Authors: Barbara Bretton
Tags: #World War II, #Women-HomeFront, #Romance
Acclaim for the novels of
“Bretton’s characters are always real and their conflicts believable.”
— Chicago Sun-Times
“Soul warming... A powerful relationship drama [for] anyone who enjoys a passionate look inside the hearts and souls of the prime players.”
— Midwest Book Review
“[Bretton] excels in her portrayal of the sometimes sweet, sometimes stifling ties of a small community. The town’s tight network of loving, eccentric friends and family infuses the tale with a gently comic note that perfectly balances the darker dramas of the romance.”
— Publishers Weekly
“A tender love story about two people who, when they find something special, will go to any length to keep it.”
“Honest, witty... absolutely unforgettable.”
“A classic adult fairy tale.”
— Affaire de Coeur
“Dialogue flows easily and characters spring quickly to life.”
— Rocky Mountain News
First Print edition published by Harlequin
Copyright 1990 and 2014 by Barbara Bretton
Digital Edition published by Barbara Bretton, 2014
Cover design by
Tammy Seidick Design
Digital formatting by
A Thirsty Mind Book Design
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American women are learning how to put planes and tanks together, how to read blueprints, how to weld and rivet and make the great machinery of war production hum under skillful eyes and hands. But they’re also learning how to look smart in overalls and how to be glamorous after work. They are learning to fulfill both the useful and the beautiful ideal.
Woman’s Home Companion
Catherine Anne Wilson was no different from a million other young women on that warm June evening in 1943. She was twenty-one years old, engaged to be married, and impatient to get on with the rest of her life. If the war hadn’t come along, she and Douglas Weaver would be married by now, snug and safe in their own little apartment with a baby in the cradle and one on the way.
Instead, there she was, still in her parents’ house in Forest Hills, curled up on the window seat in the pastel-pink room where she’d played with dolls and learned how to curl her hair and dreamed of how wonderful it would be to be grown-up and married.
Now, years later, she was still waiting to find out. She was a grown woman living the life of a dutiful daughter. Each morning she arose at seven, gulped down oatmeal and a cup of cocoa, then kissed her mother goodbye, in the same routine she’d followed for four years at Forest Hills High School when she was counting the days until she was grown-up. The only difference was she no longer headed for the classroom; she headed for work, where she spent nine hours a day posting numbers at her father’s manufacturing firm. She came home at night to her mom’s meat loaf and her sister’s Sinatra recordings and an abiding emptiness inside her heart that almost took her breath away.
Even the songs matched her mood. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and the painfully beautiful “As Time Goes By” only served to point out how different this world was from the one she’d imagined when she was a foolish girl.
It wasn’t as if she wanted very much out of life. All she wanted was the same things women had wanted for hundreds and hundreds of years. Her own house and her own husband. Children to care for and a life that was her very own.
Woman’s Home Companion
said that these should be the happiest years of her life, a time when childbirth was easier and housework more satisfying. They even hinted that the love between a man and a woman could prove that sometimes heaven was found right there on earth. Instead, Catherine felt like a hungry child with her nose pressed against the window of a bakery, longing for something as simple and natural as a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. Something that was as impossible as flying to the moon.
When her mother was twenty-one, Dot had already given birth to Catherine and was pregnant again with Nancy. She’d had a husband and a home and the happiness Catherine dreamed about every single night.
“Don’t you worry,” everyone said, their tones jovial and reassuring. “Things will be back to normal before you know it.” The tide was about to turn any day. Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini were on the run, and any minute the Allies would strike the blow that would put an end to this insanity.
Like most other Americans, Catherine had been raised on happy Hollywood endings, firm in the belief that the good guys always won. Lately, however, she’d been finding it harder to hold on to the notion that everything would work out the way it did in Betty Grable movies. Instead of coming to an end, the war grew larger and more frightening with each day that passed. The headlines in the
New York Daily News
talked of massive troop movements and losses that brought a chill to the blood.
Six million Americans were in the military, and each day the ranks swelled as eager men signed up to defend their country. The Allies had suffered badly in Corregidor and the Bataan death march was all too real. The
put a good face on the truth, but it wasn’t until Guadalcanal, just a few months ago, that the Allies had scored their first victory.
None of it, however, seemed to register with her sister, Nancy. The girl’s voice floated up to Catherine’s window from the front stoop, where the high-school senior sat chatting with her pals. Had it only been four years since Catherine herself had sat on the stoop with Douglas and made plans for the senior prom? She felt like an old woman sitting in her rocker watching the youngsters have all the fun.
Nancy’s voice was high and excited—after all, it wasn’t every day you got to go into Manhattan and see the real-life Stage Door Canteen. Their father had pulled a few strings and made special arrangements to take the family into the city to meet some of his squadron members. They would have a good old-fashioned celebration before he boarded a troop ship the next morning to Europe. “We’re not going to sit here watching the clock tick,” he had said to Dot and his daughters at the breakfast table that morning. “Let’s meet the fellows and make an evening of it.”
Nancy had been beside herself. It seemed to Catherine that her little sister had been baptized with stardust and blessed by Max Factor. Nancy pored over her stacks of
as if they held the secret of life. Nancy believed in love at first sight, that Clark Gable was the most handsome man in the whole world, and that if she only had Betty Grable’s legs, Rita Hayworth’s hair and Lana Turner’s smile, her happiness would be assured.
“Do you know that little girl is positive she’ll meet Van Johnson and Tyrone Power tonight?”
Catherine turned away from the window at the sound of her mother’s voice in the doorway. “What’s worse,” she said, summoning up a smile, “is that she believes they’ll both fall in love with her.”
“The child is starstruck,” said Dot as she entered the room. Her slender figure was hidden inside the lavender housecoat Grandma Wilson had made for her birthday present, and her thick light brown hair was tightly wound into curls crisscrossed with bobby pins and dampened with Wave-Set.
Her mother’s familiar scent of Cashmere-Bouquet and Pacquin’s hand cream was a balm to Catherine’s troubled soul. She made room for her mom on the window seat. “I’m glad Nancy’s the way she is,” Catherine said. “One serious daughter is enough, don’t you think?”
Dot glanced at the alarm clock ticking away on Catherine’s nightstand, then leaned over and poked her head out the bedroom window. “You have one hour to get yourself ready, young lady. Daddy expects us dressed and on our way to the subway at six o’clock sharp.”
Dot and Catherine both laughed at Nancy’s shriek of “I don’t know what to wear!” followed by the sound of her black-and-white saddle shoes pounding up the front steps. Lucky Nancy, with nothing more to worry about than choosing between her red blouse and her white one.
“Are you going to wear your green dress?” Catherine asked her mother.
Dot’s cheeks colored prettily. “I wouldn’t dare wear anything else. It’s your father’s favorite.”
“If you like, I’ll help you pin your hair into an upsweep. Mary Clare, down the block, showed me how to roll the most adorable pompadour. With that gold mesh snood Aunt Mona gave you, you could—”
Dot gave her eldest daughter a long look that stopped Catherine cold. “What’s wrong?”
Catherine glanced out the window. “Nothing.”
Dot inclined her head toward the pale blue letter on her daughter’s lap. “Did something in Douglas’s letter upset you?”
“He’s fine.” A sigh escaped her lips. “At least, I think so.” She held up the heavily censored letter for her mother to see. “There wasn’t much left to read after Uncle Sam got through with it.”
Dot’s smile wavered. “I guess your dad and I will have to invent a secret code for our sweet nothings.”
Catherine wanted to say something reassuring, but the lump in her throat made speech impossible. Her cheerful, upbeat mother—the woman Catherine had leaned upon for twenty-one years—suddenly looked like a frightened child. The war seemed closer to Forest Hills than ever before.
Dot looked away for an instant, and when she met her daughter’s eyes again she was once more her ebullient self. “You get yourself ready now, honey. You know how Daddy hates to be kept waiting.”
Catherine blinked away sudden, embarrassing tears as Dot headed toward the door. “Mom?”
Dot paused in the doorway and looked back. “Yes?”
The moment passed. “Nothing. I... better get ready.” Catherine longed to throw herself into her arms and cry her heart out, but Dot had her husband to worry about now. It wouldn’t be fair to add her daughter’s fears to her burden.
“You know you can tell me anything, don’t you, Cathy?”
Catherine nodded and her mother turned, then disappeared down the long hallway to her bedroom.
You know exactly what I’m thinking, don’t you, Mom? I’ve never been able to fool you about anything. You can see that I’m scared to death that something terrible is going to happen to Douglas, that this dark cloud I’ve felt hovering over me for days means something.
Catherine shivered despite the balmy June weather, and wrapped her arms around her knees as she looked out the window at the street she knew so well. Hansen Street, a narrow road lined with powerful oaks and graceful maples, was her whole world. She’d been conceived right there in the Tudor-style house three months after her parents’ marriage. She’d taken her first steps in the front yard while Mrs. Bellamy and old Mr. Conlan called out encouragement.
And at twelve she’d fallen in love with Douglas Weaver, her very best friend, as they’d sat beneath his father’s crabapple tree under the star-spangled sky.
Fifteen months ago she had kissed Douglas goodbye at Grand Central Station. He had looked so handsome in his uniform, so tall and strong and painfully young, that her heart had ached with love for him.
“I’ll wait for you forever,” she’d said, her tears staining the shoulder of his khaki jacket. “I’ll never love anyone but you.”
“I’m coming back, Cathy,” he’d said. “I’ll be back before you have time to miss me.”
A thousand other soldiers whispered the same words into the ears of a thousand other sweethearts, who also stood on the dock that snowy morning. The boys’ promises were heartfelt. The girls knew the war would be over before they could dry their tears.
How wrong they all had been. The days turned into weeks, then the weeks passed into months, and finally Catherine realized the war wasn’t going to end simply because she and Douglas Weaver wanted a chance at happiness.
Across the street Edna Weaver waved to Catherine’s father, Tom, who strolled toward home with his
neatly rolled under his arm.
“You shake Bing Crosby’s hand for me tonight, Tommy!” Edna called out, waving her pruning shears in greeting.
Tom tipped his cap. “Come with us, Edna, and shake his hand yourself, why don’t you?”
Edna laughed and pointed to her gardening costume, which consisted of her husband’s cast-off trousers and her long-sleeved smock. “Movie stars will just have to wait until my rosebushes are in shape, but you and Dot dance a waltz for me.”
Catherine’s father promised he would do exactly that, then turned up the path to the Wilson house.
Edna resumed her gardening chores, maintaining the dazzling display of scarlet, cream and blush-pink roses, which were her pride and joy and the talk of the neighborhood. Douglas had always teased his mother that she cared for her rosebushes more than she cared for her husband and sons, but everyone knew Edna Weaver’s big heart knew no bounds.
“Just you wait until Douglas comes home, Cathy,” her future mother-in-law liked to say over a cup of cocoa in the front room of her red-brick house. “We’ll take your wedding picture right here in front of the roses and everyone will say you’re the real American beauty.”
Edna Weaver tended toward exaggeration in everything she said and did. Her roses were the most beautiful; her sons and her husband, the most brilliant of men; and her almost daughter-in-law, the most perfect girl in the world. Edna Weaver also believed in happy endings, and these days that kind of cockeyed optimism was what Catherine sorely needed.
This sense of foreboding unnerved Catherine greatly. Although she had a serious nature, she invariably saw the best in others and believed that good things happened to good people. But ever since her dad had enlisted last December, she’d had the terrible sensation that nothing would ever be the same again. She did her best to push such dark thoughts aside, but they refused to be ignored, overtaking her late at night when her guard was down and her heart most vulnerable. It wasn’t right that the man she loved was so far away, that the plans they’d made for the future had to be stored away for the time being like winter blankets come springtime. Douglas was her love and her friend, and she missed him more than she’d ever imagined possible.
She wrote to him every night, long letters on her pastel stationery, letters filled with her hopes and dreams for the future still ahead of them. Dreams she shared with no one but him. Even the everyday happenings took on new importance. She told him that Count Fleet won the Kentucky Derby and that she went to see
for the third time and loved it more than she had the first. She memorized every word of his government-censored letters and spent endless hours trying to reconstruct the missing phrases. She drew funny pictures of their neighbors and wrote out the words to “As Time Goes By” in her most elegant hand.
And she promised him a life of sunshine and beer and little Weavers if he would just win the war and come back to her.
Late at night in the darkness of her room she tried to imagine their future. She could see their children, as blue eyed as she; as blond as the man she loved. A little girl with rosy cheeks and a lopsided smile sat on her big brother’s lap as he peered out from beneath the bill of his Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap. She could picture the tiny white house with crisp black shutters they would live in, and the smart striped wallpaper and even the Philco radio that would stand majestic and proud in the corner, but she couldn’t picture Douglas. Heart pounding, she would squeeze her eyes shut, trying to conjure him up in the darkness. A thick wheat-colored brow... a flash of sparkling eyes... but no more. He faded away each time like a dream come morning, leaving her alone and terrified.
She remembered his words, but the sound of his voice eluded her, also. The man she loved, the boy she’d grown up with, the one person she thought would be with her always, and she couldn’t recall the timbre of his voice or the way his hair looked in the sunshine.