Nightingales Under the Mistletoe

BOOK: Nightingales Under the Mistletoe
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Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Donna Douglas

Title Page

Acknowledgements

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter Fifty-Three

Chapter Fifty-Four

Copyright

About the Book

Christmas 1941 and the Nightingale nurses are facing their toughest winter yet.

With shortages everywhere, and each news bulletin announcing more defeats and losses, the British people are weary and demoralised and The Nightingale Hospital is suffering too.

Millie
is recently widowed and dealing with the demands of her family's estate. It's not long before her old world of the Nightingale begins to beckon, along with a long-lost love . . .

Jess
would rather be nursing on the front line but finds herself sent to the country. It isn't long before the East End girl discovers there are battles to be fought on the home front too.

Effie
finds herself exiled to a quiet village, but the quiet doesn't last for long as she soon finds excitement in the shape of a smooth-talking GI.

As Christmas approaches, even the shelter of the countryside can't protect the girls from heartache.

About the Author

Born and brought up in south London,
Donna Douglas
now lives in York with her husband. They have a grown-up daughter.

Also available by Donna Douglas

The Nightingale Girls

The Nightingale Sisters

The Nightingale Nurses

Nightingales on Call

A Nightingale Christmas Wish

Nightingales at War

Nightingales Under the Mistletoe

 

Donna Douglas

 

 

Acknowledgements

I usually leave them till last in my acknowledgements, but this time I feel my husband and daughter should come first in my list of thanks. Writing
Nightingales Under The Mistletoe
was hard
for various reasons (not least me coming up with a new plot two weeks before the deadline!) and even though I was the one at the keyboard, they suffered every word and every page with me. Ken was a true hero, supplying endless cups of tea, listening to my frustration and leaving packets of Fruit Gums hidden around the house to cheer me up. Harriet gave tons of encouragement, read every page with her usual perception, and thankfully didn't once tell me it was rubbish. I love you both, and I don't know how you put up with me in deadline mode, but I do appreciate it …

And my friends frequently came to my rescue, too. Thank you to Maureen Clark for making sure I actually stepped outside the house occasionally, and for turning up with fabulous cupcakes (is everyone getting the impression I respond best to food-based rewards? If so, you're right). Thank you also to June Smith-Sheppard for sending masses of cyber love, and for still being my friend even when I disappear off the radar for weeks on end. And thank you also to Rachel Diver and Fiona Coleman for allowing me to vent and drink Singapore Slings, and to my author friends Jessica Gilmore and Pamela Hartshorne for allowing me to vent and drink fizzy wine (are you also getting the impression I respond to drink-based rewards? Right again).

Finally, a big thank you to my agent Caroline Sheldon, and to the wonderful team at Arrow, especially my editor Jenny Geras (welcome back!), Kate Raybould, boss lady Selina Walker, Philippa Cotton in publicity and Sarah Ridley in marketing, and all the amazing sales team, especially Aslan Byrne and Chris Turner. Thank you so much for making the Nightingales what they are, and for throwing me a very nice lunchtime party when I didn't expect it!

To Becki Ward

Chapter One

IT WAS A
cold, foggy November night when Jess Jago arrived on the last train from London.

She was the only passenger to get off the train at Billinghurst, a deserted rail halt in the middle of nowhere. Jess dumped her suitcase and gas-mask case on the ground and peered around her, trying to get her bearings. The fog was so dense she could almost feel it, like ghostly damp hands pressing on her face.

She laughed nervously. You're imagining things, girl! It was just a bit of fog, no worse than the gritty, yellowish pea-soupers that regularly enshrouded the East End.

She took a deep breath, annoyed with herself for being so twitchy. Honestly, she'd lived all her life in Bethnal Green, grown up among rogues and thieves and God knows what else, and now she was scared because she was in the countryside, with nothing around her but a few trees – and deathly silence …

‘Are you the new nurse?'

The low, gravelly voice came out of the gloom, making her jump out of her skin.

Jess fumbled in her coat pocket for her torch and aimed the beam into the fog. She swung it slowly left and right, then flinched as it suddenly picked out a grizzled old face under a shapeless hat.

‘Turn that thing off, for God's sake,' he growled. ‘You'll have the ARP out, thinking we're bloody Germans.' He gave a rattling cough. ‘Well, what are you standing there for? I ain't got all night, you know. It's nearly ten and some of us have beds to go to. Besides, this fog plays hell with my chest.'

Jess heard the faint jingling of a harness, and the clomp of heavy hooves on the iron hard ground. As she lowered the beam of her torch, she saw a cart and a fat grey horse, its head curved wearily downwards.

‘Who are you?' she asked.

‘Father Christmas, who do you think?' The old man sighed impatiently. ‘My name's Sulley – Mr Sulley to you – and I've been sent to fetch you to the Nurses' Home. Now are you coming or not? You're welcome to walk if you want, but it's more than five miles, and I doubt if you'd find your way on a night like this, especially since they took all the signposts away.'

Keeping her torch beam low, Jess carried her suitcase round to the back of the cart and threw it on, then went round to the front and climbed up on to the wooden seat beside the man.

‘At last!' Sulley muttered. He cleared his throat noisily, spat at the ground, shook the reins and they shifted forward slowly, the heavy wheels rolling beneath them as they started up the lane. The cold night air smelled of dung and damp earth.

The lurching motion lulled her, and Jess felt her eyelids growing heavier, her head nodding towards her chest. She was bone weary after her journey. The train had been crowded as usual and seemed to inch down the line, stopping every five minutes to allow another troop train to pass.

Jess had found herself crammed into a carriage with a dozen army boys, all in tearing high spirits. She had shared her sandwiches with them, and they'd made her laugh with their jokes and singing. They reminded her of Sam, full of fun, refusing to take life seriously.

But Jess had seen enough sorrow and nursed enough wounded soldiers at the Nightingale to know the kind of fate that might befall them. Even as she laughed with them, she found herself looking at their bright, smiling faces, wondering how many of them would come home again.

Once again, a picture of Sam came into her mind, and she pushed it away out of habit. She couldn't allow herself to give in to the fear that prowled in the shadows of her mind, waiting to pounce if she once allowed it.

Beside her, Sulley had started talking. ‘The village is full of Londoners now,' he grumbled. ‘What with you lot from the hospital and all the evacuees, it's worse than hop-picking season. Hardly feels like it's our home any more.'

Jess bristled. ‘It's not our choice to come down here,' she said sharply. ‘We have to go where we're sent.'

She certainly wouldn't have left London if she'd had any choice in the matter. The Blitz had torn the heart out of both the East End and the Nightingale Hospital, and it felt disloyal to abandon it in its hour of need.

But Matron had been insistent. Most of the patients had been evacuated from London to the Nightingale's temporary hospital in Kent, and more nurses were needed there.

‘It may only be for a few months,' she had said. ‘But until we can re-open the wards here, you'll be of more use down there. And I'm sure you'll welcome the chance of some country air,' she had added with a small smile. ‘A change might do you good.'

She had made it sound as if she was doing Jess a favour. But if she thinks that then she doesn't know me at all, Jess thought. She had been born and brought up in the back streets, with the tang of smog in her lungs from the moment she was born. She was used to the shouts of costermongers and street vendors, the smell of the docks and the glue factory, the rumble of trams and buses. After two years of war, she was even used to the wail of the air-raid sirens, the crump of falling bombs and the reek of cordite and choking dust that followed an attack. She had no time for the country, or the people in it.

An eerie screech came out of the fog. Jess started out of her seat in terror.

‘What the bleeding hell was that?' she yelped.

Sulley chuckled. ‘It's only an owl! Bless me, it ain't going to hurt you.' He dug in the depths of his pocket for a dog end, clamped it between his teeth and lit it with one hand, the other controlling the fat old horse. Not that she needed much controlling. Jess could have walked faster than the mare's steady plod.

Once again, the motion lulled her. This time Jess must have drifted off, because the next thing she knew the cart had jerked to a halt.

‘Here we are,' the old man said. ‘Home Sweet Home.'

Jess peered into the foggy darkness. ‘I can't see anything.'

‘The Nurses' Home is through that gate and up the track a way. There was no room for you lot from London at the hospital home, so they had to convert some old farm buildings.'

Jess sniffed. A strong odour of manure hung in the air. ‘It smells like a pigsty!'

‘That's right.' Sulley chuckled. ‘I daresay it's what you Londoners are used to.' His laughter turned into a wheezing cough, and he spat at the ground.

Jess glared at him. At least I don't stink like an old goat, she thought. That coat of his reeked of cigarettes and sweat.

She climbed down from the cart and retrieved her suitcase from the back while the old man watched her, drawing on his thin dog end.

BOOK: Nightingales Under the Mistletoe
9.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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