Love and Devotion
Table of Contents
Praise for Erica James
‘Erica James’ sensitive story ... is as sparklingly fresh as dew on the village’s surrounding meadows ... thoroughly enjoyable and fully deserving of a place in the crowded market of women’s fiction’
‘This book draws you into the lives of these characters, and often makes you want to scream at them to try and make them see reason. Funny, sad and frustrating, but an excellent, compulsive read’
‘There is humour and warmth in this engaging story of love’s triumphs and disappointments, with two well-realised and intriguing subplots’
Woman & Home
‘Joanna Trollope fans, dismayed by the high gloom factor and complete absence of Agas in her latest books, will turn with relief to James’ ... delightful novel about English village life ... a blend of emotion and wry social observation’
‘Scandal, fury, accusations and revenge are all included in Erica James’ compelling novel ... this story of village life in Cheshire is told with wit and humour’
‘An entertaining read with some wickedly well-painted cameo characters. It’s a perfect read if you’re in the mood for romance’
‘An engaging and friendly novel ... very readable’
‘A bubbling, delightful comedy which is laced with a bittersweet tang ... a good story, always well observed, and full of wit’
Erica James grew up in Hampshire and has since lived in Oxford, Yorkshire and Belgium. She now divides her time between Cheshire and Lake Como, Italy. She is the author of thirteen bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award.
Love and Devotion
AN ORION EBOOK
First published in Great Britain in 2004 by Orion. This eBook first published in 2009 by Orion Books.
Copyright © Erica James 2004
The rights of Erica James to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the copyright, designs and patents act 1988.
Lyrics from ‘Imitation of Life’ © Words and music Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe. © 2001 Temporary Music USA Warner/Chappell North America, London W6 8BS Reproduce by permission of International Music Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
‘The Mermaid’ reproduced by permission of A.P. Watt, on behalf of Michael B Yeats
All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 1 4091 0748 4
This eBook produced by Jouve, France.
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
5 Upper St Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK Company
To Edward and Samuel,
with love and devotion
Special thanks must be given to all those who helped me put this book together.
To Paul Morris, for his endless patience while trying to help a numpty-head like me understand the first thing about computers.
To all those in the antique trade who were so generous with their time. And gossip!
To Mike and Allyson for a splendid night on board their boat. Never have I seen such gleaming brassware or tasted such heavenly chip butties.
To Celia Lea for her invaluable and personal understanding of ME.
And to those who would rather not be mentioned (for professional reasons), thank you.
A special thank you to my neighbours, Jenny and Alan, for letting me pinch their cute dog, Toby. I hope the fame doesn’t go to his head.
And lastly, thank you to everyone at Orion for making the process as painless as possible.
Christmas Eve. The night sky was patchy with clouds racing across the moon and stars, and the wind was gusting. Harriet and her sister were in the Wendy house. It was quite a squash; they were no longer the size they’d been when their father had made it for them more than twenty years ago. Felicity, six months pregnant with her second child, was having trouble getting comfortable on the small wooden chair.
It had been Felicity’s idea for them to sneak out here in the freezing cold and the dark. But she was known for her impetuosity. It was what everyone loved about Felicity — her spontaneity and sense of fun. Harriet watched her sister light the candles they’d brought with them and once shadows were dancing across the panelled walls, they switched off their torches.
‘So why are we here,’ Harriet asked, ‘when we could be in the warm, wrapping presents and bingeing on Mum’s mince pies and marzipan dates?’
In the flickering candlelight, Felicity’s face was suddenly solemn, her eyes large and luminous. ‘I have something I want to ask you,’ she said. ‘I want you to make me a promise, Harriet. If anything happens to Jeff and me, I want you to look after our children.’
The wind gusted outside and the flimsy door rattled in its frame. A shiver went through Harriet. ‘Nothing’s going to happen to you, Felicity,’ she said. ‘I’m always going to be the eccentric aunt who makes it her business to turn up with embarrassingly inappropriate presents for your children.’
‘I’m being serious, Harriet. You have to promise that if anything happens to me, you’ll take care of them. I wouldn’t trust anyone but you. Please say you’d take my place. I need you to say yes for my peace of mind.’
Putting her sister’s irrational insistence down to cranked-up hormone levels - that and Felicity’s famously temperamental nature - Harriet said, ‘Of course I will. Providing you don’t have more than two. Two I think I could handle. Any more and I’d turn into the Child Catcher from
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.’
‘Hand on heart?’
Smiling once more, Felicity said, ‘Good. That’s settled then. Now I have nothing to worry about.’
The promise was never referred to again. Not until four years later, when it dominated Harriet’s every waking thought.
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.
Swift by name and swift by nature, Harriet shut the door after her and marched quickly down the drive, her arms swinging, her shoes tappety-tap-tapping in the still August air. Hand in hand, the children trailed silently behind her. She was often told that for someone so small, she walked remarkably fast. Those who knew her well knew that it was a side-effect of a restless mind, of a mind on the run.
For what felt like for ever, Harriet had been plagued with a sense of permanently running on the spot, of getting nowhere fast. There had been so much to do, and far too much to come to terms with. She doubted the latter was ever going to happen. But that was something she kept to herself. It was better to let people think that she had it all under control, that she believed them when they said time would heal, and as one door closed, another would open, and, oh, this was a good one, apparently we are never given more than we can handle. What was that supposed to mean? That this was deliberate? That she and her family had been picked out especially for this particular assignment, that of all the families around them, theirs was considered the safest bet. Oh, the Swifts — they’ll handle this one; they’ll cope just fine with the death of their eldest daughter and son-in-law.
Anyone observing them would think that Harriet and her parents were coping admirably, but Harriet knew all too well that Bob and Eileen Swift had their brave public faces for neighbours and friends. Once the front door was closed, the masks would drop. But only so far. There were the children, Carrie and Joel, to think of.
‘Oh, those poor little ones!’ had been the cry when news of the accident had spread. ‘To lose both their parents - what a heartbreakingly cruel thing.’
Tappety-tap-tap went Harriet’s shoes as she walked faster, her head lowered, her gaze to the ground so there would be no risk of catching the eye of a neighbour who, given the chance, would seize the opportunity to console or advise and smother her with sympathy. She wanted none of it. All she wanted was for their lives to be the way they were four months ago, before a joyriding kid high on God knew what smashed into her brother-in-law’s car killing him and Felicity instantly.