Book Excerpt: Rose of Anzio by Alexa Kang

Chapter One

It all began in the rose garden.

A dark blue Buick convertible pulled up to the entrance of the driveway leading to a limestone mansion. The mansion itself was barely visible from the street, but from there, the passersby could catch glimpses of the magnificent rose garden in front of the house.

Anthony Ardley got out of the car, said goodbye to his friend who had driven him, and walked toward his home. It was only the end of May, still early in the summer, but the Chicago heat had already started to swell. He didn’t mind though. With the heat, his summer vacation had begun.

Home at last.  

Exams, over. No more term papers. No more endless debate team meetings. His first year at the University of Chicago, finished.

He slung his duffle bag over his shoulder. In the familiar front yard ahead, the roses in the garden should be in full bloom.  

Indeed, the blossoms were as spectacular as he expected. What he didn’t expect was a teenage girl kneeling on the ground, chopping away at the flowers surrounding the tiered water fountain. Her brown hair, cut just below her shoulders, fell forward down her neck. Her arms were lithe and quick as she gathered the cut roses. He had never seen her before.  

Vandal! He walked closer. She was an unusual-looking girl. She wore her hair straight. Girls didn’t usually wear their hair straight. Her bangs were dampened by perspiration and her hands and slender fingers were covered in soil. She wiped the sweat dripping down the side of her face, leaving a dirt mark on her left cheek. So immersed in her task of ravaging the roses, she didn’t look up when he approached.  

“Who are you?” he demanded to know. “You’re trespassing.”

“Who are you?” she asked him back, surprising him with her British accent. “Why do I have to answer to you?”

“Because this is my home,” he said. A large patch of the flowerbed was now in disarray. “What have you done? You’re destroying private property.”  

The girl barely raised an eyebrow. Without answering him, she picked up the cut flowers and put them into a bag next to her, then got up and walked away.

“Hey!” he called out after her. “Come back here! I’m not done talking to you.”  Ignoring him, she disappeared onto the street, leaving him with no answer except the gurgles of water flowing down the fountain.

He looked at the ravaged scene she left behind. His family had set aside this part of the garden as a dedication. They had planted the most beautiful species of roses here. Several home and gardening magazines had even printed feature articles about it. Now, patches of leaves and shrubs were crushed. Headless stems stuck out from what was once an enchanting arrangement of flowers. The garden’s beauty was ruined.  

Their gardener would surely have a fit tomorrow.

He crouched down and removed the leaves that covered the small memorial plaque on the ground. Designed in the shape of a rock, the plaque was placed in an inconspicuous spot of the flowerbed to naturally blend into the garden’s landscape. Engraved on the plaque were the words, “Anthony Browning, 1903-1919 ~ Gone but not forgotten.” He had never met the person named on the plaque. He did, however, feel a special kinship with the deceased. Anthony Browning was his father’s cousin and had passed away before he was born. His father had named him in memory of Browning. Growing up, many people had said he and Browning looked alike, with the same blond hair and athletic built.

The memorial garden. What a mess it had become. Who was that girl? Was she a neighbor’s kid? Perhaps a British family had moved into the neighborhood? He

needed to tell his mother and ask her if she knew the girl. They should tell the girl’s parents what she had done. He hurried up the lane toward the circular driveway in front of the house.

Inside his home, his Uncle Leon was visiting with his parents in the parlor. Actually, Leon Caldwell was his father’s other cousin. But as far back as he could remember, he had always called him Uncle Leon.

His mother, Sophia, rose from her seat when he walked in. “Anthony! You’re home.”

“Mother.” He threw down his duffle bag and gave her a hug. “Father,” he said to his father.

His father, William, also got up to greet him. “Welcome home.”

“Did you see what happened outside? A girl stole roses from the memorial garden. She made a total mess of it. Do you know who she is? Is she a neighbor’s kid?”

“She’s not a neighbor.” Sophia took his arm and walked him into the room. “That was Tessa. Tessa Graham. She’s staying with us.”

“Staying with us?”

“Come. Take a seat,” William said. “We’ll tell you all about her later.”  

Anthony sat down next to his mother. “Uncle Leon, what brought you here today?”

“Came to talk to your father about trade opportunities in Latin America,” Leon said. “Europe is having widespread shortages of everything with that war they got themselves into. Oil, metals, sugar, everything. If all I care about are profits, we should absolutely invest more in South America, for access to raw materials if nothing else. As it is, though,” he said and rubbed his chin, “I have a lot of misgivings about putting my money into anything that might get us more involved with that pot of trouble in Europe. A lot.”

“What’s happening with the war?” Anthony asked. “I haven’t kept up with the news. Been buried with exams the last few weeks.”

“Things aren’t looking good,” William said. “The war, it’s spreading like a disease through the Continent.”

“Tell me about it,” Leon said. “It’s a plague. They better keep their sickness in quarantine. Don’t let us catch a whiff and infect us with it.” He finished the last drop of his brandy. “I don’t understand those people. Wasn’t the last time bad enough? Wasn’t it supposed to be the war to end all wars? But no, they’re at it all over again. Well I say, let them stew in their own juice this time. Keep us out of it.”

Neither William nor Anthony disputed him. They knew well how vocal Leon could be with his anti-intervention views. Few people were as well-versed as he when it came to the political and economic arguments against American involvement, and he would be the first to debate anyone on the subject. As his family, though, they knew the real reason why he felt this way. His brother, Lex, had been an air force pilot. Lex died in the Great War twenty-two years ago. Before he died, they had been close.

William Ardley, Leon and Lex Caldwell, and Anthony Browning. The four cousins had grown up together and were very close.  

“But Juliet and Dean are over there in London,” Sophia said. Her mention of Juliet piqued Anthony’s attention. Juliet was an unspoken taboo in the Ardley household. He didn’t know all the details as to why. Juliet had left the family before he was born and he had never met her. All he knew was, Anthony Browning’s father had adopted her after his son passed away, and as a result, she became part of their extended family. Something happened afterward and led to a fall-out. The fall-out was so bad that his late grandmother Helen Ardley had absolutely forbidden anyone from mentioning Juliet in her presence when she was alive. Even now, with his grandmother no longer here, his parents and uncle became somber at the mere mention of Juliet’s name.  

“Since we’re on the subject, Anthony. The girl you asked about before, Tessa, she’s Dean and Juliet’s daughter,” William said.

“Dean and Juliet’s daughter? Are you serious?”

“We didn’t tell you earlier because you were busy with exams and there was no reason to disturb you. I went to London last month to see Juliet and Dean. London’s unsafe. I invited them to come back with me but they didn’t want to. They did agree Tessa should come live with us until they’re sure England is safe.”

“Oh.” He couldn’t believe his father had gone to London. No one in the family had spoken to Juliet in years.

“It must be tough for Tessa,” Sophia said. “She’s young. She’s in a foreign country away from her parents, living with people she never met before she came.”

“I don’t know about that, Sophie,” William smiled at his wife. He always called her “Sophie” as a term of affection. “If she’s anything like her mother, she won’t be fazed by any of this.” He spoke with the tone of fondness he used whenever he talked about Anthony Browning and Lex. Anthony had never heard his father speak this way about Juliet before. It seemed his trip to London had brought them closer again.

“She’s been good with Alexander,” Leon said, referring to his ten-year-old son. “I wish she and Katherine could be friends though. They’re the same age. I thought they would become best friends.” Katherine was Leon’s fourteen-year-old daughter.

“You want them to be the way we used to be with Juliet,” William said. Leon smiled and didn’t deny it.

“Sometimes, you just can’t go back.” William looked over at a framed photo on the display cabinet. In the photo, he, Leon, Lex, and Anthony Browning were still teenagers. They had their arms around each other’s shoulders.

“At least Juliet is back on speaking terms with us,” Sophia said. “Anthony?”

“Yes, Mother?”

“Try to make Tessa feel welcome and at home, will you? We must all try.”

“Of course.” Feeling a little ashamed, he shifted his eyes away from her. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so confrontational with the girl earlier. He would have to properly introduce himself and make it up to her later. “But why was she picking the flowers in the rose garden?”

“She takes them to the hospital. Apparently, Juliet planted a rose garden in London in memory of your uncle Anthony too. Juliet’s a nurse now. When the flowers bloom, she brings them to her patients. In the summer, she always took Tessa with her.” Sophia took a sip of her tea. “Tessa asked us if she could take our roses to the hospital and I told her yes. I guess it’s a way for her to keep something consistent in her life.”

“Isn’t it strange to take flowers away from a memorial garden?”

“Not for Juliet,” William said. “Anthony and Juliet used to bring roses to the hospitals every week for the Great War veterans. They started doing that after Lex died. As for taking roses from the memorial garden…” He glanced at Leon. “She said that’s what Anthony would’ve wanted.” He turned back to his son, “You know, our rose garden was originally her idea.”

That their rose garden was Juliet’s idea was news to Anthony. The garden had been there since before he was born. He had never thought to ask how it came about.

“Leon, why don’t you and Anna bring Katherine and Alexander over this Sunday?” Sophia asked. “Now that Anthony’s home, we can have a nice family reunion and Tessa can get to know everyone better.”

“Sure. I’ll tell Anna.”

“How about we make it a pool party?” Anthony said. “Katherine and Alexander can invite their friends.”

“That’s a wonderful idea,” Sophia said. “Tessa can meet some new friends. What do you think, Leon?”

“I’m all for it.”

“It’s settled then.” She sat back into her seat. A gush of admiration rose in Anthony’s heart. His mother was always so thoughtful and considerate. She knew exactly how to make everyone around her feel important. His father’s success owed no small part to her ability to make his clients feel special when she accompanied him to social functions.   

“What?” she asked, noticing her son staring at her.

“Nothing,” he said. “Just, it’s good to be home.”

#  #  #

When Leon left in the late afternoon, Anthony finally had time for the swim he had been looking forward to all day. Back in high school, he had been a swimming champion and the captain of his academy’s swim team. He competed at the university level now, usually with excellent results.

He couldn’t wait to dive into the pool. His parents had built this swimming pool especially for him. In the water, he could move around with the kind of freedom he had nowhere else. For him, swimming felt like flying in the air.

On his way to the pool, he saw Tessa lying under a tree. The girl didn’t tell anyone she had come back and no one knew she had returned. So aloof, he thought.

Remembering what his mother had said, he decided to take a detour to reintroduce himself. Beneath the tree, she lay with her eyes closed and a book by her side. He couldn’t tell if she was asleep or if she had heard him coming.

“Hello, Tessa?”  

She opened her eyes. Standing under the tree, he towered over her. He thought she would get up but she didn’t. Without acknowledging him, she closed her eyes again.  

“I’m Anthony.” He crouched down to be closer to her level. She opened her eyes again. He smiled and made an effort to be friendly.

“You’re Uncle William and Aunt Sophia’s son.”

“Yes. I heard you’ll be living with us for a while.”  

“Apparently so.”

“Sorry about before. I thought you were one of the neighbors’ kids vandalizing our property.”

“Apology accepted.”

Her answer put him off. He didn’t expect her to say that. He wasn’t really apologizing to her. It was only a polite way to break the ice. She ought to know that. After all, he hadn’t known who she was and she had made a mess of the garden. And now, it was as if he had done something wrong and he was apologizing to a kid.

“You should talk to Mr. Miller. He’s our gardener. He can teach you how to handle the roses properly.”

She didn’t answer him, only frowned. She closed her eyes again. Her attitude was beginning to annoy him. Still, he held his tongue. “What are you reading?”

“A book.”

He might as well be talking to a wall. He picked up the book next to her. Damian, by Herman Hesse. An unusual read for a girl, he thought. Definitely not a book of choice for any girl he knew. Not even for the older girls at his school. More popular with them would be something by Jane Austen or Edith Wharton. Maybe poetry by Wordsworth or Emerson, or Charles Dickens if they liked something deeper.  

“I prefer to be left alone if you don’t mind,” she said.

She preferred to be alone? Did she think he didn’t have better things to do? He tried to be nice, and all she did was give him a bad attitude.

“All right. Suit yourself.” He put the book back on the ground and walked away. He had told his mother he would welcome her. He tried. It was not his concern to waste time befriending a sulking teenage girl.

He walked to the pool and jumped in. In the cool refreshing water, he gave no more thought to the girl under the tree.   

Part Two: The Pool Party

 Chapter Two

It was a festive Sunday afternoon at the Ardley residence. Leon Caldwell, along with his wife Anna and his children Katherine and Alexander, had come for the pool party as planned. The Ardleys had invited the Lowes, their long-time neighbors. Their son, Brandon Lowe, was Anthony’s friend and university classmate who had driven him home several days ago when the school year ended.  

As much as Tessa would have rather spent the day by herself instead of being with a group of strangers, she had no choice but to come down and meet everyone. The men didn’t trouble her. They withdrew into the library soon after their arrival to enjoy their brandies. Their wives, eager to hear from Anthony and Brandon about their past year’s studies at school, remained outside, enjoying cold summer drinks at a patio table. Alexander and his best friend Robbie were the only ones frolicking in the water. They had been in there since the moment they arrived. Tessa almost wished she could join them, but Aunt Anna wanted her to meet Katherine’s friends.

Katherine had invited two schoolmates, Lilith and Isabelle. They were both juniors two years above Katherine. When Aunt Anna introduced them, Lilith and Isabelle had greeted Tessa with all the proper pleasantries, but Tessa knew right then Aunt Anna’s efforts were hopeless. Katherine and her friends, in their expensive designer swimming suits, looked to her like dolls on display. Isabelle’s bright pink and white checkerboard one-piece cried out for attention. Lilith’s forest green two-piece, which exposed her midriff, showed off her body too much considering the number of adults here. Katherine’s blue and white bathing suit with a bow in the front, though more conservative, was too cute.

When they got to the pool, Tessa decided not to put on a bathing suit. Keeping up with these girls would be too tiresome, and competing with them too boring. She kept what she had on, a light off-the-shoulder top and a soft, flowing skirt with a small floral print. Her clothes hung loosely on her body. “Like a bohemian,” as her mother would say. That was how she normally dressed. Next to the dressy threesome, she looked strange and out of place.

No matter. The girls weren’t much interested in her anyway. They had more pressing concerns on their minds. Whenever Anthony or Brandon came near, Lilith and Isabelle would become self-conscious. They would talk just a bit louder, and laugh just a bit harder. They shifted their bodies this way and that way while trying hard to act natural. Tessa felt embarrassed for them, the way they acted. Meanwhile, Katherine paid no attention to Anthony and Brandon. She was too busy trying to please her friends, following them around and laughing at their every joke.

Tessa stayed with them only to please Aunt Anna. Once outside, Katherine and her friends decided to lounge by the pool, preferring not to get their hair wet. They began blathering on about the recent trips they had taken on holiday and the grand places where their classmates were spending their summer. Next to them, Tessa lay on a lounge chair and pretended to be asleep. She had no idea who or what they were talking about and they didn’t try to talk to her or ask her anything. That was all right. She never enjoyed crowds and she didn’t like talking. All was fine as long as everyone left her alone. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander. The warmth of the summer sun soothed her. The voices of everyone around her became background noises. In the heat, her surrounding faded from her consciousness and she drifted off into sleep.

A loud splash jolted her awake. Screechy yells and screams followed. Startled, she woke up and saw Anthony swimming across the pool.

While she dozed off, Anthony had decided to take a swim. As he stood on the edge of the pool, Katherine’s friends took notice of the young man whose golden hair shone in the sun. His tall, toned physique was as beautiful as if Adonis had come to life.

They knew his record as a swimming champion, and he didn’t disappoint. He dove in and swam several laps with flying speed. Lilith and Isabelle screamed in delight, cheering him on.  

As he climbed out of the pool, his body still halfway in the water, he turned to the girls. Seeing them watching him, he pulled himself all the way out, waved, and walked to the other side of the pool to join Brandon.

Afterward, Katherine’s friends would not stop talking about him.

“He’s such a dream!” Lilith swooned. “Katherine, do you know if he has a girlfriend?”

“I don’t think so,” Katherine said. “If he does, she can’t be that important because he hasn’t introduced her to the family.”

“He’s so good-looking, and such an amazing athlete.” Isabelle stole glances at Anthony while pretending she wasn’t staring at the same time. “Katherine, can’t you get him to come over and talk to us? Oh no. Wait! Don’t do that. If he comes over, I won’t know what to say to him. I’ll make a fool of myself!”

Lying on her back with her hands clasped behind her head, Tessa stared up at the sky. She thought she would go crazy if she had to listen to any more of this. They sounded like all the silly women who fancied her father, the ones who shamelessly schemed to meet him and sought his attention. At least her father was one of the most admired actors in the West End. What were these girls fawning over? She glanced at Anthony, this man-child who got all riled up over flowers in the rose garden. She had seen so many similarly good-looking young men come and go on the London stages. There were plenty of them everywhere. Why all the fuss? Katherine and her friends were laughably shallow.

Over by the gazebo, Alexander and Robbie were playing marbles. They had finally gotten out of the water. She decided to get up and join them.

On the other side of the pool, Anthony dried himself with a towel and sat down next to Brandon, who was reading a magazine on a lounge chair near the ladies at the patio table.

“She doesn’t seem to mix well with the girls.” Anthony overheard his mother say to the ladies behind him. He looked across the pool. Tessa had left the girls to join Alexander and Robbie.  

“Maybe she’s a late bloomer,” Aunt Anna said.

“Perhaps the other girls are a little more mature,” said Mrs. Lowe. “Give her time. She’ll lose interest in playing games with children soon enough.”

“I’m not sure it’ll be that simple.” Sophia said. “She’s different from what I expected.”

His mother sounded slightly distressed. He looked over at Tessa again. She had just said something that made Alexander and Robbie laugh.

“How’d she come to live with you anyway?” Mrs. Lowe asked.

“It’s a long story. It goes back many years, starting with Tessa’s mother,” Sophia said.

The mention of Tessa’s mother roused Anthony’s curiosity. No one had ever told him the whole story about Juliet and why she had left. Vaguely, he got the impression that she left under a cloud of disgrace, but a scandal that happened years before he was born didn’t interest him and he had never thought to ask anyone about it. With Tessa living with them now, though, he had begun to wonder. Discreetly, he turned toward his mother to listen.

Sophia put down her glass of iced tea. “Tessa’s mother, Juliet, grew up with William and Leon.”

“And Lex, Leon’s older brother,” Aunt Anna added.

“That’s right. Lex too. And their cousin Anthony Browning. Anthony’s mother was William’s aunt. She gave Juliet’s mother a job as her personal maid when Juliet’s father died from measles. Juliet was still a baby back then. The Brownings treated them like family and Juliet grew up with the boys. William said she was a precocious child. Outgoing, always knew the right things to say. Everybody adored her, but the good times didn’t last.” Sophia stopped. Mrs. Lowe leaned closer to the table, waiting for her to go on.  

“When Juliet was fifteen, Mrs. Browning and Anthony died in a car accident,” Sophia said. “Juliet’s mother was in the car with them and she died too.”

“My goodness.” Mrs. Lowe put her hand to her mouth.

This was news to Anthony. He didn’t know Juliet’s mother had died in that same car accident.

“It was a sad time for everyone. Juliet became an orphan. In the grieving process, Mr. Browning adopted Juliet because she had no place to go. It was the only good thing that came out of that tragedy.”

Interesting, Anthony thought. So that was how Juliet became part of the family.

“Until Dean came along,” Aunt Anna said.

“Yes. Dean Graham. Tessa’s father,” Sophia said.

“Dean Graham? The British actor? Dean Graham is Tessa’s father?”  

“Yes.” Anna looked over at Tessa. “It was big scandal back then.”

“Why? What happened?”

Sophia shook her head lightly at Anna. “That was a long time ago. Old news. Not worth bringing up anymore.” She turned around and signaled their housekeeper to serve them another round of drinks. The other two women took the hint and dropped the subject.

Anthony shifted back toward the pool. Too bad his mother decided not to go on. He wanted to know what happened too.

“Look at her,” Mrs. Lowe said while watching Tessa. “What a remarkable resemblance between her and her father.”

He glanced at Tessa. For a kid, her expressions were hard to read. He couldn’t tell just by looking at her what she was thinking. When she smiled, there seemed to be layers of meaning behind her smile. He wondered if she had picked up some of her father’s acting habits.   

“I’m a huge fan of Dean Graham,” Mrs. Lowe continued. “I saw him in Henry V on stage when I went to London four years ago. He’s a wonderful Shakespearean actor.”  

“Yes. He made quite a name for himself after he married Juliet. Anyway, after they met, Juliet left with him for London and that was where Tessa was born. With the way the war’s going, William had been worried about them. He went to London last month and invited them all to come back to America, but Juliet and Dean decided to stay. They did agree it would be best for Tessa to go away until they’re sure England is safe.”

“It hasn’t been easy for you, has it?” Aunt Anna asked.

“No,” Sophia admitted. “She’s not an easy child. I had hoped it would be like having a daughter in the house. It’s been so quiet since Anthony went off to college. I thought she and I could do a lot of things together. Go out for tea and shopping. I wanted to bring her into the Junior League. But,” Sophia paused, trying to find the right words, “Tessa has other interests.”

Other interests? Anthony thought. She was only a girl. What other interests could she possibly have that was so important? His mother wanted to make her feel at home with them. She shouldn’t have turned down his mother’s good intentions. If he were living in someone else’s home, he would be definitely make a sincere effort to show his appreciation.

“Leon was thrilled when he heard Tessa was coming. He thought she’d be a mini-Juliet and it would be like old times for him again,” Aunt Anna said. “He was surprised at how quiet and aloof she is. She’s nothing like how he remembered Juliet. Tessa’s more like her father.”

“Be that as it may. She’s here now and William and I intend to do everything we can for her. It’s harder on her than on anyone. She’s in a new country. She’s far away from her parents. England might be attacked and her parents might be in danger. It’s a lot to take for a fourteen-year-old.”

Anthony looked toward Tessa one more time. Katherine had now joined her and the younger boys. At least Katherine knew how to be nice. Since Aunt Anna and Mrs.

Lowe said Tessa was immature, maybe he should try to be a good role model to her like he was with Katherine and Alexander. He could give her some guidance now and then. Maybe that would make things easier for his mother.

“Tessa, can we talk?” Katherine approached her, her voice unduly warm and inviting.

“Of course,” Tessa said. Mistaking Katherine’s warmth as an attempt to befriend her, she tried to be amiable in return. “What about?”

“My mother and Aunt Sophia said you’ll be coming to my school in the fall.”

“I suppose. If that’s what they decided.”

“St. Mary’s is a great place. The daughters of all the important people in Chicago go there.”

Tessa didn’t say anything. She didn’t like the tone of Katherine’s voice. It sounded too haughty for her taste.

“Everyone at school likes Lilith and Isabelle.” Katherine turned to her friends, her eyes full of admiration. “Lilith’s father is a senator. Isabelle’s family owns the biggest furniture production company in Illinois.”

“That’s nice for them.” Tessa said, unimpressed.  

Not noticing Tessa’s indifference, Katherine continued, “They really like Anthony.” She sidled up to Tessa and lowered her voice. Tessa wasn’t sure what all this had to do with her.

“They want to know if you can invite them over whenever Anthony’s home.”

For a minute, Tessa thought she had heard wrong, but Katherine was serious. “If you do that, they’ll appreciate you and we can become good friends with them.”  

Tessa looked over at Lilith and Isabelle. They were smiling at her like they were her best friends.  

“No.”

Katherine stared at her, speechless. No one ever said no to Lilith and Isabelle. “Tessa, please! Do it as a favor to me?”

“I am sorry. I cannot help you with anything this ridiculous.” Tessa got up and walked back into the house. At her abrupt departure, Alexander and Robbie stopped their game and made a face at each other. Katherine returned to the older girls, miffed.

“Oh, that’s not good,” Sophia said.  

Anthony looked up and followed the direction of his mother’s eyes. Across the pool, Tessa stood up and went back into the house, leaving poor Katherine looking upset and rejected.

“Anthony,” she called out to her son, who was sitting with Brandon near them by the pool. “Could you please go check on Tessa? I think she’s upset.”

“Sure, Mother.” He grabbed his shorts and shirt from the lounge chair behind him and threw them on. His shirt still unbuttoned, he went inside the house and saw Tessa heading out the front door. Quickly, he went after her. In the circular driveway in front of their house, Tessa mounted a bike, getting ready to leave.

“Tessa!” he yelled out to her. She halted.

“Is everything okay?” He ran up to her, his voice genuinely concerned.

“Yes. Everything’s fine. Why?”

“Mother thought you looked upset.”

“No. I’m fine.” She blinked and looked blankly back at him. He couldn’t tell if she was happy or troubled.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m heading out.”

“You can’t leave. This party was planned for you.”

“Was it now, really?” She gave him a sarcastic smile. “I thought it was planned for you to show off.”  

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t deny it, swimming champ.” She eyed his open shirt. “You want everyone to cheer and rave about how good you are.” Her smile widened with a spark of mischief in her eye.

“I do not,” he said. “And you can’t talk to me that way.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s rude. And because…because I’m older than you and you should do what I tell you.”

She laughed. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. How old do you think you are?”

He stood there, lost for words. His face turned several shades of red.

“Don’t pull rank with me.” She stopped laughing. “I’m not a little child. I don’t have to listen to you.” She stared him in the eye. For the first time since they met, he heard vulnerability in her voice.

“I…” He didn’t know what to say. She sounded like she was all alone, fighting against the whole world.

Before he could respond, her demeanor changed again and her mischievous smile returned. “By the way, you look funny when you’re all riled up.”

Her rapid change of moods left him dumbfounded.

“Bye!” She rolled away before he could answer. He watched her bike go down the driveway until she disappeared out of his sight. He had never met any girl so rude and arrogant and so difficult to handle. The thought of being in the same house with her all summer long was starting to give him a headache.


alexa-kang-bookThe Rose of Anzio Series

“Tessa, I don’t know how to swing dance, and I wouldn’t be very good at it if I tried. But if you care, I’d like to do a different kind of dance with you.”

Summer 1940. Fourteen-year-old Tessa Graham finds herself in a new, unfamiliar world. For her safety, she is sent from England to Chicago to live with the prominent Ardley family just before the London Blitz. Stifled by the ways of the rich, she is soon drawn to the city’s infamous South Side. A world where she discovers jitterbug dancing, and the intrigues of the powerful Irish community. But is this the escape she really wants?

On the University of Chicago campus, eighteen-year-old Anthony Ardley has to make a choice. His country stands at the brink of war. Conscription threatens to become reality. As sole heir to the Ardley fortune, should he stand with his beloved uncle, a staunch isolationist, or join his radical classmates clamoring for American intervention?

What will happen when Tessa and Anthony cross paths on the way to discovering themselves?

A coming of age tale that emerges into an epic love story, this book takes you back to Chicago in the pre-war era, when two young people must find their paths in a world that is fast falling out of control.

Don’t miss this story if you enjoy WWII historical fiction, moving romance tales, the Titanic or Downton Abbey.

About the Author

Scott Mullins is a freelance writer and digital content manager. When he’s not finding ways to distract himself from writing his novel he writes killer copy for companies all over the world. Connect with Scott on Twitter @ScottMullins86 or LinkedIn. He’s always looking to connect with other writers.