I’m delighted to be on the blog tour for Amelia Henley’s The Art of Loving You, publishling on July 22nd, 2021 by HQ.
Life isn’t always beer and skittles.
To be honest, when I first started reading this book, I didn’t know if I could finish it because of the subject matter. Having been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and tumor in the last year, some of this hit way too close to home for me, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read a book that delves into the way that we experience grief and loss. Emotionally, it didn’t seem to be the right time, or that’s what I told myself.
But I soldiered on with it, and I’m glad I did. So many of us have had to deal with unexpected grief in the last year, whether it be via illness or a sudden catastrophe that this book could not be more timely, nor more beautifully written. Ms. Henley’s honest, realistic portrayal of the many stages is grief is sometimes a sucker punch to the gut, because it’s so beautifully raw, it eeks out every bit of emotion out of you.
I found great comfort and relief in the characters of Sid and Norma, especially in their relationship. Although the primary relationship is of Libby and Jack, Sid and Norma taught me so much, and Norma’s Book of Kindness reminded me that indeed, life isn’t always beer and skittles but we can do things, small things, to help brighten the day of someone else.
In times past I’ve always heard that helping someone else out can sometimes make your own troubles seem easier, and truthfully, this is hard to put into practice, as is illustrated by Libby as she deals with what so many of us are dealing with right now: the unexpected and sometimes cruel changes of life.
Yet thank goodness there are the Jacks and Sids and Norma’s of this world who try to make life more beautiful one painting, one square, one page at a time. Simply breathtaking.
A must-read for everyone. I cannot rate this book highly enough.
It’s Out of Night’s one year book anniversary! To celebrate, it’s free for this weekend only (6/25 through 6/27) on all Amazon Kindle stores! Want the paperback edition? Well, it’s on sale too at a special price of $12.99 exclusively through Amazon. Grab this five-star reviewed read that both USA Today bestselling authors Ellie Midwood and Kathryn Guaci raved over.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for my candid review.
Love and Pollination by Mari Jane Law, published April 16, 2020 by Dubois Publishing
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
A laugh out loud, quirky, adorable book
If you are in need of a pick-me-up sort of book, with quirky, adorable characters, grab yourself a copy of this book because it had me reading into the wee hours of the morning it was so good. I honestly couldn’t put it down. It’s laugh out loud funny, endearing book filled with larger-than-life characters full of flaws, but you will root for them anyway.
I really loved Perdita and Saul’s story, along with Violet’s good-hearted meddling/matchmaking. As much as I loved Perdita and Saul, I honestly stayed for Violet, because she was the star of the book.
One of the most hilarious books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.
Today I’m pleased to be on the blog tour for Zahara and Lost Books of Light by Joyce Yarrow. It’s a page-turning, suspenseful book, full of mystery and twists and turns interwoven through time with danger following lead protaganist Alienor from the moment she arrives in Spain. Watch for my full review soon…
Zahara and the Lost Books of Light by Joyce Yarrow
Publication Date: December 13, 2020 Adelaide Books
Genre: Historical Fantasy
When Seattle journalist Alienor Crespo travels to Granada to apply for citizenship as a descendant of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, she uncovers her own family story, along with a hidden treasure trove of medieval Hebrew and Arabic books, saved from the fires of the Inquisition.
This “Library of Light” is being protected by a secretive group of literary caretakers. Alienor joins their struggle to safeguard the priceless manuscripts from discovery and destruction by a fanatical group devoted to restoring limpieza de sangre, purity of blood, to the Iberian Peninsula.
Crespo forms mystical bonds with her female ancestors, both Jewish and Muslim, who once faced the same dark forces aligned against her. What began as a routine, freelance assignment becomes front page news in Spain’s growing confrontation with its troubled past.
With a touch of magic realism honoring the mystics of Andalusia, as well as an emerging romance entangled in mystery, this fast-paced novel is rich with conflict and suspense.
Joyce Yarrow is the author of literary novels of suspense that “appeal to readers who enjoy unusual stories with an international setting.” – Library Journal
Her latest offering is a historical fantasy – ZAHARA AND THE LOST BOOKS OF LIGHT – from Adelaide Books in Dec 2020.
A New York City transplant now living in Seattle, Joyce began her writing life scribbling poems on the subway and observing human behavior from every walk of life.
Her published novels include ASK THE DEAD (Martin Brown), RUSSIAN RECKONING – available in hardcover as THE LAST MATRYOSHKA (Five Star Mysteries), RIVERS RUN BACK, co-authored with Arindam Roy (Vitasta, New Delhi).
She is a Pushcart Prize Nominee with short stories and essays that have appeared in Inkwell Journal, Whistling Shade, Descant, Arabesques, and Weber: The Contemporary West and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Yarrow is a member of the Sisters in Crime organization and has presented workshops on “The Place of Place in Mystery Writing” at conferences in the US and India.
I’m pleased to be on the blog tour for Mitchell James Kaplan’s Rhapsody. Some years ago I saw two biopics from the Golden Age of Hollywood focusing on two titans of the Jazz Age: Cole Porter, Night and Day from 1946 and George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue from 1945. The moment I heard of Kaplan’s book, I knew I had to have it. I am convinced there needs to be a film about Kay Swift, and a screen adaptation of Kaplan’s Rhapsody is it.
Rhapsody is a joy for music lovers, romantics, and anyone who loves the golden age of entertainment. Kaplan’s lyrical tale of life in the Jazz Age is every bit as worthy of the praise of Fitzgerald. While the novel centers on Kay Swift’s relationship with Gershwin, Kay is rightfully the star here. You don’t always love her, in fact, at times I really didn’t, however following her journey as an artist versus being a wife and mother, which is what she was expected to be, is what is important here. Rhapsody shines a dazzling light on the first woman to write a hit Broadway play in a time where women of her status were told to just live a life of leisure and let men do the work. Her ultinate struggle is our struggle: Is life defined by what others think our happiness should be and soceity mores, or do we follow what sings to our souls? Do we stay in the status quo or do we risk everything to love that kindred spirit that gives us a piece of ecstacy? I ached for her and I celebrated with her.
This one of the best books I’ve read thus far for 2021. Highly recommended. Gimlet drinking optional.
One evening in 1924, Katharine “Kay” Swift—the restless but loyal society wife of wealthy banker James Warburg and a serious pianist who longs for recognition—attends a concert. The piece: Rhapsody in Blue. The composer: a brilliant, elusive young musical genius named George Gershwin.
Kay is transfixed, helpless to resist the magnetic pull of George’s talent, charm, and swagger. Their ten-year love affair, complicated by her conflicted loyalty to her husband and the twists and turns of her own musical career, ends only with George’s death from a brain tumor at the age of thirty-eight.
Set in Jazz Age New York City, this stunning work of fiction, for fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, explores the timeless bond between two brilliant, strong-willed artists. George Gershwin left behind not just a body of work unmatched in popular musical history, but a woman who loved him with all her heart, knowing all the while that he belonged not to her, but to the world.
“Mitchell James Kaplan pens a lilting, jazzy ballad as catchy as a Gershwin tune, bringing to vibrant life the complicated relationship between classically trained composer Kay Swift and free-wheeling star George Gershwin. Their musical bond is as powerful as their passion, and jazz-soaked gin-drenched Broadway is their playground through the tumultuous years of the Great War and Prohibition. Rhapsody will have you humming, toe-tapping, and singing along with every turn of the page.” –Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK and THE HUNTRESS
“We all know Gershwin, but how many know he was ‘the man behind the woman,” the conflicted, extraordinary Katherine ‘Kay’ Swift? Mitchell James Kaplan illuminates her in Rhapsody, bringing his impressive knowledge of history, composition, and the heart’s whims to bear on this shining rendition of Swift and Gershwin’s star-crossed love.” –Therese Anne Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of Z and A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD
“In Rhapsody, Mitchell James Kaplan brings to lyrical life the romance between Kay Swift and George Gershwin. A gifted musician in her own right, Kay was no mere accompanist to Gershwin’s genius; she was a true partner, unfortunately little remembered today. Kaplan’s vivid prose and empathetic characterization shines a spotlight on this remarkable woman who contributed so much to American music.” –Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and Mistress of the Ritz
“Mitchell James Kaplan’s Rhapsody shines a blazing light on the celebrated George Gershwin, uncovering the man behind the legend through the story of the woman he loved, Kay Swift, a brilliant musician caught in the swiftly moving mores of New York’s Jazz Age. Rich with history and packed with intricate detail, Rhapsody soars.” –Randy Susan Meyers, bestselling author of THE WIDOW OF WALL STREET and WAISTED
“Mitchell James Kaplan has captured a whole world in his luminous journey through the jazz age in fast-paced New York City with this love story of composer Kay Swift and the brilliant but elusive George Gershwin. Kay first heard him playing his Rhapsody in Blue, but she was married to a wealthy man and Gershwin could be faithful only to his own genius. Through Broadway theaters and concerts, he was rising so fast that neither the Great Depression, nor the darkening rise of Hitler across the sea, nor the impossible difficulties of writing the first black folk-opera Porgy and Bess could stop him. Through their love affair, Gershwin and Kay gave fire to each other’s music until nothing could derail his meteoric success but time.” –Stephanie Cowell, American Book Award-winning author of CLAUDE AND CAMILLE and THE PHYSICIAN OF LONDON
About the Author
Mitchell James Kaplan graduated with honors from Yale University, where he won the Paine Memorial Prize for Best Long-Form Senior Essay submitted to the English Department. His first mentor was the author William Styron.
After college, Kaplan lived in Paris, France, where he worked as a translator, then in Southern California, where he worked as a screenwriter and in film production.
He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his family and two cats.
The final chapter begins today and it’s Lydie and the gang in the ultimate showdown with Elliott Cutterworth. Out now in eBook on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo! Get your copy today. Need to catch up on the series? No problem! For a limited time only, the other books in the series are on sale for 99 cents! Perfect for binge reading!
For those of you wanting the print edition, it will be coming out in the near future. Due to some unforeseen health circumstances, I’ve had to push back its release. I will be sure to let you know when signed copies are available for purchase.
We recently celebrated World Cancer Day. Siddhartha Mukherjee, an Indian-born American physician and oncologist, once named cancer The Emperor of All Maladies. We’ve all been impacted by this Emperor during our lives, either through own journeys or supporting friends and loved ones. Today I’m sharing my friend Hope Aguilar’s story.
I first met Hope several years ago while teaching English abroad in Europe. She and I were roommates, two girls of faith from Mississippi and Texas who although were from different backgrounds and lifepaths, had so much in common. She quickly became one of my friends.
Hope has since those days in Europe taught in the Middle East before returning to her native Texas. All the while I got to know during our teaching days, I never knew that she was in remission from late-stage ovarian cancer. But that’s Hope. She has the kind of infectious joy and optimism that would never let you know something was trying to kick her butt. Hope doesn’t roll like that, though.
She published her story in her book Hope Through Cancer, recently launched a podcast, Talk Time with Hope, and published an article on CureToday.com.
“I still very much believe that there is life after, and during, cancer. That, yes, cancer can break our bodies, but it cannot break our spirits – if we don’t allow it to. That, yes, cancer may make life hard, physically, psychologically, and financially, but it doesn’t have to mean that life is over. At least that is what I’m choosing to believe.”
from Your Life Is Not Over Cause of Cancer, published on CureToday
Hope recently came out of remission again and after surgery is undergoing chemotherapy. When she asked me to share her GoFundMe page, I couldn’t help but share her wisdom and journey with you. To support her in journey, please consider giving what you can to her GoFundMe page:
It’s Christmas Eve in 2020, and well, this year is a bit of an unprecedented one for many of us. A number of you may be spending Christmas alone or far away from family members this year for the first time in a long time. It’s not exactly the Christmas we hoped for, but here it is.
I realize that a number of family sagas portray heartwarming scenes at Christmas, like something out of a Hallmark movie. But whether it’s 2020 or not, Christmas for a number of people is anything but a Hallmark movie. Many face grief and sadness, and a sense of loss at a time that’s supposed to be so joyful.
One of my favorite Christmas programs is A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the reason I think I love it so much is because it deals with that subject head on. Charlie Brown is depressed because he’s supposed to feel good at Christmas, but he doesn’t. He is looking for meaning or something to bring him joy. He learns that Christmas can be found in the smallest of things.
So in spirit of that, and in of 2020, my present to you in this unprecedented year is an excerpt from my latest novel, Out of Night. It’s Christmas Eve 1968, and Lydie is waiting for a visit from her family whilst being a patient in a psychiatric hospital. I won’t give any spoilers, but perhaps Lydie and her family will find enough light to make it through a difficult situation.
From my house to yours, I wish you peace and hope this holiday season and a brighter year to come next year.
Excerpt from Out of Night by Kellie Butler. Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.
On Christmas Eve, Lydie took out a new frock from her wardrobe. She’d found the long-sleeve red wool sheath dress in a shop in downtown Topeka right after Thanksgiving. She’d seen it a couple of times as she had passed the brightly lit window whilst on her way to her regular pilgrimages to the yarn shop to buy wool.
Normally, Lydie didn’t get so dolled up since she’d arrived at the hospital. No one really cared what you wore. But today was special because Henry and the kids were coming.
Lydie’s fingers glided along the jewel neckline of the garment, encrusted with large green stones sewn on like a necklace. She hadn’t brought any jewelry except for her wedding band. Henry had her emerald and diamond engagement ring at home. To help with her recovery, he had sent a couple of photo albums with pictures dating back to their engagement on New Year’s Eve of 1948. Edward and Velma had taken a photograph of a smiling Lydie and Henry on that night as they rang in the new year to ‘Auld Lang Syne.’
It would only be a few more hours until visiting time. She told Henry she would meet them in the visitor’s lounge located just outside of her ward, where they could sit comfortably in chairs. She hoped he would like her dress. The kids probably wouldn’t care. She went to the hair salon yesterday and had her hair set for today. She wanted Henry to see she looked well. Not because she wanted him to take her home, but to show him she had made great progress so far.
Back at that other place, they had helped her put on a shapeless cotton shirtdress and a wool coat. She imagined that she had appeared frumpy. The kids hadn’t been there, and she had been glad they hadn’t seen her in such a state. Lydie had always tried to keep up her appearance until she just couldn’t anymore. Something had died within her after Cole went to his school.
As she lay the frock on the back of her desk chair, someone tapped on her door. A nurse came in and set her breakfast tray and medication on the desk. Lydie sat down at her desk, and picked up the cover off her breakfast tray. Today it was eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast with a cup of fruit and orange juice. She picked up her little paper cup with meds.
Lydie normally didn’t have meds in the morning, but this week she was nervous about Henry’s visit, and had requested something to help calm her nerves today. Dr. Sletter was the one who usually ordered her medications, and after some persuading, he had obliged. Lydie had taken a sleeping aid Thanksgiving night, although why, she wasn’t sure. The turkey and stuffing at dinner that evening had done the job.
She finished her breakfast and then dressed. This one had a zippered back, and Lydie lowered the zipper with ease. She wondered if it would zip up as easily. She didn’t have Henry’s long limbs, and sometimes she cursed when her short arms couldn’t reach her neck. Someone needed to do something about that. Ladies like her mother or grandmother never had that problem because they had a maid waiting on them. Lydie hadn’t had someone dressing her since she was twelve. One day, they need to make zippers that were a little larger or something so women with short arms won’t have to ask someone to do it, or else contort their bodies trying to zip it themselves.
As she put on her slip, Lydie realized it fit a little tighter than it had when she had arrived. She had gained weight. Not that she was overweight, but she was squishier than she had been before. She hoped the frock would fit, otherwise, she’d have to wear an everyday one.
Lydie slid into the dress as it grazed the curves of her hips and hugged her body. It wasn’t form-fitting, but it wasn’t as loose as she’d like for it to be. On the mannequin in the shop, it was supposed to be a bit looser than this. She took a deep breath and zipped up the back. Well, at least she didn’t feel like a stuffed sausage. Lydie could breathe in it. It would do.
After slipping into her shoes, she glanced down at her gold wedding band. Maybe Henry would bring her engagement ring so she could wear it during the visit. She put on her robe to protect her clothes as she took out her makeup case. Since she’d arrived, Lydie hardly ever wore makeup. Today was a special occasion, though. She applied just rouge on her cheeks to give her porcelain skin some color.
Taking a comb off her desk, she glided it through her straightened shoulder-length hair before combing the fringe. On a whim, she told the hairdresser yesterday to flatten her usually wavy hair. Staring at her stick-straight tresses, Lydie scrunched her nose and bit her lip. She’d never had straight hair before. What was the word for it? Mod. Yes, definitely mod. Maybe too mod for her family. Sighing, she pulled it back into an updo.
She set her comb down and made herself smile.
At three, she gathered her courage and headed downstairs into the lobby to head for the Christmas Eve reception over in the Hopkins building. She caught up with Imogene and Nola Faye as they headed out the door with a throng of other patients.
“Is your family coming to visit, Lydie?” Imogene asked. “Are they able to make the trip?”
Lydie nodded. “Yes, they’ll be in sometime today. I’m afraid they’re only staying a couple of days because Henry has to get back to work.”
“It’s supposed to snow tomorrow,” Nola Faye said. “The kids might like that. At least one of us getting to see family. Mine don’t care about me anymore.”
“We’re your family, honey,” Imogene said. Lydie nodded.
Nola Faye’s eyes misted as she reached over and squeezed their hands. “I see neither of you ladies joined the patient choir. They are performing today.”
Lydie shook her head. “I can play the piano, but I cannot sing. As my kids say, I make a joyful noise. How joyful that is to other people, well, that’s another story.”
Imogene giggled. “That’s exactly how I feel. Caterwauling sounds better than what comes out of my mouth. At least we’ll have refreshments”
“Christmas cookies and punch.” Nola Faye nodded. “I bet that’s what they’ll have. Is your husband bringing you dinner, Lydie?”
“I don’t know. He’s arriving after five. Maybe he will, or maybe we’ll head down to the cafeteria for dinner.”
“Blech. I hope he brings something,” Nola Faye said. “You’d better not load up on those refreshments.”
“What about you, Imogene?” Lydie asked. “Do you have anyone coming this weekend?”
Imogene waited until they passed through the front door before she answered. “Well, I have a sister in St. Louis, but they hardly ever come to visit. I imagine with them having Christmas Eve mass tonight, they’ll wait until tomorrow to drive over, if they do at all. There’s always something going on with her.”
“How far is it to St. Louis?” Lydie asked.
“Oh, a few hours.”
“I hope they come and see you, Imogene,” Lydie said.
“Well, with this flu stuff going around, I don’t know. At least they’re allowing visitors,” Imogene said. “You know, I don’t understand something. Back in the old days, when you had things like this, your family took care of you. You had to be seriously ill to go to a hospital. It seems like some of these places are more like babysitters for families who don’t want to have to take care of their loved ones. I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone. Take you and your memory loss from that other place, Lydie. That needs special care. But people like me and Nola Faye, well, at one time, our families would have taken care of us instead of paying all this money to have people look after us.”
“I hear they’re moving to where places like this won’t be long term anymore,” Nola Faye said. “I don’t know what my family will do with me. I’m too young for an old folks’ home, and I’m too old for anything else. I guess they’ll find somewhere they can put me and not have to lift a finger,” she said as they walked down the drive together. “No, it’s not like how it used to be. Be glad you girls at least have families that pretend to care. Mine stopped, and I know it.”
“Now, don’t you be down like this on Christmas Eve, Nola Faye. We’re here for you,” Lydie said.
Nola Faye sniffled, and her voice caught as she took Imogene and Lydie’s hands, “Thank you, kindly. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
For the last bit, the trio walked in silence until they reached the reception building. They eyed the tables full of food, and Nola Faye’s eyes lit up like a kid in a sweets shop. Lydie and Imogene nodded their heads, and took their positions near one of the Christmas decorations so they could hear the choir, and keep a good eye on Nola Faye. Just a couple more hours, and Henry and the kids would be with her. Please don’t let them miss that flight.
At four-thirty, Lydie made her way back to her room. Touching up her lipstick and powder, she grabbed the bag of gifts she’d place on her neatly made bed and headed for the visitors’ lounge. She hoped upon hope that she got there before Henry so she could scout out the best table. She knew from chatting with some other patients it would be packed. Selecting a table away from the blaring noise of the television sets, she placed her shopping bag full of gifts down to mark her spot.
Smoothing her frock, she inspected the surrounding area again, making sure it was perfect. Waving at a few patients she recognized, Lydie grabbed a deck of cards from a nearby table, sat down, and started dealing her first game of solitaire to calm her nerves. She hoped her kids wanted to see her.
Patty spotted her from across the room and came over. “So, you’re getting visitors today, huh?” She leaned over and said, “Well, don’t get your hopes up. Don’t you know that the ones who come to visit on holidays are the ones who don’t really care? They show up because they have to. They’d rather be at home, not spending time with crazy people in a hospital.”
“Patty, that’s an unkind thing for you to say,” Lydie said.
Patty scoffed. “Look at you in that number like you are hot stuff. I bet you hope you can get your husband away in a corner somewhere for a little action, huh? You’re so desperate, it’s flashing from you like a neon sign. Look at those gifts. Hah! You brought them your little paintings and your knitting. They’ll toss it into the garbage can the moment they leave. You just watch.”
“Patty, stop it! Stop it right now!” She would not let the girl ruin today for her.
“Oh, are we angry? I’m sorry to have spoiled your little holiday.”
Patty cackled so loud that a nurse and an attendant came over. “That’s enough, Patty. Just because you don’t receive visitors doesn’t mean others can’t. Now come on. You’re headed back to your room if you can’t get along.”
Patty stuck out her arms and put her wrists together. “Lock me up! Go ahead! Put me in the cold wrap today! That’s what you want to do! Better yet, put me in the hydrotherapy room!”
Not giving in to Patty’s behavior, they escorted her away. The girl turned around and flashed a wicked grin. “They’re visiting because they pity you! What a bunch of losers!”
When Patty was gone, peace gradually came over the room again. Eventually, everyone returned to playing cards, watching television, or reading their books. Lydie reshuffled her deck and started a fresh game of solitaire. She had to reframe her mind so her family wouldn’t see her upset.
She had played three hands of solitaire, and she began to wonder if they were coming at all. What if he had been called back in to work? Patty would never let her hear the end of it. She started on her fourth hand when out of the corner of her eye, she spotted them: a group of three kids teenagers followed by a tall, lanky man with golden brown hair at the door. He was holding a bouquet of white and red roses, and a large green box tied with twine she knew well. The kids were holding presents, too. They made their way through the crowd towards Lydie, who wanted to wrap her arms around them, but was afraid she might frighten them. She held her arms wide open when they reached her.
“Hi, Mom.” Suzy was the first to approach. Her long, silky black hair hung in a ponytail that came just below her shoulders, and her frame was as slender as it had always been.
Lydie threw her arms around her and enveloped her in a hug. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, Mom,” Suzy nodded and squeezed her tight.
Lydie let go briefly and took Nora into her arms next. “Goodness, Nora! You’ve grown so much. How are you, darling?”
“I’m okay, Mom. You look, well, you look great.” Nora said. “You look more like yourself.”
Lydie knew what Nora meant by that. She had seen how apprehensive they had been as they entered the room. She exchanged glances with Henry, who shrugged his shoulders.
She released Nora and was preparing to wrap her arms around Bobby when she took a step back, her eyes wide open in amazement. “Bobby, you are nearly as tall as your father!”
It was Bobby who flung his arms around his mother. “Hey, Mom. Yeah, I’m going to be as tall as him and Baba one day.”
“But you’re only fourteen, my little boy. What are you eating back at home?”
“Just the stuff the other ballplayers eat.”
Lydie released Bobby, but had her hands around his arms. “Ballplayer? When did you start playing sports?”
“I got on the junior varsity baseball team last year, Mom. Next year I’m trying out for varsity.”
“What position do you play?”
“Oh, I’m third base. I’m a good hitter, too. Ask Dad.”
“My little boy is growing up.” Her eyes welled up with tears. Bobby moved over so his father could step forward.
“Henry!” Lydie flung her arms around him, and he enveloped her in his arms, pecking her softly on the temple. She pecked him on the cheek. “I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to come with you working so hard and the flu going around. Thank goodness you’re here.”
“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away from seeing you, Lydie.”
Turning to her kids, she said, “Why don’t we all sit down? I got a good table for us.”
Her kids sat down awkwardly in the chairs, while Henry took his place beside her. “We brought you a few things, sweetheart.”
“Thank you, darlings. I’m so grateful just to see you! I have some things for you, too. Granted, they’re things that I made. I wasn’t sure what you might like this year.”
“Your dress is pretty, Mom,” Suzy said.
“Thank you, sweetheart. I bought at a shop downtown, close to the yarn shop where I purchase my wool. I usually do that on days I’m going to adjunctive therapy.”
“What’s that, Mom?” Bobby asked.
“Oh, it’s a posh word for doing things that help you heal, things that bolster your spirits. There’s a nice building not far from here where we paint, draw, sculpt, make ceramics, knit, design floral arrangements, and all sorts of things. Your mommy has been painting and knitting up a storm these past few months.”
“I like it, Mom,” Nora said. “Your dress, I mean. How long are you staying here this time?”
“Nora, remember what we talked about?” Henry sent her a reproachful glance.
“Oh, sorry, Mom.” Nora looked down at the table.
“It’s all right, darling. I’m going to be here for a few more months, probably until the end of summer. At least that is what the doctors say. I’m getting much better, though. It’s peaceful here, and it’s helping me heal greater than that other place I went to. I’ll be back with you before you know it. Enough about me, though, I want to hear about you.”
Suzy took out a memory book and passed it to her. “Dad said you can have photographs in your room, so we made you this album of stuff we’ve done over the last year or so. That way you can look at it.”
“You did this for me? And I can keep it?” Lydie gasped and put her hand over her mouth.
“Yes, Mom.” Suzy nodded her head.
Lydie caressed the dark blue album gingerly. “Thank you so much, darling. That is one of the best presents you could give me, other than being here.” She opened it up and started devouring the pages.
“There’s Bobby’s ballgames and trophies, Nora’s art things, and my piano recitals. We took a lot of pictures around the house, so you can even see we’re taking care of things at home for you.”
“Thank you,” Lydie whispered. “Oh, thank you so much.”
Nora pushed over a scrapbook. “Here, Mom, I put a lot of my drawings and a couple of watercolors into a scrapbook, like Dad did of all the drawings you sent him from Paris.”
Lydie opened the scrapbook and marveled at the abstract drawings and watercolors. “You’re even more talented than I was at your age, Nora. I will cherish these. You will probably be a better artist than I am.”
“Oh, no, Mom. These are my best ones. I threw a lot of them away.”
“I’ll have them on my desk with pride,” Lydie said. “I would like to hang all of them up in my room to see every day. Don’t lose your gift, Nora. You have it.”
“Thank you, Mom. One day I’m going to study in Paris, just like you.”
“Did you know that one of Mommy’s doctors worked in Paris for a while? He worked with the Public Health Service. Your father worked with them during the war.”
“Did Dad work in Paris?” Nora grew wide-eyed.
Lydie laughed. “No, he didn’t. My doctor worked for the Health Service here in the US too, though.” She winked at Henry.
“Really, Lydie?” Henry asked. “You haven’t told me that.”
“Well, I see him to sort out my medication. He’s on-call occasionally, too. Nice young man.”
Bobby took out a bag. “I have nothing to give you as far as that kind of stuff, Mom. I told teammates you were sick, and we all signed a baseball for you.” He passed it over. “That way you can look at it and know we’re all rooting for you.”
“I thought you might be angry with me for not remembering when I was home.”
“We’re not angry, Mom. Dad explained about your memory, and that you’re here to get better. So, we’re trying to help you.”
“Thank you, darlings.” Lydie leaned over and kissed each one. “I can’t thank you enough.”
They held onto her for a while until finally their legs grew restless and they sat down at the table.
“Well, it’s going to be hard for me to top that,” Henry said. “But I brought you flowers and a cake from Edinger’s.”
Lydie’s nose crinkled up in delight as she opened the green box tied with string. A Brooklyn blackout cake, her favorite. “I thought I recognized that box. Norma used to bring some to the dorm back at Barnard when she came back from visiting her parents.”
“Speaking of Barnard, I can see you’re eating well here, Lydie. You have the figure you used to have in college.”
“Henry Bainbridge, are you saying that I’ve put on weight?” Lydie raised her eyebrow and put her hands on her hips.
“You have, but it looks beautiful on you.” He winked. “Kids, when I met your mother in college, I found out she was a magnificent cook. I was smitten the moment I ate her roast chicken. I’m going to see if the nurse can give me a hand in slicing this cake. Maybe they’ll have some napkins.”
As Henry left, an uneasy silence fell over the table.
“I suppose it’s not what you expected, is it?” Lydie asked.
“Well, Dad said it would be different,” Nora said weakly. “Why are these people just getting up and not saying anything before they leave?”
“Well, people do odd things. Best to not judge them.”
Bobby nodded, and Lydie opened the book that Suzy gave her. “I know this must be awkward for you. I just want to thank you for coming. That’s the best present you can give me.”
“Dad gave us a big lecture last week,” Nora said.
“Did he? What about?”
“Nora,” Suzy warned. “You know not to start anything. You were the one who really got in trouble last week.”
Lydie turned from Suzy to Nora. “I take it that it was the boy trouble you were in?”
“Gee, thanks, Suzy. You’re such a tattletale.” Nora rolled her eyes. “Great, you just ruined it. You know we’re not to upset Mom.”
“Well, given that I saw that look your father gave you earlier, something happened last week.” Nora remained silent. “Mhm. I may have lost some of my memory, Nora, but I haven’t lost my senses completely.”
“Then you wouldn’t be in here,” she muttered.
“What was that?” Lydie sat straight up.
“Nothing,” she mumbled.
Henry returned with napkins and cake on paper plates. He saw Lydie’s tense posture and how Nora’s attention was turned towards the television sets. Bobby and Suzy shifted in their chairs. “What’s going on here?”
“Ask Nora,” Suzy pouted. “She has ruined everything.”
Henry set the plates down and sighed as he sat down beside Lydie. “Sweetheart, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, darling. Thank you for bringing the cake. Now, why don’t we all enjoy it, hmm?” Lydie shot Henry a warning glance.
He leaned over and whispered, “What is it?”
“I’ll tell you later,” she murmured, and dived into the decadent slice of chocolate cake with chocolate filling and even more chocolate icing with a crumb coating. “Norma gave this to me for my twenty-first birthday. I remember that because I was so full of cake that I could hardly eat a thing when Henry and my friends surprised me by taking me to the Hawaiian Room that night for dinner. I hardly ate a thing off that Pupu platter.”
Lydie finished her cake, and the kids were done with theirs.
“Mom, can we go watch television?” Bobby asked.
“Sure, darlings. Just mind that other people are watching it, too. Don’t ask them to change the channel.”
“Okay, Mom,” Suzy said. All three kids rose from the table. “See you in a bit.”
Lydie’s gaze followed them until they sat down in front of one of the televisions. Assured they could speak privately, she turned to Henry. “What happened last week?”
Henry groaned. “This was not supposed to come up during our visit.”
“Maybe it’s just too much for them.”
“Which is why they were supposed to keep this pleasant so we could all get adjusted.” He frowned. “We can’t even get through Christmas Eve without something.”
“Are you going to tell me what happened? It’s something, because Nora is still cross.”
Henry shook his head and groaned. “Very well, Nora cut class with a boy named Cal and ended up in Staten Island. A ferry worker thought they looked out of place and called the police. I called Doris, who had Norma with her. I went and got her. By the way, Norma and Doris send their regards, and Doris gave me a pan of lasagna.”
“You’d better send her some cake, along with her pan.”
“She won’t take anything. Nora is having an attitude lately. She’s probably doing this today to get back at me.”
“I don’t know. I think she’s upset I left her alone there. To think I used to get mad at Alistair because he wouldn’t let me go to dancing lessons.”
“You never snuck off with a boy, though,” Henry said, and took a bite of his cake.
“No, there was no chance of that. Not even when I was in Blackpool. Too many people around. I’m glad the girls stepped in.”
“Yeah. The kids hate me right now, Lydie. I didn’t want today to be like this. I wanted this visit to be wonderful for you. For all of us.”
“Well, we’ve spent several years bottling things up to where everything would be smooth and look where it got us. Maybe by tomorrow things will have settled down. I could tell they were shocked when they walked in.”
“Yes, I tried to prepare them, you know.”
Lydie reached over. “Well, I know what I looked like at the other place. I wanted you to see I’ve made progress. After they get over this hurdle, maybe things will be easier. Fourteen was a rotten age for me.”
Henry cleared his throat and changed the subject. “You look well, Lydie. Much better than I had hoped.”
“Good.” Lydie smiled. “You look pretty well, yourself. I see JoAnn takes good care of you.”
“Sort of. I get by,” he said. “Aidan and Amy said hi, too, by the way. So did Francine.”
“Tell them hi for me.”
“Since it’s just us, how’s your memory, sweetheart?”
“Getting better every day. I still have months of treatment left, but we’re going to work on that come January. You know, the real work. We’ve already started on some of it, but my doctors have an idea of how to help me.”
“Mhm. Have they mentioned what those might be?”
“Well, things that will help me be able to stay well after I leave here, whenever that will be.” She glanced around the cheerful room. “I like it here, much more than I thought I would. I fought tooth and nail the last time, you know. I did what I had to so I could get back home to you. Granted, I didn’t want it to be in the shape that I was. Losing my memory wasn’t my idea of a release. This time, though, it’s different.”
Henry cocked his head. “How so?”
“Because I need to be here. Not for you or the kids, although I love you dearly, but I need to sort things out for myself. I had become a shell of myself, depleted of anything left to give. I was growing bitter and afraid. Afraid I’d be put away like Cole. I suppose I had so many feelings that surged up from my parents leaving me money to take care of me for life. I realized they probably knew I was sick in some way, and they wanted me to be taken care of. I got scared. I took it out on you, and I was thinking more of myself than what you wanted. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have thrown things at you. You were going through just as much as me, but I focused inward because I was so frightened.”
“We don’t have to discuss that now, Lydie.” His gaze left hers and traveled around the room as he shifted in his chair. “Let’s just spend time together, huh?”
She smiled. “Okay.”
“Your dress is beautiful.”
Lydie blushed. “I splurged a little on it. I wanted something special for your visit. You look pretty good yourself. I have presents for you and the kids.”
“You don’t need to give us anything.”
“You haven’t even seen it.” She picked up a tube out of the shopping bag and gave it to him. “That one is yours.”
Henry eyed it and unfastened the lid off the cardboard tube. “Where did you get this tube?”
“A place in town.”
“Mhm.” He pulled out a large roll of watercolor paper tied with twine. Rolling the twine down, he unrolled the paper and placed it in front of him on the table and gasped.
“It’s a replica of the painting I entered the art exhibition the foundation hosted recently. It garnered a lot of attention. Mary loves it.”
He studied the ball painted with many colors. “This differs from your earlier work, Lydie. More abstract.”
“Yes. I just paint what flows out. No understudies or drawings. Just pure expression. It’s proving to be a fruitful period, like nothing I’ve never painted before.”
“Well, I wish I could have the original, but I’m going to take this and get it framed. It’s going in my study or near my workbench at the hospital. What did you make the kids?”
“An afghan for Cole, and some jumpers for Bobby, Nora, and Suzy, if they will wear them. I just got the latest pattern to make frocks for the girls, but I don’t know if they will want them.”
“Will you have time for that?”
“Darling, you have plenty of time in a hospital.”
“True, sounds like you might be busy coming up, though.”
“I will have time to knit and paint. I just don’t want to waste a lot of yarn on something the girls won’t wear.”
“Nora is more fashion-conscious. Suzy won’t care,” Henry said rather matter-of-factly.
“Nora has a bit too much of her mother in her,” Lydie conceded and winked. “What have we created?”
“I don’t know, but they are giving me a run for my money right now.”
She leaned over and caressed his cheek. “I love you, darling.”
“I love you, sweetheart.” He took her hand and grazed his lips on her soft skin. “Hey, can you leave the hospital tomorrow?”
“I don’t see why not. Check with the nurse about it. It’s supposed to be frightfully cold tomorrow, with snow possible.”
“I was thinking we could spend some time together after breakfast. We could look at Christmas decorations or something.”
“I love that idea. If it’s too cold, we could always visit here. I don’t want you or the kids getting sick.”
“Well, we have had very little of the Christmas spirit back home, although I see the hospital is all decorated. Look at the snowmen on the tables and the greenery. Who all did that?”
“Oh, some patients got together in the greenhouse and made them, including the big display out on Sixth. I had a nasty cold the day they’d organized it, otherwise I would have helped out. Well, we’ll make the best of it tomorrow, whatever it’ll be.”
“Agreed, sweetheart.” He raised her hand to his lips again and brushed it softly. When a nurse walked by, he sheepishly released it.
Oh, Henry. You and your sheepish grin. At least he had said nothing bad about her hair.
Henry and the kids stayed for dinner, and then they strolled over to the chapel as a family for Christmas Eve. Henry left Lydie at the entrance to the hospital, and he and the kids returned to their rental car. Visitor hours were over, and they needed to get back to the hotel.
That night as Lydie returned to her ward, she heard the crew of the Apollo 8 mission broadcast live from space as they orbited the moon. They read from scripture. Lydie hoped Henry and the kids had heard it. Bobby would be heartbroken not to hear a live broadcast from space.
Lydie floated on air as she returned to her room. She carefully set her presents and the vase of flowers on her desk before she undressed. Today had gone better than she had ever planned. Just across town, she imagined her family was nestling into their hotel beds. Well, if Bobby could sleep.
She imagined Henry had turned over on his side to block the glare of the television set. Bobby probably would stay up until they played the anthem at midnight, unless Henry made him turn it off.
Lydie would love to be there with them, but she had a lot of work ahead of her.
Pulling her nightgown from behind her pillow, she slipped it on, and grabbed the photo album from her desk. Glancing at the clock next to her bed, she reasoned she had half an hour before lights out. As she slowly flipped through the pages, Lydie marveled just how fast her kids were growing up, and regretted just how much she’d missed out. It broke her heart to have been absent for some of these memories.
Yet today she’d said something true to Henry: she had bottomed out. In retrospect, she wished things could have gone differently.
Maybe tomorrow things would be better. Lydie couldn’t ask much from the kids. She hoped they would understand.
As she continued to commit each page to memory, the night nurse knocked on her door and entered. “Good evening, Lydie. I’ve got your evening meds.” She brought it around to her. “What’s that you got?”
“My kids made a memory book for me, so I’m looking at the pictures. They made a scrapbook, too.”
“Well, lights out in a few minutes.” She handed Lydie the small cup with a tablet and a glass of water. “Now, take this. Want me to put that up for you on your desk?”
Lydie downed the pill and water quickly. “Thanks, but I’ll do it. I can see from the moonlight.”
“Don’t harm your eyes. Those are some beautiful flowers on your desk. I love roses.”
“Henry gave them to me.” Lydie beamed.
“Well, that was sweet of him. Goodnight.”
Lydie would sleep with that photo album if she could. It was the closest thing to having her babies tight with her. She opened once more and committed each photograph to memory, trying to replace the ones she had missed.
To kick off this holiday season, I thought I’d bring a little bit of joy and happiness through a full chapter excerpt from Before the Flood set on Christmas Eve 1947. It features a very special Christmas song, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, featured in and written for the 1944 classic Meet Me in St. Louis starring Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien.
People during the Second World War and well into the postwar era identified with the song so well because it was meant to be cheerful during a time of uncertainty. A time when people were missing loved ones away at war or missing family members that never came home. Many of us are missing loved ones either through lockdowns and social distancing restrictions, and a number of families across the globe are missing loved ones who have passed. The lyrics back then were “We’ll have to muddle through somehow” and gosh, if that doesn’t describe this year, I don’t know what does.
But enough of that. Pour yourself a glass of eggnog like the Bainbridge clan does or your favorite mug of cocoa, cider, or wine and enjoy a trip back in time.
From Before the Flood, Book Two of the Laurelhurst Chronicles saga. All rights reserved. Copyright Kellie Butler
Lydie was a bundle of nerves Christmas Eve morning. She was making toffee as a hostess gift for the Bainbridge family gathering. She hoped she remembered everything Sister Clara had taught her. Sugar had been in short supply during the war, but they made treats like toffee at Christmastide. Henry had said it would be just them and a few friends, but she wondered how many were a few? He hadn’t quantified it. Hopefully, the batch of toffee would be enough for two tins: one for the Bainbridge house and one for the Millers downstairs.
Hours later they hailed a cab to St. Paul’s chapel for Christmas Eve candlelight mass. Lydie wore a simple green wool frock by Claire McCardell and Edward wore his best suit from Papa’s old tailor back in London. Lydie loved how the chapel’s warm colors that reminded her of an old church in Florence.
After the mass, they rode in another cab back to the Bainbridge’s townhouse. She clutched the tin in one hand and tried to readjust her coat with the other.
“Stop fidgeting, Lydie.” Edward glanced over at her and she stopped.
Edward turned away and glanced out the window, as if steeling himself for the evening. Lydie knew he had reservations about attending tonight, but he was doing it for her. She reached over and clasped his hand to show her appreciation for his gesture.
Upstairs in the house, Hyacinth Bainbridge was having reservations of her own. She’d hoped to have a small gathering this year, just the family with Kate’s recovery, but Henry surprised her by inviting guests. The last time he brought people over to a family gathering, he was dating that girl back in medical school with the crooked teeth that drove her crazy. She loved her boy, but sometimes he needed to learn that he couldn’t rescue everyone.
“I’m not sure why we had to invite all these people. I’m not in the mood for it tonight. Not after that child in front kept crying in church. Why couldn’t the parents take it out?”
“Hyacinth, it’s just the Mortons and the Caverts. May I remind you that Jesus was born in a manger? I’m sure he was crying too.”
“I can’t stand the Mortons. I only tolerate them because they make me look better. Why do we invite them every year?”
“Such charity on Christmas Eve. And the Caverts?”
“Who are they?”
“Friends of Henry. I understand they’re from England.”
“Oh, how charming. Are they husband and wife?”
“Brother and sister. Dr. Cavert works with Henry.”
“I don’t know why I chose this dress tonight. It makes me look frumpy.” Hyacinth readjusted her long black velvet frock. She wasn’t sure why they still had this gathering. It used to be fun when children were smaller, but now every time their friends come they brought pictures of their grandchildren and she couldn’t bear it.
Downstairs Henry and Kate waited for their guests to arrive.
“Do you think I look pretty, Henry?” Kate fingered her red wool dress. She’d turned down all invitations this autumn, trying to stay on the wagon. It was hard for her because the old Kate wouldn’t have needed an excuse. Her friend Gwen had been bitterly disappointed. She had never imagined her best friend of several years could have turned so cold towards her.
“You always do, Katie.” Henry straightened his bow tie and checked his hair. He hadn’t felt this excited about a girl in ages.
“I hope so. I’d like for Edward to like it. Lydie will be here too.”
“Yes, she’s quite a girl, isn’t she?”
“Yes. I’m sorry about what I did to her. I was atrocious.”
He shook his head. “I hope Mom is on her best behavior tonight.”
“Me too. It’s going to be hard not to have a drink tonight. If she acts out, I don’t know how I will handle it.”
“You can do it. We’ll be here to support you, Katie.”
“What do you think would happen if we arrange our own affairs? Would it send Mom off her rocker?”
“Who knows? Let’s focus on the positive.” Henry walked over to the sideboard and checked the eggnog. He put a small tipple of rum in and stirred with a crystal ladle that matched the large punch bowl before dipping some into a cup for Kate.
“Here, have a taste and tell me what you think.”
Katie took it and smacked her lips after taking a sip. “Did you put anything in it?”
“Just a bit of rum. It isn’t too strong, is it?”
Kare took another sip. “No, it’s wonderful. I’ll have to nurse this cup tonight.”
“We have cider as well. Uncle Mike’s orchard had a great crop this year.”
“Sometimes I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Don’t get too sentimental, Katie.”
“Henry, I wish you would smile like you used to. I suppose that’s my fault.”
“I dashed both our chances for romance. I should thank you for being so good to me after I wrecked your date with Lydie. I’m sorry I’ve only thought of me all these years. I stopped you from being happy, too.”
“Well, maybe that’ll change. You never know.” He winked as he stirred the eggnog again, waiting for their guests to arrive.
Outside, Lydia and Edward waited with a middle-aged couple holding a bottle of wine. Lydie should have thought to bring wine. The older couple broke the ice. “I’m George Morton and this is my wife, Miriam. A pleasure to meet you.”
“Pleasure to meet you as well. Edward and Lydia Cavert. We’re friends of Henry and Kate.”
“Well, isn’t that wonderful? Henry’s a good boy. His father and I went to Cornell together. Our daughter Frances recently had a baby. Sweetest as she can be. We’re so proud.”
“As you should be. One of my school friends is a midwife.” Lydie smiled.
“Is she now? Great profession. My daughter loves children. I suppose you’ll be having some of your own soon?”
“Well, perhaps when I meet a nice man of my own.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I assumed you’re married with the same name. You are siblings then?”
Edward barely kept a smile on his face. Was it a mistake to come here tonight? He was saved by Agatha opening the door. The Mortons entered first with Lydie and Edward trailing behind.
“Hello, Henry. Hello, Katie. Don’t you look lovely tonight?”
“Thank you, Mr. Morton.” Kate blushed.
“We’ve brought our usual holiday offering. Where are your parents?” George continued. Lydia wondered if Miriam ever got a word in with him..
“They’ll be down shortly,” Kate said.
“Good evening, Kate. You look radiant,” Edward said as he followed the Mortons into the parlor.
“Thank you, Edward.” Kate smiled and twirled around. “Do you like my dress?”
Edward and Kate moved towards the punch bowl, and Henry offered his hand as he greeted Lydie. “Good evening, Lydie. Don’t you look lovely.”
“Good evening, Henry. I like your tie.” Lydie blushed.
“Why, thank you.” Henry winked.
They stood there for a few moments before Robert and Hyacinth interrupted.
“This must be the Cavert siblings. We’re so glad to have you here. Henry, pass around the eggnog,” Robert said.
“Yes, Dad. Would you like some, Lydie?”
“I would love some, thank you.”
“Pour some for the young lady, Henry.” Robert smiled.
“Here you are. Mrs. Foster’s famous recipe.” Henry handed Lydie a cup.
“Thank you.” Lydie takes a sip. “It’s delicious.”
“Good evening, Dr. Cavert. I’m Henry’s mother.” Hyacinth offered her hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Bainbridge. Thank you for inviting us.”
Kate smiled. “Edward and Henry are colleagues, Mother.”
“Yes, I’ve heard. How fascinating. I should greet the rest of my guests,” Hyacinth turned away quickly.
The others exchanged glances, stunned at Hyacinth’s rudeness.
“My wife isn’t feeling her best tonight, Dr. Cavert. Please excuse her. We’re glad you and your sister are here.” Robert shook Edward’s hand.
“We all have those times. It’s a pleasure to be here.”
Hyacinth turned to the Mortons. “Good evening, George and Miriam. How are you?”
“Doing well, Hyacinth. Your family is looking lovely as always.”
“I suppose you have more pictures of your granddaughter?” Hyacinth feigned a polite smile.
“Yes, we do. Would you like to see them?”
“I’m sure you are beaming with joy. Thank you, but no. At least your child gives you grandchildren.”
“There’s still plenty of time for that, Hyacinth.”
Henry offered his mother some eggnog. “Mother, would you like a cup?”
“Thank you for considering me, Henry. I see you gave that young lady one first.”
“I’m serving our guests first. You taught me that.”
“Yes, I did. Thank you, my darling boy. I see one of my children behaves.”
“Eggnog, Mr. and Mrs. Morton?” Henry turned to his parents’ old friends. His eyes diverted quickly towards Kate as he checked on her, then fastened his gaze on his guests.
“Yes, please. How’s the medical world, Henry?” George asked.
“Never a dull moment. They keep us busy, don’t they Edward?”
“Oh, that’s for certain.” Edward agreed.
“You know, we should have some music,” Robert said.
“That’s like a lovely idea, Robert. Kate, why don’t you sing for us? You took all those voice lessons,” Hyacinth said as she settled onto the sofa with her cup.
“I don’t think I remember anymore.” Kate frowned.
“Surely you can think of something to entertain our guests?”
Sensing Kate’s apprehension, Henry turned to Lydie. “Do you remember me asking you to play the piano for me the night we went to the Philharmonic? I’d love to hear you play now.”
“Oh, I suppose I could,” Lydie said brightly and she went to the piano and sat down.
“You will find our piano is well-tuned, Lydia,” Hyacinth said. “Kate, why don’t you sing with her?”
Kate shook her head no, so Lydia sat on the tufted bench and played a few bars of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. Gaining her confidence, Kate joined her and began to sing. Soon everyone else joined in except Henry.
“Not singing, son?” Robert leaned over and asked.
“I’d rather listen,” Henry whispered as Lydie played.
“That was lovely, Kate. Let’s have something else,” Robert said as the song ended.
“Maybe I should play for a while,” Lydie offered.
“Henry plays, you know. Let’s see if I can get him up here.” Kate whispered in Lydie’s ear while glancing over at her brother.
“I don’t want to put him on the spot.”
On a mission, Kate went over to her brother. “Go play with her.”
“In front of everyone? Are you kidding? I’m better off where I am.”
“Someone else needs to get up there and I can’t keep singing. Go impress her! Now’s your chance.” Kate pushed him forward.
“All right, we’ll call ourselves the Bainbridge Family Quartet.” Henry quipped as he slid off the sofa, went to the punchbowl, and filled another cup. Strolling over to the piano, he sat down next to Lydie on the bench.
As he pressed the cup to her lips, he whispered, “Something for the pianist. I thought you might be thirsty.”
“That’s so sweet of you, Henry,” Lydie took a sip and continued to play.
“You didn’t tell me played this well. Keep it up, and we’ll book you for every family gathering from now on.” He chuckled and she giggled.
Setting the cup down on the piano, Henry flexed his hands, found a moment where he could come in, and began playing the bass clef. The cuff of his dark jacket brushed against her bare arm. Grinning, he winked at her before he sang in a lovely tenor voice. Lydie’s eyes widen in surprise and she let him take the lead.
“What a nice evening. Henry hasn’t played or sang for us since high school.” Hyacinth shook her head in amazement.
“A man will do many things when he’s in love,” Robert said.
“I think you may be right. I haven’t seen him this happy in years,” Hyacinth agreed.
“We used to look at each other that way. Do you remember?”
“Yes, we did.” Hyacinth looked down.
“It must be off between Katie and the young Englishman,” Robert observed.
“It’s on between Henry and the young lady. What is her name again?”
“I always liked that name. I think my great-grandmother was named Lydia.”
Robert shook his head and watched the pair at the piano.
Kate stood next to Edward. “It must be the mistletoe I hung up in the front entryway that has them like that.”
He shook his head. “Henry is good for Lydie.”
“Listen, I know I ruined things between us, and I spoiled everything for them. I was a mess, and I want to tell you I’m sorry. I wish I could go back and be a different girl for you. Something like that.”
“Well, it’s all done now. I’m sure you’ll be a lovely lady for someone.”
“I am getting better, Edward.”
“I hope you continue to improve.”
“Thank you for not putting me down. You’ve been nicer to me than I’ve been to myself.”
They sat in silence for a while. Kate wished she could be with Edward the way Henry was with Lydie. “It’s adorable the way he holds the cup to her lips as she plays so she won’t get thirsty.”
He shrugged.“Henry is an excellent chap. I’ve known that since day one. Why do you think I let him around her?”
At the piano, Henry leaned over and whispered to Lydie, “Why don’t you rest? I can play. Relax and enjoy yourself.”
She smiled. “I’m happy where I am.”
“Me too, but you’ve been playing for a while now. Why not get yourself another cup of eggnog?”
“If you insist.” Lydie was enjoying playing a duet with Henry so much she didn’t want to leave his side. It brought back her feeling from that date to Carnegie Hall again.
“I do. Rest. I’ll play for a while. Besides, my mother is stunned and I’m rather enjoying it.” He winked at her again.
That twinkle could make Lydie do a lot of things, so she got up and filled a cup of eggnog for Henry. She reciprocated his gestures by returning to the piano and held the cup to his lips. Their eyes were twinkling when they met, the kind of special smile that eyes have when two people are in love.
Over on the sofa, the Mortons and Robert and Hyacinth observed this exchange.
“Robert, I think you ought to see if the church is free back in Ithaca. I’ve got a feeling about those two,” George said.
“Why Ithaca?” Hyacinth demanded. “A well-bred girl like Lydia would most likely want a city wedding. The bride gets to choose, after all.”
Robert raised his eyebrows. “Are you merely looking after her wishes or your own, dear?”
“Well, I can’t fathom her wanting to get married in Ithaca. She hasn’t even seen the place yet. No, she’d much rather have a wedding here in the city. Much easier on planning, too.”
“Don’t put the cart before the horse, Hyacinth. Just let the couple enjoy this evening.” Robert reproached her and she turned away.
Close to midnight, they left the piano and stood next to a tall fir tree trimmed with red and gold ornaments.
“It’s getting late,” Henry said.
“I suppose it is.” Lydie agreed.
“Did you take a cab?” He inquired.
“I’ll drive you and Edward home.”
“I’d hate for you to go out of the way. Aren’t you staying here tonight?”
“No, it’s a holiday and I’m on call. I need to be closer to home. My home.”
Lydie was about so say something when Hyacinth joined them. “I hope you won’t mind Henry’s long hours at the hospital. Don’t let him neglect you, my dear. You work too much, Henry. Take care of this young lady.”
“I’m used to that, Mrs. Bainbridge. My brother is a doctor and so was my father.”
“A family of doctors! Well, you have more fortitude than me.”
Henry glanced at the clock. “Lydie, it’s about time to head back, isn’t it? Edward’s on call too.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. Not everyone gets to stay home for Christmas,” Edward said as he overheard the exchange.
“Lydia, it was a pleasure meeting you, my dear. Come back and visit.” Hyacinth kissed her lightly on the cheek.
“Thank you, Mrs. Bainbridge. I had a wonderful time.”
“Lydia, you’re booked to play from now on.” Robert nudged Henry a little as he joined them.
“Thank you, sir. I had a lovely partner tonight that made it easier.”
“Well, shall we go?” Edward asked. Between Kate’s attempts to ingratiate herself and Mrs. Morton’s medical inquiries he’d had enough. The goal had been to keep his sister’s mind away from that Reggie fellow and it had worked.
Donning their coats, Henry, Lydie, and Edward prepared to venture out into the night. Lydie and Henry stood underneath the doorway as he took his hand. “Shall we go?”
“Henry, you’re forgetting something!” Kate pointed to the mistletoe above them.
Henry shook his head, bent down, and kissed Lydie on the nose before he helped her down the slippery steps frosted with snow to his car parked right outside with Edward right behind them. Henry helped Lydie into the backseat and the two men climbed into the front.
“It’s already coming down. I’ve got a feeling we won’t be enjoying Christmas dinner at home tomorrow night,” Edward said.
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Henry agreed. “Although this is nothing compared to the kind of snow we get in Ithaca. We’re used to two feet easily.”
“I can’t imagine what Londoners would do with that much snow.”
“They would carry on like they always do,” Lydie replied.
“Quite right. I’m speaking badly of my native city.”
“They’ll forgive you this once,” Lydie teased.
“Lydie, there’s a blanket back on the floorboard if you need it, although I think Edward might need it more. You’re rubbing your hands a good bit, my man.”
“Thank you, Henry. Pass it this way, please, dear sister,” Edward said. “I forgot my gloves because Lydie took too long getting ready this evening. I had to hurry her out the door.”
“Thank you, Henry. You’re such a gentleman. Blaming it on me, are you, Neddy?”
“But you’ll forgive me, won’t you?”
“Just this once,” Lydie teased. “Isn’t it lovely? We’re going to have Christmas snow.”
“It will be lovely if I don’t have to get out in it tomorrow,” Edward complained.
“You get out in it then,” Edward said.
“You get to wear trousers. What are you complaining about?”
Henry chuckled as he listened to Edward and Lydie’s banter. He would love to get to know Lydie much better after tonight. Maybe the new year might bring another chance at love.
Thank you so much for reading. If you’re interested in reading the full novel, you can purchase it here (available in Kindle and paperback formats):
I’m thrilled to share the gorgeous cover for my latest book, The Ties that Bind, the final chapter in the Laurelhurst Saga. It’s coming out in February 2021, but I couldn’t wait to let you see it!
My cover designer, Victoria Cooper, of Victoria Cooper Art, really knocked this one out of the park! All of her designs are gorgeous, but this has to be my favorite!
Set primarily in 1970s Britian, The Ties that Bind takes the reader back to where it all began for Lydie as she journeys home to help Kate free her daughter from Elliott Cutterworth’s clutches and discover what really happened to her parents who died during the London Blitz of the Second World War.
To do this, she has to go undercover again, much like she did in the first novel, Beneath a Moonless Sky.
The first thought I had when designing this cover was of Lydie in front of Rathbourne Hall, the home of the sinister Cutterworths. I imagined her facing the mansion, yet looking back towards us. She’s saying, “Are you with me? Let’s go take him down.”
I really loved writing this book, and I hope you’re going to enjoy it just as much as I have. I’ve saved the best for last, my friends. You’re going to love it.
Here’s the blurb:
Over thirty years ago, Lydie found herself orphaned, her beloved parents dead in the London Blitz attacks. However, through her sister-in-law, Kate’s intense custody battle with estranged husband, Lord Elliott Cutterworth, new evidence emerges that Lydie’s parents’ deaths were no accident, and that Elliott was involved.
Now, Lydie must decide if she has the courage to wade back into the wartime world of smoke and mirrors to free Kate’s daughter from Elliott’s clutches, and find the truth of what happened to her beloved Mummy and Papa.In the final chapter of the Laurelhurst series, Lydie faces her ultimate challenge with the man who has been obsessed with her, long before she knew him.
Will Lydie get to the truth and bring Elliott down once and for all, or will she become once again ensnared in Elliott’s web of lies?
Coming in February 2021 in eBook and Paperback editions. Pre-order your Kindle or eBook today: