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The Soldier’s Girl by Gracie Malling – Sample

Chapter One

London, April 1944

It was a warm night and the dance in the Juniper Club was already in full swing.

The arrival of a squadron of GIs in their midst had turned the heads of the local girls like nobody’s business and dances were being offered and accepted left, right and centre. But one GI—Lieutenant Frank Davis—had only had eyes for one girl since the moment he stepped into this place. She had blond curls that hung to her shoulders, an expression of merry devilment on her face, and she was wearing a red dress that whirled around her thighs on every spin.

“Man, that girl knows how to dance,” he muttered, to no one in particular.

“What was that, mate?” asked the barman, raising his voice over the noise from the jazz band up on stage.

Frank twisted around and saw the old man waiting expectantly for his order. He gestured out at the dancefloor, which was crowded and thick with cigarette smoke. “Who’s the blonde?”

The barman followed his gaze and then grinned. “Oh, that’s Kathy. One of our regulars. Were you after a drink?”

Frank took the hint and ordered a pint of beer but he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off Kathy. She was laughing and chatting away to her dance partner—some guy called Miller who Frank didn’t know too well—and even from this distance, Frank could almost feel the force of her charm, the light in her eyes, the mischievous quirk of her lips. It seemed awfully rude just to go over there and cut in but then it would be a damn shame not to speak to the girl at all. Sure, the barman had said she was a regular but that didn’t mean she would necessarily be here next time.

Frank was still deliberating when the band reached the end of their number, a cheer went up around the room, and Kathy herself came running over, panting and laughing and near enough crashing into the bar right next to him.

“Hey, Gerry!” she called, leaning forward over the bar. “What’s the chance of getting a sloe gin fizz around here?”

“Be with you in a sec,” replied the barman with his back to her.

Kathy let out an exaggerated sigh. “Well, all right but if I die of thirst, don’t go expecting nothing from my will.” Her voice was loud and clear with a pronounced cockney accent.

The barman made a disparaging sound and Kathy looked sideways at Frank and winked.

He grinned back, seizing his chance. “So… sloe gin fizz,” he said by way of an opener. “What’s in that?”

She laughed. “Well, I bet you can guess at least one of the ingredients!”

He tilted his head sideways for a moment. “Um… sloe gin?”

“Got it in one! The rest is just fizz. See, the name pretty much sums it up.”

Frank laughed and then held out his hand. “I’m Frank Davis, by the way.”

“Frank the Yank!” Kathy clapped her hands together, looking delighted with herself. “I ain’t going to be forgetting your name any time soon.” She then seemed to remember her manners and shook his outstretched hand. “My name’s Kathleen Phipps. But my friends call me Kathy.”

“So what should I call you?”

“That depends,” replied Kathy with an arch smile.

“On what?”

“On whether or not you’re going to ask me to dance.”

Man, she was beautiful. Her skin and eyes were shining from the exertion of dancing and her intricate curls looked in danger of coming loose. Frank had never felt this powerful of an attraction to a woman before, least of all one he had only just met. As he straightened up, he couldn’t help noticing that her lips were perfectly full and painted a glossy red that matched her dress.

“Will you, Kathleen Phipps, do me the honour,” he bowed down, “of dancing with me?” He glanced back up and gave her a wink of his own. “This is how British men do it, right?”

Kathy threw her head back and laughed, clapping her hands together again. “No British men I’ve ever met!”

“Oh, well, in that case…” Frank straightened up and thrust his hands into his pockets, before tilting his head in the direction of the dancefloor. “Fancy it?” he asked, his expression deadpan.

Kathy covered her mouth, beside herself with giggles.

He let out a mock sigh. “Come on now, little lady-girl, are you going to make me ask a third time?”

“No, I—oh, thanks, Gerry,” she said, distracted, as her sloe gin fizz was deposited on the bar. “Just a sec,” she muttered, rooting around for her purse.

“Hey, hey,” said Frank, taking out his own wallet. “Allow me.”

She looked up. “You sure?”

He nodded.

“Is this an American thing?”

Frank handed over the cash but his eyes were on Kathy. “So are you telling me that not only do British men not ask you to dance in a British way but they don’t even buy you drinks? I thought you people were meant to be polite.”

“Well, Frank the Yank,” replied Kathy, downing half of her drink in one long swallow. “I thought you people were meant to be good at dancing. Ready to prove me right?”

“Hey, slow it down. You’ve got a drink to finish first, remember?”

But by the time Frank had finished his sentence, the remaining half of the sloe gin fizz was gone.

“Not anymore!” announced Kathy, slamming her glass back down on the bar and grabbing his hand. “Come on!”

Frank allowed himself to be dragged out onto the dancefloor, passing Miller on the way, who had already hooked up with another British woman and was spinning her around like there was no tomorrow. This place was crazy; a real free-for-all. When Frank had first set off for England with his squadron, this certainly hadn’t been what he had expected.

When they reached the centre of the floor, Frank pulled Kathy close and wrapped his hands around her waist. Just the feel of her was enough to send a hot pulse of longing through his body. “You ready?” he shouted over the din of the jazz band.

“I’m ready!” she called back, laughing.

Frank spun her around and watched that red dress swirl.

“Hope you don’t mind,” said Kathy, holding onto Frank’s arm as they made their way out of a side door and into the alley that ran alongside the Juniper Club. “I was just getting a little dizzy in there.”

Her voice was hoarse from all the laughing and shouting over the noise of the band and she felt so lightheaded, she was glad of this big, solid American man to lean on. It didn’t hurt either, that he looked like a real life film star. Even with his blond hair cut army short, his strong bone structure, firm mouth, and wicked-looking eyes were enough to set her heart racing. A lieutenant, or so he said he was (although—like all yanks—he pronounced it wrong). And, bloody hell, this man could dance. They didn’t make men like him over here; that was for sure.

Frank put his arm around her waist to give her better support. “When you say ‘dizzy,’ you actually mean drunk, right?”

“I ain’t drunk!” she protested, her loud voice echoing in the deserted alleyway.

“You sure about that? You’ve had three drinks since I met you and that wasn’t even the beginning of the night.”

“So have you!” protested Kathy, stopping to lean against the crumbling brick wall. Her residual body heat from all the dancing and excitement was starting to fade away and she could feel the chill night air nipping at her bare arms. At least the moon and stars were out tonight so there was actually some light to see by.

Frank gave her some space but put his hands on his hips. “Yeah but I’m about twice your size.”

Kathy gazed at him and started to smile. “Are you telling me off, Frank the Yank?”

He grinned and the serious look vanished at once from his face. “Nah, if I was telling you off, you’d know about it.”

Kathy felt a curious tug in her belly. “What do you mean?”

Frank seemed to consider her for a moment and then he leaned forward and put his hands around her waist again. “I mean,” he whispered, his mouth inches from hers, “that if you were my girl…”

“But I ain’t,” she interjected, putting on a look of mock petulance to try to hide the fact that her heart was now hammering in her chest.

If you were,” he repeated, in that same quiet voice, “and if you were knocking back the liquor like there was no tomorrow, the telling off you got from me would be accompanied by a good hard spanking.”

This time, the tug in Kathy’s stomach was more like a lurch. She could feel the blood rushing to her face. “Well, my, my,” she said, her voice shaking slightly. “So it’s Frank the Yank who likes to spank. You’ve almost got the beginnings of a song there, Frank.” She gave him one of her cheeky smiles but with the adrenaline pumping through her body, she wasn’t sure if she was really pulling it off. What was wrong with her? A big man she barely knew had her pretty much pinned up against a wall in a dark alley and was near-enough threatening to spank her. Shouldn’t she be calling for help right now?

“Maybe so,” whispered Frank, brushing one of her fallen curls back from her face. “Is it a song you’d like to sing some time?”

Kathy was sober enough to know that he wasn’t talking about singing but her mind was so blunted by the gin and the physicality of this man pressing against her, his lips so close, that she couldn’t think of a word to say.

Which—she was pretty sure—had never happened before.

And then, as she stuttered on the edge of speech and Frank’s thumb brushed against her cheek, the air was suddenly rent by the cacophonous wail of an air raid siren.

Kathy clapped her hands over her ears at the same moment as Frank pulled her close in against his chest.

“Bombers?” he shouted over the din.

She nodded.

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