Love Above the Snowline by Alli Stewart

From where she stood at the end of the corridor, Elaine had a good view of the examining room. In one swift, professional glance she took in the expensive ski suit and the blonde hair of the woman lying on the bed. The beautiful face creased in pain and long fingers clutched the hand of her male companion who bent over her solicitously.
Love Above the Snowline
Love Above the Snowline by Alli Stewart
Elaine’s throat tightened. It surely couldn't be... ‘You do know who that is, don't you?’ The nurse on duty with her, whispered in Elaine's ear. Elaine made a pretence of calmly flicking through her notes. ‘Gillian Stringer.’ The nurse waved a hand. ‘Not her. She's a famous model of course. No... him!’ Elaine gave a sort of strangled grunt that her nurse took, wrongly, to be a no. ‘That's Brendan Savage.’ The nurse wilted at the name, her eyes taking on a dreamy quality. ‘He was third in the World championships last year.’ Elaine gave Brendan Savage a cold, hard eyed appraisal. He hadn't changed. He hadn’t changed. The tall, lean figure, brown hair, streaked lighter by the sun, the tanned face of a regular skier, deep blue eyes and a strong determined mouth were just as she remembered him. Alan had said nothing about the likelihood of running into Brendan Savage but then he had said nothing about a great many things. In that moment, Elaine Swift was not quite sure which he hated most, her job or her brother. Alan had been a doctor on the ski fields for the last four seasons. He loved mountains, snow and skiing with a passion equal to that which Elaine felt for sand, sun and water. This year the greater pull of a year's residency in London had lured him away from the mountains ‘You go instead of me.’ He said to Elaine. ‘You've nothing else to do and it will help you get over 'What's His Name'.’ The family only ever referred to Elaine's erstwhile married lover, now returned to wife and family, as ‘What's His Name’. Even Elaine had taken to calling him that. Burying her misgivings about spending four months in sub zero conditions, she had agreed to Alan's suggestion. The three weeks she had spent at the clinic on Mt. Hotham had merely confirmed her worst fears. In her opinion the snow just made getting around difficult. Her feet were permanently cold from damp footwear. She had not found the courage to put on a pair of skis and to make matters worse she had not got over What's His Name. Now to crown her misery, she found herself face to face with Brendan Savage. Squaring her shoulders and putting on her most professional I’m-the-doctor-don’t-mess with-me-mask, sheset off down the corridor. Brendan looked around at their approaching footsteps. Elaine braved herself to look straight into those unforgettable blue eyes. She stood still for a moment, dumbfounded. While his eyes may have been unforgettable, her own hazel ones were obviously unmemorable. She saw no recognition at all in his face. ‘Hey where's Alan?’ he said, looking past her shoulder. She felt her breath catch in her throat at the familiar American accent. Taking a deep breath she willed him to remember. ‘In London,’ she said. ‘I am his sister, Elaine. I believe we have met before Mr. Savage.’ ‘Darling, the pain!’ The woman on the table wailed in agony. To Elaine's relief, recognition and a lop sided smile that induced a sharp, unfamiliar, lurch in Elaine's stomach flashed at last across the handsome face. ‘Hey Elaine! I didn't recognize you with your hair all up like that and...’ He examined her critically and waved a hand in the direction of her face ‘And the glasses. How's Alan going?’ ‘Fine.’ Elaine self consciously whipped off her glasses, pretended to polish them and replaced them on her nose. She turned her attention to the woman on the bed. Elaine did not need X rays to confirm that the long, shapely, tanned leg was broken and she had no alternative but to cut the expensive ski suit away from the injured limb. She took to it with a large pair of scissors and unprofessional relish. The elegant Miss Stringer complained bitterly, the injury to her clothes causing her even more distress than the injury to her person. She informed her patient that she was in for a long ambulance ride to Melbourne. ‘Oh no!’ The beautiful face contorted. ‘I have a shoot in Sydney in two weeks. Brendan, darling, isn't there something you can do.’ Brendan smiled and patted the slender hand. ‘Well, sweetheart, I'm no miracle worker. If the doc says your leg is broken, there sure as hell isn't anything I can do about it.’ ‘I'll make the necessary arrangements, Miss Stringer. Now we'll just give you some morphine for the pain and make you comfortable while you wait for the ambulance.’ Elaine, confident in the nurse's ability to deal with Miss Stringer, turned on her heel and strode toward the sanctuary of the office to make the necessary telephone calls. She came off duty at 5.30 p.m. In the mid winter darkness, the lights of the ski village illuminated the snow around the windows. She had been told that this was an exceptionally good year for snow but the pretty and atmospheric scene was wasted on Elaine. She shivered and pulled her gloves on, her breath steaming the air. ‘Elaine.’ The sound of her name spoken in a low voice she had not heard for three years made her heart jump. With masterful self control she turned slowly to face him. ‘Brendan.’ Even in the dark, she recognised the lean, athletic figure. ‘I would have thought you'd have been on your way to Melbourne with your girlfriend.’ ‘She's not my girlfriend.’ With a trace of amusement in his voice, he added, ‘Although she would like to think she is.’ Even in the gloom she was aware of the intensity of his presence. Like all top class athletes he exuded a sort of untamed energy as if he would spring into action any moment. She found it very unnerving. ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ he asked She regarded him for a moment. ‘I don't think so. Goodnight, Mr. Savage.’ Elaine tried to maintain a chill in her voice, equal to that in the air. She shrugged into the collar of her jacket, turned and started to trudge down the path toward her lodging. ‘Elaine, about what happened ...‘ She continued to walk. ‘It was three years ago. A lot has happened since then. You've become an international skier and I—‘ The pause was infinitesimal. What had she done in the last three years? ‘I finished med school and here I am.’ He touched her arm and she turned to face him. ‘That's a mighty achievement. I always knew you'd be a great doctor.’ The sincerity in his tone unnerved her and she blurted out, ‘Brendan, you dumped me. You texted me, for God's sake.’ She could still recall it word for word. 'Heading to States. Been fun. Call u sometime.' He never had. She had checked her inbox on a daily basis and jumped every time her phone buzzed and when it became apparent there would be no call, she had wept bitterly. ‘Excuse me Mr. Savage. This is my apartment and I have things to do. Good night.’ She extricated her arm and with as much dignity as she could muster stalked into the building, shutting the door in his face. ~*~ She found him waiting for her again when she came off duty the next day. ‘It was a low act, Elaine, but it was nothing personal. I liked you...I liked you a lot, but I had the world championships in my sights and...’ He ran his fingers through his hair and screwed up his face. ‘Hell, Elaine. You were a distraction I didn't need.’ ‘Well you could have told me that to my face. Dumping me by text, Brendan...I wasn’t fifteen!’ He turned away to look up beyond the roofs of the village. ‘Yeah. No excuses Elaine. We'd only gone out a few times and I didn't think…’ he paused. Yeah, well I just didn't think.’ He returned his gaze to her face, smiled and lifted his hands. ‘Come and have a drink with me for old times sake if nothing else.’ Elaine stopped in her tracks and thought about it. How could she resist the appeal in the blue eyes and wide, boyish smile? For old times sake? If she was honest with herself she had to concede he was right, there were not really that many ‘old times’ to recall. After Alan had introduced them, they had dated on a couple of occasions; a movie, a dinner, a few snatched kisses. Nothing mind shattering enough to justify the weeks of misery she had put herself through after he left. She had behaved like a love lorn fifteen year old. She was older and wiser now and after all, this was the first invitation to experience the famous ‘atmosphere’ of the ski village at night. Despite her better judgment Elaine relented. The ‘apres ski’ crowd filled the saloon. Brendan crossed to the bar, summoning the barmaid by name. She leaned toward him, her eyes holding his, their conversation inaudible to Elaine. The girl gave a pealing laugh and served the drinks. A few others around the bar hailed him and he paused to chat before he returned to the table with a glass of wine and a beer. ‘You know a lot of people.’ Elaine said, taking a self-conscious sip of the wine and looking around the bar at the interested faces of the strangers. He shrugged. ‘I've been coming here for quite a few seasons now. I used to teach at the ski school. It helped pay the bills.’ ‘And now?’ ‘Now I have sponsors who pay my bills.’ He shrugged and took a swig of his beer. ‘Get a bit of success and it can be damned good money. Hey, I remember now, when I saw Alan last year he told me you had a boyfriend. Some famous surgeon. What's his name again?’ She smiled at the innocent use of the family pseudonym. ‘It doesn't matter. It's been over for months.’ She managed, what she hoped, passed for a brave smile. ‘I hear you are in training for the Olympics.’ The smile widened. ‘Sure. Olympics in February. World championships first.’ He tilted his head and looked at her. ‘What are you doing up here. If I remember rightly you didn't like skiing.’ ‘No,’ she replied. ‘Alan took me skiing when I was at first at uni. I dislocated my shoulder and I've never been back since.’ He clucked his tongue. ‘That’s too bad. You should try again. It's like riding a horse. If you get thrown, you just get straight on up again.’ She set her glass down a little too firmly, slopping some of its contents. ‘Brendan, to be quite frank, I hate snow and I hate skiing. Give me a beach and the sun any day.’ He leaned toward her. ‘So why are you here Elaine?’ It was a fair question. To heal a broken heart may have been the correct answer but not the one she gave. ‘Because it's hard to say no to Alan.’ ‘Yeah, I know what you mean. Alan can be like that.’ He set his empty beer glass down. ‘You know what, Elaine, I reckon it's time you gave skiing a second chance. I have some spare time tomorrow and I have it on good authority I’m a real good teacher. How about it?’ ~*~ This is crazy, Elaine thought. I should never have let him talk me into this. Waiting at the bottom of the ski lift, clutching her hired skis and stocks in her hand, Elaine hoped she did not look like the other novice skiers who wobbled awkwardly on their skis, stocks flailing, toward the lift. ‘Doc!’ She turned to see Brendan Savage walking toward her dressed in a plain blue ski jacket and racing pants, mirrored sun glasses pushed up into his brown hair. He raised a hand to greet her. She smiled and shook her head in disbelief. Brendan Savage had to be the only person on the ski field who could make walking in ski boots look like a natural form of locomotion. He stopped in front of her, planting the ends of his skis in the snow and looked her up and down. ‘You look like an old hand,’ he remarked with a smile. Elaine tugged at the fashionable headband she had borrowed from one of the nurses. For the first time since What’s-His-Name, she had actually taken some care in her appearance; her long brown hair back tied back into a pony tail with a few elegant wisps framing her face and emphasing her high cheek bones. Just a touch of makeup completed the picture ‘Wow,’ the nurse remarked. ‘You scrub up pretty well.’ Elaine thought of the blonde in the surgery the day before. Perhaps that had been part of the problem three years ago. She couldn’t compete with top models. ‘Are you sure you haven't you got something better to do?’ she asked. ‘Like training for world championships?’ He smiled, the corners of his blue eyes crinkling into well practised lines. ‘It can wait. Alan wouldn't forgive me if I didn’t look out for you.’ Her hand tightened on the stocks. Alan was organising her life-- again! ‘When did you speak to Alan?’ As if reading her mind, he put up a gloved hand, the blue eyes creasing in amusement. ‘Hey I’m not doing this for Alan. I just texted him last night. Told him I’d hooked up with you again and he told me to look out for you.’He tilted his head and smiled at her. ‘Friends?’ She took a breath. How could you stay mad at a man who smiled at you like that? ‘Friends,’ she conceded. ‘Good. Now, Dr. Swift first lesson--How to Put your Skis On.’ The second lesson, How to Get on a Ski Lift, achieved, Elaine sat back on the padded seat and took an appreciative breath of the clear, cold air. ‘Man, this is a great country.’ Brendan remarked, breaking the awkward silence between them. Elaine had to agree. The view from the ski lift was uninterrupted perfection, a picture postcard of blue skies, hazy mountains and gum trees dark against the white snow. Below her the early morning skiers cut through the fresh snow of the wide beginner's slope. She smiled as one snowboarder came to grief beneath them, coming up laughing with his face covered in snow. Perhaps she could come to enjoy this after all. Of course it helped to have a patient teacher and once she had gained her balance Elaine proved to be a quick learner. She only fell over twice and, to her surprise, she survived unscathed. By the end of the morning Elaine brimmed with new found self confidence in her ability as a skier. They shared a lunch of sandwiches and hot chocolate in the cafeteria. Champagne and caviar could not have tasted better, Elaine thought. Acutely conscious of the admiring glances Brendan drew from others in the crowded, steamy room, she listened with rapt attention as Brendan told her about his life on the circuit. ‘Can we try a different slope?’ she suggested while skilfully clipping her skis on with all the assurance of a person who had been doing it for years. Brendan raised an eyebrow. ‘Sure, doc. Let's see what you're made of.’ Poised at the top of the run which seemed to fall away in a sheer drop, Elaine's confidence slid away. She would have loved to return to the familiar security of the nursery slope. ‘Take it slow and steady. There's no race to get to the bottom. You go and I'll follow,’ Brendan was saying. The reassuring and professional tone of his voice calmed her nerves. Elaine took a deep breath and turned her skis downhill. She carefully traversed the top part of the slope. Feeling very pleased with herself, she looked up at Brendan who leaned on his stocks watching her progress, his brown hair lifting in the gentle wind, eyes inscrutable behind his sunglasses. He raised a hand in salute and she smiled in response. This is great, she thought, carefully negotiating her next turn. She wondered what Brendan was doing tonight and whether he would be interested in sharing a spaghetti bolognaise at her flat. That momentary lapse in concentration proved her undoing. Her skis assumed a mind of their own, slipping from under her. She hit the slope with a thud and careered downhill, sliding and tumbling in a tangle of stocks, skis, legs and arms. When she came to rest, she lay very still, face down in the snow, gasping for breath. Dimly she heard the whoosh of Brendan's skis coming to rest beside her. ‘Elaine are you all right?’ Genuine concern edged his voice. No I'm not, she thought as she slowly regained her breath and did a mental stock take of her limbs. Surprisingly, ankles, knees, legs, arms and shoulders all seemed intact. Only her dignity had sustained injury. She chose not to move. ‘Elaine speak to me!’ He touched her hair, smoothing it back from her face. Her gloved hand tightened on a fist full of snow. Gathering her strength, she rolled over, hurling the snowball straight at his handsome, anxious face. For a brief moment, a hundred conflicting emotions registered in his eyes, relief, shock, and anger among them. ‘Why you...!’ he spluttered wiping snow from his eyes. ‘That's what you get for dumping me with a text message!’ Elaine sat up, laughing. A well-aimed snowball in the face stopped her laughter. She retaliated and the two of them sat on the side of ski slope hurling snow at each other like a couple of children. ‘Enough!’ Brendan spluttered at last, holding up his hands in surrender. In one swift movement that took her completely unawares, he caught her by the waist, dragging her toward him. ‘Enough’ His voice softened as he brought his face down toward hers. Elaine did not resist. Like the snow caught in her collar, she felt herself melting into his embrace. Her arms slid around his neck and her mouth came up to meet his. Their lips were cold and at the first touch they hesitated. Then they met with a powerful urgency that Elaine had never experienced before and did not remember from their earlier dates. The fact that they were sitting on the side of the busiest ski run on the field or that they were attracting more than their share of amused glances from passing skiers and cat calls from boarders ceased to be of importance. For her part, Elaine willed the moment not to end. She sent a silent, telepathic word of thanks to her brother for sending her to the snowfields and realised she had quite forgotten 'What's His Name'. No, she did not remember it being like this last time. Surely this was where she belonged. The strong arm that encircled her and the lean athletic body beneath her touch was hers forever. But forever is a long time and Brendan drew back, shaking snow from his hair. He held her close, kissing her forehead. She stared up at him and he smiled, tracing the line of her nose with a gloved finger. ‘Come on doc. If you don’t get down this mountain, you’ll be late for surgery.’ THE END About Alison Stuart Writing contemporary romance as Alli Stewart. Award winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. A past president of the Romance Writers of Australia, Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Many of her stories have been shortlisted for international awards and BY THE SWORD won the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance. Her inclination for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles. Readers can connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. OTHER TITLES by Alison Stuart Historical Romance Her Rebel Heart Lord Somerton’s Heir Sebastian’s Waterloo The Guardians of the Crown Series By The Sword (Book 1) The King’s Man (Book 2) Exiles’ Return (Book 3) Paranormal Historical Romance Gather The Bones Secrets In Time Contemporary Short Stories writing as Alli Stewart Romance and the Single Girl If you enjoyed LOVE ABOVE THE SNOWLINE and you would like a free copy of one Alison’s historical novels, subscribe to Alison Stuart’s Readers’ List for exclusive access to short reads, as well as contests and news. To subscribe... just click HERE But wait...there’s more... turn the page for an excerpt from HER REBEL HEART, a historical romance of the English Civil War... GATHER THE BONES A haunting historical romance from ALISON STUART Prologue 3rd London Territorial General Hospital October 22, 1917 Paul turned his head on the pillow and watched as Evelyn Morrow, clutching her purse to her chest like a shield, followed the nurse past the rows of beds. Her gaze did not move from the woman’s starched back as if she was unable to bring herself to look around her at the carnage the war had wrought. The breath caught in the back of his throat and a coward’s voice in his mind whispered: Not here, not now. He knew she had been watching and waiting for him to return to the world. Through the haze of drugs and delirium he had been aware of her standing sentinel by his bed, clad in black from head to foot, a shadow. He knew he had to face her, but he lacked the strength to match her grief against his. Feigning sleep, he shut his eyes. ‘Now, only a few minutes, Lady Morrow. He is still very weak,’ the nurse said. ‘I will be at my desk if you require anything.’ Paul heard the efficient clack of the nurse’s heels on the linoleum floor as she returned to her place at the end of the ward. Through the pervading scent of carbolic, he could smell his aunt’s perfume and once again he stood on Waterloo station, a small boy clutching a battered suitcase. A beautiful woman in a blue gown had bent down and taken his hand, enveloping him in a cloud of lavender. She hadn’t kissed him then and she didn’t kiss him now. Lady Evelyn Morrow just stood at the foot of his bed, looking down at him. ‘Paul? Can you hear me?’ Her tone commanded obedience and his eyes flickered open, meeting hers, dark pools behind the black netting that covered her face. Evelyn clutched the metal bar at the end of the bed and the feather on her hat began to quiver as her whole body shook with the force of her emotion. ‘You promised.’ Her voice rose on a crescendo of despair. ‘You promised you would keep him safe. Where is he? Where’s my son? Where’s Charlie?’ Paul felt her grief as a palpable force, sending shock waves down the rows of beds that lined the ward. He wanted to say, ‘I promised. I know I promised but I couldn’t keep it. Charlie is gone.’ His fingers tightened on the starched sheet and his breath came in short, sharp gasps as the words formed and then stuck fast. The chair at the nurse’s station scraped on the floor and her hurried footsteps beat a rapid tattoo on the linoleum floor. ‘Lady Morrow. Really, I must protest. Come away with me this instant.’ The nurse placed a firm arm around Evelyn’s shoulder, leading her away. Evelyn shook off the encircling arm and turned back to look at him, the tears Paul knew she had probably not allowed herself to shed were now spilling down her face. ‘Lady Morrow, please. You are overwrought. I’ll fetch you a nice cup of tea.’ The nurse’s tone softened and with her arm around Evelyn’s shoulders she led the woman into the glassed-in office at the end of the ward. Paul turned his head on the hard, lumpy pillow, feeling the starched linen crackle beneath his cheek. In the bed next to him, a young subaltern who had lost both his legs lay immobilized by the stiff sheets and blankets. The impeccable bedclothes, pulled up to his chin, hid the reality of his horrific injuries from his visitors, reducing the war to something neat, tidy and manageable. In the office, beyond the line of beds, the nurse handed a cup to Evelyn. The door opened and the Matron of the hospital entered the little office and began to berate the errant visitor for her unseemly behavior. Lady Evelyn Morrow sat hunched in a chair like a schoolgirl and even through the glass snatches of the scolding--inappropriate behavior and upsetting the patients--filtered out into the ward. The nurse returned to Paul’s bedside, making a pretence of straightening his pillow. ‘Really,’ she tutted as she fussed over him. ‘I would have expected better from a lady.’ ‘Outward displays of grief should be reserved for the lower classes?’ he murmured. ‘Pardon?’ the nurse replied. ‘Tell her I want to see her,’ Paul said. The nurse straightened. ‘Are you sure?’ He nodded and with a sniff, the nurse bustled back to the office. She whispered in Matron’s ear and the older woman stiffened, casting a quick glance in Paul’s direction. Evelyn looked up as the Matron spoke. She too glanced through the window toward him and rose to her feet, tucking her handkerchief back into her purse. Her back straight, Evelyn looked the Matron squarely in the eye and her words, audible through the glass, echoed down the long ward. ‘I assure you, there will be no repeat.’ Once more the nurse, this time in the company of Matron, conducted Evelyn to his bedside. A rustle of anticipation rippled through the ward and Paul imagined the faces of the other patients turned expectantly toward his aunt. If nothing else, her outburst had provided an entertaining highlight in an otherwise dull day. ‘Now, Lady Morrow,’ the Matron said as Evelyn took the seat beside Paul’s bed. ‘I am sure I don’t need to remind you, Major Morrow is easily tired. A few minutes, that’s all.’ Paul looked up at the ceiling while his mind framed the words. He knew what had to be said and that the words would not bring her the comfort she sought. ‘Evelyn?’ She raised her eyes and once more they looked at each other, these two strangers, bound together by ties they could not sever. ‘Evelyn...I’m sorry...’ he said, shocked at how weak his voice sounded. She leaned toward him. ‘No,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I was unfair on you, Paul. It is I who should apologise.’ ‘I know what you want to ask me,’ he said. Evelyn did not hesitate. ‘Is he dead?’ Paul closed his eyes as he struggled with the simple word that would give her the answer she sought. He had no tears of his own to shed for Charlie. Three and a half years in the trenches had robbed him of the ability to show sorrow and his own grief for his cousin ran too deep for such an outward display. He heard her breath catch and knew she had read the answer in his face even as he answered. ‘Yes.’ Her lips tightened in a supreme effort to control herself. ‘What happened, Paul? Please tell me how he died and why I cannot bury my son.’ He turned his face away from her. ‘I don’t know, Evelyn. God help me, I don’t remember. I just know he is dead.’ Evelyn sat in silence, watching him. As she rose to leave, in a gesture that would have seemed foreign to her in the long days of his childhood, she placed a gloved hand over his good hand. Her fingers tightened on his, binding him to her. Chapter 1 Holdston Hall, Warwickshire July 24, 1923 Helen Morrow took a deep breath, her hand tightening on her daughter’s. She felt a corresponding squeeze, looked down into Alice’s upturned face, and smiled. Why were children so much braver than adults? She raised the knocker on the old oak door and let it fall. The sound reverberated around the quiet courtyard and she took a step back as the door opened to reveal a small, round woman wearing a spotless white apron over a flowered dress. Before Helen could speak, the woman’s face lit up with a smile. ‘Mrs. Charles,’ she exclaimed. ‘Welcome to Holdston. I’m Sarah Pollard and you must be Miss Alice.’ She turned a beaming smile on the child before standing aside to usher them both inside the cool, dark hallway and through to a grand room, smelling of beeswax and dominated by a long table and a large fireplace emblazoned with carving. ‘We expected you on the later train. Sam was all set to take the car to the station to meet you.’ ‘We caught the bus from the station and walked. Sorry if that caused any inconvenience,’ Helen said ‘Oh none at all. You’re here and that’s what matters. Come in, come in. Leave your suitcase. I’ll take it up to your room. Lady Morrow’s in the parlour. I’ll show you through.’ Helen removed the pins from her hat and set it down on top of the case. She took off Alice’s hat and fussed over the unmanageable fair hair that refused to stay confined in a neat plait. ‘Are you ready to meet Grandmama?’ she asked her daughter, with what she hoped was a confident smile. She didn’t need Alice to see the nerves that turned her stomach into a churning mass of butterflies. They followed Sarah Pollard’s ample girth across the wide, stone-flagged floor. Helen looked up at the portraits of long dead Morrows who glared down at her from the wainscoted walls. If Charlie had lived, she would have been the next Lady Morrow and her portrait would have joined theirs, a colonial interloper in their ordered society. Sarah opened a door and announced her. A slender woman, in her late middle age, her graying hair piled on her head in a manner fashionable before the war, rose from a delicate writing table by the window. ‘Helen. You’re earlier than I had expected,’ Lady Evelyn Morrow said. ‘I would have sent the car for you but you are most welcome to Holdston at long last. And you.’ She turned to the child. ‘Let me look at you, Alice.’ Alice looked up at her mother, her eyes large and apprehensive. Helen gave her a reassuring smile and with a gentle hand in the girl’s back, urged her forward for her grandmother’s inspection. ‘You’re not much like your father,’ Lady Morrow concluded. Helen could have listed all the ways in which Alice was, in fact, very much like her father, the father she had never known, from the hazel eyes to the way her upper lip curled when she smiled, and her utter lack of concern for her own safety. She must never stop forgetting. Sarah Pollard bustled in with a tea tray and Lady Morrow indicated two chairs. Alice perched awkwardly on the high backed chair, her feet not quite touching the floor. Her eyes widened at the sight of the cake and biscuits piled high on the tea tray. ‘I trust you had a good voyage?’ Lady Morrow enquired as she poured the tea into delicate cups. ‘Yes.’ Helen smiled. ‘It was a wonderful adventure. Wasn’t it, Alice? We thought about Cousin Paul as we sailed through the Suez Canal. He must have some incredible stories to tell about the archaeological digs.’ The lines around Evelyn’s nose deepened. ‘If Paul has incredible stories, he does not share them with me, Helen.’ ‘But he writes to me and tells me all about them,’ Alice said. ‘Every Christmas and every birthday. Last birthday he sent me a little glass bottle from...where was it, Mummy?’ ‘Palestine,’ Helen replied. ‘He said it was Roman.’ ‘Does he indeed?’ Evelyn’s eyebrows rose slightly. ‘I am glad to hear he recognizes his responsibility to you, Alice.’ ‘I’m looking forward to meeting him. They told me he was with Charlie...’ Helen began. Evelyn stiffened, the teacup halfway to her lips. She set the cup down and folded her hands in her lap. ‘If you are hoping that Paul will shed any light on what happened that day, Helen, then you will be disappointed. Paul was badly injured in the same action and has, apparently, no memory of--’ her thin lips quivered, ‘--the incident.’ Helen caught the sharp edge of an old bitterness in the older woman’s voice. ‘I see,’ she said. ‘You and I, Helen, must mourn over an empty grave,’ Lady Morrow said. She rose to her feet, walked over to the piano and picked up one of the heavy silver-framed photographs that adorned its highly polished surface. ‘Did you ever see this photograph?’ She handed it to Helen. ‘I had it taken before Charlie went to France in March 1915. Paul was home on leave and Charlie had just taken his commission.’ The photograph showed two young men in the uniform of infantry officers, one seated and the other standing, a photograph like thousands of others that were now the last link with the dead. Helen had a single portrait of Charlie, taken at the same photographic session, sporting an elegant, unfamiliar moustache and grinning from ear to ear, like an over-anxious school boy, keen to join the ‘stoush’, kill the ‘bloody Bosch’. She felt a keen sense of pain that reverberated as strongly as it had on the day he told her he would have to return to England. ‘I can’t leave them to fight the Huns, Helen,’ he said. ‘Damn it, I have a duty to England.’ The drunken words came back to her and she could see Charlie in the kitchen of Terrala with his arm across her brother Henry’s shoulders, as they celebrated their mutual decision to join the war. Henry had already enlisted in the Australian Light Horse and Charlie told her a few days later that he intended to return to England to join his cousin’s regiment. ‘Do you think I would leave Paul to uphold the family honor?’ he said. And he’d gone. Even as she had stood on the dock at Port Melbourne, the cold winter wind whipping at her ankles, she had known he would not return. She wondered if his decision to go would have been any different if they had known she was carrying his child. Probably not. She turned from her husband’s smiling face to his cousin, Paul Morrow, the professional soldier, never destined to take the Morrow title until one day in a muddy field outside Ypres had turned his fortune. The long months of war had already begun to leave their mark and, while he affected a smile, she saw no warmth in his eyes. In normal circumstances, with the strong jaw and good bone structure, it would be a handsome face but he looked tired and drained, and years older than his cousin, although he was the older by little over a year. Yes, Paul Morrow had survived, but at what cost, she wondered? ‘Is Paul here?’ she asked. ‘When he last wrote to Alice, he said he would be in Mesopotamia for the digging season.’ ‘The digging season is over for the year and I expect him home in the next few days.’ Evelyn rose to her feet. ‘Now, let me show you your bedroom, Helen. I’ve given you the green room. As the nursery wing is shut up, I thought Alice could sleep in the dressing room. It’s so hard with just the two of us.’ Her voice wavered and she looked past Helen to a point just beyond her shoulder before recovering her composure and continuing. ‘Much of the house is shut up, but Sarah can let you have the keys and you are free to go wherever you want, except my rooms and, of course Paul’s rooms. When he returns, he will also be working in the library.’ Evelyn looked at Alice. ‘Then it will be strictly out of bounds. Sir Paul is not to be disturbed, Alice, do you understand?’ Alice nodded and looked up at her mother.


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