It takes just twenty-four hours for RueAnn Boggs to be swept off her feet by Charles Tolliver, a handsome Brit with a secret job, and after she marries him, the dashing Charlie hastily departs for an assignment in England. When weeks go by and she hears nothing from her new husband, RueAnn becomes determined to find out if she’s a wife in name only, and travels to London for answers. But what she discovers is not what she expects.
Susan Blunt has spent her life staying put, retreating into her books while her vivacious twin sister, Sara, lives life to the fullest. Sara has collected a throng of beaus in uniform, including an RAF pilot headed for the front. When Sara pressures Susan into switching places and going to a dance with him, Susan reluctantly agrees—and in the course of the night, quickly falls in love.
When the Blitz begins and bombs start raining down on London, both RueAnn and Susan must find the strength and courage they never knew they had in order to survive. They form a friendship out of the city’s ashes, one that helps them weather the storm as they wait for news from the front—from the men they love, have lost, and hope desperately to find once more . . .
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About the Author
Her life is busy—sometimes crazy—but she is also dedicated to the pursuit of power shopping (when funds permit) and finding the perfect piece of chocolate. She is eternally grateful to her critique group for their technical advice and support and those "retreats with the girls" that help to keep her sane.
Bingham is the youngest of three children and began writing in her teens. Her first book was published while she was in her mid-twenties and single. She credits her critique group with finding her husband—and consequently approving of their marriage.
Two years ago, she and her husband adopted their first child and she spends her days in pure bliss as a "mommy." Nevertheless, once naptime arrives, Bingham loves to while away the precious hours at the computer, writing about the love and laughter that every woman deserves in her life.
Read an Excerpt
Washington D.C., U.S.A September, 1939
Charles Tolliver crossed to the front desk of the Merrimac Hotel and tapped his fingers restlessly on the marble counter. A few yards away, a nattily dressed clerk with an Errol Flynn mustache finished speaking on the telephone.
Charlie checked the tickets he'd tucked into his pocket earlier that morning. Less than twenty-four hours remained before he would be on a train for New York. Mere hours after that, he'd be sailing for London.
So where the hell was Jean-Claude?
Finally, the clerk placed the receiver on the cradle and turned to Charlie.
"May I help you?"
"Room 406, please."
The man turned toward a wall of cubbies, light from the crystal chandelier gleaming from an excess of Brylcreem in his hair. When he returned, he offered a placid smile and slid the key across the richly veined marble along with a small bulky envelope.
"This was left for you earlier today."
Charlie felt his gut tighten, but he kept his features neutral.
Dropping the packet into his trouser pocket, he jingled it carelessly with his spare change as he moved toward the bank of elevators against the rear wall. Eschewing the open car with its buxom operator, he dodged into the stairwell and took the steps two at a time.
Mere moments before reaching the door to the third floor, he paused, peering down over the spiral banister, then up. Backing out of the line of sight, he ripped open the envelope and tipped it sideways.
A gold lighter fell into his palm, causing the hairs at the back of his neck to prickle. The edges were worn, the etchings smoothed away to near extinction.
Lifting the lid, he examined the mechanism, and then the inner cavity, finding a slip of rolled up paper.
Taking a pen from his inside pocket, Charlie coaxed the paper free, unfolding it.
Being watched. Second location. 1800.
Muttering an expletive under his breath, Charlie pocketed the lighter and took the last flight of stairs at breakneck speed. Within five minutes, he'd gathered his belongings and stood at the window, fingering the curtain aside so that he could peer down into the street below.
If Jean-Claude were being watched, that meant it was only prudent to assume ...
His gaze fell on a figure who sat on a bus bench at the end of the block. Dark hat, dark trench coat. Had Charlie seen him before? The set of his shoulders, the slouch looked ... overly casual. Much like a gentleman in a sweater who'd taken a seat behind Charlie and his companions at the movies last night.
"Bloody hell," he muttered under his breath. With only hours to go, he couldn't afford to miss Jean-Claude, but meeting him now would be more difficult. He could only be grateful that they'd set a backup meeting place early on.
Scanning the street, he grew still when his eyes landed on a construction fence plastered with dozens of posters that proclaimed:
Come See Glory Bee Hallelujah and Her Diplomat Angels!
Dropping the curtain, he grabbed his suitcase and his hat and made his way back to the lobby. Strolling as casually as possible, he returned to the front desk.
"My bill, please."
"Of course, sir. I hope your stay was satisfactory."
"Very." Charlie offered him what he hoped was a sly grin. "I've merely managed to find more ... pleasant company for my last evening in town."
The clerk's smile was all-knowing. "Very good, sir."
Donning his hat, Charlie approached the shoeshine stand, then, at the last minute, altered his path to the side door. Stepping into the sunshine, he strode north, away from the figure he'd seen watching the front entrance. Carefully, he wove through several side alleys, retracing his steps twice, until he was sure he hadn't been followed. Then, seeing a trolling taxi, he signaled to the driver.
Glory Bee wouldn't be at the theater yet so he would go to her apartment. She was bound to let him borrow her car — and with luck, Charlie would be able to finagle the companionship of one of her roommates as well. A drive into the countryside, a seemingly innocent errand to the Maryland shore ...
What could be simpler?
* * *
"RueAnn, there's a phone call for you."
RueAnn barely glanced up. Her needle flashed in the dim light as she repaired the beaded hem of Glory Bee O'Halloran's costume — a strip of fabric worn sarong style during an exotic rendition of Flying Down to Rio. RueAnn had been sewing since sunup, making the necessary repairs to the damage that appeared after each performance to the dozens of outfits used in the burlesque review. She still had three ripped seams and a sleeve to reattach. Then it would be time to wash and iron shirts and reset the wigs. If she could get everything finished by noon, she could spend the day exploring the Smithsonian until wardrobe call at six that evening.
"RueAnn, did you hear me?
She made a final knot and bit the end of the thread free.
"Are you sure the telephone is for me?" she said absently, searching for her yellow thread. No one knew she was in Washington other than the performers who were her roommates — and their apartment didn't have a phone.
One of the women who worked in the front office leaned into the doorway. "She said her name was Astrid ... Astral ..."
RueAnn's head reared up. "Astra?"
"Yeah, that's it."
Her fingers grew suddenly clumsy, the needle pricking her finger and drawing blood. If Astra was on the line, it could only be bad news. Phone calls were next to impossible to arrange in Defiance, West Virginia — especially if Astra wanted to keep her conversation private. Using the pay phone at the company store would have aroused too many questions since the Boggs children were forbidden to use such a "tool from the devil." That meant Astra had hitched a ride to Money or Slaterville in order to get a message to her.
Heedless of the costumes in her lap, RueAnn jumped to her feet. Stepping over the puddle of satin and sequins, she rushed to the stage where a phone had been bolted to the wall near the stage manager's desk. The receiver dangled from its cord, swinging like an oversized pendulum, marking the time it took for RueAnn to wend her way past the carpenters and grips who were readying the theater for this evening's performance.
There was an audible sob on the other end of the line. "RueAnn, Pa knows where you are!"
"Pa knows you're in Washington. I-I don't know how he found out. I swear I didn't say anything. I swear it!"
RueAnn's gripped the receiver so tightly, it creaked. Dear God. Just a few nights ago, she thought she'd seen Clive Meade — one of her father's buddies from the sawmill — on the street outside the theater. But when she'd paused to take another look, the man had disappeared and she'd brushed off the incident as an example of her growing paranoia.
Her younger sister was crying openly now, the piteous sound made even worse by the distance that separated them.
"Astra, shhh. It's okay. I think I know how he found out," RueAnn offered, nervously wrapping the phone cord around her wrist as her thoughts scattered like buckshot.
"RueAnn, you've got to get out of there," Astra urged, echoing her thoughts.
RueAnn stammered, "I-I can't leave right now. I've got a job. And friends. Last night I went with Glory Bee to the —"
"RueAnn!" Astra interrupted forcefully. "Pa didn't go to work today."
"What?" RueAnn braced her back against the wall.
Her father never missed work.
"Please, RueAnn, you've got to go. Pa and Gideon took the truck and disappeared late last night. Both of them were mad, RueAnn, really mad. I didn't find out until this morning that they were headed for Washington. It took me forever to get a ride into Money so I could warn you."
"You're sure?" RueAnn breathed. Yards away, the flickering exit sign tapped out its own mayday signal.
Flick, flick, flick ... flash, flash, flash ... flick, flick, flick.
"Yes!" Her sister paused then added, "RueAnn ... he took the shotgun with him and ..." Astra was crying openly now. "And ... and the box from the pulpit."
The phone cord biting into RueAnn's wrist had caused her fingers to turn purple. It was that color, that sickening, unnatural shade that jolted RueAnn out of her disbelief.
She'd been so careful this time. No letters home, no phone calls, nothing. She'd merely slipped away one night, hitching a ride out of Defiance, and heading for the bus station. Emptying the bag of coins she'd been stashing for over a year, she'd asked for a ticket that would take her as far away as her money would allow. Then she'd boarded a bus for Washington D.C.
How much time did she have left? The bus ride to Washington D.C. had been about eight hours, but they'd stopped at least a dozen times along the way. In a truck, her father would have the advantage.
"Where will you go?"
RueAnn scrambled for an answer, but her brain stuck in the same groove, like a needle hitting a scratch in a record. If Jacob Boggs had discovered she worked in a burlesque theater ...
There would be no reasoning with him. He would beat her senseless then haul her back to Defiance by the roots of her hair.
Come hell or high water, she would not go back to that life.
"Miss Boggs, have you finished those repairs yet?"
RueAnn started at the costume mistress' call. Glancing over her shoulder, she flashed what she hoped was a natural smile.
"I'm almost finished, Ma'am."
"Very well. I'll see you later this evening."
As soon as the woman disappeared in the wings, RueAnn hunched over the phone. "I've got to go, Astra."
"Be careful. Get away from there as soon as you can."
"I will. I ..." She swallowed hard, injecting a light note into her voice that sounded false even to her own ears. "I'll be in touch. Don't worry. I'll find a way to let you know I'm safe and sound."
Very carefully, she replaced the receiver on its cradle. Then, as if the bottom of her world hadn't dropped out beneath her, she made her way back to the narrow room dubbed the "costume closet."
More than anything else, she regretted that she would have to leave Mrs. Bixby in the lurch. The woman had given her a job when no one else would. If RueAnn hurried, she could finish her sewing then explain to her ...
What? That despite being a legal adult, she was running away from her father?
Panic made her stumble as she ran the last few feet to the costume closet. Hastily, she gathered her possessions and the mementoes she'd gathered in her short time here — her comb and mirror, scraps of pure silk velvet she intended to sew into a pillow for Astra, and a photograph of the costume crew laughing and pointing at the marquee outside the theater. Shoving them all into her pocketbook, she draped her coat over her arm and planted her hat on her head, stabbing a pin through the brim. Last of all, she scrawled a hasty note on Mrs. Bixby's "To Do" list, explaining that she'd been notified of an emergency at home and she needed to leave. If all went well, RueAnn would return as soon as she could.
If only that were true. If only she could come back.
She knew that her father would consider them all evil — the comedians, the musicians, the animal handlers ... and yes, the strippers. But she'd received more kindness and acceptance from these "sinners" than she'd ever felt from her father's congregation in Defiance.
Aching with the injustice of it all, RueAnn took one last look at the cramped room stuffed to the gills with two sewing machines, fabric bolts, boxes of trims and buttons, and gaily colored threads. Then she dodged for the exit.
RueAnn was so intent on making her escape that she didn't see the figure that stood just outside. The door swung wide, hitting him in the shoulder, and then rebounded to slam against her, sending her pocketbook flying. As her purse landed on the ground, the contents slid wildly over the paint-spattered floorboards, the scraps of silk gleaming red and blue and gold in the midst of the kaleidoscopic mess.
"Hold on, there!"
The man gripped her arm, steadying her just as a resounding slam ricocheted through the theater. From somewhere near the stage, voices rose into shouts.
Every muscle in RueAnn's body strained to hear the cause of the commotion. When she heard a string of curses, followed by the familiar strident commands of the lighting designer. No. It was just Mr. Murphy yelling at his crew.
RueAnn relaxed infinitesimally. She still had time.
"Are you all right?" the man asked.
The world swam back into focus and she found herself staring into the concerned features of a stranger.
Not a stranger.
It was Charles Tolliver. He'd come to visit Glory Bee after her performance last night. Then he'd invited Glory and all her roommates to the movies and dinner.
RueAnn flushed, forcing herself to look away. From the moment she'd been introduced to Charlie, she'd been curiously enthralled by him. As they'd dined on a Blue Plate Special of pot roast and mashed potatoes, she'd hung on his every word, loving the way his accent turned even the most mundane conversation into poetry. And his eyes ... they'd continually met hers over the course of the evening, their gray-blue depths sparkling with an inner mischievous light as if he were privy to an unknown punch line. Later, when he'd somehow arranged to be sitting next to her at the movies, she hadn't been able to concentrate on the screen. Instead, she'd been infused with warmth, acutely aware of the way his arm pressed against hers whenever he shifted in his seat.
"Are you hurt?" he prompted again.
RueAnn eased free from the heat that had already begun its sinuous journey through her veins. "I'm sorry, I ... I wasn't looking where I was going." Dropping to her knees, she scrambled to gather her things, but in her haste, she only made things worse.
"Here, let me help."
He crouched on his heels and began to scoop up her makeup and personal items with the careless efficiency of his sex, dumping them pell-mell into her pocketbook. He was so clumsy — yet so willing to come to her aid — that she involuntarily laughed, her distress easing.
"Charlie isn't it?" she said with forced casualness.
"I've come to take you to lunch," he replied without preamble.
RueAnn paused, startled.
"But Glory and the others are —"
"Not with Glory. Just the two of us, if you're game."
A glow unlike she'd ever felt before began low in her body, spreading upward until it radiated through her body to the tips of her fingers and the ends of her toes. But a bang from the stage shattered the effect and the heady emotions dissipated like smoke.
"I'm sorry, I can't." She quickly cleared her throat so that she wouldn't betray how close the words had come to cracking under the strain of her disappointment. "Really, I wish —"
Charlie grinned at her then. A lopsided grin that made his pale blue eyes twinkle invitingly. He was obviously a man prone to laughter because lines radiated away from his eyes and the creases bracketing his mouth deepened. "Come now. You've got to eat."
In the light of the bulb that hung overhead, his sandy hair gleamed with reddish highlights. She could see the faint echo of a naughty little boy in his face, although there was nothing childish about his appearance.
She glanced at her watch. "But it's only ten thirty."
"True. But I've got some business to see to in Maryland and I thought you could keep me company."
RueAnn rose, looping her bag around her arm. Yet her true attention was centered on Charlie as he straightened to full height. He was tall, taller than her father. But not beefy like Jacob Boggs. This man was lean. Angular. His shoulders so square, they could have been carved from a block of granite. Even in her current state of agitation, she couldn't deny the fluttering deep in the pit of her stomach.
Why? Why had this happened to her now? Why couldn't her father let RueAnn lead her life as she saw fit? Why couldn't she pursue her job, her dreams — and yes, why couldn't she spend time with a gentleman like this one? One who was charming and good-looking and ... and ... elegantly foreign?
When she spoke again, it was with very real regret. "I-I'm really sorry, Charlie, but ..."
She hurried toward the exit, her shoes making dull thudding noises. Like nails being pounded into a coffin.
Behind her, she heard Charlie scoop something from the floor, but she paid him no mind. If something more had fallen from her bag, it didn't matter. She needed to leave. Now.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Into the Storm"
Copyright © 2015 Lisa Bingham.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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