The darkness was closing in on her. Even in peacetime country roads were poorly lit, but the blackout meant that no light shone from the farmhouses along the route either. Their dark silhouettes increasingly became lost in the rising mist. The light on the bicycle was useless, and the inevitable happened: Georgina hit a bump or a stone and the bicycle jolted so sharply that she lost her balance and toppled over. She wasn’t so much hurt as unnerved by the fall. She picked herself up, dusted herself off, and started pushing the bicycle along the side of the road, afraid to ride it any further.
She had a second fright when a car barrelled up the centre of the narrow road towards her, apparently unable to spot her in the gloom. In panic, she jumped to the side. The ditch fell sharply away from the road, causing her to fall again. As she got to her feet, she stared after the disappearing car in anger and frustration. The number plate identified it as USAAF, and the driver hadn’t even slowed down to ask if she was all right! Straightening her coat and skirt, all she could do was continue to plod on, pushing the bicycle.
At the sound of another car approaching from behind her, she moved quickly off the road long before it could reach her. She stopped and turned to watch it pass by. About five yards beyond her, it screeched to a stop and backed up. The window rolled down and a male voice from inside the vehicle asked, “Aren’t you Philippa Wycliffe’s roommate?”
“Well, yes,” Georgina admitted, trying to see into the car. The driver had leaned across the front seat to roll down the passenger window, but he was too deep inside for her to make out anything but a pale blur under what might have been a peaked cap. “Who are you? Do I know you?” The warnings of a lifetime about not getting into cars with strange men buzzed about in her brain.
“Oh, we’ve met once or twice. I’m an old friend of Philippa’s. What on earth are you doing walking along a country road in the dark? I could have hit you!” Georgina found his reproachful tone condescending.
“Well, it’s too dark to ride the bike and I haven’t got any other means of transport,” Georgina told him pointedly. “I assure you I can manage.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” The driver’s door swung open and a tall, lanky man with a lean, hawkish face stepped out. He was wearing RAF uniform and had three stripes on his sleeve, which Georgina found totally intimidating. “We can put the bicycle in the boot,” he told her, and before she could find grounds to protest, he had done exactly that — although the front wheel was still sticking out and the boot wouldn’t close properly. Then he came around to the passenger side and opened the door for her. Georgina docilely climbed in.
As he settled behind the steering wheel again, he asked, “Cigarette?”
She shook her head vigorously.
“Mind if I light up?”
“No, of course not.”
He put a cigarette in his mouth and struck a match to light it. In the light of the flame, Georgina finally recognised him — and remembered their last encounter. She had arrived to find Philippa showing this officer the door, while he had been pressing his attentions under the influence of too much alcohol. Philippa had finally slammed the door on him and turned to Georgina indignantly declaring: “If they survive sixty-some ops they think they’re demi-gods! Well, he can bedazzle and bamboozle the silly WAAF on his own station and call himself ‘Steeplechase’ or whatever the RAF have come up with, but he’s just Yves to me!”
Georgina had been impressed by Philippa’s fortitude and listened sympathetically as she expressed her outrage at his shocking behaviour. Now, as Georgina sat beside him on the dark, lonely road, she remembered with increasing discomfort all the things Philippa had said. “He’s a very successful, very glamorous Wing Commander. CO of a squadron, DFC and Bar, DSO, and heaven knows what else. He’s had more girlfriends than I can count! Fools all of them. No, Yves Gorel is the last man who’s going to turn my head and add me to his collection of conquests!” Georgina had heartily approved of her attitude at the time.
But Georgina had since learned that Philippa wasn’t quite as virtuous as she seemed that evening. In fact, Georgina had been discomfited to discover that Philippa was carrying on with a much older, married man. She had no idea how far Philippa had gone with him, but she showed no compunction about letting him take her out to the kind of expensive restaurants that mere mortals could not afford. Nor did she hesitate to accompany him to the theatre and concerts, either. By far the worst moment, however, had been when Georgina had come upon them snogging rather passionately on the sofa in the sitting room. Georgina had backed out red-faced. She wasn’t sure Philippa had seen her, but it had embarrassed her deeply. It didn’t help that the object of Philippa’s attentions, aside from being old enough to be her father, had been identified by Mrs Kennedy as Sir Howard Edward Dean, a Parliamentary Under Secretary whose ATS driver took him about the countryside in a Rolls Royce.
The Wing Commander beside her shook out the match, darkening the interior of the car again and making Georgina uncomfortable until he switched on the engine. He put the car into gear and started driving much too fast for Georgina’s comfort. It was several moments before he remembered to introduce himself. “I’m Yves Gorel, in case you’ve forgotten the name.”
“Georgina Reddings,” she answered.
“Thanks for reminding me.” He tossed her a smile.
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