Emily rushed into work late. Just what she didn’t need when she wanted to get away early, but she had changed three times after getting up this morning. How can you possibly dress for an ordinary workday and the most important date of your life?
She told herself that any young man as handsome as Robin must have dozens of girlfriends. The very fact that he hadn’t called her until the night before suggested he’d tried other girls first, or maybe his original date had cancelled at short notice. Emily firmly told herself that she mustn’t get her hopes up about any long-term prospects.
But whether they had a future together or not, she was determined to start living her own life. That had been almost the last thing Michael had said to her when they parted the last time: “Don’t let your parents harness you to their outdated dreams. You have a right to your own life.” Even if she couldn’t imagine what it would mean to have a friend in the RAF (a fighter pilot, of all things!), she was determined to break out of the rut she was in. She was going to enjoy this one date as much as possible. It was her first – and for all she knew it might be her last – chance for a better future.
She had decided to wear a smart, tailored suit with velveteen collar and cuffs that she had bought for graduation from Cambridge. It was two years old and had served at every “official” function since, from funerals to weddings. She had a white blouse with a lace collar to go with it, and patent-leather shoes with straps – not working dress at all. She also wore pearl earrings and a pearl ring – the only jewellery she owned, left to her by her grandmother. Most significantly, she wore her hair down.
Obviously, all the other girls in the office noticed that she was “tarted up” (as one of them ungraciously put it), and the word spread like wildfire (from the boss’s secretary to the others) that she had asked to leave early. “What’s she up to, then?”
“A big date, it seems,” the secretary said in a stage whisper.
“Wonder what she’s dragged in?”
“Oh, I heard her say she’d met him at the Salvation Army.],” the secretary confided.
The others roared with laughter. “Do you think he was a customer or the old man who beats the drum?” There were more delighted giggles.
“I just wonder why it has to be so early, don’t you? I mean: you don’t suppose he’s married or something like that?”
“Emily? With a married man?”
“Well, she might not know. She’s so naïve!” They all laughed again.
The whole delicious incident gave the office something to gossip about all day, particularly after Emily went out on her lunch break and bought lipstick.
The receptionist was quite as distracted as the others, and then suddenly the most gorgeous young man that she’d ever laid eyes on was standing in front of her. She could hardly take it all in: the dark wavy hair falling over his forehead, his large dark eyes, his left hand casually stuck in his trouser pocket, two rings on his sleeves, and the silver pilot’s wings on his tunic. “Excuse me,” he interrupted in an upper-class accent.
“Any time, love,” she gazed up at him, feasting on the mere sight of him. “Any time.”
“I’m looking for Miss Pryce. Miss Emily Pryce.”
For the second time in one day, Priestman was conscious of everyone in a large room staring at him – only this time he hadn’t the foggiest idea why.
Farther up the room, Emily got to her feet and waved to him. He smiled and waited while she packed up her things. She locked the desk, dropped the key into her handbag, and started towards him. She looked smashing. With her hair down she looked gentler and more feminine. The suit revealed a very delectable figure. Her legs were definitely a piece of nice. In short, streamlined with graceful curves, just like a Spitfire. He smiled and held the door for her.
Outside he returned his cap to his head and opened, “I thought we could go to the Queens.”
“Yes, thank you,” Emily managed. She was feeling as if she had swallowed a whole flock of butterflies. Seeing him in uniform for the first time drove home the fact that they were worlds apart, and part of her felt the whole thing was hopeless. What could an ex-pacifist and an air force officer ever find in common? Furthermore, his uniform was attracting more attention in this port city than an Admiral would have done – and that meant that everyone was assessing her as well. She had never been so aware of jealous looks from other women before. Last but not least, the Queens was a nice hotel right on Southsea Common. Despite growing up in Portsmouth, Emily had never been there because her parents considered it too “bourgeois.”
As the Queens was within walking distance on such a pleasant day, Robin need only gesture, and Emily started along the sidewalk with him. She was obviously nervous, and Robin asked, “Is something wrong? I mean, why did everyone in your office stare at me?” He was beginning to think he had oil stains in unseemly places or some such thing, and unconsciously (and rather too late) remembered to button up the top button of his tunic.
“You just surprised them.” Emily admitted, glad for anything to talk about.
“How?” Robin wanted to know.
“Well, I said I’d met you at the Salvation Army. I suppose they expected an ageing alcoholic on the dole.”
Robin threw back his head and laughed, ending it with a piercing, sidelong glance and the remark, “And you did nothing to disabuse them of their expectations?” Emily intrigued him. He had never met a girl like her before. He supposed it might be because he’d never dated a University graduate before. At all events, she was challengingly unpredictable. As was her answer now.
“It was better the way it was,” she observed simply.
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