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Take Me Home
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“There is nothing better than Dorothy Garlock at her best” –Sandra Brown, New York Times bestselling author
Take Me Home
Olivia Marsten never imagined she’d be a war bride. But when her childhood best friend surprises her with a marriage proposal, she reluctantly accepts. She can’t bear to send him off to serve in the Navy with a broken heart . . . even though her heart belongs to someone else.
Sparks fly the moment mysterious stranger Peter Becker lays eyes on Olivia. He never hesitated to pull her out of harm’s way-risking his own life to save hers. Yet as kind as he is handsome, Peter harbors a dark secret. The son of an American soldier, he was forced to join the Reich’s army to protect his German mother. Now an escaped POW, he’s determined to spend every moment he can with beautiful Olivia before he must turn himself in.
But a dangerous enemy Peter knows all too well is on the loose, threatening the fragile future he and Olivia are building together. What happens when the truth of Peter’s identity comes to light? And can their love withstand it?
Lies and Love
When I say “I love you,”
My dearest, it is true.
Yet I must lie to have you,
So what am I to do?
To live a lie for love’s sake
Or tell the truth and go?
Whatever course I now take,
I’m still your friend—not foe.
We can overcome the enmity.
We can look beyond the war.
Someday declare the love we share
And be true forevermore.
Miller’s Creek, Wisconsin
OLIVIA MARSTEN SAT in her seat in the Majestic Theater, her toes tapping the floor with excitement. For more than a week now, she’d been looking forward to watching the Sunday matinee of the latest Ann Sheridan movie, The Angels Wash Their Faces. Her mother liked to arrive early, so the theater had been empty when they’d entered, but it hadn’t taken long for the seats to begin filling up. Outside, the weather was unseasonably warm, the late autumn wind scattering drifts of burnt red and brilliant orange leaves, so few people were wearing coats. Snippets of conversation and short guffaws of laughter echoed around the room. Sally, one of Olivia’s friends from school, came in with her two younger brothers and waved from the aisle. Olivia had only just raised her hand when her mother spoke.
“Don’t make a scene, Olivia,” she scolded.
“But I was just going to—”
“That’s not something that a proper young lady should do.”
Meekly, Olivia lowered her hand and turned away from her friend. For as long as she could remember, her mother had been correcting her behavior. Do this. Don’t do that. For Heaven’s sake, you know better than to act that way! Elizabeth Marsten believed that even the smallest mistake, the most innocent of errors, could do irreparable damage to a young girl’s reputation, to say nothing about sullying her mother’s good name. Even now, Elizabeth sat stiffly in her seat, her eyes facing forward and her face showing no hint of emotion, as if everyone in the theater was watching and judging. To go against her wishes was a risky proposition. Though she had just turned seventeen years old, Olivia still found herself wilting in the face of her mother’s displeasure.
Her sister, Grace, had no such troubles.
Sitting on the opposite side of their mother, Grace slumped in her chair, her feet pressed against the seat in front of her, absently twisting a long strand of blond hair around her finger. Eight years younger than Olivia at nine, Grace constantly antagonized Elizabeth, seemingly going out of her way to do things that would make her mother angry. Olivia would’ve felt sorry for her sister, but she suspected that Grace was enjoying herself.
“Sit up straight,” Elizabeth admonished the girl.
Reluctantly, Grace did as she was told.
“And stop playing with your hair like that,” her mother added. “I didn’t spend all that time pinning it up to have you take it apart strand by strand.”
“Yes, Mother,” Grace grumbled, letting go of her hair, but only a few seconds later, she’d brought her thumb to her mouth and had begun nibbling on the nail; Olivia knew her mother wouldn’t let that transgression go for long.
If only her father could have come with them. All week, they had planned on going to the movie together, a rare family outing, but at the last moment, he’d been called to work; as Miller’s Creek’s sheriff, there was no way of knowing when duty would call. His absence changed things. When John Marsten was around, it seemed to dull the sharpest of Elizabeth’s critiques. Often, he would chuckle when his daughters got out of line, saying that it was only “girls being girls.” Elizabeth always managed to smile, to agree with her husband, but Olivia knew that the moment her father was gone, they’d get a tongue-lashing for all they’d done wrong.
With only a few minutes left before the picture began, the theater was almost full. As carefully as she could, hoping her mother wouldn’t notice, Olivia stole a quick glance at the crowd. Parents and their children mixed with young couples out on a date, everyone growing excited for the movie. Still, Olivia felt a pang of disappointment; she hadn’t found who she was looking for. But then, just as she was about to give up hope, she saw him.
Olivia couldn’t have stopped the smile that spread across her face if she’d wanted to. Billy Tate had been her best friend since they were younger than Grace. She told him everything, about what made her laugh, cry, and even shout in anger. Olivia trusted him with the secrets she wouldn’t dare share with anyone else. In turn, he did the same, slipping her letters in school and joining her for long walks beside the winding creek that gave the town its name. It was because Billy knew Olivia so well that he gave her only a quick wink before taking his seat a few rows ahead and across the aisle from her; the last thing he wanted was to get on Elizabeth Marsten’s bad side.
The curtain slowly parted and the projector whirred to life, its light flickering across the theater’s screen. A few of the younger children clapped with joy. Olivia understood their excitement; she was ready to be entertained, too.
But it didn’t take long for her good mood to sour. The first images to shine on the screen were the newsreels. Like all of the radio broadcasts Olivia had heard and the newspaper headlines she’d read, the subject was the same. War. Little more than two months earlier, fighting had broken out across Europe as Germany’s armed forces invaded Poland. Since then, one declaration of war had followed another as England and France had been pulled into the conflict. Olivia listened intently as the news announcer’s voice filled the theater.
“Headline Paris! The preparations for war continue as France and Britain mobilize, determined to come to the aid of a beleaguered Poland!” Images of airplanes roaring across a cloudless sky filled the screen. “The defenders of democracy prepare themselves,” the newsman continued, “determined to become the rock upon which Hitler’s army smashes itself to pieces!” Suddenly, the allied forces disappeared from the screen, replaced by row upon row of German soldiers, all marching in unison. There were so many men that they seemed endless. Interspersed into the newsreel were shots of Hitler screaming from his pulpit, his hand clenched in a fist, spittle flying from his lips.
Olivia shivered. The sight of all of those soldiers, their eyes dark beneath the shadowy brim of their steel helmets, a gun pressed tight against their chests, menacing as they lock-stepped for their Führer, unnerved her.
Ever since the war had started, Olivia had been fearful that the United States would become a part of the fighting. Everyone around her dismissed her worries, arguing that it was a European conflict and that America would remain neutral. Only her father, a veteran of the Great War, seemed concerned; she’d watched him listen to the radio after supper, his jaw clenched and his brow furrowed. Nervously, Olivia looked to where Billy sat; she didn’t know what she expected to see, maybe some of the worry she felt, maybe a glance her way to show he sympathized, but he just stared up at the screen.
A feeling of dread filled Olivia. Watching the German soldiers frightened her. They looked like machines, unfeeling and monstrous, hell-bent on carrying out their master’s bidding. The thought of confronting one, of being face-to-face with such a man, almost made her sick to her stomach. Fortunately, before her discomfort could get any worse, the newsreel ended and the Merrie Melodies cartoon began. Watching the animated pig chase after the dog, Olivia felt her fear slowly ebb until it was altogether forgotten, replaced with laughter.
Olivia woke with a gasp as her hand rushed to grab the collar of her nightshirt, the fabric soaked through with sweat. Her breathing was ragged, her heart pounded. Even though she was awake and aware of her surroundings, brilliant moonlight streaming through her window and falling across her bed, her nightmare still held her in its grip. Memories of her dream didn’t float away, like a leaf caught in a swollen spring stream, rapidly disappearing from sight. She didn’t just recall bits and pieces of it either, like a series of photographs.
She remembered every frightening moment.
In her dream, Olivia had been walking alone down a dark and deserted street. Suddenly, the sound of marching footsteps could be heard, growing increasingly louder, as if they were coming closer. Olivia had started to walk faster, but within seconds she was running as fast as she could. But no matter which direction she turned, the noise kept getting nearer and nearer, until she felt as if whoever was making it was right behind her. When a hand violently grabbed her arm, nearly pulling her off her feet, Olivia had tried to scream but the sound remained frozen in her throat. She’d struggled like a mouse caught in a trap, desperate to get away, but she was held fast. Frantically, she’d turned to find a lone German soldier, his fingers digging deep into the flesh of her arm, his eyes hidden beneath the brim of his steel helmet. It was then, just as the man opened his mouth to speak, causing Olivia to flinch, reacting as if the words would hit her like fists, that she mercifully woke.
Getting out of bed, Olivia hurried over and raised the window, letting in the November night. Outside it was quiet, the air cold and biting, the sky cloudless; the moon was thin, a few days short of vanishing. As goose bumps rose on Olivia’s arms, she couldn’t help but feel that a storm was gathering on the distant horizon, with dark clouds and deafening thunderclaps. As her teeth began to chatter, a feeling of dread still coursed through her; the dream had sunk teeth of its own into her and the fear refused to let go no matter how much she struggled.
“It was only a dream,” she muttered.
Shutting the window, Olivia went back to bed and buried herself in her covers. Closing her eyes, she chided herself for her fears and tried to fall back to sleep, but it was hours later, almost dawn, before she finally succeeded.
Late April 1945
OLIVIA HAD JUST FINISHED ringing up Martha Wolcott’s purchase of a new set of laundry pins when she noticed Billy Tate pacing back and forth in front of Pickford Hardware’s display window. Even through the dusty glass, he looked nervous, agitated, and more than a little out of sorts. As she watched, Olivia noticed that Billy was talking to himself, occasionally gesturing, his hands jabbing through the air. Every once in a while he paused to wipe his brow with a handkerchief.
“Thank you kindly, my dear,” Martha said as she placed the pins in her purse. “I hated to have to buy them, what with the way I’ve always tried to make do with less for the war effort, but my old set plumb gave out!”
“Everything does eventually,” Olivia mumbled, distracted; she was remembering how chilly it had been that morning on her way to work, the cold feeling more like winter than spring, and therefore couldn’t understand why Billy was sweating so much.
“Wouldn’t you agree?”
Startled, Olivia realized that by watching Billy, she hadn’t been paying attention. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Wolcott,” she admitted sheepishly, smiling in the hope that it might mask her embarrassment. “I didn’t catch that.”
“I was just saying that so much has changed in town since the war began that it’s almost unrecognizable, especially to an old woman like me,” she repeated with a smile that caused the wrinkles around her eyes to deepen. “Why, I doubt you would’ve ever imagined that you’d be here, working in the hardware store.”
Martha was right; Olivia never would have thought that she would be working for Henry Pickford, selling nails, scrub brushes and buckets, light bulbs, and even the occasional set of laundry pins. But whatever direction her life had been going, it had never been the same after a cold Sunday morning back in December 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry in the war, fighting against both the Germans and the Japanese, Olivia’s life, as well as the course of her country, had been changed forever. James Pickford, Henry’s son, along with most of the young men in Miller’s Creek, had immediately enlisted in the armed services. Since Henry was a good friend of Olivia’s father, she’d ended up taking James’s place at the family business. Her days were spent behind the cash register, sweeping floors, and stocking the shelves with what few items weren’t consumed by the war effort. Olivia had taken to the work right from the start; she especially liked talking with customers, and earning money of her own was both new and rewarding. Even though she still worried about the men fighting overseas, she knew she had to continue to do her part, whatever might be asked of her.
“I wonder what will happen when the men come home,” Martha said.
Olivia had wondered the same thing herself.
Once Martha had started for the front door, Olivia turned her attention back to wondering what Billy was up to. But as she craned her neck, looking through the dusty glass, he suddenly entered the hardware store. Holding the door open for Martha, he smiled warmly at the older woman, sharing a kind word before purposefully striding toward the counter, his face no longer as friendly, but determined, even a bit grim.
Billy Tate had been clumsy as a child, all jutting elbows and knobby knees, and some of that awkwardness still remained; whenever he was in a hurry, as he was now, it looked as if he was about to trip over his own feet and fall flat on his face. He wasn’t tall or muscular, but average in height and thin in build, his button-down shirt hanging a bit loosely on him. His black hair was pomaded flat above his prominent forehead. His dark eyes were as thin as his pursed lips. When he was nervous, his large Adam’s apple bobbed up and down like a cork in the creek.
He was Olivia’s oldest friend…Her best friend…
“I need to talk with you,” Billy said when he reached her, his voice insistent. “It’s important.”
Olivia felt her stomach lurch. “What is it?” she asked, worried. “Did something happen?”
“Not here,” he answered. “We need to go somewhere private.”
Glancing at the clock that hung above the door to the storeroom, Olivia said, “I’m not supposed to go to lunch for another half an hour, but I guess I could ask if I could leave early.”
Billy nodded urgently.
Henry Pickford told Olivia to go ahead. When she returned to Billy, she barely had time to take off her apron before he grabbed her hand and hurried them out into the spring afternoon. He moved so fast that it was a struggle for Olivia to keep up. Rounding the corner of the hardware store, he took off down the sidewalk.
“Where are we going?” Olivia asked.
For someone in such a rush, Billy seemed indecisive; he would take a long look one way before turning and staring in the opposite direction. “I don’t really know,” he admitted. “I just want to make sure we’re alone.”
“How about the old lumber barn?” she suggested.
Potter’s Lumber maintained a large building across the street from Miller’s Creek’s library. Many years before, it had been used to store chunks of ice cut from the frozen waterway in the winter that were then packed in sawdust to be used over the rest of the year. But now, with refrigerators becoming more common, the building sat empty save for some old machinery and a few other odds and ends. When they arrived, the door creaking open on rusty hinges, there wasn’t anyone else around, just as Olivia had expected.
“Now will you please tell me what’s the matter?” Olivia asked. She stood in the sunlight that streamed through the open doorway, rubbing her arms for whatever warmth she could get, a chill still clinging to the air.
But all she got was more silence as he paced back and forth in the shadows, as agitated as he’d been outside the hardware store.
“Come on, Billy!” she insisted.
“I know, I know,” he replied, flustered. “I just didn’t think it’d be like this. I mean, I’ve said the words over and over again in my head so many times that I swear I could tell them to you backward. But now here we are and I’m tongue-tied.” He pulled his handkerchief out and again wiped his brow. Glancing at her, he added, “It doesn’t help that you’re so darn beautiful.”
“Don’t say that,” Olivia said, embarrassed.
“But it’s true.”
Olivia had never thought of herself as pretty, even if Billy wasn’t the first person to tell her so. When she sat in front of her bedroom mirror at night, brushing countless strokes through her long blond hair, the young woman looking back at her didn’t strike her as someone who would turn heads. Her dark blue eyes, small nose, and button mouth seemed well positioned enough, but she couldn’t help but think that her skin was a touch too pale and the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose and along both cheeks was distracting, a blemish. To hear someone compliment her looks, as Billy had just done, always caused her to flush red with embarrassment.
“Is this about the Navy?” she asked.
“No…yes…both I reckon,” Billy answered.
In a little more than a month, Billy was scheduled to report for boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. Twenty-two years old, the same age as Olivia, Billy had been trying to enlist for years, since just after he’d turned eighteen, but had always been rejected for medical reasons; an illness when he’d been a child had weakened his heart. But Billy hadn’t been willing to take “no” for an answer. After countless attempts, and plenty of frustration, he’d finally found a doctor willing to look past his health problems and clear him to enter the service. Olivia had been the first person he’d told when he’d gotten the news.
“Well, which is it?” Olivia pressed.
“What I have to say to you isn’t about the Navy, but because of it,” Billy explained. He’d finally stopped his pacing and had stepped nearer to Olivia; up close, she could see the beads of sweat dotting his forehead. “Ever since I found out that I’d be able to join up, to go off and fight for my country, I’ve been doing an awful lot of thinking about everything I’ll be leaving behind.”
“That’s understandable,” she answered.
Gently, Billy reached out and took Olivia by the hand; his touch was hot and sweaty, almost uncomfortable, although she had no inclination to pull away. “But what really got to me,” he continued, his voice catching, “was that whenever I thought about not coming back…”
“Nothing’s going to happen to you,” Olivia insisted; she’d been telling him this for months, trying her best to convince them both.
Billy smiled. “If something happens to me,” he said, “there’s only one person I’d regret not being able to come back to.” Pausing, he added, “You.”
Olivia couldn’t speak. She was both confused and growing nervous.
What happened next felt like something out of a romantic movie. Slowly, Billy lowered himself to the dusty floor, bending down on one knee in front of her. He fished around in his pocket for a moment before pulling his hand free; pinched between his thumb and finger was a simple gold band that shone brightly in the spring sunlight.
“Olivia Marsten,” Billy said. “Will you marry me?”
The first time Olivia met Billy Tate, she had laughed in his face.
She’d been eight years old, walking along the bank of the creek, watching the swift spring waters race over rocks and around branches, carrying fallen leaves to some unknown destination. Suddenly, from around a bend in the waterway and beneath the shade of a budding oak tree, she heard a yelp of delight. Hurrying to the sound, she found a young boy pulling furiously on a fishing pole, his catch squirming desperately on the other end of the line. Just as he managed to reel in his prize, the fish clutched tightly in his hands, the boy noticed that Olivia was watching. Surprised and flustered, he’d inadvertently stepped backward, dropping off the bank and into the water. He’d landed on his rump in the shallows, completely soaked through from head to toe, the fish once again swimming freely in the creek.
Unable to help herself, Olivia had burst out laughing; after a moment’s hesitation, Billy had joined her. In that instant, a friendship had been born between them, one that Olivia would come to cherish with all her heart.
Billy had always been there for Olivia, listening when she complained about how overbearing her mother could be; nodding his head in agreement when she grumbled about how her younger sister, Grace, was always borrowing her things without asking; and holding her hand as they raced through the woods outside town, a summer storm coming, the booming thunder behind them, her heart pounding hard, as if they were being chased. In turn, Olivia had shared in Billy’s triumphs and tragedies, holding him close after his mother had died of influenza, his head pressed tightly to her shoulder, his sobs shaking them both.
But other than the time when they’d shared a tentative kiss behind Ernie Peabody’s barbershop, both of them curious to find out what all the fuss was about, there’d never been a hint of romance between them. When Olivia had pined for Clyde Barrow, a love that would forever remain unrequited, Billy had sympathized. When Billy had courted Meredith Armstrong, taking her to a couple of movies, Olivia had been jealous that she couldn’t spend as much time with him as she would’ve liked, not because she’d wished she was the object of his affections.
She’d thought they’d been friends, pure and simple.
But somehow, Olivia had misunderstood.
Looking down at him on bended knee, her heart in her throat, Olivia would never have imagined that she’d find herself right here, right now, with Billy’s words still hanging in the air between them, unanswered.
Olivia’s mind raced. Even though she had been cold a few minutes before, rubbing her arms for warmth, she could now feel beads of sweat running down her face, tickling her neck. Never in her life had she ever been so confused, so completely unsure of what she should say or do. A part of her wanted to cry. Another wanted to run away. Yet another wanted to do nothing, to stay quiet, and to wait for Billy to fill the silence that slowly trickled on and on.
“I know this is a surprise,” he finally said. “I can see it in your face as plain as day, but I just had to tell you the truth. I need you to know that I’ve been in love with you ever since the day we met.”
Disbelief washed over Olivia. It felt as if she were caught in the web of a dream from which she couldn’t wake.
“I’ve tried to tell you so many times,” he continued. “But whenever I screwed up my courage, trying to convince myself that this time would be different, it failed me. I just couldn’t go through with it. I was afraid that if I told you the truth, if I admitted to loving you and then you rejected me, it would ruin what we had. I just couldn’t risk our friendship, so I kept it all bottled up inside.
“But things are different now that I’m going off to the war. There’s no longer any reason for me to hold back.” Giving Olivia’s hand a gentle squeeze, he added, “That’s why I asked you to marry me.”
Struggling, Olivia thought about her own feelings for Billy. He was the best friend she could have ever hoped for. He was honest and dependable. He laughed easily, wasn’t possessed of a temper, and listened with a caring ear. If his future was a star, it would have been the brightest in the sky. Billy’s father was the president of the town bank; while the son had been handed his job, Billy had worked hard to live up to it, and had earned the respect and admiration of everyone he did business with. Because of his family’s wealth, and the fact that Billy was sure to someday take over his father’s position, whoever became his wife was sure to have a well-off life. In short, Billy was exactly the sort of man most women wanted for a husband. Still, questions filled Olivia’s head.
Am I ready to get married?
Do I want to?
No matter what I choose to do, what will my mother and father say?
From the change in Billy’s features, Olivia knew that her doubts were obvious. He looked deflated, as if every one of the fears that had plagued him for so many years had suddenly been proven true. His hand slid from hers.
“It’s all right, Olivia,” he said as he struggled to smile. “It wasn’t fair of me to ask you like this. I shouldn’t have—”
“Yes,” she blurted, the words jumping from her mouth, cutting him off.
“What?” Billy asked as shock raced across his face, a flicker of hope rekindling in his eyes. “What did you say?”
- "Every Dorothy Garlock book is synonymous with a great read."—Janet Dailey
- "There is nothing better than Dorothy Garlock at her best."—Sandra Brown, New York Times bestselling author
- On Sale
- Jul 1, 2014
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing