By Stacy Henrie
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As the war ends, love begins . . .
Nora Lewis just wants an escape after losing her fiance in the Great War. When she inherits property in England, she boldly packs up and leaves America for a fresh start. But if not for her dashing new neighbor, Colin Ashby, she’d be lost. Even as their friendship deepens, Nora knows a British aristocrat would never be free to love an American orphan, no matter how much the war has changed the world . . .
After his brother’s death in the war and his own experiences as a pilot at the front, Colin returns home broken, only to discover his family’s estate is also in ruin. The pressure is now on him to save his home and the Ashbys’ place in society with a well-bred match to a wealthy heiress. Too bad he finds more of a kindred spirit in Nora, the beautiful American next door. She, too, has faced the rigors of war and survived. Now the ex-soldier will have one more battle to fight-this time for love.
This series, and this book, is far better than I could ever make it on my own due to the expertise and help of Jessica Alvarez, Lauren Plude, Julie Paulauski, Joan Matthews, and the entire team at Grand Central Forever. A heartfelt thank-you as well to Elizabeth Turner, who created the perfect cover for Nora’s story.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank some of the wonderful people we had the privilege of meeting during our trip “across the Pond.” Thanks to Bill and Diane for their gracious hospitality and kindness. I can’t think of a more idyllic place to stay in the Lake District than their wonderful farm and cottages. Much thanks to Jean, too, who so kindly and willingly educated me on the ins and outs of sheep farming. A thank-you goes as well to the sweet hosts at Kiplin Hall, who not only gave us a tour at the tenth hour but taught me the true English way of offering tea. A final thanks to Megan for a wonderful day at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester and the Youngs for a delicious, authentic British meal.
Thanks to my dad for sharing his love and knowledge of aviation and bettering my flying scenes because of it.
Thank you always and forever to my husband and kids. Having you along on this last trip to England made the experience even better.
Of course, no thank-you list would suffice without mention of the readers of my Of Love and War series. Thanks for your enthusiasm for these dear characters and the time period. I’ve loved sharing these glimpses of the First World War together.
Being the life-long Anglophile that I am, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to set at least one book in this series in England. Thankfully Nora and Colin didn’t complain! My first time through the Lake District as a college student, I fell in love with the unique beauty and wild strength inherent in this part of Britain. Visiting it again, some fourteen years later, reaffirmed all that I remembered and loved about Cumbria and also gave me the chance to experience the place as Nora and Colin might have.
Brougham Castle and Keswick are both actual places in the Lake District. The history behind the castle is also factual, and the ruins are as gorgeous in real life as I hope they sound in fiction. While Larksbeck and Elmthwaite Hall are both my fictional creation, I did my best to keep the architecture, weather, and topography in keeping with those found in the Lake District.
Sheep farming is an important way of life in Cumbria. As Jack points out in the book, the Herdwick sheep have been in this region for hundreds of years. It was my immense good fortune to be educated by Jean, a Lake District sheep farmer, who explained to this suburbia girl the many aspects of sheep farming. Any errors in that regard are mine alone.
I wanted Colin to have a responsibility in the war that was as unique as the Lake District, something that isn’t always given large attention when WWI comes to mind. For those reasons, I decided to make him a member of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Before the war ended in 1918, the RFC combined with the Royal Naval Air Service and took the more familiar name of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
If being a soldier on the ground seemed like madness during the Great War, then being one inside the cockpit of airplane was even more so. While the world, then and now, glamorized these pilots, their job was not an easy one. Most pilots at the beginning of the war were lucky to survive two weeks—to survive the entire war was nothing short of a miracle.
The Germans, with their more sophisticated planes and ruthless killers like the Red Baron, weren’t the only challenges to Allied pilots. Many of them had logged less than twenty hours of flying before joining the combat in the skies. Learning to actually fly one of these newfangled machines wasn’t a simple task either. A number of deaths occurred, not in the famous dogfights over the battlefields, but in practice. Then there was the absence of parachutes, thought to encourage a pilot to bail instead of sticking out the fight, in the event a pilot’s plane was hit.
While the work of WWI pilots, both in battle and reconnaissance, was significant, these men didn’t escape the brutality of war simply because they were in the skies. Like all soldiers, they lost friends and relatives and the innocence of life from before the war. They likely experienced the same feelings of survivors’ guilt as their comrades on the ground.
“Shell shock,” or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), gained more attention during the First World War; however strides in helping soldiers deal with the effects of war on the brain and body would still be a long time in coming.
After four years of war, Britain experienced a post-war economic boom, but it was extremely short-lived. A recession followed, with unemployment reaching an all-time high in 1921. While other countries enjoyed relative ease and success during the “Roaring Twenties,” political, social, and economic upheaval remained prevalent in Britain.
For more information on Britain and the First World War, I recommend reading First World War Britain, by Peter Doyle (2012).
The Great War changed the world forever and not just in the number of deaths from combat or influenza. The world emerged from the First World War far less naïve as a whole, a bit more hardened, a little more resistant to the ways things had been done in the past. Social changes were occurring everywhere. And while many clung to the old way of life, there were countless others who were ready to embrace this new bold world—making it not only an intriguing time to live but an intriguing time to write about, too.
France, August 1917
Are you the Ashby brothers?”
Colin stopped wiping the already gleaming biplane and glanced over his shoulder at the tiny man standing just outside the shadow of the Sopwith Camel. “We might be. Who’s asking?”
A look of excitement lit the man’s angular features. “Charles Rushford from the Daily Mail.”
A journalist? Colin tucked his damp rag into the pocket of his trousers and shot Christian a grin. “Our fame precedes us.”
Christian shook his head as though he weren’t amused and climbed to his feet, the book he’d been reading tucked beneath his arm. But Colin didn’t miss the glint of laughter in his older brother’s blue eyes.
“Nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Rushford.” Christian extended his hand to the journalist. “I’m Christian Ashby and this is my brother, Colin.”
“The pleasure’s mine,” the man said, pumping Christian’s hand. “I’ve been following the flying careers of you and your brother for some time now.” His gaze lingered over the aeroplanes lined up outside the hangar as if they were Christmas gifts.
Colin could easily relate. The moment he’d first placed his hand against the hardened cloth body of an Avro 504 he’d been rocked with the sensation of coming home.
“Mind if I ask you a few questions?” Mr. Rushford asked, shaking Colin’s hand next. He waved a small notebook and pencil at the hangar.
Christian threw a glance at Colin. No words were necessary to guess his brother’s unspoken question. Would talking to this journalist be something their father approved of or not? Colin gave a decisive nod. No harm could come from simply talking to the man. Maybe an article about the two of them would convince Sir Edward Ashby that both his sons were worthy of his name.
“All right, Mr. Rushford.” Christian motioned for the man to follow them into the hangar, away from the rays of the afternoon sun.
Colin located two chairs and brought them over for Christian and the journalist. When he didn’t spy a third, he chose the edge of the nearby table for his own seat.
“Tell me first what you like about flying aeroplanes.” Mr. Rushford balanced his notebook on his knee, his expression expectant.
“Freedom.” The word burst from Colin’s mouth before he’d even finished thinking it.
“Freedom?” Mr. Rushford dipped his head in a thoughtful nod. “How so?”
Colin hid his embarrassment with a shrug, though he knew the reasons he’d spoken the word aloud. Ironically, it was only in this hellish world, where he’d defied death more times than he could count, that he’d found true freedom and purpose. Freedom from his father’s disapproval or the constant pressures to be more like his reserved older brother. He’d found freedom in discovering he could do something better than Christian, too. While his brother was an excellent pilot, even Christian himself had conceded early on that Colin was the one with real talent when it came to handling an aeroplane.
“There’s a sense of liberation that comes with being in the sky,” Colin said quietly. He kept his eyes focused on Mr. Rushford’s rapidly moving pencil instead of on his brother. Would Christian find his response foolish? “It’s a place far removed from the earth and its human struggles.” He crossed his arms over his chest and gave a rueful laugh. “At least until you spy a German Fokker diving straight for you.”
Christian’s approving smile eased the tension pinching at Colin’s shoulders. He hadn’t embarrassed his lifelong hero with his spontaneous answer. “I agree with Colin.”
His older brother launched into a short but heartfelt speech about honor and doing one’s duty as a pilot. Colin had to bite back a chuckle at how much Christian sounded like their father. No wonder he’d been born the oldest, the one to inherit Sir Edward’s title of baronet and the family estate back home in England.
“I understand you two hail from the Lake District?” Mr. Rushford said.
“Elmthwaite Hall, near the tiny village of Larksbeck.” Christian’s tone was colored with pride.
“So that’s where you’ll return after the war?”
Colin answered “no” at the same moment Christian gave a resounding “yes.”
The surprise on Christian’s face brought the sting of regret to Colin. He hadn’t yet voiced to his brother the idea he’d been contemplating of traveling, once the war was over, and seeing more of the world, hopefully from his own aeroplane.
“You’re not?” Christian asked. Mr. Rushford looked at both brothers in turn. He clearly sniffed a story, but Colin didn’t want something leaking to their father before he’d had time to explain.
“Right afterward, yes,” Colin amended. “But I’d love to see more of the world, too. Maybe even purchase my own plane.”
His answer seemed to satisfy the journalist, though Christian still appeared troubled as they finished up the interview with a few more questions about life in the Lake District and their experience in France.
Colin noticed none of the man’s inquiries delved into the ugly parts of flying in the war. The constant possibility of injury, burns, or death; the loss of friends and those he’d only known a few days; the revolver in the plane intended for ending life instead of having it taken involuntarily. Apparently the people back home didn’t want an accurate portrayal of a pilot’s life. Only the perceived glamour and adventure.
At last Mr. Rushford stood and pocketed his notebook and pencil. “Would you mind posing for a photograph?”
Nodding his head, Christian rose to his feet as well. “That would be fine.”
The man went in search of his photographer, who’d apparently been taking pictures of the aeroplanes and some of the other Royal Flying Corps pilots.
“Did you mean that?” Christian demanded, the moment Mr. Rushford was out of earshot. “About not coming back to Elmthwaite?” He stared hard at Colin. The look was so like their father’s that Colin began to squirm. “Mother and Father would be crushed. Especially having us gone so long already.”
“Please,” Colin said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Mother may be a bit heartbroken, but Father will be relieved to have me off somewhere else.”
Christian’s jaw tightened. “That isn’t true, Colin. He cares about you, as much as Mother. We need you at home.”
“What for?” The question came out harsher than Colin had intended and he hurried to temper his tone with a light laugh. “Without me, there’ll be one more place setting for dinner parties and an extra room for house guests.”
“Is that all Elmthwaite is to you?”
Colin couldn’t meet his brother’s intense gaze. “Come on, Christian. You know I’m only jesting. I love the house and the lake and the summers up in Scotland. But I wasn’t born and bred to take over that sort of regimented life.”
Christian raked a hand through his sandy brown hair, his agitation evident. But Colin couldn’t place its source. Why should Christian care if he chose a different path? While they’d experienced a far better childhood than many of the men they flew with, Colin had also dreamt of the day he would be free to choose the course of his life, unlike Christian.
“You must promise me something.” Christian gripped Colin’s shoulder, his voice full of gravity, his hand heavy.
“What is it?”
“If something should happen to me…”
Colin brushed off Christian’s hand and stalked away from the table. “Don’t talk like that. We’ve made it this far; we’ll make it till the end of the war. You’ll see.” His brusqueness hid the coil of panic unraveling inside him. He couldn’t imagine a world without Christian in it. Their bond ran as deep as brothers’ could—sometimes Colin felt as if they were different sides of the same coin. Who else had looked out for him, championed him, from his earliest moments on earth? “Besides, I’m not baronet material, Christian. We both know that.”
“Promise me,” his brother went on with equal resolve, “that you won’t ever turn your back on Elmthwaite Hall.”
“But I want to travel—”
“You can still do that. Only I want you to promise me you will always find your way back.”
Colin gritted his teeth, even as his determination to permanently stay away began to crumble. “Why?”
“Because it’s our life’s blood, Colin.” He stepped closer and placed his hand against Colin’s heart. “Our heritage. Our home. Promise me you’ll keep it as such?”
Blowing out his breath, Colin lifted his eyes to Christian’s. He’d never been able to refuse a request from his brother. He would do anything for him. “I promise.”
The relieved smile on Christian’s face succeeded in cutting away the last of Colin’s resolution to avoid home. “Thank you.” He lowered his hand and cocked his head toward the hangar opening. “What do you say we pretend we’re Charlie Chaplin for this photograph?”
Colin laughed at the rare showing of Christian’s teasing and exited the hangar at his brother’s side. The photographer insisted on their being in full flight gear—trousers, helmet, leather coat, boots, scarf—everything but their goggles. Since it was nearly time for patrol anyway, Colin and Christian complied.
Once the photographer was finished, Colin checked every inch of his plane and climbed aboard. He scanned the small cockpit: stick, rudder pedals, throttle. Using all three in concert to control the plane felt as familiar as breathing.
Please let this work out, Lord, according to Your will. It was the same earnest prayer he made each time he flew, the one brief moment he and God acknowledged each other.
With the engine started, Colin throttled up and guided his plane down the grassy runaway, knowing Christian was right behind him. In this one facet of their lives, Christian let him take the lead.
His plane rose into the sky, leaving the airfield and the warmer temperature far below. Adjusting his goggles, he scanned the air for German planes. Nothing marred the peace of the late afternoon, though, except the roar of the other planes in his and Christian’s squadron.
The promise Christian had elicited from him repeated in Colin’s mind. Could he fulfill it? Would stopping off at Elmthwaite several times a year meet his brother’s request? He hoped so. Although the idea of being home never sounded so bleak at the thought of Christian being there, too.
The sudden cacophony of machine gun fire rang above the noise of the engine in Colin’s ears. Coming out of the sun, six German aeroplanes dove steeply through the sky toward the Camels.
Instinct from days and months of flying took over, calming Colin’s mind and guiding his hands through the turns, climbs, and descents of another dogfight. While it might appear from below to be an elaborate sort of dance, he knew it was anything but beautiful. This way of fighting was every bit as deadly, if not more so, than the battles on the ground.
Some of the chaps he’d talked with today about England and the girls they might want to marry would likely not be flying back with him tonight. He counted himself lucky every time he made it through another two weeks at the front lines. A few of the chaps he’d flown with early on in the RFC hadn’t made it through even one set of fourteen days.
Bullets strafed the side of his plane, and Colin jerked the stick back to climb out of the line of fire. It was time to take down this German before the German took him down.
He maneuvered the plane upward, looping over to come behind the German plane, then opened fire on his machine gun. Riddled with bullet holes, the plane began smoking, its nose dropping lower and lower. Colin closed his mind to the guilt, to the flicker of thought about who this other man might be. If he didn’t, he’d freeze up, and that meant certain death.
When the enemy aircraft plummeted toward the earth, he jerked his gaze away, unable to watch the crippled plane strike the ground, the pilot still inside.
At a hand signal from his squad leader, Colin banked his plane around and followed the lead Camel back toward the airfield. He looked for Christian on his left and right, but he wasn’t concerned when he didn’t see him. His brother was most likely behind him.
Colin landed his aeroplane and quickly did an assessment of the damage. More holes, but nothing to keep him from flying again. Goggles in hand, he strode toward the others, looking for Christian.
Another pilot and his good friend, Andrew Lyle, climbed off the wing of his Camel. When he removed his goggles, his face appeared unusually white.
“One get a little too close that time, Lyle?” Colin joked as he approached.
Lyle flinched and shook his head.
“Where’s Christian? He’s flying slow today, the old man.”
“You didn’t see…” Lyle rubbed a hand over his ashen face, his next words barely a whisper. “I’m so sorry, Colin.”
“Sorry?” Shards of fear sliced through Colin, cold and ominous. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s Christian. He…he was shot down.”
Colin fell back a step. “No. He’s only slow. I was right there, Lyle. I didn’t see him fall.”
“I barely saw him.” Lyle’s voice was too calm, too devoid of emotion now.
Fury ripped through Colin’s denial. He fisted Lyle’s coat and glared at his friend. “Are you joking with me? What happened to my brother?”
Lyle hardly blinked, his gaze full of pity. “Gunfire ate up his plane. He was dead before he hit the ground.”
Colin scanned the nearby planes, hoping, praying, Lyle was wrong. He’d see his older brother striding toward him, that disgruntled frown on his face before he reprimanded Colin for his risky flying. But no one appeared except the other members of their squadron. Colin read the truth of Lyle’s words in the way none of them would meet his eye, the way their heads hung low with suppressed grief. Slowly he released his hold on Lyle.
“Can we get another picture, chaps?” Mr. Rushford said, hurrying toward them. “Group you up around one of the planes there?” He stopped his frenzied steps and frowned. “Where’s your brother, Mr. Ashby? We need him in the picture, too.”
The voice sounded so unlike his that Colin wondered for a moment who’d spoken. But the searing pain in his throat and the horrified look on Mr. Rushford’s face as the man stared openmouthed were proof enough that Colin had said the words himself. Words that sank deep like a knife wound through his chest, cutting and tearing his world into irreparable pieces.
“If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Rushford, I’ll sit this photograph out.” He didn’t wait for the journalist’s reply. Instead Colin marched away from the group as fast as he could walk, his goggles strangled between his hands, his heart and mind wrapped in shock.
His brother was gone and nothing would ever be the same again.
Iowa, May 1920
Nora led the strangers into the parlor, their footsteps sounding unusually loud against the polished wood floor. Her gaze swept the tidy room with theirs and settled on the upright piano. How forlorn it looked stripped of its usual sheet music and family photos. The latter she could take with her, but her courage fractured a bit at the thought of someone else playing the instrument that had soothed her loneliness more times than she could count. The piano would be too costly to cart to England, though, and so like many other things, it would have to be left behind.
“What a spacious room,” the woman said, her hand resting on her protruding belly. Her husband draped an arm around her shoulders, the other hanging lifeless at his side. Wounded in France, he’d informed Nora in his letter of inquiry about the farm she was sellling.
“Perfect for all those children we’re going to have.” He pressed a kiss to his wife’s forehead.
Nora folded her arms and looked away, the sting of resentment piercing her at their happiness. She didn’t need further reminders, however unintentional, that her life had been—and was about to be again—irrevocably changed.
Nothing about the last two years matched her girlhood dreams, dreams that had included a husband and family. If Tom Campbell had survived the Great War, all those hopes would have been realized. He would be standing here now, instead of two strangers. It would be his arms holding her close, his lips kissing her, and she wouldn’t be trying to sell the only home she’d ever known.
“The kitchen is through there.” Nora forced a friendly tone to her words. The more they liked the place and her, the less likelihood of having to endure more people she didn’t know traipsing all over the farm.
The couple moved past her and stepped into the large, sunny kitchen. Nora followed. She rested her hands on the back of one of the chairs. How many times had she sat here rolling dough for her mother or eating meals with her parents? They’d been gone more than a year, but the memories entrenched in every space of the farm kept them close, as well as increased the pain of missing them.
“The house comes with all the furnishings?” The young man’s eyes were trained on the icebox.
“Yes.” Nora recalled the day her father had brought the icebox home in the wagon—a birthday gift for her mother. Grace Lewis had been so happy she’d cried. It was one of many surprises, big and small, her father had delighted in giving “his girls.”
“You don’t want to take any of it with you?”
Wanted to, yes. The piano, her bed, her father’s rocker, her mother’s gramophone. “It might be rather difficult to get an icebox all the way to England.”
The young man chuckled, bringing Nora instant relief that she hadn’t offended him. “England, huh? Heard things aren’t going so well there right now. I would’ve thought more of them would be coming here, than anyone going there.”
Nora had read something similar in the newspaper, but she wasn’t concerned. Caring for the farm alone since her parents’ deaths, she’d learned how to stretch her nickels and dimes and how little she and her dog, Oscar, could subside on. “Actually, I inherited some property there.”
“A big manor house, huh?” He laughed at his own joke. “I met some of those rich Brits overseas. Decent guys, though most of them never worked a day in their lives before the war.”
There likely wouldn’t be any rich Brits where she was going, Nora thought as she watched the man’s wife fingering the red-checked curtains over the window. She fought the urge to ask her to stop. She’d helped her mother sew those curtains one blizzardy day years ago. The bright color had brought instant cheer to the room and made the winter weather more bearable.
“It isn’t really a house,” she replied, trying to focus on the conversation and not the way the woman continued to run her hands over the kitchen furniture. “It’s a cottage—on a sheep farm.”
“A sheep farm?” The woman didn’t bother to hide her incredulous tone. “That’s a rather unusual occupation for a woman on her own.”
Nora swallowed hard, hating the way the woman’s words stirred up her deepest fears. Could she really give up the only life she’d ever known to do something she’d never done before? In a place so vastly different from hers here in Iowa? Like her parents, the farthest she’d ever traveled was Minnesota.
- On Sale
- Mar 31, 2015
- Page Count
- 384 pages