Under the Radar

by Lillian Francis

Under the Radar - Lillian Francis
Editions:Kindle - First Edition: $ 3.99
Pages: 407

It’s 1942 and after a sexual indiscretion, US Navy pilot Zachary MacKenzie is sent to serve in the Royal Navy’s submarine service—a shockingly harsh punishment for a man who loves to fly. The submarine is oppressive and frustrating for him, and he’s marked out from his peers, publicly by being American, and privately by his attraction to men.

The only bright spot is the company of his steward, sonar operator Gethin Llewelyn. Despite the differences of rank and background, they’re drawn to each other. Gethin’s integrity complements Zach’s casual joie de vivre, and soon the friendship develops into something much more.

As the threats of war increase, the submarine is plagued by potentially hostile vessels, and circumstances lead them to suspect there’s a spy amongst their own crew. Being forced even closer together as they work for the greater good reveals a new awareness, and Zach doesn’t know what is in more danger, the vessel under his charge or his heart.

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The men laughed at a comment from Moore and all eyes turned expectantly towards Zach, who, since he hadn’t been paying attention and in lieu of something insightful to say, flashed them all a brilliant smile. As Moore made his leave, a man about Zach’s age with a prematurely balding pate stepped forward with a brief nod and a clipped “Chief Petty Officer Hillman”, then gestured for the first of the watch to introduce themselves.

“Helmsman, Leading Seaman Vincent, sir. I can cover the hydroplanes, if required.”


The helmsman sported serious brown eyes accentuated by a dark widow’s peak. They regarded Zach critically—although that could’ve been a reflection of his own unaccustomed insecurity—then the helmsman’s gaze caught his. Something sparked at the look, like recognition thrumming under Zach’s skin. Vincent’s gaze lingered for a heartbeat too long before sweeping over Zach from head to foot. Not to be outdone, Zach returned the favour. Tall, slim, and classically handsome—an enticing package under different circumstances. Yet when Zach returned his gaze to the crewman’s face, the brown eyes were once more cool and disinterested.

Not that it mattered. Zach had promised himself; there would be no dalliances, no matter how tempting the wrapping. He was alone in a foreign service with no protective guardian to sweep his indiscretions under the carpet. Last chance saloon. Mess up and a dishonourable discharge was the least of his worries.

The next rating stood no higher than Zach’s shoulder and sported an impressive beard that obscured half his face. Zach could barely understand his thick accent and it amazed him how such a small country could produce such a diverse range of dialects. Of the remaining men, only one more stood out, the radio operator, Chopra, a tawny-skinned chap with thick black hair and a gentle gaze which seemed at odds with his military bearing. His accent reminded Zach of his two years at Oxford.

And then came the lad at the end of the line.

“ASDIC operator, Acting Leading Seaman Llewelyn, sir.”

A newly made-up leading hand, maybe for this voyage. Zach would have to keep an eye on him, make sure he was coping with the new level of responsibility. Not that keeping an eye on Llewelyn would be a hardship. Something about the way the lad said ‘sir’…. He’d heard the inflection somewhere before.

About the same height as Zach, no, taller by a good few inches—anyone of height tended to stoop to avoid smacking their head on the low metal struts, a lesson Zach had already learnt to his cost— Llewelyn wore his dark Brylcreemed hair in a regulation Navy cut. Nothing unusual there. At a glance, Zach noted trim waist and narrow hips, like Vincent’s, but broader shoulders, which indicated a past in manual labour. But his eyes, the colour of a stormy sea, complete with pale glints that resembled the foam of a cresting wave, or moonlight, held Zach’s attention.

Moonlight? Was it possible this was the same man from the docks? There were plenty of able-bodied lads willing to trade their arse, or mouth, for some extra cash. Zach knew for a fact the Navy barely paid a living wage during wartime, but would a seaman run the risk just to make a few quid, especially when a submariner received far and above what the rest of the Navy paid? You’d have to be a fool to shit in your own backyard. Or desperate. From his steady gaze Llewelyn didn’t appear to be either.

That frisson of awareness crept over Zach’s skin once more but, unlike Vincent, Llewelyn didn’t check out what Zach had to offer.

An eyebrow above one slate-grey eye quirked upwards and Zach belatedly realised he was staring wordlessly at the leading hand. His practised fleeting appraisal, which had served him in good stead for most of his adult life, had failed him when he needed it most.

He frowned. “Just trying to place your accent, Llewelyn.” Which wasn’t the easiest name to say. “You’re not local, are you?” A stupid comment considering the variety of men he’d been introduced to. And his own homeland.

Llewelyn didn’t appear offended, or surprised to be singled out. “I’m from Wales, sir.”

Zach nodded, although in truth he’d no idea if Wales was a county or a city. It was obviously big enough Llewelyn thought he would recognise it. Hoping nobody else noticed his faux pas, Zach glanced quickly down the line. An intense stare from Leading Seaman Vincent met Zach’s questioning glance. With his head cocked slightly to one side, mouth pulled into a tight line, and the dark V of hair, he looked like a curious and sharply intelligent bird. Vincent nodded once, as though acknowledging something to himself, and then returned to face front.

Had Zach stumbled upon the reason for Vincent’s disinterest? The look hadn’t been one warning Zach off, far from it. The answer to a long-pondered question Zach had provided the solution to, perhaps? There was no way to find out if he was treading on anybody’s toes, not without watching both men closely. Not exactly a hardship in either case. Regardless, Zach was still determined to find out if Llewelyn was the same man who’d enquired after his welfare at the docks.

Before he could say anything else, a rating appeared at the control room door.

“Captain requests Llewelyn, Chopra, and Vincent’s presence in the wardroom, sir.”

Zach nodded his consent and watched as the group of men made their way from the room. But his attention lingered on only one.


About the Author

Lillian Francis is an English writer who likes to dabble in many genres but always seems to return to the here and now.
Her name may imply a grand dame in pink chiffon and lace, but Lillian is more at home in jeans, Converse, and the sort of T-shirts that often need explaining to the populous at large but will get a fist bump at Comic-Con. Lillian is a self-confessed geek who likes nothing more than settling down with a comic or a good book, except maybe writing. Given a notepad, pen, her Kindle, and an infinite supply of chocolate Hobnobs and she can lose herself for weeks. Romance was never her reading matter of choice, so it came as a great surprise to all concerned, including herself, to discover a romance was exactly what she’d written, and not the rollicking spy adventure or cosy murder mystery she always assumed she’d write. Luckily there is always room for romance no matter what plot bunny chooses to bite her, so never say never to either of those stories appearing.
Lillian lives in an imposing castle on a windswept desolate moor or in an elaborate shack on the edge of a beach somewhere, depending on her mood. And while she’d love for the heroes of her stories to either be chained up in the dungeon or wandering the shack serving drinks in nothing but skimpy barista aprons more often than not they are doing something far less erotic like running charity shops and shovelling elephant shit.
Drawn to the ocean, although not in a Reginald Perrin sort of way, she would love to own a camper van and to live by the sea.

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