“Good evening, Miss Kendall. You’re in town with Miss Norton? Lord Hartington was asking after her.”
Osla lowered her voice. “Sally’s fixing me up with someone. Did she give you a hint?”
“She did indeed. He’s inside—Main Lounge, Royal Navy cadet uniform.” Mr. Gibbs looked judicious. “Shall I tell him you’ll be down in an hour, once you’ve changed?”
“If he doesn’t love me in a boiler suit, he’s not worth dressing up for in the first place.” Sally came dashing up and started interrogating Gibbs about Billy Hartington, and Osla sauntered inside. She rather enjoyed the stuffy looks from men in their evening tails and women in their satin gowns as she breezed over the art deco floors in a grubby boiler suit. Look at me! she wanted to shout. I’ve just finished an eight-hour day in an airplane factory and now I’m going to do the conga round the Café de Paris until dawn. Look at me, Osla Kendall, eighteen years old and finally useful.
She spotted him at the bar in his cadet uniform, turned away so she couldn’t see his face. “You wouldn’t happen to be my date, would you?” Osla asked that set of rather splendid shoulders. “Mr. Gibbs says you are, and anybody who’s ever been to Claridge’s knows Mr. Gibbs is never wrong.”
He turned, and Osla’s first thought was, Sally, you rat, you might have warned me! Actually, that was her second thought. Osla’s first thought was that even though she’d never met him, she knew exactly who he was. She’d seen his name in the Tatler and the Bystander; she knew who his family was and the degree to which he was related to the king. She knew he was exactly her age, was a cadet at Dartmouth, and had returned from Athens at the king’s request when war broke out.
“You must be Osla Kendall,” said Prince Philip of Greece.
“Must I?” She repressed the urge to pat at her hair. If she’d known she had a date with a prince, she would have taken a moment to brush the Dural shavings out of her curls.
“Mr. Gibbs said you’d be along right about now, and Mr. Gibbs is never wrong.” The prince leaned against the bar, tanned golden, hair glinting like a coin, eyes very blue and direct. He took in her dirty boiler suit and gave a slow grin. Oh, my, Osla thought. That’s a smile. “Absolutely smashing getup,” he said. “Is that what all the girls are wearing this season?”
“It’s what Osla Kendall is wearing this season.” She struck a magazine pose, refusing to regret the green satin gown in her bag. “I will not be confined within the weak lists of a country’s fashions—”
“Henry V,” he said promptly.
“Oooh, you know your Shakespeare.”
“They crammed a bit into me at Gordonstoun.” He nodded at the bartender, and a wide-brimmed coupe frothing with champagne materialized at Osla’s elbow. “In between all the hiking and sailing.”
“Of course you sail—”
“Why ‘of course’?”
“You look like a Viking; you must have put some time in on an oar or two. Have you got a longship parked round the corner?”
“My uncle Dickie’s Vauxhall. Sorry to disappoint.”
“I see you two are getting along,” Sally laughed, slipping up beside them. “Os, our godfather”—Lord Mountbatten—“is Phil’s uncle, so that’s the connection. Uncle Dickie said Phil didn’t know anyone in London, and did I know a nice girl who could squire him around—”
“A nice girl,” Osla groaned, taking a slug of champagne. “There’s nothing more deadly than being called nice.”
“I don’t think you’re nice,” the prince said.
“Don’t you say the sweetest things?” Tipping her head back. “What am I, then?”
“The prettiest thing I’ve ever seen in a boiler suit.”
“You should see me pot-rivet a seam.”
“Are we going dancing or not?” Sally complained. “Come upstairs and change, Os!”
Prince Philip looked speculative. “If I made you a dare—”
“Careful,” Osla warned. “I don’t back down from dares.”
“She’s famous for it,” Sally agreed. “At Miss Fenton’s, the upper-form girls dared her to put itching powder in the headmistress’s knickers.”
Philip looked down at Osla from his full six feet, grinning again. “Did you do it?”
“Of course. Then I stole her suspender belt, climbed the chapel roof, and hung it from the cross. She kicked up quite a shindy over that. What’s your dare?”
“Come out dancing as you are,” the prince challenged. “Don’t change into whatever satin thing you’ve got in that bag.”
“You’re on.” Osla tossed down the rest of her champagne, and they piled laughing out of the Main Lounge. Mr. Gibbs gave Osla a wink as he opened the doors. She took one gulp of the icy, starry night outside—you could see stars all over London now, with the blackout—and looked over her shoulder at Prince Philip, who had paused to tilt his head up, too. She felt the champagne fizzing in her blood and reached into her pack. “Am I allowed to wear these?” She pulled out her dancing shoes: green satin sandals with glitters of diamanté. “A princess can’t conga without her glass slippers.”
“I’ll allow it.” Prince Philip tugged the sandals away, then picked up her hand and placed it on his shoulder. “Steady . . .” And he knelt down right there on the front steps of Claridge’s to undo Osla’s boots, waiting for her to step out of them, then peeling off her wool socks. He slid her satin sandals on, tanned fingers dark against her white ankles in the faint moonlight. He looked up then, eyes shadowed.
“Oh, seriously.” Osla grinned down at him. “How many girls have you tried this on, sailor?”
He was laughing too, unable to hold his intent expression. He laughed so hard he nearly toppled over, forehead coming for a moment against Osla’s knee, and she touched his bright hair. His fingers were still braceleted around her ankle, warm in the cold night. She saw how passersby were staring at the girl in the boiler suit on the front steps of Mayfair’s best hotel, the man in naval uniform on one knee before her, and gave Philip’s shoulder a playful smack. “Enough swooning.”
He rose. “As you wish.”
They danced the New Year in at the Café de Paris, tripping down the lush carpeted stairs to the underground club. “I didn’t know they did the foxtrot in Greece!” Osla shouted over the blare of trombones, whirling through Philip’s hands. He was a fast, fierce dancer.
“I’m no Greek . . .” He spun her, and Osla was too out of breath to continue until the music relaxed to a dreamy waltz. Philip slowed, raking his disordered hair back into place before gathering Osla up with one arm about her waist. Osla put her hand in his, and they fell easily in rhythm.
“What do you mean, you’re no Greek?” she asked as couples bumped and laughed all around them. The Café de Paris had a warm intimacy that no other nightclub in London could match, maybe because it was twenty feet belowground. Music always seemed louder here, champagne colder, blood warmer, whispers more immediate.
Philip shrugged. “I was carried out of Corfu in a fruit box when I wasn’t even a year old, steps ahead of a horde of revolutionaries. I’ve not spent much time there, don’t speak much of the language, and won’t have any cause to.”
He meant he wouldn’t be king, Osla knew. She had some vague knowledge that the Greek royals had regained their throne, but Philip was far down the line of succession, and with his English grandfather and English uncle, he looked and sounded like any royal cousin. “You sound more English than I do.”
“—and none of the girls I came to court with would ever let me forget it. But until I was ten, I had a German accent.”
“Are you a Hun spy?” He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know any military secrets worth seducing me for, but I hope that doesn’t put you off.”
“You’re very ill behaved for a prince. A positive menace.”
“All the best ones are. Why the German accent?”
“My mother divorced my father and came to England when I was small.” Osla revolved under his hand in a spin, came back into the curve of his arm again. “She stuck me in the country with a German governess, where I spoke only German Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays, and only French Tuesdays-Thursdays-Saturdays. Until I went to boarding school, I only spoke English one day a week, and everything with a German accent.”
“A Canadian who sounds like a German and lives in England.” Philip switched to German himself. “Which country really has a claim on the heart of Osla Kendall?”
“England für immer, mein Prinz,” Osla replied, and switched back before they really could be accused of being Hun spies in this room full of tipsy, patriotic Londoners. “Your German’s perfect. Did you speak it at home?”
He laughed, but the laugh had a sharp edge. “What do you mean, ‘home’? Right now I’m on a camp bed in Uncle Dickie’s dining room. Home is where there’s an invitation or a cousin.”
“I know something about that.”