Final Approach

By

Marianne Stillings

Chapter 1

 

WAFS: Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron

Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, December 1942

She had him pegged the moment he walked through the door. Too handsome for his own good. Arrogant. Never took no for an answer; never had to. God’s Gift to womankind.

In other words, a pilot.

Of course, at Avenger Field, you couldn’t throw a stick without hitting an aviator, but pilots were a breed unto themselves.

While the wings on his “olive drab” Army Air Force jacket confirmed this, the bars on his lapel identified his rank as captain.

Charlie Thompson watched as Captain Spiffy cast his steely gaze about the place, examining every female face. Just as his eyes met hers, she looked away, turning her attention to the glass in her hands. Just because she sat alone didn’t mean she was open to advances. In fact, quite the opposite.

The rhythms of Chattanooga Choo Choo blared from the juke box next to the bar as couples laughed and danced to the lively beat. The place was filled mostly with enlisted guys and local girls and she wondered what Captain Cat’s Meow was doing here. He looked like he’d be strictly O-Club. Maybe he was slumming. Or looking for a soiled dove to ease his… troubles.

She could’ve gone to the Officer’s Club, too—in or out of uniform—but had chosen to change into civvies and walk off the base to the Lone Star Bar & Grill just outside the gates. It had been one hell of a day and she just wanted to sit quietly by herself and think. She’d hoped to have a heart-to-heart with Edie, but her bosom pal had gone out on a night flying exercise at 1800 hours and probably wouldn’t be back for another couple of hours.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of the handsome captain moving across the dance floor toward her. The crowd parted for him as he passed. Gosh damn. The last thing she needed right now was to do battle with another too-too debonair pilot on the make.

Chattanooga Choo Choo ended and a sultry Dinah Shore began to croon Blues in the Night. The couples on the dance floor quieted and clung to each other as though this would be the last bit of intimacy they’d ever experience. And maybe for some, it would be.

She blinked the thought away. It was best not to dwell on the downbeat. Being at war was hard enough—mulling over the possible loss of loved ones only made things worse. And when that day did come, nothing you’d ever thought or done would prepare you for the shock, the devastation, the emptiness…

“Ma’am?” The captain’s voice was deep, pleasant to the ear, and she abruptly became aware  of him as an attractive man, and not simply a military officer.  While his masculinity and appeal would undoubtedly charm most girls, it made her feel even more desperate to get rid of him.

She turned her head, looked up at him. Not only was he tall, his shoulders were broad. He looked like a Hollywood leading man who’d just stepped out of a recruiting film. Now that he was closer, she could see his eyes were blue, sharply intelligent. An angry scar slashed its way from his left temple to his cheek, somehow adding to his allure.

Oh, go away, Captain Slick. Go away and leave me the hell alone.

He smiled, showing straight white teeth. “Pardon me for intruding—”

Since she’d arrived at the base, she’d heard every regional dialect the U.S. had to offer. His wasn’t Southern, not Chicago or New York, either. More West Coast. “I’m looking for a girl.”

She studied him for a moment. Then, in as bored a tone as she could manage, she said, “Congratulations. You found one.”

He removed his hat… er, cover. As long as she lived, she’d never get used to military jargon where a hat was not a hat. Well, she didn’t make the rules, she just had to memorize them—as though there weren’t enough important things to have to commit to memory, let alone what to call a hat.

However, she hadn’t joined the WAFS for the love of language, but for the language of love. For the love of freedom; for the love of flying; for the love of…

She mentally swept the next thought aside. The thought, and her grief.

Running his fingers through his short dark hair, the captain tilted his head as though trying to give her the impression he was nervous or shy. “I mean I’m looking for a particular girl.” His “aw shucks” grin widened and she wanted to roll her eyes at the obvious affectation.

She took another sip of her brandy. “People say I’m particular.” She shrugged and gave him a flat smile. “Or maybe they mean peculiar.”

He seemed a little flustered by her tepid response, but recovered quickly. “I was told I might find Lt. Charlene Thompson here. Would that be you?”

An Army Air Corps captain had left the base and come to the Lone Star expressly to find her?

This could not be good. Tossing back the last of her brandy, she set the empty glass on the table, hoping he wouldn’t notice the slight trembling of her hand. “I’m Charlie Thompson.”

Even though she’d had two brandies, she wasn’t drunk. A little loose maybe, a little more relaxed than normal, more inclined to give this guy—this officer—some lip, but she was definitely not intoxicated. She didn’t believe in overly imbibing. Her strict Catholic parents had frowned on excesses, so two helpings of anything—from brandies to bon-bons—was her limit. Besides, she needed to stay sober. A hangover could mean her death, or the death of someone else.

She looked up at him, arching a brow, silently waiting for him to continue.

He stared into her eyes for a long time, almost daring her to blink first.

She didn’t.

Neither did he.