The soulful, gorgeous trumpet has faded now, and the band is picking up again, the music moving into a rag, a one- step.
One- two, one- two.
The floor is filling, people pressing all around them, cheering, clapping, stamping the music back into life.
One- two, one- two.
He steps toward her.
Hettie steps back. And it's there; it's in that first tiny movement the flash of recognition. Yes! The rare feeling she gets when someone knows how to move. Then the music crashes in, and they are dancing together across the floor.
"Good band tonight," he says, over the music. "American. I like the Americans."
"Oh?" He raises an eyebrow. "Who've you seen, then?"
"The Original Dixies."
"The Dixies? Damn." He looks impressed. "They were the best." He puts his leg between hers as he goes for the spin. "Where'd you see them?"
"The Palais. Hammersmith." She comes back to face him.
"Really? I went there once saw them there, too!" He looks eager suddenly, like a boy.
Hettie considers this, wonders if they danced near each other. They definitely didn't dance together. She'd have remembered.
"What was your favorite number, then?" he says.
She laughs; that's easy. " 'Tiger Rag.' "
" 'Tiger Rag'!" He grins. "Crikey. That one's dangerous. So damn fast."
The fastest of all. Even she used to get out of breath.
"What was he called?" His face creases. "That trumpeter Nick something or other."
Nick LaRocca the world- famous trumpeter from New York. He used to make the girls go barmy. He'd smiled at her once, in the drafty backstage corridor: Hey, kid! he said, and winked as he was doing up his bow tie. She's had his picture above her bed ever since.
"LaRocca! That's it." He looks delighted. "Crazy man. Played like a lunatic."
They are on the edge of the dance floor now, where the noise isn't quite so loud. "So, then," he says, "tell me. An anarchist with a love for American jazz."
"But I'm not " Their eyes catch, and something passes between them, a silent understanding. This is all a game.
"What's your cover?" he says, leaning close close enough for her to smell the whiskey on his breath.
"Oh, it's dancing. At the Palais. I'm a dance instructress there." "Good cover." He smiles, then his forehead creases again, as though he's remembering something. "Not in that awful metal box thing, are you?"
She nods, feels the familiar wince of shame. "Afraid so, yes."
The Pen. That awful metal box. Where she and Di sit, trapped, along with ten other girls, till they are hired, while the men without partners shark up and down, deciding if they want you, if you are worth their sixpence for a turn around the floor.
He leans back, as though to see her better. "You don't look like the sort of girl who's for hire."
Is he making fun of her again? It could be a compliment, but she can't be sure.
"I'm Ed, by the way," he says. "Terribly rude of me. Should have introduced myself before."
"Right, then," he says with a grin. "You can tell me your name when I get the thumbscrews out later."
She laughs. The dance is almost finished. Over his shoulder she can see Gus standing on the edge of the floor, staring out at them forlornly, two drinks in his hands, and as the music comes to its close she is clumsy suddenly, aware of her body, of the parts where it is close to Ed's. She takes her hands down, steps back.
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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