Authors: Terri Nixon
1917. Kitty Maitland has found a safe and welcoming home at Dark River Farm, Devon, and is finally beginning on a path to recovery after her terrible ordeal in Flanders ... until the arrival of two very different visitors threatens to rip her new little family apart.
One, a charming rogue, proves both a temptation and a mystery – Kitty is still trying to push her hopeless love for Scottish army captain Archie Buchanan out of her mind, and this stranger might be just what she needs. But she soon discovers he’s not a stranger to everyone.
The other newcomer, a young woman with a past linked to the farm, sows seeds of discontent and mistrust. Between the two of them, and the choices Kitty herself has to make, Dark River becomes a place of fear, suspicion and danger. Can it ever return to the haven it once was?
A Rose in Flanders Fields
Daughter of Dark River Farm
The Oaklands Manor Trilogy, book 3
was born in Plymouth, England, in 1965. At the age of 9 she moved with her family to Cornwall, to a small village on the edge of Bodmin Moor, where she discovered a love of writing that has stayed with her ever since. She also discovered apple-scrumping, and how to jump out of a hayloft without breaking any bones, but no-one’s ever offered to pay her for doing those.
Since her first short stories appeared in small-press paperback in 2002, Terri has appeared in both print and online fiction collections, and is proud to have contributed to the Shirley Jackson award-nominated hardback collection:
Bound for Evil
, by Dead Letter Press. Her first novel was
Maid of Oaklands Manor
, published by Piatkus Entice, and shortlisted in the ‘Best Historical Read’ category at the Festival of Romance 2013.
Terri now lives in Plymouth with her youngest son, and works in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Plymouth University, where she is constantly baffled by the number of students who don’t possess pens.
This book is dedicated to my family with love, and in deep gratitude for your support as always.
When the stranger came to Dark River Farm he was empty-handed, yet he brought with him something different for each of us. For me it was a chance to rediscover my lost childhood, the days when all had seemed possible and I had not yet felt the savage bite of pain and loss. For those I loved, perhaps his gifts were darker… Only time would tell.
Dark River Farm, Dartmoor, June 1917
‘Go on, Kitty, it won’t kill you.’
I squinted through the gathering dark at the glowing orange tip of the cigarette. The barn door was open and I looked nervously out at the encroaching night, and then at the door to the farmhouse across the yard. It remained closed, and I didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved. Belinda drew my attention back by tapping the ash from the end of the cigarette with one grubby fingernail, and her eyebrows went up in mute encouragement. She held the cigarette closer, and I reached out and took it, and raised it to my lips.
Bel nodded. ‘That’s the way. Nice big pull, and hold it in. Try not to cough.’
Of course, as soon as she said that I felt the tickle in my chest, even before I’d properly breathed in, but I concentrated on mimicking Belinda’s effortlessly elegant method. How I wasn’t instantly sick, I shall never know. It tasted terrible, and I felt smoke curling in the back of my mouth, back up into my nose, and burning everything in its path. I opened my mouth in dismay, and the cough that erupted from my throat hurt enough to bring stinging tears to my eyes.
‘Don’t drop it!’ Belinda lunged forward to pluck the dangling cigarette out of my numbed fingers, while I coughed a bit more and blinked away the tears. I tried to speak, to tell her it was absolutely the most awful thing and I didn’t know how or why she did it, but could make no real sound beyond a hoarse whistling.
‘Here, have a drink,’ Belinda said, not without sympathy, and handed me the bottle.
I greedily sucked down a big mouthful of wine, and waited until I could trust myself to speak without rasping too much before I said, ‘Belinda Frier, you must have a throat made of stone.’
She chuckled, and drew on her cigarette again. ‘It’s just practice. You can try again in a minute.’
She shrugged. ‘Well, all the more for me then.’ She looked around the barn, blowing smoke rings and watching with lazy amusement as they vanished into the gloom. I contented myself with swilling wine around my mouth, and welcomed the gradual fading of that awful, dry, burnt taste. Before I’d gone to Belgium I’d seldom had wine. Mother thought I was too young, and Father only drank brandy, and although there had usually been wine in the cupboard at Number Twelve, our little ambulance post near Dixmude, it was very diluted to make it last. But I’d begun to enjoy it; it helped me sleep when all else had failed. I could taste the difference between this and the thin, watery wine I was used to though, and my head had already started to hum quite pleasantly.
‘Where did you get this?’
‘It was a present,’ Belinda said, and winked. I found myself smiling, although I wasn’t really sure why, except I liked spending time with her; she made things seem like fun, and it was about time I had some of that again. I began to hum a little tune: Billy Murray’s popular song from last year, ‘Pretty Baby’, and Bel picked up on it and joined in. Ordinarily I didn’t like the song, although it was constantly in my head, but Bel kept getting the words wrong which made me laugh, and then she started to change them deliberately, just to make me laugh again. Soon we were singing quite loudly: she pausing to inhale more of that revolting smoke, me to swallow more of the delicious wine, and then she stubbed out the last of her gasper on the bottom of her shoe, and stood up.
So, as the sun faded, and while we were supposed to be clearing the barn of last year’s damp grain sacks, Bel and I held hands and danced; the wine was fizzing in my blood now, and I kept stumbling over my own feet, making Bel laugh harder.
‘You’d better sit down, Skittles,’ she said. The nickname cut through the pleasant haze, and I stopped dancing.
‘Why did you call me that?’
‘It’s what Evie and the others call you, isn’t it?’
‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise it was reserved for your war chums,’ Bel said, a little tightly, and I felt silly for my reaction; it had been in another life that I had found that name, and that life was gone now.
‘It’s all right,’ I said. ‘You can call me that too.’
As long as you don’t call me Kittlington…
The thought came out of nowhere, and was accompanied by a real pang. I heard the name spoken in Archie Buchanan’s soft, Scots-accented voice, and although I’d known that voice since I’d been a child, it had, for at least three years now, had the power to reach into my heart and warm me right through.
‘Come on,’ Bel said, her good humour returning as swiftly as ever. ‘I thought we were dancing!’
I hadn’t planned on opening up, to her of all people, but she saw my face, and led me back to the boxes where we’d been sitting before. The wood felt cold now, through the threadbare corduroy of my trousers, but it didn’t matter. I picked up the wine again and took a long gulp. Bel still held my other hand, and she gave it a squeeze.
‘I understand,’ she said. ‘Your handsome captain has gone.’
‘He’s not mine,’ I said, removing my hand from hers and wiping my mouth on my sleeve. This time last year I had prayed for Archie to see me as a woman, as if I could throw a switch in his head that would make him blink, look at me properly, and realise I was more than his friend’s little sister. That stupid Billy Murray song had mocked me at every turn. I spoke the words again now, with a bitter tinge to my voice:
‘You’re just a baby to me.
Your cunning little dimples and your baby stare,
Your baby talk and baby walk and curly hair—’
‘Well you do have curly hair,’ Bel pointed out. ‘Although you don’t really talk like a baby, and…anyway, babies can’t walk, can they?’
I raised the bottle in acknowledgement of her logic. ‘It’s no longer the issue in any case,’ I said, and took another drink. I would give anything now just to be ‘Oli’s little sister’. ‘It’s more than that now; you know that.’ My voice sounded as if it came from a long way away. Another time, even.
Bel nodded, her face solemn. ‘I know, darling, but—’
‘And I can’t change what happened, so what’s the use?’ I didn’t want to talk about Archie any more; it hurt too much. ‘Anyway, he’s gone.’
‘Back to the war, the big hero,’ Bel said, and lit another cigarette. We sat quietly for a little while, I don’t know what Belinda was thinking about, but my mind was, as usual, on Archie and his marriage proposal.
Archie had, on the last day of his last, too-short leave, taken me to one side and said what I had desperately longed, for three years, to hear him say. Feeling his big, warm hands grasp mine as his feelings tumbled into the empty air between us, I realised I had no idea how I was going to respond, and when I at last opened my mouth, it was with utter dismay that I heard my own words and knew them to be the truth.
‘I’m sorry, but no.’
West Derby, Merseyside, September 1914
Oliver was at the window again, impatience leaking from every pore. He was beginning to tug at my nerves and, older brother or not, I was just about to tell him to sit down, when he gave a pleased exclamation and left the room. I peered out of the window but our overnight guest had already mounted the steps, and all I could see was a dark-clad shoulder as he waited by the front door, and a suitcase sitting on the step just behind.
Not having seen Archie Buchanan for nearly four years, I tried to remember what he looked like but could only come up with ‘tall’. I had a clear memory of a Scottish accent though, warm and friendly, and that memory was attached to the vague outline of someone who had already reached adulthood and left me behind. I remembered he’d been very gentle, easy to talk to, and had always included me in conversations and day trips when he could, even though Oli had tried to persuade him I was too little to bother with. I’d crossly reminded Oli one day, that he himself was only two years older than me, and a good six years younger than Archie.
‘Ah, but when two chaps are on the rugger field together, they depend on each other. There’s a tight bond.’ He demonstrated by linking his two hands together. ‘Unbreakable.’
I’d rolled my eyes, as all good little sisters do, but enjoyed the fact of their unlikely friendship, as Archie began to spend more and more of his school holidays with us. We’d borrow ponies from friends of my father’s, but although Oli could ride, he had little interest and it would often end up as just Archie and me. He seemed to spend most of his home life outdoors, and it had been easy to see that was where he was most comfortable. We’d both missed him when he left school and returned to Scotland, but his image had faded quickly and all I could recall now was the enjoyment I’d found in his company.