War of the Heart

Title: War of the Heaart
Published by: Forget Me Not Romances
Release Date: December, 2016
Contributors: Jenna Victoria
Genre: , , ,
Pages: 154
ISBN13: 978-1537521305
ASIN: B01M6220XV

When a vintage snow globe sends Boston dress designer Louise Martin and British B&B owner George Walker back in time to London, December 1940, they race against the clock to reconcile a feud between their families and solve a 75-year-old mystery. 
As Louise relies on George for guidance, friendship then love, will the future he envisions 
strangle her own dreams? 
Will their relationship survive generations of mistrust, the Blitz and the possibility of being stranded in wartime 1940, never to return to their former lives?

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Current Day - December 10

Boston, Massachusetts: USA

"Me Dad was no choir boy, but he never did what they said. Never."

Thomas Martin reached up from the bed and gave his daughter's arm an urgent tug. "You've got to convince them, pet. Tell them, a'right?"

What was up with him tonight?

"Shush, Dad, it's okay. Rest now."

Pet. Although it was better suited to his family roots in working-class London rather than his own birthplace an ocean away in Massachusetts General Hospital, Dad's use of slang was comforting and familiar. He'd often use "pet" or "luv" or repeat phrases learned at the knees of his mum and dad. Because they'd all shared this house, so did she. Her grandparents strove to keep their British traditions intact, even as they embraced life in America. This gave her father, then Louise herself, strong ties not only to the past but also to a country neither of them had ever set foot in. Why Giles and Evelyn Martin never returned to London in seventy years always remained a mystery to her.

She asked them once, as a teenager. Her Gran and Grandy met one another's gaze, and Louise saw sadness reflected there.

Then Grandy turned gruff. "Don't be a nosy parker, girl. What's past is past." As usual, she obeyed without question. With both of her grandparents gone now, and her father too ill to discuss something that obviously distressed him, she would never know the answer.

Louise patted her father's trembling hand and lifted it between her fingers. She pumped a dab of peppermint lotion from the table dispenser and smoothed it onto his paper-thin skin, careful to avoid his IV catheter in one arm and the blood pressure cuff on the other.

"How's that, then? You smell like a candy cane, right in time for the holidays." She hoped her touch would soothe his unusual anxiety.

He offered a weak smile. "Not candy cane. Me mum's mint humbug sweets."

Thank you, Heavenly Father. Her attempt to redirect his focus worked. She'd often prayed these last months. While God's answers had been a combination of yes, no, and not yet, Louise was confident He cared about not only the big things but also the day-to-day struggles of His children. If only her own uncertain future was something the Lord had chosen to clarify.

She continued to stroke his skin with a light touch. Bruises from repeated blood draws ran along his thin arms. She'd always been in awe of his agility and strength. He was not only mother and father, but her hero, too. His surefooted steps on a commercial roof were as nimble as a cat's. Tom Martin could carry heavy rolls of tarpaper or bundles of shingles on his shoulders while climbing a steep ladder, without even a hitch in his breath.

Yet he'd never shied away from drinking those imaginary cups of Darjeeling at her playroom tea parties. "Shall I be mother?" Louise would hold up the child-sized Brown Betty pot and ask the common British equivalent of who would pour tea for company.

"Yes, pet. No milk, one sugar," he'd say, brown eyes twinkling, his huge calloused fingers engulfing a tea cup and saucer more suited to toddler hands.

Father and daughter still shared similar eye color and the same black hair, but the brilliance of his eyes faded with every sunset. She never imagined age and illness could steal away all traces of that powerful man. Yet, they had. And now something was troubling him, something that turned his placid nature into focused worry.

Louise moved his arm back under the blanket. He was quieter now, his eyes closed. It had been ages since she had a moment to herself or traveled further than a few train stops away on the metro line. Her life-long wanderlust and dreams of visiting the great pyramids in Egypt or the Terracotta Army in China had been tucked away. They were stored unopened in mental files of to-do lists and responsibilities that on some days weighed heavier than the marble debris surrounding the Parthenon.

She returned to the bedside chair, where she was basting a collar to a baby's green velvet dress. Her hand-embroidered tiny holly leaves and berries were a work of art, if a bit twee, as Gran would say. Yet, that's what the client insisted upon, once she noticed Louise's sketches. Really, paying five hundred dollars for a bespoke newborn Christmas dress was over the top, even for Boston's Beacon Hill old money. The large avalanche of rush orders at Bubbles and Bows, the custom clothing boutique where she worked, supported her long held view that most wealthy Bostonians had more money than sense. Didn't customers realize that five minutes into wearing an exquisite but completely inappropriate baby dress, it would be soaked, stained, slobbered over and ready for the rag bin?

And all for a photo op.

On the street, tree limbs bent low with growing burdens of wet snow while lighted angels with trumpets, hard plastic reindeer and inflated snowmen formed odd-shaped lumps under frozen blankets that rose in height by the hour. With her overtime and the increased need for Dad's home care, their small house was bare of any holiday decorations, inside or out.

She was fortunate that much of her work could be done from home. She had been dividing her time between her sewing room, her father's bedside, and brief trips to pick up more sewing projects and drop off completed ones. Glad tidings of great joy weren't part of her to-do list this year.

"Louise. Promise me you'll go to England. After I'm gone."

She looked over at her father, who had somehow sat up without help. What was he talking about? Doctors hadn't given them a specific timeline for his illness. He had months and months left, surely? But her mind refused to go there. Couldn't go there.

Maybe his pain made him incoherent. "The home nurse is late with your medicine, Dad. She's probably delayed with the storm. Are you in a lot of discomfort?"

"No...NO!" He struggled to push away the blankets but gave up. "No morphine. Need clear head." He whispered words in a type of shorthand, as if to conserve energy. "I know you have a passport hidden away, and you've kept it valid even when there was no hope of using it."

"Dad, I don't want you to get agitated." She slid her fingertips across his thinning hair. "That's not important."

His hand caught hers. "Those travel posters in your room spoke louder of your dreams than any wish you made over candles on your birthday cake. Thank you for your sacrifices, pet. Without your Mum, I was lost. I was blessed with the kind of daughter every father longs to have."

He pointed to a corner of the room. "Open that camphor chest. White cardboard box under your mum's duvet. Bring it."

Louise hadn't heard that command in his voice for a long time. She folded her sewing and crossed to the antique trunk. Moving aside a linen duvet, she found a tissue-box sized package and brought it to her father's side. She didn't recognize it, but that didn't surprise her. While they shared profound grief for her mother's death when she turned three, they respected each other's personal space.

It was a shock to realize he was aware of her heartfelt desire to travel the world. He'd accurately guessed the family's reliance on her was what kept her from soaring away.

"Open the box."

She removed both the lid and a top layer of tattered cotton, exposing a vintage snow globe. Louise lifted it and shook gently. Inside the glass dome, fake snow hovered over an English village decorated at Christmas time. The white flakes swirled by doors bearing holly wreaths and windows lit by candles. She turned the weathered red base and squinted through water turned cloudy with age. At the end of the miniature High Street, a uniformed soldier stood in salute on the doorstep of a thatched cottage. Its door wore a black wreath instead of a green one.

"It's beautiful, Dad. Where did it come from?"

He brushed aside her question. "The date, pet. Is the date still clear on the base?"

"There's a small bronze plate here." She tried to make out the crude, hand-etched letters. "'December 29, 1940.' What does that mean?"

Her father lay back, mesmerized by the globe. "I haven't seen that since I was a boy."

"Does it somehow explain why Gran and Grandy never went back to England?"

He nodded. "Because of that date, our family was forced to immigrate to America in shame. But I tell you right here and now, me Dad was innocent." He raised his voice. "Innocent! Pet, you have to go and set things right."

Spasms of coughing made him wince. Louise placed the snow globe on the bedside table and rearranged the pillows behind his head. "Let's talk about this tomorrow. You're tired." She lifted a cup and helped him sip a nutritional shake through a straw.

He nudged her aside after a few mouthfuls. "No time. Sit down and listen."

Worried about making him even more restless, Louise did as he requested.

He glared at the globe. "That day, a Sunday during World War II, became known as the second great fire of London. Luftwaffe bombs fell from warplanes every two minutes. The Thames was at low tide, more mud than water. No water pressure. Building after building toppled, flames and smoke from more than fifteen hundred separate fires flared, unchecked. Your Grandy Giles was supposed to be in one of the tube station bomb shelters or at home with me Gran Rowena, me Mum and me aunts, safe behind blackout curtains."

He drank two more sips and passed her the cup.

"But he wasn't," Louise said.

"He was combing through smoking rubble looking for anything he could find to pawn for money, to feed and clothe his family."

Louise gaped at him. "Grandy was a thief?"

"Don't look so self-righteous. Many a man had to do things in wartime he isn't proud of."

She gestured towards the snow globe. "Why is there a black wreath on the door of that cottage?"

"That's near the end of my story. Hush. I don't have energy for questions."

He cleared his throat. "For generations, our family was close with the Walker family, who lived one lane over, barely outside the city limits north of London. As lads, Peter Walker and Giles were best friends. Their fathers, Piers Walker and David, your great-granddad, were mates from the cradle as well. Same for Gavin Walker and your great-great-Grandy Gerald. Like brothers, they all were, even though our side wasn't as well-off. Went to the same church."

Three full generations of close friendships. Yet she had never heard these names mentioned once in her twenty-seven years on earth.

"What went wrong?"

"Giles did a little poaching back in the day, and not only for game and wildlife. He took a shine to Peter's comprehensive school sweetheart. All of them thirteen years old, or nearly so."

"Was that Gran Evelyn?"

"The same. She was quite the looker even as a teen and a bit of a flirt. She said she fell for Dad the moment she met him. Unfortunately, Peter assumed Evelyn was his girl."

"She broke Peter's heart." Louise fell silent.

"They had a bloody tussle on school property, and Dad won the fight and the girl."

"Was Peter Walker hurt?"

"Banged up quite a bit. Missed a bunch of school. Anyway, from that day on, the families didn't speak."

"But those school days were almost ten years before 1940, right? A long time before the 29th of December on the brass plate."

"You are right. Time passed. Peter went away and joined the Army like his Dad and grandfather. Received commendations for distinguished service, ribbons and medals and the like. He met Margaret, his wife, during the beginning of his WWII service. They were married mid-December 1940."

Mid-December. They were getting closer to the center of the mystery. "What about Grandy?"

"Got out of school as soon as he could. He held various odd jobs, handyman type work. After marrying Mum in early 1940, he chose conscientious objection over enlisting. See, he wasn't a coward. He was the only means of support for his siblings, his mother and his new wife."

Louise understood why her grandparents hadn't revealed any family history. Thieving, poaching, and dodging war service weren't pleasant anecdotes one talked about over plum pudding and Christmas crackers.

Still, something didn't make sense. Were her father's recollections emotional rather than factual? She'd never observed her granddad to be anything other than honest, kind, and generous to others in need. The past actions of a young man may not be exactly proud moments, but they didn't fully explain the need to flee to a new country.

The clank of tire snow chains and sound of metal scraping against concrete floated in from the street. The plows had made it through.

"The nurse won't be long now." Louise rose. "I need to shovel the porch steps again."

Tom Martin held up a hand to stop her. "Wait. There's more. Under the cotton."

She fished in the box until she held a grimy envelope. She withdrew two faded pieces of newsprint.

Louise read the article on top, surprised to see it was an obituary for Peter Walker. His date of death, December 29, 1940, was listed under the bold headline, "War Hero Dies after Heroism at Home."

She gasped. "So that's why the snow globe house has a black wreath."

"Yes. Peter died from injuries he received after he rescued Dad. A building he was scavenging in collapsed around him. Peter dug him out."

"How incredibly sad!" Louise blinked away tears. Peter and Giles' connection had remained, despite time and estrangement, and Peter's heroism had far-reaching results. After all, he was the reason she and her father were alive.

She scanned the second article. Beneath a photo of a magnificent diamond and sapphire pin, a headline almost shouted the words, "Royal Broach Given to Local Man Missing in Blaze." Beneath was a sub-heading, "Witness Says Stolen by Thief." It was dated on the 30th of December, the day after the theft.

"Piers Walker swore a witness saw Dad with the broach in his hand, right before the building collapsed and his son Peter rushed to help."

"Was he arrested?"

He shook his head. "Knew he wouldn't get a fair trial. Not when it was a decorated war veteran's word against a streetwise handyman's. Giles and Evelyn boarded the next ship leaving for America and never looked back."

Louise refolded the articles and replaced the envelope in the box. She picked up the snow globe.

"They must have been so lost, leaving the only home they had ever known, and grieving over the death of Peter, who had been a dear friend at one time."

She turned the globe upside down, righted it again and watched the village disappear under a falling cloud of circa-1940 ice crystals, her focus on the lone soldier. She sighed as the last flake cleared his Army cap. This was the first tangible link to her past, and it wasn't a happy one.

Her father had closed his eyes, breathing deep and even. He deserved to find peace.

The blue passport hidden under layers of wool sweaters in her bedroom called out its siren song to her.

"I'll do it, Dad. I'll do whatever you ask."

She refused to believe her beloved grandfather stole the broach. It was past time to clear his name. Their name. And reclaim their heritage at long last.