James MacManus shares an excerpt from his new novel, Ike and Kay, based on the story of General Eisenhower’s secret love affair.
She went to his office, knocked on the door and entered on a barked command from within.
“Yes?” he said without looking up.
“I’ve decided that I do not need new uniforms, sir. They are a wartime extravagance, but thank you for the offer.”
He looked up, frowning.
“You’re going to get measured for those uniforms and you will do so tomorrow. The tailor will be here at 9 a.m.”
“I would rather not, sir.”
“That’s an order, Miss Summersby.”
He stood up, red-faced, leaning forward on the desk on clenched fists.
“And I am not allowed to refuse an order from my commander-in-chief?”
“Damn right you’re not.”
He came round the desk and stood in front of her. They glared at each other.
“Have you got anything to say?” His voice was softer this time.
“You walk into my office and tell me you don’t want new uniforms when only a few days ago you told me you needed them!”
She hadn’t said anything of the sort, but there was no point arguing.
“I explained why, sir.”
“No, you didn’t. What’s going on?”
“I was going to ask you the same question, sir.”
He looked down, shook his head, stepped back and threw his arms up in the air.
“Sir, I …”
“Listen. When the signal came through that night the Strathallen went down I felt as if the ground had been cut from under my feet. I went through hell that night. I cursed myself for not having had you fly out.”
“Don’t say anything. I was never going to tell you how I felt, and sweet Jesus I don’t know how I’ve found the guts to do so now.”
“Ike, I just want to say …”
He had his hands on her shoulders and shook her lightly. Suddenly they were in each other’s arms, kissing with the passion of a lovers’ farewell.
It was Kay who broke away. What if Tex walked in as he had a habit of doing without knocking? There were lipstick smudges all over Ike’s neck and cheeks. She licked the corner of a handkerchief and began wiping his face. She tried to keep hold of her thoughts, which were tumbling over each other like flotsam in floodwater. He loved her. That was all that mattered.
Ike looked serious and said, “I don’t want you to be hurt. I don’t want people to talk about you.”
“It’s too late for that, sir,” she said. They were both taking risks, her boss far more than her. Eisenhower had a reputation, a career and a marriage to lose. She was just a junior who would survive the limelight of any scandal. But Ike was always hopelessly naïve about the gossip that had trailed them since they first met.
“Maybe we should be more careful,” she said.
“What?” he said.
“Maybe we should stop …”
“… being so close.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do.”
“What are you talking about?”
She waited. The question twisted slowly in the air between them like a spider hanging on the single filament of an unwoven web.
“It’s called an affair, sir.”
The sweeping love story at the heart of the Second World War, vividly reimagining General Eisenhower and Kate Summersby’s infamous, star-crossed affair.
In his latest historical novel Ike and Kay, acclaimed author James MacManus brings to life an unbelievably true and controversial romance and the poignant characters and personalities that shaped the course of world history.
In 1942, Kay Summersby’s life is changed forever when she is conscripted to drive General Eisenhower on his fact-finding visit to wartime London. Despite Eisenhower’s marriage to Mamie, the pair takes an immediate liking to each other and he buys Kay a rare wartime luxury: a box of chocolates.
So begins a tumultuous relationship that, against all military regulation, sees Kay traveling with Eisenhower on missions to far-flung places before the final assault on Nazi Germany. The general does dangerously little to conceal his affair with the woman widely known as “Ike’s shadow,” and in letters Mamie bemoans his new obsession with “Ireland.” That does not stop him from using his influence to grant Kay citizenship and rank in the US army, drawing her closer still when he returns to America. When officials discover Eisenhower’s plans to divorce from his wife they threaten the fragile but passionate affair, and Kay is forced to take desperate measures to hold onto the man she loves . . .
Based on the scandalous true story of General Eisenhower’s secret World War II love affair, Ike and Kay is a compelling story of love, duty, sacrifice, and heartbreak, set against the backdrop of the most tumultuous period of the twentieth century.
James MacManus is the managing director of The Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of six novels, including the historical novels Black Venus, Sleep in Peace Tonight, and Midnight in Berlin.