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The Florida Yacht Club, Jacksonville, Florida, June 1943 2130 Hours
The betrayal came at too high a cost. That was the thought that tormented Savannah Elliott as she stood on the fringes of her own party. After all these months, she still couldn't wrap her brain around what Johnny had done. What he'd taken from her. From them both.
If only she could forgive him. Or at least forget. For this one night Savannah wanted to be free of the sadness, the pain. The guilt.
Yet, no matter how hard she focused, she barely noticed the music, the dancers, the conversations playing around her. Her mind kept racing back to that terrible moment when her world had changed forever. When she had changed forever.
Savannah tried to keep her expression neutral, tried to clear her mind of all thought. The memories came anyway. In hard, brutal snatches that shot through her like wellaimed bullets. Dinner with friends. Johnny unexpectedly arriving at the same restaurant. Another woman on his arm. The car crash. The ensuing scandal. The
Savannah shut off the rest of her thoughts. She only had herself to blame. Friends had warned her about Johnny's lack of character. Her father had tried to make her see reason, first by cajoling and then by threatening to cut her off financially. Nothing had swayed her. Even her mother, her sweet, docile mother, had expressed suspicion.
Savannah didn't want to admit they'd been right. But the truth could no longer be ignored. Johnny hadn't been what he'd seemed.
What did it matter now? Her husband was dead. And no amount of anger, tears or bargaining with the Lord would bring him back. Why couldn't everyone leave it at that?
Because of the way he died.
A small gasp, nearly a sob, slipped out of her while memories of that fateful night slithered through her mind. Had her husband died in the war, perhaps tonight would have been easier. Perhaps the whispers would have been less painful to endure.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Savannah took a deep breath. The pleasant scent of magnolias and fresh river water did nothing to dispel the anger clawing for release.
She would not give in to the emotion. She would not.
She would learn from her mistakes. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves, wasn't that what the Lord commanded?
Never again. She promised herself that she would never again fail to look below the surface.
Focusing on the scene in front of her, Savannah forced herself to catalog every detail, as though she were listing them in neat columns in her ledgers. Numbers, equations, order, those were the things she understood.
She counted a total of twenty band members. They played an oldfashioned waltz rather than a more popular swing number. One, two, three. The perfect order found in the beats below the waltz's haunting melody soothed her far more than words from wellmeaning friends. One, two, three.
Savannah swayed slowly, counting every beat in her head. Comforted by the precision of the music, she continued her inspection. The women, save for a few matrons, were dressed in long, shimmery gowns. Matching jewels glittered around their necks. The explosion of color hurt Savannah's eyes, but was a perfect foil to the redred lips and loosely rolled hairstyles. At least the men wore more serious clothing. The black tuxedos and starkwhite shirts better fit Savannah's dark mood.
Unfortunately, their laughter rang too loud, too bright, too false.
Needing order once again, she resumed counting the precise beats below the music. One, two, three. No one seemed to care that the world was at war. Or maybe they did care. Maybe this was their way of coping. Maybe
"You're frowning, Savannah."
She swallowed a sigh at the gentle admonishment. Not wanting to worry her fatherthis party had been his idea, after all she pasted a smile on her face and turned to face him. "Am I? I didn't realize."
He gave her arm an affectionate pat. The gesture calmed her, enough that she found it in her to smile again. This time the effort came easier.
She adored her father. They'd always had a special bond. William Klein was everything a father should be. Savannah knew that now. Not only was he tall, with broad shoulders large enough to carry his loved ones' burdens, he was also trustworthy.
The handsome face had few lines, even though he would turn fifty next month. His full head of blond hair had very little gray and, best of all, his pale blue eyes held nothing but fatherly concern. No judgment. No condemnation. No reminder that she'd let him down by marrying a man like Johnny. She'd been right to come home.
"Savannah, my dear." He lowered his voice so only she could hear his words. "You're supposed to be enjoying yourself. This party is for you."
Yes, the party was being held in her honor, but Savannah knew this night was important to her father as well. A time for him to express his joy over her return. A time to celebrate the wayward daughter's homecoming after her season of rebellion.
But how could Savannah pretend all was well? Even without the loss of her husband in that car crash, and the subsequent scandal that had followed, the world was at war. Young men American menwere dying. Dying. In record numbers. She'd already lost too many friends.
Smiling, laughing, waltzing, it all seemed so so inappropriate.
"Come, Savannah, I'll not have you cower in the corner at your own party."
The genuine worry in her father's tone brought a sting to her eyes. Still, she couldn't make herself pretend she wanted to be here, no matter how hard she tried.
"I have to be at work early in the morning," she said, hoping she didn't sound as disagreeable as she felt.
Surely her father would accept her excuse. After all, he'd insisted she take the job at Pembroke Shipyard, one of his bank's best clients and in desperate need of a replacement bookkeeper now that the other man had enlisted.
A chance for her to get her mind off her problemsthat had been her father's reasoning. Hers as well, at least at first. But within days of her becoming the shipyard's sole bookkeeper matters had changed.
An everincreasing sense of purpose had settled over her.
She was doing her part for the war effort, ensuring the shipyard ran smoothly and efficiently. Their overall production of Liberty ships had already improved since she'd joined the operation. Her contribution mattered. And perhaps, for the first time in her life, she mattered. Not as someone's daughter. Not as someone's wife. But as herself.
It was a heady feeling, knowing that she was headed in a new, even noble direction with her life. For God and country.
"One dance, my dear." Her father persisted. "That's all I ask. Then, if you are still inclined, you may leave."
She opened her mouth to argue, but he preempted her with a dismissive wave of his hand. "If you continue lurking in the shadows, people will begin to talk."
Savannah blinked up at her father. He meant well. He always meant well. And she loved him for it, loved the way he worried about her even when it wasn't necessary.
But didn't he know people were already talking? They hadn't bothered hiding their curiosity, were openly staring at her, whispering as soon as she passed by. She knew what they were thinking, what they were saying about her, about Johnny and that other woman.
In truth, she'd rather be anywhere but here at the country club, but Savannah knew her father would continue to push hergently, of courseuntil she ultimately agreed to his request.
"All right," she said. "One dance."
Hooking her arm through his, she stepped forward.
He pulled her back to his side. "Not with me." He nodded toward his assistant, who was winding his way through the sea of dancers. "With Peter."
A chill ran down her spine, ending in a cold shiver. Savannah quickly averted her gaze so her father wouldn't see her reaction to his suggestion. Ever since coming home, their only source of conflict had been over Peter. She certainly didn't want to continue the argument here tonight.
If only she could figure out why the man made her so uncomfortable, why he put her on edge. Her aversion made little sense. On the surface, there was nothing wrong with Peter. Blond hair, chiseled features, aristocratic bearinghe was beautiful, if a man could be called such.
Oh, but his eyes. Pale blue, icy, they made her uneasy, especially when he was looking straight at her. Like he was now.
Another shiver coursed through her.
Something wasn't right about the way he watched her with that stony expression, as if Savannah was somehow a threat to her own father.
Ridiculous, of course. Peter was the real problem. Ever since hiring the man three years ago, her father had changed. Not in things that matteredsuch as his love for her and her mother but in other, more subtle ways. His choice in music. The artwork he purchased. Even his preferred reading material.
Perhaps Savannah's perceptions were colored by her recent disillusionments. Perhaps she was more cynical than she should be. Yet, she couldn't shake the notion that Peter was dangerous to her father.
It would do well for her to keep an eye on him, to uncover what made her question his very motives. She would start tonight.
"Yes, Father." She lifted her chin a fraction higher. "If it pleases you, I'll dance with him."
Satisfaction flickered in his eyes. "That's my girl."
Trent Mueller entered the ballroom as he did every party with a beautiful woman on his arm. It had been his trademark since his college days. But unlike the carefree life he'd led back then, there would be no time for amusement this evening. No chance to partake in the laughter.
And absolutely no room for error.
The stakes were too high to forget why he was here and what he had to do in less than seven days. The woman by his side had her own role to play. Like Trent, Katherine Gallagher was a highly trained OSS agent. Despite her flawless features, coalblack hair and startling green eyes, Kate knew her duty down to the letter. Her slight personal connection with Trent, though indirect, wouldn't interfere with her performance tonight. Or his. In truth, their mutual bond through Kate's brother only enhanced Trent's cover story.
Stopping at the edge of the dance floor, he took in the room with a single glance. He gauged the players, memorized the exit points and determined his next course of action. Dance. He needed to get Kate out on the dance floor as soon as possible.
With the ease of a man used to leading, Trent guided his "date" forward, his hand at the small of her back. In unspoken agreement, they settled into each other's arms and then fell in step with the other dancers.
The music was spectacular, worldclass. For a moment, just one, Trent allowed the sound to wash over him, to remind him of better times, when his biggest concern had been which party to attend first. So caught up in nostalgia, he nearly lost his bearings. The glitter, the music, the carefree laughter, it was as if he'd been transported to a world where there was no war, no pain. And no death.
A dangerous illusion.
Didn't these people, these fortunate Americans, realize what was happening across the Pond? Hadn't they heard about the terror? The courageous sacrifices made by those who laid down their lives daily? Hourly? Not just men, but women and children as well. Children like little Heinrich. The tenyearold boy who'd saved Trent's life, only to be shot down by a standardissue Gestapo firearm because Trent hadn't been quick enough.
Senseless death. Mindless killing. A hardened heart. All were the legacies of his life as a spy. What would become of his soul?
Rolling his shoulders, Trent shoved aside the disturbing question, reset his frame and then steered Kate through a series of complicated turns. She matched him step for step, her eyes casually scanning the room for one person in particular.
Trent waited, keeping his mind sharp, his instincts on alert. The music was forgotten. Or rather, ignored. If he failed, if the mission didn't go exactly as planned, the Nazis would succeed in bringing the war to American soil.
"There she is," Kate said, her voice just above a whisper. "On your left. The selfpossessed blonde in the iceblue dress."
Another smooth turn and Trent caught sight of the woman. The air in his lungs expanded then clogged in his throat. He blinked, swallowed several times, repeating the process until he had his breathing back under control.
He simply hadn't been prepared for his first glimpse of Savannah Elliott, recent widow and daughter of a suspected traitor. She was beyond beautiful, stunning even, the type of woman he'd once found impossible to resist. But Trent was no longer the carefree second son of an important, wellconnected family. And SavannahMrs. Elliottwas only a means to an end, a way into her father's world.
Knowing his duty, Trent glided Kate through another turn, all the while keeping his gaze locked on their quarry. He shifted his attention to her dance partner. They made a striking pair. "Who's the man with her?"
Peter Sorensen. William Klein's assistant. Trent fought to keep his expression bland. The Norwegian was a shameless social climber, one who'd made a name for himself riding on his boss's coattails over the past three years. Trent didn't like the man on principle, but there were other, darker reasons for his disdain. Enough suspicion surrounded Sorensen to make him a threat in his own right.
"And there's the man of the hour, Savannah's father, on your left." Kate hitched her chin over her right shoulder. "Conversing with his wife by the banquet table."
Sweeping them in that direction, Trent eyed the older couple. The wife was a more mature, equally striking version of her daughter. A cool, regal blonde, she was the perfect accessory for a prominent banker and businessman known for his philanthropic contributions.
The Kleins seemed so carefree. So normal. So American.
A surge of derision bolted through Trent. Despite appearances, despite popular opinion among locals, William Klein was not what he seemed. The OSS had undeniable proof he was a Nazi sympathizer. Worse than that, Klein was a possible traitor, one suspected of plotting with the Germans to sabotage the U.S. war effort in the next seven days.
He returned his attention to the woman in his arms. A local girl, Kate had grown up with Savannah Klein Elliott. They'd been friends since they were young girls, which was the key to Kate's involvement in this mission. "Does Savannah know who, or rather what, her father is?"