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Authors: Margaret Pemberton

Never Leave Me

BOOK: Never Leave Me
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Contents
Margaret Pemberton
Never Leave Me
Margaret Pemberton

Margaret Pemberton is the bestselling author of over thirty novels in many different genres, some of which are contemporary in setting and some historical.

She has served as Chairman of the Romantic Novelists' Association and has three times served as a committee member of the Crime Writers'Association. Born in Bradford, she is married to a Londoner, has five children and two dogs and lives in Whitstable, Kent. Apart from writing, her passions are tango, travel, English history and the English countryside.

Dedication

For Mike, as always

Chapter One

Spring had come early to Sainte-Marie-des-Ponts. The fierce Atlantic winds that whipped the cliff tops with such savagery a mere mile away skimmed the hollow of land in which the village sheltered, and tubs of daffodils and crocus flourished staunchly.

Lisette de Valmy swung a woollen-stockinged leg to the ground and, using the toe of her shoe, slowed her bicycle to a halt. The mass of colour, vivid against the drab Norman stone of the high, slate-roofed houses, did nothing to cheer her. The sight only emphasised her rage. Flowers represented normality, and normality was a thing of the past. She leaned her bicycle against the wall of the villge café and, with her hands thrust deep into the pockets of her coat, hurried inside in search of Paul.

He wasn't there; nor were any other of the usual occupants. Chairs were tipped inwards against metal-topped tables, and the middle-aged proprietor, André Caldron, was desultorily polishing glasses, a wine-stained towel wrapped around his waist, his shirt sleeves rolled high.

‘Where is everyone?' Lisette asked, her hands clenching until the knuckles showed white. Dear God. She had to talk to somebody. Her fury and revulsion had to have some outlet.

‘Vierville,' André replied tersely, putting down the glass he had been polishing and leaning across the bar towards her, his weight on his muscular arms. ‘The Boche rounded them all up at five this morning for work on the coastal defences.'

The delicate line of Lisette's jaw hardened. ‘Haven't they done enough at Vierville?' she demanded, her eyes sparking as she pulled a red beret from the back of her head, smoke-dark hair falling free. ‘They've dug and tunnelled and burrowed until there isn't a yard of beach that isn't mined.'

‘Now they are destroying the houses,' André said with a shrug. ‘Nothing fronting the sea is to remain standing.'

‘Salauds!'
Lisette said expressively and André grinned. The vocabulary of the eighteen-year-old daughter of the Comte and Comtesse de Valmy had been greatly enriched by the rigours of the Occupation.

‘They'll be gone every day for a week, maybe two. If I were you, I'd stay away from the village until Paul sends you word that he needs you.'

A small shiver ran down her spine. To be needed was to be asked by the village schoolmaster to take messages inland to Bayeux and Trevieres; to pass through German patrols with information that, if found, would be her death warrant. She didn't know who else was in the Resistance in Sainte-Marie-des-Ponts. André, by the expression in his voice when he had spoken of Paul ‘needing'her, obviously suspected that she was a courier, but whether or not he was an active member of the village cell, she didn't know. Nor did she want to know. The more she knew, the more she could tell the Germans if she were caught. It was better this way. Picking up the messages that Paul left for her, leaving them at pre-arranged tables in cafés in Bayeux and Trevieres; not knowing who they were for or who was to collect them.

‘There are things happening here, too,' André said, leaning closer to her, his voice dropping even though they were alone. ‘A large black, chauffeur-driven Horch with outriders swept through the village half an hour ago. My wife thinks it was Field Marshal Rommel on his way to Caen.'

Lisette's heart-shaped face tightened. ‘It wasn't Rommel,' she said bitterly, ‘and the car wasn't on its way to Caen.'

André's heavy eyebrows rose.

‘It was a Major Meyer and he was on his way to Valmy.' The skin was taut across her cheekbones, and her eyes were overly bright.

André was very still, filled with sudden apprehension. ‘What did the major want with your father?'

‘Hospitality,' Lisette said, her nails digging into the wool of her beret.

André whistled through his teeth. Six months ago, Hitler had appointed Field Marshal Rommel Inspector General of Defence in the west. His task, to render over eight hundred miles of coastline safe from invasion by the Allies. He had made La Roche-Guyon his headquarters and the men of Normandy had been rounded up into labour battalions, forced to work erecting a giant steel and cement Atlantic wall, riddling the beaches with jagged triangles of steel, metal tipped stakes, and millions and millions of mines.

Sainte-Marie-des-Ponts had become accustomed to the presence of Germans; to soldiers requisitioning farm produce; to the Gestapo and SS headquarters at Cherbourg and Caen. Now a high-ranking major had been thrust in their midst, the unwelcome guest of Comte de Valmy. Why? What new plans did the Nazis have for them?

‘Have a cognac,' he said, understanding all too well why she was so pale.

She shook her head, lights dancing in the dark cloud of her hair as she turned to leave. ‘No thank you André. If you should see Paul, tell him about the major.'

‘I will,' André said, once more picking up a cloth and a glass, his eyes beneath their beetling brows thoughtful. Whatever Major Meyer's reasons for taking up residence at Valmy, Lisette would be in an ideal position to discover them. And pass the information on.

Telling André about the German now living under her father's roof had done nothing to dissipate Lisette's fury. Her hands were shaking as she wheeled her bicycle away from the wall and stepped on the pedals. For the past four years they had been lucky. Her father had told her so many times. Nearly every house in the area had been billeted with Germans. The Lechevaliers in Vierville were allowed access only to a small part of their home; in Colleville, the Mercadors lived together in only one room white German staff officers slept in their bedrooms, relaxed in the drawing rooms, and forbade the Mercador children to play in their own garden. Valmy had been spared – until an hour ago.

Lisette crammed her beret once more on to the back of her head and began to cycle down the main street and out of the village. Every few yards she had to return a greeting as the women of Sainte-Marie-des-Ponts called out good-day to her, going stoically about their daily chores; shopping, talking, doing their best to ignore the presence of the enemy in their streets.

Lisette returned their greetings grimly, wondering if the soldiers lounging at the street corners thought them as resigned and subservient as they seemed. If they did, they sadly underrated the tenaciousness of Norman hatred. Once the Allies invaded, everyone, from elderly Madame Pichon who had delivered every child in the village for the last thirty years, to the eleven and twelve-year-olds in Paul's classroom, would rise up against them.

Sentries in camouflage cloaks barred the exit from the village and she slowed down, slipping off the saddle and holding the bicycle steady with one hand as she showed her identity card with the other. The soldier flicked it against his thumbnail without looking at it. He knew damn well who she was and was determined to know her better. The village girls were pretty, but there was something special about Lisette de Valmy. Even in her heavy stockings she exuded class and breeding, and he found her hauteur deeply exciting. She was looking at him now, her chin high, her eyes contemptuous, for all the world as if she were royalty and he the scum of the earth.

‘Would you like a cigarette?' he asked, moving forward and standing very close to her, her identity card still in his hand.

Lisette's hands tightened fractionally on the handlebars of her bicycle, her only reply the scorching expression in her eyes. They were beautiful eyes, tip-tilted and thick-lashed, the colour of smoked quartz. Heat flared through his groin. She was the kind of French girl men dreamed of. The kind German generals sported on their arm in Paris. Her silk-dark hair fell in a long, smooth wave to her shoulders, pushed away from her face on one side with a tortoiseshell comb, crowned on the other by a provocatively tilted scarlet beret.

The soldier grinned. ‘Come on,' he said in his execrable French. ‘Be friendly.'

Lisette's voice dripped ice. ‘I would rather be dead,' she said, her eyes feral, ‘than be friends with a German.'

Behind him his companion laughed and the sentry's smile vanished. Who the hell did she think she was, speaking to him as if he were a peasant? Bloody French with their airs and graces. Anyone would think that
they
were the victors. ‘
Weggenhen
,' he snarled viciously, thrusting her card back at her. There would be another day; a day when his staff officer would not be so particular about the treatment meted out to the local landowning family. Then he would see if she meant what she said about preferring to be dead.

Lisette, dismissing him as below contempt, cycled over one of the low stone bridges that gave the village its name, and then on and up through high-hedged lanes and beech woods to Valmy.

BOOK: Never Leave Me
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