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Authors: Morgan O'Neill

Tags: #Fiction, #Time Travel, #Historical, #General, #Rose, #Elizabethan, #Romance, #Suspense, #Entangled, #Time, #Thornless, #Select Suspense, #Travel

The Thornless Rose

BOOK: The Thornless Rose
9.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Thornless Rose

an Elizabethan Time Travel novel

Love is begun by time…

No one ever knew what really happened to Dr. Jonathan Brandon back in 1945. He simply disappeared from a London pub, leaving behind an unsolved mystery and his fiancée—Anne Howard’s grandmother. Seventy years later, Anne herself is haunted by the strange tale, along with inexplicable hallucinations straight out of Elizabethan England. Including a scarred, handsome man whose deep blue eyes seem to touch her very soul....

Anne wonders if there isn’t something more to the story. Is it even possible that Jonathan disappeared into the England’s dark past? And why does Anne keep hearing him whisper her name? Because now she too feels the inexorable pull of the past, not to mention an undeniable attraction for a man she doesn’t even know.

It’s just a matter of time before Anne will step back into history, and face a destiny—and a love—beyond imagining...

The Thornless Rose

an Elizabethan Time Travel novel

Morgan O’Neill

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Morgan O’Neill. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at

Select Historical is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

Edited by Candace Havens

Cover design by Kelley York

ISBN 978-1-63375-176-7

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition December 2014

For Joanna Lloyd, talented author and true friend. A million thank yous would not be enough for your steadfast support and loving kindness.

-Deborah O’Neill Cordes

To my brothers. They are my guardians, my helpers, my buddies. Heaven sent.

-Cary Morgan Frates

And the soul of the rose went into my blood...

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Come Into the Garden, Maud


24 December, 1945, London

The storm battered his body but not his unwavering good cheer.

Dr. Jonathan Brandon, flight surgeon RAF, smiled as he shut the pub’s heavy oak door against blustering wind and rain. Breathing in the familiar scents of tobacco and ale, he peeled off his gloves and sodden overcoat, then doffed his hat.

“Mr. Lloyd, a pint with bangers and mash,” he told the barman.

“Major.” Lloyd touched his forehead in a respectful half-salute.

Brandon walked to a corner table. Sitting on the bench, he placed the damp clothing beside him and glanced around, nodding to familiar faces. The combination of Christmas Eve and the storm had emptied the pub of its usual boisterous clientele. The poor blokes had probably left off the purchasing of gifts until now. Brandon chuckled, imagining them slopping around from shop to shop.

Lloyd came up beside him. “Here you are, then,” he said, putting the food and drink on the table. “This will do you good on such a bleedin’ awful day.”

“Agreed,” Brandon said.

“How much longer before they let you out of the service?”

Brandon patted the front of his uniform. “Catherine asked that I wear this to church this evening and also at our wedding on New Year’s Eve. Then I’ll be back to civvies and my own surgery.”

“You’re deservin’ of much good fortune, Major. I wish you an’ the lady all the best.” Lloyd studied the angry scar under Brandon’s left eye and then shifted his gaze. “You know we’re right proud an’ grateful of the work you did an’ all against those bloody Jerries, but it’ll be good to have you back in your regular togs, just the same.”

Nodding, Brandon took a long pull from his pint of ale, then tore into his food like a man starved. Rain drummed against the windows. As he ate, he heard no idle chatter. The patrons seemed withdrawn into themselves on this bleak midday.

The room grew dimmer. Brandon assumed a darker cloud had moved above the narrow alleyway outside, darker even than the ones that had hung low over London all day. He closed his eyes, savoring a mouthful of buttery mashed potatoes. But when he heard the sound of Mr. Lloyd’s terrified voice, desperate, shouting, yet strangely distant, he swallowed hard, dropped his cutlery, and opened his eyes.

“Major!” Lloyd yelled again. “For the love of Christ! Maj––”

The hair on Brandon’s neck rose, and his scalp tingled. He held his breath. His pulse pounded in his ears. The cutlery was gone. No trace of his half-finished lunch existed. No coat, gloves, or hat rested on the bench.

He looked up. The oak bar had vanished, the storeroom beyond closed off from the rest of the pub by a door with iron bars. He could just make out the candlelit interior of the storeroom, where large, oak casks rested upon a table.

Brandon glanced at the nearest wall. Smoky tapers flickered from tin wall sconces. Despite the candles, much of the room was shadowy. There was no sign of electricity anywhere.

He breathed in and out, in and out, desperately trying to calm himself. The smell of ale still lingered, now with tallow and human sweat mingled. Not a trace of tobacco smoke. Not a wisp remained.

“Steady, steady,” he told himself. “This isn’t real...can’t be real. It’ll pass, just like the other times.”

A woman screamed. Brandon focused on a dim shape in the far corner. She gaped at him and pointed. The rough-looking men she served turned.

Sweat bathed his brow. He remained still, waiting, gritting his teeth with uncertainty and mounting fear.

The barmaid cried out again.

“Wot the devil?” An unfamiliar man dressed in hose and doublet rushed from the back room. Fists bunched, he looked Brandon up and down.

“He appeared—like a wraith—out’a thin air,” the woman wailed, pointing at Brandon. “By Christ on his cross, ’tis true!”

The man narrowed his eyes. “Where’d he come from?”

“The air! The fobbin’ air!”

Brandon didn’t move, didn’t speak.
This time it’s too long
, he thought.
When am I going back? God

when? When?

Scowling, the men stood all at once and moved toward him. Words raced through Brandon’s mind.
This isn’t ending! Oh, bloody, bloody hell! Got to get out! Run!

Brandon jumped to his feet, raised a fist, and bellowed at the approaching men. When they hesitated, he lunged for the door. In an instant, he was running down the narrow alleyway. But there was no howling wind now, no driving rain. No daylight.

Just a crisp, cool evening and a sky full of stars.

Oh, dear God

Catherine. Catherine!

Part One

Chapter One

Summer, 2014, Chelsea

Anne Howard didn’t like snooping, but this was much too intriguing to ignore. After two decades of visits to her grandmother’s townhouse, how had she missed such a gorgeous old steamer trunk? For a fleeting moment, she tried to resist the impulse to look inside, but then she lifted the lid a crack and breathed in. Leather and aged paper. Whiffs of history, calling to her. The familiar attic suddenly held the promise of distant times and undiscovered treasure.

Smiling, Anne opened the lid all the way. She gently removed some packing tissue and rummaged a bit, finding a dried corsage made with a single yellowed rose, some white kid gloves, embroidered hankies, and other whatnots. Remnants of her grandmother’s youth, she decided, as she studied a forties-era, emerald-green hat with matching face veil. Digging into the bottom of the trunk, she found brown suede pumps and a camel corduroy jacket.

It was all pretty and quaint, but there was no sign of anything really extraordinary.
Ah, c’mon, Grandma, you must’ve hidden something in all of this besides old clothes.

Anne frowned. Why would she assume her grandmother had secrets? After all, she’d been one of the lucky ones, with a long, happy marriage to a wonderful man and a loving family, all wrapped in the glow of good health into old age.

Her gaze was drawn back to the faded rose, timeworn, yet still lovely. She and her grandmother shared a special bond right from the start, which was the very reason she’d spent most summers away from home, loving London above all other places in the world. Even Anne’s looks favored Catherine Hastings Howard; she’d inherited the same green eyes, wavy auburn hair, and quick smile.

It was a funny thing for a young American schoolteacher to admit, but her very proper British granny was even becoming a fan of the comedian Mike Myers. The more irreverent the humor the better, it seemed. A few days ago, an
Austin Powers
retrospective kept them roaring well into the gloom of a rainy June evening.

Not giving up, Anne reached under some old newspaper clippings and felt something hard and smooth. She ran her hands over the object—a jewelry box? —then pulled out a small rosewood chest, plum-dark and finely grained. She opened it, revealing an interior filled with yellowed envelopes, tied with a faded blue ribbon.

“For my darling, Catherine,” Anne whispered, reading the bold scrawl across the top envelope.
Wait a minute!
The writing was not in her grandfather’s hand. Curious, she started to untie the ribbon, then stopped when she heard the front door slam and her grandmother’s Cairn terrier bark.

“Anne, darling, where are you?” came Catherine’s cheerful voice from the foyer.

Letters in hand, Anne headed for the stairs and arrived in the entry hall just as her grandmother placed her umbrella in the brolly stand. Petite, with snow-white hair, Catherine Howard had aged gracefully. Her eyes still sparkled like green fire, her mind quick and clear.

“Devilish weather,” Catherine said. “You’d think it was November, not the height of summer.” She glanced toward the kitchen. “Has Mrs. Leach returned?”

“She’s still out shopping.” Smiling, Anne waved the envelopes. “I just found these. There’s a trunk in the attic I’ve never seen before and I couldn’t help snooping.”

“Oh dear, yes, Mrs. Leach and I have begun reorganizing.”

“This isn’t Grandpa’s handwriting, and I’m dying to know who wrote you love letters.”

Catherine took the envelopes and ran her thumb over the faded ribbon. “Do dry the dog, will you, darling?” she said as she moved toward the parlor.

Anne grabbed the towel from the hall tree and ruffled it through the dog’s wet fur. After he scurried off, she followed her grandmother. Faded chintz and glittering oddments of crystal and brass greeted her eyes. “So, Grandma, who wrote the letters?”

Catherine’s reading glasses were already perched on her nose as she settled onto the overstuffed sofa. “Jonnie,” she said softly, as she pulled on the ribbon and opened the top envelope. “He was my first love.”

Anne’s face must have mirrored her surprise, because Catherine patted her hand.

“Wow, it was really serious, then?” Anne asked.

“Yes, darling. Perhaps it’s time I told you about Jonnie, so you’ll finally know everything about me. I must admit I’ve been holding back until you were older and wiser.”

Anne nodded, recalling her heartbreak a few summers before, when her first love jilted her for a leggy blonde. Her grandmother had helped her get through it with patience and gentle insight. Now, it stunned her to realize Catherine might have been guiding her with the benefit of personal experience, her seemingly perfect life a bit more complicated than Anne had imagined.

“Darling, what is it?”

“This just reminded me of Alex. He was such a jerk. At the time, I could’ve sworn off men forever. So, did this guy dump you?”

“Good gracious, no! Jonathan Brandon was an upstanding man. He was a flight surgeon with the Royal Air Force. I met him in the spring of 1945. We were engaged to be married when he disappeared.”

“Oh, my gosh! In World War II?”

“No, the war was over. He went missing in London. It was nearly Christmas, and we were to be married on New Year’s Eve.”

Anne took her grandmother’s hand. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have brought this up. I had no idea.”

“It’s all right, darling. I don’t mind telling you this.” Catherine withdrew her hand, then patted Anne’s knee. “Jonnie stopped in for a pint at a pub—our favorite pub, you see. There was a table we especially liked in the far corner from the door, just perfect for little romantic chats. He had a bite to eat, and then he vanished. The police reported one of the patrons thought Jonnie went to the loo, but the man never noticed if he came back out. Another patron greeted him when he entered the pub, but never looked his way again. No one saw anything sinister at all, really, until...”

Anne got a chill.

“Until the owner came forward.” Shaking her head, Catherine stared into space. “I dare say, I thought he was a lunatic at first. What he said didn’t seem to make any real sense.”

A silence rose between them, and Anne felt torn between her curiosity and her concern for her grandmother’s feelings. “Grandma, we don’t have to talk about this.”

Catherine hugged Anne. “Oh, heavens, not to worry. It was all so long ago. I don’t mind talking about it. Scotland Yard could not establish what happened to Jonnie. He simply vanished. No one ever saw him again. The case remained open for years, but they had nothing to go on, not a scrap of a clue.”

“How awful.”

“Yes, many hearts were broken during the war years, and we were braced for it, but this was odd and unexpected. The Nazis had surrendered, after all, and our boys were home.”

“How old were you?”


“So, did Grandpa know him, too?”

“No, I met Arthur a few years afterward.” Catherine’s eyes got a faraway look. “We’d been together for sixty-three wonderful years when he died.”

“I know, Grandma,” Anne said gently.

Catherine looked directly into Anne’s eyes. “I told Arthur about Jonnie right at the start. There were no secrets between us.”

“Did it bother him?”

“No. Your grandfather was a confident man, and he knew I loved him. But Jonnie’s disappearance intrigued him, too. Once, he went back to the pub to have a look about.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, he truly did, some years after the vanishing. The trail was long cold by then, of course.”

“So, he didn’t find anything?”

Catherine shook her head as she opened the second envelope. “No, nothing.” She withdrew an old photograph. “Oh, my word! I remember this. That’s Jonnie and me at Brighton. We were on holiday, our first since the war. Good gracious, we were so young.”

Anne smiled. “A holiday with your fiancé? Was that allowed?”

“We were chaperoned, of course. My parents accompanied us.”

Catherine gave the black and white photo to Anne. The scene was a seaside pier. A tall, handsome man, around thirty, and a young woman—looking surprisingly like a petite version of herself—stared back at Anne. The man wore his RAF uniform, the girl a hat and smart suit with padded shoulders.

As Anne drew her face nearer to the picture, she could see Jonathan Brandon’s square jaw, his dark hair, and light-colored eyes.

Startled, she stared at the image, thinking she’d heard a whisper, a man’s voice saying her name, and fought the feeling of déjà vu. This was ridiculous, her usual historical overload, something she found herself doing all the time at museums. She’d insert herself into the moment when she locked eyes with an old portrait, sensing the presence of a once-living soul.

Seeking to steady her nerves, she considered the image more critically and spotted a scar on Brandon’s left cheek. “How’d he get the scar?”

“The airbase hospital where Jonnie worked was bombed,” Catherine explained. “He was fortunate. The doctors said if the shrapnel had hit a little higher, it would have taken his eye. Jonnie was a hero, you know. Although he was severely wounded, he rescued another man from the burning building. One of his colleagues was an excellent plastic surgeon. He planned to work on the scar, but he never got the chance.”

“I think the scar makes him look quite dashing.” Anne gazed at the photo, drawn to him still. For a moment she could say nothing more, afraid to express the fading hope she would also find her soul mate. “What color were his eyes, Grandma?”

“Blue.” Catherine gave a small sigh. “Your grandfather had blue eyes, too.”

Anne kissed her grandmother’s cheek. “You had two great loves in your lifetime. Most are lucky if they get one.”

“Oh, darling, you’ll find love! Don’t swear off men, just give it time. After Jonnie went missing, I felt quite lost, as you might imagine. Yet, when I least expected it, your grandfather entered my life. Things have a way of working out.”

“I know, Grandma.” Anne glanced at the photo again. “But they don’t make ’em like that anymore, do they?”

“Quite so. I had my very own Cary Grant for a time, and then I married my David Niven.” Catherine smiled. “And you’ll find someone every bit as wonderful.”

Anne sensed Catherine’s hopefulness, the wisdom that comes with age. But her grandmother’s optimism couldn’t erase her doubts. What she really needed was a nice, steady, faithful guy, a man who would love her for who she was.

Catherine sighed again. “I do hope Jonnie found happiness.”

What did that mean? Anne stared at her grandmother. “Do you actually think he’s still alive?”

Catherine gave her a sudden, strange look, a look so uncharacteristically unstrung that Anne felt a shiver race down her spine.

“Perhaps...yes. If I could just be certain he was happy, it would give me such peace.” She waved her hand. “Well, enough of that. Shall we make some tea?”

Anne could tell Catherine was hiding something significant. She wanted to unravel the mystery of Brandon’s disappearance, but, more importantly, she wanted to help her grandmother find the peace that had apparently eluded her for so many years, even if getting answers seemed impossible with the trail so cold.

“I want to look into this,” she said. “I’m sure I won’t find a thing, but I could start with the pub, like Grandpa did. It’s still around, isn’t it? Where is it?”

“That’s not a good idea.” Catherine frowned. “I’ve not set foot there since 1945.”

“But it still exists?” Anne persisted.

“This is London. We don’t tear down buildings just because they’re old, so it’s bound to be there still, but––”

“Grandma, don’t worry. I’ll be fine,” Anne cajoled. “Nothing happened to Grandpa when he went there, right?”

Catherine hesitated. “If I tell you where it is, you must promise to be careful.”

Anne nodded.

“It was at The Bishop’s Crook,” Catherine went on. “It’s rather close to a Catholic chapel—Medieval-era—that survived the Great Fire. I don’t recall the chapel’s name.”

“Wow, it’s a really old place, then.”

“It is,” Catherine said quietly. “So old there’s sure to be ghosts about.”

Catherine stood in the loft, her gaze drawn to a rack of coats, and to one coat in particular. Arthur’s dark gray mackintosh hung at the end of the rack. Limp. Empty. And yet...

Yet, she knew the coat still held his scent. She had wrapped herself in it more than once since his passing.

She moved toward the mackintosh and caught a whiff of Cuban cigars, mingled with a trace of peppermint. “Arthur, my darling, you understood me so well, didn’t you?” Her fingers ached as she touched the lifeless coat, wishing instead for the warm flesh of the man who’d worn it. “You knew Jonnie was my first love, yet you never questioned me, never felt jealous or betrayed. You left me with my memories of him, and for that, dear heart, I shall always be grateful.”

She faced a long shelf holding file cartons and sealed boxes. Jonnie’s things were there, given to her on a long ago wintry day by his elderly, grief-stricken father. Nigel Brandon had entrusted them to her, begging her to keep them near, in case his son ever found his way back home.

Sliding her hand toward the boxes, pushing, pulling, and fumbling, Catherine began to search. Suddenly, she spotted a dress box at the back of the shelf. Thick with sixty-odd years of dust, she wiped away the worst of it, then worked the box from the jumble of cartons.

Moving back to the old trunk, Catherine touched the lid. Her heart beat faster as she eased it off and gazed at Jonnie’s RAF kit. She unzipped the garment bag, slid her fingertips inside, and touched his gloves, then traced the brim of his hat. Pulling his folded overcoat toward her, she buried her nose in the heavy wool. She could sense him still—his aroma, the faint trace of Pears’ soap with its hint of thyme.

She thought back to the last time she had seen him, on the day before his vanishing.

Catherine sat in The Bishop’s Crook waiting for him, keenly watching the door and praying their time apart would soon end. The door of the pub burst open, and he stood there, the sunlight glinting off his blue-back hair, the scar on his left cheek red and fresh. The war hero. Dr. Jonathan Brandon.

BOOK: The Thornless Rose
9.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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