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Authors: Freda Lightfoot

Angels at War

BOOK: Angels at War
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Angels at War

F
REDA
L
IGHTFOOT

 

Angels at War

Livia gave up wrestling with an endless sleepless night, climbed from her bed and went to the window to watch the sun rise over Castle Hill. The sky was a lovely apricot streaked with powder blue, with not a cloud in sight, a perfect day for a wedding. Yet she felt quite unable to appreciate its beauty. The gentle gurgling of the River Kent failed to soothe her, and the sound of the church bell tolling six o’clock, only filled her with trepidation.

Wasn’t a girl supposed to feel happy and joyful on her wedding day? Then why did she have this dreadful sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, as if she stood on the brink of a precipice, about to fall? She was marrying Jack Flint, for goodness sake, whom she loved, didn’t she? They had lived
together, despite the gossip their relationship created, for more than a year now, so why was she suddenly experiencing these doubts?

Not that they had spent this night under the same roof. Jack was staying with a friend, and Livia with her sister and brother-in-law in a rented house on Gooseholme, as convention dictated. Their family home, Angel House, had been sold following the death of their father.

The door of her bedroom creaked open and Ella slipped in, as if on cue. Putting her arm about her sister, she hugged her close. ‘I heard you moving about. Couldn’t you sleep?’

Livia cast her a bleak look. ‘Am I supposed to feel like this, all sick and in the glums? I feel dreadful, as if I want to take to my heels and run as fast and as far away from that church as I can.’

Ella laughed. ‘It’s only pre-wedding nerves. Perfectly normal, I’m sure. At least you’re already in love with Jack, and he absolutely adores you. You have a head start on when I faced marriage with a complete stranger. I’d never even met Amos until our wedding day, if you recall, and would not have agreed to the match but for Father’s bullying. Yet it has turned out all right in the end, as you can see. I was fortunate enough to fall in love with my own husband.’

Livia kissed her sister’s cheek. ‘I’m so glad. I
could never bear for you to be unhappy. You are happy in the farm at Kentmere, aren’t you, Ella?’

‘As content as a bug in a rug,’ she laughed. ‘Not that we allow any of those in our house. We have almost brought Todd Farm into the twentieth century, would you believe? We have running water now, a decent cooking range, a boiler that works. It’s a veritable paradise of modernity. Almost!’

Livia was laughing with her, remembering how very different it had been when her sister had first gone to live in that remote dale.

‘And the children are well?’

‘My step children are in excellent health, thank you. Mary is happy in her new job in service, and Emmett and Tilda are doing well at school. And I absolutely adore them.’ A shadow flitted across Ella’s face. ‘Oh, but Livvy, I would so like a child of my own. I cannot think why I haven’t quickened with one already.’

‘I’m sure it will happen if you don’t allow yourself to worry too much, and become too tense. Where’s the rush? You are young yet.’

Ella said nothing more, knowing her sister didn’t understand this yearning she had to hold a child of her own. She ushered Livia into a chair and started to brush the long glossy titian hair, her gaze drifting to the wedding gown of crisp lace that hung upon the wardrobe door. ‘You will
make a beautiful bride, dearest. I shall lend you a pretty garter for the something borrowed, and the blue must be your gentian eyes. Then we just need something old and something new.’

‘What nonsense you do talk, Ella. There’s really no need for all this fuss, the veil will cover most of my hair in any case.’

Ella was outraged. ‘Of course there’s a need for fuss. It’s your wedding day!’

Whereupon Livia bolted for the bathroom, returning some time later looking wan and peaky.

Ella was instantly concerned. ‘Were you sick?’

Livia shook her head. ‘Almost. I told you this was all a mistake. I’m really not the marrying sort.’

‘Nonsense. Are you sure you aren’t pregnant?’

‘Absolutely certain! I have no wish to start breeding yet, thank you very much, and take every care not to.’

Ella’s eyes widened as she gave an impish smile. ‘You don’t use
methods
?’

Livia laughed. ‘Of course I do. If a person is determined to be unconventional in their choice of lifestyle, one has to take precautions. And I will continue to do so, even with a ring on my finger.’

‘What does Jack have to say about that?’

Livia blew out a puff of air, looking more confident than she actually felt. ‘I haven’t asked him, nor shall I.’

Ella looked shocked. ‘I think you should. Husband and wife ought to decide these things together.’

Livia only grinned. ‘I’ll let him know when I’m good and ready to start a family, and not before.’

‘Don’t be too set against it, dearest. Nothing is foolproof.’

‘I’m trusting that these methods, as you call them, will be. I have other plans which need attention before I tie myself down with nappies and pushing perambulators. Which reminds me, I must pop in to see the solicitor this morning.’

Ella looked outraged. ‘You won’t have time, the ceremony is booked for eleven.’

‘Don’t be silly, there’s plenty of time.’

‘Well, at least let me finish your hair first.’ Ella began to twist rose buds amongst the pinned curls. ‘You aren’t still intending to work at the store, are you?’

‘I most certainly am. As you are all too aware, we were left with massive debts when our late, unlamented father died and was declared bankrupt. It has long been my dream to become involved in the family business, and I’ve no intention of being bullied by anyone who tries to make me give it up, particularly if that someone is a man. Never again.’

Both girls fell silent, recalling the harsh
brutality of their upbringing and the strap Joshua Angel would inflict upon his daughters whenever he wished to bend them to his will, sometimes punishing one in order to control the other. And when they were most obstinate, he would lock them in a cage high in his turret room. An icy shiver ran down Livia’s spine as she recalled the fear and the pain she’d experienced, even though she was safe now from his malice. Ella kissed her pale cheek, knowing only too well how her sister’s thoughts ran.

‘You were saying, about the store.’

Livia gave herself a mental shake. ‘Oh! Yes! Mr Blamire, the solicitor, has spent months in negotiations and legal complexities, the family business hanging on by a thread, but now it’s ready to reopen. It will be hard work, and I admit I know nothing about running a department store, but I fully intend to bring it into profit, pay off the debts, and make us all some money in the end.’

‘Does Jack approve of this plan?’

Livia screwed up her nose. ‘Let’s say I’m working on him.’

‘Oh, Livia, let it go. Why don’t you just sell up and stop fretting about it.’

‘Because as it stands the store would never realise its true value. We’d lose everything and still have debts. How would that serve us? In
any case, I feel a responsibility towards the staff. They deserve to keep their jobs as there are precious few of those around. Besides, I need to pursue my dream. You have your farm and the children. I shall have the store. I must salvage something from the mess Father left.’

Their conversation was halted while a maid brought them hot coffee, soft rolls and bacon for breakfast. Then Livia indulged herself with a long soak in the huge Victorian bath tub in the luxury of a built-in bathroom. She lay back in the warm, jasmine scented bubbles, taking care not to disturb her hair or Ella would never forgive her. She gently soaped her arms and breasts with the flannel, worrying over how her life was about to change, and if she should allow that to happen.

What if Jack did expect her to start a family the moment the ring was on her finger? Would it be so very hard to postpone her dream a little longer, just to please him? Livia knew that it would be very hard indeed. Father had been resolute in his determination not to allow her to work in the store, almost scathing of her request:

‘What could
you
do, pray?’

‘I’m good with figures,’ she’d told him, ‘so perhaps I could help with the accounts?’

That was the last thing he’d wanted, of course, to have his own daughter poke her nose into his
financial affairs, and discover how he had wasted money on gambling and his mistresses.

Livia had ploughed on. ‘If not in the accounts department, then perhaps I may present myself for an interview with Miss Caraway? I’d be happy to work as a shop assistant, and would insist on being treated exactly the same as the other girls, naturally.’

He’d seemed to find this highly amusing, telling her how coddled and spoilt she’d been by her late mother, which wasn’t true at all. Then he’d coldly informed her that her purpose in life, like that of any well-brought up young woman, was to marry, and by so doing further the interests and longevity of her family.

But Livia had stubbornly resisted every effort on his part to marry her off, particularly to the dreadful Henry Hodson, so why was she now willingly putting her own head in the noose?

Oh, but she did love Jack, didn’t she? She wanted their marriage to be happy.

Livia remembered the day she’d first met Jack Flint at Ella’s own wedding nearly three years ago. Despite taking issue with this stranger for intruding on a private event, she hadn’t been able to tear her eyes from his. He had lovely eyes, like polished mahogany. But then Jack Flint was disturbingly good-looking with a mane of dark brown hair and stubble on his jutting jaw. Even
in plain fustian trousers, and a crumpled tweed jacket that had seen better days, he’d clearly been a man to reckon with. The proud tilt of his head, the way he’d lounged before her with his hands in his pockets, had loudly declared a supreme indifference to convention. He was a man determined to be intimidated by no one, no matter what their station in life.

Jack Flint might be classed by some as a troublemaker and a rabble-rouser, a man ready to do battle with the landlords and bosses, insisting rents be reduced, or wages improved. Yet Livia knew him also to be a caring man who looked after his mother, Jessie, his many siblings, and herself when she needed it, with infinite care.

They came from the opposite ends of the social spectrum. Was this what had first attracted her to him, but now concerned her? No, she swiftly refuted this notion. Such niceties as social standing had never bothered Livia in the slightest. They’d once mattered to Ella, although even her sister had tempered her views since marriage to a farmer.

But married or not, she surely deserved to realise her own ambitions, particularly now that her father was gone.

Livia stepped out of the bath, hastily rubbed herself dry with a towel and pulled on a skirt and blouse. It was still only eight o’clock, plenty
of time to talk to dear old Blamire before the ceremony. Marriage, she told herself firmly, would make absolutely no difference to her hopes and dreams.

 

Mr Blamire was delighted to see her and ordered coffee and biscuits to be brought in by his dull and dusty clerk.

‘I really don’t have time.’ Livia glanced at the fob watch attached to her belt. ‘I just wanted to get those papers you mentioned duly signed.’

‘Do not fret, dear lady. We will not allow you to be late for your wedding.’

Dear lady
!
Had the old fellow at last accepted that little Livvy had grown up, even though she was now five and twenty? With his rotund figure, and more hair in the form of moustache, white whiskers and bristling eyebrows than on his bald pate, he looked very much the epitome of a man of law. And if his ponderous way of going about business sometimes drove Livia mad with impatience and frustration, she also knew him to be sound and scrupulous in his dealings. He had been the Angel family’s solicitor for as long as she could remember, and was honest to a fault.

She cleared her throat, tightened her resolve, and wasted no time in getting down to business. ‘Am I right in assuming that we will soon be in a position to reopen the department store?
If so, then I would wish to be a part of it. It is my inheritance, after all, and as the eldest of the Angel sisters, I have no wish to evade my responsibility.’ It wasn’t quite what she’d meant to say, but it was near enough.

The old solicitor gave her a kindly smile. ‘There’s really no need for you to concern yourself, dear lady. We have the matter entirely in hand.’

‘We? I’m not sure I understand.’

‘You, a mere girl, cannot be expected to take responsibility for running such a large enterprise.’

She itched to remind the lawyer that thanks to Mrs Pankhurst, women were exercising their rights a great deal these days, but managed to restrain herself. ‘I’m twenty-five, Mr Blamire, and a married woman.’ Again she glanced at her watch. ‘Or will be in one hour and thirty minutes.’

He peered at her over the rim of his spectacles, as if to make quite certain that she was no longer the pretty little thing he remembered. ‘Indeed, but such a large business would be beyond the skills of a young lady such as yourself.’

‘I don’t see why—’

Mr Blamire carried on talking as if she had not spoken. ‘There is in fact someone here today whom I would very much like you to meet.’

It was then that she noticed someone else had entered the room, and was standing quietly behind her. ‘Allow me to introduce you to your new manager.’

Livia was tall, used to looking people in the eye, but this man towered several inches above her. She found herself looking up into a face not handsome in any conventional sense, yet possessing a certain quality which would no doubt attract the less discerning female. Maybe any sort of female, Livia conceded, as she felt an undeniable frisson shiver down her spine. A shock of dark brown hair which had clearly defeated all attempts to keep it in place, fell in untidy curls across a broad brow. And a faint fan of tired lines radiated from the corners of dark grey eyes, which were regarding her with shameless curiosity.

He held out a large, square hand. ‘Matthew Grayson. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Angel.’ His mouth, she noticed, had a slight twist to it, as if he were smiling at some private joke. Had he expected to find some frowsty old spinster?

BOOK: Angels at War
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