Authors: Margaret James
Tags: #second world war, #Romance, #ATS
|The Penny Bangle|
|Choc Lit (2012)|
|Tags:||Romance, ATS, second world war|
When should you trust your heart?
It’s 1942 when Cassie Taylor reluctantly leaves Birmingham to become a land girl on a farm in Dorset. There she meets Robert and Stephen Denham, twins recovering from injuries sustained at Dunkirk. Cassie is instantly drawn to Stephen, but is wary of the more complex Robert - who doesn’t seem to like Cassie one little bit. At first, Robert wants to sack the inexperienced city girl. But Cassie soon learns, and Robert comes to admire her courage, finding himself deeply attracted to Cassie. Just as their romance blossoms, he’s called back into active service. Anxious to have adventures herself, Cassie joins the ATS. In Egypt, she meets up with Robert, and they become engaged. However, war separates them again as Robert is sent to Italy and Cassie back to the UK. Robert is reported missing, presumed dead. Stephen wants to take Robert’s place in Cassie’s heart. But will Cassie stay true to the memory of her first love, and will Robert come home again?
Copyright © 2012 Margaret James
First published in hardback by Robert Hale in 2007
Published 2012 by Choc Lit Limited
Penrose House, Crawley Drive, Camberley, Surrey GU15 2AB, UK
The right of Margaret James to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying. In the UK such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9HE
A CIP catalogue record for this book is availablefrom the British Library
This story is for my mother
Florence Mary Neathway Laughton
I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone at Choc Lit for all their hard work on this novel.
‘Miss, you’ve dropped your knickers!’
‘He means you, love,’ said a middle-aged woman, tapping Cassie Taylor on the shoulder and glancing back towards the ticket office.
Cassie turned to see an army corporal in crumpled, grubby khaki grinning and pointing at the station platform. She realised her granny’s ancient shopping bag had split, all her bits of underwear were poking out of it, and her most disreputable pair of lock-knit drawers were lying on the dirty paving slabs of Birmingham’s New Street station.
Red-faced, she scooped her knickers up, shoved them in the pocket of her coat, and trudged off down the platform to her train. She wished she had a proper suitcase, even a second-hand cardboard one would do, even if she’d had to tie it together with bits of string.
But of course there was a war on, and so you couldn’t get anything you needed, unless you were a tart or knew a spiv. If being hard up and looking like a rag bag were both virtues, like Father Riley reckoned, when the bomb that had her name on knocked her on the head, she would be going straight to heaven.
Or maybe not. She’d have sold her soul for a decent pair of fully-fashioned stockings. These cheap cotton horrors, which were all she could afford, sagged and bagged around her knees and ankles, and made her look grotesque.
‘Come on, you lot, make your mind up, are you getting on or not?’ the guard demanded, as Cassie pushed her way past married couples frantically embracing, soldiers kissing girls goodbye, and fat old mothers saying fond farewells to lanky sons.
‘You just hang on a moment!’ She gave the guard a cheeky grin, and then she glanced behind to make quite sure she hadn’t left any more underwear lying around on Platform 4. After all, she thought, I can’t afford to lose my winter vests.
Jerking open a compartment door, she climbed into the carriage.
The train was full. She couldn’t get a seat. They’d all been nabbed by servicemen, and nobody stood up for women these days, unless they wore fur coats and looked like film stars, and Cassie knew she didn’t look like a film star – that’s if you weren’t counting Jackie Coogan in
The journey took all day, stopping and starting, hanging around in sidings to let the troop trains through, and there was no heating and no refreshment carriage, not that she had any money to buy refreshments, anyway. She’d eaten her packed lunch of brawn and mustard sandwiches and drunk her bottle of Tizer soon after they’d left Cheltenham, and now she was starving.
‘Do you fancy a cheese and pickle sandwich, love?’ A woman who’d been standing next to Cassie since Devizes offered her a greasy paper bag. ‘Go on, my darling, take one,’ she said kindly. ‘Take a couple, eh? You look like you could do with building up.’
‘Thank you.’ Cassie smiled and took a sandwich, biting into it with hungry relish.
‘Where are you going, then?’ the woman asked.
‘Dorset,’ Cassie told her though a mouthful of hard cheese.
‘Ooh, it’s pretty, Dorset. I’ve got relatives in Bridport, and my mother came from Portland. There’s a lovely beach at Weymouth, too.’ The woman glanced at Cassie’s well-stuffed shopping bag, and grinned. ‘But most folks don’t choose January to take a little holiday at the seaside.’
‘I don’t suppose they do.’ Cassie leaned against the window, chewing her cheese sandwich and gazing at the frozen winter landscape flashing by.
This might be her first trip to the seaside, she thought grimly, but it wouldn’t be a holiday. It wasn’t as if she’d wanted to leave Birmingham at all, and if certain people hadn’t carried on, then carried on some more, she’d still be there.
By the time she got to Charton Minster, a tiny station in the wilds of Dorset, she was so chilled she couldn’t feel her feet, and both her hands were purple-blue with cold.
She knew she shouldn’t have listened to her granny, who’d blethered on about Cassie being her only flesh and blood, about how if she stayed in Birmingham and working in that factory, cycling home at night after her shift and getting caught in air raids, she was going to be killed.
‘I should have joined the ATS,’ she muttered crossly to herself, as she got off the train. ‘Then, I could have learned to type or cook, or I might have even driven a lorry.’
But her granny didn’t approve of women being in the army, of women wearing uniforms, of women helping shoot down German planes. Of women doing anything that God made men – and only men, apparently – to do.
So, worn down by Lily Taylor’s tears, Cassie had joined the Land Girls, even though she didn’t know a turnip from a parsnip, even though she was terrified of horses, even though she’d never seen a cow. She’d never been out of Birmingham, so she had never seen a wood or field.
At the local Labour Exchange, where they’d been holding interviews, she had fibbed her socks off. She’d told the WVS lady she was good with horses, didn’t mind getting up at crack of dawn or several hours before it, and she fancied living the healthy, outdoor life. Yes, she knew she’d earn a pittance, half what she was getting at the munitions factory. But she thought she’d like a change, she’d said. She needed some fresh air.
So now she was in the middle of nowhere, wishing she had a warmer coat – a full-length mink or sable would do nicely – and feeling sick and scared.
‘I need to get to Melbury,’ she told the elderly man who came out of a sort of wooden hut to take her ticket, and peered at her in the gathering gloom.
‘Why would you want to go to Melbury, then?’
‘I’m g-going to work there,’ Cassie told him, teeth a-chatter.
‘I don’t think so, miss.’ The ticket collector gave her a just-escaped-from-somewhere-have-you look. ‘Yes, there was a house there once, and that I’ll not deny. But it’s a ruin now. They had a fire about ten years ago. The place is falling down, and ferns grow out of it.’
‘I’m going to work for Mr and Mrs Denham,’ insisted Cassie, fighting down her panic. She rummaged in her bag. ‘I’ve got the forms they sent me from the Ministry of Labour, and a letter from Mrs Denham. Look, the address is Melbury, Charton, Dorset.’
‘Ah, then you’ll want the bailiff’s cottage, maid! Mr and Mrs Denham, they used to live in the big house at Melbury. But after it burned down, the family moved into the cottage.’
The station man grinned broadly, and then he began to pat the pockets of his jacket.
‘Let’s find a bit of paper and a pencil, and I’ll draw a map for you – show you the shortest way. There’s a road, but it’s the long way round, so you’d be best off in the lanes. But first, you come and have a cup of something nice and hot. I’ve got my can of cocoa on the stove, and there must be a couple of biscuits somewhere.’
As she sat in the ticket collector’s hut, drinking bitter cocoa and eating home-made oatmeal biscuits, Cassie thawed a little. Ten minutes later, she thanked the ticket collector for his kindness, and set off through the silent, snow-bound village.
She walked along a gravelled road which soon lost all interest in being a proper road and became a narrow country lane, muddy and full of ruts. Luckily the mud had frozen hard, so she didn’t keep sinking into it. Although it was only five o’clock, the moon had risen already, and was shining on the snow piled up in pillowed drifts against the banks.