Rating: PG-13 for language.
Notes: Many thanks to Esther, for cluing me in on the military regulations in 1980s Germany relating to women. And for her assistance with the German, be it translations or customs.
Summary: The Major is given a startling proposal. The decision he makes will set the course of the future. How will he decide?
By: Margaret Price firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration by: The Reverand email@example.com
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
By Margaret Price
DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
"Excuse me, Herr von dem Eberbach, could I trouble you to rescue a damsel in distress?"
Klaus turned to the woman who had come up beside him, the expression on his face a combination of surprise and suspicion. He was standing just inside the main door of the ballroom of Schloss Eberbach and had not heard her approach over the noisy gathering. How he hated these social affairs. His father had arranged this one, and, naturally, he was expected to play the perfect host. The perfect gentleman to all the fawning females being paraded before him.
Klaus had no illusions as to the purpose of the ball, notwithstanding what his father claimed. It was not to raise money for charity. It was another attempt to get his son married off and secure an heir for the von dem Eberbach line.
Klaus looked at the woman now standing in front of him, taking a second to recall her name. Anna Schmidt. The daughter of a wealthy industrialist who had suddenly appeared within West Germany's high society not long after the end of the Second World War. As women went, he supposed she would be considered good looking, although not overly beautiful. Then the intelligence agent in him took over and he quickly noted her physical characteristics. Average height, slender, slightly athletic build, shoulder length strawberry-blond hair and green eyes. Unlike the other women who had been thrust at him all evening, she was not weighted down with jewelry, nor was she wearing an overabundance of make up.
"I wouldn't have dreamed of bothering you," Anna went on, pulling Klaus back to reality, "but I hoped your being the host would be a deterrent."
"Deterrent to what, Fräulein Schmidt?"
Anna threw a quick glance to the other side of the room. Klaus followed her gaze, seeing two men, dressed in the same uncomfortable formal attire as he was, huddled in conversation.
"Those two won't leave me alone."
Klaus felt a flush of anger. The last thing he needed was to have a woman accosted in the Schloss. He would never hear the end of it. "Did they…?" He fumbled for the right words and looked down at Anna. "Did they…put their hands on you?"
Anna found the awkwardness of the question amusing but did not allow it to show. "No. Well, not this time."
"This isn't the first time I've run into them. They're the sort who won't take no for an answer. I was rather hoping if I spoke with you a few minutes they'd...well, go annoy someone else."
Klaus looked up, seeing that this was not the case. He was amused, however, to see the men in question flinch when they noticed him looking at them. It appeared Fräulein Schmidt had been correct in her assumption that they would not venture near while she was in his vicinity.
The music stopped at that moment and Klaus turned at the sound of giggles. He had his own group of pursuers to contend with. Three women stood in a tight group; exchanging whispers, throwing glances in his direction and then bursting into a fit of the giggles again. He gave a resigned sigh, thinking he would rather face the KGB than a group of scatterbrained females.
"Looks as though you have your own problems, Major," Anna observed mildly.
Klaus turned sharply back to her. "What did you say?" he practically demanded.
Anna flinched. "I…said you had your own problems."
"You called me Major."
"I'm sorry." Anna met the accusing glare steadily. "Was that wrong?"
The music started again at that moment. The last thing Klaus wanted was to have to shout over it to be heard. He wanted answers. He also wanted a cigarette. He held out his arm. "Come with me to the garden." His tone made it clear that this was not a request. Anna obediently took his arm and he went to the nearest open doorway leading to the garden.
Once outside, Anna expected her escort to drop his arm. Instead, he led her to a stone bench a short distance from the doorway. She took a seat, glancing back to see the three women who had been giggling were now peering through one of the windows, struggling to see into the darkness. Thank God it's dark or we'd have an audience.
Klaus lit a cigarette and took a long drag on it, blowing smoke into the air. He suddenly fixed a piercing gaze on the woman, asking sharply, "Who sent you?"
Anna started and looked up. "I beg your pardon?"
"Who sent you?"
"No one sent me."
"You can drop the act, Fräulein Schmidt."
"It isn't an act, Major von dem Eberbach. My mother dragged me here, kicking and screaming, if you must know."
Klaus stiffened slightly. This wasn't the answer he expected. "That's the second time you've called me Major," he observed coldly.
"I always call you Major."
Now Klaus was completely thrown. "What?"
Anna sat back, the expression on her face one of genuine surprise. "My God, Iron Klaus doesn't know who I am. I thought you remembered everything."
Suddenly Klaus was no longer the host of a social gathering. He was Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach of NATO intelligence. He drew himself to his full height, his eyes narrowing. "Just who are you?" he demanded coldly. To his surprise, the woman before him met his threatening gaze steadily, something few ever dared to do. To his added surprise, she smiled.
"Major, I'm Lieutenant Maria Susanne Schmidt. I work in the NATO Records Department, Intelligence Division. I'm part of the team that was brought in to coordinate the upgrade in the records system. I'm the one your subordinates are always pestering for the files you want at a moment's notice."
Klaus blinked and looked at the woman before him as though seeing her for the first time. "You're the one with the glasses," he said without thinking.
Anna could not help herself and laughed. "Oh, so that's how you tell us all apart!" The expression on the Major's face caused her to laugh again. "I never realized that contact lenses could be a disguise."
"Canadian army. My family traveled a great deal. I'm Canadian by birth, sir."
Klaus nodded. "I've never seen you out of your uniform," he said in way of explanation.
Anna's eyes lit up, a hand going to her mouth in a vain attempt to stop a giggle from escaping. The puzzled look on the Major's face did not help matters. Then he suddenly realized what he had said and a horrified expression passed over his face. Clearly embarrassed, he took another drag on his cigarette and stepped further into the garden, widening the gap between them.
"Anna! Anna?" a voice called suddenly.
Klaus turned and then groaned as one of the gigglers poked her head out the door.
"Shall I get rid of her for you?" Anna asked.
"I'm supposed to be the host."
"You rescued me from the gropers. Let me pay you back."
When the woman called again, Klaus realized his only other means of escape was to go all the way around the garden. He crushed out his cigarette and stepped back into the shadows where he would not be seen. Anna observed this with a small smile and turned back to greet her friend. "I'm over here, Hilde," she called out calmly.
Hilde looked around before going over to the bench and sitting down. "Well?" she asked expectantly.
Anna scowled. "Well what?"
Hilde slapped Anna's arm playfully. "Well, what's he like?"
"What's who like? Hilde, you're not making sense."
"Anna! You came out here with Herr von dem Eberbach! Everybody's dying to know what happened."
Anna rolled her eyes and groaned. She was uncertain, but thought she heard the Major give a low growl of disapproval at the same time. "Nothing happened. I just asked him to get me away from a couple of gropers, that's all. We came out here. I sat down on the bench. He went into the garden to smoke a cigarette. End of story."
"Oh, Anna! Why must you always be so unromantic?" Hilde moaned in disappointment.
"Oh God, Hilde," Anna moaned in reply. "Real life isn't a romance novel."
"The least you could've done was lie and say he told you how beautiful you are."
This time Anna did hear the Major as he groaned in annoyance. A sentiment she shared. "You know I don't lie, either."
Hilde pulled out a compact and started powering her nose. Her friend wondered if she were only doing this for affect, as there was no possible way she could see what she was doing in the dark.
Anna glanced over to the ballroom, seeing one of her relentless pursers at another of the windows. Then a devilish smile came to her face. "Alright, Hilde, I wasn't going to say anything about this…"
Hilde did not even stop what she was doing. "What?" she said in a bored tone.
"You see that man looking out the window over there? The one with the white flower in his lapel?"
Hilde glanced over at him. "What about him?"
"Well…he told me he likes you, but he's afraid to approach you because-" Anna broke off, looking her friend in the eye. "You're not going to let what I have to say go to your head, are you?" she asked admonishingly.
Hilde was suddenly bouncing up and down. In fact, Anna was certain she would fall off the bench if she kept at it. "Tell me! Tell me! Anna, what did he say?"
Anna threw a quick, furtive glance towards the window and then leaned close to her friend, lowering her voice as if she were confiding a state secret. "He said he's afraid to approach you because…you're so beautiful and must have dozens of boyfriends. Now how's that for romantic nonsense?"
It was all that the listening Klaus could do not to give a loud disgusted snort, not that Hilde would have heard him. She was too busy squealing and making all the other unpleasant female noises he hated.
"Well, don't just sit there," Anna was saying, "go talk to him."
"Oh, Lord, how do I look? Do I need to fix my lipstick? How's my hair?"
"Hilde, I don't think he'll care about any of that," Anna said as she pushed a stray strand of Hilde's hair back into place. "Now, go before one of the other girls grabs him for the next dance."
Hilde was up and gone in a blink. Klaus came out of the shadows and watched as she went shyly up to the man at the window. In less than a minute, he was offering her his arm and they were heading to the dance floor.
Anna looked up as Klaus lit another cigarette. "Well, that gets rid of one for each of us, I think, Major. Maybe I should thank my mother for bringing me after all."
"You handled the situation like a pro, Lieutenant Schmidt," Klaus remarked evenly.
A ghost of a smile passed across Anna's face. "I have intelligence training, too, Major von dem Eberbach." She threw a quick glance toward the door. "To be frank, I'd rather face a terrorist than any of my so-called suitors. They wouldn't give me a second look if my family didn't have money. And my mother's Victorian outlook is no help. She doesn't approve of me working. I'm supposed to find a man from 'a good family,' get married and have babies." She gave an indignant snort at this thought. "That's why she insists on dragging me to every social gathering and pushing me at whoever has been fool enough to invite us."
Klaus replied with an indignant snort of his own, taking another drag on his cigarette.
Anna suddenly realized what she had said, and to whom. She put a hand to her mouth, clearly mortified by her remarks. "Oh my God, Major, I'm so sorry. That was incredibly tactless of me." She received a look through hooded eyes that was completely unreadable.
"It was an honest observation," Klaus said without malice. "Women like your mother have been pushing their daughters at me since I was presented to society at sixteen."
"Oh, God…" Anna moaned, closing her eyes. "Did you have to endure that horrific coming out ritual, too?"
Again, Klaus replied with a snort.
"My mother had the brilliant idea that I should be presented at the Debutante's Ball in New York City." As she spoke, Anna pulled a cigarette from her purse, accepting the light from Klaus with a small smile.
"Why New York City?"
"Apparently, Bonn wasn't prestigious enough, or some such nonsense." She waved a hand in the air. "She wanted me to look like Jackie Kennedy."
Klaus's eyebrows went up. "And did you?"
"I looked more like Jack Kennedy," Anna replied darkly. "It was a disaster." To her surprise, she heard the Major give a small chuckle. She gave him a steady look but did not comment further, thinking that she had probably said too much already. She finished her cigarette and got to her feet.
"Thank you for rescuing me, Herr von dem Eberbach," she said politely, smoothing the skirt of her dress. "I think I should go find my mother before she comes looking for me."
"And I should return to my duties as host."
Anna noticed that he had used the same reluctant tone she had. Neither of them seemed too keen on being at the Schloss that evening.
Klaus offered his arm and was surprised when Anna did not take it. "No, I think I should go in alone," she said mildly. "From the way Hilde talked, everyone in the ballroom knows we came out here together. If we went back in together, that would start the most appalling rumors."
Klaus closed his eyes at this horrific thought, but did not reply.
"It would keep the morons at bay, though, wouldn't it?" Anna then remarked offhandedly, looking over to the ballroom.
Again, Klaus gave a small chuckle. "For both of us."
Anna caught her breath, turning to look at him, her eyes sparkling. "My God, it would at that."
Klaus's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"
"Major," Anna said firmly, "I'm well aware of your reputation. Iron Klaus, the mission-a-holic. You're no more interested in being domesticated than I am."
"Just what are you proposing, Lieutenant?"
Anna gave a small smile. "I think you might want to consider using a different term, Major." She could not help laughing at the stricken look this remark produced. "I'm suggesting a covert intelligence operation. Let everyone think there's something going on."
"The more we deny, the more they'll be sure they're right. That'll keep those gigglers out of your hair and the gropers out of my blouse."
Klaus flushed slightly at this last remark. He stood thoughtfully for some minutes, mulling over the extraordinary proposal…no, use another word. Proposition? No, that one's even worse. Scheme. Yes, that's better. The extraordinary scheme to keep all the giggling, tittering females and their mothers at bay. Then another thought struck him. This would also make his father ridiculously happy and would keep him out of his hair, too.
It might actually work. The gossips in the ballroom would have the news to everyone in society by dawn. It was an intelligence network that rivaled that of NATO, the CIA and the KGB combined. And all he had to do was escort Anna back into the ballroom not ten metres away.
Klaus drew a deep breath and looked at the woman standing before him. She merely gazed blandly back at him, awaiting his decision. The music had stopped only a moment before, adding to the eerie stillness of the garden.
"Well, Major? Yes or no?"
IF HE SAYS YES…
"An operation of this type will require further planning," the Major said thoughtfully.
Anna scowled. "I don't understand."
"If I agree to go along with this…suggestion and escort you through that door, then what?"
"I…" Anna threw a quick glance over to the door. "I don't know."
"Precisely. I will plan this operation from here on out. And you will do exactly as I say. Is that clear, Lieutenant?"
Anna came to attention automatically. "Yes, sir."
The Major nodded approvingly. "Sit."
Anna did as ordered. She sat down, put her hands in her lap and patiently waited.
The Major lit a cigarette and fell into a contemplative silence. After several minutes, he turned to the woman on the bench. "I'm going to take you back into the ballroom," he informed calmly. "Once we're inside, this is what you will do…"
* * *
In a crowded tavern, the Major sat alone, silently eating his lunch. Despite the crowd, no one dared venture near him, let alone ask to join him and invite the quiet wrath of Iron Klaus. He looked at his watch and then out the window. This portion of his own personal covert operation could not have been better timed. He had been given a mission that very morning and would be out of the country for at least a week. A small smile curled the edges of his mouth when two women in NATO uniforms came through the door.
"Why does Iron Klaus always have to demand top priority documents at lunch time?" one was saying in an annoyed tone. The woman to whom this question was directed was Anna Schmidt, arriving exactly as instructed.
"Finally! Over here, you two!" a voice called from the other side of a wooden partition that was directly behind the Major's head.
Anna was being pulled along by her friend, who was so intent upon getting to the table behind the Major that she failed to notice him. Anna, on the other hand, gave the Major a steady look. He nodded and then casually turned his gaze to the newspaper on the table.
"Good afternoon, Major von dem Eberbach," Anna said politely as she came to stand beside the table.
The Major lifted his gaze, giving the women a slightly disapproving look. "Fräulein Schmidt. Lieutenant Gray," he replied tersely.
"Your priority request was expedited before we left, sir," Anna said calmly.
"Thank you, Lieutenant," the Major said approvingly. He then returned his attention to the newspaper, dismissing her presence entirely.
Anna looked at the woman beside her. She seemed rooted to the spot. "Come on, Evie. You promised me beer." She pulled her friend by the arm, having to practically drag her away. "Jenna, move over so I can sit down," she said to the woman who had called out, sliding into the seat beside her.
"Anna!" Evie admonished in a horrified whisper. "What are you doing?"
"I'm having lunch. What do you think I'm doing?" Anna said innocently. "What's the special today?"
Before her friend could respond, the Major rose to his feet. He took a moment to collect the newspaper and then looked up, his eyes meeting Anna's only briefly before he turned and strode out the door.
"Oh, my God, did you see that!" Jenna gasped.
Anna's eyes flickered. "See what? Christ, you two are the limit today." She waved a hand to attract the attention of a waiter, any waiter. "Now, about lunch…"
"Look at her! So calm."
"I'm not going to be calm if that damn waiter doesn't come over here. I'm starving. And I want my beer!"
Jenna leaned on the table but was prevented from going on when the waiter appeared. The three ordered their lunch and then quickly took up where they had left off.
"Anna, Major von dem Eberbach called you Fräulein Schmidt!"
"Yes, thank you, Jenna, for pointing out the fact that Major von dem Eberbach actually knows my name. And Evie's, too, for that matter," Anna replied blandly.
"Oh, you can be so thick, Anna!" Jenna snorted. "He didn't call you Lieutenant."
"Yes, he did."
"No, you idiot, the first time. And he said thank-you!"
"He was just being polite."
"Iron Klaus is never polite!"
"Well, he was at that ridiculous party his father arranged at Schloss Eberbach last weekend."
Evie gave a small squeal, a hand going to her mouth. "Then it's true!"
Anna gave her friend her best baffled look. "What's true?"
"You. The Major. At that…party. It's true!"
Anna gave a bright smile when her drink arrived before turning back to her friend. "Evie, I'm not following your cryptic dialogue. My mother dragged me to another of her society gatherings last weekend. It just happened to be at Schloss Eberbach." She waved a hand in disgust before taking a sip of her beer, a wry smile on her face. "And so were those gropers I told you about. God, those men won't leave me alone."
Jenna gave her a sideways glance. "I heard they're not the only ones…" she sing-songed and then burst into a fit of the giggles.
"Oh, Jenna, not again!" Anna moaned dramatically. "Now what foolishness have you heard?"
* * *
Anna had scarcely crossed the threshold of her parent's home when her mother came rushing up to her. "Anna, what have you been doing while we were away?" she demanded.
"Throwing wild parties, Mama," Anna replied tersely. "Orgies. Lots of naked men and women. Couldn't you tell by the state of the place?"
"This is no time for any of your foolishness," her mother snapped back. "Honestly, I don't know what to do with you. Your father and I try to give you all of the advantages."
Anna rolled her eyes. Advantages, my ass! Her mother was an Olympic level social climber. If she could have bought a title at some point in time, Anna had no doubt she would have. Now she had turned her focus on getting her daughters married into "a good family," meaning, of course, an old established bloodline of one form or another. Try as she might, Anna could not convince her mother that titles in Germany meant nothing anymore.
"We send you get a proper education, and you come back in the Army!"
"Mama, I'm in NATO…"
"And you carry a gun!"
Anna sighed heavily. She refrained from pointing out that her parents had pulled every string that they could to get her assigned to the Bonn office. "What on earth brought this on?"
"There's a man her to see you," her mother announced.
Anna frowned. Her parents had been visiting her sister and their newest grandchild in Paris for the last month. She had expected to get the usual lecture about needing to start a family of her own the moment they returned and wondered if her mother was trying a different tactic. "Mama, is this one of your…?"
Frau Schmidt did not even pause. "Now, don't tell me that you weren't expecting him. He asked for you by name."
Anna gave her mother a searching look. She seemed genuinely certain that this mystery visitor was someone Anna had arranged to meet.
"How long has he been here?"
"Only a few minutes."
Anna sighed heavily. Great. Now what? Ever since the rumors started, Major von dem Eberbach seemed to have women practically throwing themselves at him. Apparently, the general consensus was that he was now ready to "settle down," and Anna could easily be replaced in his "affections." She, too, had been having similar difficulties, although having a strange man appear on her doorstep was something new. Obviously, her idea about starting rumors had backfired in the worst possible way and the Major was currently in the process of formulating a way to end their covert operation before the both of them went mad.
"Where is he, then?" Anna asked. Considering how hard her mother had been pushing for her to get a man, she would not have been surprised if the reply was her bedroom.
"In the parlor, of course," her mother said sweetly. "He's a very nice looking young man, Anna."
The approving tone made Anna wince. "Great." She went to the partially open parlor doorway and peered in. Nice looking did not even begin to describe the blond vision in the Armani suit on the far side of the room. Anna recognized the Earl of Gloria instantly, although she had never met him in person. Everyone at NATO knew of his relentless pursuit of Iron Klaus. The descriptions of the Earl paled in comparison to seeing him in person. The man was positively striking.
"He's quite respectable looking, don't you think?" Anna heard her mother saying. She could not help herself and laughed out loud, attracting the Earl's attention.
"Ah, so this is your lovely daughter, Frau Schmidt," the Earl cooed in impeccable German, a brilliant smile lighting up his face. He crossed to Anna, taking her by the hand. "Charming lady. I'm-"
"I know who you are," Anna said tersely, pulling her hand from his grasp. "Would you excuse us, please, Mother?" She did not even wait for a reply before turning and closing the door. She turned back, looking the man before her up and down before practically demanding, in English, "What are you doing here, Lord Gloria? Or would you prefer that I call you Eroica?"
Eroica's eyebrows went up. "Very direct. The Major would approve," he remarked as he crossed to a chair and sat down.
"I'm overjoyed to hear it. And you haven't answered my question. What are you doing here?"
Eroica gave Anna an appraising look from his place across the room. "Since you know who I am, I should think the answer was obvious."
Of course it was glaringly obvious, but Anna was not about to let on. She gave Eroica her best innocent look. "We have nothing worth stealing. At least, nothing that you would consider worth stealing."
"Very amusing, Fräulein. You know perfectly well what I'm talking about," Eroica said sulkily. "You're not the Major's type. You're just wasting your time."
A smile started to twitch on the edges of Anna's mouth. She looked at the man across the room, and could not contain the laugh that was forcing its way from her throat. "My God, even you believe all those ridiculous rumors! Incredible!"
Eroica could not have looked more shocked if she had slapped him across the face. "Rumors usually have a grain of truth in them," he said evenly.
"Oh? Like the ones you insist on perpetuating about yourself and-" Anna broke off, a hand going to her mouth as an extraordinary thought struck her. "You're jealous!"
Eroica snorted indignantly and made a show of pushing his hair back. "I don't have a jealous bone in my body."
Anna gave a loud scoffing laugh. "Oh, please! You're the vainest man on the planet. You're jealous because the newest rumors have superseded yours! You just have to be the center of attention, don't you? Even in a lie. You can't stand the fact that society would rather talk about a possible relationship between Iron Klaus and a woman than with a…a…"
Anna caught her breath and spun around, seeing Klaus standing in the doorway, a look of thunder on his face. By this time, her mother had given up trying to figure out exactly what her daughter had been doing for the past month and had vanished to another part of the house.
Christ! What the hell is he doing here! "Major von dem Eberbach!" Anna gasped. "Sir, what...?"
The Major did not reply. He was too busy glaring at Eroica. Then he slowly turned his gaze to the stupefied woman. "It seems, Lieutenant, that I'm not the only one concerned with the recent explosion of rumors."
Dorian brightened considerably upon hearing this. "Oh, Major, does that mean you really aren't involved with this-" He broke off when he received a cold, threatening scowl and decided to remain polite rather than invite a black eye. "This…lady?"
"Major," Anna began hesitantly, hoping she was following the officer's lead correctly. "Sir, you know I've done nothing to encourage these rumors." She received a steady look that told her she had responded correctly.
The Major's expression hardened. "The source has been traced directly to this house," he informed startlingly.
"What?" Before the thunderstruck Anna could think of anything else to say, her mother entered with a small cart loaded down with tea and sweets. "I thought your guests might like a little refreshment," Frau Schmidt said urbanely.
Anna gave an exasperated sigh, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. Behind her, she heard the Earl give a delighted noise as he bounded to his feet. He crossed to the tray and happily accepted a cup of tea. The Major responded with a low growl of disapproval before giving Anna another steady look. He slowly turned his gaze to her mother and then back.
"Anna!" her mother exclaimed. "We have guests."
"Who have heard far worse than that," Anna retorted as she crossed to her mother. "You're the one spreading all those rumors about Herr von dem Eberbach and me, aren't you?"
"Anna, dear, this isn't the time…"
"This is precisely the time, Frau Schmidt," the Major replied firmly. He suddenly realized that he had everyone's attention, including Eroica's. At first, this annoyed him. Then he wondered if he could make use of the thief's presence to swiftly end the operation and immediately changed tactics. "Do you realize the difficult position you've placed your daughter in by perpetuating this falsehood?"
"My daughter? What are you saying?"
Yes, what are you saying? Anna thought. What did you come up with to end this operation?
Klaus turned to look Anna's mother directly in the eye, feeling slightly pleased when the woman flinched. "I'm saying that if you do not stop perpetuating these unfounded rumors, your daughter may well end up before a disciplinary committee."
"What!" the Schmidt women said in unison.
"If I can trace the source of the rumors back to this house, so can anyone else," Klaus stated flatly. Of course, this was a lie. Very few could follow a thin lead to its source the way he could, but Frau Schmidt did not know that.
Anna did, however, and felt this was her cue to assist. "It's true, Mama. That's what I've been trying to tell you. Do you want to get me thrown out of NATO?" Seeing an all too familiar look flash across her mother's face, she added, "Would you really cause a scandal just to get me to stop working?"
Her mother gasped, a hand going to her mouth. "Scandal!"
"Oh, it'd be unavoidable," Dorian drawled as he took a sip of his tea. "Society loves a good scandal."
"You should know," Klaus growled. It was obvious the Earl was enjoying the confrontation, and equally obvious that he would do more than his part in ending the rumors swirling around the Major and Anna in order to return the focus squarely onto himself. Narcissistic bastard. Fortunately, this was precisely the input the situation needed in order to convince the obstinate woman to stop the rumor mill before it ground everyone completely down.
Frau Schmidt gave the Earl a horrified look, completely misinterpreting the Major's remark. She pointed a finger at him, her face flushed with anger. "You… You…!" she sputtered as she crossed the room. "You come here claiming to be a respectable member of society. An aristocrat! You're just one of those reporters from the scandal sheets using your title to wheedle your way into my home!"
"What?" Dorian gasped. This was a new one, even for him. "I can assure you, Frau Schmidt…"
Klaus could not quite believe his eyes when the enraged woman took the cup from the Earl's hands before slapping him across the face. The officer threw an astonished look in Anna's direction, seeing that she was equally stunned. Pulling himself together, he felt he should probably rescue the idiot before he got himself beaten to a pulp by the overwrought Hausfrau. Then they would really have a scandal on their hands.
The Major crossed the room, pulling the thief to his feet. "Alright, you've had your fun with these good people, Lord Gloria," he said sternly. "Time you left."
"Major!" Dorian protested as he was practically dragged to the door.
Klaus stopped on the threshold. "Oh, just one thing before I throw you into the street. I want you to assure Frau Schmidt that nothing of what was said here will appear in print."
Dorian blinked and stared at the Major a moment before finally catching on. "Uh, yes…of course, Major von dem Eberbach. Whatever you say. Everything is completely off the record."
The Major nodded approvingly. "There will be no more rumors coming from this house." He turned to Frau Schmidt, giving her a steady look before leaving, dragging the Earl with him.
Anna heard the front door slam and heaved a sigh of relief. She had heard that being near the Major for any length of time with Eroica present was like being caught up in a whirlwind. At that moment, she could not have agreed more. She felt completely overwhelmed by the past half hour and looked over at her mother, seeing an odd look on her face. "Mama?"
"Oh, Anna," her mother said, shaking her head. "What ever did you see in that man?"
* * *
IF HE SAYS NO…
The Major sat alone, silently awaiting the arrival of his lunch. Despite the crowd, no one dared venture near and invite the quiet wrath of Iron Klaus. He was looking out the window but not really taking in the scenery. His mind was too full of his upcoming mission to bother with such foolishness as admiring the arrival of spring.
The Major's lunch arrived the same moment two women in NATO uniforms entered. "Details! I demand details!" he heard one saying. He glanced up and froze. The woman to whom this demand was directed was Anna Schmidt.
"Over here!" a voice called from the other side of a wooden partition that was directly behind the Major's head.
The waiter was unable to move until the women squeezed past, and the Major used him, and the large tray he held against his body, to shield himself from view, not that he really needed to. Neither woman so much as glanced his way, being too intent on getting to the table behind him.
"I don't know why you're so insistent, Evie," Anna was saying as she slid into the seat directly behind the Major. "I keep telling you, those parties are all the same."
"This one was at Schloss Eberbach, for pity sake!" Evie replied as she took a seat opposite. "I've been dying to find out all week. Does Iron Klaus run his parties with military precision?" She giggled at the thought.
Anna sighed heavily. "Evie, the party was a charity fund raiser arranged by Major von dem Eberbach's father."
The listening Major heard the voice that had called out demand, "Details! You promised details."
"I promised nothing of the kind, Jenna. The only reason I agreed to come to lunch with you two is because you promised me beer. And I've yet to get any," Anna shot back smoothly.
After more prodding by her friends, and the promised beer, Anna relented, if only slightly. She related the events surrounding her relentless pursuers that finally led to her asking the Major for help.
"Oh, that's so romantic," Jenna sighed wistfully.
Anna rolled her eyes and groaned. "Romantic my ass. It was humiliating."
"Oh, here it comes. We're going to get the 'I am a Modern Woman' speech again," Evie chided.
"Well, not all of us joined the military to travel for free and find a husband. If you want to spend your lives relying on a man…" Anna waved a hand in the air in disgust. She glanced out the window, seeing the very men she had been running from admiring a sports car. She groaned inwardly. Then a thought struck her and she turned back to her co-workers. "Okay. If you two want romance, take a look at those two. The ones by that red car."
Her friends followed her gaze, as did the listening Klaus. He recognized the men as being the ones Anna had been fleeing at the Schloss.
"Don't tell me you know them?" Jenna said disbelievingly. "They're dreamy."
Anna had to fight not to issue a biting retort. "Yes, I know them." She gave a wry smile. "I'll bet they'll like you both."
"What makes you say that?" Evie asked suspiciously.
"Because I hate them."
Her friends burst out laughing. It had become a running joke that anyone that Anna hated was a perfect match for everyone else.
"Go on while you've still got time," Anna encouraged. "Lunch is on me." She did not have to speak twice. Her friends exchanged a delighted look, thanked her and then left. A moment later, she saw them happily chatting with the two men.
"Very professionally handled, Lieutenant," a mail voice said calmly.
Anna turned to see the Major staring down at her. "Major von dem Eberbach!" she gasped. She practically jumped to her feet to come to attention. "Sir…I…you… Oh, God." She threw a helpless look out the window. "You heard all that?
Anna felt all the blood drain from her face. "Major, I apologize-"
"Is this how you spend your time? Gossiping about superior officers?"
"No, sir. Contrary to how all that sounded, I'm not a tittering female."
"No? I refuse your…proposal and yet rumors abound."
Anna felt her face flush and lowered her eyes, unable to meet the accusing glare. "That was my mother's doing, sir, not mine."
The Major gave a disbelieving snort. "Fräulein Schmidt, I don't believe your mother is capable of doing all that you say."
Anna looked up. "Have you met my mother, Herr von dem Eberbach?" she asked forcefully.
"Then, sir, you are a lucky man," Anna replied darkly. "I sometimes think that if the KGB ever got hold of her, she could single handedly bring down Western civilization."
"Fräulein Schmidt, I'm going to be a gentleman for a few minutes and ask you, very politely, to do something for me."
Even though the Major's tone was light, his expression was cold and hard and Anna felt a chill run down her spine. "What would that be, Major?" she asked in as even a tone as possible.
"Stay away from me."
Anna chose not to point out that she had already been attempting to do just that. "That will be difficult in Headquarters."
The Major's expression did not change. "You have intelligence training. Use it!" he snapped, going from gentleman to superior officer in one breath.
"Yes, sir," came the curt reply.
* * *
Although it was difficult at times, Anna was able to do as the Major…well, ordered. On those occasions when contact was unavoidable, such as when classified materials had to be hand delivered, she acknowledged the Major's presence as one would any other superior officer.
Days passed. Then weeks. Then months. The rumors persisted.
It was late summer before Anna decided to return to the tavern in which the Major had confronted her. It was one of the Major's regular haunts, if such a term could be applied to a man such as Iron Klaus. There was little chance of her bumping into him on this occasion, however, as he was currently away on a mission.
Most of the lunch crowd had filtered out by the time Anna arrived. She wondered if she should take a seat at the bar or sit alone at table. Well, she thought, she was through working for the day. There was no need to hurry. She decided on a table and glanced around the room. Her eyes fell on the lone occupant of a booth by the window only a few feet away. He was sitting ramrod straight, his eyes fixed on her, his face clouded with anger. Anna felt her heart in her mouth.
Shit! Major von dem Eberbach! He's supposed to be on a mission! What the hell is he doing here?
Recovering herself quickly, she met his accusing gaze steadily. After a moment, she turned to leave, glancing out the window to the café across the street. Then she froze, her eyes growing wide. "God's teeth!" she exclaimed.
The Major scowled and followed her gaze. Then his eyes grew wide. "God fucking dammit!"
A man and a woman were being seated outside the café. The woman was Anna's mother, but the man with her was not her father. He was, in fact, the Major's father.
Anna crossed to the horrified Klaus, giving him a steady look before taking a seat opposite him. "Now do you believe my mother can do all I say, Herr von dem Eberbach?"
The Major did not reply. His head was already spinning. A waiter came up to table at that moment and looked expectantly at Anna. She threw a quick sideways glance in the officer's direction. "I need a drink, Major. How about you?"
He nodded, ordering a very stiff drink. He was mildly surprised when Anna asked for the same. He was very surprised when she knocked it back in one go.
"Dear God, that woman is going to be the death of me," Anna moaned as she put down the glass. She pulled open her purse and rummaged though it a moment before pulling out a cigarillo and lighter. She looked up, seeing the stunned look on the Major's face. She was prevented from remarking on it when a voice from the door called out to the Major causing his face to turn to stone.
"I knew I'd find you here," Eroica said happily as he flounced across the room.
Even though she had never met him formally, Anna recognized the Earl of Gloria immediately. Everyone in NATO knew Eroica and of his relentless pursuit of Iron Klaus.
"What are you still doing in Germany, Lord Gloria?" the Major asked coldly.
Eroica grinned and twirled one of his long blond curls around a finger. "Bonn in late summer is so beautiful," he said wistfully. "I just couldn't tear myself away."
"More foppish nonsense," the Major snorted.
Eroica turned his gaze on Anna, who could tell that she was being sized up. She met his gaze levelly as she lit the cigarillo in her hand and casually took a puff. Two could play at this game.
Eroica pulled up a chair and sat down. "And who is this lovely soldier lady, Major?" he asked conversationally.
The Major's eyes flashed with annoyance, but he held his temper. Just. "Lieutenant Schmidt is with NATO intelligence and will already know who you are, Lord Gloria."
Eroica's eyebrows went up. "Lieutenant?" He shot the Major a sideways look. "Isn't there a rule against fraternization, or something?"
The Major ignored the remark. "The Lieutenant and I are attempting to discuss intelligence matters. Go away."
Eroica got to his feet. "Alright, I know when I'm not wanted."
Now it was Eroica's turn to ignore the remark. He gave Anna a steady look. "A little advice, my dear. Don't bother. You're not his type."
"Get out of here, you fucking pervert!" the Major snarled, jumping to his feet at the same time.
Eroica gave the irate Major an innocent look but did not push further. Otherwise he would be leaving with a black eye. He gave Anna a glowing smile. "Nice uniform," he said with a giggle before quickly turning on his heel and leaving.
Anna could see the Major was shaking with rage, his hand balled into fists. For a moment, she entertained the thought of ordering him another stiff drink. She glanced out the window, seeing Eroica heading casually in the direction of the café. "Major!" she gasped in horror. "He wouldn't, would he?"
Klaus turned. Seeing what she meant, he cursed in several languages and reached for his gun. If the bloody pervert even hinted that he planned to speak to his father, he would put a bullet through his foppish skull.
Eroica threw a playful look over his shoulder, seeing the Major framed in the window; a look of thunder on his face and his hand in his jacket, the threat unmistakable. Eroica threw a meaningful glance in the direction of the café and then turned back, blowing the Major a kiss before striding off in the opposite direction.
"One of these days, I'm going to kill that fucking pervert," the Major snarled as he dropped back into his seat.
Anna had a hand to her forehead, her eyes closed. If this was what happened when the Major said no, what would have happened had he said yes? She looked up when the officer quietly asked, "Are you alright, Lieutenant?"
"I feel very dizzy."
"You shouldn't've had that drink on an empty stomach."
Anna gave a small laugh. "All I wanted was to have a nice quiet lunch," she said dazedly. "I didn't know it was going to be a day at the circus." She looked over at to the café, seeing her mother glance at her watch and look over at the restaurant. "Christ, she's waiting for me to come out! This is a nightmare."
"How long will she wait?"
"'Till Hell freezes over if she has to."
The Major gave a snort. "My father isn't that patient," he said knowingly, waving a hand to call a waiter to the table. "Eat. It won't help matters if you faint."
Anna gave him a cold look. "I never faint."
"Good. Keep it that way."
A waiter appeared at that moment. Anna ordered her lunch and Klaus ordered a beer. Then he lit a cigarette and turned his attention to the couple across the street.
As Anna ate her lunch, Klaus fell into quiet contemplation. Why was his father in Bonn? Why hadn't he called to say he was coming? And why was he apparently conspiring with Frau Schmidt? This was not the first time a rumor had sprung up after a gathering at the Schloss. It had persisted longer than any other, but that still should not have been enough to cause his father to make the journey from Switzerland.
Anna wordlessly pushed her empty plate away. She looked up to see the Major still watching out the window. He had not spoken a word in some time. She followed his gaze. "Your father appears to be getting impatient."
The Major nodded, watching what looked like a disagreement starting between the couple at the café. He turned back when he heard Anna catch her breath.
"He won't come looking for you, will he?" she asked.
"No. I am expected to come to him."
Anna wasn't sure why this surprised her. She already had the rare opportunity to glimpse the Major outside the setting of NATO intelligence. Outside his role as Iron Klaus. She had seen him acting the part of polite gentleman and host. It was the role of son that shocked her. A subordinate role. It simply didn't suit him.
"Will your mother come looking for you?" the Major then asked.
"If I were alone, she would. Then I'd get the 'You're not getting any younger,' speech. I don't think she will with your father with her. The last thing my mother wants is to be part of a scene in public." Anna changed her voice to imitate her mother. "Maria, keep your voice down, you'll cause a scene." She gave an annoyed snort.
Anna started, uncertain how to respond. To her relief, the Major went on to ask, "Why are you called Anna, if your name is Maria?"
Anna gave a small smile. "Major, sir, I realize this is awkward for you. You don't need to make small talk with me."
Klaus's eye flickered. For all his other objections about the woman, at least she knew her place as a junior officer. The only problem was he was genuinely curious. "Tell me anyway, it's too quiet in here."
Anna looked around. "Yes, we do seem to have the place to ourselves now." She saw the Major stiffen visibly and knew she had said the wrong thing. She put a hand to her head and moaned. "I just keep putting my foot in it, don't I?"
The Major lit a cigarette and looked out the window, suddenly wishing he could send himself to Alaska. "Why Anna?" he asked again.
"It's a little embarrassing, sir," Anna admitted. "I went to America when I was three. Someone misheard my middle name and started singing 'Oh, Susanna' to me. Using the brilliant logic of a three-year-old, I thought it was about me and insisted on being called Susanna. Somewhere along the line, it turned into Anna."
The Major nodded absently. At that moment, his father suddenly got up and left the café. Whether he had lost his patience with waiting or with Frau Schmidt, Klaus could not tell. He suspected it was probably both. He also suspected he would be getting a phone call that evening.
To Anna's horror, her mother got up and started across the street. "Oh my God, I was wrong!" she gasped. To the Major's horror, she dove under the table.
"Lieutenant!" he snapped angrily.
Before the Major's reprimand could even begin, Frau Schmidt came through the door. She had a bright smile on her face that faded when she saw the officer sitting alone. He acknowledged her presence with a curt nod before casually turning his gaze to the newspaper that had been lying forgotten on the table since Anna arrived.
"Good afternoon, Herr von dem Eberbach," Frau Schmidt said politely as she came over to him.
The Major gave her one of his inscrutable looks. "Frau Schmidt."
"I expected to find my daughter here."
The Major felt Anna move further beneath the table to wedge herself in the far corner against the wall. It was all he could do not to recoil. "She's hiding under the table," he said calmly, much to Anna's horror and her mother's annoyance.
The smile on the older woman's face was fixed. "Very amusing, Herr von dem Eberbach."
"Major! You'll never guess what I just heard about you," a voice called from the door.
The Major looked up, seeing Eroica striding into the room. He gave a low growl. The bright colors of the Earl's clothes only seemed to reinforce Anna's remark about the day turning into a circus.
"Not now!" Klaus snarled.
As always, Eroica ignored the signs of the Major's rising displeasure. He gave Frau Schmidt an appraising look and turned back to the glowering officer. "She's definitely not your type, either, Major," he said in a serious tone, shaking his head at the same time.
"Lord Gloria…" the Major began threateningly.
"Where's the strumpet who was here earlier?"
Klaus had finally had enough. He was out of his seat and had Eroica by the shirt before anyone knew what was happening. "God dammit, will you stay the fuck out of my affairs!" he snarled, shaking the thief for all he was worth.
Eroica threw his hands up, wisely choosing not to poke fun at the officer's choice of words. "Major, please, there's a lady present!"
"Be glad, you bloody faggot. That's all that's stopping me from breaking your fucking neck!"
Eroica suddenly found himself being dragged to the door before he was thrown bodily into the street. "I am getting tired of saying this. Stay the fuck out of my life!"
The seething Major turned back to Frau Schmidt, who had a horrified expression on her face. "Good afternoon, Frau Schmidt," he said between clenched teeth.
Taking the hint, the older woman fled from his presence.
Within twenty-four hours, all rumors pertaining to Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach and Fräulein Maria Susanne Schmidt had ceased.
* * *
IF HE SAYS NO, THEN RECONSIDERS…
After an unpleasant and embarrassing confrontation with Major von dem Eberbach in a local tavern that ended with the order, "Stay away from me," Anna had done her utmost to do just that. It had been difficult at times, but not impossible. On those occasions when contact was unavoidable, such as when classified materials had to be hand delivered to the fifth floor, she acknowledged the Major's presence as she did with any other superior officer.
Days passed. Then weeks. The rumors persisted.
In early summer, Anna found herself being dragged to yet another social gathering, this time in Köln. The only reason she agreed to attend was because her father had asked. He and several other "tycoons," as she liked to call them, were being honored for their contributions to the business world in general and the economy of West Germany in particular. The award was apparently quite prestigious and her father had been speechless when he received the news that he was to be one of the recipients.
As much as Anna hated playing the aging debutante, she was not about to disappoint her father. He so rarely asked her to attend any such functions, knowing how she disliked them. She swallowed her pride and went along, trying not to think about what a contradiction this was to her stand as a modern woman. She could play the dutiful daughter for one evening if it meant making her father deliriously happy.
When the evening finally arrived, Anna stood at the front door of her parent's home. She was always the first one ready to leave, and tonight was no exception. She could not help but smile as her mother fussed over her father's bow tie one last time before going on to smooth out the material of his tuxedo for what seemed the hundredth time.
The banquet and awards ceremony were not as boring as Anna anticipated. She was quite surprised when she realized that she was actually enjoying herself. Even her mother seemed less overbearing, having taken her focus off her daughter and placing it squarely onto her husband.
Anna made her way to the bar through the crowded banquet room, having to weave her way through the various knots of individuals engaged in animated conversations. She was within a few yards of her destination when she noticed it was mobbed. Great. This will take forever. God, I need a drink. She let her shoulders drop, only to come automatically to attention when a very familiar voice suddenly said from behind her, "Fräulein Schmidt." She did not even have to turn around to know who had spoken. Major von dem Eberbach.
Anna drew a deep breath and turned to face him. The Major was dressed impeccably in a tuxedo and Anna blinked when she realized he didn't have a cigarette in his mouth. She was equally surprised that he didn't appear to be angry. Then she remembered where they were. It's a social function. He's playing the gentleman again. Thank God for small mercies.
"Good evening, Herr von dem Eberbach," she said finally, forcing a smile onto her face and wishing that she had gotten her drink. Screw the drink, the whole damn bottle! "I didn't expect to see you here," Anna went on to say in as even a tone as possible.
Anna lowered her voice so as not to be overheard by anyone close by. "My father is one of the award recipients, sir. I could hardly refuse his invitation. It would've broken his heart."
The Major's inscrutable expression did not change. Before he could reply, however, Anna's father appeared beside her.
"Anna, what's taking so long? Your mother's looking for you," he said calmly.
Anna sighed heavily and closed her eyes. She forced another smile onto her face and turned. "I couldn't get near the bar, Papa."
Her father suddenly seemed to register the Major's presence and gave him an appraising look. "And who is this handsome young man?" he asked, giving his daughter a sideways glance.
Anna could not prevent the horrified look from coming to her face. The Major stiffened visibly but was more successful at controlling his expression.
"This is Herr-Major Klaus von dem Eberbach, Papa," Anna said in her best social tone. "Major, my father, Eric Schmidt."
"Herr Schmidt. Congratulations on your award," the Major said politely, shaking the man's hand.
"Anna! Eric! What are you-?" Anna's mother appeared, her face going from annoyed to elated in the blink of an eye. "Oh! Herr von dem Eberbach, isn't it?"
As if you didn't know,Anna thought as she turned to her mother.
"Frau Schmidt," the Major replied, wishing for what seemed the hundredth time that evening that he were in a third world country.
"Anna has told us so much about you, hasn't she, Eric?"
The Major's eyes grew wide, his expression darkening. Anna's mouth dropped open and she found herself wishing she knew how to faint. Had she known the Major's thoughts, she would have agreed that a third world country looked very inviting at that moment.
Eric was oblivious to either of these reactions, his attention focused solely on his wife. "Has she, Rena? I don't-"
Anna's mother gave a false laugh, squeezing her husband's arm hard at the same time. "Of course she has…" she said through clenched teeth.
"Mother," Anna said in a very firm voice, "Major von dem Eberbach is a superior officer. Are you trying to get me sent before a disciplinary committee?" She quickly turned to the unnervingly silent Major. "I apologize, sir, my mother obviously has you confused with someone else."
"Eberbach," Eric suddenly said in a thoughtful tone. "I knew an Eberbach during the war."
"I have many relatives, Herr Schmidt," the Major replied politely, although he seriously doubted that any of them would have served in the Canadian Armed Forces, or, in the case of Anna's father, the British Armed Forces.
Rena Schmidt gave a theatrical moan, rolling her eyes. "Oh, Eric, please. I'm sure the last thing Herr von dem Eberbach wants to hear is your war stories."
While this was indeed true, the Major did not reply. He was too busy trying to keep his head from spinning. Had he known Anna's thoughts, he would have gladly split a whole bottle from the bar.
Rena was waving a hand in the air. "You're here because of your business accomplishments, not because you spent a few years in those ugly, smelly tanks."
"Tanks?" The word was out of the Major's mouth before he even realized. He suddenly felt three pairs of eyes on him. "You were in an armored division, Herr Schmidt?"
"I was a mechanic in the Royal Tank Corp. I even had the honor of meeting General Montgomery once," Eric said proudly.
"An honor indeed, sir."
Eric turned to his wife. "There, you see? Not everyone in this country is ashamed of the past."
Anna felt her heart in her mouth. She could not believe her father was capable of so boorish a remark. The expression that came to the Major's face sent a chill down her spine. She knew that look of forced patience, having seen it dozens of times while delivering files to the fifth floor. "Papa, I think we've taken up enough of Herr von dem Eberbach's time," she said urgently. To her astonishment, the Major shook his head.
"Not at all. My father was a Tank Commander in the National Defense Army," the Major informed. "I'm sure he'd be delighted to speak with someone who appreciates the beauty of polished steel, such as yourself."
Eric's face lit up. "Your father's here?"
"Yes, sir." Klaus turned his gaze across the room. "One of your fellow award recipients is an old friend of his. Please, allow me to introduce you and your lovely wife." He did not wait for a reply, turning on his heel to lead the way across the room.
Within minutes, Eric was chatting happily with the senior von dem Eberbach. The Major offhandedly remarked that his father had always speculated on which open country tank was the fastest. This was enough to spark an animated conversation. Rena sighed and looked up, giving her daughter a long-suffering look. Before Anna could say anything, the Major said, "You look pale, Fräulein. Perhaps you should get some fresh air."
Anna gave him a startled look. "Major, what're you doing?" she asked in a low voice.
"I need a word with you privately, Lieutenant," he replied in an equally low voice, offering his arm.
Anna felt all the blood drain from her face. Suddenly the idea of standing before a disciplinary committee did not look so bad. Not compared to the reprimand she felt certain she was about to receive.
"Anna!" Rena gasped. "What on earth is the matter? You're as white as a sheet."
"Some fresh air will take care of that, Frau Schmidt," Klaus said sternly. He looped his arm around Anna's and practically dragged her from the room.
The instant they were outside, Anna tried to pull away but was pulled further along to an unoccupied area of the patio. "Major," she said in as forceful a tone as she could manage, "we're not on duty. Please take your hands off me or I'll let out a scream that will take the wallpaper off the walls and have you trying to explain why Iron Klaus is manhandling a woman."
Klaus gave her a stricken look and instantly released his grip, going on to take an alarmed step back.
"Now, Major," Anna went on, surprising even herself with her forcefulness, "as I said before, my mother spoke out of turn. That's all." The Major's face became amazingly passive and she felt her heart in her mouth. Oh God, now I am in for it.
After a long silence, he gave a grunt and nodded. "Sit," he ordered, going on to light a cigarette.
Anna remained rooted to the spot. "Am I going to be reprimanded for this?"
Klaus gave her a steady look. "Reprimanded? As you said, we're off duty."
"No, I mean for disobeying the order you gave me to stay away from you."
"I would prefer that that particular order, and the circumstances surrounding it, not be made public, Lieutenant."
As would I."
Again, Klaus nodded approvingly. "I had your background checked. You have extensive intelligence training, although no real field experience," he began calmly.
"You…" Anna blinked. "You had my personnel file pulled? Why?"
The Major's eyebrows went up. "You know about that?"
"I work in the Records Department. If your jacket is pulled, you hear about it. I'm up for promotion to First Lieutenant. I thought it was to do with that."
Klaus took a drag on his cigarette, but did not reply.
"Wait a minute…" Anna could feel herself becoming very angry as she realized something. "You're the one who's been checking into my background, aren't you?"
Klaus stiffened slightly at the accusing tone. He was not used to having his actions questioned, least of all by junior officers. "Yes. You're not the first woman to suddenly appear out of nowhere, Fräulein Schmidt. And your…proposal seemed-"
"Too good to be true?"
"You've had intelligence training. You know the first trick for getting information from an agent is to send someone in to get close to them."
Anna's mouth dropped open. "You think I'm a double agent? The KGB?"
"No, not KGB. But my Chief has tried more than once to have me…domesticated."
"And you thought
that'swhy I was at Schloss Eberbach? To trap you?"
"Until I looked at your file-"
"You bloody, condescending, son of a bitch!"
"Don't you Lieutenant me, Herr von dem Eberbach," Anna snapped back, now shaking with rage. "I have half a mind to slap you across the face! I suggested letting rumors fly, nothing more. What makes you think that I would have the slightest interest in getting close to you? Just because my mother is throwing me at you doesn't mean I'm cooperating with her." She waved a hand in disgust before finally sitting down. She pulled a cigarillo from her purse and lit it, taking a long drag on it.
Klaus was stunned by this unexpected outburst and gave her a moment to calm down, being inwardly glad the scene had not progressed further. He was uncertain as to whether he should be offended or relieved by Anna's adamant declaration. He decided on the latter when he realized that he was elated. This would make the plan he had in mind that much easier to deal with.
A small smile curled the edges of the Major's mouth. "Then, perhaps it's best that I didn't inform you of the reasons I investigated your backgrounds," he said mildly.
Anna looked up, her eyes narrowing. Damn the man and that inscrutable expression of his! Now what's he up to? "No, go ahead," she said at last. "You're probably going to tell me anyway," she added, sitting back in her chair.
"Perhaps I should also request that you hold your temper until after I've finished," he said evenly.
Anna gave him a sideways glance and could not help but smile. "No promises."
Klaus lit another cigarette and fell into a thoughtful silence. He had hoped to handle this conversation in the same manner as a briefing. Obviously, that plan had gone straight to hell, and he was going to have to use a different tactic. "I won't deny that the current rumors are…disconcerting," he began slowly. "But I have noticed a reduction in the number of…of…"
"Gigglers?" Anna ventured.
Klaus nodded. "Yes, gigglers. And their mothers. Apparently, your assessment of what would happen was quite correct and mine was in error."
Anna scowled. "Wait a minute, are you telling me you've decided you want the rumors now?"
Klaus took a drag on his cigarette. How he hated anything even remotely resembling domestic matters. And what he was about to suggest was about as domestic as it came. He gave the woman before him a piercing look. "What I am suggesting, Fräulein Schmidt, is an escalation of current events. An all out campaign."
"An all out…?" Anna scowled. "Do you mean…?" Her eyes grew wide and she caught her breath. "You want to make it look real?"
"Yes. Make it look real."
Anna sat staring, her mouth open. It took several minutes before she felt she could speak coherently again. "Before we even get into the practical end of this, Major, I am a junior officer," she objected. "Won't there be…ramifications?"
The Major snorted, waving a hand in the air. "My Chief will be delirious."
"So will my mother."
"This is crazy! The instant my mother gets wind of this, she'll be planning my wedding within hours."
Anna was horrified. "What!"
"Let her," the Major repeated. "Agree to whatever she says."
"Are you out of your mind? She'll probably want to have a huge society affair somewhere ridiculously exotic, like Tahiti."
Klaus's eyes flickered. "I've never been to Tahiti," he said mildly, taking another drag of his cigarette.
Anna put a hand to her head. "I feel very dizzy all of a sudden."
"Are you going to faint?"
"I never faint."
"Good." He nodded approvingly. "My father has already informed me that I'm to have a small private wedding in the Schloss."
Anna looked up. This was getting more bizarre as it went. "He's already planned it?"
"My father is a very practical man."
"Obviously." Suddenly Anna realized exactly what the Major was alluding to. "You believe my mother and your father will be so busy disagreeing with one another, they'll leave us in peace, don't you?"
"That is exactly what I believe."
Anna sat staring into space.
"Do you agree to this operation?"
Anna returned to reality and looked up. Then she threw a quick glance over to the gathering. "Um, Major, just one thing. Would you mind telling me how this conversation went from verifying rumors to wedding plans?"
Klaus stiffened visibly. Somehow, in the midst of laying out his plan, a marriage proposal had inadvertently been added to the mix.
"No offence," Anna went on to say, "but…you're really no my type."
This was quite possibly the best news Klaus had heard all year. "Lieutenant, I'm trying to plan a covert operation, not a…romantic entanglement. If you're going to act like a silly female, then there's no purpose in even proceeding."
Anna sat back, giving him a steady look. "I suppose I deserve that after threatening to scream earlier."
Klaus responded with a disapproving snort.
Anna fell silent again, thinking things over very carefully. After several minutes, she looked up, seeing a passive expression on the Major's face. "I take it you're the one who'll be running this… operation?"
"You object to that?"
"Only in principle, Major. You're the one with the expertise."
Klaus gave a grunt of approval. "Then you agree to this mission, Lieutenant?"
Anna met the Major's gaze steadily. "I'm not…entirely sure what my role is, sir. You don't want me fawning all over you, I hope."
It was all Klaus could do not to shudder. "No."
"Good. I'm not the fawning type. So…what do I do, exactly?"
"You do exactly as I instruct you. We will meet for dinner-in a very public place-in two days time. I'll brief you on the next step then."
The Major nodded. "I'll call you with the exact time and place." He then offered his arm. "Now, we begin the campaign…"
IF HE SAYS NO, THEN RECONSIDERS…
The covert operation went far better than either Anna or Klaus ever imagined. After the pre-arranged dinner meeting, high society was buzzing with the news that the pair were indeed an "item." The illusion was so ridiculously simple to maintain, Klaus found himself wondering why the idea had never occurred to him before. Then again, it would have required enlisting the assistance of a woman and that required his having to seek one out, which was not an action he would have relished.
As predicted, the Major's Chief was deliriously happy when he learned that Iron Klaus might actually be ready to settle down. This would get accounting and personnel off his back permanently. He went out of his way to be nice to Anna, which was actually quite repulsive, if one were honest.
In the midst of all this, Anna received the promotion she had been seeking, which only added to the rumors that someone "higher up" was pulling strings for her. She found this quite insulting, as it intimated that she had not gotten the job on her own merits. She was somewhat surprised when she learned that the Major was equally insulted, as it brought his integrity into question.
In the end, they agreed to let the situation pass, as it would be impossible to change the misconception in the face of their ongoing operation. The only way for this to happen would be for the truth behind their sham "relationship" to become known, something neither of them wanted to happen.
* * *
Anna sat alone in the local tavern, watching the snow falling outside the window. Snow! This early in the year. Well, it won't be around for long, fortunately. Unfortunately, it reminded Anna of the upcoming holiday season…and all the social events this encompassed. Her mother would be more adamant than usual that she attend, and this year, she would be insisting that the Major accompany them. In an effort to head this off, Anna had contacted the Major, stating that information was missing from a briefing, the code phrase he had instructed her to use whenever a meeting was necessary.
The Major had been relieved that, after more than four months into the operation, this was the first time the code phrase had been used. He had feared that Anna would be just like his subordinates, requesting instructions at every turn. As it turned out, this was not the case. It soon became obvious that the Lieutenant was a very capable and resourceful intelligence officer. Klaus sent a reply, instructing her to meet him at the tavern that weekend when it was less likely to be crawling with NATO personnel.
Anna was so distracted with her thoughts that she failed to notice the man who approached her table, only registering his presence when he slid into the seat opposite her. Thinking it to be the Major, she sat up straighter as she turned, her expression going from expectant to astonished. The man across the table was the Earl of Gloria, dressed to kill as usual. The fur coat he was wearing would have been the envy of several women of Anna's acquaintance.
"Good afternoon, Fräulein," the Earl said politely.
Despite the fact that she had never met him formally, Anna recognized Eroica instantly. She had been expecting him to appear long before now and was wondering what had finally prompted him to do so.
"Good afternoon," Anna replied mildly. "May I ask why you chose to come sit with me? There are plenty of places available. And, well…I'm hardly your type, am I?"
"Are you attempting to insult me, Fräulein?" the Earl replied tersely.
"Why would I insult a perfect stranger?"
The Earl's eyes flickered. "Then allow me to introduce myself-"
"Don't bother, you fucking pervert," a familiar baritone voice said from beside him.
Eroica looked up, seeing the Major glaring down at him. The Earl's expression went from surprised to delighted to disconcerted within a few seconds. "So, it's true. You really are seeing this…this…woman."
"Lord Gloria, get out before I throw you out," the Major said coldly.
"This is a public place, Major. I have as much right to be here as you do," Eroica replied, not moving from his seat. "I just wanted to get to know this…lovely creature."
The Major and Anna groaned in unison, much to their mutual astonishment.
"Why?" Anna asked. "If it's fashion tips you want, you're better off talking to my mother."
Eroica's mouth dropped open and the Major had to fight not to laugh. As it was, a small smile curled the edges of his mouth.
"Oh, she has a sharp tongue, Major," Eroica said finally. "Definitely not your type at all."
The Major responded with a low growl. "Lord Gloria, I'm warning you…"
"You're always warning me, Major," Eroica replied with a dismissive wave of a hand. He turned back to Anna. "Does he warn you, too, Fräulein Schmidt? Or does he just issue orders?"
Anna gave a small smile, resting her chin in her hand and leaning on her elbow. "So you do know my name, Lord Gloria. I guess that doesn't make us strangers after all," she said coolly, much to the Major's approval and Eroica's discomfort. "Tell me, does Elton John know that his wardrobe is missing yet?"
"Bitch!" Eroica exclaimed.
The smile on Anna's face did not change. "I could've told you that," she said dismissively. She started to slide out of her seat. "I think maybe we should go someplace else." She looked up, her eyes locking with the Major's. They were getting perilously close to having to resort to first names. While Klaus had already covered this inevitability when the operation began, they had agreed to stick to referring to one other by rank, using the excuse that they were less likely to slip while in NATO headquarters.
Before Klaus could reply one way or the other, a woman was calling from the doorway. "Anna! Anna, this has gone far enough."
Anna looked up and groaned, a hand going to her head. Klaus turned, seeing a blond woman charging towards the table. She was dressed in a business suit similar to the one he was wearing himself. He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and let out a low groan. Eroica took in this reaction and sat back to watch what promised to be a very entertaining floor show.
"Teresa, not again," Anna moaned as the woman stormed up to the group. "I've told you a thousand times to leave me alone."
Teresa snorted, waving a hand in the air. "You think you can fool me with this…this…" She looked the Major up and down in obvious distaste.
"Wire rope?" Eroica injected helpfully.
"Shut the fuck up!" Klaus snapped angrily.
Teresa gave the Earl an appraising look. "You can't possibly be interested in the Iron Maiden, too?"
"Iron Maiden?" Eroica gave a delighted laugh. "Oh, Major, you do have a sense for the ironic. Do you think this is a match made in a foundry?"
"Stick to thieving. Comedy definitely isn't your strong point," Anna said coolly as she got to her feet.
The Major looked at the newcomer and then over at the Earl, an evil smile coming to his face. "I think we'll leave these two perverts to themselves." Then he drew himself to his full height, holding out a hand. "What do you say, Anna? Shall we go to the Schloss for lunch?"
It was all Anna could do not to cry out in alarm. Then she saw the expressions on the faces of Teresa and Eroica, an odd combination of horror and astonishment. She took the Major's hand and moved in close to him, going on to wrap her hands around his arm, feeling his body stiffen slightly as she did so. I don't like this any more than you do. She beamed up at the man beside her, forcing herself to say, "Why, Klaus, that would be absolutely lovely."
Klaus decided that this ridiculous charade was worth every second when he saw the dumbfounded expression on Eroica's face. The pervert was absolutely speechless. The Major gave Teresa a piercing look, making a show of taking in her clothing. "He'll make you a good wife," he said calmly.
"Homophobic bastard!" Teresa snarled as the officer brushed passed her, Anna on his arm.
* * *
Anna breathed a sigh of relief the moment they stepped out onto the sidewalk.
"Don't let go of my arm," the Major instructed in a low voice. "They'll be watching from the window."
Anna nodded, struggling to keep the smile on her face. "What now?"
"Have you eaten?"
"Then we eat. We'll take my car to keep up appearances. Come back for yours later."
The next thing out of the Major's mouth startled the woman beside him. "Call me Klaus."
Anna stopped short and looked at him. "What? I thought that was just for…well, emergencies?"
"We're discussing where to go to lunch," Klaus instructed calmly as he turned to face her.
"Of course we are," Anna replied with a bright smile, tilting her head to one side as though thinking over a suggestion. "Now, Major, about calling you by name…"
"Consider it an escalation of the operation. That idiot Eroica will start to press the issue now. You'd best get into the habit." Klaus paused, giving Anna a piercing look. "Or do you want to terminate the operation?" From the very first meeting, they had agreed that if either one of them chose to end the operation, it would end. No questions asked.
"To be honest, right now I don't know what I want." Anna put a hand to her head. "My head is spinning."
The Major gave a small grunt. "First we eat. Then you tell me why you requested this briefing."
"Alright." Anna suddenly stiffened and took the Major by the arm again. "We're being watched. From across the street."
"I know. They followed me here."
Anna had to force herself to keep her eyes forward. "So that's what you meant about keeping up appearances." She stopped in front of the Major's Benz, waiting for him to open the door for her. "Who are they?"
Klaus allowed a smile to creep onto his face. "I suspect even the KGB wants to verify the rumors that Iron Klaus has a personal life."
Anna threw a glance across the street. "Serious threat or harmless interest?"
The Major gave Anna a look that was both surprised and approving. For an agent with no field experience, her instincts were first rate and he wondered why NATO had chosen to waste such natural ability in the Records Department. "Are you armed?" he asked suddenly.
Anna was surprised by the unexpected inquiry, although she did not allow it to show. "Always. And I've no doubt you saw in my file that I'm a pretty good shot."
Klaus nodded approvingly as he closed the door. According to her file, Anna was nearly as good a shot as he was. More wasted talent. He looked over at the two men watching him from across the street, an evil smile creeping onto his face when he saw them stiffen visibly. Yes, I know who you are, fucking morons.
"Should I drive slowly to make it easy to follow me?" the Major called tauntingly. "Or should I just tell you where I'm going?" He received a stunned look in reply, which only made him smile all the more evilly. "Neither, I think." So saying, he climbed into the Benz and drove off.
* * *
Eroica had twisted around to watch as Klaus and Anna left the tavern and strolled down the sidewalk. They stopped for a moment and had a short conversation. The Major appeared to taunt some KGB agents across the street before he got into his Benz and drove off in the general direction of Schloss Eberbach.
Eroica could not help but laugh as the KGB men went scrambling for their car. It was far too late for them to catch Iron Klaus now. This was his home turf. They had lost him the moment he got into his Benz.
When Eroica finally dropped back into his seat, he noticed the woman Anna had called Teresa was at the opposite side of the table also looking out the window. "So," he said conversationally, "you've set your sights on the enchanting Fräulein Schmidt?" He put on a glowing smile and held out a hand. "Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria. And you are?"
"Teresa San Salvador," the woman replied.
Eroica gave a delighted laugh. "Is that your name or where you're from?"
Teresa did not take the outstretched hand and eyed the Earl suspiciously. "Are you trying to be cute?"
"I was trying to lighten the mood."
Teresa's skeptical expression did not change. "Just who are you to Anna?" she demanded.
Eroica laughed again, leaning back in his seat. "My dear woman, it's Iron Klaus I'm after, not your Iron Maiden."
Teresa's eyes grew wide, a delighted smile replacing the suspicious expression on her face. "Really?"
"Oh, yes." A dazzling smile lit up Eroica's face as he waved a hand to a waiter. "Let me buy you lunch. I think we may have a mutual interest in having this Iron relationship end due to metal fatigue."
* * *
The Major sat staring into space for several minutes after Anna explained the reason for their emergency meeting. His father had already been dropping similar hints about the upcoming holiday season. Usually Klaus could deflect the majority of them because he was away on a mission.
"This will have to be handled delicately," Klaus said at last. "My Chief will undoubtedly try to keep me from going on any missions in order to…assist me."
Anna nodded. "Shall I speak to him about that, do you think?"
The Major frowned. "What would you say?"
"You tell me. What's the best way to tell him that you're staying here could ruin our…" Anna paused and then grinned. "Our budding relationship?"
The Major's eyes flickered. "Budding relationship?"
"Well, he wants you domesticated. What's the best way for me to convey that that might be-?" Anna caught her breath. "I know! God, I'm such an idiot." She looked the Major in the eye. "I'll tell him that if you start getting held back, it would do more harm than good."
Klaus sat back, mulling this over in his head. "And if he asks how?"
"Well, this is where I'll have to get all...God, I hate the thought of having to do this." Anna drew a deep breath. "I'll go all female on him. Tell him I don't want to stand in the way of your career. That I'd never dream of asking you to choose between your duty and me."
"You find saying all that distasteful?"
Anna gave him a steady look. "For the sake of this mission, I'll do it. But to be frank, yes, I find it distasteful."
"You would prefer the alternative?"
"No. I'd prefer to not have to do this at all."
The Major nodded, lighting a cigarette and leaning back in his chair. "As would I."
Anna gave him a steady look. "We're very much alike, Major. Trapped between duty, family and independence. I don't know about you, but sometimes I wish I were an orphan." She did not expect a reply and was surprised when she received one.
"Do you believe you wouldn't possess a sense of duty if you were an orphan?"
Now that was a good question, to which Anna did not have an answer. "Well, anyway, this has worked so far. My mother hasn't fussed at me once about going to any more of those society affairs. It's the holiday parties that have me worried."
"Give the Chief your little speech. That should satisfy him."
"And my mother?"
"There's an annual Christmas gathering sponsored by NATO," Klaus said calmly. "Tell your mother that we shall be attending that, as my schedule prohibits making any other plans."
Anna sat back and looked at him. That was quite possibly the most backhanded request for a date that she had ever heard. "Major, I really think this operation is getting exceptionally complicated."
"Do you want to end it and go back to having your mother drag you to-?"
The Major nodded. "Then do as I tell you. Sometimes we must do distasteful things for the sake of a mission. The holidays will be over before you know it."
* * *
Anna sat on a park bench feeling the warm breeze on her face. Spring. Already! It didn't seem possible that it was spring once again. It also didn't seem possible that three years had passed since she asked Klaus to rescue her from the relentless attentions of her so called suitors. Klaus! It was still strange to think of Major von dem Eberbach this way, even after all this time.
Once they had gotten over the initial hurdle of that first holiday season, things had gone relatively smoothly. The joint venture of Eroica and Teresa was ongoing and infuriating, but had not changed anything. In fact, it only seemed to add to the Major's resolve to continue the operation no matter what.
Anna looked at her watch and then down the path. Klaus would be arriving at any moment to escalate the operation yet again. Every time he did so, she wanted to pull out. To stop the lies, the sham relationship, the pretense of affection. But the alternative was far worse. And she knew this was just as distasteful to the Major as it was to her. They tolerated one another for the sake of appearances, going on with their lives in the interim.
Right on time, Klaus appeared on the path, strolling casually in Anna's direction. She put on her best smile when she saw him. As always, they had an audience, and this show had to be perfect.
"I was afraid you'd been called away at the last minute," Anna said as she got to her feet.
"Just paperwork. You'll be getting all the files come Monday," Klaus replied, allowing a quick embrace before holding out a hand. "Are you wearing make up?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"Some," Anna whispered back as she took a seat.
"Don't get it on my coat."
Anna could not help herself and laughed at this all too familiar admonition, a hand going to her face. "Oh, Klaus," she tittered loudly, adding in a low voice, "We have an audience."
"I know. Make this good. I'm not doing it a second time."
"They'll expect me to kiss you."
"Are you wearing lipstick?"
"No. I made sure not to."
"Good. It's nearly impossible to get off."
Anna gave him an amused look. Then she drew a deep breath to steady herself before putting on her best confused look. "Ready when you are," she hissed between her teeth.
Klaus threw a sideways glance over to where he knew Eroica was watching. There were KGB and CIA men close at hand, too. Good. I hope you all can see this. He pulled out a small box from his inside pocket, opened it and then got down on one knee in front of Anna.
"That got everyone's attention," he said calmly, fighting the smile that was twitching at the corner of his mouth when he saw the horrified expression on Eroica's face. The thief had risen to his feet the instant the ring box was produced.
To her credit, Anna put on a first rate performance. She cooed and bubbled, finally bursting into tears. She leaned over to give Klaus a kiss, using her long hair as a shield to hide the fact that she only pecked him on the cheek.
"This was my grandmother's ring," Klaus informed as he slipped the engagement ring on Anna's finger. "My father insisted that I give it to you."
"I like your father," Anna said without thinking. She looked up, feeling slightly embarrassed. So far, they had kept everything on a completely professional level. She surprised herself with this casual remark.
"My father likes you to," Klaus replied evenly.
Anna nodded, looking down at the ring on her hand. A ring she never expected to wear. A ring that would bring the operation to a close. Or would it? She looked up, seeing the man beside her as though for the first time, the events of the past three years swirling in her head. "Major-Klaus, this is the last step in this operation, isn't it?" she asked tentatively.
Klaus scowled. "What do you mean?"
Anna held out her hand as though admiring the ring. Oh, hell, she was admiring the damn thing! "I mean…there isn't going to be another ring being added to this one, is there? And you just haven't told me."
Klaus's eyes grew wide and he had to fight not jump to his feet in alarm. It was all he could do not to recoil. "No. There won't be."
Anna heaved a sigh of relief. "Good."
"Let's go. I think we've given our audience enough drama." Klaus got to his feet, holding out a hand. Anna took it and stood. "Put your arm around me," he instructed. "We'll walk out slowly."
Anna did as instructed and was surprised when Klaus did not tense up. She leaned her head against him, being careful not to get any of her makeup on his coat. "Klaus, if you do decide to take the next step, I…I don't think I would mind." Then she did feel his body tense and could not help giggling. "I think we have the makings of a perfect marriage."
"How the hell do you come by that?" Klaus demanded in a low voice, wishing he did not have to continue the pretense of a casual stroll for the sake of their thunderstruck audience.
"Most couples become distant and disinterested over time. We have that already."
Klaus stopped short, his eyes fixed in the distance. This suggestion was just as incredible as the first one Anna had made nearly three years earlier. A suggestion he had rejected, only to realize it was actually sound.
"Until then" Klaus interrupted sharply as he started walking again, "we're going to have the longest engagement in the history of Germany."
* * *
INSTEAD, HE SAYS NOTHING…
The music in the ballroom of Schloss Eberbach stopped, causing an eerie stillness to fall over the couple standing in the garden. Klaus looked at the woman before him. Her face was unreadable. She merely gazed blandly back at him, awaiting his decision.
"Well, Major? Yes or no?"
Before the Major could reply one way or the other, another voice was calling from the door. "Maria Schmidt, what are you doing out here in the damp?"
The couple in the garden turned to see Frau Schmidt heading in their direction.
"Herr von dem Eberbach and I were just getting some air, Mother," Anna replied calmly.
Her mother gave her a disapproving look. "Sneaking one of those filthy cigars of yours, more like," she said with a disgusted snort. She looked at the Major, smiled politely and then took her daughter firmly by the arm. "Excuse us, Herr von dem Eberbach."
"Of course, Frau Schmidt," Klaus replied with a slight nod of the head. Words could not express his gratitude for her timely intervention, which spared him having to make any decision at all.
As she pulled her daughter toward the door, Frau Schmidt leaned close to her ear. "What were you thinking, having Herr von dem Eberbach escort you to the garden?" she admonished in a low voice. "You're supposed to be looking for a husband."
"Mama," Anna moaned, rolling her eyes at the same time.
"I told you not to waste your time on a man like that."
Klaus stiffened visibly upon hearing this. Obviously, the older woman did not realize that her words carried with complete clarity though the still evening air.
The Major heard Anna echo his own thoughts when she asked, "A man like what?"
"You know…" Frau Schmidt threw a quick glance over her shoulder, exchanging a forced smile with the Major.
"No, Mama, I don't know."
Her mother heaved an exasperated sigh. "Anna, really! He travels all over the world. He must have a woman stashed in every city."
It was all Klaus could do not to cry out in alarm upon hearing this. The very thought made his head spin.
Anna, on the other hand, had to fight not to burst out laughing. A woman in every city! Iron Klaus?
Just before her mother pulled her through the door, Anna turned back, a long-suffering look on her face. She shook her head and shrugged. A moment later, she was talking to the "gigglers" and directing their attention to the "gropers" across the room.
Klaus heaved a sigh of relief and lit a cigarette, turning his back on the entire scene.
- End -