Captain James Buchanan eventually got up and left the building. Not used to carrying an umbrella, he did what most foreigners did: shield himself with whatever was at hand – in this case a newspaper – as he dashed through the light rain to a nearby pub. Although he had been stationed in London for about six months, he still wasn’t used to the intermittent and seemingly unending rain showers. Dodging a turning Bentley, he crossed the street and made it to the tavern just before the rain intensified.
He looked around the crowded pub, trying to identify Bryan Shelby, a Brit he’d become friends with through his frequent visits to the War Office. He liked Shelby. He was a Lieutenant-Commander in Britain’s Navy, currently assigned to administrative duties in London.
James raised an eyebrow. His friend was sitting at a table in the corner but he wasn’t alone. In his company was a young woman, and judging by the pip on her shoulder board, a lieutenant. She was attired in the familiar uniform of the FANY’s (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). And more surprisingly, she was sitting close to Bryan. Animated in her speech, she was apparently driving home a point by prodding him with her finger.
James weaved his way through the throng and approached the table circumspectly. Bryan glanced up with a grin, momentarily halting his female companion’s conversation while motioning James to take a seat across from him. The woman shifted slightly in her seat and glanced at the source of the unwelcome interruption. Whereas James had at first only seen her profile, he now had a full view of the beauty sitting opposite him. She was, as he had initially observed, in her mid-twenties. Luxurious auburn hair was pulled back and pinned in a bun, high-lighting her cheek bones and her pencil-thin eyebrows, but what really stood out were her vivid brown eyes, which were inviting yet challenging at the same time. Although clad in the uniform garb of her trade, he couldn’t help but speculate as to the figure hidden beneath the drab tunic.
Surprisingly, James found himself experiencing a touch of envy, hoping it didn’t show on his face. But before he could venture a question, Bryan beat him to it by invoking a long-held British tradition: introductions.
“Captain James Buchanan,” Bryan began while accentuating every syllable, “allow me to introduce you to my favourite lieutenant: my sister, Allison Shelby. As you can tell from her uniform, she’s with the FANY’s and gainfully employed.”
James looked at her with renewed interest, remembering that a lot of English women wanted to contribute to the war effort. Many worked in factories assembling everything from firearms to electric motors, while others, those who had more ambition and talent, had joined the FANY’s. And within this organization came opportunities to be involved in clandestine work. He wondered if such were the case with Allison Shelby.
Allison gave Bryan a sardonic smile, as if to say, “Careful what you say, big brother.”
“She was able to get away for a bite to eat,” Bryan continued. “Wasn’t that jolly nice of her? Allison, this is James Buchanan, the Canadian chap I’ve told you about, an associate of mine at SOE (Special operations executive).”
Allison took in what he’d just said. Although her brown penetrating eyes homed in on James like a Golden Retriever spotting a downed bird, she seemed to appraise him with near indifference. Her eyes darted from his forage cap, which he had failed to remove in the presence of a lady, took in his handsome face, which she decided wasn’t too repulsive, scrutinized his wet uniform tunic, which she deduced must have ended up in its sorry state by the absence of a raincoat or umbrella, and culminated her brief inspection with a mildly disapproving look on his unpolished oxfords. Whereas some men enjoy undressing a woman with their eyes, he’d clearly received much the same treatment from her penetrating glance. Curiously, being dressed down by her scrutiny wasn’t nearly as unnerving.
“How do you do, Captain?” she said, amused as he hastily fumbled to remove his headdress.