"Are you lurking?"
She snaps open her eyes. The man from before is a few feet away, leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette.
"You're lurking," he says.
"I'm not lurking." Her heart thuds dangerously against her chest.
"You are. I've been watching you for two whole minutes. Two minutes constitutes a lurk."
She can feel that awful flush creeping back up her neck. "I'm not, actually I'm watching the band." She crosses her arms, looking away from him, trying to focus on the trumpeter's fingers, trying to remember how good she just felt.
From the corner of her eye she sees the man push himself away from the wall. "You're not one of those anarchists, are you?" he says.
She turns to him, incredulous.
His gray eyes are steady. This time he doesn't smile. "I've read about your sort. You go into public places like this." His hand sweeps over the club. "Hundreds of innocents. Bomb in your coat. Leave it in the lavatories. Lurk a bit, then . . . boom." He mimes something exploding. As his hands move up and away from each other, ash falls, scattering in the air. A few flakes land on her dress.
For a moment, she is too surprised to speak. Then, "My coat's over there," she says, gesturing to the table in the corner. "And there's no bomb inside. Anyway, if I were going to blow something up, I wouldn't lurk. I'd leave."
"Ah." He nods. "Well, perhaps I got you wrong."
"Yes," she says. "You did."
They hold each other's gaze. She tries to keep steady, to read him, but her compass is haywire and she cannot fathom him at all. Then his face cracks open with a smile. "Sorry." He shakes his head. "Terrible sense of humor."
Her heart skips. It is disconcerting, the smile; so sudden, as though there were another person entirely hidden underneath. He looks respectable enough, dressed in white shirt and tails, but there is something odd about the way he wears them. She can't say just what it is. Indifference? His hair is unslicked. There are purple shadows beneath his eyes.
He reaches into his pocket, takes out a flask, and lifts it to her mouth. "Here, have a bit of this while you wait."
"No, thank you."
She half-turns from him, cringing as she hears her voice in her head: No, thank you. She sounds so Hammersmith. So up-past-her-bedtime. So prim.
"Go on. It's good stuff. Single malt."
His eyes are laughing now. Is he laughing at her? He is the sort of man who could talk to anyone. So what is he doing hanging around here? It feels like a trick.
She should go and find Gus; he must have been served by now. She should. But she doesn't.
Instead, she reaches for the man's flask, takes it, lifts it to her mouth.
Because she's only here for tonight, and her companion is useless and elsewhere, and her friend is otherwise engaged.
And so what has she got to lose?
She is unprepared for the sharp hit of the drink, though, and she chokes and coughs.
"Not much of a whiskey girl, then?"
She takes another, deeper pull in reply. This time she swallows it down. "Thanks," she says, pleased with herself, handing it back. He looks out over the dance floor. "Are you here to dance, then?" he says. "Or have you just come to lurk?"
"I've come here to dance," she says, as the whiskey flares in her blood.
"Glad to hear it." He crushes his cigarette in an ashtray nearby then turns to her. "How would you feel about dancing with me?"
"If you like." Fewer people are dancing now, and they can walk straight out to the middle of the floor. Once there, the man holds up his hands. It is an odd gesture, not quite the gesture of a man beginning a dance, more that of a man who is unarmed. Hettie puts one hand in his, the other on his evening coat, which is fitted tight against his back. The crease of his collar touches her ear. His hand is cool. He smells of lemons and cigarettes. She feels a bit dizzy. Perhaps it's the drink.
Excerpted from Wake by Anna Hope. Copyright © 2014 by Anna Hope. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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