Read an Excerpt
1918 Pearlman, Michigan
Darcy Shea squinted into the bright September sky, trying to make out the rigid, oversized bird approaching Baker's field. Her pulse skipped and bounded. Could it be? Seven years since she last saw an aeroplane. Seven years waiting. It had to be, it just had to.
"Why did you stop?" Best friend, Beatrice Fox, pirouetted under her lace-trimmed parasol. "We're already late."
"Just wait a moment." Darcy stood still, listening.
The sun's heat shimmered off the baked road. Grasses rustled and crickets hummed, but no low drone of an engine. She absently tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. Perhaps she was mistaken. She sighed and resumed walking to the grange.
"Blake's cousin George from Buffalo is visiting this week," chattered Beatrice. She was lately engaged to the only son of the richest family in town, and every relation seemed to be paying respects. "You'd like him. Perhaps you could spend some time together."
Darcy cringed. Her friend was forever trying to create a match for her, quite as bad as Papa. "What's wrong with the man?"
"Absolutely nothing." Beatrice wove an arm around hers. "He's handsome, intelligent and our age." "Then why isn't he in the war?"
"Because he's studying to be a physician. A doctor, Darcy, a professional." Beatrice tugged slightly, urging Darcy to walk faster. "I have a thought. We can go on a picnic, all four of us. You can't object to a picnic."
Darcy did not want to go anywhere with a man she'd never met. "I don't know anything about him."
"Blake says he's a real sport."
"Blake would say that. It's his cousin."
Beatrice tsked her disapproval. "He's perfectly charming. And educated. There aren't many opportunities to meet eligible men, so if you want to catch one"
Beatrice planted a hand on her hip. "Darcy, you must be reasonable. You're twenty-three. People are starting to talk. The war can only be an excuse for so long."
"I'm not using the war as an excuse. I don't want to marry. Ever." She shuddered at the drudgery of children and housework. "Better to fight for women's rights."
"Are you still following Prudy and her lot of suffragists? You'll get a bad reputation. Felicity says some people already wonder if you're one of those man-haters."
Darcy didn't care two pins what Felicity Kensington said, and she didn't see why Beatrice placed such stock in her uppity future sister-in-law. "I don't hate men. I just don't want to marry. I have things to do." Such as flying. She scanned the sky for the plane. Gone.
"Just meet him and talk a little."
"It's just a picnic, not marriage."
A faint drone froze Darcy. The aeroplane. Within seconds she located it low in the eastern sky, heading toward them. "What is that sound?" Beatrice looked everywhere but up.
The plane dipped and veered toward town. It was landing. It had to be. No plane would fly that low if it wasn't landing. If only she could be onboard. If only she could fly. Darcy danced across the road.
"Where are you going?" Beatrice called. "We're already late from the nickel show. Your mother will be furious."
"No she won't." Which wasn't quite true.
"She'll make us roll extra bandages."
Darcy motioned for her to wait. "Just one moment longer."
The hum intensified until it sounded like a whole hive of bees. An aeroplane. Darcy hung transfixed at the edge of the field. She couldn't leave now. She hadn't seen an aeroplane since the 1911 Chicago air exhibition, the day she knew God intended her to fly. In the air, women flew alongside men as equals. That's where she belonged, not in lowly Pearlman, where not even the scent of an aeroplane could be found.
Until now. The biplane wobbled slightly as it descended, the left wing dipping before the pilot righted it at the last minute. It did not resemble the planes she'd seen in Chicago. This pilot sat farther back, below the upper wing, in a partially enclosed cockpit. The engine was located forward, giving the machine a sleek, fast appearance.
Beatrice shaded her eyes. "What is it?"
"The answer to my prayers."
The aeroplane headed straight toward them at low altitude. Beatrice shrieked and clutched at her impossibly flowered hat as the plane zoomed overhead and banked to make a run down the length of the empty field. The grass bent flat under the roar, and the turbulence sent Darcy's hair swirling. The plane swooped onto the field, bouncing once before mowing a wide swath through the grass.
"Whooee!" Darcy ran after it, and then, seeing as Beattie was still hunched on the ground, came back. "An aeroplane. Here, in Pearlman. Imagine." God had sent Darcy's dream on canvas-covered wings.
"Tell me it's gone," Beatrice whimpered.
"Of course it's not gone." Darcy peeled Beattie's gloved hands off her ears. "It stopped by old man Baker's empty barn." Already, Hendrick Simmons from the automobile garage and Dennis Allington from the train depot raced down the road on their motorbikes, twin trails of dust rising in the dry September air. "I wonder if something's wrong."
"I don't care, and neither should you." Beatrice smoothed down her dress. "I thought that horrible thing would kill us."
"It wasn't going to kill us. The pilot knew where heor shewas going. Imagine! It could be a woman pilot." Darcy had to meet her somehow.
The beep of a motorcar horn sent them scurrying to the edge of the road. Frank Devlin, editor of The Pearlman Prog-nosticator, chugged past in his dusty Model T touring car. That was the answer. The newspaper. She could write a story on the plane and talk the pilot into giving her a ride.
"I need to talk to the pilot, Beattie." Darcy squeezed her friend's hand. "This story will make the front page, and I'm going to be the one to write it. Tell Mum I'll be late."
"We're already late. Your mother won't like it. She'll say your duty is to the Red Cross."
"My duty is to the people of Pearlman. Tell her I'll roll double the bandages tomorrow." Darcy itched to run. A plane. A pilot. Everything she'd dreamed the past seven years had come directly to her. She had to see it.
Beatrice clutched her arm. "Don't do anything foolish. Promise?"
Darcy pulled away and bounded down the road. "I'm going to ask the pilot to give me a ride."
"A ride?" came the cry from behind her. "You're going into the air in that thing? Stop, stop." Beattie panted, struggling to run in her hobble skirt and heeled shoes.
As much as Darcy loved her, Beattie was such a perfect Jane, all frills and lace. She'd faint from this much exertion. Darcy went back to her. "What are you doing? I said I'd meet you at the grange."
"You could die," Beatrice insisted breathlessly, "like that heroine of yours. What's her name? Harriet Quincy?"
"Quimby, and it was an accident. The passenger moved suddenly and threw the plane off balance. That's not going to happen here."
The pilot, dressed in knee boots and leather jacket, climbed out of the plane. A man. Too bad.
"How do you know disaster won't happen?" Beatrice insisted. "She fell a hundred feet."
A thousand, actually, but Darcy didn't correct her. Though silent now, the plane beckoned to her. The smell of burnt oil hung in the air. A sizeable crowd had gathered around the plane, and opportunity was slipping away. If the pilot had only stopped to fuel, he might be gone within the hour.
"Sorry, Beattie, but I have to go."
"But, your father. He won't like it," Beatrice huffed. "What will he say?"
Darcy knew exactly what Papa would say. No, with a capital N. Respectable young ladies don't fly aeroplanes. But they did. They did. "He doesn't need to know," Darcy insisted. "He's your father."
"I'm a grown woman." Nothing and no one would keep her from her dream. "And if he doesn't know, he won't be hurt. Promise me, Beattie."
Across the field, the pilot had returned to the cockpit and the crowd was turning the plane, readying it to fly off. Her future was about to disappear into the pale blue sky.
"Only if you promise to go on the picnic with George."
Darcy gritted her teeth. It was extortion. "All right, but only if I reach the plane before it takes off." Without waiting for confirmation, she hitched up her skirts and ran across the field. The wiry grass tangled around her ankles. She stumbled on the uneven ground.
Dennis Allington pulled on the propeller. The engine coughed and rumbled to life.
No time. No time.
Darcy gasped for air, her lungs burning. She couldn't run any faster. She couldn't get there in time. Her whole future was flying away.
Her hair tumbled from its pins as the plane inched forward. Then the motor spluttered, choked and died. A thistle caught her shirtsleeve. She tore loose as the men gathered along the back of the wings. They pushed. She stopped, gulping for air, as the machine coasted into the barn.
Thank heavens. She composed herself and twisted her hair back into a knot, so she'd look professional for the interview.
By the time Darcy slipped through the open barn doors, Devlin, Allington, Simmons, old man Baker, and half of the supposedly employed men of the town had gathered around the aeroplane in a big semicircle. Darcy tried to wedge through, but they stood like a fence between her and the plane.
She circled around, looking for a gap, and spied Hendrick Simmons. Her childhood friend would let her through. She made her way toward him as the pilot climbed out of the cockpit. He tossed his goggles into the forward seat before jumping to the barn's dirt floor, still seeded with trampled bits of straw.
"Should be a matter of two, three days at most," the pilot said to Baker, who was doubtless calculating precisely how much rent he could weasel out of his new tenant. "Do you have a telephone?"
"Don't need them newfangled contraptions," Baker said, his lower lip drawn over his upper, due to the few teeth he had left and his general disinclination to spend money on luxuries like false teeth.
"There's one in town" Darcy began, but Devlin cut her off.
"Closest one's at the Prognosticator office." He stuck out his hand. "Frank Devlin, managing editor of our fair city's most highly esteemed publication. I'd be glad to loan you the use of our telephone."
Oh, no. Devlin was going to beat her out of the story and steal the pilot, too.
"Jack Hunter." The pilot shook Devlin's hand. "I'll take you up on that offer."
Mr. Jack Hunter ruffled his sandy-colored hair with the luxurious ease of a cat rising from a nap. Standing perhaps six feet tall, Hunter had the confident manner to be expected in a pilot. And he was handsome. Easily as athletic and dashing as Douglas Fairbanks. Every unmarried woman in town would swoon over him, but not Darcy. Darcy Shea did not swoon.
"Tell me what fair city this happens to be," Hunter said.
With one quick thrust, Darcy burst through the circle of men. "Pearlman," she said before Devlin could answer. "Pearl-man, Michigan."
Jack Hunter took notice, his gaze traveling up and down Darcy's frame, as if sizing her for a dress, but if he thought he would unnerve her, he was sorely mistaken.
She stared back. Square between the eyes.
One eyebrow rose. "Pearlman? Never heard of it. Anywhere near Chicago, Miss ?"
"Shea. Darcy Shea. And yes, about a hundred miles, less by air."
"That so?" Hunter chuckled as he fetched a cap from the cockpit. He tipped it slightly. "Many thanks, Miss." He turned to Devlin. "With any luck, Burrowshe's my mechanicwill have reached Chicago by now."
"Let's get going, then." Devlin shoved the stump of a cigar back into his mouth. Frankly, it was a wonder he'd bothered to take it out. He never did at the presses, and the stench of the thing overwhelmed even the smell of ink and grease.
Hunter turned to old man Baker. "I'll be back later to check on the plane."
Darcy had to act now. If she was going to have any chance at this story and her plane ride, she had to be with Devlin and Hunter in the motorcar, not hanging back in Baker's barn. She curled behind the bystanders, who pressed closer to the aeroplane.
"Don't touch anything," Hunter warned, when one of the kids climbed on the lower wing. "Any damage, Mr. Baker, comes out of the fee."
That put Baker into action, rousting everyone from the barn. It also gave Darcy opportunity to slip past unnoticed.
"I'm a mechanic " Hendrick Simmons said weakly as Hunter strode by, but the pilot didn't hear him.
Poor Simmons. He was a nice guy, forever tinkering with motors, and talkative enough when you asked him how stuff worked, but he hadn't an ounce of gumption. Darcy, on the other hand, had plenty. Devlin was not going to steal Hunter away from her. She raced to the Model T and slid into the backseat, keeping low so Devlin and Hunter didn't spot her.
"Cora can place the call while you settle up at Terchie's," said Devlin, opening his door. "That's the hotel here."
Darcy smothered a laugh. Terchie's was nothing more glamorous than a boardinghouse.
"Want to bring your bag along?" Devlin asked. "It'll save you the trouble of hefting it into town later."
Jack Hunter dropped into the passenger seat. "Don't have a bag."
Darcy could see his reflection in the windshield. Even teeth and a boyish grin, just a little lopsided. And his eyes. She sighed. Oh, his eyes. Bright as cornflowers. If she did happen to be interested in a man Darcy shook her head. What was she thinking?
"Didn't expect to need it," Hunter said. "My things are with Burrows on the train."
He sat so close Darcy could touch him. She could smell the warm leather and faint scent of soap. No starch or stiff collar in his shirt. The black tie hung loose, as if he didn't care what people thought. And his jacket was soft and brown and buttery.
"Well, I might be a tad larger," Devlin said, rubbing his expansive gut, "but I could loan youwhat on earth?" He'd spied her. "Shea. What are you doing in my car?"
"Uh " Darcy scrambled for an explanation and spotted Beatrice approaching, red-faced and out of breath. "You do give rides to ladies, don't you?"
"Ladies?" he spluttered. "Out!"
Hunter grinned at Darcy, and she nearly melted. Those blue eyes. The crooked smile. The strong jaw.
"I don't see why we can't give Miss Shea a lift," he said. "We're going that direction anyway."
In that instant, Jack Hunter won her gratitude. Now, if he would just give her a plane ride
Devlin didn't share Mr. Hunter's generosity. "I don't have time to ferry girls around town."
"I'm hardly a girl," Darcy noted for Mr. Hunter's benefit, "but that's not the point. We're tired and hot." "We? I see only one of you."
Darcy waved to her friend who had reached the barn. "Beatrice. Here. Mr. Devlin is giving us a ride into town."