Peggy caught herself glancing at the clock again, and frowned. She hadn't actually expected Steve would be here at the Stork Club at eight o'clock as promised, she told herself for the hundredth time, she'd only—
"What's a beautiful lady like you doing alone on a night like this?"
A sharp retort sprang to Peggy's tongue as she turned, only to fall away unspoken at the impossible sight, and belated recognition of the impossible sound, of James Buchanan Barnes.
He was alive, he had to be; if this was a hallucination, he would have had both arms. And he probably would have been in the uniform she'd last seen him in, not dressed to the nines for a night on the town. And he certainly wouldn't have been grinning that grin, with the smug edge of a man who knows he has a story to tell and is just waiting for an opportunity to tell it.
There was only one possible question to ask.
"James, what have you done with Steve?"
He deflated slightly. "Infirmary. He was pushing really hard to get here tonight, and he got himself a broken leg. Docs say he'll be up and about soon, you know how fast he heals, but no sooner than tomorrow. How did you know?"
"Oh, come now. You said it yourself: Here, tonight. Obviously, you've spoken with Steve." Not necessarily so, she admitted to herself; she hadn't been alone in the radio room during that last desperate conversation. But his reaction showed she'd guessed correctly. Steve was alive. James, somehow, was alive. She could wait for the details; in fact, seeing how much James had obviously been looking forward to springing the story on her, she found herself determined to make the details wait.
It would serve him right for getting himself killed in the first place.
"Now then," she said, rising to her feet. "I was promised a dance, and it appears my partner has stood me up, so I suppose I shall have to make do with you."
"That's me," said James, "always stepping in to save the day when Steve's mouth writes checks his body can't cash."
"I'm sure you will do admirably," said Peggy. "But don't think I'm going to go easy on you just because you've misplaced an arm somewhere. I know perfectly well you don't need both hands to show a lady a good time."