Sara Sidle stubbed out her cigarette and dropped it into her skirt pocket before picking up the telephone. The heavy handset was warm to the touch, and she spoke quickly into the receiver, hoping to end the call and get back to her smoke. Outside the stifling heat of summer hung over Bletchley Park, and not a tree’s leaf moved in the light of afternoon.
“Sidle,” she growled, glancing out the window, wishing for some relief.
“Congratulations, Sidle, you’ve been promoted. Got one of your countrymen coming to work in Hut 7. You’ll be his runner and driver as of today,” came the crisp, dry tones of Colonel Morgan.
“Sir?” she questioned politely. Morgan wasn’t the sort of man to make jokes, not now, not ever.
“Dead serious, my girl. He managed the Times in under seven minutes; asked if he could do another one while we looked over the first.”
“Christ.” Sara murmured, impressed against her will.
“Not quite. He’s due at the train station in an hour; grey suit, spectacles, blue eyes. And he’ll be carrying a battered alligator bag. Round him up and get him situated at Mother Smith’s would you?”
“Yes sir. Will he need a briefing?”
“Very probably. Bring him round for tea, and we’ll get him up to speed. Oh, and the chap’s name is Grissom. Doctor of something or other.”
The colonel rang off without pleasantries; Sara was used to his ways and did the same. She rose, smoothed down her wrinkled skirt as best she could, and made her way out of the little kitchen into the heat of the day.
In the garage, Alf leered at her good-naturedly as she climbed into the Austin, his grease-spattered mustache twitching a bit. “Left side, mind.”
“Yeah, yeah after three years here, I have it,” Sara replied with forced good-humor. Staying on the good side of the mechanic meant getting one of the better rides out of the motor pool, even if it meant letting him rag on her about being American. She turned the key and let the engine warm up a moment as Alf wiped his hands and headed to the back of the garage for a cuppa.
The drive to the train station was easy; not many cars were out on the road in the late afternoon, and Sara wondered what Doctor Grissom was doing in England. Most casual travel was frowned upon in wartime, and rationing made tourism unlikely. She pulled into the empty lot at the Varsity line station, and checked her appearance in the rearview mirror. Hastily she pulled out some lipstick and applied it; no point in making a poor impression.
Sara got out, stretching a little, and made her way through the station to stand on the platform beyond it, looking at the rails leading from London. She let her gaze travel along the long parallel tracks, her thoughts drifting back to the big city.
She’d arrived in London in nineteen thirty-eight, letters of recommendation in hand, ready to apply at the curator’s office at the British Museum and they’d taken her, a tall, slightly gawky Californian with a cocky attitude. Sara had carved herself a niche in the Department of Prehistory, focusing on runes, particularly those stones from Iceland. Her grasp of Futhark was enough to keep her busy; so much so that as the politics around her changed, Sara belatedly realized she was a resident alien in the middle of a war.
When the Prehistory wing was closed for the duration, she and two other archeo-linguists were immediately recruited to Bletchley Park, and Sara found herself amid a curious group of brilliant minds. She straddled a fine line since she didn’t have a doctorate yet in her specialty, but none of the officers and other civilians there held it against her. By definition she was paid at an assistant/secretary’s wage, but Sara had a certain amount of freedom and respect, and sat in on most of the top level meetings.
The other secretaries however, didn’t envy her that, and she got along with them by the virtue of not lording her status over them. Most were friendly, a few were not—in short, it was typical of any workplace.
The train pulled up, chuffing with clouds of steam in the hot summer air, and Sara blinked, looking down the platform for her passenger. Nobody stepped off the train for a moment except the steward, but after a moment, another man disembarked, and Sara got her first good look at him.
The trip out of London had been quiet, and Grissom set aside his book with some reluctance, wondering how much longer the ride would take. He was beginning to regret this commitment, but felt a bit trapped since there wasn’t any clear way outside of incompetence to get out of it. The War Department had made it clear that his cooperation wasn’t subject to debate, and given the degree of coercion they could leverage, Grissom knew he was in it for a while.
Still, it would make a nice change from research, and the opportunity to join a community of England’s keenest minds had appeal too. Grissom felt the train finally slow, and when it dragged to a stop, he pulled his two bags down from the berth and struggled with them through the corridor and out to the platform. One was his suitcase; an alligator-skinned monstrosity that held his three changes of clothing, several books and minor personal possessions.
The other was his locked attaché case.
Grissom stepped down, putting his hat back on, and as he did, he looked up to see a slender woman watching him curiously. She was leggy, in a skirt and blouse, her curly hair pinned back in a net snood. He met her gaze, and when she stepped forward, Grissom realized she was holding out her hand.
“Are you Doctor Grissom?” came her husky question, and his gaze sharpened at the clear American inflections of her voice. She smiled a little at him when he nodded and took her hand, shaking it firmly.
“Yes. Thank you for meeting me, Miss---?” he let the question hang, and she smiled again, revealing a gap in her front teeth when she did so, red lips gleaming.
“—Sidle. Sara, from San Francisco. I’m the one here to take you to Bletchley.”
She bent to take his alligator case, and he shook his head, wrapping one hand around the worn handle and smiled apologetically. “Let me—it’s heavy.”
“Then let me carry the other one,” she countered, reaching for the attaché. Reluctantly, Grissom let her take it, feeling a quick throb through his body when she hefted it and turned, sauntering off.
Grissom quietly, intently, admired her ass all the way to the car.
He fascinated her.
Sara was used to the men at Bletchley; most were academics, stodgy men who had lived their lives in a quiet circle of club and college, rarely venturing out into the real world. The others were working-class men who had families or pubs waiting for them when the day was done.
Grissom didn’t really fit either type. He didn’t smoke a pipe or argue the classics; he didn’t grumble about the Great War or spend hours discussing politics. Neither did he scoot out the door when five o’clock rolled around, or hang around in the kitchens making a single cup of tea stretch out an hour or more.
There was no ring on his finger; no trace of white from one removed, either.
He was quiet, and intense; able to concentrate for long hours on complex mathematical equations. He drank coffee instead of tea, and brewed it himself in an enameled saucepan. The smell of it brought back memories of the States for Sara, and although she wouldn’t drink any, even when Grissom offered, she savored the scent of the roasted grounds.
Grissom boarded at Mother Smith’s; a lodging house in town. Two other Bletchley men stayed there; Paul Merring and Ian Culver, both of them assigned to Hut 6. Sara collected the three of them in the morning, making the drive from her own lodgings on Black Sparrow Lane each morning. The drive to Bletchley wasn’t long, but security demanded that they pass through the checkpoint properly each day.
He sat next to her in the front, and he wore no aftershave, only the warm scent of his skin along with the wool and cotton of his clothes. Sara liked Grissom’s scent, and was glad he was the one to occupy the front seat. When she drove him back in the evenings, the added tang of clean sweat was there too sometimes, and of course, coffee.
Grissom’s story was simple; a junior professor of mathematical theory from the University of Chicago who’d come into an inheritance. He’d opted to take an extended leave and visit Europe, visiting various universities on the Grand Tour, and ended up finishing up research in London by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked. His university colleagues had urged the Times test on him, and Grissom had been invited to join the war effort at Bletchley, taking on Enigma and to a lesser extent some of the Japanese codes as well.
The surface story was fairly staid, but Sara was sensed there was more to it, and him. He had an even temper, but there were times when she knew he was frustrated by the work, and spoke very little to anyone. There were other days when some small break was achieved, and then he would smile in satisfaction. Grissom had a lovely smile, for a man. Beatific almost.
Sometimes he would turn to look at her, and Sara felt his gaze like a weight on her skin; heavy like gold, smooth and somehow precious. She liked the sensation, and the way he shared it with her alone.
She fascinated him. Grissom felt he’d never get enough of watching her move in her carelessly graceful way; the slow saunter of her slim hips, and the glide of her hands over the various reports and documents on the tables. Sara Sidle; full of the lean, open-air energy of the States. Not girlish, but not matronly either. A woman with four hundred ways of disagreeing with his findings, of arguing her points, of holding a cigarette in her long, long fingers.
Sometimes, when she was bent over the table, elbows locked and mind on some minute point of interest in some report, Grissom found his gaze sliding down her spine, from wide, thin shoulders under her blouses down to the little zipper at the back of her skirt. His fingers would itch as he imagined leaning next to her and reaching back, grasping the tiny metal tab and pulling it down, letting the growl fill the silence in the room. Then the slow slide of her skirt fluffing as it would fall to the floor, leaving her half-naked in the afternoon light.
He wasn’t ashamed to fantasize about her, but fought back anger when anyone else mentioned Sara with a wink or a certain tone of voice, particularly Merring and Culver, both of whom did on occasion. In such a tight little circle, it was inevitable that gossip and speculation flittered through conversations, and when the company was singularly masculine, the comments centered more often than not on the fairer sex.
“I’m sure she’s a handful,” Ian had decided, with a gleam in his eye as he added a log to the fire. Fall had settled in wetly, and it was easier to keep the fireplaces of Bletchley stocked with wood than to wrestle coal from the government.
“American gals are too forward,” Paul had replied with a grunt. “No sense of tradition. I’d rather spend my time with something a bit more . . . compliant.”
“The Frenchies are nice, particularly over at Lady H’s salon,” Ian rumbled knowingly as he lit his pipe. “Those sweet little soufflés are so delighted to be on this side of the Channel and away from Adolf and his rotters that they’re generous for the guinea.”
Grissom listened carefully, not offering an opinion as he sat in one of the old saggy club chairs and worked the Times puzzle. For a moment no one said anything, and the fire crackled. Then Paul shifted a bit, sighing. “Lord, I haven’t made a trek to the salon in months. Suppose it might be nice to venture up that way . . . Frenchie gels, you say?”
“Um,” Ian replied, working the tobacco down into his briar. “Made it out just before Paris fell. Talented little tarts, too, schooled in more than just parlez-vous. ‘Course that costs more, but it’s a damned sight easier than chasing anything around here.”
“Sounds,” said Paul slowly, “as if it might be a Friday well spent. What say?”
“Oh I think I could be talked into it,” Ian chuckled softly. He looked over at Grissom, as if noting the man for the first time. “Grissom? Fancy a trek over to the salon with us this weekend?”
Grissom looked up from the puzzle, his expression his usual neutral glance. “How would we get there? I hardly think we can ask Miss Sidle to chauffeur us.”
Both of the other men laughed at that; Ian in puffy chuckles as his pipe caught, and Paul with the dry, nearly soundless spasms.
“Lord, that would be a rum proposition now wouldn’t it?” Ian rumbled. “No, we’d simply get to the station and catch the nine twenty on Friday into London. I know the stationmaster, good chap. Once we’ve had our evening’s fun, we simply catch the four fifteen on Saturday morning and sleep in on the weekend. We’d all show up for duty bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Monday with no problems, eh?”
“I’m game,” Paul replied with a little gloat. “As long as it’s not raining or we don’t have another damned air raid.”
Grissom looked over at Ian, who was eyeing him intently. He gave a small nod. “It should be . . . an interesting evening.”
Ian nodded, his smirk deep. “All work and no play, they say. It’s settled then.”
The knowledge sat inside her, having slithered into her ear from the gossip down in the kitchens a week earlier. Belinda and Ernestine were talking, snickering in a way that told her it was something hypocritical.
Normally Sara ignored that crap; the rumors and spiteful comments flew around Bletchley like snowflakes—a moment’s chill and then simple annoyance. But when Grissom’s name came up, she listened, waiting just outside the kitchen door, holding her breath to hear better.
“ . . . Grissom and Culver. Dirty old men. Merring’s the worst of them. God knows what he pays the whores in London for—pervy jobs I’m sure. My cousin Bert says the three of them came staggering off the four fifteen, drunk and reeking of perfume!” Belinda chortled. “Says they looked like they’d had a regular old time of it. Bet our colonel wouldn’t like that little security breech a damned bit!”
Then Ernestine’s hushed voice. “Even that nice Mr. Grissom? Tor, I didn’t think he was the type. Always seemed a bit poofty to me.”
“Oh he was there too with that mysterious case of his. Mark my words, he’s probably got all sorts of nasty thingies in it, too—“
“Belinda, you shut your filthy mouth!” Ernestine giggled. “He’s simply not like that!”
“Hmmph! If he went to Lady H’s with Merring and Culver, than you can damned well bet he didn’t spend the evening drinking tea with that foreign tart and passing around biscuits. Idiots, the lot of them—I’ve got a good mind to report them to the Colonel myself.”
Sara stepped in and both women looked up at her, startled. Belinda Humphries relaxed a tiny bit; Ernestine picked up her cup of tea and slunk out of the room. “Report what to the Colonel?”
Belinda examined her nails with great interest. “Oh nothing much—just three of our high and mightiest are whoring it up in London every few weeks.”
“Hmm,” Sara replied, crossing her arms. “See, the problem with that, is if you tell the Colonel, he’s going to want to know how you know. And that would mean telling him you’ve been seeing your cousin Bert out at the station, and then it might come out that the reason you’ve been visiting Bert regularly is that he’s been taking the hares you and your father have been poaching off the estate and trading them for petrol on the black market.”
Belinda went pale, and thinned her pale lips. “You . . . you haven’t any proof of that.”
“No, but the back corner of the garage always smells like dried blood, as do the floorboards of the Austin, and the boot smells like petrol. Be smart, Belinda—say nothing, and let the three of them get caught by someone else,” Sara advised gently. “They will, sooner or later.”
Belinda looked flustered, and a little frightened, but Sara moved calmly, setting out the enamel pan and pulling Grissom’s coffee from the porcelain jar that he kept it in. Her actions were slow and unruffled; watching her, Belinda nodded slowly, relaxing again, realizing the common sense of Sara’s words. “Sooner or later,” she agreed quietly. “So if it does come out—well, it won’t be from me, Sidle.”
Sara smiled over at the other woman. “Good. I’ll keep quiet too; what’s a rabbit or two in the long run, right?”
The two women nodded at each other in understanding, and Sara waited until Belinda left before brewing her own dark thoughts.
Part of her was disappointed, naturally. Not surprised; Grissom had animal vitality even if he tried to hide it under brown tweeds and an unassuming manner. She’d been close enough to him at times to smell the masculine aura just on the surface of his personality. The man held heat, radiated it in a soft, undeniable glow at times.
Part of her wanted to find him and simply take him; to sweep into his office or one of the conference rooms of dingy maps, half-empty teacups and tottering bookshelves, to cup his face and kiss him hard. The very thought made her breathless and achy even as Sara knew she’d never do it.
Everything about Grissom was touched with subtlety; from his glances to his soft words, and the direct approach would never work on a man who never raised his voice.
Sara darkly wondered what he was like with whores. Did he mildly express filthy desires; his voice pleasant as he directed them onto their knees or the bed? Did some other, hidden aspect of him come out; a personality only glimpsed in his momentary anger? Was he demanding, or did he court them, offering up little gifts to sweeten the hard truth of a financial transaction?
She wished she didn’t know what little she did; and brooded over the rest that she didn’t know.
Near the end of the month, after two heavy snowfalls and a shortage of butter, a sudden blitz; a baby blitz as the BBC called it later, hit the south of England. It was minor compared to the sustained bombing of two years earlier, but enough to wake most people within a hundred miles of the Channel.
Morgan called for his people; it was imperative that they be back safe at Bletchley, and to that end he dispatched Sidle to round up Merring, Grissom and Culver immediately. She headed out in the frosty darkness of eleven, chilled to the bone and impatient.
They weren’t at the boarding house; ancient, arthritic Mother Smith claimed with hysterical innocence that she had no idea where the gentlemen were, but Sara ignored her and climbed back into the Austin. She lit a cigarette and puffed it in angry chugs as she pointed to car towards London and the long, cold drive ahead.
There were no lights on in the blackout, but the moon and stars left enough to see by most of the way. Sara knew how to find her way along the silent empty streets, and pulled up around the corner from the brick building just off Mews Lane. She wrapped her wool scarf more tightly around her slender throat and looked up at the dark window, were little slivers of light shone from around the edges of the blackout curtains, and a wave of inner despair surged in her, cold and bleak as the North Sea.
She wanted another cigarette. Instead, Sara checked her watch, then moved to the alley, and the darkness lingering there. A third of the way in, she stopped and moved to a thick door there and rapped her knuckles on it, hard. As she waited for it to open, Sara rubbed her nose, feeling the chill of it through her gloves.
A slot window slid open at eye-level, spilling light onto her face and she blinked. “You seem lost, Miss. There’s a shelter just up the street by the bank,” a deep voice with shades of Somerset in it rumbled out.
Sara sheltered her eyes against the glow and cleared her throat. “I’m here on Colonel Morgan’s orders to pick up three . . . gentlemen from Bletchley. If they don’t get their asses down here in two minutes, I’ve been told to call the colonel, who’ll be sure to make his feelings known to Lady Heather Marazek.”
There was a pause; a shift from neutrality to sharp consideration. The bolt slid open and the door widened. “Best come in while you wait then, Miss.”
She stepped inside to a small foyer lit with candles in sconces. The heavy wood paneling seemed to absorb the light, and underfoot lay a red and gold Chinese rug that had seen better days. Watercolors of various European landscapes hung in heavy gilt frames along the walls, and in the air drifted mingled scents of perfume and tobacco.
Sara looked to the doorman. He was tall and lean, like a scarecrow, with the same twisted look to him, aided on by gaunt cheeks and wide shoulders. He moved to her and looked her up and down in a businesslike and assessing manner, then tipped his head to one side, making his straw pale blonde hair catch the light. “All right, let’s see it then.”
She fished out her security pass and held it up, not giving the thing over to him.
The scarecrow eyed it intently, then gave a resigned nod. “Right then, Miss Sidle. I’ll round up your gentlemen. Come this way to the Salon.”
Following the man, Sara found herself passing through a crystal bead curtain into a larger room, where over-upholstered seats and women lounged. They looked up at her; most looked back to their own interests: an ancient movie magazine, or a crochet project in dark wool. One licked her lips, and Sara scowled at her. The woman smiled anyway, and continued to eye Sara with interest.
“Bonsoir, belle,” she murmured.
“Non intéressé,” Sara replied tersely, turning away to the sound of a slightly disappointed sigh. She stared at the walls, and wished she could fish out a cigarette; a few of the other women were smoking and the smell was getting to her. Her gaze moved around the paintings here, which were mostly still-life work in heavy gilt frames. Sara heard heavy footfalls coming from a staircase somewhere; she turned to the doorway in time to see Culver come through, jacket over one arm, his cheeks hot and expression angry.
Sara said nothing. After a few seconds, he moved to her side and slipped his jacket on. Then more footsteps and Merring appeared, hair rumpled, skulking through the curtains, not meeting anyone’s eyes.
They stood waiting in the heavy silence. Finally several footsteps, measured and even came down; two men and one woman. Sara watched as Grissom stepped through the curtains, followed by the scarecrow, and a small half-dressed woman in a flowered silk robe. She stroked Grissom’s arm and smiled. “Nous aurons un autre rendez-vous bientôt, je promets.”
He nodded courteously to her. “Merci, Suzette.” Turning to the scarecrow, Grissom added, “My case, Mr. Mommet?”
The scarecrow handed over the attaché case with a little bow. Grissom took it and finally turned to look at Sara, his guileless blue eyes locking on hers. “Miss Sidle.”
She stared at him for one hard bleak moment, then stalked past him, making the crystal curtain beads swing wildly in her wake.
The ride through the snowy road was icy. No one spoke, and the heater tried feebly to warm the air, but to no avail. Sara sped for most of the way, the Austin moving quickly through the chill. They reached Bletchley in record time, and although the blackout curtains were drawn here as well, slivers of light could be seen at windows here and there.
She pulled the car up and let the men climb out, not bothering to look at any of them, then took the Austin to the garage, where Alf groused about the hour and the petrol (“bloody waste to make a trip out to London, cor!”) as she handed him the keys. Sara ignored him and shoved her hands deep in her pockets, walked as slowly as she dared back to Hut 7.
In the still darkness, voices carried. Against her will, Sara listened as she walked, stepping carefully through the slush and piled snow along the sides of the walkway. The dim rumble of Colonel Morgan’s voice was easily distinguished on the night air.
“ . . . Bloody lot of idiots! It’s not the what so much as the when of the thing, gentlemen! Far be it for me to keep any man from les fleurs jolie, but a discreet word might have saved us all a bit of nuisance this evening.”
A protesting rumble; Culver trying to plead his case. Sara scowled, uninterested. Culver was a bright one; hand-picked by Turing and sure to land high in government once the war was over, but personally, Sara thought him a smarmy letch. He habitually brushed up against every woman on sight, and made comments that lacked subtlety or taste.
“Yes, well,” Colonel Morgan’s voice again with an edge of sarcasm to it. “If any of us could predict when a bombing was to occur, then the war would be rather short, Ian. And given that what we’re trying to DO here at Bletchley involves just that to a certain degree, I suggest you focus less on your prick and more on your work.”
Briefly she grinned. Then she thought of Grissom, and it was as if a bucket of crushed ice washed over her.
Dawn came. Culver and his team remained locked in Hut 6, taking tea but no other offers. Merring and the colonel were busy with intelligence coming in about the blitz itself. Sara steeled herself to face Grissom, hating the moment, and him.
“Yes, I’d like to get some rest,” was all he murmured absently as he kept his eyes on the file in front of him. “Ten minutes, and I’ll be ready.”
He sat beside her as always, quiet and calm; looking slightly haggard, but without embarrassment. Sara wondered bleakly if he was choosing to be mysterious, or if he truly had no understanding of the shift in her feelings. They drove on, through the morning light towards Mother Smith’s house, the silence thick as the snow.
Sara’s jaw ached, and she kept fighting down the bitterness in her throat.
When the car pulled up, Grissom got out and walked around the car. Sara watched him, alert and wary. He came to her side and leaned on the window; she slowly cranked it down.
“My case,” he murmured, gesturing with his furry chin to the seat beside her. Sara glanced over and made a grab at the attaché, her moves jerky. She tried to shove it through the open window, jabbing it at Grissom, but he took it carefully from her and set it down. He paused and bent down, his breath in chilly puffs in the thin morning light. “You don’t know . . . everything.”
“I know enough,” she shot back, and without warning her hand flashed out, catching his cheek in a hard crack. Redness bloomed across Grissom’s apple cheek, bright against the paleness of his face. He hadn’t flinched, even though her strike knocked his glasses off, sending them skittering onto the crust of snow on the walkway to Mother Smith’s.
Grissom lunged forward and caught her mouth against his, one big hand sliding behind Sara’s head to pull her to him, halfway through the car window. She gave a muffled yelp, pinned as he kissed her fiercely, deeply. Grissom broke off after a moment, his breath in hard panting for a moment. “You don’t,” he growled, and turned away, fishing for the glasses. Once Grissom had them, he straightened up, lifted the attaché and strode towards the boarding house without looking back.
Sara gulped air, her eyes stinging, her mouth hot and wet with the taste of him, sweetened with coffee. After a long, dumb moment, she started the Austin again.
Grissom mechanically went through his ablutions and climbed out of his clothes, ignoring the chill in the attic room. He licked his mouth, and closed his eyes, trying to calm the hard pounding in his chest. When it had abated a little, he tucked the attaché between the mattress and the box spring, and climbed into the rickety bed, shivering against the cold, stiff bedding.
His cheek stung, and he suspected he would have a bruise; Sara had wiry strength to her. Grissom could still taste her deep in his mouth; the flavor of Sara was every bit as delicious as he’d suspected it would be. Restlessly, he turned on his side, hoping to sleep, and knowing it would be a while before his mind settled enough to allow it.
He wanted her; more than before, and only in part because of his brash, angry kiss. That was blind response; frustration with this evening and how it now created this chasm between them. The magnificence of her even in pain was too much for him, and Grissom knew he had to touch her, or make her touch him. The attempt at an explanation worked; the kiss was worth the slap. He’d do it again without hesitation.
He thought about the attaché under the mattress and for long, agonizing minutes, Grissom considered throwing the contents into one of the fires at Bletchley; ridding himself of it, calmly and deliberately. It would be a noble gesture, but empty, he realized. Sara would never know it was done for her.
And yet, Grissom brooded, if there was a way for her to figure it out . . . . she was uncannily bright, and attuned to his turns of manner. Given a chance, Sara might well piece together some of the puzzle herself, and in doing so, lessen the guilt within him.
He pondered how to arrange matters to that end, and in doing so, gradually fell asleep, his brow still furrowed, and his breathing slow.
It took nearly a month. Grissom bided his time, throwing himself more wholeheartedly into his work, and dedicating himself to longer hours with the puzzles and information that crossed his desk. In the afternoons he took to walking the perimeter of the grounds, a solitary figure in a long grey coat and red wool scarf making his way through the snow and mud. After two weeks it was his routine; no one questioned it.
Sara watched it, keeping her distance, physically and emotionally. Ever since their kiss, she’d worked at moving back from him. There was always something between them for the first few weeks; a table or desk; in the car, a file case or her purse. She answered questions when directly asked them and followed directives, but offered nothing more, not even conversation. She tried not to speak to Grissom unless it was absolutely necessary.
The maddening response from him had her gritting her teeth. Grissom looked at her more often; allowed himself to be caught by her in watching as he studied her form moving through the doorways or along the corridors. Sara felt the weight of his gaze again. She wanted to hate it; detest the undeniable warmth and luster in it and could not.
Each gaze felt like a caress, gentle and persistent as a stroke along a wary cat’s back, and she fought her response to them, losing a little bit more each time. There was no forgiveness, but winter and melancholy dulled her anger bit by bit, and weeks later when the colonel sent her to round up Grissom from one of his walks, she merely nodded and wrapped herself in her Loden coat.
The winter sky was dull pewter, and the snow was wet, crunching under her boots as she strode from the barely cleared walkway towards the high path out beyond Hut 9. Grissom usually started out here, along the tree line where the snow was thinnest, and the view of the river was best. Sara looked for his footprints, gratified when she noted them precisely where she assumed they would be.
She followed them, her hands shoved deep in her pockets, eyes on the ground, aware of her breathing visible in white puffs as she walked. There was a stillness in the air that felt as if the countryside was holding its breath, waiting for the next snowfall.
He heard her coming up behind him, and Grissom fought not to turn; the point was to make her acknowledge him, however briefly. Sara’s crunching footsteps came closer, and he drew in a breath, the white plume of it gusting out of him as he stood in the little copse of trees, overlooking the sullen dark gray-brown of the river flowing below. His ears were chilled, as was his nose; he knew they both were reddened.
It was time to say something, he knew.
“Grissom,” she said, in a slightly unwilling tone. Finally he turned and caught sight of her, loving the way she stood out against the bleak landscape, cloud of dark hair, pink cheeks.
“Ask me what I’m doing,” he ordered, keeping his tone light, but his words oddly compelling.
Sara stared at him, and Grissom could see her curious despite herself; her gaze locking on his. For a moment she didn’t speak, and then finally, “What are you doing?”
Grissom sighed. “I’m hunting unicorns.”
He waited, keeping his eyes on her for a significant moment, then moved closer to her, trudging down the path until he reached her. Sara’s pretty mouth twisted cynically. “Aren’t you a little old for that sort of whimsy?”
They walked together, falling into easy balance. Grissom said nothing until they reached the door of Hut 7. There, he turned before reaching for the knob, and ungloved his hand. Lightly, before she could object, Grissom touched her lips with his fingers. “Yes, but I’m qualified for the job.”
He pulled away, and moved into the Hut, not looking back as he held the door for her, and Sara brushed against his back as they stepped in and Colonel Morgan glanced up from a sheaf of papers in his hand. “Oh back from our stroll are we? Have a look at these—“ he rumbled.
They worked late into the night, trying various ciphers, and finding a tantalizing breakthrough in a single line with a lucky string of vowels, and when Sara drove Culver, Merring and Grissom home in the bleak darkness of three in the morning, he felt her gaze flicker to him again and again.
The next day Grissom lingered down by the river until he knew Morgan would send Sara to fetch him. It was snowing lightly; enough to bring the focus of the world to only a few yards in any direction, and the light was thin. He caught her coming up to him, her gaze a dark and mysterious thing.
“You can’t qualify,” she muttered, cheeks pinker than just the cold merited.
Grissom walked with her back to Bletchley, pausing again at the door and pulling off his hat, shaking the snowflakes from it. “I do,” he confessed in a bleak tone, and stepped inside, not waiting to see her expression.
Sara wrestled with the Grissom’s enigma in her private moments back at her room. She boiled water for tea on the sterno, and rinsed out her lingerie, hanging it near the overworked radiator and all the while, the clear conviction of his words, the truth in them was at odds with them.
The oratory of the mute; the vision of the blind; the race of the crippled. It made no sense; not with what she already knew of Grissom.
It bothered her because in it, she found a thing she didn’t think she’d regain around Grissom: trust. Faith in the man for something promised and shattered by his visits to Lady Heather.
And that was the twist of it, Sara bitterly knew.
If Grissom was what he claimed to be, then how could he go there—repeatedly—and still claim it?
The conundrum gnawed at her like nicotine, and finally, a fortnight later, she found herself stalking up the ridge, the bright and unexpected sunshine making the melting snow as sugary as frosting when Sara reached him.
“No. You say it, but your past actions deny it, Grissom,” she told him, holding her voice down as she circled him. He didn’t move, his eyes following her.
“Your proof is flawed. Your premise is inaccurate; so follows that the rest of your argument is as well,” he countered calmly. “Break it down, Sara, line by line.”
She did, ruthlessly.
“Men go to whorehouses for sex; you went to a whorehouse, therefore you had sex and are not a virgin,” she announced flatly, the words hanging in the bright air between them.
He smiled, and it startled Sara because she had never seen so bitter an expression on Grissom before. It made pain flare in her chest in an odd, pulsing way.
Grissom held up an ungloved hand. “Men go to whorehouses for sex. An incomplete premise—men go to whorehouses for far more than sex, Sara. They go for company; for variety, for sanctuary and selfish indulgence. Where else is an unmarried man permitted to indulge his carnal appetite, whatever it may be?”
She chewed on that for a moment, cocking her head. “Even given your correction,” Sara finally spoke up, “The rest still holds validity. You went to a whorehouse—that you can’t deny!”
“And I do not. I did go to Lady Heather’s and I have several witnesses to that fact,” he agreed, easily. This took some wind out of Sara’s umbrage, and she blinked, off-guard for a moment since she hadn’t expected Grissom to agree so readily.
Sara crossed her arms and glared at him. “So you’re saying that you went to Lady Heather’s and yet are still . . . a virgin.”
“Yes,” he told her, so simply and quietly that she blinked.
She said nothing.
He said nothing.
The moment between them hung suspended, tempered with disbelief and hope, fragile as a soap bubble.
Then Sara stepped closer, and closer still, moving into the intimate space and sighed. “Then . . . . why?”
Her voice was low, but the anguish in the last word vibrated, and Grissom reached out, catching her elbows, holding her from any retreat as he blinked. Somewhere overhead a sparrow chirped.
“Sex without love . . . is pointless,” Grissom whispered slowly. “Whatever impulse first took me there abandoned me at the door, Sara.”
She stared at him, locked onto his expression as he spoke again, more urgently. “I took care of my aged mother for the last fifteen years. I was a good son, a devoted son. When she died, I looked around and realized that much of life had already passed me by, and that all the things other men had achieved I had yet to do. So I began a grand tour, determined to make up for lost time, and to become the man I wanted to be.”
Slowly Sara nodded. “And that included . . . sex.”
“It was supposed to,” Grissom gave a bleak chuckle, “and never did. I’ve never been a glib man, and it’s too late for me to start.”
She wanted to say something more, but a call across the snow startled them both, and the sight of Alf the mechanic running towards them was enough to end the conversation for the moment. The older man chuffed, his face beaming when he reached them. “Oy! We’ve nabbed Tripoli from the Eyetalians! It’s on the wireless! Mark my words, old Rommel ain’t happy a-tall!”
“The British have Tripoli?” Grissom echoed tersely. Alf nodded, trying to catch his breath.
“Yep. The colonel’s been looking for you both; quite a party startin’ up in the kitchen and I’d get movin’ since they’re breaking out the good stuff!”
“It’s worth celebrating,” Grissom agreed. “We’ll be there. Congratulations.”
Alf nodded, wiping his mustaches with quiet pride. “Not my doin’, sir, but I thank you just the same.” He added softly, “You’re a good ‘un, for a Yank.”
The cheering push in Africa was worth celebrating; Turing, Morgan and the higher-ups poured vintage champagne into anything that could hold it, and there were toasts for several hours, and many people didn’t make it home that night, preferring to bunk up in various rooms and bolt holes throughout Bletchley to sleep off their alcohol-fueled delight.
Grissom did, however, allowing Sara to drive him back to Mother Smith’s an hour or so before ten that night. The wind had turned warmer, and the road was a dark ribbon against the melting snow. Sara gripped the wheel tightly, not sure what to say to the man next to her, and chose silence as the best option.
He didn’t seem to mind, and when they’d reached the boarding house, he climbed out cautiously to avoid slush in the road. Grissom turned to look at her through the window for a silent moment, and it was good to meet her eyes in the quiet night.
“Your case,” Sara murmured, and fished for it.
Grissom didn’t shift his gaze from her. “I think,” he murmured softly, “I can trust you with it tonight.”
“Are you . . . sure?” she asked, curiosity and wariness in her tone.
He looked up, into the dark sky above them where thin clouds scudded in wisps like shredded cotton. “No. But I am going to take the chance, Sara. Goodnight.”
Turning, he made his way to the front door, his key already out. Sara waited until he stepped inside, then let her gaze flick back to the attaché, which suddenly seemed mysterious, and dangerous.
She dropped her scarf on it and drove to Black Sparrow Lane.
It wasn’t hard to open. The locks were standard, and a good screwdriver worked just fine to jimmy each of them. Sara debated the deed for only a moment; Grissom had told her to do this, if not in so many actual words, then in spirit.
When the second one popped open, she paused, looking at the case with a cautious eye. Sara backed up, and went to the little kitchenette to fish out her last bottle of Old Grandad, and poured a glass. She sipped the amber, letting it burn on the way down, and came back to the case on the bed.
“Fuck it,” Sara sighed, and pulled the lid up.
It opened with a creak, and she stared inside for a long moment, her slender fingers gripping the smooth glass of her drink as she took in the contents of Grissom’s prized possession.
Pencils. Charcoal sticks. Erasers. Rags. Bits of torn paper.
Sara drew in a shaky breath, looking down at the pen and ink sketch on the heavy bond paper. The woman was reclining, one leg extended on the bed, the other bent and open, her posture an erotic invitation to the hothouse bloom of her furry vulva peeping out from her lifted skirt.
The woman’s face was blank, but the details of her body were in sharp and clear focus, her curves and shadows cleanly drawn.
Quickly, Sara picked the page up, and studied it, a flash shock of adrenaline jolting her. Out of the corner of her eye she realized there had been another page under it, and Sara let her gaze be pulled to it.
Another woman, this one on her stomach, knees bent and crossed at the ankles in the air; a casual pose made all the more provocative by her split pantaloons and the visible mounds of her ass, along with the wet gleam of her vulva.
Sara felt cold; the blood drained from her face, her hands. Part of it was shock of course. The other part though, the bleak and confusing part was the flare of heat through her belly and thighs.
Chill above; heat below. She wobbled to the rocking chair and collapsed into it, her whisky sloshing over the top of the glass and onto her skirt. Sara ignored the spill and looked back towards the case.
She swallowed, feeling her breathing slightly ragged now in the face of this new mystery. Again, her gaze drifted to the picture in her unsteady hand, and she took in the luscious details, noting the care and artistry displayed in the work. There was a definite focus to the piece, talent and perspective, and whatever the reason---
Look but don’t touch, Sara thought suddenly. In her mind’s eye she could see Grissom sitting in a chair with his coat thrown over the back, pad in his grip, eyes feverishly bright through his glasses as he sketched.
The image resonated through her, tinged with melancholy, wry pity and frustration. Grissom, caught in the perfect balance between desire and denial, his coquettish model amused at the client who paid well and never took his pleasure of her, only her likeness. He’d be popular, Sara realized; an easy customer after a long night of demanding gentlemen.
She set the page aside and looked again into the case. There was a dark brown manila folder, neatly labeled, and Sara lifted it out, steeling herself as she opened it. More art, although these were sketches of statues and paintings; a few she recognized from the Louvre. Grissom had focused on the more sensual pieces, and this time Sara smirked, all too aware now of his . . . interests.
Sara felt an oddly light sensation in her chest; a buoyancy that wasn’t due to the whisky. She looked through all of the pictures, and when she was done, did it again, more slowly. By the time she was finished, the room was colder, and Sara realized she was hungry.
For food, yes. But also—
He stood outside the boarding house with the other two, still and patient while they stamped their feet and checked their watches, grumbling softly in the cold grey light of morning.
“Not like her to be late,” Culver snapped. “Overslept, probably.”
“It happens,” Grissom responded quietly, trying not to let his own anxiety show. This break in her routine was disquieting, and he felt a despairing chill within him that had nothing to do with the weather. There was no proof that this tardiness was related to the attaché, and yet Grissom sensed it did, and whether that was good or bad remained yet to be seen.
As if summoned by his concern, the Austin appeared in the distance, and arrived within minutes. Sara leaned to open the door, her breath coming in puffs from the cold. “Sorry; got blocked in by a Daimler back at my place.”
The men climbed in; Grissom settled into the front passenger seat and noted his attaché next to Sara on the upholstery. She nudged it towards him a little with her shoulder, but said nothing, and for the entire ride to Bletchley, he surreptitiously studied her mysterious smile in profile.
Hope thrummed in his chest.
They worked through the day, side by side, neither saying much, but moving in tandem through the files. A new schematic for the Enigma had been hand copied from diagrams smuggled out of Berlin; an air of quiet excitement hummed through Bletchley now, and the return of focus was very nearly a palpable thing.
Every time Grissom looked up, Sara was watching him, her gaze tinged with an intimate edge to it. It wasn’t as bold as out and out flirting, but her coffee-colored eyes held promise, and if he stared too long, his pulse sped up, beating hard with an anticipation he dared not acknowledge.
Finally his nerves could take it no more, and he sought her out at twilight. Sara was just at the edge of the back porch for the kitchen, smoking in the cold air, her gaze unsurprised to see him in the semi-darkness. Grissom stood in the doorway until she exhaled, corner of her mouth quirking up in a gesture of consent for him to join her.
Grissom moved closer, ignoring the chill, shifting until he was nearly close enough to touch her. The cigarette between her fingers had lipstick on the end of it, and she took a last drag on it before dropping it and grinding it out with her high heel. “You’re quite an artist, Gil. I’m impressed.”
He hesitated only a second, holding her gaze with his own. “I know what I like.”
“Yes,” she murmured. “The subject was fairly evident.”
“I make no apology,” Grissom responded softly. “Limited as my focus may be.”
For a moment they simply stood in the intimate circle of feeble, frosty light from the back porch.
“Would you like . . . to draw me, Gil?” Sara asked him in a husky voice.
“—Yes,” came the quick hiss, overlapping onto her question. His eyes locked onto hers and the quick surge of desire and heat flaring between them charged the air. Grissom closed his eyes for a moment, and thickly added, “I have since I met you, Sara.”
His honesty made her eyes bright; Sara tipped her head, her breathing erratic now, shallow and quick as she gave a soft sigh, and let her fingers slide along the sides of her thighs, lightly pinching the tweed of her skirt. She pulled it up slightly, gratified to see Grissom’s glance drop and a soft moan escape him.
“Mmmmm, I’d like that too,” Sara told him in a whisper, bringing her skirt up high enough to reveal the sweet lines of her stocking-clad legs and knees into view for him. It was brazen of course, but a heated recklessness pushed her into it, and Sara just as quickly let her skirt drop again, and smiled once more, the quirk of one corner of her mouth a soft tease.
The look in Grissom’s eyes seared her, left her breathless as he blinked once, slowly. “And when I . . . draw you,” he intoned. “I want more than a few hours for it.”
Sara nodded, tongue flicking out to touch her top lip. “Yes. Let’s do it,” she told him.
On Friday morning, Mother Smith took the train north for an extended visit to her daughter Anna, in Sheffield. She promised to be back within two weeks, and left enough canned goods for her three gentlemen lodgers to live on comfortably in the interim.
That afternoon, Culver and Merring informed Grissom that they would be off for the weekend in London ostensibly meeting up with Morgan and the PM on the breakthrough with Enigma. Grissom took the news with a quiet nod, and glanced at Sara, who was across the room filing reports in the wooden file cabinet. She lifted her glance to catch his, and in that beautiful second nothing needed to be said aloud.
Morgan’s driver Belinda took her three passengers to London at four-thirty, and by six, most of the other employees had left Bletchley, hoping to get home before the promise of snow became a reality.
Grissom and Sara left for Mother Smith’s after the start of the storm, and reached the boarding house as the flurries came down thick and fast. In the darkness and in the storm, it was impossible to see farther than a few feet ahead; Grissom unlocked the door and ushered Sara in, relocking it behind them.
For a moment they stood in the dark of the kitchen together, shoulders touching, and then Sara shifted towards the stove, reaching for the gas burner. She turned it and the circle of blue flame leaped up, bringing a glow to the room.
Grissom smiled. “May I open a few cans and invite you to dinner?”
“That would be nice,” Sara told him quietly.
Grissom’s bedroom was on the ground floor, in the very back of the house, and the only light came from the blaze in the fireplace and the small lamp on the bedside table. The curtains were drawn, and the room was warm; warm enough to be cozy for the two people there.
Coat and vest set aside, Grissom sat in the upholstered chair that he had shifted to the foot of the bed. The small seat would have been more at home in a lady’s boudoir, and it creaked a little in protest when he shifted his weight forward. In his right hand he held a Conté a Paris charcoal pencil, his grip on it so tight it whitened his fingers. In his left, he grasped a sketch pad of fine rag paper, bare and clean. His tools were ready, and yet his focus was so completely taken by the vision on the bed that Grissom was unaware of anything else.
He drew in a quick breath, trying to calm himself, but the languid beauty of Sara on the bed—his bed—was too sharp and perfect, the sensual overload heating his entire awareness like a surge of current through a feeble wire not built to take it. Grissom wondered if any man had ever died of lust, and whether he would be the first.
Sara sighed. She lay propped against the headboard, one arm resting on the top of her head, the other draped across the pillows next to her. One leg was up, bent, with stockinged foot flat on the mattress while her other was resting with the side of her knee against the duvet. The view, from Grissom’s perspective, was lush and unbearably erotic; her slender thighs topped with stockings, the white garter belt, and framed within it, Sara’s pale abdomen and soft curly triangle of velvety chocolate fur.
The firelight gleamed on it, and the pretty seam of her sex glistened, making Grissom groan very softly. Sara let her gaze rest on him, noting the tension in his shoulders and arms with a languid thrill. She brought her cigarette up to her red lips and took a slow drag on it, then exhaled, letting a low laugh escape as well. “Like what you see?”
He licked his lips and nodded, not quite capable of speech. Sara could see the sweat along his temples, and the strain of his erection against the seam of his trousers. After a moment more of tension, she gracefully flicked her cigarette into the fireplace, and shifted, running her hands along her hips and to the inside of her thighs, caressing herself. “Then come get a closer look,” Sara invited him huskily.
Grissom let go of the pad and pen; they dropped from his fingers to the wooden floor with a clatter, and he rose from the chair like a man sleepwalking. Sara didn’t look at him; she kept her hands moving gently over her stocking-covered thighs in slow strokes, humming softly. When he was close enough, she looked up at him and reached out; Grissom extended a cautious hand to her. Sara took it, savoring the size and warmth of his palm and fingers.
She kissed it, bringing it to her red, red mouth, lightly pressing her lips to the tender, ticklish center, and working soft kisses along the fingers, licking and sucking them lightly in turn. Grissom’s mouth opened as he drew in quick breaths, watching her make love to his hand. When his fingers were trembling, Sara pulled on his hand, making him bend forward over the bed, bracing himself with his free hand on the mattress.
Sara guided his hand down, bringing it to the gossamer soft thatch between her legs and pinning it there with her own two hands. For the pulse of a few heartbeats neither of them moved as they watched each other intently, letting the intimacy of the moment sear their vision. Then Sara lifted her hips lazily, and pushed herself against Grissom’s palm.
He groaned, looking down, staring at his hand as if it were no longer a part of himself, and seeing his astonished expression, Sara laughed in a hungry tone. “Yes, touch me, please---”
Grissom exhaled, and looking down, did. His turned his hand, letting his fingers cup around the curve of her body, the wetness slickening his palm. Sara gave a little groan of her own and rocked up again, the action both lewd and sweet. She dropped one hand over his and pressed, adding more weight to his touch. “Like that—yesss,” came her excited whisper.
He leaned over her, touching more firmly, insistently now, fingers moving through Sara’s silky curls, watching her face and noting every reaction. After a few moments, Sara’s breathing changed, and she closed her eyes, rocking firmly now, knees trying to close, but Grissom kept his fingers moving lightly, tenderly over her slick folds. She gave a little cry and lifted her face to him; Grissom kissed her clumsily, but it didn’t matter because her thighs gripped his arm tightly, and the hard quaking of her body thrilled him.
With dismay Grissom realized his own orgasm couldn’t be denied, and he groaned, his other hand pressing hard to his rigid fly as wet heat seeped through the wool of his slacks.
They dozed, cuddled together on the duvet, still dressed and sticky; the fire dropped to a glow of coals, taking most of the light with it, although there was still warmth in the room.
Sara roused herself first, and patiently rolled over, lightly planting kisses along Grissom’s face, shifting his glasses off and setting them on the nightstand. He opened his eyes, wary at first, then relaxing into a shy look of adoration that made her laugh. “That was . . . unprecedented,” Grissom murmured.
“There’s more,” came her reply. “If you want it.”
“I want, oh God,” Grissom sighed, “You.”
They took turns washing off in the chilly WC, and after Grissom had shoveled more coal on the fire, Sara coaxed him back, lifting the duvet for him. He slipped in beside her, blushing at their nudity. “Sara--”
“Shhhh,” she told him. “Right now. Do you want me?”
His kisses were answer enough, and in slow sweetness, they clung to each other, touching, nibbling, tasting. Sara shifted herself under him, murmuring softly into his ear. Grissom nodded, and reached for his trousers draped on the bedpost, fishing into the pocket.
Sara helped him slide the condom on, her fingers more deft than his under the blanket, and once done, she slid her long thighs around his hips, one hand gently guiding him. “Push, slowly,” she murmured with tenderness. Grissom braced one forearm over her shoulder and thrust his hips forward, slickly sinking into Sara with a deep-chested groan that she would never forget; a sound of pure male satisfaction. All the muscles of his back were tense, and she kissed him hard in wordless, hungry encouragement.
He fucked her, deliberately, and with no great finesse, but Grissom’s growls of pleasure and kisses set her on fire, and Sara fucked him back, her tongue deep in his mouth as she tightened her legs around him, pulling him into her, taking him completely.
They found their rhythm, and it sped up, hard and hungry, bellies smacking, the slick sounds of ripe sex amid the cries and whispers. Sara felt the heat rising between her open legs, felt the sting of tears as well, and gave in to the primitive joy of having him utterly hers: Grissom her lover buried hard and hot inside her, hers, hers.
“Sara . . . I . . . God . . .” he grunted, catching her bottom lip in his teeth, nipping it as his big body surged into hers in spasms. She clung to him, and his weight on her, his mouth on her throat was enough to bring her own hot surge flare through her again, softer this time, sweeter and more intimate, making her nipples ache and her heart sing as the hot tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Not too hard as to be impossible, but difficult enough to be an enjoyable challenge." Hugh Alexander, on the code-breaking process.
They took the HMS Aberdeen to New York; two more passengers heading to the United States. Sara wasn’t sure she was ready but Europe was in ruins, and in any case, heart and home meant Grissom, wherever he went. Standing at the rail, they watched England slide away on the horizon, and stood silently together for a long time. He kept his arm around her, and Sara’s filmy scarf fluttered in the fresh breeze off the ocean.
“It’s not big. There are things that need to be repaired.”
“I can use a hammer.”
“I’m not very social; we won’t know many people.”
“I know you and that’s enough for me,” Sara looked up at him, arching her eyebrow. Grissom nodded, and lightly kissed her temple.
“And I know you. Intimately,” he whispered, and she smiled at that, raising a hand to turn his mouth to hers, the gold band on her third finger gleaming.