Lovely War by Julie Berry Read Online (FREE)
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I Hear a Rhapsody
IT IS EARLY evening in the lobby of an elegant Manhattan hotel. Crystal prisms dangling from the chandeliers glow with soft electric light. On velvet couches near the fire, couples sit close, the men in officers’ uniform, the women in evening wear, resting their heads on their gentlemen’s shoulders. Restaurant garçons seat couples at dim tables secluded by faux-Greek marble busts and showy ferns, where urgent kisses may remain unseen.
The orchestra warms up, then begins the strains of “I Hear a Rhapsody.” A lady singer fills the glittering stage with her amber-colored voice:
MY DARLING, HOLD ME TIGHT
AND WHISPER TO ME
THEN SOFT THROUGH A STARRY NIGHT
I’LL HEAR A RHAPSODY
She’s not Dinah Shore, but she’s really something.
A man and woman enter the lobby and approach the front desk. All eyes follow their progress across the Persian rugs. The man, colossal in build and stern of jaw, wears a fedora tipped low over his brow. When he reaches for a billfold from the inside pocket of his double-breasted pin-striped suit, the panicky thought occurs to the desk clerk that perhaps the man is reaching for a pistol. His black-and-white wing-tip shoes don’t look jaunty. They look dangerous. He makes half the men nervous, and the other half angry. He’s the kind of man who could crush you beneath his feet, and he knows it.
But oh, is he beautiful.
His lady friend, even more so.
She wears a tailored, belted suit of deep blue that fits her better than skin. Her figure is the sort that makes other women give up altogether. From the waves of dark hair, coiffed and coiled under her cocktail hat, to her wide, long-lashed eyes peering out through its coy little veil of black netting, down to the seams of her silk stockings disappearing into her Italian leather pumps, she is arrestingly beautiful. Impossibly perfect. The scent of her perfume spreads its soft fingers across the lobby. Everyone there, man and woman, surrenders to their awareness of her.
The tall man knows this, and he’s none too pleased about it.
He riffles a pile of bills under the nose of the stammering clerk and snatches a key out of his unprotesting hand. They make their way through the lobby, with the man urging the woman forward as though time won’t keep, while she takes every slow step as though she’d invented the art of walking.
They carry no luggage.
Even so, a stooped and bearded bellhop follows them up the stairs and down the corridor. The violent glares from the tall man would have sent others fleeing, but this bellhop chatters as he lopes along on crooked steps. They ignore him, and he doesn’t seem to mind.
They reach their room. Its lock gives way beneath the swift thrust and twist of the man’s key. They disappear into their room, but the persistent bellhop follows them in.