For over a month, Teddie Doveran and Steve Rixey had been hiding out in the North African hill country. They had to. Nazi forces were hunting them even now. It wasn’t really surprising, considering that Rixey was a U.S. commando and Teddie a news photographer with some dangerous pictures in her camera.
So how did Teddie get mixed up with Steve here in Nazi-infested Africa? The long and short of it was this: late in 1942, Teddie had taken an assignment for a journalist friend who needed on-the-scene photos of the action in Morocco. Simple enough for a smart, sensible girl like Teddie. But she didn’t quite realize the extent of her own danger as an American, or the intricate network of spies working all around her.
While driving a jeep through a remote part of the mountainous countryside, she heard a motor. Another jeep, with the Nazi cross painted across the side, was following her. She could see soldiers with guns. And though she was gunning the vehicle like nobody’s business, the Nazis were getting closer.
That was when the twist came. Out of nowhere a unit of American special force commandos appeared and made a counter-attack, killing several of the pursuers and rescuing Teddie.
A retreat into the wild, rocky hills with a group of unshaved, sweaty men didn’t worry Teddie much. They were Americans, decent men who’d saved her life. In particular, she found herself drawn to the quiet, keen-eyed Lt. Steve Rixey. She guessed why she’d been attacked. Her photos must mean more than she thought. And taking refuge in this lonely country was a reasonable option for these guerrilla soldiers.
Eluding Nazi patrols made up most of the squad’s activities. Their skills amazed Teddie and she came to like all of the soldiers. But she soon saw the ghastly side of guerilla warfare when several of them walked into a trap and died horrifically. One failed sabotage job and firefights with Nazis resulted in more deaths until Lt. Rixey and Teddie alone were left. It was sad and angering and agonizing. Teddie saw it all the time in the hard convulsing of Steve’s jaws and the glaze in his eyes. Yet he maintained strength to push on and, most admirably, to protect her.
Maybe her presence helped him. They found early on that they were both Christians with a lot of similar convictions. Faith often filled their discussions, especially now as they wrestled with the senseless murders of good men. Teddie did all in her power to speak God’s truth and peace to Steve. Her heart ached for him, a leader who watched all his men get killed so viciously. She knew he must blame himself, feel responsible. She didn’t know how her very kindness kept his thoughts from blackness. In addition to this, he was still healing from the death of his wife from influenza. This had been seven years ago, but the pain lingered.
He, for his part, felt a duty to this young woman who’d been thrown into his care. With his background as a commando he knew she wouldn’t last by herself out here. In addition to just surviving, she needed to outwit the deadly men pursuing her, and a girl raised in an average North Carolina family just didn’t have all the necessary skills for the job. The pressure was great. As he and Teddie talked about their lives back in the States, he gathered how much her family loved her, and how broken they’d be if she…but he decided he wouldn’t let anything happen to her. Not as long as God gave him life.
Now here they were, carefully scaling the crags that blocked their way, trudging through sandy wind, scurrying to hide behind big rocks and stunted trees when they heard any odd sound. Steve helped Teddie along the almost-vertical cliff faces towards more ideal hiding places in the high caves. Sometimes she fell against him, worn to nothing and struggling to get full breaths. He let her lean on him but usually just kept moving. They had to. The British lines, where they’d be safe, were still miles away.
Night had fallen, a very thick black kind of night that Steve and Teddie appreciated for its protective cover. They’d found a sheltered spot high in the rocks with a fairly good view in three directions. Steve built a smokeless fire in a pit, to keep the flames out of sight. He was checking the things in his pack and cleaning his gun. Teddie just stretched out a couple yards from the fire, so tired and so glad they could rest tonight.
Both were quiet for some minutes. It dawned on Teddie how good-looking Steve was. His hair was a light brownish-gold, probably burnished by this wild outdoor life. He tried to shave daily even in these unsettled circumstances because whiskers made his face break out. Keen, steady brown eyes, a taut mouth, and a lightly cleft chin finished out a strong, thoughtful face suiting a man of thirty-five. Right now he was shirtless, the fire throwing shadows on his semi-hairy, chiseled chest and arms. Teddie thought he’d make a handsome lifeguard with that build. Steve’s wife must have enjoyed touching those pecs…Teddie caught herself.
“Steve, you look about dead. Promise me you’ll get some sleep,” she spoke.
He nodded in a non-committal sort of way, not stopping his work. “Maybe later. You need it more.”
With a half-laughing, half-exasperated sigh, she retorted, “I’m not a paper doll. Besides, I can handle a gun. Any of Rommel’s rats sneak up here and I’ll pump him full of lead.”
“Nice language from a lady,” Steve noted with a slight chuckle.
“It’s a little tough to be a lady in this kind of situation,” she grunted.
Steve paused, looking at her. “A lady? Maybe. Not a woman. Nothing changes that.”
Teddie’s eyes darted to meet his, but he’d already returned to his work.
“After all this…I didn’t think I was even that,” she hesitated.
He didn’t answer, and then right before he prepared to do so, something caught his ear. Something behind Teddie.
He abruptly slung dirt on the fire and dove towards her, gun ready, his finger quickly touching his lips in a signal to her to keep silent. Startled, she nodded, listening too. From their position, they were fairly safe. Steve held himself half-over her, his gun aimed in the general direction of the noise he’d heard. Teddie was still prone, breathing hard, pressed up against the wall of stone and praying Steve’s head wasn’t visible to any possible gun-toting stalkers.
It was right then that the danger, the suspense, vanished for a second, and another aspect struck her. The scene was almost like something from a movie. She was lying vulnerable on the ground, her heart thudding, her breath fast, a half-dressed man practically on top of her, his face inches from hers, his exhales quick and quiet, matching hers, his heartbeat vibrating against her breast. The strangest feeling overcame her, a sensation of tenderness, of longing, a mix of motherly fondness and womanly passion. She’d known for a while that she really respected and liked Steve Rixey; now she found herself wanting him. To be so close to him, her body pressed against his, filled her with comfort, with safety, even with peace. The vague thought that she never wanted this moment to end crossed the back of her mind.
Then he glanced down, realized he was gazing down right at her lips, saw the impropriety of the situation, and softly pulled himself away.
“Whatever it was, it’s gone,” he assured her in a low voice. “Pretty sure it was an animal, but we gotta be careful.”
She nodded, swallowing and trying to look normal. “Whew.”
Neither said anything else except a goodnight, then settled into separate sleeping nooks with the wool Army blankets and tried to sleep. Steve’s mind had begun racing around though. And not with thoughts of any lurking enemy.
He’d been noticing Teddie’s feminine beauty from the beginning of this journey. Not that she was exactly gorgeous right now. There weren’t many occasions to wash unless they found a stream or water hole, and she couldn’t always shave her legs or underarms. Makeup had been out of the question too. Yet in her face there was character, in her form health and perseverance, and to Steve those were just as attractive as a flawless makeup-job or silky skin. Besides, her faith in the Lord was so strong and her courage amazed him. Not to mention her gentleness and words of hope in these bloody days. The idea that maybe it was time to lay aside the grief for his deceased wife and open himself to a new love had crossed his mind; in fact lately he’d been suspecting that maybe, just maybe, God had brought along this woman for just this reason. After years of emotional and physical loneliness, it was just now clinched when he found himself so close to her, feeling her breathe beneath him, knowing her eyes were on his face, and aching with every nerve in his body to just fling away all inhibition and clasp her against him and devour her lips in a kiss of passion. He hadn’t felt this way since before his wife’s passing.
Only by the power of God had he controlled himself. Doing something so bold would have dishonored Teddie; it would have dishonored himself. He’d made a promise to the Lord as a boy that he would wait and save up all that fire for the woman he married, and being a widower didn’t change that. It was no different from the first time. At this juncture he couldn’t be sure if Teddie was that woman. Maybe it wasn’t a sin to kiss someone he wouldn’t end up marrying; for him, though, it meant so much to give all his love, even in something as commonplace as a kiss, to the woman he knew was his forever.
They picked up their trek the next morning, making their way down from the rocky shelter by the faint light of pre-sunrise and heading west.
A cloud of dust slowly floating in the distance alerted them to the proximity of a Nazi patrol car. Steve sprinted through the sand in his combat boots as if they were ballet slippers, much to Teddie’s awe. Her shoes felt like bricks. But she ran alongside him, leaping over rifts and rocks with the speed that comes from panic. Getting caught by the Nazis was not an option. They’d both seen what these butchers did to Americans.
Steve aimed for the crags again, which were now rising in monumental cliffs. It would be easier to lose the Germans. A couple of times he darted behind a rock and jerked his binoculars to his eyes to gauge the distance between the pursuers and Teddie and himself. Then he grabbed her hand and they hurried on.
Teddie hoped Steve knew how to find his way out again of this maze-like canyon, so red and strange in hue and made even more parched in appearance by the burning sun. Yet they were protected from the wind, which was a blessing.
At night they found an ideal spot high up. Steve suggested they switch off on keeping watch, and Teddie took the first shift.
For a while she sat quietly on a flat rock, Steve’s rifle in her hands. The only sounds were eerie dingo calls and some night birds, mixed with the flapping of an occasional passing bat. Teddie assumed that Steve had gone to sleep, yet she wasn’t really startled when his voice broke the night stillness.
“You know when we get out of this, I guess it’ll probably be goodbye.”
Teddie threw him an honestly saddened look. “Oh, I…hope not. I feel like we’ve become good friends,” she admitted, her gaze wisely returning to the panorama she was supposed to keep under surveillance.
“Well…” and from his voice and the brush of clothing, Teddie guessed he was getting up, “I’ve been thinking…don’t you think that it’s kind of amazing when a person from one kind of life and background is tossed into a crazy situation with someone else who has a completely different past but happens to love the same things? I mean, doesn’t it seem that the Lord arranged it for some reason?”
Steve had come up beside her and joined her in looking down into the darkness, waiting with a nervously-thumping heart for her answer.
“Well, it makes sense that God would plan that two people risking death together for weeks should become friends. Especially when they’re fellow believers.” Teddie didn’t dare risk even a glance at Steve. Her own heart pounded in hope and anticipation.
“Yes, but I was thinking…maybe it should be more,” Steve replied quietly, hesitantly.
“Teddie, I’ve seen you in the thick of some horrible stuff. That’s a better way of getting to know someone than years of courting. It’s more revealing. You’re a strong, lovely woman and I believe –” here he paused, gently reaching out to touch her arm, which drew her eyes to his face, “that God led you here. To me.”
Teddie’s mouth had slightly opened in joy, closed for a quick swallow, and reopened. “Steve, the thought came to me too! I just didn’t know if it was from the Lord or not. I sensed you were still…well, healing from Carrie’s passing. But I’ve been praying.”
“So have I,” Steve rejoined, letting his breath out a little sharply as if in great relief. “All those hours of walking, I was praying. Teddie, I love you. And I’d ask you to marry me except there’s one thing you’ve gotta know.”
“Nothing about you will change my heart,” she declared.
“It isn’t that.” He gathered up her hands in his. “We’re in Nazi territory and they know we’re on foot. They’ll kill us if they catch us. If I had my way, I’d want to marry you in a second, but I can’t ask you to bind yourself to me. First chance you get, you get to safety. I mean it, Teddie.” Steve’s voice was very determined, yet a longing in his eyes belied it.
“First chance I get, Steve Rixey, I’ll marry you,” Teddie replied with just as much determination, beautified by the warmth in her face and tone. “If you’re the man for me, as I believe you are, then I want to spend every second of my life with you. I don’t care if people are trying to kill us. If they do, I’m dying with you.”
Her words caught at his heart, and with a slight sob in his throat, he grabbed her in his arms and pressed his face into her neck. She smiled through glad tears as her hands clasped his neck. Very different emotions flamed up in both hearts. In his was the appreciation of a woman’s love once again; in hers, there stirred a new fire, that taste of first love.
The next day felt, to both, much brighter, even though danger still followed them. Whenever Teddie caught Steve’s eye, she held it, that strange spark of love shining between them. Even as they trudged along through the hot desert, senses on the alert, bodies sore and soaked in sweat, their hands met and remained clasped.
Towards late afternoon they stumbled on something that could only be called a Godsend. It was a building, a big place tucked into the rocks with a protected courtyard in front. Probably it had once been an outstation of sorts. Steve helped Teddie sit down and scoped out the scene with his binoculars.
“Pretty quiet. Might be a trap.”
“Do you see anything?” Teddie asked.
“Wait. Shh. Someone’s coming out!”
They waited. A man appeared in the courtyard and walked towards a pole. And then Steve inhaled suddenly.
“I can’t believe I didn’t see that…someone’s run up the Spanish flag,” he breathed.
“What does that mean?” Teddie demanded.
“Well…since Spain is neutral, any place they fly their flag is neutral too.” Steve stood up. “Come on. Teddie, we’re safe!”
Teddie gave him her hand and got up with an excited light in her eyes. Steve smiled almost invisibly, his eyes much more tender than his expression.
They cautiously made their descent, keeping out of sight until they were close to the courtyard gate. The man, a black-haired and mustached man with deeply tanned skin, adjusted the flag, which was hanging rather limply on the pole, and proceeded to check the front gate. Steve promptly stepped into view, rifle ready.
The Spaniard appeared first startled, then just surprised. Steve noticed the man had no gun.
“You are American,” the man spoke in accented but fine English. “An American soldier.”
“I don’t want trouble,” Steve stated. “You’re flying the Spanish flag. What is this place?”
“The Oasis,” was the Spanish man’s simple reply.
“A refuge for anyone fleeing the Germans,” the Spaniard clarified.
Steve raised his eyebrows. “Then…is it possible I could ask you for some food and a place to sleep?”
Now the Spaniard smiled. “There is provision for you, and for the woman with you.”
Steve’s eyes glinted alertly.
“Please, do not fear. I saw you in the cliffs a few moments since. I come out each day at this time to study God’s world around me. If any little thing is out of place, I notice it.”
“You don’t have a gun,” Steve observed. “Most people are scared of the Nazis.”
“Yes, and they have much cause,” the man answered. “But not for us who trust in Jesus Christ.”
“Wait…you’re a Christian?” Steve couldn’t believe it.
“I and my wife. She is here with me. Caterine, come out! We have guests!” he called.
(“Caterine” is pronounced: “caht-ah-REE-NAY.)
Still alert, Steve kept his finger right by the trigger until a door opened and a woman appeared in the courtyard.
“Ah, Leon! An American? Welcome!” she said with the same accent, her maturely beautiful face kind and open. She opened the gate. “Come in.”
“All right, Teddie,” Steve spoke behind him. The young woman stepped out, throwing uncertain looks at the Spanish couple and at Steve.
“Why, you are so young and beautiful!” Caterine exclaimed, “and so weary and hot. You are in need of food and a bath. Please, senorita, we assure you of our friendship.”
“Thank you,” Teddie replied simply. She felt something in the woman’s clear tone that solidified her assertion.
The four crossed the courtyard, Teddie and Steve both noting the U.S.-sold iron bench and a palm that looked like something that would grow in Florida. They exchanged a few discreet glances and shrugs.
Once inside, their doubts were put to rest, for the wide, airy room seemed a statement of this Spanish couple’s faith. On the walls hung framed verses and signs, some homemade, and a cross ornamented a big space between two windows. Everything was very simple, but clean and really welcoming.
“We use our home as a place for strangers who have come across the desert or fugitives escaping the Nazis,” Leon explained. “I am a diplomat. Thus I have the authority to declare territory neutral in the name of Spain.”
“Missionaries from America came to our country ten years ago, from whom we first heard the Gospel,” Caterine continued. “We both believed in Jesus. Now we try to serve the Lord with what we have. Leon was a wise businessman and had plenteous resources. With those and with his power in the Spanish government, we are trying to oppose the Nazis.”
“This is the Oasis,” the husband added with a smile. “Running water, a cellar stocked with food and supplies…it is known only to those God brings to us.”
“This is really amazing,” Steve said. “And Providential. You see, we’re both believers too.”
“The eyes of this sweet flower told me such,” Caterine announced with a little smile at Teddie. “It is deadly for two Christians to be here. And you a soldier, señor. How does this happen?”
“It’s a long story, señora, which I think I can tell you. I apologize for being suspicious.”
“No. You are right to protect your…is she your wife?” Leon interrupted himself.
Steve met Teddie’s eye before answering honestly, “No, but I want her to be.”
“That can be arranged,” Leon replied. “I am also a pastor.”
Both Teddie and Steve gave each other, then Leon, glad glances.
“We would be honored,” Teddie declared, her eyes holding Steve’s. “It’s something we believe God has given us.”
“Then I shall be the one who is honored,” Leon rejoined, his tone gentle. “When shall it be? I must add that for the sake of your own safety, you should linger here no more than two nights.”
“Teddie?” and Steve, who had drawn close to her side, looked down at her. “Will you marry me…tonight?”
A swelling of rapture washed over the young woman, and she could only nod.
Being an astute woman and an individual of immense hospitality, Caterine suggested that some food be served for the ravaged guests, then that they be shown to rooms where they might bathe and prepare for this impromptu wedding. Teddie chuckled to herself as she ate the meat and oiled vegetables and cheese with gusto, remembering in other years how she’d always assumed she would be too nervous to eat before getting married. Steve was famished too, but threw looks of contentment and tenderness at her between just about every bite. The food and conversation were wonderful. Then Caterine led the two upstairs, pointing out a room to Steve and leading Teddie on to another.
“You are so happy with this man?” she asked, closing the door.
“Very happy,” Teddie averred. “He’s a good man, a man who loves Christ as I do, and besides that, he saved me from being killed.”
“Ah. A man of courage and selflessness,” the older woman nodded in great approval. “When those traits are combined with strong faith and gentleness, the man possessing them is finer for it. And he is goodly to look at.”
Teddie laughed at Caterine’s knowing grin, and nodded. “Oh, yes, I can’t deny it. Though I don’t know what he sees in me. I don’t look fit to be married in a little while!”
The Spanish woman raised a hand and walked over to a closet. “That is part of our work. There are plenty of clothes here, and in the bathroom, soap and cloths and fragrance. It may not be a wedding such as you, as an American, have dreamed of, but if the young man loves you and believes you to be the woman sent from God to him, then you shall be beautiful to him.”
“Thank you so very much, Caterine.” Teddie felt herself getting teary, but the kind hostess ordered her away.
The bathroom, plain and all-white, beckoned to Teddie in its pure cleanliness. There was a little window cut out of the clay wall, allowing the last bit of evening into the room. A primitive shower stood at one end, a toilet at the other, and a simple stand with a candle sconce and mirror between them. The floor was slate, hand-hewn from the desert rock. Teddie turned on the shower with the thought that she’d never take hot running water for granted again. Then, pulling off her damp, dirty blouse and pants and underthings, she stepped into the shower.
Boy, how good it felt. She hadn’t been really clean in weeks. Slapping some water over her face, arms, and neck from a less-than-clear waterhole didn’t constitute a bath. In the drawer of the stand, she’d found a little case with soap, a pumice stone, oil, and razors. She put them to work, scrubbing every inch of skin and soaking in the wonderful feeling of dirt and sand being washed away. Then she slathered on the oil and shaved her legs and underarms. She deliberated about her pubic hair; this was going to be her wedding night, after all. She decided just to trim it, since a complete removal would take time. Besides, she always felt itchy when it was shaved clean.
Her washed hair, feeling so much silkier from an herbal shampoo, was quickly wrapped up in a soft towel. Then she patted her body with another and stepped out, lazily swathed in its warm dampness. For a minute she just wanted to relax, catch her breath, and bask in her refreshed womanhood.
There was a little knock. “Would you like assistance in your preparation, Teddie?” Caterine’s voice asked through the door.
“Oh…uh, yes, if you don’t mind,” Teddie answered, a bit unsure about what in the world those preparations might entail.
The older woman entered, some white material slung over her arm. She paused and gave Teddie a pleased scanning. “You have a graceful body, young one,” she praised.
“I hope…I hope Steve will think so,” Teddie hesitated. “I’m kind of embarrassed about how small my breasts are. Men seem to always like them big.”
Caterine laughed softly, helping Teddie dry off in a very matter-of-fact, motherly fashion. “Every man has his own desire. And small breasts are desirable for their own reasons. It is less weight for a slender form like yours to bear. And always hold to the truth that you are more than your body.”
The Spanish lady picked up the white dress she’d set aside, displaying it for Teddie to see. It was long and straight, brocaded in silver and blue around the neck and down the long flared sleeves. Not exactly what Teddie had ever imagined getting married in, and a little something in her face may have transmitted the thought to Caterine.
“This is what we women of the old Spanish families wear on the first day of the marriage celebration. It is not for fashion, nor would Westerners consider it ornamental to the woman’s figure,” Caterine explained. “Yet for you, my daughter, it is a veil of mystery. It hides you from the eyes of your future husband, and heightens his desire. Only when you go to the wedding chamber may he remove it.”
The statement, made with such Old World eloquence and somberness, sent a chill of excitement through Teddie. She didn’t mind at all that the dress didn’t flatter her curves. She knew Steve wanted her just for herself.
With Caterine’s help, she put it on, straightening the skirt. Her hair was already drying and Caterine took a large shell-decorated comb to it, rubbing in oil at intervals. Then she seated her and proceeded to apply a bit of traditional wedding cosmetics. Teddie asked that it be kept simple; she didn’t want to look painted. Caterine agreed and made it very light, focusing on Teddie’s eyes.
Leon knocked just then, startling Teddie, but Caterine just nodded and called, “We are soon coming!” With a wave to the mirror, she had Teddie stand up and view herself.
Teddie thought she was looking at someone else, since she’d never seen herself dressed or made-up in this Latin fashion. Yet with her dark brown hair, soft and wild, falling over her shoulders, her slim body sheathed in the plain woven dress, and her face rosy and bright with expectancy, she almost felt the part. Turning to Caterine, she reached for her hands.
“Thank you, Caterine. I think everything’s beautiful.”
The hostess added a pair of silver sandals and a veil to throw over her hair, then directed Teddie to follow her downstairs. She stopped at the archway opening into the open sitting room and pressed the young woman’s hand before slipping away.
Teddie inhaled and looked into the room. Steve was there, hands in his pockets, turned three-quarters away from her. It only took a glance for Teddie to note that his hair was damp and brushed, he was dressed in fresh trousers and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled high to reveal his brawny upper arms, and he seemed antsy.
“Hello, Steve,” she said softly, and he jerked around.
For a few seconds he just looked, and she admitted to herself that she liked the desire in his eyes. “Teddie…you’re gorgeous!” he finally stammered. In a few steps he was before her, grasping her hands. “All these weeks together and I had no clue you could be so…so…beautiful.”
“I still can’t believe it. I mean, that you really want me,” Teddie whispered, daring to rest her head on his chest. He gently put his arms around her. “You’re sure? You won’t regret it?”
He smiled a little and lifted her face so he could look down into her eyes. “Never. What fool would second-guess a gift from the hand of God?”
“Oh Steve, I love you!”
“I love you.”
They stood like this a little, Teddie breathing in his fresh scent, Steve trembling a tiny bit in joy. Then Leon and Caterine signaled their arrival, and the ceremony began.
It was short, what they both wanted. Teddie thought she might faint when Steve gazed at her and vowed his love to her, and she almost broke into tears when she spoke her own pledge and caught the convulsion of Steve’s neck and jaw. Leon concluded the wedding with an Americanism: “You may now kiss your bride!” and after a second, in which Steve held Teddie’s eyes with a piercing intimacy that took her breath, he pulled her against him and covered her lips with his in a deep kiss.
Their hosts congratulated them, though in a sedate manner, and Leon took up a lighted candelabra. “Since you have so short a time, we will not keep you. Come.”
Steve glanced at Teddie, whose hands were twined around his arm; they both knew what Leon meant. They quietly followed their host. He led them up the stairs to a room at the far end of the house, quite apart from any other apartment, opened the door, and motioned them in. The bed was big and veiled in white, and a number of candles threw a sensual glow over the room. A heavy black drape covered the window. Leon set down his candlestick, pronounced his hope that God would bless their union tonight and forever, and left them. They were alone.
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