herself known to me a few times in the village. She has two very nice…assets to offer.”

Her two friends laughed and Rowe said, “The villagers call her the Merry Widow. Apparently she was less than half the age of her late husband.”

Alex let her eyes appraise her attractive prey’s figure, and she felt excitement course through her body as it always did when she zeroed onto a potential conquest. Mrs Black’s dress clung to her Shapely hips, and her full breasts threatened to spill over the cleavage area of her dress.

I think I could have fun with you, Mrs Black!

 

“Oh look out! The Merry Widow is on her way over to you, my Lord.” Rowe said.

Alex put on her most charming smile and said. “Mrs Black? So nice to see you again. I hope you’re enjoying the evening?”

“Ruby, please . I would be enjoying it so much more if there were more dance partners to go round Lady Dalton.” She sidled closer to Alex.

Alex took the champagne glass from Ruby’s hand and put it down on the table. “Well, allow me to take you a turn about the floor, Ruby.”

She followed Alex, clearly delighted to be getting the officer’s attention. Alex grasped her firmly around the waist, making Ruby gasp, and started to dance them about the floor.

As they danced, they passed Poni and Lotty. “Having fun, old chap?” She asked Poni.

“Indeed, we are are, my Lord. When you’ve finished dancing, I’d like to introduce my new friend to you.”

Alex smiled at both her friend and Lotty. “I’d be delighted.”

 The two couples moved off, and Ruby said, “Your friend is a true gentleman . You don’t often see someone show so much respect to a young lady by using a handkerchief while dancing.”

“Yes, my friend is the finest of gentlemen , and she is looking for a wife.” Alex threw this comment in to make sure Ruby knew what kind of woman she was.

Ruby responded by stroking her bright red fingernails down the nape of Alex’s neck. “And are you a g entleman , My Lord?”

Alex could picture those painted nails digging into her back as she fucked Ruby hard , and she began to throb. She swirled Ruby around and bent her backwards, bringing them inches from each other. “I am always a g entlemen, Ruby, but if a woman wishes it, I can make her feel things that a proper lady would never dare ask for.”

Ruby moaned and Alex grinned as she knew she had her. They got a few looks from the other dancers, but Alex didn’t care. Nothing would stop her pursuing a conquest, even if it meant shocking a few innocent villagers.

She pulled Ruby back up and they went back to dancing normally. “Is that what you wish for Ruby? For me to make you feel like that?”

“Oh yes, my Lord.” The older woman husked .

As the song came to an end and the other dancers applauded the band, Alex said, “Two things we must be clear on Ruby. One, unlike my friend, I am not looking for a wife.”

Ruby laughed and trailed a finger down Alex’s shirt in a teasing fashion. “Believe me, you don’t have to worry about me falling in love with you, like the young women you usually pursue. I do not intend to be anyone’s wife ever again. I’ve done it once and have been left very comfortably off. Being a widow is much more fun!”

“Then you are the perfect woman for me for this evening.”

As they walked off the floor arm in arm, Ruby remembered there had been a second thing Alex had wanted to make clear about their encounter. “What was the second thing, my Lord Dalton?”

Alex turned and gave her a penetrating stare. “Don’t call me my Lord. I am either Lord Dalton, or Alex, whatever you feel is appropriate.”

My Lord was a title that Alex allowed only her friends, and those she cared about, to use. It carried an affectionate tone that she didn’t want any of the women she spent the night with to have for her.

Ruby shook her head and brushed a bit of lint from Alex’s lapel. “I can’t call a member of the aristocracy Alex. Especially for what comes later. How about Master? I’ve always wanted to play master and housemaid Ruby teased.

Alex fought hard to keep the hot lust she felt from showing, and to stay in control. “I think that would be highly appropriate, Mrs Black.”

Ruby leaned forward and whispered in Alex’s ear , “Why don’t you go and talk to your friend and her young lady, and meet me back at my house after the dance? You know where I live? Strange field house?”

Alex simply nodded and watched Mrs Black walk away, admiring the sway of her curvy behind.

This is going to be much more fun than I thought!

***

Poni and Lotty stayed up for the next two dances, neither wishing to let go of each other.

This is what love at first sight feels like. Thought Poni as she twirled Lotty around the dance floor.

The emotions made her feel elated, but somewhere in the back of her mind she was frightened. Frightened that when Lotty found out what kind of woman she was, she would be horrified and run away as fast as she could.

“Poni? Where do you live? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Of course I don’t. I live in London, with my m other . My f ather died a year and a half ago, so it’s just us now.”

“I’m so sorry to hear about your f ather, Poni.”

Poni smiled sadly. “Thank you, but he had been ill for a long time, so it was a blessed relief for him in the end. My mother misses him terribly though. They were very much a loving couple.”

“It’s wonderful to hear some couples are truly a love match. My own parents are not that close,” Lotty said sadly.

Poni sensed a longing in those words. A longing for love and happiness. “Yes, my f ather and Lady Grace’s relationship was certainly an inspiration to me.”

Lotty stopped dead in surprise, but kept her arms around Poni. “Lady Grace? Does that mean you…”

“Oh no, not at all. My f ather was plain old Mr Woodward, but my maternal grandfather was Viscount Colridge, so my Mother has the courtesy title of Lady.”

They began to dance again, but Lotty was still slightly daunted to be dancing with somebody so high above her in class and closely linked to the Aristocracy. She was a simple middle class girl and hadn’t mixed much with such high society before.

“Where do you live, Lotty?” Asked Poni.

“Pendleford in Oxford. A sleepy little village, just like this one. My f ather is a schoolmaster, at the local boys school there.”

Poni worried about the answer to the next question she wanted to ask, but she just had to know. “And…is there a young man back in Pendleford that is courting you?”

Lotty blushed. “No, no one like that.”

Poni was delighted, although she chastised herself for getting excited. You know this is going to end badly, Woodward.

 

But despite knowing that she would probably be rejected, she couldn’t help but follow her heart. “Lotty, I wonder if you would allow me to walk you home after the dance?”

Lotty’s face lit up. “Thank you, Poni! That would be very kind, because I think Maude may be walking home with her young GI if she possibly can.”

They both looked over to Maude and Glen who were dancing very closely. “She seems to like the young chap very much.”

“Yes, she thinks the American servicemen are very glamorous, like in the films at the picture house, not to mention the fact that she thinks they can get her a pair of silk stockings. I told her that nothing comes for free, but she doesn’t listen.”

The music finished and they walked to the side where they had left their drinks. ” Would you like me to have a word with him before we leave?” Poni asked.

“Oh, that’s very kind, but he seems like a nice young man, unlike his rude friend . ” Lotty reassured her new friend.

“If you’re sure. Could I introduce you to my friends now, Lotty?”

Lotty smiled warmly. “I’d love that!”

***

Lord Dalton had returned to her friends, promising to join Mrs Black later. Rowe took out her cigarettes and offered one to Alex and Tommy. “I take it you won’t be back at base this evening?”

Alex gave them a big smile and said . “You take it right, old boy. Don’t wait up, as they say.”

Tommy shook his head in disbelief. “One dance , Guv? That’s all it takes for you to get a woman into bed?”

She blew a large cloud of smoke in his face and said with a cocky smile, “I could have had her without the dance, but I felt like dancing . You two need to watch and learn from the master.”

“Ha!” Rowe smacked Alex on the back in jest. “You better be careful My Lord, one of these days someone might steal your heart, and you’ll want more than one dance and one night. Am I right, Tommy?”

“Too right! Everyone has that special someone, Guv, even you.”

Alex snorted. “Oh please! Don’t give me that sentimental rubbish. Rowe, you like to chase the ladies as much as I do, Tommy you are the same with the young men.”

“Yes, but we know there’ll be a time when that someone comes along and makes us forget all about the others. Eh, Rowe?”

“Yes, the one worth dying for,” Rowe said seriously.

Alex looked at her friends like they had gone mad. “Worth dying for? What a load of claptrap! I think you two are going soft. Well, not me, I can assure you both that my heart is ice cold and there’s no one that can change that.”

Just then she spotted Poni on the way over with her dance partner. “Look lively, chaps! Poni’s on her way.”

They all put on their best smiles to greet the couple. “Lotty, may I present my best friend, who I have known all my life, and our unit commander, Alex Dalton. Alex, this is my new friend Lotty Nightingale.”

Lotty took Alex’s hand and smiled sweetly. “Pleased to meet you, my Lady.”

“Delighted to meet you, Lotty, and please call me Alex.” My, my, Miss Nightingale. What a beautiful little thing you are. No wonder Poni was over to you like a shot!

 

Poni then introduced Rowe and Tommy. “This is Section officer Rowe, and Corporal Martin. A couple of finer fellows you couldn’t find.”

Rowe smiled at the look of adoration on her friend’s face. “A pleasure to meet you, Lotty.”

Tommy, ever the charmer, took Lotty’s hand and placed a polite kiss on her knuckles. “Nice to make your acquaintance, Miss.”

The young lady chuckled and said, “You have charming friends, Poni!”

Alex knew her friend better than anyone, and she could tell she was already besotted with this young lady, and she just prayed that she wouldn’t be hurt.

“I trust you are enjoying the dance, Lotty?” Alex asked her.

“Oh yes, Alex. In this sleepy village, it’s the social event of the year!” Lotty replied.

The new friends chatted and laughed together for the next half an hour before the band played the last song and the dance began to break up. Poni had been delighted at how well Lotty had fit in with her friends, but couldn’t wait to spend time alone with her again when she walked Lotty home.

“I’ll just be a few minutes, Poni. Excuse me.” Lotty left them to find Maude and let her know Poni would be escorting her home.

Rowe and Tommy had gone to help some of the church ladies with the tables and chairs.

“What do you think, my Lord ?” Poni asked her friend.

“She is simply stunning, old man.”

“She is, isn’t she? I’ve never felt this strongly about someone before, and just a few hours after meeting her. I think it’s fate that we met tonight.”

Alex put her hand on Poni’s shoulder and spoke very seriously to her. “Be careful, Poni. She is a young, innocent girl. She will have no idea what kind of people we are , and what kind of world we come from. You could get very badly hurt when she finds out.”

Poni nodded. “I know that, Alex, but what I feel already for her…well…it’s worth taking the chance for. Love is worth the chance you will get hurt.”

Alex didn’t agree with that sentiment. Nothing was worth the pain to her, but she respected her friend’s choices.

“Well, just be careful is all I ask . ” Alex said.

Poni smiled, grateful for her friend’s concern. “I will. Shall I see you back at the barracks?”

Alex shook her head. “No. I’m going back just now to pick up a few things, but after that I won’t be back till the early hours.”

Poni knew exactly what her friend would be going back to pick up, and asked. “Who is the lucky lady this evening, my Lord?”

Alex stubbed out her cigarette and straightened her tie. “Mrs Black.”

“The Merry Widow? My, my! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, My Lord!”

Alex smirked. “I don’t think there’s much you wouldn’t do, old boy. Watch out, here comes your young lady. I’ll slope off now, have a good rest of the evening.”

***

Poni saw Lotty visibly shiver as they walked along the snowy village road. It was just past midnight and the temperature had dropped considerably, and the snow started to fall in earnest.

Poni unbuttoned her RAF Greatcoat and said to her friend, “Here, put this over your shoulders. It’s too cold for you out here.”

“Oh, but I couldn’t. Then you will be cold, Poni.”

Poni smiled and draped the heavy coat over her shoulders. “Not at all. I won’t have a lady be freezing in my company, besides I’m used to the cold. You have no idea how bad it can get we’re on a mission. The French countryside is a harsh place in the winter…oh um…I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

Lotty smiled and pulled the blue wool coat tightly around her. It had a warm, comforting smell that she presumed was Poni. Hmm…I would wager being wrapped in her arms would feel even better.

 

“Don’t worry, Flight Officer, I won’t tell a soul, and thank you for the coat.”

 

Poni looked over the moon just to have pleased her. “I’m glad to be of service. Here, take my arm in case you slip.”

Lotty was only too glad to loop her arm through Poni’s and have an excuse to snuggle in closer to her. Being close to her new friend made her feel totally taken care of, and warm and happy, in a way she didn’t understand.

They walked on, through the snow, for a few minutes in comfortable silence before Lotty said , “I’ve never met anyone like you before.”

Poni was a little worried what she meant by that. “What do you mean, Lotty?”

Lotty stopped and turned to look up at her taller friend, and as she looked into those big brown eyes of Poni’s she had the urge to kiss her, which took her by surprise. “I…I…mean that you’re such a gallant, caring person. You’ve taken care of me all evening, like I am someone special.”

“You are special, Lotty. I know I’ve only known you for a few hours, but I feel like I’ve known you for much longer.”

Poni reached out to touch her friend’s cheek, but stopped herself before it was too late, and instead took hold of the coat and pulled it closer together.

“As for taking care of you, it’s just who I am. You will have noticed I’m not exactly a a feminine type. I like to look after the ladies , and when I saw you across the dance floor, I stopped breathing… ” Poni said to herself. “I saw someone who I wanted to spend time with, and who should be made to feel special.”

Lotty felt drawn like a magnet to this woman. She had to get home to think through what this all meant.

“You say the most wonderful things, Poni.” The snow started to get heavier and Lotty said , ” I better get home or my aunt and uncle will be worried.”

“Of course, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have kept you here talking . You’ll catch your death out here. How much further?”

“Just a few minutes down the road, the next one after Mrs Black’s, Strange field house.”

***

Ruby kneeled naked on the floor by her bed, her hands tied behind her back while her mouth and lips worked on sucking and licking Alex’s strap on.

Alex had arrived at Ruby’s house to find it unlocked. She made her way upstairs and found her lover for the evening, naked, and kneeling in this position. Ruby made it clear what she wanted, and Alex was more than happy giving her it.

She quickly divested herself of her uniform jacket and shirt, and tied Ruby’s hands up with the silk scarf Ruby had left on the bed.

Now just in her vest and uniform trousers, she had taken her cock out and ordered Ruby to suck. She found the older woman skilled in the art, and as she looked down at her, the sight of her extremely large breasts bouncing as she sucked , making Alex groan .

“You’ve done this before, haven’t you, girl? ” Alex asked, keeping up the game of Master and housemaid.

Ruby just mumbled as she continued to suck. “Hmmph.”

Alex pulled Ruby’s head back by her hair and looked down at her sternly. “I think I asked you a question girl? Have you done this before? Do you like sucking cocks?”

“Yes, Master. I love them.”

Still holding Ruby by the hair, Alex put the phallus at the older woman’s lips. “I thought so, open.”

Ruby opened her mouth wide and pushed her tongue out, allowing Alex to smack her phallus off her tongue.

“You want this inside you, don’t you? Answer!”

“Yes Master. I want you so badly. I’m a naughty maid.” Alex crooked a smile at that reply. This woman knows how to play!

“I know. You are a slut, aren’t you? I can see that by the way your gobbling up my cock. I don’t know if you deserve to have me inside you.”

She pushed her strap-on back in Ruby’s mouth. “Suck me some more, and I’ll think about it.”

Ruby sucked greedily, and Alex could see her test her bonds, eager to touch her Master. The more she saw of those breasts though, the more she knew she had to have them.

“Get up on the bed,” Alex ordered.

Ruby smiled, thinking she was finally going to feel Alex inside her. Alex untied her hands and told her to lie flat on the bed.

“Yes Master. I want this so much.”

Alex had taken off her uniform trousers and boxers, but kept on her vest. She sat across Ruby’s stomach and grasped her breasts. She licked and sucked one nipple while she squeezed the other. “Your breasts are so delicious. I want them.”

Ruby squirmed underneath her Master, almost crazy with need. Her sex was rhythmically clenching, desperate for something to fill it. “Master? Please fuck me?”

Alex smiled down at her and said . “I haven’t decided if you deserve me inside yet,”

She reached over to the bedside table for a bottle of oil, and dripped it in the valley between Ruby’s breasts . Ruby moaned and her nipples became almost painfully hard, as she realised what her master was going to do to her.

Alex put some oil into her own hand and pumped up and down at her own hardness, and groaned at the sensation. “I’m going to fuck your breasts, and come on you. If you please me, I may let you come when I fuck you. So be a good girl.”

“Oh yes!” Ruby exclaimed.

When Alex placed her cock between the breasts before her, Ruby helped by pushing them together, engulfing Alex’s hardness.

Alex held onto the brass bed frame, and began to thrust between the two large bosoms. The oil allowed her strap on to slip and thrust easily in between them.

“Fuck!” Alex grunted and moaned.

Watching her cock thrusting between the two large breasts turned her on more than she had been in a long time. She knew she would come easily.

“Keep them together tightly!” She began to thrust faster and faster. Her arm and shoulder muscles were taut as she used them to thrust faster and harder.

Ruby could see Alex was nearing the edge, and using her experience said,”Yes, Master! Fuck them! Come on me. I’m a dirty girl. I don’t deserve you to come inside me. Just come all over them.”

After those words, Alex couldn’t stop herself, and she went ridged as her orgasm swept through her. Her hips still made little thrusting movements as the final waves of orgasm tapered off, and she let her head rest against the bed rail.

She looked down at her bed partner, panting and trying to get her breath back. “You are a wicked woman, Mrs Black.”

Ruby laughed and stroked her nails down her lover’s stomach. “I should hope so, Lord Dalton.”

There was a lot to be said for a woman of experience, Alex thought, and she was eager for more.

She quickly climbed to the side and smacked Ruby on the thigh. “I’ve decided you do deserve to be fucked, and fucked hard. Turn over.”

Mrs Black smiled and eagerly got onto all fours and looked back to Alex with a lusty grin. “Thank you, Lord Dalton.”

***

Poni and Lotty walked on, and were soon walking up the path to Lotty’s front door. “Well, here we are. Thank you for your coat, Poni, and thank you for making the evening special. I’ve never had such a wonderful time before.”

Poni took her coat back and said, “It was my pleasure.” She didn’t want this to end, and had been debating with herself as to whether or not she should ask Lotty to step out with her.

Don’t be silly, Woodward. A nice innocent girl wouldn’t want to go out with the likes of you. She told herself.

“Well, goodnight Lotty.”

She was just about to turn and walk away when her new friend said eagerly.

“I hope I’ll see you again sometime, Poni?”

When she looked at Lotty’s beautiful face, she knew she couldn’t just walk away without trying.

“Um…listen, I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets to say that I’m training with my unit up at Baron Montague’s estate . I have evenings free though, and I wonder if you would let me take you to Lymington to see a film? Maybe get a bite to eat? If you don’t want to…”

“I’d love to!” Lotty said before Poni had a chance to finish. Lymington was the nearest town that had some more modern facilities like a cinema.

Poni felt her heart swell with happiness. “Wonderful! Shall I pick you up here?”

Lotty wanted to keep her friendship private from her aunt and uncle for the moment and so suggested they meet at the village train station at five o’clock.

“Excellent, well, until tomorrow, then.” I’ll be counting the minutes. Poni took Lotty’s hand and kissed it tenderly.

“Until tomorrow, Poni.” Lotty smiled as she watched her friend walk away with the snow falling heavily around her, whistling the song they danced to. The very thought of you.

 

***

Alex lit Ruby’s cigarette and then her own as they lay in bed getting their breath back. “You are a wonderful young lover, Lord Dalton, better than most men I’ve been with.”

“I’m glad to oblige you, Mrs Black.” Alex said absently.

Ruby stroked her finger down Alex’s forehead. “There’s something working away in your brain, Lord Dalton. I did tell you not to worry, I won’t fall in love with you.”

“I know, it’s nothing to concern yourself with.” Normally after an encounter such as this, Alex would be out of bed and dressed minutes after they had both exhausted themselves, but on this occasion she trusted that Ruby wanted nothing from her, and allowed herself the time for a cigarette, and it gave her a quiet moment to think.

Seeing Poni’s excitement over meeting her young lady earlier had led her to feel a touch melancholy, and she didn’t understand why. Alex certainly wasn’t jealous, she was only too happy for her friend, if not a little concerned that Poni would get hurt.

Ruby was an experienced woman and knew something was bothering her lover . She had an idea what it might be. “Why don’t you pour us a drink, Alex?” She said pointing to the whiskey decanter on the dressing table.

“Of course.” Alex slipped from the sheets, pulled on her boxer shorts, and poured them both a large drink. As she was bringing the glass over to Ruby, they both heard a voice singing outside the bedroom window.

“The very thought of you and I forget to do

The little ordinary things that everyone ought to do

I’m living in a kind of daydream

I’m happy as a king

And foolish though it may seem

To me that’s everything”

“Who’s that at this time of night?” Alex said.

Ruby took her glass and sipped the amber liquid. “They sound happy, whoever it is.”

Alex walked over and looked out of the window, and saw her best friend Poni singing as walked happily down the snowy road. You’re happy, old chap.

 

“It’s my friend.”

“The one that was looking for a wife?” Ruby asked.

“Yes. It sounds like she had a pleasant walk home with the young lady she met.” Alex took a large mouthful of whiskey, hoping it would dull the growing empty feeling inside.

“Tell me Alex. Why does a young vibrant person like yourself not also want a wife?”

Without turning around, Alex replied, “Because love makes you weak, vulnerable, and those are two things that I will never allow to come into my life. I am always in control, and in command of everything around me.”

Ruby smirked. “Yes, that seems to be your nature, but everyone must have room for love in their life.”

Alex downed the remainder of her whiskey and stubbed out her cigarette. “Love hurts you, and can destroy you.”

She walked over to her pile of clothes and began to pull on her uniform trousers. Alex lost more than her beloved parents when their plane crashed over the English channel when she was a teenager, she lost her heart. Vowing to never again, let herself become so vulnerable.

Ruby could see that the young aristocrat was running away from something painful . “That’s the joy of love, Alex. It makes you feel. Sometimes great joy and happiness, and sometimes pain and loss, but that’s the joy of being alive.”

Alex stopped buttoning her shirt and looked at Ruby in disbelief. “How can you think that, Ruby? You’re like me, you like sex and moving on to the next, and I know you didn’t love your late husband.”

“I suppose the village gossips told you that? It doesn’t matter, I know they call me the Merry Widow, and yes I never loved my husband. I married him for security, as many women do. I had a very comfortable home, money, but no affection.”

Alex pulled her braces over her shoulders and said. “So what do you know of love?”

“I loved someone once, and someone loved me.” Ruby got a distant look in her eyes, as if she was reliving her memories.

“He was killed in the Great War, ironically on the last day of the conflict, when peace was declared.” Tears started to form in Ruby’s eyes as she remembered her love .

“Feeling badly for her, Alex came back over and sat on the bed.

“I’m sorry, Ruby. How did you meet?”

“He bumped into me, literally. I was working as a nurse at one of the hospitals for the wounded in London. It was my lunch break, and I had popped out to go to the bank and get a few bits of shopping. I was just about to turn the corner when he came around and smashed into me. Everything went flying.

When I looked up into his eyes, it was as if everything stopped, just for a second, and it felt like I knew him, that I’d always known him. He helped me up and apologised . I had to leave him and get back, but when I’d finished my shift, I came out of the hospital and found him waiting for me with flowers We were together from that evening on. He was home on leave and due to be shipped out again the next week.”

Alex felt she knew what was coming next. “Did he not come back?”

“Oh, he came back.” Ruby smiled sadly. “We had six glorious months together. He felt the end of the war was coming soon, and we planned to marry as soon as peace was declared. Then he didn’t come home, and I knew I would never love again.”

Alex stroked Ruby’s cheek tenderly and said, “I’m so very sorry for your loss, Ruby, but you prove my point. Why cause yourself so much pain by letting love into your heart?”

“For all the pain I felt and still feel every day, I wouldn’t change one minute of it, because I got six of the happiest months of my life with the person that was my soulmate. I know I will see him again, one day.”

Alex jumped up and picked up her tie and u niform jacket. “It’s not worth it for me . I’ve lost enough people that I loved, and will never allow love into my life, or my heart. Thank you for this evening.”

She walked over to the side of the bed and broke the habit of a lifetime by giving Ruby a gentle, tender kiss. “You are a wonderful lady, Ruby, and I hope you do meet your love again.”

“Thank you. Be happy, Alex.” She nodded and headed for the bedroom door.

Just as she had her hand on the doorknob, Ruby said, “Lord Dalton?”

Alex turned to look back at the woman lying prone on the bed. “Yes?”

“That’s the strange thing about love. You can’t control it, or command it away. Out there somewhere, in this big wide world, there is a woman waiting for you to find her, waiting for the right time for you to find her. Someone who is your soulmate, and when she looks into your eyes, no force on earth could keep the love from entering your heart.”

Love me? There is no one who could love me. My heart is ice…

***

Poni whistled as she hurried along the road, hands stuffed inside her pockets against the freezing winter air. She looked ahead, and up by the church gates stood a man who she couldn’t quite see through the heavy snowfall.

As she got closer, the man looked up and she saw it was the GI who had been bothering Lotty. “Flight officer Woodward? Have a nice walk with Charlotte?”

“Yes, thank you. Did you stand out here in the freezing snow just to ask me that?”

Joey smirked and said, “I just wondered if you had told her what you are?”

“What I am? What would that be, Private?”

“I know all about you and your friends. All the guys at my base talk about you. You’re a woman who likes to pretend to be a man, and someone who preys on young innocent women to act out your sickness.”

“I think you should keep a civil tongue in your mouth, Private. What I do, or what friends I have are no concern of yours.”

“Really? Well, you embarrassed me in that church hall, buddy, and I don’t like that. I think that girl’s family would be very interested to know what kind of sick fuck is walking their sweet girl home.”

Pony walked right up close to Joey and gave him a steely glare. “Listen matey, I would advise you not to challenge me. I have more influence than you could possibly imagine, and I’m so close to contacting your superiors. That is my first and final warning, Private.”

After a few seconds of silence, Poni continued on her journey back to the base. Once she was far enough away, Joey said,

“I don’t scare that easy!”

***

Lotty crept upstairs as quietly as she could, careful not to awaken her aunt and uncle . She walked into her bedroom to find Maude sitting on her bed.

” You’re back at last! I was worried, Lotty.”

“Whatever for? I told you I was walking home with Poni.” She went over to her dressing table and began to take off her jewellery and makeup.

“But you don’t know anything about her, Lotty.”

Lotty looked back at her cousin through the dressing table mirror. “And what do you know about Glen, Maude? You met him for the first time tonight, and he walked you home the same as Poni did.”

“Yes, but he’s a normal man, Lotty. Your new friend is a woman who dresses like a man, and behaves like a man, amongst other things.”

Lotty got up and joined Maude by the bed. “Poni is one of the most mannerly and caring people I have ever met. And she makes me feel special, and beautiful. Lotty added silently.

She then remembered the last part of what her cousin had said. “Wait, what do you mean, amongst other things?”

Maude looked at the bed blankets, highly embarrassed. “Glen didn’t want to tell me at first. Said it wasn’t the sort of thing you’d tell a girl, but I got it out of him eventually.”

Lotty sat down next to her cousin. “What is it? Just tell me.”

Maude let out a sigh and looked up at Lotty. “He said that Poni and her friends like women. All the GI’s at his base know about them.”

“I don’t understand. Like women? I like women, you like women. What’s wrong with that?”

Her cousin dropped her eyes again. “No, not as you or I like other women. Poni likes women, like a man. She finds them attractive, and wants to um…make love with them.”

Lotty kept quiet , unsure of what to say. Somewhere deep inside, she already knew the truth about Poni. She realised her new friend had treated her exactly as a man would have, if he was interested in her.

She also realised that the strange feelings she had while in Poni’s company felt like pure attraction, and she had never been attracted to anyone like that before.

Maude started to ramble. “I mean, how is that even possible? How can a woman do what a man does, and why on earth would they want to? It’s just ridiculous and impossible. Hopefully you won’t have to see her again. I don’t think she comes down to the village much, thank goodness.”

“I said I would go and see a film with her in Lymington, tomorrow , ” Lotty said quietly.

Maude looked shocked. “You can’t go, Lotty! Think of your reputation. Think of what m other and father would say.”

Lotty felt overwhelmed, tired and drained. She needed time to think. “Go to bed, Maude. I need to be alone to think.”

Her cousin nodded and made her way to the bedroom door. “Just tell her you’ve simply changed your mind.”

Lotty never agreed or disagreed with that statement. She just said, “Goodnight Maude.”

Left alone with her thoughts, Lotty knew she wouldn’t get much rest tonight, as all this evening events and feelings raced around her head.

***

The next morning, Alex and her team sat in one of the briefing rooms set up in the estate house on Lord Montague’s estate.

As they waited for their mission commander to join them , the four friends chatted amongst themselves.

Alex and Rowe were deep in conversation, and so Poni took the opportunity to speak to Tommy about something she had been thinking about.

She leaned close to him and said, “Listen old boy, I wanted to ask a small favour.”

“Anything for you, Squire. You know that.”

“Thank you, Tommy. I wonder if you could use your connections to get your hands on some difficult to find items?”

Tommy smiled. “Is this for that lovely girl we met last night?”

Poni took out a cigarette and lit it, trying to cover her slight awkwardness. “Um…yes. It came up in conversation that ladies, such as herself and her cousin, really miss some of their pre war luxuries such as silk stockings, chocolates, and makeup. Things like that. I thought it would be lovely to give her a treat.”

“Not a problem, Squire. Getting hard to find things is my business. Just give me a list, and I’ll get them for you.”

Tommy took out his notebook and began to jot down all the items Poni told him. Tommy Martin had been brought up by just his m other in one of the poorest areas of London’s East End . He had to fight and scrap to bring himself and his mother out of poverty, and now headed up one of London’s toughest criminal gangs.

His boys ran the streets of the East End and kept order in some of those places the police were reluctant to go. When the war came, he was singled out by RAF intelligence because of his unique ability to get the sometimes murky and dirty jobs of war done well.

When he found himself placed in Lord Dalton’s unit, he found unexpected friends in his comrades as he discovered Alex and Poni did not always play by the rules.

Although during war times, he had to scale down his organisation, he was in fact making more money than ever before by exploiting the black markets and bringing scarce items to those who wanted to buy them.

“You’ll have these in a couple of days, the Guv put in an order too, she wants to hand out some toys and chocolate to all the children who come by her London soup kitchens. I can easily add these things into that order.”

Poni patted him on the shoulder and said, “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

They heard the door open and their commander, Colonel Hollingberry strode in . They all snapped to attention until he stood before them and bade them to sit.

Colonel Hollingberry was large in every sense of the word. In size, personality and voice, and had an impressive moustache to match. He was a career soldier who was highly thought of in the intelligence community, and it was he who first approached Alex about putting the unit together.

“Alright chaps, here’s the situation. I’ve had word from Central Command we have final clearance for our mission. In just over a month’s time, you’ll be flown to France, under cover of darkness, and dropped nearby the target location.”

“Sir? Will we be adding the linguist you introduced to us, for this mission?” Alex asked.

“Yes, Officer Dalton. This will be her first mission, and if she impresses will join under your command.”

Rowe couldn’t keep the smile off of her face, and the Colonel noticed it.

“Let me make this clear to all of you. Miss Francine Clark, which is the name you will know her by, is a civilian. She is a brilliant young woman, went to Cambridge and received the highest honours for knowledge of foreign languages, and has passed all our security clearances, but she is a civilian nonetheless . This is her first mission and she is strictly on a need to know basis. Miss Clark does not know who your target is, and what we need them for. She is there to help you communicate with the locals and no more at this stage. Are we quite clear?”

A chorus of ‘Yes Sir!’ came from the assembled team.

“Very good. Now we’ll go over the plan and discuss what comes next.”

He walked up to the large map board on the wall and used a pointer to direct their attention to the correct locations.

“As I say, Squadron officer, you and your unit will be flown under cover of darkness to Normandy. You will be dropped by parachute to the designated location, near the Chateau de Champs. Once you have secured your position, you will make your way into the Chateau by way of tunnels under the building.”

“I take it Miss Clark will have the necessary parachute training, Sir?” Alex inquired.

“She will have as much training as time will allow, but she may be unsure.”

Alex wasn’t too happy at this news. It meant she would be constantly checking this extra person was safely using her equipment.

The Colonel continued on , “As you know, the target of the unit is a French scientist who has developed a new kind of rocket that is said to have the potential to turn the tide in the war. When he tried to leave France, the Germans captured him, and they are holding him in order to gain his secrets.”

“You have the plan of the Chateau and the area, and from now until you leave , study it so you know it like the back of your hand. Two brave R esistance fighters’ lives were lost in getting us that plan, so use it well. If anything goes wrong, you will contact the local maquis cell, they will help you get a message back to base. Use your time to prepare for what’s ahead. I know you will do us all proud , ” The Colonel said with a broad smile.

“Yes Sir!” Alex and her team repeated.

Just as Colonel Hollingberry was about to leave, he said , “I needn’t have to remind you all how dangerous this mission will be. It’s a sombre but necessary thought, but make sure in the month you have left, you have all put your affairs in order.”

They all nodded glumly . ” Of course, Sir.” Alex said.

***

Poni stood nervously at the small village train station. She clutched in her hand a gift wrapped box of chocolates, supplied from the small stock of black market goods Tommy had with him at the estate.

She looked at her watch for the fifth time that minute. The train would be arriving in three minutes, and there was no sign of her.

As time passed, Poni spotted the train chugg into view further down the track, and she let out a sad sigh.

She’s not coming. You’re a fool,Woodward, to think a nice young girl like that would want to spend time with you.

 

The train pulled up to the platform and her head fell in resignation before she turned and walked away.

Someone must have told her about me. Probably that dammed GI!

 

Poni felt her heart physically hurt. She had been so sure Lotty was the one she had been searching for all these years. Even though it had been only one night, it was a magical night.

Then from behind her, she heard a voice shouting her name. “Poni! Poni, wait!”

She turned to see Lotty, her hand holding her hat on her head as she half walked, half ran up the platform.

She came! With her longer legs, Poni made up the distance between them quickly.

“You made it!” She said as her face beamed with happiness.

“I’m dreadfully sorry I’m late, Poni. I…”

Further up, the train guard blew his whistle and waved his flag, and the train began to move slowly off.

“We can talk on the train, let’s just get on. If…if you’re still coming with me?” Poni asked her.

“Yes! Of course I am. Let’s go!”

Poni opened the door to the slowly moving train and jumped on, pulling Lotty with her.

***

They made their way to the first class carriage and luckily found an empty compartment. Poni bought their tickets from the inspector , and now when left alone Lotty was suddenly shy.

“I really thought you weren’t coming, Lotty.”

“Oh no, Poni, I was just running late. I would never break a promise to meet someone, especially you. I’m sorry I kept you waiting so long.”

Poni was happy that her friend hadn’t rejected her as she had feared at the station. “Not at all. I’m just delighted you came.”

Then she remembered her gift. “Oh! I almost forgot. These are for you.”

Lotty took the beautifully wrapped package and said , “Thank you. You shouldn’t have, but that’s so kind of you.”

It made Poni’s heart thud just to see Lotty smile, and she vowed to make it her mission to make more smiles. “It’s nothing really.”

Her young friend carefully opened the wrapped paper and found an expensive box of handmade chocolates. Lotty looked shocked. “I…I…Don’t know what to say. I haven’t seen a box of chocolates since before the war! Where did you…”

“Probably best you don’t ask.” Poni gave her a wink that made Lotty giggle.

“I thought you were a fine, upstanding RAF Officer?”

Poni smiled and fiddled with her cuff in a nervous gesture. “Well, a Gentleman can bend the rules sometimes, especially when it will make a beautiful woman smile.”

Almost as soon as she’d said the words, Poni regretted them. She was so used to talking in an unguarded fashion about her attraction to women that she forgot herself.

Lotty did not look upset by her words, though. She gazed at Poni with what she could only describe as awe.

” I hope I didn’t cause you any embarrassment, Lotty?”

Her friend looked down at her gloved hands that clasped the chocolate box. “No, not at all. Quite the opposite in fact. No one has ever told me that I am beautiful, with kindness in their voice before.”

“Why would people be unkind, Lotty?” This young woman was the most beautiful girl she had ever seen, why anyone would be unkind to her, she didn’t know.

Lotty smiled. “It doesn’t matter, honestly.”

Not wanting to press the matter further, Poni changed the subject. “I hope it wasn’t something important that made you late, Lotty? Did our engagement take you away from something important?”

“Nothing important, just…well…it’s so hard to…no, I can’t be anything other than honest with you.”

All at once, the pair’s pleasant, flirtatious conversation turned serious. “What is it,Lotty? You can tell me.”

Lotty looked towards the door of their compartment to make sure no one was about to disturb them, and took a breath. “It was something my cousin told me. She was waiting for me after you walked me home last night.”

“Oh? What did she say?” Poni tried to sound nonchalant, but inside knew what was coming.

Lotty’s cheeks turned a bright shade of pink, which under other circumstances would have excited Poni greatly.

“Um…well, her young man, Glen, told her that you and your friends enjoy…” She hesitated, and looked down shyly. “Your friends enjoy relations with the ladies, rather than men.”

Poni’s heart sank like a stone.

This is the part where she says goodbye. Poni thought sadly.

With a long sigh, she confirmed it. “Yes, that’s all true. I’ll understand if you don’t wish to be friends anymore.”

Lotty looked up sharply. There was a lot about this situation, and Poni, that she didn’t understand, but one thing that was clear to her was that the idea of not seeing Poni again filled her with panic.

She remembered feeling exactly that this morning when arguing with her cousin.

Lotty applied her lipstick which was worn down to small stub. “I don’t know how much further I can get this to go.”

 

New make up was impossible to find, and the thought of going out without her lipstick did not fill the elegant young woman with joy .

 

She looked at the clock on the wall and realised she didn’t have much time till she had to meet Poni, so she hurriedly put her lipstick and powder case in her clutch bag and made for the door.

 

When she opened it, she found her cousin Maude about to knock. “Mum wants to know if you want dinner….wait, where are you going?”

 

“To meet Poni . W e’re going to see a film, remember?”

 

Maude pushed her cousin back into the bedroom and closed the door. “You told me last night that you weren’t going.”

 

Lotty sighed. She knew Maude would have something to say about it. “No, you said that, Maude, I never did. I arranged to meet Poni, and that’s what I’m going to do. It would be impolite to break an engagement.”

 

Maude took her hand. “Please, Lotty, a freakish person like that could do anything to you. I’ll be worried the whole time you’re gone.”

 

“Don’t be so hysterical! Poni is the most gentlemanly person of my acquaintance. She would never do anything inappropriate.”

 

Maude was becoming exasperated. She couldn’t understand why Lotty wasn’t concerned. “That’s the point, Lotty. She shouldn’t be a g entleman , she should be a lady.”

 

“She is who she is, Maude. God made us all differently, or do you not pay attention in church on Sundays ” Lotty said angrily. It made her mad to know that people thought unkindly of Poni , when she instinctively knew that she was such a good person.

 

“It sounds like you don’t pay attention in church, Lotty. What these people do is evil and wrong. Think of your reputation! The rest of the village will think you’re like them.”

 

“I’ve had enough of this!” Lotty marched to the door and turned to say to her cousin, “That evil person you talked off, She is risking her life to preserve your freedom and mine out on the battlefield while we worry about if we’ll see another pair of stockings again!”

 

That statement seemed to shut Maude up, and Lotty walked through the door. “I might have to tell m other and father about this.”

 

Lotty turned and said. “You wouldn’t do that to me. We’ve been best friends since we were small children, and I’ve kept all your secrets. Now I’m going to be late. I’ll see you tonight.”

 

Poni could see Lotty had drifted off into her thoughts, and worried she was trying to find the words to let her down lightly.

“Lotty? If you feel it’s inappropriate for us to be friends anymore, I’ll understand. Don’t concern yourself with hurting my feelings, I’d rather you were honest with me.”

Lotty looked up at Poni’s handsome face, and felt the now familiar rush of excitement and attraction that seemed to be pulling her to her new friend.

“I will always be honest with you, Poni. My cousin wasn’t happy that I was coming to meet you, she made me late, but I didn’t want to miss this day with you” she said.

“I don’t understand a great deal about the way you live your life, but I have never met a kinder, more gentle person than you. I want to get to know you. No, I need to get to know you better. Is that alright with you?”

Poni was elated. “It’s more than alright, my dear girl. Let’s forget all this other stuff and nonsense, and enjoy our evening.”

Lotty gave her a beautiful smile, and the train chugged on through the falling snow.

***

The snow had been falling heavily when the two friends arrived in Lymington, and their original plans for a walk along the seafront were changed to going straight to the picture hall.

Ever the g entleman , Poni allowed Lotty to choose the film, and paid for their tickets. Poni was very surprised when Lotty led them to seats near the back of the cinema, the area notorious for courting couples. The row was nearly empty, and Lotty explained it by saying. “So we aren’t disturbed by people coming and going. The other rows are fairly full.”

Poni just smiled and nodded. She was becoming nervous that she wouldn’t be able to hide her attraction for the beautiful young woman. As soon as they sat down, Poni lit up a cigarette, anxious for something to calm her nerves.

Two rows in front there were a couple who weren’t even waiting for the lights to go down before they started kissing extremely passionately. Poni felt the need to get out of her seat, the couple was reminding her of what she couldn’t do with the perfect girl she had by her side.

She spotted the usherette selling what snacks rationing would allow. Poni jumped up and said, “Would you like something from the usherette?”

“No thank you, Poni. You’re very kind, but I should probably wait for dinner.”

“Of course.” All at once, the cinema started to darken.

“Quick, it’s starting, Poni!” Lotty said with girlish excitement in her voice. She took hold of Poni’s hand and pulled her down to the seat.

Poni wished that she would never let go . W hen they touched she felt a spark shoot right into her chest, making it beat rapidly. Eventually she did let go as the titles of the film came up.

I think I will die If I can’t have this girl. Poni thought.

The film Lotty had chosen was a romantic tear jerker, and at dramatic points in the film, Lotty would take her hand for reassurance, and Poni wished for more.

***

“Here we go, chaps!” Alex placed a tray of drinks on the pub table and sat down. The officers often came down to enjoy a drink at The Royal Oak Public House in the village.

Despite being an unusual band of officers, Alex’s squad was always warmly welcomed as she and Poni always stood a round of drinks for the rest of the patrons.

“Thanks, Guv , ” Tommy said, taking his pint.

“Jolly good of you, my Lord.” Rowe was in a fine mood tonight as she had managed to convince Francine to join them.

Alex took a long drink of her beer and became extremely aware of Francine’s eyes upon her. She had caught her looking several times already this evening. Francine was an attractive woman, and she knew it. Her long dark hair was styled to perfection and her make up flawless. Rowe for one, clearly appreciated it.

“I wonder how Poni is getting on?” Tommy said to his friends.

Rowe, who was feeling the effects of her drinks, let out a big laugh and said, “She certainly won’t be charming the pants off her, eh my Lord?”

Alex laughed gently. “Indeed not. The way Poni looks at that girl, she will be treating her like the finest of china.”

“And how do you treat ladies, Lord Dalton?” Francine asked her.

Alex could feel Francine’s interest in her from across the table, and didn’t like it. She gave her a stern look which she hoped would frighten Francine off.

“I don’t court women like Miss Nightingale. That way, my intentions cannot be misconstrued. A bit of advice to you, Francine, I don’t talk about my private life to people I don’t know well. Please don’t make the mistake again.”

A quiet tension fell over the group. Alex stood and said, “Excuse me chaps, I’ll just be a few minutes.”

***

Alex stood at the sinks in the toilets and threw some cold water over her face. She looked into the mirror and tried to work out why she felt so uneasy. Before she got the chance, the toilet door open and in walked Francine.

“Lord Dalton? I thought you had run away?”

Alex dried her face with a towel and stood in front of her. “I never run away from anything, Miss Clark.”

Francine chuckled, enjoying the challenge. “I’m sure.” She sidled up to Alex until she was much too close for Alex’s liking.

“We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot for some reason, Squadron Officer.”

Alex knew she was being toyed with, even seduced. Every move Francine made was of a woman who used her sexual powers to gain control of a person and a situation.

Alex was not one to be controlled, though, and much to her annoyance, she felt the familiar tingle in her stomach when she pursued a conquest.

It would be so easy to turn the tables on Francine and become the seducer instead of the seduced. “Not the wrong foot, Miss Clark, I simply don’t know you and it takes me a while to trust someone new.”

Francine smiled and ran her painted nail down Alex’s uniform lapel. “Oh, I think you know me. You recognise someone like you who enjoys pleasure above all, who enjoys sex. I can see in your eyes that you want me.”

The temptation was overwhelming to Alex, and she took a breath to calm her lust. Francine moved her hand up to Alex’s face and ran her fingernail along her lips.

Alex was throbbing inside at the thought of taking Francine. It would be fast and hard, and so very bad.

Luckily though, as much as sex and conquest were important to Alex, other things were even more powerful in her character. That was loyalty and friendship. Rowe’s face and adoring looks to this woman floated across her mind.

She grabbed Francine’s wrist and pulled it away from her face. “Don’t touch what doesn’t belong to you.”

“Who does it belong to?” Francine asked.

“No one , ” Alex said firmly. “Now, let me be clear. I am not interested, you’re wasting your time with me, but my friend out there adores you, so bestow your favours on her.”

Alex walked off, leaving Francine feeling spurned and angry. “I don’t give up that easily, my Lord. Not when I have a mission to accomplish.”

***

When Alex came back into the main bar, the whole pub’s gaze was on her table, as an unknown man was having a row with Rowe and Tommy.

“What on earth is all this racket about, Sir?” Alex asked the man.

“It’s about you and your unnatural cads coming near my family. I warn you, If your Officer…Horse…or whatever she’s called goes near my niece again, I will take steps! You have been warned.”

He marched out of the pub and slammed the door. “What on earth was that all about, chaps?”

Rowe sat down and took out a cigarette. “It was young Miss Nightingale’s u ncle . It seems someone told him about our inclinations, and that Poni has taken his niece out. As you can see he’s not best pleased.”

“So I could see.” Alex looked over to the bar and saw the American soldier from the dance last night. He smiled and lifted his drink to Alex in an arrogant fashion.

Tommy saw it too and jumped up. “You want me to ‘ av a quiet word in his shell like ear, Guv?”

“Not at the moment, Tommy, best to let things settle I think.” Tommy’s quiet words usually entailed bruises and a few broken ribs, and Alex felt it was a time for diplomacy.

Poni, old boy. Courting this girl isn’t going to be easy.

***

After the film, Poni found the nicest restaurant in the town, but with rationing firmly in control of the food supply, fine dining wasn’t what it once had been.

The waiter showed them to their table, and Poni helped her companion into her seat. “Thank you, Poni. It looks simply wonderful.”

 

Poni was delighted to receive more smiles from her friend. I wish I could make you smile forever, my dear girl.

 

“There isn’t as much choice in a small town like this, unlike London, but I’m glad you like it.”

The waiter came back with the menus and took Poni’s wine order. Lotty’s eyes scanned up and down the menu, marvelling at all the luxurious foods. “Oh my! I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I had a meal at a restaurant.”

This surprised Poni, for although Lotty’s family were not rich, they certainly were not poor. They seemed comfortably off.

“Really?”

Lotty thought hard and said , “I think it would have been when my brother graduated from Oxford. We all had to go out and make a huge fuss of him. That was the last time I went, my father and mother do go out a lot themselves.”

Poni couldn’t help but notice that Lotty always seemed melancholy when talking about her family. She was just about to ask her more about them when the wine waiter appeared with the bottle of wine she had ordered.

He poured out a tiny drop in Poni’s glass to get her approval. She sipped and nodded that it was acceptable.

When the waiter left, Lotty took a drink and said , “Hmm. This is delicious. I have experienced so many fine things since I met you last night, Poni.

She leaned closer to the girl and said in a low voice . “I am only glad to make a beautiful girl happy.”

Lotty blushed and looked down at the table cloth, but Poni was determined to find out what about her family that made her sad. “Forgive me if I’m speaking out of turn here, Lotty, but you seem troubled when you talk about your family. Are you unhappy to be away from them?”

Lotty gave her a wry smile. “Em…no. I don’t miss them. We aren’t a close family. The only time I see my father is at breakfast and dinner, and mother has her bridge nights, so I spend a lot of time on my own. When father informed me that they were spending some months at my great aunts I was delighted. I’ve always been very close to my cousin.”

Poni was not liking the sound of Lotty’s family in the slightest. “You didn’t want to go with them? I’m surprised they would want to part with their beautiful daughter.”

Lotty took a sip of her wine, and said with watery eyes, “I wasn’t invited, I was informed I was going to my cousin’s. They are hoping to butter up my great aunt enough to be remembered in her will. She is quite well off. Apparently I would get in the way.”

“I say! That’s jolly unkind.” Poni said angrily. “I’m sorry, dear girl, I hate to think of you being shown such unkindness.” She reached over and took Lotty’s hand, her thumb rubbing soothing circles on the back.

” We’ve never been close. Apparently I was a complication that they became stuck with. An accident, you understand. All my father wanted was his son, to carry on his name. Then when my brother died, he became cold. Mother became even more distant. He told me…”

Poni felt furious. She felt sure she would call her father outside if she ever met him. “What did he tell you? I’m listening, Lotty.”

Lotty wiped away a tear that trickled down her cheek. “He said a girl was a waste of a child, and could contribute nothing to the family, nothing but a drain on his resources, but at least I looked beautiful enough that a husband would take me off his hands.”

That is why she feels bad about being told she is beautiful. I’m going to change that. Poni couldn’t hold it in anymore. “I’m sorry if this upsets you, my dear girl, but your Father is an absolute bounder, and if there wasn’t a lady in my company, my language would be a lot stronger.”

Lotty looked surprised at the depth of Poni’s anger. “It’s alright, Poni, I’m used to it. I live for my holidays spent with my cousin, and meeting you and spending time with you has been wonderful. No one has ever felt angry for me, or stood up for me before.”

Poni looked sincerely into the eyes that she was falling in love with. “I will stand up for you, if you’ll let me?”

“Thank you.” Lotty felt overwhelmed with feelings and decided to retreat. Em…would you excuse me while I powder my nose?”

“Of course.” Poni stood politely when Lotty got up and went in search of the ladies’.

You need to make this girl happy, Woodward. She deserves the world.

 

***

 

Lotty looked at herself in the mirror and thought, Pull yourself together, Lotty Nightingale. Poni doesn’t want to hear about your insecurities and sob stories. Buck up!

 

She dabbed some final touches of powder under her eyes, trying to cover the redness her tears had brought, put her best smile on and walked back out into the restaurant. Poni stood politely as she approached the table. “Are you alright, Lotty? I’m sorry if asking about your family upset you.”

Lotty sat and smiled at her caring friend. “No Poni, I’m sorry, I’m sorry for complaining about my life to you. I have no right to complain, there are a lot of people in this world a lot worse off than I. Families bombed out of their homes, mothers and children left without husbands and fathers. I have a comfortable home, enough food to eat, everything I need.”

Poni reached across the table to take Lotty’s hand again, and said, “Everything you need, but love and care?”

When Lotty looked into Poni’s big open eyes, she saw someone who wanted to care, someone whom she instinctively knew would never hurt her. It didn’t seem to matter if she was a man or a woman, she was just Poni, and everything about her was perfect in Lotty’s eyes. She simply nodded in answer to her friend’s question.

Their intimate moment was disturbed by the waiter bringing their first course. They pulled away from each other shyly.

“Well, this looks wonderful, Poni.” Lotty had ordered the lobster salad , while Poni had ordered the soup.

“It does indeed. Now we’ll have no more sad talk, let’s enjoy the rest of our night together.”

Lotty smiled and they began to tuck into their meal. After a few minutes, Poni sat back and took a drink of her wine. Lotty could feel her friend’s eyes physically caress her body, and her skin became hot.

Lotty too reached for her wine to try and temper her growing ardour. Her heart rate sped up as she imagined what it would feel like to have Poni touch her body if this was what a simple look could do.

“Tell me about Lotty Nightingale, I want to know everything about you,” Poni asked as she continued to drink in the beauty of her young companion.

“Me? I’m not very interesting. I’m not exciting like you, fighting for our country.” Lotty said, taking a bite of her lobster.

“Of course you are. What do you enjoy doing? What are your interests?”

Having eaten all she wanted, Lotty put down her cutlery and dabbed her lips with her napkin. “Well, I collect fashion magazines. I love fashion, and before the war started, I used to get them from Paris, Milan, and America when I had enough money saved for them. Father said they were a waste of money.”

Poni smiled, she finally saw something that made her friend’s face light up with enthusiasm. “Have you ever been up to the London couture houses?”

“No, but my cousin Maude and I have been on shopping trips to London a couple of times. We looked enviously at the elegant ladies walking into those wonderful places. We went to Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. We couldn’t buy very much, but just to take in the whole atmosphere and see all the elegant ladies, oh! It was wonderful!”

Poni watched Lotty dreamily as she described her trips to London. She imagined what joy it would give her to take Lotty shopping to the finest dress designers and treating her like the Princess she was. She would sit back and watch her indulgently, trying on everything with excitement.

Then taking her home to Grosvenor Street and…

“Poni? Poni? Did you hear me?”

Poni was caught dreaming. “What? Oh? Yes. Sorry. What did you say?”

“It must be thrilling to have all those wonderful places on your doorstep. Do you enjoy shopping?”

“Em…not particularly. I go to a Gentlemen’s outfitters who take care of all my needs. I’m sure I would enjoy shopping with you, though, Lotty.” Poni topped up both their wine glasses.

“Of course, my mother and staff take care of all the domestic matters, so…”

“Staff? You mean a cook?” Lotty’s parents like most middle class homes had a cook and perhaps a parlour maid, but it seemed that Poni’s family had a great deal more, and she, reminded again of the difference in class between them both.

“Yes, I have quite a large establishment in London, and a smaller establishment in Derbyshire. My mother was born in Derbyshire and likes to holiday there each year.”

What amazed Lotty was that she said this without a hint of arrogance or sounding too pleased with herself. She was simply stating a fact.

” That sounds lovely. Will you be going home soon or will you be staying in Beaulieu?” Lotty hoped it was the latter so she could see more of her new friend while staying with her aunt and uncle.

Poni took a sip of wine and sighed. “I can’t say too much, but I will be on active service soon. We are getting leave for a weekend at the end of the month. I will spend it with my mother and Alex at Grosvenor Street. I leave on Friday.”

Lotty was struck with a wave of utter sadness. It meant she only had a month left in which to spend time with her new friend. After that, who knew where she’d be posted, and although she hadn’t quite come to terms with what she felt, the thought of not seeing Poni again made the young woman hurt inside.

Poni seemed to pick up on the young woman’s feelings, because she was melancholy throughout the rest of the meal.

***

After dinner, Poni thought they better hurry and catch the train, as it was getting rather late. They walked to the front door of the hotel and were faced with blizzard like conditions outside. The concierge was standing just inside the entrance to keep out of the weather.

The elderly man, assuming Poni was a man, said. “I wouldn’t venture out there with your young lady, the weather has turned very foul. I can’t even get you a taxi, Sir.”

Lotty looked up worriedly at her companion, and Poni put her hand protectively on the small of the young woman’s back.

“We need to catch the train back to Upper Hodberry, is there no one that could take us that you know of? I’m willing to pay them handsomely.”

The concierge smoothed his hand over his grey whiskers. “I’m sorry,Sir, all the trains have been cancelled, you won’t get back to Upper Hodberry for a day or so at least. They say that we’re having the worst snow for fifty years. If I were you, I’d see if the hotel has any rooms left.”

“Poni! What will we do? We’re stranded! My aunt and uncle won’t know what has happened to me.”

Poni nodded to the concierge and guided Lotty into the hotel foyer. “Listen, I don’t want you to worry. I will take care of everything, including you. Do you trust me?”

“Yes, of course I trust you. I feel safe with you.”

“Good, I’ll get us some rooms here, and we can telephone your aunt and uncle and explain.”

Lotty smiled and took Poni’s arm before they walked back into the reception.

The woman at the desk looked unimpressed and disdainful at Poni who was dressed in a male RAF uniform.

“Can I help you?”

It was water off a duck’s back to Poni who was used to all sorts of reactions to her appearance. “I wonder if you have two rooms for my friend and I? The trains have been cancelled and we are unable to return home this evening.”

The middle aged woman smiled smugly and said , “I’m sorry, all our rooms have been taken within the last hour . It seems a large number of people are stranded in Lymington.”

Lotty looked panic-stricken . “Oh no! What…” Poni held her hand up to stop her friend from speaking.

“Just leave this to me.” She turned her attention back to the snooty middle aged woman and said, “You must have something, even if it’s a suite.”

“Nothing suitable for you and your…friend.” the receptionist said with disgust.

Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be, is it?

 

“Get me the manager , ” Poni said coldly.

“Mr Hopkins is an extremely busy man and…”

Poni had had enough of this pompous woman. “Listen to me carefully. I could buy and sell your little hotel a hundred times over, get the manager here, now!”

This was a forceful side of Poni that Lotty hadn’t ever seen before. She thought it must be wonderful to have someone like that take care of her.

The receptionist saw people were starting to look, so deciding to keep the peace, she went and got the manager, Mr Hopkins.

Lotty watched Poni’s steely face as she conversed privately with the manager, Mr Hopkins. He looked thoroughly admonished, and nodded in agreement with whatever her friend was saying.

Mr Hopkins then went behind the counter to talk to the haughty woman at Lotty reception and pick up a set of keys.

Poni appeared at her side. “They have a room, but unfortunately only the one, so I will sleep in a chair or something.”

On impulse, Lotty threw her arms around Poni in relief. “Oh, thank goodness, Poni. I was so worried!”

Poni didn’t expect to have her arms full of her young friend, but she took the opportunity gratefully and held Lotty tight, allowing herself to enjoy the feel of the body against her.

“I told you I would take care of everything, didn’t I?” Lotty looked up at with a smile and kissed Poni on the cheek.

“Thank you.”

Mr Hopkins, the manager, interrupted their intimate moment. “Ms Woodward? If you could follow me, I’ll escort you to your room.”

“Shall we?” Poni offered Lotty her arm, and they followed him to the lifts.

***

As they approached the double doors of the suite, Poni said , “There’s one thing I didn’t tell you. The room is the honeymoon suite, it’s all they had left, but I assure you I will sleep in the chair.”

“Of course, Poni, I trust you completely. Is this why the woman at the reception didn’t have a room for us?”

“Yes, one look at me and she decided it wouldn’t be appropriate, but Mr Hopkin’s here soon saw it my way.”

Mr Hopkins pointed out all the facilities and left Poni with the key. The room was pleasant enough, one double bed with a couple of armchairs in the corner, and a bathroom off the main room.

“It’s a very pleasant room, I’m sure we’ll be comfortable. It’s nice and warm, anyway.” Now left alone, the two friends found themselves looking rather uncomfortably at the four poster bed that dominated the room.

“Em…listen, my dear, why don’t you telephone your aunt and uncle from here, and I’ll nip down to the reception and call my base? It’ll give you a chance to get ready for bed in privacy.”

Poni was trying her best to make this as comfortable as possible, but she couldn’t help but notice the blush that adorned Lotty’s face.

“Thank you, Poni.”

Poni nodded briefly, left their room, and made her way back downstairs. The telephone booth, to the side of the reception desk, was thankfully empty.

She pulled the concertina door behind her, and lifted the large black handset. “Beaulieu 7846, please.”

Once she got through to Beaulieu, she was transferred to the officer’s mess, where she knew Alex would be enjoying a drink and a smoke with her comrades.

“Ah! Poni, old boy. We thought you would have returned by now. The weather has become frightful.”

 

“Yes, that’s the problem. The trains are all off, and I am told the roads are impassable. I’ve had to take a room at the hotel here in Lymington. I just wanted to let you know not to expect me back.”

“And how goes it with your young lady?”

 

In the background, she could hear the clinking of snooker balls, and the voices of Rowe and Tommy.

“She is wonderful, Alex. I’m in love, old man, she’s the one. I just know it.”

There was a few seconds of silence before Alex said, “Poni, you’ve only met her, and you don’t even know if she could ever return your love.”

Poni sighed. “It doesn’t matter how long I’ve known her, Alex. When you meet the one, time doesn’t matter. Your heart just knows.”

“I’m just worried about you, my friend. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

 

“I know, but it’s too late for me. It was too late the minute I looked at her across the dance floor. I just know she’s the one. The one I was meant to love.”

“Just be prepared for trouble when you get back to the village. Someone appears to have told Lotty’s u ncle about what kind of people we are. He came into the pub looking for you, in quite a state.”

 

“I would face anything for that young woman. She knows I like women, and still wants to be my friend. That’s good enough for me.”

“I’ll support whatever you do Poni, you know that. So enjoy the rest of your evening and I’ll hopefully see you tomorrow.”

 

“Thank you. Cherrio, old chap.”

Poni hung up the telephone and made her way back upstairs. Now she knew that Lotty’s family were aware of her inclinations, would they talk the young woman around?

She stood outside the hotel room door, nervously wondering what lay inside for her.

***

Lotty pulled the bed blankets around her in an effort to warm up. She had washed up in the bathro om and stripped down to her silk slip camisole. Without luggage it was the best she could do.

After her short telephone call home, she was not looking forward to going back to Upper Hodberry tomorrow.

Luckily Maude had managed to get to the phone before anyone else, and warned her cousin that her father was extremely angry about who she was with.

The real world seemed so far away when she was with Poni. She wasn’t a daughter who got in the way and cost money, she wasn’t a niece or cousin, she was just the girl she wanted to be.

She heard a knock at the bedroom door and Poni clear her throat. “Are you decent, Lotty? Can I come in?”

“Yes of course.”

Poni walked into the room, and her eyes immediately zeroed onto the lacy part of Lotty’s silk slip that covered her breasts, which was visible above the blankets.

Lotty watched Poni become flustered and say, “Did…uh…umm…did you get through to your family?”

“Yes, thank you. Everything’s fine.” She lied.

Poni was again nervously fiddling with her cuffs. “That’s just the ticket, then.”

I wonder why she seems nervous? She’s such a strong, and in control person, Lotty thought.

“I’ll just get washed up and set myself up on the armchair.” Poni hurried off into the bathroom.

Lotty looked at the armchair which was on the other side of the room, next to the window. I don’t want her way over there.

 

Lotty jumped up quickly , and pulled the armchair next to the bed. She then got a pillow and one of the blankets from the bed, and tried to make it as comfortable for her friend as she could.

When she heard the bathroom door handle turn, Lotty quickly got back under the blankets.

***

Poni was surprised to find the armchair set up beside the bed. “I hope you don’t mind. I thought I would feel more comfortable in a strange room if you were close to me.”

“Of course.” Poni smiled and sat her uniform jacket over the back of the chair. “If you’re more comfortable that way.”

Lotty pulled the covers up around her neck and said with a blush to her cheeks, “I am, you make me feel safe.”

Poni’s heart skipped a beat. I’m not imagining this, am I? She feels something too? “That makes me more happy than you know, my dear girl.”

Lotty’s blushes deepened. Poni sat down on the armchair and loosened her tie and top button. “I hope you’ll excuse my somewhat shabby appearance?”

“Of course. Do relax, and put your feet up here.” Lotty patted the bed.

“No, no. I’m perfectly alright. You don’t want my great big feet up beside you.”

“Please, Poni.” Lotty looked at her seriously. “I want you to be comfortable, you’ve let me sleep in the bed.”

“If you insist.” Poni put her socked feet up on the bed and Lotty gave them a stroke.

“Now wrap that blanket around yourself so you don’t catch a chill.” Poni was secretly basking in the attention as Lotty fussed and arranged the blanket around her legs and feet.”

“Maybe you should, just share the bed with me, I hate to think of you getting cold.”

Poni covered Lotty’s hand on the blanket and said , “It wouldn’t be appropriate. Don’t worry about me, I’ve slept in situations a great deal worse than this. This will be just the ticket for me.”

Lotty lay back on her side, and the friends fell into a comfortable silence. Poni couldn’t take her eyes off of the beautiful young woman lying in front of her.

You’re such caring girl. I wish I was the one who you wanted to take care of, my dear. Poni thought sadly.

She realised that one lucky young man would come along and win her heart some day, but knew he could never love Lotty the way she deserved to be loved.

I would treat you like a Princess, Lotty, every minute of our lives together. She was shaken out of her thoughts when Lotty shook her, trying to gain her attention.

“Sorry, my dear girl. I was lost in my thoughts. What did you say?”

“I wondered if you would talk to me until I fell asleep , I usually read until I drop off ? ” Lotty said.

“Of course. What do you like to read?”

“Oh, lots. Romances, crime books, anything with a happy ending , and of course my fashion magazines.”

What a sweet girl you are… “What is your favourite book?”

Lotty giggled and looked down in embarrassment. “I can’t tell you. You’ll think I’m such a big baby.”

Poni thought her friend looked even more beautiful when she was blushing. “No, I won’t. Just tell me.”

“Well…um…it sounds so childish, but I’ll tell you. It’s Winnie the Pooh.” She saw Poni smile broadly and felt like a fool for telling her.

“I told you it was childish. You think I’m foolish now.”

Poni reached forward and took Lotty’s hand. “Of course I don’t. I think it’s adorable. The Winnie the Pooh books are wonderful. My nanny always read them to me when I was a child.”

Lotty was absently playing and stroking Poni’s hand and fingers. “Yes, when you were a child, not now.”

Eager to make her friend not feel silly, Poni said, “Not a bit of it. Pooh has some very wise words, if I remember correctly. What was the one about love…dash it if I can remember correctly…um…”

Lotty met Poni’s eyes and continued to stroke her hand tenderly. “Piglet says, ‘How do you spell love?’ And Pooh replies, ‘You don’t spell it…you feel it.’ Is that the one?”

The air seemed to be charged with an electricity, and it took all Poni’s strength not to join Lotty on the bed and take her in her arms. If she tried she knew that she could seduce the girl, but that’s not what she wanted with Lotty. Poni wanted her heart as well as her body.

“That’s the one. It had always stuck in my mind.”

Lotty lowered her eyes. “Mine too, Piglet was always my favourite.”

After a few seconds of silence, Lotty asked. “Have you ever felt it, Poni?”

“Felt what, my dear girl?”

“Love.”

With Lotty’s innocent eyes looking directly into her own, she couldn’t lie. So instead she said honestly . “I’ve never felt love, before.”

Lotty started to ask her what she meant, but Poni cut her off by saying , “Why don’t we close our eyes and settle down for the night ?”

“Of course.” You’re hiding something, Poni.

 

***

Lotty lay with her eyes closed for half an hour, no nearer sleep than when she had stopped talking to Poni.

Her mind was a whirl of thoughts and feelings that she was now beginning to realise were caused by the person sitting beside the bed.

She longed to ask the hundreds of questions that were flitting about her head, if only she had the courage.

Lotty opened one eye to find her friend looking at her adoringly. “I thought you were supposed to be sleeping?”

Poni smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “What can I say? You looked so beautiful wrapped up in those blankets, like a little piglet . I just couldn’t help but look at you.”

Lotty plucked up all her courage and asked Poni seriously , “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course you can, my dear girl.”

“Are there more people like you and your friends? You know…that like their own sex?”

Poni knew this subject would come up eventually if they were to continue to be friends. She took out a cigarette and lit it, buying time to work out how she would answer.

“Yes, it’s hidden, but more common than you would think. My friend Alex and I are luckier than most because we are financially independent, we don’t have jobs we could lose because of what we are. Others are not so lucky and have to live in fear of their secret being found out.”

Lotty looked shocked. “I had no idea…people had to live like that. I’d never even imagined women could be together in that way, and then when I met you…”

“Met me…what?” Poni asked.

Lotty took a breath and said , “When I met you, the way you are seems perfectly natural. Not out of the ordinary or shocking like my cousin Maude thinks it is.”

“That’s very open minded of you.” Poni sat up and tapped her cigarette into the ash tray on the bedside table.

“It’s not open minded , ” Lotty said a little too forcefully. “It’s just right. You are just right, Poni, more than any other boy that I have known. I know I’ve only met you, but I feel…so much…I…”

Poni was sure Lotty was trying to tell her something. I’m probably just hearing what I want to hear.

 

“My dear girl, the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way, I can assure you, and neither would your family, I’m sure.”

It was the words of her family ringing in her ears, and knowing she had to face them tomorrow , that was making her so uptight. The thought of not being allowed to see Poni again before she went home to London, and then who knows.

The panic started to bubble over into anger. “I am not a girl! I am a woman, and I can think what I like.”

Not caring about how she was dressed, Lotty jumped up and ran to the bathroom. “Lotty, wait! I didn’t…” But the bathroom door was slammed shut before she could say anything.

What did I say? Poni wondered.

Fifteen minutes later, Lotty emerged from the bathroom with red eyes. Clearly she had been upset.

“Lotty, whatever I said that upset you, I’m sorry. I would never want to upset you.”

Lotty climbed into bed and turned away from Poni. “It’s nothing. I’m just being overly emotional. Please ignore me, Let’s try and get some sleep.”

“If that’s what you want, but if you would like to talk about anything, my dear , I’m here.” Poni settled down in the armchair once more, but she couldn’t close her eyes. They were glued to the young woman who lay in the bed beside her.

She was fascinated with the curve of Lotty’s alabaster neck and shoulder. The gentle rise and fall of her breathing, indeed everything about this girl was perfection to Poni.

Time passed in silence, and just as Poni was about to give in and shut her eyes, Lotty said in a small voice , “Poni? Do you believe in love at first sight?”

Poni felt that all she could do in that moment was to tell the truth. “Yes, I do.”

Never turning round to face her, Lotty replied , “So do I. Goodnight, Poni. I’m so glad I met you.”

Poni waited a few minutes and said quietly , “As am I. Goodnight, little Piglet.” Never knowing that, Lotty heard every word.

***

Alex was called to Colonel Hollingberry’s office first thing the next morning. The Colonel’s s ecretary , the prim but attractive Mrs Caroline Flack, shook her head disapprovingly , though with the hint of a smile.

“Oh dear, Squadron Officer, your squad in trouble with the ladies again? I never thought it would be Flight Officer Woodward, though. You, maybe…”

Alex sat on the edge of Mrs Flack’s desk and leaned over her with an arrogant smile. “Me in trouble with the ladies? God forbid, no! I’m waiting for you to run away with me, Caroline.”

Mrs Flack tutted. She did enjoy Alex Dalton’s incessant flirting, but they both knew that it was just a bit of fun.

“Hmm, I don’t think Mr Flack would like that, but it’s nice to be asked ,” she said sweetly.

“A Mr Nightingale has been calling for the Colonel since the crack of dawn this morning. He was blathering on about a deviant called Woodward abducting his niece.”

Alex sighed and stood, straightening her tie. “Abducted? What piffle. Old Poni simply took her to the picture house.”

“Well, Mr Nightingale is certainly angry about something. You’re to go straight in.”

Alex winked at Caroline and walked into the Colonel’s office where she saw he was still on the telephone. He indicated for her to sit while he tried to get a word in edgeways with Mr Nightingale.

“With the greatest respect, Sir, I can’t affect the weather. The trains and buses are off, and I’m sure Flight Officer Woodward would have returned your niece if at all possible.”

The Colonel held the handset away from his ear and Alex heard the words deviant and immoral being shouted down the line.

“I…I…assure you, Sir , I will talk to her commanding officer and see if we can get her back as soon as possible. Goodbye.”

Colonel Hollingberry smacked the phone down on the cradle and looked up at Alex sternly. “I take it you got the gist of that, Squadron officer?”

“Yes Sir. I got a call from Woodward last night. There was no way they could get through the snow, so they booked into a hotel.”

The Colonel clasped his hands in front of him and looked as if he was choosing his words very carefully.

“Dalton, you know your squad is the best we have, and we turn a blind eye to what you all do in your private lives, but it doesn’t help us when your officers are chasing local village girls.”

Alex did not like the way this was heading. They had always enjoyed a relative freedom in their secret service roles, but when you scratched beneath the surface, it appeared they were merely being tolerated because of their value to the service.

Maybe Poni was right about them , Alex thought.

“Sir, if I may. Flight Officer Woodward is the most respectable and Gentlemanly officer you could find. She simply took this girl to the picture house. Poni can’t help the weather, and you can be sure she is looking after Miss Nightingale impeccably. There is nothing salacious about their friendship, simply because Poni prefers her own sex , ” Alex said with a hard tone to her voice.

Colonel Hollingberry held up his hands in a defensive posture. “I wouldn’t suggest otherwise, old boy. I simply don’t need this girl’s family breathing down my neck. He’s threatened to call top brass in London if we don’t get her back today. Our unit can do without pious Government ministers turning the spotlight on us. Our work is too important, especially now.”

Alex had to agree, they were about to embark on their most important mission yet, and they didn’t need this distraction. “Sir, I’ll take my men and a jeep and see if I can get through the roads the buses can’t. If I can get them back today I will, if not, as soon as possible.”

“Thank you, Dalton. You’re a good chap. It should calm Mr Nightingale if I tell him I’ve sent my best men to return his niece.”

He walked around to Alex and smacked her on the back. ” Get cracking, Dalton. I can always rely on you.”

Alex placed her RAF cap on and marched out. This is exactly what I need. Traipsing around the countryside retrieving lost girls!

 

***

Poni whistled happily as she walked back to the hotel room, the morning paper under her arm. She had gotten up early to check the weather news, leaving Lotty sleeping. She was aware they were stuck in their own little world here in Lymington, but she was loving every minute spent with Lotty.

She knocked the room door and shouted through, “Are you decent, Lotty?”

“Yes, come through.”

Poni walked through the door and her breath caught at the sight before her. It was nothing extraordinary, simply Lotty applying her lipstick at the dressing table, but to Poni it was the perfect picture.

Charlotte Nightingale was the girl she’d been waiting for. Her heart knew it, but would a young girl like Lotty jump into a life like hers?

“Poni? Are you listening?” She was shaken from her private thoughts by an insistent Lotty.

“What did you say, my dear?”

“I asked how the weather is? Will we be going home soon?”

Poni immediately thought that m eant Lotty was anxious to get home. “There hasn’t been a great deal of snow overnight, but it certainly hasn’t receded. The trains are still off this morning. I promise I’ll get you home as soon as I can.”

Lotty surprised her by smiling brightly and saying, “Oh dear, we’ll just have to content ourselves spending the day together.” She skipped over to Poni and took her hand excitedly. “What shall we do first?”

Poni was somewhat taken aback at the girl’s enthusiasm for being stuck with her. She must be enjoying our time together as much as me.

 

“Well, we’re a bit limited by the weather, but whatever you wish to do, we shall.”

“Wonderful!” Lotty clapped her hands together excitedly.

The excitement was interrupted by a knock at the door, and Poni snapped her fingers. “Oh yes! I hope you don’t mind. I ordered breakfast to be served in our room. I thought it would be more pleasant.”

“What a sweet thought, you are kind.” Lotty said with a smile.

Poni felt she would do anything to have that smile bestowed on her every day. “It’s my pleasure.”

She let the maid in, and the food was served on the small table by the window. Poni looked down at the very plain powdered scrambled eggs, toast and one piece of bacon each and said, “It’s not exactly the Ritz, is it?”

Lotty started to pour their tea and smiled brightly. “Not at all, this is splendid! I don’t lead an exciting life like you, Poni, these two days since I’ve met you, I’ve had more new experiences than I ever have.”

Poni took a sip of tea and said, “I don’t know that I lead an exciting life.”

“Oh, but you do! You do important and brave war work, live in London around the most exquisite shops and clubs. I only get to dream about what that would be like, reading my fashion and society magazines.”

“Perhaps. Do you not have dances and things in your village? I’m sure the young men line up to dance with you?”

Lotty let out a laugh. “We very rarely have a church dance, and if we do, the vicar and the old ladies of the church are standing on the sidelines, chaperoning every dance move we make.’

Poni laughed softly. She could only imagine what those old church ladies would make of the Alley Cat club that she went to regularly.

“Well, in that case, you must come up to London for the day sometime, I could show you many more exciting things than breakfast at a hotel.”

For some reason, Lotty blushed deeply and lowered her eyes to her plate.

I wonder what you are thinking about, my dear? To break the tension, Poni said, “So? What would you like to do? Another film?”

“I wondered if we could go for a walk along the beach front? I’ve never seen snow on the beach before, and it would be so beautiful .”

“Of course, as long as it’s not too cold for you, a walk would be jolly pleasant.”

Lotty couldn’t stop herself from reaching over and taking Poni’s larger hand in excitement. “Thank you Poni!”

Poni looked down at Lotty’s delicate hand covering her own and felt the warmth and electricity radiating up her arm to her heart. “Um…Did you telephone home while I was out this morning? Let them know that you were alright?”

Lotty pulled her hand back quickly and seemed to lose her good mood immediately. “No, I…I…thought I’d telephone when we had a better idea of when we could head home.”

She’s worried about what awaits us, and so am I. Poni knew all she could do was live in the moment as all military people had learned to do during the war. She was determined to enjoy every second Lotty could give her.

***

Alex had instructed Tommy to organise a jeep while she got Rowe from her room. She turned the corner of the corridor where the officers rooms were, and saw Rowe and Francine exchanging very passionate kisses at the door before she walked off leaving Rowe with a huge smile upon her face.

Relationships between agents were always a bad idea, and while she wouldn’t order Rowe not to become involved with this woman, she had a bad feeling about it, especially after the incident between them at the pub.

“Mathews?”

Rowe snapped her head around and realised she was caught. “Ma’am? I thought we didn’t have any training till after lunch?”

“Let’s go inside, shall we?” Alex said.

Rowe’s small officers’ room was full of evidence of a good night. A nearly empty bottle of whiskey, the bed in a state of disarray, and Rowe herself in just a vest and her uniform trousers.

She walked over to the bedside, lit a cigarette from her pack there, and offered one to Alex. “I know what you’re going to say, Alex.”

Lord Dalton lit her cigarette and took a long drag. “Oh? What would that be?”

“That Francine and I being together is a bad idea.”

Alex sighed. “Listen, old chap, I don’t care who you sleep with, but choosing someone who is going to be working with our squad and on our missions is a very risky business. You may be faced with a decision that could compromise our mission.”

“This isn’t just someone I’m sleeping with, Alex. I’ve never met anyone like her. She’s beautiful, smart and clever. I want something more with her, but I give you my word that I won’t let it effect the squad. Can you trust me?”

Alex thought back to last night at the pub, and how Francine had propositioned her. She clearly didn’t feel as strongly as Rowe.

She walked over to Rowe and patted her on the back. “You know I trust you with my life, Rowe. We are friends and nothing will ever come between that. Just be cautious, alright?”

Rowe smiled brightly. “Thank you, My Lord.”

“We’ll say no more, then. Now be a good chap and get ready to head out in ten minutes. We have a young lady to rescue from the clutches of Flight Officer Woodward.”

Rowe started to quickly button up her shirt. “What’s old Poni done?”

“I’m quite sure not a thing. I’ll tell you about it enroute. Meet Tommy and me out front when you’re ready.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

***

Poni and Lotty walked arm in arm along the snow covered pebble beach, enjoying the fresh sea air. The snow had started to fall lightly again, but it didn’t deter the pair from venturing out of the hotel.

“Bracing, isn’t it? Blows the old cobwebs away , ” Poni said.

Lotty smiled. Poni had such a charming way of putting things. “It does.”

She looked along the long, snowy beach, and felt sadness for what she saw. Barbed wire ran along the shoreline, and there were the gun placements built by the beach wall where members of the home guard kept watch.

“I’ve never seen anything so beautiful and so grim at the same time. Do you think this war will ever be over, and things go back to normal?”

Poni didn’t have to think about it, and immediately replied, “Of course. We will prevail, you’ve got to have hope, Lotty. If you don’t have your hopes and dreams, then there’s no point. That’s what keeps me going, no matter how hard the mission is.”

Lotty looked up at her friend and asked, “What are your hopes and dreams for after the war Poni? Travel? Some super secret government job?”

Poni laughed softly as they continued to walk slowly along. “Nothing that glamorous, I’m afraid. I’m a very ordinary sort of chap, really. All I’ve ever wanted is a wife to sit by the fire with in the evenings and share all that I have been lucky enough to be blessed with. A warm comfortable home and the security of knowing she will never want for anything.”

Listening to another woman describe wanting a wife and a very traditional home should have sounded completely alien to Lotty, but surprisingly it didn’t. The way Poni presented herself and acted always seemed completely natural to her. Lotty concluded that her new friend was a perfect mix of both male and female, and she couldn’t stop herself from finding that attractive.

Poni had taken Lotty’s silence for disapproval. “I’m sorry my dear, have I shocked you? I suppose it must sound very strange to your ears hearing another woman say they want a wife?”

Lotty stopped and automatically grasped the lapels of Poni’s wool great coat. “Never. I suppose it should but I can’t imagine you being any other way. You are…” She searched for the appropriate words in her brain.

“You are just who you should be, and I’m certain that you would make a perfect husband for a lucky woman.”

She felt Poni’s eyes look deeply into her own, pulling them closer together, until the noise of the guards talking behind them broke them apart.

Poni cleared her throat and threw away her cigarette. “The snow’s getting a little heavier, do you want to turn back?”

Lotty turned her face up to the sky and felt the snow flakes cool her racing heart. “Can we keep going? At least to the bottom of the rocky cliffs? My cousin and I used to play there when we were children.”

“Of course. Whatever you wish shall be yours.”

If only that could be true. Lotty thought sadly, remembering that this special time would come to an end when they went home.

***

“Bloody hell!” Alex shouted.

The jeep, driven by Tommy, had managed to slip and slide its way around the country roads for a few miles before coming to a halt when it slid into a snow bank.

Tommy jumped out of the driver’s seat and looked at the damage. “The wheels are well stuck, Guv, but there isn’t too much damage.”

Rowe looked to her commanding officer and said, “What do you think, Alex? Do we head back or plough on?”

Alex looked at her watch and sighed. “Half past two? We’ve come this far, chaps. I don’t want this uncle of Miss Nightingale’s causing trouble for Poni. We may as well plough on.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Rowe agreed.

Alex and Rowe got the shovels out of the back of the jeep, and handed one to Tommy. As they started shovelling the snow from beneath the wheels, Rowe said, “If only this girl’s family realised who she was with. Old Poni is a Gentleman. I mean she wouldn’t even touch the girl’s bare skin when they danced.”

Alex nodded in agreement. “Too true, Rowe. Poni will be tripping over herself trying to be accommodating and polite. Charlotte couldn’t be in safer hands.”

Rowe looked at Tommy and winked. Quickly. “Whereas if she was snowed in with you, my Lord, her family would have every reason to worry!”

Tommy guffawed with laughter. “You’re right there, squire!”

“Very funny you two. Now get shovelling.” Alex couldn’t deny her reputation. It was well earned, but there was a small part of her that envied the way Poni had looked at her young Lady. Not with lust as she usually did, but with a wide eyed wonder and excitement. Where the outcome of the friendship was unknown, but where one wanted to risk all for love. That was something Alex knew she would never be brave enough to experience.

***

The heavy flurry of snow had developed into a bit of a snowstorm. Poni started to unbutton her coat to give to Lotty, and said, “We better hurry back to the hotel. Here, put this on.”

Lotty shook her head and smiled excitedly. “No, follow me. There’s a little cave at the bottom of the rocky cliff there. Maude and I used to play pirates in there. Come on!”

She pulled Poni by the hand and laughed as they tried to outrun the storm. The longer Poni spent with Lotty, the more she lost a bit of her heart to her. The girlish enthusiasm with which she enjoyed a snowy day by the beach was infectious.

“Here we are. It seemed a lot bigger when I was little girl.”

Poni looked around the small alcove eroded by the sea. It could only have been about six feet across and narrowed back into the blackness.

“Everything does. Alex and I had a tree house at Dencotte, and when I go back now, I can’t believe how small it is.”

“Dencotte?” Lotty asked

“Oh! Sorry. I spent a great deal of time at Alex’s ancestral home as we grew up. Our parents were close.”

“You seem very good friends with Lady Dalton…sorry, Lord Dalton I should say. I bet you have a lot of fun going out on the tiles in London?”

Lotty desperately wanted to know more about how Poni and Alex lived their lives, but didn’t want to appear nosey.

Poni smiled as if she was remembering some of those fun times. “We have had some jolly times, I will admit. Alex is more than my best friend, we are like family.”

Lotty looked out of the mouth of the cave and saw the snow was sheeting down in blizzard- like fashion. “Good thing I remembered this little hideaway. I don’t think we would have made it back.”

She started to feel the cold now they had stopped, and hugged herself to try and get warm. Poni noticed and offered her coat to her young friend.

“No, I won’t have you cold because of me,” Lotty said.

Poni surprised her by opening up her great coat and saying, “Come and share then, you’re freezing.”

Lotty didn’t need to be asked twice. She immediately shot over to Poni and clasped her arms around her friend’s waist.

Poni closed the coat around them both and sighed with contentment, resting her chin atop Lotty’s head.

Lotty was in heaven, she had never felt so safe, so comfortable, so taken care of. “You’re so warm, Poni.”

She felt Poni respond by tightening her grip around her. They stood in silence, simply watching the snow as it raged outside and enjoying their closeness.

As Lotty was held in her friend’s arms, she wondered if Poni had held women like this before, and if so, what they were like.

Probably sophisticated London women. Not country bumpkins like you, Lotty thought.

Even though Lotty feared the answer, she simply had to ask. “Poni? Can I ask you something?”

“Of course, my dear girl. Ask away.”

Lotty was glad that they were so close together, and she didn’t need to look in Poni’s eyes when she asked this question. “Um…you said you wanted a wife? Have you ever…stepped out with a woman before?”

She felt tension in Poni’s body, as if she didn’t want to answer that particular question. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business.”

Poni released her grip slightly so she could look at Lotty as she spoke to her. “No, of course you can ask that. I just don’t want you to think badly of me.”

Lotty placed her hand on Poni’s uniformed chest. “How could I ever think badly of you? You’re a Gentleman .”

“I hope I have always behaved in such a way and treated every woman who has graced me with their company with respect, but I have sown my wild oats as it were. I have met some delightful women, but never met the one that I love. I have been searching because it’s what I’ve always wanted to find.”

“Oh, I understand,” Lotty said with a slight hint of sadness. It wasn’t as if she expected Poni to have no experience, being a cultured woman of the world, but the image of Poni kissing someone else hurt Lotty.

“I’ve never even stepped out with a boy let alone been kissed. You must think me a very immature girl.”

“On the contrary , ” Poni said before letting her fingers slowly trail down Lotty’s cheek. “You are the perfect Lady, untouched by the excesses of city life.”

As Poni looked adoringly into her eyes one thought shone brightly in her mind. “What’s it like to kiss a woman? It must be very different than kissing a man.”

Poni looked surprised to be asked that particular question by Lotty, but the surprise turned to a look of hunger as she formulated her answer.

“I’ve never kissed a man before, but I can tell you that kissing a woman is…like heaven.” Lotty gasped as Poni trailed her fingers from her cheek down to her lips.

“When I kiss a woman it feels, soft…” Lotty’s lips parted in response to Poni’s touch. The fingertips felt like fire across her lips, and her heart thudded wildly at the thought of lips replacing them.

Poni inched closer to her and whispered , “Soft, tender and passionate.”

Lotty licked he r lips, wetting them in preparation for what her heart and body was crying out for. “Show me. Show me what it’s like to be kissed.”

Poni’s eyes studied her carefully, checking if this what was the girl wanted.

“I want you to be the one to show me, to teach me what a kiss can be.”

Clearly Poni couldn’t hold out against this heartfelt request, and she closed the last few inches between them to take Lotty’s parted lips.

Lotty moaned at the first touch, and found out that what Poni said was true. The kiss was so soft and tender.

Poni turned her around and walked her back the few steps between them and the cave wall where the kiss turned more passionate.

When Lotty felt Poni’s tongue slip inside her mouth, her hands automatically came up and cradled her partner’s face.

At that moment, Lotty felt what she had been missing, missing when her cousin and friends talked excitedly about young men. The breathless excitement Maude had shown when she described being kissed for the first time.

One thing was certain in Lotty’s mind, however, it was not the kiss, but Poni who was making her feel this way. From the first thrilling glance across a dance floor to this first breathless kiss, it was this tall, strong RAF officer who fuelled those feelings.

Poni pulled back from Lotty’s lips and looked at her questioningly. “Are you alright, my beautiful girl?”

“Yes, I have never felt better.” Lotty smiled shyly and buried her head into Poni’s chest.

Both had no idea what to say about what they had just done or felt, they simply held each other and watched the slowing snow fall outside.

***

When they had managed to make their way back to the hotel, Poni had told Lotty to go ahead up to the room while she inquired about the trains.

Armed with that information, she took the lift upstairs. The man operating the lift said, “Floor six, Ma’am.”

Poni fished in her pockets for a few coins and handed them to the young man. “Thank you, Laddie.”

Up ahead, she saw the afternoon tea she had ordered downstairs being delivered to her room. Excellent, something to break the tension. For two people who had just shared a passionate kiss, they had both been extremely quiet on the walk back.

For her part, Poni was worried about what would come next. Even before they kissed, she wanted to see Lotty again, but now she was determined to court her. She could only hope that Lotty was not regretting what had happened between them.

Poni walked into the room just as the tea was being served. “Ah, tea. That’s just the ticket!”

She tipped the waitress and took her place at the table. There was tea, a selection of cakes, scones and small sandwiches. Lotty lifted the teapot and said with a small smile, “Shall I be m other ?”

“I’d be delighted.” Poni was even more delighted to find the awkwardness seemed to have passed.

“It was so thoughtful of you to order tea, Poni. After a cold, bracing walk like that, I could eat a horse , ” Lotty said.

Without thinking, she replied, “Or a Poni?”

Lotty giggled with laughter, and all the tension was gone. “You’re a cheeky chappy, aren’t you?”

“I do hope so.” It was wonderful for Poni to see Lotty’s face light up with laughter. You’re so beautiful…

 

Lotty used the small silver serving tongs to place some sandwiches on Poni’s plate. “The sandwiches are fish paste, but they’ll suffice I think. Scone or cake? I will warn you, the cake icing smells faintly of s almon .”

“I think I’ll stick to the scones, then. Rationing certainly makes cakes, interesting eh?”

“Certainly does.” Lotty took a scone for herself and said wistfully , “I do so miss a little pot of jam, and my very favourite, honey. I can’t remember the last time I had honey.”

Poni chuckled. “I might have known you would like honey.”

Lotty furrowed her eyebrows. “Why?”

“You love Winnie the Pooh of course, little piglet!” Poni couldn’t help but notice the way Lotty’s nose would wrinkle when she laughed, and found it charming.

“You are a funny, Poni.” Lotty took a bite of sandwich and said, “Did you find out about the trains?”

The real world suddenly threw a bucket of cold water over Poni’s good mood. “Ah! Yes…well the boy at the reception said they’ve had men out clearing parts of the track, and they hope to have a few trains on their way by four or five o’clock.”

Poni saw Lotty’s face fall into sadness and put down her sandwich and cup of tea. ” Please don’t despair, Lotty.”

She watched Lotty wring her hands with nervous tension. “Poni, this time we’ve spent together has been…so special to me. I…I don’t want it to end, and I’m afraid it will when I go home. When I telephoned home last night, my uncle was very angry that I was with you.”

Poni felt heartened that the young woman felt the same as she, but she couldn’t ignore the fact that any friendship between them would be fraught with problems. She reached over and took Lotty’s hand. “I don’t want it to end either, and as long as you wish to see me, I will find a way. I promise.”

Lotty lifted Poni’s larger hand between her own and placed it to her cheek. “I don’t understand why this feels the way it does, but when you kissed me…”

They were interrupted by three loud thumps on the door. Poni sighed angrily, Lotty had just been about to tell her how she felt, and that had to be the time the waitress returned for the tea things.

“Come back later!” Poni shouted.

The door was thumped again and a familiar voice shouted, “Come on, Poni, old boy! A chap could die of thirst out here!”

“It’s Alex.”

***

It hadn’t taken long for Alex to track down Poni. People like themselves stood out to the locals in the sleepy little coastal town.

She had left Tommy and Rowe downstairs while she tried to round up Poni and her young Lady. The hotel room door opened and she found a rather annoyed looking Poni looking back at her.

“Hello, old chap. We’ve come to rescue you. Can I come in?”

“Of course.” Poni looked anything but pleased to see her, and when she entered the hotel room, Lotty looked flushed with embarrassment. What have you been up too ?

“Lord Dalton, it’s lovely to see you. Could I offer you some tea?”

“That would be splendid, and do call me Alex.” She took a seat beside Lotty, and Poni was soon to join them.

“How did you make it through the snow?” Lotty asked.

Alex took a sip of tea and said, “We took one of the jeeps and skidded our way here by the seat of our pants. There were some hairy moments I can tell you!”

“We? You didn’t come on your own?” Poni asked.

“No, Rowe and Tommy are downstairs in the bar. I couldn’t have gotten here without them, I can tell you.”

Poni looked at her quizzically. “You didn’t need to go to all that trouble. I was going to return with Lotty as soon as the trains were running again.”

Alex hesitated, wondering how to put this without upsetting Poni’s young lady. Lotty could obviously feel the undercurrent of tension and said, “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go and powder my nose.”

Both officers stood as Lotty got up and walked to the bathroom. As soon as the door closed, Poni said, “What’s going on,Alex?”

Alex took out her cigarette case and offered one to her friend. Once they had both lit up, Alex began to tell her about the problems Colonel Hollingberry was getting from Lotty’s uncle.

“I would never have disturbed you, old man, if it hadn’t been for that. After her uncle threatened to complain higher up the chain of command, we both felt it would be a jolly bad idea to have your life under that scrutiny. Especially as we are about to set off on our most important mission yet.”

Poni took a large drag of her smoke and blew out a long breath. “You were right, of course. We both feared what was waiting for us back at base.”

We? Seems like this is more serious than I thought. “So…is this serious or just a bit of fun?”

Poni fixed Alex with a solemn gaze. “I’m deadly serious. I think I lost my heart to her as soon as I looked across the church hall.”

“This is what I was afraid of. I’ve never seen you look at a girl like that before,” Alex said with a sigh. “Listen, Poni. This could be a very sticky situation.”

Poni’s face looked thunderous. “What do you mean? I thought you’d be happy for me. You know what I’ve always wanted.”

“I know, old chap. I’m not trying to upset you, I’m simply worried about you getting hurt. She’s young, innocent. She might find it exciting to step out with people such as us, but the reality of how we live may be too much for her.”

Poni took a last drag of her cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray. “Love is worth the risk, Alex. If nothing comes of our relationship and I end up being hurt, the pain will be worth it. At least I will have loved the girl meant for me.”

Alex was reminded that Mrs Black said something similar. How could anything be worth the pain?

 

“If that is your final word, then you know I will support you. She is a smashing girl, and a prettier one you couldn’t find.”

“She asked me to kiss her.” Poni smiled warmly at the memory.

“And? What was it like?” Alex asked.

“Let’s just say, I would walk over broken glass to have more of her kisses.”

Alex laughed and smacked her on the back. “Well then. I wish you the best of luck. I’ll head down to the bar for a drink, and let you and your girl have some time alone. We’ll go as soon as you both are ready.”

“Thank you, my lord. Thank you for supporting me.”

“Always, my friend.”

***

Lotty stood behind the bathroom door, having heard most of what Poni and Alex had said. She feels the same as me!

Her heart raced in her chest with excitement, but she was also scared. Scared her family would try to stop to this burgeoning love.

She took a breath and came out of the bathroom. Poni stood politely and held the seat out for her. “Has Alex gone?”

“She’s waiting with Rowe and Tommy downstairs. Whenever you’re ready, we better head home.”

Lotty nodded, but said nothing. She didn’t know how to broach the subject of how they felt. Everything about these feelings was new and confusing. “Poni, I…”

“Lotty… forgive me. Please, you first.”

She gave her friend a pleading look. “No, won’t you go first? I don’t have the first idea of how to say what I feel.”

Poni nodded in understanding. “Lotty, I don’t want this to end when we return to the village. I care for you very much, and I would like us to keep seeing each other. If you don’t feel the same, please tell me now, and I won’t mention it again.”

The feeling of excitement Lotty felt at Poni’s words was overwhelming. She never thought it possible to feel so much.

“I want to see you as well, Poni . I care for you so much already, I don’t think I could stop. I’m terrified that my family will stop me, though.”

Poni was out of her seat and kneeling beside her in a second. She took Lotty’s hand and kissed it tenderly. “You have no idea how wonderful that is to hear. I am certain we will find a way to see each other. If you wish it, I will make it happen.”

Lotty stroked her fingertips tenderly down Poni’s face before whispering, “I wish it.”

Poni leant forward and placed the sweetest of kisses on her lips. “Then you shall have it, little Piglet.”

***

Poni, Alex and the others dropped Lotty off by the village shop. She didn’t think it wise for her uncle to see Poni with her.

When she did walk through the door, she was whisked into the drawing room and given a severe talking too by her aunt and uncle. Half an hour later, a sad looking Lotty walked up to her bedroom and found Maude sitting on her bed waiting for her.

“I suppose you want to give me a lecture too?” Lotty said to her.

Maude shut the bedroom door and pulled Lotty to sit on the bed. “No, I’m not. I got a very similar lecture to yours .”

“Why?”

“Because Glen’s stupid Yankee friend, who told Father about you and Poni, told him about Glen and I. Apparently stepping out with an American isn’t much better than you going with a woman who courts other women.”

Lotty couldn’t stop herself from laughing at that. Maude smiled and pushed her cousin gently. “Oh, stop, you!”

“Listen Lotty, I’ve done a lot of thinking since we last spoke, and the way Father forbade me from seeing Glen again made me think about the way I spoke to you. I was harsh on Poni. You were right in what you said about her. She’s out there and risking her life for this country, and I dismissed her just because she likes…women. If you want to be her friend…then that’s fine with me.”

Lotty unpinned her hat and put it to the side, giving her time to think of what to say. It was nice to have her cousin’s understanding, but would she still be understanding when she learnt the whole truth?

“Maude, thank you for saying that, but there’s more to Poni and my friendship than there was before I left.”

Maude looked aghast. “She didn’t…you know…”

“Oh no! Nothing like that. Poni is a Gentleman! I mean that I realised I…” Lotty struggled to say the words out loud, fearing the reaction. “I realised that I liked her, liked her a lot and I want to keep seeing her.”

“You mean, like her the same as a boy, don’t you?” Lotty nodded and waited for the criticism that would follow.

“If I am really honest, Lotty, I don’t understand wanting a woman…that way, but I trust your judgement. If you think that this is right for you then…so do I.”

Lotty broke out in a huge smile. “Really? You really mean it, Maude?”

“I do.”

Her excitement waned when she realised she still had one problem. “Thank you Maude, but I don’t know how I can keep seeing Poni. Uncle Cyril won’t let me out of his sight now.”

“I know. I’m not allowed to walk out with Glen either, and he wants to see me , ” Maude said.

“You mean…”

Maude grabbed Lotty’s hand and said excitedly, “Yes! Let’s cover for each other. We can say we’re going out together, then meet Poni and Glen…”

Lotty’s feeling of gloom was gone. Yes! This is the way! “Then go our separate ways for a while?”

“Yes!” The two cousins cuddled each other tight. “Let’s make plans, then!” Maude said to her.

“Wait.” Lotty rummaged in her bag , and brought out the box of chocolates Poni had given her.

“The perfect planning companion.”

Maude’s eyes went wide. “Chocolates? Where on earth did you get them?”

“My dashing RAF Officer.” They fell back in bed laughing, full of the anticipation of new love.

***

The next afternoon , Poni followed Lotty’s instructions and walked to a bridge just outside the village. It marked the start of the forest surrounding Baron Montague’s Estate.”

She saw someone up ahead, and as she got closer, she saw it was Maude’s young Man, Glen. She stopped beside him and said, “Private.”

Glen gave her a respectful salute, which surprised Poni given his friend’s feelings toward her. “It’s Parker, Ma’am, Glen Parker.”

“Oh? Well, it’s nice to be properly introduced, Parker. I’m Poni Woodward.”

Glen smiled and nodded before an awkward silence fell between them. They both stood rather stiffly and looked out over the bridge and down to the river.

Poni, being very British, felt the need to cover the silence with small talk. “Looks like Lotty and Maude are running late?”

Glen looked at his watch. “Yeah, looks like it, Ma’am.”

“Well, ladies will be ladies, eh, Parker?”

Glen smiled and the tension seemed to break up a little. “Yeah, they are worth it, though.”

“Indeed they are,” Poni replied.

After a few seconds, Glen turned around and said, “About what Joey did? Telling Mr Nightingale about you and Lotty? He shouldn’t have done that, and I told him so. I was maybe a bit unsure when I heard about what you…um…anyway…Maude told me how you looked after her cousin when you were stranded, and the important war work you do…I say you’re okay by me, Ma’am.”

Poni was taken aback, she didn’t expect that sort of reaction at all. “That’s jolly decent of you to say, Parker. Jolly decent indeed.”

Glen shrugged his shoulders. “It’s okay. I’m beginning to find out what it’s like to be judged. Maude’s Dad doesn’t want her to go out with me just ‘ cause I’m an American.”

Poni sighed and patted Glen on the back. “It’s not pleasant to be judged, but at least we’ve found a way to help each other see our girls.”

“Yeah, Maude’s such a great girl. I’ve never met anyone like her before. She’s so…proper and English. A real lady, you know?”

“I do.” They both turned when they heard the sound of women’s laughter, and Poni beamed with happiness to see Lotty walking towards her. Just being away from her for a day was hard for her.

“Poni! Sorry we’re late.”

Poni greeted Lotty with a kiss to the cheek, while Glen greeted Maude. “Not at all. Gave Parker and I a chance for a bit of a chinwag. Shall we, ladies?”

Both Poni and Glen held out their arms and both couples walked off in the direction of the forest.

***

The two couples walked together for a few hundred yards before agreeing to meet back at the bridge in an hour and a half and going their separate ways.

Lotty led Poni down to the beginning of a pleasant a riverside walk. The water was clear and icy, and the trees were white and crisp.

“You’re not too cold are you, Lotty?”

Lotty snuggled closer into Poni’s side. “Not with you here. You always make me warm.”

Poni couldn’t help but smile. She felt like she had a permanent smile on her face since Lotty called her and told her about the plan she had come up with.

“I’m so glad we were able to work out a way to see each other. This is perfect.” Poni lifted Lotty’s gloved hand and gave it a kiss.

“I’ve missed you, Poni. The couple of days we spent together were magical. I was so frightened I wouldn’t see you again.”

Poni stopped and turned Lotty to her. “I would never have let that happen. I promised you I would find a way, and I always will.”

She ran the tips of her fingers down her girl’s face. “You’re too special to me, Piglet.”

Poni leant forward and pressed her lips to her softly. Lotty clung onto her coat, pulling Poni ever closer until they kissed sweetly. She noticed that Lotty was starting to gain some confidence in their intimacy, but she was determined not to push her any further than she was comfortable with.

They broke apart slowly, and Lotty said bashfully, “I like doing that with you.”

Poni laughed. “Oh, you do , do you?”

The young girl blushed and buried her face in Poni’s coat. Poni put her arms around her and squeezed her tight.

Lotty’s innocence drew her in like a moth to a flame. This beautiful, sweet girl is the wife I have been waiting for…

Poni knew she would have to get used to a long courtship full of hand holding and kisses, and not much else, but she couldn’t wait.

“Come on, Poni boy! I want to show you the fairy glade!” As Poni let herself be pulled along with a huge grin on her face, she thought, If the chaps at base could see me now!

 

***

And so, over the next three weeks their days developed into a pattern. They would meet, go for a walk together, talk, tell childhood stories and of course, share progressively more passionate kisses. One thing Poni learned as Lotty lost her shyness, was that she liked to talk, about everything and anything, and Poni just liked to listen to the sound of her voice.

As the weeks went on, spending an hour or so together just wasn’t enough, and so they would each bring a letter for the other to read at night. Poni loved this new tradition, and her love’s sweet words, Lotty would spray the letter in her perfume.

The scent was intoxicating to Poni, and often her thoughts drifted along much further than the kisses they were used to.

Three weeks into their courting period, Poni was reading one such letter, trying to forget that she would have to leave Lotty in a week. Neither had mentioned it yet, but it was praying on Poni’s mind, and the tender words from her sweetheart soothed the anxiety of leaving her. She settled down on her bed to read and dream.

My Dear Poni boy,

 

When I awoke this morning, I thought of you and the dreams I had of you the night before. We were walking by the river as we do every day, and then like magic, we were suddenly in the hotel room in Lymington.

 

You came from the bathroom as you did before, but this time you didn’t take the arm chair. You undressed without taking your eyes off me, and slipped into the bed beside me.

 

I will admit, I was scared but excited at the same time, but the warmth of your kisses dispelled my fear. Your reassuring weight on top of me is something that makes me breathless even now in the light of day. It felt right, as if you were the only one able to make me feel this way.

 

I moaned when your hand grasped my breast, and I felt a need deep inside, an ache that I didn’t know how to assuage. Your hand travelled under my gown…

 

 

***

 

“Poni? Poni? Do you hear me?” Alex had gotten no answer at her friend’s door, and so had let herself in to find Poni engrossed in a letter.

She noticed her friend’s heavy breathing, and her knuckles were white grasping the paper. Getting no reply, Alex reached down and shook her.

Poni leapt to her feet as if she was on fire. “Bloody hell! You’ll give me a heart attack, old boy.”

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t get an answer, and let myself in.” Alex watched Poni grab her cigarettes, quickly light one and take in a deep lungful of smoke. There was a slight shake to her hands that lessened as she inhaled the smoke.

“What’s the matter, Poni? You look a little shaken up.” They both sat on Poni’s bed.

“Frustration my Lord, simple frustration. This courting business is not for the faint hearted!”

Alex laughed. “That’s why I leave the courting to you, you are far braver than I.” She couldn’t imagine taking the time to court someone, and wondered what that would feel like.

“Our letters, or I should say, Lotty’s letters are getting bolder as she grows more confident, but I don’t think she realises what her words do to me. She is so innocent.”

Alex joined Poni in a smoke and said, “Sounds tough, old man.”

“It is, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. She deserves nothing but my full respect, and that’s what she’ll get from me. No matter how steamy her kisses or letters get.”

“My, my. You must be in love,” Alex said.

Poni grinned. “I am head over heels, my Lord.”

“And the u ncle hasn’t cottoned on yet?”

Poni sighed and shook her head. “No, but I have no doubt we’ll have to face that issue before long. I want to ask her to London with me at the weekend, if I can just work out a way to do it. I would like Mama to meet her.”

Alex raised an eyebrow in question. “Well, that is serious.”

“Do you think Mama will like her, Alex?” Poni asked.

Alex patted her on the knee and said, “I think Lady Grace would be overjoyed to see you come home with a fine girl like that on your arm.”

“I just need Lotty to agree to come.”

Alex stood and stubbed out her cigarette. “I don’t think she’ll need much persuading. I’ll leave you to your steamy letter, then, Poni. Enjoy her pretty words.” She winked and left Poni to ponder how she could work the weekend out.

***

When the couple met the next day, Poni asked if they could talk with Maude and Glen before they went their separate ways.

“I would love Lotty to come home with me for the weekend . I don’t know when I will be back, and it’s important to me to have that time together.”

Lotty started to cry. “I’ve been trying not to think about it.”

Poni put her arm around her girl and rubbed her back soothingly. “Maude, do you think you might consider coming with Lotty? To help cover for her? I would pay all your expenses, of course, and take you both out wherever you wanted to go. I realise you won’t want to leave Glen but…”

“It’s alright, Ma’am. It’s only two days, and with the important war work your doing? I think it’s right you should spend time with your girl?” He looked to Maude and said, “Go. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Of course I’ll go.” Lotty threw her arms around her cousin and said, “Oh thank you,Maude! Thank you so much. You don’t know what this means.”

Maude smiled at Lotty. “Yes, I do, and you don’t need me tagging along, I have a school friend who lives in London, and is always asking me to come to stay. Mum and Dad wouldn’t bat an eyelid if we went there, so we’ll do that. I go and stay with her, and you spend the weekend with Poni. No one will ever be the wiser.”

And so the plan was decided. Poni would go ahead the day before, and on Friday, Maude and Lotty would take the train to London where Poni would meet them. Both Poni and Lotty couldn’t wait.

***

Poni looked up at the large four-faced clock that hung high above Waterloo train station. Two minutes.

 

The nine thirty from Upper Hodberry to London couldn’t come quick enough for Poni. To have been apart from her girl for even these two short days was exceptionally hard. She walked further down the train platform and engaged one of the porters to be ready to transport the ladies’ luggage to her waiting car.

S he heard the telltale chug of the train before she saw it and her heart started to beat faster. This visit meant so much to her, not only to spend time with Lotty but to introduce her to her mother. Poni was sure her mother would love her, just as she did, although she knew Lotty was extremely nervous.

The smoke billowed up the track as the train neared its destination. Poni waited by the second class carriages, knowing that was where Lotty and her cousin would have sat. She had tried to leave money for them to travel first class, but Lotty wouldn’t hear of it.

The third carriage down, the train door opened and she got the first glimpse of her beloved. The porter followed her down to meet them.

“Lotty, Maude, did you have a pleasant journey?”

“Quite pleasant, thank you, Miss Woodward , ” Maude answered.

“Please call me Poni, Maude. Oh, I got these for you both.” Ever the Gentleman , Poni handed them each a bouquet of flowers.

Lotty blushed and said, “You are too kind, Poni.”

“That was very kind indeed, Poni.” Maude agreed.

Poni turned to the porter. “Could you get the bags, old chum, and follow us out?”

“Right away, Guv.” The stout little man started piling the bags onto his trolley.

“Shall we?” Poni offered her arm to Lotty and she happily looped her arm through.

When they got outside, Poni pointed towards a Rolls Royce with a chauffeur standing beside it. “Ah, here we are, ladies. This is Robson.”

Robson tipped his hat and said, “Good morning, ladies.” He opened the door and indicated for them to enter.

Maude looked to Poni and said, “I can quite easily get a taxi to my friend’s house, you don’t have to go out of your way.”

“And have a young girl taking a taxi unattended? I think not. We’ll have you there in a jiffy.” She was delighted to see Lotty smile up at her lovingly.

“Thank you for looking after us,” Lotty told her.

I would look after you forever if I could . Poni thought.

***

They dropped Maude off at her school friend’s home and saw her safely in before heading to a much more exclusive part of London.

“Here we are. Good old Grosvenor Square,” Poni said.

Lotty looked out of the window in wonder at the town mansion. Oh my goodness! I knew she was well off, but this…

“Everything all right, my dear?”

“Oh eh, yes of course. It’s beautiful,” Lotty replied.

Poni took her hand and kissed it. “I’m glad you like it. I hope you will approve of it when you get inside. It’s important to me that you like it . ” Poni said seriously.

Lotty had been scared at the thought of meeting Poni’s mother before, and now she was terrified. She’s going to think you’re a country bumpkin!

 

“Let’s get inside, shall we? Mama can’t wait to meet you.” Lotty forced a smile, but inside she felt queasy.

They got out and approached the door which was opened from the inside by an a tall, greying butler. “Thank you. This is Miss Nightingale, Henry.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ma’am ,” he said with a bow of the head.

“Oh, um…pleased to meet you, Henry.” When they stepped into the entrance hallway, Lotty had to stop herself from gasping.

The inside of the mansion was truly magnificent. The huge entrance was decorated in carved alabaster and gold cornice. In front of her, a large winding staircase wound upwards to numerous other floors and rooms.

Poni smiled when she saw Lotty’s reaction, delighted that she liked it. A maid came forward and asked to take her coat, while Henry did the same for Poni.

“This is Martha, Lotty. She’ll look after you while you’re here,” Poni told her.

Lotty was feeling a sense of wide- eyed wonder. Her mother and father employed a housekeeper, but this was completely different. “Em…pleased to meet you, Martha.”

“You too, Ma’am. I’ll take care of all your clothes and anything else you need.”

Henry cleared his throat and said , “Her Ladyship is waiting for you in the drawing room, Master.”

“Thank you. Lotty, if you’ll follow me.” Poni said.

She took Poni’s arm and was led into a beautiful room full of rich furnishings and fine paintings.

In a seat by an imposing fireplace sat an elderly woman who she presumed was Poni’s mother

“Ah! Poni my dear, you’re here at last. I thought you had gotten lost.” Lady Grace stood with the aid of her stick, ready to receive her guests.

She’s going to think I’m frightful. I just know it! Lotty thought pessimistically.

Poni led her over and introduced them. “Mama, may I present Charlotte Nightingale, Lotty this is my Mother, Lady Grace.”

Lotty curtsied and shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Lady Grace.”

“I’m delighted to meet you, young Lady. My Poni talks of nothing else when she telephones home.”

“Mama, Please?” Lotty saw Poni blush, something she hadn’t seen before. A bashful Poni was something very sweet, and it made her smile.

Lotty felt Lady Grace look her up and down as if assessing her. “Well, Charlotte. You certainly are beautiful as my daughter described. I’ll look forward to getting to know you .”

“As do I, Lady Grace.”

” Marvellous!” Lady Grace sat down, and looked to the butler. “We shall have tea now, Henry.”

“Very good, Ma’am.”

As Poni and she took their seats, Lotty thought, Phew! That wasn’t as bad as I thought.

 

“Now Charlotte, tell me all about yourself and your family.”

Uh oh! Maybe I spoke too soon.

 

***

Lady Grace knew her daughter was in love. You didn’t have to be that intuitive to see that Poni put this young woman up on a pedestal and hung on every word she said. What worried Grace was what would happen if Charlotte Nightingale walked away from her.

“Poni, my dear? Is Alex still dining with us this evening?”

“Of course, Mama. You know Alex wouldn’t miss dinner with you for anything.”

Grace nodded. Tonight was to be a final famil y get together before Poni and Alex would set off on their latest mission. Alex had always been a part of the family, but even more so since her friends Alexander and Mary had died. Since then, she and her late husband had tried to be the parents she needed.

“That’s wonderful. We’ll have a jolly time. Now Poni, why don’t you go and talk to Henry about the wine for this evening, and let Charlotte and myself get to know each other properly.”

Poni looked at her mother and Lotty, unsure of what to do. Lotty for her part looked terrified. “But…what…”

“Off you go. Ladies can’t have a decent conversation with the likes of you here.”

Lotty patted Poni’s hand and said, “It’s perfectly alright, I’ll be fine.”

“Of course she will. Off you go, my dear.” Grace pointed to the door with her walking stick, giving Poni no other option.

When Poni was finally through the door, Grace said, “Well, that’s better. We can have a proper chat now. More tea?”

Lotty nodded and shifted uncomfortably in her seat, “I…I’d like that.”

“No need to look so terrified, my dear. I won’t eat you.”

“Well…I…” Lotty took a breath and tried to settle her nerves. “I’m sorry, I suppose I’m just anxious to make a good impression, Lady Grace. Poni means a lot to me, and I know your good opinion is very important to her.”

Grace raised an eyebrow to the young lady, and poured out some more tea from the pot. “Poni has never brought a young lady home before, you know. You must be very special to her.”

“I hope I am, Lady Grace, she certainly makes me feel like I am special.”

Grace sat back with her tea and regarded the girl carefully. She certainly seemed a bright and beautiful young woman. Poni always did have an eye for the pretty girls…

 

“Whether I approve of you or not, Charlotte, it matters not a jot. What matters is whether you love my daughter enough to make a life with her. Do you love her, Charlotte?”

Lotty blushed and looked down into her tea cup. “I…I do love her, Lady Grace. I can’t imagine being without her.”

Graced leaned forward onto her walking stick, looking ever more intimidating. “Can you also imagine loving her enough to ignore the whispering behind your back when you go into a shop, or a tea room? To have people refuse to call you Mrs Woodward? Poni’s money and social position will shield you from a great deal, but there will be times when you will be out on your own and may have to face these attitudes.”

Lotty gulped a few times, not knowing what to say to that.

“I don’t mean to be harsh, dear girl, but you’re eighteen years old, and feeling the first flush of love for this dashing RAF officer who is unlike anyone you have met before. But Poni is not a man, she is a very special kind of individual. You have to be certain you know what you’re getting into. If you have doubts, please say so before you get in any deeper.”

Grace saw a look of anger bubble up in the young woman’s face and a steely determination in her eye s.

“Lady Grace, I know exactly who Poni is. She is the kindest, the most Gentlemanly person I have ever met. I have already gone against my family to continue to see Poni, I don’t take that decision lightly. I did it because I love her. I know I will always love her. If she asks me to make a future with her, I would face the devil himself to be with her.” After her outburst, Lotty thought she may have gone a bit too far. “I beg your pardon, Lady Grace. I…feel strongly about Poni.”

She looked surprised when Lady Grace started to chuckle. “Not at all, my dear, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear from you. I think m y Poni will do very well with you.”

Lotty let out a breath and smiled brightly. “Oh, I’m so glad.”

“Now my dear, let me tell you all about the young Poni Woodward…”

***

Poni marched back towards the drawing room, thinking her mother had had quite enough time to interrogate Lotty.

As she approached the door, she heard the sound of laughter coming from the room. What are they talking about, I wonder?

She looked around to see if there was any staff to see her, then seeing the coast was clear, put her ear against the door.

“My dear girl, wherever Nanny Francis or I put her, she would toddle off and we’d find her up to the knees in straw at the stables. So we gave up with Evangeline and called her Poni. It suits her much better, I think. She’s been riding almost before she could walk!”

 

“That’s so sweet! She must have been a little poppet?”

 

“Indeed, wait until I show you some of her baby photographs…”

 

“Oh no! I’m not having that!” Poni said and walked into the drawing room, determined to get her girl out of there.

“Oh Poni? There you are. Charlotte and I have had a wonderful talk.”

Poni looked at both her m other and Lotty grinning at her, and thought. Oh my! This has gone a little too well.

 

“That’s jolly good. Well, I thought I could show you around before we have to dress for dinner tonight. Perhaps take a turn around the garden?”

“That would be lovely, Poni. Would you excuse us, Lady Grace?” Lotty said.

“Of course, my dear. Go and enjoy yourselves.” Grace smiled at her daughter and nodded. “You’ve found a lovely young lady there.”

Poni held out her arm for Lotty and said, “Oh, I know, Mama.”

***

After retrieving Lotty’s coat and hat, they walked into what Poni called, The garden room, which was a beautiful sitting room with French windows leading outside.

Lotty grew more in love with the house the more she saw of it. “Your home is beautiful, Poni.”

Poni beamed with happiness. “I’m delighted you think so. We have always loved it. There are seven private bedrooms, plus all the staff quarters on the third floor, and the public rooms downstairs. Plenty of room for a family to grow.”

“I’m sure , ” Lotty said with a blush to her cheeks.

Poni opened the doors and they stepped out into the large but narrow garden. “It’s astonishing to have such a green oasis right in the middle of town . ” Lotty said,

“Indeed we are lucky, although we have had to change over a large part of the garden to growing our own vegetables, and there’s an air raid shelter of course. We must help supplement the rations with our home grown food.”

“You have an air raid shelter? Can I see? We don’t have one in my village ,” she said excitedly.

Poni smiled indulgently. She did so love Lotty’s wide-eyed wonder when faced with new experiences.

“Come on, then.” Poni took Lotty’s hand and walked to an area at the back of the house. “This was a cellar for the garden equipment, but we built an entrance way and adapted it. It’s not that exciting really. Mother hates to come down here.”

They walked through an archway of corrugated iron which surrounded the cellar door, sandbags placed to reinforce the entrance.

“I’ll leave the door open, because it’s rather dark, even with the basic lighting.” Poni flicked a switch and some low lighting turned the pitch blackness to gloomy light.

“Oh no! Shut the door and show me what it’s like during a raid,” Lotty asked.

“As you wish.”

The light flicked off and Lotty could just make out her partner, standing smiling at her.

“This realistic enough for you?” Poni asked.

Lotty reached out and pulled Poni tow ards her, taking her uniform lapels in her hands. “You know, I’ve heard my mother say that all sorts of things go on in the darkness of the London air raid shelters.”

Poni rumbled a laugh and put her arms around her girl. “Oh? Is that right?”

“Well, I overheard m y mother’s friends talking when I wasn’t supposed to be listening. She said there were lots of girls getting into trouble as a result of nights holed up together with the young men in shelters.”

Poni walked her back against the shelter wall. “There is certainly a special feeling in the air when you’re in fear for your very life. Makes you want to seize the moment and enjoy it.”

The atmosphere took on an altogether different feeling. The sexual tension that was always between them came bursting forth, and Lotty’s heart and breathing increased. “I think I would like to be alone in the shelter with you all night.”

Poni lowered her lips inches from Lotty’s and whispered, “You think so, young lady?”

Lotty allowed her painted finger nails to trace Poni’s lips, enticing them to come closer. “Yes, I think so, Poni boy. Let’s pretend the bombs are falling.”

Lotty hardly got the chance to finish her sentence before Poni’s lips were u pon her, more passionate than they had ever been before. Her lips, mouth and tongue were being consumed by the older woman.

They had kissed very passionately before, but Poni took it further this time. She opened her girl’s coat and ran a hand over her thigh and up her side, dangerously close to Lotty’s breast.

Lotty moaned into the kiss. “Mmm…Poni…I’ve missed you so much.” She felt her body come alive when Poni touched her, alive with sensations she didn’t understand.

Lotty surprised herself by responding to Poni equally as passionately. All she could think of was that Poni might not come back from her mission, might never come back to her, and the thought terrified her.

She grasped Poni’s hand and placed it onto her breast. Lotty gasped as Poni took the offered breast in her hand and squeezed.

“More, Poni…” She groaned.

Poni pulled Lotty’s silk blouse free from the waistband of her skirt. She let her hand caress the soft skin of Lotty’s stomach, before wandering up to cup a lace covered breast.

Lotty’s need overwhelmed her. The rhythmic pounding below was only made worse by Poni forcing her thigh into her sex as she kissed and nibbled at her neck.

She heard and felt Poni’s want as she panted in her ear. “I want you, Lotty, more than I’ve ever wanted any woman.”

Lotty held Poni’s head lightly, looked into her eyes and said sincerely , “Then take me.

My heart and my body are yours.”

She could see Poni was almost dizzy as she forced herself to take a step back. “No, that’s not what you want. You are a Lady, and I will not take you like this.”

The tears started to to tumble unrestrained from Lotty’s eyes and Poni took her back in her arms. ” Please don’t cry, my darling girl. Do you not want our first time to be special?”

Lotty cupped Poni’s cheek tenderly. “You’re right. I don’t want it to be like this, but what if we never get the chance at a life together? What if you don’t come back? I couldn’t live without you, now I know what it’s like to be loved.”

The obvious distress Lotty was feeling, cooled Poni’s ardour down a great deal. She wiped Lotty’s tears away with her thumb, and kissed her sweetly on the nose. “Listen here, little Piglet. I am going to come home to you. I have everything to live for now, and I may come back slightly bruised or bashed up, but I will come home. Our squad is full of top notch fellows, and we are good at what we do.”

“Do you promise?”

Poni fixed Lotty’s blouse and buttoned up her coat. “If for some reason God wills it that I lose my life, you will always know that you were loved more than you could know, but I’m quite sure everything will go like clockwork. I will come home to you, marry you and bring you to live with me here, it will be perfect.”

Lotty drew Poni in for another kiss. “That dream will keep me going until you return. I love you, Poni boy.”

“As I do you.” Poni took her by the hand and led her love out of the shelter, mentally praying that she would be spared.

***

Poni looked in the large mirror above the fireplace in the music room, and checked her dinner suit. She straightened her white bow tie and smoothed her dark hair back.

Henry knocked on the door and announced, “Lord Dalton, Master.”

“My Lord! Welcome.” Poni shook Alex’s hand and patted her on the back.

Alex smiled brightly. “You’re looking dapper tonight, Poni old chap! Got a young lady to impress?”

“You know I do. Thank you for coming, Mama will be delighted to see you.” A footman offered them both a glass of champagne.

“It’s a pleasure to spend time with Lady Grace, and I want to get to know Lotty much better.” Alex took a sip of champagne.

“About that. I wanted to have a word with you before the ladies join us. Let’s sit.”

They both took an armchair by the fire, and Poni offered her friend a cigarette from the box on the side table.

“Thanks, old man.” The footman was instantly by her side to light it. The smoke billowed up between them for a few seconds before Alex said, “What did you want to discuss, Poni?”

“Lotty is worried about my going away on our operation. She’s terrified that I w on’t come back.”

Alex sighed. “I suppose that’s inevitable when this is a new love and a new experience for her. It’s never easy on those left behind.”

” True , and I have promised I will do everything in my power to come back…but you know there’s a chance I won’t.”

Alex nodded somberly . “Indeed I do.”

Poni leant forward in her chair and looked seriously at her friend. ” Here’s the thing, my Lord. If I come back, I have every intention of making Lotty my wife and bringing her here to Grosvenor Street.”

“I would be exceedingly happy for you, Poni. One of us should settle down at least , ” Alex said with a cheeky smile.

“But if I don’t come back…Lotty is left in the same situation she is now. Don’t get me wrong, she has a comfortable middle class home, but her family…well, let’s just say, they suffocate the wonderful, spirited girl she is. I want her to have the means to be independent, to see and do as she pleases without the ties of her family.”

“Of course, what would you have me do?”

Poni took a last drag on her smoke and stubbed it out in the ashtray. “I don’t have the time to make arrangements with my solicitors to leave provision, but I have already spoken to Mama about this and she agrees, but you know how lawyers can drag things out. Mama will need your help in arranging my affairs. Will you make sure, no matter what, that Lotty is provided with enough income so that she can live independently, and extremely comfortably?”

Alex held out her hand and said, “I give you my word as a Gentleman, and your friend.”

Poni let out a breath and shook her friend’s hand. “You’re a jolly good sort, my Lord. You’ll watch out for her too, won’t you? I wouldn’t want anyone to take advantage of her wealth.”

“Poni, old boy, I will take care of her like she was my own sister. Of that you can be sure, but it won’t come to that. I will get you home alive and well, and able to walk that young lady up the aisle.”

The door opened and Henry announced, “Miss Charlotte Nightingale , Master.”

“Thanks again, my Lord , ” Poni whispered before they both stood and welcomed Lotty.

Alex allowed Poni to greet Lotty first and escort her over. “Lotty, delightful to see you again.” Alex kissed the girl’s hand.

“You too, Lord Dalton.”

Just then, Lady Grace entered and said, “Lord Dalton? Have you a kiss left for an old lady?”

Alex beamed a smile and marched over to take Lady Grace into her arms. “Of course! You know I only have eyes for you.”

“Phfft! Stuff and nonsense, my Lord. Now give me your arm, it’s not often I have such a young, strapping dinner companion.”

Poni and Lotty watched the older Lady light up with happiness to be around what she considered her second daughter.”

“Your family is wonderful, my darling. So different from my own , ” Lotty said to Poni.

Poni kissed her on the cheek and whispered, “You have a new family now.”

***

Dinner was a delightful affair, full of good conversation and laughter. Poni sat at the head of the table, with Alex next to Lotty so they could get to know each other better.

Alex sipped her wine and regarded Lotty carefully. She had reservations at the beginning, but she could clearly see how devoted the beautiful girl was to her friend.

“Ho w are you enjoying Grosvenor street so far, Lotty?”

Lotty dabbed her mouth with her napkin after finishing her dessert . “It’s been wonderful so far, thank you.”

Alex saw Poni look over to them, curious as to what they were talking about. Alex winked at her and turned her attention back to Lotty. “Poni is delighted to have you here. I hope you understand how important this is to her.”

Lotty took a sip of her wine and said with a smile, “Do you wish to give me a grilling like Lady Grace did?”

“I could never compete with her Ladyship, but Poni is the best friend I’ve ever had, and I know all she has ever wanted is someone like you to build a life with. She would be bereft if you changed your mind about her. It’s not an easy path to love someone like us.”

They had to stop their conversation when the footman arrived to clear away the plates. “Are you finished, Ma’am?”

“Yes, thank you,” Lotty said politely to the young man.

“Alex, I know I’m young and inexperienced compared to you and Poni, but I can assure you I know what my life’s task is. To be a loving and caring wife to Poni. I love her, and it is not simply a childhood crush.”

Alex covered Lotty’s hand in a friendly way. “You are a good girl, Lotty. If Poni has your heart, then you both will have a wonderful life together.”

Lotty sighed sadly. “I’m so worried, my Lord, worried she won’t come home to me. We’ve only just found each other…”

Alex fixed her with a determined look. “I give you my word, Lotty, I will get her back to you. One of us deserves to be happy.”

Since Poni had met Lotty, Alex had a small but growing part of her soul that ached for the loving, innocent relationship her friend was enjoying.

Lotty appeared to pick up on Alex’s feelings. “I’m sure there is a young woman out there for you, Lord Dalton.”

“I’m sure Poni has told you, I’m not that sort of chap. I’m more than happy to leave the family life up to my good friend there,” Alex lied.

“Alex, you must come back safe and sound as well. I might not have been around you all for very long, but I know that Poni needs your friendship desperately, and Lady Grace needs her second daughter.”

Lotty’s pure and caring nature made Alex’s i cy heart ache for someone like her to crack through it. She literally had to gulp down the emotion as she said, “Miss Nightingale, you are a dear, dear girl. I couldn’t wish for a better girl for the person I love most.”

As Lotty blushed, Alex looked up and caught Poni looking toward her. She nodded her approval across to her friend. You are one lucky fellow, my friend.

 

Lady Grace stood, and Alex and Poni immediately got up. “Shall we withdraw, Lotty, and leave these two to their cigars and brandy?”

“Of course, Lady Grace.”

Alex watched Poni’s eyes follow Lotty out of the room, with a silly grin on her face. She lifted the brandy that was placed at her side and swallowed it in one gulp. She asked for another before Poni turned back and noticed. She prayed the alcohol would quell the ache of growing loneliness in her soul.

 

***

 

Later that night, after a wonderful and happy evening, Poni escorted Lotty to her room. They stopped outside, and Lotty, who was a little merry with the wine she had consumed, loosened her partner’s bow tie. “One day, you’ll come inside and stay with me, won’t you?”

Poni smiled and gave her a kiss to the nose. “Oh, you can count on that, but not tonight, little piglet.”

Lotty pouted her lips like a schoolgirl. “Well, since you are insisting on being your usual gentlemanly self, I shall see you in the morning.”

Poni looked both ways to make sure they wouldn’t be seen by the staff, and pulled Lotty into a deep kiss . She allowed her hands to cup and squeeze Lotty’s pert behind.

“Is that better?” She asked.

Lotty giggled and laid her head on Poni’s broad chest. “Much better. I love you, Poni boy.”

“I love you, my girl. Goodnight.”

Lotty pulled back just as her maid Martha came walking towards her room. “Are you ready to retire, Ma’am?”

“Yes, thank you. Goodnight, Poni.”

Poni gave her a last kiss to the hand and walked off whistling a happy tune. This is happiness , She thought.

***

The next morning, Poni and a very excited Lotty were being driven into London’s West End shopping district. Lotty looked out of the window and felt her excitement wane. The streets of London were a very different place than the one she and Maude had come to before the war.

Sandbags lined the pavements and doorways of the buildings they passed. A large portion of the pedestrians were in military uniform, and everyone carried their obligatory gas masks. Everything is so bleak , she thought.

When she had come to London before, everything was bright and alive, now it was grey with the realities of war, and it reminded her that Poni would be part of that reality very soon.

“What are you thinking?” Poni asked.

“I was thinking it is sad what war has done to our capital. Everything used to be so very alive, and now the city is a little battered looking.”

Poni pulled Lotty closer to her. “It may be a tad battered, but our spirit and togetherness has never been stronger. Each day we survive in one piece is a day to be celebrated. So banish those melancholy thoughts, little piglet, and let us enjoy what we have.”

Brighten up, Charlotte! You don’t have long together so enjoy it. Lotty kissed her partner on the cheek.

“You’re quite right, my darling. I can’t wait to have fun with you!”

“That’s the ticket! Now, you have your ration book so we can buy some nice lady things?”

Lotty snorted with laughter. “Lady things? What are they?”

Poni thought hard about the things her m other had told her Lotty might like. “Well…You know…um…dresses, perfume, scarves…lady things.”

“You are sweet! Yes, I have my ration book, but you don’t have to buy me anything to make it a happy day, just looking around these wonderful shops will be enough.”

“What piffle! My girl deserves the best, and shall have the best. Besides, it’s been a secret dream of mine to take you shopping since I met you. You don’t want to crush your Poni boy’s dreams, do you?

“Oh, never! If it’s your dream, then I shan’t want to disappoint you. I’ll have fun, then!” Lotty cuddled into her partner’s side. She couldn’t quite believe her luck in meeting Poni. No one had ever made her their centre of attention before. It was a wonderful feeling.

“Wonderful! I have some extra rations for you to use, too.” Poni tapped her breast pocket.

“How did you manage that?”

“Probably best you don’t ask,” Poni said with a wink.

“You are a naughty Poni, aren’t you?”

Poni smiled and then whispered in her ear, “I can be.”

I can’t wait to find out! Lotty shivered with anticipation.

***

 

Poni certainly got her dream fulfilled. She followed Lotty from boutique to boutique and happily watched her girl’s gleeful excitement of shopping for things she had only seen in her fashion magazines before.

Lotty was enjoying her experience so much she didn’t appear to notice the few disgusted looks they got from the shop staff, or at least she never said anything to Poni about it. The staff were soon falling all over themselves to be accommodating when they realised they were dealing with a Woodward. The name carried weight and the expectation of many purchases, due to Lady Grace’s shopping habits.

They had bought a dress and a few other items so far that Robson the chauffeur had taken back to the car. Now Poni was sitting in a small boutique called Mimi Billard, waiting patiently on Lotty emerging from the changing room.

When they had walked by this particular boutique, Lotty had squealed with excitement when she saw the window display, and dragged Poni in, rambling about how she had only seen these items in her fashion magazines.

She looked at her watch and thought, twenty minutes? As much as she enjoyed indulging her girl, the time it took to choose an item of clothing came as a surprise to Poni. When she went to her Gentleman’s outfitters, Poni simply stated what she needed and she would return for fitting when the items were ready.

 

Poni opened up her newspaper and started to read to pass the time, then heard her name called.

“Poni?”

She looked above the newspaper and saw Lotty not in a pretty dress this time, but what looked like a chic version of the parachute jumpsuits they used in the services. It was a beautiful bronze colour, and the trouser legs were wider and shorter than an operational suit would be, allowing the wearer to still show off their ankles and heels. Something that a Poni greatly appreciated.

As the seconds passed, and Poni still said nothing, Lotty’s smile slowly fell. “You don’t like it?”

Poni stood quickly, eager to quell Lotty’s fears. “No, no, not at all! I’ve simply never seen anything like it before, but it looks tip top.” She took h er girl’s hands, and the assistant who was helping Lotty took that as a cue to leave them for a moment.

“You haven’t heard of a siren suit?” Lotty asked somewhat surprised.

“I’m afraid not, but I’m not really up to date with young ladies’ fashions. Tell me about it?”

Lotty’s smiles had returned with abundance. “I’ve only ever seen them in my fashion magazines, so when I saw this in the window I couldn’t believe it. Siren suits are all the rage with the smart London women.”

“But why are they called Siren suits, my dear?”

Lotty giggled and said, “Because, my Poni boy, unlike you in your uniform, if the air raid siren goes off, it takes too long for an elegant lady to make herself presentable, but with this she can just pull it on very quickly. It saves her dresses and skirts getting dirty in the shelter too. That’s how they started, anyway, they are more of a fashion item now.”

“Well, whatever its purpose, it’s very beautiful and elegant on you. Are we taking this, then?”

Lotty looked down bashfully. “Are you sure it’s not too much? I mean, you’ve already bought me some beautiful things.”

Poni laughed to herself . She could see Lotty desperately wanted this, but didn’t want to appear too demanding. She imagined her bank account wouldn’t know what had hit it when they finally did get married.

“It would give me great pleasure to buy you anything you desire. So tell the assistant and we will go on to Harrods. You said you wanted to look there.”

Lotty crossed her arms and gave Poni a serious look. “Oh no, if we get this, then nothing more.”

“Piglet? Shh, a nd humour me. I wanted to get you perfume. I need to pick up some cigars in any case. So be a good girl and go and get yourself dressed while I take care of the bill.”

Poni saw that Lotty was thinking very carefully about it, but her love of pretty things won out. “Alright then, but I won’t let you win an argument this easily all the time, Flight Officer Woodward.”

That made Poni laugh. She could quite imagine that Lotty would be able to twist her around her finger for all of their lives together, and she couldn’t wait.

***

Lotty asked if they could walk to Harrods since it wasn’t too far away, so Poni gave Robson their purchases and asked him to wait with the car there.

As they walked along, Poni kept her hand on the small of Lotty’s back so she never lost contact with her in the crowds.

“London is an exciting place, Poni, not sleepy and boring like my village,” Lotty said.

“I’m glad you like it.”

Lotty remembered where they were going tonight, and her excitement climbed higher. “I do, and I can’t wait to see what the Alley Cat is like. Imagine, Charlotte Nightingale, going to a sophisticated London nightclub!”

She saw a look of tension come across Poni’s face when she said that. “What’s wrong? You’ve looked tense ever since Alex suggested it last night. Do you not want me to see your private world?”

Poni had originally told her she had planned a romantic dinner at a nice restaurant, and then a night at the opera. Then Alex had invited them to dinner and dancing at the Alley cat . Lotty had been so excited , Poni reluctantly agreed.

Poni took her hand and pulled her into a shop doorway out of the crowds. “Don’t you ever think that. I will be the proudest person at the club to have you on my arm. I suppose I’m just a bit frightened that you’ll see the underground world we live in, and the reality will be too much for you. Maybe you’ll not want to be my girl anymore .” she said sadly.

It was a surprise to Lotty to, see this insecure side to Poni’s character. She was always so strong, so single minded, and confident. This side of her was endearing.

“Oh, don’t you ever think that! Poni, I love you, and I’m not going anywhere. It wouldn’t matter if tonight was a disaster and I couldn’t stand the place. I’d still want to be by your side forever. Now don’t be a silly Poni boy.”

This brought a smile from her partner. “I’m sorry, Piglet. I suppose I’m terrified of losing you, now that I’ve found you.”

“I will never leave you , Poni. You need me to look after you.”

Poni gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “I do, always.”

Jus t then, they heard the loud noise of the air raid siren going off. The scene around them turned to chaos. People started running, and the air raid wardens shouted, “Get to the shelters in an orderly fashion!”

“Poni! What will we do?” Lotty had never felt panic like this before, it was certainly nothing like the romantic vision she had with Poni in the Grosvenor Street shelter.

Poni held her by the shoulders and spoke commandingly but calmly. “Don’t panic. Everything will be alright. I love you and I will look after you, understand?”

All Lotty could do was nod as she was shaking with fear.

“Now, I want you to keep a tight hold of my hand, no matter what, stay beside me. We’re going to run down the road to the tube station shelter. Follow me.”

Lotty took off her high heels so she could run and not keep Poni back. Poni pulled her along, holding her tight and trying to buffet the crowds who would bump into her.

They finally got to the station entrance, but the sight of the hundreds of people going downstairs to the shelter terrified Lotty. She hadn’t really felt claustrophobia before, but she did now.

“Poni! I can’t go down there, we’ll be crushed! Please say we don’t have to go down there?” Lotty pleaded.

“We have to, or we’ll be in great danger. Stand in front of me, and I will put my arms around you to protect you from being pushed.”

Poni didn’t give her any choice. She was simply maneuvered in front of Poni, and they followed the crowds into the bowels of the station.

***

On Both sides of the tube platform, the people were packed like sardines. Mothers and fathers holding children and babies. Couples frightened and holding each other tightly, and fine ladies and gentlemen alongside the ordinary working classes. There was no class difference down here as the bombs were no respecter of persons.

Poni had managed to find a small space over in the corner of the platform, and she sat there holding Lotty and trying to calm her. Every time a bomb dropped and the noise reverberated around the station, Lotty gripped her tighter.

“Shh. I know it’s frightening, but we’ll be safe, Piglet. I promise.” Poni kissed her forehead tenderly.

“It’s brought home to me how dangerous this war is. When you’re in the village at home, you only feel the effects of war from rationing, and the dreaded telegrams that are brought to distraught families, or the bombers flying overhead towards London. But this, this is real and it’s horrifying. The dangers, and the things you have to face in your war work, must be simply awful.”

Poni sighed. Lotty would never be able to fully imagine the things she, Alex and her squad were asked to do. “I’m trained for it Lotty. It is an honour to serve my country, but it can be very hard at times. The thought of leaving you, for one.”

Tears started to roll down Lotty’s cheeks at the thought of what was to come. “I have no idea how I’ll say goodbye to you tomorrow. You don’t have to leave until tomorrow afternoon?”

Poni hated to lie to her girl, but the pain of saying goodbye would be too much to bear , so she just nodded. Another bomb hit near the entrance of the tube station and the building shook . Dust and plaster fell down amongst them like a fine mist. Lotty screamed along with the other women and children.

“Oh, dear God! It’s so close. Do you think Lady Grace will be safe?”

Poni held her tighter. “Yes, Henry and the staff are well used to the bombings by now, and always take great care of her.”

I have to distract her, Poni thought.

“Listen, my darling piglet. I’m going to tell you about our future, and while I’m away, I want you to keep that dream close to your heart.”

Lotty nodded, wiping away her tears. “Tell me.”

“When I come home, I am going to marry you, Charlotte Nightingale, and after a pleasant honeymoon, bring you home to Grosvenor Street as its new mistress.”

This brought a small smile to Lotty’s face. “That sounds wonderful, but won’t your m other mind?”

“Not at all. She’ll be delighted to have to stop running after me all the time. Then we will have a quiet, wonderful life. You will single-handedly keep the fashion industry going in London, and I will have the honour of taking you out to show you off.”

Lotty snuggled into Poni’s chest, clearly liking the idea of their future together. “And what about the cosy nights by the fire?” She asked.

“You can count on those nights, Piglet.” Poni then whispered into her ear , “And then I’ll take you upstairs to our bedroom and make love to you until we fall asleep, happy and contented.”

Lotty blushed. “That sounds like a beautiful dream. Promise me we’ll make it come true.”

“I promise.”

They sat in silence for another ten minutes, in which no other bombs were dropped. The people around them began to stand and gather their things. “Poni? Would you think me an awful party pooper if I asked if we could stay in tonight? After today, I would like to spend our evening together quietly.”

Poni stood and helped Lotty up. “Of course not, my dear girl . I don’t want to share you with the Alley Cat, anyway. I’d have to fend off rival suitors all night.”

This made Lotty laugh. “I hardly think so.”

“Do you know how beautiful you are, Piglet? There would be a queue out of the door for a chance to just dance with you.”

Lotty just shook her head. “Do you think Alex will be upset if we cancel our engagement?”

The air raid wardens had opened the doors and everyone started to file out. “Believe me, Piglet, Alex is never short of company if she needs it, but she will understand. Let’s get home, eh?”

***

“I don’t know why you’re so miserable, Lotty , ” Maude said.

Lotty had had a permanent scowl on her face since they met to take the train home this morning.

“You know why, Maude, ” Lotty snapped before returning to absently gazing at the rolling countryside as they steamed their way across the country.

Maude sighed. “With all the exciting things you’ve done this weekend, you should have a big smile upon your face. New clothes, new perfume, and a beautiful bracelet. You should be over the moon.”

The mention of the charm bracelet made Lotty’s stomach twist. She had been happy, despite spending hours in the air raid shelter the night before. Lotty had skipped downstair s after waking to have breakfast with Poni and Lady Grace, and found Poni no where to be seen.

Lady Grace gave her a letter and a jewellery box. She opened, and found a gold charm bracelet with only one charm on it. A heart engraved with her and Poni’s initials.

She had opened the letter with shaking hands, frightened of what she would find. There was a copy of the picture they had taken the night they met in the village hall, and a letter. She unfolded it and started to read with trepidation.

My darling Lotty,

 

By the time you read this, I will have left London. Please forgive me the deception, but I simply wanted to spare us both the pain of goodbyes. I give you this bracelet as a promise that I will come back to you, and buy you the rest of the charms for it. Leaving you is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I must do my duty. If you need anything at all while I’m gone, please contact Mama. She understands that I intend to make you part of our family.

 

You can be sure that wherever I am, or whatever I am doing, the memory of you and the warmth of your kisses will pull me through, whatever I have to do . My heart and my love are yours little piglet Take care of yourself until we meet again.

 

Your Poni boy.

Lotty remembered Lady Grace had been very comforting as she had broken down in tears. She understood why Poni had done it, but it hurt none the less.

Lotty looked at her cousin and said, “All the clothes and fine jewellery in the world can’t make up for the fact that I didn’t get to see her. She could die Maude, I might never see her again!”

Maude looked surprised. “You really do love her don’t you? The way a woman loves a man I mean?”

“Of course I do! She means everything to me.” Lotty closed her eyes and sent up a silent prayer that God would spare Poni and bring her back safely.

***

That evening an American troop carrier made its way across the English Channel, bound for Normandy, France.

Squadron officer Dalton walked to the back of the plane after talking with the pilot. She stopped by Rowe, who was checking Francine’s parachute equipment. “Everything ship shape, Mathews?” Alex shouted above the roar of the engines.

“Yes, Ma’am. I just need to double check my weapons. Francine, don’t be scared. Your parachute is absolutely bang on.”

“Thank you, Section officer Rowe.”

Once Rowe left, Alex said, “Listen, Clark. This is your first mission, the first of many I hope, but no one will think less of you if you’re scared. If at any time you feel confused or unsure, stick close to me, okay?”

Francine gave her smile and said, “Oh, don’t worry, My Lord. I’ll stick close to you.”

There was something about Francine Clark that didn’t sit well with her. She was used to being flirted with, but not on operations, and certainly not when she was supposed to be in the first flush of a love affair with her friend.

Alex bent over so she could talk more privately to her. “Clark, I understand you’re not from a military backgroun d and straight out of university, but we operate a strict chain of command here. I have also made it plain to you that only my closest friends call me my Lord. So I am either Squadron officer Dalton, or Ma’am. Are we clear on this, Clark?”

Francine clearly wasn’t used to being rebuked in such a way. Her smile was now gone and replaced with a serious look. “Abundantly, Ma’am.”

Alex gave a simple nod and walked off. She found Tommy checking weapons with Rowe and told them, “Our ETA is ten minutes. Get ready.”

“Yes, Ma’am, ” They both replied. She looked over to the bench at the other side of the plane, and saw Poni seated, studying a photograph.

She guessed it was the one of her and Lotty from the charity dance. When Alex had seen the pain it had caused Poni to leave Lotty this morning, it had further determined her not to ever fall in love.

How can Poni think this pain is worth it? Thought Alex.

Then she remembered the joy that Poni had shown when in the young lady’s company. With a sigh, she walked over to her second in command and sat down. “Ten minutes till the drop, Woodward.”

Poni quickly put the photograph in the zip pocket of her khaki uniform. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. I’m ready.”

Alex put a hand on Poni’s shoulder to stop her from standing. “Sit with me for two minutes. Listen, old chap, I know it’s hard…”

“Hard?” Poni said sharply, then immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry. It is hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to walk out the front door and leave that girl. Knowing that I might not come back.”

Alex knew she probably shouldn’t, but she couldn’t help but ask. “Is it worth it, Poni?”

Poni looked up at her friend and smiled . “Even if I don’t come back, the month and a bit I’ve had with Lotty are worth anything and everything.”

The airplane crewman tasked with assisting in their d rop, shouted over the roar of the engines. “Three minutes, everyone. Take your places, Ma’am.”

Both Alex and Poni stood and secured their weapons and kit. “You make me envious, old friend,” Alex told her.

Poni smiled . “There is someone just as special out there for you, my Lord. You just have to be willing to open your eyes to her.”

They hooked themselves onto the line leading to the plane door. Tommy took point as always, followed by Rowe, Francine and themselves bringing up the rear.

“The best of British to you all,” Alex shouted. “Tommy? Lead off now!”

As each officer disappeared into the dark night sky, Alex shouted to Poni, “I don’t think there’s a girl that has been created who would ever love my undeserving heart.”

Poni didn’t get a chance to answer as she jumped into the blackness, but as Alex reached the door, she made a vow to Lotty, wherever she was. I will bring her home to you, Lotty. No matter what.

Then all Alex could feel was freezing cold air surround her as she plummeted to the earth.

***

Lotty stared out of her bedroom window watching the snow begin to melt. The past week had been the longest of her life. Poni hadn’t said how long they expected the mission to take, but thought at least a week.

As the week came to an end, Lotty started to worry. She ran to meet the postman everyday in the hope that Lady Grace had written with news. As the week went on, she telephoned Grosvenor Street as often as possible from the village phone box, as often as she could get away with without raising suspicion.

Lotty looked down at the picture of them both, and Poni’s last letter to her and prayed, Please God, please bring her home to me.

 

She decided she had enough of doing nothing, and thought she would take a walk down to the phone box and telephone Lady Grace. Lotty carefully put away Poni’s letter in her bedside cabinet and made her way downstairs.

As she was putting on her coat, her uncle spotted her. “Where are you off to, Charlotte?”

Her heart started to speed up, she was not very good at subterfuge. “Just walking down to the village, u ncle .”

Cyril looked at her with suspicion. “You are taking an awful lot of walks lately. Is there something interesting in the village that I don’t know about?”

Lotty tried to look as innocent as possible. “Of course not uncle Cyril. I just like to take in the fresh air.”

Richard crossed his arms and looked unconvinced. “Off you go then, and if you see Maude on your travels, tell her to get home straight away. Her mother wants a word with her.”

She knew only too well where her cousin was, with her young American at their meeting place in the woods.

“Of course, uncle .”

***

“I’m sorry, my dear, I haven’t heard a thing. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong, sometimes these missions take longer than one thinks.”

 

“I have a bad feeling, Lady Grace, I’m worried day and night. I’m sorry if I am bothering you.”

Lotty stood in the red telephone booth and looked outside at the line of three people patiently waiting their turn.

“Not a bit of it, my dear girl. Feel free to telephone anytime, or come to Grosvenor S treet . You are always welcome.”

 

“Thank you, but I don’t think I could get away with my aunt and uncle finding out about Poni and I.”

” As you wish, but remember, I am here for you, even if Poni cannot be. I have been through the awful waiting many times with Poni and Alex, and they always come back safe and sound. Chin up, my dear.”

 

“Thank you, Lady Grace, you’re most kind. I better go, there’s a bit of a queue. Please let me know if you hear anything.”

“I will, Charlotte. Good bye.”

 

After she hung up, Lotty looked at her watch. I better get a move on before they notice how long I’ve been away.

 

She half walked, half ran all the way back to her uncle’s house. When she walked through the door, she heard raised voices upstairs, and then silence when she slammed the door shut.

Lotty looked up and saw her bedroom door wide open, fearing the worst. She crept up the stairs and took a breath before entering her bedroom.

What she found made her stomach sink. Her aunt sitting on the bed crying while looking at Poni’s letter, and her u ncle with a face like thunder. He pulled her towards him and spat, “You lying, disgusting girl!”

Lotty couldn’t stop her tears. All the emotions of fear, worry and longing came bursting forth. “How could you snoop in my things?”

“I knew there was something fishy about that trip to London. You were with that disgusting, ungodly, deviant weren’t you?”

Lotty pulled herself free and shouted, “Don’t you call Poni that, I love her!”

The slap she received from her uncle Cyril knocked her clean to the floor. “You are just as disgusting as she. You will shame this family! I’m going to call your father and have him come and take you away. If I was him, I’d have you committed to an asylum!”

Lotty lay on the floor in stunned horror, holding her throbbing face. Cyril left the room, followed by her aunt who threw the letter and the picture at her. “You have shamed us, Lotty.”

When the door slammed shut, she heard the key being turned and locking her in. I’m trapped!

 

***

“Just a little further Poni, old boy.” Alex rested her injured friend against a tree, and checked the bloody dressing on Poni’s upper arm.

“This dressing w ill need to be changed soon,” Alex said as Rowe, Tommy and Francine looked on.

“I’ll be fi ne, Ma’am. Just let me catch my breath.” Poni said.

Alex looked up to Rowe and said, “We’re about half a mile away from the safe house. Lead the squad ahead and bring back help for Poni.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Rowe saluted and led Tommy and Francine off out of the undergrowth.

Alex got fresh bandages from her pack and started to untie Poni’s bloody dressing. “I could have made it, you know.”

“I know, but best not to move when you don’t have to, besides, I wanted to talk to you alone.”

Poni flinched as the sticky dressing was pulled off.

“Here, take some of this.” Alex handed her a hip flask of whiskey. “It’ll take the edge off.”

Poni took a big gulp of the warming liquid. “Thank you, old friend. This mission couldn’t have gone worse, could it?”

“Not much worse.” Alex laughed softly. “I suppose we could be dead. We very nearly were a few times.”

After being dropped over Normandy, Squadron officer Dalton had led her team for two days through the dense forest to the Château de Champs, where the French Physicist was being held captive.

They knew something was wrong as soon as they got within a few miles of the Château. Reconnaissance had shown that only a small number of men guarded the prisoner, but as they approached, they saw that there were hundreds of German soldiers guarding the Château and spread through the surrounding area.

It wasn’t long till they were spotted and engaged in their first firefight. They managed to hold their own and capture one of the enemy. Under duress, he told them the scientist had been taken from the Château and moved elsewhere.

Alex was forced to abandon the mission and make for the pick up point, where Poni had gotten injured.

“You think we have a leak, don’t you?”

Alex tied up the dressing and let Poni fix up her shirt. “I do. It’s as if they knew we were coming. They moved Doctor Durand, beefed up the men guarding the Château, and had a patrol waiting at our pick up point. Yes, I think we have a traitor, either back home or…”

“Here?” Poni finished for her.

Alex nodded somberly . “I know for certain that I would trust you, Rowe and Tommy with my life.”

Poni handed her friend the hip flask, and she took a drink. “So we’re left with Clark? New to the squad, and no military background.”

“There’s a few problems with that, though. When we were set upon by the soldiers at the pick up point, the bullet you took in your arm was meant for Clark. If you hadn’t been so damned heroic, then she would have caught that bullet. It had her name on it.”

“You would have done the same for any member of the squad, new or not.”

Alex put away the hip flask and lit two cigarettes in her mouth, before handing one to Poni.

“Thank you.” Poni said.

“For all we know it was part of the ruse, or that soldier wasn’t aware of who she was, or…she’s innocent. I don’t think we can do anything till we get home and Colonel Hollingberry arranges an inquiry.” Alex said.

After a few seconds of silence, Poni said, “Since we weren’t picked up yesterday, you know they’ll post us as missing in action.”

“I know, but we’ll get a message back to old Blighty when we get to the safe house. The French Resistance will help us.”

Poni took out her picture of Lotty. “She’ll think I’m dead.”

Alex slapped her friend on the shoulder. “Listen here, I may not be an expert in love, but I think if you love someone the way that young lady loves you, she won’t give up hope.”

They heard voices getting closer, and Alex snatched up her weapon ready to defend them both. “It’s only us, Guv!” Tommy said hoarsely.

“Help has arrived. We’ll get back, Poni, I know we will.”

***

Lotty lay on her bed, all cried out and clutching her letter and gold bracelet. Her mind raced at a million miles an hour with confusion and panic. What can I do, I’m trapped! She knew that when her father got here, she would probably never see Poni again.

She leaped up from the bed and began to pace incessantly . I need to get away, I need to run away, but how?

 

She ran to the window and looked for a way to get down. There was an ivy that ran from the ground, right by her window and up to the roof. Mother’s always said that ivy clings like cement.

 

“I could break my neck. I must be mad to even consider this .” She said to herself, but then thought about Poni, and knew she had no choice.

At least she could travel in comfort, if she managed to get away. As well as the gift and the photograph, Poni had included twenty pounds in the envelope in case she needed anything while Poni was anyway. Now she was so grateful Poni had thought of it.

“Psst! Lotty!” A voice came from behind her bedroom door.

Lotty walked over and put her ear to the door. “Maude? Is that you?”

” Yes, what’s happening, Lotty? mother and father won’t tell me anything, and they say your father is coming to get you. What happened?”

Lotty turned against the door and slid down to the ground as her tears returned. “Uncle Cyril found my letter from Poni. They know all about us and our weekend away.”

“Good God! What are you going to do?” Maude asked.

She decided to keep her plan to herself, not that she thought Maude would tell uncle Cyril, but he may get it out of her.

“I don’t know, Maude. I really don’t know what I can do.”

“I’m so so rry about this, Lotty. I know I wasn’t best pleased at the beginning, but Poni is a jolly good sort, and you don’t deserve this. I’ll try and think of a way out of this. Let me talk to mother.”

“Thank you, Maude.”

Lotty looked over at the window and realised that was her only way out. A firm determination came over Lotty, and she vowed that she would run to London and be waiting for her beloved when she returned home.

***

When they reached the farmhouse, they were directed to a secret hatch under the kitchen floor that lead down to a basement. The basement was as big as the area of the house, and housed the Maquis cell’s weapons and equipment.

The medic, who they only knew as Doctor Hugo, was attending to Poni’s injuries. Tommy, Rowe, Francine and Alex stood beside the pallet waiting for the medic’s diagnosis.

“How is she, Doctor? Will she be okay?” Alex asked.

Hugo looked at them and said in a strong French accent, “She is as strong as an ox, as you say. The wound is clean, and the bullet hasn’t caused too much damage. After a few stitches, your Poni will be good.”

“Oh, thank goodness!” Francine said dramatically. “I can’t thank you enough for saving me, Poni.”

“Not at all.” Poni said and gave a small smile.

Francine threw herself into Rowe’s arms and began to cry. Rowe held her tight and said to Alex, “I’ll try and calm her down, Ma’am.”

Alex nodded, but was somewhat unconvinced by Francine’s emotions. “Tommy? Can you go and ask if I can speak to the Maquis commander?”

“Right away, Guv.”

Five minutes later, a woman not dissimilar to herself came down through the hatch with Tommy and walked towards her. She kept her dark blonde hair short and had a similarly tough, masculine build.

“Leon Fitzroy.” The Maquis leader shook hands with Alex.

“Alex Dalton.”

“I’m delighted to meet you, Alex, I’ve heard all about you of course.”

Alex was struck by Leon’s very British sounding surname and the fact she had only the slightest French accent.

Leon read Alex’s surprise and explained, “My Father is English. Lord Fitzroy, 1st Baron of Bluefield, although I try to keep that quiet around here.”

It all came rushing back to Alex. “The Honourable Leona Fitzroy?”

Leon smiled bashfully. “To give me my full title, yes. My Mother is French, and when the war came, I wanted to do all I could to protect her homeland. Secret service recruited me and here I am.”

“Thank you for giving us sanctuary, old boy. My commander told me to seek out your marquis cell, if anything went wrong with our mission.” Alex was delighted to have such a good ally on their side.

“That’s what we’re here for.” Leon indicated for her to sit on one of the supply crates that were strewn across the basement floor.

“What can we do for you?”

“I need to get my men back to Britain. Can you get a radio message to command?”

“Yes we can, but it may take a couple of days. The Germans normally just patrol the area, but since they’ve beefed up their numbers, we want to be sure they are not monitoring radio signals.”

Alex nodded and accepted a cigarette that Leon offered her. “Thank you. Our mission was to rescue a French scientist who was being held at the Chateau.”

“Doctor Durand? Yes, we passed that intelligence back to Britain. The Germans brought in a whole garrison of soldiers and moved the Doctor just a few hours before you were flown in. There was no time to warn you.”

Alex nodded. “There is a leak somewhere and I will get to the bottom of it, if and when we get back.”

“We will get you back. Once we find out when and where your squad can be picked up, my men and women will escort you there.”

Alex looked around the large basement area and blew out a cloud of smoke. “You have a fine set-up here Leon.”

Leon smiled, clearly proud of what they had accomplished. “We are lucky to have this farmhouse. The farm is far enough away fro m the German base to not come under daily scrutiny, they generally patrol the farm weekly. The family has been here for generations and supply the soldiers, so they don’t raise much suspicion.”

The hatch to the basement opened again, and down the staircase came a stunningly beautiful, dark haired girl in a floral dress.

Alex felt Leon react immediately to her. The besotted smile she had on her face showed clearly that she felt a lot for this young girl.

The girl approached them carrying a tray, and they both stood. “Leon, I have food for your friends.”

Leon leant over and kissed her softly. “Thank you, mon ange . Let me introduce you to Alex Dalton, Countess of Sheffield. Alex, this is my girl Juliet.”

The girl smiled brightly and said, “Another aristo like you, mon couer ? Pleased to meet you, my lady,” Juliet said in a strong French accent.

“Alex, please. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Juliet. Thank you for helping us.” Alex kissed her hand.

“You are a Gentleman like my Leon, I see. Here, take this stew while it is hot.”

“Thank you.” When Juliet walked off to give Poni and the rest of her squad the food, Alex said, “You have a beautiful girl there, Leon.”

“Juliet is my angel. I never met anyone with such a pure and loving heart.”

Alex again faced with the reality of true love, and it unsettled her as it always did, now. “You’re very lucky.”

“She is the farmer’s daughter.” When Alex smirked, Leon said, “Cliche, I know.”

Alex raised an eyebrow. “And her father didn’t come after you with his pitchfork?”

Leon laughed out loud. “Fortunately not. Juliet’s parents do seem to like me, for some reason. After this war is finally over, we plan to make a home together in England. The day can’t come soon enough for me.”

Alex gave Leon a friendly pat on the knee. “When you do, look me up old chap.”

“Will do. I’ll go and make arrangements for your message, and leave you to your stew.”

***

Lotty waited till all went quiet in the house. Her aunt and uncle generally went to bed by ten o’clock, and her only chance to get away was to catch the 10:45 to London.

It was twenty past ten now, and she would need to run as fast as her legs could carry her to get there on time.

She would have to leave most of her belongings and take only a small bag, but getting away to Grosvenor Street was more important. She just hoped Lady Grace would be kind enough to take her in.

Lotty crept across the floor gingerly, anxious not to step on any of the squeaky floor boards. She opened the window and looked out into the dark night. I never would have dreamed I would be doing something like this!

 

She threw her bag and heels onto the garden hedge so it wouldn’t make a lot of noise, and clambered out of the window.

Oh God! Lotty thought as she was hit by a wave of vertigo. Pull yourself together, Charlotte! Poni has to go through a lot worse.

 

As she climbed down, she thought this probably wasn’t the best idea, but she’d come this far and there was no turning back.

Lotty winced when she touched the ground with a clatter. She stayed still for a few minutes, frightened she had alerted her aunt and uncle . When all stayed quiet, she carefully picked up her bag and heels from the hedge, and walked in her stocking feet until she was far enough away to run without having to worry about the noise.

She ran onto the station platform just as the train was starting to depart, but she still had time to open the door and jump in.

When Lotty found her seat and watched the train pull out of the station, the enormity of what she had done, began to hit her. Tears started to stream down her face, and she thought, have I made a bad situation worse? mother and father will never forgive me now.

 

***

Henry the butler knocked at Lady Grace’s bedroom door. When he didn’t receive a response, he sent in her Lady’s maid, Sarah.

After a few minutes, the elderly woman came to the door in her dressing gown and night cap. “What on earth’s the matter Henry? Do you know what time it is?”

“Yes, m’lady. I’m terribly sorry for disturbing you, but…”

Suddenly it hit Grace what could be wrong, and she clasped her heart. “It’s not Poni is it? Please God, tell me it isn’t a telegram about Poni?”

“Oh no ma’am, not at all. We have a visitor in the drawing room. It’s Miss Lotty, m’lady. She is requesting sanctuary.”

What on earth could have happened to the girl? Grace thought.

“You better take me to her, Henry. Oh, and have a room prepared for her.”

“Very good, m’lady.”

***

When Lady Grace entered the drawing room, Lotty was facing the fireplace, trying to get some heat from the dying embers in the grate.

“Lotty?”

When Lotty turned around, Grace gasped. Her eye and cheek bone area were badly swollen and starting to turn a shade of dark black and blue.

Grace opened up her arms and said, “My dear girl! What on earth has happened to you?”

Lotty rushed over to her and fell into her arms, crying. Grace rubbed her back, trying to soothe her. “Shh…Shh…You are safe now, my dear. Calm yourself.”

Grace met Henry’s concerned eyes and said, “Some brandy please, Henry, and then some hot sugary tea.”

“Of course, M’lady.”

Lady Grace led Lotty over to the fire. “Sit here, and take some deep breaths.”

Henry came to Lady Grace’s side with a glass of brandy on a silver tray. She took it and handed it to Lotty. “Sip this slowly my dear.”

She noticed that the young woman’s hands shook with cold and probably shock. “Henry? Would you be a dear and have this fire relit, and you better do the same with the one in Miss Lotty’s room.”

“At once, ma’am.”

Lotty screwed up her face at the taste of the brandy.

“I know it can taste foul when you’re not used to it, but keep sipping and it will calm you.”

After a few minutes, Lotty’s breathing did start to calm. “I’m…so…sorry to cause such a fuss , Lady Grace.”

“Not a bit of it! My Poni would expect nothing less. Now, tell me what happened.”

Lotty manag ed to finish the brandy and placed the glass on the side table. “After I telephoned you earlier, I got home to find my aunt and uncle had discovered my letter from Poni. They were furious when they found out I was here for the weekend, and not with my cousin’s school friend.”

“And what happened next?” Lady Grace asked with furrowed brows.

“Uncle Cyril said some awful things about me, and…” She hesitated.

Lady Grace leaned over and covered Lotty’s hand with her own. “Go on.”

“He struck me to the ground.”

Grace jumped to her feet with a gasp. “Your uncle caused that injury? I will call a policeman.”

She made a move to ring the bell for Henry, but Lotty stood in front of her. “No! Please, Lady Grace! He telephoned my father to come and collect me. That’s why I ran away. If they find me, I’ll never see Poni again, and uncle Cyril threatened to have me committed to an asylum.”

“Alright, alright, but they may find you sooner or later.”

Lotty nodded. “Thank you, it will buy me some time at least.”

Grace cradled the younger woman’s uninjured cheek and said softly, ” If that is your wish, then I will do as you ask, but I think I can tell you one thing with certainty. When Poni returns, she will not take this lying down. You can be sure she will take care of this for you.”

If Grace knew her daughter, and she did, there would be hell to pay for the man who purported to be Charlotte’s family.

***

The next morning, Poni sat up on the pallet slowly, hoping the pain in her shoulder would be less. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad. The pain relief and medication Doctor Hugo had given her did appear to be making a difference.

“How are you doing, Poni?” Rowe asked.

Poni held her shoulder protectively. “Oh, you know, not bad. I’ve had worse hangovers.”

Rowe laughed and sat down beside her, handing her a mug of tea. “Here, get this down you. It’s not good old English breakfast, but it’s hot.”

“Thanks you.” Poni took a warming sip and felt better already. “That’s better. Where’s the commander?

“Upstairs, talking to Leon. Listen, I wanted to talk to you on your own, Ma’am. I want to thank you for saving Francine. I am in your debt.”

Poni looked at over at Francine who was on the other side of the basement, talking to one of the Resistance fighters. She thought about the concerns Alex had voiced, and wondered if she was on to something.

“Don’t mention it. You, Alex or Tommy would have done the same thing,” Poni told her.

She watched Rowe’s adoring gaze travel over to Francine. “Still, I’m jolly grateful. I love that woman, Poni. I know it’s all happened so fast, but…I’ve never met anyone like her. Francine is the one I want to marry.”

“Listen, Rowe. I know…”

Rowe put her hand up to stop her. “I know what you’re going to say, but honestly, how long did it take you to know young Lotty was the girl for you?”

Poni let out a sigh. She couldn’t lie, love at first sight was something real and something Poni couldn’t deny. The only worry she had was to whether this woman felt the same as her good friend Rowe.

“I understand what you’re saying. Just tread carefully, that’s exactly the advice Alex gave me.”

At the mention of her name, Alex came running down the stairs. “The Germans are patrolling the area. They’re on our tails, and we have to go into lockdown. If we can get through this, Leon thinks we can radio Blighty tonight.”

“Yes, Ma’am, ” they both said.

Leon came into the basement and started organising their well- oiled patrol routine. Boxes were covered, moved, and then everyone hid in the dark corners of the basement.

Alex for her part made sure she was right next to Francine, to keep an eye on her.

“Everyone ready?” Leon asked, her hand on the light switch.

After a chorus of “Yes, ma’am,” The basement plunged into blackness.

***

As soon as Lotty came into consciousness, she felt the painful throb of her eye and cheek. “Oh my!”

There was a knock at the door and in came the maid she had assigned to her the last time. “Ma’am? Are you alright?”

She sat up in bed and swung her, over the side. “Sore, but I’ll live. Thank you, Martha.”

“Lady Grace asks if you’ll join her in the breakfast room?”

“Of course. Em…I was only able to bring one change of outfit with me.”

Martha smiled, and then placed a cup of tea by Lotty’s bedside. “Don’t you worry, Ma’am. I sent the clothes you had on last night down to be washed straight away.”

“Oh, thank you, Martha! You are too kind.”

Martha and the other Grosvenor Street servants knew only too well that this woman was in all likelihood their future mistress. So it never did any harm to make yourself indispensable.

“It’s my pleasure, ma’am. I’ll just go and run your bath.”

Lotty nodded and let out a sigh. She had a lot of obstacles ahead of her, not to mention worries that Poni would come home safely, but at least here she was amongst friends.

I am home…

 

***

“Ah! There you are, my dear.”

Lott y walked into the breakfast room, to find Lady Grace sat at the large table all by herself. Henry the Butler pulled out a seat across from Lady Grace, and she sat down.

“Oh my! Your face looks terribly sore, my dear. How does it feel?”

Lotty looked down with embarrassment and said, “It is tender, but I feel happy and safe here.”

“May you always feel so,” Grace said with great warmth.

One of the young footmen approached Lotty with the silver coffee pot. “Coffee, Ma’am?”

“Oh yes, thank you.”

This was such a different lifestyle to what Lottty was used to at home. She found it remarkable that although the formality was so much greater than at her own home, the feeling of warmth and family was something her own home lacked.

“My dear, I called for my Doctor to tend to your injury. He’s coming mid morning. Monkford is his name. He’s a good chap.”

“Thank you, Lady Grace. That’s very kind,” Lotty said.

Grace shrugged off her thanks with a, “Not at all. Now go and get some food on your plate. You have to keep up your strength, my dear.”

Lotty acquiesced and made her way to the breakfast sideboard. As she spooned some scrambled eggs onto her plate, she looked over to Poni’s empty space at the table, and with a smile, imagined doing this for her one day soon. I love you, my darling Poni boy, so very much.

 

Henry came into the breakfast room looking ashen faced. He cleared his throat to catch Lady Grace’s attention.

She looked around and saw the normally unflappable butler’s countenance, and immediately knew it was serious. “What is it, Henry?”

“My Lady, a Major Archie Drummond has called to see you.” Henry hesitated before saying. “He’s from the War Office, M’lady.”

Lotty’s plate smashed to the floor, and she clasped her hand to her mouth in shock. Both she and Lady Grace knew what messages an officer would bring from the War Office.

All at once, Lotty remembered the day her family had been informed of her brother’s death. It had torn her family apart at the seams.

A look of calm dignity came upon Lady Grace. “Where is he?”

“In the drawing room, M’lady.”

Grace stood and turned to her. “Come, Lotty. We must face whatever news Major Drummond brings.”

She reached out her free hand for Lotty to take. “We must. For Poni’s sake.”

Lotty took Lady Grace’s hand and allowed herself to be guided to a scene that had only existed in her worst nightmares.

***

After what felt like hours, the hatch to the basement opened and Leon walked down the steps, turning on the light as she did. “That’s was a bloody close thing, chaps! The Germans are convinced you’re out there, and they’re determined to get you.”

Alex and Poni walked over to meet her. “How did it go?” Asked Alex.

“They checked every last room and outdoor space. Normally they’re not as thorough as that, if they even bother at all. Juliet’s father has their trust.”

Poni smacked Leon on the shoulder. “Bloody good thing your setup here is so good. Well done, Leon.”

“Well said, Poni, now what’s our next move?” Alex said.

“If there is a bombing raid by the Allies tonight to keep the Germans busy, we should be able to radio back to Blighty for you. Let’s just hope our run of good luck continues.”

“Well said. If I don’t get this chap back home in one piece, there’s two ladies who will have my guts for garters!”

***

Lady Grace and Lotty sat on the couch, holding each other’s hand tightly. Major Drummond, a very soldierly looking man with a thick moustache stood before them.

“Lady Grace. I have been sent by the War Office to give you this telegram, and relay the news within it.” He handed the envelope over to Lady Grace who dared not open it.

“Please, Major, just tell me what this message contains.”

The Major smoothed down his moustache in a nervous gesture. “My Lady, your daughter Evangeline Woodward and her squad are missing in action.”

Lotty took this as a good sign, that at least they weren’t dead. “So there’s hope? Poni and Alex aren’t dead?”

Major Drummond tried to offer caution. “They have not reported in by radio, and didn’t turn up to the designated pick up point. If their mission has gone wrong…well…the odds are that they were discovered and…”

Lady Grace had a single tear run down her face as she said, “Killed or taken prisoner?”

“We simply don’t know, Lady Grace. Only time will tell. If they make it to the local R esistance cell, they have hope, but…”

“And if they are captured?” Lotty asked through her tears.

Major Drummond looked from one lady to the other, unsure of what to reply. Lady Grace made his decision for him.

“Be frank with us, Major.”

“If they are captured, Lady Grace, it is just as unpalatable an option. They are intelligence officers, and will be seen as a prize capture…”

Lotty collapsed into Grace’s arms, knowing exactly what he meant.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, my Lady.”

The Major bowed his head and was shown to the door by Henry. “She promised Lady Grace, she promised she’d come home to us.”

Grace held Lotty tightly in her arms and rocked the crying girl gently. “She may still keep her word, my dear girl. Have faith in her and keep hope in your heart. We must keep hope.”

Dear God. Please deliver her safely home to us. She has so much to live for. Lady Grace prayed.

***

The Maquis had managed to contact British High Command for Squadron Officer Dalton’s team. They gave them one chance for rescue. They were to rendezvous with a British destroyer which would be just off the Normandy Coast for a very short window of time.

Leon organised passage on a fishing vessel, and the rest would be up to them. The squad moved under the cover of darkness down to the harbour, as the German presence would have been too much during the day.

Alex’s squad followed Leon and her men to a rocky outcropping next to the harbour. “Alex? That’s your boat down there, to the right. The Mistral . Get on board and lock yourselves in the hold. The skipper will sail out at six am, and God willing, you will get back to Blighty.”

“What is the surveillance like at this time?” Alex asked her.

There is a tower with some guards over by the harbour master’s office, but if you stick to the shadows, close into the rocks, you should make it unnoticed.”

Alex held out her hand for Leon to shake. “I am forever in your debt, Leon. If there’s anything I can ever do for you, you just have to ask.”

Poni did the same, and said, “Thank you. Leon You are a Gentleman.”

“No need for thanks, chaps, getting you all home safely is reward enough , ” Leon told them.

“We will give it our best shot , ” Alex said. “Remember, after the war, bring Juliet to Dencotte and we’ll catch up on old times.”

“We’d love to. Good luck.” Leon and her team moved off, leaving Alex’s team alone.

“We all set to go? Mathews? Martin? Clark?” Alex asked her squad.

“Yes Ma’am!” They replied.

“Jolly good. Now, you know the plan, we’re going to get back home or die trying. I don’t know about you lot, but I have too many pretty girls to chase to die just yet, and Poni here has an appointment to have ball and chain fitted. So let’s get home!”

Poni laughed quietly. “I can’t wait, my Lord.”

“Okay, you lead off, Woodward.”

I’m bringing her home Lotty. I always keep my promises. Alex thought.

***

Lotty came downstairs to hear Lady Grace sounding very angry in the drawing room. Henry the butler stood outside looking rather concerned.

“What on earth’s going on, Henry?”

“A policeman has called to see her Ladyship. She is most angry about it, ma’am.”

“Why would a policeman call for Lady Grace?” Lotty asked.

Henry looked reluctant to answer. “It seems that he was instructed to call and inquire after you, Miss Nightingale.”

They’ve found me! Lotty panicked and immediately walked into th e room.

“Ah! Lotty my dear. This Policeman has suggested we are keeping you prisoner here.”

The p oliceman held up his hands in surrender and began grovelling. “Oh no, ma’am. I don’t think I suggested that, your Ladyship. I’m sorry if I’ve given you that impression, Ma’am. You understand if we have a complaint, we have to investigate it.”

Lady Grace may have been old and small in stature, but she looked terrifying when angry, Lotty observed.

“Did my u ncle or my father send you, Constable?” Lotty asked.

“I believe the man was your father. He said he had business in Newcastle and couldn’t come to retrieve you. He asked if we would send you back to your uncle’s. A…” The constable looked at his notebook.

“A Mr Cyril Nightingale.”

Lotty felt like she had lost all power from her legs. She sat on the couch behind her, before she fell. He couldn’t even be bothered to come and collect me himself…

 

“As you can see, Constable. Miss Nightingale is not under lock and key, she is staying here of her own volition, and she is not a child. If Mr Nightingale feels so strongly about it, then have him come and speak to me myself. In the meantime, Miss Lotty will stay here.”

“Of course, your Ladyship. I will convey that message to him. Sorry to have disturbed you.”

After Henry had shown the constable out, Grace came to sit by Lotty and comforted her.

“As bad as my uncle and my father think my relationship with Poni is, father couldn’t even be bothered to come and get me himself. He’s too concerned with buttering up my aunt and getting his blessed inheritance. I don’t think they love me at all!”

Grace put her arms around the young woman. “Oh my dear, I’m sure they do, but no matter what, you have Poni and we love you. You have family with us.”

“Thank you. If Poni comes back, that’s all I will ever need.”

***

A couple of days later, Lotty and Lady Grace sat in the garden room knitting, trying to pass the time.” sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty .” Lady Grace counted out the stitches on her knitting needle.

Grace had thought it a good idea to keep Lotty busy, and get her involved with knitting jumpers and, scarves and hats. The donations were collected by the Dalton Foundation for those families bombed out of their homes all over the country. Since lunch, only the occasional conversation and the click clack of the needles had been heard .

Grace looked over to Lotty as she hadn’t heard the noise of her needles in some time. She saw the young woman with her knitting lying discarded in her lap, simply staring into space.

“Lotty, my dear. If you wish to take a rest and have a lie down for a while…”

Lotty shook herself from her morbid thoughts and said, “I’m sorry, Lady Grace, I…I sometimes can’t help thinking of her, but I’d rather have your company.”

“I too think of her often, especially at night,” Grace said with a tremble in her voice. “We’ve seen so much loss. First my dearest friends Lord Alexander and Lady Mary taken before their time, and then my very own sweet husband, Anthony. I only pray that God will spare my only child.”

“Then we must have faith as you say, Lady Grace. I know that Poni would move heaven and earth to come back to us.”

Grace dabbed her wet eyes with her handkerchief. “Indeed.”

Henry knocked the door and entered. “My lady?”

“Yes, Henry?” Grace was surprised to see Henry try to contain a smil e which was out of character for him. Especially now that his master was missing.

“I have visitors who wish to see you, ma’am.”

Grace and Lotty looked at each other questioningly. “Well, who is it, Henry? You are behaving very strangely.”

“I think I better let them introduce themselves.” He stood to the side and a dishevelled looking Poni and Alex stepped through the door. Both women gasped audibly.

“Do excuse our appearance, Mama, Lotty,” Poni said with a smile.

***

Lotty ran to Poni and threw her arms around her. “Poni! You’re alive!” Thank you, God! Thank you, God! She repeated in her head.

Poni flinched. “Ouch! Just about, my dear girl.”

Lotty pulled back quickly, realising she had hurt her love. ” Are you injured?”

“Just a little shoulder injury. Could have been much worse, but Lord Dalton here pulled me through,” Poni told her.

Lotty looked at Alex, and without caution hugged her tightly. “Thank you so much, Alex.”

She felt Alex stiffen at first, obviously unused to this type of closeness, but she soon relaxed and said, “I promised you I’d bring her back. I always keep my promises.”

When Lotty pulled back, she kissed her on the cheek, and the unflappable Alex Dalton blushed.

“I will always be in your debt.” Lotty said sincerely.

“Not at all .”

She felt Alex’s eyes assessing the black and yellowing bruise on her face. Lotty shook her head and gave Alex a pleading look not to say anything yet.

Poni and her mother embraced beside them, and Lady Grace said, “We thought we’d lost you, Poni! Thank God you have returned in one piece. What happened?”

She kissed her mother’s head. “Can we tell you about it over dinner? It’s a long story, and we are quite exhausted.”

“Wait?” Poni turned and looked directly at Lotty’s injury. “What happened to your face?”

Lotty started to cry and Poni took her into her arms. Grace looked to Alex and motioned for the door. “Let’s get you a hot bath organised, my Lord.”

Once they were alone, Poni said, “Shh…Shh. I’m here now, little piglet. Tell me what happened.”

As Lotty recounted the circumstances that led her to having to run away, Poni’s face became like stone, but she tried to keep the growing fury inside of her under control so as not to upset her girl further.

“I didn’t know what to do, Poni. All I could think of was getting here, where I knew I would be safe, but my father sent a policeman…he insists I go back. He says I’ve shamed them. My own parents think I’m disgusting!”

Poni escorted her over to the couch and took her in her arms, stroking her face and giving kisses to her head. When Lotty finally calmed down a bit, she told her, “I want to you to be sure, my darling girl, that no man, or woman for that matter, will ever keep us apart.”

Lotty clung to her shirt tightly, causing some pain to her wound, but she didn’t care. Anything as long as it made Lotty feel better.

“Do you really mean that? You think they will leave us alone?”

“I’m quite certain I can make your father see sense.” Poni turned in her seat and held Lotty ‘s face tenderly.

“Piglet, if you wish it, you never need leave Grosvenor Street again. I want you to make your home here with me.”

Lotty’s tears started anew, and she reached up to cup her partner’s face. “Oh Poni! I thought I had lost you. I have never felt such pain in my life.”

Poni leaned forward but stopped inches from Lotty’s lips. “I will never leave you. Say you’ll stay with me, stay with me here as my wife?”

“Yes, I will. I love you , ” Lotty whispered.

“I love you, and I will give you the most wonderful life.” Poni closed the gap between them and kissed her softy before making her girl moan as she deepened the kiss.

It was then Poni knew that being shot , injured, and courted by death was all worth it, as long as she got to come home to this girl and her kisses.

***

Lord Dalton’s Squadron was given the next two months as leave, before having to return to London for their new orders.

Poni and Lotty used that time to plan their wedding, or rather Lotty and Lady Grace organised it and told Poni where and when to be.

Today was the day, and Poni sat in the front pew of St Paul’s church waiting for her Lotty to arrive. Next to her sat Alex in matching Morning suit.

“You ready for this, old man?” Alex asked.

Poni fingered her tight collar. “I can’t wait, I’m just a little nervous.”

“You’re a braver chap than me, I would be terrified.” Alex shivered visibly.

The nervous vicar walked over and shook both their hands. “Ms Woodward, Lady Dalton. If my bishop finds out about this, I’ll be in hot water, but Lady Grace isn’t a woman to be trifled with.”

Poni stood and patted the vicar on the back. “I’m sure that you and the Bishop can console yourselves with the rather large donation to the church funds. I don’t think St Margaret’s will want for anything for years to come. Eh vicar?”

The vicar looked from Poni to Alex and nodded. Money talked, even in the church. “Quite so, Flight Officer. I shall await your bride.”

“Silly old buffer,” Alex said as Poni sat.

“He’s set in his ways. Maybe one day we won’t have to bribe vicars and churches to marry the ones we love.”

“I’m only sorry I couldn’t let you have Dencotte for the wedding, but with it being turned over to the military hospital…”

“Don’t mention it, my Lord. This will be perfect.”

Poni turned around to look at the guests behind them. There were the regulars from the Alley Cat, Tommy, Rowe and Francine, and the staff from Grosvenor Street. On Lotty’s side sat only Maude and her young man Glen. Lady Grace sat in the pew behind with one of her good friends.

“It’s such a shame that Lotty has only two people to see her happy day.”

Alex nodded and said, “Did you ever tell Lotty what happened with her family?”

“That her f ather offered to never bother us again for a price? No, I think that would hurt her too much. As far as she knows, we simply used our powers of persuasion.”

Alex smiled menacingly. “Like we did for that cad of a man, u ncle Cyril.”

“Yes. I don’t think he’ll dare to bother her or cousin Maude again,” Poni said determinedly.

They saw the vicar take his place and nod to them to stand. “Time to get your girl, my friend. Any last requests?”

Poni smiled and said with sincerity , “Only that that you will find the same one day. Don’t close off your heart, My Lord.”

Alex was taken aback. That wasn’t what she was expecting as Poni’s last words, and it hit her square in the chest. She shook it off and took her place beside her best friend.

Lotty walked down the aisle on Henry’s arm who had stepped in to give her away. When Poni saw her in her white dress and veil, she was lost for words at Lotty’s beauty. She was not the only one to feel the effects of her beauty. Alex was blown away by Lotty, and for that brief moment, allowed herself to imagine waiting for her own equally beautiful bride, walking down the aisle .

No, no one could love me.

***

After a simple wedding service, they moved on to Claridge’s Hotel where they had hired a private room for the reception.

Lady Grace, Alex and Tommy sat together while they watched the other’s dancing. “They look happy, don’t they, Guv?”

Alex watched Lotty giggle at something Poni had whispered in her ear, and smiled. “They surely do Tommy. What do you think, Lady Grace? Are you pleased with your new daughter in law?”

“Delighted, my Lord ,” She replied. “The only thing that will make me happier is when they hand me a grandchild .”

Alex looked surprised. She hadn’t thought of Poni wanting a child, but given her character, she supposed it was only natural.

Lady Grace saw her surprise and said, “There are lots of needy children out there looking for a home, and good parents, Alex.”

“I’m sure. Children would suit Poni.”

Tommy nudged her and pointed to Rowe and Francine. “Rowe looks smitten too, Guv.”

Alex saw how Rowe hung on Francine’s every word, and it worried her. She took a long drink of brandy. “Indeed.”

The song finished and the group of friends came over to join them. Alex and Tommy stood as the ladies approached with Poni and Rowe.”

“We’re going to be heading off now, Alex.” Poni had booked the honeymoon suite at the hotel for herself and Lotty before they headed up to Alex’s Scottish estate for their honeymoon.

Everyone kissed them goodbye, and when it came to be Alex’s turn, Lotty threw her arms around her and held her tight. “Thank you for bringing Poni back to me. This has been the happiest day of my life, and I’m so glad we could share it with our best friend.”

Alex kissed her cheek and whispered to Lotty, “Look after her. She deserves a happy, loving life.”

“I will, my Lord.”

“Put my wife down, you ruffian!” Poni joked.

They hugged and shook hands. “Have a happy honeymoon, old man.”

“Thanks, you’ll look after Mama won’t you?” Poni asked.

Lady Grace butted in. “I’ll look after her, you mean!”

Alex laughed. “You can count on it.”

Lotty kissed her Mother-in-law and said, “Goodbye, Mama Grace. Thank you for everything.”

The newly married couple said goodbye to Maude and Glen, and the rest of the guests, before heading upstairs.

“Come, my Lord ,” Lady Grace said to Alex. “Dance with an old lady before we leave.”

“I would be glad to my Lady.” As Alex led Grace to the floor, she felt Francine’s eyes on her. When she met her eyes,Francine winked at her.

***

Poni carried her wife over the threshold to their beautiful honeymoon suite. Lotty made no mention of the rich surroundings but instead sought out Poni’s lips to continue the kissing they had been doing in the lift.

When Lotty had imagined their wedding night, she had expected to be just a little scared, but her confidence was being fuelled by the drinks she had consumed at the reception.

Poni let her down and they continued kissing until Lotty said, “You’re not going to leave me this time, are you?”

“No, not this time , ” Poni said.

Lotty’s heart began to pound and the initial confidence she felt began to wane. “I…I’ve dreamt about what this night would be like, Poni.”

“Oh? And what were those dreams like, my sweet wife?” Poni led her into the main sitting room area.

Lotty began to loosen her partner’s tie and undo her top button. “I imagined what it would be like to feel you on top of me, to feel your skin on mine…”

Poni turned her around and started to unbutton her wife’s wedding dress slowly. Poni whispered in her ear, “What did you imagine it felt like?”

Lotty groaned and let her head fall back, allowing Poni to kiss her neck. “It left me breathless…left me with an ache deep inside that I didn’t know what to do with.”

“I’ll show you. I will always leave you loved and satisfied.” As Lotty’s dress fell to her feet, Poni’s fingers trailed down her spine.

Lotty groaned and felt goosebumps break out down her arms and legs. She stepped out of the dress and let Poni place it over the back of the armchair.

When Poni saw her wife in her ivory lingerie, she had a dangerous look upon her face, one that made Lotty’s heart skip a beat. She scooped Lotty back up into her arms and walked to the bedroom , where she placed her on the large four poster bed.

“You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen.” Lotty blushed and lowered her head.

Poni walked over to her and placed a finger under her chin, and lifted her head up , to look into her eyes. “Would you do something for me?”

“Anything?”

“Let me watch you take the rest off yourself. I’ve dreamed of that.” Poni whispered.

Lotty was nervous, but it did excite her that her partner would enjoy watching her.

Poni stood back and watched Lotty put her beautiful legs up on the bed and ever so slowly unhook her stockings and roll them down inch by teasing inch.

Lotty heard Poni groan and saw her quickly start to dispose of her jacket and shirt. Lotty allowed herself to look up at her partner’s half naked body. It was strong, and broad shouldered and she couldn’t wait to touch it.

Acting on the confidence Poni had given her, she walked over to her partner and wrapped one of her stockings around Poni’s neck, using it to pull her into a kiss.

This inflamed Poni’s ardour even more, and she growled in Lotty’s ear , “I have a naughty girl for a wife, I think.”

The stocking stayed around her neck, while she made short work of disposing of Lotty’s corset. Her partner’s first look at her naked body made her feel beautiful. Gone was the dangerous look, and replaced by simple adoration.

Poni used the stocking to trail down her face and then softly over her breast. Lotty gasped when she felt her nipples harden. Poni’s reserve disappeared, and she lifted her and placed her on the bed.

“Teach me how to make love…” Lotty moaned.

Poni quickly took off her suit trousers and slipped in beside her wife.

The first touch of skin to skin made them both groan. “I knew you would feel good on top of me, my darling Poni.”

“It’s going to get so much better.” Poni pulled back and kissed her way down to her wife’s breasts. When she took the hard nipple into her mouth, Lotty grasped for her head. She smiled, knowin g that Lotty was going to be an enthusiastic bed partner.

“Poni, I’m aching inside.”

“I know, my dear wife. I’m going to make you feel good and take your ache away.” Poni could hardly believe she was finally being granted the honour of loving Lotty’s body, and she throbbed and became hard at the thought of taking her.

As she suckled Lotty’s breasts, her hand trailed down her stomach and over her hip. She allowed herself one stroke across her wife’s sex, and Lotty’s hips jumped hoping to get a better contact.

Poni took Lotty’s lips into a deep kiss and groaned when she felt her wife’s wetness coat her fingers ; her plans to go slowly evaporated.

She repositioned herself on Lotty’s thigh and began to thrust gently as her fingers stroked over Lotty’s clit.

Lotty grasped at Poni’s back, sinking her manicured nails into her skin, making Poni thrust herself harder into her.

“Poni! I need more. It aches inside.”

“I’ll take care of you.” Poni slipped one finger, then two into her wife. She only got so far until she pressed against the evidence of Lotty’s maiden hood.

Poni slowed her thrusts and looked deeply into Lotty’s eyes. “May I take you, and make you my wife in every way?”

Lotty looked emotional as she reached up and touched her Poni’s cheek. “Yes, I want to be yours, I want you to make me yours.”

Poni turned her lips into Lotty’s hand and kissed it softly. “Thank you. This is the greatest honour I have been given.”

She kept up a steady pace, and without ceremony broke through the thin veil. Lotty threw her head back and gasped at the momentary pain. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, more.” Lotty pulled her down into a kiss, and Poni felt her wife’s tongue slip into her mouth, teasing and licking.

Poni hoped she would be able to hold on as she could feel her own o rgasm building fast.

“Oh God, something’s happening. I don’t know…” Lotty cried.

Poni thrust her fingers harder and faster into her wife, knowing her orgasm would soon come. “Let it happen, just let go.”

Lotty held Poni’s shoulders tightly and buried her face into the crook of her neck. Lotty went rigid with tension and let out a long cry.

Poni thrust herself a few more times onto her wife’s thigh and she followed Lotty into a deep orgasm.

Their bodies gave out, their passion spent. “I love you, Lotty.” Poni gasped.

Lotty had tears in her eyes, but a smile on her face. “I’ve never felt…thank you. Thank you for loving me.”

“I will love you until the end of time.”

“I can’t wait till you teach me more.” Lotty smirked, breaking the serious mood.

They both laughed and Poni rolled them over so her wife was on top. ” Naughty Piglet! But don’t worry, we have so much more to enjoy together.”

***

After the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon, Lord Dalton invited them and their close friends for a night at Alex, Poni, and Rowe’s favourite club, The Alley Cat.

Alex, Poni and Lotty sat chatting and laughing together, while Rowe and Francine danced.

“If you two Gentlemen will excuse me, I’ll just powder my nose,” Lotty said.

They both stood politely, and Poni gave her wife a quick kiss on the lips. “Don’t be long, my darling girl, and be careful.”

Lotty giggled and tapped her partner on the nose. “That’s my Poni boy, always worried about me. I shan’t be long.”

Since Alex had first been witness to the love that her two friends possessed for each other, she had felt a small corner of her heart ache for what they shared together.

Just like Leon and Juliet, Alex thought sadly.

She shook off the feeling and handed Poni a cigar to have with their brandy.

“Thanks, old man.”

Alex had been waiting all night to have the chance to talk to Poni on her own, and with Rowe and Francine up dancing and Lotty off powdering her nose, she finally got the chance.

As she started to tell Poni the news, she saw the same shock from Poni as she had felt when Colonel Hollingberry had told her.

“And they are all dead? The whole Resistance cell?”

“Yes. Two days after we left, our informants tell us the Germans arrived and rounded up every last one of them. The Maquis cell, the farm workers, the farmer and his wife, Juliet…” Alex’s voice cracked with emotion.

“And executed them, all except Leon whom they have taken to a secret location to be interrogated.”

Poni took a large gulp of her brandy. “I can’t believe it. Leon will be distraught.”

“I know, but I swear on my honour that I will get her back, and help her avenge Juliet’s death. No matter what,” Alex vowed.

“We will get her back,” Poni corrected her.

“I didn’t want to volunteer you . You have a new wife and..”

Poni placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I would not be back home with my wife if it weren’t for Leon and her men. Besides, where you go, I go. It’s the way it’s always been, my Lord.”

Alex smiled. “You are a jolly good sort.”

“And there’s no doubt the Germans were given inside information?”

Poni followed Alex’s gaze to the dance floor where Rowe and Francine were dancing closely. “They went straight to the basement area, there is no other way they could have known. The Colonel has tasked me to get the proof.”

“Rowe adores that woman . ” Poni said with a troubled sigh. “This will change everything.”

Alex blew out a column of cigar smoke, her eyes never wavering from her target on the dance floor.

“Why must it be you Alex?”

“I am Rowe’s commanding officer, her friend and…I have a heart of ice.”

***

Epilogue

Middleford, England

Edward Bentley walked through the door of his comfortable village home at six o’clock sharp, as he did each night.

“Beth, I’m home!” He shouted, excited to see his little girl.

Mrs Todd, who did a bit of cooking and cleaning for them, popped her head round the kitchen door. “She’s in the drawing room, Sir. Her head in a book as always.”

“Thank you, Mrs Todd.” Edward took off his hat and coat and quickly walked to the drawing room.

He stood in the doorway and took a moment to take in the sight of his precious girl. Having lost his wife so early in his marriage, Beth was all he had, and he adored her.

He supposed all father’s thought their daughters were beautiful, but everyone saw it when they looked at his thirteen year old girl. Not only did her hair shine like spun gold, she radiated a sense of goodness that drew in anyone that met her.

“There’s my special girl!” Edward said.

Beth looked up from her book and her smile shone brightly. ” Daddy! You’re back. I missed you today.”

Edward sat down beside her and kissed her cheek. “I missed you too, my beautiful girl, but it appears I was missing my pocket watch again.”

Beth looked at his watch that she held tightly in her hand and giggled. “I’m sorry, Daddy, I like to hold it. It makes me feel close to Mummy.”

Edward smiled and shook his head. “That’s alright, my girl.”

The watch had been given to him by his wife, and was inscribed with the testament to their love. It was inscribed on the back, Ego dilecto meo et dilectus meus ( I am my beloved and my beloved is mine).

He looked at the cover of her the book she was reading and rumbled a laugh. “Pride and Prejudice again? You have such a romantic heart, Beth .”

“You know it’s my favourite, Daddy.”

“I do, and do you know what? Your Mr Darcy will come along one day and sweep you off your feet.”

Beth’s cheeks blushed a little. “But only lucky people get that kind of love, Daddy. Like you and Mummy. How can you know for certain?”

Edward pulled his daughter into a hug. “Because you have such a pure soul, young lady. You could melt a heart of ice.”

The End

I would be delighted to hear your comments about this story at jennyframe91@yahoo.com

Also, please take a look at my website where you can find information on my future stories and books.

http://www.jennyframe.com

A Royal Romance – Coming in 2015 Bold Strokes Books http://www.jennyframe.com/

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