Chapter Ten     

*********** 

   Daniel wanted to finish his talk with Colleen, but Melanie tugged her out the door.  With these new orders bringing his Fighter Group as well as Colleen’s Field Hospital Unit closer to the Channel, he knew it was only time before the Allies crossed over to France for the invasion.  Time was the one thing he knew was running short.  A smile crossed his face as a plan came into focus.  He would just have to compress months into days and relentlessly woo her.  It could be done.  It had to be done.  His heart felt lighter as he looked forward to convincing Colleen to marry him.

      Now where was the new groom?  It was time to toast his wingman.

      By the time Daniel walked the few blocks over to the Red Lion, he felt more than confident his plan would work.  He wouldn’t try and turn serious on her tonight, though.  A little celebration was needed.  Maybe it would help Colleen to see how happy Rick and Vivian were.  The Colonel mentioned last week that he had a three-day pass he needed to use – more evidence that the invasion would happen soon.  He knew just how to use his pass, too.

      Noise and laughter greeted Daniel as he opened the pub door.  Locals as well most of the Squadron and Vivian’s unit were crowded inside the small establishment.  He made his way to the bar, slapping Rick on the back as he approached.

      “Well, buddy, old pal of mine!”  He laughed as Rick spilled his ale down his uniform.  “How’s it feel to be a married man?”

      “I’ll let you know in the morning!”

      The surrounding men let out a gale of approval and lifted their glasses.  “To the groom!”

      Rick took a drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.  “Man, I’m glad you’re here, Danny.  Every time I say something, they toast me and I have to take a drink.  This is my third pint already.”

      Daniel chuckled and shook his head.  “Wish I was that lucky.”

      “Not going well, I take it?”  Rick passed a glass to Daniel and sighed.  “Viv wouldn’t go into any detail, but from what I could get out of her, Colleen’s been through some heartache.  Just give her time.”

      “You and I both know time is one thing we ain’t got much of.”  He took a healthy swallow of ale and set the mug back on the bar.  “But I’ve got a plan that should work.  I just need to get everything finalized.”

      Rick wiggled his brows and grinned.  “A plan, huh?  Well, good luck, Danny Boy.”  He raised his glass. 

      The patrons took it for another toast and shouted, “To the groom!”

      “If you guys keep this up, I’ll be too drunk to enjoy my honeymoon,” Rick hollered back and took another drink.

      “That’s the point,” someone yelled from the back.

      “To the groom!”

      “Damn Brits,” Rick good-naturedly grumbled.

      A nearby RAF officer straightened form the bar.  “Whot did you say, Yank?”

      “I said, ‘Here’s to the Brits.’”  He lifted his ale high in the air.

      “To the Brits,” they cheered.

      The RAF pilot sat down his drink and approached.  Silence quickly filled the room as he stopped in front of Rick’s stool and turned him around.  “There’s somethin’ I’ve been wantin’ to ask you Yanks.”

      “Yeah?”  Rick asked.  “What’s that?”

      “Whot’s with naming your planes?”

      Rick shrugged and took a sip of his drink.  “Same reason we name our dicks – ‘cause they’re there.”

      The patrons laughed and banged on the tables.  “To the planes!” they toasted.

      “The planes!”

      “That reminds me,” an older gent wearing the uniform of the Home Guard spoke out.  “Hear ‘bout them new knickers approved by the War Ministry?”

      He took a slug from his mug, foam coating his mustache, and looked around at his friends. 

     “Whot new knickers?” someone finally yelled.

      The old man grinned from ear to ear.  “One Yank and they’re off!”

      Daniel chuckled at the joke, all the while keeping an eye on the RAF pilot in front of Rick.  “To the War Ministry,” he shouted, hoping to keep the tension from boiling over between the two pilots.  He lifted his glass for a drink and locked gazes with the RAF officer.

      The Brit walked up to Daniel and stopped.  “Know whot’s the problem with you Yanks?” he asked, stabbing Daniel in the chest with a finger.

      “No.  What?” he asked as he eyed the pilot over the rim of his mug.

      “You’re overpaid.”  He ticked off a finger on one hand.

      “Over sexed!” someone nearby added to the amusement of his pals.  The RAF officer nodded and lifted a second finger.

      “And third, you’re...”

      “Over here!” everyone in the pub yelled amid laughter.

      “Roger that,” the pilot agreed.  He smiled and pounded Rick and Daniel on the back.  “So why don’t you two Yanks buy me a pint and we’ll call it even.”

      “I’ll drink to that.”  Rick slapped some bills on the bar.  “To the Yanks!”

      “The Yanks!” the pub answered.

      “I’m Carl,” he introduced.  “Spitfire pilot extraordinaire.”

      “I’m Rick, this is Danny,” he nodded over his shoulder.  “Three fifty-fourth out of Lashenden.”

      Carl looked from one to the other.  “Mustangs?”

      Rick and Daniel nodded.

      The RAF officer let out a low whistle.  “Bloody hell.  Whot I wouldn’t give to handle the stick on one of those beauties.”

      Daniel set his mug on the bar and half-heartedly listened to Rick and Carl do some hanger flying.  Besides, he had his own special mission to plan.  Things fell into place the more he thought about it.  He knew just how to propose to Colleen.

      The faint scent of sweet perfume floated on the air and tickled his nose.  His pulse quickened at the thought of seeing Colleen again.  He couldn’t wait to put his battle plan into action.  Confident he’d soon be leg shackled and happy for it, he closed his eyes and imagined the wedding night.  The perfume soon became cloying and overpowering.  Daniel wrinkled his brow trying to recall from where he remembered the smell.  The scent wasn’t Colleen’s, of that he was certain.

      “With a smile like that, Captain, I’d offer more than just a penny for your thoughts.”

      Daniel’s eyes snapped open at the raspy southern drawl.  He found himself scant inches from a pair of blood red lips curved in a sensuous smile.  His gaze traveled upwards and locked with startlingly pale blue eyes.

      “Good to see you again, Danny,” she purred.

      She held her hand out palm down, in a fashion for him to kiss in greeting.  Instead, he turned her hand for a traditional handshake.  “Ma’am.”

      “Tsk, tsk, Captain.”  She pursed her lips into a pout and tossed her black hair over her shoulder.  “Shame on you for not remembering me from the hospital’s talent show.”  Her hand rested on his arm.

      “No, I remember.  Miss Blake, right?”  Daniel took a sip of ale.  “Third place – no, wait.  Second behind Colleen.”  He strived to keep his words and his tone polite, but it was difficult given the woman clung to him like 100 year old vines.

      “Black.”

      Daniel shook a cigarette out of the pack and placed it between his lips.  Striking a match against the bar top, he lit the end and inhaled a much-needed drag.  He shook the flame out and tossed the burnt remnants into an ashtray before turning back to the woman at his side.  “I’m sorry; you were saying?”

      “It’s Miss Black, not Blake.  Though my friends call me Vicki.”  She looked him in the eye before letting her gaze travel down his body then back up, resting on his lips.  The smile she gave him invited him to call her anything, anytime.  It wasn’t an invitation he wanted to accept, but manners dictated he at least try to be pleasant.  Besides, his mama would skin him alive if he didn’t act the gentleman, even if the woman in question wasn’t a lady.

      “So sorry, Miss Black.  My apologies.”

      “No need, Captain.  After all, we were never properly introduced.”  Her laugh sounded forced and fake, the swishing of her hair too practiced.  She opened a small, gold case and extracted a cigarette, gently tapping it on the closed cover.  “Something I’m sure we can quickly remedy.”

      She lifted the cigarette to her mouth and arched her brows.  Silently cursing his beloved mother for teaching him manners, Daniel struck another match against the bar.  He watched it briefly flare before touching the flame to the tip and disposing of the match.  Inhaling deeply, Vicki closed her eyes and released the smoke up towards the ceiling.  The move exposed her neck and caused her hair to trail over her shoulder and down against the back of her arm.  Daniel noticed her eyes slightly open as she watched him through the narrow slit of her lids.  The contrived manipulative move turned his stomach.

      Her eyes slowly opened and she lowered her head, tilting it to the side, her hair brushing against his arm.  “Thank you, Danny,” she whispered as she looked up at him through her lashes and placed her hand on his arm again.

      Daniel turned his head as Vicki leaned in closer, and spotted Colleen walking into the pub with Ruth and Melanie.  Her smile lit the room and her eyes sparkled with happiness.  Her laughter lifted his spirits and sounded better than any sweet love song he heard over the BBC.  He caught her gaze and they stared at each other, unaware of the crowded pub, only each other.  She smiled and Daniel knew he was in Heaven.

      Ruth elbowed Colleen in the ribs and nodded in his direction.  Colleen’s smile faltered and her eyes narrowed.  Daniel watched her eyes move downward and mentally followed the same path.  He glanced back at Colleen.  Her brows raised a notch and guilt flooded him.

      “Damn,” he muttered.  Nonchalantly he tried to pull his arm from under Vicki’s hand.  He felt her fingers tighten before letting him go.

      Another stream of smoke blew over his head and she nodded towards Colleen.  “I wouldn’t hang my hat in that direction, Captain, if I were you.”

      “No?”

       Vicki crushed her cigarette into the ashtray and stood back from the bar.  Daniel reached out and placed his hand on her arm, stopping her from leaving before explaining.  She pointedly looked down at his hand and quirked a brow.  He dropped his hand and sat back down.  “Why not?” he asked.

      “She still loves Sam.”

      “Sam?”  Daniel felt dumb for asking about something he felt he should already know. 

      “Her fiancé,” Vicki answered, then sauntered off.

      Was this the ghost who haunted her?  That shadowed her eyes?  His heart dropped and he felt his chance at happiness fade away.  Did she really love him or was it someone else she saw whenever she looked at him?  Was this the reason she evaded talking about marriage?  Too many questions bombarded his mind and he shook his head to clear his thoughts. 

      Colleen loved him.  He knew that.  He felt that.  The emotion behind her touch, her kisses, her words – those couldn’t be faked with such sincerity, such passion.  No, she loved him.  But the question remained, did he have all her heart?  Who was this man?  Was he the reason behind the sadness in her eyes?

      The thought suddenly occurred to him: Could he have been killed in the war?  Was that why Colleen guarded her heart?  The protectiveness of her friends made sense now; the reluctance Colleen showed at times snapped pieces into place.  He still didn’t have all the answers, he was only guessing at this point.  But he believed Colleen loved him as much as he loved her.  She couldn’t hide all her emotions from him.  Daniel knew he needed to give her time to tell him on her own, but time had a funny way of slipping away just when you needed it most.

      Daniel watched Colleen and her friends approach from the door, keeping his eyes focused on hers.  She tried so hard to hide her feelings from him, but he saw it there in her eyes.  Her love for him, the sadness, the haunting sense of loss, the anger, the guilt, the worry.  Doubts plagued his mind while his heart fought for reassurance.  He felt torn in two and didn’t know how to handle the sudden stab of jealousy of Colleen loving another man and the fierce need to protect her from pain at the same time.

      The hot prickle of tears stung behind his eyes and an unfamiliar tightness in his throat choked him.  Colleen tilted her head as she walked closer, concern clouding her face as she studied him.  Embarrassed, he ducked his head and turned around, reaching for his mug of ale.  He gulped the last of the alcohol and slammed the glass down on the counter, signaling the bartender for another. 

     His heart demanded he ask her here and now about Sam, confront her with the information Vicki threw at him.  But his mind knew better.  Tonight was about Rick and Vivian, a time to celebrate their love and happiness.  What was it Rick had told him earlier?  He searched his memory, but the answer only frustrated him more.  Vivian had told Rick that Colleen had been through some heartache and Daniel just needed to give her time.  There was that miserable word again: time.  How much time did he have?  How long would it take?  A few days?  A few hours?

      These questions tore at his mind, yet he knew she needed to be the one to tell him what Sam meant, or still means, to her.  Daniel believed in their love and knew he’d just have to bite his tongue and be patient with Colleen.  It was just damned hard when his heart was breaking in two.  Hold on to the love shinning in her eyes, damn it!  Remember the way she smiles at you, the way she presses her body against yours.  He closed his eyes and prayed.

      “Some would say you’re judged by the company you keep, Captain,” Ruth replied behind him.

      He turned and faced the three nurses.  Colleen’s eyes were guarded, her smile brittle and tight.  “Isn’t a man innocent until proven guilty?” he asked.

      “Touché,” Ruth replied with a tilt of her head.  “Just remember, flyboy, that you’ll be the one that feels the pain if Colleen is hurt.”  With that said, Ruth and Melanie left Colleen alone with him.

      “Colleen, I –“

      “I know, Daniel.”  She looked down at her folded hands and then back up at him.  “There’s just some bad blood with Vicki and I.”

      “I’m sorry.  She just sat down and...  Hell, I don’t know.  I was raised a gentleman.”  He felt like a stammering idiot trying to explain something he knew was innocent, but appeared otherwise to Colleen.

      Colleen reached up and touched her fingertip to his mouth.  “Shush, flyboy.  I understand,” she whispered.

      She smiled that wonderful smile of hers and Daniel knew she did understand.  He quickly kissed the tip of her finger, flicking his tongue across the sensitive pad.  The sharp gasp Colleen let out reminded him of the fire she held underneath the surface.  Her eyes widened as she stared at him.  There was no holding back, he vowed.  Daniel let all the love and desire he felt for her show in his eyes, on his face.  It was there for her to see.  The decision was now hers to make as to what to do with all he offered.

      “Danny, earlier in the church, I –“

      He used the same technique to silence her as she had with him.  “Later, angel.”

      The softness of her lips nearly drove him mad.  When her warm breath caressed his fingertip, he thought he’d lose control.  When she used the same torture method on him and hesitantly brushed the tip of her tongue across his finger, he knew he’d lose control.  Fire erupted in his loins and he felt himself respond with a fierceness he never knew he possessed. 

      Daniel moved his hand to cup her face in his palm and lowered his mouth to hers.  Her breath mingled with his, warm and inviting.  “Do you have any idea what you do to me?” he whispered.

      The response she stirred to life in him was total possession.  She was his, and he was hers.  He devoured her mouth, loving the feel of her, yet not satisfied with just a simple kiss; he wanted all of her.  The softness of her skin, the silkiness of her hair, the heat of her body seared his heart and soul.  With one simple kiss, she marked him for all eternity. 

     Wolf whistles and cheers pierced the haze of Daniel’s mind.  Slowly, he drew back from Colleen, his breathing heavy.  He rested his forehead against hers and chuckled.  The kiss affected her as well if her trembling hands were any indication.  Daniel placed a quick kiss on her temple and reached for his mug of ale.

      “To love!” he yelled and lifted his glass high in the air.  The pub echoed the toast and drank hardily.

      “I’ll second that,” Colleen softly replied as she stared up at him, love shinning in her eyes.

       Daniel’s heart tightened and his breath hitched as he struggled to breathe.  The woman in his arms loved him!  He knew that now with a certainty only his soul could recognize.  She was his angel, his port in the storm of uncertainty.  If he were to die tomorrow, he’d die a happy man knowing she loved him.  But he wasn’t going to die.  Not tomorrow, not the day after.  With the same clarity that he knew Colleen loved him, he knew he would survive this war.

      He hugged Colleen tighter to his body and smiled down at her.  She smiled back and leaned into him as the wedding celebration continued.  Daniel was content to stay in one spot and absorb the proceedings around them, always somehow touching Colleen in some small way.  Someone staggered to the beat up piano in the corner and soon everyone was singing and dancing.  The Brits sang “White Cliffs of Dover” and “Danny Boy” for the few Irish.  Colleen swayed with the music, wrapped in his arms.  Every now and again, she would look up at him and smile, and Daniel thought his heart would burst with love just staring at her.

      The one Scotsman in the pub shared his rendition of “Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lommond” and “Oh Where, Tell Me Where Has My Highland Laddie Gone.”  Daniel felt Colleen twist around and look across the pub.  “Lookin’ for someone?”

      She turned and smiled.  “I want Ruth to sing Veronica Russell’s ‘It’s Been a Long, Long Time.’  She owes me one.”

      “There she is – with Dr. Bailey and Mel.”

      “Ruthie!”  Colleen called out.

      “Yeah?”  She eyed Colleen with suspicion.  Daniel knew Colleen hardly ever called her “Ruthie” instead of “Ruth”.

      “It’s been a long, long time, Ruthie.”

      “C’mon, Ruth, sing it for me,” Vivian added from the next table.  “As a wedding present.”

      “That’s blackmail and you know it.”  Ruth shook her head and narrowed her eyes at Colleen.  “But anything for you and Viv.”

      She stood from the table and walked over to the piano.  After a few minutes, Ruth’s clear alto surrounded the patrons in the pub.  Everyone stopped talking and listened to the words and music.  Colleen leaned against Daniel’s chest.  He knew this was where he wanted her to be forever, what he wanted for the rest of his life.  His arms tightened around her and pulled her closer.

      Ruth finished singing amid thunderous applause and whistles.  “Thanks, Ruthie,” Colleen told her.  She nodded at Colleen and smiled a sad sort of smile, just a little tilt of the corners.  Daniel swore he saw tears glitter in Ruth’s eyes before she turned away.

      Someone else stood at the piano and sang, “I’ll be Seeing You.”  Colleen turned and looked at Daniel, searching his face for what he didn’t know, but she must have found it.  She nodded once then leaned up and kissed him.  “Can you get a pass soon?”

      Daniel kissed her back.  “Yes.  The Colonel’s told us to take what leave we can while we still can.  The invasion will be soon, I’m sure.  I’ve got three days coming.”

     “Good.”  She looked down at her hands.  “Can we go somewhere, just the two of us before we both get pulled away?  Where no one will be around but you and me.”

      He gently touched his fingers to the underside of her chin and lifted her face.  “I wanted to talk to you about that.  I’ve got access to a little gamekeeper’s cottage close by.”  Daniel searched her gaze, wanting to make certain he understood what she had told him.  “There’s no hotel, no servants, just a one bedroom cottage.”

      She smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck.  “That’s perfect, Daniel.”  On her tiptoes, she placed a hesitant kiss against his lips.  “How soon can you arrange a pass, flyboy?”

 

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